Saturday, April 26, 2008

"A gift is a gift, no matter how long it lasts."

"Grief comes in waves," wrote Joan Didion in her remarkable book The Year of Magical Thinking.

It can also blindside you when you least expect it. I had been thinking of writing about the spate of babies bursting into my world this year, the circle of life, all that kind of stuff, but I'm putting that aside for another day.

As I sit here writing my eyes are filled with tears, my throat tight and my heart filled with anguish and sadness. Why? Because this morning I turned a page in the Focus section of the Globe & Mail and read words that broke my heart, unleashing a torrent of emotions and memories of Chris' death.

Amelia Bruce died on April 5. She was 27 years old.

I didn't know Amelia but last August her grandfather, Toronto writer Stephen Gauer, wrote a very personal and touching article in the G&M about his experience as a living kidney donor for Amelia. He wrote lovingly of his sunny, resilient, smart, and outgoing grand-daughter and how she lived her life like any young woman, despite - or perhaps because of - her kidney failure.

Amelia received a donor kidney in 1997 but in 2005 it began to fail and she faced the prospect of going back on dialysis and a wait of up to eight years for a second transplant. Her grandfather volunteered to be tested and was found to be a good match and on June 26, 2007 they both went into surgery. The transplant was a success but months later something went wrong and Amelia began to experience a series of setbacks that frequently sent her to the hospital. In recent months though her health seemed to stabilize and she was looking forward to moving into her own apartment which her grandfather was painting for her. But then it all went terribly wrong.

Stephen Gauer's follow-up article in today's G&M is entitled Goodbye Amelia. It is a raw and heart-breaking love letter to a little girl and a young woman. It's also a personal recount of his own journey alongside Amelia watching her growing up and what it meant to say goodbye to his grand-daughter. He responds to those who asked him if he regretted giving her his kidney, "I believe with all my heart and soul that if donating a kidney to Amelia made her life better, easier, less painful, more hopeful, happier, less exhausting for even one day out of those 284, it was worth it."

As you can imagine, many thoughts crashed through my mind as I read this heart-breaking news today. So many similarities resounded, odd little things like Amelia's mother hearing her alarm ringing on and on and discovering her daughter dead in bed. The night before he died, Chris had set his alarm for an early wake-up. When I went back to the apartment later the next afternoon to pick up some clothes, I froze in my tracks upon hearing the clock-radio blindly roaring to an empty bed. It had been playing all day.

The article recounts Amelia's mother's anguished protests, "This is completely wrong. This is bullshit."; Amelia's memorial service where over 130 people came to share their grief, love, and loss; Stephen's wonderment at the unexpected serendipity of gaining a delightful grand-daughter when he met and fell in love with Amelia's grandmother; all these experiences touched off a firestorm in my own heart...

Memories of my own horror at realizing that the moment we knew would some day come had actually come far too soon; trying to reach Chris' parents and not knowing what I was going to say when they answered the phone; the hundreds of kind, supportive people who came to Chris' visitation and memorial service; and some of the strange things people said to me out of discomfort or tactlessness.

I'm drained by this day. I've cried for Amelia, for Chris, for myself. So many unfulfilled dreams, so much pain, so much love.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gift of life

This is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (April 20-27)

As many of you know, Chris was lucky enough to receive a kidney from an anonymous deceased donor in 1994. Unfortunately, after seven years the kidney failed in 2001 and Chris went back on dialysis. His doctors had hoped that he would be able to receive a second kidney transplant. His dad, his brother, and I all volunteered to be tested to see if any of us were compatible to be living donors for Chris. Unfortunately he passed away before that could happen but his corneas were donated and he was able to give the gift of sight to two individuals in Ontario.

According to Medline Plus, the organs and tissues from one deceased donor can save or help as many as 50 people! Organs which can be donated include:
  • Internal organs such as kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs
  • Skin
  • Bone and bone marrow
  • Corneas
Please take a few minutes this week to consider your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation, sign your organ donor card, and - most importantly - talk with your families and friends about this important decision. After your death, they will have the final say on whether your wishes are fulfilled.

Gift of Life
Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Association of Transplantation ~ Public Information

Monday, April 21, 2008

Too much stuff

Inspired by a friend and fellow librarian who sent me a posting from one of my favourite blogs - Unclutterer - I took a good, hard look at my bookshelves and then went to town. I decided to once again try sorting my books into read and unread - a scheme I've used in the past with some success but became bored with. I was horrified to discover that nearly half the books on two full bookcases were UNREAD (I won't humiliate myself by providing examples)!! My excuse is that many are Chris' books... some are in Cyrillic!

Despite having purged about four boxes of books before we moved two years ago and another four boxes of non-fiction after Chris passed away, I realized that it had been a loooong time since I had cast a critical and realistic eye on my book collection. The Russian classics in Cyrillic were weeded, as were one pair of the inexplicably duplicate copies of both The Iliad and The Odyssey. I'm still waffling on the pile of Robertson Davies - a favourite of Chris' but not so much mine. The give-aways have gone to friends, our apt building's book exchange cupboard, and the library.

Call it spring cleaning if you wish but those of you who know me know that I love to get rid of clutter. In my fantasy life I aspire to these inspiring words of William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful". In reality I have been known to verge on mild panic attacks when feeling overwhelmed by too much clutter!

Those of you who knew Chris knew that he was not afflicted by this difficult condition. :-) So I guess we were a healthy match - he wouldn't let me get rid of things that we really shouldn't and I wouldn't let him hoard things that we really didn't need. Like bundles of ten-year old pay stubs, manuals for obsolete software, and one rusty hubcap for a car we didn't own (in case you're not sure, these are things deemed unnecessary for us to keep).

My dad often used to say that one person's trash is another's treasure... of course he was a delighted recipient and wheeler-dealer of many people's 'trash' over the years. (My purging tendencies are no doubt a direct albeit unintended result of his influence.) But while I love to get rid of stuff, being an eco-witch means I'm loath to throw things in the garbage so I'm a long-time fan of thrift stores, freecycling, and swap parties (see earlier reference to "one person's trash...").

On that note, go out and celebrate Earth Day tomorrow by not buying over-packaged, cheaply-made stuff you don't really need; get rid of some of the stuff you already have too much of; and give away what we all need more of: laughter, hugs, and kindness.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The "w" words

I've now been a widow for longer than I was a wife.

9 months, 1 week, and 2 days... well not quite 2 days, more like 1 and a 1/2 days.

That was how long Chris and I had been married when he died so suddenly in my arms early in the morning of July 2. Last Thursday marked that same period of time since Chris' death. I now find myself adrift in uncharted territory, unmarked time... A.C. (After Chris) if you will.

I spent more time planning our wedding than I spent actually being married! It really would be ridiculously funny if it weren't so achingly sad.

I never even got used to being a wife - to figure out what it meant to me, what kind of a wife I was and would become. A number of "w" words began to pop into my mind as I began writing this entry: woman, womyn, wife, widow, wench, witch, weaker sex, whore... all of these words heavy with meaning and emotion, each representing something different to different people in different cultures and different times.

Who am I? What am I? Just myself... whatever that may be.