Saturday, January 17, 2015

Our Last Goodbye.

I always meant to continue writing the blog. When Andrew was sick it was so helpful and therapeutic for me to document the process, as if writing would grant me some control over the uncontrollable. For an entire year, I wrote. Many of you - friends and loved ones read along faithfully and sent beautiful, loving messages of encouragement. I wrote and wrote until the end – until that day in the hallway of Sloan Kettering when they told Charles and me that it was over – that they had tried every possible therapy, but that the cancer was too strong, and was now unstoppable. “How long?” we asked, numbly. “Weeks” was the answer. And that was it. I had to go into that hospital room and tell the dearest person in my life that his year-long herculean effort was for nothing. That the doctors had said we could go home and there was no reason to come back. I was terrified to tell him – he had struggled so hard and endured so much to stay with us. But he knew already that it was done. “It’s got its claws in me, babe” was all he said. He could feel it physically, in every cell of his body. After that day, I couldn’t write anymore. What was left to say?

When we returned home that last time, we climbed into bed and I tried to make Andrew as comfortable as possible - at this point he had constant, widespread pain.  I cried and Andrew, ever stoic, said, “Well, we did it, my love.” By which, he meant that we had created a beautiful, amazing life together - that we had loved each other as well and as thoroughly as was possible. He was congratulating us for getting it right. I will never forget that moment. We had to finally face that after nearly twenty years together our time was at an end –- that we would have to say our last goodbyes.

The next two weeks were a terrifying and excruciatingly sad haze of morphine and inadequate hospice care. Someday I will write that story if it ever becomes less painful and less rage inducing to think about. I carry tremendous guilt (and probably always will) for not being able to provide a better death for my husband. To helplessly watch a loved one suffer so unbearably and so needlessly has a profound, altering effect on the psyche. I will always regret that I did not have the courage nor the shrewdness to deliver the fatal dose of morphine that would have put a compassionate end to his agony. He certainly would have demanded it from me, had he been able.
After Andrew’s death, I wrote a few more blog posts. I wanted so badly to keep him present, to talk about him, to remind everyone what it meant to lose such an incredible person from this earth! I wanted to write down all of my memories of him, and to leave a record for the boys before time made me forget the details. But I found that it was too painful to think, let alone write. All I wanted to do was to go with him – my life seemed to suddenly stretch out very long ahead of me. My grief was a black hole, swallowing me up completely. I stopped enjoying my boys, my friends, my work. I put on a brave face so no one would worry overmuch or hassle me about going to grief therapy. I was indignant - what could a therapist possibly tell me about illness, death and loss that I didn’t already know? How could a stranger possibly understand how special our life together had been, how rare and incredible Andrew was? I knew I just had to go through it on my own.

I did my work and paid my bills. I somehow sold my house and moved us to a new town. I listened to Andrew’s voice in my head, guiding me through all of my responsibilities each day, but as soon as I put the children to bed at night, I would fall on the floor and drown myself in wine and bitter tears. I cried for a year straight, until I simply hadn’t any tears left.
And then with time the darkness began to fade. I was finally able to think about Andrew with happiness as well as sadness. I was starting to create new memories with my boys and our friends, and life seemed like it might be ok again.
And then suddenly, by chance, an old friend re-appeared into my life. He was also suffering a loss of a different kind, and in our mutual vulnerable states we stumbled into something beautiful and real and overpowering. It was intoxicating to be so happy again after so many days and months and years of sadness. I felt a real spark for life again – I wanted to have adventures and laugh and bathe in the love this person was offering. And so I did -- and have enjoyed every moment. And I’ve decided to leap, head-first into a new life with this man, who is so very kind and sweet, and it’s terrifying and thrilling, and hard and easy all at once.


I recently revisited some old Facebook posts from the weeks after Andrew died. Friends left so many beautiful comments and wishes, most of which I was too numb to properly appreciate at the time. Someone said that Andrew would be around me always, and that he would send laughter and light back into my life. And I think that’s been true, but sadly not everyone is happy about my new relationship. Certain friends and family have sent clear messages through their words and through their silence. I’m not sure if it’s because they feel that I’m being disloyal to Andrew, or worry that it’s too soon, or think I’m too happy and they liked it better when I was sad…It’s strange to encounter those kinds of reactions and I’m always slightly jarred when it happens. Some days it can fill me with irritation – do they really think that Andrew and I didn’t have multiple, private conversations about what the future should hold for the boys and me after he was gone?  My God -- any one who understood Andrew even slightly would know that he’d be furious if he thought the boys and I were still crying and moping around all day two years later. He’d tell me to get my shit together and for us to live our lives. He was not a martyr, by any stretch, and wouldn’t bear for me to be one. But I get it too – change can be upsetting to people, and what they perhaps don’t understand is how the boys and I never stop remembering Andrew. How we talk and reminisce, and share funny stories, and visit favorite places. He is a constant presence in our lives. I want the boys to know that they can always talk about their dad.
And thankfully, there are others – those friends and family who have been so generous in their words and thoughts – so happy to see the boys and me happy again. I feel their warmth and I embrace it. Life is so fleeting – we’re only here for the briefest speck of time. We have to grab joy when it comes, recognize our good fortune and enjoy the hell out of it. Andrew taught me all of this, of course, by how he lived and how he died.

This will probably be the last post on this blog. The blog is so explicitly tied to Andrew’s illness, and I don’t want that to be the defining feature by which we remember him. He lived 50 beautiful years -- he was only a cancer patient for one. So thank you all for reading and remembering, and celebrating Andrew’s life, and hopefully celebrating the new life that the boys and I are forging. We are ever grateful!

Linda


This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it's over
Just hear this and then i'll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you'll ever know

From "Last Goodbye" by Jeff Buckley







Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Silence

Right after Andrew died I started saying that I felt like half of my own self was gone. We were so connected and the feelings brought about by his absence were beyond peculiar -- I definitely did not feel any sort of normal. Eight months on, I still feel strange most days -- as if I'm continually forgetting to do something important, but can't begin to remember what it is.  It's a very weird way to go through life.

People keep telling me how lucky we were to have shared such a deep and profound love. And I suppose that's true. It would surely be torturous to exist day after day in a loveless, or even tepid sort of relationship. Though our marriage went through the normal rocky periods, we were unfailingly smitten with each other, and so always managed to find our way through. I'm sorry to think that there are probably many people who never get to experience that deep connection with another person.  I'm sure I should be feeling incredible gratitude for the time that we had. But right now I'm not feeling so grateful. I'm feeling greedy. I'm greedy for more delicious years with my husband. I'm greedy for his humor, his humanity, and his kindness. Greedy for his great looks, his fearlessness, and his beautiful mind. But I'm mostly greedy for his conversation. Oh, the conversation! Seventeen years of the funniest, most intelligent, insane, and interesting conversations possible. This will come as no surprise to anyone who spent even a small amount of time with him.  Wherever he was was usually the most interesting place to be.

Andrew was intensely curious about the world -- he quizzed people endlessly about their lives, and their thoughts, and he especially loved to provoke their reactions! He read constantly and was incredibly well informed about subjects he found interesting. He could debate anyone and generally would. My sister-in-law once became uncomfortable, thinking we were fighting -- I had to say "No, this is just how we talk! We're animated, we debate, we argue." But the debates were never angry or hostile - they were full of passion and love and vigor, and life.  The part of our day I most enjoyed was evening, after work and dinner. The boys would finish their dinners and head off to play -- Andrew and I would stay at the table for as long as possible, finishing our wine and just talking about everything and nothing at all. Such bliss.

Our conversation -- constant, thrilling, hilarious, ridiculous, inspiring, and never, ever boring -- was our unique way of being in the world together. Now, I find that I go long stretches each day without ever speaking a word. The silence in the evenings after the boys are asleep can be be positively deafening. The conversation has disappeared with my husband -- I've lost half my own self, and don't think I'll ever be quite whole again.

Around our table -- the site of so much great conversation.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Challenges



The challenges of widowhood are many – emotional (obviously), practical (my contractor/handyman might as well keep a room here – he doesn’t even listen to my messages anymore, he just picks up the phone immediately to find out what new household calamity has befallen me). But the hardest challenge thus far is figuring out how to keep my children on an even keel. My little one seems well – he requires only cuddles and kisses and smiles, which I’m happy and able to bestow upon him daily, but my older son is a different matter. Jack is eight. He was very close to his dad and is very like his dad – highly intelligent, creative, complex, and stubborn as the day is long. As Jack said to me yesterday, “I make my own decisions.”  Children don’t experience grief the way adults do. They may feel sadness, but quickly compartmentalize it and move on. They have to, to survive. But they still manifest their grief, just in different ways. 

Jack has always been a challenge to parent (not always a negative, mind you). He was a very colicky baby. Friends used to shake their heads in sympathy as Andrew and I would use every tool we could think of to soothe his cries. I remember a legendary evening at a friend’s party when Jack cried from the time we arrived until we finally took our leave 3 hours later, after failing to comfort him. He cried for 3 hours straight! And we tried everything – feeding, jiggling, walks around the block - nothing could ease this poor child’s discomfort.  This was a pretty regular occurrence, but as new parents we really didn’t know any better – aren’t all babies like this?  When sweet and contented Ewan came along we realized just how very different children can be. As he grew, we realized what a smart and fascinating and complicated kid Jack is. He’s very sensitive; he feels things deeply and reacts with strong emotions. His mind is quick, and you can’t get anything by him. He can be bossy and difficult, but his heart is like a soft and squishy peach.

Lately, Jack and I are butting heads pretty good. I remember reading an author (possibly David Sedaris, but can’t remember) talking about how his parents didn’t parent so much as manage their children. I’ve since tried to be conscious to avoid this, but I admit I don’t always succeed. I find I do manage them – “get your shoes on, get your teeth brushed, we’re late”.  A common refrain.  And frankly, Jack needs a lot of managing. But he’s also a little boy who’s just lost his father, and I’m becoming painfully aware of the need to do better by him.

So we’re getting some help. Overdue, maybe, but I’ve never been to a therapist before. Andrew was always fairly anti-therapy. His thinking was, life is difficult – you just get on with it, and stop bitching. His father went through the Great Depression and World War II. That generation was all about getting on with it. When you’re watching your friends get blown to bits, you understand life and death on a different level and you don’t spend too much time feeling sorry for yourself. I always admired Andrew’s ability to face difficult situations and just get on with it.  Even during his illness he never once asked “why me”. Wrong question, he said. Just, how do we address it?  His bravery in the face of losing everything was remarkable, even to the end. But now that he’s gone, I’m struggling. Andrew was exceptional with Jack. I am less so. My greatest fear is having one of my sons grow distant from me.

I recently visited with a very nice family therapist who gave me some great, specific tools to use with Jack. He’s also going to meet Jack soon and try to get a better idea of what’s going on in his head.
These are things I never thought I would have to face. When I was married, I often said “ I wouldn’t ever want to be a single parent – wow, it’s so hard with two parents, can you imagine doing this on your own?” And I meant it. But life is not always kind, and here I am – desperate to help my child navigate life without a father, but with little real knowledge about how to do this. Unfortunately for my children, my all-consuming grief at losing the dearest person in my life has kept me from doing much beyond getting through days. But I hear Andrew’s clear voice in my head telling me to get on with it. Find a way to survive. Find a way to give extra support and love and attention to our children, who don’t yet have the tools. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

About a House






Today the sale of our Maple Avenue house became official.  Those who know us and have spent time at our house understand why it was impossible for me to live there after Andrew had gone. His presence was huge, and the emptiness in the house was more than I could reasonably bear. Though we owned the house for a mere seven years, it’s difficult to overstate what the place meant to us. This 110-year old, Victorian fun house on the river was our absolute refuge and sanctuary. We arrived here a bit battered from too many hard years in the city, ready to start a new beginning in the countryside. We had a 9-month old infant and very few belongings to fill the many, many sunny rooms. Over time, and with a lot of paint and sweat we made it our own beautiful nest – a love letter to each other.

Our babies were raised here, among the tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelons. They learned to walk and swim and play here. They learned to identify various flower types in the rambling gardens I planted, and how to distinguish the weeds from the seedlings.  They helped us plant the birthday roses, mother’s day roses, the flowering shrubs and fruiting trees – so many gifts of love from my husband, too numerous to count. They helped their father hammer and saw and weld things in the beautiful old carriage house that bore the inscriptions of previous owners from a lifetime ago. And we all delighted in the secret places and spaces the house revealed to us. We cooked and ate delicious food here, we made cozy fires in the winter, and swam like fish in the summer. We entertained many, many friends here -- friends that we are so privileged to know, and who took care of us through Andrew’s illness in ways I never could have dreamed of.

We loved each other passionately, talked endlessly, laughed and cried, and rarely ever fought in this house. I helped my beautiful, young husband make his journey to the next life in this house. And as I watched him leave us, I gave a tiny prayer of thanks that his last years here had been so very, very happy.




Monday, December 10, 2012

Family



50 Pint Challenge

During Andrew's long battle with cancer he has needed many, many blood transfusions. We have started a donation challenge on Facebook to encourage our huge group of supporters to donate a pint of blood or platelets, and help us reach our goal of 50 pints. Those who have been following this blog know his story, but I will reprint what we put on Facebook:


Our Story: 
Last fall, at age 48, my husband Andrew was diagnosed with widespread, stage IV non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The chemotherapy regimens for these types of Lymphoma are aggressive and lengthy, often lasting a year or more. Lymphoma patients are frequently hospitalized and often need multiple blood transfusions. We estimate that Andrew has recieved approximately 35 bags of blood products, both whole red blood and platelets, during the past year.

Blood banks rely on volunteers to keep a steady supply of blood products for patients in need. Andrew and I feel strongly about returning the favor- although he is unable to donate, I will be donating regularly. We are blessed with an amazing community of friends and supporters from all over the country, and many of you have asked how you can help. W
e've decided to initiate a 3 month, 50 pint donation challenge! Over the next three months, we encourage you to donate a pint of either whole blood or platelets at your local blood bank. If you are unable to donate, enlist a friend, family member or even a stranger! :)

In addition to donating, we ask just one more favor...have someone snap a picture of you (or your friend) donating blood or platelets and post it here to our Facebook page or to our blog. You'll get virtual high-fives from all over the country!

In the spirit of holiday giving, we ask you to join us in reaching (or exceeding) 50 pints, and helping to save a life.

Love and gratitude,

Linda and Andrew McTiernan



So if you are on Facebook, please go to our page to join the challenge: https://www.facebook.com/50PintChallengeGiftingLife



and even if you are not on Facebook, you can join the challenge and post your success to this blog.  Thank you all for your continued support and messages -- we read them all, and they are helping so much!  



xo

L

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Back to the beginning.

It's been a difficult few weeks here.  Andrew has been feeling generally terrible on the new oral chemo regimen.  He really wasn't able to get out of bed at all during last week, and he was having increasing pain. We decided it was time to call Dr. W and get a CBC to see if he needed some blood support. The CBC showed that A's platelets were low so Dr. W ordered a transfusion for the next morning.

The pain became unbearable that night and Andrew couldn't sleep a wink, so we went for the transfusion, and then I called Dr. Z's office to let them know what was going on. After a while, his nurse called me back and said that Dr. Z. wanted us to come right away to the Urgent Care at MSK, and that Andrew would most likely be admitted. So we drove down last night, and Andrew was admitted around midnight.  The doctors say that he has very high levels of calcium, which have been increasing since September. They don't believe that the chemo drugs caused the calcium spike, but that it's caused by the lymphoma. This happened to Andrew once before, at the beginning of this whole ordeal. I had to look back into the blog to find it -- right before he was due to start his very first chemo treatment, he had a calcium spike from the widespread lymphoma which led to his 5-week hospital admission. So now we have arrived right back at the beginning.

Dr. Z. is away at a conference until Wednesday, so I'm not really sure what is going to happen next. They're giving him drugs and fluids to get the calcium down, and then hopefully he will be able to come home. I don't know yet if he will be getting his treatment as planned on Tuesday, or if they will change course.