- Jill Schacter
- My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Here's what to do:
Please make checks out to: "Evanston Parks Foundation."
Please send the checks to: Steve Wernikoff, 2650 Eastwood Ave., Evanston, IL 60201.
Thank you very much to each and every one of you for helping to make this memorial happen!
Thanks also to everyone who particpated in Ken's cyber birthday party.
Up next: Christmas without Ken....My anniversary without Ken....and the anniversary of Ken's death on January 14, also Natalie's 11th birthday. But, of course, it's great to be alive!
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
For starters, for anyone who still tunes in to my much neglected blog, how about if your gift to Ken this year is to remember him and post your remembrance here for others to share.
Don't be shy! Let's get it going.
Let's bring Ken to cyber-life on December 14 with a big birthday party right here!!!
But, you know that Ken would want you to be moderate, so please, no excessive drinking before you write in.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
But then he got sick. And then he died. NOT PERFECT. NOT ANYWERE CLOSE TO PERFECT. THE OPPOSITE OF PERFECT. In fact, it's downright shitty. I got royally screwed. My life as I knew it is OVER. I am living what is the stuff of nightmares for many of you. I found just what I was looking for...I did such a good job finding my perfect husband and the perfect father for my children, then POOF. Gone. Different life.
This time last year, Ken was engaged in a splendid fight for his life. He fought so hard and with such spirit that though it was perfectly awful, he helped us believe that it wasn't. That it was OK. That he could endure. That all the suffering was worth it. He was still there for us, leading the way through the minefield of horrors, and so many of us followed along by his side.
So now we edge into some difficult territory...his and Paul's birthday next month...and then the anniversary of his death/Natalie's birthday the following month. He's missed alot of living and being Ken, he would have really enjoyed being here for all of it for he was truly a contented person.
I think that despite his death, despite living the reality of one of the worst things that could ever happen to me, I may have integrated some of his contentment into my being. I find that I am happy to just try to live a very simple life, to keep my stresses low and my own health a priority, to not expect too much from myself, to enjoy the company of wonderful friends during the day, and then to be fully there for Natalie and Alec when they come home from school. To be grateful for them. To laugh with them. To be content with our little family of three.
Something about our loss makes our little family ever more precious to me and it brings out more that is good in me. I wouldn't call anything about me or my life perfect, but I do try to see more that is perfect, just as it should be, in my children, in my friends and in my life.
Of course, there are those moments when all that is really lousy about my situation comes to haunt me. Usually this is in those early hours of the morning, before the alarm clock rings. Then everything feels so absolutely terrifying that I fear for my future and my children's future.
When the terror strikes, I summon Ken who truly never seemed to me to fear anything. He gives me strength still. I still follow his lead. His presence in my life is nothing that I can call perfect anymore. But I will take what I can and call it good, because what remains is all I have.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Anyway...some lyrics that ring true with me these days
from Shawn Colvin's new album: These Four Walls
Fill Me up
Fill me up fill me up
I'm a long way from home
And I don't have a lot to say
Fill me up fill me up
Cause you're all that I've got
And I traveled a long long way
Cheer me up cheer me up
Cause I'm all alone
And I'm taking it day by day
Cheer me up cheer me up
Cause you're all that I've got
And I traveled a long long way
And from John Mayer's new album Continuum:
The Heart of Life
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Last August Ken wrote the story of Ferdinand the Cancer Patient in which he described his experiences as a two time stem cell transplant patient. He wrote this, in part, because he was so aghast at the lack of concern for the emotional health of a person going through such grueling treatment.
The other message in "Ferdinand" tells of Ken's great appreciation for the life he had right here in Evanston, and of how much appreciated the community that surrounded us and the simple but profound pleasure to be found in the park right next door to our house, the same park where we'll soon be creating a memorial in his honor.
So, one year later, remember Ferdinand:
The Story of Ferdinand, the Cancer Patient… not a children’s story
(A fictional tale, whose characters are amalgams drawn from 3 different treatment centers.) Inspiration comes from personal experience, and images of Ferdinand the Bull,by by Munro Leaf, and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Imagine sketches of grand characters parading in and out with fancy costumes, pomp, and ceremony.
This is the story of Ferdinand, who tried to mind his own business and smell the flowers. Ferdinand liked to sit in the park, on a bench or under a tree, and experience it all. He smelled the flowers. He watched and enjoyed the people. Everything was well in the park.
One day, Ferdinand did not feel so good. He didn’t have the usual kick in his step. His doctor said it was probably nothing but he should check it out. Ferdinand’s wife was worried, but not too much. She reminded Ferdinand that without a wife to worry, something might be missed. Ferdinand did his best to continue to enjoy the park, and to do the things that he had always done. The first tests showed probably nothing. The second tests were probably nothing. The third tests were more painful, and probably nothing. But days later, there was definitively bad news. Ferdinand had cancer. His life was going to change. But then he would get better, and get back to the park and the flowers.
Ferdinand was brought to a busy place to wait and wait. He waited in rooms with comfy furniture. There were old magazines there. There was a television that had a channel with only pictures of flowers. He was told to sit. Usually, his wife could sit next to him so that they could talk, laugh, and worry together. He was told the wait wouldn’t be long. They were even given discounted passes for car parking. It felt like a good deal. But the waiting was unending. It was more certain than anything. Ferdinand gazed at the tropical fish tanks, and dreamed of the park. He thought about his special little family. He thought about the work that he loved. He thought of the things he loved to do. He thought of his friends. He had a lot of time to sit and think.
Soon, Ferdinand came to recognize the patterns and the people who came to help him. Sometimes, they helped him and let him go back home to his park. Sometimes they kept him at their special place for many weeks, helping him with special treatments. Ferdinand wished he could return to his park. But he knew the people wanted to help him, so he tried as hard as he could. Some days, all Ferdinand wanted was to talk a little with somebody, and to be recognized as one, who was there every day doing his best in his own way. He wanted the people to know that he had a life out there in the park. But the helpers kept coming in, different ones different days and nights. They kept saying Ferdinand looked good. But they didn’t realize that Ferdinand had a lot to say and think about. Ferdinand’s park was too far away, so he had to remember it all by himself.
The helping people came alone or in groups. They had special clothes with matching outfits, gloves, and jackets. They wanted to help Ferdinand by talking, cleaning, poking, and listening to his breathing. They even woke him up in the night to show how much they cared. Just when Ferdinand was imagining how nice it would be to be smelling the flowers in his park, the nice people said that smelling flowers would make Ferdinand sick, so he could not have flowers anywhere nearby. Ferdinand was sad, but he knew that the people were trying to help him. Hopefully, someone would come to visit and tell him about the real flowers and the park. Ferdinand’s own new stories were not very much worth telling.
Ferdinand learned about all of the helping people.
The nurses came. They were young and old; big and small. They did everything. They wrote their names on the bulletin board. They told Ferdinand to rinse his mouth so that he would not get mouth sores. They were in charge of the poles holding bags of poison medicine. The poles beeped and chirped all day and night. At first, Ferdinand thought that he was hearing birds and children in the park. He pushed the nurses’ call button, and then the nurses would come in to adjust the beeps. Sometimes the nurses had good advice for Ferdinand, like how not to throw up his food. They collected and measured every bit of his pee and poop to show how much they cared for him, even more than most dog-owners did for their pets back in Ferdinand’s park. Some even shared their dreams for their own lives. Sometimes the nurses distinguished themselves in their knowledge or their compassion. Some nurses could barely figure out what Ferdinand needed or wanted. They might come to the door and giggle or frown. But Ferdinand learned to tell them what they needed to know about him. Not about his park, but about his pee, poop, pills, and poison bags on the IV pole.
Then came the PT’s, who wanted to go for a walk. They sometimes had ropes and belts strapped to Ferdinand, in case he was so weak that he would stumble. They only knew him as a weak fellow, and they had entire sheets of printed exercises. That was all they needed to know.
Then came the OT’s, with giant rubber bands. And they wanted Ferdinand to pull the rubber bands in his free time. They had big ideas for Ferdinand’s daily goals. It made them feel better.
A minister came now and then to say that god was there if Ferdinand needed him.
Every 4 hours, Ferdinand welcomed the most consistent of all the helpers, the people who take vital signs. They checked pulse oxygen, pulse rate, blood pressure and body temperature. They came every day and every night.
For special fun, there were women, who drew blood from Ferdinand’s body. Certain days they drew from his central line. Other days they stuck his veins directly. Sometimes, there were special blood draws for research blood. These helpers always came at 4:00 in the morning.
Respiratory Therapists came with breathing treatments to inhale. They listened to Ferdinand’s breath and cough. They came 4 times each day, even at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
A social worker came to visit sometimes. He could talk about anything. Ferdinand would talk a little, but there was so much to say that he didn’t say very much. Ferdinand couldn’t just jump in like that.
There were lots of cleaners, who usually spoke Spanish. They made sure the bathroom was tidy and would change the towels. They would mind their own business.
Ferdinand never forgot the food service workers, even though he couldn’t taste or enjoy what they brought him. They offered him a sense of control because he could make choices. Too bad none of it tasted good.
And where would Ferdinand be without all of the people doing special tests on him? They took him to lie down on machines of all types. They ensured that no part of Ferdinand would be a mystery. They knew about all that might be wrong with Ferdinand. They needed to be careful because they knew so much. Ferdinand valued what they did, but often he was left to worry.
And now suddenly the trumpets are blaring!!! The staff are hustling and excited. The Doctors are coming on their rounds! Ferdinand is told not to do anything. The Doctors are Coming! The doctors might be in any minute. They might come in two hours. But we will all wait for them because they will talk to Ferdinand! Finally, the door opens and it is the doctor. With him is a fellow… and a pharmacologist… and a special nurse… But these people are not allowed to talk. The doctor listens with his stethoscope. He asks a question or even two. He says he will come again tomorrow. Ferdinand knows a way to ask him questions so that he will stay a minute or two longer. He likes the information that he imagines he will receive. Ferdinand appreciates the doctor because he seems to understand, even though he does not really say much. Before he knows it, Ferdinand is alone again. The trumpets sound for the next cancer patient down the hall.
Almost all of the helpers ask Ferdinand, “Is there anything I can get you?” If Ferdinand thought about it, there would be lots of things. But he can’t really think about that now because they can’t give what he really wants.
Ferdinand soon will go back to his park. Some people say that he will be better for his experience. They like to say that he will see more or know more than he did before. Ferdinand has changed, it is true. He can’t ride his bike as far. He can’t play as long or with such abandon. He can’t hear as well or see as well. He can cry a little easier now, perhaps. Ferdinand did not need the cancer to appreciate life or people or time. He was happy already. But now he will be appreciative and loving again. And he will love his park like he did before. Hopefully for a long, long time.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
My kids school opening has been delayed until September 11 due to unfinished renovations. I know that there have been worse things that have happened on September 11, but this sure feels like a big crisis to me. And I know several other mothers who went to bed with a giant headache the day we found out that freedom would not come a' callin on September 5 as planned.
I admit it. I am done. I don't want to go to another...museum, park, restaurant, store. I don't want to draw, bake Sculpey clay, dance to music, go for a walk or bike ride or train trip. I don't want to say for the ten hundredth millionth time: NO, you cannot...watch TV, use the computer, play your game cube, man handle your sister, dramatically shriek as though the world is coming to an end, pour raw sugar down your throat...
I don't want anymore quality time. IT'S BEEN THREE MONTHS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Isn't that long enough for anyone to completely put aside her own needs. Not that I remember what my own needs are.
This morning I sat on Alec's bed untangling and rolling up a big tangled ball of thick white string while he quizzed me about amazing facts from the Guinness Book of World Records 2007. I'd say this went on for a good hour. Like the kids, it's time for the string to move on to something more productive than what Alec has it doing: looping all around the upstairs like a big dirty mop. This was probably my biggest material accomplishment today: detangling string.
While sitting on the toilet, I also took some time to read and think about the poem "Solitude" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, which includes the famous line:
"Laugh and the world laughs with you,
Weep, and you weep alone..."
And though I'm sure I'm infringing on copyright laws by writing it here she goes on to say:
"Rejoice, and men will seek you,
Grieve, and they turn and go:
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe..."
One more particularly stinging line includes this happy thought:
"Be glad, and your friends are many:
Be sad, and you lose them all,...."
So what's a sad, grieving girl to do?
Fortunately, there were actually two balls of string to untangle, so I've got that to look forward to tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
It's been a while since I've written anything. I don't want to write about the fact that I am finally starting to feel my loss, to miss Ken, to get it, to touch the edges of the big iceberg that's floated into the middle of our lives. I'm supposed to be the one who is handling everything SO WELL, who LOOKS GREAT, who IS REALLY MANAGING EVERYTHING WITH GRACE. And when exactly am I supposed to write, to think, to have a moment when the kids are out of school and I am the constant cook, entertainer, reader, planner, driver, supervisor, shopper, gardener, straigten-upper? And oh yeah I'd better make time to exercise. After all, I'm a middle-aged single woman...don't want to let my grief propel me into a long slide into bagdom.
See why I don't write anymore? Who wants to hear a bunch of complaining? Not me. Does anyone really want to think about dying when you're 52, being widowed at 44, being rendered fatherless at 6 and 10 years of age? The illusion of safety that an intact family provides is marvelous, a wonder, a treasure. I have no desire to strip that from anyone. Revel in it.
What we did this summer was: take two lovely trips while spreading Ken's ashes along the way. So, when people ask how are trips were...which story do they want to hear? Is it the beautiful beaches, the cool dark Canadian water, the fun touristy shopping OR the crushing reality of watching the remains of the one you love being set to rest in the gentle Laurentian woods and on the edge of the sea? Do you want to hear about our stay in a beautiful house a stone's throw from the ocean OR do you want to know about how Natalie wanted to pick up Ken's ashes after they fell upon the sand. Or how Alec doesn't like thinking about his dad dying and how he says he already adjusted to our new family of three.
What I did this summer must be a classic activity of the newly-minted widow (at least the type that doesn't have to hit the streets immediately looking for a job): I repainted the first floor of the house! Uncovered a wall of exposed brick! Rearranged furniture!
Friday, August 04, 2006
The "planning" stage is over, and we are now operating on full cylinders for the "Ken Park Memorial."
Jill has met with designers from the Evanston Park District, and a basic plan is forming. The working plan is for the installation of high quality benches, trees/garden and a chess table to be placed in the southeast area of McCollough Park. The location is within 50 feet from Jill/Alec/Natalie's house. The memorial will be a beautiful place for people to sit and talk and enjoy a full view of the park activities.
We have received approximately $5,000 in pledges to make this memorial happen! We are now collecting the funds.
We have arranged to have the money held in a segregated account of the Evanston Parks Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation. Donations are tax-deductible, and you will receive documentation of your donation for tax purposes.
Please make checks out to: "Evanston Parks Foundation."
Please send the checks to: Steve Wernikoff, 2650 Eastwood Ave., Evanston, IL 60201. Please send your checks to me by August 31, 2006, so that we can keep the project moving.
Thank you very much to each and every one of you for helping to make this memorial happen! And, of course, please send this message to anyone that you think may want to help contribute!Best regards,Steve Wernikoff 2650 Eastwood AvenueEvanston, IL 60201
Thursday, July 27, 2006
For me, the new widow, the routine of my past life, the one where I had a husband and an intact family, has been totally shattered. Now, overlay the unscheduled summer, and I am a woman uncomfortable in the present moment. All my routines lost. Everything familiar in flux.
We go on vacation, but when we return we have to confront all over again the truth of what has happened to us. Oh, right, he's still not here. He did die. I am a single mother. Natalie and Alec are fatherless children. I can't figure out why my computer keeps going black. Who wants to live in the present moment when this is what you must confront.
Six months after Ken's death feels harder to me than his entire illness...even than his death and the immediate aftermath. I was so filled with purpose then. I knew what had to be done. And Ken was still the center of my life.
Right here in the present...I am a single mother. No. I don't want to be this.
I am a widow. No. I don't want to be this.
Natalie and Alec have lost the best father a child could have. No.
I have lost my husband that was really my hero in so many ways. No.
The illusion of security is shattered for us. No.
Sometimes when Natalie wants to be doing something different than whatever activity we're doing at the moment, I borrow a line from Ram Dass. I say, "Natalie, BE HERE NOW." Nice advice, but I don't want to follow it. I want to be somewhere else. But here I am.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
What better way to celebrate than with my friends. Without them, I'd really have reason to cry. Also, if you read the medical lit, there are just horrible statistics about spousal health after one spouse dies. My chance of getting sick has just sky-rocketed...but those social supports just might be the best preventive medicine money can't buy.
If you ever think there's nothing you can do when a friend has something horrible happen to them...or something bad...or even something just sort of lousy...here's what I've learned about the myriad ways people can help one another. While some are small and some are bigger gestures, what I've learned is that it doesn't really matter.
DON'T KNOW HOW TO HELP A FRIEND IN NEED? HERE ARE SOME SUGGESTIONS FROM MY OWN RATHER AMAZING EXPERIENCE WITH THE GREAT PEOPLE AROUND ME.
(by presenting this list I do not claim to be the world's greatest giver, but I have learned a lot from so many...most right here in Evanston IL, but some from all over the place):
2. Call again (Don't know what to say? Try: what's going on with you?" or "I've been thinking about you.")
3. Keep calling (even if he/she doesn't call back)
4. Write a note
5. Write again
6. Keep writing
7. Send a package with goofy items
8. Send a gift certificate for: food, massage, movies, spa pampering
9. Bring chocolates
10.Offer to take a child out to do something (actually, insisting is even better)
11. Offer to grocery shop (once again, insist)
12. Go for a walk together
13. MAKE THE TIME TO DO SOMETHING
14. Throw a party
15. Invite your friend over
16. Invite your friend to dinner
17. Bring over a home-cooked meal
18. Organize home cooked meals
19. Take your friend out shopping for something fun
20. Go to the movies together
21. Invite a few neighbors to hang out together
22. Get a pedicure together
23. Find out what your friends favorite dessert/treat is then bring it by once in a while
24. Walk their dog
25. Insist on babysitting
26. Work out together
27. Give homemade cookies
28. Help organize something: garage, office, garden
29. Offer advice if you absolutely think it's required.
Here's what else I've learned after going through Ken's illness and then his untimely death...
To me now, I can't think of anything more important than the little and big things we do for one another. It's hard to feel like you can do right by everybody, but in doing right by somebody, you can make a huge difference.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Just how many losses can one family accumulate in the shortest possible period of time? Well, we're going to try and see.
Today I am driving out to the Woodfield Mall, meeting up at the Sears auto center, with Kim Bobka a dog trainer working with Airedale Rescue of the Midwest. Once there, I will give her our dog, our dog food, our dog bed, dog toys, and instructions for our dog. Our family of 4 people, one dog, will be down to 3 people, 0 dog. (With Natalie now in summer camp, we're temporarily at 2 people.)
Our dog Chloe attacked a small dog in our neighborhood park a couple of weeks ago. The little, old dog required 25 metal stitches.
It took me about 10 seconds to realize that Chloe's tenure with our family had come to an end.
Bringing Chloe into our family in March of 2003 was an act of hope for the future. Ken had finished his first round of cancer treatment the previous August, our beloved 1st airedale Haley had died in January 03, and even though we were concerned that Ken's cancer might be rearing its head again, we chose to imagine that this might not be the case...and so we quickly brought another dog into our lives.
From the beginning Chloe was a challenge: a dominant dog that wanted to be the boss. She required boot camp training and later an electric collar to try to wrestle her dominance down to the ground. Ken was her master...but soon the master was sick again...and again...and again...and then he disappeared altogether.
That's a lot of confusion for an animal that just wants to know who's in charge and what her job is.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Ken's (Unsuccessful)Texas Transplant: The Aftermath
Our motto remains: FRIENDS ARE GOOD, AND FAMILY TOO!!!
Thursday, June 15, 2006 11:04 PM CDT
Tonight was the opening night of "Baseball in the Park" for our neighborhood. Everyone was invited to come play at 7PM in the newly named (by Charlie) "Ken Field". Such a great tradition, carried on by our neighbors Liz and Charlie Stone and supported by a whole cast of characters with beer, snacks, conversation...and, oh yes, a baseball game too. Guess who threw out the opening pitch...Mrs. Ken or should I say Ken's WIDOW. I have another friend who lost her husband when she was 36 years old...she told me she loved to use the word WIDOW just to shock people. I love her spirit. I also love that four years later she's sporting a new husband and a newborn baby...go widow go.
Alec had a tough decision to make since tonight was also the opening night of "Summer Chess at the Public Library", another regular summer event we've been waiting to begin. So he decided to spend half the night at the baseball game and the other half at the library playing chess. Good boy!
Then I had what I consider to be a great idea...what if, in addition to our lovely arc-shaped seating area on paved brick which we're planning to put in the park in Ken's memory, what if we add a couple of chess tables in the same area?
Next on the agenda is Father's Day. Yes, I've been planning again. We'll start the day with the Ricky Byrdsong "Race against Hate". For those of you non-locals, Ricky Byrdsong was a Northwestern University basketball coach, an African American, gunned down by a white supremacist on a mission. So this race is in his memory. I figure since my kids have had such a lousy break, it's not bad for them to see that they haven't been singled out for special punishment but that bad things do happen...and then we have to go on and keep on and race on and join in and so on.
Later in the day, we'll meet up with Paul and Rebecca and Ken's parents at Tommy Nevin's Irish Pub. Ken just loved to take in Irish music there so I think it will be a fine way to think about him on Father's Day, our mouth stuffed with fish and chips and music in our ears. Irish music touched Ken's soul. It really made him happy.
And if you might be wondering HOW I AM, I will say that I am sadder now than I've been in a while. I now believe that Ken is not coming back...and summertime which normally makes me so happy and has been for so long now filled with such good times and happiness is a cruel reminder of all that used to be. When we take our traditional trips this year to the Laurentians north of Montreal and then Rockport Mass, we'll all be revisiting years of happy memories without for me the most important person there.
Along with the swimming and the cooking and the canoeing and walking and hanging out, this year we will carry out Ken's wishes to have his ashes scattered in these two places where he spent almost every year of his whole life vacationing and having a good time with people who mattered so much to him. In a final written note he even left a message to our kids: "You can choose a place for my ashes too, even if it's a place that I already chose, that's OK."
Who but Ken?