About Me

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.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Remember Ferdinand?

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

So Happy About the String Ball!!!!

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

After the house is repainted: THEN WHAT?

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!

So....now what?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Honor Ken Who Loved to Sit and Chat

Dear Friends of Ken:

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