Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February. Sunshine.

I long ago made my peace with February's bleak, cold and gray days. I learned to appreciate the beauty of the sleeping trees, revel in the sharp blue of the momentarily clear skies.

But this year, I decided to try a new tack.

My daughter moved to the Los Angeles area last spring. I was looking for work then, and couldn't get out there. Then the wedding and the new job happened, and I couldn't go then, either. Over the holidays, she was working to finish her thesis, and didn't need me there distracting her.

The holidays are past, the thesis is finished (?!!!), and so I made reservations to head on out to California for the first two weeks of February. When I got on the plane in Kansas City, it was in the lower thirties. When I got off that evening in Los Angeles, it was fifty-something.

Google maps did a pretty darn good job of guiding me up to her place. My theory of, when driving in six solid lanes of traffic, stay to the middle right, also served me well. (at six o'clock on a Saturday evening, the freeway was solid cars. That's a LOT of people with somewhere to go...)

And the next morning, I got up to a forecast of 75 and sunny. It gets down into the upper forties at night here, it IS February after all, but the days have been delightful.

Some days it's been downright warm.
Some days, it's been cool, but on those days, the sun has still beamed down, which makes for a delightful crisp, cool, warm feeling I love.

I still need to work during the day, I don't have any vacation time built up just yet, but I get to do it at the kitchen table, able to look out when my computer pauses to see the hills and the sunshine.

The trip has been good for my soul. It's been wonderful to finally get to see where my baby bird landed; to meet some of her friends, to get a sense of her days. It's been wonderful to walk in the sunshine at lunchtime; to feel the warmth on my face, to know the promise of the coming spring.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Just Say No to Fear

We got the news last week that Libby was back in the hospital with a clot in her lung, a pulmonary embolism.

Straight to Google I went - one of the top three causes for pulmonary embolisms is having surgery for brain cancer. **sigh**

Scary, yes.
But, but. But she got the care she needed in time, and after a few days in the hospital, they sent her home. At first, she was highly uncomfortable, but per her last message, the last day there she was just kind of bored.

I like bored. Bored is good. Bored means that no one is worried about how things are going to turn out. Bored means that you're not in a lot of pain, and your brain is awake enough to be seeking something to do. Bored means you can think. Bored is good.

While the return of her cancer first threw her, along with the rest of us, into a panic, she re-found her center after the surgery. Her mantras are mine: Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. All roads lead to the same place. All things living die in their turn.

At first, I was so angry at her cancer. But then, I stopped. Cancer is not the enemy; it is just a messenger. Fear. Fear is the enemy.

Cancer can't stop joy, but Fear can.
Cancer can't stop me from living the days I have as well as I can live them, but Fear can.
Cancer can't stop me from seeing the beauty I've always been able to find when I look, but Fear can.

And while I can't do anything about Cancer, I can do something about Fear. (The one thing I can control in this world is my reaction to what happens in the world around me.)

When I can deny Fear its power, it's ever so much easier to see the Good around me.

I don't like the road Fear takes. It is dark and scary and large spooky things jump out at me unexpectedly from behind rocks and trees, making my heart pound and my breath quicken. The road is shadowy, indistinct, out of focus. Sight lines are limited, it is hard to see where I am going.

When I manage to tell Fear to take a hike, the going is ever so much easier. It's actually the same road, but when you're not traveling with Fear, the light is better. The shadows are just shadows. Because I am better able to focus, I'm less startled when the large spooky things lunge at me. I'm able to look at them and react (more) calmly and rationally. I can breathe. I can see the beauty in the rocks and the trees. I can see more clearly the road ahead.

I'm all about clear roads.
Good Is.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Goodbye, Aunt Florence

I waited too long, I missed my chance. I knew her health wasn't the best, so the next time I saw her, I was going to ask my Aunt Florence if she'd tell me some stories about what it was like growing up, the only girl in a family of nine children. That's right, eight brothers.

She died just a few days after this picture was taken, just before New Year's. Among her many ailments (not that she was one to complain), her heart wasn't well, and near as they can tell, it gave out shortly after she got out of bed one morning. Her end was quick; she would have wanted it that way.

Tiny-framed and feisty, she was never one to take any guff. She left behind six of her eight children, a score of grandchildren and about that many great-grandchildren.

She had a faith I envy. Sure of her Lord, and her place in His house - I hope and pray she is safely there. She was one of those daily mass attending people. A daily dose of God, a matching dollop of time with her good friends, church was a home and a refuge for her.

I wish I would have known her better.

One of the problems with large families is that when you do get together, there tends to be fifty people around. Surrounded by people I grew up with, people I love, I get just a few minutes with each. How are the kids, what's up with work, how's the rest of the family? I love these potlucks, though I have to say our generation is not up to the standards set by our aunts when we were young, anything new in your life?

And about that time, my attention shifts to someone else I haven't seen for a while, and I move on. So many people, so little time. Usually I settle down with someone for a deeper conversation, for 20-30 minutes, but given that I see them just once every year or two, we barely scratch the surface before the food gets packed up and everyone heads on out.

Still, a little time is better than none, and I remember my last conversation with Aunt Florence with fondness. It will have to be enough.

Rest in Peace, my dear.
Until we meet again...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Brain Surgery

Sometimes, our medical system works. Tests are run, surgeons are found, operating rooms are booked and surgery is done - all within the week.

It was Libby's chance to get more good days, and she jumped on it. They think they got it all. (and tell us they'll go back with radiation to burn out any remaining bits they may have missed.)

I'm glad they were able to get it out so quickly for a couple of reasons. One. It was icky.  (Eeewwwww!!!! It's ICKY!!!!  Get it OOUUUTTTT!!!!)  Two. Assuming it sprang from her first cancer, it was aggressive. The sooner it could be gone, the better.

Her symptoms spread rapidly enough. Three weeks ago, she started having trouble finding words, two weeks ago, she was already losing dexterity in her right hand.

I happened to be up in Minnesota for a family funeral on Friday, the day she had her surgery. They started at one; projected the surgery to last for five hours. It took all that and more.

Libby has two girls who are around the age I was when my mom got sick, and I was projecting my fears and sad memories big time. So, the night before surgery, I texted and called Libby. Not unexpectedly, I got no answer. So I texted and called her husband, Scott. same. Next, I texted her younger daughter - and finally got a message back from Scott. Guess they figured out it would be easier to just reply than to continue ignoring my pestering.

Yes, we could pick up the girls after school on Friday if we wanted. We wanted. With dad at the hospital and mom in surgery, that's no evening to be home alone. Even if you are a mature teenager who has been handling all the ups and downs of the last year with outward aplomb.

We picked up the younger girl first. Brought her back to the house where she taught us a new card game. (Played with actual playing cards; who knew her generation knew what those things are for?) Much laughter ensued, needed laughter.

Went out to dinner, then went back up to pick up her older sister, who had just finished pep band. (We brought along carryout for her - we're nice like that...) Brought everyone back to my sister's place for an overnight visit. We did our best to surround them with love and support; to let them know they were not alone. I think it worked; I hope it worked. Brain surgery is scary stuff. Especially when it's your mother.

As I write this, 48 hours after surgery, Libby is recovering well per the last message we received. Her words are coming back already, she is less confused. She is grumpy as all get out because they keep waking her up every hour. In this case, grumpy is wonderful. Normal. Expected.

**Huge, tentative, sigh of relief**
A welcome reprieve.
Good Is.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

NO!!! (yes)

My gut has been expecting the news. Given that it has been six months, my heart was starting to hope, just a little, that the news would never come.
My gut won. (No!)

Libby's cancer is back. It metastasized to her brain. (No!)

I've been crying much of the day. For her girls, for her, for her husband, for myself and my siblings. (NO!!!!!)

She will start another round of doctors on Monday, to see what, if anything, can be done to give her more good days.

I read her email first thing this morning; talked to her for just a bit later on in the day. Her cancer is taking her words, her memory, her fine motor skills. (NO!)

But.

It's not touched her sense of humor and it can't.  (yes)
It's not touched her love for life, and she won't allow it to.  Ever.  (yes)
It's not touched her determination to live all the days she has.  (yes)

In her Christmas letter this year, she wrote, "Even though it's blunt, one of my favorite mantras throughout this period was, 'No one gets out alive.' It reminds me to be present, to say 'yes' to the ice cream and cake, 'yes' to the time it takes to burn them off, 'yes' to the outings with my honey and my girls - 'yes' to life. We don't know how many days we have - I am not going to waste them on worry and fear! God has blessed us richly and I, that is, we, are healed through the power of his love."

On days like this, when my words fail me, I lean on other's wisdom.
For all that has been, Thank you.
For all that is to come, Yes!
          - Dag Hammarskjold
Yes.
anyways.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My Christmas Onion

Sure enough, it happened again this year. I blinked and December whipped by and Christmas came and went and I woke up this morning and the calendar insists today starts January and a new year.

As Decembers go, it wasn't a bad one. I got most of my Christmas list checked off before the holiday arrived. (bonus!) Presents were mailed in plenty of time to arrive before the holiday, cookies were baked and parceled out to friends and family. I caught up with some of my friends at gatherings, made a promise to myself to get a holiday letter out before the end of January to loved ones who are far from here. (since something had to give, that was going to be it...)

And, starting at Thanksgiving, I had a Christmas Onion, reminding me each day that even in the dark and cold days, growth happens.

It is an ordinary enough onion, purchased to season soup that somehow didn't get made that week, and so it sat for just a bit. As it sat in its wire basket in the warmth atop my fridge, it got just enough light to awaken its onion soul. It poked its head out of the onion center, found the light to be good, and started to grow and grow.

By the time I noticed it, it was already a couple of inches tall. I went to toss it out, since the original onion is no good once a new one starts growing, but my hand stopped short of the basket. Since the Spirit of Good decided to send me an unexpected and unlooked for sign of life and growth and hope in the darkest days of the year, I thought it would seem a tad bit ungrateful to pitch it into the trash.

So, I just watched it for a couple of weeks, figuring the growth would falter. My onion friend didn't get the memo. It didn't know it wasn't supposed to flourish.

Finally, this last week, I went down to the basement and dug out an old pot and some dirt. Signs of hope can start in the darkness, but they need a little love and encouragement to continue to grow. I will watch it - who knows, maybe it'll grow enough to make me a new onion.

It's already grown enough to be a balm to my tired soul. Despite the turmoil of this past year, the cycle of life is unperturbed. It only seems like the dark days will last forever. Spring will come, with its tender greens and exuberant growth and push the darkness aside for another cycle and so all is well.

All is well.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Singer

I enjoy singing with a good chorale, and the Sunday choir at Joe's new church brings in young singers to complement the church's congregation. They produce some beautiful music.

Going to church regularly would just frustrate me - my soul is in an uncertain and impatient place. But I miss music, so accepted Emily the choir director's invitation to join them for their Christmas song and readings service.

For the past six weeks or so, I've been getting my keister out of the house on Sunday mornings to join them for their after-church rehearsal. I loved it. Emily runs a tight rehearsal, and would rehearse the Christmas music first and then let the 'Christmas Singers' go.

I liked being a Christmas Singer. Something joyful, cheerful, welcoming in the name.

The service where we were to perform the music was this past Sunday. We gathered early, to go over the music one more time, and I was not real happy with myself - I was still making mistakes on a few key phrases.

We broke for a bit, regathered, stood for the opening song. I gathered myself. I took a deep breath and sent a prayer to the Spirit to help me to not screw up.

And, I didn't. Those key moments? I was spot-on for all of them. After the last of them had passed, something inside me eased, and I allowed myself to lose myself in the music.

And then, and then. Out of nowhere, came tears. For Maria. In the middle of 'Angels We Have Heard on High', for goodness sake! It took me by surprise; I enjoy the hymn, but it has no special attachment to family for me. For once I was grateful for my allergies, and grabbed my always-handy kleenex to wipe surreptitiously at the unexpected tears.

I am aware there is a lot of grief roiling beneath my surface. There's been a lot to grieve in my life these past few years; I guess I shouldn't be surprised it leaks out when I let my guard down. And as my sister-in-law, Christie, once said, "The Spirit must own stock in Kimberly-Clark, so often does its touch bring forth tears." Tears of grief, tears of healing. I didn't want to squash them, but I certainly wasn't going to be standing in front of the congregation bawling, and managed to convince most of them to be released on the inside only.

Unexpected Grace.  Merry Christmas!