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.

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

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

    Moving



    I've sold our/my house and will be moving into my apartment in mid-June. Up until recently, with some exceptions, I've managed the emotional side of the move fairly well. Most of the coping can be credited to a purposeful numbness. Almost out-of-body. I also like to think that I did some things right. My realtor, Colin Hall, knew me and my situation, I mostly avoided actually sorting through things, I had friends and family around me, I walked the dog a lot and I focused on what this move allows me to do, such as taking Miles on a trip to Hawaii this summer. I also made myself understand that, regardless of where I'm living, my loss and the process I'm going through is an internal one. I could live on the beach in Tahiti, stay in this house, or move to an apartment and I'd still have it all with me.

    I do know that this move is right for me.

    Lately, the emotions have made a comeback in a big way. I'm heartbroken. The disbelief and associated sadness that Kirsten is not with me hits hard. I think of what the experience of moving would be like with her. It's palpable and very painful not to have her with me. If we were doing this together it would feel more like an adventure. There would be a lot of excitement about the possibilities of where we would end up and how that would impact our life style. I do have feelings of excitement as I make my own decisions, but the bottom line is that, no matter where I end up, this is not what I wanted.


    Along with the new apartment, I'm moving forward in my career and education. I realize these are good things and I know that it's OK to enjoy them. I do feel good about moving forward, but it's tempered by grief. I give myself permission to feel positive; however, the sadness and despair are not emotions that I can just decide I will not have.
    backyard concert, summer  2010
    Kirsten was in charge of both interior and exterior design

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    A Letter To Kirsten

    Dear Sweet Pea, Soul Pea, Darling Face, Button, Kirsten Powell, Bun,

    I miss you. I'm so glad we were together and always will be.

    Oceans carry hopes, dreams, and wonder. Deep, powerful, beautiful, unpredictable. We were drawn to the water. It was who we were together. 

    What does it mean that I love you so much and that you are no longer here? I know what you would want. I know what would make you proud, make you happy. I feel your presence in all of my thoughts and actions. The most difficult part is that every new experience I have is without you. Songs you didn't hear, places I visit alone, decisions I make, Miles becoming an adult, Finnegan staying a puppy, your parents’ new house, the possibility of my new apartment, life. Somehow, I need to reconcile that you fought so hard to live this life and I find it so hard to do the same without you.

    Can I really, as I say to many, use your strength to go on and embrace life? Or, will I spend the years finding ways to manufacture something like happiness and meaning to slow the undercurrent of sadness and emptiness?

    I wonder if you now know the answers to everything. I probably don't even know the questions, let alone the answers. Perhaps you have continued on your path. You may already be back in this world, or another. I can't believe that you are no longer. To misquote CS Lewis, if you don't exist now, then you never did. I feel strongly that you did (wouldn't you be proud that I'm reading books to help me process).

    Is finding the point of life simply making a choice to do so?

    If we were destiny, was your leaving a part of that destiny?

    Sometimes I wonder what you would do if this whole thing was reversed. Firstly, I have the fairly strong idea that you would have been, how do I put this... not necessarily, always the best nurse. Secondly, you would have as much trouble as I do in coming to terms with the sense of loss. You would have had fewer trips to Vegas, but you would have been going down to Washington State and Oregon fairly often.

    You would gain strength in looking after the dog. Possibly, you would have another dog by now. One which is less covert in its affections. Her name would be Beatrice.

    You would look to the ocean for its timelessness, movement, and tranquility. You would write reams of poetry and prose dedicated to yours truly and other such deep, meaningful subject matter. You would be sad. Your family would be that much more important to you. You would feel that you have perspective in spades, but you would still get pissed-off when some idiot keeps his car running in the ferry line up.

    You would spend a lot of time, thought and effort on animal rights, which would help ground you in a sense of purpose.

    I know I would be with you.

    Perhaps this experience would actually help you to see glimpses of clarity in the murkiness of life. You might find a balance between making life all it can be and removing the guilt associated with not making life all it can be. Not so much carpe diem, as let's see the diem for what it is. An opportunity to carpe without some perceived Universal pressure to carpe. Use the day. It's yours to use. I like to think that I'd often be part of that day.

    You love me and always will. If it was reversed, I'd want you to miss me, to have me in your heart, and to take me with you through a meaningful life. There would be reminders of me. Sometimes as a subtle, gentle hint, often as a strong, poignant moment. I would want you to be happy. To live.

    Kirsten, sometimes I will place tulips in the ocean and be with you. Though not on any particular day.

    How should I feel about every sunset and sunrise that I experience without you? Should I feel sad and nostalgic? Or, should I cherish each one that much more?

    I pulled into a small, quaint town on Vancouver Island to get lunch. With dog in the back, I circled the main drag to get an idea of the place. I understood that some of my trepidation going into this new experience came from my nature rather than just your not being there. After I was fairly satisfied that I had seen most of the locations that promised a meal, I decided to park and walk. I sat in the truck for several minutes. Calming myself. I was armed. I had a book, a writing pad, and a pen. I could go through the doors of a chosen establishment and sit down, by myself, with some purpose.

    Walking around town, I found that I had to constantly take deep breaths and try not to cry in public, again. I was trying to balance my memories of you with being in the moment.

    Your presence was felt. This was our wheelhouse. There was nothing better than our trips to new places. So many places, so many memories. One of the strongest feelings I had on this walkabout was the knowledge that we would have gone into several of the shops. I chose not to go in on my own, but I would have gone in with you almost as if it were a mutual decision. I would have enjoyed going in. Our lives were often a shared experience. Not in that unhealthy co-dependent way ( I know, I was the one who leaned more in that direction).

    There was a reason why we did the “two peas in the pod” declaration so often. You were not perfect, I was certainly not perfect, we were not perfect together. What we were, however, was together in a darn-near spiritual sense. Soul peas.

    We would have envisioned our lives in this town. Where we would live, our careers, our hang-outs, our way of life. I still imagine that with you.

    I grieve for the life we had and could have had. The possibilities, the ups and downs, the spectacular and the mundane. Becoming stronger as individuals through our shared lives. As I walked through the town, I realized my life right now can be both in sharp focus and in a surreal haze. I can see some truths, but they slip away easily.

    Getting back to the whole “I'm not perfect" thing, I wish I had been more perfect. You said many times, in your adorable way, that I was a good husband. That sentiment was the best thing I have ever heard (well, tied with being a loved dad). You know/knew my heart and I am content in knowing that I truly, deeply loved you. Having said all of that, I can't help but wish that I hadn't had those selfish thoughts of being tired of the whole cancer gig. I felt self-pity that this disease was a huge part of my life. I also want to have it all to do again and this time be absolutely present, to savour every moment with you. However, that's not the way life works. I know you would say that I did just fine. But, I still have these feelings of regret.

    I am very aware that my time with you made me a better person (at least to myself). I realize too that this continues. Who you were will always strengthen me. Perhaps that is a reason for, at some time, being happy again.

    I miss you. I love you.

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    Memories


    When Kirsten's mom and I were talking recently, we both arrived at a potentially powerful realization. I say potentially because it's one thing to realize something and another to actually accept it. What we concluded was that Kirsten would not want us to remember her as someone who was sick. Moreover, the more our thoughts are of Kirsten dying of cancer, the more our thoughts of Kirsten being full of life are pushed out. Kirsten did so phenomenally well in dealing with the incredible challenges that the cancer and the treatments put in front of her. It would be a discredit to not think of her as the strong, creative, and beautiful person she was (have I mentioned how awful it is using past tense).

    Having said all of that, it's very difficult to get there. So much of my life with Kirsten was concerned with all things cancer. Life decisions, vacations, celebrations, dinners, walking Finn, waking up in the morning; we were never without it. So, even when I remember the wonderful moments over the last five years, those times still have cancer.

    I will find comfort and strength in remembering Kirsten as an amazing part of my life. However, I struggle with the loss. Most of the time I'm trying not to drown in depression and a sense of pointlessness. I do have moments when I feel strong and that's when I feel Kirsten's presence the most. She fought so hard to have quality of life. I do want to honour that.

    I will, when I'm ready, look at our wedding video and photographs from before Kirsten's diagnosis. And, I will cherish memories of Kirsten throughout our relationship. I will remember her as the strong, creative, beautiful, and life-affirming person she was.

    Much the same as it felt when Christmas and Kirsten's birthday were coming up, I've been anxious and very emotional as February approaches. Going to Calgary in December felt like the right thing to do, and it was. It also feels right to spend the week in February when Kirsten passed last year away from our house and on my own (with dog). Kirsten's friend, Zoe, and her mom were gracious enough to offer the use of their cabin on Vancouver Island, so, that's where Finn and I will go. I will be facing another ferry ride, a trip in the Jeep, driving on the same road we took to get married, walking on a beach, having a pint in a pub, watching a DVD, contemplating the future, making everyday decisions, all without Kirsten, yet entirely with Kirsten.


    Sometimes I feel a need to look at photos or hear Kirsten's voice on video. It is mostly painful. Excruciatingly so. I cry, I feel sick, I feel the depth of my sadness. Yet, I laugh, I smile, I remember with such fondness. And, it's OK that I remember that I wasn't always totally receptive to her patented "slow panning/with commentary/ending with an often unflattering shot of Ian" videos. One of the hardest aspects of looking at these photos is that I know what Kirsten was going through when they were taken. A photo of Kirsten sitting amongst flowers was taken during our stay in Montreal. So much of that time was incredibly difficult for her and those that loved her.  However, what I can already see is how important it is to realize she was happy, we were happy, and she was an amazing part of my life.