the xanax diary

love, loss, healing and humor (in no particular order)

Archive for the category “Feelings”

On Ken’s 50th Birthday

I’ve felt the pull of this day for a couple of weeks. Uneasiness and my social impotence returned, leaving me tired and usually in the desire of no one’s company. For someone as far down the path of grief as I consider myself, I’m more than a little surprised when I find an impending Ken-related milestone still throws a wrench into the works.

He would have turned fifty years old today. Fifty. Odd. Fifty seems so young to this forty-seven year old–let alone forty-five which was the last birthday he celebrated. Today would have been the day when he would have woken up to an email from Mama Jo titled “the day,” followed by a song-filled phone call from her accompanied by recollections of how she was hanging drapes when she went into labor–and really wanted to finish them before she went to the hospital. She’d remind him that by the time his dad came in from the parking the car, Ken had already arrived.

What a rush he was in to begin living, we’d always say. Which makes so much sense, as anyone who laid eyes upon him saw how much he savored life and how hard he fought for every day to experience it.

It’s funny to think that when he turned forty, we were living in LA. A few lifetimes ago, it seems. I surprised him with poems I’d asked friends and family to write about him. Some silly, some soulful, some a mix of both, he enjoyed the witnessing the creativity our peeps displayed when expressing their feelings for him.

The limerick I wrote for Ken for his 40th birthday.

The limerick I wrote for Ken for his 40th birthday.

On his 45th birthday we completed a “Ken-Do” Dictionary to surprise him with. He’d been re-diagnosed with cancer and I’d hoped seeing how much he was loved would bolster his strength and courage. Even better, we’d managed to surprise him with his brother and sister-in-law from Los Angeles. That birthday seems like only a few blinks of an eye ago. I’ll never forget the look on his weary and fatigued face when we walked into our back yard to have a cocktail to find Craig and Katie standing there, grinning from ear to ear. He was speechless. And for Ken, that was a feat!

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Since he died, I’ve marked this day with (among other things) taking home-baked goodies to the cancer where he received treatment, and to see beautiful Blanca, the sweetest (and Ken’s favorite) nurse. A new, state-of-the-art cancer facility had been built on the hospital campus and opened this past April. This was my first opportunity to see it, and I was lucky enough to get a personalized tour from Blanca who was rightly quite proud of it.

The new Creticos Cancer Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

The new Creticos Cancer Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

There are many reasons why I enjoy–and feel the need–to see Blanca. And I can’t explain all of them. Her spirit is so calm and joyful. She sees what most would consider to be such sadness and pain, yet she possesses a lightness that defies the disease that seemingly swirls around her. She is a connection to another time for me; a difficult time in some respects, but also a time that carries its own share of joys. When she laughs and smiles and mentions a “Kenny” memory, it’s both matter-of-fact and dazzling to me. That she has such powerful memories of one of thousands off patients she’s cared for over the years reaffirms all the things I know to be true about his character.

This year's treats were brownie cupcakes with chocolate ganache and flaked sea salt.

This year’s treats were brownie cupcakes with chocolate ganache and flaked sea salt.

Like last year, my friend Mindy was in town from Portland and accompanied me on my visit to deliver my treats, see Blanca and the new cancer facility. (Aside from the usual catharsis that spending time in the kitchen to bake for the nurses and staff provides), sharing this tradition with someone has begun to change it for me in the smallest of ways; to take it outside of myself and help me put it in some sort of context in terms of my life now. Without really realizing it, the day wasn’t just about marking Ken’s birthday. It was a day about love and fun and friendship and remembrance.

Most importantly, it was about life.

Mindy and Ron selfie toast after a job well done.

Mindy and Ron selfie toast to Ken after a job well done. Cheers!


I didn’t dread today. And that didn’t surprise me. It didn’t take me by surprise. And that didn’t surprise me either. I feel something very special. Ethereal. When I look at the date March 23. No matter what font it might be written in, it explodes In my mind’s eye with color, depth, texture, and enormity in every direction. 

It was Ken’s and my second and most meaningful encounter. After March 23, 2001 we were never apart again. Well, until he died on June 1, 2011, but I’ve come to understand we remain together in some very meaningful ways. 

I was recently telling a friend about how I can’t really define how many times per day I think of him because now he is just forever a part of me. We are connected as if a small part of him still lives inside me. And it does. In fact, a tiny part of him remains in all of us who loved him. 

I don’t have a lot to say about today–which in itself is telling. A part of me will always wish it could mean what it did for the ten incredible years we shared. Nothing could ever change my reverence for such an important day, but as time moves me forward, other joyous things might occur on this date. Like this:

Our last piles of snow a week gone, Kallie got a surprise of her “favorite thing” this morning.

I find gratitude and joy in the simplest moments and acts. I’m grateful I wake up happy in the morning; that I’ve been able to cultivate friendships and maintain healthy relationships with those I love. I’m grateful I had the kind of support and fortitude necessary to survive losing my spouse. 

But I’m most grateful I walked into that bar the night I did and that Ken and i connected. 



About a Blizzard…or Two

The Northeast has been brutalized by snow since the start of winter. Last weekend, it was our turn in the Midwest. It snowed here in Chicago, leaving us with an average of about 20 inches of wet, drifting snow. To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to it…since it was really our first of the season. And because my Chow Kallie loves to play in the snow.

As we walked Sunday night, surrounded in all directions by white, I got lost…in another blizzard; one I wrote about four years ago. It was early in my blogging life–when I was writing about anything other than Ken’s second cancer diagnosis in as many years. It was undeniably a part of my denial process.

We got more snow in 2011. Over 30 inches, I believe. And I couldn’t enjoy it like I can today. Ken was hurting and was about to begin chemo and radiation again. His right shoulder had seized up. Back then, I figured it might have been damage from a fall he’d taken, and would require some physical therapy. Now, I’m pretty sure it was cancer.

We had a doctor’s appointment the morning after the blizzard. Exactly four years ago today, actually. And our car was hopelessly buried off the alley that hadn’t been plowed–and would never be plowed. It was hopeless. Ken, however, was not. So we called a cab. But when he arrived he wouldn’t come down our street because it was…well…impassable. I didn’t have such a zen attitude at the time. I remember being furious. Ken was in a wheelchair for the most part–because of pain issues. And I didn’t know how we could possibly be able to get to the appointment. Most of the city was still shut down.

In true “Ken-do” fashion, he grabbed his crutches while i brought the chair, and we began to navigate down the unplowed sidewalk. The average snow depth was 2 feet. I was so worried he’d fall. And that I wouldn’t be close enough to help. It was one of many days during that time I recall knowing I was being pushed to my limits as a caregiver. And just had to keep pushing. It was also one of the lessons I began to learn: don’t worry about how we’ll get to the doctor’s office, just worry about how we’ll get to the end of the block.

Don’t worry too far ahead. It never helps.

Then we experienced what we termed an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment.” A woman on our block I’d never seen before ran over to us from across the street and introduced herself as Ashley. She surmised we were trying to get the cab waiting on the corner. She yelled to another man down the block–by name. Sam. A firefighter, she told us. They knew each other and without much adieu, they got in front of us and began shoveling a path as we moved down the sidewalk. Gleefully and purposefully. It was a heartening. And I’ll never forget it. Or them. Or the the gifts they gave me. Reminded me of. Hope. Kindness. Selflessness.

If only I could have embraced those traits on the trip home. Which was worse. We couldn’t get anywhere near the corner from where we’d been picked up. Due to idiots who shouldn’t have been on the road. (And I cursed each and every single one of them–to their faces–out as I helped Ken navigate back to our abode.) He was trying to calm me down. Typical for him. To see me distressed and do what he could to abate it.

It was one of our last great adventures together. We talked about it many times. And laughed. And laughed. And he never failed to get a kick of out the language I used on the last leg of our journey home.

When I returned from my trip down a snowy memory lane the other day, Kallie and I kept walking and playing. I didn’t dread the snow. And I know I know how lucky I am to be able to say that.


Dear Universe #2

Dear Universe,

It’s been a while since my last letter. I was thinking about you the other day; trying to understand the mixed-bag-that-is-you as I sometimes attempt to do.

You’re so unpredictable and formidable, and sometimes so cruel. Being kind-of-a-bitch is your thing. I get it, though I must admit I struggle with accepting you as you are. I want to change you. I would bet most people you know want to change you. Take a hint? In fact, you’re becoming quite the cliché.  Aren’t you even a little embarrassed about that? Something you might really want to spend some time thinking about. Just a suggestion.

I know our relationship has had its ups and downs, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care. We have a connection I can’t escape. Who can? You’ve reminded me over and over that I am “not the boss of you” literally 403 quadrillion times since forever ago. Again, I get it.

Have you ever considered rebranding? Like getting a cosmic makeover? Yes, you have a pretty well-known reputation, but it’s based on things like randomness and chaos and surrender. Wouldn’t it be fun to change it up and be known as “fun-loving” and “peace-mongering” and “generous”? Who knows? Maybe you could even score a date. I hear Mother Nature is single again. (And based on her record of late, she really needs to get laid.)

Just something to think about. From a friend.

Speaking of our relationship, don’t think I haven’t noticed how inequitable it has been over the years. I adapt to your whims. I maneuver through the twisted gauntlet you lay before me. And yet you seem unaffected by even my grandest of intentions. I have often wondered if you’re doing it on purpose. A punishment.

But when all is said and done, I know it’s just your nature. And I should expect no more or less. Since you don’t have feelings I know it isn’t intentionally to hurt me. In fact, if you had feelings, my rages against you would have ground them into a fine paste by now. Then where would we be? What good would a blubbering and broken universe be? (Though I have long fantasized about it.)

To be reminded what a jerk you are, is to also consider all the goodness you’ve shepherded into my path. I have as much to be grateful for–thanks to you–as I have lost because of your seemingly reckless behavior.

Shame on me for letting it be easier to recall the ills you’ve hurled at me rather than being grateful for the balmy goodness I have basked in.

You can be real a dick, for sure. But I still wish you well, and know that our journey together is as eternal as…well…you.

Farewell 2014…I’ll miss you!

I published my previous post without thinking that I still wanted to write about 2014. But I’m a sucker for the statistical fireworks show puts on for me.

So, we’re a few days into 2015. I rang in the new year in bed. Not because of any tragic reason—though I am a those who subscribe to leaving amateur night to amateurs. To be honest, I was kind of sad to see 2014 go. It was a good year; one fraught with exciting firsts for me.

Becoming a homeowner was the biggest event (financially and emotionally) for me. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time, signing a stack of papers for two hours–all pretty much promising the same thing: pay my mortgage or suffer the consequences.

It was a double-edged sword as I moved out of the home Ken and I shared for five years, then I alone for almost three. It was a place filled with so many fun memories, and the obvious sad ones. But the good far outweighed the bad. It was also the place I began my new journey anew (and figuring out how Ken still fit into it). It was the place to which I brought a 9 lb. Kallie home, and it was a place surrounded by the first yard she frolicked in.

It was my home for eight years–longer than any other as an adult–and though I know it’s been completely gutted and renovated, it’s frozen in time for me. It will always be the apartment withe orange and yellow kitchen that Ken and I painted together with the back yard lush with angel trumpets, sunflowers, and the purple blooming hosta.

Sitting in our back yard after the AIDS walk in 2007 with my friend Mark's then-puppy Rocco.

Sitting in our back yard after the AIDS walk in 2007 with my friend Mark’s then-puppy Rocco.

As for the future, I love my little purchased home, nestled just two blocks from the old rented one.

Another fun first was returning to camping, something Ken introduced me to when we first met. A friend and I went to Door County in Northern Wisconsin last summer. It was a beautiful backdrop for something I wasn’t sure would ever happen again. And I loved every minute of it. There will definitely be more camping trips this summer.

2014 marked the first time since a 1983 trip to Mexico with my family that I left the borders of our nation. In August I went to Montreal for a long weekend. The city itself was charming and seemingly European to my starry Midwestern eyes. It was a great introduction to traveling for someone who prefers familiarity and home.

Mexico. 1983. Mr. Personality is on the left.

Mexico. 1983. Mr. Personality is on the left.

2014. Montreal.

Montreal. 2014.

So, 2014 was a good year. And 2015 is filled with hope and promise. Hopefully, there will be more exciting firsts ahead. But I’d gladly settle for some decent seconds.

Closing Time…

Good bye, Door Witch.

Good bye, Door Witch.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” are lyrics to a song I always found profoundly deep (and from which I took the name of this blog). There was a time when I had the blind luxury of pondering its meaning as I sang along in the car, but discovering I was living it during Ken’s illness and death was a true FML moment. For a while I found the song–and these lyrics–taunting, reminding me of something so painful and obvious. Now, I just find them indifferently factual.

On Friday I dropped off the keys to my apartment–the last home I shared with Ken. It was ours together for 5 incredible years that linger constantly in my day dreams, and mine alone the last 3–which are more like a blur than anything else. Part of me feels like a traitor–abandoning the final remnants of a shared life that is over. And that’s exactly what I am. I have to be. I had no choice.

I haven’t been able to grasp many words that describe what it feels like to move away from the last home Ken and I physically shared together. From a place which I experienced some of the highest highs of my life, and–without a doubt–the lowest lows I hope to ever have. Having the keys to the old place for almost two months after moving gave me plenty of time for visits back to an address that will forever retain a tiny fraction of my heart. Because there it knew great love and nurtured a marriage. And there it was fractured. And it was there it mourned and cursed the universe. And it was there it began to heal…with the help of the tiniest puff of black fluff.

Going back there to collect the few things I have left was a little sad. It’s only a hull now. All signs of what a cozy home, filled with love, it was are gone. Though each room stood stark in its emptiness, for me each one brimmed with memories Ken and Quantum and our friends. To think a stranger could walk into the apartment and not know the love and the lives that occupied it makes me sad, and even a little angry.

As much as I thought I’d made peace with moving, this week reminded me of the ever-changing learning curve of the grieving process. I’ve had times when I was cranky and out of sorts. And it wasn’t until I verbalized it (well, texted it) to a friend that I figured out it was because this week punctuated the time I spent on Cuyler Avenue; that it was coming to an undeniable level of ending. There is no going back. Ever. As much healing as I’ve done, moving has certainly scraped up some well-scabbed wounds.


On my final visit on Friday afternoon I followed the suggestion of my friend and fellow blogger Matthew (his blog is one of my favorites) when we last spoke. He recalled the last episode of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and how I would have to do something similar, walking around and turning off all the lights. I liked the ceremony of it. And it seemed like it would offer some closure. And it did, as much as anything else.

It’s time for me to turn the page–to see what happens next. And it feels like the right time. Along with my belongings, I packed up all the memories–the good and the not-so-good–and brought them with me. The new chapter I’ve begun–living in my new place–is filled with friendship, laughter, fun…and always Ken, embedded in my brain and my heart and urging me forward.

There seems to be a force of gravity, pulling me–not just away from my old life–but toward a new one.

Bring it.

Honoring a Hero of My Heart…Part 2

As I wrote last week, bad stuff happens. But just a couple of days later I was reminded of something quite the opposite. I received an email about an essay I’d written for the “Extraordinary Healer” Award competition for CURE Today Magazine. I knew I hadn’t won, but was happy to present the subject of the essay, Blanca–Ken’s most beloved oncology nurse during chemotherapy–with the essay to give her an inkling of what she meant to him and what she still means to me, our family, and all the other patients she–and all the nurses at Creticos Cancer Center–so lovingly cares for.

Hello Ron,

I’m with CURE Media Group and wanted to let you know that we’ve selected your essay nominating nurse Blanca V. to run in our Extraordinary Healer book. Thank you so much for submitting it! When you have a moment, could you send me an email confirming the spelling of your name as well as a your address and a good phone number for our photographer to reach you. We’d love to photograph you with Blanca.

Also, attached are two releases for you to sign and return to me (either by mail, email or fax) that allows us to run the essay and the photo of you (my contact information is below). The book will come out in early 2014…

As I read this email, my eyes began devouring it faster and faster. The friction was so great, my eyes began “watering” to help lubricate them. It was a “do-over” of sorts. And the world would yet meet Blanca and hear about where her life journey and Ken’s intersected, resulting in a kind of magic I could never have hoped for. I was gushing (remember “dry eyes”)…for both of them…and that a little bit of their story would be “out there” for the world to see.

Another significant little piece of this puzzle involves adding “published” to my writing resume–something I’ve dreamed of since I was 13–for a reason I never could have imagined–or wanted, for that matter. But it’s for a reason I couldn’t be prouder of.

I can’t help but think that even now he keeps surprising me with gifts.

Ken with Marie (l) and his girlfriend Blanca (r) after what we hoped at the time would be is only round of chemo. They both took great care of him. April 30, 2010

Ken with Marie (l) and his girlfriend Blanca (r) after what we hoped at the time would be his only round of chemo. They both took great care of him. April 30, 2010

with Blanca and sis-in-law Katie on a social visit to the cancer center. May 13, 2011
with Blanca and sis-in-law Katie (& PadLo) on a social visit to the cancer center. May 13, 2011

“Emotional Muscle” Memory

From our pro-op photo shoot.

From our pro-op photo shoot. See more below.

It feels like I’m standing on the edge of a great precipice. And I’ve stood here before.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my pup Kallie Kismet is scheduled for knee surgery tomorrow. (Coincidentally, date happens to fall on what would have been Ken’s and my fourth wedding anniversary–in Iowa). She’ll be in the hospital overnight, and when she comes home the following day will need a lot of TLC as she heals and regains strength in her legs over what I’m told is an eight-week recovery period.

I have worrier in my DNA and there are few things I’m better at. I’m sure my fretting has more to do with Ken than Kallie–in some ways. As with Kallie, Ken and I had to prepare for his majorly invasive surgery and a recovery period of unknown length when we went into the hospital for his hemipelvectomy in January 2010. And as the main caregiver, it was my responsibility to get things organized and make sure he was comfortable and had everything he wanted or needed. I never felt so singularly responsible or stressed in my life. Though I had plenty of offers for help–and accepted many of them–I was Ken’s preferred first responder for anything–even if I didn’t know to what I was supposed to respond. But even though he was my charge, I still relied on Ken for emotional support and encouragement–which he offered when he could.

During the night’s of Ken’s recovery I slept light and seldom, leaping out of bed from a cold, exhaustion to run into the living room to check on him. We had walkie talkie’s in play. He’d press a button and a hellish squawk would jut from the handset by the bed. It terrified me, and I grew to hate them. After he died, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them–they were useful relics that I felt adversarial attachment to. But they’d played in important role in that part of my life.

I know there are great differences between what Ken (a human being) went through and what Kallie (a dog) will go through, but what they have in common is that  I was the keystone in Ken’s recovery, and I’ll be the keystone in Kallie’s. It was awesome and unnerving to feel like the one thing between Ken and…whatever the opposite of recovery is. And as a great fearer of the unknown, “what if’s” abounded in my brain.

Certainly not as grave, Kallie’s diagnosis isn’t cancer-related, and a complete recovery is anticipated. But the memories of being in this place linger with a pungent funk that only expelling out into the interwebs can help to assuage.

Loving Ken seemed to make undoable things doable. And I think that may still hold true.

…And Many More

Yesterday I turned 45. It’s my third birthday since Ken died, and it’s also a date that will forever fall two weeks after the profound date of his death. The dates have been so emotionally intertwined, it had been difficult to get excited about my birthday. I figured it may never happen. But this year I felt differently about it. For the first time in a long time I got really excited about my birthday weekend, and the plans I’d made. I wanted to celebrate. And it felt really, really good.

As I partied the weekend away with my friends, it felt both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. It felt like it had always been this way. That all my birthdays were always happy and filled with love and friends and laughter. But they weren’t. The last couple have been filled with disinterest and sadness, wishing they could be spent with Ken. This year felt “normal” which–to me–is experiencing something in the way I would have before Ken’s cancer came back in late 2009. Or sometimes it’s even how I would experience something before I knew him.

Either one initially comes with its own form of survivor’s guilt. But even that doesn’t arrive with the punch it used to. I think moving past the two-year anniversary of his death earlier this month has begun…something…new for me. These past two years have felt like slowly ascending from the murky, uncharted depths of grief into the brighter parts of the journey–where there is light, sunshine and a path that becomes more visible every day. And it reveals some freedoms I didn’t even know I was lacking, and reminds me that Ken will always play a part in my life no matter how many birthdays pass before me.

Of course, I thought of Ken over the weekend as I do so many times daily–like breathing–and reflected on my 40th birthday party, and all the surprises he laced it with and delighted in presenting to me. And it didn’t hurt like it used to. It didn’t leave me breathless with a cavernous pit in my stomach, filled with sadness, regret and longing. It took me away to a warm summer day in June where my backyard and my birthday were filled with love and friends and laughter.

Just like this year.

Trick or Treat

June 1 will always be a mixed bag for me. Like a bully looming at the edge of the playground of my month, I know I have to take the path that leads in his direction and somehow face him. May was draining for me in that respect, full of dread for a date that forever changed me: ending one life I loved and shoved me down the craggy path of another.

“Be kind to yourself” was some advice my friend Claire gave to me in the month’s after Ken’s death. And I never forgot those words. I gave myself permission to feel whatever I felt on June 1. I told myself it would be okay if he wasn’t the first thing I thought of when I woke that morning. Prostration is not my style, and like last year, I chose to look at the day as a chance not to celebrate the anniversary of his death, but to celebrate him and all the love in his life–which continues in mine.

My day began with a visit to the Lincoln Park Conservatory with my friend Kim, who along with my brother- and mother-in-law were with me Ken when he left us–a profound bond that connects us inextricably. Ken introduced me to the conservatory (much like he did with Garfield Park) early on in our relationship. After his surgery in January 2010, Lincoln Park became the preferred destination because of its location closer to our apartment.

My private moments proved to be rife with flashes of Ken. Our whole life together. And ones of him toward the end of his life. It’s not an uncommon occurrence, but the emotional stain of June 1 magnifies every thought, emotion and memory. But it also magnifies the good things. Facebook, emails and texts from friends and family helped to remind me I wasn’t alone in missing Ken, nor was I the only one observing the occasion, remembering him and loving him.

Posted on FB by Marcie, a long-time friend of Ken's. A photo of him from 1989 Handsome as ever, and hamming it up. Advertising Maxi-Pads.

Posted on FB by Marcie, a long-time friend of Ken’s. A photo of him from 1989. Handsome as ever, and hamming it up.

The trick is that June 1 is never as scary as it threatens to be. The treat is that I’m reminded of not just how much Ken is missed by so many people, but how much he is loved by so many, as well. It’s what I remember so well about the last days of his life (and very little else) and of the weeks following his death: the unity of love and support and loss I felt from so many people. He inspired big feelings. Big actions. He still does.

I spent the rest of the day with Kathy, my best friend of some twenty years. We sipped a few cocktails, reminisced about Ken and talked the evening away about the full spectrum of topics that currently pepper our full plates. This important evening was appropriately punctuated with a phone call to my in-law family in California–who were all together–to see how they were weathering the day. I was happy to hear they were all doing well, and taking great comfort in being together. I’m ever grateful for my universe of family and friends.

It’s still quite a perplexing journey to navigate: he’s gone. But he’s not. I can’t touch him. But he still touches me–the lives of all of those who loved him with seeming regularity. He was an enriching ingredient to all of our lives, planting seeds of action and creation. I love that.

May is over, and the bully of June 1 was more mirage than menace.

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