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When A Good Man Goes To War


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Dear Friends,

I have been absent for quite a while. I've had a lot on my plate that needed to get done. Some of it was physical, but some of it was emotional and mental as well.

I am now two-thirds of the way through the Dana-Farber online grief trial. It has required a great deal of focus and energy. The first third was fairly easy because it focussed on things I was already doing. It was mainly about self-care: getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods at healthy intervals--those kinds of things.

The second third, which I finished tonight, has focussed on re-establishing social connections and dealing with things like avoidance and negative emotions. Some of those have required far more energy than I expected. Others have required me to get out and be with people in the real world--a thing that has consumed much more time than I think we generally imagine. And the amount of energy some of those things take is substantial. Worse have been the exercises dealing with avoidance. I gradually came to realize there were lots of little things I was avoiding that I needed to stop doing. For example, we used to walk down along the Taunton River with some frequency. Sometimes we would just sit there in the afternoon and watch the kids learning to sail. It came to me that I had not walked down there--had, in fact, gone out of my way to avoid driving down in that direction--since Jane died. I needed to reclaim that space for myself--and the only way to do that was to go down there and confront those demons.

This is all further complicated by the fact my "firsts" are nearly all huddled in this last third of the year. Our anniversary was September 2, for example. I thought I was ready for that--and likely if it had been all that was there I probably would have been. But I got blind-sided by some firsts I did not see coming. August 16 was the day we got the official diagnosis. The 23rd was the day the local oncology center essentially told us there was nothing they could do for us and that we would have to go to Boston. Friday was the anniversary of our first trip to Dana-Farber as well as the nine month anniversary the day they told us in the hospital that there was nothing more they could do. Saturday was the nine month anniversary of her death. Next Friday is the day we learned how badly her heart had been damaged by the excess serotonin flowing out of her liver. That was the day she told me she thought she had no chance and I told her with the people we had on this team I thought her chances--while not good--were better than no chance--though I didn't put the number myself at better than 10 percent.

But this time has not all been about grief and dealing with it. We launched walkingwithjane.org on September 2 just about 11 p.m.--a mere 11 hours behind schedule. I have talked to a lawyer about my will and about setting up a not-for-profit foundation to channel money into research into neuroendocrine cancer at Dana-Farber. I have raised just over $3500 through the Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk that will all be going into NEC research. I have set up the writing of a package for newspaper articles for International Neuroendocrine Tumor Awareness Day. I have begun the planning for what I hope will eventually become a national event set in malls across the country to raise awareness about the disease.

And yes, I know that sounds like a lot--like I am not only burning the candle at both ends but in the middle as well. But I am sleeping 7-8 hours every night--often without waking up in the middle. I am getting a walk in every day--and I'd better if I am going to cover 26 miles 385 yards next Sunday--and doing my stretching and leg lifts and sit-ups. I am going out for coffee and the occasional meal with friends and former students. And otherwise making sure I eat three healthy meals every day and stay hydrated on top of that. The housework is often a little behind, but I can get the car in the garage--OK Irene forced that one on me--and the place is less of a firetrap than it once was. Still a ways to go in cleaning out closets--the big avoidance thing I am trying to work toward but am not ready to deal with just yet.

Have I made progress? Yes. But I have given some of that progress back this week. As people here say with some frequency, two steps forward one step back sometimes. The grief wave this week has been bigger than I have seen recently. But when I look at it logically--given everything emotional in these two weeks--and never mind all the 9-11 stuff that everyone throws in my face this week--I would be more worried if I were not going backwards a little bit.

(And I don't know about your neighborhood, but the commercialization of 9-11 I am seeing locally is really distasteful. Even full immersion baptism would not wash away the slimy feeling I feel when I see this stuff in front of me...no offense intended to the truly religious here--but that is how evil some of this stuff seems to me--come on, a Budweiser ad that centers on 9-11 that ends with their logo and "drink responsibly?" Or a display of red, white and blue flower bouquets in the local supermarket with some bit of jingoistic nonsense as a tag line? Or today's football games--and all the commentators bragging on how football stitched us all back together again after the tragedy. Right. Sure it did. Just like golf requires heroic actions. Bloody bread and circuses to take our minds off reality. Damn it, I have had--and currently have--students over there--and I worry about them every day.. We lost a woman in our community on one of the flights. I spent the whole day trying to hold kids sanity together that day, Jane and I both did--putting our emotions in a box until we got home and could safely let them out. You want an unsung group of people from that day--teachers across this country had to hold their own feelings together so they could help kids deal with the trauma of those planes crashing into those buildings. We do that every time there is a national tragedy. It is not, many folks beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding, a job that just anyone can do. OK, climbing off my soap box now.)

So there you are. The good man has gone to war against the thing that killed his wife. As one of my students wrote to another earlier this summer, "If I were this cancer, I would be very afraid." I will keep working through my grief. I will not let it trap me except to the extent the grief waves are beyond my control. And even those I will patiently ride out, knowing they will not last forever. I will, as Jane said constantly, keep moving forward. There are people who need me--who need us--and I will not fail them, her or me. That means taking care of myself--eating right, exercising right, sleeping right--because I am no good to anyone if I am not healthy in mind and body and spirit. But it also means taking the necessary risks that life requires. Just because we have been wounded by grief does not mean we have a built-in excuse to take the rest of our lives off. To paraphrase Tennyson's Ulysses: Age and grief have wounded us, but while much is taken, much remains. There is yet some noble work that can be done. And to steal from the parable and Milton, I am possessed of talents that were death to hide. Better to lose those talents in the risks of the work than to bury them to hand them back whole and die for foolishness.

I know that ultimately I cannot defeat death. But I can try to remove some arrows from his quiver--slip into his house at night and dull the blade of his scythe--perhaps steal the thing and hide it from him for a time. As a character from one of my favorite plays--Red Noses, a musical comedy about the bubonic plague in Europe in the Middle Ages--says, "When Death comes looking for you, don't go easily--fight dirty." I refuse to die while I am still alive. I am not a follower of life. I am not a follower of death. I am not merely passing through life to death. I am not just hanging around waiting to die. I have lived--Jane lived--as a person fully alive. My grief has disturbed that living for a time. it may disturb it again from time to time. But even in grief I never quite entirely forget that I am alive in that moment--that even grieving is living if we do not let it kill us. There are things this grief will teach us that we can learn no other way.

So we have to embrace grief in the same way we embrace joy. It is a part of who we are. But it is only a part. We forget either of those things at our peril.

Peace,

Harry

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Harry, so good to see your post, which leaves me in tears and speechless. You are really doing the work, honoring and embracing your grief as you also honor and embrace your life and Jane's. She is smiling, I am sure. As you move into this difficult time of your year, you will be in my thoughts and prayers. I checked out your new website and will make a donation when I am more wide awake than I am at this moment.

It will be 18 months since Bill died....September 27....and I am pretty close to a final decision to pursue certification in grief counseling...adding that foundation in this specific area to my license and to my many years of experience as a therapist and now as a spouse committed to dealing appropriately with my grief and loss. My way of helping those who grieve, honoring Bill's memory and doing my part to change the way we deal with grief in our country.

Embracing my grief, working through it and walking through it as I also choose a way to make my life meaningful is my goal. It is also yours...I honor your trek. Carry on! Remove those quivers....

Peace,

Mary

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Dear Mary,

If i could remove whole quivers...

But I'll settle for the few arrows i may have the time and skill to pluck.

Wish you were closer to hand. Your experience will make you a gift to the widows and widowers lucky enough to have you available.

Peace,

Harry

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I truly believe you can get rid of some of those quivers also.... :)

Each of us walks our path as we also grieve....priorities have shifted in all of our lives.

Peace,

Mary

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Harry,

It is good to see you back on. Even though we talk often, I still get chills when I read your posts.

I agree with you about commercialism about 9/11. I never gave a thought about how hard the teachers job was on that day. Keeping it together, and to keep the kids from panic on that day. You teachers did a huge job, that we have not heard much about. Great job, Harry and Jane!!

I am feeling much better, and not letting the grass, grow under my feet. Yesterday, after church service, by the way the first one I have been able to attend in 3 weeks, I tried out for the choir, and made it, as a tenor. I thought I was going to pass out a few times, but the head of the choir said that means you are doing things right. When I got home from the 2 hour practice, I slept for about 3 hours. She really put us through the paces, to see who would be good enough to make it or not. So this was a goal for me. I control the grief, not the grief controlling me.

Harry I wish you the best possible out come in everything you are involved in. You are a great friend, that I respect very much. Thank you for all your help and wisdom you have given me

God Bless

Dwayne

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