Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Very Grateful Brave Girl

It's been a difficult week. Really pretty darn ugly in fact. Rubbed me raw. Hurt my heart. Buckets of tears. And through it all I did what I always do in public ... just keep on keepin' on and no one had a clue to how close I came to falling apart. Or running away.  

But I didn't fall apart. And I didn't run away. Because, after all, that's not what I do. Ever. 

So I cocooned. Cocooning works for me. I came home from work each night and went straight to bed. Pulled those covers right up over my head. And slept more than I have since ... well since before Vern was diagnosed, I think.

And today - instead of doing the Light the Night Walk I had planned in memory of Vern - I stayed in my jammies and spent time at my laptop. Just did not have it in me to put on that happy face and be in a crowd today. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society received my donation along with those of the few friends who supported me, so that's what was most important. 

And what did I receive?  Well ... I received an important reminder of a conversation I had with a very special little girl two years ago.

My November Brave Box arrived. Brave Girl Soul School is a gift I've given myself and this month's focus is Everyday Gratitude. I opened up the box of beautiful artwork and lessons and important words and knew this was what I needed to spend time on today. I really do believe that taking time to recognize the good things in our life, the everyday things that we often take for granted, can make a huge difference in how we hold up under life's struggles. I had lost sight of that this week.

So I started watching the project videos and there was Eden! What a wonderful gift to hear her sweet voice again. You see, Eden and I shared a seat on the Brave Bus at Brave Girl Camp in November 2012 and had a really wonderful conversation. That little girl is blessed well beyond her years. She saw me. Really saw me. And said things to me that touched my soul. 

But now it's two years later. And my soul was bruised and I had forgotten her words. Until tonight. Tonight I remembered.  Thank you, sweet Eden. What a blessing you are to me ... to this world.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Trip Home ... and more

September ... it hasn't been a favorite month of mine during the past 4 years. Vern's final days were in September, and so many memories come flooding back at this time each year. I relive those final days at home, the 911 call, the hospital stay and move to hospice. Second guessing choices made, things missed, questions unanswered. And eventually remembering all of the love that surrounded him ... us ... during those final hours.

But there was a difference this year - and maybe a lesson to be learned.

Our very first international Camp Widow was taking place in Toronto on September 26-28 and I decided to make a stop in Michigan on my way there. That meant an extra busy few weeks at work before I left. And being the procrastinator that I am, packing was left to the weekend before my flight. I didn't plan on my car needing to go in for repair and having to get a rental - and the extra time the afternoon before my flight to return the rental and pick up my car. But that actually turned into a blessing, as there was no time to dwell on the September what-ifs.

Jeremy came with me ... to see family AND to help me by volunteering at Camp Widow. It was good. Really good. Although I'm not sure he enjoyed sitting through the long reunion lunches with my elementary and high school friends - but his reward was a University of Michigan football game on Saturday to make up for it. Not a great year for the Wolverines but we had fabulous seats and it was my first time in the Big House. And it stormed. Thunder, lightning, heavy rain, flooding, 60mph winds, hail ... oh Michigan, I remember you so well.

We had a nice family gathering and Jer got to see some cousins he hasn't seen in many years. And I was able to visit my sister Bev. She's in a nursing home; not sure she recognized me but I had some things I needed to say to her. Important things. She was widowed in 2002 and I didn't know then what I do know now. I believe she heard me.


So staying really busy was helpful in keeping those hard memories at bay. We said goodbye to family on the 21st and drove across the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario. I purposely chose to not be with family or friends on the 4 year anniversary of Vern's death. I wanted that time to myself ... to walk along the riverfront, to remember, to be grateful for the years we had together. But that's not how it turned out. Instead we were grilled by Customs, interrogated by Immigration, nearly not allowed in the country, late arriving at the hotel, even later returning the car after finally finding the airport. Oh Canada ... what a welcome. Was there a lesson somewhere in there?  Yes, I think there was.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

45 Random Acts of Kindness

45 years ago today ... it was hot and sticky in southeastern Michigan. I recall picking up our wedding cake from the neighbor who baked it (with my hair in those pink spongy curlers) and placing the cake in the trunk of my car to deliver to the church. No big reception for us (no $$) so we were just using the church hall to have some cake and open gifts after the ceremony. The rain didn't arrive until during the ceremony, and that just made the sanctuary even more humid. Perspiration dripped from my guy's face ... humidity or nerves?  Probably both. It was a whirlwind romance that neither of us could have ever predicted. "Where it began, I can't begin to know when ... but then I know it's growing strong. Was in the spring, then spring became the summer. Who'd have believed you'd come along."

It was the summer of '69.  I was just 18, Vern was 28. He had been one of my high school teachers, but there was no hint of what was to come until after I graduated. Our first date was June 8th, we were engaged on July 8th and married on August 23rd. That speedy time frame didn't seem out of the ordinary to us at all. We just knew that we were meant to be. And we were.

I was blessed to spend 41 years with Vern. Truly blessed that he chose me. And blessed that I was able to care for him and hold him as he took his last breath. I spent our 42nd anniversary alone here in our house; I was at Brave Girl Camp in Idaho on our 43rd; and last year I drove his Mustang up to Mt. Charleston and had a special hummingbird visit.

This year I ventured over to St. Rose Siena Hospital ... yes, the hospital Vern spent many, many, many weeks in during that long, hard cancer battle. I haven't been back there since that last time in September 2010 .... but it felt like that was the place I needed to do my 45 random acts of kindness in honor of Vern and our wedding anniversary. I know what it's like to pull into that parking lot and fear what is to come. I know what it's like to sit in the ER waiting and waiting and waiting. I know what it's like to watch that poisonous chemo being infused into the man I loved. And I know what it's like to feel alone, to feel that no one cares or understands just how horribly hard it is to put one foot in front of the other as we watch our loved one suffer. So I wanted to do just a little something to help some unknown people perhaps traveling that same road ... to let them know they are not alone and they are loved.

So I prepared the cards, added some cash or gift cards to the envelopes,bought flowers and balloons and helium. And off Jer and I went. First stop was to pick up 6 dozen Krispy Kremes, and then off to St. Rose. 

Cards attached to bags filled with surprises.

What an amazing morning. There have been some major changes at the hospital, lots of construction (finally a parking garage is being built!). We found our way into the ER waiting room and made some staff extremely happy with the hot Krispy Kremes. I explained why we were doing this and they were surprised and so appreciative. We then headed up to the 3rd floor - that's where we spent a lot of time as it was the chemo and surgical floor. More donuts for the staff. And I gave the gift cards to the charge nurse to give out to those who really need them. Jer and I then headed down the hall and gave out flower bouquets to the patients. Oh my - this was extra, extra special and something I will do regularly. We met a couple who had just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary and a woman who had just celebrated her 45th anniversary in the hospital - and a lovely Iranian woman who was overwhelmed with our gift and kept shouting to God to bless us. Patients and staff were so surprised at our generosity - and so very thankful. Then we were off to the parking lot to fill up balloons with helium and attach a card with some cash in it to 20 cars. We chose to place them on the cars in the ER parking spaces and were paid a visit by a Security guard. When I explained what we were doing he was rather impressed and gave us the ok to continue.  

The back of my car filled with goodies.

The ER parking lot
I don't like to honor the day Vern died ... that is a day for private reflection for me. But this ... oh yes, this is something I will do again and again. On our wedding anniversary, on his birthday ... and I'm thinking once a month 'just because'. 

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.   Edward Everett Hale 

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. 
Stephen Grellet  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

There is Love

This date ... May 4 ... the date the word  C A N C E R  was first uttered ... continues to hold power over me. It casts its shadow each year, taking me back to that fateful day. In all honesty, however, the word 'cancer' had first paid a visit to my brain the afternoon before - when Dr. J called us with the results of that morning's MRI saying "My God, you have a tumor on your spine. You're meeting with a surgeon at 7am tomorrow morning." 

I do think there's some changes occurring as the years pass, however, as I now can see how much love surrounded us that day. It was there holding back the fear as I struggled to get Vern into the car that morning. It filled that small room in the surgeon's office when he showed us the MRI and explained how bad things were. It enveloped us in the car as we sat absorbing all that had been shared with us before entering the hospital.

And while there were many awful, hurtful things that occurred during those first days and weeks,  L O V E  was there ... always.  I find myself on this date each year, reading back through our CaringBridge journal. Reminding me of  ... the daily struggle, the wonderful medical personnel we were blessed with, along with those who should have chosen a different profession, the miracles we were granted, the joys we encountered in the midst of the horrors. I'm grateful I have those entries. But I didn't share everything there. I wanted those posts to be positive; I worked so very hard to keep Vern positive. I didn't share the personal hurts of disappearing friends, didn't share the disappointing behavior of friends and family, co-workers and my boss. But reading those entries jogs this old brain of mine - and while the unwritten hurts flicker into my mind they are now quickly replaced with the reminder that LOVE triumphed over all of it. The deep love shared by Vern & I and the eternal love of our God who was there throughout each of those 1602 days that cancer shared our lives. 

I had forgotten this quote that I shared in my July 5, 2006 journal entry. It held me up then and it holds me up now. It was written by Jim Chaffee, caregiver and husband to his wife, Janice, who died in February 2007 after a 3-year battle with multiple myeloma.

"So when my spirit screams "...where the hell are you, God?" my questioning void is filled with the companionship of the One who cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" There is no formula here, people, no four easy steps to lead us into understanding grief, no purpose driven "ah-ha" to explain why all this is happening. Christ simply and passionately hikes up His robe, sits down next to me, pulls my tear-stained face into His chest, and He weeps...He weeps with me, He weeps for my wife, He weeps long, deep, body rattling sobs, with snot and tears dripping from His chin. He weeps. From the bowels of one who has felt forsaken, who has felt loss, who aches when I cry "This just isn't fair!", who truly feels my pain, He weeps. And in His tears, in that sacred space called sorrow, I know God is there."   © Jim Chaffee

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I'm feeling something ... not sure exactly what it is. But there's a shift and it's not entirely pleasant or positive. Could be caused by many things but I find I'm reacting ... to things, to people, to their social media posts, to their blogs ... differently than I normally would. My compassion level seems to have taken a hit. Have I spent too much time making sure others were ok while not addressing my own grief?  Perhaps.

The house is very quiet now. Except for those 'house' sounds. You know, the ones you don't usually hear because the tv is on and people are around. Jer moved out in September, so the quiet is more intense. I know that's easily fixed by just turning something 'on' but I'm kind of liking this quiet so maybe I'll just let it be. Perhaps.

I can retire with full 30 year benefits next January. Part of me thinks it would be wonderful. No alarm. None of those 'work issues'. But part of me is frightened. Work is my main 'social' outlet. Sad, huh?  I talk and interact with people all day long there. When I stop working it will just be me. Alone. Here in this house. Ah, these life decisions. Retirement? Perhaps.

I thought I had already dealt with my "aloneness" ... wrote a blog about it in Widowed Village nearly two years ago. But I guess there's a transition with that, too. This aloneness feels different. It's more final. It's my life. And I have to keep pushing those ugly thoughts aside. Like ... if something happens to me how long would I lie here before anyone noticed I was missing?  Ugh. Not a pleasant thought at all. I think I'll worry about that another time. Perhaps.

You may have noticed I've used the term "house" instead of "home" in here. Michele's keynote speech at the recent Tampa Camp Widow addressed making our house a home. It hit home with me (no pun intended). My dear Brave Girls spread that same message. And I'm trying. Really, I am. I am not proud of the way I have lived since Vern died. It's been my ugly little secret. Well, not so little. It's pretty big, actually. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff everywhere. Mostly unopened mail. I can't tell you why. I don't understand it myself. I just have had a need to ignore it ... to pick it up out of the mail box and put it on the counter until it becomes too much and gets moved into yet another box. So I'm working on it. One box at a time. Should I have talked early on to a counselor about why I'm behaving this way? Perhaps.

And I just realized that all of these things settling into my thoughts right now may just be related to timing. May 4 is 2 weeks from today. May 4 ... the day that everything changed. It may have been 4 years ago, but I can go back to those exact moments in a heartbeat. I can see the MRI, hear the conversation, see his face, feel his fears. Yes, maybe my melancholy is just related to timing. Perhaps.