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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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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Get busy livin’

The day I found out that it was in fact cancer, and how advanced it was, Ben was out of town. I got the news during my kid’s quiet time, and spent the hour crying and texting a few people that knew I was waiting for the results of the biopsy. Despite kind offers from sweet friends to take the kids while I got myself together, I couldn’t, for some crazy reason, ask for that help. Once they woke, I took the kids to a playground so I could sit on a bench and cry behind my sunglasses without them noticing. I bought a movie, let them watch several hours of TV. They got pizza for dinner. I ate my version of comfort food, the junk I never let in my house, potato chips with ranch dip and cookie dough. I drank some wine. I basically checked out.

And then I got busy. I scheduled family photos so that we could have some good ones of my dad and the kids before he started to physically show how sick he is. I pulled my camera out every time Dad was near the children, frantically capturing memories. I made a list of things to do to help make sure the kids wouldn’t forget him. When he was gone. I thought about getting videos of him reading books so the kids could watch them. Record him talking about some of his past history, the stories he has told me a million times that I forgot because, until he is no longer there to tell them, they didn’t seem that important to remember. I’m ashamed to say it, but I started preparing for his death.

A few days ago, Ben casually walks up to me in the kitchen and mentions something he would like to get my dad. Something for him to enjoy during chemo. I literally froze. I stared up into my husband’s face and was reminded why I was so deeply blessed to have him in my life. While I was talking the talk of getting my dad the finest treatment available, while I was urging him to see doctors and be proactive, I certainly was not walking the walk of the faithful. How could God receive my prayers for healing when I was so clearly preparing for those prayers not to be heard, or answered? And how could my father fight the good fight when part of his support team wasn’t truly FIGHTING but had already thrown in the towel?

That day, Ben changed how I was going to cope with this tragedy. I quit living like I was waiting for the end. We began conspiring. Things for Dad’s treatment. Fun surprises. No more moping. I started planning meals and cooking for the family again instead of letting them survive on junk food and sandwiches. I showered. Stopped canceling on friends who wanted to see me. I rejoined the land of the living with a new purpose. Focus on life. On the right here and right now. On the FIGHT.

Dad has an appointment to see a team of doctors at MD Anderson in Houston next week. One of the best cancer hospitals in the country. Dad is ready for the fight.

And now, so am I.

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Grief

I remember the first time I felt real grief. It was when my Nana died, and I was in high school. Since then, I’ve felt varying levels of loss, sadness and pain, but never again have I had to deal with the kind of grief that physically removes the air from your lungs and bends you to your knees.

Until last week. When I got the news that my Dad had a tumor in his esophagus. That the doctors were concerned enough to take a biopsy. That we would know something in a week. I hung up the phone and bent over and felt the heaviness of all the “what ifs” wash over me as I imagined saying goodbye, having my KIDS say goodbye, to someone so big and so important to us all. And for a week, I grieved over what could be. I alternated between hopeful and hopeless. I wore big sunglasses so my kids couldn’t see the silent tears that would slide down my face while I drove them to school. I canceled social engagements so I wouldn’t have to keep up a brave face.

Sometimes I would get caught up in my children, in our lives, and I would forget. For a moment, I would forget my grief. But then, a word, a song, a thought, would trigger it and my stomach would tighten, my heart would seize and I would hurt. Physically hurt from it all. And, I would feel guilty. Because when something so big is looming over you, it feels like it should take over life, like there can’t be room for anything else. But life does continue, and so I waded through, feeling removed from it all while I waited for the answers to all the “what ifs.”

And then we got our answer. It IS cancer. It HAS spread. There are spots on his liver. They said “small” spots, but all I heard was, SPREAD. My parents reacted positively. They rejoiced that it hadn’t permeated his body. I felt small, and mean, and ungrateful because I couldn’t rejoice. I could only rail against the universe that this was happening to such a GOOD MAN.

And so we move forward. We ATTACK. Dad meets with doctors. They create a treatment plan. They treat. We see how Dad responds. They treat more. We pray.

We pray.

I don’t even really know how to put into words how I feel. I think at this point I feel numb. I feel tired. WEARY. I think that is the word. I feel weary and I’ve only been dealing with this grief for a little over a week. How long will this take? How long will I feel scared, and uncertain and worried and WEARY?

I’m not ready to say goodbye to my Dad. And I know for a fact he isn’t ready to say goodbye to our family. That is the silver lining. That no matter what the tests say, or the doctors say, or the Internet or the statistics say, my Dad is a force of nature. He is single minded. Focused. Dedicated. Determined. Positive. I have to believe that if anyone was going to beat this thing, it will be my father. I have to believe it because the alternative is unacceptable.

Love you daddy.

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