Day 327/365 “The Air a Library”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.

Sometimes these thoughts wrap me in a blanket of melancholy. Other times they bring on a smile or even an audible laugh.

The stupidest things remind me of him – like my daughter asking me if I ever saw “Bedtime for Bonzo” (she was reading about Ronald Reagan). I never did see it, I told her, but Papa used to say that all the time as he corralled me up to bed…“Bedtime for Bonzo!” 

I don’t recall whether that expression was met with a giggle or a groan…but I remember him saying it…I can hear him saying it…with a grin.

Last weekend we got together for a family dinner at my mother’s house. All together there were eight adults, nine children and two dogs. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was outside. The children and dogs were running around in the late afternoon sun. As we sat there in one of my father’s favorite places – the terrace, under the wisteria vines – I just had a feeling that we were all thinking about dad.

Sometimes when this happens, I’ll bring a voice to it – I’ll say, “I really miss him.” 

Other times I feel it’s better to just sit with that sensation – that he is in the air all around us. We don’t have to say it out loud. It just is. 

I have the hardest time explaining how it feels sometimes – the sensation of missing someone so much, yet simultaneously feeling as though he is everywhere, permeating everything…especially in that house, on that terrace. 

I know those of you who have lost a loved one know what I mean…

They never really cease to be…HERE.

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I just finished a book yesterday…one of those books you are sad to finish. Below is an excerpt that I have read over and over and over…because it explains so perfectly this sensation of which I speak….

“Torrents of text messages, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters and metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefore and Evian, and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again. I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail, and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths? That [they] might harry the sky in flocks like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” – excerpt from All The Light We Cannot See

I asked one of my girls to read the above passage to me as I typed it out for you. When we were finished I asked her if she understood what it meant. She said no, so I explained it to her…

If we are constantly surrounded by words and information and messages of love that we cannot see…can’t we also believe that the souls and the words of the dead may also be swirling around us, all the time?

I could tell she found the idea of it a bit unsettling…that the souls of the dead are flying and flowing all around us.

I can understand that, especially if you imagine some of the less pleasant souls making their rounds, but…

To me, because of my father, it feels like love…everywhere…

“If you listen closely enough…”

“They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”

…the air a library…

Just…poetry.

Day 323/365 Totally Doable

Lately I have been feeling really happy…

Sunshine-y, even.

I have been in a make-sure-you-tell-people-you-love-them (and not because you’re afraid they’re gonna die but just because you love them) kind of mood. A random-acts-of-kindness kind of mood.

A mood of expansion, a gesture of openness….a heart open wide to life and love, and their infinite possibilities.

I think it all started when we were in Florida. I experienced a shift.

We were nearing the end of the trip (that time when everyone begins to dread leaving paradise and coming home) and I had this revelation…

“Home” for me is a pretty amazing place.

In the most literal sense, we live in a beautiful town in coastal New England. I have settled into a home that feels like a sanctuary to me, but…home is more than a town, or a house.

Home is my beautiful family.

Home is my passionate work community.

Home is my incredible friendships.

Home is also within me.  I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. 

Home is…truly a gift. I am beyond blessed.

I see that. I feel that.

Going “back to reality” isn’t so bad. In fact, reality is…at the moment, pretty damn good. 

Throughout all of the challenges I have had over the past two years, somewhere inside of me (sometimes way, way inside of me) I did always know that the darkness wouldn’t last forever.

Life is a pendulum after all, and things are always bound to swing the other way sooner or later.

Which is what worries me now…in my sunshine-y place.

{Ha…will she ever relax, you wonder? Um…nope.}

Now that my pendulum has swung toward happiness, I can’t help this niggling feeling (or knowing) that the upswing can’t last forever, either. It goes both ways, for better and for worse. That’s how it works, you guys.

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I went on a field trip with Beau‘s class this week. We went to the zoo. Throughout the trip I somewhat compulsively counted heads like a good chaperone…making sure everyone was safe and accounted for at any given moment.

One, two, three, four…WAIT, WE’RE MISSING ONE! Oh, nope – there she is. ALL GOOD!

That’s the best way I can think to describe this niggling.

I feel like there’s a little piece of my brain that is always actively “counting heads.” Everyone I love can’t possibly be safe and accounted for…so I count…

One, two, three, four…

Really? ALL GOOD? Can it be? Better count again, just to make sure. 

Look, I don’t know if I will ever stop counting heads. Experiencing major upheaval and loss will do that to a person. I’m okay with it.

What I am learning to do is to enjoy the sunshine just the same.

Right now, right here –

I’m home…and everyone is accounted for. That’s more than enough.

“DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!” may never be my mantra.

But this

Is TOTALLY DOABLE.

Day 321/365 Her Lens

I have told the story before about how, after my father’s death, I became more keenly aware of a lack of photos of my mother. The reason being, she is an avid and talented photographer, thus is always behind the lens.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she said, “When I die, I will leave behind photos of all of the people, places and things that I loved…as they were through my eyes. Isn’t that better than a bunch of selfies?”

I was so struck by that, as was my daughter, Beau, who heard my mother say it. She still brings it up now and then…remember when Nana said…

My mother’s photography is how she expresses her love of the world…of her world…to all of us.

It is her. 

Nine months after her husband’s death, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I cannot speak for her, because it begs a question I have been afraid to ask, but…

If my partner…the man I had loved for fifty-five years had just left this Earth, I think I may have wanted to die, too. If the doctors told me that if I did nothing, I would soon be with him…I may have curled up and quietly said, “As it should be; take me too.”

My mother didn’t do that.

She chose to fight for her life…and I know in my heart that she did it just as much for us as she did for herself…perhaps for us even a bit more.  

I was there with her every step, but I can never truly know how awful it was for her – still freshly grieving while enduring a heavy course of chemotherapy, followed by major surgery.

I marveled constantly at her strength, and I was frequently overwhelmed by gratitude for all she was willing to endure.

She fought. She struggled.

She did not pick up her camera for eight months. She did not share her view of the world. I think it was just too dark a place.

In late April she was given a clean bill of health. She was (is) considered cancer free.

Florida bound for our annual family trip, she brought her camera.

Once again, she was ready to show us the world through her lens.

Day 317/365 I Like My Humor Dark, Like My Coffee (or Google is an Asshole, Part 2)

{Click here and read that one first.}

By the time my mother told us she had breast cancer, her doctors already had a plan in place – chemo, then surgery.

On the last day of chemo, suddenly the plan was changed to chemo, surgery, then radiation. This was disappointing, especially to my mother, who had plans to enjoy her spring, cancer and treatment free.

Two days after that, the plan was…

Well…shit, who the hell knows what the plan is…you might have lung cancer.

What we did know was that if she had lung cancer, she would not be having the surgery that had been planned to deal with her breast cancer…beyond that, we had no idea, but it seemed pretty grim.

Suddenly, we found ourselves hoping that she was going to be having major surgery. After all, the alternative was apparently too dark to discuss.

No one wanted to go there.

It’s a funny thing that happens – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts.

Something as scary as a five-hour surgery suddenly seems like a trip to Disney when things go down something like this…

You might have terminal lung cancer, in which case you won’t be having surgery. 

Just kidding, you don’t have lung cancer! 

You get to have SURGERY!

**YAY! THAT’S AMAZING! THANK YOU!!!**

For a couple of days we basked in the glow of finally having gotten some good news…even though we had been put through the ringer to get it. I guess in a way that’s what made it all the more sweet. The surgery seemed totally manageable in comparison to the alternative (or lack thereof) with which we had been presented.

For me, the euphoria last until yesterday – one day pre-op. I started to feel restless and jittery. I slept fitfully last night. This morning we awoke in the dark and had a mostly silent pre-dawn ride to the hospital.

The intake room was chaos as they readied all of the 8am surgical patients at once. Mom winced as a nurse grazed her IVs trying to get the blood pressure cuff on. I felt a surge of protectiveness. No matter how strong you know a person to be, when they are laying on an ambulatory bed, wearing a surgical cap and johnny….they look helpless, and scared (and rightfully so).

The nurse was frustrated because the number on my mother’s ID didn’t match her file. There was a computer glitch. “Sorry for the delay,” she said. “We want to get that fixed before she goes into surgery.”

“Uh…yeah,” I replied,  “I don’t want to come back and find out you’ve amputated her leg.”

Mom and I cracked up. We needed that.

The nurse was not amused. Perhaps dark humor is not her thing. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. Although it seems like the professionals in certain fields would need to appreciate it to survive.

Right?

Come to think of it, the funeral director didn’t appreciate my dark humor either. A year ago when we asked if our dog could be buried with my dad, the director had said, “The dog has been cremated, I assume?”

I said, “Oh, the dog isn’t dead. It’s just that dad was the only one who liked her.”

Sometimes laughter is the only thing that keeps you sane, and I know a person is a part of my tribe when they go to dark places with it.

As I sit here writing this, mom is in the recovery room. They are letting the anesthesia wear off before I can see her. Everything went well, they said.

I am so relieved…

They said her leg should heal up just fine.

 

 

Day 316/365 Google is an Asshole

“I am concerned about two areas on the lung x-ray that look as though they could be related to the cancer,” he said.

What I heard was, “Your mother now has lung cancer.”

Wait…but….she just finished chemo. How can she have NEW cancer already? 

I used to be an eternal optimist.

Even now I can pull out an “Everything is going to be fine!” but lately…

Maybe it’s my recent life experience, or just getting older…but I have begun to brace myself for the worst. Often I can dial it back and force myself to be present with what is known – to not get too crazy over what is not (yet) – but the fact is…

I am not the Pollyanna I once was.

As I sat there across from this unknown doctor, my mother laying between us on the bed in the ER, I was sure I was “hearing” what he wasn’t saying…what he was trying to tell me with his eyes…which was, THIS. IS. BAD. 

We weren’t even supposed to be there. More than two weeks out from her very last chemo…we were on a break! A month off before phase two – the big surgery.

Her body had different plans.

She spiked a fever, and protocol had her going straight to the ER. They ran all kinds of tests to make sure she didn’t have an infection, the flu…pneumonia. She had none of these things.

In fact, they saw no reason to keep her there.

So it was – Go home, get some rest, drink lots of fluids…oh, and…you might be dying….better get that checked out as soon as possible. Have a nice day. 

I thought about those stories you hear – the people who find out they have a brain tumor only because they hit their head and needed an x-ray. You have to believe that it was divine intervention – at least, I do. A higher power wanted it to be known. So applying that logic, I thought – she surely has lung cancer. That’s why she ended up coming to the ER for seemingly no reason, and had gotten a chest x-ray.

A higher power wanted us to know what was there.

And so it began…

Waiting to get in for a test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

Waiting to get in for a different test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

And so it continued – for an entire month.

The month of “reprieve” between chemo and surgery turned out to be no reprieve at all.  She did feel better physically, but the testing and the waiting…oh, the waiting. Trying to act normal when your mind keeps creeping over to the darkest places. Trying to stay with what is known and to not go crazy thinking about what is not.

My mother and I joked that if we got bad news, we might be looking back on these awful days of waiting as the good ole’ days.

In the words of Dylan, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

They did let us know that if her cancer had metastasized to the lungs, she would not be having the trifecta of “ectomies” that were planned. We did not ask what the new plan would be, though I had read (before we’d even left the ER that day) that breast cancer metastasized to the lung is, in fact, terminal.

Sometimes Google is such an asshole.

However, in an act of optimism, they never cancelled her surgery. Then, three days prior to the surgical date, we finally had an answer.

Her lungs are fine.

I sobbed with relief and joy.

Once I composed myself I couldn’t wait to tell the small group of friends and family who had been waiting with us in the hell of the unknown…

Aaaaand I wanted to go down to the hospital and punch that ER doctor in the face. 

(Just keeping it real, you guys.)

Deep breath.

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Longing for the days when we could concentrate on important things like hair accessories.

 

Day 315/365 Your Father’s Favorite

It hit me today unexpectedly, and with the sudden force of a freight train.

I was sitting there, in my parents’ house, having coffee with my mother.  I had spent the night, and I was enjoying a cozy and relaxed morning in my pajamas.

She pointed to an enlarged photograph behind me on the wall and said, “I should probably change that to something more recent. Will was only five in that picture….so it is more than a decade old…but, it was your father’s favorite….”

Your father’s favorite.

That’s all it took to knock the wind out of me.

It surprised me, for I think about my father every single day, but lately it hasn’t rattled me as often…not like this. If anything, I have found a new way to be with him. I have been talking to him a lot. Of course, he probably thinks I only call on him when I need something…

Typical kid.

Okay, fine…maybe praying for him to let me make it to the gas station on fumes was kind of an abuse of his potential on the other side (although I did make it…thanks Dad).

Back to this morning…

Your father’s favorite.

There I was…about to dissolve into a puddle. For a panicked second I considered making a dash for the bathroom before the floodgates opened. I thought I should protect my mother from my pain…she doesn’t need this…not right now with all of her worries, but…

It was too late.

“What did I say?” she asked, “Is it…Dad?”

I nodded my head yes. “Sometimes I just expect him to come walking around the corner,” I said, tears streaming down. “I wish he were here right now.”

I know what you mean,” she said, gently. “I still think it’s him whenever the phone rings, or whenever someone pulls into the driveway.”

I couldn’t help but imagine the small death she must feel every single time she remembers that isn’t possible.

He’s gone.

As if reading my thoughts she said, “He’s still very much here.”

My mind flashed back to a conversation we’d had a few months after he died. Trying to comfort her, I had said that very thing – “He is still here.”

Somewhat angrily (and justifiably so) she’d replied, “What good is it for him to be “here” if he can’t be HERE?!”

I felt a slight sense of relief; glad that she has since found some peace within his transition into spirit.

I wondered what it was like –  to live with a ghost.

Then I realized, I already knew.

Day 306/365 A Nice Ring To It

The other day, while out at breakfast with friends, I noticed one of them wearing a really beautiful engagement ring. She has been married for a couple of years now…so the ring wasn’t the news of the day or anything. It’s just that I happened to notice it, and to think of my own beautiful engagement ring…which has been tucked away for over four years now, on account of the whole not-married-anymore thing.

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I really love my ring…or at least, I did

I did when I said, “I do.”

It was bright and beautiful, just like I hoped my marriage would be.

Funny, I don’t remember taking it off for the last time to stow it away. This seems a little sad in hindsight, like it should have been as impactful a moment as the one in which I first slid it on.

I decided that when I got home, I was going to dig it out and wear it again. I could wear it on my right hand.  Why not? It seemed like a waste to keep such a beautiful piece of jewelry hidden away.

After all, it is just a thing – a material object…

Except when it isn’t.

My mother has been wearing my father’s wedding band since he passed away over a year ago. My recently widowed friend is wearing her husband’s ring as well, on a chain around her neck. These things mean something beautiful when they represent a love that has endured.

So…what of a love that hasn’t?

I’ll admit, I had the whole blog post drafted in my head before I even dug out the ring…I would write about how I am so evolved and healed now (insert eye roll) that when I look at this beautiful ring, I am only reminded of the beautiful parts of my marriage. Ah yes, I would celebrate the love with which the ring was given (and received) by wearing it proudly.

Then I put it on…and that lasted about an hour, tops.

As much as I can reflect on my marriage and fully appreciate the beautiful bits (especially the two beautiful bits tucked into their beds as I write this)…for me, my ring now symbolizes hurt, disappointment, failure, confusion, mistrust, sadness….hypocrisy.

These are not feelings I wish to conjure every time I look down at my hand….regardless of whether it is the left hand or the right.

I have done a lot of inner work and healing over the past few years. When I look at the person I married, oddly (and gratefully) he does not evoke in me the same negative feelings conjured by the ring. We’ve moved on. We parent well together, and we still laugh quite a bit. There is love.

But that ring…ugh.

I just can’t imagine a day when that ring is going to conjure happy thoughts for me. It’s sad but true…that once bright and beautiful, now tarnished, ring can never again be just a thing.

Not to me.