Another sad good-bye

Leonard Cohen died last week.  He had reached a great age and, as the media reports it, he died a peaceful man.  Cohen had released an album just last month, likely I will buy it – Kevin would have. There are some musical artists that are significant in my life because they were so influential on my husband while he lived.  The more notable ones were:  Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass and Bob Dylan.  There were many more, but certainly these four were right up there.

I can’t and won’t even try to express what Kevin felt about these artists because, quite simply, I don’t have the musical knowledge or education to accurately explain it.  Kevin got music, and beyond that, he loved art and artistic expression; he was a creative soul that understood the nuances, the passion, the frustration and the genius of composition (in multiple art forms). I was just along for the ride.

It was Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing that proved inspirational for a whole series of Kevin’s paintings.  In his usual fashion, Kevin had taken Cohen’s poem, My Mother Is Not Dead, and spun it in his own way.  The particular lines from that poem are:

“Don’t worry about any of your relatives.

Do you see the insects?

One of them was once your dog.

But do not try to pat the ant.

It will be destroyed by your awkward affection.”

This segment from the poem became the basis of Kevin’s obsession with the ant on the hotdog.  He replicated the image over and over, in oils and acrylics, his artistic rendering of reincarnation.

So Leonard Cohen dies and it brings a whole fresh wave of grief for me, for Kevin’s death.  Selfish isn’t it?  Another family is suffering and all I can think about is me.  How life shortchanged Kevin, how brutal and cruel it was to him in the end, and what that meant for me.  Kevin should have had another 20 years to laugh, love and live.  I should have had that with him.  Our kids should have had that.  But they don’t, I don’t.  And sometimes the ache in my chest rolls around my heart until it feels like it’s being squeezed tighter and tighter, and there’s not a darn thing that I can do.  It’s my pain to manage, and sometimes not so well.

 

 

Words never fail to communicate, they always say something

As the weather changes and we head into warmer times, I realize how much of last summer I missed.  I can’t recall much of anything – it’s the darnedest thing.  I will have to read my earlier entries for this time period to even comprehend how I was feeling back then.  Time – that’s what it does to you, when you look back in time it seems to smooths things out, and where it can’t smooth them out, at least in my case, it has either blurred them or blocked them.

We held the first presentation of Kev’s art award, and it was in October of last year, that I do recall.  So I was surprised when I got a notice this week that the particular competition is being held earlier.  Awards will be made in July this year, submissions are due by the end of June.  How pleased Kevin would be.  Art was such a huge part of his life.  Often I would hear his thoughts on how important a society’s commitment to the arts is.  That in years down the road, our generation will be judged by the cultural markers we leave behind.  Paintings, sculpture, music, writing and the like – they preserve the values of our generation long after we are gone.  This was Kevin’s passion, keeping the energy and interest in the arts strong; promoting creativity, whatever shape it took. He lived what he preached.  Some of his artwork or music may have left people wondering about what actually went on in his brain, but his energy, passion and intellectual interest shone through.

So, it was out of this respect for his fearlessness, his strength in putting himself out there that we created his award.  It is a brave thing that any artist does, when they share their work with the world.  To allow others to assess, judge, criticize or praise a creation that is personal and intimate.  Especially now, when it appears that most of the world doesn’t understand the meaning of respect – for others or themselves.  Say/write what you want because you can. This is made even easier through the means we have to offer up our expression.  Means that can be impersonal, disconnected, faceless, or detached.  I believe that, for the most part, this undermines social responsibility.  We have become detached bits and bytes in some colossal tide of technology.  Anyone’s opinion can get ink.

So on the upside, there’s more connected-ness throughout the world, more sharing, more awareness and increased presence of all individuals (if they want); a promise of freedom.  On the down side a whole new segment of vulnerability has opened up – the protective layers of family and friends are stripped away when one wades into social media.  Who knows who’s really who on the internet.  Words written are captured forever, pictures too. Information can become both our enemy and our friend.  We should teach and encourage responsibility and awareness when using this type of communication. Words are the strongest weapon we have, whatever form they take – spoken or written.  Words can incite and words can defuse.

Going back to where I started, which was pondering over what the hell I did last summer, I have images and I have questions in my mind, but ultimately I process them as words.  And I have the words that I wrote over the past summer which captured my thoughts for ever.  People, time, thoughts, seasons, they are in constant movement – but words, written words, are etched, imprinted, stationary.  Use them wisely.

 

The Endowment

When my husband, Kevin, died, I did an unusual thing.  In the obituary I indicated to friends and family that in lieu of flowers or donations, we, the family, had set up an endowment fund.  I chose this route for two reasons – first, the cancer society is one of the most exorbitantly funded research and development agencies in the world, from big Pharma to personal donations to government funding, this is a rich industry.  It is already well funded and quite frankly, I don’t believe that the monies resulting from charitable donations go to frontline research in the manner that I would want, they more likely serve to support the extensive administrative overhead.  So consequently, after Kevin died, I didn’t want donations to go to the Cancer Society.  I wanted to find a way to benefit our local community.  Second, and most importantly, I wanted to keep Kevin’s passion for the arts alive and vibrant, to create something tangible in his memory that would endure over time.  The generous contributions of friends and family have made this possible for at least the next 10 years and, as the donations continue to come in, potentially longer.  Remarkable, truly a remarkable response.

The Endowment Fund was established with our local art gallery.  The gallery made a tremendous effort and we were able to present the first award on October 8th.  It was a very well attended evening especially since there were two prizes being awarded: the Carmichael Landscape Prize of $2,500 and Kevin’s Emerging Artist award of $1,000.  The evening turned out even better when a local artist was awarded the Emerging Artist award, and truly, she earned it.  It was a lovely evening, but pulled at the heartstrings, since the very reason for why I was there was really the absolute worst reason.  I was there because Kevin had died and we had set up an award in his memory.  Cause and effect at it’s most basic level.

The emotional impact of these events tends to build up now.  I find that I can get through them for the most part, but they are cumulative. Looking back I realize I used to weep at things as they happened, no reprieve, the tears were not to be put off.  Now, I find that I can make it through an event or function, usually, and the tears find me later, at home.  The tears are different now too, as are the thoughts that go through my mind.  Now I have very specific memories that come to me.  After the art show my memories were of Kevin hunched over his easel, two months before he died, determined to finish a painting despite the fact that he couldn’t lift his right arm.  He adapted and put the canvas on the table and he finished the painting. Then my mind flit to another recent event, the birthday party that Kevin should have been at, and I remembered how, for his buddy’s last birthday in 2014, Kevin had given him a painting; I saw that painting last week at the party. Not exactly light thoughts to have right before bedtime.  Perhaps this is a good topic to discuss at my next grief counselling session – although I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to change it.

The Endowment Fund

In recognition of Kevin’s love of music and art, we contacted our local Art Gallery to arrange for an endowment fund to be used to reward new and emerging artists through a juried competition.  The details have yet to be finalized but a general overview can be found at http://www.orilliamuseum.org/.  Scroll down and you will find a brief overview on this fund.  Receipts will be issued and are tax deductible.

Throughout Kevin’s journey with cancer over and over it struck me that the system was not being utilized properly.  Millions of dollars are raised through donations, fundraisers, government funding and yet the chemo suite is used Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.  Machinery, facilities, medicines are administered during regular business hours.  It frustrated me that in order to cut costs and save money on staffing, millions upon millions of dollars of equipment lays dormant.  It’s the bookkeeping you see.  The upfront costs don’t factor into the bottom line administration costs and so when the time comes to save a buck usually some program is cut, hours are shortened and a perceived costs savings is achieved.  But this is at a very human price.  Cancer does not take time off, it’s not a Monday to Friday type of thing.

So many people have the need for these services and yet, because the government won’t fund adequate staff to administer the technology, the machines are utilized less than 25% of the hours in a week (8 hrs x 5 days = 40 hours; 24 hrs x 7 days = 168 hours;  40 divided by 168 is 23.8%).  Increasing the use and administration of any machinery in the hospital, be it an MRI, CT, etc., would mean more jobs, would decrease the cost per use of the technology; it would result in increased billings to the health care system but potentially would reduce long term health costs through earlier detection/treatment.  There’s so many pros associated with responsible, expanded and enhanced use of existing services and technology.

Convoluted though my reasoning may be it was why we elected to direct any donations for Kevin elsewhere.  Donations are so routinely directed to the Cancer Society and with the best of intent – but somehow accountability for the usage of these monies is lacking.  Instead, we contacted our local Gallery to discuss an endowment that could be used to further and encourage artistic expression at any age.  Kevin would have loved it.