O were my love yon Lilac fair…

Bonnie and Me Lilacs

Bonnie and me looking younger and thinner…

By now I assume that anyone reading this already knows that Bonnie passed away ten days ago. We had the funeral Wednesday, and I still feel like I’m trying to process everything. I expect that feeling will persist for months or even years. I had a long time to plan and prepare for this, but it’s still totally devastating and life-altering.

It’s what I imagine losing a limb would be like. You keep expecting it to be there. If you’re not thinking about it you sometimes forget that it’s gone. I’ve heard of people having a phantom pain in a missing limb, and I think they might have some idea what it’s like to wake up and look over to Bonnie’s side of the bed and remember that she’s not there anymore–that she won’t be there ever again. A part of me is gone, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel completely whole again.

I do believe in the resurrection. Life would be too pointless and cruel without it. However, that belief doesn’t seem to mean that I’m spared from the pain of loss. As with most things in my life, art and music seem to be the most readily available sources of comfort. I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem by Robert Burns, so I thought I’d share it:

O were my love yon Lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

That’s only the first stanza, but it’s the one I like the best. I don’t actually know if Robert Burns was religious or not, but if my excessive time in academia has taught me anything, it’s that any one thing can mean any other thing if you want it to. So for me this makes me think of the resurrection. I love the imagery of separation and reunion in the poem. I can identify with the bird being cut off from its shelter through the rude winter, and, like the bird, singing will be high up on my list when I see my fair lilac once again.

It’s the Little Things That Make a Difference


A few months ago, Bonnie had a bit of a rough day. Admittedly, that description doesn’t really narrow things down much, but I don’t remember the exact circumstances. She was probably frustrated or feeling overwhelmed. As we were sitting in bed, I was messing around on the computer, and she was looking at her phone (don’t judge. You can’t have a deep conversation every night). Anyway, I came across some youtube videos that had us both laughing our heads off. The only one I can remember specifically is the one at the top.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s probably not a lot of value in the massive number of ridiculous, mindless videos on the internet, but a good laugh was something we both needed. I think there’s a kind of beauty to the idea that even something silly and small can be just what someone needs.

This sort of thing translates very well into a good approach when we’re trying to offer comfort to those who are struggling. People often ask Bonnie and me what they can do, looking for some big (or small) way that they can change our lives for the better. While there have been a few instances where we needed a big thing (moving comes to mind), the truth is that there usually isn’t anything they can do to actually change our situation. Most of the time that will be the case. Instead, the things that I remember and the things that mean a lot to me are usually the small things:

– People saying hi to me – not the “pity-eyes” sort of greeting, but a real friendly hello.

– People who talk about things other than cancer, college and kids. (I considered spelling all three of those with a “k” so they would underscore the alliteration, but that would make an unfortunate acronym).

– Basically anyone who acts like I’m still a normal person and not a project.

In essence, I’m finding that small gestures make a difference. As I was writing this, I remembered a story that President Eyring told in the Oct. 2010 general conference:

Once I was at the hospital bedside of my father as he seemed near death. I heard a commotion among the nurses in the hallway. Suddenly, President Spencer W. Kimball walked into the room and sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed from me. I thought to myself, “Now here is my chance to watch and listen to a master at going to those in pain and suffering.”

President Kimball said a few words of greeting, asked my father if he had received a priesthood blessing, and then, when Dad said that he had, the prophet sat back in his chair.

I waited for a demonstration of the comforting skills I felt I lacked and so much needed. After perhaps five minutes of watching the two of them simply smiling silently at each other, I saw President Kimball rise and say, “Henry, I think I’ll go before we tire you.”

“I thought I had missed the lesson, but it came later. In a quiet moment with Dad after he recovered enough to go home, our conversation turned to the visit by President Kimball. Dad said quietly, “Of all the visits I had, that visit I had from him lifted my spirits the most.”

I think I finally get this story. President Kimball didn’t come in trying to say the right thing. He wasn’t there with some idea about the perfect thing to say to buoy up Henry’s spirit and faith. He also didn’t make him give detailed explanations of his diagnosis and condition. He just came as a friend to see someone that he cared about.

Update on Bonnie

george-michael gif

I feel you, George Michael.

It’s been a long, stressful day. Bonnie wasn’t feeling very good last night, so she was up a lot. That translated into oversleeping for her doctor’s appointment. It’s always nice to start the day out right.

More importantly, it’s looking like her current course of treatment just isn’t managing the symptoms the way that we would like. Bonnie has been falling down a lot and her balance is really impaired, so we’re going to be switching to something more aggressive. At this point, Bonnie’s condition makes her such an outlier that there’s not really a proscribed course of treatment, so it feels a little bit like both we and our doctor are shooting in the dark.

We’re going to try a really high dose of the medicine that she’s on, which will involve some pretty serious time in the hospital. So that’s not going to be fun for anyone.

We also had a visit to the physical therapist, who basically said that there’s not much that he can do to fix things (not really surprising), but he gave us some strengthening exercises for Bonnie to do.

When I write it all down, it doesn’t sound like that much, but I just feel totally mentally spent. It’s the cancer anxiety. You just sit around waiting constantly for something to go wrong. It’s like your brain is stretched out too thin, or you’ve got this constant feeling of falling but you never hit the ground. Then when you get more bad news you just don’t have the energy to process it because of all the energy you spend keeping it together on a normal day.

That’s probably enough whining from me. I still have a great little family, and I’m sitting here watching a little show with L and R while I type this, so the day is not all bad. Even when things go poorly, it’s always nice to get a chance to sit around with the kids at the end of the day. But if you see my lying on the floor, you’ll know why.

Sundays are Tired Days

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This was the scene when we went to call people for dinner today.

Alternate Titles:

“Why my kids are still up at 9:20″

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant…”

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Hemingway

“The creatures are regenerating.”

 

Thankful Thursday 7 – MIB


I’ve been slacking off with my posts lately. I think Zed’s describes me missing so many Thursdays in a row well.

A few weeks ago my sister got married to a great guy (congrats again Linda and Jared). It’s always fun to see people get married. There’s an excitement and a sense of potential that can easily get lost as we move through life and get down to the business of actually being married.

I have to confess, I don’t remember much of anything about our wedding day. I don’t really remember what people wore. I don’t remember the ceremony at all. Basically it’s all a giant blur with occasional moments that stick out like snapshots.

As I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by how our wedding day is both completely essential and totally inconsequential. On the one hand, our covenants are eternal and have given Bonnie and me a lot of comfort as we’ve tried to deal with her illness. On the other hand, the actual day of our wedding is totally irrelevant. It could have been any day of the week, any time of the year and it still would have been just as effective. We could have had a tiny reception with just family and close friends or a huge party where the whole city was invited. The thing that really matters is what happened in the temple when we were sealed.

Today I’m grateful for marriage and temples. I’m grateful for Bonnie, and I’m especially grateful for the covenant that we made to each other.

Bonus Picture:

landr

L and R looked awesome in their wedding clothes, which I totally picked out.

Thankful Thursday 3 – Radio Silence

radio-silence-L-M8qvlZI just finished writing a different post and was about to hit publish when I noticed that it’s Thursday. Which means that it’s Thankful Thursday. I decided to postpone that other post and actually get a Thankful Thursday post published on Thursday. I’m just improving at this blogging thing every day.

Bonnie and I (half-)jokingly decided to go radio silent on our car trip. No calls or texts to other people. While we haven’t exactly been perfect at it, we’ve done pretty well. It’s probably a bit annoying to our respective families, but it’s been fantastic for us.

We do really appreciate all the calls and well-wishing that we’ve gotten in the last few weeks, but with the number of people who want to talk to and visit Bonnie, we could just spend all our time talking to other people who aren’t even really part of our everyday lives anymore and miss out on talking to each other.

Happily, we’re both introverted enough that we avoid that tendency. We’ve had the chance so far on our trip to joke around and laugh with each other, to sing songs and read stories to the kids, to have Bonnie read to me from David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell as I drove, and to have some really good, deep conversations. We might have missed out on some or all of those things if we were constantly calling everyone back and answering texts.

If we’ve ignored you all this week, I’m sorry, but the truth is I don’t feel particularly bad about it. Once we hit Utah it will be a pretty steady stream of visitors and family gatherings. Those will be nice things too, but before all that begins I’m thankful that I have these ten days or so to just be with my little family having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

How do you rationally approach your worst fears?

scylla-and-charybdis-bookpalaceI’m sitting in the hospital right now waiting while Bonnie undergoes a surgical procedure to make her treatments more convenient. My situation-my whole life-feels a little surreal. Cancer creates a lot of havoc in your life, but one thing that I never thought about is how strangely it forces you to deal with really horrible possibilities.

Last night as we were preparing for the surgery, Bonnie and I got talking about living will/end of life issues.

A: So you’ve said that you want a DNR (do not resuscitate) order later when we’re in Utah. What about tomorrow? What if you’re one of the statistically minuscule number of people who have serious complications in this surgery?

B: Tomorrow I definitely want to be resuscitated. I want to see all of our family.

A: Okay, what if you’re in a coma or something?

B: If my brain is dead, then let me die. That’s fine. I don’t really want to be kept alive if I’m a vegetable.

A: What about if you’re not a vegetable, but you have major personality changes or you lose like fifty or sixty IQ points? Should they take extraordinary effort to keep you alive at that point?

B: I have no idea. Do what you think is best.

A: Thanks. That sounds like a really fun decision to make.

Now take a second and think about this conversation. Really think about it. It’s horrible. Everything about it is horrible. Bonnie is discussing the imminent possibility of her own death or disability, and I’m talking about the possibility of losing the most important person in the world. Not just losing her, but of actually making the decision not to save her life. This is not a conversation that anyone ever wants to have, much less when they’re not even thirty.

This cancer just robs you of so many little things. There are so many injustices and indignities that Bonnie has to go through, while I sit helplessly on the sidelines, unable to protect her from the one thing from which she really needs protecting.

I think what really drives me crazy about this whole situation is that fact that I have to be relatively composed and calm about the actual decision. I have to be rational, because the only decision that I want control over-the only decision that really matters to me-is out of my hands. I can’t say, “I’ve decided that you’ll live and everything will be fine.” Once that’s gone, there are only bad decisions.

Choosing from a bunch of bad choices doesn’t feel like a choice at all.

Thankful Thursday 1 (Friday Edition)

IMG_20131127_165956155After yesterday’s downer of a post, I thought I’d do something more positive today.

I used to have a blog where I would try and write something that I was thankful for every day. My history of failures with topical blogs is something I’ll talk about another day, but with this blog I very quickly ran out of original ideas. It’s possible that I’m an ingrate, (I wouldn’t rule that out), but coming up with something insightful or clever or interesting to be thankful for every day just wasn’t in the cards for me. That blog really jumped the shark when I started trying to use things that I was learning about in school as posts. (“I’m thankful for polymers because they make life possible…”)

The truth is that the things that I’m thankful for don’t change all that much day to day. I’m thankful for Bonnie and the kids, I’m thankful for my house, for the country I live in, for my chance to attend IU. I’m thankful for Christ and the gospel and the scriptures. I’m thankful for books and learning, for a naturally curious disposition and for all my great teachers. I’m grateful for a supportive and loving extended family, ward, and community.

Even though a daily gratitude blog isn’t in the cards for me, I think it’s still worthwhile to take some time and express my gratitude for the many, many good things in my life. Therefore this is the first installment of what I will call “Thankful Thursday.” Yes, I know it’s Friday. Stop being so literal. Now, knowing how I am, there will probably not be a gratitude post every Thursday, but I’ll make it a somewhat regular thing.

Probably.

Let’s start with a depressing post

IMG_1206My wife is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’m sitting in the hospital this morning, waiting for her to finish a procedure where they inject chemotherapy drugs directly into her spinal cord to try and slow down the progression of the disease. It’s a treatment which no one even expects to work. The best we’re looking at is buying more time.

She’s 27 and she’s dying of breast cancer.

It’s been a little surreal this last week. On Friday, it was our sixth wedding anniversary. Bonnie called the doctor to get the results of a fairly routine scan. She’s been undergoing cancer treatments for the last year and a half, but we were supposed to be done with aggressive treatments for a while. Instead of the “all clear” that we were expecting, the doctor told her that he wanted both of us to come in on Monday to talk with him. That of course made for a nice, stress-free weekend while we tried not to think about all the things that could be going wrong.

My typical stress-relief strategy of “what’s the worst that can happen?” was useless in that context.

And then of course he gave us the news. That whole situation deserves its own post, so I’ll give you the short version. The cancer has spread all through her spine and part of her skull. It’s pushing on her central nervous system and there’s really no effective way for us to kill it at this point.

When you’re facing the death of a spouse, there are a lot of ugly words. Even words that didn’t sound so bad before have become really ugly:

metastasized

shunt

single parent

leave of absence

hardship exception

widower

One of the most frustrating things about this whole thing is that the grief doesn’t even get to be private for any amount of time. The day we found out about the prognosis we had to start making arrangements. Bonnie called her family, I called mine. I had to start talking to my school, Bonnie had to start working on the insurance. There’s not enough time for grief or silence, for just being alone with each other. The pain is immediately trotted out and shared with the whole world. People want to be supportive and they stop by and call and ask invasive questions, but I wish we could have had just a day or two with each other.

Cancer is a jerk.

People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I keep saying that I’m fine. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to process this situation, much less explain it to anyone else. So in lieu of actually talking to anyone who is physically here, I’d rather just send some thoughts out onto the internet. The internet is like therapy with more cowbell.

I think that’s the reason I decided to start this blog. I need to talk or vent or whatever and the internet seems to have an unlimited capacity for absorbing that sort of thing. Thanks, Internet.