Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Happy would-be birthday

Today would be Kol's 15th birthday. He would probably be at LCBI this month. He would be old enough for a learner's license, and I would be waiting for him to soon add his own dent or scrape to our battle-scarred van. I would be wondering when I would stumble across something questionable in his web browsing history and have a slightly uncomfortable chat with him about it. I would be starting to ask him those "so, what do you think you'll do after high school" questions that kids start getting around his age. I would be watching him with his friends, goofing around and joking, probably playing video games together. I would be watching him with girls, wondering who he likes and who likes him, but trying not to get too nosy or obvious about it. We would probably be talking about music, movies, stuff on Netflix, books, comics, phones and apps.

I wonder what would be different about him. Would he still be into Nintendo, or would he think that it's too childish and be into Xbox instead? Would he still be a voracious reader? Would he be into something unusual (well, unusual for our family) like playing sports, woodworking, auto mechanics? Would he still be playing piano? Would he still be singing? Would he have been in the Anne of Green Gables production earlier this year? Would he be fighting with his sisters? (His sisters laughed and said “probably!”) Would he be into Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook? Would he be playing drums? Would he have gone to the Saskatoon Fan Expo a couple weekends ago? Would he be interested in computer programming at all? Would he be begging us to get the new Millennium Falcon LEGO set (even though it costs as much as a cheap used car) or would he be "too old" for LEGO or Star Wars? Would he have been as interested as his sisters were in "Frankie K", the salamander we found in the front yard tonight?

Would he be waiting for or have already had cataract surgery (one of the so-called “late effects” from radiation treatments)? Would he be on hormone therapy to compensate for the radiation damage to his thyroid and pituitary? How tall (or short) would he be after the radiation damage to his spinal column? Would we be watching for other late effects from chemo and radiation? Would we be waiting anxiously for the results of his latest MRI? Would he be back in treatment for a recurrence or a secondary cancer, or would all these possibilities just be the “background noise” of our lives like it was six years ago?

Today I've been feeling the weight of all those "would be" moments and questions, but at the same time today I've also enjoyed spending time together with Kristen and the girls to celebrate and remember him. As much as the loss still hurts, memories of him and the love of our family still brings a smile to my face, even through the tears.

Happy 15th birthday, Kol. We all miss you, and we love you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sneak Preview!

First of all, thank-you to everyone who has sent me their stories and pictures of Kol for the book. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out my last post below, called 'Stories'. I'm working as hard as I can (when I'm not busy with school) to write. I'm still looking for more stories, so if you haven't already, please send them to me at julianna@friggstad.com. I've set a deadline of February 28, so that I have enough time to incorporate them and have the book printed before the anniversary in May. As well, if you know anyone who might have stories but may not have seen this post, please tell them!

I've included the first chapter of the book below for you to preview. In it, I talk about why I'm chose to write this book. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1
Behind the Image

They say picture is worth a thousand words. The story behind it, the emotions felt by both the subject and the photographer, all captured in a still image of that single moment. Sometimes, the story is hard to read. Other times, it’s painfully obvious. Still other times, the story is told through several different images, all put together.
The last kind of the story is the one told by my grandparent’s stairwell. In 1972, shortly after the birth of their first child, my grandparents moved into a three storey house in Saskatoon, overlooking the South Saskatchewan river. The year after, they started taking annual family portraits, a tradition that our family still donors to this day. These portraits now line the walls of the staircase, beginning on the main floor and going all the way up to the attic. There are photos there of my grandparents at the high school where they met, from the year they were engaged, from their wedding. The story continues with the addition of three more children, and of them growing up. There are four more wedding photos, one of each child. The photos document the growth of the family as the grandchildren are born, until finally, in the 2010 photo, there are 21 of us all smiling for the camera.
But the photos also show hints of sadness, such as the one taken with the whole family dressed in black and holding roses, taken a few hours after my great-grandfather’s funeral. Another photo shows everyone gathered around the headstone of the grandchild who died shortly after birth. Or the series of photos from 2009 to 2012.
In the 2009 photo, my little brother is smiling big, his almost-white blond hair shining in the sun. The next year, the hair is gone and replaced with a black toque, with the words ‘Little Bald Angels’ (although the words are hidden in that picture). The hat is gone in the next picture, and his hair is back, darker this time. Then, in 2012, my brother is gone.
Other photos of him stick out in my mind. In one, he’s about 4 years old, and his face is covered in chocolate ice cream. That one was taken by my grandpa on a trip to the ice cream shop a few minutes away from their summer cabin. In another, he’s fast asleep facedown in a pile of picture books. My mom took that one after finding him on the floor in our family room, where he had been reading. He was younger than five. A picture taken on a trip to California when he was nine, standing in the ocean, clothes soaked, staring at the horizon. One with his smooth bald head and his leather aviator jacket, a LEGO model of a Star Wars ship on the table in front of him. That was taken by a professional photographer during a family session when he was eight. A closeup of his head, resting on his crossed arms, his bulky beige winter jacket surrounding him, his face lit up with a giant smile. Taken by a reporter to go with an article in our local newspaper.
Those photos mean all the more to me now. They are like windows into the past, retelling the story of my brother’s life, and my life with him. Each one reminds me of his unending energy, his wild-eyed excitement, his intense love for books and LEGO, his stubborn perseverance when it came to seemingly impossible video game levels. I remember how he laughed, either sounding like a machine gun or like Woody Woodpecker. I remember how passionately he would tell his stories to anyone who would listen. I remember how his smile would light up the room.
But the story isn’t always happy. The photographs also tell about the hospital stays, the long hours in treatment, the adverse side effects. The loss of his hair, his damaged immune system, the chemo-induced nausea. The weekly ritual of changing the dressing around the PICC line in his arm, the nightly ritual of flushing that line with saline and heparin. The sulphuric smell of the drugs he was on. The month that he spent in his room, to weak and tired to get out of bed.
The night he died.
But as much as pictures tell a story, they often need help. They need a voice to speak the words. And that’s what I want to do. I want to tell the story of my little brother, the battle that he bravely fought, and the people whose lives he touched.
       I want to tell the story behind the image.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Stories

I love to write.

In a way, I have Kol to thank for that. I started writing so that I’d have something to do during the day while I was sitting around at the hospital, or the cancer center, or at my Grandparents. I created new worlds and characters to go with them, and fantastic stories about their adventures (stories that will probably never be read by the general public). Writing became an outlet for me, a way for me to escape from the reality I was facing.

I haven’t written as much the last few years. Part of it was that I started school and found my time filled with homework and other assignments. Part of it was that I had trouble finding the inspiration I needed.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to start writing again. It was hard to get back to it, but once I started, I knew it was what I needed to do. I also knew what I needed to write about: Kol. I’ve been wanting to write his story for awhile now, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. But now, I feel confident that this is something I can do. I’ve also set myself a deadline: May 2017, five years since he died.

While the book will talk about the years Kol was sick, and his journey through the treatments, I also want it to talk about Kol apart from the cancer. I want it to talk about the little boy who couldn’t put a book down. I want it to talk about the boy whose Star Wars knowledge rivaled my dad’s. I want it to talk about the boy who was obsessed with LEGO. Most importantly, I want it to be about the boy who affected so many people’s lives.

And that’s where I need your help. I want to include your stories. I know that so many of you have a favorite memory, or two, or three, or more, that you can share. Some of you may also have pictures. So I want you to send them to me. Send me your stories and your photos. I will collect them and include them in this book. Your stories could be just a couple sentences or a full page. They could be from before his diagnosis or from when he was sick. They could even be about some way you saw him affecting your life or others’ lives after he died. They can be funny, happy, or inspirational.

Please send your stories and pictures to my email, julianna@friggstad.com. Be sure to include your name, so that I can properly give you the credit for your contribution to the story (if you wish to remain anonymous in the book, just let me know). If you send a photo, try to include the date when it was taken (if you know).

I also know that many of you will want to read this book when it is finished. While I haven’t been able to figure out the details, I will try my very best to make sure that the book is available to the public, and will put the relevant information on the blog when I have it.

Thank-you in advance for your help, and happy writing!

Julianna

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Triggers and safe places

From Julianna (originally posted to Facebook, reposted here with her permission):

Okay, so I've had something on my mind for awhile, and I need to say something about it.

I've seen a lot of people talking about trigger warnings and safe spaces lately. People seem to think of those things as contributing to a generation of young people who feel entitled and self-important. They are portrayed as enabling people to live in a bubble, away from anything they personally deem offensive or too controversial.

Most of you know my story. I was twelve when my little brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. For two years, I watched him suffer through debilitating headaches, sickness from the drugs, needles, hair loss, and other side-effects. During this time, I also had to adjust to a new role of responsibility in my family, so that my parents could focus on taking care of him as much as possible. When I was fourteen, I listened as my parents explained that my bother had less than a week left to live. That night, I sat beside him and heard him take his last breath.

It was about a year later that the anxiety started. Little things would make me feel sick to my stomach, and would keep me up at night. My first panic attack came after watching a movie in the theatre. The loss experienced by the lead character, and the grief they felt, reminded me of my own, and by the time my Dad picked me up from the theatre I was sobbing. It took me hours to finally calm down.

By the time I started Grade 10, I knew what things triggered the panic attacks. I could usually keep them under control. Most of my teachers knew my background, and were really good about making sure I knew what was coming up and letting me have the space I needed.

But not always. We watched a movie in English class. Within the first five minutes of the movie, there was a scene of two children, laying in coffins. The rest of the film dealt with death, and the idea of heaven and hell. I ended up in the bathroom, having a huge panic attack, bigger than any I had had before. 

Do you know what could have prevented a fifteen year old girl from having a panic attack in a high school bathroom? A trigger warning. Just a quick mention to me that the movie dealt with death and loss. I had myself in a place where I would have been able to mentally prepare myself.

I have since gone to a support group to help me learn how to deal with my greif in a healthy way. But I still deal with the anxiety and the panic attacks on a regular basis. My family does their best to give me trigger warnings when they can. Personally, I usually don't need to avoid the trigger, I just need to know it's coming and be prepared for it.

My story is mild. I know that there are others out there who have experienced even more traumatic events than I did, who react to their triggers much stronger and in ways that need more than a little group therapy to even begin to heal, who need to completely avoid their triggers. That's why they need a safe space. They need somewhere where they can feel comfortable, without having to be afraid of triggers. 

Because everyone deserves that, right? Everyone deserves a chance to live without fear.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Legacy

Today is 4 years since Kol died. I thought I had some ideas for a blog post - talking about a legacy, the grand piano we bought with Kol's life insurance payout, the headstone that we finally got for him - but I just can't seem to get them together right now.

This seems to happen to me a lot. I'll have something moderately complicated that I want or need to do (like building a web site, getting my taxes done, filling in a census form, cleaning my office), but my mind just can't focus and get it done. It feels like there's this giant whirlpool of grief inside my mind, and I have to work so hard to keep from getting sucked into it that I don't have the energy to deal with anything non-trivial. This isn't every day, mind you, but it can feel like it is, especially when I'm tired.

This scatter-brained-ness, this tiredness, this is not Kol's legacy. This is the aftermath of grief, the wake of disruption that permeates our lives (and will for years to come). As it is with a boat's wake, the first waves are large and loud as they crash on the shore, and the waves continue to come - sometimes just a ripple, but other times almost as large as the first waves. The shoreline is changed by the waves, in some places so much you don't recognize it, and it continues to change as the waves continue.

Kol's legacy is in our memories of him. It's in the pictures we have of our family together. It's in the videos of him. It's in those moments where I see an echo of him in his sisters - in a smile, a laugh, or something they say. It's in the laughter we share when we're talking about the goofy things he did. It's in the tears we share when we talk about how much we all still miss him. It's in the hugs we share after the laughter and the tears.

His legacy is love, and while subtler than grief, the waves of his love and our love for him will also continue to change the shorelines of our lives.

Huh. I guess I did make the legacy thing work after all.

_______

I couldn't find a way to integrate the piano and the headstone into this post, but here they are anyhow:

We bought a Yamaha grand piano with some of the money from Kol's life insurance. We wanted to get something that would be substantial, that would bring us joy, and this piano fills that role very well. I wouldn't say that playing piano was Kol's favourite thing, but he did enjoy it, especially playing duets and trios with me or his sisters.


I've often thought that if it were up to Kol to choose something to spend that money on, he probably would've picked a giant TV screen, with one of every kind of console, and a stack of video games a mile high. As tempting as that would be to me as well, the piano does seem like it would hold it's value (both in terms of money and usability) over the years. :)

_______

We also finally got a headstone for his grave this past year. It's different than pretty much any other headstone we've seen - at the very least, different than anything else in the Outlook cemetery. The base is wider than normal, and there are two rectangular areas (on either side of the "pillow" stone) that are etched out and have Lego plates attached. So, instead of (or in addition to) putting flowers to his grave, we can put Lego there.

Stormtrooper honour guard...

...and a miniature AT-AT lying down. It was the only way to make it stay in place.

We're planning to swap out the Lego there on a regular basis - some purchased specifically for this (like the stormtroopers and the mini AT-AT), and some built from our collection at home. I don't think Kol was much for flowers, but Lego was definitely one of his favourite things - I think he would approve.

_______

Thank you to everyone who was thinking of us and praying for us today, and for all the support you've continued to offer us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three years

And here it is, May 21st again, the third anniversary of our hearts being broken and our lives being changed. I'm not sure what to say about today - there's so much emotional baggage, so many memories tied to it. It's the kickoff to a series of anniversaries over the next couple of weeks - 3 years since his funeral, 5 years since that fateful headache that sent us to the ER, since a CT scan found "something", since his surgery and pathology results. It's a day that I can't forget, and as much as it pains me, I don't want to forget it.

Mari recorded some of her memories of Kol, called 21 Things You May Have Forgotten About Kolbjorn, and with her permission, I'm sharing it here:
  1. Kolbjorn had a cough for most of his life
  2. He would often be awake before six am
  3. He would wear the same pair of socks for weeks 
  4. He'd wear the same shirt for a week
  5. In the summer, his footwear of choice was dress shoes
  6. He had a dance for everything 
  7. He liked clothes shopping
  8. He wanted to go to Denmark 
  9. He'd have one toy that never left his side 
  10. He was visited by the 501st Legion 
  11. Some of the meds he was on made him the worst person to be around 
  12. Some of his other meds smelled terrible 
  13. He never cut his hair after chemotherapy 
  14. When he was little, he said he would marry his cousin 
  15. He didn't mind playing Barbies
  16. He would say the full name of books and movies 
  17. He'd play video games standing up, right in front of the screen 
  18. He'd watch movies over and over until he had them memorized
  19. He wanted to play the oboe or trombone
  20. If he could not find clothes of his own, he would wear his sisters'
  21. He once fit seventeen grapes in his mouth
Today will be a mostly quiet day. I've taken the day off work so I can spend it with my family (and honestly, I don't think I'd be able to do much of anything that requires concentration). We've been playing some Mario Kart and Super Mario Bros games, we'll visit his grave and do a balloon release, we'll likely watch some Star Wars or Clone Wars - these are our new traditions for the 21st, if you can call doing something three years in a row a "tradition".

New traditions. Our "new normal" (I still don't like that term). Life goes on, even when it seems like it can't. Our hearts are broken, but they are healing. And even though our family doesn't feel whole, we are still a family. Thank you for being with us on this journey, for your support, for your prayers, for your encouragement. May God bless you all.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February Numbers

The beginning of February is a precious time for us.  Mari, Julianna, and Annika have birthdays on the 2nd, 8th, and 12th.  Kirk's mom and sister also have birthdays within those 10 days.  This year, there are some more milestones in February.  

3524
Three thousand, five hundred and twenty four days = 9 years, 7 months, and 24 days = 115 months and 24 days, = 503 weeks and 3 days = how long Kolbjorn lived = the age Birgitte was on Annika's 5th birthday.

On February 12, 2015, Annika turned 5 years old.

On February 12, 2015, Birgitte was exactly 3524 days old.  The same age that Kol was when he died.

Birgitte is now older than her big brother will ever be. 

On the day Annika was born, I noticed that Kol's headaches were more frequent than I thought they should be, and I started looking for patterns, and possible causes.   


Annika will be 3524 days old on October 7, 2019, just 12 days after what should have been Kol's 17th birthday.

1826
One thousand, eight hundred and twenty six days = 5 years = 60 months = 260 weeks and 6 days = how long it has been since Birgitte's first Grand Mal seizure

On February 12, 2015, Annika was 1826 days old. 

Today, February 15, 2015, is 1826 days since Birgitte's first Grand Mal seizure.   

1000
One thousand days = 2 years, 8 months, and 25 days = 32 months and 25 days = 142 weeks and 6 days = the number of days since Kolbjorn died.

Today, February 15, 2015, is 1000 days since Kolbjorn died.


It's interesting to me that so many of these milestones overlap.  Maybe it's God's way of making it easier for us.  All I know is that the last two weeks, and especially the the last few days, have been full of bittersweet moments, and lots of tears.
 
I wish I could say that grieving gets easier over time.  The second year after Kol died was harder than the first.  Everyone talks about how the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary of a person's death (some say "angelversary", or "angel day") are hard.  They are, but for me, the second year was much harder than the first, and the 3rd year has been even tougher emotionally.

I think the 2nd year was harder because the shock had worn off, and I dealt with the reality that my son was dead, and would never be around to celebrate any more special days with us.  Now, in the 3rd year, I see our other kids continuing to grow, developing new abilities and accomplishing more, and I don't know what Kol would be doing or what he would be interested in as a 12-year-old.  It's hard sometimes, to see other 12-year-olds; how accomplished, tall and mature they are becoming as they begin to look like teenagers, instead of little kids.  We feel his absence so very strongly on on special occasions, and even on plain, boring days.  Family dynamics are so different than they were with Kolbjorn around.  We feel so strongly what Kol is missing out on, and by extension, the myriad of possible experiences WE are missing out on, because Kol's not there to add his unique touch. I know Kol isn't having headaches any longer, that he's not in pain, that he's probably happier than I could imagine, but I guess I'm selfish.  This hole inside me will never go away.  The grief will never go away.  Some days, I can't wait to see him again. 



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two years

It's May 21st again. Two years since Kol died. Almost four years since we took Kol to the ER. And like last year, we spent the day together as a family (except for a couple piano lessons that we couldn't reschedule). We watched Star Wars while eating Kraft Dinner and wieners for lunch. We went out to his grave, wrote messages to him on helium balloons (green of course - not his favourite lime green, but as close as we could find in town), and had a picnic supper. We watched more Star Wars after we came back home. And we cried.

I think in many ways, the second year has been harder than the first year, and many of our friends at Compassionate Friends say the same thing. And life is still changing for us. We're still getting used to being a family of six, not seven. We're still all dealing with emotional aftermath. But some days, it almost feels like things are getting better. Not a lot better, and not quickly, but a little bit now and then.

Julianna posted something to Facebook late last night (or early this morning, depending on how you look at it), and with her permission, I'll share it here with you:
Today
For most people, today is just like any other day.
Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, go to work or school,
Come home, eat supper, go to bed.
To most people, it's just a Wednesday.
Middle of the week.
Nothing too special.
The month, May, doesn't matter too much, aside from implications of warm weather.
The date, the 21st, isn't much of a concern either,
Aside from its reminder that June is nearly here.
To almost everyone, it's just another day.
But not to me.
To me, it is Wednesday, May 21st.
To me, it is sadness and pain.
To me, it is grief and loss.
To me, it is memories and tears.
To me, it is an anniversary.
The two year anniversary of the end,
The end of hospitals and doctors,
The end of needles and tubes,
The end of nurses and drugs,
The end of sickness and suffering.
The end of life.
But it wasn't the end.
Not for me.
For me, it was a beginning.
The beginning if grief and sorrow.
The beginning of questions without answers.
The beginning of unstable emotions and bursts of tears.
The beginning of painful memories and inability to cope.
The beginning of a new life, but a life that feels wrong.
A life without you.
A life without your smile.
A life without your laugh.
A life without your jokes that made no sense, but still made me chuckle.
A life without your hugs.
A life without your competition in Star Wars trivia.
A life without seeing how proud you are because you beat a level on your video game.
A life without the sight of you on the couch with your nose in a book.
A life without your excitement over your new LEGO creation.
A life without lightsaber fights in the backyard.
A life without seeing your love, shining through your eyes and spreading over your whole face.
A life without my brother.
And I don't know how I made it this far
Without you.
I love you.
I love you so much.
I always have.
I always will.
Keep On Loving.
Kolbjorn Lloyd Obert Friggstad Sept 27, 2002-May 21, 2012
Thank you all for being with Kol and with us through this journey. It's been a long while since we last posted here, and I don't know how long it'll be until our next post, but thank you for being here, for reading this post, for remembering Kol, and for keeping our family in your thoughts and prayers. May God bless you all.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, Kol

My dear son:

Today should have been your 11th birthday. It's the second time we've had to celebrate your birthday without you around. Last year, your sisters helped organize a big party at the church with lots of friends and family, but this year, we're keeping it simple. We'll just be at home, eating some of your favourite foods (at least as well as we can remember, since it's probably been three years since you had much choice over your diet), and doing some of your favourite things (like watching Star Wars, playing Wii games, and reading together). We'll probably cry, but we'll also probably laugh and enjoy our memories of our time with you.

We keep asking ourselves how you would be different now. Would you still like the same things? Would you still be a voracious reader? Would you still be building LEGO contraptions? What games for the Wii would you have begged us to get? Would you have loved the Hobbit movie as much as your sisters have? What new things would you be into that we couldn't guess at now?

We love you, and we miss you terribly. We talk about you every day, and you're always in our thoughts. Happy birthday.

With all our love,
Mom and Dad, Julianna, Mari, Birgitte, and Annika

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Poor kid"

Kristen was just telling me about another kid we know of fighting an SPNET, about all the surgeries and treatments he has been through, and all the complications arising from them, and the only thing I could say was "Poor kid."

I meant it sympathetically, not sarcastically, but I found myself recoiling at the shallowness of my response. I know something of the hell that this kid and his family have been through - the uncertain future, the painful present, the longing for the trouble-free past. This - "poor kid" - is the best I can give them? They deserve more than that.

But then I realized that I don't have more than that to give right now. That if I let myself feel more than that for him and his family, it'll bring all my grief crashing down on top of me, burying me, destroying me. That saying "poor kid" isn't a sign of callousness or lack of sympathy, but a survival mechanism.

There are too many "poor kids" out there that we have met or become aware over the past three years. There are too many families simply trying to survive the journey of a sick child. The oceans are not enough to contain all the tears that should be shed on their behalf. All I can offer to them now is "poor kid", and a promise to myself that someday, when I no longer need all my tears for myself, to shed some for them.