The Anguish Journal

For my Selena.

With every word I write I honour her. I will go on writing and while I do, every tear that falls remembers her.

The beginning is here.

On Your Shore by Enya.


May 22, 2020

Today was sunny and warm. The first such day this year and the first time I have the window wide open. The windchime I got, with you in mind, adds it’s personality to the room. Sometimes quiet, it mostly voices little reminders of presence and occasionally definitively invoking voice. I got the windchime for you. A pleasant suggestion that you might be around.

The day is waning now. Soon twilight comes again, the night dense and heavy with humidity. The signal lamp still burns day and night. Maybe someday it will catch your attention as you pass, moth to candle flame, and you will tarry a bit. I’m still waiting, patiently, no reason to stay. Take me with you? Please?


May 21, 2020

I like to write rhythms. I’m not a poet. Poems seem to me something grandiose or deep. I write rhythms and if occasionally I manage to produce something with a pleasant turn of phrase or a glimpse of insight, then I am quite happy. My activities are not an occupation. They simply occupy my mind, for example, while securely ensconced before the fire.

Colour

The colour of your line of fire
runs through all the clothes you own
reflecting on your heart’s desire
leaving dingy past alone.

Not for you the navy garments
hiding dust and lack of soap
nor did the brown of village farm hats
hide you from a ray of hope.

Red and pink were those you reached for
contrast for your deepest black.
Showing that we all can live more
never is the thing you lack.

As the moth is drawn to brightness
whirling round the orange flame
so am I drawn to your likeness
which to me looks much the same.


I know dead

I saw you cold and ashen grey
once more to see you on that day
before they took you on your way
the way of dead.

It wasn’t like that you were there
your pleasant way, the loving care
what we enjoyed as a pair
whose loss I dread.

But after all that has been said
and after all that I have read
could it be that I’ve been lead
astray instead?


May 15, 2020

Well, I didn’t bother going to bed last night. I tried and maybe got an hour or something. Then Echo the dog and I went for a walk in the dawn chorus. It was exactly what I needed. The bird song was so loud, mostly robins, from every tree. Such beautiful tones and so cheerful. We saw a racoon and two skunks. I guess that is the time to be outside. Maybe I’ll make a habit of it, at least through the summer.

I found a small message of hope on NetFlix. There’s a movie called Our Souls at Night. Two older people, both of whom have lost their spouses after the kids have grown and left, combat loneliness together and become very close. It’s set at a time long after grief has dulled and the stories they tell each other at the end of the day relate the remaining grief in their lives, the concerns, but some rays of happiness. The adjustment isn’t easy and I won’t spoil the ending. I want to know if this movie reflects reality at all, or if it is just a Hollywood fantasy. Like them, I can’t handle the loneliness. I need this message to be true, so badly.

I have been told it does happen and happiness can be achieved if it is built on honest communication and a willingness to continue to embrace the past while building a new future.


Happy Birthday Sweetie!

It’s early, 3 am, and I can’t sleep. Today is your birthday. If you were alive, you would be 58. Instead, you died at 56. Should we just leave it at 56 then? Forever 56?

You know, in 30 years I saw you cry only twice, and even then just a few tears. Never once a gusher. Were you really that strong or was it that you just didn’t share that much. Maybe I didn’t even realize you weren’t sharing.

Did we ever have any really deep conversations? You did tell me you loved me, but reserved that for when you really felt like saying it. Not something automatic. That’s ok. I liked to tell you those three little words. Remember that Valentine’s poem I wrote for you? It’s like that.

It seems like such a little thing:
(a wiggle in the air,
some charcoal marks upon a page),
that who would ever care?

But soft words are to comfort,
and poems come from the heart.
Every romance in the world
with these must surely start.

And wouldn't it be lovely,
if by starting constantly,
our love is always blooming
and ever youthful be?

That many decades later
when we were growing old,
we'd still hold hands together
from all the love we'd sowed.

Gee, I couldn’t even copy this here without the tears. That was the only dream we had, wasn’t it? To grow old holding hands.

God I wish we had a heart to heart talk when you were sick with cancer. I was so afraid of losing you I couldn’t admit you were dying. So I couldn’t talk about it. You tried. Three times. I failed. But I didn’t fail to talk because I was strong. Instead it was because I was afraid.

I don’t think I will ever recover from losing you. How could I? The sound on one hand clapping, is a pale imitation to how we applauded life. It’s gone now, the curtains are closed and the stage is dark. I’ll just sit here and reminisce and wonder what it was we had.

Happy Birthday Selena! Wherever you are.


May 14, 2020

A note attached to a stone wall:

I’m paying this forward. You might need it.

If someone you loved, died last year, and you’re reading this, then you’ve made it this far. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation, but take a breath or maybe a rest, any small kindness. If it’s been a horrendous, nightmarish ordeal, know that I understand. There are many who will understand. Talk to them if you want, or keep talking.

It’s really up to you. And that’s the key point. Your Grief is the leftover love, like a heartache but worse, and it’s all subjective, individual and incomparable. The experiences of different people cannot be well-ordered. That characteristic doesn’t exist here in Grief, any more than it does in Love. Please keep this in mind if someone, even a professional, mentions a time-frame for Grief. Both of them, Grief and Love, don’t seem to work that way, do they?

I’d like to tell you it will end sometime, but I can’t. I haven’t got there myself. I’d like to tell you things will get back to normal someday, but I can’t do that either.

Your Grief is your own, but there are witnesses with whom you can share. And somehow you might find that helps. Look for them. Make some marks, post a trail, ramble around or sit by the fire. Someone might come by. Just don’t give up.

~a fellow griever


May 11, 2020

The great Australian author Greg Egan, wrote a novel called Permutation City. In that work, he asked an important question. How much simulation do we need before it is no longer possible to tell the difference between simulation and reality? This question can be asked in the context of both detail and processing time. For my Selena, how much of her appearance, voice, movement and mannerisms would be needed before it could provide me with real comfort. I don’t mean to replace her or pretend she was still living, but to help a little with taking the edge off this loneliness.

I have only a few seconds of video and audio with which to try and remember her. Still images don’t work very well. The best I have is the original neural network in my head, which was trained to her for over 30 years. Even then, I can at best produce a few seconds of memory about how she actually sounded or moved in any situation. At least whenever an issue comes along, if I concentrate, then it is possible to predict whether she would agree or disagree with my potential decision. That helps. It makes me feel more certain about trying to go forward. It feels like support. But I need more. Much more, before I could be happy again.


May 9, 2020

From endometrial cancer,
lament the opportunities lost.
That grace of age cares not for womanhood,
is shown to be a false assumption.
Pale abstraction bows its sickly head to cold reality.
Whereby manhood’s loss luminates the quaking truth:
“Where was the careful question? The tender understanding born of heartfelt dialogue?”
And heaps more fully pain and anguish
upon poor souls that once had thought done well.


May 8, 2020

How does it make sense?

How can I laugh out loud at a funny video,
but still feel the sadness in my chest and shoulders?

Just like feeling I need company
and realizing it can never happen in my current life.

Go away and stay at the same time.

How?


May 8, 2020

It keeps happening. Selena died 440 days ago. I manage to keep the anguish from my mind most of the time. But not all the time. Now it presents itself suddenly. The bottom drops away from the world. I flush with the realization. This is not a temporary absence. I will truly never see her again. And there is no way out, no way around this simple truth. The only way waits for me. I will make it wait. Which will be stronger in the end? The fear or the anguish? I wonder.


May 7, 2020

Today I have my Gilda’s Bereavement group meeting. It’s a high point of the week. Usually I have mindfulness meditation the next day. I need to practise that more.

Yesterday, I went to the garden to cut the grass. I might have mentioned the garden before. Selena loved it and the small orchard I planted. It was really her. I can’t work on either anymore. Not by myself. There are too many memories.

For me, some memories are good. Those become fuzzy and gradually fade away into an indistinct warmness that I eventually question if it was even real. That’s how I’m beginning to think about what I had with Selena. Then there are bad memories. Why they remain hard and permanent, years later, is a mystery. But they retain their sharpness and cut deep, causing me to interject aloud, “Stop it!”

The strange thing now is, even the good memories are starting to have uncomfortable side effects. It’s as if being too wonderful or encoding too much love makes them painful to behold in my current state. I am beginning to shy away from them, much as I run screaming from the bad.

My reaction isn’t far from that, but its aggression has changed. Rather than fight the bad, wanting to kill it, anything to get it away from me, now I just give in. “Kill them all” has become “Just kill me.”

But I digress. This is not what I sat down to write about. As usual my mind has gone running off in some other unrelated direction. What I wanted to tell you about are the ghosts. Would hallucination be a better word? But it’s so brief, so fleeting, not persistent as I would naively expect.

I was with the dog at the very back of the gravel track around the field, covered now with grass, getting a good walk in laps. Happening to glance toward the house, I saw motion near the door. A person seemed about to go inside, paused a moment to look at me, then continued inside. I thought it was an acquaintance of mine, come for a visit. I hurried back to the house, trying to keep an eye out to see if whoever it was had come back out. I didn’t see anyone. Back at the house, I found no car in the drive and no one inside. The place was as deadly still as it usually is now, with Mom, Dad and Selena all dead and gone. I found it quite perplexing.

Another time just a few days earlier, I had hurried inside for the toilet. The outside door was unlocked and in my haste the bathroom door was open. After all, no one was around. As I sat, I heard the outside door open and then pulled firmly closed. Irritated that someone hadn’t the decency to stand and knock, I scrambled to close the bathroom door. When I was able to emerge, I found no evidence that anyone had been there, no car outside, the gate closed.

I am concerned these days. The house and outbuildings stay locked even when I am in the yard. I don’t know if this locale supports the notion of ghosts, but this was so strange a happening that I have decided to make a record of it.


May 4, 2020

It’s getting dark. I hate the darkness. Just beyond the reach of my lamp, it is there. Outside, the streetlights show yellowish clouds against a black sky. Against the darkness. Heavy and cloying it suffocates happiness. It buries me under a thick dense layer. I am entombed. The dark closes in.

If I am away from the city, away from the light pollution, I can see the stars. I can see it is not really dark. The light is there stretching for billions of years. A tiny drop in time in our infinite universe. Yes, there is too much time for light. In 100 trillion years, the last star will fade into a white dwarf and slowly vanish. The entire universe becomes cold and dark, a darkness that stretches out and out into infinite time and space.

Infinite darkness.

I feel so alone.

Little Candle

Little candle in the night;
such a brilliant point of light!

A kind of beauty very rare;
full of life, and warmth, and care.

Help me so I'll never stray,
from the path that leads your way.

So that I can always be,
by your side when you need me!

from Love Poems from the Clay Plain

Had a nice unexpected weekend with my daughter and her fiance. The weather was bright and spring-like. I could feel the summer coming, sweaters being exchanged for t-shirts and sunburns. It helped to chase away my unhealthy thoughts, which is the same reason why I must connect with people. The interaction always motivates and energizes me.

Today I had a very good talk with the Gilda’s Club Chat Line, a zoom session with a few other people, just to discuss concerns or whatever is on our minds causing us worry. I’m so glad I got into writing. People like to hear I have a published book, two right now in fact. So we talked a bit about writing. The Club has a writing program, but it’s for people with cancer, not like me, only affected by the casualties of cancer. One of the others was involved in a virtual painting course, but it is a recording. It’s surprising how much stuff is available on YouTube these days.

After the talk, I felt energized and something else. I actually felt very happy. Talking to people who appreciate me seems to do that, but I worry about being the center of attention, something I do not want to become addicted to. It felt good. There is a power chord here. Through most of my adult life, I don’t think I have managed to do much that anyone appreciated. I don’t mean little things like simple services, big things that impress people.

Anyway, I wondered why I felt so happy. It seemed to be out of balance, koyaanisqatsi. Why should I feel so happy about such a little thing? Suddenly, I realized it might be because at this point in my life I’m mostly sad. Sad about the loss of Selena. Sad about social distancing due to covid-19. Sad about my inability to gain an income under my own power. Sad at the loss of my career. Sad at losing my Dad and the support he gave my family. Sad about never having a feeling of confidence or self-worth. The six ways of my sadness.

Since 2014, it has been a steady supply of losses, so when a little tiny happy event comes along, it seems so wonderful, like the sun just came out of the heavy clouds for a moment. That feeling is the greatest thing since sliced bread. In my distant past, I think I was a little bit down, or negative, or pessimistic most of the time, so a little optimism or a small happiness felt still small. My life was in better balance then. But now? No, no, no. Now it is truly koyaanisqatsi, which in the language of the Hopi means life out of balance. I think the Diné (Navajo) have a similar idea. Balance is very important to them as well. May you walk in beauty is an expression of blessing to the Diné.

Now, at the end of the day, somehow I have managed to lose that feeling again. I feel enervated. The house is having problems. That will mean a lot of worry and expense. I have too much of both in my life.


May 1, 2020

Well, I made a big mistake yesterday. I thought my grief group was a safe place. I thought I could just say how I was feeling. I mentioned I wished I was dead and that I had looked into how to die without pain. All the bells and whistles went off. Next thing I knew I was on a 24 hour watch and someone was checking in with me the next day. It was as if a SWAT team was going to break down my door and drag me away. There was no need to worry. But in the future I will have to be more careful. I understand they have to exercise their due diligence, but wow! Talk about action. It’s too much. I mean, I lost the love of my life. Of course I’m going to periodically think about ending my life. But I doubt I have the courage to do it. Self preservation is just too strong. Now, however, I’m afraid they will force me onto medication. I don’t need that. I don’t need to be a zombie. I do need to finish the books. That’s the only thing left that needs me to keep going.


April 30, 2020

I’m starting to get sick of the covid19 physical distancing. The trouble is the loneliness. It was bad before, over the year since Selena died, but now it is much worse.

It’s strange, because I used to think I could handle being alone. The first 25 years of my life was living in a rural area as an only child. There weren’t many kids nearby to play with. A lot of Selena’s friends used to wonder if those years were lonely, but I never thought I was lonely. My parents were around. I got used to talking with adults.

In university I had a small place to myself. I wasn’t lonely there because I was intensely busy with school and there were lots of classmates. Selena was one of those. I did find it difficult to stay there over weekends, so I went home almost every time.

Then I was with Selena for 30 years, living in the city. That seems to have changed me. Now that Selena is dead, I feel her loss acutely. It is anguish. A large part of that is loneliness. It is so lonely without her. We supported each other, us two, and together we were far stronger than either of us separately. That’s why our marriage lasted without a hiccup for 28.5 years, until cancer took her away. I’m not saying I was a good husband. More on that later.

What to do about this loneliness? Other grieving people complain of the same thing, not all of them, curiously, but most. I really don’t have a clue.

Trying to find a friend in later life seems to be quite difficult. (In my case, Selena had the friends, and I just tagged along. We had different cultures, separated by a wide gulf of language. I didn’t want her to lose her long time friends, so I supported the idea of going on camping trips and house parties with the whole bunch, even though I usually ended up sequestered in the corner by my inability to participate.) Most people already have their own circle of friends. Most people are very busy without much time for talking with the friends they already have. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

Some grieving people say they have decided to just learn to be alone. I don’t think I can live alone. I just don’t think I can survive. Likely I would lose my sanity.

Occasionally I have to travel to my parent’s place. They’re both dead. I know they would want the property to go to the next generation. So that’s what I am trying to do, be the caretaker. I don’t feel the place is really mine, as a result. It’s a long drive to get there. I usually stay overnight, but I hate doing that. The place is strongly connected to my Mom, Dad and Selena. It’s not fun being there, for me.

When I am in the house by myself, after working outside all day, I end up talking to myself. There is no internet or TV, just radio and the ebooks in my pocket. Somehow I never want to read. I just talk to myself. Not mumbling, but at full volume, following whatever thread is in my mind. Then a counterpoint thread occurs and I will switch to that one. Maybe after a while I switch back again or maybe another contrapuntal thread occurs. A recording of this sounds bizarre, like there are two or more people in the room having a detailed conversation, but with the same voice. Usually, I can’t stop and it goes on long into the night until my throat is sore and forces me to stop.

I truly fear for my sanity, living alone.


April 28, 2020

A friend mentioned having to leave some friendships behind because they were toxic. I realized later that I didn’t know what that meant. So I collected some of the bullet points together here as a record to be used in identifying toxic friendships…

Extracted from https://fairygodboss.com/articles/toxic-friends

I was surprised to realize I have toxic people in my life too! And that is saying a lot because I have only about three friends. Beyond relatives, which I don’t get to choose, I have mostly acquaintances.


Last fall I joined Birds Canada. I used to be active on the Bailey Birdathon, a fund raising activity of the Long Point Bird Observatory. I guess it was nostalgia that brought me back to birding. It was something from my life before I knew Selena. I'm reading their Birdwatcher Canada magazine. There are so many good birding or nature apps. I've had iBird Pro for years, but now there is eBird, iNaturalist and my most recent addition Larkwire. These are just a few of what is available. The first three are helpful in identification. The last is a learning game for bird song.

I find nature sound to be very calming. An unexpected strength of this kind of ambient is that several audio sources never clash, unlike playing different music simultaneously. The whole house can be filled and coordinated with natural sound. There are so many YouTube channels for nature sounds, many are from the dark of night to help us sleep, full of crickets, frogs and various night birds. Often the soundscapes are ten hours long.

Last week, I practiced my patience by standing quietly by a bog where I had heard a frog chorus. I had to wait a long time before they frogs decided I must have left and they went back to their singing. I recorded them with my phone for five minutes. It was a good practice, staying attentive and absolutely quiet for the duration. Now I have a nice recording I can listen to in a loop at night. So restful. Oh, by the way, I did get around to identifying the frogs. Much to my surprise they were Borel Chorus frogs. There really didn’t seem to be anything else that sounded like the recording, but that means they are much farther south then the range maps suggest, almost down to the north shore of Lake Erie.


April 26, 2020

We, humans, are social creatures and that means it’s all about the sharing. That’s how to enjoy the special things life gives us. Without the sharing, it’s a question of why bother.


My kids are grown adults now. In the early days after Selena died, they seemed to handle their Grief much better than I could. Each of them had significant others, which allowed me to believe they were well supported. Although my son later broke up with his girlfriend, my daughter got engaged about a year after she lost her mother.

I think they are dealing with the loss the same as I did when I lost my Mom to pancreatic cancer in 1997. They were sad for a few months, but now it all seems forgotten. It’s only when I start talking about Selena or about how hard I am finding my life now, that I can see the uneasiness in their eyes and note the haste with which they change the subject.

Neither of them ever sought support from me or any kind of grief group or therapist. I have difficulty understanding that. I guess everyone has their own way of handling grief. Selena’s brothers and father also seem curiously detached. Only Selena’s Mom still weeps occasionally, trying hard to hide it from me, but my ears are not yet so bad that I don’t notice.

My kids help me a lot, but if I try to tell them my troubles they advise me I’m being annoying. I’m ashamed to say that really is the word used. Annoying. So I guess I can’t think of them as my friends.

I remember my Dad approaching me a few years after my Mom died. He told me things were hard for him because it was just so lonely living out there in the rural house all by himself. I think I just brushed it off somehow, maybe telling him to go to the coffee shop more.

No, I didn’t get it then. Just like my kids don’t get it now. The difference is that now I’m on the receiving end. At least I know now that what goes around comes around.


April 25, 2020

Before Selena came down with cancer and died, I didn’t think it was possible to be this sad, experience this much misery, or feel this absolute anguish. What is nature’s purpose? Could it be the foil to self-preservation? This instinct is very strong, so much that most people are prevented from attempting to end their own life. But Grief is strong too. Very strong. Maybe Grief is nature’s way out. If life has fallen apart that badly, maybe it is best to go. They say there is no solution to Grief. Well, I think death is a solution. The ultimate solution. One use only per customer. And after all, we’ve all been dying ever since we were born, anyway.


Started a new log, Dark Notes 5, today. Yep! That’s right. Four files preceded this one, each quite long, which necessitated a new file.

Summary so far: I just want to die.

My mind is in two camps. I call them locales. Different truths inhabit each. I had thought maybe there would be more. I think there are, but most are just too inaccessible.

Basically, one is more positive, where I might find a new chapter to life. That one is based on the idea that two companions, supporting each other, can be stronger and more capable than either by themselves. It has to assume that other things can support it, like environment, opportunity, health, cash and so on. Sounds reasonable I know, but it doesn’t avoid the truth that Selena is gone.

The other locale is dark. The fact that Selena is gone is its central truth. All our goals were things for the two of us. Without Selena, I’m not interested in any of that stuff anymore. Because it reminds me she is dead. In this place, nothing matters anymore, which ends up providing an odd sense of relief. I just miss her so much that I don’t care about myself anymore. I’m irrelevant now, blocking the path for my two kids. They’d be better off without me.

So these two worlds, which are not mutually compatible in any way, fight it out in my head. It’s a good example of the one and the many. It is not possible to hold both of these simultaneously, except for an instant. But you might have noticed the assumption I included with the positive one. That basically kills it, unless I’m being particularly myopic.

I’m left with the dark one, I think. So the summary is I just want to die.


April 22, 2020

Today my psychotherapist sent me a story about Kafka. Kurt Gödel loved Kafka’s stories. I found this account beautiful and extremely moving, so I have decided to make a record of it. See Kafka Story below:

Kafka Story

When he was 40, the renowned Bohemian novelist and short story writer FRANZ KAFKA (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, was strolling through Steglitz Park in Berlin, when he chanced upon a young girl crying her eyes out because she had lost her favorite doll. She and Kafka looked for the doll without success. Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would look again.

The next day, when they had still not found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter “written” by the doll that said, “Please do not cry. I have gone on a trip to see the world. I’m going to write to you about my adventures.”

Thus began a story that continued to the end of Kafka’s life.

When they would meet, Kafka would read aloud his carefully composed letters of adventures and conversations about the beloved doll, which the girl found enchanting. Finally, Kafka read her a letter of the story that brought the doll back to Berlin, and he then gave her a doll he had purchased. “This does not look at all like my doll,” she said. Kafka handed her another letter that explained, “My trips, they have changed me.” The girl hugged the new doll and took it home with her.

A year later, Kafka died.

Many years later, the now grown up girl found a letter tucked into an unnoticed crevice of the doll. The tiny letter, signed by Kafka, said, “Everything you love is very likely to be lost, but in the end, love will return a different way.”


During the search hastening me onward in which I am to find meaning, as is the advice of my psychotherapist, I realized this evening I had overlooked something familiar. It is right there clear as day in the early writing of April 19, 2020. Maybe because it is an important backdrop for my novels and because it has been fundamentally important to my life, I had forgotten its presence.

Not completely forgotten, because I still thought about it often. Maybe I should say I am guilty of occasionally taking it for granted, which is something that happens with a lot of old couples if they are not too careful. I have to admit that my first love was not Selena. My first love was not even human.

I could put the name mathematics to it, but it was there before I even knew what mathematics was. Its character is present in the work of Kurt Gödel and Bertrand Russel, in the logic of software engineering and in point set topology. These and others provide certain glimpses of Truth. It has a certain feeling about it, something crystalline, permanent and reliable. It is something I can reach up and hold on to, an anchor in midair. It provides stability to me and I respond with love.

My original purpose in life was to be a mathematician. It was my favourite thing in the world. The terrain proved too difficult for me and I did not achieve my goal. Then I started going out with Selena. But I never forgot that feeling. It is one thing to love something that one is good at, but when that love persists in the face of difficulty and defeat, time and again, then perhaps it is something more special. I still love the Truth behind mathematics. It was my mistress before Selena, after all. There is still meaning to life in this place, anchored by Truth and as so many times before, feeling the fascination and love it engenders.

I just have to keep it close at hand and not take it for granted. That is the challenge. Hold on tight and not let go. That will not be easy. This love is real, but it’s one-way and not human. What about human companionship? For that I still have no answer.


April 21, 2020

The last few days have been very difficult. Outside the movies, however, I think I rediscovered something that helps. It’s a quote from a book titled Stardance by Spider Robinson, one of my favourite authors.

“This is what it is to be human: to see the essential existential futility of all action, all striving -- and to act, to strive. This is what it is to be human: to reach forever beyond your grasp. This is what it is to be human: to live forever or die trying. This is what it is to be human: to perpetually ask the unanswerable questions, in the hope that the asking of them will somehow hasten the day when they will be answered. This is what it is to be human: to strive in the face of the certainty of failure. This is what it is to be human: to persist.”


April 20, 2020

Next up is the movie “PS - I love you” which from the beginning strikes close to home.

The unknowns about the future, stress leading to arguments is in accurate contrast, in my opinion, with the feelings shown after the funeral. The placement of the urn at home, the feelings that drive me away from everyone, the sense of complete pointlessness and defeat, it’s all too real, even the hallucinations. There is no happiness here and like a vampire, drains away all hope.

One of the biggest regrets that I have is not having enough of her to remember her by. I have one brief video clip that contains her voice buried in the background and a glimpse of her in mid conversation. There are few stills with her image, as she was usually the photographer. And stills seem to do such a bad job of capturing the person. She was dynamic, soft and loud, quick and slow, move this way, say these things. Where has that gone? So I would say to others this piece of advice. If you have someone critically special to you, that an effort is made to capture good video showing their endearing characteristics in both motion and sound. That will be so desperately needed when the time comes, as it will, believe me. Memory eventually fades, to be replaced by fear. Fear that it will be impossible to reach her again. That the real person will be forgotten and a fictional construct invented to take her place. What was the reality anyway? Was she a good partner? Was I a good husband? I think I was, or was I really? I’m not so sure anymore.

The only dynamic aspect of her that I have left comes from the thirty years soaking in her likes and dislikes, her decisions and opinions. The original neural network in my head has been well trained. Whatever I am doing, I can stop and ask myself “What would Selena do?” and I get an answer from that part of my brain that can act like her. Yes, I should do this. No, I should not buy that. It’s the only thing that keeps me on track, otherwise I would go spinning off in some crazy direction.

It’s true that everything goes to pot in the house. There used to be good meals. Now I just forage for food. Our bedroom, now my room without the big bed, resembles a cave. I sleep in my clothes like a backpacker on the narrow cot. Clothing stalactites fill the room’s volume from long poles tied to the ceiling, in my attempt to increase space and visibility of whatever I have. Boxes and cases are the stalagmites. Completing the picture is the constant yellow light that shines continually near the window, the spelunkers lamp, the beacon of hope trying feebly to call her back if she were to come this way again. I hope so much that she does. Maybe she will take me with her as I have asked so many times before.

One thing that needs to be commented on, is how badly our society deals with Grief. Too many people still think that it runs on a schedule and at some point all the sadness and craziness has to stop. No! It does not! It never will any more than the love will stop. Never! Death is preferable.

I wish so much that Selena had been more expressive on paper, or less shy about her voice and appearance. Maybe she would have left me messages or videos or something. To help. To remember her by. Back in the day, I wrote her one or two paper letters a week, when I was living in Hamilton and she was in Kingston. She kept all those. They’re in the wooden keeping box on which her urn now rests. There was only one thing she sent me that was really special. The first card, an Easter Rabbit card, perfumed, is still with me and in my mind. Her one and only perfume brings her back to me, the only way I have now.

In the movie, I notice Holly is taking Jerry’s urn with her when she goes out to restaurants and pubs. I was thinking of doing that last year. I checked online. Turns out a lot of people do that, but some at neighbouring tables can get quite upset if they realize what the container is, claiming it’s a health hazard. You know, human remains and all that. Of course it’s nonsense. Maybe they don’t realize it’s been through a 1300C furnace. There wouldn’t even be a prion left, not even a fragment of DNA. It’s mostly just mineral dust, although touching it is a bizarre experience.

One thing I wish I had done, but of course I didn’t think of it until after she was gone, is to come up with a good 3D scan of her entire body. Not just standing still but moving. Running, jumping, smiling and laughing and anything else that makes her who she is, recorded in full 3D with a reference grid so she can be completely realized from a design point of view. By the way, there are systems out there already for static 3D scanning. This would just bump it up a little with more cameras and GPU cards to get 3D movement. With enough data like this, an AI system just might be able to pull off a convincing substitute. I know something similar is already in use with dead celebrities, but I think this goes beyond. It has to do with mapping behaviour to the neural network. Real research is currently underway, mapping behaviour to the actual neuron systems in the brain (of lab animals). Would be a great project. Maybe a company.

The movie got it right, that one of the biggest losses is the loss of intimacy, one of the big five, physical touch. I am experiencing that myself. A few of the members in the bereavement groups have also mentioned this. It is extremely crippling. I wrote extensively about it in the early days in a journal called “DO NOT READ THIS”. But it is very difficult to talk about. Even in very secure and sheltered environments, the groups could barely touch on this topic and only so briefly at that, everyone becoming suddenly edgy and uncomfortable, usually with mumbled denials. It was obvious, when taken with other comments over the weeks that most of them were having that trouble too. Just would not admit it, or felt there was no point in admission since they either could not or would not do anything about it. Some feel it is a betrayal to their loved one. Others believe they have nothing to offer, nothing to bring to the table and someone who would still be willing to consider a deal on such terms cannot be trusted.

I miss Selena everyday. I regret not having a heart to heart while she was in the hospital, but I couldn’t admit she was going to die. Talking about it would be an admission, like giving up, like selling out. She needed to talk. There were three times she tried to start, but I deflected each time. We had talked about everything, but I just couldn’t talk about this. That’s my cross to bear. I don’t think there is any way to find happiness here. It is the short road straight to Hell, level 9, the betrayers of trust, frozen into the ice of Lake Cocytus.

Selena and I used to talk about growing old together. Being grey and bent, but still holding hands. That was her dream and mine too. I think it was the only one that was clear to both of us. Of course, since the perversity of the universe tends to a maximum, that was exactly what could not be allowed to happen. Yes, I am a bit bitter. She should have had at least another 20 years. In the great exam of lifespan, she got 17 percent, poor girl!

In the last few years, Selena went on three trips. I wasn’t able to go or wasn’t supposed to go. I know she felt badly about that. She told me we were going to have a cruise together, just the two of us. Then the cancer came and it was too late.

The characters in the movie make the all too common mistake of getting into a Grief competition. Whose Grief is worse? That’s not possible to answer. The fact is that Grief is completely subjective. That means no one’s Grief is the same. There is a hierarchy. It also means no two Griefs are comparable. It’s just not possible. That’s what subjective means. The bottom line is that someone’s Grief is just as bad as they think it is. Society desperately needs to learn that. With all the baby boomers approaching retirement, it was a looming tsunami of Grief approaching. Now, thanks to covid19, it has become a full on disaster, a catastrophe of biblical proportions. How many thousands dead? All of them were someone’s loved one. Imagine the Grief out there. It’s scary! And no, saying we’re all in the same boat doesn’t help! It really doesn’t! It suggests the griever’s Grief is not important so they shouldn’t feel so bad, and that is a terrible thing to say.

In the movie, Holly goes to Ireland and meets a nice Irish fellow quite like her dead husband. That resonates with me. After Selena died, I tried to fill the void with someone a lot like her. It didn’t work, of course. Similarities tend to be superficial. The companion I was craving could not be found. There is no source of physical touch for me. It has had an impact. I never thought of myself as a writer, rather a mathematician or a software engineer, but now I find I’m writing like crazy most every day. It’s the only way I can cope with what has happened to me.

Holly doesn’t understand why Jerry is doing all these things through his letters to make her remember all the good times they had starting up as a couple. I understand why he did that. Selena tried to do the same for me. One night after I had carried her up the stairs to bed, since she was too weak to climb them herself, she said suddenly to me “When I’m gone, if you find someone who can make you happy again, I’ll be ok with that.” I told her she was being silly. Only long after do I realize what she meant. She knew her death would be a terrible torture for me and she was offering me the only kindness that she could. Not really as something I should do, but what else could she offer? That was the best she could do. It knocks me right down.

What should I do now? I don’t know. Jerry told Holly to go out and find it, find the next chapter, but now I’m chicken. When my head was still spinning I tried to take Selena’s advice, if that’s what it was, but it ended badly, in much confusion and more damage to my heart. I know it doesn’t matter since it was just 6 months. If all the time I knew Selena was one minute, I would scarcely know the new girl for a second. It made its mark, though, and I’m a bit wiser as a result. I know that in my current condition there are no alternate endings.

So it seems I stumbled on the truth some time after that, during a cold dark walk with Echo on the approach to Christmas. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters now. I found the woman of my dreams, we had 28.5 years of marriage and two kids and now she’s dead. That’s just the way it is. Mind over matter. I just have to convince myself now that nothing matters. Anymore. For me.

At the end of the movie, after Holly receives the last letter, she tearfully realizes that she doesn’t feel Jerry around her anymore. She thinks Jerry is gone. Does that relate to me? Is Selena gone? Looking back over this journal tells the story. Everytime I think I’ve turned the corner on something, it always comes back again. Everytime. So, no, I don’t think Selena is gone. I’m old, out of time and have nothing to offer, which means I better hope I am so lucky that Selena never leaves, that she is always with me, because this is it. That’s all she wrote.


April 19, 2020

My daughter, her fiance, my son and Echo the dog, are all away for the weekend at the garden. I’m sure they are enjoying the spring sunshine walking the fields by day and toasting in the warmth of a wood fire in the brick fireplace by night. It’s early in the year so the mosquitoes will not yet be present in their usual bloodthirsty hordes.

I’m home alone, with the exception of Selena’s parents. They don’t interact with me due to the language barrier. You see, Selena was my interface and with her gone there is no way to reach them. All day they are in their bedroom with the door closed. I think these are old habits. In China, the communists provided only one kitchen for every two or three apartments, each of which was composed of one or two bedrooms. So everyone in that time and place would be used to living in one room. It would seem natural. Selena’s mom will venture out to the kitchen a couple times a day, or to the living room if one of her sons chooses to visit. Her parents are old now, around 90. Seeing them, I wonder why Selena had to die so young, both her parents still living. I still remember Selena’s mom crying and crying over her body, asking why she had to leave her behind.

I know of people who have no problem living alone. Some seem to actually prefer it. For me, I’m not the kind that needs to be in the midst of a group. In fact I find crowds boost my anxiety which I have enough trouble with already. But it is also true that I hate being alone. I haven’t been alone, not for the last thirty years. Selena and I were together, even if in different parts of the house. In the back of my mind I always knew she was there.

Often I am at the garden, myself and Echo. There isn’t much there, no screens, no computers, no internet, not even a phone line and the aluminum roof makes cell phone reception difficult, quickly draining the battery as the device valiantly tries to reach the nearest base station, barely within reception range at over 5 kilometres away. Who would have thought southern Ontario was so badly serviced in this day and age.

It’s horrible being alone. If Echo is with me, she sticks to me like glue, following me around the house, lying down here or there, asking for a treat, hoping for a walk. She’s a city dog, not wanting to go out by herself, preferring the safety of the pack.

The pack is life. I feel that too. I have become so used to her that if my daughter takes her away I find myself editing her back into my environment. Wasn’t she just there in the corner on the floor a moment ago, that dark shape? Didn’t I hear the click of her nails in response to rising from my chair? In the morning and evening it is peculiar to not be making her breakfast or supper. I expect to see her stretched out on the kitchen floor patiently begging.

This weekend Echo isn’t there. She is away to the garden without me. My IBS is keeping me home since with covid19 there are few restrooms available on the 150 kilometre trip. The last time I was out there, it was difficult coming back. I had to endure three false starts. Such is my condition in the aftermath of Selena’s death. Selena helped keep my anxiety in check. She was my 𝜶 and 𝛀. How am I going to face the emptiness alone?


Looking for meaning in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, I caught myself wondering how it was relating to my loss, to Selena’s death and my experience of it. But that wasn’t the question, was it. The question was, how to find meaning and happiness in a life that has been ripped to pieces after the death of the love of my life, and I will add, in a context where nothing else exists outside of our connection, except the writings in a couple novels. On this question, I habitually draw a complete blank. It’s not surprising. I have never been any good at seeing a vision of my future, except where Selena was concerned, no career goals, no idea of how to make a living besides begging for a job, no sense of self-worth and no sense of confidence. That is where Selena helped me so much, calming the anxiety. But that’s all gone now and I’m falling apart, falling right back into the same rut, the aftermath of her death at 56.

How can I ever figure this out, find meaning and happiness, now?

I don’t think my meaning involves backing up to previous points in life. I did the family struggle with two kids already. They just left the nest and they’re still sensitive about it. Empty nest syndrome is not my ailment.

One message in the movie is to see the world. When I was researching my character Echo Zah, who’s home is the Navajo Nation in the central USA, I toyed with the idea of going there. But I found from Google street view that much of the terrain was not observable from the roads, rather one needed to be at about 100’ above ground level to really comprehend. So the Google airborne view was the best. I think that is the way to see the world, jumping from continent to continent, the short time frame keeping everything in relation, in context.

I think I am on a different kind of journey. It’s actually built into the Ash Series, which isn’t finished yet. Only the first book The Garden of Intuit is out there now, but Edge between Worlds is coming and the full notion blossoms in What’s Your Axiom? which is still in the notes stage. They are all there, however, in my head, supported by the seeds planted back in 1985 and have taken that long to flower. It’s a wonderful thing, to find a manifestation like that, and it has taken me to many places in the Mindscape. It was old, far older than me, and was my mistress before I even knew Selena. At one time, I thought it would be my life. Oddly there is no name, although it seems like a mother, perhaps the mother to us all. Sometimes coming up beside me, I could feel the support, the hand I could reach, to anchor my life and I responded with love. In the end, I could not handle the difficult terrain. It is still out there, however, smiling to me and beckoning. So I try to tell the story, to those who want to listen. I write everyday, but not always on the Ash Series. Actually, February was bad. I’m having a little quiet streak now, attending another bereavement group and writing this journal entry. At least I know from my notes exactly what I need to write in the current chapter:)

At this point, I suspect that some reading this are reaching unfortunate conclusions. Let me assure you that intensive meditation on Platonic and Mindscape is very worthwhile. In fact, it was vigorously recommended by Kurt Gödel, the greatest logician since Liebnitz. Gödel was a mathematical realist, meaning, his view was that mathematical entities are not created, they are discovered. They exist in a non-material state. In making up your own mind on this matter, I suggest considering the words of the sage Confucious, who said stupidity means receiving good advice and ignoring it.

In the movie, Walter is a dreamer, a bit on the useless side, but at least he knows how to skateboard. The point is we all need to know our own abilities and make sure not to forget about any of them. Every piece of paper, every skill, can be not just valuable, but make the difference in surviving our life journey. I mean, if we really care about that.

The huge disconnect between Walter on the barren green slopes of Iceland and Cheryl in the office of Life in New York, reminds me of locales, the local domains of truth which are built by the axioms we decide to accept as self-evident truths. It’s all about choice, let’s say, the Axiom of Choice, in which we pick and choose, deciding on the locale, the life we wish to lead.

A thread through the movie was the realization of the wallet, a small thing of seemingly little value, other than the sentimental, such that Walter threw it away, despite the fact that it was hand-made and custom tooled with a statement of meaning from the owner. And yet, that minor artifact was the most important thing to the story. It reminded me of a line from the movie “Babe”:

But farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas… that tickled and nagged and refused to go away… should never be ignored… for in them lie the seeds of destiny.

I think there is a character in the movie worthy of emulation, more appropriate for me in my situation than either Walter or Cheryl. I’m referring to the character of the photographer, Sean O'Connell. From him I am holding that sometimes we find something unexpected and special, one of those perfect moments, for ourselves personally. At such times it is wise to just stay in it, at the moment. I think I could sit down with such a moment, in the sphere of mist on the wet sand with only the faint sound of surf in the distance, staying with it for a long time.


April 18, 2020

The rest of them are away for a couple days. I’m alone. I’m working on my homework from the psychotherapist. She recommended some movies to watch about finding happiness or meaning after a terrible loss. I’ll try, starting with “Hector and the Search for Happiness”.

Again. I noticed the common theme again! Someone with a perfectly good relationship and a wonderful person to be with, throws it away. They aren’t happy. Oh, my. My wife is dead. Is it really so rare to realize that having Selena back again, even unhappily, would be the greatest gift in the world?

The concept of taking a trip to find meaning or happiness seems to be in the exact opposite direction to that where happiness is likely to be found. Being made to feel alien, lost, unsure is a good recipe for unhappiness, it seems to me. There are far worse things out there. Better to stay here for a while. A lot of very bad stories begin with going out the door.

Focusing on work, as the answer, is suggested by some, but for me, in all my experience, work has been only a source of unhappiness, depression and self-deprecation.

Some have advised me to have a fling. Find a younger woman. I would respond this way. Every premenopausal woman has the right to the expectation of the possibility of children. Since my wife and I opted for a permanent solution to birth control, I cannot satisfy that expectation. So even if the relationship were to begin as a fling, the possibility of it turning into something else makes this unethical. No happiness there!

Many years ago, two kids were students attending university. Each had a vague idea of the future they wanted. Neither actually got anything like their imagined future, but they happened to be in the same classes, which gave them a common goal, that of getting through the course. And toward that goal they helped each other, an explanation here, an insight there. So they ended up developing a relationship based on mutual support and understanding. This is what made Selena and I special to each other. We truly were a couple.

Ok. So much for avoiding any more grief attacks…

I just wish I had a clue as to how limited our time was. Then maybe I would have been careful to spend every minute with her, just listening. Just staying close by, listening, because it really is true that listening is loving. And when the object of our affection cannot be heard anymore? What then? That’s why she said she was so sorry, so very sorry, when she died.


April 17, 2020

Fortunately, the Gilda’s Club Toronto and my local D&D aficionados have all gone to Zoom in this time of covid19. I’m gradually getting better at tolerating the camera and the phone.:)

I explained to my psychotherapist that I was standing in a 50’ bubble of mist and didn’t know which way to go, just waiting. Waiting to die. She suggested maybe meaning in life needs to be created rather than waited for. Maybe I should work on finding meaning in life. The sound of the surf was evident distantly in the bubble, maybe that is the clue somehow. On the other hand, there may not be anything wrong with just sitting down on the sand for a while, enjoying the peace in the mist, after the grief attacks in the forest.

I could write a whole story about this place. Maybe I should.


April 14, 2020

Well, it seems to have sneaked up on me. At this date I can’t remember when exactly I had my last grief attack.

Before you say, “Good for you!”, one thing new that I have realized is that grief extends beyond where the attacks stop. If the attacks were happening in the deep dark forest, then I have now broken through the tangle, emerging on the hard wet sand with the sound of surf in my ears, exactly like what Grief showed me back in The Embers of Grief. At least that is how it feels to me. Things have fallen away and I’m standing in a big white bubble of mist. What I mean is the direction of moving forward has become meaningless in this place without references. The surf sound is the waves of advice that occasionally wash through then retreat away.

I felt very clearly today, just like any other day, that it makes no sense for me to still be alive, but at the same time I lack the fearlessness to end my own life. I had hoped that covid19 might give me a hand that way, but it appears not to be the case.

I still crave companionship.

The problem is my life conditions do not allow a new chapter. I have to comfort myself realizing a fresh start really isn’t possible at my age. I shouldn’t kid myself. It’s not like I could recover my youth and begin again.

My life has become empty, just like the bubble in the mist. There is nothing in it. No meaning anymore. I go through the motions, trying to finish what I have started, doing things that will keep me occupied. Keep me occupied? For what? Why? Selena isn’t here. She’s dead and she’s not coming back. It’s not like I’m waiting for her. What am I waiting for? Waiting to die, I think.

I find various television programs contain references to spousal relationships and marriage issues and I just can’t stand to hear the lack of appreciation and compassion displayed. Why do so many older fellas no longer appreciate their wives? Because they are old and fat? I wish Selena was back alive with me, old and fat. I would be so happy.

These are the thoughts that keep crossing my mind these days.


April 5, 2020

I’m putting the final touches on a makeshift background screen for my webcam, all part of a new effort to reach out and connect by Zoom, being spearheaded by Gilda’s Club Toronto. Since arithmetic makes me particularly comfortable with technology, I have responded whole heartedly to the effort.

Google news carrying the CBC World at six is informing Canadians about the effects of loneliness. How it can be a severe and potentially devastating factor on health. Sure! Those of us who have lost a spouse, and those with other such losses already know the anguish which directly impacts all parts of life, even to the point of not wanting to be alive anymore.

What is the philosophical message that is explicitly promoted? We are supposed to remember that we are not the only ones who are being so affected! This is clearly another example of how poorly our society has been educated about grief. And this whole covid19 scenario is an instance of grief for the thousands dead. We are not well served by others who try to take away our pain, regardless of the good intentions. What is needed desperately is acknowledgement of the anguish, not a solution to the grief. All people who have lost loved ones in this disaster need the opportunity to tell their stories. The anguish is theirs alone to bear, and having someone come up beside them and bear witness, doesn’t make it better, but it helps somehow to let them carry their heavy load.

So please, don’t tell someone in grief that there are lots of others in the same boat. That is just telling the person to not feel so bad and it takes away the validity of their grief which is so important to them. They have lost enough already.


March 30, 2020

I don’t know why or how I was there. Something had happened and we were in the water, a few of us, strung out in a line. We knew we were in trouble. We knew there wasn’t any option, no other possible outcome. We were going to go over Niagara Falls.

I remember the person in front, just a dark form in the water maybe ten meters ahead. There were maybe two or three more behind me. It was like we were all spread out along a line or something. Anyway, we were going over the falls. About that we, I mean I, was quite certain.

The rush of the water is still clear in my mind, cold, but strangely fresh with oxygen. It was a nice day otherwise, if we were not about to go over the falls. I remember the jagged stone of the river side, out of reach, flying by as the falls approached. I could see the rock of the bottom, dark through the clear water. The surge was deep and very fast. I was in the middle of the stream, the main channel, as momentum pushed it against the outside curve of the river.

The edge was coming. What was merely an abstraction a few moments before was quickly becoming reality. The person ahead had already disappeared over the brim. It would be my turn next. I can still see the water abruptly change colour, dark like the river bottom, to suddenly a clear light-blue crystal, with the dark edge of the cliff separating solid foundation and open air.

The current carried me tightly in its grasp. There was nothing to grab on to, impossible even if there was. It is a strange sensation to realize the alternatives have all run out, that this horrific thing cannot be avoided, that the world is no longer safe. And we had no life jackets.

One might suppose that in a dream one might not pass the actual edge or at least wake just as the edge was reached, but not in this case. I can remember floating, shooting along in the current, in the middle of the main stream, knowing the edge was just ahead, seeing the initial curve of the water as it rushed down into the abyss. Seeing that dark edge between rock and air. Then passing by it, riding the water on that initial smooth curve, accelerating. At that point I was hoping against hope to survive what was coming at the bottom, calling on God and Jesus for help. The water was clear and cold as the stream fell. I didn’t wake until the water lost integrity and began to break up into stray as I fell.

As I lay in my bed, breathing hard, heart pounding, the image of the initial plunge still clear in my mind, I realized the image was wrong. I knew where this place was on the falls, where I would have been standing on the walkway above, how the river curved at that point, but the image was backwards. It was the mirror image. In my mind, the dream, the river curved to the left, the tourists above to my right. But in reality, the river would be curving right and the tourists above to my left. What is with this reversal of the image, this mirror image? I have a good sense of geometry and the layout of locations. Why would the image be reversed?

I can still feel it. Being suspended in the clear water stream, maybe two meters out and a meter down from the edge. Kind of like my life now, after Selena is gone, not wanting to be here anymore, wanting to go with her.


March 27, 2020

Visited my psychotherapist today. Because of covid19 it had to be by phone. Without body language and facial expression I wasn’t sure if the session would work. I almost wanted to cancel. But my therapist was positive, so it went ahead. I’m glad it did. In a way the visit was better than usual. I didn’t need to fight my way to the office and back and I got a lead on finding a new group to connect with, potentially. I still feel the need to connect with others. Being alone is not something that I seem to be able to do well. That in itself is strange. Growing up in a rural setting and as an only child, one might think that being alone would be easy for me, but after 30 years with Selena, any such ability is now only hypothetical.


March 24, 2020

What’s the worst form of loneliness? Seeing all the people who must be lonely too and yet be unable to reach them.

I feel like the damned ghosts in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. Wanting and trying to help, but powerless to do anything at all.


I’m back. For at least one more.

It occurred to me, with all this covid19 stuff going on, how terrible it must be for those going through the same thing that Selena and I went through in 2019.

Whereas I was able to stay with her and visit her without obstruction, especially in the final days, and she was allowed to stay on a ventilator, in the same hospital now the situation is much more dire. I heard today that no visitors are being allowed. It’s hard to imagine Selena on her death bed and not being allowed to sit by her side. Not being there to hold her hand when she passed. In our case, the physicians were already pushing us to get the ventilator and the bed back. They wanted her to hurry up and die.

Can you imagine the pressure now on terminal cancer patients in light of all the covid19 victims waiting for medical assistance? You might say you cannot, but the truth is that your brain did start to imagine the horror. Imagined it and shut down.

These are dark times for terminal cancer patients.

“Bring out your dead!” Bong! “Bring out your dead!” Bong!...


March 17, 2020

I have been revisiting this journal, which is now more than a year old. The comments last March are much the same as those in this March. Differences are in the severity and novelty of the situation. Grief, in my case, seems to be getting its edges knocked off and smoothed down, although I am sure it will never be gone. How could love be gone?

Repetition is apparent in the flow of ideas. I’m saying the same things over and over. There is little real progress here, just as it is expected Grief will never leave.

For this journal, however, hearing the same things, again and again, becomes an important signal. As often happens in middle age I am realizing I have nothing to say, to anyone, about anything.

So this might be the last entry in The Anguish Journal, but as often happens I may add something significant if anything really new occurs. I am not stopping my writing, however, as it is the way I cope and the way I have decided to honour Selena. I will focus my efforts on the books, which have been languishing pitifully. My promise to her cannot be broken.

The last thing to do is to thank you, dear reader, for your interest, your time and your perseverance to get to the end, which might not really be the end. And remember, I would welcome any email you wish to send my way (address encoded at the bottom of the page).


March 16, 2020

In The Embers of Grief, I learn from the personification called Grief that I honour my Selena by constantly remembering her. I mention this as I sit in my room, listening to the talking and laughing of my daughter downstairs. She is on the phone with someone, likely her fiancee. My memory stirs and I recall hearing a similar laugh many times before, when it was Selena down there in the living room, the television perpetually turned on, while she talked and joked for long periods to her old high school friends.

How I wish I had recordings or videos that had captured such details of her, now made so precious by their absence.


I keep encountering icons of hope, admonitions to keep going.

Selena and I had one dream we shared. Often she mentioned how nice it was to see an old couple walking along, still holding hands. Selena wanted us to be like that. She hoped that even after years and years we would still hold hands or go arm in arm in the mall. I liked that too. It wasn’t much, but it seemed very reasonable. Not anymore. We will never grow old together or still hold hands when we are old, bent and gray. She is gone, whence there is no return.

In all my hopes and dreams Selena was to be present. Without her, I am no longer interested. This journal, these pages, the books, are all for her, promised to her. When they are done there is nothing more that I want to do, nothing remaining that truly needs me and nothing that really matters anymore. I just want to be with Selena.

Until the sun and the rain and the wind and the moon erase the last vestiges of my existence, it would, however, be nice to have a bit of company. Maybe someday, someone will read these pages and respond. It gets lonely in this epilogue.


March 15, 2020

I just finished watching a movie called Freaks. It was quite intense. Two of the key characters die. In my mind, I flicked to Selena’s last living moments and one of the worst grief attacks hit me. It looks like I just can’t watch death anymore. Is this what PTSD is like? Do the soldiers who have witnessed so many killings get flashbacks like this? If that is what it is like, it is a truly horrible thing.

And yet, today on the radio I heard someone say we need to become more accustomed to death. To me, this is clearly in a different locale. Maybe in some collections of Truths, it could be the case, but to someone who has lost the person they love more than life, it collides too hard. The inconsistency is apparent. A different locale is involved.


March 14, 2020

Happy Pi Day (numberals of Pi in hexadecimal)

The covid19 saga continues. The media is going into hysterics, the general public is spooked and beginning to stampede. Personally, I feel a bit hopeful.

Selena is dead. Every day I wonder “why am I still here?” Selena made me promise not to take my own life. That would be too painful for her. She suggested finding another after her. That was a kindness. I won’t. I am waiting, enduring the anguish that affects me every day. Maybe if I got covid19 it would end this torture. That would be a kindness. I wonder if Selena sent it to ease my pain.

I have found there is a vast legion of others like me. They lost the person that made their lives meaningful and now they have nothing but the pain. Society does not know they exist. They have become reclusive, isolated and afraid of the decimated life that has been left for them. They don’t want it. They wish to be with their loved one or gone. Maybe they too would welcome a death imposed on them from outside, absolving them of the guilt of considering violence against themselves.

I have learned from PBS SpaceTime that in our infinite universe almost every conceivable possibility exists, including infinite versions of myself and of Selena. There will be an infinity of realities in which Selena and I are still alive, together and enjoying our lives. I’m choking up now. This is perhaps the ultimate kindness, the power of infinity.

What to know about the transfinite? See this video: How to count past infinity.

Closer to me I still have to confront the reality that the only locales I can reach all contain the fact that Selena is dead and my anguish will continue until I am dead too.


March 12, 2020

A friend has read The Twins and enjoyed it! Wow! That really helps. I feel lighter.

This is the last grief group meeting tonight. One more time to jump on the subway. We are going to have some kind of tribute or ceremony. There will be pictures and sentimental items. If I have the chance, I’m going to read the entry from The Anguish page dated May 23, 2019: A Blessing. I would like to read The Twins, but I know I would never be able to get through it, or The Embers of Grief and especially not The Door. It’s ok, because I think A Blessing is more appropriate for our last meeting.

Maybe I will let myself settle a bit after this, see what happens, get back to writing Edge Between Worlds. I feel better than I expected. My friend's feedback really helped.


March 11, 2020

I know grief has physical effects on a person. My memory has become extremely unreliable. It might come back in a few years.

Last night I experienced something quite singular. Over the years I have become familiar with the sudden jolts like electric shocks that usually happen as I start to fall asleep. As I was almost nodding off, there came a tremendous sound. It was as if a yard stick had been whacked flat against the floor very, very hard. It was an explosion of sound and it made me jump like an electric jolt would. It had that quality of something real but it didn’t take long for me to decide that I had not actually heard. It was all in my head. This is not the first time I have heard something so realistic but not entirely sure it wasn’t real. It concerns me enough that I have decided to make a record of it.


March 10, 2020

I don’t understand. The day started well. Good sleep for a change. But now… Now I feel like I’m free falling.

The last grief group meeting is Thursday. Tried to start something with the grief group, but no one wants to. I even tried to email my failed friend, but the address has been shut down. Clear message. Now what?

Feeling depressed. I think I was just sad before. It’s getting difficult to do anything.


Something remarkable has happened. I am in bed in the early hours, the sun just having risen. Trying very hard, I am holding on to a pleasant memory of a dream about Selena. She is coming home.

I was waiting in the hospital gift store. It looked like it had come out of a Harry Potter novel. Selena found me. She was all ready to go home with me. I was so happy to see her. We had a big hug, but she cautioned me that her surgery was still a bit painful. She had made some new friends.

One had given her a wonderful book of spells and potions, gilded and filled with illuminated text. It even had its own stand made of cast iron. Selena didn’t want the stand, so she asked me to give it back to the friend who had given it to her. He was quite happy to have the stand back, but didn’t want the book.

Selena looked so good in a long robe of colourful silk embroidered with gold thread. She sat in the shop waiting for me while I tried to remember where the car was.


March 9, 2020

I feel a little clearer today.

I walk Echo the dog a lot. We do around 15 km a day. Sometimes the steady rhythm promotes a trance-like state of deep thought. Maybe one day it will help me find the right locale to find Selena.

I have mentioned previously that I have developed a respect for those able to freely express their emotions. In certain locales I can do that myself, such as when I listen to Enya’s music, linked into these records online. Her song called May it be does that for me. I’m usually streaming from that one. Other notables are On Your Shore and Evening Falls.

Maybe the most beautiful thing about emotions is their ability to communicate. For us, a smile, a laugh, a frown is universal. It doesn’t matter where you go on this planet. But it doesn’t stop there. My dog can understand emotion as well. She can show happiness, anger, fear and love quite clearly. Thinking back to my childhood, the chickens we had, who used to run around the yard and be proper chickens outside, those pleasant sort of reddish chicken that we used to call Rhode Island Red, could express emotion clearly. They could show fear, anger, happiness and love as well. Most of that came through in the sounds they made, but also in their actions, whether fighting, protecting or nurturing.

We are so quick to think we are so special that nothing on the planet is like us. I understand. It’s the only way the exploitation of the planet can be done. It happened among ourselves in the colonial days. The examples are legion.

Maybe you recall the writing I have done on the importance of arithmetic in establishing the locales of reality. Once again, the code has shown itself to us in some recent work with honeybees. It turns out this exemplar creature understands arithmetic. The article I read further suggested that since the honeybee brain contains only about a million neurons, that the understanding of arithmetic may be found in a great variety of creatures.

Thanks to Gödel and others before him, we know already that mathematical logic forms the foundation of the code. Perhaps this is another hint, a suggestion, that there is a logic of emotion. Maybe emotion is a fundamental communication resting firmly on the code that already gives us the most complete description of the world we have ever had.


If Selena could see me now, I would need to apologize. I’ve taken to sleeping anywhere, like a homeless person. A chair, the sofa, in the car, anywhere will do as well as my bed. Most of the time my congestion wakes me up anyway. As I write this in the wee hours, I was thinking about just last fall when I was sleeping on a camping mattress on the floor. It seems like years and years and years ago, but it was only 6 months. My daughter and her fiance assembled a twin bed out of storage and helped me get a new mattress for it. But now the room is festooned with hanging clothing as great long wooden poles of trees, suspended from the ceiling, hold hangers and hooks on which my things are draped. At least they aren’t on the floor. I wonder if the place has become a fire trap.

Maybe most people would not be able to tolerate my conditions. I think the only way I can is because of my sadness, my heartache, that rubs and catches at me day and night. How tired of this I am getting, but it just goes on and on. Tonight I found myself contemplating going back for another round of my grief group, however, the weekly activity ties me down quite considerably. After my grief was amplified with the additional suffering from my failed friend last fall, I was driven back to my group for this second round which is wrapping up this week. It didn’t help as much as I thought it would this time and I feel a bit lost and desperate.

This congestion is going to be the death of me. I had fallen asleep on the sofa watching Red Green episodes. Rousing myself I had managed to get properly ready for bed but started a coughing session. These seem to take about an hour to work the phlegm out of my lungs. I’m sure the whole house is awake from the coughing. I hate this. I wish it would stop. I wish it all would stop, the choking, the heartache, the feelings of purposelessness, this whole empty waste of life, that is all that remains after Selena died. She was the last and only point to my life.


March 8, 2020

My son and daughter took me with them this afternoon. They wanted to ramble around in Ikea. We had lunch there too. I find even though walking with the dog for almost 10 km a day, I am hard pressed to keep up, or maybe it’s my sadness, but I feel isolated from them, detached, separate. I watch the world go by, but am no longer able to participate without Selena with me.


This morning at the urging of a friend last night, I tried to present a happier face to the world. Echo and I went for our usual 4.75 km walk. When I got home and started working, however, I couldn't keep it up. I'm so darn sad, I just want to die. Stop the torture.


I have found some happiness in listening to The Secret Garden by Frances hodgson Burnett, an audible book narrated by Indira Varma. The garden reminds me so much of what Selena loved. It brings tears frequently when listening, but they are of happiness, remembering what she most liked to do. There are sad portions of the story as well, parts that I seem to identify with, in my state.


March 6, 2020

I had a very good day with my daughter and her fiancee. She has been very good to me lately. Perhaps something is happening with her grief or maybe it’s more about planning the wedding. I still felt a bit like the fifth wheel, but there was less of the awkwardness there had been. Maybe this grief has not completely blown us apart.


When Selena was very ill with her cancer, she said that in the future if I found someone to make me happy again, that she would be ok with that. To me that was very strange when she said it. Now how about this. Suppose we switch things around. I’m the one sick. I would not want Selena to suffer alone for the rest of her life. I know I would offer her the same kindness. What I wonder is what would she do about it? I am trying to get my mind around the idea of whether she would attempt to find someone new or not.

I know Selena is very loyal. She would not want to abandon me or her kids or her parents. The poor girl would be hard pressed, however, to manage everything. There is a lot of equipment. The distances are vast and she would need to drive. On top of that, she would get only a fraction of my poor pension. I could totally understand if she opted to bring in help and what better way than a new spouse. She still had the looks, I think she could do it. At least her friends would not abandon her.

Somehow I find this scenario difficult to imagine. Maybe that means it was extremely unlikely. Perhaps she was always going to go first.


I woke up very early this morning with one of my story characters in my head. At the meeting yesterday, the coordinator opened with a discussion on the personification of grief. My character called Grief occurs in my story The Twins and also The Embers of Grief. I tried to tell the group about my character, but it was surprisingly difficult. Emotion flooded up like it never had before in any group meeting. I didn’t know, but there is something huge down there, buried in my subconscious that only seems to be accessible through my stories. After all, since Truth is not finitely definable, all we ever have are stories, right?

It was Grief that was in my head this morning, who woke me up. I read over my two stories with streaming eyes. There was no going back to sleep now. The dog and I went for a walk instead.

There are two friends I have at the grief group. We exchanged email addresses. I was excited that I might finally have found two members for my tribe of after, whose experience with grief is similar to my own. I think it was close. They will be friends I have no doubt, but I am looking for someone who will stand with me to look at the horror without turning away. Most people, I am finding, have grief which is already threatening to consume them and they have no energy for support work, or they have all kinds of estate and family related problems which simply consume all their time. This is just reality, nothing I am doing wrong.

At least my dog is here. She depends on me, is very affectionate and always ready to take part in any adventure. It’s just that she doesn’t have any appreciation for my stories or writing in general, being a dog. I talk to her all the time and she is getting better.

I continue to be fascinated by The Stranger In The Woods. Chris Knight didn’t want any human contact and was perfectly happy to live his life completely alone in the woods for 27 years. I almost feel that is what I should do from a rational point of view. There isn’t anything left for me really. Maybe solitude is the best way after all. Fighting against that is some kind of need to share. What is that?

A friend, who had been reading some of my daily writings felt that sharing was fine, as long as it didn’t evolve into a basic need for attention, a dependency on the appreciation of the crowd. She had experience with someone having this problem. This person was living for the audience, not themselves, and without that nothing in their life had meaning. I like to share. I feel driven to share my stories. It does not feel like enough to just write for myself. That seems only halfway. How can I tell if I have a problem?

It’s not like I desire to be the centre of attention or that I have a need to be a performer. It is nice to hear that something I wrote, that contains a lot of my own emotions and feelings about something real to me, built into it, has been able to move the heart of another. That, to me, feels like connection, like acknowledgement, as surely as two people reaching for each other. It is what I am searching for.

I will continue to look for my tribe of after. I will continue to make camp, light the fire and put up the lantern in the tree. Maybe someday, if I am lucky, someone might stumble into my camp searching for the same thing.


March 5, 2020: Styles and Triggers

I have two meetings left at my grief group. Should ai go a third time? I don’t know. I hate leaving the dog behind. Maybe I'm missing the obvious. Perhaps the dog is my best support person?


I’m thinking of doing some solitary trips. My friend who walked away last December was doing that a lot. I never have. I wonder what it would be like. Maybe I should make a list, a short list, a very short list of close by places, no more than a couple hours drive from me, that I might like to visit. That will be easier than a long term commitment to a club or something. Just a visit. Here today, gone tomorrow. Maybe I will see something, learn something. I’ll try...


This is the topic for the next Grief Group meeting. I need to contribute something, but I'm not sure what. A collection of what I have found to be triggers? Like her pictures, projects and perfume? I guess triggers are strong memories that cause a grief attack. And styles. What are styles? Is my need to tell everyone my whole story and write my grief all the time considered a style? Perhaps it is about expression? Write, paint, play music, walk in nature, garden. Are those styles?


March 4, 2020

A friend is taking me ice fishing today. It’s rather late in the season and warm. I hope he survives, but for myself, if I fall through and disappear, I will be ok with that.

I’m back. I talked about grief with my friend but I caught some fish! My friend caught 1 big one. It was a very successful day. I will go ice fishing again next year. Afterward, we met with his wife and one daughter for dinner. I talked a lot more about my grief. They dropped me and my three fish at home. Selena’s mom and my daughter were excited to see the fish and have plans for cooking them tomorrow. It would have been Selena’s skill that would have prepared the fish in the past. She would have created a wonderful dish, all in very short order. She would make it seem easy, but I know it is not. That level of culinary expertise has been lost to us now.

Now what? I put various sundry back where it should be. Tomorrow I will go downtown for my grief group. Suddenly realizing I’m exhausted, I just sit in my chair. The dog is beside me looking for treats. Selena, in her urn, catches my eye. I smooth the lid and sides with loving strokes, being sure no dust ever belies how long she has been there. “I caught three pike, Sweetie. You would have loved to go ice fishing. I love you. I missed you.”

My daughter is back in her room. Selena’s mom back in hers. I’m sitting in mine, but I can still remember the better years when Selena would be here too, in bed already, surfing on her phone and waiting for me to come to bed and turn out the light. It is just so quiet now, so dead. I had a wonderful day, but now it has made no difference at all. The dark is still here to wrap around me like a heavy suffocating blanket. Some day it will succeed. Until then, maybe this is how it will always be? Brief interludes of conversation and pleasant distraction, followed by silently overwhelming sadness (SOS).


I am not sure anymore if I was really a good husband to Selena. Last spring when she died, I always told people we had a very good relationship. But I know I was often frustrated by work and would not be in the best mood when I saw her at home. And here she had waited all day for me. Did I always give her a smile, a hug and kiss, a kind word? I cannot swear to that. I know in the later years, my daughter told me Selena said I was driving her crazy. I think she also complained we were arguing all the time. Thinking about this now, I am so ashamed. That is not what I wanted to do. She deserved better, much better than that.

I admit that on occasion I wished I had spent more time on my career. I focused my time on Selena instead. Sometimes I wonder if that was a mistake. Who knows? One shouldn’t regret the past. But then I’m just not so sure.

Looking back over my life, there is one truth that is self-evident. Selena was the best thing to ever happen to me. Bar none. Nothing else even comes close. It is a truth I can hold on to, regardless of how I acted, or what I did or didn’t do, that she was the best part of my life. Thinking like this brings on grief attacks, but I still insist on remembering this one fact. I am a little afraid of the unspoken part of the sentence, however, that nothing will ever be as good for the rest of my life. But I think it is true.


I listened to Megan Devine’s book again, It’s OK that you’re not OK. It still grounds me, but I still can’t do most of the activities she suggests. There’s just too much work involved and my characters need me to work on my book.

I listened to The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. The parts describing Christopher’s isolation and social barriers seemed to speak to my own considerations in attempting to learn to live alone.

I can feel myself slide between different locales; reach out, pull back; search for companionship, learn to live alone. They are different incommensurable truths.

I don’t know if I can live alone. Maybe I will try again this summer. Or not. I still feel a powerful desire to reach out to people, anyone, anywhere. And at the same time, I feel myself pull back. I need to connect, to find companionship in this anguish, but too many times I have felt others depart, step back, or grow silent because they don’t know what to do or the situation makes them too uncomfortable. I need to find my tribe of after, but who or where are they? Although tears come, I will continue to make my camp. I will still tie the lantern high in the tree. I will sit by the fire in the darkness and wait and hope.


March 3, 2020

Where am I? There are terms the professionals use that I don’t know. Am I in early grief or later grief? What is the difference?

What is the pain of grief as opposed to additional suffering? How do we describe each? The pain is permanent, and I can do nothing about it, right? Can I call the pain by a different word, anguish and is that a mistake? Can I do anything about suffering?

Last spring, I could not focus my attention, for long, on my anguish. It was too much.

Later, I even took steps to remove things that seemed to contribute to grief attacks, like our old bed, most of her clothes, pictures and projects of or by Selena.

Now, after the fall, I am looking for those things. I can stare directly into the terrible event, with all the associated mental images. I stream with tears, but I can do it. I can hold myself there for a while.

The house has not suffered any further changes, although it needs it.

I am still not able to show myself to others. I wish I could. Only the briefest glimpse can be allowed. The curtain falls.


While walking the dog, I saw a lady coming toward me in the distance. I could not look away because she looked just like Selena, same hair, same clothes, same stature. Even the way she moved was right. I was almost convinced it was her until she came closer. Then I saw her face was completely different. It was a shock, however, sticking in my mind long after.


Selena died. It’s a wonder I haven’t gone out of my mind and died too.


I have written previously about the utility of the two year interval. Another example came to mind and almost sent me into a grief attack. Remember I lost my job in March of 2015. Selena and I were together and healthy for two years and then in the spring of 2017 she started getting the bleed. Imaging and two biopsies later she had her radical hysterectomy on November 3, 2017. The bleeding came back in the spring and she had radiation in the summer. Then on November 7, 2018 she started the trouble with her brain. Four months later she was dead. The point that shook me so hard was the realization that we had only two years together after I wasn’t working. Before that it was the job and school or the kids. Even during those last two good years we were too worried about money, because we thought a plan was needed for 10 or 20 years more. If we knew, if there was a clue that we had only two pleasant years left together we would have said forget the money and let’s go enjoy the time we have left. But who knew? It’s just so sad, it makes me break.


A friend told me “When we write from the heart it's a beautiful thing. … We are here to lift one another up in times of grief & pain & find joy in the simple things that make our hearts smile.”

My reaction is captured best by Enya's May it be.


If I managed to find a companion, maybe they would not be able to listen to my story over and over. Why do I feel the need to retell it? To anyone at all? Am I looking for something? Maybe I am just searching for sympathy. That possibility has occurred to me. Could I just want sympathy? Or is that just the tip of the iceberg?


It is hard to find people who will listen to my story. I have already taxed most of my support people to the limit. There is only so much someone else can take of another’s anguish. It begins to generate a not this again response. Selena’s friends are training themselves to avoid me because my presence reminds them of their dead friend. Most bereavement groups offer only limited opportunity to share since everyone needs a chance to speak. Professionals tend to be already very busy, offering only a 45 minute session once a month. My search for sympathy yields very slim pickings.


March 2, 2020

Today is a bad day. I could barely get out of bed. There is nothing wrong with me, just tired and sad. Even the dog took half an hour to get me up. She wanted to be fed and walked, a 4.6 km walk, but I did it, so I don’t think I’m depressed. Just very, very, very sad. The walk was hard to get through, there seemed to be no strength in my legs.

Yesterday I just worked on my web page called The Anguish and the subpage called The Anguish Journal. I haven’t touched Edge Between Worlds for two weeks now. Not since Valentine’s day, I think. I’m starting to feel guilty about it. Selena would be pushing me, asking me if it was finished yet. More guilt. I promised her I would. What happens if I don’t live long enough to finish it and the next one What’s Your Axiom? I would not have kept my promise. I feel a promise made is a debt unpaid, but my life may force the issue.

It’s not that I want to kill myself, just that I really don’t want to be alive. My kids don’t need me as they are all grown up and on their own. Selena is gone. I used to try to keep myself in reasonable health for her. She had a dream of the two of us growing old together, still holding hands as we walked the sidewalk, bent and grey. That dream will never be. Why should I bother to think about my health? The sooner I go, the better.

Sunday I met the widower of a highschool friend of Selena’s. She was a very nice lady, but she died of brain cancer. Strange that it doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad one has been. She was good and died young at 55. Selena was good and died at 56. It doesn’t argue well for religion, does it? I hope no one said, “Well, at least you had her for as long as you did.” Horrible. The unspoken half of the sentence being “so don’t feel so bad.”

I had met this fellow somewhere before, but couldn’t remember. His face was familiar. Like me, he has two kids, a girl then a boy, but just two years younger than mine. He seemed very well adjusted, as he sipped his tea in the mall food court. He is the only other widower within all of Selena’s huge group of friends. I had been wondering how he was managing, thinking about my own situation, and that had got me concerned. So I had found his contact information and reached out. Later he confessed he had been dreading this meeting, since he didn’t know what to say. I could tell.

The first question he had was “Tell me about Selena, what was she like?” It’s a good leading question, it’s true. To me it suggested he had not been talking about his grief to many people. I have been telling my whole story to anyone offering a crumb of compassion, like some form of beggar. That day I was there to listen really. I need examples of people who are surviving this grief. I think the bottom line is that he gets good support from his kids, which he treats as friends. Maybe they are more talkative. He seemed to be so. To my surprise, he told me he had never attended a grief group and was only now, at the 1.5 year point thinking of professional guidance. At least he had read a good grief support book.

We got to talking about churches and religion, somehow. I think he is very involved in that. He convinced me to visit his church. I hope he doesn’t want to talk about God’s plan for his wife or Selena as a reason for their death. Although I know that locale, and that of the Catholic church, with the full Dantesque model of the afterlife is very appealing, I have been standing somewhere else most of the time lately.

Really I have been trying to map the locales. I know I am searching for Selena, looking for a way to her. Sounds like the Dao, right? Not really. That’s another locale too. It takes a lot of thinking, self-examination and good old self-talk feedback. That last bit I am doing more and more, most of the time, when I am alone, just like one of my characters, Willow Senquay. My walking, talking and writing take up most of the day.

For me, writing is key. It’s really just talking, at the keyboard. I could do the same thing with email or texting. It’s my outlet, the way I need to express and release the terrible tension from walking my landscape of grief, carrying this heavy load. Writing is to put it out there. That’s half way. The other half is me fervently hoping that someone else will actually take the time to read it, and maybe, just maybe understand this disaster and feel a little compassion. It doesn’t fix anything, but it helps.

Thank God for the writing, otherwise I don’t know how I would cope.


My anguish is too much for me to convey. I will merely refer to Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”


March 1, 2020

This is winter now and it was winter for Selena last year. Winter always represents the end of life. For Selena, mercifully, her winter season did not last long.


Especially these days, I frequently have thoughts about ending my life. It is good to recall that Selena made me promise not to do that. I think I’m not brave enough anyway. Sometimes I wonder why she was so adamant that I continue on. If I reverse our roles, I find the idea that she would end her life to be excessively distressing. I would not want her to go, even though I was going. So I guess it makes sense she would say that. I am sure she knew that it would be a torture, an anguish, for me to continue without her, but what could she do? I think that was why she said that in the future, if I found someone who could make me happy again, that she would be ok with that. It was a small act of kindness, the only thing she could offer. That makes it so sad, so very sad. My heart wants to tear itself in half.


To think about how she was unable to talk in the last month with the tube, and how eventually she didn’t recognize me anymore, is more anguish than I can stand. I have to be careful not to be driving when I revisit this place. It is the worst locale.


February 29, 2020

I guess this is from the spring locale.

I needed a new sweater, so I went to Eddie Bauer at the mall. There were so many young good looking people. I felt positively ancient. Somehow, I just had to keep looking at them. Not starring, mind you, but a few glances, as much as I thought I could get away with.

After a while, the demographic seemed to shift. The average age dropped precipitously. Now I noticed a lot of older men, alone, walking without noticing their surroundings, looking down. I felt they must have lost their spouses too, just by their unkempt appearance, telling the world there was no one looking after them and nothing mattered anymore. It was so sad.

Later as I was walking Echo in the bright sun, I was feeling the need to reach out. Every lady we encountered, I was careful to be very nice, hold Echo out of the way, smile, give a pleasant hello and a comment about the wonderful weather. I usually got a similar reply, a small thing, but it made me feel so good.


February 28, 2020

I guess I spend most of my time in the past and maybe a bit in the future. Only occasionally do I touch down in the present. When I do, it is a shock, like the initial drop of an elevator, realizing I am there alone and Selena is not with me. She can never be with me again. It is a strange feeling as if I have suddenly discovered I have entered the wrong house. It’s a horrible feeling.


It is so important to write down everything as soon as possible. On the way home from my meeting with the psychotherapist, I uncovered another candidate for my self-evident truths, but by the time I got home it had vanished. I’m so disappointed. Maybe it will come back again.

I am thinking of making a blog from all these and similar entries. The fact that the material is rather personal, could be an inhibition, but then maybe I should try to be an example for others. I don’t know how things will turn out, so I cannot glorify the work by calling it hopeful. It could just as easily end in disaster.


February 27, 2020: Grief Realms

The Physical Realm

My nervous conditions have worsened greatly. The IBS has returned. My stomach feels nauseated. It was necessary to increase the dosage of my hypertension medication. I have panic attacks, with light-headedness and heart palpitations.

The Emotional Realm

The emotional landscape has changed completely. I react differently than I used to, feeling great sadness at previously insignificant events and also not emoting at all in situations that clearly warrant it.

The Cognitive Realm

There is a kind of filter present between myself and the world around me. It has become difficult to make effective decisions. My short term memory has become hopelessly unreliable.

The Social Realm

I have suffered a very real disconnection from my previous world. I feel I need to reach out to others but then turn inward again when the connection becomes difficult.

The Spiritual Realm

Certain questions abound here, for example: Why did Selena have to die? Is Selena still somewhere? What is my purpose now? Should I follow after?


February 26, 2020

To find a locale I need to choose truths. Two truths may be consistent with each other. If not, then they cannot be in the same locale. Existence of the locale depends on the consistency of the truths it contains.

Last spring I was thinking of a truth in which two people, grieving the loss of a spouse, could offer support, understanding and encouragement to each other. I am sure there is a locale like this. Another truth that could be found there might be the truth that it is possible to love more than one person and it’s extension to the love for a new spouse.

Last fall I was forced to consider another truth that we live our life only once and it is not always possible to push the reset button, once one has become too old. Youth cannot be recaptured. A new family cannot be started. There are certain obvious limits this way. A second truth that can reside in a locale like this one is the choice that it is enough to endure the anguish of losing a spouse once. This is a truth about a decision, which is to never experience that horror again.

The spring and fall examples are of two separate locales. They cannot overlap since they contain contradictory truths. If we chose to love, the consequence is loss, either from beside the death bed or lying in it. Although one may try for a long time to find a place where both can happen, having love and avoiding loss, careful reflection and meditation is sure to reveal the impossibility.

I have spent much time trying to fit together all the truths I am discovering in my travels through this devastated landscape that used to be my life, this new life I didn’t want and didn’t I ask for. Realizing these things are found in different places means I need to choose where I am going to stand.


February 25, 2020

I write, to understand, and to record. This is a record of truth. The thing is, truth depends on locale. I usually forget what I have been thinking from one locale to the next. Recording it in a log is like a communication across the boundary between locales.

Why do I sound so different when I write? I’m like a different person. Is it just because I have time to think and finish my thread, whereas in real conversation, the real-time nature prevents careful reflection?

Maybe it’s because I am conflict averse. Gödel had the same problem. That’s why he didn’t publish much. Fortunately I’m either writing fiction or subjective material (locales are ultimately subjective), so few care or want to argue.


I really don’t like the word belief. It is used too much these days. The problem I have with belief comes from the very definition of the word. A belief, is the acceptance of a statement as if it were true. The actual truth or falsity is not considered. That bothers me. Why not just choose what you want as your truths and go forward with that? Why bother with the word belief? I would have a much easier time going to christian church, for example, if they dropped the use of that word. Why not just say the truths and never mind belief? Other religions don't fixate on that word. I mean, why should a religion, a world view, need me to believe what they say? Are they so uncertain of themselves?

It’s not what you believe, it’s where you stand.

Stand on the solid ground of Truth, whatever that might be for you, not the shifting sands of belief.


February 24, 2020

It’s true that we have a terrible problem in our society. There is a tsunami of death and loss coming, but our civilization handles grief very poorly. Most people don’t really understand what it is.

As a male, I have been advised to seek a grief group for men. That is strangely unappealing. I think it’s because other men seem like competition or threats, even if they are trying to be nice. For me there seems to be no point in sharing deep feelings with other men.

Consider the grief group I have been attending. Gilda’s Club is an excellent charity for anyone touched by cancer. Since Selena died of cancer at 56, this is the place for me. Both times around with their adult bereavement group there has been only one or two men and all the rest of the group of maybe six, are women. I think it’s because women, in general, which means not always, are better communicators and are more in touch with emotion than men. Let’s say women are more compassionate or have more empathy than men. Anyway, the bottom line is I feel much more comfortable talking about my anguish with a woman or group of women than men.


February 23, 2020: Aniversary of Death Day

Please Selena, Sweetie, come and help me. Today is the day. The day you left. February 23, 2019, you left me. I still need you. Echo needs you too. We just got back from Miranda’s wedding reception. It was wonderful. You would have enjoyed it so much. There was Celtic dancing. I took part. All the nice young people. They don’t know. You would have had so much fun. Why must there be tears here too? After I took Echo for a walk. We went 4.4 km in the mild winter weather in the night. Thinking of you all the time. Please come and see me. I need you so much. I’m so sorry you had to go. I miss you. Please come.

I read “The Twins” and after “The Ember of Grief” for you. It is so true. Just as much now as before. (Tears streaming) Please come and see me again. I’m waiting…


To commemorate the anniversary of Selena’s death I offer my story of The Twins and The Embers of Grief written last year about two months after the catastrophe.


February 22, 2020

Maybe it's the terrible weather, but today is a down day. Yesterday I had been writing things were turning up off the bottom. Today after shovelling the snow, I don't have the motivation to do the usual writing. I'm listening to Enya, the Irish singer. She has a wonderful piece called Evening Falls. A ghost story. You can read about it online if you like. I feel guilty sending out so many messages. I know everyone is very busy. I just seem to go from person to person, like some kind of beggar, looking for attention. Sorry about that. I wish there was someone I could talk to at any time of the day or night, like I used to do with Selena. I seem to be continually looking for sympathy. It feels very guilty.


February 21, 2020

I have hit the bottom of my hopelessness once again. This has happened enough times now that I discern a pattern. The trouble starts when I begin searching for a way out or a route through my anguish, some way I can recover my happiness and maybe my life once more. The result, of course, is disappointment and failure. As successive attempts fail, my mood becomes deeper, darker and more desperate, until all possible options have been exhausted and I have to admit there is no solution, once more. At that point I am oozing around the very bottom with no hope and no motivation for a few days until I get tired of thinking about it. As I forget my efforts, my mood improves and as I feel better I forget faster. Finally I am not getting grief attacks nor thinking about new relationships and this pleasant condition persists for some time. Until the next iteration.


Kurt Gödel has offered an understanding into why and how the world is composed of different locales or neighbourhoods of truth. My understanding of his secret has me looking into all kinds of locales for help: Platonism, Mindscape, Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, the Diné and even Haitian Voduo, but these can never be combined, they must be permanently apart and separate at risk of disaster. In their combination, everything becomes true and everything becomes false at the same time. So one must be careful to keep different thoughts separate and not allow them to mix, conscious of crossing between locales.


February 20, 2020

There is a tsunami coming. A huge wave of grief. Our society does not teach us how to cope. It is unacceptable to stay cowering in a basement corner wearing sackcloth for the rest of our lives but equally it is unrealistic to expect some kind of conversion where we learn from our grief, transforming into something better than before. Both of these are unrealistic. Instead we need to hope to find a middle ground between these two.


On her death bed, Selena made me promise not to end my life. In conflict with this she also apologized three times. Although I could not talk about this with her, being unable to accept that she was dieing, I think she realized I would lose my happiness without her. She had no solution. The best she could do was give me the viral meme that in the future, if I were to find someone who could make me happy again, then she would be ok with that. She was giving me permission. The problem that remains is that we can love more than one person. The new love would not affect the old. I have already experienced that in the six month diversion that I had. Once a sufficient comfort level is achieved, the old grief comes back. “Hey! Remember me?” I have even gone so far and so horribly extreme in my search, that I considered what would happen if I purposely stopped loving her (I don’t want to do this). That too has a problem, as I have dedicated my life to Selena, forgoing a career. Everything in my life revolves around Selena, as the center. Without her, there is no purpose to the majority of my productive life. I would be in some kind of empty state, which seems unsurvivable as well.

I had hoped there might be some end to this grief. Others have suggested there might be, but some say there is not, as long as love remains, which it likely will. It is hard to look into the future seeing this anguish stretching into the distance. Maybe it does not go on forever, perhaps only until I die. If I stand firm on an afterlife, then I welcome death to come earlier. Standing elsewhere, life becomes more precious as there is nothing afterward and then maybe I am not in a rush to die. Either way, my life is not pleasant in the permanent realization that Selena is gone. Fond memories seem to make the anguish all the worse.


I feel like Puff the Magic Dragon. Without Selena as my companion, I cannot be brave. She gave me the encouragement and support I needed to go forward.


February 19, 2020

My emotions have become raw again. I am having grief attacks a few times a day. Must be the coming anniversary of Selena’s death date. Friday I went to the mall for a break. The Bay still sells her perfume. ”L’Air du Temps” I sniffed the sample and immediately broke down, the sales clerk looking at me strangely. Today I had an attack and grabbed for a tissue that had been sitting on the cardboard sample. It was a double whammy! I couldn’t believe how bad it was. When it cleared, I sniffed the tissue again and the wave immediately hit a second time. Something like that hasn’t happened since last March. Now I know I am no better at all than then.


February 18, 2020

I can look at old pictures these days. It makes my chest hurt and I feel sick, but I can look at them. I can appreciate how beautiful Selena was 30 years ago. I see how she looked when in apparent health, but now I know the cancer was already inside. It still kills me, but I can do it without breaking down or looking away. It is still emotional anguish. There really isn’t any hope in this, is there?


One friend out at the garden site has become concerned. He calls me sometimes, but I don't like talking on the phone. I would rather type. In an email I can think carefully about what I want to say. Speaking in real time it will not be right, might have nothing to say. I know he is concerned. Now he says he doesn’t want to type, only talk. He wants me to come for a visit. I say I’m fine. He tells me I am not fine, I’m depressed, and writing the book and walking the dog is not a life. But I don’t think I’m depressed. Isn't it true that depressed people cannot get out of bed without medication? I don’t have a problem like that. My routine works.


The day after Valentine’s I could only write a little. Just planned for the next chapter and worked on the overall notes a bit. Strange, I feel like a fish out of water, gasping. My chest aches below my sternum. Likely a bit hard on my heart. That happens. I have to remind myself to breathe. Then I feel nauseous, quite sick. I hope I have a heart attack. A quick end to this would be such a kindness. Maybe Selena is calling me. Wouldn’t it be nicely symbolic? Next week is Feb 23, the date she died. I so want to go with her.


February 17, 2020

This week has been difficult. Valentine’s and the first anniversary date are approaching. Anguish is subjective. All I know is it’s hard to carry it right now.

I looked back at my writings from last spring. At the two month point they seem violent and raw. But it was unknown. I had never been devastated like this before. I’m thinking it’s just as bad and I’ve been here for almost a year. Surely the nerves are becoming deadened.

With Valentine’s and her death date looming, however, there is no escape and I’m having at least two or three attacks per day. Escape to the book is not helping as it did.

Is there no end to this? Every day, at least a few times, I wonder why I am still here. Activities I thought were fortifying have all proven to be illusions. Every place I have tried still contains the truth that Selena is dead. It seems with that fact there can be no satisfaction, no happiness, no survival.


February 16, 2020

Last spring I held the truth that if I could find a friend, then through supporting each other it might be possible to find some happiness, at least togetherness, again. In that locale I looked for a new relationship.

In December, I was reminded that I could not push the reset button. There was no way to backup thirty years and start it again anew. In this locale, one would always get sick and leave while the other grieves. At my age that point is going to come along increasingly quickly. Wasn’t once enough? Better to learn to live alone.

But I find there is no happiness in either of those places. In fact since February 23, all locales have contained the truth that Selena is dead. How can I possibly be happy without her?

It is a terrible thing to be long lived. In my lifetime, I have always had a dog, since I was a kid. A dog is so intelligent and well integrated with people that it is a member of the family. The problem is they live only about 15 years give or take a few. I’m on my fifth dog now, all of them having good long lives. It’s so sad everytime one of them has to go. I wonder if I still want to torture myself in this way further, but each time I find another.

I still find myself wondering if some locale out there does have a new friend for me. But I know there isn’t any happy ending. There is only the story of sadness or a succession of diversions that start happy and end in sadness. It seems the house always wins and I am doomed to ultimately lose. We all die some day.


February 15, 2020

Two of Selena’s old friends came to visit. They come to see Selena’s mom. Maybe they don’t come to see me. They didn't let me know. They have all my contact information. It makes me feel a little forgotten. They were Selena’s friends. Weren't they were my friends too? But, Selena is dead.

People are telling me to eat healthy, get lots of exercise. They say it will get better with time. But wait. Selena is dead. At 56 she died. I’m that age now. Why should it get better? Why should I think that it is right for me to go further, when she did not? Some say she would want me to keep living. Would she really want to torture me like that? She doesn’t know. Selena is dead.

I don’t have family to support. In fact I am hindering their potential by inhibiting their acceptance of the things they are due from generations past. They should have it now. After all, Selena is dead.

I managed to hide in my book for a few hours, but I finally had to emerge. My daughter was home. I tried to tell her what was happening in the story. It’s really all I have and to me it’s real. But I can tell she isn’t impressed. Maybe she doesn’t care. She has her own concerns and disappears upstairs. I might as well be completely alone like one of Selena’s friends. That scares the heck out of me. How can I deal with that? But then, Selena is dead.

My mother died early of cancer and my father rattled around in the house all by himself for 17 years. How did he do that? Again the fear. How to manage? And then there’s the guilt. Am I just playing around with the book? Can I really support myself with that? Likely not. But does it matter? Selena is dead.


February 14, 2020: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day was always a big deal for Selena and me. I haven't been up to writing the novels just now.

I have learned grief is subjective. It is exactly as bad as I think it is. It is my heartache, the anguish I have at losing Selena, the left over love. With my poor memory, the realization that this is the left over love is the only thing that keeps me going. It's the only aspect of Selena which will always endure.

Love may be changable like the weather but it will always be there, sliding up beside for contact, wrapping around for warmth, nourishing my needs, supporting me when things get hard to carry. It doesn't seem like much, but it's all I can have, not the answer or solution, but a helper.

I can’t tell the difference between my anguish now and what it was last February. So if my measure says that, then so it is. The only thing I have found that helps is distraction. Besides a new relationship, the best distraction I have is writing. The long interwoven tales in my books begin to feel real and I can lose myself there.

Only in the drought of imagination do I stumble and fall into the tar of my anguish. There is the onomatopoeia of that word again, anguish, which perfectly describes my feeling.

There are too many worries, financial, skill, health. I tell myself it’s all mind over matter. If I don’t mind, it don’t matter. That helps me through.

When my mind is dry and I feel used up, I watch videos. When I can’t stand sitting anymore, I walk the dog.

It’s the same everyday. Day after day. When I falter I find myself thinking, “Why am I still here?” Sometimes I berate myself saying “I’m just 56. I should do something.” Then I reply, “Selena was 56 and she is gone. What’s the point? It’s good enough.”


February 13, 2020: Secondary Losses

My interface is gone. Selena was Chinese. We had a wonderful time combining cultures. I lost access to that world. I never managed to learn the language. Selena was my interpreter. Her parents still live with me, but since they don’t speak english, I’m stuck. Because she is no longer present, her friends and relatives don’t check in anymore. That’s almost my whole social circle gone.

My income is gone. My career packed it in when my boss lost a government contract. Selena and I were just starting to recover from that loss with AirBnB cottage activities and garden produce, following the ‘two can live as cheaply as one’ philosophy. I was forced to stop. It was too much work for too little money and too dangerous, all by myself.

My favourite activities have gone. I had planted an orchard, just 55 trees, for Selena. Apples, pears and plums. It was all for her. She loved fruit. I've lost the motivation to work on them now. The orchard is abandoned.

We used to travel, go shopping, and watch TV together. I’ve lost all interest.

I guess because Selena had such an innate talent as a chief, I really don’t like trying to cook anymore.

My family life is gone. Selena was very close to both my daughter and son. They have become distant now, preferring their own activities. There really isn’t any family mood left in the house.

As my support person, I’m only now realizing how critical Selena was to my nervous conditions.

Her brothers are not really stepping up to look after her parents enough. Selena did most of that. They are victims too, of this out-of-order death.

Since I decided to forgo a career in favour of being with Selena (much like the journalist in ‘After Life’), now that she is gone I realize I have nothing. My happiness is gone. The kids have their own lives and I’m left wondering why I am still here.

Everything comes back to you, Selena. But, you’re dead.


February 12, 2020

I was walking Echo, when we came upon another dog. It was a sheppard, easily three times her mass. Echo didn’t hesitate for an instant. With ferocious intent, eyes blazing, lips back, impressive weaponry at the ready, fur standing on end, she barked canon shots and growled like a hound from hell. She had become a dog ten times her size. It took significant effort to hold her back so intent had she become. She would tear the other dog to pieces.

I know she was protecting me. Echo is unmodified, retaining all her instincts. The pack is life. It must be defended to the utmost. Selena and I were like that. Together we looked after each other. Supported one another. She is gone. Now it is only Echo who will protect me. This 12 kilogram dog will stand alone against huge adversaries for me with all the energy she can muster. There is no one else.

There were tears for the rest of the walk.


February 11, 2020

Last year, after the disaster, I was always reaching out. I wanted to connect with people, to tell them my story, desperate for acknowledgement of this terrible thing that had happened. I didn’t know what to do. I was unprepared. I just felt I needed people. Staying shut up at home with my anguish was to decide to stay in hell. I wanted out. I took every opportunity to meet with friends, for coffee, for games, just to walk. I even went out for a new relationship.

Now, at almost the anniversary date of the horrific event. I have stopped reaching out. It no longer seems necessary to seek a new relationship. I don’t need to connect with as many people as possible. When I tell my story now, I feel slightly ashamed. Why am I exposing myself like this? More often now I don’t talk about Selena. Even at the grief group, it feels different. I can talk to my therapist if I have prepared notes, otherwise I have nothing to say. I am pulling away from people now. Friends on my contact list are not the magnets they used to be. I hesitate to send to them. They likely will not respond anyway. I prefer to stay by myself now. I work on my books mostly, and go for walks with the dog.

It is as if there had been a gargantuan explosion last year. For a long time a hurricane of current and vortex blasted outward, then a pause, and now everything is crashing back together, into the vacuum that was left behind.

My failed friend, lost her husband in Oct, putting her three months ahead of me. When she pulled away, that was in the beginning of Dec. I am wondering if she experienced the explosion/implosion as well, and she was just ahead of me based on the death dates.


Last February, after Selena died, I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted people nearby, people I could talk to, pour out my anguish to. Now, a year later, I feel a bit sheepish talking about my loss. It has been long enough that most others think I should have left it behind, but that will never happen. I am busy writing, making that work my only other point of conversation, which is unfortunately uninteresting to those not fans of fiction. So I feel myself retreating into isolation. I no longer want to reach out to others. Their responses to my entreaties no longer provide the sense of support they once did. I am finding I prefer to spend evenings alone, in a room by myself, much as Selena’s parents are now doing. Perhaps we all inhabit our own single rooms in life.


February 10, 2020

The average age is about 80 and the standard deviation about 15. I’m in the second standard deviation, with only 13 percent of those whose spouse has died. At my age it is not possible to start again. There isn’t enough time to have another 30 year relationship with the history, meaning and depth of feeling that I had with Selena. She knew this. That is why she apologized so many times. She knew we were both dying together. I have nothing left to offer, not health, not money, not potential for the future. Certainly not looks. Selena was perfectly healthy two years before she died. Why should I think differently? The most I can offer as a future is two years. Anything else is, well, fiction. As a fiction writer I can say nobody wants that.


How I feel is not how it has been described by others. Even my most favourite writers have not hit the mark on the way I feel, for me. The word grief sounds trivial like the Charlie Brown term, ‘Good grief’. The word ‘pain’ is wrong, because if feels completely different from pancreatitis, a chainsaw gouge or slicing my hand. It is not pain that I feel. My situation is not painful. It never has been that. The emotional attacks are most accurately ‘lockups’ because I lose control of my voice and my muscles knot like tetanus, like lockjaw. The word ‘torture’ is closer, but still feels wide of the mark, just like pain did. The hissing sound of ‘suffering’ is the feeling I would have on a good day when I remind myself that nothing matters. Quite useful is the word ‘agony’, where the hard vowel sound captures the keening of the moment before a ‘lockup’. There is still the general feeling that has yet to be contained by any of these words. Perhaps for me, the most accurate word connecting to how I really feel is the word ‘anguish’. It speaks of a cry that becomes twisted in on itself before being quashed into submission. It is the voice of my sadness, the bending of everything I knew and loved into something unrecognizable, the smashing down of any remaining hopes and dreams that still deigned to persist. Anguish is what I feel most days. Anguish is my appropriate iconic response to someone’s inane question of “How are you doing today, really?”


February 9, 2020

Did you watch After Life on Netfilx? I remembered the part where they visit the cuckold hoarder's house, all full of garbage, dead mice and roaches. The grieving journalist asks him why he hasn't just killed himself. The hoarder replies suicide is to good for him. I should remember that. Maybe I'm still here in order to suffer. That's what I'm supposed to do. Just observe the other happy lives around me and know the life I lost. Just wander the surreal apocalyptic landscape of this life I didn't ask for but am now forced to live. Build myself a hut to live inside this grief.


I hate going to bed. There is no more comfort. I used to feel the connection, the love from Selena that said “This is where I belong.” Now I cannot be beside her anymore. It is a barren desolate existence.


February 8, 2020

I feel like I should look at Selena’s pictures more now. For a time I had taken them all down. Everything she did, all her projects, were too upsetting to look at. Now things have shifted to the other direction.

Selena was the photographer. There aren’t many pictures in which she appears. I wish I had video clips. I so want to hear her voice, to see her move around. That would be so precious.

Alas, I have only one short clip done by my eight year old daughter, with a new camera my father bought, which manages to capture Selena’s voice and a brief glimpse of her as she talks. But that is all. Such a terrible tragedy. Why didn’t we make more of an archive? We never thought a disaster like this would happen.


Selena liked church, but was never a member. I had the idea that maybe she would like me to attend church. After a few visits, however, I have encountered a problem with the ubiquitous word ‘belief’. According to the dictionary, a belief is the acceptance of a statement as if it were true. Note that the actual truth value of the statement is unimportant. I have a problem with that. What if it is really false? Shouldn’t a religion be laying out truths rather than beliefs? Just tell me what the truths are. That’s all I want.

From experience I could write the truths of my relationship with Selena. Now the truths have changed in this new life I don’t want and didn’t ask for. I have crossed into a different locale of truth. In the old locale the old truths still hold, but they are no longer accessible to me because Selena is gone. This new locale of the after, decimated as it is, is where I need to collect the new truths. I don’t know what they are yet.


February 7, 2020

Sometimes things feel ok. That might last just until I see Selena’s urn beside me and I am reminded of my nightmare. Maybe it is a nightmare. Could I just wake up and find it didn’t happen? I wish so much that were true.

If she were here again, likely she would be concerned at how bad my health has become. My upper airway congestion is getting worse. She would remember I told her I think it will drown or choke me one day. Now, however, that would be ok.

I’m not concerned about my health anymore. There isn’t any reason to preserve myself. Everyone dies. It’s just a question of when. For Selena it was when she was 56.

Once again I ask myself, as I do many times every day, “Why am I still here?”

I guess she would say, “To finish the books!”

For that, however, I have to stand in a place where the books are meaningful.


February 6, 2020: Guilt and Regret

I find I am consumed by guilt and regret. Because Selena is gone, no resolution seems possible.

Guilt 1

On January 26, 2019, while the family was visiting her in the hospital ward, Selena needed to be intubated since her blood oxygen level could not be raised above 89 percent. Her team wanted it closer to 93 percent. This required leaving the oncology ward and entering the intensive care ward, ICU.

It was so sudden, I was taken by surprise. I was not prepared to lose my communication with her.

In retrospect, we needed to have some conversations which we never had. Back home there had been three occasions when Selena had said to me, "I am so sorry. I am so very sorry, Al."

We should have talked about this, but I was not willing at the time to admit to her coming death. To talk about it would be to make it more real. It felt like a betrayal, like I would be giving up. So I couldn't talk about it with her. I regret this so much today. It eats me up like an acid. We had always talked, but I couldn't do it about this. I should have. I lost the chance and now it is gone.

There is so much I now know I needed to say, to tell her I still loved her as much as before and give her the oh-so-important chance to reply.

Today I saw the bottle of Mane and Tail that the nurses had recommended to detangle Selena’s hair. She had been moving her head around so much that the hair on the back of her head was all felted. I should have fixed it for her, but she was connected to six different IV pumps and had a port installed in her neck, so the nurses didn’t want me to fiddle with her head. I felt so alienated from the whole situation. It was not what Selena would have wanted.

Selena would never be able to talk with me again. She could only blink, nod, shrug and squeeze with her left hand. The best I could do was tell her repeatedly that she was good, that I loved her. If she was not too drugged out, she would respond, with her characteristic two quick nods, which had so captured my heart in the past.

But I could not bear to tell her I would miss her when she was gone.

Guilt 2

Selena had been given only two options: no treatment, or radiation. She was afraid of the treatment.

Selena died on February 23, 2019, but back in June 2016, medically assisted death became legal.

Selena had delayed treatment initially because it frightened her.

She had wanted to let nature take its course. If our medical team had mentioned this third option, Selena might have been happier staying at home and when the cancer became too much, she could have had her goodbyes and left without the torture she endured in the hospital.

I cannot speak for her. Maybe she would not have chosen this option, but she was not given the chance. We didn’t know it existed. It makes me angry, because we trusted the medical team.

Guilt 3

Selena was well past menopause when the bleeding first occurred. If we had realized how serious that symptom was, Selena would not have delayed getting imaging. There was a chance to beat the cancer in the early stage, but we missed it.

Guilt 4

It was difficult looking after Selena. I wasn’t sure what to do much of the time. She needed a lot of nursing help, which fell to me. I did it willingly but in great concern. The worry, loss of sleep and constant unknowns regarding if I was doing things correctly broke me down. Looking back, I don’t think I was able to do as good a job for Selena as I would have liked. My frustration would begin to show through. She deserved to experience only the highest level of kindness. She had been a wonderful wife and friend and should have had her dues. I feel very badly. I did the best I could but it wasn’t good enough.


February 5, 2020

When I was young and I had trouble I knew my parents were there to help and support me. After I married Selena, when I didn’t know what to do, she was always there. We supported each other. Now they are all gone. I’m supposed to know how to carry on. But I don’t know. I’m trying but not very well.


February 4, 2020

I went to Saje. They have nice room scents. Sometimes I used to get a little something to make the house environment seem better. When I got there I asked the sales girl, “What does happiness smell like?”

She was flatfooted.

I said, “My wife died. What scent should I use to make me feel happy. I don’t want to feel sad all the time.”

She recommended blends with a lot of citrus, “When I smell lemons, it make me feel rejuvenated,” she said.

So I bought three kinds. On the way out, she said, “I’m so sorry. Can I give you a hug?”

It was the nicest thing to happen all week.


February 3, 2020

For a long time after Selena died I have been questioning my own existence. Why am I still here when she is not? I still have no answer, unlike my character in The Acolytes of the Dead. Today I realized another question for the first time. About three months after Selena was gone I tried to start a new relationship. Relatives warned me to be careful. There are a lot of crazy people out there. I didn’t see it at the time, even though others pointed it out, that three, there is an absurdly short period of time. As the first anniversary of Selena’s passing approaches, I see that now, which leads me to my revelation. Just as I have been questioning my existence, I now question my own sanity. Why was I not able to realize my inappropriate actions? Perhaps it is not the others that are crazy. Maybe it is me. And how could I tell the difference?


February 2, 2020

My family generally leaves me alone. I’m only 55, but to them I’m an old geezer. I try not to be the fifth wheel and drag them down.

It gets awfully lonely, however, without even social media responses. I was told to try meetup.com. I looked it over, but I don’t think it’s my thing.

At least I have my writing.

Sometimes, though, I suddenly get a feeling of being completely exposed and vulnerable, like I can’t do whatever it is I’m trying. Usually this is when I’m traveling somewhere. It can be severe enough that I have to stop, get off the system or get to the roadside. Just sitting it out for a while usually helps.

I think it’s the loneliness.

I didn’t have this problem when Selena was alive.


February 1, 2020

Movies are different now. A few months back, I could not watch any movie that contained a lot of emotion. The extra energy was guaranteed to give me griefbursts. I know I am entitled to them, but even during an action adventure?

Now, it is any kind of romantic or love interest segment that I cannot watch. The worst are movies about young couples starting out. I end up feeling so awful and asking myself why Selena had to leave.

Where is my loving relationship? It’s all done, that’s where it is.


January 31, 2020

I have found that alcohol (two drinks) is helpful in getting in touch with my emotions, if I find I cannot decide how I feel. I suppose it removes the inhibitions.

I have been walking the dog for activity and fresh air. Sometimes that gives me insight.

I know people have been recommending nature. I found nature sounds, like bird song, or gentle water sound is very helpful. In fact, I have come the closest to actually feeling happy when the room is full of ambient birdsong. A strange difference between pure nature sounds and music or ambient I have found, is that two or three sources can be playing in the same room and there is no clash. No conflict at all. I never noticed this before. Now I always have nature sound in the background.


January 30, 2020: Remembrance

What made Selena special?

Background

Selena and I had the same education, studying mathematics in university and in all the same clases, often working together in a group on assignments. We met outside a class on Sets and Numbers, a second year course. I can still remember her wonderful smile and she was so friendly. She was trim and thin, looking so good in her sweatshirt and jeans, quite the figure, but we didn’t go out for three years. When we did I discovered both of us had no previous relationships. Clean slates.

Although I was studying, I chose to focus on Selena and in the future on family, rather than career. She did the same. We both worked, but work was not the objective. Neither of us were info fitness much and we were both perfectly happy to stay home. Travel was nice, but not a requirement.

Her Nature

Maybe because she was a big sister to three younger brothers and she had to help her parents with a language barrier, Selena was intensely loyal. There were times we argued. I’m like a summer thunderstorm. Selena says I’m a bit sensitive and I get angry in a hurry, but after a very short time it all goes away. The sun comes out again and everything is back to normal. I used to worry about this, but to Selena it didn’t matter. She would say it was just an argument and it didn’t mean anything, never changed how she felt about me. Saying this she would flash her bright smile, like a movie star. I was attracted to her like a moth to a flame.

Selena was friendly, generous and gregarious. She had so many friends. It seemed all the friends she ever had through middle school, highschool and university she managed to keep, frequently in contact. Through most of our lives we would go camping with about nine other families. Lots of kids. Good times.

Growing Things

Selena loved growing things in the garden. Likely she learned this from her grandmother, who raised her. There was a backyard garden then and the first words Selena could say were the names of the vegetables, which she proudly recited for her mother. At our own garden, started by my parents forty years earlier, she started her seeds in a greenhouse and had a half acre garden. I planted a small orchard for her of 55 trees. Selena was good in the garden. She was so naturally flexible that she could hunker down all day weeding and it didn’t bother her at all. The garden produce comes on all at once and the huge amount we would distribute to friends and relations. It felt good.

Natural Cook

Selena was a natural cook and the kitchen was a second home, after the garden. She came by her ability quite naturally. At the age of seven, her grandmother, who suffered from arthritis, would give her some money and Selena would walk a few kilometers to the local outdoor market. There she would judge the quality and price of whatever might be available, deciding what and how much she would purchase for the family to eat that day. She had to be sure the change was correct. Then she would carry her purchases home and cook them on a coal stove. The one kitchen was shared by a few families. The stove had no chimney or stove pipe. It was just a short section of pipe with a grill inside to hold the coal and a cleanout at the bottom. Lighting it required tinder and sticks, the coal added on top as the fire grew. The smoke left the kitchen through an open window, even in winter. The walls were permanently black from soot. A wok was placed on top of this stove in which to cook. Selena had to develop the skill of gauging the fire temperature, which was determined by how much coal she had added. Too little and the food would not cook. Too much and it burned. Her story is so similar to the book entitled Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui, that reading that book after Selena’s death brought tears.

Selena never used recipes. She would just as what the ingredients were. That was enough. At supper time, she would often just look in the fridge or cupboard and create something wonderful from whatever she could find. That was how talented she was in the kitchen. I miss her so much. Now, I can hardly go into the kitchen at all. That was her domain. I am no cook at all, my stuff often being inedible.

Now the garden has gone fallow, the fruit trees abandon. No more gastronomic delights arrive from her steaming kitchen. Life is very different now, almost with no point.


January 23, 2020: Memorial at new Grief Group

To quote the pope, “Truth is vital but without love it is unbearable.”

My memorial story starts with remembering that Selena did not like funerals. She preferred to be nice to someone while they were still alive, rather than making extensive tributes after they were gone. Consequently, she had a simple cremation without ceremony. I arranged it all myself.

A week after she had died, a group of her friends visited. They wanted permission to have a service for Selena. Not a funeral, but a memorial. They just wanted some photos or the like from me. They would look after everything else. At first I did not want to agree, recalling Selena’s wishes, but I realized there were friends of hers with more shared history than me and they were hurting too. I relented. My daughter was very upset that these friends were creating the service. I think she was trying to honor her mother’s wishes.

There were around 200 people who attended. I had to endure a lot of poorly thought out sympathy, such as, “she’s in a better place now”, “at least you had her for as long as you did”, “you’re strong, you’ll get through this” all with the unspoken but disturbing second half of the sentence, so don’t feel so bad. At least I did get to honour Selena in my own way. For years I had been writing her poetry. I had one of them read in the service.

I could not bear to put Selena in the cold ground or on some lonely wall. How often would I be able to see her? From Amazon we got a very nice nickel urn, with a finely detailed glaze of turquoise and white. I let my daughter pick it, as a concession for the service. I transferred Selena from the rather plain cardboard box the cemetery provides. The sensation of touching her ashes was strange, almost electric. I was so worried I would spill her. Now she is with me everyday. Sometimes she is with me on the couch watching TV as she used to do in life, other times she is beside me as I write, for company.

This is a poem for Valentine’s Day that I wrote for Selena in 2014 (We were married in 1990).

Winter Snow

The wintry flakes are falling
and my wife's name is 'Snow'.
Which means on every Valentine's
I know I love her so.

For always are her eyes so bright
as diamonds held within,
just like the sunlight's dance upon
the crystals frost does spin.

No rose could ever live
where winter rules the land
but to my darlings lips
its colour would seem bland.

In the brightening days to come
the gentle breezes play
the ice shards in the evergreens
and bring to mind this way

how like the silver bells
her happy laughter seems,
sweetly captivating
in happy couples dreams.

Selena’s real name was “reflection from the snow”. Her mother called her Snow for short.

Thank you for listening.


January 16, 2020: Introduction to new Grief Group

Usually I work from paper, so if you don’t mind, I’ll refer to my notes, rather than try talking off the cuff. If I don’t write it down when I think of it, I won’t have anything to say. Grief has made me forgetful.

My name is Al. I’m 55. I lost my wife Selena last February 23 at 17:24. She was 56. This is my second time in this group. These days I try to write books, since my job disappeared. I used to work in a research and quality assurance aspect of health care. Then Selena and I tried to run an AirBnB cottage in Port Dover. And we had a huge garden at my parents' property in the countryside. I even planted a small orchard for Selena. She loved the garden and orchard. I haven’t been able to keep up with the cottage or the garden all by myself. I had to leave them be. If Selena had lived one more year she would have seen the first few baskets of apples.

Selena died of metastatic endometrial cancer. That’s a cancer of the inner lining of the uterus. Twice her medical team said she was cured. But the cancer always came back. The last time it was in her brain, lungs and liver. There was no more talk of cure. She was palliative. It was the cancer in her lungs that killed her. She suffocated. The ventilator was unable to force any more air into her lungs. It’s a horrible way to die. The whole last month of her life was torture.

Selena was Chinese. The combination of two cultures made life very interesting. I have no friends and only 6 relatives. She had lots of friends and relatives. Her folks still live in my house. They don’t speak English beyond basic niceties. Selena was my interface between languages. When she died I lost 3/4 of my world. Her friends and relatives don’t come around anymore.

When Selena was sick but still able to talk, she told me that in the future she hoped I could find someone to make me happy again. I was shocked. Instead, I came to this group.

The first time through this group was great! Later, I thought I was missing physical touch. I thought it would be good to share with someone. I thought it could be possible to help each other.

There aren’t many people two standard deviations from the mean like me, only about 13 percent of the total who have lost their spouse (the third standard deviation contains only 2 percent). I decided to look for a new relationship anyway.

I was judged and blamed very severely for that by everyone, especially my family. No one thought it was a good idea. They thought I should just stay home. To do what, I don’t know. They never met most of the ladies I tried to get to know, but didn’t like them anyway. They thought I was trying to forget Selena. They thought I should just be strong for my kids. My kids are all grown up. They need me less than I need them.

Eventually I did find someone. She was also 55 and had lost her husband to cancer a few months before I lost Selena. We had a very good relationship for six months. But it was up and down. Looking after her husband had been hard on her and she had barely survived. She never wanted to do anything like that again. That meant no marriage. Ultimately, she decided she wanted infinite freedom and zero responsibility. That meant not having any friends. Now she is learning how to live alone. I don’t know if I can do that or not.

While the relationship lasted, I didn’t have much trouble with grief. It was maybe the best possible distraction. That took up the majority of the time between the last time I was here and now.

It is when I am alone, at night, that my grief ambushes me. This may not be good news. Now I know my grief is still there. Just waiting. But on top of it is the suffering from the lost friends, the judgement and blaming, and the failed relationship. I’m in a worse state than before.

I have nervous problems like IBS, nervous stomach and hypertension. All these were not bad while Selena was alive. Now they are much worse. I went to my physician. She realized Selena had been my support person, the keystone of my arch. With her gone, I had been trying to find a replacement before the arch fell down. She said this was not a good basis for a relationship. First, I needed to learn to stand on my own. I doubt that will be possible.

These problems have been with me since I was a kid. My father died in 2014. I find my grief is extending itself back to him. I can’t listen to the Alhambra without a lot of emotion. Whenever I hear it, I feel he is there in the room with his guitar.

Last time here, I learned of a group called refuge in grief. They run a course called Writing Your Grief. I found the course helpful because I like to write. Afterwards, everyone is part of an online support group. I tried that through the holiday season. If I had a bad night, I could write it out and there would be a response within about 5 minutes. It was not about advice or critique. It was only acknowledgment. That was great, but it wasn’t possible to really know anybody. Most of them were far away. So I stopped participating. I like the face-to-face meeting of this group better.

Love is painful. I’m so sorry you all have to be here, but I am so thankful that you are with me.


January 13, 2020

I have been reading The Stranger in the Woods and the exploration of solitude seemed to resonate with this I found elsewhere.

To Become A Werewolf

Ingredients:

Preparation:

Go to a solitary place, at night, when the moon is new and strong, preferably a desert, the woods or a mountain top.

On perfectly level ground, mark off with the chalk or string a circle with a radius of at least seven feet and inside this, a circle with the radius of three feet.

In the center, boil water in the iron vessel on the iron tripod. As the water boils, throw in handfuls of the three spices, meanwhile entoning:

Spirits from the deep, who never sleep, be kind to me.
Spirits from the grave, without a soul to save, be kind to me.
Spirits of the trees, that grow upon the leaves, be kind to me.
Spirits of the air, foul and black, not fair, be kind to me.
Water spirits hateful, to ships and bathers fateful, be kind to me.
Spirits of earth-bound dead, that glide with noiseless tread, be kind to me.
Spirits of heat and fire, destructive in your lair, be kind to me.
Spirits of cold and ice, patrons of crime and vice, be kind to me.
Wolves, vampires, satyr’s ghosts, elect of all the devilish hosts,
I pray you send hither, send hither, send hither,
The great grey shape that makes men shiver, shiver, shiver!
Come, come, come.

Removing your upper garments, smear your body with the fat of the freshly killed cat, mixed with aniseed, camphor and opium. Bind your loines with the wolf skin, and kneel down within the middle of the smaller circle to await the unknown.

The unknown will appear, or make its presence felt, when the fire burns blue and quickly dies out.


January 11, 2020

My search for Selena takes me to strange new places. It is important to remember that existence is connected to consistency. Existent iff Consistent. There are consistent things we would never think existed, but then, there is a lot of room in infinity.

To Raise the Dead

Ingredients:

Preparation:

Compound the above items and fumigate them about tombs or graves of the dead.

It will cause spirits and ghosts of the dead, to gather together.


January 9, 2020

I am listening to the Alhambra on guitar. My father used to play it. Hearing it now is bittersweet. It reminds me of a time when both my parents were alive and I was young and unattached with only my studies to worry about. At the time I didn’t think my life was idyllic. Strange how time can change one’s perspective. Now it seems so nice to think of how things were, without all this grief. But as I listen, I can hear the pathos in the music, the sorrows of the generation before and before that as well. The same story as mine played out again and again. Will we ever learn a different way? Or is this a universal constant of reality?


January 7, 2020

Took Tuesday evening off. My daughter's birthday. When I got upstairs and looked at the room, I realized there was so much to do. Then I thought, “I have to look after it all. by. myself. There is soooo much I don’t think I can do it.” I wondered why Selena had to go, but then someone has to go first. It’s the ones left behind that suffer longer. Isn’t that right? I don’t want her to suffer.


January 5, 2020

After the holidays, I am feeling very isolated. Everyone is all done with visiting and partying. This is the time of year when Selena was very sick. She went into the hospital for the last time on Jan 16, never to come out again. She died Feb 23. It is hard to believe it was just last year. My grief has taken me on such a long journey, it seems like a million years ago.


January 3, 2020

Previously, I posted that I might have noticed now to carry my grief. Today I feel that observation has managed to slip through my fingers. Has anyone else fallen in this way?

The holidays are over, at last, but that also means everyone has gone back to whatever or wherever. Now the house descends into the dark heavy molasses that January is famous for. Slow motion, slow thinking, nothing happening, it breeds the worst kind of loneliness that exists, filling my head with sadness.

How am I to make good on my former notions? I have met the enemy at it is me.


January 1, 2020

Some have told me I am a different person when I write. I sound different. I think differently.
Has anyone else noticed this in themselves?
It seems to be a different world from that of conversation or face-to-face meeting.


December 31, 2019

This note is not because of the new decade, but I think I am beginning to understand better what Megan Devine has been teaching us in her book “It’s OK that you’re not OK”, although that is only because I am starting to see how I might actually carry my grief.

First I had to really get a handle on what Megan meant about what grief was. I learned love and grief are the same things. The heartache I experienced as a teenager as the result of a crush is a facet of love, but small. After a lifetime with my Selena, her sudden death resulted in something like heartache, but many magnitudes greater. It is still love. So when I see references in other grief groups or books to healing grief or treating grief as a problem to resolve and get over, I can see they are claiming to heal love or treat love as a problem to resolve. When I look at it this way I can see the fallacy. There is no truth there. Who would want to get rid of love?

Megan wants us to learn how to carry our grief, our love, with us. I am finding it is a matter of finding the right way of looking at it, to see the truths that are really there. I had to realize I had not lost the beautiful girl I fell in love with, in my photos. That took a lot of time to stumble over. I had to realize I have had a full life and it is not fair to anyone to try to push the reset button to get back to something I lost, by finding something new. That involved a lot of trying and failing. Maybe I needed to see my daughter get engaged to realize the error. Life goes on. I did the best I could. Now the torch is passed. The issues I thought were so important are not really important after all.

I had thought my Selena would be with me longer. I thought she would make it to within a standard deviation of the mean (80±15years) but she only got to two standard deviations (only 13% of the population is there). That’s sad. So it is truly ok to be sad. That I can carry. When I get sad, I walk the dog, I post to this group. There is solace to be had in self conversation or with the dog.

Selena and I were together for 30 years. When she died I was suddenly by myself again, when I had been blissfully enjoying her company. That is real loneliness, vulnerability and anxiety, a big big problem. This group and my face-to-face grief group offers the kind of group cohesiveness that can overcome this to some extent. Writing also does the same thing, as I assume someone is reading my work. So I write every day. That is a promise I make to myself.

I am not claiming the secret of carrying grief. I am saying I think I can see, through my own struggles, how it might be possible and I have seen a couple of things that seem to help me try.

Just my own reflections.


December 26, 2019

Walked Echo the dog a long way today. I think it is the only thing that truly helps, with a lasting effect.

After much careful consideration, I don't think I am depressed. Just very, very, very sad. That is a constant in my world.

There is so much I could be doing, should be doing. Enough to consume all the time I have left in this world, to eat the time of several lifetimes. How can I deal with it all by myself?

Then I remember again. I'm near the end. I have no plans for the future. None of this matters...Relief! It just doesn't matter. The weight lifts.

Strange. Selena left me so early. She was gone leaving everything and everyone behind. Now everything is gone with a simple thought and only Selena is left to think about and mourn.

It feels right to me, a bit of peace, remembrance. But I know I will soon enough forget this brief calm and return to where I was before.


December 24, 2019

It's cold outside. Dark too. The snow has stopped for now and there is a bit of clearing so the black sky is showing through the whiteish clouds. I just got back from walking Echo the dog. As a husky X she loves this weather. A long lonely section of snowy sidewalk had her straining at the long line, fifty feet ahead. As usual, I had been having a conversation with no one in particular. In the middle of this big open region, I stopped. I could suddenly feel there was no one with me, that Selena was never going to be there again, there was no one at the house waiting for me and no one was around to help. It reminded me. It said, "This is going to be the new normal."


December 23, 2019

In the last few years, Selena went on some trips. There was a nice west coast cruise on one of the Disney ships out of Vancouver. She went with our daughter and her brother’s family. I had to stay home with our son, for school reasons. Then her brother got marries in Las Vegas. Again she went with our daughter and again I could not go because of conflicts with our son’s commitments. The last trip she went on was a girls trip. Her and her friends went to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

I always thought there would be time. It was me that was expected to have a shorter life. Both her grandmothers and her mother had lived long lives without health crises. I thought we had time.

Selena must have felt bad that I had not gone with her on these trips because she was talking about just the two of us going on a very nice cruise somewhere. But she ran out of time. She just ran out. That was it.


December 21, 2019

I have made a conscious decision for the new year. Acknowledgement is the key, right? Maybe it will feel better to say my Selena’s name more often. Someone in the group suggested this already. When a memory is triggered, I intend to speak her name, with the memory. But not in the past tense. I think I would like to use present tense when talking about her. That might feel better, less sad and more fondly.


December 19, 2019

There is a picture on the wall from May 16, 1996. All four of us. Me, my two kids and Selena. I have my daughter on my lap in a big rocking chair. Unknown to the observer, my mother is about to take the picture. Selena comes zooming in from the background with our one year old son and plants him down on my lap just as the picture is taken. Selena is looking up at the camera, intent on getting there in time, a huge smile on her face. That photo contains more life captured in the instant than any of our others. There is so much happy promise there. Her face is just radiant, so beautiful. Just like I remember her. She is so alive and full of energy and motion.

It was hard to look at that picture for a long time after she died. I missed her so much. That picture showed her so well it made the loss too much to take. I could not believe she was gone. I wanted so badly to be with that girl in the picture. Why did I have to lose that wonderful girl?

Eventually, I realized the picture showed me the past, not the present or the future. The version of Selena in the picture lives in the past. She does not exist in the present. The young man she is with (me) also exists in the past. He is not here today. I don’t resemble him in the least.

I must comfort myself knowing when that wonderful girl is in the world, I am with her for every moment of it. I did not lose that girl. She did not lose me either. This is true for all the other pictures I have of Selena. I have not lost that precious lady. We are always together.

Last winter she died. I have no pictures, but I remember how she died while I held her hand, remember staring numbly at the cardiac trace as it slowed down getting fainter and fainter. I know what she looked like, the life gone from her face, laying in the hospital bed and later cold as ice on the gurney of the crematorium. That was the last time I saw her. That was the only version of my Selena I actually lost.

For all the rest, for years and years, all through our youth and middle age I was with her and she with me. I did not lose her then. This is one comfort I have for myself.


December 17, 2019

I have been having trouble with the fact that my friend has reduced our relationship down to being just friends. We had so much more before. I thought I would be ok with things, the way she wanted them, but increasingly I have been pining for what we had.

We finally got around to talking about this. It didn't go well. She thought I understood her, but I didn't understand why she had backed away. I mean, I understood her fear of being beside the hospital bed again, but surely there were other advantages to having a partner around. She had been so happy to have someone with her to go to movies or trips for example. She explained that she had decided it was better for her to learn to live alone. I guess she is right. In her past she hasn't had much use for friends, so I was wondering why she wanted one now. There was no animosity, but she made it clear she wanted infinite freedom and zero responsibility. When I gently pointed out that meant no friends because at least some commitment is needed for a friend, she just agreed. That was the last communication she had with me. There was radio silence to any following texts. As far as I know she has been south somewhere for the winter. She didn't tell me where and never invited me to visit.


December 4, 2019

I am still bothered about the trip. It came up as part of the conversation with my physician, when I had my hypertension re-evaluated for the trip. It seems this trip is rather odd now since it is more for a couple. I explained I had asked my friend if she was happy with me coming on the trip, or if she would feel a bit of relief if I did not go. My friend could not answer, even though I had returned to this question a couple of different times, sure that it must be possible to reply.

In fact, my whole attempt at finding someone at this early point in my grief may be the result of my attempt to replace a critical support person. I have a lot of nervous issues and Selena was key in helping me deal with them.

I finally had to discuss this with my friend, but she surprised me. Before I started, she told me she needed to cancel the trip. She wanted to be a snowbird and buy a senior's condo somewhere warm. She would be flying out shortly to view some places and make a purchase. She refunded my every penny I had placed toward the trip, even the cost of the Visa and the travel clinic, which I really didn't want her to do, but she paid it anyway. She is a generous and kind person.


November 28, 2019

As if our grief were not enough, we have to suffer the loss of so many people we thought would be there for us, cry with us, be supportive when we try to struggle forward with something or anything. But no. They say nothing, turn away or even criticize our best efforts. It's astounding!


November 26, 2019

I am approaching ten months without Selena. I attended a group, but things have not gotten any better. It seems to be true that this is irredeemable grief. I receive no love and find no purpose. Everyday I wonder why I am still here. I have no answer to the question “Why should I not be dead?” For now I continue to play the infinite game where the only objective is to keep playing.

I have recently realized, with the help of my family doctor, that I have even bigger problems from her loss. The nausea, hypertension, nervous behaviour and IBS I have experienced throughout my life had through most of my marriage been minimized by her presence. She had become my way of coping. Now I am finding all those old issues have gotten a lot worse and a new one has appeared, one of general dread.

I miss sharing and touch. My doctor has advised a new relationship is not a good approach. I had been leaning on Selena. She had been the keystone to the arch which is now threatening to collapse. I have to learn how to stand on my own. If I can do that reliably, then maybe I can think about a new relationship. I suspect that since my issues have been present for most of my life, there is little chance of change.

In the meantime, I can say I found distraction to be a very good way to avoid feeling grief. Of course afterwards the grief is still there, waiting.

Being alone, I find the silence and darkness at night to be particularly suffocating. It is too bad that my family is not supportive. They suffer in a different way. I find texting is the best relief. I can text things I could never say properly. In my case, my breakdowns still occur about once a day on average but last a very short time. They are like a summer thunderstorm, with much drama and energy, but quickly are gone. Often there isn't time for help. Maybe when I learn how to stand on my own, I won’t need text support.


November 22, 2019

It was a nice clear day but the sun's rays are slanting. I really don't like the dark in winter. The house gets so quiet and with the dark it feels suffocating.


November 20, 2019

We are only best friends now. She will not tolerate me saying I love her anymore. I don't know what to do about the trip to China. It's still on. But it seems no longer appropriate. It was more of a couples trip. She did so much work setting it up, I don't want to disappoint her by cancelling.

I am in the mall. It is busy. So many sources of potential happiness surge around, but none connect to me. I am a source of some dark repulsive force.

Some come from away to call on me. Old friends of Selena. Perhaps they are honour bound to check on my condition.


November 7, 2019

My friend has gradually decided she is too afraid of further loss after her late husband. She had too hard a time nursing him through the final years. It almost killed her. So she has been gracefully pulling back from our relationship. It's my fault, I think, because I hurt my back and got sick, I looked like my health was failing. I'm sure that's what has scared her away. She is still my good friend and confidant.

Today is bad. It's the day last year I learned Selena's cancer had moved to her brain. I was ok until when I went looking for a scarf, I found a collection of three wonderful wool scarves that Selena had knit. They are so thick and warm. I think I can feel the warmth of her love. I cannot bear to use them. Too precious. I wrapped them carefully in plastic and stored with the quilts, where I found the blanket.

A river begins at my eyes. I'm really no better than last year. I think my mind is broken, like my heart. Can I make it? I don't know. I really don't. There isn't enough strength in existence for this irredeemable grief. I'm so sorry to burden her with this, but there is no one else. Maybe it will pass in an hour or so like a summer storm. I just miss Selena so much. It isn't fair to her, either. Not to anybody. Even me. She is gone and never coming back. I know. But I'm still in the same place, my mind going, my hopes disappearing one by one, outside the darkness gathers. It's telling me not to be foolish. Telling me there is no second chance. Just like my friend said. Everyone is the same I guess. I'm being squeezed for emphasis. So I will learn my lesson, that hope has flown away with Selena.

I've just been fooling myself to think there was any way forward at all. I'm stuck in the aftermath of the disaster. I am able to find some happiness with my friend. But as she points out it is not like starting at the beginning when we were young. If we could, we would go again with the one we lost, right? Always will that disaster still be there. I am thinking it will always be as raw and cruel as the beginning. Might be worse, as my mind amplifies the bad and forgets the good. I am afraid that eventually it will get me. Finally crush me. That's what it wants anyway. I'm just watching the days and nights falling by me, hoping for soft blue horizons, which will likely be revealed as illusory.


October 22, 2019

I haven't been attending the singing or dancing group with my friend for some time because of my back, but it's getting better now. She hasn't invited me to her place, however, which was the jumping off point for most of our activites. I have invited her to my place, but since my daughter and Selena's folks live with me, she won't come. She is playing in a Chinese band nearby but wants to keep the two activites separate, the band and me. The most she will do is stop with her car on the street outside my house and I can go out and chat with her there for a while before she goes off to practice.

Financially, I'm a bit better now. My friend has mentioned she is going on a big trip to China. She will be there from early December to the end of January. This bothers me a lot. I realize it is another bifurcation, just like what happened in the early days with Selena. I can let her go on this long trip and not see her for two months, or I could go with her. I suggested I could go along. She seems very happy with that, and has started selecting sidetrips and activites for us.

I have to get a Visa for China and visit the travel clinic. Getting the Visa should have been easy, but I think it is purposely made difficult for the travel agents to make more money, helping tourists fill out the ridiculous form. My friend didn't know how hard it was. She wishes she had helped me get it. She doesn't need either a Visa or the travel clinic. Lucky her!


October 14, 2019

It's Thanksgiving and I should be glad to have my friend. The problem is my back still hurts and on top of that I have a very bad cold that has been holding on since September. I haven't gone out with her for a long time now. My friend has gone away for the Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted me to stay with family. That seemed right to her. She has gone on a solo road trip into the countryside. Touring small towns and rural areas is something she likes to do, in her little car.

This is a hard time for her since the death date of her husband approached. I feel I should be there, but I don't want to intrude.


September 17, 2019

Haven't seen or heard from my friend since the park disaster. I have been at the garden working very hard and wondering what happened.

Without the presence of my friend, my grief has come back with a vengence. I feel like puff the magic dragon. The house is full of projects of Selena, photos, furniture etc. I can't look at it. Grief attacks have been raining down like cluster bombs. Sleep has eluded me almost every night. I'm so tired. The evenings are just me sitting half the night in a chair. I have to remove all the triggers, but that means carrying out a lot of stuff.

Maybe I worked too hard. I think I hurt my back.

My friend has finally started responding to text messages again. She is coming for a visit to the garden and may stay for a week. How nice! I'm so happy. No more grief attacks. Things are looking up again!

She is very worried about my back, and insisted I use liniment and a kind of treatment device involving small electric shocks. It helped a lot actually. She let me borrow the device, but I have decided to purchase my own.


September 7, 2019

My friend tried to organize a reunion of our grief group. Only one other person showed up in the park. She was very disappointed. This was not something she would usually do and she had tried very hard. She was quite upset. I wish it had worked out better.


August 29, 2019

My friend took me on a three day trip to Niagara Falls. We did all the tourist things that I had not done for many years, like the boat ride and the walk under the falls in the tunnels. We even saw fireworks also from the boat and from the revolving restaurant. That's right. Two different times. We took a lot of pictures. She really enjoyed the revolving restaurant, almost forgetting her meal, as she watched the city slide by and the coloured lighting played on the falls.

She drove her little car. She was so proud of herself. More and more she is learning to do things herself, whereas before her late husband did everything and made all the decisions.


August 26, 2019

Singing group had a special singing in the park day. My friend convinced me to perform with her. She played a mandoline and I played her keyboard. Mostly well-known Chinese folk songs.

Grief continues to be held at bay by this new activity. Nothing has worked better.


August 6, 2019

Went with my friend to see the musical, Come From Away. She really enjoyed it. Me too, but I got more enjoyment from watching her watch the show.


July 26, 2019

My friend took me on a three day bus trip. Very nice. Lots of time with her. No problems with grief.


July 17, 2019

My friend sees a pschotherapist every couple weeks or so. She finds it helpful. They talk about me. I wonder what they say?


July 1, 2019

I am receiving more hassle over my new friend. I know that my future happiness depends on my relationship with her. She is not a replacement for Selena, but she feels like home. I can feel like I am home with her. When I am away, I despair, My problems become amplified to the point they will crush me. With her my overly complicated and demanding life seems remote and unreal. I can forget about it. Therein lies peace of mind, or at least the closest that an old, useless and broke widower like myself can hope to attain.

Our relationship has been going on for a month. This evening she suddenly suggested to go see the Canada Day fireworks. It was a little difficult with the crowds since we were late, but we had a great time and our first contact. She had decided it was ok to hold hands and have a hug. Wonderful!


June 24, 2019

My friend has included me in most of her activites. We are routinely swimming lengths in the pool at her condo and she buys me lunch or supper and it's always very healthy food, mostly vegies with a bit of protein and very little carb. I'm starting to feel healthier already.

Tuesdays we go out for singing. Fridays it is dancing. It's fantastic that this is all at a community centre with a lot of activities for seniors.


June 23, 2019

My friend treated me to an IMAX movie called Apollo 11. We had vegie burgers and salad for dinner, followed by a walk along the lake front. Very nice.

She won't let me pay for anything when we go out, even though I want to.


June 20, 2019

My friend treated me to dinner and a movie at the TIFF Bell Lighthouse, called Mouthpiece. It was on topic for us, since it is about a girl who does the eulogy at her mother's funeral, but she is of two competing minds over it. My friend wanted to see how the heroine handled the issue.

Being with her is such an excellent distraction that I never get a grief attack. At home alone, however, is a different story. So I like being with her.


June 13, 2019

Thursday was the promise of something wonderful. My new friend invited me for a massage and dinner, I could hardly believe it. I was so happy all the rest of the day. To me, Friday really was a date. The night before, I had the butterflies in the stomach, you know? The feeling when something very important is about to happen? Those nervous little stirrings in the pit of the stomach, like before you go on stage. I got up early because I had a long trip to make and didn't want anything to go wrong with travelling. It would be a disaster if I missed the time. It was great that it all worked out.

I never had a massage before. At first, I was tense, but I paid attention to the muscles being worked so I could get them to relax. Strangely, relaxing allowed emotions to come to the surface. Thoughts about my friend and her family, thoughts about Selena. I am convinced that Selena approves of her and has directed me toward her. I think this is why I don't feel guilty in wanting to spend a lot of time with her and allowing myself to feel the attraction. Selena wanted me to be happy again. I think she has blessed us. My friend is special because of that.

Part of the emotion I felt during the massage was a bit of sadness from months ago. Immediately after Selena passed, I didn't want to live anymore. I was so miserable. I had told Selena when she was still alive that I would leave a lamp shining in the window. She should look for the lamp to find me. I would be waiting. The lamp shone day and night for months. I wanted to go with her. But she never came. I imagined it was because of me.

When I thought of how happy she was to see me today I felt even more emotion, but gratitude and happiness. With her, I don't feel the sadness. I feel hopeful and younger. More energetic. I am even willing to drive downtown again.

She has a wonderful condo. Beautiful view over the lake and fine amenities downstairs including a large pool. She's swimming 400 metres a day!

In the time to come I hope we will continue to get to know each other. It has only been a short time, but it feels so right being around her. Like the song, it feels like home. I could easily get very used to being with her.


June 7, 2019 at 10:00: A new friend

An amazing thing has happened. I met a new friend. She is one year younger than Selena and also Chinese. Her husband died of cancer four months before Selena. We met at a grief group and continued communicating by WhatsApp after it finished.

She went on a trip to Newfoundland, sending me pictures frequently. Being a bit shy, there were no selfies, just a reflection purposely captured from a window across a street:) She told me she had been the happiest ever on the trip, just because of my virtual presence. I had erased the loneliness. Isn't that nice? I had a wonderful time too! Even though I wasn’t really there. I think we made each other happy. Happiness is in short supply these days.

She brought me two gifts from Newfoundland, a CD of regional music and a picture book about Signal Hill.

We have been having lots of conversations. I know she is concerned about getting hurt in a relationship. She had such a hard time fighting the cancer with her late husband that she never wants to ever be in a situation like that again and cannot handle being hurt now. I find that completely understandable and I would never want to subject her to that.


June 2, 2019

I suddenly remember this. Selena would often say, “Sounds good!” with an emphasis on the oo and a d like a water drop. Sometimes she would repeat the “good” amplifying the particular pronunciation for emphasis. Funny how little things like this make all the difference. Pleasant detail.


June 1, 2019: Introduction to Grief Alumni group

My named is Al. I’m grieving my wife of 29 years. She died of metastatic endometrial cancer after a four month illness at the age of 56. We met in university as classmates. Coming from different cultures she was my interface to a world I knew nothing about. It was wonderful, but now without her that alternate reality is gone. So I am grieving a loss at many levels and my life now is unrecognizable.


May 31, 2019

Those in Grief know how breakable we truly are. It might not show, or always be present but the damage is there. We speak of sharp pain and cutting edges as though our insides are full of glass shards. Perhaps we should call ourselves the Glass People.


May 30, 2019: What Grief Feels Like To Me

I want to leave this behind so people will know what Grief feels like to me.

Often I hear Grief described as pain. That would not be my description. I had pancreatitis before, so I think I know what pain is and Grief is not anything like that kind of pain.

Thinking carefully about my feelings, I can identify different components present in Grief. Maybe there are four.

Firstly, there is a love sickness, I think the kind one experiences when someone they are enamoured with is either not accessible or has rejected them, except it is exceptionally strong. Maybe many times stronger. This is definitely the love part of it.

Second, there is a powerful sadness, which occurs suddenly and without warning, making all muscles contract and the eyes stream with tears. It lasts only a very short time and then it is gone, but it could be back again in a minute. Often there are three such waves, each a little weaker than the last, like a ringing, or the aftershocks of an earthquake. This is the most dangerous reaction if one is driving.

Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, there is a strong sense of loneliness, like you might experience if you were somewhere all by yourself, without any family or friends. It is strong, but without any sharpness to it and causes depression. It is so significant because it continues for very long spans of time. Seeing happy couples or any single women around makes it worse.

Fourth is actual physical trouble. My memory has gotten suddenly worse. The IBS I used to have is back. The most easily provable reaction is nausea. I could be at a restaurant where Selena and I used to go, and having a nice meal, but if I suddenly recall how we used to go there, my appetite suddenly disappears and I feel slightly sick and nauseated. By carefully avoiding that thought, the sickness goes away and I can finish my meal.

This is, for me, what Grief feels like.


May 23, 2019

Having a lot of trouble with family. They don't like how I am trying to carry my grief or what I'm trying to see if it helps. I think it comes down to the fact that different people have different ways of coping. It's like Megan says, often we think family would be the most supporting in grief and for some families that's true, but it is also very often not the case and then often the worst kinds of behaviour come out.


May 18, 2019

Listened to iTunes Feels like Home and had a lockup. A really strong one. Why? Lasted a good minute. Finally surfaced, exhausted and out of breath, like I had just run a sprint. Had only time to breath a few times and dry my eyes a bit before the next wave rolled in. Not as strong, thankfully. The third was almost nonexistent, the energy mostly spent. These attacks remind me of earthquakes or rogue waves. There is always the first strong one, followed by one of two lesser attacks. Strange.


May 17, 2019

Nope. I went to Papyrus today. Wonderful stationery store! I was really just there to get a card.

They had a sale! Buy one get the second at half price. I got a box of 20 cards with envelopes, the package claiming to support women’s empowerment and leadership by donating some of the proceeds. That meant a second box of the same for the deal. Then I got a box of standard good quality stationery with envelopes and seals, adorned with a bee. And a second box of the same for the deal. So, I feel I am well set, likely for the rest of my life.

Now I just have to write the poem in the card and take it over to her house after mindfulness. I just want to be a good friend.


May 16, 2019

I can’t believe it. I'm getting a hard time about how I am handling the death of Selena. They have questioned the worth of going to a grief group, the value of telling my story and feelings to complete strangers, even those in similar situations who might understand. The same is true for the Writing Your Grief course. I don’t share the writing with them. Perhaps I made a mistake there?

No. Let me tell you. Last week was very good, because I had two dates. I’m just looking for a good female friend. That’s all. Ok, maybe a bit more as an affectionate companion when it is more culturally acceptable.

Yeah, I’m pretty steamed right now.

It was good to have a distraction. Selena pointed out this possibility as a kindness. It is not a kindness others are willing to entertain. They feel it is weird, or too soon. They can’t understand why I would want to do this. They say it would not be comfortable to contemplate the possibility of a second spouse. They explain that these are Selena’s friends so of course they aren't going to be comfortable going out with me. Like it was some form of betrayal.

You know, some look at it like a successful test run. The new lady gets a chance to see my track record. I was all set to send a birthday card. I guess I won’t now. They’ve shut me down. There’s no fool like an old fool.


May 15, 2019

Selena's Birthday! I wrote some special bits for the writing course.

I found this among my notes from late 2017 regarding Selena's total hysterectomy.

I’m sitting in the short stay room waiting for Selena’s surgery to finish. An hour or two ago, the place was full of people, but gradually they have wandered out and now I am all alone. ID 71051 is still in surgery. The realization that it has been a long time gradually sinks in, with an unsettling feeling. The perversity of the universe tends to a maximum, so I must proclaim her dead in order for her to live. She must live. The feeling of aloneness intensifies and with it a distinct note of fear. I rely on her for so much. How will I be able to make decisions? Even going to the garden has become an unpleasant challenge against fear without her accompanying me. Then there are the finances. She does it all, constantly tweaking her stocks. I know nothing about this. In fact, I realize I know nothing at all, but then it doesn’t really matter anymore…


May 14, 2019

These days I like to write. It’s easier than talking. My dark notes seem to help. As I wait for my daughter, I’m eating dumplings at Mother’s Dumplings and recalling how Megan Devine talks about the duality between love and loss. We hazard to love in the knowledge we will loose what we love sometime, whether apologizing to those around our hospital bed or missing those who have gone before.

Selena is gone, but everything comes back to her. I lament her loss everyday. To feel better is not what I want. I wish to go with her. Everyday feelings of confusion bring the world to a halt. Like a chicken missing its head I stumble around looking for the connection to love I used to have. How can these two exist side by side? Love and loss. Happiness and sadness. They contradict each other. Go away and stay at the same time. It’s like holding the One and the Many with the mind at once, maybe for the flicker of an instant like seeing someone in a passing subway car. I have been feeling something is terribly wrong with me. Have I lost my sanity?

But wait, there is truth here. These two things contradict each other. They cannot exist in the same view of reality. So this broken world I inhabit splits apart. One place carries loss. The other holds love. I know they are there. They are like two children. My task in learning to occupy the middle ground in my grief is to learn how to move between the two, visiting each separately, but keeping both of them in my heart forever, denying neither.

I sip my tea, having finished my meal. Perhaps, if I am lucky, the fortune cookie that just arrived will be correct. A routine task will turn into an enchanted adventure. I need it.


May 13, 2019

Watched After Life on Netfilx. I liked the part where they visit the hoarder's house, all full of garbage, dead mice and roaches. The grieving journalist asks him why he hasn't just killed himself. The hoarder replies suicide is to good for him. I should remember that. Maybe I'm still here in order to suffer. That's what I'm supposed to do. Just observe the other happy lives around me and know the life I lost. Just wander the surreal apocalyptic landscape of this life I didn't ask for but am now forced to live. Build myself a hut to live inside this grief.

These days I am careful to check with my kids as to how they are doing. We talk a bit about their Mom. Of course they don’t open up to their Dad. That’s ok. All I can do is ask, right? I ask a lot. Hopefully not too much. In case they prefer something more professional, I have pointed out Gilda's Club and got them each Megan Devine’s book. Don’t know what else I can do.


May 12, 2019

Tonight is really bad. Feeling stupid and guilty. This is actually the worst it has been. I guess there was just a calm before the storm. Very dark thoughts surface from the strange conflict between backward and forward.

I completely break down when I think about pictures of Selena. So why do I feel so driven to find someone? Am I just looking for her? Or am I looking for her replacement? And what a stupid thing to consider. It makes me feel so guilty. I'm disgusted with myself, but feel so hopeless. It’s the loneliness that gets me. I miss her presence.

Looking back I realize what I am doing no longer matters. It is not relevant to anyone. There are big problems coming I can't deal with. The idea that I can help my adult children is ridiculous since I can't help myself. I can't get clear enough to work properly on the novels.

I don't know why I am venting. It's late and I can't sleep. Everyone has their own problems but they keep quiet about them. Why can't I do that? It would always be so much easier to just opt out, you know? I think a lot about that, especially tonight. I guess I know what to do, but I'll likely just keep thinking. For now.


May 8, 2019

A lot has happened. Getting used to going downtown to Gilda's Club, a charity supporting people "touched by cancer", once for adult grief group and again for mindfulness. Helps a little. Got a great audible.ca book called "It's Ok that you're not Ok" by Megan Devine and read by her. Good reader. Lots of expression. Adds meaning to text. Listening to that all the time. Selena's friend seems to be trying to fix me up with some of her single friends. Met a couple of them. Nice people. Artists. I'm really just looking for friendship. Support when I can't carry the pain. A distraction. As such, Wednesday was the first day without a trigger event. All day distraction is the reason. Doesn't fix anything or make pain go away, but helps somehow. One friend is empathic. Seems good? But the risk of burnout is high. That kind of person may not be able to withstand this kind of pain. Trying hard to not overthink and not making any plans. One day at a time. Focusing on Echo and Willow, my two heroines, in the book.


April 22, 2019

Both the ladies I approached have clearly answered they are not interested. I guess that should not be a surprise, but it is, although I appreciate that they were up front about it. One even seems to no longer be comfortable coming to the house without others coming with her. Am I that kind of person? Definitely feels like rejection. University all over again.


April 8, 2019

Selena left a viral meme behind. She said if I could find someone who could make me happy again, then she would be ok with that. I am having a very hard time because I feel the missing physicial touch or at least companionship.

Two of Selena's friends, who have been around a lot while Selena was sick, are single, having never married. I have decided to very carefully reach out to them, one at a time, just to see what it's like.


April 1, 2019: Manifesto

I have been trying to figure out how to move forward, hence this manifesto. It is not my own work, rather it is a collection of excerpts from a Nexflix series called After Life and a book called It's OK that you're not OK by Megan Devine which you can find at refugeingrief.com, which is her website. I assembled the manifesto from bits and pieces and added in my own context. Think of it as my map or toolkit to my new reality. At this point I know I'm being naive, but I don't have the experience yet. There is nothing else to go on, no way to navigate this disaster that is my life.

Excerpts from After Life

I think life is precious because you can’t watch it again. I mean, you can believe in an afterlife if that makes you feel better. It doesn’t mean it’s true. But once you realize you’re not going to be around forever, I think that’s what makes life so magical. One day you’ll eat your last meal, smell your last flower, and hug your friend for the very last time. You might not know it’s the last time, and that’s why you should do everything you love with passion, you know? Treasure the few years you’ve got because that’s all there is.

Some days are good. Am I happy then? Yes. I had the most wonderful life with Selena. And I have all those memories. That’s all we are really, memories. And Selena had a wonderful life too. And she’s not in any pain. Doesn’t even know it’s over. I do. But I’d rather live missing her, than for her to live missing me. That’s how much I love her.

I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t like, I might lose something that bad thing eventually took me to. I shouldn’t regret anything and think well if I went back I might do this or might do that.

Some days are bad and I’m in pain. Even though I’m in pain, it is worth sticking around to make my little corner of the world a better place. That’s all there is.

Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it's yours or not. There’s that lovely thing; society has become great, when old men plant trees, the shade of which they know they will never sit in. Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end. If you are a good person, doing things you want to do, works out to be the same as doing good.

If I am a good person, someone might rather I didn’t kill myself, because they would think it a waste. I may not like living much but I can make the world a better place. And I shouldn’t give up, because then they’ve won and they grow in numbers. Who? The awful people in the world!

It’s not all about me, is it? What about a potential companion? What if a nice date made her feel good? That might feel nice, right? We aren’t just here for ourselves, we’re here for others. All we have are each other. We have to help each other struggle through until we die and then we’re done.

There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves and making everyone else unhappy too. Might as well knock me off for feeling like that. I think that deep down, I still feel life is worth living, it’s still not over for me. I’m in pain. The thing I lost, is the same thing that can stop that pain.

Excerpts from It’s OK that you’re not OK

To feel truly comforted by someone, you need to feel heard in your pain. You need the reality of your loss reflected back to you - not diminished, not diluted. It seems counterintuitive, but true comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away.

Life is call-and-reponse. Things happen, and we absorb and adapt. We respond to what we experience, and that is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The path forward is integration, not betterment.

We have it so deeply ingrained in us that any kind of hardship shouldn’t last more than a couple of months, at most. Anything more than that is considered malingering. As though the loss of someone you love were just a temporary inconvenience, something minor, and surely not something to stay upset over.

In truth, we can hold on to nothing: not the physical world, not feeling states, not even our own thoughts. But love, love we can carry with us. It shifts and changes like a natural force because it is a natural force, yet somehow remains foundation, bedrock, home base. It connects what is now, to what was, to what is to come. It allows us to travel between worlds.

Grief is love left behind. The forms will change, but love itself will never leave. It’s not enough. And it’s everything.


March 28, 2019: A Drop In Time

I have been going through hell adjusting to my new reality. Although many people have been working hard in support, the essence of my problem is intractable. Social services claim the average time to recover from the loss of a spouse is 4 years. Actually, I’m not so sure. My father had still not recovered from my mother’s passing after 15 years. He is gone now. His sister lost her husband 9 years ago. I called her for advice since she is my only relative in the same situation I could talk to. She told me a few helpful things. In honesty, I will never get over Selena’s loss. My aunt still has good and bad days in her grief. Like me, she had also wondered if there was any point to going on. Going out for a walk, it was hard to see the couples strolling hand-in-hand. The worst was losing friends because they now felt awkward around her.

Selena was my first and only love. Her loss has removed a large piece of me, which cannot be replaced by friends or family. It is a strange kind of loneliness that seems to be understood only by those who have experienced it. My aunt understood. At the garden, I was visited by a neighbour who lost her husband four years ago at an early age. She also understood immediately. Her story seems to be happier since she met someone new who had lost his wife at about the same time. They are happy together now.

In truth, I am getting tired of thinking about it. I promised Selena to finish the two books so I will focus on that. Who knows what will happen then.


March 11, 2019: The Aftermath

What I feel is legitimate. What I have experienced is real.

At one point I had mentioned to Selena that maybe I should follow her if she died. I have considered suicide at times in the past, and written about it in a short story called The Acolytes of the Dead in which the hero of the story has tried to end his life through hypothermia, but changes his mind during a bizarre experience with an unknown lifeform in the deep forest. At my question, Selena reproached me energetically. She made me promise that under no circumstances should I consider suicide. I had a responsibility still to support our two kids. Also, she made me promise to finish the last two science fiction books to my Ash Series, called Edge Between Worlds and What’s Your Axiom? Such is my task now.

My Aunt had warned me what was coming. In the initial days after Selena’s death, there would be a lot of activity, a lot of planning and paperwork and many people coming to visit. But later, after everything was finished and people had gone back to their lives as they were before Selena died, then I must watch out. The stillness descends and the gravity of the loss brings its full force to bear in a crushing new reality.

Selena was lucky. Those that go first are always the lucky ones. She had only touched the edge of old age, experiencing just the faintest suggestions. It was enough to tell her youth was gone. To quote an old senior lady in our neighbourhood, who always enjoyed petting Echo our dog since she was no longer able to look after one of her own, “This business of getting old is for the birds!” Although Selena would have liked to see her kids get married and enjoy her grandchildren, she will never have to endure the trials of old age.

Her own mother is still alive but suffers terribly from arthritis in her knees. She barely hobbles around the house, keeping one leg completely straight, as it is too painful to bend. Going out in winter is a big concern, so she spends weeks inside. She does not have a good quality of life. Arthritis runs in the family. If Selena had grown old, that would have been her fate too.

When Selena was ill with cancer, I was there beside her trying to look after her in every way I could, staying beside the bed all night for weeks. Friends may visit for an hour, but they will not do this. There will not be anyone to sit all night beside the hospital bed when my time comes. That is the duty of only a spouse. To love and to cherish in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live. My kids will have other responsibilities of career and family that will take precedence.

It may indeed be an ironic justice. After my own mother died, my father rattled around in the house for 17 years. He lived in a remote area, all alone. After he fell in an attack of low blood sugar outside in the snow and almost froze crawling about in a state of confusion since there was no one around to help, it still took six months in a hospital and senior home for him to pass away. Due to my responsibilities, I was not there to help him. I could not take him home. I did not sit by his bed. He died alone and with the pain of being slowly poisoned by failing kidneys (dialysis was not available in his location). I, too, will be alone in the end. How I failed him, so will I experience in full. My spouse is gone before me and cannot help. But I realize there are worse things than this in store.

They say a couple is really a One, a life shared together. So when they also speak of the other half, of their better half, it is quite understandable. Selena and I were a One such as this. We shared everything, talked about everything, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, as I wrote to her in my little poem Companions.

Companions

The day is gone; It’s getting dark,
but in my mind a little spark
twinkles on with faithful light so true.

The journeys’ long; it’s very lonely.
I only wish my one-and-only
was here tonight to help me make it through.

A loving word; a gentle kiss,
a caring touch; Oh how I miss
the little things that make you dear to me.

But most of all when you’re not here
I really wish that you were near
so we could both enjoy our company!

If it is true that a couple is really a One and each member a half, then in our case Selena was really ¾ and I was ¼. This is true since she handled the interaction with her parents and a large extended family. My family was very small. She also looked after the house, finances, kids and activities, including what we would eat, wear and where we would go. Our celebrated garden was all her motivation. We existed with a substantial component of Chinese culture (a particular collection of habits, language and ways of seeing reality). Since she has left the stage, I lament a profound loss, not only of her but also of myself. I have lost my interface, my mediator. Many aspects of the world have become inaccessible. Lamenting her loss I worry about how I can go forward as only ¼ a person. Nevertheless, she made me promise to persist, finish the story and support our children. I guess life will go on somehow.

At least the days are getting brighter. I find the darkness is the worst. It makes me feel very anxious. The dark seems to have a weight to it, an oppressive smothering nature that drains away all happiness, leaving behind a sense of foreboding doom. That’s when I start to have trouble. I used to be better able to manage. Since Selena has gone, it’s been worse. She gave me all the support I needed just by being there. Without that connection, it is hard to go forward. It makes me feel literally ill when I think about her absence.

That contact, that affectionate companionship is home. It took many years to develop. The early years were all about passion, but that changed slowly with the decades making the reality clearer. It was visible in the way Selena would hold my arm as we walked along the sidewalk. It was there when she huddled against me at night to warm herself. It manifests in the embraces we shared, in the smiles and in the stories. It is deep human contact, more intimate than sex. It is found with an affectionate companion. Without it, we emotionally freeze or we literally die of hopelessness. It is as basic as good nutrition. Everyone needs it, but it is very hard to find. Now that Selena has passed away, I find this loss of contact is my biggest problem.

Perhaps I have a bit of nostalgia for the days when I was dating Selena and she was young and beautiful. I remember clearly the bifurcation point in the future path of our relationship. We had been friends for years but had just recently gone out just once. I had brought her fresh vegetables from our garden and a quart container of ripe apricots. Later I understood the apricots had played a key role for the two of us. Selena had been accepted for graduate school, almost 300 kilometres distant. That meant she would be far away. She had, however, given me her contact information in a casual friendly way before she left. I was not an outgoing person by nature, but I realized I had come to a bifurcation. I could either just do what I had done in the past, which was nothing, and allow Selena to fade away into the past, losing her forever, or I could decide to do something about it. I just had to decide where I stood. I decided I wanted to be part of her world and reached for the phone. After that decision, I called and wrote frequently, travelling to see her when I could, and it paid off. We were engaged about two years later. The take-home message? It is all about making a conscious decision. It was one of the few times I did not just let myself get carried along by life’s flow.

Selena had mentioned once that since our wedding vow would be complete she would want me to be happy with someone. I felt that was unrealistic or at least misleading. My poems always promised love forever, not till death do us part. But considering her comment, friends and family cannot fill the void since it has a physical component. The entry level must be that of a companion as my poem describes. Certainly, Cassie and Kurt would be justified if they felt betrayed. I wish for the days when I was dating Selena and she was young and beautiful, however, I feel I have not that much time remaining and certainly not enough energy to pursue such a notion. It took thirty years for Selena and me to develop our relationship. Besides, when we started I was young and some say handsome and I had money. Now I am old, ugly and broke. Anyone who would think that was a good deal must be crazy or at least as desperate for contact as I am. A lady who has been single all her life would not likely be sufficiently motivated. You know how much it means only when you don’t have it anymore. But even as I write this, I can’t help but hope for something. This is a form of isolation that cannot be seen, friends cannot remove and can be a cold-hearted killer.


March 10, 2019: The Struggle

My wife, Selena Ying-Su Kan, best friend and lover for 30 years, died on a Saturday at 17:24 EST, February 23, 2019, at the age of 56 of metastatic endometrial cancer.

When she died, I had been holding her hand at the hospital intensive care bed. Her eyes were open, looking at me, as she fought her cancer in her lungs for each breath, even though her ventilator was working hard to help. The attending physician came in and there was confusion over what the family wishes were regarding Selena’s care. We did not want her to suffer and were prepared to accept the medical team’s best professional recommendations. Selena was receiving substantial pain killers. Between that and the intubation, it was not possible to have a reliable connection with the mind trapped inside, but perhaps she was able to listen, although it had been a week since she had known who I was. The physician recommended removing the breathing tube, which would likely result in Selena passing away relatively quickly. I had been assured that in such action there would be time to assemble the family. I explained everyone had gone home since it was 5 pm on a Saturday most having spent the day visiting in the waiting room. The physician countered by suggesting that I specify a time the next day at which the extubation would occur. At that moment, I noticed Selena had shut her eyes and was no longer trying to breathe. Even the ventilator was not making progress in forcing air into her destroyed lungs. She must have heard the physician pressuring me to remove the tube and planning to do it the next day and so she had decided to go herself, under her own power and on her own terms. Since she was palliative at this point and since cancer had ravaged her lungs and brain, it had been decided CPR would not be attempted. It would not have been effective and an assault on her body. The physician went to the ventilator to adjust it, but Selena’s heart rate began to slow gradually from about 150, down through 100, then 80, the trace of the beats losing amplitude and frequency gradually, like a flywheel spinning down, through 60, then 40, then 30 and fading away to a flat trace. She was pronounced dead at 17:54. Her death was graceful and calm, without struggle or discomfort. I was so proud of her. She had mercifully spared us from making that awful decision of ending her life. I called the family back and waited while the tubes were removed and she was made ready for a brief viewing before being taken to the morgue to await the funeral director. I identified her the next day at the crematorium, bringing along some clothing since she had nothing from the hospital. After she was made ready, five of us saw her one last time before she was sealed into her box. A few days later she was cremated and placed in an urn. She is at home with us where she can see her family, with me as I work or sometimes as I watch television, just as she spent much of her life. Perhaps when I am in my urn, we can both find a permanent resting place.

Looking back on our life, I am struck by the utility of the two year time interval. Two years was enough for us to go from the first date to being head over heels in love. Then it was also enough to contain our engagement and marriage. We were a new couple for two years before getting pregnant. In another two years, the second baby came. Both my parents went from hail and hearty to dead within two-year intervals. Even Selena herself, two years before her death, was not affected by cancer. It seems that we are portioned out life in two-year increments. For myself, I wonder what two years will bring. Perhaps I will have joined Selena by then.

In our twenties, thirties and forties, our relationship was close, warm and passionate. Selena was trim, attractive, a good lover, soulmate and excellent mother. She gave birth to our two children without the need for any surgical procedures or significant pain management. Selena commented years later that she would have preferred a larger family. She was the very model of a good wife and mother; capable, supportive and absolutely loyal. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

She stayed home to raise our children. Our house was simple as was our lifestyle, but she never complained. We talked about everything. Selena was a big sister to three younger brothers and was key to her parents being able to function in Canada. As a result, she looked after everything, all household matters, the finances and action decisions. Myself, I would have had difficulty with many decisions and experienced extreme anxiety due to self-doubt, but since we worked it all out together and decided together we each gave the other support and confidence enough to carry on. This realization was built into one of my poems to Selena, called MidWinter Secrets.

MidWinter Secrets

In each year’s darkest time,
I like to come to you in rhyme
and staring deep into the fire
the next year’s future to conspire.
So come and have a Christmas hug
and hot spiced grape juice for your mug
and let me tell you in my way
some special secrets on this day.

Past twenty years did we engage
and almost that for our marriage.
I hope that you appreciate
the fact that you’re a wonderful mate.
I love you even more today
and always with you, I will stay!

It will never be our fate
to ever need to separate
or ever venture in the lair
of those who wish for an affair
for of these things all should beware
and never think them to be fair.

We must avoid the viral meme
innocuous though they seem!

It should be true of every couple
that they try to keep love supple.
Our love has helped us to create
the best way to rejuvenate.

If spirits watch us from above
they will see we are in love
which wraps around us like a glove
and whispers softly as a dove.

If one is sliding on a slope
and falling down without a hope
the other throws the one a rope
and thus together do we cope.

We think our love like sweetest song
that always in our mind is strong
compelling us to dance along
no matter what is going on!

Since both of us are so aligned
that after writing this I find
its only purpose to remind
in ways both gentle and so kind
of our love’s secret power to bind
though others to this truth are blind.

She might have had me wrapped around her little finger, but I loved her so much, I was more than happy to follow her direction, and said as much in a song to her called Luna Amour, to the tune of the traditional Canadian folk song “Les Voyageurs De La Catineau”.

Luna Amor

O my true love is a beauty
and she loves me day and night.
And she smiles at me so sweetly
that I know I must be right!

chorus:
When she wraps me around her finger
then I’d rather say it’s fine,
cause I love her for forever.
She’s my lovely valentine.

When the evenin’ light is fallin’
and I walk that weary mile,
at the door, she’s waitin’ for me
with a tender hug and smile.

Now our youngsters, they have grown
so they need us not so bad.
So there’s time to go a-courtin’
like the old times that we had.

By age 45, Selena was in menopause and things slowed down, transitioning into the next phase of life. She handled it well, without problems. I thought she would last for decades like her mother and grandmother. I was wrong.

Selena began complaining of stomach discomfort at some point. Investigations found nothing wrong. There were a few medium-sized gallstones but without inflammation. Her gallbladder was removed as a precaution. Although the surgery was quite successful, Selena took a long time to recover. It was years before she was back to tending her garden like she used to. The pains came back eventually. We thought this was already bad and it caused a lot of worries. We had no idea how bad things were going to get.

In the summer of 2017, Selena experienced bleeding. This should always be considered a red flag in postmenopausal women. She should have been more aggressive in investigating the source. Eventually, an ultrasound found a 1.9cm mass on the inner wall of her uterus. A biopsy identified endometrial cancer at grade level 2. On November 3, 2017, Selena endured a total hysterectomy. Pathology reported her cancer as at stage 1, well contained and low risk. Confidence was very high that her cancer had been cured and since all the sentinel lymph nodes were clear, radiation or chemotherapy was not indicated. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The relief was premature. In April 2018 the breeding returned with some pain as well. The surgery was inspected and found to be sound. It took time to find the small 5mm polyp which was causing the problem. A biopsy identified it as the same endometrial cancer. It was decided that brachytherapy and beam radiation should be more than enough to cure this recurrence. By July 2018, Selena’s course in radiation was finished after 25 sessions in the beam and 6 sessions of brachytherapy. It took half the summer away. Again, it was expected the cancer was cured and I again breathed a sigh of relief. It was not to be.

In October 2018, she did not realize she had four months left to live as she walked with her friends along the beach boardwalk, coffees in hand, as part of a day out. She seemed hail, healthy and happy.

On November 7, 2018, Selena visited the hospital emergency complaining of right-hand weakness. She thought it was a problem with the nerve in her arm, but a CT of her brain revealed 7 or 8 cancerous lesions. Her medical team strongly advised focused radiation treatment immediately. There was no more talk of a cure. There was only treatment, which would slow the progress of her cancer. Selena, however, was more afraid of the treatment than the disease. In the abstract, she felt it preferable to not treat her cancer and just pass away naturally. Her team warner her that without treatment she would have about three months to live. With treatment, she might be able to get a year. Selena did not refuse treatment but wanted to think about it. That was a mistake. She was on a steroid to prevent her brain from swelling, but we did not realize it would cause extreme muscle wasting and leave her with a bad lung infection by a fungus.

On November 25, 2018, Selena had a focal seizure of her right arm. It really scared us. I contacted her medical team and they immediately gave us an antiseizure drug. On December 3, 2018, the next day after a pleasant lunch with our son and his girlfriend, Selena refused to get up in the morning. By 2 pm, she was vomiting. Since she had taken no food or drink and had not taken her pills, which we had been told could not be interrupted, we were forced to admit her to the hospital. At this point, she could barely walk, her right leg being almost useless. She was there for a week. I stayed with her day and night, going home only to shower and get a change of clothes. There were useful things I could do, like helping her to the washroom, getting her water, making sure she swallowed her pills, arranging her blankets and getting the nurse if she needed it.

The oncology ward was a nightmare. Many of the patients were demented. The air was full of moans and calls for help, with occasional shrieks of pain. I would have expected such from the Inferno. Since Selena was faced with what were now very severe symptoms, she became more concerned about the disease than the treatment. Our kids convinced her to try it. After some imaging for planning, on December 13, 2018, Selena started brain radiation as an outpatient from home. Only five sessions were needed. Then she was at home to recover presumably for 6 weeks, over which the steroid dose would be tapered to zero.

It was a hard time. I realized Selena had almost no muscle left to her arms and legs. She needed to eat to rebuild herself from the steroid. I cursed the fact that we had lost three weeks between starting the steroid and the radiation to her brain. We needed that time back. Selena didn’t have much appetite. I had to find things that she would eat. Usually, she liked the soup, but sometimes she had cravings for junk food, like fries and gravy. She needed to keep her methionine intake low to keep her cancer in check and the junk food didn’t help.

We didn’t go to the family Christmas gathering. I had to help her to stand. She needed me to dress her and almost carry her up and down the stairs in the house between the bedroom on the second floor and the living room on the first floor. I gave her showers in the morning because by the evening she would be too tired. Her appetite ebbed away and she was eating very little and losing weight. It was frustrating for me. I told her over and over that she needed to eat in order to get better, but she said she could not taste the food. I guess that was the radiation. I admit on many occasions to pushing her so much to eat something that we would get into a big argument. I regret this as in retrospect she had no hope of recovery. I should have just kept her comfortable.

She started to develop a huffing kind of cough. There wasn’t enough muscle left to her diaphragm and ribcage to cough properly. I didn’t know the steroid had allowed a fungus to invade her lungs. It got so bad I phoned her medical team who recommended imaging her lungs. We went to the hospital for imaging and expected to go home for dinner. She never left the hospital again. On January 16, 2019, Selena was admitted to the oncology ward once more, for shortness of breath. I again spent all my time with her and slept each night in a chair. Her blood oxygen level was low, so she was given oxygen. She also had an IV through which she was given several antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals to treat her form of fungal pneumonia. Selena usually gets cold sores when her resistance is down. Since the steroid had suppressed her immune system the virus came out to play with a vengeance. She had terrible sores on her lips and nose. Her appetite continued to be poor. Usually, she could be convinced to eat two egg yolks in the morning, but generally nothing else. She was just skin and bone.

On January 26, 2019, while the family was visiting, Selena needed to be intubated since her blood oxygen level could not be raised above 89%. Her team wanted it closer to 93%. This required leaving the oncology ward and entering the intensive care ward, ICU. It was so sudden I was taken by surprise. I was not prepared to lose my communication with her.

In retrospect, Selena and I needed to have some conversations which we never had. One time back home, when she was very sick and after I had carried her up to the bed, she must have been feeling she would die soon. She told me that in the future if I found someone who could make me happy again, she would be ok with that. I think she was just being kind, just wanting me to find happiness out of the sadness after she was gone. As an abstract idea, I didn’t like it. I just deflected the conversation. Later as she got sicker there were three occasions when Selena said to me, “I am so sorry. I am so very sorry, Al.” I wasn’t prepared, so I said nothing or told her not to be silly. That was very wrong of me. We should have talked about this, but I was not willing at the time to admit to her coming death. I couldn’t talk about it with her. To do so would seem to be giving up. I regret this so much today. It eats me up like an acid. We had always talked, but I couldn’t do it about this. I should have. I lost the chance and now it is gone. There is so much I now know I needed to say, to tell her I still loved her as much as before and given her the all-important chance to reply.

I am torn by what she must have been feeling. Fear? Despair? Loss? Loneliness? Compassion? She must have known she was dying. She would know she was going to lose me, just as I would lose her. Perhaps she was not able to truly face this herself. Maybe she needed someone to help coax her feelings to the surface, to talk about them. I could have, should have helped her, but to verbalize losing her was too painful for me. I couldn’t do it. Selena’s Aunt had told me I needed to be strong for the family. I wasn’t strong enough.

Selena would never be able to talk with us again. She could only blink, nod, shrug and squeeze with her left hand. The best I could do was tell her repeatedly that she was good, that I loved her. If she was not too drugged out, she would respond with her characteristic two quick nods, which had so captured my heart in the past. But I could not bear to tell her I would miss her when she was gone.

Selena’s right side was useless. The nurses in the ICU were in a one-to-one ratio with patients. They did everything and I could not stay at the bedside all night. Frequently I would be asked to leave for the waiting room to allow the nurse to perform a service. So, I started going home at night to sleep. Although it felt like abandonment I had to admit to being stretched to the breaking point. My health was ready to fail, even though I ate good, fresh and healthy food at the cafeteria. At least in the ICU Selena had a feeding tube to receive regular nutrition. Meanwhile, imaging was tracking the condition of her lungs and brain. Various masses had been found in and around her lungs and a biopsy was needed to determine which chemotherapy treatment might help. Selena seemed to improve enough through her medication that the biopsy was done through the tube on the evening of February 1, 2019, and she was extubated with the intention that she might recover and be able to talk again. She did not improve. The upper lobe of her right lung collapsed and she required reintubation on the morning of February 2, 2019.

More images lead to an attempt to reopen the right lung by irradiating the mass which seemed to be blocking it. Also, since the original brain radiation treatment, the brain lesions were growing back, together with new lesions. On February 5, 2019, Selena began 5 sessions of radiation to her lung and whole brain as a palliative effort. At this point, she had lost a lot of weight. I think the brain radiation may have affected her cognition severely as she began having trouble realizing who I was. The last poem I wrote for her was not a poem, just measured lines capturing a moment. I wrote it for Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2019. It was called The Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room

I sit here at my post.

Sentry to Nature’s whimsy.
Ready to report on yah or nay.

This place is like a station.
Perhaps we expect a train,
others around so absorbed,
the locale a waiting room.

The track being close at hand,
to left and right,
we wonder when the schedule says it comes,
but fervently hope it will be late.

The train must come, we are resigned.
Maybe not now or tomorrow,
just as “soon” could be years.
On that day we are scattered like dry papers or leaves
and those behind will gather what they can,
and ask aloud the question “What?” or “Why?”
to fast retreating lights that blink no reply.

The last time I felt Selena was lucid with me was February 15, 2019. The staff physician had been pushing to remove the breathing tube. He felt Selena might be able to breathe on her own, but if she did not do well, he recommended she not be reintubated. He called it one-way extubation. This sounded to me like killing Selena. I could not agree. Later I asked Selena directly. I told her she was doing well on the ventilator, that it was really only helping a little bit. Maybe they would take the tube out to see how she handled it. Perhaps she would do well, but perhaps not. I asked her if it happened that she could not do well, did she want the tube put back? She had been watching me closely all this time, her eyes tracking my face. I am sure she knew it was me. To my question, she replied almost immediately and vigorously with nodding. She wanted the tube put back if there was trouble. She was not ready to die. She still wanted to fight. I took this news to the physician. He was skeptical that Selena had been that lucid, but decided to respect her wishes. I did give him a concession, however, that if Selena’s heart should stop, it should not be restarted by CPR since her lungs and brain were basically ruined by cancer. That still seemed an abstraction to me. There was no more talk of extubation for a week.

As Selena continued to worsen and the brain lesions grew, she could no longer answer such complicated questions. Eventually, she ceased to know who I was. This was a blessing, in a way, since it meant she was letting me off the hook. There would be no difference to her if I was looking after her, a nurse or someone off the street. She would not know the difference. As her cancer progressed Selena began to experience considerable discomfort. She would suddenly open her eyes and grab the bed rail. She would swing her head rapidly right and left with an expression of fear as she seemed to cough against the machine. It was like she was choking. The nurse would come and suction a tablespoon of bloody mucus from her lungs, by running a smaller tube down her breathing tube. The suctioning itself was an irritation to her lungs, and so could not be done too frequently. I told the physician that we were more concerned with Selena’s level of comfort rather than the possibility of interacting with her since she did not seem too lucid at the best of times now. Selena’s pain medication was increased from 0.1mg/h of hydromorphone to 0.3mg/h. That seemed to help stop the panic attacks as her lungs became increasingly obstructed.

The problem now was that staying on the ventilator was bringing Selena closer and closer to the nasty condition of experiencing her lungs failing, which I had been advised was particularly horrendous. The extended family, including myself, could not bear to vote for just removing the breathing tube. Instead, we easily agreed Selena should not suffer. This result I brought to the physician and told him it meant he could do what he thought best in his professional judgment, but Selena should not suffer. To keep her comfortable, the drugs were ramped up as needed. In the end, she was getting 1mg/h of hydromorphone, ten times the dose she had originally received. Selena died on February 23, 2019. Her pain is over, but mine continues.

Na Laetha Geal m'Oige by Enya.

The translated lyrics are here.



Are you here because someone has died?

I'm here because someone has died.

I can't find you,
but maybe you can find me.
My address is albert dot henry dot tyson at gmail dot com
(against web robots).
Come sit by the fire.
You're welcome.