Middle Age

Chapter 46: Middle Age

I guess if you hear of friends and colleagues dying unexpectedly — or earlier than you ever imagined — that means you are definitely in the Middle Age chapter of your life. Unfortunately, it’s happening again, much like this time last year.

Two men I know passed away this week. One was diagnosed with lung cancer about 5 years ago and the other was diagnosed with esophageal cancer only 23 days ago. Both were around 50 years old and had wives and children. There are no answers to this kind of suffering. The suffering of the one with the diagnosis — the long path of treatment, discomfort, sickness, pain, a few answers for a while; or the short path of treatment, sickness, pain, no answers. And the suffering of the families — to watch your husband/father face the disease, succumb to the finality, wonder what you could have done differently. Grasping to remember the warm and wonderful moments. No family should have to endure this. And yet it happens all the time.

Here we are on Good Friday, facing the cross and death straight on. Growing up I was taught that Good Friday was important, but Easter was the real deal. As I have engaged in the Presbyterian faith tradition the last 20 years or so, I have come to better understand how Holy Week in its entirety really matters. A clergy friend writes this week, “Good Friday agony was too close. Holy Saturday darkness was too real. Easter indeed felt like “an idle tale. … Just as the road to the manger has always been for the weary, the empty tomb has always been for the betrayed, broken, and grieving.” I know that sometimes I don’t feel like celebrating a resurrection. Sometimes it’s the dark Good Friday where my heart and mind want to sit for a bit.

If you are grieving a loss, or tending an injury of the heart or illness of the body, I believe the crucifixion teaches us that pain is part of the process of living. I know the painful moments of my life so far have been finite. Even when I wasn’t sure I could make it another day … the sun still came up.

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You can read my friend Rev. AAM’s full post here.

 

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Storytellers

Chapter 45: Storytellers

We are Storytellers the headline declared on The Bitter Southerner podcast. I had to listen. How I want to be a storyteller.

Maybe I am a storyteller? I recently told the story of how I got in trouble in 7th grade for writing “<teacher’s name> SUCKS” on a desk. But lo and behold I was the only kid who sat in that desk all day, so they nailed me. Five days in the slammer (ISS – in school suspension). My mom was devastated. I was her oldest child and a typical one at that — mostly a rule follower and non-risk-taker — so this was very out of character for me. She couldn’t believe I would do something so horrendous. But, you know, it was 7th grade. That was my rough patch. I wanted to be grown up. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be liked. Maybe I was already a little bit of all those things, but what 7th grader has the confidence or maturity to recognize that kind of stuff? (And BTW, the teacher really wasn’t great. I know I had classmates who shared my opinion.) But thirty-seven years later I don’t remember the five days in ISS. I don’t remember if my friends thought I was cool or if they liked me. I just remember my mom being so, so mad and disappointed and my dad being mad because I had made mom so mad. And it seems that this kind of thing may be hereditary to a degree because I was telling this story to my 8th grade son who got in trouble at school recently for writing a note that included some unsavory verbiage. He got 2.5 days in the slammer. He apologized to us profusely. And lost privileges at home for a week. We talked about getting this nonsense out of his system now before he starts high school next year. By the end of the week he was cleaning his room, walking the dogs, doing extra jobs, begging for renewed privileges. I hope he learned the lesson. I wonder if he’ll remember my story.

Maybe I am a storyteller? Just today I remembered the story of the chickens. Don and I were pet sitting for some friends who were on vacation (maybe around 1999?) and these friends had two precious spaniels and about 5 chickens. The chickens stayed in their chicken coop and only had free reign of the enclosed backyard when the dogs were inside. Another friend had watched the pets the first half of the week and it was our turn to take over the duties. So we showed up as planned to check on the pets and feed them dinner. I opened the back gate and a dog greeted me with a bloody smile. I was confused – what did he have all over his face? And then I saw the massacre in the yard. Strewn about were bloody chicken wings, bloody chicken bodies. Bloody. Chicken. Parts. Everywhere. And two happy dogs who apparently had no idea the jig was up. I slammed the gate shut and ran to the car to Don, who was still there, and screamed “THE CHICKENS!” Thank God Don grew up in the country. He has the patience and skills of someone who can live off of the land. We walked together to survey the scene. And here is where my memory goes black. I feel sure we cleaned up the dogs and cleaned up the carnage, but I just don’t remember those details. Don probably does. I just knew that my friends loved those chickens and now we had to tell them over the phone that the chickens were gone and the dogs were murderers. Amazingly, these friends forgave us and are still good friends to this day!

What stories do you have? Telling our stories reminds us of our humanity. Of all that we have in common. Of hard moments that we survived. Of the instants in the course of this crazy roller coaster life that bubble up and ring clear and help us become who we are. And become who we are still becoming. I hope you will take a moment to tell a story today.

A New Year

Chapter 44: A New Year

This blogging experiment began almost 2 years ago when my DH was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. If you are new here, you can check out older posts to learn what the heck that is. An update on that front: Don continues to do well, especially since his surgery in June 2017. He still gets his monthly shot of sandostatin and any symptoms or side effects are minimal. (Or else he just pushes through them and doesn’t tell me.) Just this week he had his first gallium-scan since June 2018 and we were happy to hear that no new NETs were found. The existing spots are still there, but have not grown. In cancerland this is good news! We are not the experts of living in cancerland, but we are residents here, so we are always learning the ropes. A good scan is a good day!

Also this week the boys and I had the chance to see the film Angst about living with anxiety. I made the boys go and while they said “We already knew that stuff” I am sure they learned a little something. I definitely did! The biggest lightbulb moment for me was how being honest about the fact that I deal with it is the first step to figuring out how to manage it. I was thinking about a few friends whose children deal with anxiety on a regular basis and how hard those moments must be. And then I had this moment of clarity — if my kid had cancer, of course I would pay for him to get treatment. There would be no end to the treatment I would seek! But why do we (in our society) pause and not seek treatment when there is illness of the mind/heart/emotions? Why do we resist seeking counseling when it could be the very answer to the issue? And much less costly than treating cancer. I’ve had this perspective for years — since counseling definitely saved my life in the late 1990s when I was depressed — but I’m glad to have it bubble up with clarity again.

A few days ago I stumbled upon a podcast interview with Anne Lamott. Anne is one of my favorite authors and certainly one of the great sages of the 21st century … authentic, awkward, funny, and says the stuff most of us won’t say but want to, with a lot of grace, a few curse words, and a little bit of church and Jesus thrown in. This episode was about creating — being creative  — and how one needs to just do it regularly. Start with shitty first drafts, and then let the process unfold with the diligence of doing it. She says that everyone has the voices that tell us we have no talent, or are not enough, and she calls those voices misguided helpers. I can totally relate to this, as I have a few voices pinballing around my head now and then that will toss in a grenade of self-doubt or criticism and sometimes it’s hard to ignore them. But Anne gave this great tip: imagine the voices as little mice running around at your feet. Grab them by the tail, one by one, and drop them into a mason jar. When you have collected them, place the lid on the jar, and set it aside. Then get on with your creating. The voices are silent. You have acknowledged them, you know they are there, but you have set them aside to proceed with your project, your passion, or whatever it is that needs your focus. This is a breakthrough tip for me. The voices are there – they are part of being human – but we don’t have to let them stop us. Acknowledge them, set them aside, and carry on.

Finally, Anne reminds us that we are pre-approved. We are alone on our journey, but there are people all around who will never let us fall and not get up. We know what fills our heart with gladness and that feeling of accomplishment. We just need to do those things and along the way make more messes, have more failures, try & fail, try & fail, and learn to fail better. Messes and failures are gifts along the journey. The more we make them, the better we get at creating, and the better we get at this thing called life. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a good way to start a new year.

An Advent Journey (Part 2)

day12

Chapter 43: An Advent Journey (Part 2)

 

Day 12 – It seemed Hezekiah was quite content resting amongst the trees. The journeymen could not convince him that the break was over and it was time to move on.

 

 

 

Day13

Day 13 – This time it was Melchior that led the treacherous climb. Only he and Hezekiah knew he had been secretly training for Desert Ninja Warriors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day14

 

Day 14 – They had heard Hezekiah speak of the strange desert beast, but this was the first time they had seen it with their own eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Day15

 

Day 15 – Gaspar took the lead today, insisting he knew this was the best path toward the star. The others quietly doubted him, but opted to let him lead for a while, because that’s what friends do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day16
Day 16 – The icy trees and the angelic music were a lovely – albeit completely wrong – side route. The travelers will have to turn around, again.

Day17

 

 

Day 17 – Balthazar and Hezekiah insisted this was not the right place for a rest, but Gaspar and Melchior thought it would be a fun stop.

 

 

 

 

 

Day18

 

Day 18 – The Japanese Sage reminded the travelers, “猿も木から落ちる。” (Even monkeys fall from trees … everyone makes mistakes) and encouraged them not to give up on their journey. Finding the star would be worth it in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day19
Day 19 – Surely the mysterious boulders had some kind of important message. But what could it be?

Day20

 

Day 20 – On this winter solstice the travelers took a moment to appreciate the darkness, so that when the time comes they can truly experience the light.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXEcplj8DMM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day21

 

Day 21 – If acrobatics are part of the adventure, Gaspar announced he wanted no part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day22

 

Day 22 – Balthazar led them to the gondola and insisted it was a shortcut to the Star. Hhhmmmm….

 

 

 

 

 

Day23

 

 

 

Day 23 – There it is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day24

Day 24 – The Star brought us to the light! There he is. The Light of the World!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTUF-pJowfU

Editor’s note: I realize my version is historically inaccurate — their journey would not have ended in the stable on Jesus’ birthday. But I had to roll with it due to holiday travel. I will plan better next time! 😊

An Advent Journey (Part 1)

Chapter 42: An Advent Journey (Part 1)

Hello friends.

I have missed you. On many a morning I have gotten out of bed with thoughts I wanted to share, but then life/schedule/kids/job got in the way. I bet you can relate. Tis the season.

Then I ran across the Wandering Wisemen (look them up on facebook or Instagram)! I was so delighted by their posts and antics I decided to copy their idea and do my own version. You may have already seen theirs or mine on social media. It has been a fun way to reflect on the season of Advent as the seekers journey towards the light that will change the world. I believe we are all seekers of one kind or another.

Day1

 

 

Day 1: The star appeared with surprisingly little fanfare, noticed only by those dedicated seekers who had patiently awaited its arrival for so many years.

 

 

 

 

 

(Day 2: No pic or post on this day. It was before I really took the plunge on the project.)

Day3
Day 3: Ultimately, it was Hezekiah the camel who demonstrated the necessary leadership to unite the travelers and set their course for the long journey ahead.

 

 

Day4

 

Day 4: Although oddly calming in stressful situations, the small globe proved to be an ineffective navigational device.

 

 

 

Day5

 

 

Day 5: Despite the strange climb and the beautiful view, upon closer inspection the travelers realized this was not the star they meant to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day6
Day 6: It’s only Day 6, but what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Day7

 

Day 7: The journey with the Star continues. Those are stars, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day8

 

 

Day 8: A little light in the darkness brought comfort to each traveler.

 

 

 

 

 

Day9

 

Day 9: An oasis – finally!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day10

Day 10: So it seems they are not the first seekers to visit these parts.

 

 

 

 

Day11

 

 

Day 11 – Balthazar’s rock climbing hobby proved to be an asset on the journey. But he couldn’t understand why the others had trouble keeping up with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for the second half of the journey. Or better yet – start your own!  Wishing you a whimsical Advent with a little quiet time to seek the light.

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Shout Out – Felted nativity characters are handmade by my friend ArtsyAnn and her team. You can find her on Etsy.

 

 

The Sound That Saved Us All

Chapter 41: The Sound That Saved Us All

What does grace sound like? This was the question bouncing around in my head as we sang this song.

The tinkling of little bells

A baby laughing

The gentle wind moving through the fall leaves

My kid’s voice telling me about his day

The quiet whish of the sliding hospital door as we walk out, leaving it behind us, at least for a while

The voice on the message from the friend I need to call

The ding of the text telling me mom is feeling better

The pad of feet as husband walks to bed in the dark

The coffee pot brewing that first cup of coffee

The little kids shrieking in laughter and cheers as they jump into the pool at the end of another swim season

The ambulance siren down the street hopefully saving a life

The jingle of dog tags as they chase each other around the dining room table

That returned phone call answering the last question that allows me to finish the project

The kid cracking himself up as he skypes with his friends

The quiet after the hurricane has passed and we sit with no power

That one guitar chord that brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it

Happy Birthday, Lillian!

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Chapter 40: Happy Birthday, Lillian!

Lillian turned 92 today and I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with her. She is a member of our half-day program at a local church. You may recall that I work for a nonprofit that provides day programs for aging adults with chronic diseases – mostly Alzheimer’s or similar dementia. Music from the 1940s and 1950s was playing as the members arrived, usually with their caregiver who is a spouse or adult child. Everyone says hello, gets settled, and has a snack. I was so touched when I watched each caregiver helped their loved one get comfortable and slowly greet each of the members personally.

Lillian was one of the last to arrive today, and we had the throne and crown waiting for her. Even the Happy Birthday welcome sign was ready! She arrived and we got her settled and took pictures. She has white hair, a beautiful smile and was dressed to the nines. I think she knew it was her birthday but I can’t be sure. Daily awareness can vary amongst the members and can even vary from moment to moment! As we passed the birthday card around for everyone to sign (Brenda, another member, is in charge of the cards), Dotty said, “Who is Lillian? I don’t know her!” – even though they spend several days a week together – so I pointed over to Lillian and Dotty had a brief moment of recognition and signed the card.

Usually each day begins with news headlines and puzzles like word search or connect-the-dots, but today we began with a “We Love Lillian” activity. Each member had a chance to share what they loved most about Lillian.

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Humble
She’s honest
She’s a sweetheart
She looks 13 years old
She’s very nice, I like her, and she’s my friend*
She has a beautiful smile
Kisses
She’s Winnie the Pooh, she likes honey
She is 

*Darlene also said, “Lillian was the first person who welcomed me here! She’s been my friend since the beginning.”

After snack and the Lillian game, we played a game of bingo. Thankfully these were the large print bingo cards, because I need them just like the members do! We used poker chips to cover our bingo numbers when they were called (poker chips in a Baptist church – don’t tell!) and eventually most everyone had BINGO before we finished filling the cards. Seriously, who doesn’t like bingo?

The director of this program is an amazing woman named Louise. She is an artist and was formerly a preschool director for many years. The parallels between working with preschoolers and seniors are remarkable. One needs patience, flexibility, the ability to offer guidance but not “do” for the student/member, and certainly a sense of humor. Louise has all of these and more. She is supported by two volunteers each day, and these women and men are also gifted, lovely people. It’s a joy to spend time there and learn from the best!

I had to leave before lunch but what a treat it was to start my day this way. Of course it prompts me to reflect on my life and career. As a mom, I know what it’s like to parent/guide preschoolers, children and teens (at least I have a slight clue on this last category). And in my last job I was working with adults with developmental disabilities, so I learned how to be patient and listen as those friends communicated and explored their daily routines. And now the gift of working with aging adults! I truly feel as though my life experience to this point brought me to this place. It’s a sobering and exciting realization to see how your past experience has prepared you for the current one. Aren’t we lucky to allow each chapter of our lives to teach us and prepare us for the next step?

When I left the program and I popped in to early voting before heading into the office. I hope the candidates who got my vote are ready and willing to serve the least among us — the children, the disabled and the aging adults, and all of us in between. I like to believe they are. I hope and pray they are. It would be lovely to reach 92 like Lillian has.

 

Note: Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

49 by the numbers…

Chapter 39:

49 by the numbers…

4 states

In daylights, in sunsets

9 cities

In midnights, in cups of coffee

2 sisters

In inches, in miles

2 parents

In laughter, in strife

1 starter-marriage

Journeys to plan

1 real marriage

In truths that she learned

1 FIL, 1 MIL, 4 BIL, 2 SIL

Or in times that he cried

2 kids

In bridges he burned

18 jobs

Or the way that she died

6 dogs

It’s time now to sing out

2,548 weeks

Tho’ the story never ends

17,885 sunsets

Let’s celebrate

53,655 meals

Remember a year in the life of friends

25,754,400 minutes

How do you measure a year in the life

9,723,600 minutes happily married

How about love?

8,672,400 minutes as a mom

Measure in love

2,060,352,000 heartbeats

Seasons of love … Happy birthday to me!

Did you know?

Chapter 38: Did you know?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in neuroendocrine cancerland. We lost a supremely Arethatalented American with the passing of Aretha Franklin. And did you know that she succumbed to pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors aka pNETs? You can read the blog post from the American Cancer Society and from Aretha’s physician and the Healing NET Foundation if you’d like more info. While we hate losing anyone to this disease, it’s nice to see some accurate press about it. There have still been plenty of erroneous reports of pancreatic cancer, but all-in-all more accurate press this time. One of the biggest challenges of NETs cancer is folks being misdiagnosed for years, ultimately inciting more confusion about this uncommon cancer. There was a beautiful (and long) service celebrating Aretha’s life and talent just yesterday. It’s never easy seeing a light like hers go out. I know I am thankful for the gifts that she shared with us! RESPECT!

Speaking of loss, we also lost Senator John McCain this week. He gave us an amazing example of courage and generosity of spirit which I believe made an impact on our world. I probably did not agree with him on many political issues, but I definitely admired him for his service to America. He leaves a big hole in our political landscape, that is for sure. More respect!

I’m finally reading Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) and it is blowing me away. She writes, “We are all floating on the ocean, holding on to our own innertubes. We’re all floating around, but people don’t seem to know that we’re all sinking. Some faster than others, but we’re all sinking.” I know this is true and I realize that most don’t really want to think about it or talk about it. But for me this has been the big lesson of our family’s journey roller coaster ride with neuroendocrine cancer. Right now we are floating along without any major holes in our tube, although obviously we are slowly sinking right along with everyone else. Fingers crossed that it will be awhile before we have to deal with too much water leaking in.

I hope you are floating into fall without too much sinking. Nice to know we are floating together, don’t you think?

Note: If this sounds vaguely familiar, I mentioned Kate before in this blog post from Feb. 2018.

 

 

 

So we went on a cruise…

Chapter 37: So we went on a cruise…

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Balcony view

I wasn’t sure if I would love it or hate it, but it turns out that cruising is pretty great! The four of us took our very first cruise last week and we loved it! Four days in the Bahamas (aka “entry-level cruise”) was perfect. We stayed in a suite which had a balcony with endless views of the ocean.

 

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Atlantis

Our first port excursion was to Atlantis. Wow. That place is HUGE! Don and I spent most of our time on the mile-long Rapid River while the boys tried all of the big slides. The grounds and hotels are beautiful. We would love to visit there again someday!

Our second port excursion was supposed to be snorkeling trip, but it was cancelled due to winds and high waves. Bummer. So we opted to spend the day on a beautiful little island. The island was lovely but the

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Beautiful island & beach, but don’t get in the water!

“swimming and snorkeling” beach was disappointing! The ocean floor was covered in sharp and painful shells and rocks so while they tried, Don and boys did not stay out in the water very long. Next time we’ll know to come prepared with water shoes!

This trip was a splurge for us, but we were celebrating a year of good health! Last summer our vacation was spent at Duke Medical Center while Don underwent and recovered from his surgery. One of the biggest lessons of cancer is to cherish the time you have with your loved ones since we have no guarantees for tomorrow. Really, this is a gift, not just a lesson.

We are happy to see that NETs cancer got some national press on the Megyn Kelly TODAY show this week. Gil Schaenzle is an amazing woman that we had the chance to meet a few months ago at a regional NETs gathering. She is doing all she can to raise awareness of NETs cancer in memory of her daughter, Anna, who succumbed to the disease in 2017. Watch this video to learn more. We remain overwhelmingly grateful that Don somehow pulled the lucky straw and has the non-aggressive version of NETs. He will most likely live for a few more decades with more good days than bad.

So if you haven’t already, hug your loved ones today. Take a few days and head to a change of scenery with your favorite humans. The beach, the mountains and the National Parks are waiting for you. Today is our only guarantee.