autumn days

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saying Goodbye

My dear partner lived only four months and one week past his devastating diagnosis with lung cancer.  From the day of diagnosis, his main focus was on how to stay alive longer to be here to raise his children.  His children were his life.  With this extreme focus on saving his own life, to the very last waking moments of his life, there was also a loss of getting to say goodbye.  When he focused so entirely on his survival without fully entertaining the possibility of dying, in my opinion, there was an inability to say goodbye.  My partner wrote me a two page love letter in the middle of his suffering, in case he didn't survive a biopsy surgery.  He penciled two pages of life lessons for his children.  We made a two hour video of him with his family talking about his childhood.  He also planned to make other videos of his teenage and adult years.  We were so thankful he was able to make that one video for his children.  The cancer moved so quickly we just tried to keep up.  A core team of family pulled in all the resources possible, conducted extensive research, communicated for hours each day, in hopes of finding something to slow down the angry attacker.

For a few days near the end of his life, I was able to spend a couple hours daily holding my partner's hand in the hospital, to lean in on him ever-so-gently, to rest my head against his, to talk to him as he slept.  It was then I was able to tell him about the depths of my love, how grateful I was for him in my life, how grateful I was to spend so much of my life with him, how we would hold him with us forever and always, how he could go to his meditative happy place for reprieve from the pain, that his parents were waiting for him and he could go to them when he was ready, how he was surrounded by such deep gratitude and love.  I talked and talked and talked as he slept.  When he was awake, we spoke with hope for healing and also of the details in preparing for the possibility of life without him.  It was more natural when he slept to talk about the true possibility of his dying.  We shared our hope of him surviving or at least of having a lot more time with us.

In his last couple weeks, I sat with my partner and played the sound of the Pacman game, sharing with him my visualizations of the immunotherapy acting as Pacman characters eating up the cancer cells, changing the tide of growth in his body.  Our support team visualized with this same analogy.  I put everything I had into it.  I was there for him and our children as much as I could.  I know I did my best.  It was so hard.  I wanted to do more.  We all did.  Every week received more devastating news.  One of the hardest days was when he said casually shared news with me as our children walked into the hallway with an uncle; the cancer was found in 12 additional places in his brain.  That's when it became clear where our road would lead.

I wish I could go back and hold him more, be with him more, smell his neck, kiss his lips again.  I wish I could bring his children to his side to talk with him and kiss him more.  I miss him dearly.  His smell, his voice, his skin, his heart, his everything.  These yearnings for him will continue for the rest of my life, though they will ebb and flow and maybe grow slightly more tolerable.

In support groups, I connect with others in similar situations who have partners or children battling for their lives, or those who have lost a partner or child.  It is a safe place to be vulnerable and open up about how hard this path really is.  These people have become my dear friends, my extended family.  I lean on them and they lean on me.  We walk the walk together.  I have been with my closest female friend from support groups through the months of juggling and balancing and staying sane while supporting children and a dying partner.  She shared intimately with me the details of his dying, of their transformed connection, of the love that healed and blossomed between them along the way.  This friend was able to fully say goodbye to her beloved in ways that I wasn't able.  She got to kiss him often, tell him how she would miss him, bring him his favorite meals, talk openly about death, to be alone with him, to hold him, and to share a bed with him until his last breaths.  I didn't have that experience.  I wanted that.  Holding my friend through this process allows me to experience the loss of my partner in different ways.  I get to have this long goodbye experience through my dear friend and her willingness to share it with me.

In my partner's dying process, I invited all those in our circle to participate, to see the dying process, to connect with us, to spend time together, holding one another.  I shared my feelings openly through the process, once I knew this was not a small detour for our family.  I invited others to process with us, to step more fully into their lives, into their dreams, and into their connections with others.  My dear friend allowed me in this same way to share her experience of caring for a dying partner.

My friend and I are finding the silver linings together, and processing the density of this new reality as well.  We talk about our feelings of the vases of dying flowers, of the question to wear or not to wear the wedding ring, how to make way for play and rest while also keeping the health of our children and ourselves at the forefront, how to balance so many things in our new lives.  It has been healing to share this experience with others, to be vulnerable and safe in sharing the details of this unexpected and uncomfortable journey.
While I didn't get to say goodbye to my beloved partner in all the ways and in all the hours I desired, I do get to experience a deeper goodbye through my friend's different experience.  There is great treasure to be found in opening our hearts to be with others.  I am thankful for the many ways to grieve and say goodbye.  I am so thankful for this life in which I get to find new ways to intentionally connect and enrich our collective journey.  I am so thankful for my life and the gift of knowing how precious it really is.

Monday, March 13, 2017


In the four months my partner fought cancer, I lost weight.  In the 16 weeks since he died, I have lost more.  Food is a tool.  In times of stress, we each use it differently.  I had been telling myself I was not hungry and was too busy to eat.  When my older children are home, we sit and eat meals together.  Once they are off at school, each moment is full of meeting the needs of my toddler, running errands, planning meals, figuring out financial details, arranging counseling, various scheduling, construction home details, and many other matters of business.  This means I am sitting down for 1.5 meals each day.

After having a business lunch date with my partner's best friend, a meal I barely touched, I had a meltdown.  My partner wasn't there to remind me to step up the self-care.  I realized I was the only one there to take care of myself.  My health is vital to my children's health.  I must take care of myself if I expect to be around for my children.  The way I treat myself is how my children will treat themselves.  My example is important.  Food is a priority.  On this wild day after the business lunch, I reached out to a friend to keep me accountable for eating enough.  I asked her to help me keep track of what I was eating.  Just admitting to myself and a friend that I needed help with food alleviated much of the stress.  After a few more hard days, I began to eat enough.

There are still occasional hard days, though I am generally meeting my goals.  Now when I sit in front of food prepared by others, I eat until I am full.  When I sit with meals I've created, I eat an average adult portion.  I have also indulged in simple meals and snacks for our family to get through this hard place.  In these small ways, I am committing to my children's long term well being.  They are my reason to take care of myself, to slow down, to sit while eating, to model healthy habits, and to commit to my being fully human.  I am so thankful for the privilege of getting to parent these young people.  While I focus on their short and long term health, I also get to take care of myself.  What a responsibility.  What a gift.

Balancing Female Male Energies

In my life I have generally shied away from men and taken refuge in the company of women.  I've surrounded myself with female friends, authors, musicians, actresses, and children.  I love physical contact with adults.  My friends and I talk about building a Hug Revolution.  My friends have filled my need for physical contact.  My partner was my male counter balance.  Now that he is no longer here to cuddle, the dynamics of being with men have changed.  At this stage in my grief I am definitely not ready for romance.  My children are the focus and loves of my life.  I want simple and I want play.

In finding my own balance and bringing safe male energies into our lives, I am finding ways to meet my needs for more male contact in a variety of ways.  I am embracing the music of male musicians and the books of male authors, spending time with families with loving and interactive dads, and putting my arm through a platonic male friend's arm while watching our children climb muddy mountains together.

It has always been my role to wrestle with my children.  We find inspiration in the book The Art of Roughhousing.  Now I get to encourage my children in sports and getting outside more often.  I find my athletic skills to be so very entertaining that I get more exercise by laughing than I do with my attempts to block shots and find the basketball hoop.  Thankfully we are spending time with male friends and relatives who tend to provide a more experienced example of athletic skill.  It takes a community to raise a child and I am so grateful for the many ways we connect with healthy men in our lives.  I am thankful for knowing our needs and for finding safe, comfortable ways to meet those needs.  What a gift!  What a life!

The Fine Lines of Before and After

There is a fine line between before and after for my family and for others like us.  For me there are two large lines dividing my life into three segments.  There is the life before the diagnosis, the life of struggling for survival with the diagnosis, and the life with devastating loss.  For my family, we had four months and one week between diagnosis and death.  My last twelve months have been neatly dissected into one third part "normal every day life", one third holding onto my partner and children as my partner tried to survive a devastating illness, and one third of my year has been lived without the daddy of my children.

Before diagnosis day, my partner and I made time to talk and connect, to go on dates with each other, host backyard barbecues, and to spend days leisurely playing at the beach.  Diagnosis day changed everything.  Beach trips became medical emergencies, we were racing against the clock to find a solution to our biggest challenge, and our sole focus was his survival.  Focusing with pinpoint attention on survival, we invested everything into keeping my partner here to raise his children.  He went into every step of his treatments for his children.  While focusing upon survival, we lost many things.  We lost the time to say goodbye.  We lost our shared plans and dreams for our future together.  He lost his life.  I lost my life partner.  Most unfortunate, our children lost their beloved, extraordinary daddy.  The time of his death was where we tipped over the fine line into our "new normal."

I find my own psychology so entertaining.  As an example, within my own experience I've noticed the difference in relationships I have from "before" and "after" my partner's death.  The people in our circle before my partner's death feel safe, secure, comforting, and grounding.  The relationships I've begun after his death feel less safe and secure.  A part of me isn't trusting these new people.  They haven't met my partner's approval on which I so easily depended.  It feels as though a part of me is still living in the before time and holding onto my before life, without letting the new life in freely.  I am a ship at sea learning to navigate without my usual tools.  I've built a dam to hold off true connections with new people.  I wonder at which point it will feel safe to let new people in, when I will fully trust my own judgement.  In the meantime, I am deepening my relationships with those in my "before" circle, investing in what I want to grow.  We are blessed with many wonderful people in our lives.  In moving through life after death, I wonder when I will truly embrace this new life.  It will happen slowly without fanfare.  Just as it is meant to be.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to take this little snapshot of where I am in this phase of grief.  Now that I have witnessed my truth, I can let it go and welcome in the next phase.  Change is constant, so I know my snapshots will continue to shift.  My children will continue to grow and expand, as will I.  My blessings will continue to grow with my intentional awareness.  What an adventure!  What a gift to get to live this life!

Dreaming Bigger

It is so strange to find yourself in a place where it is radical to dream of a bigger life.  A year ago I was enjoying a beautiful life with my life partner and our three happy children.  One year ago we spent several nights at the Oregon coast, ducking into a coffee shop to avoid the wettest part of a downpour, flying kites, laughing, digging holes, drinking coffee, taking lots of photos of blue skies and happy faces.

This year, without my children's "Papa" (daddy) we four returned to the coast for a few nights.  We dug holes, laughed, rested, and avoided rain showers, but it was... different.  We miss our sweet Papa very much.  We would give most of what we have to go back to the day before diagnosis.  But we can't.  We have watched him die and know we cannot ask for him to come back to us in the same way.  We know we get to continue living and falling in love with these new lives we get to live together.  This is a privilege we do not take for granted.

This year we put our own twist on our beach vacation.  The kids helped pack and unpack much more than usual.  They were responsible for their own clothing and I didn't check to make sure they remembered everything.  While our big kids brought everything for themselves, I forgot to pack our wee one's shoes and my own underwear (found in the suitcase upon unpacking at home).  Fun times.  We brought real shovels, short metal versions of the standard kind.  We dug holes big enough to put whole adults into.  We buried one adult in one such wet hole.  We spent a whole day with my parents, two dogs, and two whole days with friends.  We invited friends to spend the night with us at the hotel.  We purchased little toys and trinkets and wall decor to support local shops and artists.  We stayed as long as we pleased on our last day and didn't mind the heavy traffic on the way home.  We revel in the sand still tucked into our pockets.

We are talking of global travel.  My oldest daughter said she wanted to travel to every continent in one year.  She thankfully modified that to be accomplished in one decade.  In dreaming of worldschooling, we've been partaking in the book Lonely Planet's Where To Go When.  So many ideas, so many dreams!  We may start with Thailand.  While we await international travel, we have many trips planned within our own country, to visit family both local and distant.  In dreaming of getting on an airplane and surrounding ourselves in different cultures, cuisines, and time zones, our planning has become our play.  We are contacting friends in other countries and sharing our traveling dreams with them: Canada, Uruguay, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Australia, France, Taiwan, Korea.  It may take a decade, perhaps more, but we are currently thrilled with the dream of seeing the whole world, connecting with our global family, and simultaneously deepening our existing relationships (with self and other).  The world is awaiting our exploration and laughter and little toes, and it is such a gift to get to dream of flying out to embrace it all.  As I often like to shout from my porch, "Look out, World!  We are coming to getcha!"

Life with Papa