One

My father, Gregory John Entwistle, was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer in September 2013. Five months later, on February 12, 2014, he was gone.

Today is the one year anniversary of his passing and I have waited for this day with such dread. I asked friends for support and prayers. I anxiously tried to write a post that would honor him and the past year we’ve spent without him. I drank a little too much wine. I cried a little (or a lot). And then this morning, I woke up.

And it was just another day.

I’m not sure what I expected. I guess I thought I would wake up to a giant wave of grief, a new and sudden avalanche of feelings because ONE YEAR. ONE. It feels like such a big milestone, but if you get down to the heart of the matter, things are still the same now as they were right after he passed. Six months after he passed. Yesterday. I still miss him. I still feel like something so big is missing from our lives. I still think about him every day. I still teeter on the edge of anger. Still look for reason or meaning behind the early passing of such a good, kind man. I still wish that things were different.

But they are not. They are not different and he is not here.

One year hasn’t changed anything. It’s just another day.

Another day that I miss you, Daddy. So, so much.

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In my skin

I was cleaning out my blog drafts, a little housekeeping this morning, when I came across this post from last fall. It was written sometime in October, shortly after Dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It was an important read for me today. A reminder that there is still so much good in our lives. And while I miss Dad terribly and feel the loss of him so strongly during this season, I can still find contentment in our blessed life. And that is where my hope comes from.

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October 2013Life is not perfect. You only have to read my Facebook or check past blog posts to know that there is a lot of pain and struggle and worry right now. Which makes what I’m about to say seem so wild and crazy to me.

I am content.

We had a speaker at my Moms group the other day. She was there to talk about raising children who are not entitled, but something she said at the beginning of her talk really resonated with me on a totally different level. “Teach your children to value contentment above happiness. Happiness is situational, but contentment is unchanging.” She elaborated, sharing that although you could wake up completely happy, your feelings could change immediately. Say, after your son smears peanut butter all over the dog. See? No matter what your station in life, your personal fulfillment or your strength of faith, there is a pretty good chance you are NO LONGER HAPPY. But, you can still be CONTENT.

Hm. That gave me pause. I am certain I am not happy at this time in my life. But am I content?

I was walking out of the gym this week when the answer came to me. I had just had a great workout, one that makes you feel strong, and capable and invincible. It was cool, the kind of weather that promised fall leaves and fires and warm blankets, and snuggling. And I was walking to my car and it hit me like it was a direct message from heaven. And I remember thinking, “I am content. I hope that years from now I can remember this season in our lives and remember this feeling of contentment. Right here, right now.”

But can I? Can I be content even when my father is fighting for his life? When cancer has crept like a thief in the night to wreck and ravage one of the people I hold most dear?

The answer, surprisingly, is YES.

The answer is yes. And I don’t think is dishonors my father to say that. Am I happy. Oh my, NO. No, my heart hurts and my soul cries out for God to hear our prayers. But I am content. And I would think that should comfort my father more than anything else could. Because I know he loves me. He wants the best for me. And I am finally at a place in my life where I can say, Yes, father. I am okay. I am content. I am at peace.

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She sparkled

I’m sad today. 

I woke up sad. And unlike many days, it hasn’t faded with the sun rise, but has stayed with me.

Today I signed my first born up for Kindergarten. She wore a dress, because she always wears a dress. She wore red tights, and a denim jacket and I hope I always remember that she topped off the outfit with a set of bunny ears. Because she is my mighty Kate, full of life and surprises and personality. And special. She is so, so full of special. 

Dad would have loved to hear about her bunny ears. It wouldn’t have surprised him. He saw Kate. Really SAW her. He knew her every flaw, and every talent she has been blessed with, and he loved it all. The whole package. He loved her. So, so much.

And that is why I’m sad today. Not because my baby is growing up and heading off to school, but because Dad isn’t here to share it with us. 

In two days, it will have been two months since Dad passed. While she has quite telling me she just wants to see him one more time, Kate still asks me, nearly every week, if I’m sad that Pops is dead. If I miss him. I believe she asks to make sure its okay that she is still sad. Because she is hurting. And so am I. We miss him. We are so, so sad. I don’t live in the sadness every day. I can’t. But days like today it seems to swell up around me until it hurts to breathe because I miss him so much.

And I’m angry. I am so, so angry. I am so fucking angry. I want to scream I am so angry. It rises up in my throat and chokes me. Because it is unfair, it is so unfair. And I know death isn’t fair. But this death has robbed me of one of the best men I know. It has robbed my daughter of such a special relationship with a man who loved her beyond all measure, who saw the sun in her and would have been one of her greatest cheerleaders in life. 

I don’t know if any of this will go away. Maybe time smooths it all out like stones in a river, but at this moment my sadness and my anger are sharp and painful and it hurts and I feel like it will never be okay. That there will never be another milestone that passes with simply joy and excitement, but instead these moments will always be under the shadow of this deep sadness. 

I miss you Daddy. You should have seen Kate today. 

She sparkled.

You would have loved it.

Goodbye

I walked into Grammy and Pops’ back yard one afternoon and I see Kate, standing on a step stool, holding a squeeze bottle full of paint. Below her is a tarp with a canvas on it, and to the side, Pops, encouraging Kate to wildly, and with abandon, create a masterpiece. They are both beaming.

We come to Grammy and Pops’ house for dinner, and Pops excitedly shows Kate and Beckett the new parfait cups he has purchased, specifically for them. He then pulls out a container full of pieces of angel food cake he had painstakingly cut into perfectly round pieces that fit, just so, into the cups. He shows them how to make a perfect strawberry shortcake parfait and they are all laughing, shoving cake, strawberries and whip cream into cups, into their mouths, making such a lovely mess.

Beckett is throwing a tantrum, insisting on using the Ironman Slip ‘n’ Slide despite the icy temperatures. Pops patiently sets up the water slide and then grabs B’s hand and helps him, grinning, slide through the freezing water. “IRONMAN!” Pops shouts and we all laugh as Beckett grins and giggles and slides and tiptoes off sheepishly as he confirms that it is, in fact, too cold to Slip ‘n’ Slide.

They sit on the couch. Kate and Beckett in Christmas jammies, snuggled up with Pops as he reads them ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the book he read to me each and every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember. This is warmth, happiness, love.

Pops is on all fours on our floor, growling and swatting the air with his hands, chasing the children as they shriek and scurry. “The Bear!” they both shout, screaming and running in circles. Unable to stay away, they keep coming back for more until the bear groans and rolls on his back with his arms and legs in the air. Kate and Beckett sense weakness and pounce, a wrestling match that ends in snuggles.

Pops is sitting on the ottoman in my living room, holding my hand. He is getting ready to start the fight against the cancer that will, in five months, take his life. And he says to me,

“You are the light of my life. I love you more than I love myself.”

I love you too, Daddy.

And I will miss you, every day, for the rest of my life.

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Lights in my darkness

I have always known that I am loved and valued. But my goodness, I have never, not once in my life, felt as comforted, supported, cared for and RAISED UP as I do at this time in my life. While I would never suggest getting (or a loved one getting) a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad disease could be a GOOD thing, there are actually positive moments in the darkness. A realization that although we live in this sometimes harsh and hard world, humanity is still very, VERY good. That our friends, and families, and neighbors, and communities, and churches and sometimes even strangers can become our every-day angels. Saying just the right thing at the right moment. Reminding you of their prayers. Bringing you a meal. Buying you a drink. Listening. Checking in. Making you laugh. Making you talk. Comforting. Giving hugs. Sending encouragement. Helping you forget. How amazing these acts of friendship, love and support are when you are suffering. How wonderfully made we are, indeed.

To all those angels, in MY life, I can never say thank you enough. But know that you have made a difference. You have been a light in this darkness.

As for Dad, his condition is fairly unchanged at this point, although it is getting harder and harder for him to eat anything, leading to weight loss and a loss of energy. Two weeks ago we traveled down to Houston to meet with Doctors at MD Anderson and were told that radiation and surgery were not an option at this point. Next week Dad will begin an approximate six months of chemotherapy. He will also be participating in a clinical trial.

All I can ask for now are (more) prayers. That Dad handles the chemo as well as possible. That the side effects aren’t too unbearable. That the treatment shrinks his tumors significantly. That he can begin to eat again. That he gets the actual drug for the clinical trial and not the placebo. That we all remain positive. That the doctors at MD Anderson give him the best care possible.

That he doesn’t give up.

No matter how hard it gets.

Amen.

That thin, thin line

Lately I’m walking a pretty thin line between keeping it all together, and completely, totally, losing my shit. It’s pretty super.

Just ask my kids.

While they are (mostly) innocent bystanders, my poor children are usually the tipping point that takes me from a stressed out, slightly depressed momma to a raging maniac. You know what I DON’T need when I’m deep in thoughts of how to describe illness and loss to your sister? I don’t need you TO BE A TWO YEAR OLD. That’s right. You heard me. STOP THAT RIGHT THERE. The stomping and arguing and yelling and learning to be INDEPENDENT. I don’t NEED THAT RIGHT NOW. I need you to be sweet and pliable and still prefer snuggles to running into the street pell mell, like you have a teeny tiny death wish. THAT CAR ISN’T SCARED OF YOU. You are not actually a T-Rex. You also can’t wear underpants if you are going to poop in them constantly. Oh, and P.S., we AREN’T out of juice, I was just tired of arguing with you about it SO I LIED.

A few weeks ago when I was knee deep in self-pity and worry, I was in the office writing and researching some fun old CANCER stuff when B wandered in. He had been watching a show with Kate, but since he has the attention span of a gnat, he decided to come and see what I was up to. I was up to CODE RED emotional state, nearing tears or a nervous breakdown. When I didn’t pay him enough attention, B sidled up next to me in a quick snuggle fake-out and then with a mighty ‘WHACK!’ he slammed his hand down on the computer, effectively erasing everything I had just written. I let out a mighty sound. I’m not sure what exactly how to put this sound in words. Part primal shriek, part groan, part exasperation and part anger. I put my head on the desk in my hands and squeezed my eyes shut and pretty much started to hyperventilate.

Beckett of course hit the ground sobbing. I was too wrapped up in my own emotions to comfort him. Because, you know, thin line. I kept my head down on the desk and tried to keep from lashing out, because I knew it wasn’t really what B did that I was angry about. Without lifting my head I told him, very sternly, “You need to leave. Now.” He literally crawled out of the room and I couldn’t raise up out of my emotions enough to care.

Not my finest moment.

My head was still on the desk when I heard some shuffling at the office door. I raised my head, ready to let loose with my anger. Make myself somehow feel better by making him, a poor, tiny toddler, feel worse. I just had so much inside me and he was the tipping point.

But when I looked up, it was Kate in the door. With a slightly terrified expression on her face. The look on her face struck me, and I lost my anger immediately. It drained away as quickly as it had come and all that was left was sadness, shame and that hollow feeling that sits in your stomach when you know you’ve done something you can’t take back.

Kate stared at me for a second and then said to me, “Um, Mom? I don’t like it when you scream at me, and I don’t think you should scream at Beckett either. I tried to wipe all his tears and snot off, and I got him to stop crying. You should probably say sorry.”

Wow. My first thought was to quibble a bit, because her words put me in such an ugly light. I mean, I didn’t SCREAM per say. I mean, lets call a spade a spade. It was more a reaction than a scream. I mean, sometimes I YELL. Maybe that was a YELL?

No. Lets call a spade a spade. I screamed. I took my anger, fear and sadness and balled it up into a tight wad of emotion and threw it at my two-year old. And it hurt him. As much as if it were a physical thing. And my daughter. My little warrior. She cared for him. She helped him. And then SHE CAME TO ME and stood up for her brother. Even though she was afraid I was going to… SCREAM… at her next.

Oh my heart.

A friend of mine who has been faced with an unexpected and terrible loss recently, wrote to me with these wise words. “What I have learned (the hard way this last year) is the constant challenge of trying to be present and emotionally available when you are so emotionally raw and stripped. It’s such a backwards situation. How is any human supposed to deal with very real adult emotionally heavy and suffocating concerns and still have the emotional fortitude to crawl on the floor with your littles, parent with patience and not be a blubbering mess.”

I could not have put it into better words. What it feels like to have such a heavy weight of pain and sadness within while you try to parent. Her advice to handling this was to be honest. Instead of trying to hold it all in where the only option is to lash out when it all becomes to much, she let her children see her heart. Her hurt. Her sadness. And it seems to me, that has to be the way. Because I would rather my children grow up knowing and understanding emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy manner, than seeing mommy fall off that thin line, causing damage to their little hearts and sweet souls in the process.

How blessed I am to have such wise friends. Now if I can just be a little more like them. I think we might just all make it through.

Words to live by

I’ve been pinning a lot lately. You know, on Pinterest. Although if there was a VooDoo doll shaped like cancer, I might be pinning the shit out of that. TAKE THAT CANCER. And THAT. And THAT!! AND THAT, THAT, THAT, THAT!!!! Bwahahahaha. *SOB*

Ahem. Sorry.

Back to Pinterest. I’ve pinned everything from birthday party ideas to seasonal wardrobes to my dream house (the one I’ll build when we buy our own island. Like, NEVER). In my mind, Pinterest is half good ideas, half aspirational baloney. You know, the things you lust after but will never, ever (or probably SHOULD never) obtain. Because who needs an outdoor rain shower tiled in gold subway tiles? Not me, but I sure as heck pinned that stuff… JUST. IN. CASE. (wink).

Lately I’ve started pinning words. A lot of different words, under the heading “Wisdom.” I’ve always known words have power, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve started to truly DEPEND on words for strength, peace. Wisdom. I go look at my board of words just about daily now. To remind myself. That while only God knows the outcome, we are in control of TODAY. Of our very own here and now.

And thanks to Pinterest, I am reminded:

That worrying will not make my father well.

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That we are not in this fight alone.

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That a fierce belief in my Dad’s ability to beat this thing is more than half the battle.

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And, that we have the greatest gift. We have hope. And we are grounded by it.

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