Thursday, January 26, 2017

Of course

Of course we entertain thoughts of suicide. Us widowers. It is part of the grief. It is in an odd kind of way, a comfort. To know that ultimately we can choose not to live because the living is so damn brutal at times. I've spoken to other widows who have said the same thing, but only eventually, reluctant sharing that finds common ground. It's that unspoken thing that we plot to ourselves in our lonely rooms late at night, or sometimes crossing the street wondering if that truck will stop and if we just timed it properly.

It is a grievous burden being a widow and yet we are expected to carry on, certainly not as if nothing happened but certainly in a hopeful way by those around us who purportedly love us.

This is why most of us spend time in the grief process, after having entertained every possible notion of offing ourselves, waiting to die. We wait for the heart attack or the cancer or the car accident or the dreadful incurable disease that we will refuse treatment for so that we can gracefully or ungracefully exit without being blamed, without being seen as weak and stupid and ungrateful; without inflicting an unbearable hurt on the ones who love us.

But of course it doesn't happen. We eventually realize we are to go on.

I had a friend, a wise friend, who sat me down and said "Okay, if you want to die, let's get on with it. Right now." And I responded that I had all sorts of paper war to do before I could kill myself. "So," said he, "you are not ready to die. So you better get on with the living part." He then began to help me with the paper war.

Mad as hell I was at him. For a minute or two. Maybe even a day. But the next morning I woke up and instead of miserably choosing not to face the day yet again, I got up and made coffee and played with little Vincent the dog before tackling more paper war. At the end, the decision is pragmatic. It is not a happy one. It is one that says you must go on--sad, despairing, alone, sometimes afraid, and almost always angry if not bitter.

I had said to my "grief counsellor" [who seems to have disappeared ironically, like the 72% of friends and relatives who disappear on widows (according to the statistics from the Globe and Mail article)] that my goal was not to become bitter from all of this. How foolish my goal.

You're damn straight I'm bitter.

There isn't enough love in the world to take away that feeling.

Why couldn't we have had our happiness in this world for a long time yet to come? Why such a good man? Why? The never-answered question. The one you end up living with for the rest of your life. The one that many seem to think they can answer but haven't the foggiest notion like the rest of us. The best answer is that there is none. The hopeful answer which infuriates me is that it is not for us to know. 

So then we widows just carry on. If we are lucky we have children or grandchildren to distract, to give meaning, to give a sense of the future. If we aren't so lucky, we gather hope where we may to face yet another day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The First Day of Spring

I lost my love on the first day of Spring.

I don't remember what the weather was like really. I remember the moon on the river because our friend drove me home from the hospital along River Road. It was a bright moon, ripely shining.

I am surprised I remember even that. I was in shock really. In shock probably from the day we got the diagnosis. I stayed there for a long long long time. So long in fact that even now, close to a year later I wake up reluctantly in the morning and wonder where I am and why I'm here. It makes no sense to me. But the dog needs attending to and there is the paper war. I don't ever seem to get to the paper war. I don't know why. I don't even know what it is I do all day. Distraction. Distraction. Anything to distract. I can't seem to paint. I can barely write. I only feel comforted in the company of others who might visit because then the fight to distract is not driving me, exhausting me. And then there are the days I cannot have visitors because I've forgotten how to be.

That spring when I lost my love was different than any other spring we had had in recent memory. It snowed late. And all the birds came out from the forest, drifting, flitting, filling the feeders. Birds I'd never seen before. Pink breasted, tawny underbellies, dull and coloured and bright against the snow. At the front walkway a lone robin sat wet and bedraggled and forlorn. I fed him raisins and eggs. It must have been Easter for they were brightly painted eggs my neighbour kindly gave me. The feeder was filled over and over again. I would sit there in my state of shock and watch them. They were a gift.

I would think that George had sent me the birds because he could not bring me flowers anymore. On the table of course the flowers from the funeral home died a certain death from neglect. I hated them. I eventually threw them off the side of the deck and watched their brownness eventually vanish into the undergrowth.

Here my feeder feeds little brown birds, occasionally a chickadee. They are angry and impolite with each other. Or maybe it is me who is angry and impolite. Perhaps. It happens to us old women. Maybe not all of us. Maybe just me. Maybe just me and that woman on Rideau who shuffles along angrily talking to herself. Maybe that was me. It could be.

But this old woman still smiles at clerks, and postal workers and people in the hall because that is how I used to be and since I don't know who I am I rely on a vague memory of who I once was. I am changed.

George would bring me lilacs every single spring. Every single spring that he was with me at the house. He had a favourite lilac bush on an abandoned lot on the 105. I used to say to him what on earth would people think, him riding along happily on his bike with a bunch of flowers on the handlebars smiling widely.  I was almost always at the window when he was due home, looking for him. And he would kiss me. Every single day.

In the morning he would kiss me. Every single day.

The birds were not the gift--George was the gift.

If love hurts, its loss is worse. I would not trade a single day for our lives together. But I would not recommend love. Not anymore.

The pretend world of the Walking Wounded Widows

Some people are shocked by the raw honesty of my posts on losing George. I am a writer. It is what I do. I am gifted or perhaps cursed by an ability to put words to feelings, situations, life. Not all people are so endowed. And my words to me seem inadequate to the task.

Out there in the world, are widows and widowers experiencing what I write about. They do so without fanfare, little acknowledgement of the pain they are in and forced into a desperate silence by a society unwilling and/or unable to see their pain. They carry the pain. It is never going to go away. It may improve. It may be put aside temporarily but it is with them on their journey for the rest of their lives. It is particularly painful for those who loved their spouses. Some did not. (It happens.)

A recent article in the Globe and Mail about "The Widowhood Effect" set me off on this latest bout of grief. It was a brutal article. Not a single thing in it was optimistic in the least. It was in its way, written to explain widows to a public the author obviously felt needed to be educated. And indeed they do. It was not an article any new widow should read however. It gives no hope. It does give statistics and they are grim. See these little statistics quoted below.

I wanted to write the Globe and Mail and tell them, this article did not help. It hurt me. It hurt my hope. It hurt my faith. It hurt my heart. The take-away from the article was simply there was no light at the end of this long dark road. And I guess, we widows are supposed to accept that. I am feebly refusing to at this point.

I did not write them simply because at the end of the day it did some good bringing home a reality to those who have no idea. And if you have not gone through it, there REALLY is NOTHING you can say, other than to be there. You cannot possibly know.

The sad reality is, it is likely for those who are married or in long-term relationships, that it will be something you WILL go through. You can only hope that it is when you are both older, wiser, content, ready to say good-bye. I wish this for you. I didn't have that. I'm considered one of the "young" widows the Globe and Mail article refers to as having such dark statistics more pronounced. It is one thing to know you have maybe a few more years without ever hearing the sound of your loved one singing in the shower, or laughing with you, or speaking that secret language you develop together. But to face a long life yet and know you have to do it without those arms around you, without that wit and comfort and wisdom. It is brutal. That is all I have to say about this grief thing. It is brutal.

It's why I say always hold your loved ones close. Always.

I believed it must be different for those who are fortunate to have children. But then I often hear about how it is sometimes even more lonely for a widow or widower with children. Expectations on both sides seem to fail miserably. "you can't possibly understand what I'm going through" versus "you should be doing this for yourself to get better/you should be over this by now." The "get better" part is the rough one. It's not a disease. It's a life sentence you learn to live inside.

And the young, they move on. They have busy lives. We raise them to leave us. And so they do. That is the role and the result of good parenting. Widows do what they can to protect them from their own pain. It seems hard for them to stop being parents no matter how old they are. They protect their children until the day they die I suspect. I, being childless, do not know if this is the right thing or the wrong thing to do.

Grief is not something that widows seem to be able to explain enough to their families so they pretend a lot. A very lot. So their children will be happy. So they won't be left alone because they are such bad company. So they can protect their children from seeing a parent's vulnerability. They agree to a lot. When they don't want to. It's a pretend world. The wounded walking. 

Perhaps I think, it is best I never had children. My little dog will do.

"The widowed are two and a half times more likely to die of suicide in the first year of widowhood than the general population. We are, in fact, more likely to died of many causes: heart attacks, car accidents, cancer, many seemingly random afflictions that are not so random after all. There's a name for this in the scientific literature: the widowhood effect." This was based on a paper from 1986, and "40 years of research confirms it."

"Widowhood is associated with 22-per-cent higher risk of death compared to the married population. The effect is most pronounced among younger widows and widowers, defined as those in their 40s and 50s.

"On average a widow loses 75 per cent of her support base after the loss of a spouse, including loss of support from family and friends."

"For 15 years, psychiatrists at the University of Washington set out to study stressful life events and the ways they contribute to illness. For 15 years they studied 5,000 patients. At the end of the study period, death of a spouse topped their list of cataclysmic life events. The authors assigned it a value of 100. Far behind in second place, with 73 points, was divorce. Nearly 50 years have passed and the results still stand. (This surprised me as I thought the loss of a child would be worse, but apparently not)

"The stress of losing a spouse permeates every part of one's body, affecting each cell and manifesting tremendous physiological changes. Cortisol levels rise and sleep is disrupted. Heart rate and blood pressure increases. Your white blood cells become less effective, your cells begin to falter in their responsibilities, your immune system weakens and you fall prey to countless illnesses that, under normal circumstances, would be held at bay."

Friday, January 13, 2017

This Day

This day is just this day. It holds no promise beyond it's existence. I grapple with the pain of loss, hooks at the heart, profound depths. I don't want this. I did not ask for this. I did not deserve this. Yet here I am, bedraggled seaweed drying on the rocks at the edge of an infinite ocean.

Where are you my love? You're supposed to be here. Why aren't you here?

For some reason a year later I am reliving time, remembering what I couldn't. I'm grieving. I am a widow.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer there are doctors. Our family doctor, Sylvie delBianco from Wakefield went beyond the call of duty. She took care of us. She took care of us with such compassion and strength and soul that you cannot imagine the depths of her commitment to her patients; to her profession.

Early on in a cancer diagnosis there is not a hope in hell you're going to accept it. It is just… unacceptable. This is not real. This is not happening. They've made a mistake. They don't know what they're doing. We need more tests, different doctors, different hospitals. We need this not to be true. George was healthy for godssakes! He biked to work and back, a tidy distance every weekday. He had a stress test just in August and they said he was an athlete. He was strong. Healthy.

We saw a lot of doctors in the beginning. Their job it seemed in retrospect was to tell us there was no hope. It takes a certain courage I suppose to look another human being in the eye and say it was only a matter of months. Or weeks. For them to die. But looking them in the eye was sometimes not how it happened. Instead the doctor would stare at the computer screen and talk to it instead; as if George was only incidental. One doctor began explaining the statistics for bile duct cancer. No one had seen it here in the region in at least the last 30 years. There was another woman in Ottawa coincidentally who had been caught earlier and was undergoing surgery, he explained. He then went on to explain the nature of the tumour in convoluted language. George, whom I have loved 23 years, has never been angry. He is not an angry man. But he got angry that day. That day he said, "I am not a tumour sitting in this chair. I am a human being." This actually quite upset the doctor and so I know he learned something that day. George always had a way to teach people things. He could cut to the core with infinite precision.

Still despite it all. Despite it all, we had hope. We insisted on scan results being sent to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, even Europe. But they all said the same thing. At the cancer hospital, his doctor recommended chemotherapy. Palliative chemotherapy. When we went in to discuss this with the chemo doctor she came quietly into the room, pulled a chair up to George until they were almost touching knees and explained things to him honestly but compassionately. If it was her, or her father, she said, she would not do it. He would be sick most of the time. He would have to come to the hospital 3 times a week. It would not save him and prolong his life only a few months.

George was growing extremely weak. He needed a wheelchair now to traverse the corridors of all these places. I would kiss his bald spot and say "onwards" and we would arrive at yet another room for yet another doctor. He was getting weaker, thinner, sicker by the hour it seemed to me. I could not look some days. George eventually said he did not want to go to another doctor to hear yet another horrible thing. And so he came home to die. It was February.

I learned later that the woman in Ottawa also with bile duct cancer had the "whipple" procedure done. It is a massive operation removing all the bits that can possibly be removed with a dismal success rate. The cancer recurred in her. I do not know if she is still with us. I am sometimes grateful it was never an option for George. The price of hope is sometimes horrifying.

Where are you my love?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


On January 8th, last year, we received the diagnosis of Himself's bile duct cancer. It is winter and I relive those days over and over. The pain is indescribable. I'm holding on by my fingernails some days. I remember the strength it took for me to protect his needs, his wants, his wishes because it was happening to him. Not me. Not all these other people who thought they knew better and thought this should be done and that should be done. Holding, loving, caring for this man I loved was the easy part. The hard part was other people sometimes. And yet, you forgive them for they knew not what they did. Particularly those who hurt him; with their words, with their actions, most painfully with their absence. We are only human. But reliving it, the distance, not yet a year, for some reason makes it harder to forgive, to let go, to love hard when you least want to. But I will, because character is forged there, in the fires of adversity. When you want to rip the sky apart and sweep the debris of people away in an unfathomable rage. You can go either way. I choose love over hate but I will also let go. I am not that strong that I should pretend to be less than human. I let go in sadness. And I hold dearly on to the memory of those who stood beside me. You are well loved by me even if you don't think I know how much you gave me. You gave us. I do. It is this that allows me to forgive and move on. I will talk with you all one day when I am stronger. When I can "be" again.

Dying is sometimes quiet. The true definition of a deafening silence. When George stopped eating altogether I was gently told by my doctor that it was not time to force him to do so. I remember being gently guided that way. By the doctors and nurses then. Because they knew what I couldn't accept. George knew what I couldn't accept. And he sat there on the couch with all that knowledge burning at the soul in his eyes and reached for my hand. Quiet. It was quiet. Faced with mortality I had nothing to say in response. I just held his hand. I didn't cry much then. But I do now. And that is okay. It is okay.

The paperwar. The mail. The things I need to do look at me from piles and I have no will to do them. What is this mundane foolish life that pesters us from the corners of our vast despair?

I feed my little dog and cuddle him. He wants his dinner at exactly 4:30. He wants to play with his toys. He is not quiet. He makes me laugh. He insists himself into my quiet world. Into my darkness and brings his little duckie toy and lays it at my feet. Play with me he says. Play because there is life here. Not there in your pain. There is fun to be had. And so I play with him. 

Thoughts for my American friends
So it occurred to me that Meryl Streep and Donald Trump are both consummate actors. They're just playing to different audiences.

For the record, yet again: I don't like Trump. I don't like Putin. I don't like Clinton. I actually kinda liked Obama, if only because he was a dreamer and a moral man. I liked Saunders and believe he was the right candidate to give Trump a beating in an election where America clearly was screaming for change.


How is it possible that I woke up in a world where the Democrats have become the war-mongerers and the Republicans peace-makers? Obama is busy poking the bear and the mainstream media is wildly alive with the deeds of "the evil Russians." Democrats, mostly urban mostly educated, are in a state of pure hysteria bordering on embarrassing at best, fear-mongering at worst. They have completely alienated half the country. Because half the country voted for Trump. Who do they think these people are who did so? Aliens from another planet? Mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging illiterate morons? No. They're your neighbours. They are for the most part normal human beings. Have you not met them?

Sometimes people lose elections. It happens. People aren't happy. But the decent thing to do is allow a peaceful transition of power because that is the way of Democracy. The army of vitriolic words and accusations out there are anything but peaceful. They are the kinds of words that start revolutions. Don't ya think we ought to give the democratic process a fighting chance first? The man isn't even in office yet. Has yet to attempt to enact a single law or make any decision as President.

Colin Powell stood up in front of the UN (i think it was) and said 16 intelligence agencies agreed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They didn't. Many people lost their lives in an unnecessary war for regime change. Now we are being told 17 intelligence agencies agree "the Russians" waged a propaganda war against Hillary Clinton during the election campaign. We shouldn't have believed Republican Powell but we should believe this Democratic spokesman? Because Hillary, their chosen representative is of such fine moral character and would not lie to people? Because the Americans would never do such a thing themselves? They don't hack, spy or attempt to change regimes right?

In a leaked speech/email by well-paid Clinton to banKsters, she is quoted as saying she longed for the old days when America could covertly act militarily without press interference. And meanwhile, on the mainstream news we hear all sorts of things about Syria. The only thing is, there were no reporters on the ground giving the reports. No reporters. How does that work?

Yep. It's surreal alright.

Chill. Just chill. In the coming days you may find you were right. You may find you were wrong. But you are Americans first. Be there for each other. You only will have each other. There are even bigger things to worry about and you're going to need each other.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to Hollywood North. We'll be taking in American Actor refugees by the looks of it. Unless New Zealand gets them all. They have the nice weather.