Of all the various anniversaries and holidays without Ez, his birthday is consistently the most difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong, the anniversary of his death is always a doozy – days if not weeks of traumatic memories that I compulsively relive. But I’ve gradually learned to live with those memories and to make my peace with them. And it’s not that birthdays mattered so much to Ez, because they really didn’t (though he always prepared a beautiful Greek feast for mine, and we threw a hell of a party for his last). Even Thanksgiving, which was his most favorite day, our most favorite day, has gotten a little less painful. But whereas other holidays and anniversaries bring memories and feelings that become distilled and more familiar with each passing year, his birthday brings up ambivalence and apparently unresolved feelings. I want to celebrate his life, but I still have so much rage over his death. I want to think about him and the time we had together, but instead I spend the day ruminating in his absence from my life and in my own grief.

A year ago, on Ez’s birthday, I was determined to channel this rage into recovery- to overcome my depression, finish my dissertation, rebuild important relationships from which I’ve withdrawn, maybe just maybe find a partner for this next phase of life. But just as soon as I put that sentiment out in the world and committed myself to get on with it, I got mononucleosis. And like chicken pox and other pesky viral infections, mono infections tend to be worse the older you get them, which my case confirmed with gusto. After several months of acute infection, my symptoms ever so gradually began to subside. But they’ve never gone away, and my immune system is in some kind of disarray. I have chronic fatigue and I’ve had one acute illness after another, with never more than a couple of weeks of feeling just OK. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten on with what I had hoped to over this past year.

I have, however, learned a few things. I’ve learned how extremely difficult it is to be sick for a long time- and mono is nothing compared what Ezra experienced or what so many people with chronic and terminal illness experience for months and years on end. With this tiny bit of insight into the particular flavor of misery that chronic illness entails, I wish I could go back and take better care of Ez and of myself. He knew he wasn’t long for this world, so he stopped thinking about the long game and lived as fast and hard as he could with the time he had- fair enough! I tried, stupidly, to keep pace. I went so hard, every day, trying my best to take care of him and to do anything and everything that needed doing. I was often frustrated with his manic drive to produce and perform, without realizing that I was driving myself right into the ground. And I kept on doing it well after he died, even after I getting mono and being put on bedrest. Working in overdrive on this or that project that suddenly seemed urgent and important until I completely exhausted myself and alienated everyone around me, which is more or less where I find myself now.

This never would have happened on Ez’s watch. Until he got very sick, he had a sixth sense for my stress level and was expert at heading off a threat, calming me down, helping me find my balance, even if he was in a manic frenzy. He used to do this thing where he’d put his hand on my chest and just wait until I settled. Or he’d say let it rest babe, and I would.

I think I’m finally beginning to see that self-destruction through taking care of someone else, or this or that thing, has been my primary way of coping – with stress, pain, uncertainty, loss – and that it’s not sustainable. Learning this about myself has been incredibly slow and difficult.

I’m still not feeling well and I’m still learning how to take care of myself, but going into this next year, I want to try, again, to get on with it. I want to channel my rage into recovery- to overcome my depression, finish my dissertation, rebuild important relationships from which I’ve withdrawn, and maybe just maybe find a partner for this next phase of life. And for help with this next leg of the long game, I now have Dory the wonder-dog, who in four months has reminded me how to love, play, and show up every day. We’ll see you out there.

Photo by Todd Miller

22 Replies to “45”

  1. Oh Hillary … I am SO happy to read your words … whenever you write, i hang on every one of them, gripped in emotions and tears. I knew EZ before he was with you, and watched your relationship, love and deep respect blossom through his flickr stream. I can’t tell you how often i think of you and Ezra, but especially you now, struggling to find a new way in his absence.

    I am SO thrilled to hear of the addition of Dory … EZ would be so very proud.

    Big, big hugs from Canada.

  2. you can and you will, Hilary! wishing the best for you in this next phase!! Please let me know if you’d like herb recommendations! thanks for sharing!

  3. Hey girl—nice to hear your voice again. I often think of Ezra, Putney and you—that wonderful (and terrible) fever dream of a place and time in space. Now almost fourteen years into my own relationship with terminal cancer, I am once again facing progression. And you are right—this chronic shit doesn’t get easier—it only gets harder. I am glad you are seeing ways of healing your own trauma (cancer has a way of spreading that around) and that you also understand it takes time. Enjoy this next phase and lean toward you.


  4. Hey Hillary. I was awaiting this post, wondering how you were doing. I feel similarly with the random fatigue I can’t seem to get over (maybe a symptom of my own depression.. or CP). I emailed Ez only a few times, and once he told me this when I was struggling with things, “Sometimes you just need to beat it (the universe) at its own game. Embrace the absurd humor of it all.”

    I’m so happy you got Dory. know it’s not a way out, but I think for me (maybe this coming year) as well as you, a puppy is a way through. I feel like puppies also help us make friends 🙂

  5. I think Dory the Wonder Dog is super cute! I hope you make strides by way of your goals, this year seems right 🙂


  6. I too was looking forward to your post, hoping we would hear from you. Oh Hillary, just try to be kind to yourself. I find that very hard to do but knowing that has clarified things. Delighted with the optimistic move of opening your heart to Dory; that is a step in a wonderful direction. Take care and we are here, cheering for you and sending big love.

  7. Beautiful photo of your gorgeous first 😉 new partner Dory-what a wonderful heart opener to begin your new year ahead. May your health continue to improve as you find your way. Remember– though you are always enough, it never hurts to ask for help, pursue that which eludes us, question and be curious for all that you wish and need. Be kind to yourself, we all believe in you, support you, wish you all the best ahead, send big love and we know you will get there-whatever, wherever there is. There are no rules, just guidelines, do as you feel. I know it isn’t always easy but please be, do, live and thrive, love. Xo

  8. Thank you so much for sharing what’s in your heart. Your pup is adorable. I’m so hopeful that your health bounces back. Mono is no joke. :-/

  9. I was just thinking about u and wondering how u were doing…I lost my second daughter to breast cancer in May…she died in my arms..I was her caretaker for over two years…I lost my oldest daughter to colon cancer in 2010 after a two and a half fight to live…I HATE cancer….making new traditions without loved ones is extremely hard on the little kids…get well soon…I too have Epstein Barr..it is a real struggle…

  10. I don’t know if the reference to the character Dory in “Finding Nemo” was intentional or not, but either way, it seems apt that her most famous line could be the best reminder that your new pup can give you every day…

    “Just keep swimming… just keep swimming… just keep swimming…”

  11. Hillary,

    I hang on your words and read them so slowly so they last longer. I know that sounds so weird, but it reminds me of Ezra and it’s always good to hear from you. I have learned that we don’t get to decide how long we grieve, how long we suffer and how long it takes our hearts to mend. We can try to put a time-frame on it, but your heart will heal when it’s ready, no matter what you tell it. This year, focus FIRST on getting WELL, physically. You can’t do much mentally when your body is run down. And focus on loving that sweet little Dory and enjoying what she brings to your life. Ez is being patient with you, as are all of us. So be patient with yourself so you can get healthy again. Once you feel good, attack all the rest with gusto.

    Much love from the mountains of Colorado…


  12. Hillary, so nice to hear your voice again! My wife and I think of you, Ezra and Putney often. We hope this is the year you achieve your goals and we see Dory as a harbinger of great positivity. Please keep up the annual posting and know there are many people out here who really care about you and your life. Love from us both.

  13. I thought of Ezra today. We were the exact same age. We bonded online over bikes and his beautiful photos. Flickr as a platform is going away. That was where I first interacted with him. I had to download all of my content. I hope someone can do that with all of Ezras photos.

    I think it’s going to be very hard not to be able to go back and see ezra on flickr with putney and the gang.

    Take care.

  14. Thank you Hillary for sharing, letting it out. You have my love & healing thoughts daily. The movement of life, the movement of Dory will Grande jète you through! Many Blessings to the bright eyed, redhead that showed up in my office, ready to take on the world, oh so many years ago.

  15. hillary,
    so glad to read your words here. although you do not know me, i often think of you, and wish you wellness and a growing sense of hope. ezra had a forever kind of effect on all of us who read his words here. please be patient and tender with yourself, and know that there are leagues of us out here sending the best wishes.
    with love,

  16. Was thinking of you both today and found this blog again. Please know that grief has no timeline. I promise it will get better. The profound loss will always be there, but in time the grief will lessen. Take care & best wishes.