Sunday, September 30, 2007

Don't worry, be happy

We're probably all familiar with those lists of stressful life events. Most are based on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, commonly known as the Holmes-Rahe Scale. The scale is composed of 40-45 life events that are each given a numerical value or weight. The death of a spouse carries the highest value (100). Interestingly, marriage carries the 7th highest value (50) and is considered more stressful than being fired (47) or the death of a close friend (37).

The results are generally categorized into three ranges:
Score of 300+: At risk of illness
Score of 150-299+: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk)
Score 149-: Only have a slight risk of illness

Given the past few years of my life - and my inability to resist completing surveys & questionnaires - I was curious to see how I would fare according to the good Drs. Holmes & Rahe. I scored 431.

A pop-up box pronounced with alarm: This score indicates a major life crisis and is highly predictive (80%) of serious physical illness within the next 2 years. Great - like I don't have enough to be stressed about, now I have to worry about not getting sick!

Look at what time it is! I'd better get 8 hours of restful sleep before eating a balanced & nutritious breakfast and going to yoga. {:-@

Like a pebble in my shoe...

I’ve been going through Chris’ things. I slowly triage the boxes and books, the clothes and the CDs. But some things I can’t do anything with. His shoes for instance... I can’t bring myself to even remove them from the shoe rack. A person needs shoes, especially in the winter! If he came back and found all his shoes gone, what would he do...

We wear in our shoes. We break them in. We leave an imprint of ourselves, our weight, our gait, in our shoes. How could they be anyone else’s? They’re so personal, so individual.

I recently read a poem entitled Death in Absentia which contains these evocative words: Like a pebble in my shoe / I’ll walk with you for the remainder of my days.

So what else can I do but keep Chris’ shoes? Joan Didion wrote so very eloquently about this heartbreaking and illogical dilemma in The Year of Magical Thinking. I remember thinking her predicament odd when I read the book, but now I understand.

So many things in life seem odd until we experience them... and then we understand. We walk a new path - in someone else’s shoes.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Brotherly love

Chris' brother Ryan gave me a lovely gift this weekend. It’s a copy of a forthcoming book from Random House entitled Hockey's Young Guns which Ryan co-authored for The Hockey News where he is a writer. Chris was pretty proud of his “kid” brother and kept abreast of his latest articles and interviews but this would really have made him burst his buttons!

When Ryan presented me with this gift I had no idea that he had included a special tribute to Chris who passed away before knowing that the book was forthcoming. The dedication page contains just two simple but poignant words: for Chris

I know that Ryan will carry his big brother’s spirit and love with him throughout his life’s journey. And I know that his big brother will always walk beside him.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

We buried Chris' ashes today.

It was the kind of day that Chris would have loved: blue, blue skies; bright, golden sunshine; a light refreshing breeze blowing through the red, orange, yellow and green leaves; not too warm - a perfect September day. Fall was Chris' favourite season and he often said that September weather was the best of the year. He was usually right!

We buried his ashes in lovely clearing beneath three soaring trees deep in the heart of one of the oldest cemeteries in London. It's a beautiful, tranquil retreat from the noise and bustle of the city. Chris & I often walked there, as do many people in the neighbourhood, enjoying its park-like setting. I know that he will rest peacefully there with the birds and squirrels to bring him the news of the day between my visits.

This is the poem I read at his burial:
Music I Heard
By Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart that you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always, -
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

I also read the closing chapter of Trumpet of the Swan, one of Chris' favourite books. For those not familiar with the book, it was written by renowned children's author E.B. White who also wrote the beloved Charlotte's Web.

Trumpet of the Swan is the story of Louis, a trumpeter swan who was born mute and how he overcomes his handicap with creative thinking, determination, and the support of family and friends. Along the way he has many adventures and eventually meets the swan of his dreams whom he woos with his musical prowess. It's easy to understand why Chris loved this story and why it was particularly resonant to him. I think he would have liked the simple pleasure of this tribute.

Rest in peace my love.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kitty love

Everyone knew that Chris and Sprockets had a love-hate relationship - he loved her, she hated him. But since his death, I think that she actually misses his teasing, his seemingly dangerous slippers, his never-ending efforts to endear her to him...

Chris and Sprockets enjoying some rare "together time"
on the Lazy Boy this past Spring.

Sprockets consoling herself on Chris' fleece blankie last week.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First wedding anniversary

Today is my first wedding anniversary. It's been a day of very mixed emotions...

This morning a group of us including Chris' family and friends participated in the Kidney Foundation's annual Be a Lifesaver Walk for Organ Donation Awareness. The weather was gorgeous and the turnout and funds raised were about double last year's figures! I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who joined my team and came out to walk with me in support of this wonderful cause. I was also overwhelmed the generosity of our sponsors - the final tally for our team, Carpe Diem Chris, was over $4000 towards transplant research! I feel that Chris was with us every step of the way.

Of course, it's hard not to think of this day last year - our wedding day, when we promised to love and cherish "as long as we both shall live". We never imagined it would be so very short a marriage when we had so much love to share; when everything in our lives finally seemed to be falling into place; when the future looked so full of happiness and promise.

Our wedding ceremony also included a request for a Declaration of Support from family and friends as read by our officiant:
As their families and friends, you form the community of support that surrounds Sandra and Christopher. Each of you, by your presence here today, is being called upon to uphold them in honouring and loving each other. Always stand beside them, never between them. Offer them your love and support, not your judgement. Encourage them with your kindness and loving hearts, and honour this marriage into which they have come to be joined today.
In the past several months, this support has been absolute and it is the reason I'm able to get out of bed in the morning; the reason I know that - one day - I will look forward to the future.

I will always be thankful for Chris coming into my life and I will always celebrate this anniversary of love. I love you & I miss you, ваша Кошенька.

First dance, "Rainbow Connection" Sept. 23, 2006
[thanks to Charlene for the video clip!]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's the little things ...

Things I miss...
  • your voice
  • your arms around me
  • your warm feet
  • picking up after you
  • your soft hands
  • your worrying about me
  • being your sous chef
  • your rockin' air guitar solos
  • your Russian endearments
  • reading the G & M with you over brunch
  • the sound of the coffee grinder
  • your twinkling blue-grey eyes
  • the door being unlocked when I get home
  • messages from you on the answering machine
  • rubbing your arm as I go to sleep
  • hearing you tell me you love me
  • the sound of your key in the lock at 10pm on dialysis nights
  • your thoughtful, sweet presents/presence

Thank you...
  • for filling my life with love
  • for making me laugh 'til I cried
  • for giving elephants voices
  • for cooking wonderful gourmet food made with loving passion
  • for loving me because/despite that I'm just a little crazy
  • for making me feel so beautiful & special every day
  • for being my rock & my safe harbour
  • for trying to live every day as if you didn't have kidney failure
  • for trusting me to care for you
  • for sweeping me off my feet

I wish I'd had time to tell you just one more time how much I love you... but we said all these things - often. We knew, my once-in-a-lifetime love.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More late night reading

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall wrote a volume of poetry entitled Without: Poems after his poet wife Jane Kenyon died of leukemia in 1995. The poems are raw and touching and so full of love and pain. Anyone who has experienced love and loss will find his words resonant.

Is the ultimate experience of intimacy to watch a loved one die? Such an incredible gift to the dying one, such a responsibility for the survivor.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Birthday wishes

Today is Chris' birthday. He would have been 35 years old. He would have been back in school for a couple of weeks by now, finishing his PhD coursework this term in preparation for writing his comprehensive exams sometime next term. We would have been preparing to move into our new house, frantically purging and packing. We would have been planning our 1st wedding anniversary weekend getaway to Toronto having already made reservations weeks in advance at Canoe, North 44, and Rain. So much to look forward to…

Today is a sad day, filled with longing and unfulfilled hopes and dreams. But it is also a day to celebrate Chris, to remember how he made us laugh, how he enjoyed his friends, and how lucky we were to have been welcomed into his circle of love.

Think of him today and send him a birthday wish and go out into the world.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Professor Vlad's memories

I received this very touching message from Vlad, one of Chris' Russian Studies professors.

I was Chris' professor of Russian and Comparative Literature in the 1990s. In fact he was in the very first class that I taught at UWO in 1991 (first-year Russian). He then took all the Russian classes we had to offer and went on exchange to Minsk about which he surely told you. He came back from Minsk able to converse in Russian and I recall how amazing it was to actually carry on a conversation with him!

Chris was the most memorable student I ever had and I've been here for 15 years. His keen expression will stay in my mind for as long as I live. He always tried to learn. Russian is a very difficult language but Chris was never put off by that. The amused look on Chris' face whenever he struggled to get his tongue around a difficult passage of Russian prose or when he had to figure out the right verb ending from an endless array of inflections seemingly invented by a sadistic academic always meant that even the most challenging exercise was pure enjoyment for him.

From the very start Chris told me about his renal condition. Sometimes he had to miss classes because of his health. Once I even pointed out his frequent absences to him and quickly bit my tongue when he explained why he hadn't been coming. I was so happy for him when he had his first transplant and it seemed that all his troubles were over. That's why I was so shocked to learn when I met him recently that things hadn't turned out the right way for him.

Chris was part of a group that acted as guinea pigs for my language teaching method involving music. The method was eventually translated into a textbook published in 1996 in the US: Listening to Okudzhava: Twenty-Three Aural Comprehension Exercises in Russian. Chris' name is in the dedication – in first place. That should tell you how much I valued his input. The book was reissued with corrections in 2000 and a new set of student names appeared in the dedication after a course I had taught at Indiana University. But Chris' name was still first. It will always be first in my mind. I suspect the book is still part of Chris' possessions and you may have seen it.

Chris house-sat for us and took care of our dog one summer. He came over for dinner a few times and even brought a present to my son Alex. Alex still remembers that Nerf gun. And when Alex was still inside my wife's pregnant belly, Chris met us at Gibbons Park and was amazed to see "his professor" in such an unprofessorial state. He was very young then (recently out of high school) and probably thought (sort of) that professors somehow lived only in their offices and could not possibly appear unshaven, wearing shorts and accompanied by a very pregnant wife.

Chris and I met for lunch a year ago when he looked me up after his return from Ottawa. He looked great, told me about you and about his Ph.D. plans. He sounded so positive that I could not be happier for him. Now I kick myself for not contacting him after that lunch. Life just takes us into its whirlwind and when we wake up we often find that we've neglected to do the really important things. Seeing Chris again would have been such a thing. Chris was important.

Chris was one of the most tolerant people I've ever known. He always had an ear for any opinion, giving everyone the chance to expresses him or herself. And the sparkle in his eye seemed to say: "Maybe, maybe, why not..."

I would like to close by saying that Larissa (my wife) and I can't stop thinking about Chris. We grieve with you. We feel a sense of loss. We see his face in our mind's eye. It is always a smiling face though and that makes all the difference. It is hard to cry when you see a smile. You can't help but take a deep breath and smile back even through tears. And then you think: that smile has marked me and I feel better for it. To quote my favourite Russian author, Sasha Sokolov (whose prose Chris read in my class), Chris has left his footprints in my soul.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Two thumbs up

This is a great photo of Chris with his friend Martin, hanging out at the legendary Mount Brydges Audio Video where Chris worked when he was a student. The combination of his love of movies and his steel-trap memory made him a favourite among patrons for whom he provided personalized recommendations and friendly, knowledgeable service. [Thanks to Tara & Martin for providing the photos!]
Martin & Chris - cheers!

Chris working his magic behind the counter.