Dying Man’s Journal – Better Understanding Grief.

October 31, 2006

Well, Manitoba winter set in yesterday and last night with a bang. It looks like we got 3-4 inches of snow, but under the snow is a layer of ice. Roads are going to be aweful for driving. Forecast calls for a high of -3. We all know the weather is coming but I always just hope it will hold off until after halloween for the kids. Usually, we get 140-150 kids because of the weather this year who knows. I always enjoy seeing the little ones, so cute in their costumes. This year they will still be wearing the costumes just we won’t see them as they will be bundled up in their big coats.

Yesterday was a pretty quiet day around the house. Both Vi and I were tired from the weekend. Not really sure why I was extra tired, she did all the work, cooking etc. I just sat around and visited with the family.

I, a couple of days ago I received an email from our good friend, Janice. She had just read my posting on my discomfort when trying to express my sympathy to a lady whose mother is in the final stages of her struggle with cancer. Janice, then carried on sharing some of her own feelings after the passing of her mother. Janice, I haven’t asked you so I hope you don’t mind if I share. What you wrote was so beautifully written and clarified much in my own mind.

Janice wrote:

…… in your journal, you said this about a friends visit…” last night Vi’s brother and his wife stopped over. Her mother is in the final stages of terminal cancer. What did I say, Jesse, I am so sorry to hear of your mother, she replied yes it is tragic. With that we both lower our eyes to the floor for a moment and carried on to other things.

Janice carried on: Some times a silence is good, that moment to pause and know that there is concern and a wish for someone we care about. At the time of my mothers passing, I was internally desperately grief stricken and couldn’t figure out why it was so hard to stop thinking about the empty sad feeling that seemed to be the only feeling I’d ever feel again. A friend summed it up simply, and suddenly, it made sense, with the words “the world just feels like a different when you know your mother isn’t in it”. Following those words was a silence. Anyway, it was one of the words spoken to me that made me realize I wasn’t losing my mind. My world suddenly was different, with out my mother in it…….

Janice, I thank you for sharing that and I really hope you don’t mind me putting it in my posting. I think you stated it so perfectly, the internal turmoil, we go through with the passing of a loved one. It goes beyond the natural sadness and painful sense of loss. The whole world, as we see it, is suddenly changed. Our thinking is overtaken by the feelings of loss at that time nothing else seems to matter. A vital and important part of that world is gone. It is almost like we are dealing with two issues. The grieving and natural pain of our loss, but also setting our world back in order. Adjusting our own lives to carry on with that one big piece of our lives suddenly gone. That in itself, can be hard, painful and frustrating. I suppose, it could almost seem to feel like trying to solve a complicated puzzle with one of the major clues to the puzzle missing. But, somehow we do it. Gradually, we put the pieces of our lives back together and carry on. It can be a slow process but we get there. I know Janice did as can we all.
Thank you Janice for helping me to see things a little more clearly. The loss of a loved one affects us far beyond the natural pain and sense of loss, it changes our world.

Dying Man’s Journal – Families Showing Affection

October 30, 2006

Up early today so that means I will be realy enjoying both my morning and afternoon naps. Feeling really good just a little sad the family is gone, a little lonely. The weekend was really good for me, it lifted my spirits. So nice to have family and loved ones close by.

Some how this weekend seemed extra special, only having Billie here, also, and making the weekend a little longer could have made it any better. Partly, I know it was having the kids around. I some ways maybe I think I am still a little kid at heart. Bring in the kids and you will usually find me playing video games with them or down on the floor building lego castles. We have built some pretty impressive castles.

Partly, I know it was having my brother Robin and his family here as we don’t get to see them as often as I would like.

Partly, I am sure it was a general distraction from my general life, all this dying business. It is not that my life here with Vi is very good. Also, be clear I do not spend my entire day, mired in the thoughts of dying. In fact it is not that often I even think of it. I am dying, it is a fact, there is nothing more I can physically do about it, my life is in God’s hands so lets just carry on and have a good day.

Is it strange, that the whole weekend was great and yet one of the highlights for me looking back was a simple hug from my brother Robin as we were saying good bye. The Howdle brothers are “manly” men and a hand shake is all we exchange. It started off just as the traditional handshake but somehow turned into a hug, not even sure how that happened.

I thank Mrs. Nicklebee for her kind and wise comment that got me thinking of this , this morning. Why is it we seem to need a little emotional push to get us to the point we can show the affection we feel? Why did it take me until this point in life, to realize the importance of showing affection, even something as simple as a hug. Now I am not including my daughters in this we always exchange hugs etc. In fact I guess I am really thinking specifically of my brothers. It is a sobering and sad thought when I think, as I don’t get to see Robin that often, that first hug may have been also my last.

Dying Mans Journal – Family weekend.

October 30, 2006

The long awaited weekend came and is not sadly gone. My brother Robin came for a visit, with wife Debbie and sons Trent and Travis. Brother Eric and his wife Lynda came as did my daughter Shauna and her husband Jake. The only way the weekend could have been any better was if Billie was here and if the weekend could have lasted longer.

On Saturday the ladies spent the day shopping and the guys just visited. On Saturday had the traditional thanksgiving diner with all the trimmings, ever one come back today for left overs. All wonderful, all over to quickly.

Then came the sad good byes as everyone left. I am not sure if it is because we are English or what, but we have never really been prone to public displays of affection. Normally, Robin and I will just shake hands when we part. This time it started out the normal handshake but somehow and I am not even sure how it turned into a hug. I don’t get to see Robin very often and I think both of us realized this could be the last time. I am glad we exchanged that hug.

Dying Mans Journal No Pity for the Dying

October 27, 2006

Woke up early, feeling good. Does it make sense that you can feel someones presence in a room or lack of their presence? This morning Vi got up about 10 minutes before me. As always she was careful not to disturb me. When I awoke it was more to the feeling Vi isn’t here. I know I sleep better, more comfortably when she is beside me, but can the mere fact she is not in the room actually wake me up?

I am excited looking forward to the weekend, brother Robin is coming in with his family. Don’t see enough of them, looking forward to it. You have to know Vi to understand, she is in a bit of a flap. Thinking of the meals, having the “right” snacks, polishing the floors etc. Maybe I am to casual about that sort of thing in that I don’t give it that much thought. I think as Vi and Lynda both are all worried about making sure the weekend is “just right”, they have the worrying part already covered so I don’t need to bother. No sense all of us doing it, besides, I am sure they are coming for the company not the snacks.

The more I think of it and read about dying, the more I realize and the clearer it becomes in my head. One of the main feeling we or at least I usually have for the dying is one of sympathy or pity. Oh, poor Bill, he is dying, how tragic.

Now let me make my thoughts on this very clear. Sympathy and pity have NO PLACE in my world. Sadness, OK. Sadness, only because we will be parted temporarily and will naturally miss each other.

With my memory these days I am never sure if I read this somewhere or if this is my own thought. I just know this helped me tremendously when my mother passed. I loved my mother dearly and still do and always will. I hope I can find the right words to really express what I am trying to say.

Use your imagination and try to picture this scenario. By some chance your loved one get a chance to go on a fantastic voyage, say a year long cruise around the world. You know your loved one would have a fantastic time, the time of their lives. Lets further suppose, the trip has already been booked and nothing short of a miracle will stop them form going. How would you react?

Would you be there, being lovingly supportive in their preparations for the voyage. Hoping and praying only for their happiness and well being. It is a given that you will miss them. You are comforted knowing you will see them again and out of love, make the choise to put their well being ahead of our own. I mean it would be so unfair to hope or think they should miss out on such an opportunity just because we will miss them. We joyously help in their preparations spending quality, happy time before they leave. Tearful good byes are said hugs are exchanged and off they go.

Or, Even though you know the trip is booked and that they will have a wonderful time, do you react differently. Even selfishly, out of our own fear of missing them and being lonely, we feel miserable. We cry and maybe even try to talk them into canceling the trip, “you can’t go I will miss you to much”.

Through our own selfishness we want to deny them the trip the joy, the happiness that would come with it. They are leaving anyway, but we have turned what could have been a joyous farewell into a time of personal sorrow for ourselves.

I used these thoughts on the passing of my dearly loved mother. I wished her joy and happiness until we meet again. Did that remove all the sadness no, but it definately helped. With her passing my mother went on a wonderful voyage and I do miss her but I know I will be seeing her again

Dying Mans Journal – Death in a Family

October 26, 2006

Today is starting off well, poor Vi slept hardly at all last night. When she gets stressed, her sleep is usually the first to suffer. Today will start getting ready for all the company coming for the weekend.

I have been doing a lot of thinking since, yesterday. Yesterday, I talked of my bumbled attempt to comfort the daughter of a dying woman. No that is wrong I didn’t try to comfort her, I offered my sypathy and was grateful to get away with just that.

I have lots of ideas and thoughts of how to deal with and talk to the dying, all based on how I want to be treated or talked to. I realize it is so much worse for the families. Example, in July 2000 I had a massive heart attack. Much later I was told that the doctors at one point didn’t think I would survive. Now my whole family had gathered and were visiting as they could. I was only allowed very short visits. So there they were all worried and scared. Where was I? Well obviously in the hopital bed, but emotionally I was just fine, perfectly comfortable and content. I know my strong belief system was a huge help. But also I was so full of morphine and a dozen or so other drugs, I felt no pain, I was content, sleepy but content. I was fine they were hurting.

I think, while we acknowledge the pain of the family, to often it is not until after the death, that we fully show it. Before it seems, to me anyway, that more of the attention, the sympathy what ever is directed to the “poor” patient.

We see to forget the family is hurting and in a bad way, in the time leading up to the passing, not just after. Maybe the same applies within the family itself. All of the sympathy and careing is directed to the one dying and they forget each other. Why is it, we can always be there for a family member or friend through every happy or sad event in life supporting them all the way. Freely discussing feelings everything.

The only example I thing I can think of off the top of my head is the death of a relationship, a divorce. We rush to offer our support, feelings are shared, the sense of loss, the hurt maybe even the anger. What ever the feelings at the time we share and comfort each other. Why can’t we have that same sense of freedom to share feelings on the death of a person? Not just after the event but in all the times leading up to it.

Dying Man’s Journal – Comforting the Family

October 25, 2006

Up early this morning, Not feeling so well.

Am I just more aware of people dying because of my condition? It seems there are more than usual within the circle of people that make up my personal world. Three others, I can think of just off the top of my head, none are close, more a family member of someone I know. I know it is just something I suddenly pay more attention to these days. I not only sense but I can actually see how uncomfortable people are. I am feeling it myself, the uncertainty of what do I say to the family member of someone that is dying.

Example, last night Vi’s brother and his wife stopped over, her mother is in the final stages of terminal cancer. What did I say: “Jesse, I am so sorry to hear of your mother”, she replied, “yes, it is so tragic”. With that we both lowered our eyes to the floor for a moment and carried on.

Should I have said more, don’t know. Could she have said more, yes I suppose, but her discomfort was obvious and understandable her mother is expected to pass any day. With that, she went back to playing with her 1yr old grandson, whom they had brought along. She seemed content to let the topic drop at that, and honestly I felt relieved. I mean I had done my “duty” expressing my sorrow, my job was done, what more could I do?

Looking back now, I realize there was a lot more I could have done or atleast offered. I could have asked how she was doing, how she was dealing with this pending loss. I could have asked if she wanted or needed to talk about it. I could have asked if there was anything I could do to help her or the family. There are so many things I could have asked or offered, but I didn’t. I didn’t even say, that she and her family would be in my prayers. I am feeling ashamed or embarrased that I just wanted to do my “duty” and get past the awkward moment. Why?

I have been so wrapped up in telling my story, of the dying man, that I haven’t given proper or enough attention to the family. I feel the family is hurting just as much if not likely more than the actual person. At least I know that is the fact with me and my family.

I have to give this a lot more thought.

Dying Man’s Journal Big Family Weekend

October 24, 2006

I am excited, we are having a big family get together this weekend. My brother Robin is coming to the city for the weekend with wife Debbie and 2 sons Trent and Travis. Haven’t seen Trent is at least 3 or 4 years, really looking forward to it.

They will be staying here with Vi and I. Eric and his family will I imagine or hope will be here all weekend. Thankfully, Eric lives only about 5 minutes from here. I don’t get to be with both of my brothers nearly as often as I would like. I want to enjoy every minute of the time and am going to even try a limit or even miss my naps. Without them though I get to feeling so groggy and thick headed that I wonder am I better off napping to really enjoy the time with them or just “tough” it out to get as much time in as I can. Quality or quantity I guess is the question.

I am blessed, such a lucky man to have the family I do. My 2 daughters Billie and Shauna, now back before they were born if some miracle had happened and God had handed me a pen and paper. Asking me to write down all the qualities, the character, every thing I would like my daugthers to have and in as much detail as I could. Well as it was God asking naturally I would have done my best. They have both surpassed anything I could have written or asked for. I love them so much and am so proud of both.

Shauna and her husband Jake will be in town for the day on Saturday. Billie sadly won’t be here, the distance is just to great.

I had decided this would be a daily journal, but I am not sure about this weekend, will see. Just more ramblings, time for my morning nap.

Dying Mans Journal – Why am I still here

October 23, 2006

Yesterday, was a pretty good day. Had my what has the norm. Not Feeling well in the morning. I have my morning nap and wake feeling better. This morning is starting the same. Nausea teetering on the edge of throwing up. Usually, I can control the throwing up with a lot of fast swallowing and deep breaths. I have at times thought maybe I shouldn’t fight it and just throw up but I just hate throwing up and it doesn’t seem to make me feel any better anyway. Doctors say it is something I just have to live with, a side effect of the combination of the many pills I take daily, 29 pills a day, not all different but a total of 29. It is surprising how you can adapt. When I first started taking any pills, I had to take one at a time with large swallows of water. Now, my bedtime load is 19 pills which I can down all in one swallow, the a little water. When I next see the doctor I am going to ask specifically for a pill of some sort that will help with the nausea. If I take 29 or 30 pills a day don’t see that will make much difference. I have come to almost dread the early morning.

My original intent had been to keep all my postings on the positive side. I have come to realize that, even though I believe the physical act of dying is a very natural next step in our progression anddoes not have to be feared. There are still lot of negative emotions that go with it, sadness, etc.. For the person dying there is also the physical conditions to deal with. The side effects of the medications, the pain all of which can lead to a very unpleasant time.

With the history of heart attacks in my family, I always assumed it would be a heart attack that took me out. I always hoped that when my time came it would be one big massive heart attack and I was down and out in 60 seconds or better still in my sleep. The Good Lord, for reasons of his own has chosen for it not to be that way for me. 4 heart attacks later and I am still here.

Today, I am tired, feeling down and not feeling well at all, and I guess my thoughts are reflecting that. When I first started sharing my journal, I wanted to keep it all up beat and positive. But lets face it, there are those days, those thoughts, those periods of not feeling well. I mean if I ever met a person that came skipping happily along singing, “I’m so happy that I am dying” I would think they are absolutely nuts. It is one thing to accept but totally a different thing to look forward to.

But even in just saying that, I realize my thinking has changed. I have had a few bad days when I have thought, OK, it is a given I am dying. I am not afraid to face what awaits me, so what is the point in lingering around here any longer. There are 2 very obvious answers, more time with my family and the biggest one, this is obviously where God wants me. Am I having suicidal thoughts or something, NO. I will go when and only when God calls me. But I do think, my family is going to be faced with the emotions of my passing, we all know that. We just don’t know the when, could be today, tomorrow or next month but it will happen.

I try my best to minimalize or even hide much of what I feel, but they are not stupid and can usually tell at least to some extent.

Am I just causing them more stress and grief by making them continue to watch what I am going through. I suppose what it comes down to is, am I just causing them more grief and worry by just remaining here.

Dying Man’s Journal – People

October 22, 2006

Yesterday, turned out to be a pretty good day. Didn’t feel so well in the morning, but after my first nap, I felt much better.

I am pretty much house bound, not getting out much at all. Email and well now my blog have become my major source of communication with the outside world. No one will ever really realize how excited I am every morning going to check my email and how appreciative I am when I see something in the in box. I am sure that sounds pretty boring to most and 10 years ago would have sounded that way to me. Even if it is just a joke or “wise” saying I love receiving them. I was in someones thoughts and they took the time to send me a message. Two of those messages, yesterday, really got me thinking. One was a joke and the second a message from a dear friend.

The joke went something like this:

Women are like apples, men are like fine wine. REMEMBER THIS IS A JOKE. Females are like apples growing on a tree in an orchard. The very best a often high up where they get the most sun and can ripen to be the best they can be. Others, lower down on the tree may be hidden from the sunlight and while still perfectly good apples haven’t ripened in the same way and may taste a little bitter. Still others may be laying on the ground, perhaps blown from the tree by a strong wind. These apples on the ground can vary, some are perfectly fine having just been blown off the tree, others can be partially or even totally rotten having been deprived of the nurturing of the tree. When the male of the species goes looking for a life partner, he approaches the “apple tree”. Which “apple” does he chose, one of those easy to reach, one on the ground or reach high up into the tree to get the very best apple he can. To often the young male will be afraid lacking the courage or confidence to reach to high for fear of fallling and getting hurt, or not even try to reach, just “knowing” he can’t reach that high and settles for an apple easily within reach.

OK, I think, I can see a bit of a life comparison here, and realize the genders can be just as easily switch with the message remaining the same. But now comes the joke part.

If you compare women to apples men must be like grapes. It takes a good woman to come along and stomp the (#*?!) out of them to make them more palatable like a fine wine.

Intended as a joke but it got me thinking about my life and life in general. Thinking of the apple tree, how often, not just in relationships but in jobs and all parts of life do we settle for something that is readily available. I think it is fear, fear that if we reach to high in any part of our life we will get our hand slapped and will be put “back in our place”. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being embarrassed. Fear causes us to settle for our place in life and we live with our mind haunted by the “if only’s” and the “what if’s”. This isn’t just the males the females approach the male “apple tree” and do they reach high or settle. Food for thought.

One thing to be very clear on, I did not “settle” for Vi. She is definately from the top of the tree. Said because it is true and because I don’t want to have to sleep in the garage tonight.

Now the second email.

The more I look back on life the more I am appreciative of some of the people in it that have really made a difference to me. Some in bigger ways than others some not even realizing they have done anything. Have I usually, ever done anything to recognize them, usually not. Take something as simple as a clerk doing an excellent job in a store, really going the extra mile to service your need. I usually just mumble a thanks and leave, Often thinking to myself, WOW, was that person ever nice and helpful. Why didn’t I express that directly to the person? It may have helped their day as much as they have just helped mine. Generally, we seem to be quicker to complain than we are to acknowledge and thank the good, Why? I am making a vow to express my appreciation a little more. The second email is a good place to begin.

Being a banker I was transfered often, I would guess my average stay in a community would be about 1 1/2 yrs. With all my travels, I have found it really doesn’t matter were you go, people are people. I think about 90% of all people are, just ordinary nice people doing thier best from day to day. About 5% a jerks and the remaining 5% are the very special nicer than the average people.

The second email came from a lady that definately fits into the last group, the nicer than average group. My transfer to Thompson, Manitoba was at my request. I had just gone through a very painful divorce and I suppose in one way I took the cowards way out, I ran. I just needed at that time to get away. Still be close enough to see the kids but away from my life. Career wise it was actually a step backwards but I didn’t care. It was a position I had done before and had every confidence I could still do. That confidence last about 30 seconds after I turned on my computer at my new desk and realized how much the programing had changed. I was lost.

That is when I met Janice, a coworker. She was the fountain of knowledge I desperately needed. The patience of a Saint, she took the time out of her already over loaded schedule to teach me all I needed. It wasn’t only me, she was the same with all the staff, our rock.

Her kindness continued after I was tranfered from Thompson. My health began to deteriorate at about that same time. She sent continual emails of encouragement and 4 or 5 times on hearing I was down, drove the 3 hours over treacherous Northern Manitoba highways to come to visit and cheer me up. At times with her husband at times with another dear friend Allison. She gave up whole weekends of her time to just come and cheer me up. Thank you Janice, Thank you Darrin and Thank you Allison.

The second email was from Janice, just to say hi with a few words of cheer or encouragement thrown in. Janice, I hope you read this as you will never really understand how you have had such an effect on my life. Through some of my darkest and lowest times, in coming to gribs with this whole dying business it was your emails that kept me going. Thank You. Your heart is special to be filled with so much kindness

Dying Man’s Journal – More talking to the dying

October 21, 2006

Yesterday didn’t start off so well but as the day progressed I felt better. Today is starting the same, very upset stomach. Took my morning pills and am now fighting to keep them in place, and not in the toilet bowl. Overall, I have it pretty lucky, so many have it so much worse. The nausea is definatlely getting worse, started of I threw up once or twice a month, now it can be 4-5 times a day. But that is on a bad day, mostly I can keep in place with a lot of hard fast swallowing. Other than that I just stagger around in a fog most days, almost feeling drunk, a side effect of the combination of my medications. In my teens and early 20’s I used to party and drink to much on the weekends, can’t imagine what that would feel like now. So there is the positive side, a lot of people spend a lot of money to feel drunk, and face a hang over the next day. I get to feel that way, don’t have to worry about the hang over and it is free, shouldn’t complain about that.

I look back and realize, now this may sound really crazy, but all my medical conditions have been good for me. How can 4 heart attacks, heart failure, brain tumor, epilepsy, diabetes…. possibly be good for you? Each has given me the opportunity to grow, maybe in some cases it would be more accurate to say forced me, to grow as a spiritual person. I have always had my own very strong beliefs in God, Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. I am not sure how to describe it but the beliefs were always there, but maybe buried a little to deeply inside. Through all this in the past few years, I have turned within and brought those feelings more to the surface. It is for this reason I consider it all to have been good for me. Why did it take such drastic happenings for me to do this? I think I have become a better, stronger person spiritually and mentally, but on the flip side the health paid the price. I can’t help but feel it was a fair trade.

I have written a lot about talking to and being around the dying. I am still surprised, almost daily, at how uncomfortable people are with this. But, I shouldn’t be all I have to do is look back at my own mind set a few years ago. I didn’t avoid, but I certainly, didn’t make a point of visiting. My reason was the fear, the fear I might say or do something that may upset the person. I felt they had enough to deal with already, the fear and stress of dying, can’t be easy to deal with. I was afraid of compounding or adding to their stress by saying something stupid. Has, my attitude ever changed now. I look back and think, man, I was so selfish and uncaring. I realize it was MY fear that kept me away. It was a fear of making myself feel bad or guilty IF I said something inappropriate.

There was also a second element, none of this have I realized, until I started this journal. The second was a feeling of inadequacy. We all want to help or at least ease the burden of those we care about. I thought I should be going in with some “wise” words to help put them more at ease or change the tragedy of their “plight”.

So there it is, I mean what good could my visit possibly do, I couldn’t think of anything “wise” to say and at the say timed feared saying the wrong thing.

I rationalized it, with the thought, I was possibly sparing them, but it was sparing me. How selfish was I? It is natural to want to spare your loved ones or anyone, undo, pain or stess. Fear is a terrible thing and a very sad thing in this context. It becomes a crippling fear that robs so many of so much.

What changed my attitude? Obviously, knowing I am dying has had a big impact on me. I mean, WOW, I am dying. When the realization sinks in those 3 little words, “I am Dying”, it changes, your life, your thought processes, your ideas. It just changes you and with luck for the better. I came to the realization that yes my thinking has changed, but I still am the same in day to day life, within my physical limitations.

I still enjoy visiting with friends and family and doing the things I did before. In that regard nothing has changed. Please don’t deprive me of those things by avoiding me, or by being so nervous and on edge during a visit that we can’t really relax and enjoy it. Take a deep breathe and relax, I have.