Posts Tagged With: dying

Good Grief and other Nonsense

My internal weather.

My internal weather.

“The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course. Until Caroline had died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence, and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity.” ~Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

I read this book by Gail Caldwell a while back. Before I’d met my best friend. It was an interesting read back then. I even quoted it several times in this blog post last year.

Now I’m rereading the book as a roadmap, trying to find my way out of this jungle I’m lost in.

I had no idea I’d feel this way. I thought I’d feel sad, of course, after Kathy’s Myeloma wrenched her from life. But this isn’t anything like any sadness or depression I’ve ever felt.

There’s real, tangible physical pain. No one ever told me about that. People don’t discuss grief actually, so when would I have learned this?

And I have only one channel in my head that comes in clear enough to see or hear, the Kathy Channel. Twenty-four hours a day it plays. That bluish light that a TV screen throws out haunting the recesses of my head day and night. Oh sure, I hear and see other things. I go about my day at one-quarter speed, doing dishes, moving laundry about, showing up at places I said I’d be at.

But the background buzz, hum, light, music and weather consists of Kathy. She’d find that funny and pathetic at the same time. Glad I could humor her, sorry if I’m letting her down.

I can’t find a remote to change the emotional channel I’m stuck on.  And it takes more energy than I have to look for it and figure out the buttons if I stumbled onto it.

Insert exhaustion photo here. Picture whatever fits for you, I can’t think that hard today.

I feel successful when I get dressed. When I eat. When I carry on a conversation without saying her name or referring to her somehow.

Please don’t ask me to go to the grocery store. It takes hundreds of steps to get to the dairy section, and more energy than I have to lift the gallon of milk into the cart. And then seeming miles away the produce section waits, the logic of its order lost on me. And the loudspeaker blaring, do loudspeakers do anything else but blare? Obviously the overnight restocking crew cranks the music up and no one ever turns it down. How am I supposed to think through this grocery list with so many bad songs from the eighties and nineties blasting away at my every thought? And heaven forbid I should see someone I know. I dig up my cheerful face, drag out my pretend untired voice, pull my shoulders back to give the illusion of standing up.

I attempt all the right responses.

“Fine. Great. Tough. Getting through. Life. Goes On. Thanks. Sure. Uh huh. See ya around.”

Then I cave in on myself. I want to curl up in the shopping cart and sleep, right there beside the salad dressings and croutons and bacon bits. Pull some cereal boxes over my head like a bad blanket.

But that would indicate some kind of madness or lack of sanity or a grip slipped. So instead, I stare at the grocery list and find something on it that tells me what I should do next, if I can go home yet.

All this from a mere five-year friendship.

I can’t begin to fathom a twenty-five year marriage with half of the duo gone. It’d be like a body with no skin, all raw, exposed nerves and internal parts on fire with rage, salt encrusted, oozing.

Someone should do something to fix this. This can’t be right. Aren’t there rules or laws that make this kind of pain illegal or impossible?

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Categories: Cancer, Death, Mental Health, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Missing Words and Missing People

It’s Gratituesday. Today I feel profound gratitude for the five years I enjoyed with my best friend Kathy. She passed away early on Friday.

A Lincoln rose, Kathy's favorite.

A Lincoln rose, Kathy’s favorite.

She was ready for it.  For her, death arrived with relief and peace and hope.

We had talked openly and frequently about death during her war years with cancer. Turns out that theory and talk didn’t prepare me for this reality.

I’ve never seen anyone with such a capacity for honesty and directness. Never one to beat around a bush, Kathy simply says what she thinks. And somehow, through charm or charisma, or that cutesy high-pitched teenage voice, she gets away with it. In fact, I’ve found myself emulating her straightforward ways and am all the better for it.

Spunky, gutsy, and get ‘er done doesn’t quite do her justice. If she set her mind to something you’d better get out of the way or pick up a hammer and get to work beside her. Determination resonates as her middle name.

Hand in hand with such spunk is her fearlessness which still dazzles me. My breath catches when I think of the countless number of times she faced a new chemo treatment, another experimental drug, another bone biopsy. Courage of astounding proportions resided in that heart of hers.

She wrapped her all around her children and her husband. Family first, family always. We talked more about her family than any other topics combined. She loves that bunch of people with every bit of herself. Literally and figuratively.

Her fierce capacity for love, listening, acceptance and caring radiated and warmed so many.

Whatever I come up with to express gratitude for her sounds so inadequate. The right words seem caught on the jagged edges of this crater left in my heart by her passing.

Unlike Kathy, I find myself woefully unprepared for her death.

This surprising onslaught of grief seems equally weighted against the laughter, joy and beauty she brought into my life for which I will be forever grateful.

Categories: Cancer, Death, Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Laughing Even When it Seems Wrong or Impossible

Kathy loves to laugh. She can see humor in some of the most surprising places. I’ve even heard her chuckle a couple of times this week, in spite of the rapid changes happening to her.

She, more than anyone I know, appreciates a bit of morbid laughter and jokes about dying. Like I’ve said before, there isn’t a topic she’s afraid of. Death certainly wasn’t taboo. Joking about it made it all the more approachable. So here are a few chuckles to lift the mood in the room.

20131228-113206.jpgOn more than one occasion we’ve discussed the movie “Patch Adams” and that wonderful scene between Patch and Bill, but we could never remember all the euphemisms for death that they came up with. So, I finally looked it up.

Patch Adams for real, not the movie version.

Patch Adams for real, not the movie version.

“Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, Demised, departed And defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “Slow down.” To check out. 
 To shuffle off this mortal coil. 
 To head for the happy hunting ground. 
: To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. 
 To find oneself without breath.  To be the incredible decaying man.  Worm buffet.  Kick the bucket.  Buy the farm. Take the cab. Cash in your chips.” – Patch Adams

Kathy likes being the center of attention. So this one in particular seems appropriate to share.

20131228-094814.jpgWe’ve taken turns over the past few years being one fish or the other. She, admittedly, was usually the glass half full fish.

20131228-113252.jpgThat thin line between humor and truth can bring out some startling and deep thinking. Calvin and Hobbes  seem wise beyond their years in this one.

20131228-113219.jpg

Categories: Cancer, Death, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Bit of Perspective on Kissing and Other Stuff

It’s that time of year where half the world seems to lose all perspective.

christmas 2007

A Disco Christmas? (Photo credit: paparutzi)

Chatting with my best friend the other day about Erma Bombeck’s list of things she would have done differently in life prompted her own short list of things she would have done if she had more time.

“These are not a list of regrets,” she was quick to assure me. “I have no regrets!” She gave me that look that said she was seriously completely honest about that statement. “No regrets!”

That’s true. She has used these past few nauseated chemofied pain-managed years making sure there would be no regrets that she had control over.

But there is this short list of ‘would have if she could have’ that I wrote down as we talked, with her permission of course.

  • Kiss her husband more often for at least six seconds each time
  • Pull her kids out of school for whatever, more often
  • Travel more
  • Jump on the trampoline when the kids asked instead of “later”
  • Ride bikes with the kids more
  • Teach more life skills that come in handy like “let the dryer do the ironing” and such.
  • Read bedtime stories more regularly
  • Be more gracious and nicer to her husband
  • Attend temple more often
  • Never ever start drinking soda
  • Adopt a Chinese baby since her husband speaks Chinese and could help keep their culture
  • Yell Less
  • Exercise more consistently
Gift!

Gift! (Photo credit: allie™)

I noticed the “more” she wished for wasn’t something that could be put in a package, wrapped up and tied with a bow then slid under a Christmas Tree. The “more” wasn’t something she could send someone on an errand last-minute to take care of.

I sure hope I’m making the big things the big things and not getting it backward.

It’s so easy to let the minor things take over and get major league treatment. Meanwhile The Really Important People and events end up forgotten, rolling and banging around in the cargo area.

I’m pretty sure my list would be full of BIG regrets. Not something like this “woulda been nice if” list.

Lipstick Kiss

Maybe I ought to start doing something about my regret list now, while I have time. At least, I think I have time.

We never know, do we?

Pucker up MSH, I’m headed your way.

Categories: Cancer, Death, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six to Eight, Give or Take a Little

Blink

Blink (Photo credit: ballookey)

What would you do with six to eight weeks to live?

Six weeks equal forty-two days.

Forty-two days!

That’s 1008 hours. That’s all!

Eight weeks equal fifty-six days. Which amounts to 1344 hours. Sounds like a lot put that way, sort of.

Blink.

Blink again and it’s gone.

What did you just do in the past six weeks? In the past two months? Did you do anything noteworthy? Impact someone’s life for the better? Make a change in your life that felt good? Spend time with family? Apologize? Make amends? Let go of a grudge? Let go of the past?

What plans for your future are you going to miss if you’re gone in two months? Who will you miss? Who will miss you?

Have you laughed much in the past six weeks? How about tears, how much have you cried in the past eight weeks? Did you read anything life-changing, interesting or worthwhile? Did you learn something new in the past eight weeks?

Has anything caught your breath in the past one thousand hours? Been surprised by something? Have you just sat quietly with someone and felt comfortable in the silence?

Have you thanked someone in the past two months? Have you taken some time to think about all the hard things you’ve overcome to get you to where you are now? How about thinking through the good, glorious, hilarious, fun, astounding and amazing things you’ve had in your life so far?

Could you let go of it all?

Who would you say goodbye to? How would you say goodbye?

Is there someone who’d need to hear that you love them before you left, or are you sure they know? Are you really sure?

I can hardly breathe for thinking about such things.

Maybe the six to eight weeks will really turn into twelve weeks or more. That’d be good, that’d be great!  But still, it wouldn’t be enough. Not nearly. What I want is six to eight more years, twelve more years, a thousand years.

I don’t want to have to say goodbye. I don’t want to let go of a friendship. I don’t know how to permanently let go of a best friend.

I’ve never had to do that. I don’t ever want to do it.

And yet.

Blink.

Categories: Death | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Caskets, Headstones, Tears and Laughter

Somewhere in the top ten worst things to have to deal with as a human being, I’m just guessing here, I imagine picking out a casket or a headstone for a loved one would rank in the horrendous category.

Headstone

Headstone (Photo credit: Karen_O’D)

Also in that same range of horrific would be picking out your own casket and headstone. Worse, if you happened to be younger than fifty.

Can’t even get my head around those things.

A few years ago Mom and Dad bought their shared headstone. They had it engraved with all us kids’ names on the back. On the front they have their names with their birth dates and then the dash.  The blank after the dash will get filled in eventually. Hopefully not for a couple more decades. They had it set in the ground next to my brother’s resting place. Some fifty odd years ago they had the wisdom to buy a couple of plots when they purchased his. Brian wasn’t even a year old.

Talk about horrific things in life to endure. That’s surely the absolute worst. Losing a child. How does someone survive that? I don’t ever want to know.

They made that purchase to save us kids the expense and hassle. That’s just like them, always thinking about everyone else. Not long after they did this I was visiting and they wanted to show me the headstone. I gotta’ tell ya’ I was a bit freaked out by the idea. Once I got there, I was okay with it, sort of.

A beautiful cemetery. It’s in the northern foothills of the town I grew up in. A green sloping knoll with a few small trees. The view from their plot overlooks the entire valley north to south and east to west. In my younger days we used to visit every Memorial Day, place flowers in the metal vase, pull a few weeds, try to figure out where to stand so as not to be disrespectful. That’s Memorial Day to me. Remembering my brother that I never met, since I wasn’t born yet. But we remembered him.

The last 8mm reels Dad transferred to DVD had scenes with Brian and my other older brother. It felt like Memorial Day watching that. I wanted to reach out and hug him, say hello, ask how things are going up there. Part of me pictures him as growing up, getting married, hanging out with the rest of us. Part of me pictures him staying small, sweet and cuddly. Part of me wishes I’d had a chance to know him.

Isn’t that odd? He’s family though. So it shouldn’t feel odd, I guess.

This isn’t what I thought I’d say today. Surprising what sneaks out of your heart when you open the door a little for something else you stuffed in and quickly slammed the door on.

Maybe what I really meant to write isn’t for public consumption. Maybe what I really need to say about death and dying can only be spoken in the language of tears.

Of course, there’s an exception to that. I know someone who can talk about death in the language of laughter, too. She has a braver and more urgent reason to speak about it. Sure, she cries the words, too, sometimes. But the mixture of the two languages is  part of what apparently keeps her sane in the face of something very nearly unspeakable.

Death and dying.

Tears. And Laughter?

I think I need language lessons from her.

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Related Posts I’ve written:

My Closest Friend is Dying

Sudden or Slow?

Riding the Killer Waves

 

Categories: Death | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Closest Friend is…Dying

I saw this Daily Post prompt today and thought this would be good for me to write about. I thought I might simply write something but not really post it. It would be cathartic, healing, helpful, insightful. Writing on this topic could lead to some much-needed answers.

I’ve written about her and our friendship before, but that’s been a while. It’s time to think things through again.

Vault Door

Vault Door  (Photo credit: mmahaffie)

Crap.

I sit here blank and empty.

Now I see I have a bunch of steel walls of denial and protection shielding me from facing this reality.

Oh, we talk about it. She and I. What her funeral will consist of, who will speak, what music to have, even what food to serve at the luncheon afterwards.  We’ve talked about her headstone, a bench for visitors. We’ve talked about how she doesn’t want to die in a hospital, but at home. We’ve talked about the raw deal this is. We’ve talked about the good stuff that’s happened in spite of such misery. We’ve talked about the constant pain, the nausea, the chemofuzzybrain. We’ve talked and talked and talked.

Not sure there’s a topic we haven’t touched on.

We’ve talked about our lives. Lots of that stuff. That’s what makes friends, talking about real things, worries, bad choices, craziness, kids, husbands, fun times. It’s a pretty even give and take, too. You’d think it wouldn’t be. You’d think it’d be me listening to her and her concerns. But no. She’s quite the listener. And she gets it. She gets my odd life, she commiserates with my whiny ways. She asks how I’m doing and then she cares and remembers. It isn’t all about her. How’s that for an amazing friend?

There are days I do a bunch of the listening, but we’re pretty evenly matched on talking and listening.

She’s got my back. And I’ve got hers.

That’s friendship. Someone you can count on who gets you.

It stinks big time that I’ve finally got this best friend ever in the history of the world after a zillion years and now she’s going to go away.  It’s not like she’s moving across the country and we can call every day. It’s not like she’s moving up north for more reasonable weather and we can still text back and forth. Crap. No. It’s not like that at all.

As far as I know there’s no social media, telegraph, phone, wireless connection, garage code or front door that I can knock on to get in touch with her once she’s gone.

three drinks from sonic

(Photo credit: Rakka)

Then what?

I have no idea.

I don’t even want to go there, think that far ahead, or be that person.

I’m just going to stay in denial. Who says I can’t. No one, that’s who. I can pretend as long as I want that our friendship will last forever, that’s she’s always going to be there.

I’m going to pretend that we’ll keep getting diet cherry Cokes at Sonic for the rest of our lives, until we’re dragging our great-grandkids along for happy hour slushies and corn dogs.

You would, too.

Believe me. With a best friend like I have you would be in denial, too.

Categories: Death, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Disturbance in the Force

Did you feel it?

I’m sure I did. My heart did this fluttery, skipping a beat, then a rushing to catch up weird sensation earlier this week. Like a balloon deflating there was suddenly no energy in the room.

My cousin, Darrin Olsen, almost thirty-three years old, passed away.

Darrin lights up a room when he walks in. He’s one of those people everyone is so happy to have show up. The vibe around him is upbeat and pulsing with life and excitement.

Whether he’s telling a joke, goofing off in front of a camera, or playing Ultimate Frisbee, he is all in, one hundred percent going for it. Talk about infectious laughter and smiles! Just saying the name Darrin puts a smile on the face of anyone who knows him.

Clearing skies over Morgan, Utah

(Photo credit: coty creighton)

I’d like to think he’s had a nice visit with Grandpa and Grandma Olsen and a couple of other cousins. Then, I envision him on a phenomenal hike in the heavens with a view unmatched here on earth.

I’m thinking he’s figuring out if he can do an ultimate bungee jump from there to here, just for the thrill of it. He’ll be able to talk whoever is in charge into it, no doubt, with that charming smile of his. I can here it now. “Sure, Gumpers, for you, I’ll bend the rules a bit. Here’s the bungee cord. Have fun!”

Ah, Darrin, you are already missed so much by so many.

Get a team together for a game of Ultimate for the rest of us when we get there. It’ll be epic!

In the meantime, feel the love we’re all sending your way.

Categories: Death, Hope, Memory Lane, People | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sudden or Slow?

“Don’t you think it’s much harder to have someone die suddenly than to have them die slowly?”

Multiple myeloma (1) MG stain

Multiple myeloma. Don’t let the pretty color fool you, this is wicked stuff.

A room full of ten women recently heard that question. The one asking is dying slowly. It’s a process that’s being going on for the past four and half years. The one she was asking lost her husband unexpectedly to death six months ago. Neither of these women qualify as old, not by any stretch of the imagination. They are young and at the peak of life’s gifts and joys and grinds.

What a stunning question to ask someone straight out when they’ve suffered such a horrendous loss.

It caught my breath. But they’ve both earned the right at such honesty about  a difficult subject.

But there’s no topic off-limits in that group. Not anymore. Ten years ago, maybe. Now. No.

A short list of some the other losses for that group of friends:

  • Two have cared for a dying or dementia ridden parent who then died.
  • A mother died from cancer.
  • A mother died after a long, long life.
  • A best friend dying suddenly in an accident.
  • A husband suffered a massive coronary, lived, but has lost earning capacity, mental acuity and vitality.
  • A sister with brain cancer.
  • Parents died at the hands of a drunk driver when she was eleven.

The Answer to that question is…

The conclusion was that sudden death was harder to deal with. No warning. No chances to say goodbye, to say last important words.

Although, the slow dying thing isn’t exactly fun for anyone involved either.

My friends talked about extra weeks purchased at the cost of hail-Mary chemo treatments. Talk of hospice and bereavement counseling also bantered about the room.

Honestly, I felt myself trying to physically create an emotional wall in that room. I kept turning my head away from this wrenching discussion, visualizing a barrier, willing my hearing to deafen instantly. Even now, writing about it, I’m leaning away from that side of the room, trying to create distance from such personal stabs of knife twisting pain.

I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to deal with it.

There’s no escaping though.

We’re all dying slowly.

But that’s not the point is it?

The point is living in the meantime.

Velcade Chemo treatment: Cycle 2, Week 2

Velcade Chemo treatment (Photo credit: tyfn)

That isn’t always easy. Filled to the brim with mean poisons, your body overrun with side-effects, doped up on painkillers to survive the treatment that’s supposed to buy you more time, how do you make use of such poor quality time? How do you smile when the pain is excruciating? How does someone do anything useful, check any tiny thing off their bucket list, interact with their loved ones in a meaningful way under such circumstances? Cancer and its treatment is a personal tornado that rips lives to shreds.

Or maybe your challenges are slightly less complicated than that. Maybe you have chronic pain or a life altering illness. Perhaps you’re unemployed. Maybe you’re always worried about finances. Perhaps you work in a horrid place. Maybe your spouse makes life unbearable. Your parent might need additional care. Your child could have learning difficulties. Your car is unreliable. Loneliness haunts you. Your past feels inescapable.

Or maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s just garden-variety stuff. Busy schedules, sore muscles, what to fix for dinner for the zillionth time, a curfew-breaking teen, piles of bills needing attention, the mountain of laundry requiring scaling, a leaking roof, a tooth ache, weeds.

Living in the moment while living in the reality we find ourselves in. Not always easy. Rarely easy, actually.

Have we created a now that includes eternity or is now all there is? What’s your perspective? Immediate, long-term, short-term? Or maybe with blinders on? That’s a tempting option, but not a great one. How do you get through? What’s your coping strategy?

Death is coming for us all, eventually. Sooner or later. That’s the only way out.

What are we doing in the meantime?

Categories: Death, Mental Health, Wondering | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Riding the Killer Waves

In her book “The Year of PleasuresElizabeth Berg writes of a woman who loses her husband to cancer. The book focuses mainly on her life after his death. She touches tentatively on the time after his diagnosis, their brief months shared before she became a widow. This quote summed it up for me:

“It seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next. Finding the balance between the two was the art and the salvation.”

English: Breaking Waves, Rocks of Garheugh

When I first read this book quite some time ago I found a much different message than the one I see with the eyes I have now. Now my best friend is battling Multiple Myeloma. You can read about attempting to Laugh at Death here.

Is there balance in a life approaching its expiration date too soon?

Can balance exist in a life with an unknown, far distance expiration date?

Ms. Berg is right. At least, it feels true. We all live this way. Well, maybe not all of us. Maybe just me. And anyone who has cancer or loves someone who has cancer. Particularly if that cancer can’t be cured.

Finding a balance between gratitude and wrecked? Between full to the brim and smashed to smithereens on the rocks of despair? It just seems impossible some days.

Maybe it isn’t finding the balance, but in trying to find the balance that something happens. After all, it’s “the art and the salvation.”

Do I even know what I’m talking about or am I just flailing about looking for answers?

You’re right.

Here’s additional advice from Ms. Berg’s beautiful novel. It’s from the dying husband to the wife who will try to go on living after he’s gone:

“Don’t get too hungry, too tired or too sad.”

That’s good advice for anyone in any situation. It’s particularly great advice if you’re in mourning, or anticipating the unknown yet certain pain of loss through death.

I’m not sure it’s possible to control being “too sad” or even “too tired” when death takes its scythe to someone we love. I wonder if there really is such a thing as “too sad”?

My life is currently incredibly blessed. I’m almost embarrassed by the richness of the plate set before me; “full to the brim with gratitude and joy” very aptly describes now.  Makes me a bit nervous, to tell you the truth.

English: Breaking waves at the beach of Cerca ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time I am riding the waves aimed for wretched rocks as I write. There is no getting off this particular wave. Cancer and death will take what they have battled long for. And I will be left empty in spite of all the brimming cups of joy and gratitude that lay in my path and swirl in the very air I breathe. And then what?

Then what?

I can’t imagine the next thing.

I suppose I will try to not get too hungry, too tired or too sad and I will try to find a new fulcrum from which to attempt a balance between wretched and grateful.

Until I have to try that particular new something I will revel in every moment given me.

Call me dramatic. Call me pessimistic. Call me Pollyanna. Call me anything.

I won’t hear you.

I’ll be busy trying.

Lonely Woman Watching Sea Waves on Beach

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full? You tell me. I’m in over my head.

(The Daily Post at WordPress.com: The Glass)

Categories: Death, Gratitude | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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