Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Babe!

Today is Phil's birthday, he would have been 50.  His dying young is a tragedy in itself but it hurts more today to know that he didn't even make 50.  Phil always acted and looked younger than his age and people were usually shocked to find out that he was as "old" as he was.  We tended to run with a younger crowd and as the oldest of our friends he actually took pride in being one of the most physically fit ~ although being Phil, he never flaunted it or rubbed anyone's face in it.  It is just who Phil was.  When we met in 1994 he had just moved from Park City, UT to Durham, NC for PA school and had been doing a lot of high altitude trail running.  He'd spent hours at a time running the ski trails for fun... a total nut job I tell you!  When he met his classmate  David Huish, a fellow trail running madman from Farmington, Maine, it was Kismet (a Turkish word meaning fate or destiny).  They immediately sized one another up and ran each other to their limits, getting lost on their first run together in the Duke forest and running further than they probably intended too ~ loving every minute and forging a friendship that would carry them through the challenges of PA school, young married life, their careers, starting families, and the crucible of cancer.

When he was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes several years ago (an autoimmune adult onset type) Phil became even more zealous about his fitness and controlling his blood sugar became extremely important to him.  His HGB A1C (hemoglobin A1C - a measure of blood sugar control) was always excellent and below what was desirable for him.  He exceeded expectations and went the extra mile, making sure that his health came first.  He was always on time for check ups, always reading about his disease, and always running, biking and exercising.  

So it was shocking when he of all people got sick.  It was not supposed to happen to Phil.  He took such good care of himself.  He looked younger than he was.  He was strong. He didn't deserve it.  But that's the thing with cancer.  No one deserves it.  And that's the thing with getting sick.  No one sees it coming and no one is immune.  It just happens and it happens to good, strong people who you love.

All week I've been anticipating feeling sad and having a difficult time with today.  But then this morning I heard a story on NPR that helped me feel better.  A husband and wife were talking about their 18 or 20 yr old son who had died of mononucleosis and the wife's tremendous grief for 5 years after.  She said that one day her husband asked her if she'd known ahead of time that this would happen to them, would she have traded the short time they had with their son?  Without missing a beat she said "No, I wouldn't trade having loved him for a second."  

That's what I needed to hear this morning.  I wouldn't have traded a minute loving and knowing Phil either.  Today is about celebrating that Phil lived, not that he died.  He lived life fully and fought hard to continue living.  I miss him because he left such a huge impression on my life and that of my kids, family and friends.  Join me in celebrating a life well lived and cut short too soon.     

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thinking About You

"Do you think of Phil very often?" was the question my sister asked me as we were wrapping up our New Year's weekend together.  It was with some difficulty that I struggled to answer.  You'd think it would be a simple "yes" or "no" but instead I spent the next several minutes trying to put into words what my experience has been during the last six or seven weeks since he died.  It was a challenging task because I am embarrassed to admit that I don't think of him as often as I think I "should".  

I struggle to describe exactly what my grief has been like.  Phil died in mid-November and before I knew it along came Thanksgiving, usually my favorite time of year.  Then there was the rush of Christmas and the challenge to make it as special and joyful as possible for the kids.  It all ended up a mixture of many stressful, surreal and thankfully, a few beautifully sublime moments.  (So long 2011, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out).

Then just a day or so ago a friend sent me a link to an interview with Patrick Swayze's wife detailing her grief and the struggles she had taking care of him during his 22 months with pancreatic cancer.  I read that she initially thought of Patrick every three or four minutes for the first few weeks.  Holy crap!  I can't even imagine what that was like.  I so don't relate!  At first blush I felt bad that I wasn't like that.  

But something dawned on me and I felt immense relief at my insight and I took compassion on myself for not having dwelled on Phil these last weeks.  You see, from the moment Phil received his diagnosis I'd done nothing but think of him.  My life's dreams and passions ceased to move forward and all hands were on deck for the fight for Phil's life.  So began my journey with balancing the battle with cancer, motherhood and maintaining my sanity ~ all of which I kept spinning like plates in a carnival side show.  So now, to step back emotionally and not think of Phil all the time, let alone every three or four minutes, is a respite I have needed for a long time. To give myself permission to not feel guilty about it has been liberating.  And it's not the first time I've had to give myself this kind of permission...sheesh.  

In point of fact, what has happened is a transposition of sorts.  Now I think of my children most of the time.  I think of their grief and the anger they are exhibiting and of how I can parent them better especially now that I am alone (though not).  I constantly think about their future and of all the things I now need to provide for them in accordance with the collective vision Phil and I had together to shape their budding characters and to fill their thirsty souls.  And I reflect often on the difference between what they actually lost when Phil died and what I am unwilling to see them let go of along with that loss (their innocence, integrity, tenderness, compassion, faith).  In recognizing the immense responsibility and privilege that is mine to raise these kiddos, I accordingly give myself permission to ask for help, pray, and cry as needed.  

I often think of Phil in response to the overwhelming responsibility I feel to continue parenting these remarkable children "in the way they should go so that they will not stray from it".  I miss him every day and am only just beginning to understand my grief and the grief of my children.  None of us have the same response to his death and since each of them are rapidly growing and changing, I have to be on my toes all the time.  If I were to think of Phil every three or four minutes I could not do what I have to do to get on with the business of living ~ and leading all of us on in that.  And I find that for me personally, what I read recently rings true~ 

"People cry not because they are weak but because they have been strong for so long".