Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hard to believe it's been a year - but it has

One year ago today, we lost Amanda.

Time plays tricks on all of us. We can think "that was so long ago" at the same time as "it feels like yesterday." I run into this all the time with Amanda's death.

Yes, it feels like just yesterday, or last night, or later today, that Amanda collapsed in the kitchen and died after that long, brutal battle with ovarian cancer. But every day has ticked by at a pace like any other, and it's been a whole year of those days, with incremental and sometimes revolutionary change.

As I move about our home, it's hard to fathom that she's been gone a whole year.

Amanda's garden awakens, early Spring 2017.
Many of the decorative items she carefully arranged throughout the house are in the exact same place as the last time she touched them. She had the vision, not me, so I've been reluctant to disturb her decisions on what looks good and works.

In other places, I'm reminded that it's been at least a year since something's been in place. Like the fully-stocked baking pantry. A big jar of spelt flour in there HAS to be at least a year old, because I don't even know what it's for. I've been gradually throwing out food items, now that I'm easily reminded that they're really that old.

As much as I've tried to tidy up the house and make it mine and Gordon's, there are still oodles of things that are exactly as she left them.

Her garden gloves and trowel have been hanging from a hook just inside the back door as though she's going to go right out and plant something. Her coffee mugs are still plentiful in the cupboard. Her electric toothbrush is still in the bathroom drawer. The July 2016 calendar she made is still on the refrigerator door. There's a great big Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade on the top shelf of the fridge waiting for her to drink with friends. Just recently I decided to throw out a bottle of water in the fridge that still had the label on it from when hospital staff would stash them in the fridge at the nurse's station.


Meantime, I just sold the RAV4 she had so many adventures in, from bringing Gordon home from the hospital the first time, to traveling across the country to move from Halifax to London, responding to nerve-wracking child welfare investigations in Nova Scotia, or going on adventures with friends. The car became a liability and I've moved on to a new one.

It was a year ago that I had to go into Gordon's bedroom and tell him that mommy died. He and I have done a lot of processing and remembering since then, and I know we're not done. We may never be. Gordon and I went to a parents-and-kids grief group in the spring. I can't say it did a whole lot, but it was an anchorpoint for a lot of discussion at home. He remembers more about that night than I thought. And he has a million questions. I've tried to answer them honestly.

He's a different boy. The day after she died, we went for a haircut. I have the "before" photo and see Amanda's moppy-haired little boy. Ever since then, he's grown up a whole lot. He's so amazing that I can't even write the words to explain it. He's smart, kind, loving, curious, and all the things Amanda wanted so badly for him to be. She wanted to survive long enough to walk him to his first day of Junior Kindergarten this fall. I'll be doing that instead.

Our latest haircut. He's grown so much.
I'm never sure how much he remembers his mom from actual memories. I talk about her every day. Too much, probably. But I want to keep the memories he has alive, and curate the partial memories he has, to build a loving, real memory of his mother. Not that she's being made out to be a perfect saint. I was telling him about the reason I close the living room curtains every night -- because she told me I had to. He paused, thought, and said "Mommy was bossy sometimes." Yes, she was. That's just part of who she was.

As for me, I've been mostly okay. As you've seen here over the months, I'm committed to moving forward even when I don't know where I'm headed or whether my head's on straight. I'm at a point in my personal life where I'm mostly making it up as I go along -- and I'm ok with that. I'm feeling a clash between "older/wiser/smarter" and "I have no idea what I'm doing" -- and that's kind of fun.

I did have an unexpected grief attack yesterday. I've been continuing to declutter and tidy up, and happened upon what looks like a bag of stuff Amanda picked up from a gift shop or antique store on one of her adventures. Some of it was an easy decision to donate to Goodwill. But I found a "hopes and dreams" jar with a cork lid. And I somehow remembered it being intended for Gordon. But I couldn't remember exactly what for, or how it worked. I took it upstairs and put it on a shelf above Gordon's bed, somehow thinking that his mom wanted him to have a place to keep his hopes and dreams safe. One little sign of Amanda thinking about his future; a future she can't be here for. And then I just lost it, wailing and unable to settle for a few minutes. I don't have a lot of those moments any more, so it surprised me.

Amanda's wishes for Gordon still influence how I parent him. If she could give me a review, I'm sure it'd be full of nitpicky complaints, but she'd be proud without saying so. Gordon is going to soccer every weekend -- she wanted him in. He's been enrolled in Kindermusik. He has friends at daycare. He swims. He's close with family. He has manners. He wears decent-looking clothes. I don't have her wisdom on call any more, which is a real pain when it comes to things that were "her job" like buying him cool clothes, remembering relatives' names and birthdays, coming up with meal ideas .... but I learned a lot from her and try to use it. She's in my head and in my soul and I like to think I'm a better person for it.

I'm trying to be a good dad by living my life and attempting to be happy. I'll say that I've begun dating. After sharing my life in public in horrifying detail for so many years, I'm going to exercise my right to have a little privacy in this regard. I don't want to make dating decisions based on how it would play out on the blog. Thank you.

Gordon and I are still hoping to trek to Halifax in August, and still hoping to record some kind of video memory when there. I hope to see some people and places that bring back that feeling of love and peace, and return some of Amanda's remains to the ocean in accordance with her wishes.

Being completely honest, I still struggle with Amanda's memory every day. I'm still processing, even a year later. Obviously I loved her a lot. But even aside from the cancer struggle, things were complicated. I have conflicting feelings that have yet to reconcile into a place of calmness and peace. That's stuff for me to work on, over time. Time keeps on ticking. Time, by itself, heals nothing.

For everyone who's remembering Amanda today, thank you. So am I. We've all been through an interesting year. I can't pretend to understand your journey, and I can only offer a tiny slice of insight into mine. But I'll say that I'm optimistic and even excited for the future. She'll always be a part of me.

Thank you to all the family and friends who've been such a help so far. I still need you. I'm still that mostly-hermit guy who takes too long to say yes to plans, and is embarrassingly lousy at being the one to reach out. But I still need you. I'm functional but still not whole. Everyone's got their own lives to live, and I know I don't always make it easy to stay close, but you have to know I really appreciate all the help that Gordon and I have been given. Love you.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Gordon turns four and has questions

Gordon wanted to know where mommy went.

Not what happened to her body, but where SHE went.

We celebrated his fourth birthday this weekend with three gatherings. One at our house with his little friends. One at nana and grampa's house. One in Stratford with the Simpson clan.

Four years of birthday parties

The big party for the kids was a success. I'd never planned such an event. Thank goodness for the Internet, where I found a Martha Stewart article that laid out the basics. And thank goodness for Party City, which had a ton of Transformers party stuff ready to buy. I wasn't feeling well, but managed to pull it off. Thanks to sister Shannon and SIL Amy for being the Designated Adults who helped in wrangling and last-minute logistics. G thought the whole event was kind of loud, but he really enjoyed it. And I feel like a winner for making it happen -- some of the other parents even chimed in that they now know what goes into a kid's party, since they were as clueless as me! Great!

Great time at nana's, too, with corn chip casserole, family, and G got a bike (!!) to enjoy this summer!

Sunday, we made an attempt to catch the Swan Parade in Stratford, but were unable to find parking and missed the whole thing. I was still feeling rotten. But, we had a fine time at granny and papa's. Well, aside from when he started coughing on his own saliva and ended up barfing a little. I caught it in my hand and ushered him from the carpet to the tile. Gross. But I prevented a spill. Years of having cats have served me well.

G fell asleep on the drive home. It was a long, busy weekend for him. Me too. When we got home, I brought out his present from me: Buzz Lightyear. He watches one of the Toy Story movies about three times a week, so he was very excited. He loves ALL the gifts he got. He knows he's a very lucky boy.

But at bedtime, things got a little weird. We watched a show and read a story, as usual. Brushed teeth. Then it came time for me to tell him an improvised story.

He asked me to cradle him like a baby and rock him. The story he wanted was: how mommy died.

He wanted details. He asked specific questions. Questions he never specifically asked before, about details I never shared before.

What exactly happened? What killed her? What did she look like dead? Were her eyes open? Did she turn brown? Did all of her blood come out? Where did they take her body? What happened to it? Why didn't you tell me she was going to die? I wish you had. When exactly did she die? How did you know?

And where did she go? Not her body -- he understands that some people are buried underground and in her case, she was cremated (I dumbed it down). He thinks it's mean to do that to someone, so I'll need to revisit that. But where did *she* go? Mommy, the person, not mommy, the body?

I wasn't sure how to answer. Someone at daycare recently told him she's always there, that she's "up there." Now Gordon thinks mommy is in the drop ceiling at daycare. Not cool.

I didn't have a great answer for him. I said, "Gordon, when you turn off the light, where does the light go?" Nowhere, he says, it just turns off. "And when you shut off the TV, where does the TV show go?" Nowhere, he says. It just stops. I left it there.

There's a program in London called PATCH -- Parents And Their Children Healing -- offered through the Good Grief Resource Centre. I've known about it for a while, but Gordon seemed to be handling things very well, so didn't connect with them. But I asked him during our conversation if he'd like to meet with people whose job it is to talk to kids about people dying. He was all for it. So, we'll explore that.

I shouldn't be surprised that he came out with all of this all of a sudden. He's been making slight allusions to death and dying lately, and has been close to tears from time to time when talking about mommy. He's even used it to try to manipulate me at bedtime, "crying" about wanting mommy, then telling me what would cheer him up would be to play a while longer. Not nice.

But really, it's been on my mind, too.

His fourth birthday is also the fourth anniversary of Amanda's cancer being discovered. Four years, in life, is not that long. But it's been a roller-coaster ride through hell. It's been long and short. It's been an endurance challenge and a joy. It's been the greatest and worst times of my life. And I'm sure he notices her absence.

His first birthday was in Halifax with friends and family with the famous cake-smash. His second was in London with another of mommy's banana cakes. His third, last year, was cupcakes in hospital with mommy and a trip to the indoor playground with me. This year, mommy's not here. He's getting enough perspective to look back and see what's changed.

Sometimes he's such a sophisticated little dude!

Me, I'm starting to realize how awful things were. I think this'll be worth a whole separate post, but I'm having short peeks of clarity where I can look back at the past four years and see how horrifically bad some of the times were. In the moment, it was about just going on. It's cancer? Gotta keep going. Treatment is hard? Gotta keep going. Cancer's back? Gotta keep going. Moving? Keep going. Amanda's cut wide open and has feces leaking into her insides and being sucked through the surgical wound with a vacuum pump? Gotta keep going. She died? Gotta keep going.

How .... .......... horrible. I'm starting to wonder how much of the positivity and bravery that people have complimented me on throughout this ordeal was a tunnel-vision focus on survival and making life decent for my little boy. How much was I able to compartmentalize and shield myself from the unthinkable things I had to face each day?

If I was somehow able to seal it all off to prevent my brain and soul from shattering from the sadness and horror of it, well, I think the seal is starting to crack. I hope it drips out slowly and not in a deluge. Again, I think I'll come back to this in future.

For now, back to the positives: Gordon is four now. He's amazing. He's a wonderful person. I'm proud to be his dad. I'm privileged to share my life with him and his with me. I love him so much. And I know I need to take better care of me so I can take the best care of him.