Grieving

16 Oct 2011.  

It's been 7 1/2 months since Shereen passed, and I continue to grieve tremendously - in fact now moreso than ever before.  After Shereen passed, I received several invitations to attend grievance group therapy, but never did, nor do I anticipate I will.  For me, grieving is very personal - I don't want to 'share' so many of my thoughts and feelings with others, even though I've oft been advised that doing so can help - not only me but others as well.  But perhaps my contemporaneous notes following may help others understand one man's experiences.

I have read of the grieving processes - the five-steps of grieving, seven-steps of grieving, and so on.  I will share this - we are all different and grieve in our own way.  Some say 6 months is a 'normal' time to grieve, other say a year.  I say it's an individual matter - there is no 'right' or 'appropriate' length of time to grieve, nor can we expect to get through Step 1 and be done with it as we move to Step 2.  No, it's been my experience to continually revisit the various Steps in no particular order.  As a result, I myself am on a see-saw of sorts - feeling fairly well for a few days, then not for a week or so.  Tears flow readily almost every day since Shereen passed.  I feel myself as no longer whole.  I recall writing in an e-mail to a friend that I feel like I'm walking solo down some remote path, hands in my pockets, kicking at stones and watching the dust rise as I shuffle along, going absolutely nowhere in particular.

I feel the terrible loneliness of living alone - no longer coming home to Shereen, or waiting for Shereen to come home.

There are no more meals being cooked, no dinner parties Shereen loved to prepare, no shopping trips, no drives in the car, no picnics at the beach, simply no anything.  The isolation and lack of nearby family is taking its toll.  I feel myself getting more fatigued than ever - more tired and lethargic.

My appetite is completely gone - I sustain myself primarily on powdered drinks and canned or frozen meals - if they can even be called meals.  I literally have to force myself to take even minimal sustenance.  At one point I found myself having dropped about 20 pounds in a short period of time.  But then a craving for ice cream came on, and so the pounds went right back on.  Currently my weight is stable, although I need to be careful of eating too much sugar.

I'm told that time cures all, but so far, I haven't experienced the 'cure' - as time goes by the worse I get.  But perhaps at some point, time really will start its cure.

Yes, there are friends who call every once in a while - I get invitations to join them for a Sunday brunch or a dinner at a nice restaurant, but I simply have no energy or desire to do any of that.  As a result, I find I'm unintentionally pushing people away from me.  I'm sure at some point the calls will become fewer and then stop - people don't like being refused all the time and so eventually they may stop asking/inviting entirely.

But too, I need to be fair to a few friends and family who I know will always be there for me - they will always stay in contact with me.  To protect their privacy, I will talk about them using first names only.  In no particular order...

Abidin and Melek - they were very close to us - they are and will continue to stay in contact.  

Cevza will also stay in touch, but is currently giving me 'space' to get through much of the grieving process and back to normal.  

Barbara W. of Chicago is an attorney and long-time friend, who literally took me by the hand and guided me through the maze of processes to administer Shereen's estate - when she visits Hawaii she's always here for me, most recently completely restored our condo from the mess it was in, to a nice, neat place to be.  Following that, she even opened all my mail for me (I hadn't done a thing except toss it into a huge pile), sorted it, and set aside those things that needed my attention.  She feels Shereen's presence to provide help to me, and regularly calls and e-mails me to check up on how I'm doing.

Sheldon (Barbara W's brother).  Sheldon came to visit his sister while she was on vacation here in Hawaii.  He and I spent some time together, which was very helpful to me.  He too lost his wife some months before Shereen passed, so his words of comfort and understanding were very consoling.  He offered me advice on how I might get past my grieving, but as with all others who have tried to help me, I just can't seem to get out and about and otherwise occupy my time beyone just staying alone in the house.  But his words weren't lost on me - I often think of what he said and perhaps eventually they will give me the motivation to help myself.

Shannon and Lidia, who live in the same condo as I do.  As other close friends, they regularly check on me, offer to run errands and take care of matters that I'm simply too tired to accomplish.

Dave and Lisa (husband and wife), and LisaAnn - they regularly call to check on me with a standing offer of help whenever I need it.  Dave severally extended an invitation to lunch to discuss my situation - just waiting for when I'm ready to do so.  Dave is also our UBS financial advisor - he's been extremely attentive to my needs and takes very good care of our portfolio - regularly calling me giving me updates and advice.  But beyond that, he also checks just to see how I'm doing.  He and Lisa (and more recently LisaAnn - all of the same office) are very near and dear friends indeed, but even beyond that, almost like brother and sister to me.  I have a very small circle of friends, and they are most certainly in that circle.  I so often wish I could reciprocate and not dash their expectations regarding their regular offers to help, but I'm just simply not at a place where I can do that yet.  Many other people have offered help, but because I've not been able to receive their help, they've now essentially given up on me - a perfectly natural reaction - there comes a point when you simply stop trying to help.  Not the case with Dave and Lisa and LisaAnn though - they are true friends indeed who I know will not give up on me.  God bless them all.

Members of the Mormon Church.  As a result of Dave's (see immediately above) concern for me, he asked several members of the Mormon Church to contact me.  He also asks me to join them for church services (I've only gone once), as well as the Christmas 2012 party (which I attended).  First there was Zak, who I met with in the park and we sat talking of the loss of not only Shereen, but Zak's wife as well.  Then there was Betti who called and offered to talk with me whenever I wanted.  Further, two Elders of the Church have contacted me as well.  Unfortunately, and because I was (and am) becomming more reclusive then ever before, I haven't met with Betti or either of the Elders.  But as time goes on, I find myself in need of help, so perhaps I will finally meet with them.

Barbara and Jacques who e-mail me all the time with words of solace, and who offered to arrange the Hawaiian religious ceremony of spreading Shereen's ashes to the ocean this coming Jan 2012 (after Denise and Andea return to Hawaii).  As noted elsewhere, Shereen's cremains were not scattered - this primarily in deference to our daughter Denise's desire that her ashes remain in tact at the small memorial I made for Shereen in the house.

Kahu Kalehua 'Stuart' Featheran who will oversee the arrangements for the spreading of Shereen's ashes.  NOTE:  During Denise's visit for the 2011 Christmas season, she sat at the memorial I prepared for Shereen in our home, and asked if we could belay the spreading of Shereen's ashes - Denise wanted to know that Mama was still here with us.  I readily agreed that we would keep Shereen's ashes in tact - and that when it is my time to be with Shereen, Denise will mix our ashes together so that we will continue to be together forever.

Wanda who arranged the March 2011 Celebration of Life for Shereen and stays in touch with me.  For those not aware, Funerals can take many forms, one of which is a Celebration of Life.  I purposely agreed to Wanda's suggestion as I wanted, as much as possible, to celebrate Shereen's life - something I know she would have wanted vice the more solemn and typical funeral as most of us are accustomed to.

Bill and Anita - Two very good friends who have a standing offer to assist me whenever needed.  Bill was especially helpful at the Celebration of Life - he coordinated the flow of activities for me, something I myself just could not do.  Thanks to him, the Celebration turned out exactly as I would have wanted. 

Barbara and Christian - again, a standing offer to help if/when I need it.

Richard and Alan - e-mails and a standing offer to help.  During his regular trip back to his farm, Richard keeps in regular contact with me just to see how I'm holding up, as well as to give me news of what he was doing.

Barbara O. - One of the few Armenian friends who calls to see how things are going.  (We once had a fairly sizable group of Armenians here in Hawaii, but most all have left the island).

Nora and Wanistha - an e-mail now and then, plus a standing invitation for a coffee to discuss how I'm getting along.  Just like with Dave's invitation to lunch, I'm just not ready to go out and about too much, so it'll be quite a while before I can accept their kind invitation.

I've purposely saved the best for last - family.

Denise, our daughter, who worries about 'Daddy'.  Not only is she grieving herself, but just like her Mama, always there for me - always ready with comforting words to help get me through this especially difficult time of my life.  But I now also feel considerable guilt.  I was focused on my own grief - I may not have done what I should have to console Denise.  Further, Denise didn't tell me too much about her own grief - she knew I was in overwhelming distress, and in her unselfish way (just like her mama), she avoided talking about herself but instead focused on consoling me.  God truly blessed us with a most precious daughter.  Denise and her husband Andrea live in Switzerland, so it's a long way to travel except for once a year, although Denise stays for about two months at a time.  Her being here with me takes a considerable amount of hurt away from me, and of course relieves the loneliness/emptiness of losing Shereen - I can only hope that I do the same for her in some way for having lost her mama - I know she feels the terrible loss.  I look forward to January of every year - the month she starts her eight-week stay.  Andrea visits as well, but his job allows him less vacation time than Denise.  Because of Shereen's initiative, we bought them a small condo so they have their own place to live in comfort while here - plus there's 'Mama's car' that Denise uses - I purposely didn't sell Shereen's car so Denise and Andrea would have it available to them.

Eli and Sara - my brother and sister.  I've leaned on them with my grief, and they've both been there to listen and provide the moral support I need to survive. Both of them are on the East coast, so our discussions are via e-mail. Nonetheless, they've both been very patient with me as I would re-tell my grief over and over - I'm sure it had to be difficult on them over the months to read the constant replay of my thoughts and symptoms.  But compassionately they did and offered words of support to aid me.  It greatly eased my pain to know I had them by my side.  I should also note that Eli offered to come here to Hawaii to stay with me for a while, and Sara extended an invitation that I visit her. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to pull myself together for either - I didn't want them to see me in my grief - in a way both Shereen and I were the same - we only wanted people to see us as well and happy (as I mentioned in an earlier Chapter, Shereen did not want visitors while she was ailing - she wanted people to carry memories of her as healthy and vibrant - not laying in a hospital bed).

So all in all, I have quite a few people who are in my corner so to speak, but for me, grieving is a private matter - I'm just not able to share face-to-face with others.  But at least I do have a support group of some very kind, generous and compassionate friends and family who won't abandon me in spite of my current desire for privacy, and will be there when I finally bounce back.  God bless them all.

My Memorial to Shereen - 4 Mar 2011

 

PREFACE

During the time of my early grieving, I was told that often it is helpful to write - poems, memorials, thoughts, and the like. So just prior to a Celebration of Life memorial to Shereen held in March 2011, I sat down on the 4th of March 2011 (coincidentally the same day my daughter and her husband left for home leaving me to now newly experience the terrible feelings of loneliness and isolation), and penned the following. It may not read well, but then, it was contemporaneous - I simply put words to paper as they came to mind, all in a single sitting. Although I've read it myself several times and thought of revising it, I ultimately decided not to. These were my thoughts at a specific point in time and believe they ought to remain as is.

In Loving Memory of a Precious Wife and Mother.

From Her Loving Husband of 47 Years, Norman,

Her Cherished Daughter Denise,

And Beloved Son-In-Law, Andrea.  

 

Shereen Boyajian (nee Koruk)  
(Although born in Turkey, Shereen, like me, is of Armenian descent) 

26 May 1945 - 28 Feb 2011

 

Shereen was born on 26 May 1945 in Pingnan, Turkey - a small village in the eastern area of the country.  Her father died when she was only a couple of years old, so she was primarily raised by her grandmother and grandfather while her mother went to Istanbul to work at a better job.

When her grandfather (who she loved tremendously) died, Shereen and her grandmother then joined her mother in Istanbul - this when Shereen was about 10.  I want to note that her grandfather called her by the sweet sounding nickname of Chilo (there is no meaning for that word -  simply a name her grandfather came up with).  Shereen so cherished that name because of her overwhelming love for her grandfather, that I was the only other person she would let call her that.  Shereen made me feel very special in part because of that - but that was Shereen - she made everybody she met and know feel special.

Shereen went to a French school in Istanbul, and after graduation, went to work for the Hilton Hotel.  She lived with her mother, brother and sister in a small apartment in the center of the city.

In the summer of 1962, Vice President Johnson visited Istanbul.  Because the Secret Service was short-staffed, a Mr. Youngblood and others came out to the base I was stationed at and picked 6 Marines to augment their security needs.  That's how I met Shereen (fortunately, Shereen spoke five languages - English of course being one of them, which eased our ability to communicate.  I spoke some Turkish which I learned from our houseboys who took care of our barracks rooms.  Needless to say, houseboy vernacular leaves a lot to be desired!). 

Johnson was staying at the Hilton, Shereen was working there, and now here I came for some State Department duty.  She caught my eye immediately.  I asked her out.  She refused.  Again I asked her out - rebuffed again!  The third time was the charm - she agreed to go out with me.  But as I found out later in our marriage, she only agreed because she thought I was a civilian and would be leaving shortly with the Johnson entourage - so to get me to stop pestering her, she said yes to a date the following weekend that she believed would never happen.  Was she surprised when I actually showed up for that date!  The rest as they say, is history.

We were married in Istanbul on 8 Jun 1963.  I was in the intelligence/cryptologic field, so in addition to Turkey, the military put us all over the map - Scotland, Puerto Rico, Germany, a separation of a year when I went to Vietnam, North Carolina, and finally Hawaii in 1975.  I retired from the Marines in 1980 and instead of going back to our home in NC which I was looking forward to, Shereen wanted to settle here in Hawaii, and so we did.  I am so happy that she lived her life where she wanted.

I should also note that during the period of our engagement, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened - several of us were deployed in typical military fashion (meaning the middle of the night), to certain strategic locations.  I was afraid I might not return to Turkey, but thankfully I did.  

Of course wherever we went, we made it a point to travel to surrounding areas and countries as much as possible - Shereen loved traveling, meeting new people, and experiencing new customs, traditions and practices.

Shereen was a very outgoing person.  She insisted on not finding fault, but to always look for the good in people.  She loved to mingle, loved being with people and having people around her.  We were opposites in that regard as I'm very much introversive by nature.  But they say opposites attract, and in our case, that was certainly true.  She was always out and about - biking, dinner parties, French club functions, Ski club functions, sporting events, traveling with friends to Asia and Europe at least once a year, and so on.  She simply loved life and did all she could to live life to its fullest.

We were married for 47 years - she took such good care of me that I simply can't describe.  She was a very unselfish person - always giving but never looking for reciprocity - she just loved people and giving of herself to them.

Around May 2010, she started feeling a bit poorly.  I insisted she see a doctor, but she always brushed it off by saying she'd be OK - no need to see a doctor.  A couple of months later she visited our daughter in Switzerland from where they also went to Italy to see Andrea's mom (Andrea is Denise's husband).  When they returned to Switzerland, Denise also tried to get Shereen to see a doctor - even drove her to a hospital, but Shereen would not get out of the car!  She absolutely insisted there was no need.

On her return to Hawaii, I made an appointment for Shereen and took her to Straub Hospital.  Tests were run, and a steroid was prescribed - Prednisone.  Wow - did that perk her up!  It was of such help that she dubbed it her 'wonder drug' - she was back to her old self.  What a relief! 

Unfortunately, that didn't last long as she again started feeling poorly.  So it was back to Straub for more visits and tests.  This time, and after an MRI, her spleen showed cancer.  She had an operation to have her spleen removed, but before she was able to recover from the operation, chemotherapy had to be started due to the aggressive nature of the cancer she had. 

After the third chemo session, lumps started to shrink and we thought we were going to beat this cancer.  Not so - the cancer had done its terrible work - it was spreading rapidly and more signs of cancer visibly showed up.  Also by this time, Shereen was just so weak and fatigued from both chemo and the operation, as well as from going back and forth for a few a days at home, 911 calls, a few days of hospital, that ultimately we had to keep her hospitalized for 24/7 medical care. 

She had a fourth chemo, but it did little to help, and so when it was time for the fifth session, Shereen refused - she saw no reason to continue with a therapy that we were told probably would not help.  Further, the oncologist told us that with or without that fifth chemo, Shereen probably had only between one to six months to live.  I was devastated and scared, but even as sick as she was, Shereen comforted me.  Again, that was Shereen.

We moved Shereen to hospice, and within a week, at 2am on Monday, 28 Feb 2011, Shereen passed.  I knew the end was coming because the day before she passed, she asked us to move her bed outside so she could see the sky, the flowers, and smell the fresh air.  Later that day when it was just the two of us alone, she told me that 'tomorrow I am going to die'.  What could I say?  What could I do?  I tried to comfort her by telling her she wasn't going to die.  She didn't say anything in response - she knew different.  God and his Angels knew different.  

She is now with God and at peace.  She suffered greatly these past couple of months, but even as sick as she was, she still reached out - she gave 'instructions' to Denise and I on various matters, and was the driving force in making sure Denise had a place here in Hawaii to stay when she visits - we bought Denise and Andrea a small condo - Denise picked a studio that had just been renovated.  I wanted her to have a one-bedroom, but it was her choice in the end.

I also have to talk about our daughter Denise and her husband.  Denise came here in November for a month, but because Shereen was in decline, she came back again in early January and just left today, 4 March, for home in Switzerland.  By the time Denise arrived in January, I was exhausted.  So just like her mama, Denise jumped in to care not only for Shereen, but me as well.  A precious daughter indeed. 

Our son-in-law Andrea came to be with us also.  His visit was especially difficult - he was attending advanced schooling in re the financial business he's in, but because he had about a 10-day break, he jumped on a plane to be with us at a time we needed him most, notwithstanding Shereen mentioned him often and very much wanted to see him.  For those of you who travel, you know the trip between here and Switzerland is anywhere from 30 to 40 hours each way - a tough journey by anyone's standards. Truly, I am blessed to have the daughter and son-in-law that I do.  

Per her wishes, Shereen will be cremated on Saturday, 5 March.  As for services, Barbara Morlet most generously offered to hold a Celebration of Life, but due to her health, Barbara wasn't able to hold the Celebration.  But another good friend, Wanda Sowell called and offered to make all the arrangements for the Celebration of Life, which in fact was held and attended by so many of Shereen's friends.  I also planned to scatter Shereen's ashes over the ocean at this time, but decided to wait for Denise and Andrea to return to Hawaii and do so then.  As it turned out, when Denise and Andrea did return, Denise asked if I would consider keeping all of Shereen's cremains at the small memorial I made for Shereen in the home.  I agreed, and it was decided that when I pass, my cremains will be combined with Shereen's, and at that time, our ashes scattered together.

During this whole ordeal, so many of Shereen's friends sent flowers, cards, and telephoned.  Shereen insisted that there be no visitors either at home, the hospital or hospice, so her wishes were in large part respected.  Again, Shereen was reaching out - she wanted people to remember her as the vivacious person she was - she did not want people seeing her sick.  She wanted all of you to carry happy memories of her as healthy, happy and vivacious.

Since her passing I've received so many phone calls and cards.  Thank you all for remembering.  Thank you all for your support and continued friendship on behalf of Shereen.  God bless Shereen.  God bless all of you.

A Tribute from Norm

 

A Tribute I Read and Then Modified For Shereen

To my sweet and precious Shereen.
Whether it was chance or Fate that brought you to me 
I can’t say - and I don’t believe it really matters.
For I have been fortunate to have held you, 
Not just in my arms, but also in my heart.
The winds of time blew hard on 28 Feb 2011 and took you from my arms, but they will never take you from my heart.
Although the Father has taken you,
I will love you forever and I will never let you die. 

This I promise. 

 And My Original E-Mail Signature Tribute To Shereen
Which I Subsequently Changed A Couple
Of Times Based on Various Homilies I've Read 

Shereen.ForeverMissed.Com

 Shereen passed on 28 Feb 2011 from cancer.  Our daughter Denise, son-in-law Andrea, and I will remember her always.
She was indeed the wind beneath our wings.

Shereen, I lost you all too soon.  My grief is overwhelming.
But I feel you always by my side teaching me
That it is not so much in how to survive the terrible storm,
But rather from my tender and loving memories,  
I can still dance with you even in the tempest.

  
Our precious daughter Denise feels the terrible pain of losing you.  She remembers you every day - she carries wonderful memories of your visits and travels in Europe, keeps you always in her loving heart, - and yes, now grief - and so I ask you continue to ease her hurt.  At some point 
I too will leave to join you, and we must ensure for her strength, love, and well-being with Andrea. She is my link to you - and I hers, to you.  Let us care and love for her and Andrea always.


You were the Angel who came to earth to make me whole.
I so very much miss your touch and sweet voice - you were the music of my life.
All who knew you remember you lovingly, and you will never be forgotten.  
This to you and the Father I promise.

Rest now my Angel in God's everlasting splendor.