This Is Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be

Silly me. For those few who read the last year’s recap, you might recall me moaning over a lost relationship ad nauseum. Some people even said there were some things in there better kept to myself. And they were probably right. In this dystopian nightmare of a world what relevance can we glean from romantic problems of an old man? Fittingly, the powers that be must have read the installment because they decided that they would give me something to really mourn.

For this past August, the mother of my children, my former wife, lovely Lisa as I once called her, passed away at the young age of 58. Nobody saw this coming. She had had a diagnosis about some dangerous looking lymph nodes six years ago. I’m not sure she went for much more than an X-ray in terms of a diagnostic. Treatment was recommended but she scoffed and signed off any any traditional oncological therapy. We had not been together for several years and when I stuck my nose in I was promptly told to get lost. She was a trained homeopath and would tackle this in the alternative ‘Jobsian’ way. Her boyfriend at the time was the biggest contractor of nurses in the province and Lisa, from what I heard, was getting IV vitamins, enemas and whatever supplements she felt were necessary.

After that the conversation of her condition kind of stopped. Years went by. I was around so to speak, maybe too much so given what I know now about codependency. Friday and holiday dinners mostly and the odd weekend at the country home that she had built. I donated a boat to the cause and was pretty much the only navigator of note so I came up to take the kids wakeboarding and give Lisa and the dog, Buddy (see the old post on my late wingman), then Bella, a regular spin around the lake. I paid some bills and did what I could in and around whatever doomed relationships I was in. What happened to my marriage, however, is not for this space. I will say a couple of things. I married a very pretty girl, a “stunner” as one of my girlfriends would say. Her stature in town was confirmed when Toronto Life magazine named her as one of the “Ten Best Bodies In The City” back when these kind of lists were socially acceptable. I was often the recipient of ultimate compliment you can pay a Jewish husband, “Did Lisa convert because she doesn’t look….” But there was a lot that came with those looks which were not “everything” in her case. Not at all.

We had fun until we didn’t and at the end of the rollercoaster ride I took fifty percent of the blame but I wouldn’t take fifty one. Bottom line is that she went with some very poor marriage material – she “withdured” me as she was fond of saying – and gave me two incredible kids I wouldn’t have otherwise had. For that I am eternally thankful. And perhaps why I tried to rally for her in the months leading up to her passing.

Lisa had been complaining of fibromyalgia for some time. We know now that it was much more serious than that but without even an MRI, everything was just her word. In January I subsidized a trip for her and my daughter Madeleine to the Yoga Ashram on Paradise Island and even though the weather was so bad they had to cut the trip short there were no symptoms. Until there were.

Suddenly Lisa couldn’t walk and while I was on business in Berlin she was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. I flew back early and the diagnosis was not good. She had tumors up and down her spine and one had fused enough vertebrae to shut down her lower body. It was non hodgkin’s lymphoma. The head of oncology talked to her about the possibility of getting back on her feet but she wouldn’t hear of chemo. She never walked again and the last six months of her life were just a painful slide to the end. We conversed when we could, laughed at some memories, fed her when she was hungry, suffered with her suffering, listened to her complaining. Women came in to pray and meditate with her. Her poor father showed up every day.

Lisa was the most spiritual person I ever knew, also acutely sensitive to the environment – a modern version of The Princess & The Pea. Her head was full of knowledge, wisdom and conspiracy theories that she was always willing to share. She was also as tough as they came, having given birth to our children at home. With my daughter she delivered on her feet, thus starting Maddy’s somewhat lengthy career as a standup colic. Sorry but Lisa would appreciate the levity. When she stopped using the cell phone in July it was only matter of time. She had managed to caravan herself and the team up to the country where we thought she would come to rest. But she needed more care and came back to the house she had bought for us – another story – some twenty four years ago. I came up on Friday night for dinner and she was not good, her face covered by a hanky, her fingers swollen, her body just a fraction of what it was. It was Shabbat and I went home and in the morning, prayed at shul, ate at a friend’s and while I was walking home an SUV swerved in front of me. It was one of Maddy’s friends who looked at me and said, “Lisa died.” That moment left a mark that will not go away.

And when I got to the house, she was at peace. Finally. My son Connor strummed something on his ukelele, Lisa’s mother held her hand. My daughter was alone with her at the end. I don’t know what that would have been like because I was not there to witness either my mother’s or my sister’s last moments on earth. It was also Shabbat and in the Jewish religion you can’t call the funeral home until sundown. It was surreal. Lisa was with us. But she wasn’t. And the tragedy of all this was paralyzing.

When the funeral home picked Lisa up late that night I followed and made the final arrangements – I had helped her buy a plot after the surgery – which had to be the next day. Such is the ‘halacha’ and Lisa was very mindful of Jewish law. Very. I wrote an obit, listing myself as the “loyal wasband” – again, her material – and called some friends to act as pallbearers, friends that Lisa approved of. I got home at about one a.m., wrote my eulogy and did some crying for everyone involved.

For those of you who have participated in a funeral, it’s one of those instances where the clock just doesn’t move and then its over. When the home asked me what room to book, I took the small chapel because it was a Sunday on a long weekend and the announcement didn’t go out until after midnight. When we got to the family room at noon, the funeral director told us that we had to move to the biggest room in the building because the turnout was so large. Lisa had an impact on a lot of people. First time that ever happened at Benjamin’s. The rabbi who knew her did a great job. Lisa’s sister Michelle spoke lovingly but with some regret as to Lisa’s medical choices. Fair enough. She is a veterinarian and Lisa’s brother is a leading opthamologist. I spoke about the various iterations of Lisa from 1.0 to 5.0, from the student/waitress to the killer businesswoman to the earth mother to the spiritual portal. One of my friends once asked her what she was up to and she replied, “Oh, I’m between cults.” I also talked about her years as Grizzly Lisa, homesteading on a lake property in a tent for several summers until she had the gumption to build. She was in my life for 36 years, win, lose or draw. There was a lot there. My daughter spoke beautifully, fighting through a lot of pain, as we all did that day. Lisa was the eldest of three siblings and played the role of glue stick in keeping a severely broken family in touch.

The shiva went smoothly and my kids got a lot of support from their friends. I was exhausted at the end. Even though I was not an official mourner I had to make sure that the davening was of a quality that Lisa would have wanted. Catering too! I share this because some of you fellows might be in such an unfortunate position one day. You might have even moved on to another relationship, maybe even a subsequent marriage. My advice, especially if there are children involved, is to step up on some level. If your current partner has a problem with it, too bad. This is end game stuff and you have to show up. Be a mensch. At least pick up some take out. Even if you keep a distance support those that are doing the heavy lifting. Especially if its your children.

Here we are just five months later. There’s been some healing but some new wounds have popped up in the post mortem. It’s going to take some time. I lost my mother when I was nineteen so I understood what the kids were going through. Sort of. For back in the day, my mother was strictly my mother. We didn’t go out to eat together, we spoke only when necessary and when it came time to go away to college, I got a plane ticket and a ride to the airport. And we didn’t complain. When she got very sick I was away at school. My sister Marjorie had to witness her slow fade on a daily basis.

It was different with Lisa and the kids. She took them to Coachella, she was a friend, a travel partner etc.. So the loss is, how you say, cross-collateralized over a lot of different roles that she played. There will always be something there to remind me, from the bottle of orange cleaner she made me use in my apartment to a photo of us posing on a ski hill all those years ago. I don’t have enough years left to completely move on. I was already carrying some survivor’s guilt relating to my mother and sister and now I have more. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In the end she and I weren’t built for the long run. Oil and water and you can figure out who was what. But she was the only wife I will every have, it seems. And a lot of the bad stuff has melted away and I’m left with the vision of someone who, when she was right, boy, she was something. I’m gonna miss her.

A couple of other notes passim: The year actually started with the sudden passing of my old friend Michael Turk who was not feeling well after playing hockey last December and went to the doctor to discover he had pancreatic cancer and he died about five weeks later. He was someone I had known for forty plus years and I didn’t see him enough the last few. Turk never got married and never had kids. The funeral was difficult as nobody from his family got up and the eulogy was left to a woman who knew him from his real estate business. No way to go. The year ended the way it started with a funeral for another old friend, Norm Grosman, a hockey buddy from way back who had had a tough go in life with one failed marriage and a second that ended with the death of his spouse. A couple of years after that he had a stroke and it took his family over a day to find him which is the real nightmare for single older guys. By that point he had enough damage that he lost his voice permanently and though we tried to rally for him, he shrunk from view, until I got an email from his son a couple of weeks ago informing us that Norm had had a medically assisted suicide. This is the kind of thing that people have opinions about but I didn’t walk in his shoes so I will just shake my head and agree that we are well past the age where we are immune to tragedy. The funeral featured only one eulogy, not enough for a guy with Norm’s achievements in law, and the rabbi opened the proceedings by saying, “I never knew Norm.” The only cure for the inevitable is to reach out to people you love and respond to people that love you. Stop binging on Netflix and meet an old friend for a coffee or a meal. There is equal comfort in both having numbers to call and being a number to call. Last, make friends with a member of the clergy, irrespective of your faith. One day, your people are going to need him. Wishing everyone a Happy Healthy New Year.

  1. I am at a complete loss for words. Your words, however, are all consuming, open and oozing with honesty and LOVE. Knowing you and having known Lisa, I not only hear your words but feel them deeply. Thank you for sharing this Jon. Much love.

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