Category Archives: Family

Read this.

This blog by my friend Arash Golbon may be the most true and important thing you’ve read yet regarding lung cancer. Arash gets right to the heart of what losing your beloved wife and the mother of your two young daughters is really like. In a word, devastating.

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Molly died last month…… I still have a hard time saying it, but the person who I spent my last 25 years with died last month. This means no more birthdays, no more Thanksgivings, No more Christmases…..means no more anything. I watched a part of me die that night; a part I will never get back.

Molly’s health declined rapidly four months before she passed. I left work and devoted my life to taking care of her. I was fortunate enough to have a very close friend name Elle who works for Mission Hospice. Elle arranged the best palliative care group possible for Molly. She arranged for doctors, nurses, caregivers, physical therapist, etc. My parents even moved in with us to help. Molly had the best care anybody can ask for.

But ultimately I took care of Molly. She was my responsibilty. Hollywood has made a terrible job portraying what a good marriage is. Marriage is not about romance and candlelight dinners, it’s about two people committing to take care of each other. That’s true love. I had a great marriage.

I loved taking care of Molly. It was very hard work as she was weak and could not walk far. The cancer in her lungs was so advanced that she would have painful shortness of breath throughout the night. It would sometimes take me half an hour to get her breathing comfortably just to have the entire process start again an hour later. Toward the end when Molly was so weak that she couldn’t talk, I knew what she needed just by looking in her eyes. Molly’s blue eyes had become even more radiant due to her sudden weight loss. Her eyes told so much.

During those last months, Molly and I talked about of a lot of things. Twenty five years is a long time to be with the same person. We had definitely made our share of mistakes, but those seem so unimportant compared to how much we had done right.  We talked about the love we had for each other, and all the adventures we had had.  Elle said I was the only person who could console Molly.  I loved when she smiled, I loved the sound of her breathing when she slept, her comfort brought me so much pleasure and peace. There are nights now when I look over to the empty side of the bed and imagine her still lying there sleeping and breathing. I miss her smile, I miss the sound of her breathing.

When Molly died on those early hours of morning, I sat with her alone despite repeated pleas from my aunt. I was her husband and I was going to be there until the end. I kissed her head and lips, and said good bye. I promised her that I would take care of her daughters and raise them to be kind, compassionate humans. I sat there and looked at her until they took her away. Then I felt the pain.  It was the sharpest pain I have ever experienced in my life. Part of me died there with her. A major chapter of my life was over.

The days immediately before and after Molly’s death brought an unprecedented showing of human kindness. Our story had touched so many people. Support in every form poured from friends, from family,  from complete strangers on the street who had heard about us. Some of the kindest notes we received were from children. For most of these children, this was the first time dealing with death. I applaud the parents who not only did not keep their children away, but actually invited mine into their homes. I wish CNN would have this as part of their news flash.

It’s just the three of us now. We miss her a lot, but we are trying to go on. We are lucky to have so many people who care about us. We are lucky to be living where we live. We are lucky to have loving family. Every day has it’s joys and tears. We know many more sad days are ahead of us, but we also know Molly would want us to be happy eventually.

 

You can read more of Arash’s posts at livingwiththreegirls.com

Savannah!

I have a niece who is enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design and her family credits me with alerting them to the existence of SCAD in the first place–happy to be of service when I can. My niece, Zola, is wrapping up her third year at SCAD and just came home from Lacoste, France and a semester abroad. Fun for me as I too took a semester abroad in Lacoste back in 1979 when the program was affiliated with Sarah Lawrence.

Anyway, as an extravagant way of saying thanks for my tip off per SCAD, my sister Bink took me to Savannah for a long weekend of touring the city and hanging out with Zola.

It was a perfect trip all the way around. Bink got us an RBO in a beautiful Victorian adjacent to a park and within walking distance of everything. And walk we did. Savannah is laid out in the most unique grid fashion, with one block sized park after another. These little parks are filled with aged oaks dripping with Spanish moss and each has a monument in the center. And the parks themselves are ringed with charming homes and churches; Bink pointed out that Savannah wasn’t razed by fire during the Civil War and in fact was presented by General Sherman (impressed by its beauty) to President Lincoln as a Christmas Gift.

Of course we toured the grounds of SCAD as well and I can only say wow—art school has come a long way. Plush, luxurious, well equipped and an all around creative hive, it’s the sort of place that makes anyone want to go (back) to art school. And Zola is kicking butt in her major, advertising.

I was introduced to some fine southern delicacies along the way (we ate so well). Grits, fried corn, collard greens (which I liked so much I requested a second serving for dessert) and the most beautiful little macaroons. One unexpected highlight of the trip was a ride with an uber driver her told us about going on a cruise where they had a $10,000 prize for karaoke, and her disappointment that she’d not signed up. My sister asked her if she had a good voice and she said ‘pretty good’. We bantered a bit more and the uber driver said something about how she ought to sing to us. We thought she was kidding until she said ‘well I best get to it’, and broke into the most gorgeous rendition of Amazing Grace. This little tiny lady driving an uber while simultaneously belting out a hymn. It was magical. As was my entire trip. Thank you Bink, Zola and family! xo

Losing our first love

Two of my favorite photos of Evalynn

Two of my favorite photos of Evalynn

Early Monday morning—early enough that it couldn’t be good news, I received a phone call from our stepfather Jim. My mother Evalynn had passed away unexpectedly.

Mom had been in poor health for a long, long time. Two cancers, chronic back  pain, and advanced macular degeneration that left her almost blind. She’d gained a lot of weight, had limited mobility, and was in the early stages of dementia. Jim, who is eighty one but has the mental faculties and constitution of one years younger, provided all of her care.

Given her poor health, we all knew Mom’s time was limited and yet I often joked that she would outlive me. Truth is, I thought she might.

Mom was tougher than nails, one of her pet expressions. Meaner than spit sometimes too, if you didn’t see things her way. I was her first born; she liked to say I was the one she made all her mistakes on. John and Bink might argue that she saved a few for them.

However, there was no mistaking the fact that she loved us all dearly. Our conversations usually ended with “Do you know how much I love you?” or “Do you know how proud I am of you?” And we did—those things we never questioned.

She was, undoubtedly, our first love. It was her face and voice we memorized; her arms that held us. One of my earliest memories is the smell of the sun on her skin.

The three of us are putting together her memorial service and my sister emailed a list of fond memories to my brother and me. I think it nicely captures Evalynn, although I couldn’t help but add a few comments of my own (in italics):

Driving a motorhome and a massive boat as well

Backing up a hitched trailer flawlessly

Teaching us to paddle a canoe (stealth like, like Native Americans)

Always being the first to spot wildlife

Hitting a pitched ball with a bat (far, far, far)

Saying, and meaning it, that we’d never be able to run as fast as she could

Painting, Drawing, Sculpting (making just about anything with her hands)

Designing and decorating homes

Riding Motorcycles, Shooting a pistol

Dancing to any style of music (fabulous dancer)

Singing (even harmonizing)

Swimming a mile (diving beautifully; used to be a lifeguard)

Playing a musical instrument (the saxophone)

Mastering multiple sports (tennis! swimming! baseball!)

Fundraising for organizations she believed in (charitable work)

Baking coffee cakes

Reading in the bathtub

Charming her way out of speeding tickets

Charming most people, for that matter (quite the practiced flirt)

And laughing so hard she’d fall down

Beautifully said Binky. I’d also add that Mom was absolutely devoted to two out of her three husbands (sorry Dad!), adored and doted on her parents Effie and Roy, and never stopped looking up to her older sister Claudine. She played an important role in the early lives of Jemesii and August and my brother John’s daughter Shannon, as we were both single parents at one time. Our mother Evalynn was smart, beautiful, talented, capable and one of the strongest and bravest people I’ve ever known.

I miss her terribly already.

Some self reflection and personal transparency

Self portrait in the ladie's room at Western Avenue Studios

Self portrait in the ladie’s room at Western Avenue Studios

I am in the midst of another break from packing; making the rounds of my gracious friend’s homes (thank you, thank you, thank you all). This has been a time to visit but also to decompress—and I’ve done just that, taking two naps in one day.

Despite my upbeat and can do attitude (at least I think that’s the tone I’m setting), I will acknowledge that this may well be the most difficult task I’ve undertaken yet. Disassembling a marriage is complicated no matter the circumstances; getting divorced while also battling cancer is crazy hard.

I am, on so many levels, stepping out into the complete unknown now. It has been years since I have been gainfully employed and financially, I am a persona non grata. Had a good friend not offered to cosign, I would not have qualified for my lease. Losing my independence was never meant to be part of marriage and yet somehow I let that happen.

I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how anxious this all makes me, but I keep moving forward in the faith that better times are ahead. I am thankful for not only the support of friends and family but also the timing: were Peter not boarding, the separation of households would be so much more difficult. And as it turns out, I am glad I didn’t qualify for the PD-1 clinical trial and that by default, extended my break from treatment. Otherwise, I don’t believe I’d be able to manage, either physically or emotionally.

As it is, I am rather proud of what I have accomplished. It took some frenzied research (and a bit of luck) but my future home (and of course, Peter’s) really is promising. I just about nailed the amount of rent I felt I could afford and by relocating south will remain a reasonable distance from Peter’s school and yet move significantly closer to Boston and Mass General Hospital. The lofts have onsite laundry facilities, are close to a commuter rail, parking is free, heat and air conditioning included and I won’t have to worry about shoveling snow.

As a plus, Lowell has a thriving cultural scene (did you know Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell?) and I am moving into not just an apartment, but a community. The day I signed the lease, my neighbor across the hall invited Sadie and I (along for the ride) into her loft. I think making new friends is going to be a cinch.

And there is some entrepreneurial potential as well, as open studios happen once a month. The wall outside the apartment is mine to use as gallery space and–I’ve been hatching this plan for a year now–I will also have the opportunity to sell vintage clothing (which I’ve been busy amassing) alongside my art at open studios. Woohoo!

securedownload-1So that’s a bit more of the fun stuff. Of course, in prelude to moving in, I’ve been packing up. I have singlehandedly transported carload after carload of boxes to a storage unit. And I’ve lined up a small band of merry movers (again, a preemptive thank you!) and will rent a truck to haul the furniture and boxes come December 1. And then I’ll move the vintage stuff into the storage unit.

I’ve also been working on the health insurance piece; worst and best case scenario. It is of utmost importance to me that I keep the same providers.

So, that’s a bit of an update. Tomorrow I move from one household to another…stages in a journey.

A space similar to the one I'll be moving into....

A space similar to the one I’ll be moving into….

Daddy Day

Dad, Baby Linnea and our neighbors Esther and Don

Dad, Baby Linnea and our neighbors Esther and Don

Peter and I took David out to breakfast this morning at Republic, a cafe in Manchester with truly extraordinary food—something that is not easy to find in this neck of the woods. After we got back home my stepfather Jim called from Utah and I had a chance to wish him a Happy Father’s Day as well.

I’ve been blessed with three different father figures. Jim became part of my family over twenty five years ago, and although we were all grown (in fact, I had two kids of my own by then), he has always considered us his own and we return his love and affection.

In 1985, we lost our first stepfather of sixteen years, known to us (really) as Daddy Dick. He was a character, and upon reflection, not all of his qualities were good ones, but nonetheless, I adored him.

And, of course, our father, Hilding Gunnar Olson, or rather Ollie Olson. He is the handsome fellow in the photo—the tall gentleman who is not sporting a pistol on his belt.

Sadly, dad was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer a mere four months after my own diagnosis with lung cancer. Despite a poor prognosis, he vowed to fight his disease and traveled to MD Anderson for one memorable (coinciding with Hurricane Rita) round of chemotherapy. Too weak for any further treatment, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2005, his favorite holiday.

I haven’t written much about my father, but I miss him so. My first memory is of handing him a brick:  while studying for a PHD in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, he worked as a general contractor to support our family.

Ollie was a quiet and gentle person, who loved to garden and began composting and recycling long before such practices were vogue. He canned his own pickles, pears and peaches and our pantry was always stuffed to the brim. In his later years, he developed an avid interest in art, becoming a prolific painter.

For me, he was not just a father, but a good and easy companion. We shared many interests, and I often find myself saying “you’d really like this dad.” And I’m sure he would.

Visit to Utah, part one

Jim, Ev and Jane

Jim, Ev and Jane

It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to attend an eightieth birthday party, and this particular celebration—in honor of my stepfather Jim—coincided with the date of my eighth infusion. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, delay infusion!

A week ago, I skipped my pre-chemo steroid and caught a plane to Las Vegas instead. I was met at the airport by Jim and my mother Evalynn. A short time later, Jim’s sister Jane’s flight from Dallas landed, and the four of us drove 119 miles northeast to St. George, Utah. The next twenty four hours were rather quiet, but by Thursday night a large clan was gathering. Jim’s son Ed, his wife Pam, daughter Kristin and her partner Elizabeth. Jim’s other son Dave, with his wife Amy and their daughter Lauren. My brother John and his wife Amanda. A handful of childhood pals (some of whom Jim has known since he was a small boy growing up in Wyoming) as well as an assortment of local friends and neighbors. That was party number one, with cold cuts and a birthday cake. And lots of conversation.

In the morning, Jim had a date at the golf course with Ed, Dave and John. Mom, Jane and I were to go to breakfast. However, our morning was not without incident. After I showered I went to look for mom and found her in the bathtub, which was drained of water. She was unable to get herself out, and I wasn’t strong enough to lift her. We tried all sorts of tricks to no avail. I told her we had three choices:  we could call Jim, the fire department, or their next door neighbor ‘Big Bill’ (who was a fireman for thirty years). Of course, none of these choices felt particularly appealing, but I slipped mom’s nightie on to preserve her dignity and Jane went next door to fetch Bill.

Minutes later he walked in the bathroom, addressed mom:  “Hello sweetheart! I’m going to help lift you up.” And then, easy as pie, he slipped his arms beneath hers and pulled her to a standing position. I was crying as I thanked him—it is not often that I am on the caretaking side of things and I found this experience humbling.

Well, Mom still wanted to go to breakfast so I helped her dress. The next challenge was figuring out how to start Jim’s car—a new push button affair. After several attempts the dashboard noticed that a dummy was behind the wheel and a helpful message appeared—I needed to depress the brake at the same time I pushed the button. Aha! Next up—opening the garage door. The only obvious control was attached to the wall fifteen feet from the door. Jane, who is a young seventy seven, gamely offered to push shut after I backed the car out and to make a run for it. I will never forget her face as she came barreling out of the garage just inches beneath the descending door. We laughed until we were crying, and I expressed how glad I was that she’d made it as I wouldn’t have wanted to go next door to Big Bill’s again—“Could you please help me pull Jane out from under the garage door?” Of course, when we heard later that this door had no sensor to stop when it hit something, we felt a little chastened. File this one under all is well that ends well.

That evening we had party number two:  mexican food, the family members and Jim and Ev’s friends Bruce and Barb and Bill and Shirley. After dinner we all gathered in a large circle and Jim shared some of the creative exploits he has been up to. In turn, he asked each of us to give a brief description of where our lives were at. It was a moving experience. Afterword, we broke again into smaller groups for more conversation. I came away with such love and pride for this side of my family, as well as a renewed conviction that so much time should not pass in between visits.

Tomorrow (if I’m cogent after chemo; I couldn’t put it off forever), Goodbye St. George and hello Vegas!

Brothers and sisters

Family sing-along

Family sing-along

La's pancakes

La’s pancakes

Diana, Laura, Linnea, John, Rosalie, Bink and Daniel

Diana, Laura, Linnea, John, Rosalie, Bink and Daniel

Andy, Micah and Indigo chez Pastor

Andy, Micah and Indigo chez Pastor

Poolside

Poolside

Laura and Binky lounging on the dock

Laura and Binky lounging on the dock

John and Amanda zipping around on a jet ski

John and Amanda zipping around on a jet ski

Hale snags a big one

Hale snags a big one

On Friday, the 3rd of May, I flew to Austin. It was an early morning flight, and I’d had my infusion of alimta the previous day. I needed sleep more than conversation and thought this might be a good time to play up my status as a cancer patient in treatment, (as well as to avoid any viruses my fellow passengers might be harboring) so I donned a mask for both legs of the flight. With my knit cap and a scarf wrapped around my neck, I was pretty cozy. Best of all, I actually slept.

So what on earth would compel me to fly the day after chemo? Well, nothing less than a sibling reunion. For the first time in fourteen years, all seven of us were going to be in the same place at the same time—at the home of Laura and her husband Andy in Austin. My brother Daniel and his wife Micah flew in from Alaska with their new baby girl, Indigo. Rosalie, who is pregnant with her second child, had planned to bring her husband Brian and son Magnus, who came down with a fever the night before. So Rosalie came solo, but on the same flight as my sister Bink and brother John and his fiancee Amanda. Diana drove down from Waco, and by Friday night we were all assembled.

Although I had to forgo the hot sun, margaritas and jet skiing, I was more than happy to just hang out. Plus, I did wrangle more than my fair share of baby holding time:  Indigo and I are now fast friends. And I had a chance to have meaningful conversations with every family member (including Laura and Andy’s three sons; Max, Hale and Eli). A surprising highlight of the weekend was a spirited game of Taboo. I’ve had a life long allergy to board games (or ‘bored games’ as I like to say). As a child, I would amuse myself by cheating (ask brother John), but aside from an occasional game of scrabble, I’ve had no interest in games as an adult.

However, May 4th was Diana’s birthday and she wanted to play games. Binky wouldn’t let me worm out of it, so I was in: girls against boys. And you know what? It was so much fun. Taboo is a game where you draw a card with a word on it that you have to make your teammates guess. Below it are five words you cannot use while prompting them, and of course, they are the very words you want and need to say. I was so chemo-brained that I was hilariously inarticulate, but the psychic connection between me and Binky is yet strong, and somehow she managed to guess my words anyway (thanks for making me look good Bink).

Anyway, it was just a special, amazing time and we agreed to not let fourteen years go by before the next sibling reunion. I love you guys!