Sunday, September 18, 2011

As The Birthday Approaches

It's impossible to no think of Ken…period. But as his September 21 birthday approaches, he's on my mind more and more. It's not all sad, in fact, thinking about this weekend one year ago brings nothing but a smile to my face. I'd arranged for a couple of surprises. We were both working full days at home at the time because he was receiving daily radiation treatments. As 5 pm loomed closer, I became more and more excited. After work, we always headed out to the backyard for cocktails (for me) and mocktails (for him since we were under the impression he couldn't partake. I went out first with our drinks and sat them down on the table, but just around corner of the back of the house two Californians were eagerly awaiting to perpetrate the surprise. Ken was an expert at pulling surprises. They were alway magnificent and multi-layered. Pulling them off on him I'd learned over the years was almost impossible. But I think we had him.

I went back in to wheel him up the ramp. He was undoubtedly dealing with pain in spite of the narcotics. At this point he was just happy to be spending the evening with me. But as I moved him to the table and his head lifted to look at the yard, his gaze was drawn to the back corner of the yard where his brother Craig and sister-in-law Katie jumped out and yelled the proverbial "SURPRISE.' I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take a photo of his reaction. It was beyond shock, yet the corners of his mouth began lifting. We had done it! He couldn't believe they were here, and even more, he loved it that they were here, and probably even more excited that I'd collaborated with them to pull this one over on him. I remember how moved he felt, and how grateful. He hugged them both for a very long time. It's a moment I can relive on demand. It was so special and full of so many meanings. It's treasured.


We sat around outside and talked and laughed A LOT. I made chili and cornbread that we ate al fresco as we continued our fun fest. It was an amazing day. I don't think he could have been any happier if he tried.

Knowing Mr. Body in Motion, the question was posed as to what he wanted to do for his birthday. So the next day we set off for the Lincoln Park Zoo and its neighbor the Lincoln Park Conservatory (which has always been a preferred destination for him.)


We spent the entire afternoon there there, exploring and observing the animals before heading over to the Conservatory to check out the fauna. It was a perfect day for him. We all too great care of him. I remember feeling how nice and safe it felt to be out traveling with him with Craig and Katie serious back up. The four of us have a very strong, loving, and humorous bond.

The rest of their visit we just hung out and cooked and fed our faces and talked and laughed. Our time together is always easy and always filled with laughter.

The one last surprise I had to present to him was a book I'd been putting together for months called "the ken-do dictionary" as an homage to his body-in-motion attitude. I'd solicited words from friends and family that could be used to describe him. And no one disappointed.


Click the graphic to see the book.

Nostalgic by nature, I've been thinking a lot about that weekend on this anniversary. I'm so grateful that Craig and Katie were able to come. Ken (and I) had a wonderful time with them (as usual). It was a weekend I'll never forget and will probably think about a lot. I'm not sure how I'll feel on Wednesday, but I have taken the day off and am hoping to mimic some of the activities we did last year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Different Kind of Date Night


Monday was one of those busy days at work, but every time I checked the clock on my computer, it read "6 hours until your appointment at Gilda's Club" or "2 hours" or "30 minutes." I had the made the appointment at my previous meeting on Saturday. I'd arrived early and was chatting with Sabrina, a lovely girl personing the front desk. I meant to ask her if she was a worker or a volunteer. Next time. Though I expected to sit down and kill some time on my iPad (probably over-detailing this very experience in my journal) but Rebecca, the Program Manager at Gilda's club did not surprise me when she immediately came to collect me and bring me to one of the upper floors to "interrogate" me.

We cozied up in a pretty chic little room and hunkered down for the questions she had to ask me as part of becoming a me member. I was disappointing there was no spanking machine involved. She told me these were questions that were designed by Gilda herself's therapist. She advised me they may seem vague, but I think we got through it without much trouble. Without a doubt they were difficult to answer. What is going well in your life? What isn't going well? Loaded questions as far as I am concerned. It was obvious the questions were designed to determine a certain state of mind--just so the facilitator knows what he/she is dealing with.

After finishing our questions and talking about all the services available to me--and there are many. Some weekly. Some monthy. I'd researched the groups on the website and already knew what I wanted to do: to attend the Wednesday evening Bereavement Group. Since they don't accept new members without the class being in a place to be able to do so, Rebecca thought--out of the blue--that Sept. 21 would be the first date I should attend my first group. Sound familiar to anyone? I literally gasped when I looked at my calendar on my iPad. It was a sign that I relaxed into. I'd be starting my bereavement group on what would have been Ken's 46th birthday. Sort of a fitting gift.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gilda's Club


I attended my initial New Member Meeting at Gilda's Club on Saturday. And I was pretty nervous about it. I entered through the Iconic Red Door and was directed to a holding room where 5 women were waiting for the same meeting I was. The facilitator moved us into a larger room and we handed in the paperwork we were given to complete. We went around the room, giving our name what brought us to the Club. I felt a little guilty that I was the only in in attendance who wasn't currently living with cancer, but she reassured me that there were plenty of services that would apply to me. As I looked around at all of them, I just thought how brave they were to facing what they're facing and smart enough to come a safe haven like Gilda's to get support.

After we were told about all the services they offered their members (all of them cost members nothing), she took us on a tour of the four floor facility. It was quite lovely and they clearly put a lot of thought and experience into the design. The vibe there is very calm and very warm. After that we made our appointments for our one-on-one customized membership plan, to determine which services would serve us the best. Mine in Monday at 5:30. In the meeting I'll be placed into the appropriate group or groups I want to join and give a twelve week commitment to attend. I'm kind of excited about it. Looking forward to it--even.

The experience certainly put me in a good emotional place for the rest of the weekend--a big contract from last weekend. I think it feels good when you are actively taking steps to address grief.

Thanks, Ms. Randor!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Visiting Old Friends--the Good, the Sad and the Memories

Last week I decided to bake some cupcakes and take them to the staff at Creticos Cancer Center, where Ken received his treatments and we were constantly as dazzled by the tenderness and humor we found there as they were by Ken's positive attitude and undeterred sprit. I hadn't seen any of them since I was there with Ken and his folks for a social visit in April. I'd been there to see my therapist once since he died, but wasn't up for a round robin of visiting everyone. I'd planned on going before, but this time I was somehow more "ready".

The cupcakes I made from scratch were ones I'd taken there before. I remember the first time was a celebration for Ken's "initial" (and at the time "only") chemotherapy treatment. It had been hard on him, and I definitely wanted to celebrate the achievement with those who knew that best and who lovingly treated his body and his spirit. I brought them again once or twice more for fun. Ken and the staff alike loved them. And I always love making them. They're homemade Hostess cupcakes, and they're amazing--and always will be to me. Click the picture below for the recipe.


I saw most everyone I'd hoped to see, though a few people weren't there, and on our last social visit in April we'd learned his wonderful oncologist had accepted a position in the suburbs. As wonderful as it was to see all the faces I saw, I think anyone who knew Ken or had been with him on a visit knew his one great love at Creticos was Blanca, an angelic soul who works in the Infusion room, administering chemotherapy. She wasn't there when I first arrived, but after I made some more rounds she'd returned and I got to see her. It was truly wonderful. She always has a smile on her face, love in her voice and a positive attitude. I think in many ways she and Ken were kindred spirits. I was always happy to take a back seat to her and Ken's dynamic duo when we were there.

I was surprised how I wasn't nervous to see everyone, and that I didn't get emotional while there--although that did take some effort on a few occasions. It was great seeing everyone, but it was odd being there alone--not even being able to go home to tell Ken of my visit. Even odder. But it felt good, and like a step in the right direction. After spending some time visiting and delivering my home baked goodies, I headed home. As I walked to my car I felt a great sense of relief--and accomplishment.

But shortly afterward I began feeling a little "off". It was like my axis got bent, throwing off my very rotation. It was basic, but hard to pinpoint. It was some kind of emotional backlash. I should have expected it, but I didn't. It felt like my grief was rabbit hole and I was tumbling ass over feet. It pushed my missing him into hyperdrive and sent it into orbit. I pulled out some of his writings and looked at photos. "Stop torturing yourself, Ronald," I muttered out loud more than once. But even as I caught myself with a tentative grip from continuing my fall, I'd pry my own fingers off. My emotional compass was whacked. I felt lost.

In going through some things I found a percolator our friend Kathy had given to him for us to use when we went camping, I was slammed with the realization "I'll never go camping with him again." Something I suppose that should have been obvious. But it wasn't. In some ways, it was like losing him all over again. Losing him in general was one thing, but there were so many specifics I hadn't considered. I was missing him so much, the hurt and the anger were palpable. When I thought back to last summer--after everything he'd gone through, we were supposed to be able to go camping or traveling--with his new prosthetic.

I'm learning how precarious and layered grief can be.

I started reading some of his writings later that day. I guess I was looking for something he's written for me. Or just something that will connect me to him. He is here everywhere in our apartment--that he and Kathy picked out prior to our moving back here from LA.

The next day I was driving home from Target after spending a gift card on some fun kitchen implements but still thinking of Ken and missing. Then out of nowhere--with the windows of the up--the car was filled with the scent of wet Chow (our beloved dog Quantum was a Chow Chow and departed from us December 29, 2009--a few weeks before Ken's surgery). The car smelled EXACTLY like it did when we'd drive home with Q from spending the day at the beach where she would run and play in the foamy surf. It was odd and certainly unexpected, but felt intentional--directed, somehow. I can't explain it because it only lasted for a minute.

Our girl loved to play in the surf, always resulting car ride full of pungent "wet Chow". Below is a pic of Q from August of '04, romping on the beach in Malibu.


Though it took most of the Labor Day weekend to process and work out of my funk, the past week has been difficult. But I get that is okay as I worked toward my "new normal". After my wonderful experience at work last week with a co-worker who kindly and openly shared his experience in losing his partner, I realized I was ready for a new level of support. My therapist told me months ago to seek out a spousal bereavement group and I know I'm ready to do so. I'm planning on going to Gilda's Club on Saturday for a "New Member Meeting" which entails meeting with a counselor to personalize a plan to help me take advantage of the services they offer.

Another step in the right direction.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Generous and Welcome Gift

As I've written before since Ken died, "firsts" are difficult--both figuratively and literally. It was June 1st when Ken left us. Today marks the three month anniversary of losing a man who brought a texture, depth, dimension and a sense of play to my life that will forever be unmatched. My head knows those things didn't leave with him, but my heart has very different and stubborn opinions about that. I couldn't help but think of him today--and thinking about the day when I lost him. All the emotions and some of the pain surged back; however, today was also one of those days I was able to mitigate it and not let it take me over. Solemn, but not parlayzingly sad.

I think part of the reason I had the control I had is because of a wonderful experience I had yesterday. Something unexpected, but welcome happened. I went to a luncheon yesterday for my group at work. I had misgivings about going at first because I was afraid that--though well-intentioned--I would feel overwhelmed by well-wishers who knew of Ken's illness over the past year. But a I sat at my desk, he spoke to me in a way. "Why not?" echoed in my head, and I somehow felt empowered and decided to go. It was late enough in the timeframe when I arrived that it wasn't very crowded, but the few people I saw were so sweet and kind, talking with me and asking about how I was doing. It wasn't upsetting in the least. It was reassuring…and just lovely.

When I finally sat down to eat my lunch, a co-worker came over and asked very politely if he could sit down with me. "Of course," I said. I didn't know him well or work with him directly, but whenever I saw him we always exchanged pleasantries and smiles. He asked how I was doing and expressed his sympathies for me and my loss of Ken. He told me we'd both been in his prayers and that I continue to be. Then, the conversation took a turn I never would have expected. He shared with me that several years ago, he'd also lost his partner. It had been more sudden than my situation with Ken, but as we talked I'll never forget how I began to feel--in a "good" way. For the first time ever since losing Ken, I was talking with someone who knew EXACTLY how and what I was feeling. And it meant a great deal to me. It was a mixture of sanity and depth of understanding I'd never felt before.

I'm lucky to have the friends and family that I have to lean on and grieve with, but what I found stunning was that someone--with no emotional stake in me--would be so brave and so generous to share such a life-altering loss with me. It didn't necessarily surprise me, but because I didn't know him that well, I found it utterly kind and courageous. He spoke from a perspective that I have only seen glimmering mili-seconds of, but I found it comforting and reassuring nonetheless. I hadn't been having a bad day, but this experience turned my day into something exceptional! My mood for the rest of the day was light and positive and encouraged. In spite of the fact this is a blog, it's difficult to explain all the nuances in words.

In addition to all the people in my life--at home and at work--his act of selflessness in discussing something that I know I couldn't possibly talk about now with any level of comprehensibility, sort of…how do we say…"restored my faith in humanity." When someone who doesn't know you that well goes out of their way to share something so private and potentially painful in order to help you deal with your own personal hell, it swells one's spirt. It goes back to "connecting". Our loss connected us on a level that isn't something you ever aspire to, but it offers a comfort that is unparalleled.

I think what is remarkable--not coincidental--is that I was in a place where I could receive that kind of generosity and know what to do with it. I hope I am that kind of person someday. To be able to reflect on and discuss this heart-wrenching loss with kindness and compassion in order to help someone--whoever it is--deal with it or see it just a little differently. To help them heal. To give hope.

It's hope we all feed on and what we all need.