My Blog

I do not start this journey lightly. The idea of writing and sharing my thoughts and experiences is a powerful one. I'm doing this for several reasons, the first has to be for my own therapy. With such an immense loss in my life, I need to give myself every chance to feel a purpose.

Last summer I told Kirsten that, despite her ongoing fight with refractory Hodgkin's lymphoma, I was happy. I was deeply sad, depressed, and struggled with the meaning of it all. But, I was happy. Being with Kirsten made me content. Not having her with me leaves me with a void of true happiness. As I've mentioned to many, I can laugh, have fun, enjoy the moment, even look forward to something, however, that satisfaction of inner happiness is not there.

I am so grateful for the people and dogs in my life. My son, mother, family, Kirsten's family (including the four-legged variety), our friends, and, of course, our Lab Finnegan. Many of you will hear your own voices echoed in my writing. I needed and will continue to need the tremendous support that has been offered to me. Thank you.

I also write for Kirsten. In life, Kirsten, let's say, guided me. She still does and always will. Having said that, I can not guarantee that any future clothing purchases will be entirely fashionable.

As Kirsten was a champion of the healing power of writing, I hope to pay tribute to her. Kirsten has a tremendous legacy because of who she was and how she lived. I wouldn't speak for her, although if I tried, there would be a strong chance of a visitation, but I hope to add to her story.

If my sharing helps anyone who may relate to some of what I'm going through, that would be the best tribute to Kirsten I could give.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Another moment with you.


Kirsten,

A few weeks ago, I was paddling my kayak in Indian Arm. I was on the return leg of a Cates Park-to-Deep Cove-for-lunch excursion.This felt very much like an ode to our one fully successful trip with Suzy Spitfire - that being a favourite memory of our life together.

I was paddling with an ease of rhythm and a strong sense of tranquility. I was in the moment. In that moment, not as a sudden realization or conscious thought, but as a waking dream, it came to me that you were there with me. It enveloped me and it was beautiful. I was happy and content.

As I continued to paddle, I considered why I was motivated to buy a kayak and be on the water every other day during the summer. This thought process gave me a new understanding of how you would never leave me - your spirit, your sensibility, your nature, what was important to you, who you were - I have those with me. We talked about owning kayaks many times and that would undoubtedly have happened. At that indistinguishable time of movement into awareness, we were together on the water.

I’ve always recognized your ongoing influence, presence, and connection, but somehow this seemed to resonate on a deeper and more significant level. No, I'm not going to go buy a double kayak. And, yes I know the kayak/relationship analogy of each having our own boat; to fully enjoy our journey together without interdependence - a sense of our own strength and control being essential to a healthy relationship.

It will always seem unfair that we cannot hold hands anymore, but it feels like I’m still sharing this life with you. Thank you. Having said that, I’ve made some questionable choices of late (mostly clothing-related) so, I will look for your further guidance.


Jesus, I just turned to see Finn staring steadfastly at me like he knew what I’m writing about… Or, he may just figure it’s dinner time. We miss you.

This Was the Day




Monday, January 13, 2014

Three Years




You never saw the school I work at now. Half of the staff never met you and may or may not be aware of my grief. I live in an apartment that you were never in. About half my coffee mugs you never drank from. The band is doing songs you've never heard. Miles has a girlfriend of two years you have never met.

You would have turned 40 last week. I tried to imagine what we would have been doing on the day. Probably the tradition of a family dinner at The Boathouse. 

I walked by our old house on the evening of your birthday. We may have been celebrating in that house. It’s harder to imagine what we would have been doing when there is so much newness between us. I feel strongly, though, that we would be enjoying life and growing together.

This is the first holiday season that I didn’t recoil at suggestions  of a  “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy New Year”. They weren’t such a personal affront. As I said last Christmas, this season has forever changed, but the change is ongoing. Such as it is with life, I suppose.

What hasn’t changed is that feeling of disbelief that you died. That deep untouchable sadness.

Lately, I have felt like I’m more awake - not just going through the motions. I think I needed to get to this place. Leading a life of going through the motions is not a great way to go. I’m sure you would agree. I may change my mind next week, but I don’t think so. It's good to have you with me.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

An Update For You


Kirsten,

It’s coming up on two years and two months since we lost you - that is, you died. Not so much that you were misplaced. Perhaps stating that you died might be a cathartic thing for me. Most of my dreams of you, regardless of the scenario, have a tension - I become aware of the fact that you died and I don’t want to let you know. That’s when the dreams end.
 
Now that I’ve started down this particular path, maybe this is a new and effective way to deal with the grief. I could see you being strong enough to take the news and darkly humorous enough to be both laughing and crying.
 
I have many positive, even life-affirming, things going on. They give me a sense of accomplishment and fulfill fundamental needs beyond those for basic survival - such as having fun. What seems inescapable, however, is the accompanying feeling of emptiness, of being not-quite-happy. I feel like I need to be satisfied with the idea that I’m happy in theory. 
 
I have many examples of this state of near-happiness. For instance, the band is going into a recording studio for three 10-hour days starting tomorrow. This is an epic rock & roll dream-type moment in our young lives. I am planning on enjoying it fully and savouring the experience. That said, I am aware that I won’t be sharing this with you - reporting back on the day, having you come in and check it out, and you won’t hear these new songs.

At this point, my career is really fulfilling, which, as you know, was not always the case. There were some difficult times along the way when I seriously considered a job change. It was you who gave me so much support and the strength to go on, including your sincere OK to walk away from teaching. So, now that I’m at such a good place, it’s, again, bitter-sweet. 

This quasi-happy way of living isn’t just about the big things. I was downtown this morning and decided to have brunch at the new convention centre. The “having coffee, reading a book, doing some writing and generally having quality time at different places around town” experience was supposed to be one that we shared during that fall when I decided to work part-time. I will always feel sad that we didn’t get to have this time together. So, as you can imagine, even something simple like having a coffee at Coal Harbour is emotional. During my breakfast this morning, I thought a lot about you. I wondered if you would have been warm enough to sit out on the patio. I watched the floatplanes land and take off, remembering when you surprised me with a flight to Salt Spring Island. I thought of how great it would be for us to fly to Tofino for a long weekend. I figured you would have ordered the BC Benny. I know conversation would have included the nearby Olympic torch. I watched an older couple walk hand-in-hand and thought, “if only”. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what our lives might have been like in other circumstances. I imagine that we would have sold the house and there is a good chance that we would have ended up in the same complex that I moved to. “Suzy Spitfire” would have been a major part of our lives - lots of motoring up and down Indian Arm (yes, we would have bought a new motor to avoid any more video of me paddling or us being towed). One of my favourite memories was when we actually got the boat going and went to Deep Cove for dinner.  We met Miles and we all motored back to Cates. I would have loved to have done that trip many times over. 

I found this prose of yours on your desktop:

I am

I am writing to you now from this place of strength. From this place of heart-thumping, heart-held tenacity. I am writing to you now to remind you of the spirit that lives and breathes, rises and falls, deep within and beyond these walls of the body. That lives out there, amongst the woodland owls, the ancient oaks, the cherry blossom petals that dance as if ballerinas poised in a slow curtsy to the ground. I am writing to you now so, should you need me in the future, at a time when struggle overtakes you, to say this: You are the owls, the oak, the cherry blossoms. You always were and you always will be, no matter the body that holds you now.

I’m not sure when you wrote this. Perhaps during that last summer we shared when you were feeling so good. I think that you wrote this as a message for yourself in anticipation of when you might need it. However, I’d like to use it for myself and offer it to anyone else who may need it. If you don’t mind. Thank you. Your words are beautiful, poignant, profound and comforting. They are you.

This is the "Suzy Spitfire" video snip before the infamous "1KM an hour" video:

video

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

'Tis the Season


It seems incredible that it's coming up on two years since losing Kirsten. Time passing is supposed to be the only real “answer” to how to deal with loss. It is true that, over the months, I have been doing more and crying less. However, the idea of distancing myself from Kirsten is hardly comforting. Even the thought of saying my wife died two years ago, as opposed to saying last year, seems strange. What hasn't changed is the feeling of disbelief that Kirsten isn't here. With the disbelief comes the profound sadness.

“Getting through it” was again my attitude when it came to the holiday season. Similar to the first Christmas and Kirsten's birthday without Kirsten, this second holiday break caused high anxiety leading up to it and a defensive shell during. December 24th, Kirsten's birthday, was the most difficult time, but it was made more tolerable by Miles being with me. After a very nice lunch with mom, Miles and I went down to Cates Park to place tulips in the water. We had a moment of reflection that was punctuated by a brown dog, who shall remain nameless, charging into the ocean to inspect the flowers. Perfect. Miles had the thoughtfulness to stay over that night, so we watched those Christmas classics “Total Recall” and “Resident Evil:Retribution”. Perfect.


An interesting part of the holidays was doing a CBC Radio interview on how, for some people, Christmas isn't exactly “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. It was an interesting process for several reasons. The first was the series of connections between the reporter, Pamela Post, the Callanish Society and Kirsten - Kirsten being a former on-air reporter for CBC, Pamela's ties to Callanish and, of course, our own experience with Callanish (on-going for me). Also, I spend a lot of my time in a state of cognition when it comes to the grief thing. I'm constantly analyzing, deconstructing, and generally pondering my process of grieving - trying to decide what to do, how to do it, what I'm feeling, what I should be feeling, how to cope best, how long before people start questioning if the trips to Vegas are really about grieving, and so on. So, to gather my thoughts enough to get across what I wanted to get across really made me focus on what the holiday experience is for me.

I've only listened to the CBC piece once. It’s a bit of a cringer listening to oneself on the airwaves. Having said that, Pamela did a wonderful job as a skilled editor and interviewer. More importantly, she is a very genuine and caring person. I also received a great deal of positive feedback from those who listened to the broadcast. So, the pressure I felt to get this right for Kirsten was alleviated.

Regardless, I think Kirsten would have had a good laugh at me being interviewed. When she was doing the reporting gig, she would often ask me questions as she thrust her thumb/microphone in my face. I choose to remember me being good-natured about this and not being annoyed in the slightest.

As I've mentioned before, the holidays tend to act as a focus for my loss. I have time on my hands and there are a lot of built-in triggers. It's more than missing Kirsten. It's remembering her last birthday when it was becoming clear that we were losing her. It's remembering the Christmas before when Kirsten, Miles and I went to Palm Springs. I'm so glad we had this trip and there are many great memories; however, a big part of that trip, and all of the five years of living with cancer, was an underlying sadness and despair. When I look at the photos from that California Christmas, I have mixed emotions. I love the photos of us hot-tubbing, racing around our Palm Springs resort in a golf cart and playing in the surf when we took a side trip to Santa Monica. Yet, looking at these images, I not only have a heavy feeling about missing her, I remember that she stumbled when she played tennis, she didn't have the energy to stay out late, she wasn't up to joining Miles and me on the rides -  the painful awareness that the cancer and the treatments had taken their toll. The unspoken question: “Will this be our last Christmas together?” was always a part of the holidays.

Speaking of heart-warming holidays, how about this new one coming up in February – Family Day. Awesome.

Perhaps I should spend it in Vegas.

As a side note (I did say I've had some time on my hands to do some extra contemplating), I have been thinking about food and its role in encapsulating the process. There are times when I decide that, because of all that I have gone through and the incredible perspective I have gained, I will eat only the healthiest of foods in a life-affirming gesture to be all I can be. After all, how can I now live life except in the most extraordinary manner?  And then, I'll eat a roll of cookie dough. After all, the consuming of cookie dough was a shared experience with Kirsten. She was a big proponent of the 80% rule. We generally had a very healthy diet with some exceptions. So, I go back and forth between The Phoenix Rising From a Bed of Kale to screw it, I just need to eat something easy to find comfort and get through the day. I’m not sure which one of these scenarios is closer to the meaning of it all.



Christmas in Palm Springs
Santa Monica Pier





Monday, October 29, 2012

At Home?




Family, friends and acquaintances ask me how I’m enjoying my new apartment. This is a very good question. I have a nice set-up. As I sit in my living room, drinking a coffee as a freighter sails by on Burrard Inlet, it occurs to me that this scenario should make me feel good. I’ve always wanted a place with an ocean view. Often, the sound of an eagle complements the setting. And the apartment itself is just as I’d want it. Yet, when the question comes up, I have a very difficult time with it. I could just say “I love the place; thanks for asking” and be done with it. However, I can’t seem to bring myself to do that. This is something that I’ve thought a lot about. Perhaps the apartment has taken on the role of the Petri dish in which I consider the effects of the impact of losing a loved one to cancer. It sucks to be my apartment.

I look around my place. I watch the boats go by. I hear and see the beauty of nature all around me. I do want to feel that elusive happiness. I’m also very aware that 90% of the world’s population would very much appreciate any decent housing. Add to that the Buddhist teachings of life - your existence being what you make of it, happy or sad. All that being said, the apartment lacks a Kirsten. Perhaps it’s a matter of accepting that at this time I have a low ceiling of joy and happiness and to be present in the now is to just accept this space as is. My apartment just needs to hang in there.

Occasionally, I get glimpses of how I might live as someone who, despite or because of experiencing loss, comes out of it as a stronger, more focused person; the idea of having a new appreciation of life, living each day to the fullest, carpe diem, living la vida loca or “insert cliché here”. Admittedly, these fleeting moments of “seize the day” usually occur after a couple of India Pale Ales. I enjoyed the love of Kirsten; I have amazing memories; I have her influence; I have gained perspective. So, can I use these things to inspire a meaningful, enjoyable life?

I read Kirsten’s blog sometimes. It’s a powerful way of reconnecting with her. It makes me smile and cry, usually at the same time. Of course, reading some entries is more difficult than others. When I read her last entries, I do so with all of the feelings of Kirsten’s last moments. I read about how all she wanted to do in the end was to have the ability to take Finnegan for a walk. This encapsulates how life is for me after her passing. I’m living with both the debilitating sadness of losing her and the realization that I do have the ability to take the dog for a walk. Kirsten fought so hard and so well to live. My grief makes me question the reason for living. Kirsten would probably let me know that I’m over-thinking it and that Finn needs to go out.
Ocean, ship, no Kirsten


Kirsten

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What would Buddha do?

It's been a while since I've submitted a blog entry. I've had many written in my head. Depending on what was going on that week, day, or minute, the entry could have read as acute despair or positive outlook.

Since the last entry, I have moved, bought a new truck, gone to Hawaii with Miles, been accepted for a new and exciting teaching position in September and been accepted into an SFU Masters program, and started making myself meals again. Overall, hard not to say I'm moving forward. So, with all of these things and more going on, is life without Kirsten easier now? The quick answer is no.

It seems that living life and coping with grief co-exist without one dislodging the other. When I was on my way to pick up Miles to go to Hawaii, I started having a familiar feeling of gut-wrenching nostalgia, sadness, and depression about going on a trip without Kirsten. It occurred to me to say to myself that I should see this trip as not without Kirsten, but as a trip with Miles. That thought helped and we had an amazing time. It's not that Kirsten was not on my mind, in fact, she was always on my mind and Miles and I mentioned her several times (the last trip on a plane was when the three of us went to Palm Springs). It's just that I decided to focus on enjoying the moment, being present, and realized that there was nothing more important than that trip with my son.

My experience as a father and Kirsten's as a step-mom were diluted as so much of our lives over that six years was about cancer. I have a responsibility to myself and others to not compound this loss by losing more precious moments. I realize that Kirsten's parents have lost their child and would give anything to have more time with her. I realize that Kirsten would want us to live. In fact, she would be pretty upset if we wasted our lives.

As I said previously, I suppose I'm learning to live with both having such a loss in my life and living my life. I refer back to C.S. Lewis when he talked about the "wound" inflicted by the death of a loved one being analogous to losing a leg. Yes, it “heals”, but you are forever changed. There are constant reminders of the significant absence; there is recurring pain; you may learn to walk again, but it's never the same, and so on. This analogy is certainly one of the greatest descriptors of how I feel.

I'm making the effort to live in the now and cope with my grief. It can be difficult to do when living in the now doesn't include the physical being of Kirsten. Buddhism proposes that we each make our own Heaven and Hell - that these are states of mind and how we feel, our happiness, is a choice. I really do love this concept and I believe it is a wonderful way of living. However, it's difficult to choose to be happy when I am not with Kirsten. Therein lies the dilemma.

    Golfing in Paradise - not a bad way to process
    This one is for you Uncle Ray
    Notably, this is the first time without Kirsten
     that I wanted to capture the moment


    This is an ode to Kirsten and her love of the feet shot