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Reclaiming November And December Three Years Later

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Dear friends,

I have learned to hate November and December—two months I once loved. They mark, now, the end of life as I knew it and loved it.

I have reclaimed much of the rest of the year. There is a piece of August that is still difficult—and the tsunamis of grief can still hit me at any time just from hearing a particular song or driving by a particular place that contains memories that are still too strong for me.

But none of those times are like those first months after Jane’s death—except for November and December. They are, if anything, worse this year than they have ever been. The tears descend without warning. The silence in the house is the silence of that December night three years ago when I came home to sleep alone, knowing she would never be physically present again. At night, I cannot sleep. When I do, there are nightmares. And in the morning, getting up is a struggle. There was one day last week I just didn’t bother.

That scared me—it still does. My mind and body both seem entirely out of sync with the world. Periodically, I just scream at the top of my lungs. There are no words in that scream. It is just an inarticulate animal howl that echoes through the house and fills the silence. I feel better afterwards—sometimes better than I do after an hour of crying.

Part of this is my own fault this year. I am tired of grief—sick to death of it, truth be told. I want these months back. So I have embraced every grievous thing about them: the silence, the pain, and the death. I have relived each moment, treasured it, embraced it, and said good-bye to it. This life is not the one Jane wanted for me—this endless pain and grief. But moving forward has been so hard—remains so hard—that I despair sometimes of ever getting beyond it. So I will put up the full tree this year and decorate the house—both inside and out. I’m not sure I am truly ready for it, but the time has come to try to reclaim what remains of my life.

My insistence on fighting this disease has made this hard as well. Every day I am reading about the cancer that killed Jane—and that she killed with her death because it was—and remains—the only way to kill it. Every day, I am talking to people about it, writing about it, making videos about it, doing interviews about it, writing stories about it, raising money for it, encountering people who have it or are working on it. It is like being in constant contact with the entity that raped you and destroyed everything you liked about yourself—and doing so voluntarily in the hope that you can kill it before it kills again.

Throughout the year that work is emotionally difficult. This time of year it feels impossible some days.

But at the end of every day I remember that 33 more people died of that form of cancer that day—just as they did yesterday and just as they will do tomorrow. I can’t stop their deaths any more than I could stop Jane’s. Part of me wonders why I try—why I don’t just let it go and let someone else do it. That part does not understand the part of me that will not—cannot—let the effort go. It does not understand the concept of “the good of the many…” It knows only that it hurts and wants the pain to go away.

The outside world knows none of this. Even my closest friends have no idea. They see the public me. I smile, I laugh, I say all the right things at all the right times—or try to. I write about what I am experiencing, but it is all in analytical terms and tones that let people believe I am dealing with all of it well. People tell me I am strong and brave—that I am having an impact on their lives and the lives of others. That last bit may be true, but I do not feel very strong or very brave—especially not lately when all I want to do is pull the covers over my head and hide—or better still, sleep and live in a fantasy world where Jane never died and sleeps every night in my arms.

I woke up a couple of weeks ago hugging the quilt on her side of the bed as if it were she. I cannot describe my disappointment when I realized it was only the quilt—the quilt I bought more than a year after she died and that was devoid of even the scent of her.

I want my life back. I want to see the world through some other lens than grief or my memories of her last days. But the life I had is no longer available; it lies in a narrow vault beneath a headstone where my wife’s body lies. I cannot resurrect it anywhere other than in memory—and to do so is to live in the eternal past—a place I cannot change or influence in any way. So long as I live in that past the only lens available is the lens of grief.

Later today I will put up a new Christmas tree—not the one Jane and I put up each year, nor the one I bought after she died so I could keep my promise that I would put up a tree—but a new tree that will hold both the ornaments of our past and the new lights of my own future. This week I will decorate the outside of the house, outlining it in light and color in the hope that while this Christmas may not be entirely merry for me, at least it will be bright.

This weekend I went to a play. It was a comedy featuring an old friend. We talked afterward. His last several plays—both as an actor and as a director--have been tragedies. It felt good, he said, to really be able to laugh again—and to hear an audience wholeheartedly laugh again.

I’d like to be done with tragedy for a while. But my life is not a play. My father is old and increasingly frail. My father-in-law has increasing trouble with stairs and getting out of chairs. He feels, as he says, “All used up.” I have a friend fighting a serious recurrence of breast cancer and another whose father is in chemo for his second bout with colon cancer. I have another friend who just lost her baby to a serious birth defect and is in that stage in grief that is inconsolable.

Someone told me recently being surrounded by these kinds of tragedies has to do with being the age I am—and that may be true. But there is no comfort in that statement—just an acknowledgement of the facts as we know them.

Life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. I have been too long focused on the great sorrow of my life. I need to find again the simple joys of baking Christmas cookies and fruitcake and of carolers moving through the streets from house to house on Christmas Eve. I need to reclaim this season of the year—and thereby reclaim my self.



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I have no words of wisdom for you Harry only the acknowledgement that I hear you and am very glad that you shared these thoughts with us.

Sometimes I wonder how we can have so many emotions bouncing around in our heads all at the same time.

I hear you when you say that you are “tired of grief” and your work with NET cancer has kept you in “constant contact with the entity….”

You are doing what we all are trying to do and that is grab hold of our individual grief the best way we can and try to come to an understanding of it. In my opinion our grief will never be resolved nor understood. We will only learn how to live with it in our own way.

I hear hope in your post and that has been a part of who you have been all along this journey. A man of hope and determination living the only way you know how and this is an inspiration to all of us.

So put up your tree and be kind to those who are near and dear to you. Continue to give the love you have to those you come in contact with but most of all be kind and loving to yourself. That is what your Jane would want. Do they still make fruitcake?!


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Harry I can only say I am listening to you and I do understand though my grief is totally different to yours. Today I input the moths I recorded in August (next year I shall do them daily). I keep putting it off because I do it on Pete's computer using his keyboard and doing what he did when he recorded the moths. And it hurts me every time. This time I listened to some of the music he had on his computer in a vain attempt to bring him close. It didn't work. But it didn't hurt too much I suppose.

It's 18 months for me and last year is a blur. I don't remember it at all. This year I am mostly in a passive grief. But these cold long winter months are harder. Like Anne I hear your determination to carry on against all the odds. Eventually shall we find peace I wonder?

Of all of us on here you seem to me to be doing the most good in the world (though I have to remember the wonderful work of Marty and Mary too). It's taking all your strength and yet it's clear you have to continue it. I wish you peace and rest for a while. We are all here and we walk alongside you and hope that words help a tiny bit.

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Harry, I don't know how you do it, how you spend the immense amount of time that you do fighting the disease that killed Jane. It seems every moment of every day it would be a reminder. Yet I understand your desire to do so, your energy to push on, your relentless task to be a one man avenger, and I do wish you well with it. I don't know that I could be up to the task. George died of ordinary heart disease. Heart disease that kills thousands...yet they know how to fix it, they just didn't with him. It was a matter of his doctor not taking him seriously, not referring him to a specialist, of George not getting a second opinion...honestly, it snuck up on us both and killed him with surprise. Had either of us known...

A lot of people don't understand why I bother decorating for Christmas...or Thanksgiving, or anything else. No one comes to see it, no one seems aware of it or enjoys it but me. But I do it for me nonetheless, and I think George knows and appreciates it. He loved the holidays! How can I just ignore them when they meant so much to him! Sure I don't have him here with me physically to enjoy in them like I once did...but I toasted him with a cup of cocoa after I put up the tree and decorated the house. I can't wait to see that man again! How much I miss sharing in life with him!

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Dear Anne, Jan, and Kay

I don't know about anyone else, but Jane and I made a fruitcake every year using my family's old recipe. I haven't the last three Christmases--the first because she was in the hospital and I was in no mood after her death--the last two because I could not face doing it. But I bought the ingredients this weekend and will bake them tomorrow. I feel rather like a character in a Truman Capote story I used to teach. To the world it will seem a pointless exercise--but I don't much care.

The blurs finally, I think, are ending for me. For nearly two years after her death I remember nothing beyond lots of walking. I know I wrote things, painted rooms, built shelving--those kinds of things--but I have no clear memories of doing them despite being sober the entire time. A friend said he would go out drinking with me when I was ready to cut loose--but I have never done that. I'm terrified of alcoholism and self-medication--or even medication given under a doctor's supervision. Better I should become addicted to something productive than something destructive. But determination is a good word for what I feel.

My sister-in-law wonders about my holiday decorating--can't see why I do it. But she didn't understand it any better when her sister was alive, either. I have scaled back the last three Christmases in part because my heart was not in it and in part because i planned to be in Seattle for most of the holiday. This year I will go out there in late January for my dad's birthday instead, I think. I need to face my ghosts here this year. I'm done with running away and avoiding my pain. I have no doubt this is going to be emotionally difficult…but it's time.



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Well Harry, I had to read your post because of the title. I have come to hate what was my favorite time of year, my birthday, thanksgiving, larry's birthday, christmas, etc. I've always loved the fall colors and crisp air. I look fondly at them now but then turn my head. I so miss the scent of a christmas tree and after 8 yrs. I still would feel guilty if I would get to enjoy it without him. We would light up every inch outside, white lights, candles, reindeers. We would have our own little "lightning ceremony" where we would turn on all the lights and go outside and admire our work. I REMEMBER it all, the sight, the smell, the joy and the look on Larry's face, such pleasure in our accomplishment, so proud. I haven't been in the attic since his death, where all of my pretty ribbons and decorations sit, boxed away, devoid of celebration. One day maybe, I don't know when. Deborah

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Maybe I should make a fruitcake too.

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The fruitcake sounds good Harry! Fruitcake is not for everyone, but I have always loved it. Never made one....maybe I will try one this year.

Glad to know that I am not the only one who has a lot of blurs in the last few years. When I think back on the nearly four years since Mike died, so much has happened, but I just cannot remember most of it very clearly. It would worry me a lot more, if I had not always had a really bad memory.

It will not be easy, but going forward and facing this season is what you seem to need to do. Warm thoughts, Harry.

Mary (Queeniemary) in Arkansas

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I am determined to get well enough to slide into my Baffins and warm stuff and go out for walks. That is how I am going to spend this season. And, my Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom healing cards came today, and I am already using them to reset my old viewpoint in what I can only describe as a radical shift; so that my inner being of this body is going into body maintenance mode of a fairly significant nature. It is interesting to also observe the process. I am keeping notes.

I am going to claim and paint as many days as I can with optimism and joy, with moving into the flow of life more fully. I am imprinting the days for next year as well.

Each day, I am stopping to remember how it feels to be grateful and happy. It is a glorious life we have, and each day we are healing. Getting back into balance. Letting our light shine a bit more.

This is a good place to be, for those who gather around this fire.



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Last night my ears started hurting and my throat sore...drank some special blend of tea, cinnamon, orange, lemon, and honey, will continue drinking it. At 10* outside, and 3* predicted, more snow coming, am likely to hole up inside rather than attending the things the church & community had planned...all of the practices I've been to for naught! Alas, they seem to cancel things for summer and plan, plan, plan for winter, when it is hardest to go anywhere! It doesn't make sense to me. At any rate, it's much too cold for Arlie to be out in his pen, and I've never left him unattended in the house, mainly because of his separation anxiety and chewing when he was younger. Am not sure how he'd do, but don't want to test it out on a several hour period...might come home to no house! :) I'm afraid I'll have to cancel going to my DIL's cocoa (like a ladies tea only cocoa), as she's two hours away and the roads are a sheet of ice and I don't want her to catch anything...she's susceptible to viruses and usually is down for the count a week or longer. So winter plans set aside, I am focusing mostly on trying to keep warm. I bought more wood than normal and yet I'm going through it like crazy! Am concerned about running out before the winter is over.

fae, as usual, you are an inspiration to me. So upbeat, so positive! I love this place, all of these special people, Anne with her constantly thinking of others and finding just the right thing to share with us, Mary with her education/wisdom, Marty's guidance, Jan, HRH QMary, Harry, so many others that pop in and out, each one contributing to the special place that this is! You guys give me something to look forward to each day.

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