Day 254/365 So Loved

Sometimes all it takes is a little note, carefully tucked in place she will see it, for a woman to remember that no matter what happens in this life, she is incredibly lucky to be so loved.

*Little Note (perfect for lunchbox love letters) by E. Frances Paper

Day 247/365 A Bundle of Gratitude

I have always been adamantly opposed to putting up a Christmas tree in November. This year, though, I really wanted to decorate for Christmas early.

“Bring on the shine and the joy!” I thought.

We went and picked out a tree yesterday. As a single woman, lugging the tree off of the top of my car and carrying it into the house myself brings me some perverse satisfaction. It’s really not that hard to do, but it is one of those things, like using the grill and taking out the trash, that somehow always fell into the category of “manly jobs” during my marriage (though that does hold some irony now).

We put the tree up and planned to decorate it today. When it came time to get the decorations out, I found myself holding my breath a bit. Dad collapsed just two days after Christmas last year. It’s hard not to muddy that stress and sadness together with the sights and sounds of Christmas.

I reminded myself of what I’d written just last week on Thanksgiving – this season is going to stir up a lot of feelings – joy, anger, sadness, nostalgia, gratitude…and I have to be okay with honoring them all.

I will welcome them all to the holiday table. 

As the girls and I began to sort through the decorations and ornaments, I couldn’t find the massive tangle of Christmas lights. Every year I pull them out and curse myself for not having a better system for removing and storing them. They look like a massive squirrel’s nest, and it takes me forever to detangle them.

“That’s weird,” I thought. “No lights? What could I have done with them?”

I racked my brain to try to remember where I could have put them. Finally, Ruby pulled out a compact, perfected spooled wreath of Christmas lights.

How the hell did that happen? 

Then I remembered…it was Lynette. One night in early January while I was sleeping in the ICU with dad, she took down Christmas for me. Without a word, she had put away all of the decorations. She had taken down the tree.

She had rolled my Christmas lights into a perfect bundle. 

That’s really all it took to shift my mood….just that little reminder that we are never alone, the girls and I. We have amazing people who love us. People who take care of us without being asked, and sometimes in ways we had never even considered.

Hello Gratitude, welcome to the holiday table.

Day 245/365 Like the Stars at Noon

“Yet that light is always present, like the stars at noon.”

– Peter Matthiessen, “The Snow Leopard”

Depression and grief have been frustrating emotions for me. They are hollowing, damp and heavy emotions, and being IN them is hard in and of itself, but for me the hardest part has been knowing these emotions are not my true nature.

I know the lightness of which I can capable.

Lately Joy has seemed to me like a language in which I was once fluent, but which now comes to me in hazy spurts of words. It is still there within me, for I’ve not lost it completely. Being around others who speak it fluently and regularly helps to bring it all back. Certain people, places, smells, sights and sounds help to open the floodgates of memory…all helping me immensely on the road to reclaiming Joy as my default.

After all, it is my first language.

Day 244/365 Choose Your Own Adventure

“You should come with me,” he said. “I just booked a flight this morning.” It was Eric on the phone, a week ago.

(Shockingly) I burst into tears. Being that spontaneous was not something I thought I could do.

Not right now.

After all, I take my mom to chemo on Fridays. I’d also have to make arrangements for the girls to spend a couple of extra days with their dad. Then there was the dog….an eighty pound, lovable but bullish lab with an insatiable, adventurous and unpredictable appetite. There’s no way I can leave him anywhere but at the boarding place, and they’d definitely be full at this point. I’d also have to find coverage at work, and flights during Thanksgiving weekend would be insanely expensive.

And, and, and…the wheels spun.

It all seemed impossible, and somehow even irresponsible.  Still, I said, “Let me think about it. I really want to say YES.”

That was true –  I really wanted to go…to escape life for a few days. The idea of surprising Lynette for her birthday had me overcome with emotion. I knew it would mean the world to her to have both of us there to celebrate her big 4-0. She’s in a new city 3000 miles from home…3000 miles away from almost everyone she loves.

Then everything seemed to fall into place. My mother doesn’t need me to be the one to take her every week to her infusion, that’s just pressure I have placed on myself. Taking her allows me to feel as though I am doing something in situation in which I am entirely helpless. So many other people have offered, something my mother quickly pointed out. The girls were all set to stay an extra couple of days with their dad. The boarding place said they’d make room for Louie. I got coverage at work, and with mine and Eric’s airline miles I got a $760 ticket for $8.11.

I was going to California…in a week.

This morning I woke up in my mother’s house with the girls, having spent the night there on Thanksgiving. I’m not going to lie, it only took me a few minutes, lying there in bed before the anxiety started to kick in. What if something happens to me and they don’t have me to take care of them? What if something happens to them while I’m away?

The more I lose – the more it is demonstrated to me that I have no control – the more anxiety shows up for me. Over the past couple of years the lessons in loss and powerlessness have been pretty intense.  I wish I could say that I have been able to relax into this awareness that I am not in control. I wish I could just allow life to unfold around me and to observe it without the little voice that whispers in my ear, “What if, what if, what if?” (Or at least train the voice to whisper that in an optimistic tone?)

If anything, life has taught me that the things that really knock the wind out of us are the things we never see coming…like the fact that your ex-husband is actually your ex-wife, or that the loved one you had dinner with the night before has collapsed and will never again wake up, or that cancer is growing inside someone you love – someone who looks and feels perfectly healthy.

You’d think by now I’d have been able to let go of the idea that I control the narrative…or frankly, that I have any idea what my story is even about.  My story seems a bit like my brain sometimes – unable to figure out which direction to go in….there are so many options!

Life is sort of like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, isn’t it? I loved those as a kid. In each chapter you get to decide which way to go. You come to a dramatic situation, and you have to decide…

To stow away on the boat turn to page 23, 

To continue on horseback with your guide turn to page 45, 

To return to the center of town to search for the lost map turn to page 76…

You get to choose which way to go, but you don’t get to decide what will happen when you get there. All you can do is choose a direction and hope for the best.

I don’t ever want to stop choosing my next adventure…certainly not because of fear, or anxiety, or lack of imagination. So California, here we come.

Here’s my favorite part of this particular adventure (in case you hadn’t put this together from my post last weekend) –

Lynette and I, our birthdays are six days apart. While Eric and I were planning this trip to surprise her for her birthday, she had already booked a flight home to surprise me for mine…which she did, a week ago. She flew across the country to celebrate with me, and now we are doing the same thing for her.

That is true love.

If you ask me, there is no greater reason to embark on adventure than that.

[Caution – the canary has a potty mouth.]

Day 238/365 The Elephant Revealed

“…and so I start chemo next week,” she said, exhaling.

My heart started racing the moment she told me I should sit down. Then it all became a blur of words like “tumors” and “biopsies”.  I struggled to bring this information into focus – to process what she was saying.

She has cancer.

She’d known for a month. She’d gone to all the tests and consultations before telling any of us. She didn’t want to ruin the summer, she said. “You had so many fun things planned. Why would I want you to spend the month worrying and waiting for test results? Besides, it would have ruined my summer too…all the sad, worried faces.”

“Mom, I can’t believe you’ve been going through all of this alone.”

“I wasn’t alone,” she said, “Your father was with me.”

I crumbled.

Initially I was angry at her for not telling us right away, although I soon realized I probably would have done the same exact thing. We’ve all been through so much. She wanted to spare us all until she had all of the facts – a plan of action, answers to the questions.

I wasn’t angry at her. I was just really f’ing angry. Period.

When is enough, enough? Can’t we cry “UNCLE”?

It had only been eight months since dad died from a heart attack.img_3696 My parents met when they were fifteen. Twenty years ago he had a heart attack, and she had breast cancer. Obviously they both survived that time around, but now…it was all lining up too eerily. I couldn’t help but think that maybe they are simply a matched set, meant to be together. It is a thought that is both romantic, and terrifying.

Not her, too.

However…

The thing about my mother is, she is one of the strongest women I know. If she sets her mind to doing something, she will find a way, from moving an enormous piece of furniture she has NO business moving on her own (because she couldn’t wait for my father to get home! Lord, no!), to starting her own business, to standing up to a bully neighbor.

When it comes to cancer, she is already a survivor. 

If she doesn’t believe she is ready to leave this Earth, I have to believe she isn’t going anywhere. Not without a hell of a fight.

So, we have our weekly “date” at the infusion center, she and I. Every single week she tells me to just drop her off and go home…or to the mall, or something (the chemo infusion takes 3-4 hours).

The thing about stubborn, strong women is that they tend to birth other stubborn, strong women. So of course I insist on sitting there with her, whether she likes it or not.

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Mom, I can’t do this for you (not that you’d let me), but I can do it with you.

We’ve got this.

 

Day 217/365 Like a River

My dear friend, Nichole, and her love, Jay, asked me to write something to be read at their wedding last weekend. I was very intimidated by the idea at first.  I thought to myself, why would they want a single, divorced person to write something about love and marriage? I’m not exactly an authority on the subject.

It was daunting.

I thought about marriage, and what might be different about it the second time around…particularly as a parent. Nichole brings two boys of her own into the relationship, Jay brings a son as well, and together they added a fourth boy to their brood.  This marriage is about combining their families, just as much as it is about becoming husband and wife.

With that in mind, here’s what I wrote (shared with permission from the bride and groom)…

Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn wrote, “If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform themselves.” 

There is something very beautiful about a couple coming together in marriage after they’ve done a fair amount of living. When we are younger and in love we may have an unintentionally narrow and somewhat selfish view of the world, of love and of relationships. As we experience life and love, and parenthood in particular, our hearts and compassion for others expand. We truly understand what it means to love unconditionally, and to give selflessly to others. We understand more deeply what it means for “I” to become “We”.

Nichole and Jay have come together with their children, Pierce, Wyatt, Christian, and now Beckett to celebrate the joining of their lives with one another. 

Like the river, their love is not small and confined, but rather it expands outward – surrounding and nourishing them all.

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It is hard for me to imagine myself ever getting married again, but if there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that you just never know what might happen. Marriage or not, I hope for a love that is like a river.

Congratulations Nichole and Jay!

{Photo by Meri Keller}

Day 216/365 The Crying Camel

We do this to ourselves as parents, I know this. We set ourselves up for disappointment by having an expectation of how a certain day or activity will go.

I don’t often have my girls on the weekends. In the summer months and other school breaks we are spoiled with lots of free time together. However, during the school year we do not have many days together in which we don’t have to run out the door for school in the morning.

I had the girls overnight on Saturday, and I had visions of a leisurely morning of bonding and board games, pancakes and pumpkin carving.

The morning did not start out smoothly. One somewhat grumpy child irked the other, and before long they were at war.

I tried to let them resolve it on their own, but at a certain point, I got pulled into it. As the last proverbial straw was laid upon the camel’s back (me being the camel), I burst into tears.  (I know, the camel didn’t cry – he broke his back, but whatever. I’m thinking he did both).

My waterworks surprised us all. I hadn’t had a good cry in a while, and once the floodgates opened, I bawled. It was a number of things, of course, that contributed to my undoing…my lack of sleep, pent up emotion about the Elephant, the arrival of my monthly bill, and the unrealistic expectation of the perfect morning, just to name a few. 

I felt terrible because the girls, of course, thought my tears were all their fault. I am all for letting my kids see me experience authentic feelings, but…I know better than to make my children feel responsible for my feelings…and in that moment, I know they did.

I left the room to pull myself together, and Beau came after me, asking if I was okay. As I was nodding and blowing into a tissue, we heard the front door slam. We both knew this meant Ruby had left the house. I sighed, feeling defeated.

“I’ve got it,” Beau said, and out the door she went.

Provocateur turned peacemaker, just like that.

After I took a few minutes to collect myself, I went toward the front door to see what I could do to help with the peacemaking mission. What I saw was this…

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This moment took my breath away, and it let me know we will be okay, we three.

Love is all we need.

(Thank goodness, because we were out of pancake mix…and eggs…)