Special note to the reader: In this posting and in many others on my blog, you will find considerable details concerning disease and medical treatment over a period of many years, and considerable information on personal feelings. Please understand that my postings on WordPress form at least a semblance of an autobiography—they are written and presented primarily as a sort of history for my three daughters. WordPress offers an outlet for me to say those things that are very difficult for me to express, but as an autobiography I am able to achieve far more depth than in face-to-face interviews with my children. Everything I write has, at the very least, a nucleus of truth to hold it together, sometimes a bit embellished but always based on facts. I tend to ramble, but with care my readers should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This posting closes with a poem, poignant in its message but untitled by the author. Had I written the poem I would have given it the same title I used for this posting: Don’t leave me alone.
In late 1999 Janie—my wife, my love, my life—was diagnosed with Stage Two ovarian cancer. She was 68 years old at the time, and although the statistics for survival were not in her favor she refused to bow to the disease, but continued living and loving life for eleven more years. The photo at right was taken in the fall of 1983 at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. We celebrated her 52nd birthday in December of that year.
Her life was dramatically changed following the diagnosis, of course. She embarked on an eleven year journey, a grueling period punctuated with several major invasive surgeries requiring lengthy hospital stays, several rounds of chemotherapy, numerous X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, blood draws, urine samples, frequent physical exams, trips to emergency rooms and brief hospital stays.
Throughout those years she held steadfast to her faith, enjoying life and considering each return of the disease comparable to the speed bumps found on city streets, each simply requiring a brief slow-down and then a return to normal speed, a return to living life and loving it. During periods of remission she frequently voiced her pleasure with life, saying “We have a good life.”
Seven years after the initial diagnosis of cancer and successfully holding the beast at bay, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, a complication probably caused mostly by the several series of chemotherapy she endured. The kidney disease progressed and she eventually required dialysis, a treatment that necessitated several more surgeries to place access ports for the dialysis needles, first in the chest while access in her arm was maturing.
My wife of 58 years, the mother of our three daughters, died at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2010 from complications of ovarian cancer and renal failure. We would have completed our fifty-eighth wedding anniversary just 25 days later on 13 December, and she would have celebrated her seventy-ninth birthday on the twenty-sixth day of December, one day after Christmas.
The eighteenth day of this month will mark the sixth month since she died, and the grief I feel—the loneliness, the heartache and the miserable feeling of being alone has flowed and ebbed with the tides of time. My daughters and friends have been stalwart pillars of support, even though rebuffed in those numerous instances in which my pity party was in full swing—and to my shame I admit that many times I have lashed out at them, desperately seeking someone or something on which to place the blame, or at least to share the blame with me.
I am constantly advised to remember all the good things I’ve done over the years, but I seem to be stuck in the ultimate low gear of self-blame. During my years of being gainfully employed I frequently spent long periods away from home, traveling all over the United States and other countries, and no matter how hard I tried I remembered all the things that I had done wrong and all the things that I should have done but failed to do. I’m reasonably certain that good things happened, but I had difficulty focusing on them, and now that I’m alone I’m still stuck in the same low gear.
I know, I know. There is a saying which tells us that one who represents one’s self in court has a fool for a lawyer. That same bromide can be applied to most attempts at self-analysis—in such situations one cannot see the forest for the trees, and ultimately help must come from someone looking in from outside the forest.
A hoary joke involves a drunk hurrying home late in the night, and in crossing his front yard he walks into a tree, the only one on the lot. He makes several attempts but runs into the tree each time. On the ground and stunned, he is heard to mumble, “Well, I may as well face it—I’m lost in a thick forest.”
In many ways I am like that drunk, although I am a teetotaler. I am lost in a thick forest of self-analysis and self-pity, frantically seeking someone to blame for anything and everything. Impractical and patently unfair, but it involves something psychiatrists term projection—we tend to project our faults into others, and then we criticize them rather than criticizing ourselves.
My neighbors to the west have been tremendously supportive during this transition period. The lady of the house recommended several online locations that she felt might help me in overcoming grief, or at the very least might help me learn to live with grief. All were helpful but one towered over the rest.
The following poem concludes a lengthy contribution to the Living With Loss magazine. I feel that in her poem the author gives sage advice that can apply to any grief situation, including mine.
From the introduction to the author’s essay: “. . . . although its subject matter is the loss of a child, it reveals commonality in grief such as the changes in the way survivors view the world and in the way the world views survivors, regardless of the loss.” Click here to read the complete essay and be warned—have a plentiful supply of tissues ready!
This is the author’s untitled poem:
Don’t tell me that you understand,
Don’t tell me that you know.
Don’t tell me that I will survive,
How I will surely grow.
Don’t tell me this is just a test,
That I am truly blessed,
That I am chosen for this task,
Apart from all the rest.
Don’t come at me with answers
That can only come from me,
Don’t tell me how my grief will pass
That I will soon be free.
Don’t stand in pious judgment
Of the bonds I must untie,
Don’t tell me how to suffer,
And don’t tell me how to cry.
My life is filled with selfishness,
My pain is all I see,
But I need you, I need your love,
Accept me in my ups and downs,
I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry,
And say, “My friend, I care.”
Joanetta Hendel, author
Living With Loss Magazine
Bereavement Publications, Inc.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
May 13, 2011 at 7:00 am
May 13, 2011 at 9:35 am
Thank you for opening up and expressing yourself on this blog…for revealing your vulnerability…and for exhibiting the same trait that you love so much in Sue—wearing your heart on your sleeve. This posting was beautiful and you made me cry. Great writing moves readers and you have profoundly moved me. I love you so much, dad!
May 15, 2011 at 11:19 am
Thanks for the comment, Larry. Those two words I care mean a lot to me and their impact equals General McAuliffe’s reply to the Germans when they demanded that he surrender his101st Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 at Bastogne, Belgium. As you probably know, he replied to the Germans with just one word—Nuts!
I’m not sure that it happened exactly that way, but it sure makes a great story.
May 15, 2011 at 11:28 am
I’ll accept vulnerability, opening up, expressing myself, that heart on my sleeve thing, beautiful, great writing, and the profoundly moving thing, and I love you right back, that much and more. As for making you cry, I’m sure you noticed the tear spots on the pages of that blog—it moved me in the same way. I suppose that is comparable to one laughing at one’s own joke, but hey—if it’s funny one should laugh, and if it’s sad it’s alright to cry.
May 25, 2011 at 11:52 am
You made me cry again. I sure wish I’d read this before replying to your email and hope you can forgive my inept attempt to try to sympathize. I can imagine what you and your girls are feeling but I’m sure it is just a pale shadow.