Monday January 7th I handed back the keys to the home Yvette and I had lived in for the last five years. Bittersweet. I wandered around and took a few pictures. Marveled at how quickly the time had passed. Shed a few tears. And then drove away for the last time... And that is that.
To catch you up it has been busy. I realized that I needed to move from the house in Blaine and it was probably better to do it quickly than to drag the process out. Cutting down from a 1200 sq ft home (with three storage sheds) to a 450 sq ft apartment that was already furnished is a challenge. The sooner I started on it, the sooner it will be finished.
Sandra and John came down to Blaine the afternoon the day Yvette died. The next day we met for breakfast at Big Al's. From there we went to the house and looked around. "What are we going to do?" Sandra asked. A few weeks earlier I had moved a huge box of clothes and a few piles from the bedroom to the living room with the anticipation that we would need the space for arranging the bed to make it comfortable. Yvette never came home so the clothes were piled in the living room. I suggested that dealing with those was the first order of business.
We setup the folding table and I scooped up a big pile. I picked up a shirt and ran it through my hands. Sandra looked at me and said "You don't have to let go of them all right now, you know." And so I set the shirt aside. And picked up another piece, and set it aside. I handed her a couple of things to fold and put in the bag to go to the donation bin. And then two more pieces went into the hang-on-for-awhile pile. It was growing way faster than the donation pile.
I chuckled, "if I keep this up nothing will get donated."
And then Sandra made a generous offer. "I'll take pieces and patches of anything you want and make a memory quilt." It was perfect. We got through the rest of the clothes in about five hours. Telling stories and reliving memories that the clothing triggered. Seven bags went to the clothing bank in Blaine. One bag was trash - moths and some things were just to worn out to do anything with, and one bag went to Vernon with Sandra to be turned into a memory quilt.
Most of the spousal grief materials suggest that dealing with clothing is something that needs to be left for a few months. I smile every time I read that. Typical of me not to follow the usual advice. Still without the offer of the quilt it would have been impossible. Another of the many blessings that I have received.
Evan (my youngest son) took compassionate leave from the military and drove in the next day. I spent the next few days with Drew (my brother) and Evan going through the house trying for the big wins - easy things to deal with. I got a few things listed on Craigslist - Volvo, Queen bedroom set, computer desk, tent shelter, some serving platters, and a hexagonal fish tank. I made some guiding decisions. I allowed myself one bookshelf of books. Realizing I wouldn't be able to keep everything in my apartment I limited myself to a five by ten storage unit. Aand I started putting useful things that wouldn't sell on the curb. I decided to keep the glider rocker for my apartment. The pantry cupboards would be useful too. And all the while trying to write the eulogy for Yvette and plan her memorial service.
Yvette and I had talked only a little about what she wanted at the memorial service. But she left notes. I knew that she had spent a lot of time listening to music, choosing songs and making a playlist. I spent a day looking for the list. I thought maybe it was in one of her many organizing notebooks. No luck. I thought maybe she had a list on her notebook computer. No luck. And then I found it. A list of bookmarks in her web browser. I turned it into a Spotify playlist and used it in her room at Hospice House, played it in the background at her service. And used it to guide the choice of hymns for the service.
Writing her eulogy is one of the hardest writing projects I have ever taken on. I blamed chemobrain for part of it. The challenge of honoring her and not boring people to tears with stories that meant nothing to them was great. Still it was the morning of the service that it all came together when I realized the thread and theme that I had been looking for was blessings.
I knew too that she would want people to tell stories at the service. I was a little antsy about that. It never seemed work out well. I shouldn't have been. All the lives that Yvette touched, people had to tell those stories. It was amazing. Several weeks later as I was going through the mounds of paper, I found a workbook from an Art of Marriage conference we had attended. In the back there was a question designed to make you think about your legacy. Yvette had written lengthy answers to the question "What would you want your family, friends, and colleagues to say about you at your funeral? Folks we nailed it. But then Yvette lived her life as she wanted to be remembered.
It was a beautiful service. Thank you to all those who made it possible.
Monday morning everyone left. And I was left to the logistics of moving. Trash runs. Regular Goodwill donations (until the very end didn't turn away anything I had to donate.) Let me list some of the amazing blessings that have happened through the packing/moving process. There was available space at the closest storage unit to my apartment. I rented a five by ten storage space and brought up shelving to organize the storage. The queen set sold with the buyer giving me $200 instead of the $100 I was asking. The tent shelter didn't sell. But at the last minute was claimed by a family who is using it as kenneling for their Great Danes. Perfect. The initial deal on my apartment size freezer fell through and I ended up putting it on Craigslist. At the last minute it sold to an old friend (who got some blueberries and a quart of sherbet with it.)
On Christmas Eve after being notified of some extra labs and doctors visits the coming week, I realized that I wasn't going to get out by the end of December. A quick note to my landlords asking for an extension and it was granted.
On January 2nd a group of nine angels - six women and three men - descended on the house and cleaned and moved furniture. Runs to Grace House, Habitat for Humanity, and another major trash run left the house almost empty. I was left with the kitchen to finish and the laundry room.
One major decision was to sort out what to do with our three 25 lb cats. I spent some time putting out the word that I was looking for a new home for them but was resigning myself to taking them back to NOAH - the no-kill shelter they had come from originally. I realized that I was getting more and more attached to them. They had always been a little standoffish with me. My job was to clean their litter box but other than that they didn't have much time for me. Now they had taken to sleeping with me and greeting me at the door. Things they used to do for Yvette but not me. So I approached my Canadian landlords about bringing them to Canada. I was thrilled when they said yes. Arranging for rabies shots to allow them across the border was just one more thing to do. For the record they have settled into the apartment quite well though we are still discussing who gets the bed at night.
Many of you have been wondering how I'm doing in all this. How are my treatments going? As I've said to a few of you "if I didn't know I was sick I wouldn't know I was sick." Last week I had my first set of labs in seven months where everything was in range. My thyroid seems to have balanced out with a bit of tinkering with the synthetic replacement. I had a bit of trouble keeping potassium in my body so I ended up with a prescription to bring that up. It is working.
Then there is tamoxifen. Yes hot flashes happen. It is the subtle effects though that make me wonder. I was in the middle of listing the days activities to Drew one day when he stopped me short. "You are on tamoxifen right? I could not have done what you just did when I was taking it. That was my chemo brain." So obviously it affects different people differently.
I have found myself looking up computer procedures that I have used a thousand times - couldn't remember how to do it. Or is it that I have had my mind on other things - moving, grieving, treatments? When I mentioned that I was having trouble with short term memory stuff to Evan, he wasn't very sympathetic. "Dad, remember walking into a room and saying 'My name is Angus Pratt and I'm here to...' to try to recall why you were there?" Okay so I guess there has always been a bit of that. Losing my train of thought in conversation seems to happen too.
My durvalumab (Imfinzi) treatments continue every two weeks. There has been a little trouble getting blood to flow back when the IV needle is inserted but other than it seems to be working. And one week I had an "infiltration" where the needle leaked back into the surrounding tissue. It cleared up with hot and cold pack application. I have a CT scan coming up on the 25th of January. It will be interesting to see if there is any visible change. I have heard a few stories lately of people being declared cancer free on immunotherapy. Dare I hope?
I met with the Cancer Center social worker to get some idea of where I'm at with grief work. I needed that unbiased feedback. I felt like I was doing pretty good though I wondered if I was deceiving myself. I'm crying when I need to. There are moments of complete dismay that I can't wrap my arms around Yvette and get a big hug. And in general I don't have a lot of trouble talking about her when she comes up in conversation. The concensus was that for about six weeks out from Yvette's death I'm doing pretty good.
The next layer is to find a grief support group to help me with some of the work/processing that I need to do. I came across the idea that we need to practice grief. Whether it is a pet or someone we are close to, finding ways to celebrate their lives and maintain our memories is important. So my mother dying when I was a teen helps. My daughter dying when I was a young father helps. Even our beloved dogs dying recently helped to prepare me for this grief experience.
In Isaiah God says "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 Many of you have asked what the future holds for me. I don't know. I wish I did. I have decided no more big decisions for a year. So Grace Lutheran will continue to be my church home. I'm looking for a grief support group to help me with doing the work of grieving. I'm picking up my web activity a bit and I have done a little bit of First Aid work. The chronic fatigue - I sleep about ten hours a day makes it difficult to contemplate doing much more.
Thank you for all your prayers and physical help with moving.
God bless you.