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"

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Few Bits and Pieces

If you're one of the kind folks who checks in here on a regular basis, you've most likely noticed I've not been posting often as of late. I've recently received a few "are you ok?" emails, much like I did while I was still in the narcoleptic phase of post-surgical recovery last April. Yes, I'm here and I'm OK. Thank you for your concern.

On one hand I've been incredibly busy with my new job/s. Beginning employment in a new area (in healthcare as opposed to a school system/athletics where I'd spent years in my before-cancer-invaded-my-whole-world life, where I was quite comfortable and confident) has involved many hours over the past few months with my brain directed toward the absorption of a mountain of new materials and the task of familiarizing myself with the procedures and flows of several departments.

I'm grateful for the opportunities afforded by the managers of these various areas of the hospital, and I'm gradually settling into a routine that provides a welcome balance of physical activity (from my therapy pool instruction where I benefit from the restorative effects of exercise in warm water as much as the members of my classes do), the brain-power challenge of computer technology and the complex insurance world (@&*#) and the opportunity to have face-to-face contact with patients and their families.

Admittedly, on occasion, I've been nervous and overwhelmed.  OK, pretty much exhausted and scared shitless here and there!  It's both exciting and unnerving to begin life again at my "mature" age and to balance that with the time I continue to feel is personally necessary to grieve. If I deny myself that proportional time, I find "Erin" oozing out in an undesirable fashion rather than finding her spirit through purposeful living and the respect of honoring her wishes. Have fun.  Yes lovey.

Someone who walks a path similar to mine recently said, "It often requires so much energy to get through the day at work with a smile on my face, and when I walk out the door I can finally let down.  I usually cry the whole way home from work in the safety of my car, and then put the smile back on for my younger son when I get home."

I've had comparable experiences.  Because I couldn't return to my former place of employment, where everyone knew my circumstances and there was an established comfort level, I've had to start from square one.  I would create a potentially awkward environment if I were to walk into each new department and say, "Hi there. I'm the new girl, and by the way, my daughter died.  It was terrible.  Still is.  It's coming up on two years now and I'm working very hard to stay out of the treacherous hole this time of year invites me to crawl in."  I've confided in a few individuals and the word is spreading, so it's getting a little easier, but I still have to consciously keep myself in check. It's not always easy, so that tension has to go somewhere and it has often been poured out in this space.
I'm trying hard not to do that because I led you down that road with me last year. There's no need for me to take you again.

A few posts ago, I wrote about the threatening descent this time of year invites.  My circumstances now are different than those of last November-December.  A year ago, while unemployed, I allowed myself the luxury of wallowing neck deep through the first anniversary. I curled up with my blanket and wrote a lot during that time. I'm glad I did. The tangible pain that's very evident in those posts which I typed while sinking into the agonizing memories of those days, often hour by hour, was a requisite process that enabled me to move in a forward direction after turning the calendar page to January 2011.

This year, I'm making an effort to diffuse the concentration of the pain of those memories by focusing outward on the things in my life that I've found to be purposeful and positive, as I continually remind myself of the sound advice that one should remember and not relive the experiences. Embrace Erin, and separate her from the grief associated with the results of a disease outside the realm of our control. I have been fairly successful thus far, due in part to the receptive venue provided by my employment situation in combination with some other events.
Tomorrow, I'll be volunteering with the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation and making ornaments with current pediatric cancer patients at one of the Chicago hospitals.  I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting paint spatters on my face with the little sweethearts whose radiant lights will shine through their energetic and optimistic personalities.  Those qualities can be extremely contagious!  Thank goodness.

Also, there has been an abundant response to my mention of Katherine's Project Linus endeavor. Donations, both monetary and purchased fabric, have arrived in my mailbox and in bags by my front door.
Check it out Katherine!

just a few

They've arrived from ~ family members ~ neighbors ~ my friends ~ Erin's friends ~ the Purdue University Volleyball and Women's Hoops teams ~ Sarah's friends ~ Girl Scout Troops from St Cletus who gathered to actually make the blankets so they could fully experience and therefore understand the true intention of the activity ~ a beautiful letter enveloping a check that came all the way from California from a reader of my blog whose only son passed away from sarcoma; a young man who'd been wrapped in a warm refuge of his own to soften the harsh florescent backdrop while serving chemo/hospital time ~ another one, made by the loving hands of a mother whose son also died from Ewings and is buried near Erin at Bronswood, we met one day... the Lord provides in amazing ways.

Project Linus, which is really not my project at all, but rather Katherine's, has been a totally unexpected blessing from which I've reaped immeasurable bounty. My deep gratitude extends to one and all.

Last month I had my six-month post kidney donation checkup.  I am pleased to report that I'm the picture of health.  I'm even happier to tell you that Jim is doing fine.  He is down to one lab draw each week, (from three) all his levels are good, there are no signs of rejection and he has gained back some much-needed weight.

I've recently added a new fashion accessory to my wardrobe in the form of a little button with this message.

This is a new interest I've started to pursue.

Yeah, I know. There she goes!
First blood, now body parts, right?

Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where Jim and I had our surgeries, has begun a support group that invites organ recipients, hopeful people on national transplant lists... waiting, individuals on dialysis... waiting, and caregivers to gather together on a regular basis. Meetings are facilitated by social workers and the topics vary, based on requests of those involved. A week ago, the topic centered on exploring the possibility of living donations. I desperately wanted to go to the meeting, to listen to and talk with those in attendance, some of whom are considering the testing process to be a living donor to a relative or friend.  The meeting was held on a weeknight, and I'd been at work all day and couldn't drive to Milwaukee.  The social workers were kind enough to conference call me in and I was able to share my positive experience with the 50 individuals who had gathered. THAT was pretty weird!  It was strange to speak through the phone to a group without having the benefit of eye-contact, facial expression and body language to key into.

Through the social workers, I have made myself available for phone calls to answer questions and relate my experiences to those considering living donation.  They've also encouraged Jim to soon begin mentoring those who are in "waiting-mode".  I think the two of us together could be an effective one-two punch of advocacy for this below the radar situation.  According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, there are over 96,000 people in the US on the waiting list for a kidney!  I'm exploring the various ways to become involved, at Froedtert and locally, because it was truly a piece of cake on my part.  Not kidding!

Back to the topic of blood donations. Thank you to those who continue to offer a pint on a regular basis.  I can't tell you how much it means to receive a simple email or text message - "Donated in memory of Erin today. Thinking of her. Thinking of you."  I can close my eyes and see her sitting in a chair pre-transfusion, pale and tired.  I can see her cheeks pink up and her eyes brighten and her energy level increase as that gift some kind soul had sat a few minutes to give coursed through her.  Keep donating, everyone.  You're making a HUGE difference in the lives of others who desperately need you.
One other thing I want to mention in this post is the link down near the bottom of my sidebar To E Love Saysee. When Erin was a little girl, she began to call Sarah "Saysee".  I have no idea how or why it started, but the nickname stuck through the years.  
The link takes you to Sarah's Tumblr - a series of photos. Once you're there, the sentence under the title explains her intention. If you're so inclined, take a peek.

If you knew Erin in person, or have gotten to know her through my posts, you will see her in the majority of photos in the Tumblr.  I took the one above of some treasures that still sit on Erin's dresser, and you will see one of those objects mirrored in a couple of Sarah's choices.  This new space has been a source of enlightenment, comfort, tears and laughter for me as I read a story about my two daughters told from Sarah's perspective. 

Well, I certainly said a lot! What began as " a FEW bits and pieces" turned into quite the novel here! It's been a while and I had a number of things to share with you. Again, thanks for your concern. I'm certainly entering into the dark months and it's good to have you all there. Now... it's time for me to get ready to go to that job I mentioned above.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. The owner of my Milwaukee kidney and his wife will be among those who gather around our table. Their daughter, her husband and this fabulous beast will join our immediate family as well.  Keenan is so excited that Finn is coming!

May we all count our blessings on that day.

PS - please take a moment today to say a prayer or think a positive thought for my blog friend Robin. You've most likely read her comments after some of my posts. Her son Josh died by suicide three years ago, and today she is undergoing breast cancer surgery. She is a newly ordained Pastor in the Presbyterian Church, a brilliant individual and gifted writer.
Thank you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

holding you

with deep respect, we honor the memory of Kelli O'Laughlin
as she is laid to rest today
and we hold her loving family close to us 
during this time of profound heartache

knowing firsthand how we gained strength
through the love and unity of this same community
with ribbons bound in solidarity
embracing us during our own time of sorrow

~ ~ ~