Monthly Archives: April 2011

Peacin’ Out

Sharing a 'peaceful moment' on our last trip to NYC. Mark would only be here another 12 weeks.

Perseverance: “Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.”

I accepted what happened to Mark early on because you can’t change the obvious. However, that should not be misinterpreted as me being ‘over’ anything. You don’t really get over someone you love dying in front of you, but you do get thru it…for the rest of your life. My first peaceful moment came from knowing that he was free from the physical assault of fucking relentless terminal  cancer. I loved him; how could I not be grateful for him being freed from unremitting pain?

Peaceful moment…widowed…an oxymoron if there ever was one. And the next peaceful moment was a long way off.

As one of the speakers at Mark’s life celebration planned for six months later, I tortured myself during that long winter with thoughts of the proper ‘tribute.’ Homage to someone as multi-faceted as him was a formidable challenge. My head kept writing it out for me like a broken record, so I threw it all down on paper to give my mind a break. I didn’t look at what I’d written again until just before the event. I tweaked it a little and was pleased with the outcome, but ultimately wasn’t sure I’d be up to saying the words in front of other people. This was some way personal stuff, and I wasn’t sure if I could spill my guts without collapsing into a pent-up heap of emotion.

The day came, the room filled with smiles and tears as people talked of Mark’s influence on their lives. No Irish Wake could rival the spectacle of aging rock & rollers recalling The Shack, or the sports kids who came out because they remembered his enthusiastic sidelines commentary. To say it was an appropriate Mark Lawrence life-affirming  moment is an understatement. But then came the dreaded moment of getting up before everyone and delivering my tribute. I know my voice shook; I know I stumbled on some emotional points. But when it was over, my over-riding feelings were relief and strength.

Peaceful moment number two.

In the first days following Mark’s passing, I joined a web community of widowed spouses to share my thoughts in a comforting place. Initially, recovery was far from my thought process: I was trying to survive. I needed a forum to vent and cry, a peaceful haven so I didn’t think I was too crazy. Yet at some point in the convoluted widowhood journey the road forked a little, as I started writing from the viewpoint of looking back at where I once was and how far I’d come. It evolved in a slow way, somewhat like running when I realized “I can do this.” Whereas I once looked to my web community for hope that this would not always be so hard, people new to the site began looking to my writings to gain strength for their early part of this stinking thing. 

Peaceful moments three-thru-10.

A life partner who dies never goes away from you, and who would want that? Memories sting with tears sometimes, but mostly they warm the heart.  It will always be Mark’s birthday on this very date, April 27th. I will always remember how delighted he was with the Lounge-a-palooza CD I once gifted him with, which is now owned by a good friend who shared his love of punk music. Her ‘honor’ at being the keeper of this cool and personal thing is something we still laugh about. Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme singing ‘Black Hole Sun’…it doesn’t get much better than that.

I prefer ‘connectedness’ to time with Mark over ‘closure.’ I find peace in how much he enriched my life, and continues to impact upon it. The ‘afterlife’ for Mark comes from the way he lives on as a symbol of truth, justice and a slightly off-kilter American way.

“Feelin’ thankful for the small things today…” Happy Birthday to him.

 Peace out, I’m out.


Food Is Love

I effing love food. There, I said it. 

My favorite food/meal is the one I haven’t had yet. I just don’t get people who don’t regularly seek out new food adventures, from cheap good eats to five-star culinary delights. If you want to hang out with me, you gotta love new foods.

Food was most definitely a bond that Mark and I shared. We kept a running list of restaurants we wanted to try, whether right in Albanyor an hour in any other direction. We delighted in our regular stops in and around the immediate area as well as Sunday drives to little towns along the Hudson to try out new places. Sunday brunch continues to be my favorite meal of all time. 

We eventually worked up a system where he mostly cooked dinner and I mostly made dessert. One Thanksgiving our kids were both going with their other parents, so we decided to have a gourmet meal for two without the usual boring mash potatoes, brown gravy and corn. I remember making pumpkin soup and having champagne as we enjoyed our holiday meal. I guess it’s no small wonder that Thanksgiving is a holiday that I really don’t enjoy much any more, considering we found out the day beforehand about the suspicious mass in Mark’s abdomen back in 2005. 

Mark always said “Food is love,” and so during his illness I appointed myself his personal Food Nazi. Armed with a book on nutrition for cancer patients and a trusty copy of “Chemotherapy For Dummies,” I oversaw his dietary regimen like you wouldn’t believe. There’s nothing like poisonous chemo pumping thru your veins to make your appetite go a little crazy, but one thing he never lost a taste for was my home-baked goodies. A warm piece of something was often the only food that appealed to his fussy post-chemo tastebuds.

Over the last month of his life, Mark’s appetite dwindled alarmingly. The growing panic inside me so wanted to see him finish a plate of food with gusto, so I would know he was going to dig out of this temporary hole we were in. I guess I thought his great love of food would be a sign that everything would return to normal. About two weeks before he died, I came into the house with warm Lebanese food from a place we loved. The aroma immediately got to him, and he asked for a plate. My spirits soared when he ate some rice, chicken and grape leaves, and I fervently hoped just for a moment that he was going to battle back from the growing darkness.

I still love food and trying new places, and Mark is often not far from my thoughts or comments when enjoying a good to great meal with even better company. With friends who knew us, it’s become a pattern to toast the start of a meal with what Mark and I always said as we clinked our glasses:

 “To Us.”

Feets Don’t Fail Me Now

Running cult members at a recent 5-mile race

Some of my favorite things about running have nothing to do with fitness or weight loss. Yes, you read right: sometimes I’m capable of thoughts wholly unrelated to exercise.

 When I first started my reluctant journey to the finish line, I pounded the pavement solo with very little idea of training. I knew nothing about an action plan for building miles, or that I should buy running shoes in a larger size to allow for toe room. I just ran.

 Then as karma would have it, I became exposed to a cult of runners who showed up at Mark’s second race, a collection of friends, co-workers and assorted others who comprise a running community. They don’t just run: they cycle, they have parties to which I am invited. These are not people I’ve known forever like my two best friends from high school, or friends from work who see me every day and occasionally on weekends. Had mesothelioma never reared its ugly head, I would not know any of them right now.

But as karma indeed dictated, they have since become my friends.

And they make my life better as any friendship should.

 Early on in the distance running challenge, I went out one Saturday with two guys from the group. With my first 13.1-mile half-marathon several weeks away, I needed to increase my endurance but confidence in my ability to meet that upcoming challenge was shaky. Joe and Dave set a pace and I stayed with them, thinking I would cut my run shorter and see them back at the cars. Instead, we went out five miles which means we also had to come back five. On the return trip, I couldn’t believe I still had it in me to accomplish 10 miles for the first time ever. And Joe said, “Good work. You easily have another three miles in you.”

The camaraderie of runners is like no other friendship. People who drive all the way to a marathon just to hold signs for friends; people who run and cycle by your side the last several miles to keep you going. People who ‘like’ your Facebook status when you share a most recent training accomplishment or personal record.

 Another thing I like about running is connecting to the surroundings.

Becoming a stronger runner has enabled me to look around at the changing scenery a little more, smell the seasonal aromas and just kind of ‘connect’ to the whole outdoor experience. It’s amazing how you can actually ‘smell’ spring in the air right now, along with the occasional skunk scent. ‘Getting more in touch with nature’ doesn’t mean I plan to go camping [or to a nudist camp], but it has me thinking maybe a good hike is in my future [with my clothes on]. And if I can afford it, I’m seriously considering buying a bicycle and getting out of the sweaty spin room. Now if I can overcome my great fear of the open road, I might just make it as a dual-athlete.

 I have run a brisk trot each Christmas morning for three years now, either thru falling snow or surrounded by a white landscape. Familiar surroundings just seem to look a little better on that special day. And I think to myself, “Who’da thunk I’d be running on Christmas Day of all days…and I really like this!”

 You know what’s even better about running?

You get to eat more in the name of energy replenishment! First thing back at home, I make a big protein shake with fruit, soy milk or green tea, frozen spinach, and whey powder. A big glass of low-fat chocolate milks also makes for delicious and nutritious recovery fuel. Since I’ve likely expended a good 500 calories or more depending on the distance, I get to eat a little more the rest of the day. As I am all about the food, bring on the miles.

 Finally, there’s looking good while trying to feel good.

I might be wearing sweaty sports clothing, but everything usually still matches. I’ve become a style maven of the matching bandana, befitting my penchant for a properly accessorized look at all times.

 Having said farewell to a few toenails and hello to a few aches and pains, there are some downsides to running, but the good outweighs the bad for sure. Gotta run now…

Losing My Religion

To be honest, I’m not sure I ever really had it to lose where religion is concerned.

Growing up, we went to mass every Sunday, before they even offered Saturday night services. And the bus faithfully took the Catholic kids to religious ed class every Wednesday afternoon, down to Sacred Heart parish for our weekly lesson. I remember hearing the sounds of the neighborhood SH students, laughing and enjoying the rest of their day while we were stuck getting religious instruction from someone’s mom.

I’m not sure I retained anything from those classes, but I did get to add a third name to my moniker even if my mother vetoed me taking Veronica for confirmation.

I subsequently made the choice to attend a catholic high school where I thoroughly enjoyed myself and remain close friends with a great many, a constant joy in my life. Still didn’t really ‘get it’ when it came to the actual religion part, but I kept it to myself rather than defend such a radically differing opinion. Further on in adulthood, I finally got honest with myself where the concept of religious faith was concerned. I felt liberated from hiding it although this is not a thought process which is vastly popular. Just look at how well church and state is separated in this country, and it’s quite obvious that being non-religious by choice is viewed with all the disapproval of a nun in a black habit forcing a left-handed kid to write right.

Mark could easily be described as anti-religion. Yet there was no one I knew who would do more for a fellow human being than him, whether lending a rational ear or pitching in with a hand. And he loved him some causes, being a Big Brother for many years and donating bone marrow thru the national registry. I don’t think he ever once thought of his illness in terms of “why me, God?” – he preferred expending his energy on fighting back with good health habits and trusting in medical science. And he really believed that when people said “I’m praying for you” it was merely an individual expression of care which would generate overall good karma on his behalf.

When Mark died and my father before him, I learned the hardest way possible what incredible emptiness and sadness felt like. I know I won’t see them again, but I am surrounded by their influences which still enriches my life. My dad is with me every time I watch an old movie, remembering all those moments between us. Mark is with me many times over, whether I’m pounding the pavement or listening to The Cure or saying “Well, if Mark were here, he would say…”. Non-belief, if you will, helps me be happy in the here and now that my life has evolved into.

The final words of Steinbeck’s immortal Tom Joad sum it up so well for me:

“Then I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there… I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.”

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight.

Fade to black.