Saturday, September 11, 2010
A Familiar Face
This morning I volunteered at the San Diego Brain Tumor Walk. I volunteered to do this several weeks ago, but had not heard from them until just a few days ago. Believe it or not I was actually looking forward to this. I still feel a strong affinity to the National Brain Tumor Society, and all that they do. And even though their efforts couldn't keep Michael alive, their work does help fund the research that gave him almost two wonderful years post surgery.
During the two years of fighting Michael's cancer I became very involved in the NBTS, participating in a few of their conferences, and attending some of their support groups with Michael. The people in the West Coast office, located in San Francisco, became a part of our journey. They were always so welcoming when ever we saw them. After Michael died they sent me a lovely card with messages personally written to me that made it clear that they knew who we were as a couple. This meant a lot to me. I last saw them this past spring when I helped raise funds at their San Francisco Brain Tumor Walk. Back then they were excited to see me back, and a couple of them mentioned that they were reading my blog.
Today I was hoping to see a familiar face, as that doesn't happen much now that I am in a new city. Other than the few friends that I have in the area, none of the people that I see know of my loss, or of the connection I have to the brain tumor community.
I arrived at the designated park in the Mission Bay promptly at 7 am this morning. The first thing I saw was a group of tents and tables being constructed around the park. I started walking toward the National Brain Tumor Society's table, and sure enough, one of the wonderfully sweet women from their organization was standing there. Her smiling face, and look of surprise truly lifted my spirits. "Dan, what are you doing here?" Well, I moved here recently. "How are you? And, how are the kids?" And so the conversation went. This was a great way to start the day. Recognition, and connection. I felt validated for who I was, and what I have been through.
I then went to straight to work in the registration area. I was assigned to record all the funds coming in during the fundraiser. It was a very busy job, and the woman I was assigned to work with was very nice. Most of our morning was so busy we barely had time to introduce ourselves to each other. Finally there was a lull, which gave her the opportunity to ask how I came to find out about this event. Without skipping a beat I explained that my husband died from a brain tumor. I could see the shock that went across her face. She offered her condolence, and then I quickly shifted the question right back to her. Turns out she works at an oncology clinic.
This acknowledgement of Michael dying from a brain tumor went easier than in the past. I recognized that these acknowledgments don't have to incite deep emotions, or at least outward emotion. I am becoming better at integrating the past with the present. I am learning that I can do this, feel pain, take a breath, and keep moving forward. This is a significant development.
When I was done with my volunteer assignment I realized that I needed to leave. I had done as much as I could, and felt that staying for some of the victory speeches would not be good for me. I got into my car, and had a good cry. I tried to not get too caught up in crying, so I eventually pulled myself together and called Michael's mother. We had a really good conversation, which made me realize how much I have missed not seeing and talking to her. She doesn't understand how I can continue to raise money for the NBTS when "they failed Michael," but I just let her speak her truth. We all need to get through this in our own way.
I am back at home, and busy planning a meal for my parents' first visit to my home tomorrow. My older brother and sister in law are bringing my parents here. I'm planning on sharing some of the foods that Michael and I enjoyed. Nothing special, but it's a way for me to feel like we had our own family traditions, and way of living, that I can now share with my own extended family.
Michael is alive and well in my heart. Exactly where I will carry him the rest of my life.