February 20th, 2014
So here I am in Phoenix, lock stock and barrel. Moving is one of those really big life changes that brings on all sorts of unexpected emotions. I’ve moved a lot in my life; it’s part of my adventurous nature. I’m actually pretty good at it, logistics wise, and I’m usually good at it emotionally, as well. This time is different. This time I am “starting over,” without my best friend/soul mate Bill. I have moved to a city wherein we have no shared memories and that’s kind of weird. Also, I moved in one day before the six-month anniversary of his transition and that unleashed a lot of grief.
So what to do? I am someone who believes that you get more of what you focus on and here I am focused on my loss. There are many schools of thought about this ranging from the oft-quoted “Five Stages of Grief” by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (which, as it turns out she developed as a way to have a conversation about grief, not as a roadmap) to the simpler philosophy, “Life is for the living.”
There is also much theory tossed around about the negative impact of “stuffing your emotions” which often ends in the warning, “Pay now, or pay later.”
My friend Sharon who spent time on the phone with me yesterday in response to my cry for help pointed out that much of the way we grieve is cultural, not necessarily natural. In many societies human death is accepted as part of the circle of life. They would no more grieve over a human death than that of an ant (this is my example, not hers). I’m sure that shocks us Westerners. We seem to spend a lot of time dwelling in the negative around the topic of death. Ironically, we also seem to wallow in the negative around the topic of life.
I am gravitating toward remembering and indulging my own beliefs in this arena: whenever I experience negative emotions, it is because my Inner Guide has separated from me because She doesn’t agree with what I am focused on. It is that separation from Source that feels so awful. And it does—feel awful.
I believe that Source means for us to live joyous lives, no matter the circumstances. Most of us have heard the comparison of the happy peasant and the miserable King. It all comes down to focus. What do I choose to focus on?
Sharon, who is one of the wisest women I know boiled it down to the words of that brilliant philosopher Dr. Seuss:
Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.
I have decided to smile. And, to celebrate my return to my center, I shall eat green eggs and ham for breakfast!
January 15th, 2014
The holidays are over and of that I am glad. These were my first without Bill and the ache in my heart was ever present. Everyone handles grief differently. I couldn’t bear the thought of being around people who were concerned about me. I didn’t want to pretend I was okay and I would have felt the need to do that to avoid ruining the festivities for others.
So I spent the holidays at the When Words Count Retreat Centerin Vermont and it turned out to be an excellent choice. In my last blog of 2013, I told you I went there to write. I also said it was not a workshop and that is true, to an extent. What I didn’t know is that Steve Eisner and Jon Reisfeld, the two men who run the center and who are writers themselves, dine with the writers every night. We brainstorm the projects we’re working on and after dessert we retire to the Gertrude Stein salon to read pages aloud to each other. As fate would have it, I was the only writer in residence for the first five days so I had these wonderful teachers all to myself. Their input has turned my book about change from a strictly “how to” book into a book that includes the stories of how I learned to be resilient in the face of many difficult changes. Now, instead of feeling like the book is something I just need to get down on paper, I am excited about the project.
The retreat is over and I am facing my first calendar year without Bill. I am slightly frozen in place. There is such a strong part of me that doesn’t want to “move on.” Even the phrase brings tears to my eyes.
So what does one do when frozen? The answer, as it turns out, is to move, even if ever so slightly. Yesterday was a day when all I wanted to do was to sit and play games on my iPhone. Now, if it made me feel good to do that, I would have done it. However, when I use games to avoid doing something productive, I get a feeling in my gut that makes me feel slightly sick. I don’t like that feeling so I wanted to do something else but I just couldn’t face doing anything big.
It was then that I remembered what my friend Allen taught me to do in this situation. Just do something, no matter how small, that makes you feel productive. So I got up off the couch and pulled together a box of items I wanted to mail out. Once I did that, I looked on my “to do” list and made a phone call that was one of the items there. And, wouldn’t you know, I didn’t ever get to my writing (which is my priority) but I did have a productive day. And today, I am writing!
We all have those days when we can’t seem to muster up motivation. Sometimes there’s a “legitimate” reason, like grief, and sometimes we have no idea why we are blue. I have used Allen’s wise advice many times over the years. Just do something, no matter how small, that makes you feel productive. If you are facing the post-holiday blahs, or any blues for that matter, I invite you to use this wonderful trick. It is the emotional version of one of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion: a body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Or, as the lemurs sang in the animated film Madagascar, “You’ve got to move it, move it, move it.”
December 18th, 2013
I am visiting with friends and family in my hometown of Rockland, Mass. I arrived several days ago just barely ahead of one storm and this morning woke up to another three inches of snow. While I enjoy the idea of a white Christmas, I am also being reminded, in a very dramatic way, why I never liked winter here. IT IS ICY!!! and SLIPPERY! and a BALMY 26 DEGREES! But very pretty.
In this, my last blog for 2013, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for your support over the last few years when Bill and I were side-by-side, fighting for his health with everything we had. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought I might have him for maybe six months. He fooled ‘em all and lived for 28! That’s my guy!
Speaking of fooling them all, you may recall my blog of July 9th, What Would You Pay? about our friend Laura Grant who was Bill’s “cancer buddy.” We met her and her husband Ed at UCSF on the day both she and Bill found out they had pancreatic cancer.
I am happy to tell you that Laura is doing well. Before I traveled here, I accompanied her to the Block Center, the medical group that kept Bill alive eight months longer than anyone anticipated. The trip served two purposes: I wanted to support Laura and also to thank the wonderful staff who took such good care of Bill. It was a tear-filled reunion but very important for my healing and I think theirs. What a tough job they have!
Because it’s such a sad holiday for me this year, I am spending Christmas and New Year’s at a Writer’s Retreat in Vermont working on my book about change. My family understands it’s what I need and are supportive. It’s not a workshop. Their claim to fame is that they do everything for you (cook, make your bed, etc.) so all you have to do is write. This will be a first for me: spending 10 days completely focused on writing. It will be interesting to see if I have the temperament for it. And let’s not forget, the famous Bing Crosby movie White Christmas took place in Vermont!
My gift to you is a “re-gift” and given to you out of my own gratitude. You may have seen this video already. If you have, it’s worth revisiting. If you have not seen Gratitude by Louis Schwartzberg, you are in for a rare treat. It starts a little slow but stay with it. You’ll be glad you did!
Here’s to a wonderful Season for all and a very Happy New Year!
November 5th, 2013
Proving once again, that life is full of funny twists and turns, I texted some girlfriends of mine the other day to say, “A year ago I was sailing with Bill aboard a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. This morning I retrieved eggs from a chicken coop.”
I have been spending weekends at my granddaughter’s house in Watsonville, CA and it is out in farm country. Her mother is a passionate gardener, with a large, enclosed area where she grows tomatoes, squash, lemons, apples, pumpkins and lettuce. And my granddaughter has two hens.
The funny thing is that I don’t prefer one lifestyle over the other. The only reason I might prefer the yacht is that Bill was with me. Now that he’s gone, my life continues to be flavored by what I choose to focus on. And, when I’m in farm country, I focus on the beauty of the rolling hills and the lush crops. (There was one day when they were fertilizing the crops that was a “focus challenge” but I found that breathing through a handkerchief is a big help!)
When your life is in flux, which mine most definitely is, the ability to choose what you focus on is the best tool in your kit. If I allow my mind to get ahead of itself, projecting into an unknown future, I feel despair. If instead, I focus on the good people and wonderful surroundings, then I can relax and breathe again.
Grief is teaching me lessons, important ones. For one, life is short. We all say it but, when you have lost a loved one, you understand that old saying on a much different level.
Being rich doesn’t solve anything except being poor. Bill and I had many wealthy friends. They have the same personal issues as those of us who are not wealthy and I am here to tell you, it is not the bed of roses that I had imagined. Probably the most difficult thing to face when you are wealthy is that money cannot solve everything. When you don’t have it, you imagine that it can but it’s a fantasy. Bill would have sold everything he had to beat his cancer. It would not have mattered.
Love is all that matters. It’s the only thing you can take with you because love is energy, not material. Bill was sent onto his next adventure filled with the love of so many whose lives he touched.
So thank you all for the love you have so freely expressed in the emails you have sent. I have bundled it all and keep it in a little knapsack close to my heart.
Update on Laura Grant: Love is what I felt Tuesday morning when Laura and Ed left my house for UCSF and surgery. You may recall that they were the subjects of a blog I wrote entitled “What Would You Pay?
Laura was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same day as Bill. That’s how we met her and Ed—in the waiting room at UCSF. Many of you who donated to Laura’s cancer fund have asked how she is doing. The answer is that she is still fighting the good fight (31 months and counting!). She has been in treatment at the Block Center in Skokie, Il thanks to donations from wonderful people like you. She spoke at Bill’s Celebration of Life service in August and it was moving. And every time I am with the two of them, my love for them and their spirit grows.
Tuesday Laura went in for surgery to remove a large mass. In the room with her was a crowd of cheering angels—those here on earth and those who have transitioned. I told her Bill would be in the surgical suite encouraging the doctor to do her very best work. Well, it worked. She got through the surgery with flying colors. All prayers and white light for her recovery are welc
Hugs and loads of love,
October 9th, 2013
It’s so intriguing the way Law of Attraction works. Just as I am living with the question of, “Why?” with regard to my soul mate Bill’s cancer and death, I am spending a lot of time with a teenager I love dearly who is asking that same question about life in general. Depressed (and getting help for it), she wonders aloud, “What is the point of all this? Why do people even want to live when life sucks? “
These are both great questions that have been explored by philosophers for centuries.
One of the startling pieces of data I have uncovered was in the book, Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert. He revealed that we humans are abysmally bad at predicting what will make us happy or unhappy. For example, many people believe that if they were ever to become quadriplegic, they would want to die. And yet, people DO become so and, after about a year of adjustment, few feel that way any longer.
People think that, if they become rich, life will be a constantly fun party. When it happens, they are sorely disappointed to find out it’s not that way at all, no matter what it looks like from the outside.
Three years ago, before he was diagnosed with cancer, if you had told Bill, that there would come a day when he would weigh 130 pounds and be weak as a kitten and STILL want to live, he would have said, “There is no way; you are crazy.” He would have told you in no uncertain terms that he would find a way to end it all.
And yet, when he arrived at that point, he still wanted to fight and he still wanted to live. Why?
A clue arrived today via email. (Law of Attraction strikes again). Every day I receive a very cool, personalized email from TUT (The Universe Talks). This morning mine said,
Silver, I want to let you in on a little secret… E V E R Y O N E has issues… everyone. Even those who don’t seem like it. Because without issues, NOTHING WOULD BE WORTHWHILE.
That really made me stop and think. If there is no sadness in the world, how can we ever feel joy?
We all share a strong desire to feel positive emotions. The problem is, we become used to things so quickly that, if life were good all the time, we couldn’t experience joy. We need the contrast of the negative to be able to enjoy the positive when it occurs.
Bill wanted to live for two reasons: to spend more time with me and to spend more with his grandchildren. He had plans for 2014 and beyond. To him, the pain of the cancer treatment would be worthwhile if those wishes came true. Because of his plans, he outfoxed the cancer for much longer than all of the medical experts predicted.
It seems we are willing to endure pain if we have something to look forward to. Psychologists tell us that someone who is making plans for the future is unlikely to commit suicide.
Without something to look forward to, depression sets in which is where my young friend is right now.
So the trick to a happy life may be to make sure you always have something compelling to look forward to.
What are you enduring now that you feel is worth the trouble because, as a result of it, you’ll be able to have or do something pleasant in the future?
What are you enduring now that could become less painful if you were to develop a plan for something to look forward to?
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September 26th, 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot about change, particularly as it relates to caregiving. It occurs to me that this, one of the least honored societal roles and professions, requires the ability to adapt on the run, often moment-by-moment. I would go so far as to say that, if one is talented in the art of caregiving, then that person is an extremely competent Change Agent.
The ability to adapt is a useful skill to have, no matter what life brings to you. What I challenge you to think about is where you have developed this ability in the course of your life. So often I hear people say things like, “I hate change,” or “I’m not good at changing.” And I usually think, “That’s probably a belief about yourself that is not necessarily true.” Sure, there are people who cling to the old ways; the Amish come to mind. That way of life works for them. But mostly, if you are part of the mainstream, then you are adapting every day, often in fun ways (think cool new apps on your smart phone or new TV shows you like) and sometimes in not-so-fun ways (like when you update your computer and it ALL LOOKS DIFFERENT!!!)
As I think back on the 28 months of caring for Bill, I see that the nurses and doctors we met along the way all required an ability to adapt to the ever-changing course of his cancer. Some were skilled at adaptation; others were not. The ones who were exceptional (and there were many) all share the same attributes: curiosity coupled with an open mind. Hmmm. Maybe that’s one attribute. Can one be curious with a closed mind?
I think we are all incredible at adapting to change within our domain of interest. I know people who are brilliant at figuring out creative solutions to construction problems but get bent out of shape if their favorite TV show changes time slots. I happen to be really good at innovation as it relates to caregiving but am pretty close-minded when it comes to trying new food, let alone cooking it.
Here’s the problem with restricting an open mind to one domain: you miss out on so much! For my entire adult life, everyone who knew me well understood that I did not care for the outside world. Then Bill came along, introduced me to it and I FOUND OUT I LOVE IT!! Look at all the fun I missed because I had a closed mind and no curiosity.
I’d love to hear from you. Where are you really good at adapting to change and how could you apply that ability to an area of your life you have closed off without even trying it? What new thing are you sure you wouldn’t like but are willing to try?
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September 11th, 2013
So, here I am. I am back. Am I back? I don’t know. I don’t know much these days. Grief will do that to you. It’s been a little over a month since Bill left and there are still times when I cannot fathom he is gone. Experts—people who have travelled this path before me—tell me this will continue for quite a while, maybe even until I myself go on to, as Bill named it, the Next Big Adventure.
This week, as I continue to live in limbo, I look to those who lost loved ones on 9/11 for inspiration. Their journeys offer many pointers as to how to survive crippling emotional pain. Perhaps the most important clue is that you put one foot in front of the other and simply keep breathing. Sometimes that’s the best one can do when facing profound loss.
Those 9/11 families I have learned the most from are those who have found forgiveness and given up bitterness. When a loved one dies, the natural inclination is to look for someone to blame. Who’s responsible for this? Who can I be mad at or hate? Who’s going to pay?
In the cases of the 9/11 families, there really IS someone to blame. Some have moved through that to the other side. That’s a courageous route. Getting to forgiveness is a freedom that initially feels like pure relief. It takes a lot of energy to hate and it hurts the hater the most. It’s as if you have taken poison and are waiting for your enemy to die.
I can only feel gratitude that I don’t have a similar dilemma. Bill died of pancreatic cancer. No one knows what causes it and there is no cure. There is no one to blame and no one to hate. There is only a deep well of sadness. And, when all is said and done, that’s what’s underneath all grief: a seemingly bottomless well of sadness.
You have all helped so much. You wrote (some of you multiple times) to let me know you are here, right beside me. You wrapped your virtual arms around me and reminded me I am loved. Thank you for that. What may seem a small gesture to you was huge to me. I never felt alone through this. Not once.
And so I guess I am back, forever changed and deeply appreciative. I loved a great man who returned that love and who gave me many gifts.
Thank you all for sharing this profound journey with me and for caring about Bill.
“And in the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
- The Beatles
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August 14th, 2013
My darling Bill went on to his next adventure last Wednesday morning at 1:20 AM.
It has been a roller coaster ever since. There have been buckets of tears and loads of laughter as we tell stories and remember this amazing man. What has been more healing than anything has been the presence of my two daughters, Bill’s grandchildren Bella, Walker and Kiara (ages 9 and under) and his sister Anne’s dog Willa. There is just something about children and dogs that remind you that life is to be enjoyed.
I have been surrounded by love, despite my deep sadness and the gaping hole he has left in my life. It has been amazing to hear from so many people around the globe who feel the same way–that life will never be the same knowing that Bill Jurika is no longer walking the planet. It is overstating it to say it’s as if Superman died but Bill did sometimes seem to have super-human powers. If you say, “He survived for 28 months with pancreatic cancer,” that is admirable enough. But to say that, during that time he kayaked the Napali Coast in Kauai, he kayak surfed, he skied, he river-boarded and he swam like a dolphin, that paints a compelling picture. And to know that, even at 130# he continued to exercise, and, when he could he kayaked the lake at the state park where we were “glamping” (as Monica calls it) and he exercised despite pain and profound weakness.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not
where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience
but where he stands at times of challenge.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
He never stopped fighting. He was in treatment the Friday before he transitioned. But he knew his time was drawing near. A week before he left, he was lying on the floor in the living room of our condo because it helped with his back pain. I was on the couch. He said, “Come sit in the chair so I can see you (he always wanted to be able to see me). I complied and he said, fighting tears, “I want to memorize your face in case I don’t make it.”
And so, at the very end, I was lying next to him, stroking his chest and arms. I got up to hug Steve and Monica who were leaving to go back to their hotel when Monica said, “His eyes are open!” I put my face above his, looked into his beautiful blue/gray eyes and said, “I love you Bill.’ He struggled to reply but was too weak, took a few shallow breaths and left us. I like to think he died seeing my face full of love for him.
I hope sharing all this doesn’t make you uncomfortable. My Dad always said that I wear my heart on my sleeve. But you have been with me since this began and I thought you would want to know.
Love (so much love),
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July 23rd, 2013
First of all, thank you all for your magnificent response to my plea to help our friends Laura and Ed. For those of you who missed it, Laura has become a dear friend since the same doctor diagnosed her and Bill with pancreatic cancer on the same day. She and Ed are both teachers and now need financial help to continue to fight this horrible disease. So many of you responded so beautifully that, to date, we have raised enough money and “in kind” donations that their needs are taken care of for three months. Thank you, thank you, thank you! For those of you who would like to read more (and possibly donate) here is the link to my blog about it: http://silverspeaks.com/blogs/2013/07/what-would-you-pay-2/
I did not want to write my blog this week and yet I wanted to reach out to you. To know that you are there and listening is such a gift. “Being heard” is more powerful than anything in human relations, I think, and very precious.
Bill is not doing well and it is terrifying. This morning, as we held each other, I began to ponder the fact that the majority of fear, and all of worry is future-based. Whenever I lie in his arms or sit by his side and begin to worry about the future, I must constantly remind myself that he is here, now, within arms length.
I am human, though, and human nature is to project into the future. When the projections are positive, we call that dreaming. When they are negative, we call it worry. Bill asks me often how I stay so upbeat and the answer is always the same, “You are here and I love you. One day at a time.”
But there are moments when I collapse into tears of despair. Sometimes it’s in the laundry room and sometimes, embarrassingly, it is the supermarket. My friend Laura Lee, who lost her husband two years ago said, “Me, too! What IS it about supermarkets?” I think it’s because, when someone you love may be dying or already has, you think, “What is the point?”
One of my favorite quotes is from actress and former Mousketeer Annette Funicello who passed away in April after having lived with Multiple Sclerosis for over 20 years. She said, “Life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful.” And maybe THAT’S the point. When you look for things to make you smile, life becomes beautiful in spite of circumstances. A beautiful bed of flowers, a child’s laugh or the love in your mate’s eyes are each components of “the point.”
(An aside: I am sitting on the couch next to Bill as I type this. He just woke up, squeezed my hand and said, “I just love being around you.” How lucky am I?)
You may recall the award-winning movie, Life is Beautiful in which a Jewish father, to protect his son from the horrors of the concentration camp in which they are imprisoned, uses his fertile imagination to invent an elaborate game and tells his son they are competing with everyone else for a tank. By getting his son to focus on the game, the father saved both the boy’s sanity and life. It is a touching movie with both a happy and unhappy ending—much like life itself.
Finally, and in a complete non sequitur, whenever I think of the phrase, “the point” I think of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres who never fails to make me laugh when she says, “My point—and I DO have one…”
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July 9th, 2013
What would you pay for more time with your loved ones?
We met Laura and her husband Ed two years ago April at UCSF Medical Center. She and my Bill were waiting for CT Scans to determine if they had pancreatic cancer. Both did; both were Stage IV.
Laura, now in her late 50s, spent the last 20 years as a teacher in service to children, teaching 8th grade math. (And if you’ve ever spent time with a group of hormonal 13 year-olds, then you know how challenging that can be!) She and Ed (also a teacher) live comfortably but both continue to work because they need to. They are so well thought of in their community that, when Laura was initially diagnosed, friends and neighbors threw a “Prom” on their behalf to raise money for the first two years of Laura’s care.
What I love most about Laura is her laugh (and you would too), which she uses often. Secondly, I love her determination. Up until six months ago she kept up her routine of running. Even today she is walking–to stay in shape and ahead of this cancer.
This is my personal plea to you on behalf of Laura and Ed whom we have grown to love as we’ve travelled parallel paths since that first fateful meeting.
As most of you know, my partner Bill was dying in January when he summoned all his strength to get on a plane to go to The Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, IL. They saved his life and regained control over the cancer that was killing him.
Now it’s Laura’s turn to be saved. Thankfully, she has good insurance. But she and Ed cannot afford the price of the nutritional supplements and infusions associated with her care (even with the discount being given by the Block Center), or the cost of travelling from her home in Ferndale, CA to Skokie for this treatment that could indefinitely prolong her life.
Laura’s goals are simple. She wants more time with Ed, she wants more time with her son and daughter and she wants to meet her grandchildren, yet to be conceived (but in the planning stages). When I met her, her goal was to attend her daughter’s wedding in May of 2012 and she surpassed that by over a year.
Let’s be clear. There is not yet a cure for pancreatic cancer. But for some it can be treated as a chronic disease, much like diabetes, prolonging one’s life for many years—maybe long enough for the cure to be found. That is what The Block Center tells us is possible. It is what I am wishing for Bill and certainly what we are wishing for our dear friend Laura.
Will you help? Think about what you would pay for more time with your own loved ones. The Block Center has already given me 6 more months with Bill and we are on a path toward more years together. Even though you don’t know Laura, will you trust me when I tell you your donation would be money well spent?
Life is not fair and never will be. But it breaks my heart to see that the only reason Bill can receive this treatment and Laura cannot is because they chose different career paths. Bill made a lot of money; Laura was a teacher. (And yes, we are donating.)
Our teachers sacrifice so much. This is an opportunity to give some of that back to two of these amazing public servants.
Goal: $16,800 for 6 months of related medical expenses
To donate using a credit card or PayPal, click on the link below: Click Here
To donate by check, please make it out to:
Laura Grant Cancer Fund
PO Box 1313 Ferndale Ca. 95536
We are also looking for the following non-cash donations:
Airline Tickets for Southwest, American, or America West
Hilton Hotel Points (the Hampton Inn, a Hilton property, is across the street from The Block Center).
Every donation counts so please do not think yours would be too small. As Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist is famous for saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Laura and Ed have changed the world through their teaching. Will you help change theirs?
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