the xanax diary

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

Archive for the category “Feelings”

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.

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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.

Wading into the Dating Pool


After one week on match.com I received an email that piqued (not “peeked” as another subscriber wrote) my interests because it was funny, razor-sharp and quick. Many emails, a phone conversation, and many more texts later found me on my first “first date” since 2001.

Over the past few months–since the holidays, I suppose–I’ve been considering what should come next in my personal life. With a rich and supportive circle of friends–most of whom are coupled–I found myself as the “odd man out”–never by their actions or words. But at a certain age it’s normal to be paired up. It’s what most if us want. I can certainly appreciate that.

Online dating seemed like the only viable option. Though I’d done it before in 1999-2000ish era and really have no prejudices against it, it seemed awfully unappealing to me. It lay in the back of my mind for a couple of months until I finally had to confront it. And it a took a Skype conversation with my Argentine amigo Diego (and some wine) to help me unearth it. And the answer wasn’t really that surprising: I was embarrassed, ashamed and sort of annoyed I had to follow up an iconic, textured love relationship–that ended far too early and without our permission–with an online profile and photos that would be scrutinized/discarded by strangers.

It was somehow in acknowledging that when I was able to be free of it and move past it. It almost allowed me to look forward with some excitement as to what possibilities might lie ahead for me. I know what it’s like–the good and the bad–to be in a healthy, loving relationship, and I don’t relish the idea of living the rest of my life without being one. I don’t mind saying I owe it to myself to see if its out there for me. Whether or not I find it again, what I had with Ken will never cease to fill me with love and pride, knowing I’ve experienced the truest of loves; one that can never be replaced or forgotten.

Certainly as Friday evening approached and I prepared for my date, Ken was heavily on my mind. But not with any feelings of sadness, doubt or betrayal. He was pumping me up, telling me to go for it. In my mind’s eye he’s my biggest supporter. No one would wish this kind of happiness for me more than he would. And it was of great comfort to my butterfly-stuffed stomach and tingly nerves.

Just the fact I wanted to go on a date was such a revealing symbol to me, someone who doesn’t do anything I don’t want to do before I’m ready to do it. It felt good and right. And it wouldn’t have at any time previously. It was another indication that I’d moved significantly further down my path of grief. Knowing the time and effort I put into grieving Ken was purposeful, and brought me to a moment like this invites great satisfaction. Like I didn’t just clock in every day, I showed up and did the work.

As for the date itself I can only supply general information about my feelings. I’ve never written a post that included someone I don’t know very well, and I want to be sensitive to his feelings and experience. But as far as first dates go–especially one gapped from its predecessor by some dozen years and, in many ways, a lifetime–it was ideal. Fraught with laughter, curiosity, flirtation and even reverence for Ken as my date asked kindly about him and our life together, the time flew by and before I knew it, it was a smile-inducing memory.

Regardless of what the future holds for my dinner date and me I will always think fondly of this occasion and be eternally grateful for his humor and compassion in making this momentous night so easy, comfortable and unforgettable.

Some Days…


Sometimes I’m overpowered by the need to organize. I think part of it stems from a need for control that I didn’t have over Ken’s health or of the apartment during his illness. It was tantamount that things be accessible to him–aesthetics and organization be damned. Of course, that was okay. I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible. But once they removed his hospital bed on June 2, 2011, I’ve been moving things around and trying to organize and streamline. This need for controlled change hits me in jolts and must be obeyed.

I tackled some long-avoided boxes of cards and letters. I’m a hoarder of such mementos when they share a personal message or commemorate a special occasion. The 80s and 90s box brought unabashed giddiness, laughter and smiles. But there were other boxes I was dreading to go through, and others I wasn’t even quite sure about the contents. After the fun box was sorted, labeled and stored, I moved to the fork on the road. To “go there” or “not to go there” is sometimes the question. And as time has passed, it becomes somewhat of a choice. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself, trying to assert control of something that is forever uncontrollable.

I didn’t necessarily keep the cards and notes in order, but as I fumbled through them, they fell into definite chronological groups. Beginning with Ken’s rediagnosis and hemipelvectomy in January of 2010, I kept pretty much every card received. I hung them up or kept them out so he could see how many people were supporting for him. Once he’d recovered I couldn’t bring myself to throw any of them away. When the cancer returned again later that year, he received a deluge of love and support via USPS. And again when he came home for hospice in April of 2011. Then came the condolence cards for me. Followed closely by the funny ones. To try to make me smile. All the the love, hugs, and prayers sent was lush and plentiful. I can’t say they were all for naught. It’s what we do. It’s all there is to do.

Reading through all the cards in that box brought me back to a time when that hospital bed rested humbly at the front of the living room in which Ken was nestled each night. I could hear his voice. His laughter. Our in-jokes. I found numerous cards he’d written me over the years, tears stinging my eyes then running eagerly down my face. I could feel his love, and I could see our live together–clearly. I felt chained to it…in a way. For better or for worse. And wondered–even now–if  it will ever be possible to touch or see or feel something from my life with Ken and not feel this tiresome ache.

2000s sorted, labeled and lovingly stored. Until the next fork in the road.

Some days are inherently tough. And those days deserve to end with something like this.

A Delicious Discovery


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I’ve had a box of Ken’s personal papers under my desk for months–since moving them there over the summer to remind myself to deal with them. Nothing drastic. But to go through it to at least understand what it contained. I’d only managed a short look the last time–sometime in 2011 when I wasn’t ready for it. So back on the shelf it went. I had a burst of organization this week–and a desire to get rid of anything that is emotionally inert and serves no other purpose.

I spied the plastic box under my desk, and made a note to pull it out as soon as I finished moving some books. I wondered if it was a good idea. Sometimes “good ideas” like this can result in a nostalgic path to Sad Town. Population: me. But I didn’t want to give it any imagined power over me and waded ahead, fully prepared to pull the plug should I feel any of the well-known signs of ooginess creeping up on me.

But I was curious. And in working on the book I’m writing about Ken and me, I was interested to see if I’d find anything he’d written that might be something I could use to that end. And immediately, I hit pay dirt. Ken was a prolific writer. Thoughts. Poems. Stories. I’d found some other writings on a shelf in his office last year, and stumbled upon some more here and there. So, finding more excited me!

I didn’t take the time to read anything too closely, I just wanted to get a feel of what was in it, and perhaps begin to categorize it. I am a nostalgic fool, and can be so easily be derailed by mementos and the like. And I found plenty in the box. Cards and notes I’d written him and some photos of  us, friends and Quantum–and Peyote, the dog he had and loved before he had Q.

Seeing and touching all of these pieces of his life wasn’t sad for me today. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time. (I probably wouldn’t have proceeded if that hadn’t been the case.)

One of the last things I pulled out of the box was a book of some kind. Upon closer inspection, it was a small date book with shiny pages and an old Hollywood movie theme. I’d never seen it before–that I could recall. I flipped around the spiral binding to find the cover, but there wasn’t one to be found. And the year didn’t appear anywhere I could see.

For all I knew this could have been from any of years prior to my meeting him in 2001, but I had a funny feeling it wasn’t. I flipped to March 23 and there in the scribbles in the tiny rectangle under the date I could make out my name. It was indeed for 2001 and he used it as an abbreviated diary. I skimmed around and read his notes, what he did, who he talked to (usually me.) It was like poking my head through a kind of time portal and seeing the beginning of our relationship from his point of view.

It was so fun to find a piece of his world from the time just before he met me and during the rest of that exciting year when we were freshly in love and learning about each other. Seeing his notations from our dates and time spent together is a kind of reassurance I never needed, but find nonetheless comforting now.

I’m so proud of what we built together, and I’ll never tire of being reminded of it.

Life as I Know It


I was lying in bed the other night writing, Kallie stretched out beside me, her raspy, rhythmic snore keeping time with her belly as it raised and lowered. I stopped what I was doing and looked at over her, my hand resting on her side. And I thought, “this is my life.” It sounded odd as I contemplated the words. It was almost a question. “This is my life?” Sometimes it’s easy to forget all that has transpired over the last couple of years that changed my life so drastically from what it was to what it is.

It seemed strange for a few moments until it sank in, filling me with warmth and complacence and…happiness. Like I was finally doing something right in the months of fumbling after Ken’s death. It’s easy to doubt yourself and feel lost after losing someone you love. Little moments like this one have remained quiet for me, but are filled with less sadness than they used to be. Or at least a different kind of sadness.

As far as 2012 goes, it was a good year–as good as possible, that is. It was another first. My first full calendar year without Ken. I’m not even sure how it’s possible. In reading from my personal journal, on January 1, 2012 I wrote about 2012 having to be a good year because “at least it’s not the year Ken died.” Clearly, I set the bar as high as I was able at the time, and is a good snapshot as to where I stood emotionally.

My life–like anyone’s–is a work in progress, frought with successes, failures, love and pain, but since my sabbatical from work (which most epically includes getting Kallie) I’ve felt more settled and confident. The world started to seem a little more interesting to me again. It’s a place I’m gaining more and more curiosity about, and will have to shake off the dust to get out into and explore again.

As for 2013, a friend of mine wished me a year of purpose, action and success. I like the sound of that.

That’s my wish for me and for everyone.

Eggnog Memories


A bottle of Christmas memory goodness

I saw eggnog at the grocery store the other day. It made me think fondly (as always) of Ken. He was the first person I ever knew who actually bought it and drank it every year. He mostly used it to sweeten his coffee during Christmastime. Throughout the holiday season, if I saw it at the store, I’d gleefully buy a bottle and bring it home to his grateful smile and eager hands. I bought a bottle last year, but never opened it. I’m not a huge fan, but it was a tradition I’m not willing to let go of.

For some reason I haven’t bought any yet this year. Maybe it’s just not close enough to feel like Christmas yet.

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