Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chris’ Addiction to Life Marathon

I couldn’t sleep, it’s 2 am and my mind is racing from idea to idea of things to do for Chris. I put a notebook under my pillow with a pen – and when an idea eats a whole in my conscious brain – I write it down so my head can be empty. No sooner do I close my eyes – another idea pops into my head – another good one – I write it down. This continues for 30 min – I give up and start to write.

Chris’ mother hasn’t slept much either but she looks tired – she won’t give up.

My brain should be exhausted, I haven’t slept well in days – I’ve experienced to lowest low of my life and now, I’m on my way to a high of hope. Where is this energy coming from – My mind is clear – I see things very vividly in my head – more vivid then I’ve ever seen. Is this induced by stress? By endorphins? By Love? By God?

It’s like the Grinch in the “Grinch who Stole Christmas” – whose heart “grew three sizes that day”. Is my mind expanding?

My thoughts drift to Chris … again… lying in his bed – looking scary but being loved. His brain is in an induced coma, the conscious is shut off or turned down – the unconscious is on it’s own with no conscious holding it back. If the conscious brain is 10% and the unconscious is 90%, then the suppression of the conscious allows a powerful force the freedom to expand. I feel Chris in my heart – but I think … I feel him in my head.

Gosh, if I can feel him in my head – maybe others CAN feel him in their heads as well as in their hearts.

This way of thinking very strange to me – I believe that I am a very strong left brain thinker – rational, analytical, linear thinker, a planner and a doer. The dialogue that is running through my head doesn’t sound very left … much more right. Could Chris’ unconscious power be charging up my right side and giving me this passion to journal these thoughts.

OK, that’s enough of that … back to Chris. I visited him yesterday, drove in with Wayne, my brother-in-law and soon to be a parent again. He picks me up at 8 AM. It’s a beautiful day – actually this week – the weather has been great. Wayne and I have a good talk – listening him tell me about his love for Maddie, his 21 month daughter, warms my ears and I want to listen and feel the glow. It helps.

I want to see Chris because this will the first visit since this journey began, that I have a lot of optimism, The realist in me is fading. I arrive at the ICU door at the same time as a very dear friend from PEI, Janice.

Janice is a fellow vet that we met in 1997. Janice and Edwin have four girls. At that time they ranged in age from less then a year to six years. Getting to know them touched both of us. Janice and Edwin have an inspiring family and I believe that befriending us over the next few years – they inspired us to start our family 12 years into our marriage. Janice is very shaken by the weeks events and she is a nurturer at heart and needed to see Chris. I really believe that had Janice not pushed her way into our lives we would probably be without children and without children neither Chris nor I would want to live this week.

Janice is a talker and when she is stressed she talks faster and faster. My sister, Fran, is at Chris’ side – she got there early after dropping her husband off at the airport to go back to Newfoundland. The three of us listen as Kirsten, the day nurse, brings us up to speed. He is heavily sedated to allow time for the brain swelling to go down and allow healing to start. His vitals are good and intracranial pressure is low – thank God the drain WAS the right move. He looks peaceful … just like when he has fallen asleep while watching TV.

He is still on the ventilator but actually breathing on his own. The ventilator just helps him take on a little more air. There is a little pneumonia, so oxygen is important and ventilator will be in his life for a little while. They have cultured 2 organisms and he is on 3 antibiotics, along with the heavy sedatives and drugs to protect his stomach from stress and the feeding tube. The level of conscious is just enough that if you knuckle him in the chest – he makes a slight gesture with his right hand as if to say “hey stop that I’m trying to get some sleep here”.

I’m almost happy. Yesterday, I posted some pictures on the bulletin board in his room. Pictures of him taken the last year or so: Chris running, Chris with the kids, and my favorite, Chris looking a little goofy holding a little bouquet of flowers. This picture was taken this summer in Newfoundland. We were on a hike and our niece, Maddie, was being very cute holding a bouquet of buttercups – not to be out done - Chris posed for this picture. It captures some of the qualities I love about him.

I had been up since 1:30 the night before – I slept on the way back to Truro and tried to get some sleep at the house while things were quiet. I collected my thoughts and focused on tonight – the Run, Walk and Bike for Hope event planned by wonderful friends Terry Giles and Marianne Cullip. I couldn’t sleep. I wrote down a few words to say. I thought there would be 20-40 people – it was organized in very short notice.

When we got to the Centennial Pool were the race last Sunday started and finished, there was crowd! People from the church, people from the school where he volunteered, fellow runners and many friends. Amy Tully-Knockwood videotaped it. It felt so good to hug so many people in such a short time. Once Tara and Quinn were there (they were at Assieh’s home for dinner), I felt empowered to talk.

“Chris would have been here if he could to support a friend in need – he has soft spot in his heart for a – little guy comes from behind story. He still cries when he watches the first “Rocky” Movie and another movie call “Rudy” about a little guy with a big heart who played football for Notre Dame Fighting Irish. We would have been here … if he could.”

“In October 1996, Chris started a streak. A running streak. When it started, I nagged him saying that it wasn’t smart – Will you run when you are sick? What about in bad weather? He wouldn’t listen he just ran – the streak continued and by July 1 1999 he had done 1000 days (Janice had given him a plaque that said: ‘The race is not to the swift … but to those who keep on running’) by March 27, 2002 he had done 2000 days (again Janice gave him a plaque that said:’…Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run’). Chris cherishes these plaques and has them proudly displayed in the running corner of his “man cave” room.”

“On Nov 4, 2003, He had a hernia surgery – he knew he’d have break to streak – but just prove the that he could – he got up extra early that day … and ran … before the surgery. That was day 2587. The doctor said no running for 6 weeks. He didn’t run - he walked. He walked two to three times a day but he didn’t run. He walked for 47 days and on the 48th day he ran. He wouldn’t keep counting from 2587. No. He started at 1. He has continued that streak since - for another 2050 days. In my mind, I think he should have continued the old streak but he said that was cheating and since he made up the rules of this games, I couldn’t argue. But for the record, by my rules, he has run f 4684 days (12 yrs and approx 9 months) everyday. Everyday in the sun, in the rain, in the snow, through Juan and white Juan, Tara and Quinn’s births (those were special runs) … Everyday. He was run in every province east of Ontario and, this year, he ran in Boston.”

He WAS addicted to running.

As of Monday Aug 31 – he started a new Addiction, perhaps a healthier Addiction, An Addiction to Life.

Now, I have a title for my journal and our story: Chris’ Addiction to Life Marathon (count the number of characters – coincidence – I don’t think so and yes ‘ counts)

Actually, the talk I gave wasn’t quite that good – but this is what it sounded like in my head.

My amazing co-workers threw together T-shirts for the family with a maroon ribbons that is a symbol of support for aneurysms (although - technically Chris' brain bleed was not from a aneurysm - it was from a hypertensive crisis - it is a mute point - both result in the same devastating outcome ... brain injury.)

After the walk/run and many Well Wishes. I was surprised at how many people I recognized and knew their names. I am surprised because I have a terrible memory for faces and names, I remember written names better – I think I have a defective facial recognition software. Chris is very good at knowing faces and names – Maybe, that is more proof that he is working through me in a small way – which means he is probably also working through others too!

Tara ran the whole way – she didn’t stop – she ran with Norris. I walked with Quinn … holding my hand with one hand and holding a picture of you with his other. We greeted well wishers and felt their love for you. It was a good night.

The momentum of support is building - Chris has such a huge circle of friends - the warm heart felt wishes have been healing to my heart and I know WILL heal his brain.

Last night, a meeting of family and friends at the Run, Walk or Wheel for Hope was restorative for me - just when my energies were starting to dwindle - the expression of love and support have recharged me.

Money was raised - I don't how much but the grocery bag was very heavy.

Most importantly, Chris' family from Ottawa: Mother - Marion, Father - Dick and Brother - Steve got to feel the LOVE people have for Chris - They have been somewhat isolated in their grief - being away from home - and not getting the support that I have had in recent days - support is healing and healing provides strength.

My amazing co-workers also put together a blog for me to continue write a journal until I don't need to journal any more - My goal will be to get Chris to take over the journal at some time.

The blog is a better format - because our supporters (you) are also grieving, and you need to feel the magnitude of the love given out - so you can heal and be strong for Chris. Comments can be posted after a journal entry for the public to see.
If you have feedback that you only want to share with me or Chris - email us ( - this could be very practical things like: child care offers, lifts to Halifax for visits, help with Chris' care when he is home - or it maybe private thoughts or feelings you have and want to share with Chris and me.

If you feel my project to heal together with Chris with help of his Family and Community is a worthy cause, Please pass it on to people you think could benefit from this.

Keep the LOVE coming - it is the food that gives us all strength to continue the Chris' Addiction to Life Marathon.


  1. Some very warm prayers are coming North from Arizona for Chris, you and your children. You are doing an amazing job!

  2. I am available after 5 for any babysitting you need me for from here on in Gwen. Just call me. Terry

  3. dear gwen & co
    my warmest thoughts and deepest prayers are yours tonight. kaila has kept us up to date from the beginning and this whole journey has touched us. although i could not be there last night ... my heart was. know that there is Karma ... and reason. we know that in our household. peace and love to you all ... mike & lynne isenor (kaila watters dad & mom)

  4. Dear Gwen,

    I'm so glad you're writing this blog. It makes us feel more connected to all of you and, no doubt, gives you a valuable outlet.

    After reading yesterday's entry, Liam decided he wanted to run to Halifax to support Chris. Although we convinced him that he'd miss too much school if he ran that far, we are all thinking about how we can communicate our love and support to Chris during his recovery. Personally, I cannot commit to running daily... but I am committing to a daily act of gratitude for life.

    You're doing a wonderful job, dear. Keep pacing yourself... keep eating... keep resting... keep delegating... and know we love you.


  5. Dear Gwen, We want you to know that our family, although unable to run daily, can however, pray for Chris and your family on a daily basis. The pwever of oprayer cannot be taken likely. Our congregation will also be offering prayers for Chris and the cashen family. Our recollection of Chris has never been far from our thoughts these past 35 years or so. The Cashens were living in our neighbourhood and of all the fine friends that our son Paul introduced us to, Chris stood out because of the quality of his personality. In particular his pleasant, easy going demeanour and practical joking ways. Proof of this is demonstrated by the fact that upon all our visits to Paul and his family in Chicago, Chris Cashen's name invariably enters the conversation, culminating in laughter as we discussed the various situations that Chris and Paul found themselves in as 10 year olds do.We look forward to encouraging reports on Chris' condition. Until then, give Chris the message that we love him. Love to you and your family. Ernie and Rose Stirrup in Ottawa.