Monday, October 31, 2011

22 Days

Today is the 22nd day of my new ordinary time.  I got up well before the alarm, had a shower, took care of the animals, fetched the newspaper (my dog won't do that for me).   Then dried my hair, had coffee, skimmed the paper.  I still can't focus too well on comprehension but one day it will probably come back to me.  Got dressed, ate breakfast (whole grain cereal, 1/2 banana, and nonfat Greek yogurt), brushed teeth, applied make up and now I'm about to leave for work. 
Going through the motions, one day at a time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Mark was a good man.  Sometimes we want to use better, fancier words but there is just no other word than good to describe him.  He was a good husband to me and a good father to David and Michael.  He was a good brother.  A good citizen, community member, and Boeing employee.

Thirty three years and six months ago, Mark and I were married.  At our wedding the best man read the famous passage from the First Chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  We laughed at the words, “If I do not have love, I am a noisy gong and clanging cymbal”.  As I think of Mark now, I see that the other words of that verse fit him; we’ll just ignore any theological context.   He wasn’t a religious man but he was a man of highest character and morals.   He lavished his love on me, telling me every single day that he loved me.  He loved his sons and was proud of them.  He was honest, principled, and consistent.  If he said that he would do something, he did it.  He was compassionate, generous, and a friend to all, even the cats that he pretended to detest.  He was modest and humble, never wanting the limelight or recognition if he could see it given to someone else.  He was certainly not a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, looking for attention.
Mark was born on March 28th, 1950.  He lived in Renton for most of his life.  There was adversity in his youth but he was resilient.  In 1969, he joined the Air Force, which recognized his intelligence and sent him to the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, California.  It was either that, or they’d have sent him to Chicago to become a cook!  In Monterey, he learned Mandarin Chinese.  After that he was sent to Vietnam where he flew many missions, serving as an airborne translator of intercepted Chinese military messages.  When he was discharged he returned to Renton and got a job at Boeing.  He worked as a wire bundler, then at flight test packing gear for the pilots, and through persistence and self education he finished as a systems analyst.  

In 1978, we were married and a few years later our sons, David and Michael were born.  There was nothing he wouldn’t do for them, right up to the last weeks of his life.  Education was a priority for him.  Mark volunteered countless hours to Campbell Hill Elementary School: helping out at all events from skating parties to school carnivals. He served as PTA president and treasurer. He never missed a parent teacher conference even when suffering jet lag after a business trip to Japan.  He saw to it that his boys went to college and got degrees, something he was never able to do.  That was the one disappointment he’d mention.  He wanted a chance to go to college and possibly become a high school math teacher, but circumstances didn’t allow that.
His illness was hard and harrowing.  Most people didn’t realize how sick he really was.  He didn’t want to make people sad, depressed or have them pity him.  Mark didn’t allow it to become the center of his life.  He lived with it as an “inconvenience” or as he said, “a little spot of cancer”, that happened to require surgeries, radiation, and seemingly endless chemotherapy sessions.  He just plowed forward, working long hours for Boeing, maintaining the house and yard, hosting patio parties, and above all making me happy.  That is what truly made him happy. 

Finally, I’m going to revise that familiar “love is” passage: “Mark was patient, Mark was kind. He did not envy, he did not boast, he was not proud. Mark did not dishonor others, he was not self-seeking, he was not easily angered, he kept no record of wrongs. Mark did not delight in evil but rejoiced with the truth. Mark always protected, always trusted, always hoped, always persevered.”  Truly if you substitute Mark for the word love, that describes him. 

I long for him and miss him and love him with all my heart.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Tomorrow I go back to work for the first time since Mark's death.  Oh, why does he have to "own" a death?  But I have to go on and so back I go.  How will it go, how will I be?  I hope I don't make some horrible mistake or neglect something.  Focusing is very hard right now. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I set up the coffee maker for tomorrow morning.  Just get up, flip it on, feed the cats, the dog, bring in the newspaper. An ordinary start to an ordinary day that I get to have while Mark does not.  I'm still here,  about to benefit from his life of hard work and he is in an urn out at Mount Tahoma.   It was another beautiful afternoon here.  I walked the dog, did some chores, sat and stared.  No, it is not an ordinary and tomorrow will not be one either.

Monday, October 24, 2011


It  comes in waves.  Waves of sorrow and weeping.  It's not always predictable; I wouldn't describe this as a "tide of grief".  Tides are pulled and pushed by the moon, grief washes out from the heart. Does the moon cause waves?   Looking at his wallet, his drivers' license brings the tears.  Sitting at BECU across from very nice Cameron as she examines his death certificate (how can my Best Beloved have one of those?) in order to remove his name from all of my accounts, I feel that I might soon drown.  I'm walking the dog through a blazing autumn afternoon and I cry for the burnt color of the leaves, the coppery shades of his urn.  Patty called today to check on me.  I sobbed, sniffled, and even laughed as we remembered him, his courage and will, his desire to protect me from what he was enduring.  Last night was hard.  Images of his actual death, his struggle to what?  To live or was he struggling to die?  I wanted to push those from my mind but the heart won't permit it.  The heart will be pushing the waves for a while, I think.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beautiful and Sorrowful

Once again, it's a beautiful October day.  The sky is radiant blue, the yellow leaves skitter across the sidewalk as the dog and I walk through the golden drifts.  Even the Olympic Mountains are showing today.  So how can my dear one not be here with me to celebrate the change of season?  Why isn't Nature crying and stopping?
Tomorrow we will "inurn" him at Mount Tahoma National Cemetery.  My brother has him right now, in his "Autumn" urn.  I don't think I can bear to look at it for any more than I have to, which will be for a few minutes tomorrow.  After the brief gathering near the columbarium, we will go to the Red House for a buffet lunch with family and a few friends.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I have always loved fall because I liked school.  Summer was fun but after a while, the classroom called and I wanted to go back.  As an educator, I still feel that way.  Autumn for me was a new beginning.  The glorious oranges, scarlets, yellows against the blue sky just made me feel happy.  When the colors began to change, I'd tell Mark, "Oh, the trees are turning!"  He'd make a little spinning motion with his finger and say, "Yep, they're rotating alright." 
Can I still like fall now that there is this enormous loss and sorrow associated with it?  I hope so.  This beautiful season is when he was liberated from his suffering imposed by cruel cancer.  I have to think of it like that.
It's been a week and a day.  I am numb and busy. After the cards stop coming, people stop calling, the work is done, then what? 
Who will I be?

Thursday, October 13, 2011


He is gone.  Sunday, October 9th at 2:15 at Overlake Hospital.  I am what?  Sad, crushed, devastated.  Relieved?  Giddy, nuts, crazy.  Pacing, wandering, aimless. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011 a sad way

Mark and I have heard most of these things.....and more! 


Some Awesome Things To Say To A Cancer Patient

You've lost so much weight. You look fantastic!
Thanks for noticing! My doctor says I'm malnourished.  Mark called a similar comment "the chemo makeover"  as in "wow you look great since you've had chemo!"

You're strong and I know you can beat this.
Are you going to be disappointed in me if I die?  Do you have a real, working crystal ball?

I read that kelp/almonds/asparagus have magical anti-cancer properties.
You should definitely eat some, then.

I know what you're going through.
Your grandfather's colostomy bag does not make you an expert on my medical situation.   And unless you have stage IV rectal cancer, no you don't.

That reminds me of when my dog/cat/gerbil had a tumor on her leg.
I'm sure that was heartbreaking for you.

God doesn't give us more than we can handle.
Define "handle."

OMG, I have/had cancer too! Let's be best friends.
Please stop weeping on my neck.

I know you don't want to talk about it, but I really need to.
Get a therapist.

Cancer rates go up the less you exercise.
You're right. It's my fault I got cancer.

I am so impressed by how fearless you are.
Actually, I'm scared shitless, but I've gotten really good at hiding it.  I hear this one often as "well spouse".  Nobody can hear me cry in the shower.

I'm praying for you.
That kind of grosses me out.  Not working out, is it?

I feel awful, too! I have such bad allergies this time of year.
You win.

Everything happens for a reason.
I'm beginning to doubt your intelligence.  Okay, so why does MY husband have incurable cancer?

I had a friend who died from that same kind of cancer!
Wow, what a coincidence. Fuck you.  My favorite!!

And here's one that was actually said to me, "He could have died suddenly in a car accident.  At least you have a long time to say goodbye."

Virginia C. McGuire received her first cancer diagnosis when she was ten years old. She has heard everything on this list at least once.

One day at a time

"In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time. But all the days of the past will come to your call: you can detain and inspect them at your will—something which the preoccupied have no time to do. It is the mind which is tranquil and free from care which can roam through all the stages of its life: the minds of the preoccupied, as if harnessed in a yoke, cannot turn round and look behind them. So their lives vanish into an abyss, and just as it is no use pouring any amount of liquid into a container without a bottom to catch and hold it, so it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle; it escapes through the cracks and holes of the mind," - Seneca.

Poor Seneca....wasn't he the Roman philosopher who was commanded by Nero to commit suicide? 
People have asked me, over brown bag lunches in the staff lounge at school, "How do you do it?  One day at time, I suppose?"  Meaning, how do I function with Mark's cancer looming over everything?  Well, I guess it is one day at time in a way.  I think they are hoping that I'll smilingly say, "Yes, because shouldn't we all be living one day at time, because after all, you know neither the time nor the place...." Nobody wants to hear sob stories or for Gods's sake, see me start to cry.  They would rather see me as this nobly stoic woman that I am not.

It's hard to live "one day at time".    For me, the tough thing is to be avoid constant preoccupation.  Not as Seneca said, with the day at hand, but with the future.  Living in the future for me is to give in to terrible visuals: Mark wasted, dying, unconscious, a funeral, left alone after all the condolences and friends have left, glad it wasn't their loved one, or even themselves.  The sounds: hissing oxygen, bleeping machines, nurses being terribly kind and gentle.  The silence of early grief and being a new widow.   I force myself to return to that one day, maybe even this one,  that is a better day than the one preceding: He looks a little better, ate a little more, was able to go somewhere without obviously being in discomfort.

And what if we never left this "one day at time" to call back the good (and bad) days of our past and sift through them with the pleasurable mistiness of memory?  That would allow cancer to define the whole of our lives.  And that would be the abyss into which we would vanish.