Self Care: the One Year Mark

The anniversary of Don’s passing is coming up in a few days and I’ve been deeply affected by it.  Don wasn’t only my husband; he was my best friend and the best person I’ve ever known.  Certainly the most solid.  I spent almost half my life with him.  Watching the struggle and rapid decline of someone who was my rock was the worst experience of my entire life.  I am only now beginning the healing process.

Some of these photos I’ve never seen before because they were recently sent to me.

Photo: Fred To
Photo: Fred To

People say it will get better but so far I don’t know what they’re talking about.  As of today, I can say that I’m managing my grief.  I say managing because I’m living with it, not overcoming it.  I don’t have a time frame for when it will affect me less; maybe never.

Grief feels very solitary. Even if we’re not alone we’re still alone in our grief because it’s all individual.  No one can tell me otherwise.  But there are a few similarities with others living with loss.  We work through it.

Working through grief is painful and tough.  It’s about finding ways to live alongside your loss; building a life around the edges of what will always be a vacancy. Making sense of something senseless.  We live in a culture that doesn’t understand.  It’s not really our fault that we’re ignorant. We’ve grown up with what we’ve learned; trying to fix things and make everything better.  Most people mean well.  But knowing that you had a good life with a partner doesn’t cancel out the fact that they’re no longer here to continue with the life you had.  Certainly doesn’t make one feel any better.

Photo: Fred To.  Our mutual friend Colleen Kohse was sitting on the other side of Don (but she would not have approved the photo of her in this shot).  RIP dearest Colleen.

It’s even more difficult if someone looks for the flaws in how someone got to where they were.  Hearing things like he/she didn’t really take care of themselves, didn’t exercise enough, or exercised too much, didn’t take proper vitamins or took too many.  They should never have taken that turn; things like that. As if that would have changed the outcome.  It’s hard for some people to accept the cold hard fate of what is.

Photo by Willy. I was surprised to see this up on the screen at Beth’s recent Celebration of Life. At former Heaventree Gallery from our Ambience of Africa photo exhibit.  RIP beautiful Beth.

So you try to heal as best you can.  You continue to go out with friends but there’s a huge void.  And there are moments where you lose yourself in laughter which feels great, but then you may feel guilty because your partner is not here to laugh alongside you.

Don with his mom Jean. She was lovely.
Don with another love.

Transforming  grief into a work of art that touches someone has been and continues to be a way of healing.  The best songs, poetry, movies and art are created out of loss.  Expressions of great pain were reflected by the images of Picasso’s Guernica or in the words of writers like C.S. Lewis.  Or Eric Clapton’s song Heaven written about the loss of his little boy.  Creating art out of loss is certainly not a fair trade for the loss, but sharing an expression of grief with others can help tell the story and stay connected to who you’ve lost.  Many people find that journaling helps.

*There is something to be said about our biology being affected by grief.  Losing someone close to us changes our biochemistry.   Respiration, heart rate, and nervous system responses are all partially regulated by close contact with familiar people and animals: these brain functions are all deeply affected when we’ve lost someone close.  I’m not a neurobiologist (surprise, surprise) however it is a factor of neurobiology.  Losing someone close changes us is ways we never could forsee.

Activist Don with friend Ruth

Then there’s the emotional rollercoaster just when you think you’ve got it all under control. And so you cannot expect everyone to understand your being overly sensitive or acting a little irritable at times.  Your real friends of course will understand some occasional out of character behaviour as being related to a deep sadness.  Someone said “those who support your shifting needs are the ones to keep in your life.  The others?  They can be set free.” Well meaning people can sometimes be very unkind; even cruel.

So missing someone who you’ll never get to see again in this lifetime is like finishing a great book that you like so much you don’t ever want it to end.  You turn the last chapter but the storyline will resonate with you for the rest of your life.  

And that my friends is what true love is all about.

*Source: Megan Devine, therapist + author

 

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Celebrate Good Times

because eventually all good things come to an end

Photo: d. king

It was one hell of a good run while it lasted.  It is with a huge void,  big hole in my heart and ultimately resigned acceptance that I finally got it together to organize a celebration of life for my husband Don. Just short of three months after he passed, and on Remembrance Day no less.

He didn’t want a service, big hoopla or anything pretentious.  Just a gathering of people closest to him at home with food, music and memories.  He never mentioned a slideshow although with help from a friend we managed to put together a lovely showing of images from past travels and our life together and some heartfelt words from those who treasured him.  Hooked up by computer to TV, it continued to loop around while people mingled.  My dear friend Ryoko, who is responsible for us meeting was here and gave an unrehearsed funny speech and managed to sum up in a few short minutes what Don was all about.  It was perfect in it’s simplicity,  warmth and endearment.   Just like Don himself.

Outside a winery in Napa – 2013
I’ll try my best; no promises.

 

 

In Memory of my husband Don

Donald James Wilson (June 19, 1943 – August 15, 2017)

Top Photos + bottom left photo: Lisa King

The beginning, the middle and the end.

I believe in the laws of attraction.  I believe that people, places and things come into your life when you need or manifest them, or to teach you a lesson.  I’m not sure about the ending.  That’s a big question mark that I’ll never understand.  But my husband, like my dog, just showed up at my door one day and changed my life forever and for better.

 When I first met Don he was wearing a pale yellow shirt with a front button missing and carrying a paperback novel. His demeanor was the exact opposite of the crazy whirlwind relationship I ended months prior with an extroverted, creative, complicated guy with a gambling problem from NYC. At first glance Don was more down to earth, reserved, relaxed but solid. I was immediately attracted.  Of course he turned out to be a lot more than that.  A disciplined hard working, well-traveled, intelligent, caring, kind and philosophical man with utmost integrity. A man of his word as well as someone you could trust.  On the down side, quite stubborn, but I was always happy when I could change his mind about something he was very set on not changing.

At the time we met, before Don started his own company as a consultant engineer for telecommunications, he was managing an office in Toronto.  He kept a condo in Vancouver, always with the intention of moving back here.  A mutual friend from Toronto asked him to deliver photos from another friend’s wedding we had just attended in San Francisco instead of putting them in the mail. I forgot to bring my camera to San Francisco and I often wonder what my life would have been like had I taken it. So he brought them to me, and right after he left I called my mom and said this “I just met someone who showed up at my door and don’t know why but I’m pretty sure this is the man I’m going to spend my life with.”  Crazy, right?

But true.  That was 27 short years ago and we were married for 25 of them.

In between we created a life well lived.

The Road Well Traveled.  Photo Credit: Lisa King

A life filled with travel, adventure, a few rocky patches but overall, more good times than bad, up until the very end. He was my advisor and my best friend. That’s why I decided to do whatever in my power to try to make him well when he got sick with kidney cancer.  He was re-diagnosed a little over two years ago and it was starting to spread.

Even during that time filled with uncertainty he managed to surprise me with his strong will several times. We were able to make a few memorable trips even though his health was not good.  He would not give up easily. The past several months were the hardest.  The last two were the worst.  I borrowed a hospital bed from the Red Cross with the most comfortable inflatable mattress cover for Don so he could be downstairs at home on one level because it would be easier.  But it was not.  I was his nurse until I had to get weekly, then daily help. My life was not my own.  He gave me the biggest compliment by saying that there was nothing a nurse could do that I could not do.  But I don’t believe that.  I was just trying to cope as well as make nutritious meals before deciding to just make whatever he craved be it macaroni & cheese to ceviche. And believe me, it was all over the map. He was craving food from his childhood to when he worked in the desert in Saudi. A meal from a can to Sablefish.  Never a dull moment or at least, meal.

Then I found out about Vancouver Hospice Society with their incredible staff and volunteers.  A place in a reconverted house in Shaugnessey with only 8 beds and a wait list.  I went there, and after meeting the director and looking around at the home like atmosphere, decided it would be the best place for care and to free up quality time for me to spend with Don. Luckily a bed became available within a few days.  The private room was lovely overlooking an outdoor patio with plants, a flat screen TV and a pull-out  sofa bed which my dog and I slept on every night.     Don was only there for 10 days.

The night before he went into Vancouver Hospice he told me he wanted to give me something personal.  I won’t say what it was but it was meaningful and very moving.  At that stage I knew that he knew he was dying.  Before that, he was always optimistic and full of hope. Nobody mentioned the actual dying part, so it was extremely sad and I could not stop crying.  He then said “there is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything.  My end is coming and now you can have a new beginning.”  He was very thankful to me for all I had done to try and help him.  He said all this in a matter of fact way and I could feel that he now wanted the humility and discomfort to finally come to a finish.  His mind was good right up until the very end.

I will forever be grateful for having Don in my life.  No other person has done so much for me in so many areas.  I am a much better person for having known him. He was also a true friend to my sister and they had become very close.  He was a mentor to many people.  Well respected and trusted.  It was important for my brother to spend a few minutes explaining how he felt near the end.  He shared something special and I have to say that since my mom passed away, I have never seen my brother cry so hard. He was close to his brother George who lives in Toronto, and who gave him a much needed surprise visit in July.  I had no idea the influence Don had on so many, although I’m not surprised.

I was by his side holding his left hand when he took his very last breath. Lisa (my sister) was holding his right hand.  He looked peaceful. Lisa didn’t leave my side for three days following.  My dear friend Margeaux left her business and drove eight hours to spend the next four days/nights with me.  I’m forever grateful.

A light has gone out.  A new future begins.