Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Write the New Year

I poured myself a cup of coffee this morning and then proceeded to sit here without taking a single drink prior to its getting cold because I forgot I had done it.

I sit here within the yearly mess that fleetingly makes one wonder why putting up Christmas decorations is worth it. I got most of them down yesterday, including the tree and now my living room looks as if it forgot to put on its pants. Something is missing. As I was taking down all the precious trinkets and carefully packaging them to survive another hot Texas summer in the attic (and a potential move to a new home), I pondered why the memories don't flood the same way they do when I am putting them up. I find taking it all down so blue and hazy, like a cold gray day that needs to be muscled through. I guess I don't like packaging things away. Its done on the faith that next year will be the same happy unpacking as it was this year and preparing everything for that once-a-year moment. I could not help the line of thought that made me wonder where we all will be this time next year. So much can change in a year, and that sensation has lingered in me through to this morning. I found myself turning to Joe in bed last night professing undying love in a half asleep state, curling into him as if his body itself could absorb me. I thought of my Nick, off at a winter camp with the Scouts, and fretting if he's warm enough, the feeling of that nearly grown red-headed boy sliding away through my fingers before I really got to enjoy holding him, and the inevitable guilty knowledge that if I did not savor him fully, its my own fault. I thought of Alex down at his father's house, how I'd daydreamed about spending these extra days I have off from work with him and that I had told him to call me when he was ready to come back up here to spend some time with me. I vaguely knew he might not....all his friends are down there at his dad's house, and I struggled against hormonal hurt that he really didn't call, that he's still there and my time off is half over now. Its silly really. He'll be here tomorrow. But I feel it all slipping by me so fast. And of course, I thought of Joseph, already gone, my standing proof of how unpredictable life is and how not in control I am over my own little universe. This all sounds very morose and I suppose in its way it is. But the overwhelming feeling I have inside is really just that of love. Of wanting it to go on forever. The TV stations keep playing these montages of the faces and lives of famous and notable people who died in 2008. Last year, watching those were a torture, seeing the faces of those who died in 2007 and adding one more to the slideshow, the brittle grief of knowing my oldest child was amoung those who died and whose heart and accomplishments in my mother's heart mirrored all of those paraded across the screen yet so many on earth were never even aware he existed at all. This year I just watched all those faces, watched the videos of them while they were alive and marveled at how short life really is. That sounds so trite and cliche, but I have an understanding of it that I think most do not. I'm not stuck on that fact other than the realization that living with awareness is all we really can do. And when I live with that awareness, I find myself already wishing for more time with all of them. Its so hard to live in today. But that is my resolution this year. Live consciously, live the now. And my other resolution....write it. Write about it. Write Sheri. It preserves your sanity in a way nothing else ever has, no religion, no drug, no memory, no person, no experience. Write. Write. Whether people read it or not, write your heart. Write the New Year. Make this journal reflect the music of your life.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Time Grows Heavy

It is all over for another year. I have always hated the end of Christmas...its so loud and colorful. So all emcompassing. And when it ends, its so silent, and the grayness of the world shows itself so devastatingly fast. And I am never sure which part was real, the colors or the gray beneath it. It was always that way for me.

This has a whole new flavor now, this my second year without Joseph. His illness through the holiday season was defining from that point forward. I have done a good job this year of incorporating my sense of his spirit into my spirit of the season, but now as the gray sky lightens, this day after Christmas, the memories are there, solemn faced, looming, holding their hands out to me, whispering softly "Walk with me". I found myself in tears a couple of times yesterday and in Joe's arms. I didn't give in, didn't let them take me over, and it was a good, good day. Today it is harder. There is no music or laughter or anything like the celebration or food to distract me, only the bright lights of a tree that is empty below and I know they will be going away soon. So symbolic of this time two years ago when he lingered on and on in PICU, when we knew he was going to die but neither his doctors nor we were willing to surrender to acceptance that there would be no miracles on this earth for this beautiful boy.

It is a tightness in my chest, a gripping of my throat, soft, clenching, present with me. I am called to his graveside; I am called to his path. From now until January 10th, there are memories that from the outside might look like the same blank page playing over and over again, but in my mind, are patterned with the subtleties that lead us the unforgiving pathway to surrender. Our own green mile. Life between now and then will be peppered with those memories and while I recognize this, I am at a loss as to how to cope with it and how to take its power away. I am not sure I would want to if I could. It was part of him, this final, valiant struggle against death. And I would never wish to forget any part of him.

The house smells of fresh coffee and the air is damp with a whisper of rain. I want to sink away now from the hullaballoo, let go of that fancy ship and float away in quietude and reflection. Last year it was a hammer, a baseball bat to the head. One year since I had seen or held or talked to my son. This time, marking two years, doesn't have the same violence. Just cotton-soft presence; this ethereal sorrow. In Lent, we Catholics do the Stations of the Cross, a ritual of prayer and remembering, telling the story of the last walk of Jesus prior to his death. This is my equivalent, the tears of the mother, remembering and praying, holding the stories of the last walk of her son. Touching the private, precious places inside the hollow place that exists every moment of every day now that he is gone. It exists alongside every happiness and savored joy. Neither one is a smokescreen for the other; both are true, these seeming polar opposites, twins of the same mother holding hands in my soul. I am the luckiest woman I know. I am the most sorrowful person I know. I count my blessings with a full heart every day. I mourn.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Magic

This is it...the beginning of the most exciting time before Christmas. If you ask Alex how many days he can practically answer down to the second. How I am going to miss this. He is my youngest. I cannot expect the magic and wonderment to last many more years I suspect. We had our annual viewing of The Polar Express tonight. I made popcorn the old fashioned way in a kettle on the stove tonight. It tastes so much better than microwave popcorn. While I was making it, Nick walked up and peered over my shoulder at me jiggling the pot, the glass lid letting him see the kernels popping, and he said to me "Well! THAT's a new way of doing it!!". Joe and I cracked up and tried to explain to him that making popcorn that way was actually the original way and the microwave version is what is new. The idea of a world without microwaves and cell phones is as foreign to my kids as a world without electricity was to me at their ages.

It seems every year when I see The Polar Express, the meaning of it alters slightly and speaks to me in a different way. I always cry when I watch it, which I guess is a weird reaction. I don't know many other people that do, but it gets me right in the heart; right in the gut. The music in particular moves me. I think I will always choose to believe in Santa. I believe in things I cannot see. I have faith in that which I cannot touch, but can only feel. If anything, the spirit of Christmas is more alive to me now than ever.

I am taking Nick out shopping just the two of us tomorrow and we'll have lunch together. I got to do this with Alex the day after Thanksgiving; it will be nice to do it with Nick now. I have more peanut brittle to make and candy. On Sunday the boys are having Christmas with Stewart's family and Joe is taking me to the Blue Mesa champagne brunch. After that we are going to make the drive to Providence Village to look at real estate and to see how far away that community would place us from the boys. I suspect it will be too far, but there sure are some nice homes out there for sale at much better prices than this close in to Dallas. We'll see what comes of it. Most likely nothing. Its probably too far, further than I want to be while the kids are still young enough to care about me being around every day.

So six more days, five as of tomorrow, as Alex informed me as I was tucking him into bed after his handful of pills and growth hormone injection. How lucky I am. I would give anything to be able to continue watching Joseph grow up. And now as I get to watch Alex, whom we also weren't sure would survive his illness, I want only to hold him right here, in this place, at this age. While he still wants toys for Christmas more than electronics. While he still comes to curl up against me on the couch. While he is still unafraid to demonstrate how much he loves me. Nick is at the funky age where he wants both toys and things that are more mature. I got him some of each. I hope they have a good Christmas. Its funny that I fret so much about the gifts. I can't recall a single thing they got from Santa last year. The gifts are so not important. This is the important part. The anticipation. The creation of memories. The honoring of traditions. I try hard to keep that in mind when I think of "Just one more thing...." and try to talk myself into it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

About Joseph's Illness

Every so often, particularly this time of year I notice, I get entranced with seeking out the latest research on Joseph's type of cancer. The very names ot the types of chemotherapy take me back...words we tossed around as if they were a part of every family's diet....etoposide, Mitox, Ara-C, myeloablasion, CNS involvement, prognostic indicator, Inversion 16. It is odd to feel the tinge of nostalgia within these awful memories. I continue to wonder what we could have done differently, and continue to come up empty handed when I do get to wondering.

In any case, I just found this report from The Oncologist. It was accepted for publication exactly one week after Joseph's death and appears to be the latest in research on his type of cancer. It is written in a combination of medical and layman's terms and may be a difficult read, but if you have ever wondered about his illness and what we were facing (and KNEW we were facing), particularly after he relapsed less than one year since he had gotten into remission, this outlines it all in black and white.

It is both affirming, that the odds were vastly stacked against us (he had between a 10 and 40% chance of survival depending on a number of factors), that we did everything we could (I see nothing in all my research that we did not try, ever), that he was every bit as sick as I thought (because I often wonder if I invited this tragedy into our lives by being so afraid). He had very poor odds. He was extremely ill. We did everything that is currently known in the medical field to do. It calms my shaking soul to know these things. Its so natural to want to blame someone, and when there is no one, to want to blame myself. Accepting that there was literally nothing more to be done...has been difficult. I am learning to.

http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/cgi/content/full/12/3/341

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stockings and Cookies

Joe-Gi died just after Christmas time, and spent his final Christmas on this earth in a drug induced coma on a ventilator at the hospital. We still had words of hope from the doctors at that point, and we kept his wrapped gifts and his stocking, praying for the day he would be able to wake up and breathe on his own again and he could open all of his gifts, which were plentiful, sent from across the globe by people who read my journal online and were moved by his heroic journey. Sadly, he died on January 10th and never got to open any of his gifts. One of the most painful tasks after his death was unwrapping all the things meant for him and deciding what to do with them. Most of them we donated back to the hospital children's ward. I never could, though, bring myself to unpack his stocking. Several months after he died, I got the strength to gather up his things and put them all into a giant Rubbermaid container to be moved into the new house Joe and I bought together. I wasn't ready to put them out of sight though, and that container has lived in our bedroom until recently, when, with the renovations going on, it was moved into the garage to be sealed up tight and taken up to the attic for storage.

Nick asked for Joseph's stocking this week. He is playing in a holiday concert with the orchestra at school today and they are going to hang stockings off of their music stands, and Nick wanted to bring and hang Joseph's, in memory of him. My immediate response was to say no. What if something happened to it? Nick isn't the most responsible guy on the planet, and what if he forgot it at school or lost it? But as the week went on, I decided to let him take it. He has his own grief journey to work through, and for me to be protective of Joseph's things as if they belong only to me and my own path to healing would be wrong. I vaguely knew I had never emptied out his stocking and that I would have to do so in order to give it to Nick to take.

So I did this last night, prior to our annual cookie decorating with their father. It was so bittersweet, reaching in and finding the things that he would be way outgrown in appetite for now, presumably anyway. A huge package of temporary tattoos. Curled up crazy straws. Bouncy superballs. Down at the toe I found a package of gum that he liked, still unopened. A black stocking cap with some cool, bad-ass design on the front. And I found two gift cards people had sent him that I had forgotten about, one to Kohl's and one to Old Navy. I left all but the gift cards and the gum in his box and brought the stocking in for Nick, Joseph's name embroidered on the front. It was not the same kind of sorrowful as I dealt with Joseph's gifts. I probably did that too soon after his death and should have allowed myself to wait. This was not nearly the impact of pain that was, just a misty, blue missing him. I'll get his brothers something with the gift cards, or donate them to the families we have adopted at Cooper Clinic for the season. And Nick can display Joseph's stocking at his concert today and have his big brother in his heart as he plays. We've all got our path to walk. I know that Joseph would approve.

As we sat down to dinner as a family prior to decorating cookies, Come Sail Away came on the radio. Stewart and I exhanged looks, smiles and felt his slender fingers stroke our hearts. He's always with us.

After dinner we decorated Christmas cookies, like we have every year, using my Mom's old recipes. We laughed a lot and had a lot of fun, though I had to put my foot down at one point to stop them from making zombie teddy bears and snowmen designed to look like they were vomiting or "have the plague"...their words..... Not quite the festive look I was going for, but there are a few of those in there. Hopefully either nobody looks at them too closely....or that they have a sense of humor if they do. Is hard to get young boys concerned with making things pretty. It was a warm and wonderful evening.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gentle Haunting

I awaken this morning to a soft, tender, precious sorrow and I sit quietly on the wings of nostalgia. We've had a cold snap and last night there was sleet with a touch of snow - forever now a symbol to me of Joseph, his life, his journey, his death. Two years ago today we began to realize that Joseph was going to die. He needed 80 breaths per minute to keep a 70% oxygen saturation in his blood. The boy who hated anything on his face had begun to panic without his oxygen mask. The boy who was so strong, so vital, needed me to catch him as he returned from the bathroom and called to me with a vocal panic I had never heard from him before because his legs were suddenly incapable of holding him anymore as he negotiated the three feet from his hospital bed to the toilet.

It may seem strange to those who have not been there, but these memories, though sorrowful and painful, are precious to me. What a privilege it was to be his mother. What a privilege it was to serve his noble soul in such a way, to have that kind of trust, that through every distinct chink to the armor of his dignity, he turned again and again to me, to his father, without shame or worry about what we would think as his body began to fail him in ways that would mortify and humiliate. It was an honor to be there to catch him and that he trusted me to do so. I cling to that sometimes, when the failures I have made as a mother weigh heavy on my mind, when the knowledge of how much we put him through in our desperate attempts to allow him to grow up, to keep him still with us chink at my own armor of dignity and open wounds of shame. I remember he called to me and he collapsed into my arms, not with the trust and love of an infant, but with the acceptance and faith of a person who knows they are loved unconditionally. And he was loved unconditionally. His illness taught me so much about myself, so much that it feels selfish and unbalanced. I never considered myself to be anything much, and I admit there have been times in my life that I have railed against the depth of my seeming unimportance in this world, my apparent invisibility and my self-perceived weakness and otherness that I felt kept me forever separated from the meat of the world, on the sidelines, different. I have sinced learned things about myself that render that line of thinking impotent and transparent. It is not that I now believe myself to be central and important. Quite the opposite. I learned acceptance. I learned strength. I learned there are a hundred small ways to make another person feel less alone, even in the midst of a battle so personal there is no way anyone could ever really join them there. I have felt my own version of that and have felt the soft touch of hands in the dark, heard the word of gentle encouragement that got me through another moment, another hour, another day. And I have been gifted at times to be the one to provide it elsewhere, to whisper 'I see you' in the way that only another tormented heart can hear and understand. There is something in this kind of suffering that is so raw, so dignified. It comes with an acceptance that there IS no being saved from it, and there is a certain beauty in that. It is in this kind of burning that things are forged from raw material, that something strong and beatiful is created, the heavy threads of sorrow and suffering giving off faint echo to those who know, to those who hear. Joseph's journey gave that to me and living with all that is encompassed in his absence continues to as well. And so I am somber and quiet today, humbled by the depth of instruction from my 13 year old man-child. I continually learn from him, from the memories and from all that has happened through it and since. It IS possible to laugh when you are hurting. It IS possible to whisper when you cannot breathe from the fear. There ARE hands to hold in the darkest of night. And if you let them, there ARE people who will walk through the fire with you, though rarely those whom you thought would or should be there. They cannot feel or take your pain. But amazingly, they will feel their own, voluntarily licked by the same flame in their willingness to see you through it. I did this for Joseph, as did his father. I did it for his father, as he did for me. Joe, Heather and all my friends to whom I am close did this for me and continue on, and I feel their relief as I step away from that inferno toward cool, calm waters. But I do look back at that raging fire. I do still feel its heat from time to time, and yearn for the soul whose spirit was so transformed by the experience that he lifted gossamer and purified into the ethereal night. I see you Joseph. I still do.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Give Thanks

A quiet, chilly morning, still, deep in the night, and I am without sleep. Sometimes the mind will not rest and I find myself in a dark living room beneath the subtle light of a single lamp, wandering the Internet, reading messages from family and friends, lost at times in prayer, meditation and memories, and this morning is no different. For whatever reason, my mind is awake and has things to say, and I suspect I will not rest until I have said it.

It is Thanksgiving 2008. I look beyond myself this year to see a world heavy with hardship, fear and sorrow. Over the past year, the news of every family who has had a loss has touched me deeply. Between Thanksgiving last year and this year has been a time of profound healing and personal insight. It has been a year of fluttering, shaking mental fingertips bidding farewell to my oldest son in a different way, a recategorzing of my grief and a sensation of sobs fading in my raw soul, a toddler-like tantrum coming to a shuddering, exhausted end as I open my eyes and begin to look about me again. The release of the anger, the shock, the denial has been a horrifying relief, and so I start my list this year being grateful for the passage of time that allows my memories to hold me with greater clarity and greater joy. I am thankful to be able to feel thankful for the time I got with him in equal measure to the debilitating sorrow. I am thankful for the hope that one day, I may possess the gratitude and joy of Joseph's life and the examples he gave me in much stronger measure, that I believe as I continue to grow as a person, the light of his life will continue to grow within me. I am thankful for healing, for inner strength, for the grace that I believe is God moving in my life. And, of course, I am thankful for the memories and for having been chosen to be his mother. I am thankful he was here at all, however brief. His life changed mine.

I am thankful for a renewal of spirtuality. It is frail and hesitant, wounded and battered and shaken in one of the most profound ways faith can be. I still cannot imagine myself running to God with my sorrow and I still have trouble sitting in true prayer. It is a shy rediscovering of that relationship after years of bitter silence and fury. I am thankful that God is patient. I am thankful that I do in the end still believe. I feared I never could again. I am thankful to learn I never really stopped, but was simply so battered over the past five years of tragedies that my voice, God's voice inside me perhaps, became hoarse and nonsensical to me. I have had to assimilate a great deal of personal suffering and suffering in my children, and God has told me no more times than I am okay with. I am thankful that I can now sit quietly with God and that in my solemn, tentative approach God seems to understand my hesitancy and frailty and simply lets me exist within his presence, without requirement, without demand and without expectation. I am thankful for baby steps of relearning faith.

We have elected an historic president who hopefully can bring more of a moral, human, peaceful grace to the running of our country and our relationship with the world. I am thankful that the bad habits of our country are finally coming to their natural fruition and thankful to see mankind responding on the whole as they should, with less consumption, more internalizing and reflection and renewed attention to the value of saving, working and simple things. I, of course, do not think anyone's suffering is a good thing. But I see examples every single day of suffering gracefully. And I see a spirit of intense hope and understanding in the election of President-elect Obama. I am thankful we have come so far as a country to have the courage to make a change such as this.

I am thankful for the generosity of others. Even as our economy began to crash down around us, we were able to raise over $6800 in Joseph's name back in September for Heroes For Children, a move that has become a pivotal point in the healing of my grief and the sense that Joseph is very much still with the world and, more specifically, with me. Thank God for people who look beyond themselves. Thank God for advances being made in the lives of families dealing with cancer, and for slow but steady progress in the treatment of these children. And I am thankful that these children are without fail the most amazing spirits you could know. Such strength in such little people. Such forebearance. I am thankful for what they continue to teach me.

The last year has been very solidifying in my relationship with Joe. Every relationship must eventually find its way, make the transition from the early honeymoon stages into the workaday world and the inclusion of every mundane irritation and earth shattering tragedy. It was eye opening as we negotiated the muddy waters of blending our lives to find both of our chins stubbornly lifted to the light of our love for one another, and to emerge from the first turbulent year to a steady, strong pulse of peace. I cannot say that I could not do it without Joe. I know that I could now, and it is him who taught me that. But I also know that I choose not to. And that he can say the same. We make one another's lives better. I am thankful for the laughter....so thankful for the punctuations of joy that overtake us and leave me luminous with inner peace and contentment. I am thankful for the sensation of being fragile at times, and sheltered, pampered, protected and spoiled. Every girl needs a little spoiling now and then. I am thankful for the difficult times, the times the only reason I move forward is because I know that he expects it, for the feeling of not being able to bear any sense of being less, that I might not live up to the high esteem he holds me in. He makes me more than I would be motivated to be on my own, and then somehow makes it seem as if I were all that I am in my own right, all along, and that he simply helped me see it. I have grown as a person in this relationship, learned to control a raging, volatile temper and have become a sweeter, more open woman to the world, in large part because of who he allows me to be when I am with him and in our home. I am intensely grateful for the financial well-being that we enjoy in these turbulent times, for our lack of debt and for our nice home and nice cars. I lived many years wondering how I would make it through the month and I am so thankful that he has guided me to a place of personal management that has eliminated that personal stress. I am thankful for the passion between us, for the feeling of femininity I get from his masculinity and for the way we balance one another. I am thankful he is not an angry man, that I do not suffer abuse at his hands of any nature and that he is patient and logical when upset the vast majority of the time. I grew up in a very different atmosphere and no matter how many times I steel myself for the brunt of his temper, it just never comes. I am thankful to be loved, wholly, without reservation, without boundary, without contradiction and with a great deal of passion, humor, joy and peace. I love you forever Joe and I am so grateful God brought you into my life.

I believe I possess many unique and truly fortunate relationships in my life, and one of most important to me beside Joe is my relationship with Stewart, the father of my children. He has handled my falling in love and moving in with Joe with grace, dignity and nothing but a desire for my happiness, and has never treated either Joe or myself with anything but dignity, respect and friendship. He continues to be a wonderful, loving, giving father to our children and a caring, generous friend to me. There are times a hug from him is exactly what I need to add a jolt of tenderness and softness to my day, and I cannot describe how I cherish the evolution of our relationship from child-like lovers to loyal, adult friends. We have weathered the change in our relationship well over the last seven years and I am protective of and grateful for the depth of that relationship. The definition of the word "love" between us has altered, deepened and gained richness over the years, and I am so grateful that we have been able to give our children the family they deserve to have despite change in circumstances. We share deep and special memories, and the maintenance of our friendship has allowed those to live out loud. Stewart, I am so very grateful for you.

I have two beautiful not that little boys who are growing too fast, who evolve and change gradually but steadily and give me glimpses of the men they will become. I am grateful for the steadiness of their love and respect for me, for their generous views on the world and the people in it, for the tender way they treat me and for the absolute absence of pre-teen and teenaged angst in our lives. They fill my life with fun, with love, with laughter and moments of intense, humbling pride. I am so thankful to be a mother and to have all the joy and challenge that title brings, and I feel so privileged that these amazing souls are mine. Nick, Alex, you are unique and precious to me. I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I'm living, my babies you'll be.

I am beyond fortunate in the family that I was born into. This year has brought more than usual opportunities to reconnect with people who have known and loved me since before I can remember. As far back as my memory goes, they have been there, and it is a deep, abiding love and sense of having a place in the world....aunts who were the epitome of beauty to me as I watched them in their youth, uncles who held me on their knees, lifted me high into the air and tickled me into childish glee, who now look upon me as a woman and still see the girl. I am thankful for the values these people have taught me, for the way we come together after months and even years apart and everything just falls into place. I am so grateful for my aunts, my uncles, my cousins. I love all of you and am just now realizing how deeply you complete my life. More than anything I am just so thankful for the love that is our family. We are blessed beyond measure in one another.

My girlfriends continue to be a life-sustaining force in my life. I do not know how I ever existed without girlfriends, and the years when I had no close ones were lonely and neurotic to say the least. I am convinced a great deal of my mental health rests on these beautiful ladies. It is affirming and energizing to be in their presence, to talk, laugh, share a drink of wine or of coffee. I cherish so much having one Sunday set aside every month simply to connect and come together, and so grateful for the effort that all of you make to keep one another a priority in our lives. I am soul-filled grateful for the unconditional love you have shown me, for the laughter that we find together, the hugs, the deep talks into the depth of dusk and for the way you affirm my existance. I am grateful for the way you can talk me down from high places and give me a soft place to fall, and also for the way you take up the pitchfork and head out as a lynch mob toward any thought or idea that has caused me angst. We've cried together, laughed together, explored new ideas and held one another's feet to the fire. I can't imagine my life without any of you, and I never want to. I picture us as old wrinkled ladies talking about things we should not be in public places, laughing just a little too loud and looking fabulous. We have years of friendship behind us now and it has sustained me through the darkest years of my life. Thank you so much for all of you. Heather, Nessa, Felicia, Amy, Ginger, Becca, Erin, Cecelia, Aislin, Kate....I give very profound and deep thanks for you, more often that you possibly know. We do not see one another as often as I would like, but I love knowing no matter what, we are always there. We ought to write a book about us.

I am grateful for my internet friends, particularly my PW friends, some of whom have been in my life longer than most of my real life friends. Somehow we have turned the hardware of electronics into the softness of womanly friendships and you have given depth, color, meaning and flavor to my life. We are such a different, diverse bunch of people. You have watched me struggle and change as I recover from my grief and have quietly sat by and maintained a loyal affection for me in spite of some truly neurotic moments and odd times of angst as well as through the ups and downs as I try to redefine my life. Thank you for sticking by me. Thank you for loving me, over so many miles, across the land and sea...we are far in distance, but linked in heart. I love all of you and would always want you to know it.

Karen, my online friend who lost her daughter Katie not long after I lost Joseph, thank you for sharing your grief journey with me, for your soft notes of support and spirituality. Your grace has touched my own and brought it forward and you have been a true gift to me. I feel honest, deep love for you though we have never met. I suspect our impish children had something to do with this, and for that I am thankful as well.

I have so much I am grateful for this year, but it strikes me how much of my gratitude revolves around relationships and people. For the first time in my life, I have a sense of having enough, just like that email story that circulated some time ago...."I wish you enough"..... My life is very full. My spirit is very old I think sometimes. I am thankful to have found strength in myself, the kind of strength nobody thinks is there and nobody wants to have to find but is absolutely necessary in certain circumstances. I am grateful for the lessons the difficulties of my life have taught me. I am thankful to be quietly okay within myself, to find on the whole, my heart is happy, and that happiness actually engulfs the tragedy of Joseph's loss now, that they assimilate into one person, whole and complicated. I am grateful to be multifaceted, to not have all the answers and to know there is more yet to discover and see, more to learn, more ways to grow. I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful for survival. I am thankful....for gratitude.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The day before Thanksgiving

I can't believe the official Thanksgiving holiday is here. It doesn't feel like much of a holiday this year to be honest. Mom has gone to celebrate in Nebraska with our family up there for the first time since moving to Texas. I had a small surgical procedure done last week and while I am doing well, recovery keeps me from actively participating in the way I am used to doing. Due to that, I told Stewart he could do whatever he wants this year with the kiddos, so Stewart and the boys will be at his sister's house for Thanksgiving instead of here, which is kind of lonely. But not long after this is my Christmas Tea with my girlfriends and my grandmother is coming home with Mom from Nebraska to stay the month. I have some Christmas crafts bought to do with the boys and of course my baking is starting to kick into high gear. I will be attending a Christmas concert with my family the night of the 12th and in all I think there is excellent potential for this to be a festive holiday season. Now if it would just get cold the way it ought to be. It can go back to the 60s after Christmas is over and stay there the rest of the winter for all I care. But around Christmas, I want cold if not snow. Damn me and my idealism. Joe will haul down all the decorations for me this weekend. I want the house all decked out before my Tea and that will take a little time.

I am stressed out and bummed about gift giving this year. We are blessed and are not hurting the way some families are, and I have been doing some shopping and enjoying it. But the boys are so fun to buy for and I have trouble deciding whether to get them this....or that.... And ultimate of bummers, the "big gift" I got for Joe arrived the other day...while he was home...and I was not...IN ITS ORIGINAL BOX. :mad: Grrr! So now he knows what I am getting him and totally ruined the surprise, which makes me furious for me and feel bad for him. He is like a kid at Christmas and really enjoys the lights, the music, the drinks, the decorations, the presents, the surprises. I hate it that the surprise was ruined. The box was not even sealed. Why on earth would they send an item without packaging it?! Jerks.

BUT....today is the day before Thanksgiving. And I work at the best place in the world, so look forward to going in today. And I have many blessings right now that I am aware others do not. Tomorrow I will write my annual message of thanks, and will spend my day focusing on that which I am thankful for. Its a wonderful thing to do.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Little pleasures

I have today, Monday and Tuesday off work to take care of some personal issues. I woke early today, very early, with much on my mind and sleep fluttering away from me. Its all right. I have learned its better to just go ahead and get up if I awaken an hour or so early, than to try to get back to sleep.

I begin to get sentimental at this time of year. I love having the excuse to look adoringly at my friends and family in my mind, to begin counting the ways that I adore them, thinking of ways to spoil them and just letting my heart fill up. I love to get out old movies that I adore, old books, the stories that bring to mind people no longer here, times that have changed, patterns that have brought us to where we are and habits and customs that could bear some revival. Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility. Tales of femininity and strength, gentility and yet great, driving passions. Stories that touch the woman in me and make me happy to be one, that remind me of gentler times when a glimpse of a woman's ankle was as erotic then as a bit of cleavage is now, when being a woman was no less powerful and perhaps even more cunning and subtle due to the overt restrictions put upon us. Times that seemed truthfully not at all long ago in the years of my childhood on my grandparent's farm, learning the graces and expectatons of ladies versus men that still had flavors of the 1800s from when that huge old house was built. Family pictures from the turn of the century, from the years of the Great Depression, the awareness of lineage and tradition passed down one story at a time. Faces that resemble mine here and there, souls I never knew and who died long before I was born. I wish I knew more than just their faces and the basic outlines of their lives, their travels, their heritage. Who did they love. What did they suffer. What did they triumph. What made them happy. The sister that looked so delicate versus the sister solid, like me, whose face was happier though her beauty seems less. I wonder about them. And thus wonder....who may one day wonder....about me?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crystalline morning

Ah, glorious frigid morning, finally! We covered the tomatoes late last night after suspecting a coming frost, and it is a good thing we did. I woke this morning to a brilliant sun, glancing out the windows of the kitchen, into the backyard, to see the heavy nod of my pansies beneath a blanket of crystalline beauty and the certain death of our peppers, which were forced to bear the brunt of the chill naked. Joe has lit the fireplace for a warm Sunday treat and the musky scent of burning wood tinges the air with the smell of coffee while I peruse the Sunday ads looking eagerly for signs of retail panic reflected in sale prices, which frustratingly enough don't seem to be presenting as blatantly as I would like. I got a little Christmas shopping done last night at Stacey's Partylite sample sale and got us a lovely new hurricane lanterm that reflects dancing snowflakes on the frosted glass when lit, sure to play a role somewhere in my decorations for the Christmas tea, coming up fast.

The frost is already melting away, shimmering into droplets almost from the moment the sun touches it and we are headed to about 66 degrees, not exactly fireplace weather. But I am enjoying it while it is here...we didn't turn on the furnace last night, so the house is nippy. I have baking and writing and painting to do today, maybe some Christmas shopping if time allows, which I am already pretty sure it won't. Alex has popcorn to deliver and eventually today I return the boys to their dad's house. Mom leaves on Wednesday to have her Thanksgiving holiday in Nebraska and is bringing my Grandma back to spend the month of December with our family here in Texas, which we are all rather giddy about...its the first time we have done that and all of us are looking forward to spending time with her.

So that's more of my quiet little life reflection on a Sunday in November. We've hit the point we brought Joseph home from the hospital two years ago after his bone marrow transplant. I am trying to decide whether to have his angel tree again this year, or to mingle the memories of him with the rest of the family on our traditional heirloom tree. He is still, after all, a part of us. I will see, when it comes time to decorate for Christmas, which way the wind is blowing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saturday musings

It is a cold and blustery Saturday morning, probably the coldest we have had yet this year. It makes me feel festive, holiday'ish and ready to tackle things around the house. Joe and I slept with a window cracked last night and it was a snuggly sleep to be sure. Everyone is in the living room in jammies and slippers and robes with afghans draped over laps. All we need is a fire and a Christmas tree to complete the idyllic scene. All in good time.

Christmas is coming up fast and I am making my baking list. I want to do a lot this year and send little baskets of goodies home with co-workers on Christmas Eve and to the husbands of my girlfriends after our Christmas tea. I might be being overly ambitious, but I don't think so. I think about Christmas this year and how fast it all goes, how we can't remember the following year half of what we got in terms of gifts and I feel just a little bit hollow about it all. There has to be more. I am not ready to get into massive volunteer work, so I will start close to home and try to make people I love grow fat on sweets. After all, what is life without a New Years Resolution? Yes, you all can thank me later.

So I am trying more to get outside of myself and notice the world around me, to take the snapshots of life that seem to get filed away in my head for later times when I am writing and need an image to call upon to communicate an idea or mental image. Yesterday I was driving behind an apple red corvette on the way to pick the boys up from their dad. The wind had turned out of the north and the cold front was just starting to move in, blowing everything around. It was, not unexpectedly, an older gentleman driving this pretty, expensive vehicle. I think most normal people can't afford that kind of thing until later in life, and it was obvious by how he drove that this machine was something that gave him pleasure. We stopped at a red light, me behind him, and I marveled that in a car an ass that low to the ground and that wide is a GOOD thing...in women, not so much, with the requisite internal somewhat good natured grumbling. As the light turned green and we approached I-75, suddenly the road was clear before him, and he took off like a shot, leaving a scattering of swirling leaves behind him that would have been the dream shot of any Hollywood director. He took the corner to head south on 75 without breaking speed, and I found myself smiling. He wasn't being a jerk. He wasn't trying to race anyone or push his good fortune and fancy toy in anyone's face. He was just enjoying what that vehicle could do when given enough space and opportunity. I was happy for him. It was pretty, shining red in the sun and performing to an exacting standard, leaving a gust of autumn in his wake. I liked it.

Today is busy....painting the master bathroom, doing a little shopping, doing a little baking and then going to my sister-in-law's house for her end of the year Partylite closeout tonight (she sells it...let me know if you need her number. She rocks). I really love getting girl time. This should be fun.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ebb and Flow

It happened again last night. Alex had a school performance and, of course, I went to attend. There were a lot of people there, and anyone who knows me well knows that I am not really that comfortable in a crowd. There were all these kids who I have known since they were in kindergarten, now in fifth grade, only they don't look the same. During Joseph's illness I shrank away from all the school stuff and focused on getting through life, so all my memories became very static...in my head, none of the kids had grown up, even though mine has. It startled me last night to see all these kids having changed so much from my internal perceptions and memories of them. Some of them I did not recognize.

This was the grade school that Joseph attended and left to continue on to middle school. A lot of the administration there knew Joseph for years and many of the teachers are still the same. It is conspicuous to me how they all know Stewart so well. He has been a very intense and commendable volunteer at the school, whereas I am SO not a PTA Mom and have never been comfortable with the subtle comparisons and judgements that get passed around, the politics of motherhood. I went through a hard time emotionally when Stewart and I were divorcing and the subsequent cascade of tragedies in Alexander's brain tumor, my father's death, and then, of course, Joseph's leukemia and his own subsequent death, and as a result, my ability to navigate what felt to me like very unfriendly, hostile waters shadowed in smiles just disappeared. My willingness to volunteer for anything at all went away and I stayed away from the school as much as possible. I have been a stranger to that part of my children's lives, and I am not proud of it now. I always feel as if people there look at me as the absentee mother, that they perceive my divorce from Stewart and leave-taking of school activities and volunteerism as my having abandoned my children. I question those decisions (that of disappearing from the school activities) on my own part now and wish I had done it differently, but life has moved on, children have grown and time cannot be regained once it has passed. I did my best to smile, be open and friendly and I was proud to watch Alexander do his thing last night.

I was quiet coming home and settled in on the couch to read and withdraw from the world for a wihle. I had no sense of sadness, just a silence in my heart. When Joe called me over to him and I knelt at his chair and leaned in to kiss him, he put his palm to my cheek, tenderly...and I just felt this internal surge, a sense of warmth and energy rushing from my insides into the warmth of his palm and the strength he has represented in my life...and, rare for me, I was suddenly, inexplicably overwhelmed. Poor guy. The tears started to fall and he had no idea what was wrong with me. I didn't really either and simply said so when he asked what was the matter. It was the school and the continued echo of a place where Joseph lived his life. It was all the things I missed and failed to do. It was all the love I feel for my children now. It was recognition that Nick is turning 14 in two weeks and will have officially outlived Joseph in number of years (a subject that probably deserves its own blog entry. I cannot explain the odd sense inside of your middle child being older than your oldest child). It was just something that had to come out I guess. He just pressed me into his chest and told me to cry...and I obeyed. He took me to bed and held me and I wept myself to sleep in his arms.

I always have felt vaguely guilty when that happens. Its not as if it happens often, but it seems unfair. I came home and was quiet and uncommunicative. Maybe his head wasn't in that place. Maybe he needed something from me and I let my grief trump any need he might have, without even seeing what it was. He would never want me to apologize, and so I won't. Obviously I needed that to happen. I struggled for a short time against it and my throat hurt so badly from trying to shut down my weeping that I almost could not breathe. In fact, I do hold my breath when I am trying not to cry, so that when I finally must breathe, the next breath comes out as even more of a sob than it would have been if I would have just had peace with the emotion as it hit me. It just broke over me, like a wave. I was honestly helpless to it. I feel the resonance of it today still, but am feeling much better. I think the silence of heart that temporarily letting go of school has allowed me has let me grieve in a better, healthier way and also let me live in a better, healthier way. There just isnt' room for it when I am so busy.

A good friend of mine, who also has lost a child, referred to her new fulfillment in domesticity as "nesting"...that though the ability to care for our sick children is now gone, we can still care for the family we have, and it gives us something to do with the lingering energy that the missing soul once used. That makes sense to me.

"Come Sail Away" by Styx came on the radio spontaneously twice yesterday. First time that has happened since somewhere around 1985 I think. It made me smile. It made me remember. It made me sad. It made me relieved. He isn't sick anymore. And neither am I.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I miss blogging!

I miss blogging!
Current mood: calm


But I have not felt my "voice" rising up of late. Not even now as I type here! But I feel neglectful, as if I should encourage it, so I am going to clackity clack and see what comes out.

I have dropped my fall college course, A&P. I was not doing piss poor, but was not doing as well as I need to and have been massively stressed out. I have been intensely ashamed of posting this here...nobody likes to think they are a quitter, and I have been so vocal about my goals. The goals still remain, but I am going to start again in a slightly different format in the spring. The instructor I had, though she was fantastic, was not the right instructor for me, and I had split my lecture and lab classes between two different times of day and two different instructors. They never taught the same thing in the same order at the same time and it was like having two different but very intense classes. I hate to sound as if I am making excuses for myself. The truth is, I am also in a very different place in regards to my grief, and having to redefine why I want to do this. I am still and always will be devastated over the loss of Joseph, but it is no longer working to go to school as a way to cope with the pain of his loss. His loss is becoming also somewhat redefined, and as such, the motivation for school needs to come more from me and less from him. So I am laying my embarassment out there for all to see, but tempering it with telling myself I don't really have to be all that ashamed. I don't know, though, if that is a lie.

Since dropping the class it is like a weight coming off my shoulders. I have been able to take better care of the house and spend more time with Joe, and just enjoy not having something niggling and nagging the back of my mind on a pretty much constant basis. I am sinking myself into planning the Christmas Tea that my best friends and I have together annually (I am hosting again this year, which delights me), into gearing up for Christmas and trying to think of ways that I can bring more energy and joy back into my life. I feel like I have lost my sense of humor to a degree and that I have shrunk in my writing to documenting a lot of internal thoughts and complaints, but not too much observation about the world around me. I feel its time to wake up a little bit and let the light in. Joe and I are starting to contemplate where to go on vacation next year and that is fun to think about. We are also putting this house on the market just after Christmas and are starting to actively look for one that may not be a lot bigger, but bigger enough to have a work space for him and a good place for me to study. I am starting some serious body sculpting and trying to decide whether to return to belly dance and how deep I want to go in learning to read Tarot. Joe took some "before" pictures of me on Sunday and its been both motivating and alarming. I think part of the reason I have let myself get this way is just plain shyness. I never know what to do when men notice me and when you get as overweight as I am, you become invisible to them. What I didn't realize is that I have been invisible to myself as well. I am both better and yet worse than I thought, depending on the angle and whether I am smiling. Some of the aging that has happened to me since Joseph died is starting to fade. Some of my friends went down to the Texas Rennaisance Festival to camp this fall and I found myself yearning to be with them and ready to plan on it next year. Gently, hesitantly I am turning toward the sun, stretching into light and warmth. We had our montly girls luncheon this past Sunday and those of us still in town met up and I left feeling almost giddy happy, just from knowing I am loved and for having so much affection for them. I don't know how anyone survives without good girlfriends.

So this is my rambly babbly blog entry, without any real poetry. Let's see what the day brings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

San Diego Wedding Pics:

Some of my dad's siblings, gettin' down to "We Are Family"
My brother Ryan, his girlfriend Jessica, with my cousin Steve and his girlfriend, Lacey
The Hanzel Family. Sue is my dad's youngest sister. First is my cousin Abby and her husband Zach, my cousin Ben and his fiancee Libby (getting married in March. Ben is in medical school and is an osteosarcoma survivor), then my Aunt Sue and Uncle Larry
Cousins! My brother Ryan, Cousins Allison, Ben, Zach (Abby's husband), Steve, Gina, Abby and me with my eyes shut
Cocktails before the reception. Mom, Libby, Ryan, Uncle Larry and Jessica
Me, Mom and Ryan's girlfriend Jessica
Me, my brother Ryan and Mom

Halloween Pics:

Sweethearts with their sweets
My cute little bad guys

Not a lot of blogging going on these days. My inner voice is very quiet right now. Changes are coming quickly and I am just steady and strong, absorbing them as they happen or as I pursue them. For once they are good changes, but change is change and must be assimilated whether positive or negative, and that is kind of where my head is right now.

I have been impressed with our nation as a whole this week. I could not get into school the other night due to the line out the door and snaking through the lobby at school for people lined up to vote. I do not think I have ever witnessed that kind of a turn-out in my life, and I am glad to see our citizens waking up again and taking part in our democratic process. Without getting into my personal views or politics in general, I find the current election moving, in that no matter what new territory will be broken, with either a man of color or a woman being put into positions in the White House. Either way it opens doors of possibility that had seemed closed until now. It is exciting. I do find the zealousness of both sides alternately amusing and shocking. I have heard Obama called the anti-Christ and a communist, both at McDonald's yesterday, and Sarah Palin and McCain referred to in extremely unflattering terms. I think people forget during elections like these just how little the president is able to accomplish on his own. Personally I think the congressional elections are far more moving this year.

My speaking about it here sounds like I am keeping a close eye on things, but truthfully it is more like half an eye. I have a lot of things pulling at my attetion these days.

Halloween was fun this year. The boys were able to carve their pumpkins utilizing miniature saws and stencils, so they feel pretty proud of how they turned out. Nick lamented yesterday morning that he is getting older and this might have been his last Halloween. I made my traditional chili with cheese, sour cream, corn chips and Stewart came up to eat with us and go trick or treating together. Joe stayed and handed out candy. Lots of adults were dressed in costume this year as they took their kids around the neighborhood and he enjoyed one adult Tinkerbelle a great deal.

San Diego was a fun trip. I didn't get my walk on the beach. The beach was not really close by and there wasn't really time. But I did get a walk around the marina that the resort sat on, and I got a lot of time with my family, which gratifies me. We had a great time. The reception had one moment of extreme pain for me, as I watched my aunt Joan dancing with Dustin, the groom and her oldest son. It just was such a sweet moment, as I remember when Dustin was born, and now he is all grown up, self sufficient, supporting himself very well and enjoying a very successful career in California and newly married to a girl who seems perfect for him. Seeing him so tall and handsome and happy, dancing with his mom, reminded me of a moment I will never get with Joseph, and it broke my heart. I had not thought of it until I watched them, felt the sweetness of the moment, and missed it for myself.

In all, life is good, happy, busy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wanting a Day

I am so emotional today. I have been making efforts to divorce or distance myself somewhat from the world of childhood cancer, to figure out why I am struggling so much this semester wtih school, not just academically but on a motivational and satisfaction level as well. I have given myself permission not to go to the websites for grieving parents, not to go to the websites for sick kids. And as I drift away from that, I find my priorities changing, my desire to be at home very strong. I am happiest when I am at home, doing home-like stuff. If you had asked me when I was a teenager who I thought I would be and what motivated me, being a homemaker would definitely not be it. I still dont' want to be a stay-at-home mother or any kind of change that dramatic. I am just noticing I am most at peace with the world when I am taking care of Joe, the boys, even Stewart to some extent. That is my family. That is what matters.

Since I have been slowly separating myself from a world completely saturated in my loss, hearing news of other children passing away from cancer has become more rare than it had been. I heard of one who died though over this weekend in a place that I don't normally hear news of children dying, and heard about another today who is likely to die in the next 24-48 hours. Sometimes it is like it comes to find me.

Stewart took a picture of Joseph's headstone decorated for halloween and there is this sweet little ghost seeming to rise up from the ground, a goofy, happy smile on its face, so reminiscent of our son. My heart just hurts today. Halloween was his favorite holiday. I imagine he would be less interested in it now, or that his interests would be changing to something more teenaged and less boyish, as he would be 15 and in high school. Probably more an opportunity to hang out in the dark with girls than an opportunity to get free candy and dress up. But he's stuck at 13 in my head, and thus his boyish passions will always be there. I can see where this could actually get more poignant as his brothers out-age him and outgrow childish pursuits. I will have no frame of reference for their older sibling anymore. He will continue on and ever be a boy.

The sadness is physical. The back of my neck aches, my shoulders, my spine.My head is throbbing softly. There is a lump in my throat that is easily summoned to watering eyes and my hands occasionally tremble. I yearn for home, for a nap, for Joe's chest to snuggle into, for a project with Alex or Nick, for something to cook or bake (I made cookie dough, homemade bread and chicken stock yesterday already) and for somewhere cool and woodsy to walk, listen, think and be alone. I want a day to retreat from the world.

I am headed to a family wedding in San Diego on Friday, and I intend to make time to walk the beach by myself. I can feel very excited to contemplate that...that ocean I last saw wtih Joseph at my side (from the beaches of Hawaii). The ocean had loved him. It was as if it called to him, played with him. They flirted and tumbled together, Joseph a lithe, unafraid creature and I seething and hissing against the urge to snatch him back to absolute safety on the sand, restrained at times by my own recognition that he needed to play and explore, at times by Stewart, who was less fearful in those days than now. I hope I find a bit of Joseph in the sea air and waves. I need to. I am missing him and questioning all of my priorities these days. I spend far too much time away from home on an every day basis. I don't like it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Insomnia

So, here it is, 3:30 A.M. and I want to start crying. I am exhausted...everything in my body is heavy, fatigued, sleepy...but my mind won't let me sleep. I am fretting over things that I don't need to fret about and remembering things I don't need to remember and feeling guilty for things I don't need to feel guilt for. I am trying to solve problems that have no solution and fretting about the fact that I can't sleep and I have been up since 1:30 and I have to get up in an hour and a half and yadda yadda yadda. It is so frustrating. I don't do this a lot, but when I do, it makes me crazy. Far too late to take a sleeping pill now, and I am wishing I had taken a quarter dose of one when I first felt this coming on not long after midnight.

I have not been writing much here. The world is so full of angst and fear, and it rubs off on me and makes me anxious. Joe seems to be good at picking up on this and frequently brings how okay we are up in casual conversation. Even the kids, who enjoy watching the news, have picked up on the fearfulness of the country about the economy and the elections and they sought clarification and reassurance from me on Friday night, wanting to know what "recession" means and if our government can go bankrupt and if our house is in danger of foreclosure (it is most definitely not) and what all that would mean to our lives. I spent time talking to them about recessions and depressions and the fact that money can get tight but we will still have plenty to eat and a warm place to call home, we just might not get to go to the movies as much for a while. That seemed to help them feel better, but I am fretting now about them fretting, wondering if I ought to be restricting their access to news that they are not old enough to fully comprehend yet, if I am being irresponsible for letting them watch it. Alex had a grief attack about Joseph on Friday night, kind of out of nowhere..he definitely had trouble differentiating between the term "depression" in the economy and "depression" in a person. Just talking about the word in the economic sense brought back for him the time in his life that he felt most depressed and he was tearful and broken and not wanting to talk about why. He came home and lay down on his bed and did not move. It was just heavy on his shoulders. I bought him a pumpkin and just felt inadequate to help him. I am so so so sorry your brother died Baby. Here. Have a pumpkin. Yeah. Impotence at its finest.

Joe took me to see Michael Buble over the weekend as my birthday gift. It turns into a mini-vacation. We spent the night in Fort Worth at the Hilton, just one block up from the convention center. He'd gotten us a suite on the 9th floor, a corner room that overlooked the convention center itself. It was SO nice, probably the nicest hotel room I have personally ever stayed in. We got there early and so walked the downtown streets, found a sushi place and had a little snack, wandered through a beer festival going on, went to a Cajun place and drank beer and sampled alligator and gumbo while sitting on the patio watching the crowds go by, people watching. I had fun pointing out the most attractive ladies for him, which seemed to amuse him. One saw me smiling, us laughing and stopped to comment on how nice it was to see a happy couple having a good time and in love. She is right. It is so nice. There were brides everywhere, having their portrait taken in the evening light before their ceremony, gaggles of bridesmaids looking on, just married couples waving giddily from horse drawn carriages, and our hotel was swarming with wedding parties and the relatives in from out of town to attend. Romance was in the air and being the Hallmark girl I am, I breathed it in and enjoyed every minute of it.

Michael Buble was fantastic..he is such an entertainer, so genuine, charming, funny, risque. It was amazing that he made you feel like you KNOW him...his mannerisms reminded me of my brother Ryan a great deal, who is also very charming. Michael's voice is like butter..so smooth and slick. At the end he gave a very heartfelt speech of thanks that we would spend our money to come see him, that other entertainer friends of his were having to cancel tours and he was cognizant that it was a choice we were making when we decided he was someone we wanted to see...I was just blown away by him. He seemed so genuinely touched....he then silenced his band, silenced the crowd...and this was amazing...he sang "Song For You" without accompanyment AND without a microphone. His projection was THAT good, in a convention center where the acoustics SUCK. We could hear him perfectly and the crowd was positively rapt, and the song itself after the speech he gave was perfect. It is the first concert I have ever gone to that I got misty-eyed when it was over. I could have watched him all night long. We spent the night in our lovely hotel suite, slept in until past 9 AM (unusual for both of us), drove back to Allen and stopped for lunch before coming home to plant pansies in the flower beds. All in all probably the best weekend I have ever had. I am so sad to see it end.

School is not going as well as I would like and I am questioning myself and doubting my decision to be a nurse. I just don't seem to have the same brain capacity this fall for whatever reason. I failed my first exam, but aced the extra credit quiz. I got the second lowest grade in the class on the exam, second highest on the quiz. And the questions on the quiz were also on the exam. Got them right on the quiz. Got them wrong on the exam. All I can think is that it was just nerves and emotional fallout from Grandma's death. I am trying to decide whether to drop the class, take the rest of the semester to deal with other things and try again next year. I definitely cannot afford to have anything less than a B on my transcript, and I can only make the requisite A now if I am pretty much flawles for the rest of the term. Given how I dread attending class on school days and that my stress level is through the roof (the main reason I am not sleeping tonight is fretting over school), maybe I should. I don't know.

My cousin is getting married in San Diego in two weeks and I am attending with my Mom. That will be fun. Halloween is not far off, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually this time of year I start to get anticipatory and excited for those upcoming holidays. It is still painful, the jolt that hits me, that as I see the decorations coming out in the stores and start thinking about shopping, the pang of raw pain that hits me. I don't know if Christmas will ever be what it was before. Joseph was dying through the Christmas holiday and that year was pure, spiritual and raw as we muddled through without him and clung to our family. I miss him so desperately and can get very bogged down wishing for some sense of closure and peace about his passing. I have it from time to time, but not when I think about the holidays without him. I wonder constantly how tall he would be and how he'd be doing in school. I miss the soft touch of his bald head and the purity of his laughter. I wonder what he would be wanting this year. I just miss him. I will enjoy the festivities...I owe that to Joe, to my other boys and even to myself. But Christmas will always now be a bittersweet thing. Perhaps that is how it should have been all along. We celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, even knowing now what his ultimate fate was to be. I wish I were better at prayer. I used to be, almost like a meditation. I just feel so hollow now when I talk to God. I feel as if I lost my spiritual voice. I picture his presence, reach for it and feel a void born of needing too much, of having SO MUCH I need to say that there is no way to possibly say any of it at all. I send my prayers to Him in an emotional cloud without conscious speech, peppered in short bursts of helplessness and tinged with misunderstanding and yearning rage. I float the Why to Him, the Ow Ow Ow to Him, the Oh My God I Am Lost to him....tidalwaves without words, rhythm or rhyme. I envision them approaching His awareness and I cannot watch it reach Him. They say He can take it...but I personally cannot imagine what He would say as it washes over Him nor can I fathom that whatever His message would be....that it would be enough.

So I lay awake and fret. And fret. And fret. It is 4...I have to be up in an hour. I hate this so much.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Grandma's Eulogy

Just this morning as I checked the news on-line, I read the title of an article reporting a recent study extolling the important influence a grandparent has on their grandchildren. I could not help but smile, as I did not need a scientific study to underline this fact. I have experienced it first hand.

This is one of those moments where it is difficult to know exactly what to say. I want so badly for it not to be true. We come to think of certain people as pillars in our life, a constant, immune to the buffeting winds of space and time. When those pillars are taken away we can become lost in anxiety and self-indulgent sadness. But experience has taught me that with time it becomes apparent that the upholding of ideals and the security another person gives us is not reliant on the changing nature of their physical bodies, but rather live on through the things we came to know of them and, in turn, what those things taught us about ourselves.

And Grandma taught me so many things. She was not a complicated woman. The simplicity of her tastes and passions were ripe soil for a growing girl. My heart is full of memories of her femininity and the strong message she sent for the importance of home, faith and family. Nothing made her happier than a warm, inviting home full of good smells, good friends and laughing children. Any time family came to visit, it was cause for celebration, evidenced by loving presentation of all-day efforts - fragrant roasts, flaky pastries and gooey pies. Memories of Grandma are encapsulated in the rich scent of after dinner coffee and the satisfied look of Grandpa's crossed arms at the table's head as she bustled about with domestic energy, somehow managing to clean up the kitchen and keep up with the adult conversation while letting my fumbling, childish hands help. Christmases were a presentation of warmth, magic and light and prayer was a part of every meal.

Grandma was good at growing things. A nurturer by nature, she nourished African violets, roses, vegetable gardens and children. She cared for her mother with great love and tenacity, visiting her every Sunday until the time of her death at the age of 96. Friends and family made the world go round and she spent her time in card clubs and quilting with the ladies at church. She taught us solitaire and rummy practically before we were able to hold the cards, and I cannot remember her ever saying "no" to a request to play. She kept a tin of buttons in the kitchen at the farm that seemed a field of treasure to me and she'd look through them with me, exchanging the tedium of the mundane for the enthusiastic eyes of a child, picking out the "best" ones to share with me. She found amusement in irony and oddities and met the changes and frustrations of life with expressions of perplexion more than worry.

The picture I paint of Grandma in my mind borders on the idyllic. We know that every person on this earth is flawed, but honestly in my examination of my memories, it is the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her disposition that rises to the surface again and again. I have no recollection of her ever raising her voice or losing her temper, though surely some of us had to have tried her patience. She was a patient and loyal wife and a soft and feminine woman. In today's world, where there is both opportunity and pressure for a woman to think of herself as more than "just a wife and mother", Grandma was an example of the joys to be had in giving to others and embracing the quieter fulfillment of domesticity, a balance of spirit that increasingly influences my own choices as the years pass by. She left a legacy of love to all of us that we share with one another each time we play a game she taught us, use a phrase that was hers or make a recipe she passed on. I feel so fortunate to have been the recipient of so much affection and in awe that for as large as our family is, that love was ever expansive, swelling to include each new member with the same enthusiasm. Though her body became frail and her memories weak, her love truly broke the bonds of physical flesh and I still feel it now. It was Christ-like in generosity and I know we all will carry a piece of it until we see her again. We all will miss her, but I am sure she has simply discarded the aged body that contained her and is lavishing that love still upon us in a new, more ethereal way. She and Grandpa started this family and they are together now, without age, pain or fear. It is true that Heaven becomes a more tangible place as it becomes populated with those we love.

Grandma, thank you for the gifts of each other and the memories we carry with us. We love you, we will miss you and we look forward to the day we all are together again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deep roots

So my Grandma died. It is not wholly unexpected I guess. She was getting old, in her mid 80s, and has been frail for years and years. The last time she traveled was to my father's funeral four years ago. She lost Grandpa a little earlier this year, has had a few scares since then and has been DNR for a long time. She was losing her cognition a little bit at a time, but maintained the sweetest disposition. You'd walk in the room one minute and she would not be sure who you were, then turn around and she's be overjoyed to see you and know your name. She was in incredible shape for Grandpa's funeral and shocked everyone. I come from a very large Catholic German family and that she knew so many of us at that time was nothing short of a miracle. She was ecstatic to see everyone, sad to see Grandpa go, and I suppose it gave her some closer to see the family gather together for him and to know we'd all carry on. I will be going back to Nebraska for the funeral. Not the most ideal timing. I have my first exam and first lab practical this week but I think I am going to be able to work it out. I will bring a study guide with me on the plane. I'll be glad to see my family, though a cousin is getting married in October in San Diego and I have had that tripped planned for a while now as well and was going to see them all then. It will be nice for us all to get together for a happy occasion. We've just had too many funerals in my family. I will say this though. Joseph died at the most diffiult time of year for travel and we had huge snow and ice storms from Nebraska to here. Driving was treacherous and flying very hit or miss, but somehow a great many of them managed to get here even though none of them ever really got to know Joe-Gi at all. They came for Mom. They came for me. I will never miss a family funeral again if I can help it. I know first hand the healing presence of people who are bound to you by marriage or blood. All that history. All those memories. The knowledge of lineage, hearing people discuss members who have been gone 50 years or more, knowing these are the people who will keep you alive after you are gone. Seeing pictures of faces that hold hints of yours in funny, heavy clothing, skin weathered by wind and sun, thickened hands from the hard work of farming. Hearing how just three generations ago we still spoke German at home. Knowing the health and personality ailments of generations past. Seeing the faces of cousins whom you played with on the farm as children, remembering the purity of all our smiles and how we loved and tormented one another, still hearing the fading echoes of our calls and laughter as dusk set across treetops that turned to black against the setting sun backdrop, a fall chill settling down with the coming of night and our moms bringing our windbreakers out, letting the screen door slam. The grunts of the pigs in the pen across the way. The distant bark of the dog at the neighbor's farm, a mile down the road. The occasional call of rooster mingling with our whispers and thrilled giggles as we found hiding places in the dark. Finding our way into a house full of warmth and laughter, watching the game of cards and Grandma offering us ice cream or pie, getting up from her game to serve us.

They were good and happy days. Days of purity and innocence. The farms are still there, still in the family and I ought to make more of an effort to expose my kids to that life. It always calls to me when I go back. It is in my blood, small town USA, hard work, sensibility, the loyalty of family. My roots run deep and I am blessed. Grandma leaving us is not a surprise. But it is a passing of the torch and the ending of a section of my life, which has faded like a long, drawn out whisper. Only one of my grandparents is left now and only one of my parents. Two of my children. Both of my brothers. I have heard it said that Heaven becomes more real and important to you when it becomes populated with those you love. I am finding that to be a profound truth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Awakening

A time comes in your life when you finally get it… When in the midst of all your fears and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere, the voice inside your head cries out - ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying, or struggling to hold on. And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes, you begin to look at the world through new eyes.



This is your awakening…



You realize that it's time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that he is not Prince Charming and you are not Cinderella and that in the real world, there aren't always fairy tale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of "happily ever after" must begin with you and in the process, a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.



You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are… and that's OK. (They are entitled to their own views and opinions.) And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself and in the process; a sense of newfound confidence is born of self-approval.



You stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you (or didn't do for you) and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected. You learn that people don't always say what they mean or mean what they say, and that not everyone will always be there for you and that it's not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself and in the process, a sense of safety & security is born of self-reliance.



You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties and in the process, a sense of peace & contentment is born of forgiveness.



You realize that much of the way you view yourself and the world around you, is a result of all the messages and opinions that have been ingrained into your psyche. You begin to sift through all the junk you've been fed about how you should behave, how you should look and how much you should weigh, what you should wear and where you should shop and what you should drive, how and where you should live and what you should do for a living, who you should marry and what you should expect of a marriage, the importance of having and raising children or what you owe your parents. You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.



You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you've outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with and in the process, you learn to go with your instincts.



You learn that it is truly in giving that we receive and that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a "consumer" looking for your next fix.



You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a by gone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.



You learn that you don't know everything; it's not your job to save the world and that you can't teach a pig to sing. You learn to distinguish between guilt, responsibility, and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO. You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.



Then you learn about love, romantic love and familial love, how to love, how much to give in love, when to stop giving and when to walk away. You learn not to project your needs or your feelings onto a relationship. You learn that you will not be more beautiful, more intelligent, more lovable or important because of the man on your arm or the child that bears your name.



You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes.



You learn that just as people grow and change, so it is with love; and you learn that you don't have the right to demand love on your terms, just to make you happy.



You learn that alone does not mean lonely. You look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that you will never be a size 5 or a perfect 10 and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head and agonizing over how you "stack up."



You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs. You learn that feelings of entitlement are perfectly OK and that it is your right, to want things and to ask for the things that you want and that sometimes it is necessary to make demands.



You come to the realization that you deserve to be treated with love, kindness, sensitivity, respect, and you won't settle for less. You allow only the hands of a lover who cherishes you, to glorify you with his touch and in the process; you internalize the meaning of self-respect.



And you learn that your body really is your temple. And you begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water and taking more time to exercise. You learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear. So you take more time to rest. Just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul; so you take more time to laugh and to play.



You learn that for the most part in life, you get what you believe you deserve and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different from working toward making it happen.



More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You also learn that no one can do it all alone and that it's OK to risk asking for help.



You learn that the only thing you must truly fear is the great robber baron of all time; FEAR itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears, because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear, is to give away the right to live life on your terms.



You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom. You learn that life isn't always fair, you don't always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people. On these occasions, you learn not to personalize things. You learn that God isn't punishing you or failing to answer your prayers; it's just life happening.



You learn to deal with evil in its most primal state; the ego. You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.



You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted; things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about; a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower. Slowly, you begin to take responsibility for yourself, by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never ever settle for less than your heart's desire. You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind, and you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.



Finally, with courage in your heart and with God by your side you take a stand, you take a deep breath and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.



~ Unknown Author

Monday, September 22, 2008

Haunted

God, sometimes it just runs me over like a Mack truck. Tonight I guess was destined to be one of those times. Joe and I have switched normal patterns and I am up later and he has gone to bed early. And I am sitting here listening to music, half studying, half messing around on the Internet and it hits me...the darkness...the silence...nothing but the digital radio streaming in, only a very soft light here with me and the hue of the computer screen...and suddenly it swims back into me like a fading scene that has drifted into the distance changing dramatic direction until it hovers so close upon me I can feel its breath on my neck. The greenish light from the chemo pump. The scrolling screen saver on the room's computer. The vague light from the mostly shut bathroom door. The soft hiss and click of the pump as it turns once more, delivering another drop of poison, torn between the horror of that reality and the knowledge that horror can become hope in the right circumstances. Wishing I had done more. Wishing I had been better. Wishing I had been God.

It is like dialing a phone by memory, sleep walking, not knowing you are doing it, until suddenly It is on the line....reality and memory separated only by the bredth of space and the yawn of time, a flavor that lingers on the tongue long after the food has left us. A scent. A shade of light. A touch of odd shadow. Somehow I cannot convince my heart tonight that he is not small and white in a white bed, sleeping, waiting, hoping, forebearing and I must get to him somehow. I used to bemoan that nobody taught me how to be a parent. The other side of that coin is that there is now no answer on how NOT to be one. I want to feel guilty. I want to rage. I want something or someone to blame. Damn his doctors for being the finest and it not being good enough. Curse his nurses for being caring, compassionate and competent and being as helpless as I to save him. Nobody lives forever. I know that. But why...oh why...would I have to outlive any one of them?



It was not enough. 13 years was not enough. I am overwrought with a sudden, violent wave of grief that took me by surprise as thickly as any ever has to date. I miss him. I would give anything for one more moment, one more day. One more hug. One chance to say good bye. One last smile, another shared laugh. A wave. A touch. One more smell of his warmth, one more observation of his brilliant, elegant hands. I am shaken to my core at the sudden polarity of this wave. I was fine. I was peaceful. I was accepting. I am frightened when it takes me this hard, without warning. I simply cannot believe he is gone. I still have not accepted it. I want to ride the elevator to the 12th floor, to smell the chemical scent and feel the nausea that fades as I wash my hands and walk to his room, to see him soft and vulnerable in his bed, warm to my touch, laughing at cartoons in the dark. Give me that moment back.

Precious memories

Joe and I were watching movies last weekend, and we came across one that seems like a silly little chick flick now, but that had tremendous meaning to me at the time. It led to sharing a lot of things about my past and I wound up going and getting into my cedar chest, trying to resurrect some photographs to share with him. I did not find the photo album I was looking for. But I did find about four old journals, three of which were from before my marriage to Stewart and one that was after. I did not remember keeping a journal while Stewart and I were married. What I found was such a gift. I had very briefly kept a journal while Joseph was a baby. I detailed what he was up to, what we did together that day, what made him laugh, what made him upset. I talked at length about my hopes for his future and the depths of my brand new first time Mother Love. I have no memory of being this way. I am very harsh with myself when I look back on myself as a mother. I remember more the times I struggled, the resentment I would feel as the heaviness of needs for all in the family would again and again push my own aside. I was stunned to read this eloquent, poignant accounting of a young mother who seemed to have such a great grasp at the time that this precious 7 month old baby was only on loan to her. I mentioned it more than once, and it chilled me to read it. I know I had no inkling at the time what would happen to that baby. But one particularly long entry was made on January 10th, 1994. How little I did know that 13 years later to the day, the very baby I was recording the antics of and my feelings for, would be gone from me.

I did not write much in there and I wish now I had recorded more. What little bit was in there was like recapturing a part of him.

I have stopped seeing Jordan, the happy hippie therapist. We did a lot of good work together and I feel I learned some important things. But when it came down to the nitty gritty of my grief, the honest truth is that I just do not trust him. He is a fine man, gentle and introspective, but so meek and mild mannered. I did not feel as if he could bear the weight of my sorrow with me. It took me a while to figure that out, to understand why I felt such an aversion to going back. I may in time seek another therapist, perhaps a woman, who might understand more the grief of a mother, or just another individual who is not so ethereal in their approach. Right now I am doing okay.

I am not enjoying school. The competitive nature gets more and more choking each semester, an atmosphere I do not thrive under but yet I have a hard time ignoring. I spend a lot of my time when I think about school in a state of raw fear. I have not yet learned how to manage that effectively I guess. It doesn't help that so much of what I learn brings to mind so many memories of my son. I am making excellent grades. I do not know where the anxiety comes from. There was a time in my life I could care less. A nice, happy medium would be beneficial.

I celebrate turning 38 at the end of this week. Alex will be off to brain tumor camp (Camp Feliz), which he loves. His eigth grade "girlfriend" always goes...I hope he doesn't come home with a broken heart. He is doggedly true to her despite very little contact and absolutely no reason to believe this much older female returns his feelings. She is kind to him and a very sweet girl and does nothing to either encourage nor discourage him, but is just a friend and pen pal. But I worry for my little man's heart. There is no way to break that kind of a crush. Whatever resolution comes will have to come on its own.

Joe and I are tossing around the idea of upgrading to a newer, more spacious home in the same general area we are in now. He and I have had some wonderful talks about our finances and our dreams, our plans for the future. So many things are happening that I hardly dared ever hope for. Life is very very good despite my chronic anxiety about school, work, my kids, the economy. I feel such gratitude for all the good things going on. I am the luckiest girl I know. If anything, I yearn for more time at home, more time to just be a Mom and a...well...not exactly a wife....a wife-like being....that is where my greatest contentment and sense of security is. I never thought that would be me. I was always somewhat driven to find happiness elsewhere. I think it is true what they say, that timing is everything. I did a little bit of decorating for fall over the weekend. Joe and I drank homemade cosmopolitans on Saturday night. We had a realtor over to take a look around and I looked at a few houses on Sunday, enough to be encouraged by the possibilities. We shall see what happens.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Domestic Havens

Can I be any more cliche? Joe is out cutting the lawn and I am in the kitchen slicing zucchini and peeling whole garlic cloves to make us dinner and I feel so content it is like a wave of warmth singing through me. Feminists everywhere have itchy butts and have no idea why.....I am that fulfilled with my current circumstances.

Everyone is wanting to know how the race went. It went very, very well. Wet, humid, heavy and hard to breathe, but the race happened and Team Joseph received an award for being the top fundraiser for the event. We still got donations up through this morning and are over $6800 at this time. I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would be that much, and Joe admitted to me on the way to the race that he thought I had named an astronomically unlikely amount when I set the goal at $5000. Honesty, I was too. There was no rhyme, reason or plan to that number. We ended the morning at my brother Jeff's house enjoying good barbecue and watching what the very fringes of a dying hurricane look like. It was pretty unimpressive. I throw fits bigger than that.

I came home from there and slept like death for two hours. If the storm had really gotten going I probably could have slept the rest of the afternoon and through the night. I am still exhausted and still having trouble sleeping more than a five hour stretch at a time. I wish that would stop. Now that the race is done and the event has passed, I almost just don't want to think about it, look at it, talk about it. I have been on the verge of sobbing so many times, starting Saturday morning, and if I am going to, I am real okay with that, but I also want to do it at home, alone, with Joe, outside of the rest of my life. I feel like another part of me laid Joseph to rest this weekend, moved him from the physical world and into my heart where he can always be. But people keep asking me how the race was and who showed up and how much money we wound up raising. I am glad they are so interested. I am just wanting to turn my eyes away from it and rest from the emotional toll it took.

I had lunch with my girlfriends yesterday and Joe and I had a couple of very good conversations over the weekend about a number of things. I feel so grateful for those relationships. The seasons are changing...it is cool enough here tonight that I have the A/C off, the windows flung open where the crisp scent of fresh-cut grass fills my spirit with memories of Omaha and a lifetime I have not seen in a long time, a feeling of being very close to recapturing parts of myself I thought had died so long ago. I am happy in a bittersweet, grateful way....like Drambuie or Grand Marnier...sweetness with a burn, yet the burn warms and soothes. It will be fireplace weather in another couple of months, maybe sooner. I am looking forward to that.