Live Forever

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Hook In Michigan at the Wachowiak house, 2010.

Today I will spread the last of Hook’s ashes.

In the movies when a person does this, it’s made to seem as though ashes are but a cup full maybe two. The reality is that a human body cremated produces more than four liters of ashes.  I only know this because I dropped off four, one liter Kool-aide bottles — one lime-colored, one orange, one red and one blue — to the funeral home for the transport of Hook’s remains over a year ago.  He would have appreciated knowing I hadn’t wasted money buying a fancy urn.  And, the plastic bottles could be and have been recycled which would have pleased him just as much.

The blue bottle was taken to Trinidad where Allan was spread on a collecting trail he frequented in the Caura Valley, and on the grounds of Asa Wright Nature Center, and finally in the rainforest of Brasso Seco.  Hook loved everything about Trinidad especially the people and they had loved him back, appreciated him, understood his “mamaguy.”

The orange bottle was spread in the firefly meadow, where Allan had taken me at the end of our first nature walk and where I began to fall in love with him.

The red bottle was taken to Bastrop and spread in a family cemetery where a grandmother and a great grandfather are buried.  When Allan and I had the ash discussion before he died, we agreed that a portion of his ashes would be spread where mine would eventually be.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “You’ll be the only white guy in the cemetery, you know.”

“That’s how I like it, baby,” he said.

When I took him out there, all I could think to say was, “Hi Grandmother, I know we’ve never met but well, this is my husband, Allan. Please show him around.”

That was exactly one year ago, wicked cold just like today with the only difference that sheets of rain were pouring down. I hadn’t wanted to drive out to Bastrop in the rain but I’d wanted to honor Allan on his birthday.  The rain ended up being my good fortune because after I’d covered my grandmother’s plot multiple times, the white remains looked more than a little conspicuous.

Most of you already know how Allan made it into Australia which was not in one of the Kool-aid bottles. But this morning, I’ll pour from the lime-colored bottle and spread around the Mexican Oak which Hook planted in our backyard to honor the year we were married.  This final release is meant only as a pause and reflection of November 17th.  And on September 3rd of every year, I’ve no doubt I’ll either openly cry or shed a tear and eventually over time, maybe it’ll just be the welling up of water in my eyes.

This Time Last Year

Last week as I was driving down Manchaca in Austin, a memory swooped in and I almost had to pull off the road to catch my breath.  I shivered as I felt for the briefest of seconds that familiar abandonment and aloneness in the world.  2013 and most of 2014 had been a time suspended from living, what some might call the walking dead.  I shake my head now as I recall how unbelievably dark my world had become.  Until Hook had died, I had never felt deserted, rudderless, and such an unwilling participant in my own life.  As I continued to drive, the feeling eventually subsided but it was the perfect reminder of how far I have come in these last 14 months.

Since the anniversary of Allan’s death, my memories ricochet against this time last year not unlike how the entire first year of grief was lived.  Except, in all of those memories, Hook was still alive albeit sick and dying.  It was, quite frankly, a time of near insanity.  Now, my recollections are about how I grieved, how I honored, and what I learned and am still learning.

I wear my rings separated now, the wedding band on the right hand while the engagement diamond is on the left.  I tell myself that I am “emotionally engaged” and therefore unable to remove the ring.  I cannot imagine a time when I would ever stop wearing these rings, but then I could not have imagined a time when I would fall asleep at night without silently crying into my pillow.  Those nights occur less frequently now.

In the last month of Allan’s life, I asked him for a song request every day then I would post a link to the song on my personal Facebook page.  One of his requests was Joe Ely’s version of Live Forever.  I think when someone truly loves you, you live forever, maybe not here but somewhere.

Live Forever

(lyrics by Billy Joe Shaver; sung by Joe Ely)

I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna cross that river
I’m gonna catch tomorrow now
You’re gonna wanna hold me
Just like I’ve always told you
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

Nobody here will ever find me
But I will always be around
Just like the songs I leave behind me
I’m gonna live forever now

For the rest of 2014, this blog’s name will remain Hooks Down Under.  Beginning in 2015, the name will change to Writings By Rosemary.  Between now and then, I’d like to share some seriously funny memories about Allan so we can laugh together instead of crying together.

Until then …

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A Pilgrimage of Milestones

Australia_kangarooIn two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Australia.

Someone said that I was taking a pilgrimage but I’ve realized that this entire year has been nothing but a pilgrimage of milestones.  The first birthdays, the first holidays, the first trip back to the Texas coast, our anniversary in June which by the way is not an actual anniversary if only one of you is still alive, are all the beginning of the end to a new beginning.

Confusing, yes.

After the anniversary was the ritual of going through Hook’s clothes, his closets, everything he ever owned, made easier by the presence of my family.  They helped me to pick through what I was willing to part with then adopted some of his things which was more reassuring because it felt like he wouldn’t be far away. Then finally, there was the move back into the Hook House, a house I have to admit that I did not want to return to. Living here again was never part of the plan, but nothing of the last two years was part of any plan ever.

Yes, it’s a great house. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, everyone who walks into this house has said what I said the first time I ever saw it: “It’s so cute and such a perfect location!”

He should have died in this house but if he had, I wouldn’t be living here today. That’s one thing I know for certain and it goes with the only other certainty that I have:  I need to finish what we started which is why I re-booked my flight to Australia with little to no time to plan.

Early in 2014, I doubted that I would ever step foot in the land down under.  That country no longer held any interest for me.  Instead it was a reminder of unfulfilled dreams and not just of a sabbatical but of an entire future.  Occasionally I would say without conviction that someday I’d go and take his ashes, but I lacked any enthusiasm to make that happen until I moved back into the Hook House.

[I refer to my home as the “Hook House” because in the future it will become the Hook Scholar House where I sponsor students from outside of central Texas who travel to Austin from all over the world to conduct creative research at the Wild Basin Preserve.]

The first week back home, I had to give myself permission to feel relief, yes relief, that I could start anew, relief that it was okay to feel happy again, relief that no matter what I did to improve my future did not mean I would forget about Hook.   How could I?  This house was the only home I’d ever known with Allan.  It was his home then our home.  Now it is my home.  His Jeep is parked in the driveway while my Nissan is tucked away in the garage. Do I keep both cars? I don’t know but I no longer feel the need to figure everything out all at once. Somehow being back in this house has released me from feeling like I’d never find my way back to the land of the living.  And even as I walk through the house with the constant sense of he should be here, I know I can’t change the past.  I cannot make my husband be undead.  The only way forward is forward.

He would want you to be happy.

Sort of.  I mean, Allan would not have wanted me to be unhappy. He would have wanted more than anything for me to be productive, for me to get going.  I could cry all I wanted so long as I kept making progress.  Hook was from the generation that if you were too happy, you probably weren’t working hard enough.  So yes, he would want me to be happy but not too happy.

What is Allan saying to you now?

Multiple people have asked me this, but I couldn’t answer because I’d started listening more to what I needed than what I believed Allan would have wanted for me. That’s how I decided to make this trip to Australia which is neither a vacation nor a holiday. The same knotted ball that was in the pit of my stomach when I took my first trip back to Port Aransas without Allan has resurfaced. I struggle to feel excitement for a trip I once couldn’t wait to take.  But that was when I thought my husband would be sitting next to me on the plane not resting in an urn.  Everything is different now even my reason for going.

I go because there is a circle to be closed. I go to complete a two-year journey I never wanted to be on. I go to spread the last of my husband’s remains on the anniversary of his death.  I’ll do finally what we’re both now ready for me to do:  I’ll let him go.

The widow books that used to decorate my nightstand have been replaced by books about Australia.  Each time I open one of the Oz books, Australia_booksI barely skim through the pages, not really reading at all.  Instead, I stare at the maps of this continent, mentally planning a counterclockwise, southwest trek from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef then over to Darwin and down to Alice Springs then back down to Perth for one last peek at Hope Street.

Australia’s vastness used to intrigue me and my hope is that once I get there, it will again.  I’m giving myself exactly one month.  And all that traveling inside the country that I mentioned?  I’ve no way of knowing if I’ll actually do it.  I’m as likely to hunker down in Perth and do absolutely nothing as I am to figure out that anamoly of an island and make a solo trek around the circumference.

As I live through the next three weeks which this time last year were Hook’s last three weeks, I find it impossible not to return to that time in my head. We had lived a year for every day in that last month.  The intensity of feeling doesn’t go away just because 347 days have passed. I can actually see it more clearly now, see that no matter what happens in my life, nothing will ever touch me as deeply as those last days helping my husband to die.

We didn’t know, I didn’t know — our last conversations, our last everything. Some might think that that time was tragic or horrible or possibly even disgusting to have to live through.  When you can’t stop what is happening, when you can’t save them, when all you can do is wipe phlegm from their mouth or carry them to the bathroom, then those actions become ultra significant.  So you push back any thoughts of he’s dying and instead you think, He would have done this for me, or, I can still do these small things for him.  And you make that be enough for both of you and you never break until he’s gone, because he’s no strength left so you must be that for him, too.

If Hook were saying anything it would probably be:  Just keep going orYou’re right babe,” a common phrase in our home.

My husband did not want me to take his ashes to Australia.  But I have always known what was best for us and now I know what is best for me.  I need to release him.  I need to begin a new journey that starts with finishing this one.  I’ll make this pilgrimage to Australia and I’ll face this milestone like I have faced all the others: With my heart and my mind wide open.

And I’ll cry and I’ll cry and I’ll cry and when I’m done, I’ll remind myself that it’s okay to be happy again.

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The Gift of Time

There was this whole story I was concocting in my head about how to lead you to the updated news.  Perhaps if I had cried less in the last month I could muster the enthusiasm and passion I normally feel, but since I’ve had to put my big girl panties on then I’m going to ask you to put yours on, too, so I can get right to it.

The Good News

Hook and I signed off on a gift to St. Edward’s University for the Dr. Allan W. Hook Endowed Wild Basin Creative Research Fund.  After much discHDU_waspmanussion on how to provide a legacy for Allan’s lifelong work with science and education, and to highlight the gem known as the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, we created this endowment with an initial gift of $125,000 dollars.

We felt wowed by the idea, the planning of it, and now the future of the endowment.  In a separate blog post, I’ll share more details.  For now, feel wowed with us.

The Bad News

For all the good wishes we have desperately hung onto, our positive thinking wasn’t enough to blink back the cancer from wherever it came from.   Was it the surgery?  Was it the lack of good guidance?  Or, was this how it was always going to end up?

Throughout this past year, Hook and I have believed he would recover and that he’d beat every statistic on the pancreatic cancer books.  We believed we were getting on a plane in August for Australia, and we believed we’d have a year like no other.  Well, we did have a year like no other, and for all the trials of the last 12 months, I know when to be thankful for life’s simpler plans.

Hook said, “Tell them Australia is still a possibility just not in 2013.”  For me, I can’t imagine anything more unimportant, more insignificant than whether we go anywhere.  My home is where Allan is; he is my adventure.  My father, Lou, always said, “Make do with what you have,” and so we will.

Whatever reconciliation the oncologist and I had from the last post is gone, gone, gone.  As of mid-May, Allan went back on chemo but with a different treatment.  The oncologist’s analysis:

  • Without chemo treatments:  ~ two months.
  • With chemo treatments:  up to 14 months.

“You’re now in stage 4” was his opener.

If you had asked me two weeks ago about our status, I would have blurted out the answer amidst a shower of tears and nose blowing.  Today I have a little more self-control.   Yesterday, I wrote to a friend that I can pray every day and I do, and I can keep believing in miracles and I will, but I see what no one else does including the doctors and I don’t have the luxury of denial.

But even knowing what we know doesn’t mean we give up.   We’ve decided that knowing what we know is its own gift.  There may or may not be a clock.  This estimate of months is guesswork at best.  All I have to do is re-read the story about John Betak who was given the “six months, get your affairs in order” pancreatic cancer talk but who is still alive today after eight years.

Then there’s the video of David, the pancreatic cancer survivor, who was told by his doctor to cash out his 401k and live it up because he only had six months.  That was more than five years ago.   David says he’s poor now but alive.

What’s that cliche:  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.  I never liked that saying.  Instead, I’m going to pray for a miracle, set aside time for Hook and me to write, and make plans we should have had in place anyway.

More Good News

On June 1st, Allan will officially begin his long-awaited, well-earned, 12-month sabbatical.  A “sabbatical” to some might conjure up images of goofing off or beaching it.   For a scientist like Hook and with his obligation to the university, he’ll use this year to conduct uninterrupted, focused research.   Allan easily has enough research projects to last longer than a year, but he has some specific works (what he considers his “life’s work”) he is determined to finish.

That Allan will have this year to do what he loves the most is an enormous gift from the universe.

Turning a Complaint Into a Compliment

As part of my Hook The Talent career management business, I host two different events every month.  One is an Ask The Coach forum where I invite in a local coach, usually a career coach, to do a Q&A over coffee with an intimate group of seven career changers.

Not intending to be in need of a Wellness Coach, I nonetheless scheduled one onto the events calendar thinking others might be in need.  Turns out, I was the one who benefited the most from Wellness Coach, Lauryn Sires, who comes from a science background but now specializes in coaching cancer fighters and survivors.   Her advice to the forum when dealing with a health issue for yourself or someone you love:

“When you feel yourself getting ready to complain, try complimenting someone or something instead.”  Lauryn said three things would happen:

  • You’ll catch how often you complain.
  • You’ll see the good/positive in a person/situation.
  •  You’ll start to express more gratitude for what you do have versus what you don’t.

I think the key is that the compliment has to be genuine. If you don’t really believe it, you’ll remain frustrated plus you’ll be insincere.  (My thought, not Lauryn’s.)

I struggled with this one relative to Hook’s oncologist.  I really did.  But I dug deep and came up with an authentic, deeply-felt compliment:

Let us all thank the universe for those individuals who consciously choose to become oncologists and cancer nurses and grief counselors.   These jobs see more death and dying than the average person could ever bear.  Some of these individuals are angels walking this earth, guiding us, loving us, caring for us in a way no other could or would want to.

Hook and I have tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and for now we will make do with what we have.  We will be thankful for the gift of time however much of it we receive. 

God bless you all for sticking with our story.

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Timing is Everything

HDU_TimingIsEverything“I haven’t posted a blog in weeks,” I said as he sat down at the kitchen table.

“I know.”

“I don’t know what to say.” My words lingered in the air waiting for his reply.  With a hint of resignation in his voice and as he pushed himself up from the table to stand, he agreed with another, “I know.”

“If I say what’s really going on, people will worry.”

“I know.”

“What should I share?” I asked because not everything gets told in this blog.   We only ever share the basics.  Reality would be too much, too bare, too human.

“I don’t know,” he admitted with a sigh.

“Me either,” I replied, giving in to this business of not knowing what to say and when.  That’s why I haven’t blogged for a month because I didn’t want to lie but I didn’t want to tell the truth either.

Status Update

Will the Hooks make it to Australia isn’t really the question anymore.  Will Hook make it another year is probably more accurate.

That second question circles us constantly now.  Certainly, it questions us tonight or I should say this morning/afternoon because that conversation above didn’t happen today but last week.   That conversation happened because of the continuing weight loss followed by a continuing decline of hemoglobin in Hook’s system.  That conversation happened after Hook’s unexpected blood transfusion two weeks ago followed by the really unexpected second transfusion yesterday or two days ago depending on how accurate you want to be because I started writing this at 10:30 at night in St. David’s emergency room.  Then it was 4:30 in the morning when they wheeled Hook up to his hospital room but now it’s almost 1pm central standard time the next day or today, Saturday, April 13th 2013.

Before the second transfusion, we’d had a disagreement over whether Hook should continue with chemo treatments anymore.

“You won’t have to worry about dying from cancer because you’ll drop dead long before then from malnutrition.  Something is WRONG and we need to find out what it is and we need to STOP these chemo treatments until we know what’s wrong.” My shrill voice rose to meet the hysteria that had been hiding behind all those lingering questions in my mind.  Is he going to make it? Why is he declining?  What are we not doing right?

But back to the emergency room which turned into an overnight hospital stay and my contact lenses that dried out over four hours ago are stuck to dry eyeballs and my brain’s not functioning so great so it’s hard for me to know if I’m making any sense.

  • A blood clot has formed in Hook’s left leg and he’s been admitted so the clot can be thinned and dissolved with a non-invasive, minor procedure.  We’d noticed some swelling last night and it was our good fortune that Hook’s oncologist was the on-call doctor.   His oncologist, who only two days ago impressed upon Hook the necessity of calling him for even the slightest changes in his body, recommended the emergency room right away.
  • Things look okay so far.  Timing is everything.   If we had waited until this morning to call, who knows what would have happened.  Or, if it hadn’t been his oncologist’s on-call weekend and instead we’d gotten another doctor who didn’t know Hook’s history, we probably wouldn’t have been recommended to go to the emergency room.  Timing is everything.

I could have begun this blog with the announcement that Hook was back in the hospital but I needed to ease you into it, because I don’t want you to worry and because timing is everything.

I’ll post again tomorrow with what I know.

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