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.

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