day in the life
the everyday life of a couple living well with cancer, and now a
cancer widow living well on her own. Life isn’t
easy all the time, and there will certainly be sorrows and
losses along the way. But being alive is good. It is very good.
Hubby would have
been proud of me. Sort of.
On my trip from
Oregon into Northern California, I didn’t stop at the
Paul-Bunyan-and-Babe-the-Blue-Ox tourist trap. And I didn’t pull
off the road to Crater Lake (since it was snowed in). And I didn’t
stop at Carson Mansion.
Although I did have
to pay tribute to the last of the Oregon Cascades ...
... before saying hello to
the California redwoods ...
... and the Pacific
northern coast Ocean.
I also wasn’t
planning to stop at any elk sightings, but I passed a green
field with about fifty elk. I had no choice.
Note large rack at
I’m spending a
couple days in the beautiful land of Ferndale where Hubby’s
youngest brother and his wife own an organic beef ranch, and
where sis-in-law works on her father’s organic dairy ranch.
Apparently this is
how cowgirls/dairywomen check on the pregnant and
soon-to-be-pregnant cows (think souped-up golf cart with
Great-niece and I
helped, as you can see.
I had assumed that
being with Hubby’s family—at all the places where we were
together and now I was there without him—would be hard. (Not
that these people are hard to get along with, but you know,
So far, that hasn’t
been the case, and I’m not saying it won’t ever be the case.
But adapting to
widowhood has involved quite the learning curve, and being with
Hubby’s family without having to deal with depression has made
the transition less curvy. For this I am extremely grateful.
The Porch Fairy. You may remember her from Gary’s
declining days when she left gifts and gift cards and food and
Chai tea and coffee and flowers on our front porch. Often. Daily.
Well, she made one
last hit before I left town. Something for the road, she
This basket lined
with a cool retro-50s embroidered tea cloth ...
... and stuffed
with almonds and cashews, granola bars and banana chips, fresh
fruits and dried fruits, dark chocolate, bottled waters and
flavored beverages, a mug with tea bags, crackers and cookies.
What am I going to
do without the Porch Fairy? Wah.
Sunday, January 25,
The last time I was
at Todd Lake was with Hubby, mom-in-law and the sibs-in-law. On a warm
August day just five months ago.
A frozen Todd Lake with
Broken Top to the north
snow-shoed out to Todd Lake from Mt. Bachelor. Packing Hubby’s
Bachelor to the southeast
I sat for the
longest time. Looking out across the lake. Thinking about all
the hikes and snow-shoe treks with Hubby in these majestic
family vacation in August and how timely that was.
Enticing the gray jays
with toasted walnuts.
Enough with the
I hiked up to a sheltered area
beneath impossibly tall trees overlooking the lake.
I pried open the
urn with long-nosed pliers, pulled out the sturdy plastic bag,
instinctively cradling it to my chest. And started sobbing. Long
and hard, I wailed.
Wow. Didn’t see that coming.
Hubby wasn’t in
that bag—he is at home with the Father—but his remains represent his suffering. The cancer pain. The
indignity of nephrostomy tubes
sticking out of his kidneys. The hospitalizations from
infections due to the tubes. The side effects of chemo. Of
radiation. The loss of appetite. The loss of energy. The
spread of disease to bones, to critical organs.
I sobbed for what
he suffered. And all without complaint.
This from my
journal this morning:
I plan to snowshoe
out to Todd Lake with Gary’s ashes. And if I could
say anything to my beloved on this day, it would be this: “Thank
you for choosing me as your bride. For your gentleness, your
for having a strong work ethic. For holding good jobs that
provided well so I could stay home full-time with the kids when
they were younger.
faithful. I didn’t take this for granted, but I also never once
wondered if you were being unfaithful.
grateful that you fought cancer well. You disciplined yourself
with regular physical activity. You had incredible self-control
when it came to sticking with healthy eating. You put up with my
recipe experimentation (remember the creamed tuna on toast that
turn out quite like your mother used to make?).
to the place where you and I lived and loved more fully than
ever before, the place where you took your final breath. Central
Oregon will forever be special to me.
the same without you. But it is good, and I want to make the
most of the time I have left on earth before I see you again. I
will always love you.”
This is what
I would say to him.
I wore the
chain with the two burnished silver charms
– one that reads
love you” and the other with Hubby’s name, both in his
“I love you” in Hubby’s declining
tucked under layers, but as the morning warmed up and I peeled
off first the ski jacket, and then the fleece jacket, the
charms made a soft clinking sound. As if we were snow-shoeing
I cried off
and on, heading back up the hill to Mt. Bachelor. It was a
sweetly sorrowful experience, one I will never forget.
I had no
idea how powerfully profound this day in the snowy woods by a
frozen lake would be.
Ceremony. It’s not just something we
humans make up to mark milestones in our lives. It’s
critically important for saying the things that need to be said
closure—or a new beginning—of an important life event.
to have shared this life with Hubby.
How many men does
it take to load up forty-one years of marriage into a 10’ cargo
These three ...
... as long as
these two women are directing traffic.
For a while there,
we looked a little like the Beverly Hillbillies.
(In fact, when it
was obvious my mattress and box springs weren’t going to fit,
there was a brief discussion of attaching them to the top with
the rocking chair, and one of us could ride up there.)
Hubby would have
enjoyed the challenge – he who loved puzzles and Rubik’s cubes
and whose life’s work was to solve problems for an entire
company of computer users, and keep the large IBM 360 running.
It was hard getting
the crew to stop for lunch – these friends who did such a fabulous
job with hardly a square inch wasted.
Today ended up
being one of those mixed-emotions days.
Relief to be
finished with the paring down and packing up.
of how the journey ahead will unfold.
for these good friends—and so many others—who’ve shared the load of
these past few months, including the load of today.
And a tug of
heart-sadness. Because a ridiculously happy stage is coming
to an end.
Leaving Bend is a
setting aside of Hubby’s and my life together. Belonging to
a fabulous community of cancer-kicking heroes. Serving
alongside some of the best people I’ve ever worked with and for.
Hiking and snow-shoeing in our beloved Cascade Mountains.
Full years. Proactive living. Not taking anything for granted. Counting blessings every day. Every day.
I don’t know how
many times my first waking thought was of gratitude to God for
one more day with Hubby; one more day in which he was able to
propel himself out of bed – because who knew how many more there
And yet in the mix
of today’s emotions, absolutely no regret over making the
decision to move forward.
And so this is my
storage unit for the next four months—I got it at a highly
discounted rate—while I temporarily head south to Marina del Rey before moving east permanently.
Gary and Carolyn, I
can’t thank you and Sam and Sam (not a typo) and Kattaryna and
Lynn enough for your labor and support in this hard work of
packing and fitting every puzzle piece together into the trailer and
the backs of our vehicles.
You rock. As
friends. As movers and packers. As Beverly Hillbillies.
I sent this photo
to Daughter Summer a few minutes ago. “View from my little
yellow chair by the fire,” I texted.
She responded: “I like what you’ve
done with the place.”
A high school
girlfriend sent a recent
New York Times article entitled
“Writing Your Way to Happiness” that confirmed what I’ve
suspected all along.
have shown that writing about personal experiences can improve
mental, physical and emotional health.
Wilson, a psychology professor and lead author of a Duke study,
believes that while writing doesn’t solve every problem, it can
definitely help people cope. ’Writing forces people to
reconstrue [reinterpret] whatever is troubling them and find new
meaning in it,’ he said.”
I’ve kept a journal
for years. It was therapeutic to write through the ups and
downs of cancer. Being completely honest. Capturing my fears and
sorrows. My hopes. My hopes dashed.
This from the
morning of November 17, not knowing Hubby would be leaving me
later that evening:
It continues to be peaceful here [in Hospice House]. Part of me unrealistically
doesn’t want this time to end. Because when it ends, it means I
will go home to a husband-less house. Which I’m dreading more
Something as simple
as acknowledging how I’m
feeling can de-intensify (un-intensify?) its power over me.
And now there’s
research to prove what I’ve
thought all along: My journaling has saved Hubby thousands of
dollars in psychotherapy costs through the years.
We got a new
refrigerator well over a year ago. Picked out and delivered
courtesy of property management. I emptied the contents of the
make-shift fridge (read: ice chest) into the new machine,
arranged in a similar fashion as
in the old fridge. After all, we are
creatures of habit.
The only thing I
didn’t like was how the side door pockets had openings at the
bottom, and the bottles of condiments seemed to lean forward
And then, not too
long ago, I cleaned
out the fridge. Pulled everything out. Wiped it
down. Got rid of stuff that was growing moss.
Much to my
amazement, when I started reloading the fridge, I discovered
that the side door was designed to hold a gallon jug. Pure
genius. A woman must have designed this.
The moral of the
story has to do with mental health. It’s
about not missing out on a good thing, a genius thing, an
adventure, simply because we tend to be creatures of habit.
about my theory on why I’ve
had so much contentment and peace at a time
of such unspeakable loss. I suspect part of my current mental health has to do with
deciding to sit up and pay attention to the new design, to new opportunities.
Keeping an open
heart and open mind so I’m not necessarily doing things like I’ve
always done them ... simply because that’s how I’ve always done
All my earthly
possessions are being loaded into a ten-foot cargo trailer
tomorrow morning. I’m hitting the road next week to a new
Not the chapter I
wanted. But unafraid to try things a different way.
Because this is
what Hubby would have wanted for me.
I’ve made a
sizeable dent in paring down and packing up the place for my
move toward a new adventure. Came across some fun
things tucked away in file folders.
A letter from SIL
Josh (before he was SIL) thanking me for the assortment of homemade goodies that
Daughter Summer pilfered from the home kitchen upon returning
to college after winter break. With Josh in mind.
And a collection of
Grandparents’ Newsletters written regularly by Summer
when the grandkidlets were young, young.
This from Newsletter #41 dated November 24,
“Lilly [age three] has such an imagination. On Tuesday, Titus was Nemo.
She would go to her room, count to ten and then come out
“I asked, ’What are you doing?’ and she answered,
“She would then go
to Titus and say, ’Nemo, there you are!’ and
tackle him. ’I’m so glad to see you again, Nemo! You’re so
special to me.’
“He loved it.”
And this 1950s
Apparently I was in a baby show, which I remember nothing about,
although I do remember seeing these photos ages ago.
Junior Queen in the 5- and
6-year-old division, far right
And apparently I
won first place in the Red Head Division (more than likely I was the only
red head in the division).
not color enhanced
What I do remember
clearly about my bright red hair and equally bright freckles was that I was
teased. Relentlessly. By brothers. By kids at school. Frequently. Freckle-Faced
Time Bomb was one particularly charming nickname.
By junior high, the
hair and freckles had faded somewhat, but not enough. I begged
my mother to let me use Sun In, a popular spray product in the
60s that would have lightened my hair to blonde.
She didn’t buy
And now that my
hair has naturally lightened to a strawberry blonde, I
find myself wishing I had sassy red hair again.
We women are never
satisfied, are we?
found in the files.
grandparents, as perceived by
Lilly. (Notice the red hair. Although it appears that Grandpa
has been given red hair, as well.)
grandparents - that would be me and Hubby
With this message: “Hap
(translation, Happy Valentine’s
This is way more
fun than a person whose life has just been disrupted should be
packing. To see what other treasures I can unearth.
Friday, January 16,
blooms. Going-away gift at this week’s DEFEAT Cancer dinner meeting.
The flowers remind
me that Hubby and I were part of an incredibly courageous, active,
audacious, loving community of super-heroes here
in central Oregon.
So many memories
with them – Soaring Spirits Camp, the monthly DEFEAT Cancer meetings, hula hooping,
walking, hiking, snow-shoeing, knitting. And so much more.
And while it was my
job at the Cancer Center to facilitate a number of these programs, Hubby and I also
participated in them (well, not Hubby and knitting).
What these people maybe
don’t know is, they were part of Hubby’s and my cancer team.
They spurred us on. Simply by being.
And I will forever hold
them close in my heart.
In my defense
A 3:53am flash of
revelation today. For those of you
who think I’m sinking into senility (read: my kids), I have a
perfect defense for my recent lapses of forgetfulness when it
comes to greeting cards
maybe a few other things.
The first time I
bought a card for Hubby and couldn’t find it was when we were
going away for the weekend. I purchased the card early and
placed it in my overnight bag—a perfectly logical location—so
I wouldn’t forget it. And of course couldn’t find it before we
left town, which means I had to purchase another card.
discovery of a second undelivered card wasn’t so much a matter
of couldn’t find it—and this is where my brainflash came in—but
a result of purchasing the perfect
anniversary card a few months too early. And then forgetting
about it. Which of course means I purchased a second card for
the same occasion.
The moral of the
story: It doesn’t pay to be efficient.
The inside of the
card reads, You made our life exactly what I’d hoped it would
be – one filled with happiness and love.
Anyone in the
market for a free, never-used, anniversary card for the most perfect
Well, actually, it
would have to be the second-most perfect husband because the
first-most is already spoken for.
This is another one of
those blogs that jumps all over the place. You’ve been warned.
(And yes, I’m aware that proper grammar would be, Doing well.)
Coming out of a
mammogram appointment, I fumble through my purse for the keys
and point them at my car.
The doors won’t
unlock. Which was exactly what happened at the snowshoe
trailhead a couple weeks ago when the battery died.
I’m thinking, another drained
who lectured me about not letting my gas tank drop below half,
is now going to lecture about dead batteries.
And Hubby is probably knocking his head
against a wall in heaven somewhere.
And then I
discovered my car. One parking space ahead. (Hubby is still hitting his head.)
That was the
start of the day that took me next to the local Social Security
office—you’d think I’d be
finished with all the business of becoming a widow by now—where
I had to prove I was married to Hubby by showing them our
original marriage certificate.
Really? The SSA
couldn’t collaborate with some other government agency—like
maybe the IRS—to get that information?
A couple more
errands, and then on the way home, this billboard --which I’ve
seen numerous times, but still it caused
my heart to flutter ever so slightly.
Because these are the
women who lovingly cared for Hubby in his final days. And if I
had to put a name to the
heart flutter, I’d say it was a mixture of gratitude and sorrow
Which sounds a bit
oxymoronic, but those last days
were sweet and sorrowful, and mostly my heart was grateful for
Hospice House and the team of doctors and nurses.
I came across this
anniversary card today in my paring down and packing. I love
living life with you.
I can’t imagine
anyone who would’ve been a better companion and friend for me
along the way, the front reads.
And even though
Hubby never received this card—because I hid it too well in my
sock drawer and then forgot about it—he knew I felt
this way. He knew I loved living life with him.
He knew his days
were numbered when he enrolled in hospice care, and he still
teased the field nurse and grumbled good naturedly if she showed
up at the house a few minutes later than expected.
The only thing he
wasn’t sure of, though, was if I would be OK on my own. He fretted over
that until the day he died.
But I’m doing my
best to prove he had nothing to worry about.
Well, except for
the forgetting-to-check-the-gas-gauge thing.
Oh, and then
there’s the trying-to-break-into-someone-else’s-car thing.
Other than that,
Sunday, January 11,
Surrounded by love
My intent was to
stay until mid-day. But I was up early. And packed. And eager to
get on the road and home safely. It was such a ’Hubby’ thing to
I spent this
weekend in Boise. First time visiting mom-in-law without Hubby.
First time sitting in front of a snow-covered fire pit. But more
about that later.
mom-in-law several times through the years for doing such a
great job of raising Hubby for me. She usually declines to take
much credit. “He came that way,” she says.
(Can’t remember a
time she’s ever said that about any of her other sons.)
Take the pyro-maniac
son, for example. Apparently you light the snow.
flame appears magically.
girls can enjoy breakfast by the fire.
This is how it’s
done in Idaho.
son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first child. Which
meant food, and girl talk, and much laughter at a baby shower on
The expectant mommy, third from right, with
Hubby’s aunt, cousin, cousin’s daughters and granddaughter. Four
generations of beautiful women.
One of these
beautiful young cousins (her initials are Mindy Tristan)
gave me the gift of WillowTree art.
unwrapped the gift, I was delighted
to note it’s the same figurine I received just last week
from a high school girlfriend.
The name of
this particular piece is ’Surrounded by Love.’
It’s as if God
is saying, “You are surrounded by love. No, really. Pay
attention. You are surrounded by love.”
As I continue
paring down and packing this week toward stepping out in a
new direction—risky, exciting, uncertain thing, this
stepping out—I am reminded that I don’t go alone.
Heading into the
There have been so
many lasts and firsts lately. And today a new one.
My first time
driving across the high desert to visit family in Idaho. On my
Leaving Bend under
cover of dark. Driving toward the lighting of a new day. I had
to stop at least five or six times to shoot the sunrise because
it kept getting more spectacular.
What do you mean
they all look alike?
The photos remind
me of a road trip Hubby and I took in the fall of our
early-married years. I shot pictures of the Colorado aspens. And
around every bend in the road was another even-more-beautiful
cluster of yellow-gold.
We had a cute
little camera – the kind where you take the cartridge to a photo
center and wait a week to see if your photos turn out. You may
have seen one in a museum once.
When I picked up my
photos, every single picture of leaves turning golden looked
like ... every single picture of leaves turning golden.
Hubby wouldn’t have
wanted to stop five or six times to shoot the same sunrise photo
over and over this morning.
He would have been
on a mission, and that would have been to get his family safely
to the destination.
I will say, though,
that Hubby changed in his cancer years. For example, although he didn’t stop at
every tumble-down barn on our way to Jackson Hole on our last
he at least slowed down.
This was progress.
Monday, January 5,
My first day of
retirement, defined as the first work day I didn’t have to work
for the rest of my life.
I’m going to love
being retired, but I didn’t exactly spend this day with my feet
up, reading to my heart’s content and eating popcorn (although
eating popcorn will come later this evening).
Instead, I had my
annual well women’s check-up, including blood work, which is
The next fun thing
was revisiting DMV, this time with the correct paperwork
completed and notarized. (You will remember my previous visit to
DMV where the correct paperwork was behind the counter, which
one couldn’t have until one’s number was called, which didn’t
happen until one had sat there for well over an hour.)
I provided the DMV
clerk with some valuable feedback. “You should have FASTPASSes
for people who have to leave to get their forms notarized. When they come back, they should be able to use a FASTPASS. Good idea, right?”
She looked at me
Next fun outing was
to my cell phone carrier. The same people who said I would be
able to lease a new iPhone6 at $5 a month—instead of $20—because
Hubby and I were loyal ten-year customers. The first invoice of
the new contract, however, charged me $20.
“What happened to
the $5 monthly lease fee?” I want to know. The rep explained to
me that that offer was only good on our previous contract.
“Well that’s the
contract I want, then.”
“No, that was the
contract that had your husband on it.”
“But my son and I
were told because of the loyalty thing, I got a break on the
“But that was only
good on your previous contract,” all the while smiling at me
like I’m some sort of idiot who can’t recognize a good deal
when I hear it.
From there, the fun
continued. Marathon on-hold phone times with North American Van Lines,
U-Haul, State Farm Insurance, and Insurance Marketplace.
This was my first
day of retirement.
And I loved every
minute of it. Because I’m a retired girl.
Because all work
going forward will be play, which means I’ll never work another
day in my life.
(Well, except for
the occasional toilet scrubbing.)
Sunday, January 4,
The gifts keep
coming. And while I know I wasn’t going to post any more blogs
about gifts, I am intrigued by so many creative ones.
This spring color,
for example, arrived as a dead bulb barely sticking it’s brown
head out of brown dirt. Not what you would call pretty. Yet.
But look at it,
standing tall on its sturdy green stem. A touch of spring in
Coming home from
work to driveway and sidewalks shoveled on a day when the snow
was much deeper than shown here. Thoughtful anonymous gift. (I had my suspicions.)
You remember the
gift of mismatched socks while Daughter Summer and I were holed
away at Hospice House with Hubby?
And you remember
the tagline, “Life’s too short to wear matching socks”? Well,
more mismatched socks in the mail. Love.
And then all the
way from Hawaii, flowered and Farmers-Market-themed stamps that
promise winter won’t last forever.
practical, perfect gift. Because who can’t use stamps?
This bracelet that
I pair with my “Half my heart is in heaven” bracelet also showed
up in the mail.
A reminder to
embrace the journey. The journey might not take you where you
wanted to go. But surely there is something in each turn of the
that can provide opportunity to speak gratitude.
The tiny heart has
a cursive “B” engraved on it. It may stand for the name of the
jewelry company for all I know.
But I interpret it
as the word, “Be.”
As in, be joyful.
Be a friend. Be
available. Be a source of wisdom, of hope.
The word be
suggests choice. I get to choose whether I want to be thankful
or complaining. Kind or not-so-kind. Loving or selfish.
farewell letter to the full survivorship e-mail list at work on
Friday, my last day in the Cancer Center. A friend wrote back,
sharing the words that became his mantra during the process of
losing his young daughter to cancer:
your purpose; live your reason.”
I have an
idea of what my purpose is for this next season. I believe God
gave me a love for writing, an ability to write, stories to
tell. And so
placing all my eggs in one basket and giving it my full-time
bracelet speaks to me in this endeavor. Be unafraid; be a
risk-taker; be creative, it says.
finding your purpose and living it.
Starting the year off right
Temps in the single digits
and I’m wearing extra layers. Celebrating the start of a New
Year by snow-shoeing.
anything important. The Camelbak for hydration.
Snowshoes. Trekking poles. Homemade toasted nuts to feed the
birds. And me.
snow. Beauty and creativity along the trail. Here, a fallen log
tucked in tightly with fleecy blanket.
Snow shelter on
mountainside. Beggar birds willing to perform for their supper.
A family of snowmen
created by fellow show-shoers.
Much fun. Great
exercise. Natural beauty. Four and a half miles round trip with
plenty of uphill and down.
I was, however, not
able to get any water out of the Camelbak
bladder. Hubby was always the bladder-filler-upper while I was
the packer of lunches. I never paid close
attention to how he did it.
And then back at
the trailhead, my vehicle wouldn’t start. Because someone had left the
lights on. Hubby was always the driver to wilderness trails.
He never left the lights on.
Luckily I ran into
a friend and her
family in the parking lot. Alas, the jumper cables wouldn’t reach from her vehicle
to mine. (We even tried to connect two sets of cables together.
Which almost worked. Not quite.)
To the tow truck
driver working on New Year’s Day who happened along just then
and who, out of the goodness of your heart,
jumpstarted my vehicle – here’s wishing you the happiest of New
With a sigh of
relief, I’m headed back down the mountain. Glancing at the gas
gauge—which I’m not in the habit of doing because Hubby always kept my vehicle
filled—the needle is awfully close to the little red “E.”
Made it to a gas
station in town. Pulled into my driveway. The garage
door opens exactly ten inches. Not nearly enough to drive my
car through. Not nearly enough for me to slide under.
The door into the
house from the garage was my only way in. I hadn’t brought my
full set of keys because who wants to pack extra stuff into the
This is all Hubby’s
fault. He took too good care of me.