Sunday, August 5, 2012

January, 2012

Individual Hospice counseling has been priceless.  Everything I'm feeling is normal, even when my emotions are all over the map.  I'm naturally a problem solver and have worked through the "why I'm reacting like this" fairly well.  It's time for the 6-week group counseling.

I found myself more depressed when I left group than when I arrived.  It was overwhelming hearing so many experiences.  But I promised my counselor I would do this, so each week I went and each week I handled it better.  The topics we covered were helpful and a lot of it we talked about in my individual sessions.  It was important to hear it again, though.  We participated in art and music activities.  By the potluck dinner final session, I was finally looking forward to our meetings and didn't want them to end yet.  Mama made John's favorite chicken pot pie for the potluck.

A couple of other ladies in our group, young like me, had lost their husbands.  It was comforting to hear they hadn't been able to get rid of items belonging to their spouse, too.  

Each person's grief is different, never stops, and it's okay.  Mentally, I can't handle as much as before.  I never know when I'll be overcome with emotion.  Feelings and reactions are magnified.  I can spend a day on the couch if I need to, but I can't stay there.  Now that I'm coming out of the "shock" of John's death, It's getting harder because I'm feeling.  It was months before I could go to a large store or church without feeling panic from being around so many people.  I have limits.  I want to hear others talk about John.  I have no regrets.  It takes a lot of energy to grieve.  

I had one more individual counseling session for personal closure after the group sessions ended.  I could NOT have made it this far, sane, and in one piece without this service from Hospice.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Christmas, 2011

I spent Christmas Eve night with my sister's family as I have since Marshall was small, except for last year.  It was sad to be without John but fun to be back experiencing the excitement of that special morning.  The rest of the holiday was much as usual; time at my parents' opening gifts, and eating.  My thoughts frequently went back to last Christmas and John sitting in the recliner with the headband holding his bandage in place, snow, and an awful headache the next day.  Has it really been a year??

November 25, 2011 first Thanksgiving

The firsts without a loved one are tough.  And there are so many.  Thanksgiving would be an especially obvious John-void because he could put away some food.  And my mother can sure cook it.  This year, my sister's in-law family invited our family for lunch.  Again, it helped to celebrate a tradition in a new way rather than with one less chair around our usual table.  We had a fest and watched football and lay around for the afternoon.

October 24, 2011 Wally

A couple of days ago, Marshall went with me to the Humane Society to find a cat.  The house had become too still again and I should be done with trips for a while.  The lady told me about a cat adopted out by them as a kitten years ago and recently came back starved almost to death.  He was well enough to find a home again and would I be interested.  Marshall decided Wally had great potential.  I signed the papers and went back to pick him up today.  He's still gaining weight but is a handsome orange tabby who loves to cuddle.  Ah, the pitter patter of paws in the house once more.  And wonderful company to come home to.

September 14, 2011 COM memorial service

The second week in September, my friend, Curt, who teaches at the FSU College of Medicine, invited me to the cadaver memorial service at the school auditorium.  "Does this mean John is up to bat this semester?" I asked.  There was a peaceful pause on the other end.  Curt told me they worked on John over the summer.  They needed one more body at FSU and he was next up specifically for that school.  John made it to college barely under the wire.  How like him.  "I would be honored to attend," I said.

If there were any lingering doubts as to whether body donation was the way to go or not, they melted away after my time with the students from the classes of 2014 and 2015.  I've never been more sure of anything in my life.

Curt said there would be a parking spot reserved for me.  I parked in the circle and went in the building, after taking pictures of it, and told them who I was.  They immediately recognized my name, whispered to each other that I was there for the service, and if I'd follow the gentleman, he'd direct me where to park.  I felt like a celebrity.  

I waited in the lobby until Curt met me.  It's a beautiful facility.  Students set up a reception table with cupcakes and punch, and scurried around taking care of last minute details.  Curt introduced me to the man over the department, who used to work at the Anatomical Board.  I was thanked profusely for our donation and especially for being at the memorial.  

As the attendees entered the auditorium, they were handed a black rubber bracelet that read, "In loving memory of our first patients."  The magnitude of the whole evening was dawning on me.  I wore my bracelet proudly.  The program cover said, "In honor of those who graciously donated their bodies to our medical education," and a soft, pale pink rose centered on it.  Inside the program was a list of cadaver numbers assigned by the state, along with the cause of death and the name of the student who would talk about their experience with their study group.  It was easy to tell which number was John's because of the listing of glioblastoma.  After each student spoke, they placed a white rose in a vase.  By the time all 22 roses were combined, it made a lovely arrangement.  The girl representing John, as well as all the students, talked about the bonding that went on as their group worked on the bodies.   Curt told me of his first study group and how he still keeps up with at least one of them.  "You never forget it."

In the director's talk, he referenced a family member of one of their cadavers being in the service, and again, his thanks were overflowing.  It was pretty obvious who the family member was, as most in attendance were student and teachers.

When the service ended, Curt took me on a tour of the building.  It was amazing, especially to me, a medical-phobic.  By the time we made it back to the reception, most of the group had cleared out.  He introduced me to a couple of the students and we chatted about the specialties they want to pursue.  When they found out I was the family member representing one of the bodies, the thanks poured again.  Each spoke of the importance of this first semester of anatomy and the need for that "first patient" to work on.  I was impressed and came away confident in the future of medicine.

There was a group of four girls hanging back, watching, hesitant to approach.  Curt called  them over and amidst the introductions, said my husband was one of the bodies they worked on.  

"He had the THING on the side of his head," I told them.  They all nodded.  I told them a quick version of John's illness and why the tumor grew out like it did.  I urged them with questions, and their answers told me what I wondered.  One of the girls never found her voice in our conversation.  She was overcome with emotion to meet someone who made such a precious donation to their education, and teared up along with me.

When John's body arrived and they saw the tumor on his head, they had all the students look at it.  This is exactly what I wanted to happen.  I asked if any of them were interested in neuro, and they told me a couple of the second-year students were.  They worked on the back of the bodies, then extremities and abdomen.  One of the girls in the group I was talking to did John's abdomen.  The study groups rotated around to different bodies as they learn different parts of the anatomy.  

"But what about his head?" I kept asking.  They looked at each other and whispered, and looked to Curt.  He must have given the okay because one said they kept the brains and would be learning about them this semester.  I was thrilled and thanked them for telling me.  I'm sure my enthusiasm shocked them, but this is why we wanted to donate John's body; research, research, research that may keep someone else from dying from GBM one day.

The girls and I took pictures in front of the vase of roses and I adopted them in my heart.  I did quick mental calculations.  If they received John's body in June and it was returned in August, surely it wouldn't be but a few months at most before his ashes were returned to me.  Or do they wait for the remains of his brain from this semester?  

Seeing the gratitude of the students and teachers and the need for body donation in their education, I tell anyone considering this avenue to do it.  It is a lasting, far reaching gift.  I know it's rare for a family member to attend a "first patient" memorial service.  I count it an honor, and will remember it as one of the most amazing events in my life.

August, 2011 hair today, gone tomorrow

Three and a half years ago, I cut my hair and donated it to Locks of Love in memory of my bestest friend, Vickie, who died of lung cancer.  When we realized how sick John was and he shaved his head for surgeries, I decided to grow and donate my hair again.  I waited until after my trip west because I knew we'd be hiking and I wanted to be able to put it up.  My sister was all too happy to chop-chop the length and ship it off to be made into a wig for someone going through chemo or in need of the hair I could give.

It was another emotional, meaningful connection to John.  Everyone in the shop knew why I was there and were encouraging and supportive of my new look.  My plan is to grow and donate it again in a couple of years.  There are stipulations for donating hair.  If you are interested, check with your hair care professional.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Glacier, 2011

St. Andrews
Kiev, Ukraine

a year behind

I cannot believe it's been a year since I've written anything!  School started last year and when that happens, not much else gets done.

There have been a few major events since last summer.  This first post will get through the end of last summer and early fall.

I took a trip to Idaho to see John's brother and family then took a side trip to Glacier National Park in Montana (again) for a week last July.  It was relaxing, cool, and got me moving around some.
Resting on the couch for almost a year added the pounds.  Couldn't get in shorts and jeans I usually wore.  

Idaho was as beautiful as I remembered.  Tim's family lives near Payette Lake, mountains in the distance, green and lush all around.  It was emotional but filling to be with them, a part of John.   Found myself looking at Tim's arms again because they resemble John's.  When it came time to leave, it was emotional for us all.  I wanted to stay and absorb more John-ness.  The morning I left, I stopped at the house to say good-bye on my way to the Boise airport, and the kids were lined up in their jammies, staring out the picture window.  It was quite early and they were bleary-eyed and weepy about my leaving.   

Montana had record snowfall winter of '11 and it hadn't all melted when I was there.  Got in the middle of a snowball fight at the Continental Divide/Logan Pass, built my traditional snowman, thought about John a lot.  One morning I realized he was gone.  Truly gone.  I couldn't call him or email about the wonderful time I was having out west.  I was ready to come home after a week, to surround myself with things of his and get him back in my head.

At the end of September '11 and into the first week of October, I went back to Kiev, Ukraine on another mission trip with Music Mission Kiev.  It again, was the first time I visited there without John waiting back in the States.  The people at the mission knew about him dying and had prayed for us, and were especially thoughtful and kind.  The widows we work with hugged me a lot and cried, and gave me flowers and gifts.  My birthday also fell when I was there and had cake and sang to me.
It was good to have my birthday in not-the-usual way so it wasn't so glaring that John wasn't there.    

When I got home from Kiev, Mama handed me a bag from John.  He gave it to her one of those days she sat with him while I ran errands, and made her promise she'd give it to me on my birthday.  I messed that up by being gone, but I'm sure he understood.  It was a bear in a party hat that sings "Happy Birthday" and a Hoops and YoYo singing birthday card I gave him recently.  I continue to be amazed at his thoughtfulness.  It was the perfect surprise.

I continued Hospice grief counseling, about every other week.  We tried every three weeks but I was a nervous wreck by the third week.  Every other suited me best.  When the Christmas holiday came, I stopped individual counseling and in the new year, began group.  I'll address that more in another post.