Things are not exactly looking up yet, but I’m doing . . . okay. Sometimes terrible, but often okay. I’ve benefited from some good advice from a number of quarters, including one acquaintance who has become a friend in recent days. Christine writes a beautiful blog called My Literary Playground relating how various things she’s reading impact her as she processes her own grief. Definitely check it out here.
I too have been doing a lot of writing lately, mostly journaling and writing letters to David, which may sound weird, but you’d be stunned at how many bereaved recommend it, and it actually really helps. It was a suggestion both in my grief support groups and in the wonderful book On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler.
Then I jumped at the chance to enroll in a writers workshop offered in Denver free of charge for cancer patients and their caregivers by Lighthouse Writers in conjunction with UC Health. I’ve only had one session so far, but loved it, so we’ll see how that goes. While awaiting the beginning of the workshop, I started reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer, in which the author mentions a sort of parlor game. One of her friends said he’d heard that your favorite fairy tale or children’s story turns out to be the key to who you are. An oversimplification, of course, but I was intrigued by the concept.
I have a lot of favorites, but it would be hard to beat The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, about a tree that keeps finding new ways to give more and more throughout its entire lifespan and the boy, later man, who benefits from the giving. If you’re not familiar with it, you’re long overdue. It was originally published in 1964 and remains a classic of children’s literature.
Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
Well-rooted in La Rochelle, France
When I think about the story, though, and how it might relate to my life, I think it would be much more accurate to say David was the giver and I was the demanding little boy a LOT of the time. If not exactly demanding, I certainly knew expressing a wish in David’s hearing was a pretty sure way of having it granted. Ironic and beautiful, really, that his final gift to me was allowing me to give to him.
For it is in giving that we receive. ∼ Francis of Assisi
Brittany and I finally got our act together and asked Matt, the worship pastor at our church and all-around tech guy, for help getting the slide-show, plus the goofy videos of David put on YouTube. He’s calling it “David Collage.” Brittany and I were thinking that some people might appreciate a bit more context for the video clips, so see below for that, but if you don’t care or can’t wait, here’s the link: Click here.
Be sure to keep watching when the slide show is finished — there’s a black and white slide that lasts about 20 seconds before the videos start. (It was a nice way to end the slide show during the celebration of life, where we didn’t show the videos.) The slide show plus the videos were playing all evening at the reception, so you may have already seen this. The whole thing is 13:41, and the videos start right about 8:11.
I love the slide show, especially with the music (“Save a Place for Me” Matthew West and “Leave This World Behind” Third Day). It really is a collage of David’s life, although we couldn’t put in every photo we would have liked to include. Here are a couple of photos I received too late:
Really, there are so many more photos, but thought I definitely should share these two of Tom and Christy French with David, since they are a couple of our dearest friends, but I didn’t find any photos of them with David for the slide show until Lexi sent me these a few days after the final version was done. Oh well. I promise we love you, Tom and Christy!
Brittany and Chelsea were especially good at trying to catch David on video once his cancer was diagnosed in August of 2016, and we happened to have a couple of earlier ones from other family get-togethers. Here are the videos you’ll see:
The Wheelchair Race — May 2013 — This was an interactive station in a children’s museum, I think in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Notice how the adults are TOTALLY into it. I especially love David’s delight and Felicity’s cheerleading.
Dark, Dark Place — Thanksgiving 2016 — Courtney had teasingly drunk the last of Chelsea’s favorite wine, admittedly out of Chelsea’s glass, which may have crossed a line. Oops.* Chelsea . . . was . . . well, not amused. Since Courtney’s humor had backfired, she was feeling down, so David was trying to cheer her up when Chelsea came over to join the conversation. Once David started his melodramatic retelling, it had to be caught on video.
*Postscript: This bit of strife did eventually lead to the most amusing and memorable Christmas gift of 2016: One dozen bottles of Chelsea’s favorite dry Riesling, all individually wrapped in various sizes of boxes and bags, so they looked like they contained anything BUT wine. They were all gifts to Chelsea, but every single bottle had a large sticker on it saying “Courtney’s Wine.”
Jimi Hendrix Tribute — A few days before Christmas 2016 — This was a gift Chelsea and Brian bought for his toddler niece and we were all laughing about how much the parents were going to HATE it. Definitely love David’s guitar face and head banging. And of course the laugh.
Pressing Your Luck — Christmas 2016 — Brittany was sneaking this video, so had to slowly ease the phone into better position without David noticing. Brittany’s dog Bega is not actually allowed to jump or climb up on people on the couch, but somehow manages to broaden the scope of permitted behaviors every time she stays here, hence the “pressing your luck” question.
2013 New Year’s Eve Ball Drop — In this video we’re helping Courtney move into her condo, where as you can see, she has no furniture yet. But it’s New Year’s Eve, so we’re trying to make the best of it. There was no TV, so someone had the bright idea to have our own ball drop, hoping for a dramatic shatter at the bottom. This is what happens when the ball is tiny and plastic. Brittany is trying to videotape while keeping time, then chasing the ball, then helping hold the ball. Maybe you had to be there, but this one still makes us laugh.
I Love You . . . . . — Thanksgiving 2017 — David is noticeably weaker here, but still making us all laugh. Chelsea had wanted a video of him telling her he loved her, but he said it before she started recording the video and she asked him to repeat it, so he’s teasing her a bit by naming EVERYONE in the room, except her.
And how well he did love us all.
And how much we love him still.
One of the definitions of collage is an assemblage of diverse elements in unlikely or unexpected juxtaposition. Doesn’t that sound a lot like life? What a privilege to share so much of mine with this dear man.
I was originally planning to call this post “Going Solo” but then I realized that wouldn’t really be true. It turns out so far my life has not been that solo. Yes, I miss David like crazy and I’m alone much of the time, but I’m in regular contact with family and many friends.
I also have my various clubs–book club, piano, French–although I’m not quite ready to get back into the full swing of those yet. I’m scheduled to start a three-week “newly bereaved” group on Tuesday and some individual grief counseling on Wednesday. I get six free sessions of counseling if I want them. It’s all part of David’s hospice care. It wouldn’t surprise David at all, but does me a bit, that one of my most pressing desires is to know “how to do this,” as if there were a manual I should be following. David always teased me about wanting a gold star all the time, and it’s true I was a very good student and got used to following instructions and being rewarded for it. Since I don’t have the energy right now to fight my basic nature, I went to the library, checked out a stack of books, ordered a few others online, and have been reading like mad. And it has actually helped. Apparently everything I’m feeling and doing, like sometimes speaking to him as if he were still in the room, is well within the range of standard grieving. I know I don’t need permission for how I handle this, but it’s nice to have it anyway. Courtney sent me this quote the other day:
We must do what we need to do. Those who disapprove will either come around or stop coming around. Either way, lovely.∼Glennon Doyle Melton
I hate to dispel the image that I’m super strong and always cheerful and grateful, as my daughters seem to believe me to be. The fact is, sometimes I am. But sometimes I’m not. When I opened WordPress to write this post I found the beginning of a post I had written on the 6th of January, but never completed. Since the 7th was the hardest day I’ve had so far, I understand how this one slipped away from me. But I find it interesting to read what I was processing at that time. I have to say, nearly a month later, it’s still true:
It turns out grief requires staying in the present moment as much or more than living with and taking care of a loved one with a terminal diagnosis. I have to keep saying to myself, “Are you okay right this minute? Yes? Okay, then.” If I start thinking about anything but right now, I’m instantly a hot mess. Even sorting through a pack of coupons for local businesses has landmines — a simple offer for a favorite place we used to go provides a surprisingly sharp stab. But right this second, I’m okay.
Since the 3rd of January was my first evening completely alone, it was certainly a very fresh pain at that time. Which brings me back to NOT “going solo.” The celebration of David’s life and the reception directly afterward here at our home could not have gone as well as they both did without so many dear ones giving so generously of their time, talents, and even freezer space.
Once again, I find myself so grateful for so many. The flowers alone were absolutely stunning and a few are still hanging on and bringing me joy more than two weeks later.
I even love that this one ornamental branch (bottom left photo) has actually sprouted new leaves. How’s that for a metaphor? I will be okay, and it is in part thanks to you dear ones.
One example: At the last minute on the day of the celebration of David’s life, I realized I had no flowers at the house, something I rarely let happen in any case–I love fresh flowers–but it was definitely NOT what I had intended when I was about to host 250-300 people. All the beautiful bouquets that had arrived shortly after David died had finally needed to be tossed. But all the new ones arriving were at the church. Courtney mentioned to a cousin that I was a little stressed out, since I now had that on my list to accomplish along with everything else on the 19th, and this cousin instantly said, “I’m on it.” Within an hour, three absolutely stunning arrangements arrived and could not have been more perfect. Thank you, Maren! Of course, I didn’t manage to photograph them in their initial perfection, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but parts of all the bouquets are STILL beautiful and I am so very grateful.
Then the bouquet above became a lovely arrangement of greenery. And even after the greenery has to be tossed, I’ll remember the kindness of those who sent these.
If you’ve been following my updates on CaringBridge, you already know that David’s ordeal is over. The last bit was hard, so I have to be glad for his sake that that part was not prolonged, but being without him seems to stab me at odd moments, and I can’t quite seem to catch my breath.
Time yet again to remember all I have to be grateful for.
We had a lovely Christmas with our daughters, granddaughters and future son-in-law, even though by then, David was not strong enough to leave the bedroom. We all visited him regularly throughout the day and he gave us a few smiles, more precious than any other gift.
The 26th was busy with rearranging the bedroom to make room for a hospital bed. It turned out David only used it for one night, but it was helpful and we were glad to have the loan of it. David and I shared a few perfect moments in the evening, which I already related on CaringBridge, but here it is, in case you didn’t see the CaringBridge post:
During this entire sixteen months, whenever I didn’t know what to say, I’d say, “I love you” or “I love you to the moon and back” or “I love you to infinity and beyond” or “I will love you forever.” Even when his voice was a mere whisper, he would say back, “Love you.” Until the 26th. He was finally comfortably installed in the hospital bed and it was just the two of us quietly together. Even though he was clearly listening and I felt he was very much with me, he was not replying. When I got a bit teary and mentioned that he wasn’t saying “love you” anymore, he immediately tipped his head up, opened hiseyes wide, looking directly into my eyes, and said, strong and clear, “I love you very much, for all time.” It was the last complete thing he said.
On the 27th, I sat next to David and updated CaringBridge, talked with the hospice nurse when she visited, did various caretaker tasks, updated David’s brother Doug when he arrived in the early afternoon from Portland, Oregon, and generally just watched over David as he slept. I thought we were settling into a new pattern, even if just for a few more days, but just before 4 p.m., David took a few irregular breathes and suddenly was gone.
I’m not sure how to describe the next few hours, except to say they were tender and piercing, touching and wrenching, all at the same time. I had precious time alone with him, but mostly we were all there with him, saying our goodbyes in a peaceful, I’d even say holy space that is so rare in this life.
I don’t really remember the next day, except that it was quiet (no more wheezing, thumping oxygen concentrator) and everyone was very gentle with me. I had a few necessary tasks, but the others managed everything else, taking care of the young ones, providing food for all. Best of all, in the evening, they did something David would have LOVED . . . ↓
. . . laser tag with glow bracelets and necklaces, out among the trees on the dark golf course. I wasn’t quite up for it, so declined, but every one of us could absolutely picture David, all in, dodging from tree to tree, giggling like a maniac. The next day people started heading home, so that was our last night together during this bittersweet Christmas holiday. It was strangely perfect.
*A Celebration of David’s Life will be held on the 19th at 4 p.m. at Council Tree Covenant Church in Fort Collins, with a reception to follow at our house. More details and a chance to let me know you’re coming here.
If you have been following David’s battle with pancreatic cancer on CaringBridge, you have heard the devastating news that he is now on home hospice and not expected to make it to Christmas. Considering the fact that we are currently at roughly fourteen and a half months and the original prediction was nine to eleven months of survival, as heartbroken as we are, we are still very grateful to have had this additional time. That said, I can’t pretend we will ever be really ready to let him go.
So many thoughts come flooding in as he rests. Sometimes I need a distraction to keep from pestering him with questions on what I can do for him: if he needs pain meds, if he’ll drink a bit more Ensure or Powerade, etc. Right now seemed as good a time as any to write a post I’ve been meaning to write for months.
In July we flew to Michigan to celebrate the life of David’s cousin Pete (another dear one cancer has taken from us). After a touching evening with family, the next day David and I took a small road trip south for a bit of nostalgia. Brittany was the only one of our daughters able to join us, but two of David’s brothers, Eb and Doug, had one night to spare, so we drove two cars down to Dayton, Ohio. We were actually headed more specifically to Oakwood, the suburb where David and his sister and brothers grew up. First stop, Marion’s Piazza for lunch . . .
. . . then a stroll around the old neighborhood.
Since we were standing out front of their old house, Doug decided to go ring the doorbell to let anyone inside know why we were lurking and taking photos. The woman who came to the door was so kind, she actually invited us in, so we had a chance to see the setting of so many of the stories we’ve heard over the years.
After a few more stops, we sent Brittany with Doug and Eb, since the three of them had flights the next day home from Detroit. David and I had an extra day, so we headed to Indianapolis, where we met in 1978.
Definitely on our agenda was the Indianapolis Museum of Art where we had our first date. The grounds were still as beautiful as we remembered . . .
. . . but the Garden on the Green restaurant was no more. The building is now only available for special events. Still fun to see the building and remember that we were sitting right inside these corner windows . . .
. . . when we both realized we would marry each other. This was four days after we met. I know, sounds crazy, but it did work out rather well! Our 39th wedding anniversary is this Saturday, the 18th.
Later that day we started heading north to get back for our flight home from Detroit the next afternoon. It was a quick trip, but what a sweet one. This little nostalgia tour was all David’s idea, and I love that we had a chance to make a few more memories and revisit the scenes of old ones.
In case you have not yet had the chance to see it, below is a YouTube link to a tiny video of David a few days ago on the 12th. He had a pretty good day, which was nice since it was Brittany’s birthday. He gets a bit confused occasionally and sometimes uses one word when he means another (you’ll hear him say “gracious” when he meant “grateful”) but overall thought you might like to see this word of thanks from David.
Today marks one year from the day David’s cancer was discovered, and we are so very grateful that he is still here with us! We know each day is a gift.
Since the events described in the last post, we finished our time in France by showing Tom and Lexi around some of our favorite spots in Paris: certainly Musée de Cluny — Musée National du Moyen Âge, where we admired again my favorite tapestries . . .
And this very cool stone chapel David discovered on our first visit to this museum.
Then we were headed back to our Airbnb appartement,when David had a much better idea since it was seriously toasty in Paris, even though still only the end of May. His suggestion: Find a café for a beer. This place, Maison Sauvage, was half a block from the apartment and became our regular afternoon refreshment stop.
We mostly called it “Wild House” for short, which had the benefit of not requiring David, Tom or Lexi to attempt any actual French pronunciation (although Lexi’s not too bad, actually).
The next day, Musée d’Orsay . . .
. . . plus Sainte-Chapelle . . . plus ice cream at Glacier Berthillon on the Île Saint- Louis . . . then the OUTSIDE of Notre Dame. They flat-out REFUSED any more of the forced march for that day. Um . . . I can get a little carried away.
The next day we took the Batobus (boat bus) to the Tour Eiffel (we let them climb while we rested and watched the vendors entice tourists with scarves and trinkets, then on to Notre Dame and back to the apartment (or Wild House) for Tom and Lexi.
David and I finished our France adventure by walking over to the Ritz for a final drink in the Ritz bar. Helen had asked us to raise a glass there in memory of her husband John, who died earlier this year. He had treated her to a surprise trip a number of years ago (at her half-serious request for a drink at the Ritz Bar to celebrate her 60th birthday), and they made a pact to come back at least to raise a glass to the one who had gone on before when that time came. She wasn’t quite up for the trip, so we raised a glass in her stead.
And then we raised another glass to us and our 2017 France adventure!
By June 2nd, we were back home and David was back in chemo on Monday the 5th. The last couple of months have been tough, and many things are uncertain. But he is still here and I thank God every day for that. Remember regular updates are on CaringBridge.
As you can see, he never lost his hair, and even though we cut it short (just in case) it is now getting pretty long again and now it’s super curly in back, like it never was before. Makes us smile, and trust me, ALL smiles are welcome!
We’ve even managed a couple of other trips in the last month or so, but they will have to wait for another post.
So, wherever you are, even though it is probably NOT the Ritz Bar in Paris, raise a glass or an amen to David’s one year survival against all odds. All your thoughts, prayers and supportive comments are so very much appreciated. Bless you!
When the sun came out the next day, we were off to climb the three famous towers, while David enjoyed some people-watching down below. David is actually in this photo on the right (okay, he’s a tiny speck, but still). Hint: he’s leaning against a rail near the water’s edge.
Tom is not a huge fan of heights, but he never complained, even when we were trapped–for a WHILE– between two dawdling groups and had to simply breathe and take in the view from the narrow walkway near the top of Tour de la Lanterne. Not the middle walkway. Nope. We were stuck on the TINY ledge you barely see about two-thirds of the way up the tower. And yes, the railing is only about waist high. Seriously, not one complaint. Well done, Tom.
Meanwhile throughout the week, we had several opportunities to introduce Tom and Lexi to Jacky and Pascale and spend some time together.
More friends with whom to celebrate another birthday in France . . . .
Then out into the beautiful La Rochelle evening . . .
Before we knew it, it was time to say au revoir to La Rochelle and to Jacky and Pascale. À très bientôt, j’espère!
On to Paris for a few nights, though, before heading back to the states. What a treat to have had the opportunity for this French adventure. And what a nice pause from our current concerns to pass a few moments remembering good times.