I planned this week to write about the news that Canada’s cancer charities continue to merge. Two heavyweights, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society, joined forces earlier this year, and this week the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada and Colon Cancer Canada did the same. Both mergers are a strategy to reduce expenses amid declining support, which is a tough read for those of us starting up a new charitable fund. Also in the same article: Canadians donate far less than Americans. I felt the post-Canada Day buzz wear off a bit quicker after reading that one.
I changed course though … maybe I’ll get back to that topic another time. Instead let me get a bit more personal and tell you about my week. Hope you don’t mind.
This week has always been a fun one. It’s the first week that Kate’s out of school, Tory and I would always take the week off and head north, host friends, celebrate Canada Day, and eat and drink too much.
Last year we started out on the same path, but mid-way through the week we hopped on a roller coaster that wouldn’t stop … and hasn’t stopped yet.
That was the week Tory told me that she feared she had breast cancer.
And it was the way she did it that will stay with me forever. She asked me to go to the dock for a bit to talk, and I made some lame joke (as I do). Once we sat down she told me she suspected that her breast was inflamed with a tumour, and from what she could tell it was aggressive, and that in her research (read: googling) it meant that she’d be gone by Christmas.
(BTW If any of you knew Tory and ever for one minute doubted her strength (and there were times she doubted it herself), I wish you could’ve seen the unbelievable poise, courage, calmness, fierceness, whatever, that she delivered that news with. My god that woman was strong when it mattered most.)
So making plans for the holiday week this year was obviously going to be different – the memory of that experience is burned on my brain. When I talked about it with my psychologist at Sunnybrook a few weeks ago, I told her my strategy for dealing with this week would be the same as it was for any of our “firsts” this year: direct my grief into something positive. Just like we did for Mother’s Day, Tory’s birthday, and will for our anniversary, Christmas…
“Why?” she asked. She said it’s impossible to “direct” grief. Grief just comes at you whether you want it to or not, and no matter how much you try to control it.
She’s right. My battles with grief are like John Bender and his dad in The Breakfast Club: “F*ck you, Grief” … “No, f*ck you, Jason”. Punches are thrown, tears shed. Then it’s over until next time.
You can plan for grief all you like, you can try to steer it, postpone it or avoid it altogether. But you really can’t make it go away. It’s best to accept the blows are coming, find a comfortable place to fall, and wait for the bell.
You know what, though? This week wasn’t a total loss. Despite fearing grief would overwhelm me, it didn’t. Kate and I generally had a good week. And I have an idea or five why I won a couple rounds with my foe:
- Time: The first month or so after Tory died was filled with daily – even hourly – run-ins with grief. Now they’re far less frequent.
- Kate: 100% she’s the reason I make it through each day. My single goal in life is to make this tragic experience as positive as possible for her. So we had a friend up for her, we ate ice cream nearly every day, we played games, we binged on The Office. And we talked a lot – about nonsense and life all at once.
- Friends and family: I really have no words to describe how important this has been to Kate and me, so I won’t even try. All I’ll say is “showing up” like you do – a quick call or text, coffee, lunch, dinner or a cottage dance party until 6am – makes the difference between a crappy day and an acceptable one. Don’t stop 🙂
- The Tory Day Fund: It gives me a way to extend Tory’s legacy, and it channels my grief into something positive for Kate, Tory’s friends and her family. Even on vacation this week I made time to connect with a couple charities to learn what they do right, and to get the next version of toryday.org ready for launch in a couple weeks.
- Writing these updates: I’m usually better writing than talking, and having a way to share my thoughts and support the Fund and connect with friends and family? That’s huge. Getting to write it while looking over the lake a little after sunrise made it even more therapeutic this week.
I feel pretty good all in all, and you can bet that brings some guilt – Tory’s not here to share in any good stuff.
And just so I don’t start feeling like I’m out of the woods just yet, I’m reminded that I’m far from it. First, Kate’s specialist tells me grief is life-long (dammit!) so it’s best not to gloat about winning a round. And grief is random – despite my best plans, he’ll sucker punch me and knock me out cold when I least expect it.
Oh, I’ve also learned that grief is personal – what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. But if you think this post could help others going through grief of any kind — please share it.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.