What Does Grief Look Like Now?

Hi, hello. I am still here. 

How are you, friends?

Things are adequately satisfactory in the Coleman household. We’ve made it through another Buffalo winter (almost, right?!?)

Ingrid is sporting a new ‘do with self-styled bangs (yes, I finally hid all of the scissors), and I’ve discovered the simple pleasure of ordering cheap trinkets from Wish.com (coping at its finest).

As far as my health (because I haven’t talked about it in ages) --

Feeling mostly good, physically. Also:
  • Had a clear MRI in December.
  • I see my oncologist every other month.
  • Get a monthly Zoladex injection. In. ma. belly! 
  • Doing the Tamoxifen thang. 
  • So far, so good.
It’s taken some tweaking, but I think I’ve finally arrived at a healthy combination of meds, counseling, and a go-with-the-flow attitude that has led me to where I am now: mostly peaceful/groovy/happy, with periodic smackdowns with grief (who is a muscly and mean jerk, and I am neither of those things, so you can guess who usually wins).

So, 10 months out. What does grief look like now?

Grief looks like going weeks at a time without so much as a single tear. And then one day: all the tears.

Grief looks like guilt. Guilt for accepting a boy’s number at a bar. Guilt for not being sad all the time. Guilt for cooking all the foods Paul hated and watching all the girly shows he couldn’t stomach, and being super happy about it.

Grief looks like spending Valentine’s Day eating questionable amounts of cheese while weepily watching Little Women (Why Beth, why???)

Grief looks like family fun days at Bounce Magic or the Science Museum. It looks like everyday family stuff: forgetting to pay bills, complaining about winter, discovering new nail polish “art” on the closet door.

Grief looks like exhaustion. Mixed with joy. Mixed with hope. Tastefully seasoned with a spoonful of "frig the world, I do what I want." (Grief doesn’t make ANY sense ever everrrr.)

Grief looks like inventing new family holiday traditions. Inventing a whole new life, actually. One that makes sense for Ingrid and me.

Grief looks like a lot of coffee. And a fair amount of gin.

Hokay, does that answer the question? (no Liz, not really.) Sorry. I tried. What do you want from me?

When I'm not trying to wrestle grief to the ground, I find pleasure in watching Ingrid write her name in squiggly handwriting or answering her profound life-questions (“Mom, when they bury you do you get dirt up your nostrils?”)

She talks about death possibly more than most 4-year-olds. Good or bad thing? I don’t know.

I watch her grow and my heart is exploding and sometimes I feel so badly that Paul didn’t get to see this. He was taken too soon, and sometimes this makes my grief look like anger. Or more like...this overwhelming heartache, a sort of sickly-sour-guilty-feeling that I’m here, watching the sun set over the ocean, and he isn’t.

And, no. I don’t live by the ocean. Ingrid, my sister, and I took a trip to Florida in February and it was DA BOMB.

Love, Liz

Our 2018: One Wedding Short of a Hugh Grant Rom-Com

About a week before he died, Paul made a strange request:

"Could we have a Halloween party for Ingrid?"

"...In May?" 

"Yeah. Like a Christmas in July thing, only it's Halloween...in May." 

"Um, I mean. I guess we could do that?" 

"I just love seeing her dressed up," he said. "We could get costumes and candy and have her cousins over to watch Halloween movies." 

"OK Paul. Yeah. A Halloween party it is. How are you doing on pain? Time for more Oxy yet?"

It's almost like he knew he wouldn't make it until October. And he just wanted one last stab at stealing sharing his kid's stash of Reese's cups.

But then, minutes later, he'd refer to some future event with giddy anticipation. Not at all like someone who was planning to die in a few days. Like, for instance, his baby sister's wedding that took place a couple of weeks ago. He was so excited to see her walk down the aisle.

I remember sitting at the dining room table with Paul on one of his last nights. He had a photograph of his youngest sister in his hands and he was saying, "She is so beautiful. Isn't she so pretty, Liz?" 

Hearing a brother say that about his sister - is there anything sweeter? I mean, really. But that was Paul for ya. He loved his family. LOVED them.

People tend to speak favorably of the dead, but I am only being sincere when I say I was tremendously lucky to have been Paul's wife. His siblings were incredibly lucky to have had him as a brother. His friends were lucky to have been witnesses to any one of his (possibly intoxicated) spontaneous impersonations of a French boarding school headmaster (long story). I won't say his parents were lucky to have had him as a son because *ahem* they had a major hand in molding Paul into the Paul that he was, so actually - Paul was the lucky one there.

So Paul, I just wanted to let you know - your sister was a lovely bride. All FOUR of your sisters were lovely. Your brothers weren't half-bad either. Ingrid and her cousin made the most darling flower girls. And the DJ was out. of. this. world.

A small handful of Ingrid's bajillion cousins

Guys, enjoy your trick-or-treaters. And hey! Do me a solid and save me any Junior Mints, would ya? You can have all of my Almond Joys and Mounds and whatever other candy bars decide to be gross by having coconut in them.

Also, to Paul's baby sister: I'm sorry if this makes you cry. But Paul loved you quite a lot and I dunno. Maybe it's good for you to hear that again. Don't be mad, pleaseeeeeeeee k love you bye.

Grief, Kayaking, And A Happy Farewell To Summer

If we're going with the "grief hits in waves" analogy, then this past week was a tsunami. It's been a relentless onslaught of heavy sadness around here, hit after hit after hit. It's all part of the process, so I'm trying to roll with it and let the emotions fill me up, do their thing, and go from there.
One thing I've learned while navigating this boggy terrain, is that grief is not a straight path. It's not linear, it's not chronological. Things do NOT get easier as each day passes. They get harder. Then a little easier. Then back to hard. Then the world explodes and I'm heating up Campbell's soup for dinner and sobbing into Paul's hoodies.
Last weekend, Ingrid and I took a road trip out east to Waterford, NY for the 8th Annual Kayaking For Meso fundraiser. This event is particularly dear to my heart. Paul and I made the trip three years ago, when Ingrid had just turned one. We painted our canoe in the Meso Foundation's signature light blue color, and I held our not-yet-walking babe in my lap while Paul paddled us the seven or so miles down the Erie Canal. (Hard to imagine him with that kind of strength.)

Kayaking For Meso 2015

This year's kayakers paddled in memory of my sweet Paul and Sarah Simso-DeMaria, another young woman who passed away from mesothelioma last year. Sarah was a beautiful girl, and we had the privilege of meeting her and her husband at a Meso Symposium in 2015.
Despite the cold temps this year, it was an incredible event. I can't think of a more fitting tribute to Paul's memory. Aside from his family, being on the water was one of his great loves.

Kayaking For Meso 2018

We were spoiled with a comfy ride on the pontoon boat this time around.
Ingrid and I ended the weekend on what should have been a high note: an afternoon at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. That place, for the record, is something else. Really special. The mini Wegmans area was a favorite.
And yet, I left feeling more deflated than ever. I couldn't even keep it together long enough to get past the highway tollbooths without tears. Why yes, I'm crying. But I'm FINEEEE. Totally 100% OK with life and everything. Just the ticket if you would, kind sir.
I'm guessing my sadness was triggered by an unfortunate blend of dreary weather, the onset of a nasty cold (thank you preschool germs!), and a restless sleep the night before. And maybe OK. Also because I'm totally not fineeeee or OK with life and everything. Not at all. And being in a museum swirling with dads helping their daughters build castles or whatever and pregnant moms and siblings and all that noise and then there's just me, alone, watching my daughter play, alone, and that's what I felt: so alone.
And before you're all: but Liz, you're not alone! You have friends and family and neighbors and God and all these people loving you and Ingrid and helping you out. And, guys, that's awesome. Thank you for that. I appreciate every single one of you and every single thing people have done for us - big and small. Really, I do. I am so beyond blessed it's borderline ridiculous. 

But. I miss my husband. There is nothing, NOTHING, that can ever fill that hole.
I love watching Ingrid explore and discover and do all that great kid stuff. I love taking her on trips and reading to her and listening to her butcher the lyrics to The Greatest Showman. But I miss sharing that stuff with her dad. Yes, I can share those things with other people. And that's fine and dandy, but it is NOT the same.
I missed the amused smiles we'd have shared when Ingrid asked incredulously if a large animatronic Giant was "real or fake." I missed ordering Paul a strawberry milkshake to go with our pair of chocolate ones. I missed his usual mumble of ornery remarks about all the rambunctious kids running wild. (Although more known for his laid back vibe, I can assure you Paul's attitude often crossed into what I affectionately referred to as "Early-Onset-Grumpy-Old-Man-Syndrome".)

Most of all, I missed my husband towards the end of the day when a couple of snooty girls would not play with my daughter. There's no need to go into details, but basically my bruised heart got all torn up watching two 5-year-olds tell my kid to "go away! We don't want to play with you!" Ingrid, cool kid that she is, walked away entirely unfazed by this snub. Her sensitive mama...not so much. Paul would have known exactly the right thing to say, though. He would have known just how to snap me out of my funk.
That's the thing about having a committed partner. They know you better than any other living soul, and it's sort of their job to take care of things when your sensitive self can't stop crying over mean little girls. And that's gone forever and I'm not OK with it, OK?
All in all, I'm glad for this summer to be over. As soon as September hits, every living soul is all: "can you believe how fast summer flew by?!?" And I'm over here like: Really, how was that for you? Because OHMYGAWD this summer went so slooooooooooow.
Not that it was all terrible or depressing. In fact, I don't think I've ever crammed so much activity into one season. This summer was not without its memorable moments. But fly by, it did not.
You hear that, Buffalo winter? Bring it. I'm ready for you. (Did I just say that? Must be the grief talking. I'm powerless here.)


Annual Summer Blogging Challenge

Fellow blogger and breast cancer advocate, Nancy Stordahl of Nancy's Point, has issued another series of questions in her annual Summer Blogging Challenge. Here are my answers. Thanks Nancy!
1. How long have you been blogging (or reading blogs)?
I started blogging last summer, so about a year. Unless you count my old LiveJournal, but let's pretend that never happened, mmmkay?
2. How has your blog changed?
I think my writing has taken on a more personal approach. When I started blogging I was clueless about which direction I wanted to take - was this going to be a blog for breast cancer patients or a blog for caregivers or a blog for anyone who's having a rough go at life (i.e., every human being ever)? Still figuring that out, but mostly I just try to be myself. And that seems to work for me.
3. What is your biggest blogging challenge/frustration?
People assume writing is therapeutic for me, but it's actually really hard. Like writing is the hardest thing ever. The words don't just flow effortlessly. Wish they did, but they don't. I don't always enjoy the process of writing as much as I enjoy having a finished piece in front of me. That (usually) makes it worth the effort.
Also, have you ever tried writing while a feral 4-year-old is doing acrobatics on the bed next to you?
And my technical skills are pretty abysmal.
4. What is your favorite post that you’ve written (or read)?
Probably this one ("We Need To Be OK With Not Being OK"). I wrote it after my second mastectomy, but it's still relevant as I'm grieving the death of my husband.
5. What are your goals for your blog? (Why do you read blogs?)
To become a better writer. To connect with people.
6. How many blogs do you read on a regular basis?
Honestly? None. I read bits here and there. But nothing regularly.
7. How do you determine what to share and what not to share; in other words, do you have blog boundaries? (or comment boundaries)
I do have to be careful about respecting my family's privacy. So I don't refer to anyone outside of my immediate family by name. In the past, whenever I wrote something especially personal I would get Paul's approval before posting it.
8. When things get hard, what keeps you blogging (or reading blogs)?
Encouragement from my readers. (Thank you!)
9. What is your biggest Cancer Land pet peeve today, right now, this minute?
This is going to upset a lot of people, probably. But I used to get slightly annoyed when people would say they were "still praying for that miracle" when Paul was dying. I'm maybe a terrible person for admitting this, and I'm definitely an imperfect Catholic because we're supposed to believe in miracles and all that? Somehow it just seemed like a dismissal of how serious things were. I knew Paul was going to die. Saying there was still a chance for a different outcome just didn't seem right. 
10. What one piece of advice would you offer to a new blogger?
Just start. Focus on writing. Don't worry about getting things perfect. They'll never be perfect. Just write.
11. Share something most people do not know about you. A secret sort of thing.
I loved watching True Blood, and don't you dare judge me.
12. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading. Prowling thrift stores. Concerts. Dancing to Disney tunes with my four-year-old. Cuddling with dogs all day long. (I'm a Rover dog-sitter, so send me your pups the next time you're out of town!)