Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mr. Smak

I know, more than most, that I can't do anything to help him.

I see him pause outside Henry's room, peering in for some sense of comfort.
I hear the acceptance of pain in his voice.
I see the slope of his shoulders on bad days, and know what it means.
I know the fleeting nature of joy for him now.
I watch him try to avoid the mines hidden in every day experiences.
I hold him when he needs it.
I look for places to give him solace.

I hate what this has caused in him, what it continues to do to him. It's his life, he can't and wouldn't escape it if he could, but I so wish he didn't have to do this.

It hurts me so to see him hurting. And I know that reciprocally, my grief adds to his.

All we can seem to do is acknowledge one anothers' pain, and promise to keep going.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meds, part deux

Yesterday was six months since he's been gone.

It feels like six months. The time has gone by, I guess slowly. It certainly doesn't feel like yesterday.

The grief, thankfully, is less intense. But omnipresent.

We've gotten to the point that life feels back to normal, for all outward appearances anyway. School, work, vacations, soccer, gatherings...we're back in our family rhythm, which is nice.

But geez, it hurts.

Stupid to say, like I thought it wouldn't. Essentially, unless my mind is fully occupied, the grief sits on my chest so I feel it with every breath. I'm tiring of it.

I wrote, about a year ago, about starting an antidepressant, for my constant and worsening anxiety about his possible relapse. I took one for a few months. Strangely, after he relapsed I didn't need it anymore. The anxiety was gone.

I know what clinical depression is, and I don't have it. Anhedonia, poor concentration and energy, feelings of guilt or poor self-esteem, sleep or appetite disruption. I don't have any of it.

But geez, it hurts. I'm sad a lot.

But that's not depression. That's grief. I honestly don't know if antidepressants help with dulling the pain of grief. Or if that would be a good thing? But I am thinking about it again.

On a lighter note, I'm also tackling my bucket list. No, I don't have any foresight into my doom, but I'm not sure what the universe has planned for me, and there's no time like the present. There's a strawberry cream cheese coffee cake in the oven, I might start tackling the perfect pie crust soon. And Mr. Smak and I are about to take that grown-up vacation I promised myself, complete with a professional European soccer game. It's not EPL, but for me it counts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy President's Day

I dreamt of Henry again last night. It happens so infrequently.

My family is out of town this week, and I've been trying to keep myself busy, and to avoid thinking too much about him. I didn't want to hit a real low here all by myself.

Recently work has provided some trauma to my emotional scab about Henry. Tho I see kids frequently, several of them have triggered emotion in the last few weeks. I enjoy them, but the ones who mention some of his favorite things with the passion that only a 4 year old can feel, or who wear the underwear he used to wear, or who giggle in the way he used to giggle, can catch me off guard. The memories are pleasant, really, but the loss of course isn't.

And occasionally we'll have to do something unpleasant to a kid his age. The screams of "That huwts" or "pwease pwease pwease stop" coming unexpectedly down the hall hit me like a baseball bat, and I'm back changing his Hickman dressing while my husband wraps his arms around him so he can't move and dirty the sterile field. He went through so damn much. I wonder if those memories would feel different had he made it, more badge of courage than futility.

Anyway, back to the dream. Funny, it's clearly due to my book, but he was time traveling. He was already dead, but showed up again for an unspecified amount of time, in our time. It was just wonderful. We knew he'd be gone again, but he didn't. He laughed so much, and was so happy, and he picked me to put him to bed. He talked about his sisters so lovingly, and asked me to read "The night before Christmas" to him. And just before I started he said, in the way he always did when he was explaining something, "Did you know that tomorrow is George Washington's birthday?"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Book Review: The TIme Traveler's Wife

This is the first real novel I've read since Henry's illness began. Lately my knitting has waned, my concentration is improved and I feel like losing myself in a story is a more thorough escape from my mind's uncomfortable wanderings. I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend, who mentioned it because he was sure he'd be disappointed with the movie. I actually think it might translate very well.

The Time Traveler's Wife is written from the two perspectives of a couple in love, but tossed around by fate and time in ways that the rest of us aren't. It's well written, has some clever dialogue, and makes your mind stretch a bit to follow what's happening.

It's a love story, first and foremost, but there's also a lot in there about loss. How are death and loss different if you have access to time travel? Quite a bit. Henry (the protagonist) lost his mother when he was a child, but as an adult is able to experience her again. Henry's father was devastated by the loss of his wife, but finds her existence to Henry, albeit in a different and for him inaccessible dimension, comforting.

I do as well, thinking of my own Henry. My poor little brain isn't very adept at quantum physics, but I believe enough in the brains of others to trust in what they are saying. Sometimes I make the analogy in my head about time that we used to have about space. Hundreds of years ago, when someone made the trip from Europe to the Americas, families knew they would never seen each other again, never again occupy the same physical space. Henry and I will never again occupy the same time space, but in "sometime" he still is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mistakes were Made

This looks to be a long post, and I'm feeling kinda preachy. Preachy atheists aren't that much fun, (are you listening, Richard Dawkins?), but this has been on my mind.

This American Life is a fun NPR program. The host and his reporters interview a large variety of people, often introducing a slice of life that I would otherwise be unaware of. Sometimes it's intensely interesting, occasionally I feel like I've just wasted an hour of my lfe. But its great for passing the time in the car, and you can download them onto your ipod for listening at your convenience.

On our trip last weekend, we listened to an episode called "Mistakes were made." The main story was about cryogenics. I very vaguely recall hearing something about this on the news, years ago. Turns out a bunch of laypeople in (where else) southern California became very interested in cryogenics. They really, really wanted to believe that you could freeze a person who had died, and eventually science will figure things out enough in order to thaw them and cure them of their illness so that life could continue.

But really really wishing for something doesn't make it so. Trust me.

They had some scientific advisors on the board of their official organization, who said the science wasn't there yet, but research was active and ongoing.

Until someone died. Someone on the organization, who really wanted to be frozen. So they froze her.

The advisory scientists fled, as well they should have.

The story snowballs from there, culminating in multiple bodies being frozen in faulty containers (piled up as they were only intended for one person), thawing completely from time to time. The protagonist of the story is at worst a criminal with poorly disguised malintent, at best a buffoon with good intentions.

Which isn't good enough for me. Why, oh why, do people who know nothing about science think that just because something sounds right to them, and at heart they have good intentions, they are remotely qualified to advise other people on what to do? In my daily universe this is the Suzanne Summers of the world. Naturopathic doctors. Some chiropractors. A whole host of well-meaning idiots, who do harm preaching how they wish the world work, as if it actually worked that way.

Sidebar, but a great outdoorsman has more respect for a gun than a punky kid. A great boat captain absolutely respects the dangers of the water, and the machinery he drives. And a good doctor or scientist understands and respects the limitations of their craft as well. (As promised....preachy.)

But my big issue with the story was the more obvious one. Do, functional, assuming somewhat educated....truly believe that we can figure out how to outsmart death? Really? If you consider that everything, everybody, who has ever ever lived for the last kajillion years is now dead, can you really see this as something avoidable? And who in their right mind would even want to be frozen, to be woken up in 50, 100, 500 years? Who would they know? Their friends, family will all be gone. Not to even touch on the issue of finite resources, letting someone else have a turn on the merry-go-round.

I don't really understand why that story got under my skin so much, but it did. We so need to come to grips with death. It is part of life, part of us.

Monday, August 3, 2009


We had another family vacation last week, a long weekend on the water. We've spent enough time without Henry that packing for a trip and traveling with just the girls feels normal again, not like we left someone at home absentmindedly.

Though new experiences are less heart wrenching than repeating things that we had done with Henry, they are far from sorrow-free. My first thoughts at a new experience are always him: what would he say, what would he like, when would he laugh. I have wondered how I would "remember" him as I experienced things he hadn't; recently, my thoughts have been more on him at age 5 as he would have been, without cancer. He was such an athletic boy, exuding health. I pictured him on the kayak, rowing with him strong little arms. There was no bald head, no steroid-induced cheeks. It was hard, sad, but I tried to look at it and move on.

As the weekend went by, it got easier. I thought of him less and less, as seems to be the pattern in new situations. Consequently, my mood lightened, lifted, I was more able to pay attention to what was going on around me.

I seem to be presented with a dilemma. Some days he's present and heavy in my mind, almost as much as if he were here. Other days I'm very upbeat, focused on the now, and when he enters my thoughts I touch on him lightly and with fondness and move on again.

But most days I'm somewhere in the middle. I can consciously choose to think about him, and be sad, or to not think of him, and feel happier. My mourning is much less intense than it was, but it is very rare that I can think of him and feel happy, light, and good. I'm like a balloon running out of helium, and to look at a photo, or really experience a memory, or to hold a favorite toy causes me to sink to the floor.

Which is of course tiring. And probably not great for me, or my family. So I find myself often pushing him away, out of my conscious thought.

And I don't feel great about that. But I'm not sure what else to do.