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"

Monday, March 28, 2011

a centering of thoughts

I've forever had a busy brain that tends to channel surf through many stations while I go about the activities of the day. I always say it's never boring in my head because there's an animated conversation or lively video one can tap into. It's a trait I appreciate much of the time because it not only acts as an ongoing reflection of the fabulous people who fill my life and the interesting things I've been up to, but it's also the birthing room for a multitude of new ideas.

The downside, however, is the feeling of restlessness that results from my inability to effectively use the off switch to stop the racing images when I need to rest. Clearing my mind of all distracting thoughts to achieve the goal of total relaxation is an effort I've always found incredibly challenging, and the difficulty of that intention has increased exponentially since Erin died. Disturbing memories of her diagnosis date, life-altering surgical procedures, bags of dripping chemicals, the sound of her very last breath...   stealthily work their way into my efforts toward a quieted mind and often bar entry to a peaceful night's sleep.

I've been encouraged to focus on one calming image, stay there and try to prevent my mind from wandering by recentering my thoughts on that picture.  The key has been to find a focal point that doesn't remind me of Erin, and that is nearly impossible because essentially, she's everywhere.  Pleasant scenes of ocean waves, sounds of falling rain or rumbling thunder, the silky texture of Keenan's fur and even the taste of my favorite peanut M & M's all remind me of her in some way. When I try to force my mind to stay with the positive remembrances in association with such images, I find myself growing agitated at the effort required to not stray toward the ones that broke my heart.

My recent entrance back into the practice of yoga has resulted in increased levels of strength and flexibility, and has also afforded the opportunity to work on the introspective, meditative principles involved in the discipline, where I hope to hone those skills and take them out the door with me into my daily existence.  At the end of each session during Savasana, or resting pose, we're encouraged to let go completely of all mental agitation, tension and anxiety, to calm the mind yet remain present and aware of ourselves.  This has been most challenging, and while we're encouraged to center our thoughts on our relaxing bodies, I've continued to search for that one calming focal point to draw and then hold my attention. I finally found it. Wheat.

While lying on the floor in the studio last Friday, I recalled my mother telling me when she couldn't sleep she envisioned the movement of an endless field of wheat; the restfulness of settling into the sensation of a warm breeze blowing across her face and causing the gentle, unified motion of the crops, harmony. Amen. When I see wheat, I don't see Erin.  At all.  There is no connection.  They are separate entities.

And when that thought came to me, I remembered the poem copied below that my friend Karen shared with me some time ago.  Its simple words center my scattered thoughts and then add the dimension of a holiness reflective of the spirituality of God's presence in nature ~ a fundamental element of my faith I find personally comforting when eloquence eludes me; in times of desperation when in a tongue-tied plea for mercy I'm often reduced to a pathetic state of frustrated silence.


Lynn Schmidt says
she saw You once as prairie grass,
Nebraska prairie grass;

she climbed out of her car on a hot highway,
leaned her butt on the nose of her car,
looked out over one great flowing field,
stretching beyond her sight until the horizon came:
vastness, she says,
responsive to the slightest shift of wind,
full of infinite change,
all One.

She says when she can’t pray
She calls up Prairie Grass.

© Pem Kremer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

sometimes I just deserve a good pity party for one...

People are always saying that change is a good thing.
But all they're really saying is that
something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened.

Kathleen Kelly
and this led to...

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life
- well, valuable, but small -
and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it,
or because I haven't been brave?
So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book,
when shouldn't it be the other way around?

lots of thinking today

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Stony Paths

We who have a bit o' the green coursing through our veins
exchange Irish sentiments today covering nearly everything,
from concern about having an adequate supply of cold beer
to prayers for sturdy roofs over our heads
and ongoing bounty in our fields.

For those of us who sometimes tread with unsteady footing
on trails lined with personal challenges,
be it a dearth of good drink or the road's failure to rise,
'Tis my nature to be straightforward and practical.

If God sends you down a stony path,
may he give you strong shoes.

erin's celtic knot

Monday, March 14, 2011

Light Amidst the Darknesses

The poem copied into my recent blog post refers to darknesses;
anger  cruelty 
...a foretaste of other darknesses to come later 
which all of us must endure alone...

Cancer is an embodiment of cruelty. The physical and emotional effects of the disease itself, in combination with the often barbaric treatments involved in the quest for a cure or the maintenance of its stability, and even some methods of palliative therapy all carry a brutality that becomes etched in the minds of those of us who helplessly hold the hands of the ones we love.

Anger is a natural reaction to this heartbreak, and I admit to a drift at times toward that human tendency in an instinctive response to the death of my daughter.  I stayed with her, but I couldn't save her.  No one could.

In spite of my ability to still feel Erin's hand in mine, the darknesses have come. They present in the vivid memories of the pain she endured. They come in my deep longing for her presence on this earth in the here and now, and they enter into the dreams of a future life that will go unfulfilled.

I'll forever carry many levels of grief over Erin's death, but I work diligently to be more than a person defined within only those parameters. My world has gradually evolved into a place where experiences have fed a perspective toward things that previously went unnoticed.  I'm ashamed to say I must have been too busy.

Erin's cancer diagnosis was my portal to a deeper awareness of the unique, personal challenges of many individuals, and has resulted in an empathetic desire to make inroads in areas that are within my control.  This intention provides an avenue to channel my grief into a purposeful and, therefore, positive action rather than allowing it to spiral into bitterness.  It's a decision that is essentially an interpretation of the Serenity Prayer, and the conscious choice to live its message fosters my ability to focus on light amidst the ongoing threat of darknesses.

One means through which to live this intention is through my promotion of blood donations.  Because the results of giving blood benefit such a broad range of individuals ~ from cancer patients, to burn victims, to people with certain chronic illnesses, to the victims of catastrophic accidents... ~ the gift of life is an all-inclusive act of generosity.

May 14 will be Erin's 20th birthday and, once again, we're inviting you to celebrate the occasion with us by participating in our Second Memorial Blood Drive. The number of units collected at LAST YEAR'S EVENT made Erin's 19th Birthday Celebration one of LifeSource's most successful memorial drives.  Click back on that post.  We had a blast!

Please mark your calendars
and make the commitment 
to join us this year.

Erin's 20th Birthday Celebration
Sunday, May 15th
8:00am - 3:00pm
St. Cletus School

More information, including detailed sign-up instructions, will be posted next month
once everything is finalized with LifeSource.

Sincere thanks to all who continue to donate
on a regular basis in memory of Erin.
If you are a donor, please be aware that March 20th
is the last day you can give blood
and still be eligible to do so on May 15th
due to the mandatory 8 week period between donations.

Help us provide some light for those in need.
Just imagine how many will benefit from our united effort!

Don't you just love a BIG PARTY?  
Please forward this post.  Thank you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spoiled? You Betcha!

This little guy was born four years ago today.
When we brought him home
he became a very important part of Erin's life.
He also helped me keep an eye on her.

Low counts?  Really? 
Hmmm... she looks just fine to me!

Do you think she'll make me get off Erin's bed?

Nah! I'm her favorite!

What a great way to spend a birthday.
There's nothing better than a long nap
after a brisk walk.
I almost had that squirrel...

Ahhh, the life of the Birthday Dog.
Spoiled?  Yup.
Does he deserve to be?  Oh yeah!

Friday, March 4, 2011

my privilege

But Here I am Permitted to be With You
Sidney Morris

You are ill and so I lead you away
and put you to bed in the back room
you lie breathing softly and I hold your hand
feeling the fingertips relax as sleep comes

You will not sleep more than a few hours
for this illness is less serious than my anger or cruelty
but this dark bedroom is a foretaste of other darknesses
to come later which all of us must endure alone
but here I am permitted to be with you

After a while in your sleep your fingers clutch tightly
and I know that whatever may be happening
-- the fear coiled in dreams or the bright trespass of pain --
there is nothing at all I can do except hold your hand
and not go away.

I recently stumbled upon this poem quite by chance. I suppose one often stumbles upon things one is truly meant to find.

This is the door to the room on the first floor of our home that became Erin's bedroom when we brought her home from the hospital. I've sat alone for hours in those grief-filled darknesses, while staring down the hall at that doorway and while sitting in that room ~ absorbing the impact of our lives forever changed by a cancer diagnosis, at times angered that my proclaimed meticulous care couldn't fix her, humbled by the powerlessness of my control over what her eventual path and purpose would be, astounded by the courage and grace of a girl so young, and with gratitude for the awarenesses her illness and death continue to inspire within myself and among others, often in unexpected ways... for the latter bits of realization bring clarity that these manifestations are consistent with my belief that there was not the loss of a battle with cancer, but rather a beautiful life well lived.

The poem paints a striking contrast
of agony borne of outrage, frustration and fear
~ there is nothing at all I can do ~
and the understanding that presence with my daughter
was a privilege and a gift
for had I not always been there, would I still feel her hand in mine?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Semantics? Perhaps.

We support those whose lives have been 
touched by cancer
is a common phrase used by
cancer societies, foundations and organizations offering assistance.

My life was not touched by Erin's cancer diagnosis. I find the word to be much too gentle, too kind, too humane... almost intimate.  Erin certainly felt more than the mere brush of a hand.  A cancer diagnosis brings with it the impact of a hurricane; its winds scatter the debris left by the force that has upended its victim's tidy life, and its torrents of water threaten to drown those of us who work diligently to make headway through the devastation in the aftermath of the upheaval.

Invaded. Assaulted. Broken. Changed.
These feel more accurate.
Touched? I don't think so.
~ ~ ~

This poor mother has lost her child to cancer.
Lost? No.
Erin was taken from me by a disease.
She died. She passed away.

I did not lose my child. I was meticulously conscientious. I understood her diagnosis. I took her to treatments and I gave her treatments. I watched everything.  I saw too much. I followed the instructions of the doctors.  I gave her the correct medication when I was supposed to.  I took her to school. Once she had her license, I leant her my car. She took herself where she needed to go. Out with friends. To radiation. To coach volleyball.  To college. I respected her judgement and I trusted her to be independent yet cautious, but I knew where she was at all times. My instincts told me, even when she was a normal teenager and forgot to call.

I lost carries a connotation of carelessness, a lack of accountability and forgetfulness. I have lost my keys. I've lost phone numbers. I've lost my place in a book and I suppose I've lost my marbles for short periods of time.

But, I was very responsible and always took good care of Erin.
I did not lose her.
How could I possibly lose anything that dear to me?
She died.
~ ~ ~

After a valiant three-year fight, 
Erin Potts lost her battle with cancer.
I personally don't care for the use of lost here either. 
Erin maintained courage, dignity and grace.

Those dying of cancer all have a staggering ability to do just that.
They live with a looming deadline, the unimaginable,
and all the while they enrich the lives of those
who stand with them.
That's not losing, it's rising to another level of being.

Over the course of three years, cancer eventually made its way throughout much of Erin's body. In spite of the attempts of the physical encumbrances to slow her, she persisted on, living until she took her last breath.  She had strong ideas about certain things and made conscious choices until the very end about the way she wanted to live her life.  Her spirit transcended the physical effects of the disease.  We saw her strength outshine her pain. Her smile lit up the room.  She accepted her course and she was the winner.
On the last day, Erin was finally at peace.
She did not lose to cancer.
People who die from cancer are not losers.
~ ~ ~
Semantics? Perhaps.

PS ~ Please click on the comments below, and read the entry written by Barbara about word connotations as they pertain to the subject of suicide. At my first meeting with the TCF group, she shared information about the preferred phraseology concerning her son's death.  Prior to my attendance at group meetings with TCF and due to the fact that my experiences have been limited primarily to the cancer-world, I was naive on many levels about the subject of suicide and about things other families face related to the sudden deaths of their children.  I'm grateful to be enlightened by our group members on an ongoing basis in areas that are foreign to me. Thank you for sharing, Barbara.  As painful as all of this is, we truly do learn from one another's experiences, don't we?
Thank you to Robin as well.