Category Archives: Hard Road

Ebb and Flow

I started this weeks ago and never posted it, but since it is honest and true, even though I’m doing better now, here it is:

(Written April 4): I haven’t wanted to write this. I sort of wanted to pretend I was still at Folk School leaving the grief rock among the daffodils, as if I’m now skipping into the sunrise, but that’s not really how things have been going since I got back.

I was okay for a while. A friend hosted a fabulous French cooking evening that was a super fun group effort as well as delicious…

. . . where I won this . . .

Julia Child Prize for “#1 Best attitude about mistakes or messes

. . . which I would not have won without an epic fail in the kitchen during my part, let’s be honest. But it’s true, we did all cope and laugh about it, and I ended up with a cute new apron.

And yes, I did paint the little 4 x 6 I mentioned in the comments on the last post, and I still like it, especially framed:

In the knowledge that creative things seem helpful to my general well-being, I even finished a piano composition that’s not bad. Admittedly, George Lopez, a music professor at Bowdoin College and a traveling concert pianist who offers lessons when he’s in town every few months, was not impressed. Oh well. I worked on it a bit after that lesson, and my friends have said kind things. And I guess most important, I like it and I feel a sense of accomplishment having done it, so there’s that.

Yesterday, I spent four hours at an art workshop with kind people and a patient, encouraging teacher. Here’s one I started there and finished (maybe) at home last night:

Still, it was hard driving home from that workshop on a glorious Sunday afternoon, knowing David and I, on such an afternoon, would probably have headed straight to the Rio patio for margaritas, but I was headed home alone. All my closest friends happened to be out of town, so I couldn’t even show up looking pitiful on one or the other of their doorsteps. Surely you don’t want to read about me feeling hopeless, but there it is. It seems right to be honest.

Today, April 27: Here I am a few weeks later, and I’m doing better again. I’m recently back from a quick Easter weekend trip out to Portland with my three daughters, which involved only minimal weeping, but I’d better save that for the next post.

I guess this grief journey is still about ebb and flow, even if the grief waves crash over me less frequently and are less likely to knock me off my feet. Thanks be to God, my rock among the shifting sands, and thanks also to you, my dear ones, who hold me and many others in your hearts. I know I’m not the only one walking this rugged shore.


Going . . .

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.

Brittany, Courtney, and Chelsea at cousin Amy’s wedding this past August — As you can probably tell, it was a classy affair!

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.

Still beautiful a week later!

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.

So, no, I’m not going solo. I’m simply going on.


All Roads Lead . . . Here

Back in the office, feeling pretty good!
Back in the office, feeling pretty good!

Since the end of August, when we learned that David has stage IV pancreatic cancer, we have been sustained by an outpouring of love and support. We’ve received so many cards, emails, texts, as well as wonderful life-giving comments on his Caring Bridge site Be sure to check it periodically if you’d like updates on how he’s doing. I try to update it at least once per round of chemo.

We’ve also received LOTS of visits, and this seems a better place than CaringBridge to share about that. I know there are some who would like to visit, but are staying away out of sensitivity to David. It is unfortunately true that even simple conversation can be exhausting. Anything over 30-40 minutes can begin to tax his strength, so thank you for being considerate about that.

But of course our daughters visit as often as they can . . . ↓

David and Courtney, Thanksgiving
David and Courtney, Thanksgiving
David and Brittany, 30 September
David and Brittany, 30 September
Chelsea and David, 4 November
Chelsea and David, 4 November

And David’s brother Doug has been a regular  . . . ↓

David and Doug, September
David and Doug, September
I actually managed to get in a photo! Doug snapped this one.
I actually managed to get in a photo! Doug snapped this one.

Fortunately, they do much of the laundry, vacuuming, even grocery shopping, to spare us extra work.

Helen, Thanksgiving 2016
Helen, Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving weekend, we were able to host the aforementioned regulars, along with David’s brother Eb and his mom, Helen, who pretty much NEVER lets anyone take her picture, so ENJOY this one! Looking pretty great for 89 years old, don’t you think?

Thanks to kind friends, we had enough Aerobeds to go around, tucked into random spaces, and had a really great time. David was given an extra week off from chemo, so was doing quite well for the most part. When he occasionally ran out of steam, he went to the bedroom for a bit of quiet or a power nap. We are so very thankful for how well it all worked out.

David DONE having his picture taken!
David DONE having his picture taken!

What a journey this has already been, now roughly three and a half months in. David is feeling much better now than he was at the beginning, so the chemo so far is working, and the side effects have not been much more than cold sensitivity, fatigue and loss of appetite. The original “11-month average” life-span estimate now seems unnecessarily pessimistic, but we know the future remains uncertain. I find myself on an emotional roller coaster way more often than I’d like, and David has got to be tired of seeing me bursting into tears at random moments, sometimes only seconds after laughing together about something. Sheesh.

But when those emotional times come, we remind each other of all our blessings, and they are MANY. sunrise-10-21-2016

Super-moon, 14 November

Each new sunrise brings one more day to enjoy with each other. We had never before experienced this profound gratitude just for waking up feeling pretty good and being together. And as the moon shines down on us after another good day, we remember all of you who have taken time out of your day to reach out with a note or a text or a meal or flowers or a home-maintenance task completed or an encouraging comment after a blog post, and we are very grateful indeed.

Doug left this on our magnetic poetry board after one of his visits:

yesterday, as then

you, my friend, sing of eternity

needing no voice


devouring our languid winter away

He never said a word about it, but what a beautiful image to discover during the quiet of a lull between house-guests. What would we do without all of you, our dearly beloved? You are the hands and arms and feet of God in our lives. Thank you.

Sudden Sharp Turn

Our life of adventure has taken a sudden sharp turn into difficult territory. We have had some very devastating news about David’s health. We should know something more definite tomorrow, but what we’ve been told so far is bad enough. More on that later.

David and Sunny in France, 2014
David and Sunny in France, 2014

I was planning to tell you last week about our recent road trip to Portland, Oregon. But before I could get it done, David was hospitalized for three days. Now that David’s home, we’re trying to rest and soak in the quiet for the moment. Seems a good time to try to write this. It’s the best way to reach many of you who are not on other email lists of ours.

Here’s how the past couple of weeks unfolded.

Road-Tripping Sunny
Road-Tripping Sunny — Day 1

Day 1: See photo at right: David refused to get a passer-by to take the photo so he could be the moose. Who wouldn’t want to be a moose? Same old David. No problems so far.

Day 2 -- Walden to Steamboat and Beyond -- 28 August 2016
Day 2 — Walden to Steamboat and Beyond — 11 August 2016

Then, the next day, David’s difficulty climbing the stairs up to this view was our first clue that something might be amiss.

Mount Hood, Oregon
Mount Hood, Oregon

Another bit of walking and stair climbing, a couple of days later, to see Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge, was also surprisingly tough for him.

Atop Mt. Hood -- Oregon
View from atop Mt. Hood — Oregon — Day 4

I was worried about his heart, but it didn’t seem there were any obviously ER-worthy symptoms, and David insisted he just wanted to take things a bit easy and see a doctor when we got back home.

Day 5: Sunday, we were in Portland and visited the Japanese Gardens.Japanese Gardens -- Portland

Zen Garden

Beautifully serene, and we all quietly strolled and rested on benches, so no problems here.

Day 6: Monday, we all took it easy, only strolling to the shops around the corner from Doug and Kristl’s, David’s brother and sister-in-law.

Day 7: Tuesday, David was not up for going anywhere, so he stayed back when several of us went wine tasting . . . .

Willamette Valley Vineyard
Willamette Valley Vineyard

Day 8: Wednesday, another quiet day, only walking a block or two over to some friends’ lovely wine shop  . . .

Portland Bottle Shop
Portland Bottle Shop —
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Day 9: Thursday morning, David and I began the long drive home. We took a short break at Multnomah Falls . . . →

. . . then on to Lewiston, Idaho. Early dinner and to bed.

Day 10: Took the scenic Route 12 across northern Idaho and into Montana. David dropped into bed in Butte, Montana, around 5:45, no interest in dinner.

Day 11: Through Yellowstone National Park, lunching at the Old Faithful Inn . . . ↓

Old Faithful Inn Yellowstone
Old Faithful Inn Yellowstone

Stopped to stretch and take a few shots of the geysers . . . ↓

Yellowstone Geysers
Yellowstone Geysers

David again dropped into bed around 5:30 p.m. in Lander, Wyoming (AKA, the middle of nowhere), with still no interest in dinner. I was starting to panic, but he refused to go get checked out, and I had no idea what quality of care to expect in a small town, so allowed myself to be convinced, after locating the nearest hospital (1.5 miles away) and making him promise to tell me if he started to feel worse.

Day 12: Four and a half hours from home, mostly through a VERY EMPTY part of Wyoming, with hardly even any other cars on the road. I drove the whole way, a bit white-knuckled, then right over to Urgent Care, since it was a Sunday and our clinic was not open. The Urgent Care people did a quick EKG, but sent us to the nearby ER to better check his heart: another EKG, lung x-ray, blood tests, etc.

But his heart was fine. So after a few hours to be certain of that, they told us to follow up with our primary care physician Monday morning and sent us home.

Day 13: We got an appointment for Monday afternoon with our family physician, and we both went in, so I could help describe symptoms and we’d have two sets of ears hearing information. Dr. Duran suggested additional blood tests and an appointment with a cardiologist to get a stress test.  David didn’t want to go straight to the lab, but said he’d have blood drawn after the 7 a.m. cardiology appointment Tuesday morning.

Day 14: The cardiologist also saw no sign of a heart attack, but scheduled a stress test for Friday. We headed home, only realizing we’d forgotten to go to the lab after we were halfway home. David said he’d go first thing the next morning.

Day 15: Early Wednesday, David went for the requested labs and we went about our day, David dragging a bit and still somewhat uncomfortable when trying to breathe deeply. Around 5 p.m. Dr. Duran called and said get to the Emergency Room RIGHT NOW — DO NOT DELAY. One of David’s lab numbers, from the blood test that morning, indicated that he was at grave risk of a pulmonary embolism, which could potentially kill him. Meanwhile, he’d been having the exact same symptoms for the entire trip and at least low energy and some chest tightness for some time before that. YIKES. Dropped everything and got right over there.

David was immediately admitted into the ER, where yet another EKG was done (fine), and then a CT scan. And here’s where our world was turned upside down.

The ER doctor came right back and told us yes, there were multiple blood clots found in David’s lungs and an IV blood thinner would be started immediately, but there was worse to come. The CT scan had revealed multiple lesions on his liver and an enlarged pancreas, which he suggested may be the source of a metastatic cancer. David was admitted immediately, and a lot happened very quickly, with more the next morning, including a biopsy of one or more lesions in his liver. These are the results we are expecting tomorrow morning.

Our hearts are breaking, even as we are so profoundly grateful for so many things.

  • All those days on the road and in Portland, where a blood clot could have killed him at any moment, but didn’t.
  • A beautiful road trip together that David very much wanted to take.
  • The excellent care David has so far received from the medical professionals.
  • The messages we’ve already received of love, hope, faith, courage, and much more from our dear ones, and even from a few we barely know, since I sent this news to the prayer chain and set up the CaringBridge site.
  • Of course, we’re so deeply grateful for the 38 amazing years we’ve already had together, including our thirteen-month adventure in France and on the road.  We absolutely still hope to extend that into more years and more adventures.
  • And especially right now, we are grateful for the comfort and peace of our great God, who seems even more present to us in these recent hard days than in the easy days that have gone before.

I could go on and on (and already have, I know). Not sure when the next post on this site will be, but for updates on David, see the CaringBridge site where I will post regular updates and thoughts on this new hard journey we are just beginning. Your prayers, well wishes, and encouraging comments after journal updates are, and will continue to be, appreciated more than you know.

From Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? 

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.         

Thank you for lending us your strength and taking heart with us on our way.