Catherine Graves’ Blog


Wanting the Knife

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Wanting the Knife

Surgery. I wanted John to have the surgery. I couldn’t choose a couple of semi-conscious days of meaningless life that the simple course of steroids would offer. To me, that would truly violate the spirit of the living will John had created. Surgery was hope. Surgery was time. Meaningful time with his family, to give him time to reflect on his life.If time seemed as if it were standing still before I made that decision, it actually went into hyperdrive the moment I settled on a course of action. We would be helicoptered to the Barrow Neurological Institute of St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Phoenix, where John would have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible without destroying the surrounding brain tissue. I planned not to leave as much as a dime’s width of distance between John and me during the flight. I wanted to hold onto him as if his life depended on it, as if I could transfer some of my life into him as we flew over the baking landscape below. Just as I finished readying myself for the flight, a hospital staffer approached me and said, “Sorry. You can’t go with your husband. Space on the helicopter is just too tight.”So I crashed as I watched the helicopter lift off.

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©2010 Catherine Graves

The Ugliest Word in the World

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The Ugliest Word in the World

Glioma is a word ugly enough to make you wish your mouth and tongue couldn’t make the motions necessary to say it. Glioma. Or more exactly, and more to the point, Glioblastoma multiforme. On a list of things you would ban from this world, brain tumors—particularly this type of sinister, aggressive, cancerous growth—would have to be near the top of the list. Even if you are the ultimate misanthrope; even if you hate dogs (which are also strangely susceptible to this particularly horrible disease). It was also exactly what John was diagnosed as having.These devastating brain tumors are relatively rare (fewer than twenty thousand are diagnosed annually in the United States), unpredictable (there are no blood tests, no genetic test nor marker that can predict who will develop Glioma; there appears to be no hereditary component to it either), and always incurable (though there are different treatment regimens that can extend the life of a patient, the commutation of that grim sentence generally lasts no more than ten to sixteen months).The warning signs of glioma mirror so many other physical and psychological disorders that a tumor—and this particular tumor— is one of the last things anyone would blame. Symptoms include headaches, confusion, seizures, nausea, arm and/or leg numbness, personality changes. But, as was the case with John, he never talked about any “symptoms” as such; he complained that his eyes hurt one time and never mentioned it again. The confusion and personality changes, I took as “symptoms” of something very different, as did behavioral specialists. Another significant problem with diagnosing gliomas is that they frequently produce no symptoms until they get to a relatively huge size.

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©2010 Catherine Graves

Lasagna, the Weapon of Love

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Lasagna, the Weapon of Love

Though it may seem an impossible stretch of the imagination for some people, there is such a thing as too much lasagna.The parents of Alex and Caroline’s schoolmates coordinated efforts like a suburban culinary drill team and delivered dinner to the house every night for a year. There was always lasagna, created in nearly every imaginable permutation, in the freezer and the fridge. I don’t remember ever encountering one made of fruit, but that may just be a willful memory lapse on my part. It was a remarkable thing, the purest kind of love people are capable of. But after the events of the coming year were over and gone, neither the kids nor I ever desired another close encounter of the lasagna kind. That pastalogical block is true to this day. (Thank you, though, dear friends, and apologies to Italy and Italian chefs everywhere.)

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©2010 Catherine Graves

Relationship Advice and Rock and Roll

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John was having an affair.
I knew it.That simple and that lowdown. I saw signs of it every minute he sat across from me at his desk; I imagined other, more vivid indicators when he was away from the office. There was a John Graves at work and at home, but it was not the John Graves I had married and would swear I knew better than any other man I’d ever known in my life.
He was the man I loved. The man I thought was in love with me. And now I was absolutely sure he was spending his time, his money, his energy on someone he found more deserving. It wasn’t exactly the idea of who I was consumed with (though I won’t lie: that was no small part of it) but why? Why put a cheap county-fair tattoo on the fine skin of a charmed life. Was there something I hadn’t been doing, something I didn’t know how to do, something I’d been missing? Was I too demanding? Not demanding enough? Was there some more potent, idealized form of love out there than I could provide for John? I would swear in any court—civil, Supreme, or Judge Freakin’ Judy’s—that our life together was beautiful. Not flawless. No true beauty ever is. But it was cool and fun and juicy. Now it seemed that for John it wasn’t enough.
So I hired a personal investigator. A private dick named Stephanie. (Oh, come on, let me have this little joke. This is not an easy story to tell.) I had someone on the case, someone on my side. I could try to salvage our lives, my life, our business, something, anything, without worrying about where John was and what he was doing. I had a professional watcher doing the watching. I’d do the worrying when I had the time. But I had a life to continue. I wanted my husband back, though I had no idea where he had gone. I wanted our business back under control. I wanted our home to be our refuge from the world, and not for the world to be a welcome escape from our home.
I don’t think anyone knows how they’d react if they suspected their spouse (or any other term you’d prefer for the person who shares your life) of being emotionally and/or sexually involved with another person. I know that the mere thought of it will simultaneously send your heart and head racing and deaden your soul.
But I think all people involved in serious committed relationships would do well to heed the lyrics of a classic Black Crowes song: “Don’t give me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.”

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©2010 Catherine Graves

From the Prologue to “Checking Out”

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There never will be a shortage of sad stories. Twice as many at least as there are people in this world, more than double the measure most people want to be told. But they’re not trackers or stalkers or paid-for followers you can elude by crossing a street and melting into the flowing crowd. The crowds of course are where the stories live, and there is nowhere you can walk where you won’t catch even the faint tone of one in the air. There’s no home too humble or elegant that doesn’t hold its roof over a narrative tender and agonized.  You are, each of us is, one of these people, the title-holder of one of these tales. Don’t be so surprised when you find one day that that barely detectable quaver in a voice heard in a fine room is the small unintended weakness in your own. I was. And by the time I recognized that voice was mine, I felt I’d made every mistake, accepted every bad decision, taken every wrong step one could and still be alive to tell my tale.

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©2010 Catherine Graves

First Blog, on John’s 50th Birthday

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Today would have been John Graves’s 50th birthday. He was a big, beautiful handsome man. I was lucky to know him, and to have him as my husband for as long as I did. (It was not near long enough.) And, as you’ll read in this blog, on my Facebook page, and in my book “Checking Out”, John was diagnosed with a rare incurable brain cancer, gliomablastoma, after some otherwise inexplicable personality changes made it imperative to get a medical assessment, instead of the psychological help we’d been seeking.

I hope you’ll follow my blog, which will feature excerpts from the book, observations from my volunteer work at the Barrows Clinic, where John received most of his care (he would evetually pass at hospice), and how the lives of my children and I continue to change in the wake of John’s death.

Anyone who has had the responsibility of taking care of someone you love who, by a purely lousy luck of the draw, is essentially sentenced to death, I think, will relate to this story. And I hope I’ll hear from you and how your experiences mirrored or differed from mine.

I made 23 missteps for every right move I made. I think that’s not so unusual, but most people don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about that with you. I think that will give us all strength and a better understanding of other caretakers who become “invisible” during the process of easing a loved one’s final journey.

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©2010 Catherine Graves