When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~ Kahlil Gibran, from"The Prophet"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all of you!

Trick or Treat!

That crazy dog! He snuck into the old costume box.
Don't let those big, innocent-looking brown eyes fool you.
I never know what's going on in his head anymore.
Ever since his "Risky Business" escapade, I can't trust him!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Birthday Celebration

Watch your way then, as a cautious traveler
and don't be gazing at that mountain or river in the distance
and saying, "How shall I ever get over them?"
but keep to the present little inch that is before you
and accomplish that in the little moment that belongs to it.
The mountain and the river can only be passed in the same way
and, when you come to them
you will come to the light and strength that belong to them.
~ Kelty

This photo, snapped yesterday as we celebrated Dave's and Chris' birthdays, was taken the exact same day as the photo in my previous post was when we gathered a year ago for the same event.

The hours were filled with good food and drink, birthday cake, presents, the girls ruling in the Taboo competition (as usual), a pathetic Bears game on TV, jokes and laughter, and especially, the joy of being surrounded by Chris & Tasha and Sarah and Matty & Beth.
Dave and I love it when all the kids are home,
the best part of his birthday celebration he later remarked.

But as the thrum of yesterday's energy fades into the stillness of today, as I remove the leaf from the dining room table, wash the glassware and try to figure out what's for dinner tonight, my insides ache as I pull these photos into my post and stare at the gaping hole left by the lack of Erin's presence, and I wonder how I'll survive each occasion in the future.

Much of the time it's a struggle to imagine doing so, and I desperately hope that "the light and strength that belong to them" ~ the goodness and love of our beautiful family and the united front borne of our common bond ~ will sustain me through each event that occurs in spite of this chasm left by the death of my youngest child, especially as these days edge toward the upcoming holiday season that I look at with growing dread, and I keep repeating to myself ~ stay in each little moment, Mary. A day at a time... each little inch.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oh Good Lord, He's 30!

I'm publishing my blog post today at 5:23pm in celebration of a big event.
On this date 30 years ago, after working awfully hard,
my labors paid off,
and I gave birth to our first-born, Christopher David, at 5:23pm.

How can it be? 30 years ago?!
Was he really that tiny?!

From an early age, Chris' personality traits were quite evident.

He sets high, yet attainable goals for himself,
finding it necessary to regroup at times,
but always strives to do his best
with the task at hand.

Arming himself against potential villains in his path,
with protective head-gear and a quick get-away steed in place,
(one can never be too careful)
he forges onward and never shies away from a challenge.

He is not afraid to voice his opinions in clear, concise tones
so that all can appreciate his views.
Pooh Bear was waved for emphasis in this particular situation.
Insert a textbook or clipboard at present.

On occasion though,
he feels a more in-your-face effort
is required to make a point.

At times he winds up with his foot in his mouth.
Not to worry, you're in good company!

Through the years, his younger siblings have occasionally found themselves questioning important matters or are at a loss about what to do in certain circumstances.

Chris, considering his position in birth order a very serious responsibility, takes pride in paving the way for the younger ones.
He is confident with his responses as they look to him and ask, 
"What Would Chris Do?"

Hanging on his every word, they're rarely disappointed.
At an early age, with the help of his Irish grandfather,
he learned to kick back and enjoy a cold one.
(Guinness was a little too heavy back then.)
Thank goodness, as this is an important outlet
during a disappointing football season.

And... every once in a while
he gets kind of crazy!

While holding those good memories of past celebrations pretty close Chris,
I wish you a very


A big FOOCH to you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Look Before You Leap, Mary

Or own a good set of wings
that will enable you to coast, and then change course.

In a previous blog post I extolled my ability to multitask with a high energy level and near-neurotic attention to detail, and among my character traits listed a passionate enthusiasm for things with substance; the most prominent at this time ~ a focus on the cancer world and the effects of the disease on its victims inspiring my desire to smooth the path for those presently in the throes of it all.
I also talked about the way I typically dive into my passions head first or jump in with both feet depending on the circumstances. Yes, it's true. And it's also true that sometimes when that is either my instinctive reaction to a situation or my planned route of choice, I end up leaping in a less prepared fashion than I should. This carries the potential of a rougher-than-desired meeting with the ground if things don't line up as expected.

Well, with respect to my recent job endeavor, that rocky ground loomed with growing clarity each day as I tried very hard to deny what my gut was trying to tell me. In effect, I crash-landed with the harsh realization that I WAS WRONG! I resigned from my position at the end of last week.

Just when I thought I knew myself so well, I wound up discovering a whole lot more over the past several weeks, which really only serves to reinforce the awareness that I am not the person I was before December 15, 2006. This is certainly not a new self-revelation, but merely a vivid presentation in a new area due to my recent endeavor of leaping into full-time employment after not working in that capacity since before the day of Erin's cancer diagnosis, and doing so in a field I've only experienced on the receiving end.

I discovered the hard way that things are a whole lot different from the perspective of the patient, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of what actually happens on the other side of the counter. Yes, the nurses and other staff members about whom I previously wrote absolutely made our lives bearable, and most certainly did inspire me to pursue this avenue of employment, but an entirely different world exists from this other point of view, and I found myself unprepared for a good deal of it. I wouldn't have truly understood all this had I not taken the chance when this employment opportunity arose.

Through many a sleepless night, a DVD of valuable lessons played in my head. I had to hit the Rewind button on several, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

~ Things/jobs are not always what they appear to be on the surface. (a real no-brainer)

~ I am prone to having idealistic views of the way I WANT things to be as opposed to the way they really ARE at times. (take off the rose-colored glasses Mary, sometimes reality bites)

~ In a new situation, I have to walk before I can run, and at my age and after everything I've been through over the past four years, I'm only going to run toward something fulfilling. (there was not enough Gatorade offered on the job site to provide support for increasing dehydration)

~ I can still multitask with the best of them only when given the proper tools with which to do so, and I don't want to work all day every day at a frenzied pace because that environment doesn't afford the opportunity to be in the present moment with the people whose lives it is my goal to touch. (because the moments wound up being too fleeting and the setting too frantic)

~ I don't want to spend 10 hours away from home every day and return feeling so exhausted that there is nothing left in me to do anything except get things ready for the next day and go to bed. I've run on that hamster-wheel in the past, working 12-hour-plus days, and I just don't want to do that anymore. (there really IS life after the age of 50 and after 30 years of marriage)

~ In spite of hiding the Chivas from Keenan, I continue to find more evidence of shenanigans :)

Some may question a decision made too hastily without enough time given to adjust to my new surroundings and responsibilities. My response is to rest assured that even though I may not know exactly what I'm meant to do next, I DO know what doesn't feel right. The pace and setting of this particular job won't allow me to fulfill my professed intention to walk the walk and instead would only serve to run me ragged, and I have very strong convictions about my right to be as happy as possible after all I've endured.

You know, the great thing about wile e coyote (with a little help from the cartoon animators bestowing powers of super-human resilience and invincibility) is his ability to resurrect himself from the numerous crash-landings he encounters in his pursuit of the roadrunner. Yes, he often does wind up in a heap, but then he simply picks himself up, comes up with another brilliant plan and tries again. He hasn't caught him yet, but someday... who knows?

Stupidity or unfailing tenacity and resolute determination?

When your child has cancer, you learn to devise some brilliant plans in order to survive each crash landing and roadblock encountered as the disease stubbornly progresses through its stages. Those years taught me the value of heap-recovery and redirection of intended paths.
So, I'll go with tenacity and determination.
For now, I'll put on my lime green wings and coast,
and in time I'll figure out what comes next.

And yes, today marks 10 months...
Thanks to those who remembered.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Carried in a Pocket

As I walk through each day now, amidst vivid memories of the dramatic shift that began to occur a year ago at this time, I gather the images of Erin strewn before me like a bread crumb trail on the path of my daily existence, following where they lead my heart.

My ever thoughtful friend Karen forwarded this poem to me one day, from The Writer's Almanac.
Oh, to be carried in a pocket when one feels so raw...

Morning Song
Marcia F. Brown

Here, I place
a blue glazed cup
where the wood
is slightly whitened.
Here, I lay down
two bright spoons,
our breakfast saucers, napkins
white and smooth as milk.

I am stirring at the sink,
I am stirring
the amount of dew
you can gather in two hands,
folding it into the fragile
quiet of the house.
Before the eggs,
before the coffee
heaving like a warm cat,
I step out to the feeder-
one foot, then the other,
alive on wet blades.
Air lifts my gown – I might fly –

This thistle seed I pour
is for the tiny birds.
This ritual,
for all things frail
and imperiled.
Wings surround me, frothing
the air. I am struck
by what becomes holy.

A woman
who lost her teenage child
to an illness without mercy,
said that at the end, her daughter
sat up in her hospital bed
and asked:
What should I do?
What should I do?

Into a white enamel bath
I lower four brown eggs.
You fill the door frame,
warm and rumpled, kiss
the crown of my head.
I know how the topmost leaves
of dusty trees
feel at the advent
of the monsoon rains.

I carry the woman with the lost child
in my pocket, where she murmurs
her love song without end:

Bear yourself up on small wings
to receive what is given.
Feed one another
with such tenderness,
it could almost be an answer.

"Morning Song" by Marcia F. Brown
from "What on Earth" © Moon Pie Press, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Keenan's Journal

Things have sure changed a lot around here lately. Mama is still waking up very early, but now instead of spending the morning together doing a lot of writing like we've done for months, she only sits with me for a little while as she drinks her first cup of coffee. Then she dashes upstairs and gets in the shower. I follow to see if we're getting ready to go somewhere, like for an early morning walk, but instead of putting on her sweats and gym shoes, she puts on some fancy clothes that she recently bought at the store, grabs her purse, gets in the car and drives away - WITHOUT ME! I'm having trouble understanding a lot of what's going on. She's using the words WORK and JOB a lot, and there seems to be a pattern developing. She leaves in the morning at about 7:00 and doesn't get home until 5:00. Good thing my bladder is big!

It's such a long day without her here, and sometimes I get really scared that she won't come back... just like Erin. Erin used to go to the hospital a lot for treatments and sometimes she even spent a whole week there, but eventually she came home and I was always so happy to see her. But, one day she went away and didn't come back. I was in the room that day when she had to go away.  Mama and I talk about that day, and together we repeat She's really not coming back to one another. We get very sad and she still uses my mane when she can't find the kleenex box. I like it when she hugs me like that.
I still love to carry Erin's socks around the house, so they always leave a few pairs on the floor for me. Mama says we are all making adjustments and finding our new way, and change is difficult
and we all have to work through the things
that are different and scary and sad. 
I guess she's right, but sometimes I just have to snuggle up with a little reminder of Erin and sleep on all those thoughts.

I have to say that Mama has been looking a little disheveled lately. She's been studying big packets of papers with a lot of writing on them. They've been teaching her about the words and pictures on them at that place she calls WORK. I often find her sitting at the island in the kitchen and talking about things like a Recurring HAR and EEV and Medicare Coverage and Interactive Face Sheets and P/F Guarantor Accounts and Primary Care Physicians and Referrals and... blah blah blah!

Over the two-week classroom training period, she had to take six assessments on the things she was taught. She says, "Who do they think they're kidding? Assessment really means TEST!" She hasn't taken one of those so-called ASSESSMENTS since college and all students have to score a 95% or better just to PASS the assessment! She was a little stressed out, but she did it.

On some mornings, she tells me her tummy feels a little yucky because she's nervous. I understand. My tummy has been a little yucky too. I threw up on the rug once when she was at work. I think I was just missing her a lot. She cleaned it up when she got home and told me it was OK. She said a patient threw up at work one day too.  Accidents happen.

She walks around and babbles, Dr So-and-So is this type of oncologist and is in the Clinic on Mondays and Thursdays, and you in-basket this nurse for these three doctors, and they'll do scans at this location but they can't at that location, and you can schedule appointments in the lab by clicking on this button and... blah blah blah! She's trying to remember so many new things.

I've been thinking a lot about the way they used to help me remember how to sit and stay and come. They used treats and praise, and it took a lot of practice to get everything right. I used to get very confused about what they were telling me to do, but they were very patient. Mama says everyone at work is really patient and nice, and they help her because there is so much to learn, and new things come up everyday. She's working with ladies who have been there for many years and they know everything. I tell her she'll know everything someday too. I'm going to tell Papa to get some Peanut M & Ms at the store next time he goes, and I'll use them to reward Mama when she gets the right answer. That should help her learn faster!

She shocked me one day when she came home and said, "Keenan, my dogs are barking!" I wondered what the heck she was talking about. I'M her dog and I wasn't barking! I usually don't because it's rude. I was pretty jealous because I thought she'd met other dogs at this new job of hers that she hadn't told me about, and then I finally figured out she was referring to her feet! It's because of those SILLY GROWN-UP SHOES with heels she has to wear now rather than her gym shoes.

One day while she was studying the phone rang, and she answered it and said, "Cancer Center - Clinic B, this is Mary, how may I help you?"! What the heck is wrong with her? This isn't a Clinic, this is our house! DUH!

She tells me about all the nice nurses she's meeting, and about how they're so compassionate toward the patients. We talk about how Erin would have been such a great nurse. We used to say, "No one understands better than one who has been through it." and we'd both tell her she was REALLY going to understand her patients, but Erin never got the chance to do that. Then, Mama buries her face in my mane.

Erin had a blood pressure cuff, and one day she was messing around and I let her check to make sure mine was OK
in spite of all the treats I was getting.
Whew - I was fine! 120/80 ~ perfect.
Bring on those table scraps!

We're both having trouble with the fact that we can't spend as much time together doing things we know Erin would like. During the summer we used to go down to the lakefront, and while we walked the path and looked at the water we thought about a lot of important stuff, and Mama would stop and write those things down in her journal. I was always consulted.

That was a very special day for us.

The weather today is really chilly, which reminds me that winter is coming soon. On weekdays, we often walked the trails in the woods when no one else was there. It was so pretty and quiet without the crowds that fill the paths on the weekends. Mama and I stopped and talked about Erin a lot while we were out among those trees. We felt really close to God out there too. Now, our time to do that will be limited and it bothers us.

We'd often walk through the woods and over to Bronswood and spend time under Erin's pine tree. We felt a sense of peace while sitting in the snow and breathing deeply in the crisp air. Now we can only go on the weekends, and that's hard too.

But, Mama says she is really happy about her decision to go to work. Even though she can't be "in her head" with Erin in the same way, she feels as though Erin's spirit is in her heart as she walks into the Cancer Center and interacts with everyone. On her most-difficult days, and even when she has come home in tears a couple of times because she's felt overwhelmed, she knows this is what she wants to do. Every single day when we all sit together and talk about her day, or when the three of us go for our nightly walk, she says, I LOVE THE PATIENTS. This is what I need to do. This is where I want to be.

So yes, there have been changes ~ a lot over the past twelve months. Erin was still in college a year ago at this time... and now look where we all are. Each of us is adjusting ~ finding our way. Mama really misses spending time with her friends, and she's trying to find more time to write. There are so many thoughts swimming in her head that she wants to write about, but when she gets home she is too tired to put together sentences that make much sense. Instead, she tells me all about them and jots down notes, and then composes at a later time, usually on the weekends. That may change as she gets more accustomed to things at work.

These days, Papa usually gets home before she does, and he lets me out the front door so I can run to the end of the driveway and look down the street to see if her car is coming yet.

Then, he calls me back up to the porch, and on nice days he pours a glass of wine and we wait together for her on the front steps. She's always so happy to see me that she doesn't notice when I take a couple of sips.

So, it's all good. We're taking things a day at a time, and we're all learning how to do it together. Papa has even been cooking dinner most of the time, which makes Mama really happy. I think he's doing a great job ~ those table scraps are delicious!

I do have a confession to make though.
Mama's friend Margaret put an idea in my head,
and I have to admit that I got a little crazy
one day when she was at work.

Damn! Now they hide the Chivas
and take the keys to the Porsche! 
Crank up your volume
and Have some Fun with me!