Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ode to long-distance running

I did a 10.75 mile run this weekend--was only ("only") planning to run 10 miles, but ended up running farther to finish up the Prospect Park loop--because, you know, I couldn't not finish the loop. So much of long-distance running is a mental game (although, of course, training helps)!

My run started off sluggish, but after a few miles I was feeling really great--the weather on Saturday was unusually cool and Fall-like in New York, and I was getting that runner's high feeling that I could run faster, and run forever. And, I started feeling really happy and grateful that I brought long-distance running back into my life. I talk about marathon training and running sometimes when I speak at writer's conferences. About how one of the things that's most satisfying about running is that it's perfectly measurable. I ran 10.75 miles this weekend. I ran it with an average of a 10 minute, 20 second mile. Those are accomplishments that can't be taken away. Writing a book, even if it's never published, is also that kind of accomplishment.

Long-distance running--really, any kind of running--helps me think and get my head sorted. I generally like listening to podcasts when I run, but I often just let myself think. Sometimes I do work while running--draft emails in my head, think through problems. But, usually I just think about my life.

I prefer running outside with nature. Try to take in my surroundings. I love the solid feel of the ground under my feet. Sometimes I people watch while I run. There's always a lot going on in Prospect Park. Plus, I love looking at the sky.
A scene from an evening run in Prospect Park
When I ran the marathon ten years ago, I was actually in the process of going through a break-up. Running after (and during!) break-ups have always helped me put things in perspective (and, let's be honest, get back into dating shape!). And, believe me, I had a lot of time to think about things and the relationship while running the marathon. It gave me the peace and clarity to know that even though it would be painful, I would get through it. And, I did. There's nothing like running 26.2 miles to help you believe that you can accomplish anything, survive anything.

Training for the marathon this year has helped give me that same peace and clarity after Greg's death. Once again, I know I can get through it. I can do anything. It also gives me time to be alone without feeling lonely. I'm so glad I decided to run the marathon again this year, both to help raise money for cancer research, and for my physical and mental health.

I had a good weekend. Didn't do any work (although I could/should have), but had nice dinners with friends Friday and Saturday evenings, binge-watched some Mr. Robot, and spent a marvelous day today at the beach. Beautiful, peaceful, lovely. I swam in the ocean twice, and it felt exquisite--I honestly don't recall the last time I swam in the ocean, but I should really do it more often.

I hope you all had nice weekends, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Six months, random email drafts

Since I've started writing on this blog again, it felt odd to not acknowledge that it's now been over six months since Greg died. I was at ALA for the actual day (June 25), which was a suitable distraction (and a great time overall). It helped that Grace Lin was there with me, for sure! And, Grace surprised me at our Middle Grade luncheon by telling everyone the story of our friendship, talking about how we had both lost our husbands to sarcoma, and announcing that she had dedicated When the Sea Turned to Silver to me, and had gotten the help of Little, Brown to keep it a secret from me, until then! Tears! And, Grace had solicited the help of Colby Sharp to record it all for the Yarn podcast, so stay tuned:

Six months. After Greg died, getting to six months was my goal. If I could make it to six months, I would feel myself again, start really living again. Of course, I know that's not how grief works. No doubt I'll have ups and downs and setbacks forever. But, for the record, I do feel like me again, and I've been living life this whole year.

On occasion (okay, more than I'd care to admit), I look back at old emails from Greg. Which reminds me of this article a friend shared with me on Facebook after my last blog post.

Here's a silly email Greg had sent me around the time Kobe Bryant had announced his retirement from basketball with a poem. Of course Greg had to write a poem, too.

I wrote a poem for you.  It is titled "Love."

L.  Without this letter, I could not spell the word "love." Or the word "Alina."
O. Like a circle, this letter makes a complete circle. 
V. Add this letter to "Alina" and you get "Alvina."  Or "Valina."  Or a range of things. 
E.  "Love" spelled backwards is "Evol," which begins with the letter "E." 
*Inspired by Kobe Bryant
Gosh, this made me laugh.

The other day, I was also looking at my old email drafts. Sometimes I use email drafts as a type of journal, but I don't often go back and look. Here are a few I discovered that felt worth sharing:
Date: 8/29/13
Subject: No subject
What I'm terrified of is that I'll never get the healthy Greg back, I'll never see the man I married again, the man I went on that first date with. I love him so much, and although for the most part I can remain optimistic, that it's hard for me to fathom him dying any time soon, in the back of my mind I know that it might happen, and part of me is preparing myself for that, too. How will I cope by myself, where will I live, what will I do. Who will I hang out with. Will I have a child by myself? Will I ever find someone new?
But no...I will have a long, beautiful life with Greg. He will get stronger and stronger, and the cancer will stay away. Maybe it will come back 10 years from now, maybe something else will happen years from now, but for now, we'll get back to our normal life. We will start trying to have a baby. We will live.
I don't know where I was when I wrote this. Possibly while Greg was getting his last round of chemo, when his body was still recovering from surgery, when he was very ill and very weak. Or maybe while I was waiting for him to get scanned. It does reflect my general philosophy of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. And, well, now I know where I will live, what I will do, who I will hang out with. Still to be determined: whether I will have a child by myself, or if I'll ever find someone new (although I have hope!).

Date: 9/12/13
Subject: No subject
Waiting with Greg in the room, waiting for Dr. Maki to come in after he reviewed the scans. I was imagining how he would break the news to us. Would he tell us immediately? Of course he would, this wasn't a competition reality show like I've been watching so many of--American Idol where they draw everything out excruciatingly. "I have bad news...I'm really sorry to have to tell you this...but you're not going to have to see me again for another four months...because the scan is clear!" 
This was on the day we found out Greg's scans were clean after he completed chemo. And, Dr, Maki told us the good news right away, of course. 

I'm remembering that this was also the day I found out that my friend James had died.

Date: 1/20/14 
Subject: Greg's obituary 
The cause of death was death. He died, unfortunately, after a long battle with death.

I don't remember why I wrote it. This was about ten days after we discovered that the cancer had recurred, so death was on my mind. Or, it could have been because Greg told me to write it down, that that's all he wanted his obituary to much for that. I have to stop feeling that I've somehow let Greg down in how I've handled things after his death, how I'm living now. I know he wouldn't want me to feel that way--he even told me that before he died. But, of course, part of me can't stop overthinking things. 

It's a long weekend, and I'm sticking close to home, trying to recuperate from my crazy few months. I've been feeling a little more pensive and melancholy lately, but I'll be okay. Life is full of ups and downs. The mortgage to my condo is still chugging along--the condo has some paperwork to file still, but I'm hoping to be able to close this month (how is it July already?) or next month. I'm excited (and nervous) to move and start a new chapter of my life.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Random update/musings

It's been a while since I've posted. I'm losing count of how long it's been since Greg died, which I sometimes take as somewhat of a good sign. It's been just over five months (who am I kidding, I haven't really lost count). And how am I doing?

I think I've been too busy lately. Traveling a bunch (Bologna Book Fair, Sedona and Grand Canyon vacation, was in Chicago for Book Expo America a few weeks ago, and am in Pittsburgh right now for three nights. Am doing the NJ SCBWI conference next weekend, then off to Orlando for ALA later in June, then California for the LA SCBWI Annual conference at the end of July/beginning of August), busy editing some late books, juggling creative and administrative work, and trying to wade through my 1,700-and-growing-work-email inbox. (Apologies to agents, authors, and coworkers for whom I've become a black hole. I'm hoping it's temporary.)

I've started training for the marathon in a less-haphazard way as before. Trying to do some long runs on the weekends. Ran my second ten-mile run of the month yesterday, and felt great doing it. I'm running a half marathon on June 18.

I've been going out almost every night--work events and hanging out with friends. Seeing plays (Eclipsed was particularly excellent). I'm in Pittsburgh right now hanging out with friends, and am seeing a Beyonce concert tomorrow night. #Lemonade!

More huge news: I sent in my contract and deposit on a new condo that I'm in the process of buying. Feeling excited thinking about starting a fresh, new life there, but also really sad that I'm doing it alone, without Greg. (Thank goodness for my cat, at least.)

This post perfectly captures this push and pull of emotions I've been having recently:

And still, running underneath all of that is such a deep, pervasive sadness. Knowing that the work I do now is happening only because my love died. Knowing that the people I’m meeting now, the friendships and professional relationships I’m building, are happening only because he died. If he were here, other beautiful things would be happening. If he were here, my life would be so different.

I can't help but wonder all the time, What Would Greg Do? What Would Greg Think? Would he approve of my choice for a new condo? Would he worry about me living there alone? I get particularly pensive when I travel, because I become hyper-aware of the circumstances under which I've been able to travel again.

I've been thinking about starting to date again, too, and it feels daunting and scary (but also a little exciting). After Greg died, I set an alarm on my phone for six months--June 25. "You will love and be loved again." Greg had told me that he assumed I would be "broken up" for about six months after he died. Once again, I'm thankful that Greg was clear to me about his expectations--I don't have to worry/think too hard about What Greg would want, what he would think. In some things, I know, and that gives me a little bit of peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


When Greg was in the hospital, and was fairly sure he was dying, he made all kinds of preparations, including writing down for me exactly what he wanted on his gravestone, and where he wanted to be buried.

Yesterday, I was sent this photo:

The subject line just said "Stone" and I opened it without thinking, and there it was. I knew it was coming--after all, I had chosen the stone and seen a proof of what it would look like back in January. I knew it would take some time to make, and wouldn't be placed until Spring, after the ground thawed. Still--it was unexpected, and I probably shouldn't have opened the email at work.

But, it's beautiful. And I'm at peace knowing that this is what Greg wanted. And as several friends have told me, it's such a testament to our love. It's just so surreal and sobering thinking that his body is buried underneath there.

Someday I'll travel out to Iowa to see it in person.

Spring has arrived in New York. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. I've been going on runs and long walks. Surrounding myself with friends and family. I've been apartment hunting (looking to potentially buy a place). I've been traveling for pleasure (Sedona and the Grand Canyon) and for work (the Bologna Book Fair in Italy). My life is good. But, of course, I miss Greg every day.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

I'm running the marathon! (again)

As some of you know, I've decided to run the NYC Marathon again this year, in memory of my husband Greg.

I last ran the marathon 10 years ago, in 2006, in honor of my friend Grace Lin's now-late husband Robert. Hard to believe it's been 10 years!

Once again, I'm running with Fred's Team to raise money for Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research.

I hope you'll consider donating here:

I know so many of you (friends, acquaintances, and even strangers) have already generously donated to Mt. Sinai or the Sarcoma Foundation--and I thank you! Even if you've already donated, I hope you'll consider donating an additional $26.20, in honor of the 26.2 miles I am my teammates are planning to run! Greg was in the care of MSK for the last 9 months or so of his life, and they're making great strides towards finding a cure for cancer.

This time, I've formed a Team, called "Alvina's Team for Greg", and a few friends have already signed up to join me. If you're a runner (or even if you're not), and you've had any desire at all to run the NYC Marathon, you should run with us! Joining Fred's Team gives you automatic entry into the marathon (there's a minimum fundraising requirement of $3,500). They do have a limited number of slots, which tend to fill up in the summer, so if you're interested in joining, you should do so in the next few months!

You can join via the Team page.
(If you would like to join the team, let me know and I'll give you the password to join.)

Thank you, all. I hope you'll consider donating, running with me, or just cheering me on! And if you are so moved, feel free to help me spread the news.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Zuangzi's wife, and blogging.

I just found an email Greg sent me last October. The email was just a link to a blog post about his favorite Chinese Philosopher, Zhuangzi (spelled Chuang Tzu in the blog post). I'm sure I skimmed the story at the time, but Greg was always sending me emails with links and articles, and I didn't always absorb everything he sent.

Anyway, read the story in the link, but here's the gist: Zhuangzi's wife had died, and everyone was in mourning. Zhuangzi's friend Huizi went to visit to offer his condolences.
Huizi arrived at Chuang Tzu's home. There he saw his old friend, sitting outside, banging on a drum and singing as loudly as possible. 
“I expected to find you in mourning”, said Huizi. “You loved her for decades. She raised your children, and you grew old together; but here you are, a smile on your face, banging on a drum and singing at the top of your lungs. Don't you think this is a bit much?” 
“Not at all”, said Chuang Tzu, still smiling. “I mourned for a short while, but then I realized mourning would defy my own teachings.” 
“People will think you never loved or cared for her” said Huizi, “You must grieve. People need to know how much she meant to you, how fortunate you were to have shared a life with her." 
“Yes, I was lucky” said Chaung Tzu. “I spent most of my life with someone I loved, and she loved me in return. Many men will live their entire lives and never know the joy that I had.” 
Chuang Tzu continued, “That is why I do not mourn.”

Another message from Greg from the great beyond. I'm just so in awe with how thoughtful he was, how much foresight he had, knowing that I would find comfort in his emails after he died.

Of course, I do mourn, but I also celebrate life, and I love that he's giving me permission to move on.


In other news, I've been reading some of my old blog posts. Gosh, I used to be a good blogger! Here's a post about the negativity of mainstream publishing. Here's a post about fearless and cautious kids (and oh my gosh, those kids are 9 now!). Here's a post about judging a book by the beginning (from the Blue Rose Girls blog). And, here's a post encouraging everyone to do something they've never done before. (I'm sad that I can't remember who the friend was who told me that...if it was you, let me know! I may have to do that this year.)

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write in a blog and/or journal more. We'll see if I keep it up!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How I Mourn, How I Cope

Greg always marveled at what an amazing project manager I am--mainly because of how well I was able to manage the logistics of his illness, all while working a demanding job. Being an editor is basically being a project manager, so I've had a lot of practice! I've realized recently that I've been, in a way, project managing my own mourning. In case this might be helpful to some, here are some of the things that have helped me cope:

-Breathing. Deep breaths.

-Focusing on each and every moment. Instead of going through the motions, I try to focus on each motion, no matter how mundane.

-Keeping busy, especially on the weekends. Friends have been good about reaching out to plan outings, and I've basically been saying yes to everything, but I also don't hesitate to do my own reaching out. When I want/need to schedule my weekends, I do. And it's been great to reconnect with friends I haven't seen for a while.

-Keeping busy, but not TOO busy: leaving myself some time to be alone, to grieve, to cry. And know that it's okay to feel sad. I don't want to avoid my grief. Also, a friend told me her therapist said that intense emotions generally last for 90 seconds and then subside. I haven't actually tested this theory, but it's a good reminder that "This too shall pass."

-Going to a Meet-Up group for widows and widowers under 45. I didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be really great to connect with others who are going through the same thing.

-Reading. A few friends sent me books on loss (Healing After Loss and How to Survive the Loss of a Love--thank you Caroline and Christine!) and most nights I read a little before bed. 

-Reading blogs and listening to podcasts: I've also been reading some blogs written by widows or widowers. This one in particular. I've also been listening to the "What's Your Grief" podcast, by the women who run the website. Their post about secondary loss was particularly enlightening.

-Writing and journaling. I've always kept a journal, and I've been writing in it a little more often. Blogging a little more, too!

-Exercising. I've decided to run the NYC Marathon again this year, and going for runs in the cold winter air has been wonderful. Lots of walking, too, and I'm taking a Pilates class at work.

-Cleaning and organizing, rearranging the furniture in the apartment, getting new furniture. I've kept photos and other wall-hangings the same, but have rearranged the layout of the living room and bedroom (thank you to Rose, Jason, and Kirk!), which for me helps the apartment feel different and my own, while maintaining the familiarity. I've decluttered quite a bit. I also bought this Lumio lamp I'd been coveting ever since I saw it on Shark Tank years ago. It's a book that opens up into a lamp! It makes me happy.

-Getting massages. In general, taking care of myself.

-Brunch! Dinner! Wine! (see "taking care of myself" above.)

-Focusing on work. It was hard at first, of course--working all day in an office is exhausting! I don't know how anyone does it. But, by the end of my second week, I felt like I was really back. It was familiar, and good to focus.

-Doing small rituals. Another organization I'm in the process of joining (recommended by Gwen) called The Dinner Party sent me this article, and I realized that much of what I've done fits into this. Going through Greg's belongings. Listening to the music he loved. I found a woman who makes beautiful "bereavement quilts" out of ties, and I sent her Greg's many ties to make a wall hanging. I saw this "I have done love" bracelet on Cheryl Strayed's Instagram, and ordered one for myself. I wear it every day. It's from the quote: 
When I get to the end of my life, and I ask one final "What have I done?" Let my answer be: "I have done love." -Jennifer Pastiloff

Okay, that's all I can think of for now. 

It's starting to get light a little earlier--I can feel Spring coming! If you have other advice/techniques for coping and healing that you'd like to share, please do.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A month

It's been four weeks and two days since my husband died.

I know this year will be full of milestones that I won't be able to help but notice. One day. One week. One month. Tomorrow would have been Greg's 41st birthday.

I'm doing okay. I'm okay. A month feels both so long and so short. It passed in a daze. The pain isn't as raw now, but I still feel a little a bit in a fog, on autopilot, like I'm living someone else's life. Beauty helps a lot--the beauty of nature, the city, flowers, children, music, snow. In the past few years, while dealing with Greg's illness, because I didn't know what kind of future to plan for, I tried to focus on being present, on noticing the beauty of the world, and that habit has helped enormously these past few weeks.

For the most part, I'm doing okay. (Did I say that already?) I'm living a normal(ish) life. I see friends, I'm cleaning and organizing the apartment, I'm cuddling with Venus. I'm able to enjoy food and drink and company, TV and movies and music, I can laugh and sing and dance, and I can sleep. For the most part I can think of Greg without feeling sad. Remember moments and stories, talk about him without crying. And then other times I just feel irritated constantly that this is our my life, that he is gone, and everything makes me feel like crying.

We had a lovely memorial with our friends in our apartment in Brooklyn on New Year's Day. I spent a healing two weeks in southern CA, seeing friends and family and spending lots of time with children. In the middle was Greg's burial with his mother, sister, and extended family in beautiful Iowa. I feel good about his final resting place.

I'm planning to start working again tomorrow--I've completely checked out of work, and I'm thankful that my wonderful colleagues understand. I'll work at home for a few days, and then plan to go into the office for the first time on Wednesday. I can't say I'm ready to go back, but I'm not not ready either. I needed to just set the date, do it, and see how it goes. I think the routine will be good for me.

I wanted to say thank you--thank you to family, my friends, Greg's friends, our friends. Thank you to loved ones, acquaintances, to the publishing and kidlit community, to strangers. Thank you for your comments, your messages, emails, cards, letters, phone calls, donations for cancer research, stories, flowers, gifts, thoughts, prayers, help, and kindness.

Here are a few photos from the last month.

From Greg's copy of The Plague.
me and Grace Lin on New Year's Eve
mom and niece
niece Jessie. Lots of "kid therapy" in CA.
Greg's favorite tractor. In Harlan, Iowa.
me with Greg's mother and sister.

hiking with my dad
Lot of time and love with my niece Shoshana
A snowy night in Brooklyn
This is one of the songs Greg put on my mix that has been especially comforting. "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Gerry & The Pacemakers (and yes, he knew this from football/soccer, but it's still such a beautiful song):

Monday, December 28, 2015

Love story, part infinity

Greg Taylor (1975-2015)
My beloved husband, Greg Taylor, passed away on December 25, 2015, Christmas afternoon, around 2:30 pm.

I would like to share our love story.

We met on Craigslist (yes, Craigslist--they have a dating site). On a Sunday afternoon, September 23, 2007, I answered his personal ad and we exchanged our first emails. His personals posting had the heading as simply "hi" and the post was a list of funny and random things about him, including "I'm taller than you, even if you're tall."

I responded with "hi back" and a corresponding list, including "I'm shorter than you, even if you're short. But most people say I don't 'look' short."

We met for the first time on a Friday night, September 28, after work in front of the (now gone) Virgin Megastore in Union Square. I arrived first, and was listening to my iPod. As he approached, I removed my headphones, got flustered because he was so handsome, and my earbuds got tangled. I handed them to him to hold for a second, a gesture he for some reason found endearing and would mention for years later. We decided to walk and find a place to eat, and ended up at Yaffa Cafe on St. Mark's Street (also now gone). For many years later, on September 28 we would go back and meet in front of the Virgin Megastore, which eventually was turned into a Duane Reade drugstore (of course).

We sat in the back courtyard and talked and talked and talked. He was a fifth-grade teacher, I was a children's book editor, he was studying history in grad school, I was always thirsty to learn more about everything. I liked sushi, he didn't eat raw meat. I had gone skydiving, he preferred his feet on the ground. But we couldn't stop looking into each other's eyes. His eyes were the most beautiful blue-gray. He told me they changed colors in the light, and I later discovered that they were sometimes flecked with green.

I had a birthday party to attend later that night in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, and asked him if he wanted to come with me. When he agreed, I knew he liked me. (He had told me earlier that he hated Williamsburg.) He told me later that when I asked him to come with me, he knew I liked him, too.

Now here's the "falling in love" montage. Kissing like there was no tomorrow. Going for walks--he showed me his neighborhood in Brooklyn and we walked to the Brooklyn museum and watched a dog frolic in the jumping fountain. It was there that we took our first picture together:

This is also the hat he wore when we first met.
Meeting each other's friends. House and dog sitting out in New Jersey (he LOVED dogs). Teaching me to play golf (he LOVED golf). Drinking a lot of wine (he LOVED wine). Introducing me to opera. Going to parties and weddings together, going to lots and lots of diners. (Later, when we briefly were looking to buy an apartment, it was important to us that the neighborhood have a diner.) Emails, texts, phone calls. Making each other laugh. Holidays. Supporting each other's careers.
Dog sitting Maggie, Roxie, and Caesar
He would share the books I edited with his students, especially Grace Lin's Year of the Dog, and he would proudly tell his students that he was friends with the real-life Melody who was a character in the book. When I attended his school's holiday concert, he introduced me as Melody and I was a celebrity. I later spoke to his school about being a children's book editor.

We took a trip out to Iowa together, where he spent his summers as a kid. Showing off, he took us down a backroad where we promptly got stuck in the mud and he had to call his uncle for help--they laughed and said he was a city boy now. 

Not a smart thing to do in a rental PT Cruiser
He started flying out to my parents' home in Southern California with me and ended up falling in love with California, and especially my parents' backyard. (He wanted to live there. In my parents' basement.) We played a lot of tennis and golf.

His mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he flew out to stay with her for six weeks to care for her. I went to visit him while he was there and spent Thanksgiving with his family and stayed in his childhood home.

We moved in together into his tiny 5th-floor walk-up apartment in Park Slope. The two of us and his two cats, Venus and Serena, made a nice family. And then in October 2011 he proposed, on the same rock in Central Park where my parents got engaged.

We were married less than a year later on July 21, 2012, in my parents backyard.

It was a glorious day, and we were excited to start a life together as husband and wife. 

And then he was diagnosed with cancer, synovial sarcoma, about six months after our wedding. You can read about that initial journey here. Major surgery, long recovery, chemo, and then another long recovery.

Just as Greg was starting to regain his strength, we found out that his cancer had recurred in January 2014. We knew that with Greg's type of cancer, once it came back, there was no cure. At first, Greg didn't want any treatment--he didn't want to go through chemo again. We decided to travel--to Rome, and then Paris. Greg left the US for the first time (aside from Mexico) in February 2014 and we went to Rome and had a glorious week. Before he died, Greg wanted to walk where Augustus walked.

On the night before we were to leave for Paris, he was struck by excruciating tumor pain. We stayed in Rome for another week while we stabilized the pain, and then flew back to NY where he agreed to try a pill form of chemo. We were told that if the chemo worked, it would probably only work for 3-4 months. That pill ended up working for 18 months, and although he wasn't feeling great all the time, we were able to still have a relatively stable life. The chemo turned his facial pigmentation and hair snow white. He hated how his face looked and so he covered it with facial hair. Kids especially would stare at him--either thinking he was a pirate, or Santa, or, as we joked, a pirate Santa. Twice, once in our apartment lobby, and once at the Brooklyn Museum, he had a kid point to him and say, "Look! It's a pirate!"

Right before pirate Santa decided to shave his beard off.
We went to the US Open, a few hockey games and baseball games, and took a trip down to Atlantic City to see Bob Dylan perform.

Through it all, Greg handled his illness with courage and grace. It wasn't easy by any means, but I was eternally grateful to him for how he accepted and dealt with his situation. He knew this cancer would probably kill him, and although he was terrified of dying, his goal was to get as many good days out of life as possible. He had always been loving and attentive and romantic, but these past three years, he became even more so. 

For my 40th birthday last year, because he knew he didn't have the energy to take me out or throw me a party, he threw me a cyber party instead. He got over 100 T-shirts made in our wedding colors (fuchsia and purple) with the Chinese character for "love" on the back, and my last name in Chinese "Ling" on the front, to match the tattoo on my shoulder. He sent them to friends and families all around the US, and asked them to take pictures of themselves in the shirts and email, Tweet, and Facebook the pictures to me on my birthday. Here are just a few:

He told me he needed to make sure to tell me how much he loved me as much as he could in the time he had left. He told me that I should feel comforted in knowing how much I made his life better. He told me how in awe he was that he had met me, that I had responded to that one Craigslist ad so many years ago. He left me love notes around the apartment, on my computer, in my wallet. We had so many silly inside jokes, and I'm mourning the passing of what was known only between us. And of the children we never had (he was SO GREAT with kids, and would have made an amazing father), of our future that has been cut short.

But, I'm also so so so grateful for the time we had together. I loved him unconditionally. I loved his all-enveloping hugs, his sweet kisses in the middle of the night. I think we probably laughed even more together in these past three years--it became almost a competition to make the other laugh. We made up funny dances and funny voices. He got more and more into music, especially Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and John Lennon (he admired the great love between John and Yoko), and also discovered a love for Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Motown. But, Bob Dylan above all.  

Gradually, the chemo stopped working, and Greg started having more and more pain. We tried one last chemo, which worked for two months, and we knew that we were running out of options. A few months ago, we found out that Greg had a spot in an immunotherapy trial at Sloan Kettering, and we jumped at the chance. It was a Phase 1 trial, never tested on humans, but we knew if there was someday going to be a cure, it was probably going to be through immunotherapy. But on the day he was due to start, they discovered that his liver levels were high, which disqualified him from the trial, and the doctor sent him over to the hospital to see if they could solve the problem so that he could start the trial.

He had a procedure done to help drain the bile from the liver (which they thought was causing the high levels). Unfortunately, his liver levels didn't improve, and other liver levels were starting to get high as well. We knew that he had at least one tumor in the liver, and that once the liver starts to go, it can end quickly.

Every night after I left the hospital to go home, he sent me a text. "I love you sweetheart. More than anything. You are such a superhero." His last text to me was, "You are the best thing to ever happen to me." He was the best thing to ever happen to me, too. 

Eventually, they started Greg on chemo while in the hospital, and he was released on December 23rd--we were thrilled to have him home for the holidays! This is the last picture we took together, in his hospital room while waiting for our ride home:
As my mother told Greg the last time she saw him, "You're still very handsome!"
After one night at home (Venus was ecstatic to have us both home again!), we ended up calling 911 and going to the ER in an ambulance on Christmas Eve. Greg had been struggling with nausea and ended up vomiting blood and fainting a few times. He was admitted into the ICU for observation, as they suspected internal bleeding. But, he appeared stable after getting fluids, with no symptoms aside from some weakness and dizziness.

But on Friday morning he suddenly started having seizures, and then started bleeding profusely internally. The doctors were able to stabilize him with a breathing tube and blood transfusions, but we knew there wasn't hope for a full recovery, and I knew Greg didn't want any drastic measures taken just to keep him alive. They removed the breathing tube and Greg rested peacefully for a few hours before passing on while I held his hand.

Over the two-week hospital stay, we knew that the end was coming--Greg said he didn't know if he had days, or weeks, or months, so he was going to focus on enjoying each minute with me. I'm going to focus on each minute at a time. And breathing. This last year especially, Greg was struggling, and his bad days were outnumbering his good days. Recently, he said that the pain and complications he was having were making it easier to let go. I know he is at peace now.

Greg did not want to have a funeral, but he will be buried in Iowa where he spent his summers. He wanted his body to rest under open skies.

If you want to offer some support, please donate money towards sarcoma research--if I may suggest, the Sarcoma Foundation of America:
or Mt. Sinai for Sarcoma research:

Greg started his care at Mt. Sinai with Dr. Robert Maki and Nurse Practitioner Linda Ahn (who is now at Sloan Kettering). They made the whole process more comforting for both of us, and even though I wish we had never had to meet them, I'm thankful they were in our lives. 

I'm grateful to his many doctors and nurses--at Mt. Sinai, at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and at New York Methodist. They have such a tough, important job, and see suffering and death every day.

I'm also so blessed to have such loving friends and family and colleagues, including the authors and illustrators I work with, who have supported us over the years and are mourning the loss of Greg, too. This isn't a unique journey that we traveled on--what's devastating is that so many people are touched by tragedy.

I know Greg didn't want a big deal made of his death. But, for my own healing, I wanted to acknowledge publicly what an extraordinary man he was. He was full of passions--whether it was golf, wine, watches, jewelry, opera, American history, Chinese history, Andy Kaufman, dogs, cats, lacrosse, soccer...or me!--when he loved something, he loved it with all of himself, and learned everything he could. He was supremely moral, had a kind heart, and was sometimes loyal to a fault. He was sardonic, sarcastic, self-deprecating, and silly. He could put kids at ease in seconds. He had a deep voice that got higher and lighter when he was in pain--I knew he was feeling strong when his voice was deep. He was ticklish, and especially hated when I touched his feet. He watched the same movies over and over again, memorized the best lines, and would constantly call me to watch funny scenes. He also loved pointing out continuity errors. When he was in pain, he told me it helped him when I held his hand. 

His favorite books were The Plague by Albert Camus, and Sophie's Choice by William Styron. His favorite song was "Love Minus Zero" by Bob Dylan. His favorite movie was "Deer Hunter." 

People loved to tease him--he had the kind of personality that made people feel like he could take it. But he was sometimes sensitive about it. Sometimes he just wanted people to be nice to him. He was ferocious (but nice!) when dealing with customer service, and usually got what he wanted. He hated being told what to do, but I knew he took everything in, even when he was arguing (and when he was arguing, he always sounded angrier than he really was), and was able to keep an open mind. He was always so proud of me and my career, and embarrassed me by boasting about me to everyone he knew. And he was an astonishingly good teacher--so many of his students stayed in touch with him, and I feel lucky to have met so many of them. He made a difference in their lives. He made a difference in the world. 

Although he was an introvert at heart, he was the mayor of his old block. He knew everyone and they knew him. He was buddies with all of the shop keepers--one of them helped him get up the stairs of his apartment when he came home after his surgery. They always asked me how he was doing after his surgery. He made Brooklyn into a small town. Although his time was cut short, he had a rich, fulfilling life, and so many people who loved him.

The day after his death, I remembered that he had wanted to make me a music mix before he died, and I was feeling bereft that he hadn't been able to do it. But I checked my computer just in case, and there it was, a playlist called "For Alvina" and it was like he was giving me a hug and a message from the great beyond. The last two songs on the mix are "Shelter from the Storm" and "Across the Universe."

For those of you who have read this far, thank you for bearing with me. My mother is with me now, and I've been surrounded by friends, both virtually and in person. Greg and my dear friends Donna and Daniel were with me at the hospital when he died, and took care of me that night and the next day.

And just to leave this on a note of levity, albeit one that I'm finding profound right now, this is a silly email Greg sent me while I was at work and then out to dinner about a month ago. Venus is our one remaining cat (Serena also passed away from cancer about a year ago). Warning, there is cursing ahead!:
I'm very lonely.  Venus is also lonely.  The two of us are acting like our worlds have been destroyed.  

While we cuddled - more like held on to one another as the universe battered us - she said, "Dad?"

I said, "What is it, sweetie?"

"I miss Alvina."

I said, "I do too, Venus.  I miss her too."

She asked, "Is it always going to be like this?  Is it always going to hurt this much?"

I explained to her that it will always hurt but that we will get better at dealing with it.  Eventually the wound will heal and a scar will grow in its place, making us stronger.

She said, "What?"

"Ugh," I said.  "Right now we hurt because the wound is so new.  As time passes the wound will close and a scar will form." 

She replied, "What are you talking about?  I don't have any open wounds.  I said I miss Alvina."

"It's a metaphor," I said.  "We are wounded EMOTIONALLY.  We will develop EMOTIONAL scars."

She said, "I have no idea what a metaphor is.  A metaphor?  What the fuck is a metaphor!  I'm a fucking cat.  Stop treating me like a human being, because I'm not a human being.  Also, STOP TOUCHING ME!"  

Then she swatted at me and jumped off the bed and ran into the other room.

Venus and I both miss Greg. I wait for the wound to close and the scars to form.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

So long, 2013. Welcome, 2014!

The view from my parents' backyard deck.
This is also where our wedding ceremony was held.
My two-week+ vacation is coming to an end. I spent it mainly in Southern California at my parents' house. The last time I was there was for Greg and my wedding a year and a half ago. That was also the last time I had seen my family, before the craziness that was 2013 happened. I think the CA sunshine did Greg a lot of good, and he's getting stronger each day. We're settling into our "new normal"--trying to get back to living life, yet with the shadow of the possibility of recurrence hanging over us.

It was wonderfully relaxing to be in CA for so long, and save for the first rainy, cold day, the rest of our time there was greeted with sunshine and 70 and 80-degree days.

My vacation in numbers:

Days I played tennis with my Dad: 11
Sets won: 1 (while playing doubles and partnered with my HS friend who was the star of our championship tennis team)
Children played with: 12
Dogs played with: 2
Me and my brother Ben and future sister-in-law Iris's dog Oreo on Christmas Eve.
Books read: 3.001 (read an ARC of Noggin by John Corey Whaley, re-read Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink, re-read final draft of Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor, read the first two chapters of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami)
Good Wife episodes watched: 14 (finished up Season 4, caught up on Season 5 so far)
Movies watched: 1 (Saving Mr. Banks with my mom)
Work emails filed/deleted: 600+ (more to go through today before going back to work tomorrow)
Walks taken: 10
Times jogged: 2
All-you-can-eat sushi meals: 2
Ramen meals: 2
In-n-Out Burger meals: 3
Massages: 3
Karaoke nights: 1
Friends' homes visited: 2
High school friends met up with: 6
Books given as gifts: 27 (mostly children's books)
My brother Felix reading MR. TIGER GOES WILD to my nephew
Different types of fruit eaten: 12 (pomelos, oranges, apples, cherimoya, papaya, guava, kumquat, grapes, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, watermelon)
Cherimoya. Also known as custard apple, sugar apple, and soursop.
New Year's resolutions made: 12

2013 was a tough year--but here's hoping to a better 2014. Happy New Year, all!