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.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays

Well, my Christmas break has started and Kirsten's birthday is coming up on December 24th. It's the latter that's the most daunting. Leading up to the break, I've been really anxious. Usually, being at work demands that I'm in the moment and that I'm “on” as far as being together around the students. However, during the last few weeks leading up to the holidays, it was increasingly difficult to feel in control. The anticipation of dealing with the holidays without Kirsten has been rough. It's not that Christmas makes me realize what I'm missing; I already know that. I suppose it's just one more time, event, season that focuses my loss. Again, it's been critical to be surrounded by so many understanding, thoughtful, and caring friends and family. I'm very grateful for that.

Kirsten had her favourite store in Deep Cove where she encouraged me to shop for her presents. Something along the lines of it would be difficult for me to buy something there that she didn't like. This time last year, and for the last several years, I'd be heading down to shop with a rare confidence. Most likely, Kirsten would be getting something with birds, elephants, inspirational words, retro 20's imagery, or stars for her Christmas and birthday gifts.

In recent years, Kirsten organized giving gifts to a family in need. I was really happy that her mom carried on that tradition and know Kirsten would also like that we kept it going.

I don't know how I'm going to handle Kirsten's birthday. It helps reduce my anxiety knowing that I did get through our anniversary, Miles' birthday, and my birthday. It also helps that I'm going to be at my brother's in Calgary. With my brother and his wife, it will be a low-key time of watching movies and having a beer or two. It also feels right to be in a different setting.

Christmas holidays, birthdays, or any given Tuesday, I suppose it doesn't really matter. I'm feeling more and more a heaviness that Kirsten is actually gone. 
2007 

2008

A happy birthday PET scan - Yes, they booked it on the 24th.
Kirsten was amazing at keeping her sense of humor

2009 Christmas as is should be

What Happened In Vegas
The trip was as predicted. A distraction, fun, enjoyable and sad (ranging from mild nostalgia to overwhelming heartache).

Before I left for the airport, I had a morning meeting at school. I had an opportunity to share my vision and ideas concerning what the North Vancouver School District's alternative program might look like in the years to come. My opinions seemed well received and the discussion was affirming and exciting. I left the meeting feeling hopeful about the program, good about myself, and positive about my career path. All good, except for the simultaneous feeling of deep emptiness. I desperately wanted to share the experience of the morning with Kirsten and listen to her feedback and words of support. She was so good at being there for me.

This set up an emotional drive to the border and on to the Bellingham airport. In our Jeep, feeling the immense emptiness of not having her next to me, I was compelled to say out loud “I miss you Sweet Pea”. Seconds later, as I was trying to hold it together enough to keep driving, Eddie Vedder started singing "Hard Sun". This was the song that Kirsten requested to have playing while those that loved her placed flowers in the ocean in her memory. Nice one, Kirsten. I like to think that she was letting me know that she was still there for me and I could still use her strength and love to go on. Of course, there was the thought that she added, “Vegas again? Really?”

Perhaps not a typical passenger on a flight to Vegas, I spent my time thinking about my life's purpose, what I'm going through, Kirsten, not having Kirsten, how it is that my suffering can seem so immense when, universally speaking, I'm so insignificant, how much life and death occurs in a relative blink of an eye, and what the point of it all is. Yay for vacations.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Notes

Hockey Players and God
I was half watching a post-game interview with a new Vancouver Canuck. He was discussing the struggles involved in being traded to our hockey-crazed market in one of the most livable cities in the world to play a game for millions of dollars. Feel the pain. He concluded that he could get through this with the knowledge that his being traded was God's plan. Well isn't that wonderful. Finally, an explanation of why Kirsten was afflicted by a cancer that no one could cure. Why she, we, suffered. Not to mention ongoing genocides around the world, AIDS epidemics, and bus crashes. He was up to His neck in the goings-on of hockey player trades and salary negotiations. I will rest easier.

Square Plates
Let's face it, if left to my own devices, there is every chance that I would not have invested in square plates. Kirsten, on the other hand, felt that she was ahead of the designer curve and the square plates became an important part of who we were as people.

As was the case with the square plates, I was more than happy to let most, the majority of, the vast majority of, purchase decisions be on Kirsten's square plate. And, as was the case with all but a few purchases, I'm not going to mention the wooden chicken, I loved them as my own.

So, what do I do with these square plates? I have used them a few times over the last few months. When I do, there is a strong sense of sadness, loss, nostalgia. I have given away several meaningful items and have been glad that I did. I feel these items can carry on a life, be appreciated, and possibly evoke a sense of Kirsten for others. I don't want to give away the square plates.

I also have some feelings to process with the round plates 
I use them sparingly now, the feelings I get are fairly overwhelming. Perhaps, after a time, I will use them and enjoy the memories that go with the square plates. Now on to the picnic basket.
Wooden chicken, paint color, and stick. All Kirsten.
Squamish
They say that a grieving person should not make any major decisions in the first year or two, which seems like good advice. I could be living on a boat right now trying to remember why I decided a 54-square-foot living space that tends to make me feel nauseous was a good idea. However, a major distraction for me is contemplating the idea of moving.

I suppose that if I'm not lying in the fetal position in a heavily sedated state, I'm “moving on”. Writing that term made me feel nauseous. I'm never going to “move on”. I'm never going to “heal”. However, I'm going to continue to live my life. I'll make purchasing decisions (wish me luck), enjoy moments and loved ones, have fun, work, play, and, I suppose, living with the grief will become easier.

So back to the distraction of looking at future housing and lifestyle possibilities. Squamish does have Kirsten connotations. I know, what a surprise. I enjoyed looking at some of the buildings that I could perhaps call home and was especially excited when I discovered an appealing little restaurant for sale (after all, buying a restaurant would be a great way to simplify my life). I shared my excitement with a few friends after returning from the road trip. 

Throughout this experience, I was aware of the sadness of not having Kirsten with me, but it was bearable. However, the next day I woke up with a feeling of dread. It was a sense of betrayal for being excited about future possibilities. I was also feeling sorry for myself for not having my partner to share the future with. I realize that there is no betrayal and that it would be Kirsten's wish for me to live my life and move forward. It's so difficult.
Squamish connotations

On how I'm doing….
Lately it seems that the reality of Kirsten being gone is hitting me harder than ever. A realization that she actually died hits me over and over again. It's very surreal and painful to write, say, or accept the term died. The finality of it means I'm not going to wake up from this, and it's part of my life always. At this point, it's almost all my life is.

Vegas
I've mentioned Kirsten's specific request regarding me not becoming a degenerate gambler and I want to assure everyone, especially mom, that repeated trips to Sin City should not necessarily raise red flags and involve an intervention. Yes, I'm going to the gambling mecca again. However, I'm still paying this month's mortgage and I'm still making sure I can buy my daily $5 dollar coffee. I decided on Vegas as my go-to place largely because, when I picture myself alone on the beach in Mexico, I get this sad, pathetic thing going on. Playing poker is a decent distraction and I feel less like a knob for being there on my own. As long as I remember not to get a table for one, I can get by. Also, I often feel like just getting away. That's a laugh.
Days before leaving I'm in that mode of “why am I doing this?”. This seems to be a feeling that I have with almost everything I do these days. Thankfully, I've been able to go through with various commitments and always feel better having done them.

The upcoming trip to Vegas just is. It's something I decided to do, so I'll go and be distracted, enjoy moments, and be sad that Kirsten isn't with me. Pretty much the same as when I'm not in Vegas, only more neon.
Vegas connotations

table for two in the Venetian

Friday, October 14, 2011

Supporter's Club

Well, I promised I'd write about puppy dogs and cotton candy in my previous entry - it's not going to happen. I'm sad. Profoundly sad. I'm getting through the days, but It's a struggle. Everything I do, see, hear and feel re-states that I'll never be with Kirsten again. It's so difficult, however I can't imagine this time without all of the incredible support that I receive.

Kirsten and I were always so appreciative of all of those who were there for us over the years. Knowing that people near and far were thinking of us, having food delivered, receiving thoughtful words and so many offers of anything we needed,  gave both of us strength. Many said that they wished they could do more or had the words to make things right. Just hearing those sentiments was very helpful. Of course, the only thing that could really have made things better was for Kirsten to be cured and no one had the answer for that. 

The encouragement that I've been receiving since Kirsten's passing has been inspirational. I am so grateful to so many. Thank you all. If I was to thank everyone individually or recall every helpful moment, this would be a blog entry of the epic novel variety. 

It was evident how much I needed support as friends and family surrounded me in those first moments of loss. As my mom and I have talked about over a cup of tea, of the few things in life that are actually important, meaningful relationships have to be the most significant. Such is the relationship with my son, Miles, who has been so loving, giving, thoughtful, and uncompromisingly compassionate. I'm so fortunate to have him. 

I have been trying to find a way to deal with the sadness. There is nothing I can do that truly takes away the pain though I do realize how important a laugh or a distraction is. It's also an important part of this process to talk about Kirsten and how I'm feeling. They say that grieving takes as long as it takes and that my experience is not unique. I'm going to need my family and friends to continue with Project Ian for a while longer.

By the way, if any of my family or friends needs my support, I'm available.

My amazing friend Kat sent me this quote: 


"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."

- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Nailed it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back To School

Heading back to school is always an adjustment from the sweet freedom of the summer. This year I was looking forward to getting back to more structure in my day, the incredibly supportive staff (more like an extended family), and the necessity of being in the moment with the students. A paycheque would be nice too. However, just as I was anxious about starting summer holidays without Kirsten, I have also been anxious about this change. 

Entering September seems to have brought the pain and sense of loss to the surface. It probably has to do with going back into routines that I'm so used to sharing with Kirsten. The mornings before work, coming back to the house and talking about our days, and looking forward to all of our plans. Difficult. 

What also brings a heavy feeling is thinking back to this time last year. We had decided that I would only work three days a week for the dual purposes of taking off some of the pressure I felt and for us to spend more time together. 

Over the five years, I have had periods of time away from work and have had great flexibility to be with Kirsten when I needed to. Again, so much appreciation for my friends at work. Despite the flexibility, five years with the trauma that Kirsten, and those around her, had to go through took a toll. Also, one of the great challenges of supporting Kirsten was trying to find a balance between being there for her and dealing with “normal” life, such as making money to pay the mortgage. I was never able to find that balance to my own satisfaction. There were periods of time when I felt removed from Kirsten's health care.

Last year, it felt right, despite the added financial burden, to have more time at home. We had such amazing plans to take advantage of our extended weekends. Taking our laptops and books to coffee shops around town, small getaways, adventures in Suzy Spitfire, dog-friendly walks, kayaking, finishing touches on the house, photography jaunts, and so on. So, I feel deeply sad that we didn't get to do those things. In September, with the exception of getting her to appointments, Kirsten's health pretty much prevented her from leaving the house. 

I certainly have a feeling of being cosmically ripped-off from having a long life with Kirsten. I know that we only scratched the surface as far as our experiences together. Not to mention that the plan was for her to be wheeling me around in my twilight years. I feel specifically gypped that we didn't get those days together last fall as we planned. 

At this point, I'm really struggling not to feel crushed by the grief and somehow get enough strength to get through the fall. I'm overwhelmed with the sense of being alone. It's daunting to think I have birthdays, Christmas holidays, and a year of not having Kirsten all ahead of me.

My next blog will be about puppy dogs and cotton candy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cates Park/Ode to the Dog

There is no better setting to write about my grieving process than Cates Park. Of course, this is the place where Kirsten envisioned having all of us meet to remember her and to support each other. Her very thorough list of how she saw that day unfolded perfectly. So much love and such incredible tributes.

To be honest, as it approached, I just wanted that day to be over. I was barely able to function, let alone be somewhat responsible for such a monumental day. (I still don't know what to call it. Not a funeral. A celebration? a gathering? Cates for Kirsten? They all suck.) However, that day of love and support became an important part of the healing process.

Kirsten's previously mentioned list was a real gift. No guess work needed. You may read in to this that, no, Kirsten did not trust me to plan this thing. So what if I would have played a RUSH soundtrack? Of course, Kirsten did trust the right people for putting together her farewell (that's not right, either). In particular, Janie from the Callanish Society, the amazing writers and friends from Callanish, our friends and family were all phenomenal. Kirsten didn't actually have “sunshine in the middle of winter” on her list, but it made me wonder.

This park, which is only steps away from our house, is where I asked Kirsten to marry me. I know that there are more spectacular ways of going about it, but, on that day when we had the park to ourselves and the tide was higher than I've ever seen it before or since, it was magical. However, it has been a struggle to find comfort and happiness in such memories. It feels like I'm living in two worlds. One is where I feel so grateful to have known, loved, and been loved by Kirsten. Where there is hope that I can channel Kirsten to help me live my life to the fullest. The other, that co-exists, but often overshadows, is one of deep despair and emptiness.

Taking the dog for a walk in Cates was something I did on the day Kirsten died. I sobbed uncontrollably. As I walked on the beach that Kirsten and I walked on so many times, I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep moving. 742 walks later, I guess I kept moving. I give much of the credit to Finn for giving me a focus, a purpose for doing something healthy, and for being a presence in an otherwise empty home.

I assured Kirsten that, if she passed, I would not become an alcoholic or a degenerate gambler (define “degenerate”). Part of what helps me to keep moving is thinking about making Kirsten happy. Certainly, the mutual benefits of taking the Finn out would be one of the things that would make her the happiest.

I can't walk on the beach without having Kirsten with me, looking for the next meaningful rock to present itself to her. This is the most painful and the most beautiful place.

The ocean at Cates Park is where, when I was 10, my family and I spread the ashes of my dad. When we are ready, this will be one of the two places that we spread Kirsten's ashes. This was also on her list.
this rock travelled to the stone circle of Callanish, Scotland
The Dog

video
Thank you so much, Nic




Friday, August 26, 2011

All That's New Again

This is a major topic. Doing everything for the first time without KIrsten. Some of these things occurred almost immediately, like walking Finn in Cates Park. Others happened as it felt OK to do, such as our trip to Seattle. And, there are many things that may or may not ever happen again, like taking out Kirsten's beloved boat, Suzy Spitfire.
I'd imagine that this will be a reoccurring topic in the blog.
I just got back from a really difficult first trip back to the Sunshine Coast. Firstly, I'm very grateful for the friends that I visited on Savary Island. They were so generous, thoughtful, and supportive that I'm glad that I had this experience despite the pain that comes from associating places with Kirsten and the full sense of loss that goes with it. So, it's no small thing that I feel my time spent with these loving people more than compensated for the challenging trip.
I do realize that the alternative to having places, people, and things being really painful reminders of my loss would be to have had no experiences with Kirsten, to not have loved her as I do, or to be so heavily sedated that drooling would be my only form of response.
The difficulty of this journey, as was the case with several other trips I've taken, started with the packing. So hard. We loved going away together. She's sort of ruined the idea of looking forward to car trips, taking the ferry, getting on a flight. So selfish.
The first part of the trip was the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. Kirsten and I had so many amazing vacations that started at Horsehoe Bay. To the Sunshine Coast, Bowen Island, and Vancouver Island. The latter, of course, including the trip to Tofino to get married. Just the two of us on a beach in Tofino on a perfectly drizzly west coast day eight years ago on August 23rd. This trip to Savary was on our eighth anniversary.
Horseshoe Bay itself was also a place where Kirsten and I had many great times. Sharing oysters and wine, taking photographs, having a coffee on the pier, realizing that when the ferry is leaving at 1:00, we really should be back to the car before 1:00 (yes, we were those people responsible for the empty car in the ferry line up). This is the place were we had a very romantic moment at the beginning of our relationship as we stood in the pouring rain (if you want to picture me shirtless with rippling abs, that's fine). Like in so many places, we laughed here, cried here, shared our dreams here and fell deeper in to love here.
This was also the place that we, Kirsten's mom, step-dad, step-brother, and Miles would come for Kirsten's birthday meal every December 24th. So ,yah, this was the start of my trip to the Sunshine Coast with out her.
They say that having new experiences is an important part of the grieving process. Although I think that this is true, in some sense it's impossible to have a truly new experience and, moreover, these things have to happen when the time is right. Perhaps the next time I go to the Sunshine Coast, it will be easier, but, right now, I feel like I can wait another 10 years.
In anticipation of this trip being difficult, I told myself that I'd take Kirsten with me. As I sat on the ferry, I even closed my eyes and pictured Kirsten sitting beside me. Too much. Too soon. Of course, thinking of Kirsten can be comforting and I'm so grateful to have such amazing memories. However, at this time, the sadness of not having her physically with me and the ongoing realization that I will never have these experiences with her again is overwhelming to say the least.
On to the Sunshine Coast. So, up until this point I hadn't totally lost it. Starting the drive towards Gibsons, I knew it was coming. The Sunshine Coast was one of our favourite places to go and there are strong memories up and down Highway 101. Some of those memories were from a time well before any diagnosis of cancer transformed our lives.
This particular memory was from the beginning of Kirsten's pursuit of me. We were spending New Years with a group of friends at a hotel off of the beach just outside Gibsons. So, there it was as I drove by, the place where we celebrated a new year and where kirsten and I had the talk. This particular talk was about what we would do when she heads back to the University of Regina while I stay here and continue my flegling teaching career. We went for the committed, long-distance, boyfriend/girlfreind set-up. As an aside, this commitment was solidified during my spring break when I chose to fly to Regina over going to Mexico with a group of female teachers. Please re-read the previous sentence to gain an understanding of the depths of my love for Kirsten. So, as I passed the Hotel, it was all there like it was yesterday and the emptiness of the seat beside me was too much. I lost it.
As the landmarks continued to come and go I really questioned my decision to take this trip at this time and on my own. It was all I could do to get to a place where I knew being in the company of friends would help.
On Savary Island, I woke up on the 23rd and imagined that day eight years before. Each day after, I've also imagined our days as newly-weds. It was the beginning of a journey that we chose to go on together. 
The only way to have avoided the almost impossible depths of hurt and despair that I feel now is to not have started that journey. To marry Kirsten is something that I would do over and over again. She is with me forever.
A typical, hold the camera out shot of us on the ferry
This is how we liked to camp on the Sunshine Coast

Kirsten's Blog

So, I resisted just adding my entries to Kirsten's blog even though It would have meant an immediate 42 something thousand hits. However, that voice inside my head was very clear that I needed to leave Cancersmancer the hell alone. I do love that Kirsten's voice is still there to guide me ever so gently.
Something that is very comforting is knowing that Kirsten lives on in the hearts and minds of so many. Her legacy as a friend, poet, journalist, animal rights activist, outspoken critic, cancer combatant, patient advocate, and loved one is undeniable. Her presence touched many, both in person and through her writing. One of the most amazing examples of this was the impact of her blog on a group of scientists, doctors, and administrators at Seattle Genetics.
I received an incredibly moving email from one of the lead chemists soon after Kirsten's passing that offered condolences and an invitation to visit when the time was right. Seattle Genetics developed and manufactured a drug, SGN 35 (Adcetris), that Kirsten was on as a part of a trial. She did very well on the drug for many months. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy renovations (enjoy?) to the upstairs of our house and have a great summer in 2010. Invaluable.
Kirsten's blog had found its way to Seattle Genetics which, as we learned, was very motivating and inspiring to a company dedicated to finding a cure. As I, Kirsten's mom and step-dad were introduced as Kirsten Not Kristen's family, the power of Kirsten's writing was evident. I'd think that it's safe to say all present were very moved by the visit. The idea that Kirsten is in the collective conscience of these caring people who are doing such important work is very comforting. As we were leaving we received hugs and best wishes. One of the scientists told us through tears that she will be even more driven to find the drug that would have saved Kirsten. Amazing. We have thanked the people at Seattle Genetics many times and I will again, now.
One last note about the visit. Obviously, what was missing was Kirsten. She would have loved them and been so appreciative of their work. Also, I can only imagine how good her blog entry would have been considering the trial drug was developed from the chemistry of a variety of sea slug. 
Kirsten and Finn at one of their favorite places, Point Roberts