Saturday, November 07, 2009

just plain sad.

Off balanced.
Five words to describe how I'm feeling right now. Thank you Pip for this really helpful exercise. Sometimes you just have to start with the feelings.... to dive right in there to be able to figure out where to go from there eh, my beautiful emerald friend? All those feelings of imperfection....

What a sad confusing day it has been. Surreal too. In a very strange way, during that sickening whoosh of emotions when you're first informed that someone you know and care about has died and responding/reacting to the news, there are thinthreaded silver moments when bits of light come through to touch you on your temples and in your heart.... moments which add a gloss to what is otherwise a very emotional time, which moisten your tears with the salt of life. It takes a while to see them though. The taste of the salt helps. Its a reminder that suffering and pain and death all play roles in life lived.

There are a few cultural and religiously based rules and rituals we follow when we are faced with the stark cold realization that only a death can initiate. Thank God for these, as they act as a guide to follow when darkness is so deep we are blind to the next steps to take. We'd flail even more if we weren't supported by specific steps we must take. But, there are no rules for the emotions are there? People react so personally at different points of awareness, over different stages of the initial grief, in a fog of disbelief so thick its difficult to know when the waves will hit. Don't ever believe they will be held back........ even the calmest harbour is drenched with the waves brought on by the news that someone you know, you care about, you have just spoken to has died.

There is no preparing.
There is no typical way to react.
Is there ever an answer to the "WHY?" No. There isn't.

Tonight, as I sit quietly in my livingroom, as still as I have been since I first heard the news last night. My good friend Barb has lost her husband after a sudden, terrifyingly short struggle with cancer. Like everyone, I'm stumbling to make sense of his death. Leigh was a bear of a man.......... STRONG, and healthy as a horse! He was never sick. But, when the cancer arrived, it took hold of him with such vengeance. We all just kept shaking our heads in disbelief. Shocking.

I spoke to him yesterday afternoon when I called to make plans for lunch on Sunday. Barb was out at the store...... one of the few times she has left his side since the diagnosis and subsequent major surgery in September.

I asked him how he was feeling, knowing he was coming out of dealing with the massive side effects of his first round of chemotherapy...... "Not good," he said. I could hear his fear and his sadness. This was a man who fixed things. He fixed people things. He fixed around the house things. People relied on Leigh for being there..... relied on him to say, "don't you worry, I'll fix this...." And OH, MY, GOD....... He couldn't fix his illness. He couldn't pull the rabbit out of the hat for himself. I heard the disappointment, the surrender in his voice. But even then, I surely didn't expect to get the call last night. Instead, I just felt awkward..... I had no idea what to say....... What do you say besides...... "I am so sorry."

Life is so painful at times. Death is so damned frightening. What can you say over the phone to someone so distraught and lonely in their dying? There are no words. Just shared sighs.

A couple of weeks ago as I was sending out a group email to update friends and co-workers, all of whom are like family to Barb, Leigh and myself....... we had all worked under the same government department umbrella for years, before they had retired and I had moved onto another job.

I impulsively suggested that we put together a basket together for them. There was so little we could do except to send our love and hope and best wishes, so why not fill a basket with those things. Maybe it would give them new energy to enter into the chemotherapy.

The idea literally formulated in my head as I wrote the email. I was feeling so helpless, and assumed others were feeling the same way. Within minutes, I had a few replies from folks who were willing to collect donations from their worksite. I sent out another email with a list of ideas, including the suggestion that perhaps a few would write out some stories, or include a few funny jokes, their own news....

The items poured in! POURED!! Everything from wine to homemade jams to books to beautifully wrapped parcels filled with "in jokey" things the friend knew would make Leigh laugh. Money too....... many donated money to go towards the yard work and winter snow plouging that Leigh wouldn't be able to do. Friends who had moved on into other jobs with other government departments heard about the basket too and showed up with gifts and money and cards and letters....and STORIES of humourous "remember whens..."

It blew my mind! When I saw it all, I knew that everyone was feeling the same way...... We all wanted to reach out. We were all so touched and rattled by that intense feeling of helplessness. It was the best we could do.... simple gifts in a communal basket wrapped with our love and our hope.

The next day, I phoned a mutual friend and asked her if she would come with me to surprise Leigh and Barb. I wanted her with me to see their surprised looks, and to experience the moment, and to add her open wide heart to it all. So, we made arrangements to arrive at the same time, later on that afternoon. What transpired was an emotionally joyful, heartmelting couple of hours of laughter, GALES of laughs, of honest fear shared, of remember whens..... of moments when there were no words, just tears in response to the loving, lovely words that were tucked into the cards, inside the packages........ the four of us sat around the kitchen table and let the feelings out freely. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon. Human beings connecting at an emotional place so raw and real.

Afterwards, I sent out another group email and tried my best to encapsulate it for them. I wished they could all have been there and we could've had a spontaneous party! I sent a picture too of Leigh and Barb standing by the basket and the overflowing gift bags. They needed to see their friend, who had changed so radically in such a short amount of time. I only heard back from a couple of them, because it was all too much to process. But, I knew the impact and I didn't expect replies. It was all so awkward because there are simply no words.

Today, I hugged my grieving friend. We stood and hugged for a long, long time. Her life has altered so drastically and she's in shock. We sat around the same kitchen table piled HIGH with food and pots of tea, but this time with different people, surrounded by the intensity of the moment.

The big strong bear of a man who fixes things for people and fixes things around the house is gone. Over the mountain. May he find peace. May we all let go of the "Why's" so that we can eventually recognize the bits of light. In the meantime, let the rituals guide the way through the darkness, as we taste the salt of life.


Selma said...

Oh, Dana. This is heartbreaking. When you said you heard the fear and sadness in his voice I just wept.

I am so glad you put together that gift basket. What a wonderful thing to do and what a wonderful time you spent examining its contents.

I am so sorry seems like it isn't enough but I am deeply, deeply sorry for the loss of this beautiful man. XXX

Jen said...

I don't know what hurts more...seeing someone you love experience such fear and sorrow, or our own personal sadness and sense of loss.

It does me good to read your words, Dana. I see the love you have for your friends. Even though it's awkward, you reached out. You shared your feelings with them and they with you.

That is such a HUGE gift to give a grieving person.

Sending prayers of comfort and peace your way, dear lady.

Marja said...

Lots of hugs you are a wonderful spirit putting that basket together. Wish you all the strength in the dark day of live

Anonymous said...


My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Awareness said...

Selma. It truly helped to write out my thoughts and feelings last night. I wasn't going to write about the basket at all, but when I thought about it, it pulled me out of that sadness. I realized that I wanted to capture some of it. My heart goes out to my friend and her family whose loss is far deeper.

Jen.... In this situation, it is seeing my friend and feeling deeply for her loss.
One of the thoughts I had while writing this was how much easier we found expressing ourselves that afternoon because we had all LIVED and worked on the frontlines helping out people in crisis. In order to do that day in and out, we became closer than you would in many work environments. We have shared many aspects of ourselves with one another in the course of helping others. The support for one another on a daily basis, and the knowledge that any one of us could call upon one another is a gift. A priceless one. Leigh had been retired for a hand full of years, but he was still tied emotionally to his co workers and they to him. Pulling a basket together (which btw contained half a dozen bottles of wine in the bottom of that VERY heavy basket!!) is a testament to that. WE all had a reminder. Best damn spontaneous thing I've done in a while. :) Their reaction was the purity of what really matters.

Marja... thank you. The spirit of others and their contributions made it happen. I was just lucky enough to be the witness.

Mavis.... what the heck are you doing up in the middle of the night??? I hope you're alright.
Hey, were your ears burning the other day? I was waxing poetic about your gifts and talents!

Anonymous said...

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Hey Girl I kept a vigil through the night. I see from your new post that you feel your faith is wanting I think in some ways it always will be until we reach the end. ( and the end for you may be under a maple tree ) All that is required of us is to keep taking the steps. Latley I tell God I trust you with my suituation sometime I mean it , other times I tell him I am not sure I really mean this right now but I want to.

hang in there Dana


sherry ♥ lee said...

You write beautifully. And you write truth. This is cancer. This is how it feels for those who haven't been as I've called myself many times, "the chosen one". What you and your friends did is what I have called "being a blessing". I know my friends felt helpless and wanted to do something, to fix it, and all the little things they could do meant the absolute world.

I'm sorry that cancer claimed your friend Leigh and I do know the feelings you are experiencing having felt that way after suddenly losing my mother and then a few years later, my sister. You describe that feeling so well.

Know this though -- the gesture that you and your friends made to Leigh -- he will know how much you cared and what you felt. Isn't that itself a gift we can give one another? Saying "I care", saying "I love you", saying "I miss you" or "I will miss you". Not letting the important moments in our lives pass without telling people how we feel.

I'm glad you came to find me Dana, I think as much as you were meant to find me...we were definitely on the wave of synchronicity.

Awareness said...

Mavis... thank you. When I came home from my friend's house yesterday my husband told me that his Aunt Patsy had also died on Friday. She was such a warm hearted wonderful woman who sadly (like her brother, Jamie's Dad) suffered from Alzheimers for the past hand full of years. It is a blessing, but its also so sad too. So, it was Gripping kind of day that left us sorting through the emotional remnants. Thank GOD for wine!

Thank you for your beautiful prayer words Mavis. My faith is pretty well intact in a leaping sort of way. When I wrote today's post, I was thinking about how long its been since I was inside of a church just for Sunday service. It's been too long. I can't even remember when it was! And I need to do something about that.

Awareness said...

Sherry..... That's how it felt and that's what I had hoped for. I'm really glad it was orchestrated because it did give them a good boost, and it will help all of us when we meet on Tuesday to say goodbye.

Yes, this morning when I found your blogsite through Kelly, I knew I had stumbled onto synchronicity too.

Thank you for your kind words. I've bookmarked your site and will add it to my sidebar too.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Dana for reaching out. It will mean so much. Meanwhile we feel so helpless and hurting. But I'll always remember his smile and love of a good joke.


Awareness said... too. He had a wicked sense of humour. I think that was a prerequisite for the crazy place we all worked at eh?
ps. Glad you're back online again. Don't squeeze too tight now eh? ;)

The Original Princess said...

Thanks for writing this, Dana. You voiced it perfectly. Barb is in my thoughts constantly.

Selfishly, I'm feeling pretty bad for myself right now. I just can't believe he's gone. I can't believe there won't be one more hug, one more dirty joke, or one more smile. Leigh made me feel like I was going to make a difference in the world. He made the diffrence for me. I'm going to miss him so much.


Awareness said...

Sarah.... You DO make a difference in the world. Leigh saw that in you and what a gift you have from him. What a gift you gave him too, because there's nothing more life affirming that working side by side with someone who shines like you do. I feel that energy every time I see you.
See you on Tuesday. xx

On a limb with Claudia said...

I'm so sorry for your loss! You are in my thoughts and prayers.

And, I'm amazed at your capacity to do, create, and lead. I love your collection of items. I bet they did too!

swile67 said...

thinking of you and your friend at this time...sorry for your and prayers, Karyne

BreadBox said...

Oh, dear, Dana, I'm so sorry. My thoughts are with you --- and with your struggle to help a friend come to terms with such a sore loss.

Gypsy said...

What you and your friends did for Leigh will probably be something he could take with him as a life that truly meant something to a lot of people. We all want to think we made a difference for the time we are here and I'm sure your basket of love would have given Leigh that validation.

I am sorry for the loss of this lovely man and even sadder for his wife. Big hugs my beautiful compassionate friend. xx