Sunday, April 20, 2014

Strange days

What a strange day it is today. How strange many of my days are now, but today especially so. Or maybe I say that every day and just don't remember.

Today is Easter, a holiday with little religious significance for me but with a great deal for Kevin. We would go to his church for Easter services and he would glow with joy. Jesus had risen, the whole of Christianity pivots on this day. As his Jewish partner I would do my best to fit in, I'd admire the ladies in lovely hats and the kids in their Easter best, I'd enjoy the music and mostly I'd feel joy by extension. While it may not be my holy day, it was clearly holy nonetheless and that made it a lovely thing to be part of.

I've always liked the stories of Easter and Christmas, one celebrating hope and renewal (albeit via a hard path) and the other basically the biggest birthday party in the world. Even as a non-Christian these things have meaning to me and I loved celebrating with Kevin, who believed so deeply. After church on Easter we would either have a good meal at home or eat Easter dinner with friends. They would all be glowing with joy and I loved being part of it.

Today is 24 days since Kevin died. And I am struck over and over again that people around the world are celebrating a rise from the grave, a renewal into life. Yes, as a Christian Kevin believed in eternal life and I have no reason to doubt him, but he is not here. Not risen in the flesh. Not holding my hand. Not singing Easter songs next to me. Not eating dinner with gusto. He is not here. (I know some of you will say he is, just not in a tangible form and I understand that. But right now, it is his immediacy that I am longing for. I am not denying the power of and my yearning for signs and visitations, but... I miss him.)

I sit on our back porch and watch the birds. I listen to the church bells. I smile as my friends and neighbors beam with Easter joy. But he is not here. And everlasting life seems very far away.

What a strange day it is today.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer

(thanks to my friend Tony Toledo for sending me this poem today)

Jill Alexander Essbaum

is my season
of defeat.

Though all
is green

and death
is done,

I feel alone.
As if the stone

rolled off
from the head

of the tomb
is lodged

in the doorframe
of my room,

and everyone
I've ever loved

lives happily
just past

my able reach.
And each time

Jesus rises
I'm reminded

of this marble

they are not
coming back.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

3 weeks, 3 months, 20 years

Everyone says the first year is the worst. That the first time you come up to each holiday, each birthday, each anniversary, each significant date without your beloved you die inside a little bit more, but are still stuck here, without them.

I don't know yet if this is true. I do know that this week in general and today in particular are very hard.

This past week was the first time I've not attended or held a Seder in many years. It was the first time in over a decade that Passover passed and I wasn't sharing it with Kevin. Had I been home without him I would have found a Seder somewhere, but it wouldn't have been the same. As it is, I was in New Jersey, helping my parents as my father had open heart surgery. I was where I was needed, but it means I didn't retell the story of escape from enslavement, of redemption, of hope, a story so important to both of us. It means I didn't fuss over dinner while he reminded me that I had already cooked enough. It means we didn't give each other secret glances all evening. It means so much and so much lost.

Today, Friday the 18th, marks three weeks since he died. And three months since he was diagnosed. He fought so hard. We fought so hard. Yet here we are, he is gone and I remain. I don't know what else to say about it but that I miss him with every molecule in my body. I don't know when I will stop crying. I don't know that I want to.

Today, April 18th, is also 20 years cancer-free for me. This year it only tastes bitter. I am still here, but the love of my life was stolen away. Sure, had I not survived all those years ago we wouldn't have had the time we did. I know that. I also know it doesn't help right now.

I know this is just part of the journey, or at least I know that's what I should know. But right now? Three weeks. Three months. Twenty years. My heart breaks more every day.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grief in the time of social media

Once upon a time we had social cues for mourning. We wore black for a year, then grey and lavender. We covered our faces. We made jewelry from hair and wore lockets with our beloved dead enshrined inside. It was understood that we were fragile and would be for a good long time. We were cared for by our communities and strangers alike, not only because they could read the cues but because everyone experiences loss; we all need this kind of care sooner or later. Grief was a public event, without shame. It was understood that the world became muted.

It's harder to mourn now. Our entire culture is geared towards the quick fix and there are no visible signs that say I am lost. Strong, painful emotions are meant to be exposed maybe once, then hidden away (Kevin has been gone for 2.5 weeks and I've been asked if I feel better yet). We yearn for community to support us, but many of us don't have a clear place to turn.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have friends and family who are beside me as I travel the widow's path. I've also turned to social media for community. I have plenty of live, in-person community for which I am immensely grateful, but social media has become an immediate source of comfort when I am in pain which, these days, is most of the time. It gives me an outlet when I don't want to call a friend in the middle of the night. It gives me a lasting record of support, when my mind is so tired and sad that I can't remember the arms that held me just a moment ago. All I need to do is look online and I can see the many people who care.

Throughout Kevin's illness I kept everyone updated via CaringBridge and Facebook. It would have been all but impossible to communicate with the hundreds of people who care about him without these tools. And now, when I am in enormous need of support, I can post on Facebook and immediately am reminded that, in some ways,  I am not alone.

I am so grateful for this support. I struggle with these tools to some degree, because I worry that I'm taking advantage of everyone's concern by reaching out online, but right now? I'll set the guilt aside and take what comfort I can. It does mean my broader online communities are exposed to more emotion than these tools usually see and I have exposed my vulnerability, but no one has complained as yet. I feel some trepidation that people are not given the freedom to opt-in to the grief, but have it placed in front of them because it shows up in their feed, then I remind myself that they can skip the post or block me. That's okay.

Social media doesn't replace the living village, but it's a good start. And if Facebook, Twitter, CaringBridge or LinkedIn are what it takes to get me through the coming long nights, then I'm all for it. Thank you all for being my extended community and holding me safe online as I grieve. Thank you for being so patient as I figure out how to navigate this new world before me. Apparently it can be done in small steps, even just 140 characters at a time.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, April 11, 2014

Two weeks

I was going to entitle this post Time but decided that I may as well go with honesty.

In just under two hours it will be two weeks since my beloved died. A lot has happened in that time. So little has happened. I am living suspended. I think that's the nature of grief, especially in these early days.

In the last two weeks I have cried more than I had in the last 40 years. Maybe cumulatively.
I have felt worse and known worse is yet to come.
I have had glints of hope and resilience which then led to a consuming sense of loss.
I have been supported and loved by communities and people I never would have expected.
I have discovered the zen of coloring books.
I have gotten a tattoo I love for reasons I hate.
I have written letter after letter that I don't know if you can read but I write them anyway. I don't know where to mail them.
I have gone without eating and I have binged.
I have slept and awakened in a state of wild confusion that disintegrates into tears.
I have tasted the loneliness and possibility of the coming years and I have yearned to reject it all.
I have looked at the world in awe and thought the world is still here. how can the world be here?

Two weeks ago your heart was still beating, your pulse strong under my fingertips. Two weeks ago I (and those with you) were wondering is this it? until it was it. Two weeks ago I could still harbor some hope that maybe this was a dream.

Two weeks ago.

I want to write that the love remains. That I still feel it and I believe, somewhere, you do too. That the love you created in your life is not lost. I want to write that this gives me solace. And maybe that's true. But I also want to write Bullshit. It's not enough. And maybe that's true, too.

I am living suspended.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, April 4, 2014

One week

I woke up one week ago today holding your hand, your palm warm in mine.

One week ago today I knew you were going but you were still here.

A week ago I knew what was coming but couldn't conceive of what it meant because there was still breath in your body. I had no idea what was coming. I still don't, but that I am emptier every day.

Seven days ago I was someone else. I don't know who I am now. Time will tell.

Your eyes. Your smile. Your touch.

This is not a lesson I want to learn.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, March 31, 2014


My beloved husband, friend, partner and co-conspirator Kevin Brooks died 74 hours ago. It's only just starting to sink in. He won't be walking in the door and hugging me. He won't be calling me to see if I need anything as he comes home from work. He won't be playing with me, making silly faces again. He won't be.

What else is there to say. I am a wound now, little else. I know given time I will heal into something that vaguely resembles what I was before, but not the same. That knowledge doesn't help.

I can't imagine a world without him. I can't imagine a life without him. (I know, it will come, but that knowledge doesn't help). I can't imagine not touching him again, not feeling his hand on my cheek, not talking with him and watching the world together.

I can't.

I try to comfort myself with all the usual platitudes (good life... time together better than none... etc...) and they don't help. I either feel empty or I'm sobbing. I've smiled and laughed some (I am surrounded by people taking good care of me) but every breath feels like a lie.

A friend who was widowed a few years ago said this to me: Losing a parent is awful, but you don't get to choose them. You choose your spouse so losing them is even worse. Having not yet lost a parent I can't speak to this, but I do know that I honestly can't imagine a worse pain.

I know, it's breath by breath. Each breath is one I wish I could give him.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer

p.s. Here is the obit I wrote for him. It's inadequate. Nothing can capture him.

Kevin Michael Brooks, 55, Kansas City, Missouri, moved onto his next adventure on March 28, 2014 surrounded by his family and friends. While pancreatic cancer may have removed his body from the earth, those who love him are sure he is still laughing, loving and learning somewhere else.

Kevin’s life is not defined by his illness. He was a man who adored his children, Stephan, Cara, Kristoff and Vered Brooks. He was a dedicated partner, problem-solver, lover and supporter to his wife, Laura Packer. He was a son who made his mother, Carolyn Brooks, proud every day. He was a brother, a cousin, an uncle and a nephew who inspired his entire family. He remained a helper to his first wife and the mother of his children, Marian King. His smile made everyone who met him know they were loved, whether they were old friends or new acquaintances. And his storytelling performances made his audiences laugh, cry and rejoice in the world.

Kevin was a graduate of Drexel, Stanford and MIT universities. He worked for Apple Computers, Motorola and Hallmark Cards as a designer, finding new ways to help people connect through technology. His innovative thinking and drive for connection led his Apple, Motorola and Hallmark colleagues to think in ways they had never imagined. His passion for education, innovation and creativity were exceeded only by his generosity with his fellow students and co-workers.

Kevin was born in Philadelphia, PA and made home wherever he lived including the Bay Area in California, Boston and Kansas City.

A terrific example of Kevin’s spirit can be found in his annual Christmas celebration. Every year he and his family would bake bread together, so it could be given as gifts and shared. They called it “diversity challah” and it represented all of the different facets of his life. Whole wheat and white challah doughs were braided together, baked and shared on Christmas, encompassing different races, religions and forms of celebration. On Christmas day Kevin and Laura would open their home and invite everyone they knew to come and celebrate, regardless of religion. Bread would be broken, food would be shared, stories would be told. Old friends and strangers would mingle and find joy together. Throughout it all, Kevin would smile, hug, laugh and welcome. His spirit was limitless.

His spirit remains limitless. While cancer may have ended his life here, he remains in our hearts. Every time those who know and love him bake bread, ride a bike, tell a story, invent something new, collaborate on a project, notice technical details of a film, drink a Long Island iced tea, laugh until they cry, juggle, swim, ride a roller coaster, eat barbecue, dance or embrace each other, he is there. We will love and remember him always.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to his site, where the funds will assist in medical bills and other expenses; his family will also make donations in his name to appropriate charities. Memorial services will be held in Kansas City and Boston at a later date. Details will be posted on his page.

We are grateful for the gift of his life.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Kevin M. Brooks, Adventurer

Hi everyone,

It is with immense sorrow and overwhelming gratitude that I tell you that Kevin Brooks has moved onto his next adventure. Prior to his death, Kevin had many sweet hours holding hands, hugging and kissing those who love him.

His passage was peaceful. He was surrounded by family and close friends who sang him into the next world. His last words were to tell me he loves me.

I cannot tell you how sad I am.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the time we had together.
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your support through this.

This cancer was too aggressive and cruel.

I am mute with grief.

HIs kids and I all appreciate your support. If you know any of his children, then you know how lucky I am to have them in my life. Please reach out to them.

Please remember Kevin as a friend, a father, a scholar, a thought leader, a storyteller, a dancer, a dreamer, a husband, a juggler, a kindhearted man, a bread baker, a wonderful man. The cancer is only a very small part of his story.

I will be sitting shiva in our KC home Saturday through Friday from 4-8pm. If you are local and want to come by, please do.

There will undoubtedly be memorial services here and in the Boston area. I will post on caringbridge as I have figured out more.

For now, I thank you all for your support. Please be in touch.

March 28, 2014

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The poems that feed us

I am reading a lot of poetry these days. It is carrying me through the long bedside nights and the days peppered with questions and new worries.

I'd like to share some of the more meaningful poems with you.
So I'll start here.

For Kevin, from me and e.e. cummings.

since feeling is first

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, March 10, 2014


The cancer journey is a hard one. (Yes, it's a platitude, but it's no less true.) It strips away everything it can take.

It strips away the future.
It strips away strength.
It strips away faith.

I have been struggling to retain faith in something, hope in something, as Kevin walks this hard path. I keep coming back to physics.

When I was younger I loved reading popular science books, and especially books about physics. I retained some of it and find that now it gives me hope. If my interpretations are wrong please keep it to yourself, let me find comfort where I may.

  • The butterfly effect. Tiny actions may have incalculable results. Leading to -
  • The observer effect. We change things by observing them. We may even change things by thinking about them. The mere fact that hundreds if not thousands of people are thinking about and praying for Kevin may still have an unexpected, amazing effect. Even if it doesn't, all of that good energy will change those who are holding him in their hearts and ensure that he is always here in some fashion or another. Which brings me to another other law of physics I love.
  • Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it can only be converted into another form. All of the energy that went into making the stars, the earth, each and every one of us, is still present. The energy that existed in the forms of those long dead is still here. Every bit. So when we lose someone their energy still exists, just in a different form. Maybe they are now part of an ocean wave or a bit of light headed off to explore new worlds. But their basic components, at the most basic level, still exist.
More than these, I remember the law of physics I learned when I was a young teen, from those masters Lennon and McCartney. This one gives me the most hope of all.
  • And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.  Which means, no matter what, Kevin is here now in a far greater form than his body and will always be here. You will remain, too. And me. The love is not lost or destroyed, it can only grow. The more we love, the more we are.
And that's really all I need to remember, to help me retain the future, strength and faith.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer

p.s. Yes, I have read the wonderful NPR column by Aaron Freeman. I found it after I started pondering physics. If you haven't read it, you should. Creative Commons License

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The look

I have it. I know I do. And I recognize others who have it, especially here in the hospital. It's the look. The set of someone's face that says they are going through something hard. A look of peculiar distance and immediacy all at once.

I don't always know when I look this way and I know I can't tell you what it looks like on me, but I can see other people's reaction to me and I think Oh, yeah, I guess I have the look. When I look in the mirror all I see is tired, but I guess there's something else there. Or maybe tired, this tired, is enough.

I know it's there because people meet my eyes and then look away, but can't stop glancing back.

I know it's there because of unexpected kindness, like the lady in the cafeteria who gave me more fries than even a fifth grader could eat. "Here you go honey, you look like you could use a smile."

I know it's there because when I see someone else who has it, we smile at each other a tiny bit, a mutual acknowledgement that we are both in our own hells, not the same but neighboring, and it's nice to smile at your neighbors. Even if you don't want to smile at all.

I don't know what else to tell you about it but for this: When you see someone with the look, be kind. Don't stare, don't run away. It might be in a hospital, but I've seen it in the supermarket and at the gym, everywhere I have been. We all will wear this face at some point in our lives, so let it be a signpost for compassion and respect. It isn't a comfortable expression to wear but sometimes it's the best you can do.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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