Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Two months


May 5, 2015. Today is two months since Leslie passed from this life. It’s been an eternity. It’s been a hard, hard time. There have been some good times within these mourning times too – as I began to transition from a man defined by grief to a man who is grieving.
1969
How momentous it was that I held you as you passed from this earth, this life. Life! I was beside you, embracing you, caressing you, whispering of love and your beauty. How I trembled, knowing what was to come. And then I was calm, I was sorrowful, I was in love. I was strong. I was pure.
At every turn I see how incredibly fortunate, how blessed I’ve been with your presence – your love – in my life all these many years.
And at the end, to hold you and whisper these things!
Yesterday was hard. I ran a lot of errands, including taking the wheelchair back to the medical supply place We were minorly ripped off for $50, but fuck it. I thought of how you became weaker and weaker, going from walking slowly but without assistance to needing a walker to needing a wheelchair… I drove by the house on Robin Road where you grew up, where we first kissed.
I got home around 1pm and thought I would take a nap. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted – I was weary as hell – that I lay down on the floor in the front room (I just couldn’t go any farther) and despite being cold, basically passed out.
When we were living on LaVista
You never believed me when so many times I told you how brave you are. You insisted that having fear meant not brave. I would say, “Hey man, I lived with some of the bravest men on earth. Being brave isn’t fearless; it’s going in despite the fear.”
To have known you through so many seasons of your beautiful life – from 16 to 70.
Today (Thursday) was better. I went to Whole Foods for breakfast – took my time, talked with someone from the gym, read the NYT. I came home and did the first steps in baking walnut bars. I went to Central Market for lunch and came home and finished the walnut bars. In the afternoon I got an email from the lawyer re probating Leslie’s will. I had a physiologic response to it – a wave of something bad.
Later I was thinking; later I cried – hard again – thinking of the momentousness of how it happened. Remembering the anguish of realizing your condition was deteriorating. Remembering the enormous relief seeing Dr. Lichliter coming down the hall…
First trip to Hong Kong
And later that awful night, embracing you. What an extraordinary thing – leaving life as you entered it: loved, adored. Leaving my life as you came into it: in this embrace of love and adoration.
I’m so glad I was able to do it – that I took care of you. It does not matter that you won’t be able to do it for me. It does not matter that you won’t be here to hold me as I pass away because we’ve done it already. It’s all been done. Complete.
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Yesterday I said to John that I can’t tell any one person all the everything that’s happening – it would be too much. Then I thought, well, let’s just get it all out there… and so I wrote down all the bad stuff, and I wrote what sustains me, and I wrote what I’m doing to take care of myself (Adrian’s question).
Hard times between Leslie and me in November and December – the hardest days of our marriage (but some extraordinarily good times too)
The physical changes from unassisted to wheelchair-dependent
My great aunt Eloise died. We were not close in recent years, but still.
On Ko Samui (Thailand)
I found my brother dead. I was pretty sure then that he killed himself, but didn’t find out for several months.
John and I going through the huge volume of Tom’s stuff and finding things we’d rather not find – seriously.
Leslie’s condition worsening.
Leslie in ICU.
Leslie passing away – a 54 year love affair.
Working on all the paper, learning to pay bills on-line, dealing with banks, lawyers, people.
Filled with grief and gratitude.
The first month, crying so hard, sobbing, groaning, the pain. Then decreased frequency and intensity of crying, but then some stimulus (like taking the wheelchair back) and the deep crying that leaves me utterly exhausted. And then more stimuli – someone in my Bible study group’s wife died from MS. 20+ years of in sickness. Talk about the Hero’s Journey!
Finally received Tom’s amended death certificate: “toxic effects of fentanyl… overdose of prescription drug.”
Daily dipshit stuff – getting a parking ticket, bill from the m-fing surgeon who failed to manage Leslie’s pain, letters from Tom’s creditors. I’m pretty raw.

Through it all I am sustained by…
Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park, 2014
David – his presence, his help, his steadfastness.
Memories – how you and I loved so fully, without reservation; all our years together; knowing you through so many seasons of your beautiful life; your beauty; your incredible life of service/mercy/how you saw the beauty in others; how I took care of you when you were sick; how brave you were through the physical and cognitive changes; everything.
John – my brother, a good guy, helping in a thousand ways (and I hope I’ve been helpful to you too).
Jeff, who comes with the dust and is gone with the wind – and at the right time
Friends reaching out, being present.
Activities – working in the yard, baking, etc.
Future – I feel like I have one.
Being fairly healthy.
In front of a sex club 
Being actually pretty resilient.
David and Charles – you too, Jake.
Very little guilt or second-guessing.
(A couple of months in) I’m laughing as much as I’m crying.
The kindness of strangers/random people.

What am I doing to take care of myself?
Connecting with David.
Enjoying memories.
Hanging out with John.
Connecting with others, like David O, Ron, Shirin, Charles B, Jim Z, Melvin, Chris, Freda, Lance and Chhorvy, Shane, Jay, Sarah Spirals, Bill McF, Ally Fiesta, men in my Bible study group…
Writing.
Experiencing fully the grief.
Evening bowl.
Monkey girl
Getting out: eating at WF, going to used bookstores, Central Market, talking with people, etc.
San Francisco!
Baking, working in the yard.
Not rushing (through grief, business stuff).
Reflecting on all the years of love and work and travel and just everything that went before. Having some of the photos I have has been huge – Leslie and Baby David, Leslie and David embracing a month before she passed, Leslie in Hue with David and me…
David, Charles, and Jake.
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When we were working with refugees
It is good to be known – to live where people know you – some people already know what happened to Leslie and some do not. I went to place today where Leslie liked to go for lunch (Spec’s) and Katy, a young woman who works there (we would always go through her line) asked, “Where is Mrs. Kemp today?” I told Katy and she literally burst into tears. We talked and hugged and she told me that her great Grandmother and her good old dog had died last week. So Leslie’s passing triggered her grief…
Earlier I noted that the wife of a man in my Bible study group had died from MS. It had been a 20+ year journey. Epic. I went to the memorial service at my old church. I took a few notes…
January 2015
Exactly what I wasn’t looking forward to – people saying, “I’m sorry to hear about your wife…” And I’m wishing I wasn’t there. I sat in the back, to the side and then I saw two people I’m glad to see – Elvis and Joan. Then old Dave Kerr comes to sit beside me and then the first hymn and I realize Susie Grissom (a sweet person) is sitting on my other side. Glad I went to the restroom earlier and got some toilet paper, because the tears are coming down and before the first hymn is over I realize I’m in a good community and I’ll be coming back.
For better, for worse; in sickness and in health…


2 comments:

Alison Starr said...

Charles, I appreciate you sharing all of this here. Love, life, pain, sorrow, joy, all of it. Cannot imagine how deep it is for you. Each time I think of trying a new lunch spot I think of you both. When I need someone to talk to about the hardest things I think of Leslie. I love you my friend. Thanks for who you are and for your resilience .

Penguin said...

Beautiful, Charles.