Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Ugly Christmas Sweater Party for SU2C

Tonight my sister Naomi and I teamed up to throw an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party to raise money for Stand Up to Cancer. The organization has been running a fun event throughout December where individuals could ask for sponsors and commit to wearing an ugly Christmas sweater every day or groups could hold a fundraising party with all the proceeds going to the fight against cancer. We decided that doing a party would be a fun way to get friends and family together while Naomi was back in NJ over the holidays and give cancer a swift kick in the pants at the same time.

My house tonight was full of family, friends, food, and some pretty ugly sweaters. We got a little rowdy playing the quiz game Buzz and tried to channel our best "Joe" performances on Rock Band. We had all been touched by cancer in some way and together we pitched in over $250. Not too shabby for our small but mighty crew.

The hardest part of the night for me was playing Rock Band. This was the first time I've had it out since Joe died and it was strange playing it without him. His steady way of playing that guitar or banging out the rhythms on the drum just couldn't be matched. And, as my sister Karen reminded us all tonight, the amazing thing about Joe was that he was just as good whether he was drunk or sober! It was a sweet, but difficult reminder of our loss, but an appropriate setting for such a reminder. 

After all, the whole point of our gathering is so that maybe someday families won't have this same pain of losing their loved ones to cancer. So, just as I have experienced at other points this year, I am sad, but also thankful for a way to "do something" with my grief. May the funds we raised go far in the fight against this disease that stole our Joe and too many others.

If you want, you can make a donation to our "party" through this link.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The One Year Illusion

I guess I thought there would be something magical about passing the one year mark. Somewhere in the back of my mind I envisioned arriving at a year and a day and all of a sudden feeling differently in my grief. I guess I just felt like something in me would "click" and I would comfortably move into the "next" phase of my life. Not so much.

Maybe it's the Christmas season. Maybe it's the overwhelming pace of my life right now. Maybe it's just my own way of moving through this loss, but it didn't happen even close to that way. In fact, in some ways, this has been my most intense period of sadness and anxiety since immediately after Joe died. Perhaps the worst part of it for me is that this intensity has worn me out to the point of not even being able to blog about it.

Last Saturday, I ran a 5k race in 28:17 for my best 5k time yet. But, there's no blog post about my Mistletoe 5k run because by the end of that day I was just too exhausted to write anything about it.

On Monday, I was able to join with my family to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday. My sisters deserve so much credit for all they did to coordinate it from the shirts with the mysterious Latin phrase to the gifts that were given every 60 minutes. It was truly special and though I missed having Joe there, the togetherness did help lessen the sadness and anxiety that had become my December companion. I only wish I had the energy to blog about it more fully when it was over.

On Wednesday night, my sister and Mom came over to help me turn my house upside down looking for a checkbook I needed for my mortgage refinance. We were ready to give up without having found it when I decided to take a look in my old purses and old work bag in my closet. In one of my old purses I found the little notebook within which I used to keep my Christmas gift lists. I immediately became distracted looking at the things I had bought last year for Joe for Christmas and then by glancing at my list from the year before that. Tears came with it. My blog post from last Christmas will give you an idea as to why...


Written Dec 26, 2011 9:45am by Anne Luck-Deak
These last three weeks have flown by and dragged on at the same time. Domani and I have been surrounded by the love, protection and practical help of family and friends. We have seen an outpouring of support for Domani's education fund and have received expressions of sympathy from literally around the world. We have had meals dropped off and ordered for us (including a special something dropped off to us on Christmas Day). We have had some amazing people help with moving furniture, painting, cleaning, wrapping presents, and doing dishes - all in the midst of the Christmas season rush. It has been humbling to see the love poured on us in Joe's memory. I knew it before, but it is a continuous reminder of what an amazing guy we had in our lives.

Even with all of that love, yesterday was hard. For me, it was the hardest day since the one in January 2010 when Joe was first rushed to the hospital. Many people may not know this, but Joe was the best gift giver I've ever met (I understand that is not supposed to be "typical" for a guy.) He was thoughtful and creative and he always knew about the latest technology or could find the most obscure (yet perfect) gift. He knew his loved ones well and that made his carefully chosen (and usually ordered online) gifts perfect. 

Last year he wouldn't even tell me about the gifts he bought for Domani because he wanted them to be a surprise for me too. In addition to some Mets gear and a few educational toys, he got Domani a Curious George stuffed animal - because Curious George was Joe's favorite when he was little. Every time I look at that Curious George I think of Joe and his thoughtful love for Domani. And that makes me smile.

I missed exchanging gifts with Joe yesterday. Not because of the material things I would have received but because it was one of the many ways Joe would express his love. If you knew Joe, you know that he wasn't a much of a talker. But on Christmas he didn't have to be - he always found a way to speak his love through what he had chosen to give. Probably a good lesson for all of us and not just when it comes to material gifts.

In the midst of reminiscing about exchanging gifts with Joe I felt the urge to look in my old work bag and wouldn't you know it, there was the missing checkbook. It was almost as if Joe had led me right to it. Once again, during a normal month, I would have taken the time that night to write about it. But, no. Everything was just too exhausting.

I could probably name 20 more instances over the last 3 weeks where I've failed to capture events or realizations that were important to me. The lesson I have learned in the midst of it all is to be grace-ful towards myself. I can only do what I can do. As long as I am honest with myself emotionally and spiritually, do my best to tend to my physical well being, and make time to nurture the relationships in my life, I will come out ok. I have learned over the last few years deep lessons about what is important and what is not. Getting "over" my loss in one year is not important. Blogging a certain number of times is not important. And most certainly money and things and to do lists are not important. The important things in my life are people, moments, and those things we all do to build a better world. Those are the things I will cling tightly to this Christmas and that I know will keep me going even during the most difficult months.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The One Year Anniversary in Eight Acts

I. Facebook Photos - Sometime just before I fell asleep last night I started looking through my photos on Facebook, commenting on some, liking others. I did it again when I had a free moment earlier tonight. It was cathartic to look back over the events, places, and people who had been a part of my life with Joe. It was also healing to watch throughout the day as others interacted with the photos. Here are a few of the photos that struck me and why:

NLDS - October 4, 2006
Mets v. Dodgers/Mets win 6-5
WP: Guillermo Mota (LOL), LP: Brad Penny
This is my favorite Mets game photo of us ever.
I love this moment from our wedding day because it was natural and took place in our backyard. 

How could I NOT love the photo of us in the Mets dugout?
And this is particularly special because I was pregnant with Domani.
Joe with Domani at the beach for the first time. I'm just glad that Joe and his
Mom and her husband Ross were able to share this 1st together.
Domani's first baseball game was a Patriots game with Joe and Joe's Dad.
Baseball was a favorite pastime of Joe's and I'm glad they shared that 1st together.
Excuse the quality of this one - it's a photo of a framed photo that hangs in my house.
I took it while Joe was in the hospital in January 2010 and
posted it to his Facebook page. It's special.
My all time favorite "party" picture of Joe. He's got his go-to beverage and,
of course, a water gun.

II. The Bank - This morning I took care of some of that day-to-day business stuff that I never seem to have the time or emotional resolve to finish. With some help from family, I was able to tackle the final tasks that remained at the bank. I do have a few things on what seems to be a never ending list that need to be done but at least I feel like I am continually making progress. 

III. Go On - I didn't get to watch this week's episode of Go On last night when it aired so I was happy to have a few moments before my massage appointment to watch it. It went perfectly with a cup of tea and my chocolate chip muffin from Mendoker's. Once again, there was something in this episode that hit me like a ton of bricks. At the beginning of the show, the conversation in their support group turns to the end of the world (of COURSE it does with the Mayans and everything) so Matthew Perry's character Ryan King ends up telling the story of legendary college basketball coach Jimmy Valvano and his speech from the 1993 Espys. He talks about the 3 things named by Jimmy V that make for the perfect day - laugh, think, cry - and then sets out to pursue them.

Here's a powerful excerpt from that 1993 speech:

"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special."

To "laugh, think, cry" I'll also add "push" because my feeling is that we should all push ourselves beyond what we think we can do in one area of our lives every day. Think of the amazing things that can come from a life of those four things.

You can watch Jimmy Valvano's speech and read the transcript here.

IV. The Massage - One of the smartest plans I made for today was booking a massage with Nancy, my regular massage therapist. She is awesome. And today's massage was really something special. During the final half hour, I found myself in the strange place of having a conversation with Joe. I know how that may sound if you have never experienced anything like it so I won't even try to explain it. I can only say that for me it was very real and it still is real a full twelve hours after it happened. The conversation went like this:

Joe: I didn't want to leave you, babe, but my body was ready.
Me: I know. It's ok.
Joe: I knew you'd be ok.
Me: We miss you, but we are.

It doesn't sound like much even now as I am typing it out, but that was it and for me it was profound. It brought lots of tears, a runny nose, and an overwhelming sense of love and peace. It was what I needed and I'm glad I opened myself up to it.

V. The Cemetery - This was probably the hardest part of the day for me. Joe's Dad happened to be there at the same time I went and I felt the tears welling up as soon as I turned the corner towards where Joe's crypt is located within the mausoleum. It was comforting to have someone else there to share in my sadness and I have to think that Joe would have wanted to see his family comforting each other through this grief we are all feeling. Even though it was hard, I'm glad I went to the cemetery today. For me, it has been a place to sit with my grief and, while sometimes painful, that has played a role in helping me move forward.

VI. A Five Mile Run - As a part of my half marathon training program, I put in a 5 mile run at a 10'04" pace on one of my most hilly routes. It was my fastest run of that length so far and physically I felt great. After the difficult trip to the cemetery, I also found it to be emotionally healing. There is just something about moving along the solace of the road that feels powerful and peaceful all at once. Going for a run always helps me feel centered in my day and in my life and that couldn't have been more true today.

VII. My World Is Empty Without You & The Afghan Whigs - What would today be without something Afghan Whigs-related? For the past several weeks The Afghan Whigs have been uploading to Facebook various YouTube videos of songs along with brief background blurbs on the songs, usually from lead singer Greg Dulli. The video that went up today was, of course, My World Is Empty Without You (yes, a cover of the song by The Supremes). It happens to be in my top 3 AW covers of all time and the one that I have listened to again and again since Joe died. I feel every piece of that song and somehow there it was right in my Facebook

My World Is Empty Without You - Live by The Afghan Whigs

My world is empty without you, babe
My world is empty without you, babe

And as I go my way alone
I find it hard for me to carry on
I need your strength
I need your tender touch
I need the love, my dear
I miss so much

My world is empty without you, babe
My world is empty without you, babe

From this old world
I try to hide my face
But from this loneliness
There's no hiding place
Inside this cold and empty house I dwell
In darkness with memories
I know so well...

I only hope that somehow the band heard my Facebook plea to incorporate this song into their New Years Eve playlist. Hey, a girl can dream.

VIII. Many, Many Wonderful People - There are literally too many to mention, but today I received countless texts, emails, cards, FB posts and messages, tweets, hugs (both virtual and IRL), and phone calls. I am thankful for each one of them and the piece of my heart that each warmed. Once again, the support network that Domani and I enjoy is unbelievable and you all keep us going when it all feels impossible. 

I miss Joe. I miss Joe the husband and I miss Joe the father. There are many others who miss Joe too and I continue to find comfort in our shared grief and "Joe stories". We are bound by this wonderful man for as long as we live and that is a special thing. I am humbled by that bond and I am thankful for those who have been moved to offer their support without ever even knowing Joe. He truly was something special in that way.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Decorating the Little Christmas Tree

The little Christmas tree 2012
This time last year we were dealing with the news that there was nothing else that could be done to fight Joe's cancer. It was heartbreaking news, as my blog post from that day was titled. As the calendar flipped to December today, I felt a range of emotions, most of which I was expecting. I just wasn't quite expecting the intensity. With the dreaded anniversary quickly approaching and Christmas and New Years following close behind, it was almost as if the December 1st date change were magic with the way that it pulled my heart in a million directions.

Today, I started my Christmas decorating. This afternoon my mom came over and helped me organize Domani's room and then bring the Christmas things down from the attic. Up until last year, Joe and I would always tag team this - he going up into the attic and I taking the boxes and bins from him at the bottom of the ladder. Last year for the first time our routine changed and I found myself poking my head in the attic along with my Dad. This year, I was up in the attic and my Mom was receiving the boxes and bins. Going in the attic is emotional for me now because it was Joe's job, so I'm especially thankful to have had the help.

Tonight I put up the little tree in our living room. It was Joe's from when he was a bachelor. His Mom had gotten it for him because she thought he should have a Christmas tree. She was right. It was the perfect "Joe" tree and every year I loved helping him decorate it. Last year, we put it up right after Thanksgiving and I'm glad we did. It was a comfort to me to have it there as Joe's condition worsened and I'm not sure I could have handled putting it up after he passed. We keep many of our most sentimental ornaments on that tree, including ones from our travels so the tree is a reminder of our many happy moments together.

Not surprisingly, I shed a few tears as I was trimming the tree tonight, especially with each "Joe & Anne" ornament I came across. I was surprised, though, at how sweet it was to also look at the tree and recall how it looked in his apartment in Cranbury the night we got engaged or to put up the Henry the VIII ornament and remember our amazing trip to London and the Gutter Twins concert that went with it. While there is still a lot of sad and lonely, I am starting to think about those amazing times when I think about Joe. I am starting to think first about our incredibly special love and second about how much I miss it. I guess that's progress.

My post from last year...

Heartbreaking News
Dec 1, 2011 12:34 AM
It is late and we are all quite tired in the Deak household. After a long night last night which included a visit from the hospice nurse, we went to Joe's oncologist today. Joe had been scheduled for his next chemo treatment, but given his weakened state it was hard to believe they would do it.

That proved correct but on top of that we were told by the doctor covering for Joe's regular oncologist that no further treatments would be possible. A punch in the gut. And she wasn't particularly helpful or sympathetic. Another punch in the gut.

While we were there Joe was given oxygen and some fluids. He also had a nice nap while receiving the fluids. Thankfully, after returning home
We got a visit from his hospice nurse and later a call from his regular oncologist. His oncologist's heartbreaking conclusion was still the same but it was helpful to have our questions answered and to hear the details about his reasoning. The honest truth is that it was very difficult for Joe to travel to Basking Ridge today. His weakened state makes even a walk from the living room to the bedroom a difficult task, let alone walking around to get ready and then out to the car. It would just be too much for him to continue going through the motions of treatments which aren't really having an impact on the cancer.

We will receive some additional services from hospice and are still considering any other possible options for Joe. Please pray for wisdom in how to proceed and for peace during this seemingly impossible time.

As difficult as today was, it was nice to come home to a freshly cleaned house and some yummy food in the fridge. We have the most amazing support network and I have a suspicion it will only get better. Love to you all!