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Why I will relay

Wings of fight
Early August 2019, just received cancer diagnosis of colon cancer which had already spread and metastasized to his liver and intestines. Garry’s energy was drained. This was Garry and Katy’s last walk together at the waterfront in Prince Rupert.

I think if I hear the expressions that I have to “find the new you” or “find your new normal” one more time, I may just scream.

In fact, I have a screamed a couple of times.

Once, I pulled over on the highway and let out a wailing scream while sobbing in my car, because I could just no longer bear the searing pain inside me and the other time I went to the shoreline to anguish very loudly, all the time hoping no passersby thought something untoward was occurring.

My spouse of 27 years died suddenly nine months ago.

He had cancer.

It was a mere three weeks from diagnosis to death.

This is where these two dreadful expressions have stemmed from. They rooted in my grief and in the few short months since his passing, they grew into saplings of hate.

As I processed and began to learn how to carry such a vast cavern in my heart, where my husband’s active life, cut short by cancer, used to be, I began to despise being told that I had to find the new me and find a new normal.

Why? Why exactly did I have to do this, I would question in my head. Why couldn’t I be the old me?

I liked the old me. I was comfortable with the old me. The old me was like a snuggly blanket wrap on a snowy day. The old me was me because of him. I didn’t want to lose that.

I met my husband when I was 21.

We were together for 27 years. I found who I was with him. I became me because of him. He was literally the other half of me.

Cancer stole that half of me.

My husband was awesome. He was loving and kind. He was supportive and stood on the sidelines cheering when I had a goal to score professionally. He stood in the wings and applauded when the spotlight was on me for any role I played in life. He was never envious or resentful that I grew from a 21-year-old girl into the woman I am today — or was —nine months ago.

READ MORE: Six year cancer roller-coaster

Through the few short months that I have had to contemplate exactly what “new me” or “new normal” I actually wanted, I have come to realize that I didn’t need to “find a new” me.

As I have matured through life and found who I was and what held my heart, my husband was there as part of that me. He was terrific in allowing me to flit away and land on whatever flower I wanted to taste the pollen of.

There have been so many versions of me through out my life. He had the patience enough to put up with whatever “me” I chose to be for a few months or even years.

He had the stamina to keep up with the ever-changing directions of what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go.

He didn’t just encourage me to act the way I wanted or do the things I liked. He gave me the wings to fly. He allowed me freedom to soar through life from tree-top to tree-top, so I could appreciate the view from different perspectives. He gave me kaleidoscopes to see different patterns and colours in life around us.

Thankfully, because of this and his perseverance, I have come to realize that I don’t need a “new” me. I have many “mes” that I can fall back on.

With so many versions of myself that he loved — I imagine he loved some more than others — I can choose an old one.

I can select from the versions of me that he was part of. The ones that sit like Swarovski crystal ornaments on a shelf, being appreciated from afar, being sigh-fully reminisced about and sometimes even admired from up close, but never touched because they are too precious and fragile.

I have now, like an inquisitive child, broken that rule. I have reached up and touched that precious glass bauble. I have held it my hand and felt its contours with my fingers. I have chosen a version of myself that I willingly put on the shelf many years ago so I could embrace the mother me, the wife me, the photographer me, the legal me, the property manager me, the cancer widow me.

I have picked up and dusted off that precious keepsake memory that was placed on the shelf, waiting for a time when lunches didn’t need to be made, when PTA meetings didn’t need to be attended, when laundry mountains didn’t avalanche the washing machine, when rides to piano lessons or fencing lessons didn’t need to be taxied, when clients didn’t expect 24-hour legal advice, or staff didn’t need another sick day.

I have moved on from a time when exhaustion overcame my body and shadowed my mind as my head sunk into the feather pillow each night.

In the months since my love walked into the light of heaven’s staircase, I have had some terrible happenstances.

My Duckie died three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer because we couldn’t obtain a doctor in Prince Rupert.

Two weeks after his funeral I had to move from the four-bedroom home we had made our own, to a two-bedroom apartment we had been renovating to start a slower chapter of our lives together.

Sadly, his last chapter ended. He was not able to share this unit of love with me. I had to turn his last page alone. Two weeks after that my daughter and I were attacked outside our home by a drug-induced addict who had lost all faculties. Two weeks after that, I came across a 14-year-old boy wanting to end his life by jumping off the roof a ten-storey building I managed. Then two months to the day my husband died my job was over.

I was a property manager, so that unit of love was a condition of employment. Then two weeks after that my son’s relationship ended with his partner and he moved home.

That “me” that Duckie was half of, the better half of, was not just chipped or cracked. That old me was broken.

Completely shattered into minute shards of glass to the point of beyond repair.

Cancer had taken the stronger half of me and left me completely weak with no strength to put myself back together.

As I maneuvered, blindfolded through these obstacles, grasping for direction, I listened with attentive ears to hear what he would have told me.

It’s not in me to try to avoid obstacles. I plowed forward and hit them head on, knocking them over. I would not let those rolling boulders crush me. I joined a weekly grief support group. I engaged a private grief counselor. I walked by the shoreline each day and breathed in beauty.

I took comfort in my poodle that Duckie gifted to me on my 36th birthday. I took a step out my front door and attended a local speaking group. I started to write in a journal and released my grief through the written word.

I wrote poetry for the first time in years. I went out for dinner with friends. I applied for new jobs. I accepted a new job. I made an effort to be happy and to stay the “me” that he would have wanted — all the time not realizing that these small steps I took each day, that some times felt like tall hurdles, were making me stronger.

These small steps were making me see a new direction, leading me to follow a new path. These steps were creating, once again, another version of myself, blended with that ornament version I had put on the shelf years ago but could now not release from my hand.

That version was a naive fledgling in journalism school, who had big ideals and thought she could bring meaning to life with well-written and cleverly positioned words on a page.

The young proud Canadian woman who fell in love with a blue-eyed, dark-haired Kiwi who loved her back — who probably loved her more because he gave her wings and the freedom to fly.

The old, young journalist, version of myself, recently recovered from the shelf, and blended with life experience, some wisdom, some maturity (on a good day if I feel like it) and the years of love a supportive spouse, who gave everything while asking for nothing in return, has metamorphosed into the new me. An old, new me has emerged from that chrysalis of cancer loss with new wings.

So this is why on June 13, when the Canadian Cancer Society holds the Relay for Life, in their new 2020 online look, I will relay for the first time.

I will relay through life because of who he helped me become.

I will relay to honour to him, to honour his life, to honour the strength he showed throughout his time with cancer and to honour the strength he gave me to carry on in this, the relay of life.

READ MORE: Why We Relay: Cancer doesn’t just affect a family, it affects a community

K-J Millar | Journalist
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Always positive with a thumbs up, even during a blood transfusion after cancer diagnosis, Garry Millar in hospital on Aug. 15, 2019. (Photo supplied: K-J Millar)
I will hold your hand forever. Garry Millar passed away on August 25, 2019, three weeks after his cancer diagnosis. The voices of his children, Jilinda, Rebekah, Emmi, Aaron and Bo, his brother Ross and wife K-J, laughing at a story of son Aaron falling into Diana Lake was the last thing he heard. Garry relayed through his life with kindness and love, and that is why we will relay on June 13, 2020 for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for life to honour those who have stood up to cancer. (Photo: supplied: K-J Millar)
Grant Dawson photo It was just the beginning of learning to fly, K-J Millar and Garry Millar, Nov. 1992