Sun floods in, illuminating flowers. And the couch where we sat, facing each other, and talked for hours. Jeannie died six months ago today – August 16, 2020.
Our daughter Annie turned 33 last Friday so we caked her, a small party that included her partner Chris and her son John, now eight. Chris had a birthday in January and I turned 64 last December. John learned to whistle in September.
So life goes on.
We miss Jeannie so much. Grief is sneaky, punching when least expected and in places that hurt more than can be imagined. The sorrow and mourning keep evolving and friends who have been through this cautiously mention that it gets harder before the healing happens. And the second year can be even more difficult. Okay…
“We are giving a vast number of people a model of how to do this this dying thing well,” Jeannie wrote in a letter to me she had me open after her death. We hoped the transparent way we walked through the 26 months from her diagnosis until death was more “a good example” than “a horrible warning.”
Our death adverse culture, where disease and dying have been turned over to professionals, does little to teach us how to prepare for the end of life. We learned a lot. Be good medical consumers and work as a team – I was Jeannie’s secretary at all her medical appointments. Discuss Goals of Care – and complete the forms to make this legal. Make sure the dying person clearly states their goals for the end of life. And yes, you can change these goals as often as required. Find peer support – we found two groups; the Living With Cancer Program at the Sage Counseling Centre and The Brain Tumour Support Group at Wellspring – both in Calgary. Use the wisdom of others; people and audio and video programs as well as books. We read many books, and three stand out:
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
The Five Invitations: Discovering what death can teach us about living fully, by Frank Ostaseski
The Second Half of Life – Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom by Angeles Arrien
There are many ways to do this “dying thing” well.
I’m now trying to do this “living thing” well, as a widower – I prefer the term bachelor. When Jeannie was pregnant with Annie back in 1987 a friend told me “life as you know it has ceased to exist” and it certainly was true for a couple having our first child. My life with Jeannie “has ceased to exist” and the implications continue to reveal themselves in ways both overwhelming and small. Many adjustments.
Work projects are calling me back to my vocation. Covid19 continues to make my life alone more isolated. And yet the warmish winter has been kind. John sleeps over every Friday night and I’m building a wooden sea kayak from a kit. The paperwork involved with wrapping up Jeannie’s life continues. And on warm Friday afternoons we sometimes have a fire pit roaring in the sunny front yard here at 518 – 13th Avenue NE in Calgary. Bring a chair and a drink!
Writing about the last three years has been part of my therapy. If you want to read more about how Jeannie and I lived with the brain cancer that took her life, please reply to this post or email me and ask for my essay, Master Thief: How One Family Kept in Touch with a GBM Patient to the End.
“I am wholly blessed to be your partner, David,” Jeannie wrote in her final letter to me. “And I can barely express how glad I am that you have continued to choose me to be your partner. Together, often imperfectly, we have explored our vulnerability, joy and true healing.” I’m so glad she chose me as her partner. I am wholly blessed too.
Thank you for loving and caring for Jeannie and me and our family.
All the best hugs,
PS – Pub nights will start up again after Covid19. And we are planning a musical blowout when people are allowed to sing together to celebrate Jeannie’s love of joyful sounds.