I Will Miss You …

A few months after Ben died I received an email from someone I’ve never met.  She said she worked with Ben briefly in the past and told me that her husband had recently been diagnosed with cancer.  She said he was expected to make a full recovery and I was simultaneously relieved and jealous.  Fast forward one year and I’m told the cancer is now in his liver, shoulder, ribs, sternum, skull … you get the picture.  He is dying.  And now I ache for these people I don’t know.

In order to distract myself I began cleaning out my (Ben’s) office.  In doing so, I found this:

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Anyone remember this?  Randy Pausch, professor, husband, father, cancer victim.  Died in 2008 at the age of 48 but not before giving the Last Lecture and writing a book for his children.

In 2008 Ben and I watched his Last Lecture and cried about it and talked about it endlessly.  (OK, I cried, but Ben talked about it endlessly.  It was Ben who bought the book).  Ben admired the lessons Randy Pausch had learned in his life (in fact, Ben constantly reminded me that “Randy Pausch says we should let the kids draw on their bedroom walls”) and how he had faced his death head on. Ben made actual changes in his own life that can be attributed in part to Randy Pausch.  It was Randy Pausch’s death that caused Ben and I to have some in depth conversations about how we would face our own deaths, although Ben always said it was just a hypothetical conversation anyway since he planned to live to 100.  (I’m pretty sure Ben privately figured he’d outlive me because I would worry myself to death before anything could ever get him. I’m almost surprised he wasn’t right.)

The death and pending death of  two people I have never met have slowed me down this morning and caused me to reflect on how Ben “planned to die” when he was healthy versus what really happened when reality swooped in.  He didn’t die the way I expected him to.  He didn’t die the way he expected himself to.

Most of the time Ben did not want to acknowledge that he was dying, but there were moments when he knew.  He sent “goodbye” texts.  He sent “I will miss you” texts.  Those memories simultaneously make me smile and cry.  The logical Ben would have scoffed at that and said, “You can’t miss people when you’re dead.”  The dying Ben thought he would miss his family and friends.

I remember the time when I told him “You cannot die on me. I need you!” and he cried and said “I know.” That moment was probably the catalyst that caused Ben to never specifically sit down to discuss his pending death with the kids and I.  He worked around it, especially at the end, but I think to him he felt that if he said the words “I’m going to die” he would have felt he failed us.  I think it hurt him too much to think about missing us.  I get that.

I know Ben lived the best life he could, and he died the best way he could which for him meant refusing to let negative thoughts of death creep into his head during the majority of his illness.  He focussed on life.  Good for him.  I need to remember that.

My plan to distract myself by cleaning the office has not worked.  I found these:

Look at his smile.  The pictures remind me that Ben always lived his life like “The Last Lecture.”  He always saw the bright side, he despised complaining, he believed in hard work, he was kind.  His life set the example for others, and it didn’t take his pending death for him to get there. He was always there.

I will miss you too, Ben.  Always.

I Wrote A Blog Post

 

I wrote a blog post.  And then I deleted it due to a temper tantrum.

It has been a year since we celebrated Ben’s life.  I miss that day because it was the last time I got to talk about Ben for as long as I wanted and no one could say one damn thing about it.  So instead of a writing a blog post I have opted to repeat what I said about Ben on January 22nd, 2016.  The day when the only topic in the world of any importance, was Ben.

This was my eulogy to Ben.  You will have to turn the volume up.

There’s an online grief group I follow.  Today someone wrote this:

“It’s really hard to explain the level of grief to someone who has not lost a spouse . It’s is so complicated and has so many different layers . Not only did I Iose my husband, I lost my best friend. I lost my confidant. I lost my security. I lost the joy and interest of activities we used to share. I lost the father of my children. And I lost the future we would have shared .

The journey of grief has so many twists and turns . And everyone’s journey is different, so the road that I take is mine alone.  All that I can do is keep going. I don’t know where I’m going , or how to get there, but someday I hope to get to the place where I can find some peace and acceptance.”

So there you go.

Shower Doors

Dear Ben,

Remember how annoyed you would get at all the water that constantly leaked out of the girls’ shower onto the bathroom floor?  Week after week, month after month, year after year you asked the girls to please be careful to not let the water drip on the floor while they showered.  Sometimes you yelled about it.  You finally went out and bought that little plastic thing that sat on the side of the tub in an effort to keep the water in.  But teens being teens they didn’t pay too much attention to your request, and now exactly what you said would happen has indeed happened. The bathroom floor is squishy and water logged and clearly in need of repair.  Except I can’t do that myself.

However, it just so happened that when Raegan discovered the squishy floor Lisa and Murray were in town, so I didn’t need to have another of the massive meltdowns that come so easily since you died.   Murray pulled back the floor, took off some baseboards and dried it all out.  Then he installed glass shower doors on the tub and took down the stupid shower curtain that never stayed in place.  We are now left with a shower that does not leak.  Thank God for Murray.

Do you know what I was thinking while Murray took on that not-so-small job for me?  I was thinking that it was my lucky day 24 years ago when I landed up in the same troop as him in Regina.  I was thinking how it was my lucky day not so long afterwards when I heard Lisa’s voice over the radio, dispatching me to calls in Sechelt.  I was thinking how strange life is that the two of them eventually met, and then years later how they met up again and started a life together.  I was thinking about how unpredictable life is.  I was thinking about the fact that 20 years ago you and I never could have possibly imagined that all these years later Lisa would be happily in love with my troopmate,  you would be dead, and they would be repairing our house.

Oh yes Ben, they did so much more then the glass doors.  Murray cleaned the gutters, they hung curtain rods, they patched the holes in the walls, they moved our fridge, and Lisa fixed both the gates so they actually close now, and even stay closed.  (Remember how many times I asked you to fix those gates?  I was pissed when you died without fixing them, but I forgive you now because I’m suspicious that you may have had a hand in directing Murray and Lisa to me at the right time.)

Do you want to know what else I thought about?  I thought about all the years you tried to stop water from leaking out of the bathtub, and how you will never get to see those glass shower doors that finally stopped the leak.  I thought about how you will never see the new fridge I had to get because the old one is half dead with broken seals that apparently cost close to $400 and must be ordered out of province.  You will never see the new dishwasher that replaced ours when the door of the old one kept breaking and you weren’t here to fix it.  You will never see the finished rec room.  You will never see your guitars on display in our bedroom.  You will never get to park your truck in the garage I cleaned out, or see the empty space where the tree used to be in the back yard.  (And speaking of trees, Murray says that damn tree in the front garden needs to come down because it’s too close to the house and all the leaves fall in the gutters and clog them up.  And by the way, Murray fixed the leak in the gutter too. The one you never quite got around to doing, but I’m over that now since it’s fixed.)

Today I had a coffee with Al Tranminh. I think I have only seen him twice since we were in training together.  The last time was right before you got sick.  I don’t know how or when he found out you were sick, or if he even knew anything about what was going on before reading the email announcement in January.  He was at your funeral though.  Today he sat with me for pretty close to an hour while I talked about you.  I told him how I missed you.  I told him how I couldn’t believe that five minutes ago we were all in training together and now you are dead.

D-E-A-D.  I try not to say “gone.”  When I say “gone” it tricks me into thinking you might come back.  So I say dead.  Dead.  Dead.  You would say “dead” too, because you always called a spade a spade.  Anyway, I have barely seen Al over the last quarter century but today he sat with me and listened, and I felt like no time at all had gone by.  He asked me questions.  And I cried again right in the cafeteria but I loved that he asked me about our last year.  He told me he remembered you as big and strong, and I told him you remained that way for so long.  I told him how badly you wanted to live, and how terrible I feel that you didn’t.

Today I also ran right into Mike Procyk at the elevator, and immediately thought about the last time you were able to make it into work and how the three of us had a conversation together beside Tim Horton’s.  Did you know he was at your funeral too?  I didn’t know that until I watched the video … or maybe I did at the time but I had forgotten.  And since today seemed to be the day for running into the oldest of our old friends, I also ran into Craig McKenzie.  Incase you didn’t know, he was at your funeral too, and I do remember him being there.  I love running into people who have known you for almost as long as me. People who remember The Titan in the early days, back when we were young.  Before kids, before life, before cancer with a small “c” and before death.

I am off now to take the dog you never met to puppy class.  Marley.  Named after Bob Marley, which you would love.  I actually wanted to call him “Ben” so that I could call “Beeeennnnn” and my call would be answered.  The kids vetoed that idea.  Marley was the next best name.

One more thing … I love you dearly but today was a rough one and so right now I am feeling pretty angry at you for dying.  You promised me you would not die until after me so I never, ever worried about your health.  Not until the day you cried “I have cancer” anyway.  Never before that day.  So I’m feeling a little let down.  Just saying.

Missing you.

Love,

Your Bride

Thinking Out Loud – Part Deux

Some days it’s just hard to get out and find ways to fill up all the empty space in order to crowd out the loneliness.  It is still a rare occurance for me to have a day that is not filled up with all sorts of “must do’s”, but today happened to be one of those rare, empty days.

I erringly assumed that without a slew of appointments scheduled I would be able to stay calm and relaxed and enjoy some quiet time.  I went for a mani / pedi, but surprisingly that did not fill the void.  There was a time in the not so distant past when a good mani / pedi had me on a high for a solid three days.  Four, if I followed it up with a glass of wine, and five if I went with a good friend.  Sadly, not so anymore.

I wonder if I will be searching forever for ways to fill the void?

I came home and did some half hearted puttering in the garden, but that didn’t do it either.  I went for a haircut but spent most of the appointment trying to stifle a panic attack so that I didn’t look like a complete crazy woman in front of a hairdresser I have never met before.

Truth be told, part way through the appointment I was eyeing up the clippers and contemplating pulling a Britney Spears, circa 2007.

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I came home from the hairdresser and found my office floor finished, minus the baseboards …

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… but even the new floors didn’t make it better.

I poured a bath so that I could hide and spend some alone time with my anxiety without scaring Raegan, who seems to have taken over the mothering roll in this house.  (I’m guessing my shrink would not think that was cool.)  I thought that perhaps a good cry in the tub might solve the problem, but the tears, much like my sanity, were also not to be found. WTF.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up and remember that 365 days earlier I woke up on a sunny April 26th and wrote Thinking Out Loud – Part One.  I distinctly remember thinking that Ben was going to die. And soon. That I was never going to see seventy years old with him.  But at that particular moment I still had him.  Blink.  He’s gone.  I’m jealous of me from one year ago.

I have to work in the morning, and I do not want to go.  How do I possibly explain that it is the anniversary of the day I woke up with Ben’s arm stretched out towards me, and how it is the anniversary of the day I snuggled right in?

I do not want to get out of bed tomorrow.  Maybe not the next day either.

I’m sick of “life goes on.”  Because Ben’s does not, does it?

I Did Not Anticipate The Extent Of The Loneliness

I love gardening, but my motivation to get out there seems to have vanished.

Ben was not interested in gardening, so I did all the yard work.  We had a unique division of labor in our house, but it worked for us.  I have always loved getting out there and cleaning things up, planting flowers and mowing the lawn, and then sitting down and admiring the beauty of it.  Ben only enjoyed it when I was finished and we could sit outside and just talk as the sun went down.

Now I just find it lonely, because at the end of the day when I am finished there is no one to enjoy it with.  What’s the point of putting in all the work if I can’t show Ben when I’m done?

This is how we enjoyed the deck last year:

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Now when I go outside, all I see is this:

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Empty.  And dirty, I might add.  I’m not that motivated to clean it up when I know Ben won’t be sitting there.  And, side note, I don’t find those chairs very comfortable.  We spontaneously bought them for Ben last year because he liked them, and how does one say “no” to a person who has been freshly told they are dying. Right?  But I still think he has some nerve to leave me with uncomfortable chairs.

This time last year we were muddling through Ben’s recent diagnosis but I continued to do the yard work and all the pruning because, despite the fact that Ben was sick, he was still there to appreciate the work and to enjoy it when it was done.  He was still poking his head outside while I worked, and asking “what would you like for dinner when you’re done?” and sometimes just sitting on the deck while I worked.  Now there is no one I can call out to when I am filthy and want a glass of water, or when I just want someone to come admire my progress (of which there has been none to date.)  Today as I looked up at this crazy “half tree / half bush” in the yard that has to be violently pruned back every spring I wondered, “Who’s going to hold the ladder for me?”  That’s a lonely thought.

Last year I admired an azalea bush while I was out with a friend, and the next day I found it sitting on my doorstep.  I planted it in my front garden …

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… and the other day I hung this above it:

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It’s not just the fact that he’s not here to keep me company while I garden, or at least to admire it with me when I’m done that I find lonely.  Its everything.  He is still the first person I want to tell when anything happens.  A hundred times a day I think, “I have to remember to tell Ben that” or “I have to ask Ben how to do that” or, more frequently, “I have to ask Ben to fix this because I screwed it up.”  Its very lonely when I remember that I will never tell him anything again.

The other day the kids, my parents and I attended a presentation for Ben at Headquarters. The person making the presentation was someone that Ben and I had talked about in the past.  We had seen his name on several email updates about Ben, and we had tried to figure out how Ben knew him.  Ben couldn’t remember.  During the presentation a light went on in my head and I connected the dots.  I thought to myself, “Ah … after this is over I will have to explain that to Ben.”  Then I remembered that I will never get to explain it to Ben.  He never gets to find out the answer to his question.

Lonely.

This is what “Ben” was presented with.  I’ll take a better picture when it hung on the wall. It is a certificate recognizing Ben’s service in the Force with his Regimental number on it and signed by the Commanding Officer of ‘E’ Division. I was very touched.

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The other night I was fast asleep and I heard Ben say “Hello”.  Not just “hello”, but more like, “Hellllloooooo.”  I actually woke up and sat straight up in bed and said “Hello?”  And then I looked around and said, “Hello?” again.  I really thought he was there.  It was funny for a moment.  Then it wasn’t.

Here was a bittersweet moment this week:

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Our “little” girl got her “N”.  This time last year she had just gotten her “L”….

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… and Ben wrote about it here.  Now she is a fully licensed driver, and today we were working on getting her a car.  Without her Dad.  He really wanted to be there for this.  I can’t believe he has to miss it.

Lonely.

In two days Jaime celebrates her 17th birthday.  The first without her Dad.  How will we ever get through?

I miss you Ben.  I tried to prepare, and I knew for the last year that it was going to hurt a lot.  But it turns out I did not adequately anticipate the extent of the pain and loneliness. I guess I didn’t think it was possible to hurt this much.

 

The Happy “This Time Last Year” Memories are Officially Over

Its happened.  At 5:20 pm tonight I crossed that dreaded line where all my happy memories of “this time last year” now officially involve cancer.  With a small “c”.

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At 5:20 pm on April 10th, 2015, Ben told me he had cancer.  One year ago today.  365 days. I can still hear his voice as he spoke the words.  It haunts me.  I can hear the fear in his voice as though I’m hearing it again right now while I type these words.  “Where?”  I asked.  “In my kidney and in my bones.” He cried, and I knew right then that there was to be no happy ending.

Yes, over the next few weeks we briefly had a slight reprieve where we were told the cancer was on the bone instead of in it, and I allowed myself to think that it might be possible to at least buy him some years of treatment.  Maybe in that time a cure might be found.  But in short order we learned that the bone scan was wrong and the cancer was in fact in the bone.  And everywhere else.  And spreading rapidly.

How we cried the day we heard that.  I have to actually shut that memory down because it hurts too much to handle right now.

Just when we thought things could not get any worse, July 14th rolled around and that day we discovered that Ben did not have kidney cancer, per se.  He had collecting duct carcinoma.  A rare and incurable cancer without even the teeniest, weeniest chance of survival. Nada. Nothing.  Not a damn hope.  No one knows why it happens.  “Just bad luck” we were told. There is literally no rhyme or reason for it and there is no known effective treatment. It is so rare, that if there is one thing you do not have to worry about in life it would be getting this type of cancer.  You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

When we first heard the words “collecting duct carcinoma,” Ben left the room to be sick and I asked “How long?”  The resident oncologist looked at me and said, “One month? Three months?”  I never could write that in this blog before now because I never told Ben about that conversation.  But thats what happened.  One to three months.  That oncologist did not know The Titan very well, because Ben went on to fight for another six months minus one day.  And every single moment of every single day I lived in fear.  To amuse myself and take my mind off the horror I often thought, “this day last year we were …. (insert happy memory here).”

Anyway, now I have crossed the line where every memory of the past year is now surrounded by cancer crap.  I have dreaded this day for months and here it is.  Bam.

I miss you so much Ben.  I want to see you and talk to you again.  I texted your number the other day, just to see what would happen.  You didn’t respond.

 

Things I’ve Done Since Ben Died

1) Learned to use a drill.  I found about 45 of them in the garage, because in our younger days (and poorer days) Ben used to build everything for us.  I always told him that if he ever got fired from the Force he could be a carpenter. He was really that good. Once he built my mom and dad a gorgeous oak bar which they still use regularly.

Most of the drills are too heavy to be practical for me to use, but I did find a “girl” drill.  And I learned how to charge the battery on it, courtesy of Zak.  Yesterday I used it to remove a bunch of clips that were holding speaker wire to the wall, AND I figured out how to remove all the wire. Which brings me to number 2

2) I learned how to unhook speakers and pull all the wires out of the wall.

3) I have learned how to be practical and get rid of “things.”  Ben was not sentimental that way. Despite the fact that he kept everything, it was more out of laziness than sentimentality. He always said that “things” are just “things.”  You can’t take them with you when you die.

So I have been selling a lot of stuff. Things that just clutter the house and therefore my mind. And I have given items that Ben loved to people he cared about who will also enjoy them, and will care that they belonged to Ben.

Nancy now carries Ben’s “man purse” around. He liked to call it a “bag” or a “satchel”, but the kids and I always told him to call a spade a spade. It’s a purse. Nancy likes it and uses it for work, just like Ben did.

Jeremy rides the stationary bike that Ben spent hours riding. Well, I think right now Jeremy is just circling it from a distance, but he will ride it soon I’m sure.

Jeff has Ben’s challenge coin. I put it in a frame with two pictures of them and photographs of the very humorous text conversation they had when Ben first got sick. It hangs in his office at work.

Zak wears Ben’s watch.  Raegan wears Ben’s sweat pants. (Yes, you read that right. Little Raegan walks around in Ben’s sweats constantly).   Zak also has adopted Ben’s electronics because he’s the only one who appreciates them.  Jaime has a framed picture of the notes she and Ben wrote each other.

Peter has a guitar that Ben left especially for him. Ben tried twice over the last year to tell Peter how much it meant to him that Peter had quite literally saved Zak’s life. Both times Ben tried to tell Peter, he (Ben) became too emotional, so he asked me to give Peter a particular guitar and tell Peter how he felt. I hope I was able to adequately pass on Ben’s message .

The list goes on, but the point is that other then the particularly sentimental items, the rest is just “stuff.”  And “stuff” is just clutter which creates chaos of the mind. So goodbye clutter.

4) I have become more patient and understanding. That probably stems from the entire last year and not just since Ben died.

5). I have paid bills. I’m working on the budget.

6). I have slightly chilled out regarding my hypochondria. Mostly because, to be honest, I tend to think about two things when I’m worried about my health.  The first is that I miss Ben so much and I really want to see him again.  Don’t freak out – I don’t say that in an “I want to die” sort of way. I don’t. That’s not what I mean. I just miss him so much and I know he’ll be waiting for me when the time comes.  So therefore there is less point in freaking out about little aches and pains.  The second thing I think of is that nothing I can ever go through will be as bad and painful as what Ben endured. Not physically, anyway. So I will just try to take whatever comes as it comes.

7).  I made the decision to install central air conditioning.  I got estimates and made the decision myself.  And I got a new hot water tank.  That is not something I ever would have done before without deferring to Ben.  I do wish I had insisted on the a/c last year so Ben could have had some relief from the heat.

In the meantime, I continue to be blessed with the best of family, friends and neighbors. Yesterday I received an unexpected knock on the door and found Jim there with a bunch of tools.  He fixed an outlet cover that Ben left undone for about 4 years, and hung new numbers on my house.



Thank you, Jim.  And thank you for remembering without me asking.  Thank you.

While Jim was hanging the house numbers, my neighbor (who moved in last summer and whom I have only met once) came over and spontaneously mowed my lawn.


In addition to those things, another neighbor has limed my lawn and taken care of other things around the exterior of my house, while on breaks from his own chemo sessions. Yes, you read that correctly. He endures his own health nightmare and still tries to help me out.

I miss Ben, but we are blessed and I’ve discovered that I can actually get a few things done for myself.