Saturday, December 22, 2007

Missing the Chris in Christmas

The first of everything is painful after the death of a loved one, especially the person with whom you shared your days & nights, your hopes & dreams, your other self.

Over the past months I've struggled through buying and selling our first house, Chris' birthday, our first wedding anniversary, and Thanksgiving. Others in his life have also passed their own milestones: his grandmother, parents, and brother have now each celebrated their first birthdays without a phone call or a card from Chris.

He wasn't there to raise a glass or make a wry joke or suggest a good restaurant for a birthday dinner. We've remembered him at those times when we gather together as friends or family but our celebrations are just a little quieter and there's a trembling of emotion in our laughter.

And now it's Christmas... the most storied and emotionally fraught celebration of the year.

When Chris and I bought our house, we served notice to family that we would be hosting this year. We had already planned where we were going to put our first tree (real of course!) and what we were going to serve for Christmas dinner (crown roast instead of turkey). There were covert plans to hide the television so that we would all spend the afternoon together talking or playing boardgames or going for a walk or singing along badly to cheesy Christmas tunes or all of the above.

Christmas this year will be a difficult and strange one. None of us is quite sure how to get through it. Chris' absence will be blatant - perhaps even more so for his family because I will be there but he won't. It's not like the Christmas when the two of us went to visit my parents and we were both absent from his parents' house. Not buying gifts for him, not writing cards with him, not debating the merits of gravy vs. cranberry sauce - all of these are making my heart ache even more than usual.

Somehow we'll stumble through the emotional minefield of the next week. I'm blessed with friends and in-laws who consider me family. Although I may feel lonely without Chris, I won't be alone this Christmas. I'm luckier than many. If you know someone who may be alone this Christmas, consider how much comfort you could give them by inviting them into your lives this holiday.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2007

Doing the best we can...

Over the past several months, a number of people have told me how strong or courageous I am. I can't say that I feel terribly strong or courageous.

Sometimes I feel as weak and helpless as a newborn. Sometimes I just want to lie in bed and cry... and I do. Sometimes I'm totally confused and overwhelmed. Most of the time I just put one foot in front of the other, pick one thing to focus on getting done and doing it - no matter how slowly. Because the alternative is giving up and sinking into the suffocating dark exhaustion of depression and letting myself slowly die.

Perhaps surprisingly, I don't want to do that. At least not enough to really fall all the way. There are things I want to accomplish, things I want to see, people I enjoy spending time with - that is the light that guides me along this dark path.

Over the past several weeks I've been reading a remarkable series of articles in the Globe & Mail by columnist Ian Brown. He has written very candidly about life with his 11-year old son Walker who was diagnosed with an incredibly rare genetic disorder: Cardio-Facio- Cutaneous Syndrome. The three lengthy articles cover everything from the family's years of chaotic home life, the dizzying turnstile of medical appointments, the agonizing uncertainty of every care-giving decision, all punctuated by episodes of pure transcendent joy and wondering glimpses of life's true essence.

I'm sure that many people have told Walker's parents Ian and Joanna that they are courageous and strong, they are. But I know that they probably don't feel it most of the time. Most of the time, they're just trying to do the best they can - for Walker, for their daughter Hayley, for themselves.

Most of the time, that's what being strong and courageous is all about - just trying to do the best we can.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Imagine... Iceland

One of Chris’ favourite musicians was John Lennon. In addition to John's musical talents, Chris admired his intellect and wit, his outspoken political and social activism, and his deep love for his family. I think we all recognize some similarities!

In October of this year, on what would have been John’s 67th birthday, Yoko Ono officially unveiled the Imagine Peace Tower on Videy Island, just off the coast of Iceland. The installation is a memorial to John and its tower of light, reaching into the sky, a beacon of hope for worldwide peace – a cause that John worked for and and sang about tirelessly.

Imagine by John Lennon

Chris often talked of one day visiting Iceland, especially after he discovered the band Sigur Rós who hail from that country. I’m not sure where his love of all things Nordic originated but I knew that we would one day see Iceland. I thought we would see it together... I was wrong.

I've made a promise to Chris that I will go to Iceland one day. I plan to scatter some of his ashes at Látrabjarg, an achingly beautiful area known for its fjords, soaring cliffs, and seabird colonies.

Glósóli by Sigur Rós

I think Chris would like that two of his musical favourites are now linked by geography and spirit. Iceland is a fascinating and beautiful country, rugged and cold, proud of its natural beauty and independent spirit… sounds kind of like home doesn't it?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stand up and speak out

I dedicate today's posting to the memory of my beloved mom. She was a remarkable, vivacious, bright, well-travelled, creative, and passionate woman. She was also a wife who lived under the silent shroud of verbal and emotional abuse.

Every year on this date, no matter where I am, I go and pay tribute to the memory of the many women who suffer violence and abuse at the hands of men who often claim to love them. I weep silently in the candlelight and wonder why. This year I won't have Chris beside me for support and comfort.

We cannot remain silent and look the other way. It is long past the time for polite silence when our friends, sisters, daughters, and mothers are suffering at the hands of our friends, brothers, sons, and fathers.

This is not a 'women's issue' or a 'feminist issue'. This is a matter of life and death. ALL of us - women and men - must stand up and speak out. We can break the endless cycle of abuse.

Family Violence: It's your business
National Clearinghouse on Family Violence
The White Ribbon Campaign

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chris' love song

Love Song (The Cure)

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am home again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am young again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am fun again

However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you
I will always love you

Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am free again
Whenever I'm alone with you
You make me feel like I am clean again

However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you
I will always love you

Love Song by The Cure

Monday, December 3, 2007

The bustle in a house

I'm pretty tired of death. I'm also pretty tired of the paperwork that inevitably seems to accompany every aspect of life... and death.

I'm tired of closing estates of the people I loved most. My father, my mother, and my husband - in the span of little over two years. I'm getting to be too damned good at it.

I'm tired of receiving mail addressed to The Estate of the Late [insert relevant name here].

I'm tired of going through personal things, trying to decide what to do with them, where they should be sent, to whom they should be given.

I'm tired of boxing up the remnants of my loved ones lives.

Because in the end that seems to be all that's left of anyone's life - one or two boxes of odds and ends, those incredibly personal things that have no monetary value or practical use: photo albums; love letters; awards & medals; sentimental mementos whose stories are now lost forever.

The responsibility of putting away someone's life is so underestimated. Yes, we live on in the hearts and memories of our loved ones and, perhaps, here and there in public documents. But what of those most intimate and personal touchstones? What do we do with them? Remember what happened to Rosebud?

I always feel so sad when I come across loose photos and postcards in antique shops. They should be with their families, people who care about their stories and are linked to them through time.

Many years ago I read a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson that has always remained with me:
    The bustle in a house
    The morning after death
    Is solemnest of industries
    Enacted upon earth, -

    The sweeping up the heart,
    And putting love away
    We shall not want to use again
    Until eternity.

Life gone in a flash... or a spark

Time is a strange, fluid element. Mercurial in its ability to stretch and shrink, stop and speed by. Yesterday marked five months since Chris' death. Unbelievable. Already some memories are becoming fuzzy; others are all too painfully sharp and clear. Possibly never to fade.

His death is still unreal in so many ways - a nightmare from which I cannot awaken. Our time together - so fleeting - seems like a dream to which I cannot return.

When we were separated during my last term in grad school and Chris was working hundreds of kilometres away, four months seemed like an eternity. Now I will begin to know what an eternity apart truly feels like. Or not...

I've been asked what I thought happens to us after we die. Like everyone but Lazarus, I don't know. I know that I don't believe in a heaven where angels walk on streets of gold and strum harps. But I do believe that all of that electricity and 'life energy' that courses through our bodies, keeping us alive, cannot simply disappear. Mother Nature doesn't do things that way. She's the original recycler!

I imagine that 'life energy' slipping out of our bodies after we die and surging up into the skies, much like bonfire sparks swirling up into a night-time sky. A romanticized image? Perhaps... who knows. We all have our own vision of heaven. The vision that gets us through what seems like eternity.