The Past Three Months

September 18, 2009

The past 90 days have mentally gone slowly for me and have been marked with several events that were very special to Chole and to our family.  July 13th would have been our 41st wedding anniversary, and August 22nd would have marked Chole’s 66th birthday.  The end of August for the past 35 years was the weekend we spent with special friends who went back to Chole’s earliest days as a nurse at L.A. County General Hospital.  And September 2nd is my birthday.  Thinking about these days engenders special memories, and a sense of sadness that these days will never physically be shared with Chole again. 

My grief counsellor at the Hinds Hospice Agency said I should always allow the grief but also remember as fondly as possible the joy. And over time, she says, the joyful memories will gradually overtake and outnumber the sad ones.  Although these special days were mixed with sadness, fortunately, and with the help of family and friends, the emptiness I feared was filled with the sharing of life with many special people for which I am truly grateful.

I had anticipated each of these special days with some trepidation. They were days that had been especially full of so many wonderful times and memories over the past 41 years.  I was wondering how I would deal with these annual markers in our married life for the first time without Chole to help celebrate and share them. 

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about and feel the absence of Chole in my life. For example, every morning when I select a coffee cup it brings thoughts of Chole because she virtually hand selected every one of them. I now try and look for joy in the moment and try to remember when and where she found the cup.  It is a strange and mixed process, this life without her trying to find the joy in the sadness.

 Some moments are just flashes of a memory or a thought, some are more reflective and others are very profoundly hard to move beyond.  I was afraid that these special markers in our life would be full of the profoundly difficult moments.  Fortunately with the loving help of family and friends, they became special times with the balance of emotion our life seems to require. 

I have found that allowing sadness can be almost cathartic.  When the deep, sad thoughts release, there is as sense of relief.  I can then think about the many things in my life for which I am thankful, such as just having the privilege of knowing Chole for almost 45 years and the blessings of children, grandchildren and the wonderful friends in my life.

During our anniversary week I was invited to dinner 3 different times and to lunch with Kiwanis friends as well.  A special thanks to Jane & Mike, Mary Allen & Steve, and my buds Danny and Chuck.   I was kept busy enough that I could not fall into the deep hole of sadness for very long.  Just too many people saying — not just with words but with loving support, we can find away through this together on these special days.

The week before Chole’s birthday I had a Kiwanis meeting in San Diego.  On the way down and back I had the wonderful pleasure of visiting with Chole’s mother Emma, her sisters and brother and many of their family members.  It was a very special and enriching time.  It was time I very much needed to spend with Chole’s family and share some special Avina moments.  We shared hugs, tears, laughs, memories, stories and as always the wonderful food. 

Chole’s birthday fell on a Saturday this year and interestingly it was quite overcast and muggy.  It is rarely overcast in Fresno in August.  Isaac, Alicia, Emma, Sophia and I had made plans to go to St Peters Cemetery to honor her birthday. 


St Peters is a really beautiful place and Chole’s urn is in a niche in an indoor mausoleum named for St Joseph.  Interestingly that is Howard’s middle name.  I can still hear Chole say “Howard Joseph” to distinguish the two of us.   

Her urn, if you remember is really beautiful but is long and not tall like they are usually designed. 


It took up most of the space in the double niche that we had originally arranged.  It was obvious that there was not going to be room for me (when the time comes) and we decided to upgrade the enclosure to a triple. Fortunately, a triple niche right above hers became available.  The process to open a niche is interesting and requires a permit from the county and of course several fees.


After an emotional and ceremonial transfer of the urn into the new triple niche, we all went to an area of Fresno called the Tower District which Chole loved, and had a nice lunch.  After lunch we had to celebrate her birthday with a little shopping.  We found a wonderful used book store and all the girls found some special books to take home.  Emma and Sophia of course needed to find books they thought that their precious Abu would enjoy.

During Chole’s funeral you heard wonderful stories about our group of friends that have come together each year at the end of August for almost 35 years.  Two years ago we had planned a weekend in the wine country.  However, Chole was struggling with her cancer treatment at that time and felt unable to make the trip and so it was cancelled.  However, with encouragement from the Williams and Clarks we made that trip this summer.  We took a drive through the wine country with stops for shopping, eating and a little wine tasting at the Sterling winery which requires a tram ride up to the winery.  Once there, the view is breathtaking.  On Sunday, as Chole always reminded us, a trip to the ocean to replenish the soul is required periodically.  After a beautiful walk through Muir Woods in the morning we headed to Sausalito for lunch.  Chole’s shadow was with us the whole weekend.  It was her kind of weekend with places to absorb always with the joy of a child.  Great sites, wonderful conversation, incredible food, beautiful landscapes, the sea and most importantly loving friends kept our end-of-summer weekend full of more memories.

The last few years Chole would make my very, very favorite meal, her enchiladas, only on my birthday.   She said we needed to eat healthier as we got older so once-a-year was enough.  I would beg and pout but rarely got them more than once a year.  On occasion, when we would go out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant I would try and find that true enchilada that I really knew only Chole could make happen. But I would try only to be horribly disappointed.   Howard once told me “dad why do you do this to yourself – you just end up disappointed and ruining your dinner”.  So I stopped even ordering enchiladas in restaurants.  As my birthday approached, I thought about whether I could come close to replicating her enchiladas.  I would think about the process and even think about the smell of baking enchiladas.  However, I could never get the audacity to try and make them.

And so on my birthday I get invited to Chowchilla for dinner.  When I walk in the door there was a very familiar aroma – enchilada makings.  When I tasted them there was no disappointment.  They were Chole’s enchiladas to perfection.  Somewhere along the line, Chole’s secret enchilada recipe got in to Isaac and Alicia’s wonderful cooking hands.  I had a very special evening including beautiful and artful cards drawn by Emma and Sophia.  I wonder where they get the talent?

When I got home that evening I had an email with my birthday gift from Howard.   Howard is always so thoughtful in his gifts.  This year was no exception and interestingly it came in the form of an email and gift card.  I invite you to Google Kiva.  It is an extremely interesting site where you can make micro loans to people in the most remote regions of the world.  They are truly loans, and 99% of the time you will get repaid by the recipients.  Interestingly, most of the requests come from women struggling to survive.  They want to purchase the simplest of things to start a business.   I am now trying to select my first business partner from a deposit made to Kiva in my name.  It is an amazing site to read. It reminds me so much of Chole’s and my experiences in the Peace Corps.

I just want to thank everyone for the cards, calls, dinners, brunches (Rene and Roger) the sharing of moments in time the past 3 months that have allowed me to deal with what I often felt would be an impossible time.  You have got me through this most difficult time. Love to you all. 

Howard Lee


4 Responses to “The Past Three Months”

  1. I understand what both of you are saying about searching for a sense of “normalcy” around this huge void that we all share. But personally, I am not pursuing “normalcy”. I have balance, and I think that’s about as close to “normal” as I’m gonna get. I go to work, I have dinner with friends, I go to the gym, I mow my lawn, I go to school — I am usually happy-go-lucky most of the time. But something has changed and my greatest fear is that somehow I will become complacent with this loss. That the memories that hit me like a ton of bricks when I hear a certain song on the radio or receive a J Jill catalog in the mail — and all of the emotions that go with them, whether they cause laughter or tears, will become dulled over time — distant. Mom was a big part of my life for all of my life, and she will continue to be. She is gone, and that is my new “normal”. The great loss that I feel is not anything that I want to change. I’ve lost a lot. But I still have a lot. I like to be reminded of both as much as possible. That to me, is “normal”.

  2. Linda Haymond Says:

    Thank you for sharing the events of the past three months. I remember Chole telling me when first diagnosed with breastcancer how difficult it was for her when everyone who had been a tremendous support went back to their “normal” lives and she was left with a much altered life. For me, life has yet to feel “normal” without my soul sister in it. Take care and know you remain in my thoughts. Linda

    • When mom physically started to shut down, it became apparent to me — when it really hadn’t before — that there was so much that my mom would never let me see. She only talked about how happy and satisfied she was with the life that she had lived.

      But towards the end I finally realized that her threshold for pain was unreal. Her ability to control her anxiety (which had to be there) and tears (which she never showed me) was unwavering. She was my mom, protecting me until the very end from what she did not want me to see.

      But it’s comforting to know that she was able to share at least some of that with you, Linda, and I am very grateful to you for always being there for her, in ways that I could not.

    • Linda
      Thank you for your thoughts and rememberence of Chole’s comments about an “altered life”. That feeling certainly hit a cord with me. The thought has occured to me over the last 3 months that I will never again feel the “old normal” of me again. Maybe the feeling is similar to what Chole was expressing to you. Like Howard, I can never remember her sharing those thoughts with me. In so many serious moments in her life she would put on her “nurse face” and “grief counselor face” she needed in her work at EPU. And as Howard says always trying to protect us from the reality of the situation she was feeling.

      I am continually searching for whatever will be my “new normal”. There are parts of days that I feel I almost live in another demension and I keep trying to find my way home.

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