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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sycamore

Since I moved into my house, I've been grateful for the beauty of the tall and graceful sycamore tree in the neighbor's yard just to the south. Sure, he wasn't the tidiest neighbor, dropping branches and seed balls with regularity, but the shade he willingly provided on hot summer days was well worth the tradeoff.

Or, so thought I.

My new neighbors didn't agree. They bought the house in late summer, and last week, hired a crew to come and take out the tree. It was their tree; I couldn't argue with them. Yes, it was close to the house, yes, if it came down both of us were going to lose a good chunk of roof.

But the tree was healthy, and sycamore trees aren't prone to falling unless they're old - and a good arborist can tell what kind of shape it's in. I even offered to pay for the testing and a good trimming, but my words fell on deaf ears.

She was afraid of it, towering over the house. Fear won and the tree is gone.

I've been disturbed by its absence all week. I walk out of the house and the gaping hole in the sky cries its anguish. I mourn the irreplaceable loss.

And, I'm uncharacteristically petty about it all, sending ill wishes across the fence. I hope their cooling bills shoot through the roof (I'm sure they'll go up by a good 20%). I hope their basement floods with every rain (also a good chance of happening - the house has water problems anyways, and I know the tree drank a lot of the water that drained into the yard from all the houses up the hill).

I'm trying hard to forgive them, but thus far, no go.
I'm tired of fear winning over innocence.

Eventually, I'll grit my teeth, and bring them over some Christmas cookies anyways.
But, this year at least, my heart won't be in it.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December

I think I'm going to have to resign myself to a running undercurrent of fear and panic this time of year.

I found my cancer in December.
Kate found her cancer in December.
Libby found her cancer in late November.
Maria's final illness took hold last December.

So part of me waits, with some dread, for more scary news to come this month. I look at the calendar, and fear either my share of blank calendar squares are coming to their end, or some calamity is about to fall on someone else I love.

The fear is further grounded in the thought I'm not using what days I have as well as I could. I look at the places I am spending my time, and a part of me screams, "I'm not doing it right!"

The more rational part of me knows that I'm doing what I can and need to do. Chances are I'm going to live for a good long while, and I can't throw all the cards in the air and still plan for a stable retirement. So, I'm going to work, taking care of my house, exercising some, planning for the holidays, getting enough sleep.  Heck, for the past month and a bit - excepting Thanksgiving, of course - I've even been eating right.

My inner two year-old is NOT consoled. She wants out, she wants free. She doesn't want to work any more, she's tired and cranky and just wants to do whatever it is she wants to do.

I get it. I'm with her. Soon, I tell her, soon.

Until then, I will keep reminding myself that past results are not an indicator of future returns. Into every life, bad things fall - but so do good. This past Thanksgiving celebration is proof of good. Lots of love and food and hugs and more food and happiness. There were zero arguments and no new bad news surfaced. No one got angry, no one got sick, no one hurt themselves. Everyone made it home safely.

Breathing is good.
Life, is good.
and, reserving the right to throw all my cards in the air should bad news strike again is good, too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back in the day, I used to host some pretty extensive family Thanksgiving parties, and include stray friends in the process.  One of my favorite strays, Dale and her family, have often reciprocated and have invited me to their smaller family dinners on the off years.

Our every-other-year-Thanksgiving-in-Kansas-City tradition has kinda-sorta fallen by the wayside these past few years since I threw all my cards into the air and climbed into the camper van. A few of my family would come down now and then, but just a handful of folks.

This year, Dale offered to host me and whichever of my family members came down for the holiday. I thought it was a wonderful idea, so accepted. Then, one of my sisters voted it was my turn, and a lot of the rest of them agreed. So, I called Dale.

"I know you offered to host everyone, but they voted that it's my turn, and I'll have 15 - 20 people in for the holiday. How about we switch gears, and you all come to my house, instead of us crashing your party?"

She was the next best thing to insulted. I was going to deny her the pleasure of hosting a large party of people she likes?  Really???

So, tomorrow morning, we will all truck on over to Dale's house, bringing pies and a lot of hands to help with food prep. There will be lots of good food and warmth and laughter.

The turmoil of the first six months of my year has begun to settle into manageable blips, and I have much to be thankful for.

And, bonus, I get to host a major slumber party. In the olden days, everyone would stay at my place - but it was a big house, with three showers, so was easily able to sleep the twenty or so people who'd stay each year. My new place is about a third the size of the old. But. Everyone over the age of 25 gets some sort of bed or cot - and if no one gets their own room, well, it's only for two nights.  It'll be great fun with the eleven of us staying here. (There's just one shower, so some careful coordination will be in order, but we've got this!)

I am looking forward to the beautiful chaos.

Happy Thanksgiving!