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  • Sherry

When My Grief Journey Began

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

In 2013, I met a wonderful man who would profoundly change my life. When we met at a friend's birthday gathering, we felt a strong pull and yet it was not right timing. Fast forward a year later to that same celebration and we connected again. We lightly dated in 2014 and got more serious in 2015. By this time he had earned my trust, and I was having the time of my life with this smart, talented, high-spirited human who was interested in art, music, poetry, philosophy, fine dining, long talks, and romantic evenings. And he was game for living life in the way that I was. We shared the same "joie de vivre" and made the most of our time together. I had never felt so seen, met, and appreciated as I did in this pairing. I had longed for this kind of partner and left many relationships that did meet this high standard of love and respect. I had met my match.

His name was Carlyle Joseph Miller (Carl) and he called me his sweetheart.

The summer of 2016 was one of the best of my life. There was a trip to Oregon for Oregon Country Fair, time spent in Florence exploring lighthouses and other coastal pleasures, and making our way up to Portland to enjoy amazing cuisine, a fabulous museum, and music venues. Also that summer, we spent a week on the Baja Peninsula exploring several cities, enjoying the beautiful beaches, culture and nightlife. So much gratitude for those sun drenched memories filled with laughter. Things were about to change rapidly.

In late September, he noticed swelling in his left leg and made a doctor's appointment.

Before he could even get in to see someone, he was rapidly gaining weight. We would discover that metastasized prostate cancer had attacked his lymph nodes in such a way that the lymphatic system wasn't working properly and fluid was accumulating. Thus began a year of extremes. So many consultations, doctor's appointments, treatment options, research, drug trials, and eventually ER and hospital visits were awaiting us.

In December, his health took a turn for the worse. Medical staff at one location told him his kidney values were dangerously high and he needed a special procedure. But, the only place that offered someone qualified to do it skillfully was at hospital on the other side of town. I was in Trader Joe's grocery shopping when I got that critical call from him. That night his breathing was labored and I was scared as I watched over him.

The next morning, which was a Friday, I got on the phone with a scheduler at the hospital. She told me they couldn't get him until the following week. In a trembling voice, I told her I thought he might die. She told me to bring him in and they would do their best to squeeze him in at the end of the day. I cried in such relief as I hung up the phone. That was such a rough day as he lay on a hospital bench in a busy hallway trying to quell his increasing bodily discomfort. Luckily they did get him in at the very end of the day and performed a nephrostomy which eased pressure and helped get the fluid out of his body much quicker. When he awoke from anesthesia, he was smiling and said "I feel so much better!" We had a flicker of hope.

After a very quiet and solemn Christmas, other treatments came and went. Some, like the various cocktails of chemotherapy, would work for a couple of months, and we would feel encouraged. But, each one fairly quickly proved to be ineffective against the formidable opponent of cancer.

When May rolled around, I was approaching my 55th birthday. Carl wanted it to be special, and I was of the mind that it could and should be very low key. I suggested going to the Olympic Peninsula and relaxing near a lake. And he had other ideas. We ended up taking the Victoria Clipper, a high-speed ferry, to Victoria BC. If you have not been there, Victoria was proclaimed Canada's most romantic city for many years. He had researched the whole trip, keeping in mind that at this stage he often tired easily and needed to prop his swollen legs up. Yet, his drive and spirit were still undaunted and with excitement we carried on.

Our beautiful lodgings were a short walk from the ferry dock and from our deck we could watch the seaplanes departing and landing. One of the outings he was really looking forward to was going to Butchart Gardens, renowned for its gorgeous plants and flowers, especially the roses. We had to climb a few stairs to get to one special spot, and then we sat down. I noticed he had tears in his eyes. I asked him what was up for him. He was remembering coming here as a young man so full of health and vigor. And was feeling the stark contrast being in his now weak and unwieldy body. I believe that was moment of reckoning. Even in our celebration, we could both see that perhaps the battle was going to be lost.

And yet, neither of us were willing to give up and I can confidently say every possible option was explored. However by July, the continued chemotherapy was causing blood degradation. And in August , a routine chemo session led to an ER visit, which ended with admission to a hospital for extensive blood transfusions. Again, he was on the cusp of not making it there for a few days, and miraculously he was granted another extension to his life with those infusions. Yet upon leaving the hospital, he was transported directly to a high-end care facility chosen by his brother.

It was shocking for both of us how quickly things moved, and it was overwhelming. He had to wrap his head around the fact he was never going "home" again. He marshaled his strength and with the help of several dear friends, a group of us worked fervently to create a website to hold the legacy of his music, art and writings. What a supreme honor to assist with that project and to see his deep relief when we showed him the finished product. And how precious were those shared moments despite waning energy and lucidity. We had some deeply moving talks, sometimes late at night he would catch a second wind. . Several folks kept saying when they thought would be his last day. Yet, I was the one, who on a Friday night, asked the nurse for a cot as I sensed it was time. I was so grateful for that night - playing his music for him, stroking his face, and brushing his hair. Talking to him like always and knowing one way or another he could hear me.

A little before 6 am on Saturday, September 30th of 2017, I heard his breath begin to slow down and become more faint. I whispered loving words close to his ear wishing him a safe journey. And quietly and peacefully he left this realm, much like a slow fade from one of his many beautiful songs. I appreciated the intimacy of being with him in those last hours and final moments. I felt honored to be present for his transition as the breath left and the heartbeat ceased. I will always carry an enormous gratitude for witnessing what I could not have fathomed before.

Thus began my deep dive into grieving the death of my beloved and the long journey of ups and downs, over and arounds, of navigating such an extreme loss. And yet, the resulting inquiry and exploration has brought me closer to myself, expanded my appreciation of daily living, and helped me excavate skills and talents with which I have been graciously endowed, and now use to support others in their own time of grief and loss.

And when I think of that dear sweet man, which I do often, I choose to see and remember and cherish the many amazing gifts of my time with Carl. And along with that reverence, I invite in all the precious, surprise offerings I continue to glean from life without him. Thank you Carl for showing me so much beauty and true unconditional love, it fills me still.

Me and Carl beaming at Woodland Park Zoo for live music at Zoo Tunes - Summer of 2015

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