February

We move into a month that has mixed emotions for me.  I think of the birth of my grandson, my daughter’s little boy, one month before my husband’s death.  I think of the shocking news we received on the same day as baby was being born.  While Lennox was arriving one of my husband’s good friends was dying, in the same hospital on the same day.  Tom, died suddenly of a heart attack that had been giving off warning signs for days.

The warning signs had been mistaken for heartburn.  We all hear about the similarities between the two, yet sadly can’t recognize the symptoms when they present themselves. Tom died and Kevin was devastated.  He resolved to do what he could for Tom’s widow and helped with the musical arrangements.  He also wanted to go to visitation.  And he did.  Barely able to walk, a friend of his phoned ahead to the funeral home and they held everyone aside as we arrived.  Kevin walked with a walker, no wheelchair for him that night.  He consoled Tom’s widow and left every single person, and there were plenty, absolutely dumbfounded that he had attended.  He was just that kind of a guy.  You give a 100 percent to those you love.  He loved his friends.

Three weeks after Tom’s funeral, and just a few days before Kevin died, Tom’s widow stopped by.  She brought flowers.  A quick hug and a word of thanks, and a sad smile as she told me privately, as she got ready to head back home, that there were some big black birds hanging around my house.  She couldn’t help but think that one of them was her Tom. ‘He had no sense of direction, so he’s probably hanging around waiting for Kevin to help him on his way.’  Funny if anyone else had of said something like that I would have been upset, but with her I wasn’t.  You see, I needed those small comforts, like the thought that there was someone Kev could hang out with as soon as he left me, and Tom was a pretty great guy.  So I laughed with her and told her I hoped Tom wasn’t in a hurry because Kevin, even after he died, was likely to want to stop and check out everything on the other side as he passed along the way. He always did.

So February is a month with mixed memories for me.  The highs and the lows of being alive.  I look at my grandson and think how lucky we were that he arrived in time to be held by his granddad. Although he won’t remember it, I do, my daughter does.   I just wish that there had of been more – more time to make memories, more days to share, more opportunities to talk and more importantly to listen.  I miss him.

Finished

The task is complete and the room is done.  What a job that was.  Unfortunately, coward that I am, I saved the most difficult stuff for last.  And it was hard.  We had seven photo boards on display at Kevin’s funeral.  Covered with pictures, rich with memories.  After the funeral they had leaned against the wall in that little room.  For the first few months after he died every now and then I would take one of the boards out and run my fingers over the pictures, trying to remember and feel him again.  Silly thing but it was an unconscious need on my part.

I was always the ‘touchy’ one in our relationship, and Kevin didn’t mind that at all.  He’d sit beside me and I’d rub his shoulders or hands or even his feet.  He’d go very still, afraid that if he moved I’d stop.  If one of our cats jumped up on the couch with us he’d know it was game over, I’d start patting the cat.  Kevin did alright though.  So perhaps that’s why I felt the need to touch those pictures, because that’s what I do.

They were the last, but the biggest, hurdle in that room.  Seven boards with 20 to 30 photos on each one.  I sat there and peeled those pictures off the mounting boards and cried the whole time.  It couldn’t be hurried, each one needed to be looked at before it went away.  It was, after all, my life too in each of those images; a way of living that died when he did.

One of the toughest realizations that has come out of Kevin’s death has to do with the extent of the impact on the family.  For those who had him as a friend, you mourn his loss, perhaps profoundly, but the exposure and interaction with him was different – not constant.  For me, and the family, that loss is boundless – that day the light in our lives dimmed, and  part of us retreated to the shadows.

I think about that statement, ‘larger than life.’  I’ve pondered over it more than once since Kevin died.  If anyone earned it, it was him.  He loved life and while he was here he lived it large. Those photo boards were a testimony to that.  They also were a painful reminder of how quickly life can change.

 

Another Good-Bye

This week closed on a sad note as another friend died too young.  Of cancer.  Of course.

I went to the visitation, but couldn’t do the funeral.

It was all so familiar.  The family so composed and calm, getting through the handshakes and condolences.  I think back to when we held Kevin’s funeral, and how you do what you have to do.  It doesn’t register, not right away.  The death happens and then there is so much more to do.  The decisions have to be made, arrangements made, telephone calls placed; and you do it.  Even for the first couple of weeks afterwards there are still things to do, but unlike the funeral arrangements, they aren’t pressing.  This was the time that I felt the slide.  I was surrounded by family and friends, and despite all their good intentions, I disintegrated into a million tiny little pieces.  I was still functional on the outside but empty on the inside.

One of the handouts that I received from the grief group is a sheet called “Helpful Hints When You Are Bereaved”. Under a column labelled “When you are bereaved it is all right to”, it states:

Scream in the shower

Yell in the car

Cry anywhere you like

Misplace your glasses

Lose the car

Forget your own name

Beat up on a pillow

Stomp on the ground

Wear one black shoe and one navy

Have tearstains on your tie

Eat French fries for breakfast, toast for lunch and peanut butter for dinner (as long as you eat)

Smell his/her clothes

Celebrate his/her life on his/her birthday

Leave his/her room the way it is, for as long as you like

Say his/her name just to hear the sound

Talk about him/her to others

Tell loved ones what you need

Say NO when you feel like it

Cancel plans if you want

Have a bad day

There were more, but the list above gives a pretty good idea of how disorienting and debilitating grief is.  The world becomes a shaky, scary place after someone dies.  For me, I worried about my children and the rest of my family.  What if something happened to them?  In the early days after Kevin’s death, for me, the solution was simple – the key is to die before anyone else can.  This is not an off the wall thought, in fact, it is fairly common. I remember after Kevin’s nephew died three years ago, Kevin sat at the side of the bed and I watched his shoulders heave with suppressed sobs.  He stated at that time that he would not have another family member die before him, it was too hard.

It is too hard, that’s for sure, but at some point we all have to go through it.

How Can You Drain Something Already Empty?

Sometimes I feel like I am surrounded on all sides by mountains whose tops are in the mist; I know they are high, but I don’t know how high.  Somehow, and at some point I have to scale those mountains, but right now all I can do is feel small, powerless and ineffectual and let those mountains loom large in my mind.  It is almost paralyzing how much has to be done.  So my title stands, how can I feel drained when I was empty to begin with?  It’s definitely one of life’s mysteries.

Today I tackled one of the tasks that needed to be done, and that was acknowledge the kindness and generosity of family and friends.  We had a large turnout for the visitation and funeral.  We also had a great response to Kevin’s Endowment Fund.  Necessarily, then, I need to make a point of thanking people.  So today I got the thank you notice prepared for the newspaper and it will be published this Thursday in our local paper.  I also started on the individual thank you cards.  These are much more emotional.  I don’t know how many I will do today, but I do know, that however many I get done, it is that many less I have to do.

For those interested, here is the text that will go in the paper on Thursday:

BATCHELOR, Kevin – I would like to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to family and friends for the love and support you provided throughout Kevin’s illness.  We were blessed to have the right people come into Kevin’s life at the right time – our family doctor, Dr. Kathleen Michalski, whose compassion and concern for Kevin helped us immeasurably as we faced the inevitable.  Our visiting nurse, Annie, Kevin anticipated your visits so much; he appreciated your advice, kindness and care.  Many thanks to our friends who steadily maintained their support in a myriad of ways as Kevin’s health declined.  Special thanks to those dear friends, Karin and Betty-Ann, who got Kevin to that one last opera, it was one of the best gifts ever.  Steve, Stu, Pat and Joe, long-time friends – your regular check-ins with Kevin were always bright spots for him, even on days when he was tired.  To his nephews and their children: Todd, Glenn, Symonne, Jakob, Alex and Liam – you know he loved you and it brought him great joy just to have you around.  Thank you to my sister Marilyn who worked her magic at RVH whenever we had a visit, it made a huge difference to our stress levels knowing you were there for us, as well as your support outside of the hospital.  A special thank you to June, Kevin’s sister, who has her own battle with the “c” word yet still made a point to join us almost every day after Kevin’s diagnosis, bringing tasty treats to tempt Kevin into eating and exercising with him during commercials for the Y & R.  And thank you to my children, Jesse (Donna), Kelly (Ian) and Christopher (Justine) and grandchildren Troy, Gareth and Lennox – it was a tremendous gift to your father spending time with him throughout this ordeal, talking about everything under the sun while you gave your love freely to him.  I know he values and treasures you still.  And lastly thanks to all those friends, coworkers, family members and former students who contributed to the Kevin Batchelor Endowment Fund administered by the Orillia Museum of Art and History; the response has been overwhelming and demonstrates how one man’s passion for the arts can bring a community together for a common good.

What the Heart Holds True

It’s been over three weeks since Kevin died.  Three weeks.  The thing I worry about the most is forgetting.  Forgetting the sound of his voice, his laughter, even, God forbid, his snoring.  I worry that he will forget me, wherever he is.  Will he remember me, our kids, our life together?  I guess I worry about what’s next, what happens when we die?  I am not an overly religious woman, I simply had too much religion pressed upon me during my youth.  I’ve never guided my children towards or away from religion.  I am tolerant of other’s beliefs as long as they stay that – their beliefs – don’t try and make them mine.  But now, now that Kevin’s gone, I wonder, where is he and what is next for him?  I am a little jealous of those around me, participants of some religious order, who have their faith to anchor them and provide them solace and comfort.  Regardless, I am still comfortable with being agnostic, I simply don’t know what is out there, consequently, I can wonder what’s next because it is part of the great unknown.  For me it is a matter of what the heart holds true and this will be different for each and everyone of us.

Today I looked at the cards, letters and notes of sympathy I received.  It’s the first time I’ve been physically and mentally capable of doing this since the funeral.   I also watched the video collage that Kevin’s buddy from school, Stu, had put together and that played during the reception held afterwards.  The video allowed me to hear Kevin’s voice, to watch him through stills and video clips, it gave a chronology of sorts over the years of the broad spectrum of his life.  It was painful to watch beyond a doubt, but at the same time quite joyful.  He was a man that loved people, places, performing, teaching, joking and whatever else life threw at him.  Darwin stated, “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”  Kevin valued his friendships and it showed, his friends came out by the hundreds for his funeral.  The support that was given to his Endowment Fund was quite substantial; the Gallery has committed to forwarding me a list of names and addresses by next Monday and I will then start on the thank you cards – I just feel that for me it will be easier to do all the cards at once.

With respect to the Endowment Fund, the Gallery plans on issuing the first Kevin J. Batchelor Award this October so that is fairly exciting news.  It will be part of a national juried art exhibition and Kevin’s award will be specifically for paintings (oil, acrylic, watercolour) by emerging artists of any age, self taught or formally trained.  For the inaugural award I hope to have at least one of my children present the first $1,000 cheque to the 2015 recipient.  We are so thankful for all the financial support that people have provided in this regard.  It is, however, bittersweet to have this award at all, since it is the result of a life lost far too soon.