Finding the Good

Yesterday the doctor said “Go live your life.”  No more surgeries, no more chemo. Some regular screenings, but the healing and moving on officially starts today.  A colon re-section, as a nurse anesthetist friend told me, is MAJOR abdominal surgery but that is now in the rearview mirror.  Mild chemo is a misnomer.  There is nothing minor about the poison that my husband infused and swallowed. The saving grace was that it was short-lived.  Right now, tests are saying that 3 months did the trick and there is no sign of cancer. He is one of the lucky ones.  We are on the other side of this unexpected disruption to life.

IMG_3797 Cancer makes you feel small in an incredibly large and unfamiliar landscape.  The first days of knowing the diagnosis felt surreal. Life was buzzing all around us yet we had a secret that was making our world stand still. There was a wall between us and everyone else in our lives and we were pressed up against it’s cold hard truth.

After a couple of weeks of processing the shock of a diagnosis,  my husband and I made a conscious decision to share this news.  I look at generations past and how they were more apt to keep the hurt, the sadness, the struggle private.  To put the cloak of hush around your shoulders as you face the world outside your front door sounds incredibly difficult, especially in 2019. The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years. It has walked in that front door and taken a seat at our kitchen tables, our family room sofas, our favorite chairs. We are connected in so many ways to so many people that, to us, it seemed like it would be an added layer of stress not to share our news.  So, we told our world, either in person, on the phone or through social media that we are now fighting cancer.  And that led us to a conversation with a long lost friend who we happened to see at a holiday party.

Because he saw a Facebook post update, he shared that he is a 4 year survivor and looks back on his cancer as a blessing.  I’m not sure that we are quite there yet, but hearing him so sincerely proclaim this gives me hope that we may be able to have that outlook someday as well.  He also helped me reevaluate.  For weeks we had been saying we are ready for 2019 to be over; but an honest accounting of the last several months reveals many blessings indeed. So many of them have to do with the friends and family who have been there for us in so very many ways.  I have learned the importance of an encouraging word on social media, a text, a phone call, a card in the mail, a kind word in person.  All of the ways people reach out nowadays have helped us power through the last several months.  After we started sharing this we have never felt alone in it and for that we are grateful.

My husband looks forward to the day when his news isn’t the news that prompts a person to start  a conversation with, “We think about you all the time”, or “You are in our prayers.” Feeling surrounded by so many thoughts and prayers is both humbling and extremely touching.  I am certain even just the knowledge of those prayers have helped both of us through the bad days and kept our eyes on the prize of the end of chemo and the beginning of recovery.

IMG_0806As my children were facing the hurdles of growing up I would often tell them to find the good in a bad situation.  Discovering your spouse has cancer feels like no kind of good. It is the worst kind of fear, a lonely vulnerability and permeating sadness all unexpectedly dumped on your doorstep. The script of your life suddenly flips and ready or not you are taken down a path you never planned to travel. But there is goodness in the friends and family in our lives who are willing to show up and walk a piece of that path with us.

We are now on the other side of this time in our lives.  It will take us a good part of 2020 to unravel what we unexpectedly went through in 2019.  But as we emerge changed from this experience I am clinging to my friend’s declaration of cancer’s blessing and grateful for the gentle reminder to continue to focus on all that is good.

The Time between Solstices

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Winter solstice 2019. A day that’s filled with light that seems to pull everything sharply into focus.  The irony of the shortest day of 2019 is that it’s light is abundant and it’s a shame it has to end so soon. Before long the sun will sink below the horizon giving us the shortest day of the year. When it rises again we will be inching our way towards those long days of summer and a solstice marked by early morning sunrises and late nights filled with light.

The time between these two solstices has been the most challenging I’ve known.  A much loved father-in-law was laid to rest on the summer solstice and a grieving husband was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer two months later.  The sorrow, the panic, the fear, the numbness, the slow acceptance. The medical appointments, the surgery, the complications, the healing. The decisions, the chemo, the waiting, the worry.  This time between solstices has at times felt otherworldly as if we are watching it unfold as someone else’s story. Surely death and cancer aren’t what this season is about in our lives…we have no experience in such things! The weeks and months since the longest day of the year have been filling with a darkness that has threatened to permeate our hours and instinctively we fight to push it away. One thing is certain…we are ready to move towards sunnier days. It is reassuring to know that the calendar is confirming that we are.

Grief is the companion you slowly get used to. Cancer, one of the scariest words we know, sets up shop in your household and life continues to happen around it.  Despite being jolted out of the reverie of a life untouched by death and disease, the patterns of our world continue on. Thankfully, we still get up each morning, we follow the routines of our days, we watch our children find their place in the world and our baby grandson grow.  And all the while, the days shorten over a period of time until it’s time for them to lengthen again. At a rate of approximately 2 minutes/ day we are either getting engulfed by darkness or holding the night at bay.

IMG_2881.jpg I am finding solace in the solstice.  The Northern Hemisphere is moving towards the light now and it seems a good metaphor to believe that we are too.  My husband is one of the very lucky ones.  His prognosis is good, his chemo is intended to cure.  He has about 6 more weeks of  treatments.  By the time he swallows that last pill and starts down the road to putting this behind him our days will already be filled with 49 more minutes of light.  Just shy of an hour of more light in our days is improvement and so is a chemo regimen that comes to a close.  Starting tomorrow, we are moving towards brighter days and I am grateful to find myself embracing the promise of a lighter load.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May on My Own Terms

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For years the month of May has had it’s hold on me like no other month.  In fact, it’s frantic pace has earned it the “busiest month” superlative for a good part of our family life.  Field days and field trips, talent shows, concerts and end-of-the-year school parties turned into confirmations and proms, commencements, and graduation parties.  The college years brought the shuffling of stuff.  Who was moving where and when?  Dorm rooms were emptied, bedrooms were filled up again. And always, the garage out back was filled with the overflow of their lives. Summer study abroad trips were planned, college summer jobs were found and started.  Family birthdays, Mother’s Day, flowers and vegetables to plant, spring cleaning and all those tasks of opening up a life to the summer months were squeezed into the already full days of May and somehow accomplished year after year.  Even so, I never felt as if I had the upper hand with May.  May….it called the shots every year.

Until this year when all of a sudden May gave me back the control. And of course, because this is the way life goes….I miss the old kind of May.  I miss the tearful goodbyes, the sighs of relief and the excitement about moving up a grade, the shopping for prom dresses and ordering of corsages, the celebrations on the lawn outside the commencement venue and in the backyards of the graduates. I miss the excitement and trepidation of a child moving home for the summer, the school friends re-united around the firepit, the too-full house, the filled-to-the-brim days.

Time has a way of softening the edges and helps us forget the stress of those years when children are doing the business of growing up.  I only have to look back in my journals to know that while I was living it, I often felt totally in over my head in the month of May.  The nonstop blur of activity and feeding of hungry people, the constant comings and goings, the worry over young drivers taking the wheel, the push and pull of older teenagers becoming young adults, the call from overseas that started with “Mom, I’m ok but….”  Truth be told, May often beat me up.  But sitting here on the other side of those chaos-filled years, during an unusually cold and wet May, I look at a calendar that is more empty than it is full, and I feel nostalgic about all that May used to throw at me.

fullsizeoutput_3cb9If I had the choice though, I probably wouldn’t go back.  There are things about this life I’m living now that I wouldn’t want to trade away.  The mornings that often start with a cup of tea and the time to write, evenings that aren’t held hostage by chauffeuring children here, there and everywhere, the satisfying view from here as I watch all three of my children create their own life stories, the promise and absolute delight of an infant grandson figuring out his world bit by bit.

My favorite saying as they were all growing up and moving through the childhood years was “This too shall pass.”  It helped me through the days that were just too much and gave me the gentle reminder to pause and take in the beautiful yet fleeting moments of family life.  But this, THIS too shall pass: these days of being older but not too old, of feeling perhaps a bit achy but not yet broken.  In another twenty years I will most likely look back on this kind of May with nostalgia and longing. And so I remind myself that this May, with it’s sometimes too quiet days and slower pace is a season to savor and lean in to before it is simply another season that has come and gone.   fullsizeoutput_3cba

Little Boy Blue

downloadLife feels quiet right now.  But it is the kind of quiet before the noise. It’s the pause you feel when you know something big and momentous is coming soon and for us that something big is someone small. Our first grandchild is sweeping into our lives in about 3 short months and a couple of weeks ago we found out that it is a he.  And all of a sudden, there are little boys everywhere.  At the grocery store, on TV, at church, in restaurants.  Everywhere I look, I see little boys and I wonder….”Will he look like this? Act like that?”

It took me awhile to wrap my brain around the fact that he is indeed a REAL BOY.  Your first-born daughter tells you she is pregnant with your first grandchild and that event, that memory, takes on a dreamlike quality.  “Wait, what?” “This is you, MY little girl, (she’s 28), telling me that YOU are the one having a baby?”,  “I’m a GRANDMA?”, “Are you old enough?”, “Am I?”,  “How are we here already?”, “Wasn’t it just a few years ago that this was happening to me?”  “With you?”

There are moments in your life that have a way of accenting the passage of time and this is certainly one of them.  I am so excited for this little guy to sweep into our lives, but seriously, it feels so, so surreal that I am the grandma in this story.  For 28 years I have been the mom!  THAT is my role!  But this? How do I do this?  I’ve ruled the roost for so long.  I’m, at times, bossy and somewhat controlling.  I like to run things the way I like them to unfold.  And this is NOT the description of the grandma role!

I’ll learn.  I learned to be the mom, so I will now learn to be the grandma.  My friends who already do this can’t stop talking about how wonderful it is.  I believe them but there is a part of me that is a little taken aback.  This little guy will soon sweep in and change our family’s lives in a big way and I will not be the decision maker, the fixer, the main character, the protagonist.  I know what’s ahead for my daughter more than she does right now and I want to sweep in and make it easier for her and smooth out the inevitable rough patches.  But then I remind myself that this is HER motherhood journey, not mine.  In this new cast of characters, I play the supporting actress role.  And like an Oscar nominee, I can make a big difference in the overall story without being the leading lady.

So, little boy blue, come blow your horn. Disrupt the balance, change our lives, make some noise.  I can’t wait to hold you close and watch my daughter transform into your mom. Because of loving you, we will all figure out our roles in this new stage of being a family.   grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs

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