Monthly Archives: December 2011

Small steps, bittersweet

Deciding to sell the condo was a watershed moment, and certainly brought me some lightness and ease at the time.

Since then I’ve been weaving my way through the winter holidays, and I haven’t felt like doing much of anything including writing. I half-regretted my self-imposed solitude at times during this past week, but as I look back now, hunkering down alone with no commitments to anyone or anything was probably the best (or the least traumatic) thing I could have done for myself.

I’ve had lots of time to look around, sigh, and start to second-guess myself. Each time I’ve come back to the same decision. I do not need or want to keep this place. Now the real work of making that happen can begin.

One of the pesky legal things I had to do was find the original deed. I’ve had a briefcase containing a 5-inch stack of files pertaining to buying this condo sitting on the floor next to my desk for… I’m almost ashamed to say this, but for months.  This afternoon I went through it and found the deed.  Now the next thing I’ll have to force myself to do is get back in touch with the attorney here in California that I first worked with six months ago shortly after Kurt died, and get him restarted on filing the necessary forms to confirm my unfettered right to sell the condo.

Once I know all is good on the legal front, then I can start deciding when to put it on the market, whom to list it with, what objects I want to pack up and ship home and which ones I will sell with the condo, and how I will keep my life under control throughout this process. I’ve never had to sell a house without Kurt before. Even before he went into real estate as a career, he simply took care of all the logistical things — handled every phone call, every escrow glitch — leaving me with nothing to do except make the budget work, pack most things and oversee what I didn’t personally pack, figure out where to put things in the next house, and orchestrate the actual placement and unpacking. We each knew our strengths and played to one another’s strengths. Thinking about doing this without him now leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed.

Still, I know how to do this. I’ve had many occasions to observe how it’s done! In this case, I’ll do it one small step at a time, knowing that each step will be bittersweet but also knowing that I’m heading in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I’m not getting much stress relief from running right at the moment. I did complete my 500-miles-in-2011 goal, and I’m now standing at 506.47 with another 10 miles or so planned before 2012 makes its debut. I’ve had to cut my last several runs short for various reasons. There just seems to be a lot going on mentally and physically although I can’t really account for some of the odd things that time is doing with me right now. I guess it’s all just part of the process that I need to go through. With the Palm Springs half marathon just over six weeks away now, I really want to get in a few good, solid long runs over the next three weeks or so. But it seems that everything has a bittersweet cast to it right now. Even as I look forward to a happier 2012, I look back with sadness at 2011 and the last of my life with Kurt.

Every moment that passes, every step I take — even each small step that begins to say “hello” to a brightening future — is yet one more “goodbye” to the brightness that is fading forever behind me.

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Simplify, then add lightness

I hadn’t planned to write tonight. The process of making and then acting on decisions is emotionally wrenching for me. Last night I went to bed late and slept poorly. Although I obeyed the alarms on both iDevices and got up early enough this morning, I could not find the will to go running. I decided that since it was the Friday before that most famous of winter holidays, most of my colleagues were only going to work a half day and I could safely take off early and run this afternoon.

I wanted to tell you that as of today I’d met my goal of 500 miles in 2011, but I had to cut short both my Wednesday and Friday runs this week due to highly unusual side stitches that, I suspect, are related to my current stress. Mind, body — although I sometimes wish I could, I cannot experience these as separated, divided entities. So as of tonight I have run 498.5 miles this year. I should easily surpass 500 miles on Sunday — but I felt distressed that I couldn’t do it as planned today.

Yes, I know I am too hard on myself. But mind/body has spoken and forced me to listen.

It should have been a lovely run this afternoon. It was 70 degrees and I wore my wonderful new orange shorts. I may need to buy another pair — they were indeed that awesome. I enjoy being able to like the way I look in short shorts! Especially knowing how hard I’ve worked to be able to say that.

The title of tonight’s post came by way of a friend who commented offline (what’s that?) on my last post. Apparently that was Colin Chapman’s design mantra. Not being an English car person I confess I had to google the phrase and learned that he created the Lotus car and that this principle explicitly guided the design of the Europa.

It seems like a good design principle for life, doesn’t it?

Simplify, then add lightness. I need less stuff and more lightness. Less stress and more sky. Less stuff and more smiles. Less pain and more joy. Life is good and getting better. One step at a time.

Decisions, decisions

I’m in the process of deciding to sell the condo. Actually I’ve already made that decision; the only real question is timing. Do I put it on the market in January (smack in the middle of “the season”) and endure people tramping through while I’m here (I hate that), in late February or early March (the time of “the season” when those who have fallen in love with this town have begun their serious looking and bargain-hunting), or wait (and continue to incur monthly costs) until next fall when the market may or may not start to pick up again?

I plan to sell it furnished, but I’ll still have personal possessions (mostly artwork and books) to pack up and ship home. So I’m thinking maybe late February will be the right time. I have things to do that will keep me here until early March. Besides the half marathon and the architectural tours I’ve paid for, I still have to keep a promise to Kurt to scatter the other half of his ashes somewhere in the water off Newport Beach.

He tried unsuccessfully to make me promise to keep this condo for 10-15 years, as he was convinced that the market would recover and I’d eventually make a bundle. I’ve kept every other promise he asked me to keep (or pretty much will have, when I scatter the ashes). But I never agreed to keep this condo; I only agreed to try it for one season.

Well, I tried it. Almost a month into the experiment, I don’t think this is merely the December blues clouding my thinking. I believe I’ve made a genuine decision after deep thought about what is truly important to me. While I’ve appreciated the warm weather and waxed eloquent about architectural wonders, this is not where I want to be. I did not choose to be bi-platial; this was Kurt’s dream, not mine.

Selling the condo is going to buy me freedom. Freedom to put more money aside for the future or to choose to earn less now. Freedom to travel wherever I want to without feeling guilty over “wasting” the empty condo. Freedom from worrying that whichever house I’m not in is falling apart or being vandalized while I’m not there. I’ve realized that even one house is a lot for one person to take care of, and two is just too much.

I am not a migratory bird by nature. I want to be a tree and put down deep, enduring roots. I want to experience all four seasons even if it means that sometimes I’m housebound by snow and ice. I want to feel part of a community that thrives together through the good times and the bad.

I want to be at home: in my mind, in my body, in my dwelling place, with my friends, and in my community. I’ve learned in the past month how very important that sense of belonging to one another and to a place is to me. Life is short, and I don’t want to waste any more time being lonely and miserable.

Now I just have to figure out how to find my way back home… one step at a time.

“If we make it through December”

If we make it through December,
We’ll be fine.
~~ Merle Haggard

Although Merle Haggard’s views about life are quite different from mine, I’ve always appreciated his straightforward, no-nonsense, hard-times-storytelling lyrics. His song “If We Make It Through December” is about trying to create a good Christmas for his family despite having just lost his job and having no real prospects for the future. For me, this song has become a bit of a December anthem for me.

The entire “holiday” season has been difficult for me for many years, As a vegetarian and a pacifist, I can’t get excited about the gorge-fest and celebration of genocide that is Thanksgiving. As an atheist who is trying to curb my consumeristic addictions (a difficult thing to do, as I still love my gadgets and lately I’m loving speciality running gear), Christmas is simply a black hole to be endured. Kurt first tried to overcome, and then simply tried to work around, my aversion to Christmas. We stopped showering one another with lavish gifts quite a few years ago. For a while we would simply go out to dinner at Christmas, but for the last few years we had dinner with friends, so that at least he got to eat the traditional holiday foods that he enjoyed and take vicarious pleasure in our friends’ tree and other decorations. Meanwhile I tried to research alternate winter holidays and adopt some new traditions around them.

I will pause for a moment at the solstice (9:30 PM Pacific time) tomorrow. My very small Festivus pole is up in the condo, although I haven’t put it in a prominent place because if I did the cats would knock it over.

My one truly enjoyable winter holiday is New Year’s Eve, because it’s all about celebrating the end of the holiday season and anticipating a better year ahead.

At this time last year Kurt and I were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (his one bucket list item) and hoping for good results on his CT scan after three months of chemotherapy. The CT scan results, which we received just a few days after Christmas, were not good news at all, and we didn’t actually get the Cayenne until mid-January. As a result, what we actually did on Christmas day last year is now a total blank in my memory. I think I recall him saying that it might be his last, and the rest of us all poo-poohing that idea.

So now I’m in the midst of my entirely typical December blues, although sung in a slightly different key this year. I spent Thankgiving almost completely by myself, absorbed in packing for this north-to-south migration and relieved about not having to cook something to take to someone else’s meal so I’d have something to eat. I currently have no plans whatsoever for Christmas day, except to go out and run 8 miles or so in the morning. I don’t have family nearby, I don’t want to barge in on friends’ traditions, and I honestly just want to be by myself. I’m trying to stock up on light reading material. I’ll probably cook myself an artichoke and some mashed potatoes with Marmite gravy, which will be a comfort food feast for me. Yet I know there will be moments (or extended periods of time) when I simply sit there and cry.

And then, soon, it will be January. The days will start to get noticeably longer. I’ll start seriously increasing the mileage of my Sunday long runs. February will be busy with the half marathon and some architectural tours associated with Palm Springs Modernism Week. By March I may be ready to talk to a realtor about selling this place. And then, I’ll start making plans to go back home.

If I can make it through December, then 2012 is bound to be a better year than this year of wrenching challenges and unimaginable losses has been.

One day at a time.

If I’m going to run, why not do it in style?

This morning, for the third time in a row, I woke up before my alarm in eager anticipation of “run day.” As today was Sunday, that meant LONG RUN DAY, and I had planned to do 8 miles, which would be my longest run since the Victoria half marathon back in October. I didn’t want to repeat my last week’s mistake of overdoing the hills while in quest of architectural wonders, so I decided to stay on the flat streets and head down toward the park where the Palm Springs half marathon will start and end in February. From there, I thought I might try to retrace some of the race route and also check out the other architectural wonders in that neighborhood (yeah, I’m hooked).

The park is almost exactly a mile from my condo, so I’ve decided that on February 12 I’ll actually do at least 15.1 miles on foot. I figure walking to the park will be a great opportunity to warm up and work off some nervous energy before the start, and walking home will stave off some of the post-race soreness for a while.

I ended up running 8.12 miles today, and I did manage to find Frank Sinatra’s first PS house in the process. It hadn’t moved; I’d just forgotten exactly where it was. I have no clear memories of the last two miles of this race when I last ran it in 2010. I probably ran/staggered past that house but I had pretty much hit the wall at that point. Today I played my way through that neighborhood, turning this way and that and enjoying everything that I saw along the way… lots of runners and walkers, friendly smiles, glimpses of amazing houses behind hedges and gates.

I’d aimed for an 11:30 average pace, actually ran 11:21, my last mile was the fastest, and I wasn’t especially tired when I got home. I strolled over to the pool area, picked some tangerines, and retrieved my mail from my mailbox.

GOOD STUFF had arrived! I had ordered a couple of One More Mile shirts (I love their goofy slogans), and they arrived addressed “to the wonderful Lori etc.” Then when I opened the outer package, I found this (my cat Salsa was especially impressed):

Gift wrapping! How cool is that? My cats have been fighting over the ribbon all day.

I needed these new shirts to go with my totally awesome new Oiselle Distance running shorts in lovely orange. While it’s not yet warm enough to run in these, I’ve been craving them ever since The Thinks I Can Think blogged about them on several occasions. Oiselle also has a style called “Lori,” which should have been my obvious choice, but I wanted the Distance shorts because they have ZIP POCKETS large enough to fit my iPhone, which means that I can run without a waist pack, which should be good for 1 or 2 seconds a mile right there.

My knees and left hip are doing better and I’m looking much more runner-ish thanks to my new CW-X 3/4 length Stabilyx compression running tights. This is the same brand as I’d bought for the cold, after-dark beer runs, but shorter and lighter weight for the mid-50s running conditions here. By February, it will already be getting too warm for these, hence the need for awesome orange shorts. For knee support I’ll have to return to my old unstylish knee braces, but at least I’ll have orange shorts.

Running is no longer something I’m doing to refute the physical therapist who told me I’d never walk without pain. It’s no longer something I took up to lose the “10 pound PhD” or stave off post-degree depression. It’s no longer even something that I do in order to have a safe place to cry. I’m getting to the point where I’m running because it’s just plain FUN. So I figure, if I’m going to run, why not do it in style?

Apparently I need to run

After my great running and post-run experience on Wednesday, I was disappointed to wake up on Thursday with yet another headache. Things have been really crazy and stressful at work, but despite that I’ve been sleeping better for some reason that I can’t figure out. Apparently I slept so well Wednesday night that I didn’t move at all, and so I woke up with a sore and painful neck and left shoulder along with the usual headache that comes with them.

But I decided that I really would want to run again the following day (this morning), and I knew that if I took a bunch of pain pills I’d be too groggy this morning to run. So I toughed it out with as little medication as I could stand. Last night I was still feeling lousy but I set the alarm for early-enough-to-run-before-work and left my options open for this morning.

I woke up half an hour before the alarm and lay there testing things. How’s the head? Neck? Left shoulder? Left hip? Knees? I wasn’t gettting definitive answers so I decided to simply go out and see what would happen.

What happened was almost as magical as Wednesday morning. I ran 3.1 miles in the dawn with a light breeze and dramatic black clouds overhead. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to my watch. I settled into a comfortable pace that — as the data revealed when I got home — varied by only 7 seconds across each of the three miles, and was almost a minute per mile faster than I could manage a year ago at this time.

I did remain aware of what street I was on at all times. My wildlife sightings consisted of exactly one raven. I saw three walkers (one with a dog) and one person on a bicycle. When I got home I captured this view of palm trees and sky.

Then I stretched, showered, went to work and jumped straight back into the chaos. I had two tough meetings. In addition, my work computer was acting up, kept losing the wireless connection and refusing to talk to the printer. But I managed somehow to keep the headache under control. It helped a lot that it was Friday and I got a reprieve on one of the hot projects so that I won’t have to work on Sunday afternoon just to get caught up.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not my favorite time of year. I look forward to New Year’s Eve as the end of “the holiday season.” I fully expect to have rough days in December, and I am certainly having them this year. But I am so grateful that I am settling into this groove with running. It’s helping me deal with some truly awful stuff, cope with the loneliness, and find a path through this new, post-Kurt world. I still grieve, but grief is not the center of my moment-to-monent experience.

I should also say that you, dear readers, are a big part of my support system. With you out there, I don’t feel so completely alone. Thank you.

Here and elsewhere

This isn’t going to be one of those posts in which I whine about being somewhere and wishing I were somewhere else. I also won’t write 1,000 words — I promise.

I wasn’t sure last night whether my knees were ready to run again this morning. I didn’t leap out of bed in eager anticipation. I’d actually slept through the entire night, something I haven’t done in a while. It took me a few minutes to get going; I got started about ten minutes later than usual.

Then I went out and ran 4.09 miles and for at least part of that time I was… elsewhere. I settled into a comfortable pace that would have been impossible a few months ago. I barely glanced at my watch.

I do remember seeing a few people out with their dogs. I remember noticing the fresh snow on the mountaintops. I remember slowing down twice at corners to allow cars to pass… I keenly remember feeling the small draft of cool air that followed their passage.

At one point I realized that I must have forgotten to take one of my usual turns, because I couldn’t remember having seen that street. But when I got home and uploaded my Garmin GPS watch data to my PC, there it was on the map. I’d been on that street. I’d taken the exact route I’d sort of roughly planned, and my per-mile times were all within a few seconds of each other. I’m not entirely sure where my conscious attention was while I was on that street… it was elsewhere, or maybe it was nowhere at all. Maybe I was in a blissful zen running state of presence/nonpresence.

In any case, I came home awake, refreshed, exhilarated, and pain-free. I like that.

Dueling passions

My perfectly rational, mathematically balanced half marathon training plan said that I was supposed to run 7 miles on Sunday morning (yesterday). But I’m enjoying becoming reacquainted with the architectural wonders of this city. I found myself drawn to Google Maps on Saturday evening, plotting out a course that would take me past another world-class home less than a mile from my condo and just around the corner from that other house that fascinates me so much. I vaguely recalled that it was further up the hill, but I decided to turn in that direction and see what happened and how my running feet/knees/hips might feel about that.

I wound up running past both architectural wonders multiple times and making a few other loops around the area. It was way too much hill work and I already knew I’d overdone it between miles 4 and 5. My knees were not happy at all, and my hips and the soles of my feet were beginning to complain as well. So I slowed down and headed back to the flatter streets around my condo. I ended up running 6.55 miles (half of a half marathon, for the mathematically obsessed — you know who you are). When I finished I went directly to the unheated pool and plunged my legs into 48 degree water for as long as I could stand it, which I estimate was approximately 55 seconds. Then I did my usual stretching, and spent most of the rest of the day with my feet up.

I was sore this morning, but not nearly as bad as I’d feared. I think I’ll be ready to go out again for 4 miles on Wednesday morning, but I’ll stick to the flat streets. And I’ll try not to yield to temptation when I plan my next Sunday long run (8 miles per my perfectly rational, mathematically balanced half marathon training plan). There are other interesting homes to see in the flat area right around the park where the race will start and end, so perhaps I will head that way on Sunday.

I’m still alone but less lonely than I was. It’s amazing what a huge difference not having a headache makes in my overall attitude toward life. Tomorrow afternoon I have a major excursion planned (to the post office to mail bills), so while I’m out I’ll probably take myself out to dinner.

One step at a time. But I do have to learn to moderate the urge to charge up those hills, no matter how lovely I may imagine the view from the top to be.

Resiliency, running, and “the long goodbye”

Debra at Breathe Lighter (among many others) commented on my last post, and she stopped me in my tracks. Thank you, Debra, for holding a mirror up to my words and reminding me that the journey I am on is difficult but that I am navigating it well, all things considered.

Some would say, “Only six months? You are doing so well after only six months.” Yes, it is six months since Kurt died, and I have been anticipating December 9 with some dread, but it turned out to be not so bad. In reflecting on it and guided by Debra’s comment, it occurred to me that it has been, at least in some sense, much longer than six months.

A diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer is rather definitive, and the only real question was “how long do we have?” I recall that we were quite rational, each in our own way, in the days immediately following 7/21/10 (initial cancer diagnosis). We talked about how we were two mature adults, and how given our age difference I’d always halfway expected to be a middle-aged widow. We looked at our wills and agreed that no changes needed to be made (I now know we were wrong about that part, but the legal/financial hurdles have not been all that difficult).

We both sort of fell apart when the staging process revealed, on 8/30/10, that it was stage 4, and that statistically we had eight months. After that the experience is largely a blur, and the only hard data I have is contained in my spreadsheet in which I tracked his appointments, and  the determinedly optimistic entries in his blog. Things went wrong at every step of his treatment, and by the end of October we were already feeling defeated. The blood clot in mid November just added to our feeling that there was nothing we could do to change this path we were on.

So I was already thinking about life beyond Kurt, not just in theoretical “age difference” terms, but in very concrete “I am going to lose him very soon” terms, more than a year ago. Some people who write about grief discuss “pre-grief” — the realization that very soon you will lose your loved one and that now you are in the process of saying goodbye but without being able to acknowledge that this is goodbye. We were so busy “fighting cancer,” as the medical profession frames it, that I couldn’t have said directly to him, “I know you are going to die and it is going to be terrible for both of us, but I also need it to be OK for both of us that my life will go on.” By a year ago he was already in so much pain that we were sleeping in separate rooms simply so that I could sleep without worrying about disturbing him. I needed to sleep so I could care for him and also hold down my job during the day. But I lay there awake night after night crying. Yes, I have been grieving for over a year, so in some ways it has been much more than six months for me.

In that respect, a cancer diagnosis is something like the “long goodbye” of Alzheimers. The diffference is that with Alzheimers, you know there will come a point when you can no longer rationally discuss with your loved one what is happening, so (I assume) you try to make a point of saying the things you want to say before it is too late for your loved one to understand what you are saying. Kurt was such a rational being that I didn’t expect to miss out on that opportunity with him. I didn’t foresee that by the time we both knew without question that the end was near, he would be in so much pain that he couldn’t talk about it with me. So we never finally said goodbye, and that fact will haunt me for a very long time.

Through all of that horrible year and the six months since, my only release has been running. I could go out on the trail and run and cry and not think and come back to myself and cry some more. Resiliency is forged one step at a time, one awful realization and adjustment after another, until one day you wake up and realize — look what I’ve just been through, and I’m still alive, still getting out of bed, still managing somehow to thrive.

Tonight I am feeling very sad but still very proud of what I have done. I have held my life together. I have paid the bills. I have kept promises that I made to him about places that I would go with or without him. I have managed to keep my job. I have dealt with almost all of the legal and financial matters. I am still running, setting and exceeding fitness goals and enjoying the fact that I am looking pretty damn good for 56. No leaping onto funeral pyres for me. I am woman; I am strong. I will survive.

This is not the life I wanted for myself, but it is not beyond the realm of my imagining. I can do this. I kicked the two day headache and woke up Thursday 15 minutes before my alarm, eagerly anticipating going out and running again. I ran a very brisk 3 miles before sunrise; it was 41 degrees but clear, calm and dry. I came home with ice-cold hands and did my post-run stretching indoors (I wish I’d gotten a picture of my cat Salsa, who put his forefeet on the wall and stretched with me). Then I went to work (I got on the phone and went to a meeting) and laughed my way through a crisis-filled morning on the remnants of a runner’s high.

I can do this.

I never got to say goodbye, but I had 25 years of absolutely wonderful hellos. It is “hello” that I am remembering and holding close tonight. And on the strength of that “hello” and accepting fully that I am worthy of “hello,” I am welcoming the rest of my life, whatever it is that is just beginning for me.

Loneliness, and a new flavor of grief

Now that I’m here in this place that is my “other” home, I am coming to see how much it truly isn’t “home.” Home isn’t simply a geographical place, of course. In a much more fundamental way, it is the place where family and friends are, the place where memories become thickly, repeatedly layered over years of shared events, occasions, rituals, and the simple cycle of changing seasons. This was a place that Kurt and I shared and called home, briefly — for one winter of blissful pre-diagnosis ignorance and one spring of desperate grasping at the last weeks of our shared lives.

Here I am now, trying to rehearse the idea of making this my second home rather than ours, but this rehearsal is not going so well at the moment. I do have a few friends here but I don’t see them regularly, and I don’t have places where I can go with a reasonable chance of seeing people I know and feel known by. I have no specific plan for making friends and creating a community around myself. I guess I was just hoping that I’d find a way somehow.

I am lonely. It hasn’t helped that I had one of my two-day headaches this past Monday and yesterday, which left me too sick to work more than a few hours a day or to do anything else but sleep. I missed my Wednesday morning run this morning. I haven’t gone anywhere in days except for scurrying out to the grocery store this evening. Tonight my head is no longer screaming at me, so I’m asking my body if it is ready to try a very short, slow run tomorrow morning. I have a feeling it won’t give me an answer until tomorrow morning. I’ll set the alarm a few minutes early and see what happens.

I saw quite a few friends last weekend at a Porsche club gathering, and that was enjoyable but in a bittersweet way. The last time I’d seen most of those people, Kurt was still with me, so this was their first opportunity to express their grief directly to me.

I know that others miss Kurt and grieve for him too, and that they have a right to feel those feelings and to express them — but it is difficult for me when someone stands there in front of me and shows me their grief so directly, when I am trying so hard to move beyond that and reweave the threads of my life. Every time it happens it is a fresh shock, another unexpected step off another unexpected cliff. And that’s just the people who already knew, and who know that I know that they knew. The really weird thing is that twice in the last week I have had an unexpected encounter with someone who didn’t know Kurt was gone, who was processing the news for the first time and doing so in my presence. That is an almost unbearable wrench back in time for me.

Two days from now, he’ll have been gone six months. It’s another one of those milestone dates that I’ll get through one way or another. I’d honestly been thinking that this month would be better until I had those unexpected encounters. Now I know that I’m still not far enough beyond it to sit there quietly and accept someone else’s expression of grief without feeling myself inevitably pushed over the cliff. I become overwhelmed by my empathy for their feelings. I can’t stop other people’s feelings, so I can only learn to control my reaction to them. It’s going to take more time… probably a lot more time still.

I’m thinking tonight about this question of how I’m going to manage my time here. I’m determined to stay at least through early spring, as I’ve made commitments and bought tickets for various things, but there are a lot of blank spaces on my calendar. I’ll have to do some research, find other things besides running that I want to do on my own and just for my own enjoyment. Then I’ll have to make myself go out the door and do them.

One step at a time.