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


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 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 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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


My emotions are running so high today. I have been tearful on and off, with tenderness, with gratitude, with grief, pain and joy all swirling together. It is probably difficult to communicate and difficult to understand, but this is a very beautiful feeling I have inside myself right now.

Yesterday afternoon I wrote about Team Joseph being at $3300 and so close to its $5000 goal for Heroes For Children. At the moment that I write this, we sit exactly $83 from making that goal happen. In the span of 24 hours, people have just come from far and wide to contribute nearly $1700. I am mentally on my knees.

This is such a special day you see. Today, seven years ago, an incredibly dark evil overtook our country and robbed us of over 2000 of our citizens in a burst of cruel hate. I do not pretend to understand the cause of Al Qaeda. I guess in the most generous of spirits I can say I imagine they have their reasons and that for some reason they feel they are justified in those murders. I do not agree. That day, I think pretty much all of us took pause and reflected on the potential for evil in the human heart. Every anniversary my heart is heavy. I will never forget where I was or how I felt that day. I will never forget the images on the news. I will never, ever forget any of it.

I do not hold Joseph, our family or even this little team we have formed in his name up as any kind of force or power in the world. We are all ordinary people who were caught up in extraordinary circumstances. For most who even knew of Joseph's battle at the time of his illness and death, the story of it has started to fade and life has continued onward. It is as it should be. But that so many would resurrect it at this time. to put themselves forward in such a generous way as to absolutely leave no doubt in my mind that they remember...they remember him, they remember makes such a beautiful statement of hope and of love. They remember Joseph or have been moved by his story for the first time. There are names on the list of contributors that bring my throat to close with tender gratitude...people I have never met, who live far far from here, who knew of us only through Joseph's Caringbridge page...people who sent him gifts, sent us cards, sent funding for our last family vacation together...Do you understand how this brings him back to life in my heart? And the message it holds to counteract what statement was made about humankind seven years ago today is soft and yet so powerful in its tenderness. This generosity of spirit is so opposite to the darkness that took place that day. You do not have to believe in a God to be touched by this outpouring of love and remembrance, all for one very ordinary young man who happened to get cancer and who had a mother willing to put the story out there for all to see as it unfolded.

He is here, in my heart. I feel him. Joe says we keep those we love alive through our memories of them. What I had not considered at all was how the memories of others as well can make that sense of continuation so massive. This has been so very healing for me. Joseph lives on. Thank you so very, very much. I do not know if I am more moved by those who read and suffered along with us as he fought and he died...or those who were not aware of us then, but are still moved by the story now.

The funds we are raising go to families still living the nightmare. Its just the kind of thing that Joseph would have believed in. His spirit was sweet and it was strong. I miss him so much and yet feel more than ever he is eternal. Thank you. Hope is such a powerful thing, in the words of a song I know, frail yet hard to kill. I did not realize I still had so much in me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Team Joseph Update!!

Well, the time draws near now! The T-shirts for Team Joseph arrived today and look fantastic, done in blue, Joseph's favorite color. They have a playful picture of Joseph's smiling face on the front with the words Team Joseph and the dates of his birth and of his death.

Stewart and I continue to be so spiritually fed and overwhelmed by the generosity of people who have been touched by Joseph's story. At this hour we have a little over $3300 that we have raised, and Team Joseph remains the top fundraiser for the 5K. I set a goal of $5000, almost on a whim, and said in my heart "Joseph, this is seriously up to you. If you want this to happen, YOU have to do it, because honestly between school, work, your brothers and my grief, I don't have it in me!".

And that is exactly what seems to have happened here. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me know Joseph speaks to yours.

The race is the day after tomorrow and Hurricane Ike is threatening to make it a very ugly day for us. Please say a little prayer that the weather will hold. If you have intended to donate but have not gotten to it yet, here is the link. We don't have much time and we are SO. CLOSE. to our goal. If you would help us reach it, I would be so grateful. This has been such a healing endeavor to our family, feeling like we have given something back and feeling Joseph still living on. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Here is the link:

http://www. active. com/donate/heroesforchildren/SMorris440

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I have not been blogging too much this past week or so. There are times this urge to spill my soul out waxes and wanes. I guess this has been one of them.

I feel like I have so many things about my life that I want to change and improve, and I know that I still suffer from a considerable amount of survivor's guilt, enough to paralyze me. But I have come to a conscious conclusion that regardless of my grief and desire for it to be different, life is moving on. I have visited the LUSH store out at Northpark and bought some stinky stuff with a gift card that Stewart gave me for Christmas along with some wonderful exfoliants and henna for my hair. I am now a sassy auburn-headed wench whose hair smells of jasmine and whose skin is scented with something called "Karma", which I love but which seems to overwhelm Joe in its intensity. I'll have to find a way to tone it down a bit. It makes me feel girlie and feminine, which then makes me want to eat like a girl and get some exercise, and makes it easier for me to look up from my feet and actually make friends with people or at the very least smile...something I find increasingly I avoid doing.

So in that vein, today I put on this pair of red pants that I have. Now, mind you, those of you who know me in person know that there is frankly no way on this planet to miss my ass, whether it is coming or going. This heart shaped, wriggling monstrosity earns me plenty of admiration and consternation alike, and to adorn it with red pants, no matter how well fitting, feels like sticking a big sign on my butt that says "Just in case you missed it...." But as I finished up getting ready for work, I got an admiring gaze from my beloved and a very nice compliment, so I kept them on and went about my merry, yet somewhat insecure way. I got another admiring gaze from another gentleman later in the day when I was brave enough to make eye contact and smile at him, so I have a little strut to my step now and I am feeling pretty sassy. I got my hair cut last night and am very happy with it as well. I feel more stylish today than I have in a while and that feels good. I just have to keep reminding myself, in the words of a good friend, that most men prefer an older, curvy, well put together woman over a skinny skanked out mess. Not that I care too much about most men, but more just about how I feel in general. And I do like to look nice for Joe. We won't talk about the skinny well put together women. No. We shall not.

School was a tad rough today. We talked about leukemia. It was relatively brief compared to the rest of the lecture, yet for a moment as the instructor discussed the fact that at which points in the cell maturation cycle leukemia forms determines the prognosis for the disease I thought I might actually have to leave the room and throw up, cry or just...I don't know. Leave. I got through it, but it does surprise me that hearing that his type of cancer was one of the most deadly forms of leukemia again still hits me as if I never heard it before. Even though he is dead and that journey and battle is over for us, it still surprises and frightens me. He will never stop being my baby.

Things are shifting into high gear for the race on Saturday. We have raised over $3000 so far. I am still hoping the last minute donations will come in and maybe we will reach our $5000 goal. People continue to say they want to walk with us and we have 37 team members as of today. This whole thing took on a life of its own. I thought maybe a couple of family members would do it with us and that it'd be a small thing, that maybe we'd raise a couple hundred dollars. So I am thrilled to see so many wanting to remember Joseph and wanting to help. It does my heart some good.