Posts Tagged: death

Jul 10

In loving memory

From this week’s Santa Barbara Independent, In Memoriam for Uncle Kenny.

Jul 10

Father Time

And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to Father Time

(Death Cab for Cutie, “What Sarah Said”)

And isn’t that the truth?

Thinking deep thoughts these days….really deep thoughts.

Jul 10

Farewell, this week. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Every single day of this week has felt like Friday. Not in a good, TGIF way, but more in a is-this-week-still-dragging-on?-kind of way. Like, every single day I’ve thought, “it can’t possibly still be NOT-Friday!”. This week has kicked me in the ass. Repeatedly. And it sucks.

I know, I know. I received good news–great news!–today. News that my scan was “normal.” Oh, good. Yes. I am relieved. Another reprieve, it seems. Another 6 months before I worry myself sick again. But it still doesn’t erase it all.

It doesn’t erase the deaths. This week, already mindful of Kenny’s death in such an immediate way, especially as I wrote a memorial piece about him, I was completely devastated by the news about Anna’s dearly beloved teacher, whose baby–not even 6 months old–died. This beautiful, charming, totally healthy and perfect baby, whose dimpled smile shone from her elfish face, whose body I held many times upon picking up or dropping off Anna (because I just cannot stand to NOT hold a baby, goodness knows). Gone. Just gone. SIDS. I cannot see a single shred of good in this death. Not even a “oh, she touched so many lives” or “her spirit will shine forth” and definitely not a “well, we will see her in heaven some day.” This was a life too brief and though it was not my child, I found myself waking countless times these past couple of nights, waking with a silent scream in my throat, racing to look at my breathing child. It’s the most horrendous nightmare for any parent and, for a woman that I know and love, her nightmare happened. I just can’t fathom it.

Saturday we will attend a memorial for this sweet baby girl.

Sunday we will celebrate my sister’s birthday (sorry, dear sister, that the celebration of YOU is sandwiched between such sadness).

Monday I have chemo in the morning, followed by funeral and memorial for Kenny.

It all feels like so much, the emotional burden too great to bear. I find myself grown quiet and thoughtful these days.

Adam has been swamped with work this week and, though I understand and appreciate that that is what he has had to do, I’ve missed him. I don’t feel like I have had adequate time to process everything that is going on.

I find myself hoping that Anna will not see only death around her, but the beauty also. Beauty, where are you? Oh, life, please linger near us for a bit. We need you here.

Jul 10

Thirty Four

Tomorrow I turn thirty four. A respectable age, I’d like to think. One that puts me well beyond childhood, transplanted firmly into the place where I can reasonably be expected to have at least some of my shit together.

I think I’m doing all right? Am I doing all right?

Well. I’m not thrilled to have my upcoming scan. I would be lying if I were to tell you that it’s no big thing. I almost gave myself a panic attack today, just thinking about it. I mean…..Kenny and I were diagnosed with the same kind of cancer around the same time. We achieved remission. His came back and then he died. Do you see how this might give me pause? How of course it’s the optimistic thing to think, “oh, mine will stay away! Of course it will!” because the sequence of events these last couple of weeks has put the other side of things to close to my face, so close that I can’t close my eyes without flashes, like something from a horror film, of this or that or the other thing. The not-optimistic thing. The thing that spells out my fear. The thing that says that they’re not just scanning me for fun, that I can’t just go out there in the world and pretend like none of this happened because it did happen and it is happening and it could continue to happen in a very real, very bad way.

See? Just a little bit panicked.

But. My life is currently much too awesome to get stuck in that entirely so I’m fighting it. I really am enjoying these currently enjoyable moments because they are that good. Because I like my family, I like my friends, I like good food, I like my little house. And so long as I can keep the existential worry at bay–or, at the very least, don’t let it consume me entirely–everything is pretty much okay.

That’s just pretty much honestly exactly where I am.

I am Jennifer Anne Johnson Gray and I am (almost) 34 years old. I am a wife and a mother and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend. I had cancer and I am still here. I am here!

I’m mourning the death of my uncle. I’m living in fear of my cancer coming back. But, most of all, I’m living my life–I’m eating and drinking and running and hugging and singing and crying and taking a big old huge fistful of life and drawing it to me like a security blanket, holding it up to my chest and stroking it, over and over, to ground myself, to help me remember that I am here now. That’s all I’ve got: I’m here now.

Jul 10


Uncle Kenny,

You were born with an extra 21st chromosome, but that is not the way that we defined you.

We defined you by the things that were so uniquely YOU. The famous hugs, the kisses, the beckoning finger (drawing you in for what looked like a scolding but would turn out to be a hug), the finger wagging, the time (always the time!–Two TWO!, Four o’CLOCK!), the grumpy face, the silly grin, the big laugh, the hand-holding (your hands always nice and warm and soft in mine). The hugs (have to mention the hugs twice, you were so famous for them)!

You were proud to be a part of our lives and us? We were proud to have you be a part of ours. I felt a little confused when people asked if it was hard for me, having a special person like you in my life. You were always just there, being the person that you were. You taught me things about people who are different, how they are just people, too.

You lived big–big emotions, big expressions; pleasure and displeasure showing without fail. You loved big–to be on that favored list, to have that special nickname, was such a sweet pleasure.

And today, oh, today. You laid in your bed as you had these past few days, with labored breathing, eyes shut. Drawn inside yourself, moving in a direction that none of us here can fully comprehend. I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what that experience was like for you–did you feel pain? could you hear our voices? were you afraid? relieved? holding on? ready to let go?

Today, you let go.

And it was still and quiet but it was also okay. It was sad, but it was okay. We’ll miss you, but we will be okay. It was time.

We love you; we will miss you. You and your games and your faces and your smiles and, most of all, your hugs. We will not forget.


Your Jenny

Jul 10

Waiting, watching

More hours today of vigil by Kenny’s bedside. When I wasn’t there, I did the only thing I could think of to do–I made food–lots of it–salads and breads and cookies–and then brought it back to his house because sometimes caretakers don’t think of things like remembering to feed themselves. And because sometimes food is a (small, inadequate) comfort.

Anna had a nice, long day at school today, a rare Friday 2/3 day (so that I could be at Kenny’s house) and she did great, though she was crying when I came to pick her up at 2:30 (she didn’t want to take a rest like all the other children who were lying peacefully on their mats. Who can blame her?).

I’ve had so many crazy emotional moodswings today. I am agitated when I’m not there. I don’t know why, in a way. It’s not like being there is very easy. It just feels wrong to be away.

So…we wait, we watch, we surround with love and care. We wet washcloths and hold them to his fevered forehead. We listen to each struggled breath.

Jun 10


There are the days that I think of in my life, the days where I look around and take a mental imprint and think this is the day. This is the day I get married. This is the day my baby is born. This is the day I learn I have cancer. This is the day.

I still haven’t had adequate time or emotional space to do the thinking and feeling required to sort this all out but….my uncle is nearing the end of his life. This is the day. I think as I listen to Mom’s voice on the phone, eyes blurring. We knew it might come to this when we found out the cancer came back.

I type and erase, retype and erase, over and over because I cannot abide the sound of my voice here. No matter what I write it seems to all come back to me, me, me. It makes me uncomfortable that I am here, in someone’s last hours and days here on earth, thinking of myself so much.

I do think about him. I stared for many long minutes today at the picture of him on the wall in his bedroom, the picture of him when he was young and had all his hair and the strength to lift things and garden and run around with his dog. The days when he would sit and listen to the ball games and argue with us about who was the better team (loyal Sox fan that he was, and loyal Dodgers fans that we are). The days of “Jenny!” (the days when he could reliably remember me, my name, how I fit into his life; not always the case these days).

But I also think of myself. Of the disease that is killing him. The same disease that I had. The disease he had that came back. I fear all the more for my upcoming scans. I don’t want to be in a hospital bed in my bedroom. I don’t want that to be me. Fear. Fear. Fear.

I think about my parents. I think about my other aunts and uncles and about how this is the first of this generation and what does that mean? Things happen. Shit happens. People are born, people live, people die. Circle of life but I don’t want that reality right now. Hell, I don’t want that for the people I love, not ever.

My first reaction is to run far, far away. But I know, in the end, that that is not what I really want. That that could be a regret that I would carry with me a long, long time. So today I went. I went and I stayed and I held his hand and I told him I love him and I helped Mom recite names to him in a way that soothed his weary eyes down, down, down.

His fluid-filled coughs make my heart seize.

I know I don’t want this to be long and hard. I don’t want it to hurt. But I don’t want it to happen either.

This isn’t a fair comparison but I think of Jack the Cat, the way I held his body as he left this world. The way he grew so still. I don’t want to think about Kenny growing so still.

I do not have the comfort that so many of my family members have. My year of cancer was also the year I lost my religion, my faith, my belief in the comfort of God and heaven. It’s a relief for me, most of the time, but right now I wish, just a little bit, for a glimmer of my old faith, the ability to believe that he is bound for a better place, a place of wholeness and rest. All that rolls into my own head is the words that I use to talk about death with Anna.

Mama, what is dead?

Well, baby, you know how you and me and Daddy and Lucky and all of your friends can all move and breathe and eat and drink?


When something is dead it doesn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t move, or breathe. It doesn’t eat or drink. Its body is here but it isn’t really with us in the same way anymore. It’s just the body left.


All I can think of is that stillness, a stillness more still than the most still stillness you could ever imagine. Silent. Unchanging. A gaping whole of nothing, filled only by the sounds of those who are left–the tears, the mourning.

May 10

The tree

Our backyard is gorgeous right now: everything green and vibrant and poking little greenery out of the dark earth and forming little green fruits that we will eventually eat–tomatoes, citrus, berries, avocados, flowers. Gorgeous.

Except for the olive tree, which tilts precariously, held up only by the huge support beam that it is tethered to. It is stunted and wilted and faded and sad. It’s just a tree….but it isn’t. The olive tree is the tree under which some of the remains of our very first baby were planted. Blood and tears. A symbol of the living in remembrance of the dead.

We keep looking at each other and shaking our heads. It really isn’t going to make it, we say. It is time to take it out, we say. We should really do that soon, we say. And we will. But I know that the undercurrent of sadness makes it harder to do so. So we wait, and we remember.

Sep 09

The world is big, and yet, so small

I really feel like I got the majority of my grief out of me in the vet’s office, stroking Jack’s small, soft head as the life passed out of him. Deep, heavy sobs. Big tears, “big feelings” as they would say at Anna’s preschool.

There are others things that stick with me: the imaginary purrs that haunt me in the evening, that dash of black and white I think I see rounding the corner. A blanket, bunched up just the way he used to form a little pocket when he would paw his way under the covers for warmth.

But, most of all, the feeling of what it is like to live in a moment where another being’s living is being extinguished. Like a woosh, a thundering in my ears, a silence so deep and so profound. A coldness, a stillness. It’s haunting. It stays with me. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced death. In a way, it makes my own will to live that much more intense, knowing the depth of the moment of non-being.

I got a beautiful book for Anna that she is not all that interested in. She has occasionally asked for Jack (while in her spontaneous, “I LOVE MY DOG! I LOVE MY CAT!” moods), and after I explain, once again, that Jack is gone and is not ever coming back, she asks for him again. Hmm. This one’s a toughie.

It’s a toughie for me, too.

Last night I slept nine hours straight. Woke up and reached beside me for my purring cat, only to find him not there. Fresh grief bubbled out.

We’re all born, we all die. We’ve all got the living in between. And here we are, on this big ol’ earth ball, rolling around in the sky, reaching towards….what? Groping our way towards happiness and health and relationships. It’s a connection we all have, whether we live in California or Connecticut or….China, the Czech Republic, Canada.

I don’t know about you, but it kind of makes me want to lean on in for a big group hug. Squeeeeeeze!

Sep 09

Jack 1994 – 2009

Jack picked us, at the Humane Society in Pasadena. When Adam and I walked into the cat room there, I immediately eyed a gorgeous Himalayan with gorgeous fur, beautiful eyes. “Oh, Adam, look!” I had no interest in the domestic short hair that ambled up to us, meowing and purring.

Adam insisted that the cat needed to choose us, and that is, indeed, what Jack did. Five year old “Jacques” (how in the world could somebody have given up this cat????) became “Jack” after we brought him home that day in 1999, the day he reached up out of the cat carrier and swiped Lucky, just a curious puppy then, right on the nose. That set the order, right then and there: the cat is here, and the cat is in charge.

He was in charge, but he was also the sweetest (cross my heart), truly the sweetest, cat I have ever known in my life. Social to the core, he insisted on nestling on laps (especially those allergic or not a fan of cats). Excellent with children, he put up with all kinds of well-intentioned curiosity: tail pulling, being sat upon, fingers poked in his mouth and eyes and ears. I don’t believe he ever scratched a child.

His decline these past few weeks has been just heartwrenching. This weekend, he could no longer walk. He was incontinent. He couldn’t eat or drink much of anything. He was like a newborn baby, needing to be fed and led to water, carried and sat in the sun, cleaned up after wetting himself. Last night he cried and cried and I didn’t know how to help him. I don’t want to remember that part. I do want to remember this:

His favorite things: sitting on laps, curling up on a sun spot on the floor, being fed food piece by piece by hand, nestling up under Adam’s armpit during the night. Anna. Oh, how he loved Anna.

Jack died peacefully this morning, in my arms, as I murmured words of love and gratitude to him. He was much beloved, and will be much missed.

Rest in peace, sweet Jack.