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Fifty-Four Months

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Dear friends,

I wanted to call this piece "Four-and-a-half years," which is the same as fifty-four months in terms of time, but not, somehow, in meaning. With a child, we draw the line around 48 months. With death--at least with Jane's--it appears to be different.

My father died almost a year ago. My mother died 10 months before Jane did. I lost a good friend to triple negative breast cancer just over a year ago. I have no problem talking about their deaths in terms of years. Of course I didn't spend the last month of their lives in a hospital room holding their hands, either.

The last month has been a difficult one. Half-a-dozen patients I've become close to--two of them significant figures in creating foundations and support groups--have killed their NET cancer the same way Jane did: by dying and taking it with them. I've done what little I can for their spouses and loved ones. It never seems as though it is enough.

Nothing I do ever seems like enough. Friends tell me I can only do what I can do--that one person can only do so much. And intellectually, I can agree with them. But my heart can't accept that. I've seen too much pain and too much suffering and been unable to do much to alleviate either one. My Buddhist training tells me I should take a very different lesson from that than I do. I am not a very good Buddhist.

My Taoist training insists there is little constructive I can do--that waiting is. I am not a very good Taoist. The Christian part of me talks about all of this being part of the divine plan. I am a lousy Christian. If killing people with that hideous form of cancer is divinely inspired, I want no part of that divinity.

There is a sign on the wall opposite my bed. It is placed so it is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. It says, "It is never too late to be what you might have been." It reminds me that the failures of the day before are no reason to give up on the work of today. It refuses to let me set down the work I have adopted as my own. It refuses to let me stop striving to embody what I believe.

I accept that suffering exists in the world--but that does not mean I don't try to ease it for others where and when I can. I accept that there are things I may not be able to change, but I try to change them anyway because I cannot know what is impossible until I try. Divinity can want what it wants; I can only do what my heart tells me is right. I am more concerned with humanity than I am with the needs or desires of any god.

People tell me constantly how pleased Jane must be with what I am doing. I do none of what I do to make her happy. Jane is far beyond my ability to make happy or sad now. It is not that I love her less than I did when she was alive, but our work was for--and with--the living--and my work still is.

I feel frustrated this month. The anniversary of Jane's death was much more difficult this month than last. All the deaths of the last month have taken me back to Jane's last days over and over again.

Financially, Walking with Jane is running behind last year's numbers. In terms of raising awareness about NET cancer, our efforts seem stalled because I can't figure out how to extend our reach. The goals I set at the beginning of the year seem to be sliding out of reach. I'm having trouble getting pieces of writing to work--and my book on grief is the worst of it. I feel mentally constipated and my usual laxatives are not working very well. Even the garden is struggling.

But I am too stubborn--or too stupid--to quit. It doesn't matter which it is. Last night I had a series of dreams about individuals solving problems that improved human lives. Most of them were nameless folks who saw something that needed to be done and did it. They were frustrated at times, too. But they kept working at whatever it was. Sometimes they solved the problem. Sometimes, they created the groundwork others built on. Sometimes, they failed completely.

At the end of Oedipus, Rex, one of the characters says we should never count a person's life as happy or sad until we have seen the end of it. Equally, we should never consider a person's life as successful or not until we have the whole body of that life to look at. Jane's life was an unequivocal success. But my life is not over and no one should judge it one way or the other until it is--including me.



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I don't see how an entire life can be considered happy or unhappy as it's made up of all the pieces that comprised it..and seeing as we all have happy and unhappy experiences in our lives, it's a mixture...I guess it's the overall you are considering. My life with George was happy. I've known both.

I hope your struggles know fruition soon and you can live with more peace.

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One day you will sit down and finish your book, Harry. In the meantime, you have life to live. As months turn into years the hole in our hearts will always remind us that we once had great love and the memories will nourish us.

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Dear Harry,

It sounds as though you are going through a rough patch.

Let's look at what you have already accomplished, and why being patient and compassionate with yourself during these rough patches is entirely acceptable:

You have survived Jane's leaving;

You have built an organization which benefits many;

You have done a lot of work on your garden and yard, and waged war against the groundhogs and other varmints;

You have endured and are healing from oral surgery;

You have walked and been injured, and rehabbed your body and returned to walking for your wonderful cause;

You have begun your book, and have work done on it;

You have suffered more losses of loved ones, and you are grieving these new losses;

You have survived Jane's leaving.

Harry, if you had a close friend who had been through what you have been through the past fifty-four months, I think you would hold them in a long, comforting hug, help them to relax, and sit with them, sharing memories and compassion.

So my recommendation to you is to be your own close friend. I certainly find myself needing to do that more and more for myself, as others are busy with their own lives. I am learning to be my own best advocate and caregiver, my own best confidant and trainer, too.

I am continually impressed with how much you accomplish every week. Even with your recent losses, you endure. While you are in this rough patch, remember that you always bounce back and things get done, you prevail, and your vision is realized. As Anne said, one day you will sit down and finish your book. And as Anne also said, you have life to live. And while your vision is a wonderful one, remember to nurture and care for Harry.

I'm sorry this sounds like a lecture. It is as much for me as for you, though. I, too, get caught up in the frustration of the world not working on my personal schedule. And the frustration of not being to live up to my own expectations for me. I am still learning that hardest of all lessons—patience.

I hope today is a better day for you.



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Dear Fae, Anne and Kay,

Thank you all for your kind words and thoughts.

Kay, I agree with you: most lives are a mixture of happy and sad. I always thought Sophocles had missed the mark there, but I've only read Oedipus in translation, and who knows what the original Greek actually means. And Creon is not the most wise of characters, as I think on this now--and I think the words are his.

And Anne, there is more than a little truth to what you say about having a life that needs to be lived. We are sustained less by memory than by what we do with the time we have to hand. Memory can carry us through the lean times but when we rely too much on memory we begin to live in the past rather than confronting the future. I think that's part of what Jane meant when she said she wanted me to keep moving forward. It would be good if I could remember how to do that some days.

Fae, I was watching season three of the most recent BBC Sherlock Holmes--which is set in the present day. Watson asks Holmes to be the best man at his wedding--he is his best friend, after all. In the midst of that, I realized that while I have many friends and acquaintances, I buried my best friend when I buried Jane--and that there is no one who is even close to that position in my life. I do not have that level of mental intimacy one associates with a best friend. It is at once a measure of what Jane and i had in each other and a measure of my emotional poverty since her death. If I don't look out for me, no one else will.

Monday, I sat down to do some writing and designing about 9 a.m. The next thing I knew was it was 2 p.m. and I hadn't eaten since 6:30 a.m. I was not hungry, but I got up and ate anyway. Then I vanished into the work again until about 7:30 p.m. I am not supposed to let myself do that but it is what happens when I am completely focussed on the problem at hand. Working without a break is bad for me physically--and I know that. Forgetting to eat is bad for me--and I know that. Jane would make me take a break every hour or so. I did the same for her when she became over-focussed.

Something similar happened yesterday. This time it was working in the yard and the garden. I planned to work for an hour or so. It turned into four--but it seemed like only an hour had passed--except the sun was setting and the bugs were beginning to chase me around the yard. I came up the stairs and only then realized I was thirsty--and that I hadn't bothered to drink anything over the time I was out there.

I do try to remember to take care of me. And the work does nurture portions of me better than most anything else. It gets me out in the world and involved with people. Like Dr. Who, I need to be around people. Otherwise, I become Sherlock's high functioning sociopath, obsessed with myself and my immediate needs. It's not that my needs don't matter--they do. But there has to be a rational balance between what I need and what others need. And I'd rather err on the right side of that equation than the left. There is a wonderful line in Dr. Who where he says that the truly good people don't need rules--they instinctively know and do what is right. But he does not see himself as a good man. That's why he has so many rules that guide his daily existence. If i ever finish the grief book, I think my second will be an explanation of the plethora of rules on my list.

"But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."



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Harry, I do understand. Doug was most definitely my best friend. And although I have lots of friends and a fairly active social life and work life these days, nothing is the same and it isn't going to be for me. I don't know if I would ever be able to establish the deep connection, the shared thoughts, and the comfortable cooperative life that Doug and I had with anyone else.

Because I am coming to accept all of this, I am also trying to find ways to make this solo life work better. I keep a timer on my desk, so that even when I am lost in a project, there is a timer there to remind me to get up, walk around do something else, drink more water, remember to eat and to move my body. Each morning, I take one of my obsolete business cards, and on the back I make a list of meals for the day, so I have a bit of a menu to remind me of what to eat for balanced meals. I write in my agenda of things I want to get done that day.

Doug was my best friend and also my clock. Especially after he became ill, it was critical that he eat on a schedule, stay hydrated, and have enjoyable exercise. Keeping to his schedule, I also had the same schedule for myself. It is only lately that I am stepping back, reviewing my days, thinking of how to make them better and more fulfilling, and how to better regulate my energy and rest to feel good at the close of each day.

I erred for a long time on the side of caring for others, often seriously neglecting my own health and needs. Until I feel stronger, healthier, and more in balance, I am finding that I must focus more attention on my personal well-being. Yet, life intrudes: I have always been one of the "go-to" people in my social circle, and that is not letting up much. In fact, I must take a firm stand on my own behalf sometimes. And I am already volunteering too much as well, but I rationalize that it is positive effort, even if often frustrating because each of has our own vision and way to contribute, and most of the time, it is like herding cats.

If you feel that your life is balanced, that you are getting what you need for health and emotional comfort each day, and that the weeks and months are bringing you more of the good things in life, then, even if you have these rough patches, I think you are doing well.

I agree that "good" people don't need rules, or not many rules, anyway. But I think that being "good" involves being willing to surrender our lives to a higher power, to G*d, to our own deepest knowing. It requires the courage of self-examination and the willingness to change. When change is thrust upon us, as in losing Jane and Doug, I think it takes as long as it takes to adjust to that change. And I think we are still trying to find new balance. It is okay. We are where we need to be right now.

I hope your days are getting better, that you have a timer :) and that life brings you daily doses of joy.



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One thing I am learning about our grief journeys is that we each do it our way. Some throw themselves into activities as they deal with the unimaginable as others sit in almost a paralyzed state unable to move.

Eventually, those of us who do the “grief work” find some happy medium and we each emerge ~ different yet the same ~ I have learned from others how to crawl through this grief.

I am thankful to those who are still traveling this journey with me. It is important to understand that no one can do this alone.

Memories will always be carried with us for what we have loved never goes away.

It is inspiring to me to see the changes taking place and to accept that “it takes as long as it takes.” I have been privileged to witness caterpillars change into the most beautiful butterflies.


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Harry, you might try setting a kitchen timer to remind you to take a break and eat/drink something. I had a diabetic reaction the other day because my blood sugar got too low. We who don't have anyone to look out for us need to be extra vigilant about our self-care...and Jane & George would want us to!

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