Oh dear God………

March 15, 2013

The idea might come as a whisper when God speaks, or when the Universe moves me in the right direction.  Once I decide to follow this whispering, suddenly all I hear is whimpering that grows fainter each day.

I don’t believe in God in the same way most religious people do, I am sure.  Still, I would pray with the children every night before I’d climb in with them.  Snuggling each to sleep.  Pillow talk time.  It was the only time each day that they would get my undivided attention.  And, I had theirs.  One on one.  In the dark.  Heads soft in the pillows.  This is when secrets were shared, ideas explored, and stories were told.

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Cassie was only four when she knelt by her bed exhausted from a day of arguing and fighting with her brother.  She was particularly jealous of his ‘older brother abilities’ that she had yet to discover for herself.  Before we pray, I tell her how God has a plan for each one of us.  And, with this plan, we are given our own special gift.  It is our job to discover, nurture and then use our gift for the greater good of all.  I was sure she understood.

Cassie prays, “Dear God, I know you want me to get along with my brother, Christopher.  And I know you want me to find my own gift.  I just wish you would speak up louder, cause I can not hear you!”

This is how I feel today.

I stopped writing about my journey with cancer, here in this blog, so that I can write for publication.  My whispering angels gave me the idea.  I am to write not only my journal, but, to incorporate true-life stories with my journal.  And, I am to find one-hundred of these stories.  One hundred.

It’s part of the title.

So far, I have found two.  I am already thinking that the title will be changed to Two (—undisclosed title)…not One-Hundred (—-).

Listening to the Universe is easy.  Following the path can get hazy.  I am groping in a thick fog unable to see all of the pieces scattered along the path.  Before, this was simple.  I already had a journal written.  A full year and a half of life with a husband, life with five children, life with cancer.  I just wrote each chapter into the blog and hit publish.

But, now, there is this blog, which is still a journal, but, it is now a current journal.  No transcribing from a pre-written journal.  And, now, instead of cancer, it is only about writing. Writing about writing.  Nothing about cancer, because the cancer stuff is in the book. There is also, the rest of the original journal, the cancer journal.  The rest of that year after diagnosis.  What do I do with that?  This makes me feel like I am trying to keep three separate journals; a current about writing, a current with research involved, about cancer, and somehow adding pieces from the past journal left off from the original blog.

I am driving myself crazy.  And my dear sweet angels seem to have hushed.

So.  Today, I make a plan.  First, I write a little blog post here.  Check in.  Update.  Think out loud.  Second, I take a chapter from the cancer journal, the one already written, and find a way to weave this into the current book writing.

The one with the One Hundred (–)   Two (–).

Oh this is so much work.  I miss the flow of just letting words flow onto the paper.  Well, they no longer flow from the pen, they are more or less punched onto a screen that looks like white paper.   Still, it was so much easier before.

Maybe I will just ask Cassie to pray for me.  She’s done well.  If anyone can get God to speak up louder, it is Cassie.

I am Genki…………

May 14, 2012

Grayson is coming. The call comes at five thirty in the morning. This time is really it, after three false alarms, three trips to three different hospitals with false labor.  Each time they were away from home and had to go to the nearest hospital.  This time is it.  Cassie knows it.  And once again, they are no where near their hospital.

We will have to meet in Newport.

A one hour drive for me. Greg has to work. He will meet his grandson after.  I will go alone for the birth. Cassie asked that I be there. I want to be there. I can not believe I am going to be there to watch my daughter give birth. My hypochondriac daughter. The daughter whom never played with baby dolls. She was too busy making her Barbie Dolls perform on stage. Or, having mommy play restaurant as we made lunch together everyday. The restaurant where Donnie, from New Kids on the Block singing group, would come in for lunch and take Cassie away to be one of their first girl singers in the band.

The same play-acting every single day.

None of which, included practice in nurturing and loving a baby. None of Cassie’s play time ever involved babies. Not the way I had played as a little girl. My neighbor friend, Debbie and I would even pretend to nurse our little plastic baby dolls. All of Cassie’s Christmas present baby dolls would end up in Michelley’s arms.

We always figured that it would be Michelley to have children and that Cassie would go off to be a star in a rock band. Though Cassie was not ever a full blown hypochondriac, she had tendencies toward this. I certainly worried that she would never survive child birthing. Or, better yet, that her doctor would not survive Cassie’s child birthing.

I am sure that she will slap the doctor with the first hard contraction.

Maybe I don’t really want to be there for the birth after all. I slow my car down a bit on the I-5 North. It is still dark outside. Watching the sun come up on the West coast is never as beautiful as on the East. But, there is a sweetness to the air at this hour. The wide open ocean is to my left. It’s massive darkness sends a chill through my spine. I can’t see it yet, but I know it is there and a dark ocean feels scary to me.

Morning rises on the West coast as quietly and softly as a baby blanket lies upon bare shoulders. Before I know it the first light of the day is upon me. A dimmer switch on daylight that is turning ever so slowly. There is pink in the air. I roll down my window and let it fill my lungs. I should hurry. A baby is going to be born into our family today. And, I want to drink in every moment.

Contractions have been seven minutes apart. Consistently. It will not surprise me in the least if they have this baby in the car on the way. With Cassie, life has never been normal for us. She is an adventure filled with drama. An action-packed movie whose love and passion draws in the viewer over and over again. I just hope this hospital staff can take it.

Cassie and Justin have written out their birth plan.

No drugs. None. Even if she is slapping the doctor. No drugs. There are a lot of other no’s in there. Mostly, they want a peaceful, loving and patient atmosphere. They want Grayson to be born naturally. No intervention unless it is life and death.

I smile and straighten my hand-woven hat with one hand as I picture Cassie not only slapping the doctor, but the nurse, Justin, his sister, Hannah, who is a mid-wife, and me. Her mom. I just know it’s coming. Cassie calls between contractions. She sounds great. Normal. Happy. They are there, just minutes from the hospital. But they are not going in yet. She is hungry. They are at Denny’s. I am to meet them there.

I know I am in the right Denny’s by the frightened look on the waiters face as he greets me at the door. I guess he recognizes me as the mother of the pregnant lady. Maybe I am looking frightened too. We walk to the far end of Denny’s. The closed portion. “I seated them back here,” he looks over his shoulder at me, using the menu in his hand as a pointer, and whispers, “you know, just in case.”

I just hope Cassie and Justin don’t feel obligated to name him Denny if he happens to be born here.

Justin and Hannah are sitting at a table with a place waiting for me. Cassie is sitting at the neighboring table. Alone. It makes me laugh. The fat girl at a table alone. Not welcome at the popular table. Okay. That is not really funny.  In fact, that is just down right awful.  Already, I can see that I am not the right person for birth coaching. Justin and Hannah look up from their grand-slam breakfasts and carry on their conversations as they motion for me to join them. I look over to see my daughter in the middle of a contraction and I am filled with pride.

Oh?  Another contraction?

Oh?
Another contraction?

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Have fun with that while we eat our breakfast.

It is in this moment that I know that Cassie is going to be fine.

I watch her close her eyes, hands to her belly and her slow, concentrated breathing. This is nothing like I had expected. In this moment, I am witnessing my daughter, my child, become a woman. A strong woman. My eyes well with tears. And, this time, it is not a chemo reaction. “Oh, Lowes,” (a nick name Greg has used for me for all of our married life) Justin calls me this too. I think it was an accident the first time. He didn’t know this was my nick name. I think he was nervous to use my real name when we first met and in one of his adorable awkward moments, it came out as Lowes instead of Lori. “You are not crying already?”

This will be my job.

I brought my camera. Cassie wants me to document the birth. Everything except the gooey stuff. I can not cry throughout the birth. I pull myself together and order breakfast, too. The three of us carry on a conversation and eat away. I like Denny’s for breakfast. This is fun. Every once in a while, we hear a little moan, look up and realize Cassie is having another contraction. I laugh when I see Justin look at her for a moment, realize she is okay and go back to a big bite of his eggs. We are cool. We have got this.

Until Cassie starts to get up and says, “It’s time. I think we better hurry.”

The three of us scramble to get out of our booth. We grab her purse, my camera bag, the car keys. Justin will go get the car. We run out the door and look back. We left Cassie. She is holding her belly with two hands. Down low, right at the base of her round and huge belly, as though this baby is about to slip out as she tries to keep up with us. She makes it out of the doors but needs to sit on the bench for another contraction.

This is it. We are really doing this. Grayson Chance Halliwell is on his way.

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Every thing happens so fast. We check in at seven-twenty in the morning. Just two hours after my wake up call this morning. I watch Cassie with utter amazement and pride. I watch a birth as nature intended. I suddenly become a wild-life nature photographer, moving like a ninja in the jungle. This is not the way I had envisioned myself in attendance to my daughter’s child-bearing day. I thought I would be at her pillow, mopping her brow, whispering encouragement.

Justin is there. Better than I ever could.

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I snap photos and curse my inabilities to know my camera technology better. I pray that luck will join me and give us a good photo. Bella Baby photography is not as easy as it looks. Maybe I will just go back to doing stupid little crafts and painting.  No more photography after this.

Michelley calls. We had made plans to skype during the birth. She would want to be here for this. We forgot to call her. Thank goodness she has good intuition. Michelle knew it was time. Cassie forgot to bring her laptop so we can not skype.  I put her on speaker instead and set the phone down so I can keep taking photos. Cassie has been quiet throughout each contraction as they are coming harder and closer with every minute. But, there is concern. Grayson’s heart beat is slowing. He appears to be under stress. Something is wrong. They roll Cassie to her side and mention C-section. Michelley starts asking questions. The doctor looks up at each one of us in the room. He is puzzled and can not figure out where that voice is coming from. I run to the phone and whisper to Michelley to just listen. Every thing is going to be okay. I see Cassie’s face and recognize a look in her eyes.

Determination.

Cassie heard C-section. The doctor leaves to prepare. And my stubborn, strong and strong-minded daughter gets determined. There is no way she is going to go for that. If her baby is stressed she is going to get him out. And she does.

It is the only time we hear a sound out of her. And it is a scream. One scream and he is out. Grayson is born.

Justin and Cassie are crying. He is kissing her sweaty forehead. Hannah is crying and squeezing her hand. Michelle is breathing over the phone. And I am taking more pictures.  Through tears.  Through my lens, Grayson looks at me.

The photo I promised I would not take and one that I would never post.  However, this must be shared.It is evidence of a truth.

The photo I promised I would not take and one that I would never post. However, this must be shared.
It is evidence of a truth.

Grayson is here.

It is eight thirty on Monday morning the fourteenth of May.  Just one hour and ten minutes after checking into this hospital. And, he is perfect. Grayson enters this world with eyes wide open. He is so calm in fact, that Cassie starts to ask what is wrong. They want to know why he is not crying? I see his slimy little body through my lens and I see his big round eyes looking about. I tell her, “nothing is wrong. Every thing is absolutely right. He is perfect.”

“Hey guys, hey guys,” it is Michelle. We forgot the phone. I pick it up. “My sister is a mommy.” She is crying, “is she okay? I heard her screaming.  Is the baby okay?”

Cassie was perfect.  He is perfect.  Everything is perfect.

From the moment Cassie and Michelley walked me out into our parking lot that day so long ago, the day Cassie told us that she was pregnant, I felt a connection to this baby.  His timing was too perfect.  For Cassie to get confirmation on the pregnancy test on the same day that I am going in for a cancer diagnosis was no coincidence.  There is purpose.

I believe Grayson and I made a pact with each other on that day.  We would go through our nine months with him growing into a perfect little baby and I would heal.  I would be cancer free when he arrives.  We had a deal.

Grayson holding my finger.

Grayson holding my finger.

He would be my little hero.  And I will be his Genki.  Since Michelley is away in Japan, we choose a Japanese word for my grandma name.  Genki.  It means happy, doing well.  I am.

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I am Genki.

Goodbye to Precious Moment…………..

February 16, 2012
I drive so that she can just pop in and out of the car, gathering last minute items to stuff into her travel bags. Without warning, we’re hit. Right there in the parking lot. Broad-sided on my side of the car. I swear. My usual reaction to a surprise catastrophe.

Like a drunken sailor. I swear. I don’t mean too. It just happens. I do this on wild roller coaster rides, too. With little six year old boys staring at me as we swoop, swirl and jerk around. These rides my kids push me onto, because they think this is funny. I have to apologize every time a ride ends, and tell the kids that it’s not nice to use such bad words. They shouldn’t do this.

This time, it’s pretty tame. No F-bombs. Just an, “Oh, shit. What the heck was that?”

I didn’t see it coming. The girl just crashes into us backing out of her parking spot. Getting out of our cars, she has swear words of her own. Loudly. And, she does drop a few F-bombs on us. It is her fault, and she is the one pissed off. Royally.

Michelley and I get out and examine the damage. In her usual manner, Michelle tries to calm the young woman. The crazy woman. We exchange looks. Raise eyebrows. Take a few steps backwards. Yup. We decide. She’s crazy. Clearly, this is not that bad. Michelle’s car has a little dent. A few scrapes. The crazy lady’s car has…..nothing. We look again, both of us, and can’t find anything wrong with her car. She’s on her phone already, freaking out with a body shop about getting a paint job appointment and how much it’s going to cost her. Between her phone calls, another, to a boyfriend, we manage to get her information. Michelley tries to calm her the whole time, telling her that even though it is her fault, it’s not that bad. She’s not upset about her car. Not to worry.

That’s Michelley. As a little girl, her little rose-bud lips and super huge eyes would remind me of the Precious Moments figurines. 13369_1197845040385_1998013_nShe became my own Precious Moment. My nick-name for her. The other nick-name, the one everyone who knows Michelley so freely used for many years, was given to her by her daddy. The Bomb. Things exploded anytime she walked into a room. Broke. Crumpled. Disintegrated. Just with her presence. So, she became a precious moment with a powerful presence. Bomb.

A globe I bought Michelle when she was very young.  It looked just like her at the time.

A globe I bought Michelle when she was very young. It looked just like her at the time.

Over the years, she not only continued to look like a Precious Moment drawing, Michelley became a precious moment. Like this one. Here we are, the clock ticking, counting down the minutes to a plane ride to Japan. A deadline we can not change. A departure that will last a little more than a year. She is not ready. Not packed yet. We are under pressure and stressed. But, in this moment, this car crash, all she can do is comfort a stranger.

We make a quick get away. We are going to sleep-over at Cassie and Justin’s. She has to work and can’t come to the airport with us. Which is just as well. I think Cassie would make the biggest, sappiest goodbye scene at the airport anyway. Her carrying on would draw attention, raise concerns. We’d probably all get arrested and detained. Instead, we will have a sleepover. We can have one last game night and they can say goodbye at the house.

But first, we have to pack.

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But, every time I come in to check on her progress, this is how I find her! She is determined to group and print out every single photo she has ever taken of her friends and family, so she can make a photo album to take along.

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This is serious. Over-whelming. Impossible to let go.

Like in a fashion my two older sisters taught me when times got desperate and there is a deadline to meet. Set a timer.

My parents would leave us home alone with a long list of chores to accomplish before they returned. Of course, I was in a panic the entire time. My sisters would play. Go outside, do tricks in the yard, take naps on the living room couches, the ones we never sit on unless company came over. I do not break rules well. Even now, I am short of breath at just the thought of this behavior. I couldn’t do all of the chores by myself. So, I would wait and moan and pace. And then, just thirty minutes before the parents arrival time, Pam would go to the stove top timer. She’d roll the dial back, look over her shoulder at Chari and me. We’d hear that first click on the timer and Pam would yell, “Goooooooooooo!!!!”

We could clean and finish the chores that should take three of us two hours, all within that thirty minutes.

I tell Michelley, “That’s it! I am setting the timer and I will help you pack. I will print all of your pictures after you are gone and mail them to you.” And, just as my sister Pam had done so many years ago, I scream gooooooo! Michelley just looks at me, hugging her yellow ducky and her dog, Reese.028

I pack. She cries.

We gather into Cassie’s small living room. Each with our own blankets and pillows. A real slumber party. Even though we try to play a game and we do share a few laughs, the atmosphere is tainted. The reality of a dreaded departure now all too real. 048395676_3125162102107_1732762182_n075

We manage the night. Wall to wall bodies sleeping across the living room. Holding hands every where. Why did we think this job in Japan was a good idea? I just want to hold her close and never let go. Maybe I will pull out the Cancer Card right now. Use it to hold on to my baby girl. My precious moment.

But, even I know this would be wrong.

This is it. She says her goodbyes to Cassie and Justin at the house. The two sisters hold each other for a long time. Silent. There are no words for this moment. Justin takes over and holds Cassie. Cassie holds her belly likes she is cradling their baby. We watch them standing in their doorway as we all drive away.

We make it to the airport pleased that we are on time. Proud that we actually got everything packed in the allotted two cases. Everything she will need for a year.418824_3125165662196_1570415712_n (1)

All of us wait together with her at every step. We huddle over the ticket counter. We gather in a long line for the first security check in. This is where we begin our goodbyes. Michelley starts with each individual. We watch as she hugs, whispers, pats cheeks and holds on. Tanner, her boyfriend, is trying to hold it together. Not successfully. Michelley kisses him. It doesn’t even matter that we are all standing there. Watching.

Aubree is crying. Quietly. Even though she is Trevor’s girlfriend now, she was first Michelley’s friend and co-worker. They love each other. Michelley wipes away Aubree’s tear and cries as they hug.

She goes to her baby brother and wraps her arms around his neck. He is so much taller than her now. These two best friends since the day he was born. He strokes the back of her hair and tells her she will be okay. She presses her face into Christopher’s chest and wraps her arms around his waist. This brother that she so recently reunited with. A brother she couldn’t wait to see after each gymnastic meet, running through the doors, jumping on him to tell him every last detail. Even, though, he would always feign disinterest. He whispers in her ear. There is a tear in his eye. I am okay. I am not falling apart, even when she jumps up into Trevor’s arms like she used to as a four year old, arms around his neck, legs around his waist. He holds her this way for a long time.

She looks at me. How can I say goodbye to her? I wait for Greg to lighten the burden. To make a joke. He doesn’t. This is hard for him, too.423692_3125162422115_5271528_n (1)He whispers, “Goodbye, Bomb.”

Everyone snaps up. We look around like a bunch of thieves hiding the loot. Praying no one outside our circle heard him. We had warned Daddy and Michael all night about inappropriate airport jokes. But, we forgot about warning him against calling his baby girl by her nickname.

The burden was lifted. There is laughter again. We can do this. She blows kisses. We smile. And, that’s it. She walks through to customs. Our group left standing alone, a bit bewildered. Not ready to move yet. So, we just stand there.

Suddenly, we hear her. She is yelling. “Wait, wait, wait!!!” We see her. Running back to us. We want to stop her. If she comes out, she will have to go through the whole process again. And, possibly miss her flight. Everyone puts their hands up, like a stop sign. I am particularly good at this, seeing how I was a third grade cross-guard. But, she doesn’t stop. She comes right back out of the customs clearance. Right back to the fold.

“I forgot Ducky!”

Well, we were there in time. Now, we fear, she will miss her flight. Ducky is in the car. Ducky, the Christmas gift from Cassie for the sole purpose of bringing comfort to her whenever she might feel lonely in Japan. There is no way Michelley is getting on the plane without him.

Michael and Tanner start to sprint out the door. We wait. This is awkward. We’ve already gone through a rather dramatic goodbye scene. What do we talk about now? We all turn to face the window. The window overlooking the parking lot. There is a brick wall, but, we can see Michael and Tanner’s heads bobbing up and down just above the wall. Like a cartoon, or a bit from the Three Stooges, we see their two heads turn around and bob back in the other direction. Every now and then, we see Ducky, too, as Tanner pumps his arms in the full-speed run back to the terminal.

Ducky under her arm, she is ready. This time, the goodbyes are quick and sweet. No tears. We are running out of boarding time. She turns to enter through the custom gates again.

They are closed.

We are directed to another gate. This requires a full-speed run of all of us. This is a scary looking group. Ducky leads the way. We arrive to this gate in another long line. Panic has entered the room. A policeman comes to tell us that only the passenger can wait in this line.

We back up, toes on the yellow line we are to wait behind. We all just watch her inch forward. Finally, she makes it through a gate and we are behind a glass wall. Faces pressed against it.

We can’t hear the security guards with her, but, we can see she has already made friends. They smile and wave to us. They ask her questions and point in our direction. She nods and points at each one of us, too. We are blowing kisses, dancing, making peace signs and holding each other. And, then, she has to move on. We wave as she disappears behind a wall, only to appear again on the other side of this.

We cheer and then, frantically wave some more as she disappears for good down the airplane ramp. The security guards wave back at us. As they wave, I see Michelley, my precious moment, her daddy’s Bomb, she peeks her face back around that wall. Her and her Ducky.

We blow kisses. Then, I see her mouth the words, “I love you.” And she is gone.

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Through the zoom……

February 15, 2011

He is dying.  I see his eyes through my camera lens.  This zoom lens that also shows me the fine hairs glistening on a plant stem.  And just once, he looks directly into my lens, showing me his dying eyes.  Eyes that reveal a soul straddling two worlds.

This contact startles me.

I pull the camera away from my face.  Did he really see me on this crowded balcony?  There is a good distance between me and his wheel chair.  We are shielded from each other by a sea of chiffon dresses and scarves flowing between us.  Yet, his eyes found me.

I hide behind my lens again, feeling like I was just caught peering into a forbidden room. I wonder if he knows what I saw in that moment of connection.  I wonder if he is aware that this is his daughter’s wedding.  She is nearly forty.  This is her first wedding.  I think this man, this doctor, has waited a very long time to see this daughter be married.  And, here he is.

Dying on her wedding day.

I am the only wedding photographer today.  My second camera is borrowed from Jeffrey. A much more expensive and higher quality camera than my little Rebel XT. I’ve never used his before.  Why did I say yes to this?  I am not equipped nor qualified.  Not by a long shot. And, all that I want to do is follow this frail human being around snapping photos of the tenderness he gives. The loving pats on his thin shoulders that he receives.  The exchange of knowing looks he shares with these wedding guests.  His family.  The young boy, possibly a grandson, assigns himself to remain at this old man’s side throughout the entire day.  I want to take photos of only this.  But, this is a wedding and I am to take pictures of the bride and groom.  I am not prepared for this.

I remind myself to keep breathing.

Even though this is a favor, and we aren’t even friends, the pressure to produce high quality, romantic, clever and loving photos is the same as if I were being paid the highest dollar amount ever offered to a wedding photographer.  There can’t be any mistakes.  There are no do-overs in wedding photography if I mess up.

Besides, this father won’t be here for take two.  This knowledge, revealed when he looked at me.  This, I saw through my zoom lens.

I am taking a lot of photos of this man in the wheel chair. He is frail, but there is still a twinkle in his eye.  A grown son seems to be in charge of his care and maybe there is a male nurse, as well.  They take this former doctor to one of the nearby beds in this glamorous hotel on the beach.  He can nap often throughout the day.  I watch him come and go.  Both, for his naps and for his awareness.  The zoom lens on my camera making me privy to depths most often missed by our naked eye.  He knows he only needs to hold on just a bit longer.  I think he is gathering strength just to breath.  Conserving energy to live.  Until it is time to toast the newly wed couple.  The old doctor had saved every ounce of energy for this moment.  A long, loving, intelligent speech.

I think he has rehearsed this speech from the moment this daughter was born.

The people raise their glasses and listen to a clear and steady voice.  A strong voice coming from a dying man.  I watch through my lens. He is very much alive right now.  This dying man.  His hands remain steady.  I wonder what kind of doctor he might have been. Maybe once these were large, strong hands.  Healing hands.  Today, they are frail.  Bony.

I watch the bride.  She wears a special smile during this long toast.  This last toast the doctor will ever make.  It is a smile of deep love.  Respect.  The smile a three year old daughter wears when her daddy picks her up in his arms at the end of his long work day.  When he talks only to her.  And she thinks right then and there that she will marry him.  This smile.  A daddy’s girl smile.  A sweet smile.Daddys-Little-Girl

The bride kisses the dying man’s forehead after the speech.  I am happiest to have captured this moment than knowing I got the shot of the wedding couple’s first kiss.  I whisper a thank you to my angels for guiding my eyes through this lens.

A few days after the wedding, I hear the doctor dies.  This father of the bride.

This man who knew he was dying.

I think we breast cancer girls have an advantage in life.  Maybe as privileged as this doctor. Like him on that wedding day, we have constant reminders that we are going to die.  Well, all people know that they are going to die.  Of course.  But, when there is cancer or some such diagnosis, that reality gets brought home rather regularly.

This is a privilege.

Knowing this.  Really knowing this is so much richer than before diagnosis.  The knowing that comes before diagnosis is bland.  Like a dull movie we sleep through.  We let it go.  Forget about it.  Move on.

The knowing that comes after diagnosis is alive and breathing.  A knowing so clear it is like seeing life for the first time through a very expensive, high-end zoom lens.  We start seeing everything, every little thing that is good and beautiful, through this lens.  And every frame we set up through our zoom lens is as if it might be the last photo ever seen.

This is an advantage.

Being fully conscious and aware of death makes us live more fully and consciously. We make better choices with our precious time.  And, we can choose how we will fill in these frames.  It reminds me of a song I learned as a child and only until now does it make the most sense.  It was a song I learned in Sunday School.

Growing up, we were not at all a religious family.  In fact, my dad strongly opposed religion.  The only thing I could figure, as a child on those Sunday mornings when he would drop my sisters and I off at the Methodist church for Sunday School, was that this was probably just so my mom and dad could have uninterrupted sex.  Not a bad trade off while my sisters and I learned about God and all that.

Mostly, I learned that I loved making crafts with Popsicle sticks on those mornings.  And, I loved learning songs.  Songs I would go home with on those mornings, insisting that I sing them for my parents in the living room.  Songs I would sing throughout my life, in my very bad singing voice.  The only one I have.

A line in one of those songs always stuck with me, “be careful what you see little eyes”.

I liked the ‘little eyes’ part.  I liked being a child.  Being talked to this way, like I was taken care of.

Today, I realize what I have learned from this song and from lessons I am privileged to see through my zoom lens.  Lessons from seeing into the eyes of a dying man.

From this doctor, this father of the bride, I learn this:

This man was dying, yet, he willed himself to wait until after February 11, 2011.  His daughter’s wedding day.  He must have envisioned himself a million times over, giving a speech at his daughter’s wedding. It mattered to him.  He willed himself to wait to die until after this speech.  Visualizing that goodness and having strong will power, both, matter.

From the zoom lens, I learn this:

Zoom in!  To really see, beyond a mere glance, past just looking, but to really see requires nothing more than taking the time to see with the depths of my own soul.  To zoom in on the people I love, really and truly to see them, to let them know they are important and noticed.  Loved.

And, from the line of that song I learned in Sunday School so many years ago, I learn this:

I can be careful with what I see.  I can choose what I see and what I choose to focus on.  There is good and bad in everything.  I can choose to see the good.  And, with this, fill my photo frames, my memory, with all that is beautiful, loving and joy-filled.Photo_Frame__Film

I can choose to see health and healing.

Michelley leaves for her year of living in Japan in just two days.  I intend to stay by her side every last minute and to zoom in and see all of her goodness, filling the photo frames in my mind’s eye with good memories to last two lifetimes.

List this……….

January 14, 2012

I roll off my yoga mat just as the morning light gently opens my bedroom curtains.  The first thing I do is reach for my cell phone.

Checking in with my to-do list.

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Something I have not had to do since running Cat’s Pajamas Gymnastics.  All while I was either birthing, nursing or both.  And, while Greg and I built the business, raising the kids together.

I couldn’t function without a to-do list back then.

Today, my list is so long, I am not sure any normal person can begin to accomplish it all. Let alone me. A breast cancer patient on chemotherapy. I am a disabled person. Not allowed to work.

Yet, suddenly, I have a to-do list.

Cassie and Justin’s wedding is fifteen days away. Just eight weeks and nine days from proposal to wedding. With a few interruptions along the way; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. This, along  with no budget, make the planning doubly challenging.

So, I list this. The ‘we’re going to have a wedding’ list.

Michelley leaves for Japan February 17, just one day before Cassie’s twenty-sixth birthday. Packets arrive. Her contract. There is paper work to be filled out with deadlines to meet. We have to come up with a winter wardrobe that is non-existent in San Diego, (unless Uggs are considered true winter boots?) but absolutely necessary when arriving in Japan in the middle of winter.  We are learning how to pack for a year and fit it all into the maximum two bags allotment set forth by the housing Universal Studios will be providing her. This is like a scavenger hunt that never ends.

So, I list this.  The ‘Michelley moves to Japan for a year’ list.

Christopher has won auditions into the Second City Conservatory. He now has shows we can and want to attend.  I list this. Trevor just received a contract for a second season with Cirque de la Mer. I don’t need to do much for him.  He is set.

However, Michael still works rides at Lego, as boring as this is, he never misses a day, never late, and offers to fill in for anyone and everyone who calls in sick. This happens often. I am his driver.  To and from Legoland everyday.  Plus, he is auditioning for Capt. Hook in Hook.  Another play. He has done back to back plays for the past few of years with only a few weeks between productions.

Michael's first play production ~Oliver.

Michael’s first play production ~Oliver.

I drive him to all of this. I like this time with him in the car alone. I will miss this when he gets his license.  For now, I am happy to drive.

So, I list this. The ‘to and from’ list.

I have always taken the production photos for each of these shows. It’s my hobby.  My friend, Michael Wallot is the director and he is also part of a singing group. He asked if I’d take a few photos of them for an upcoming event.

So, I list this.  The ‘Fun photos to take’ list.

While shooting this group, I meet a woman who says her father is dying of cancer. Her long-time boyfriend just proposed so that they can be married while her father is still able to be at her wedding. They only have a couple of weeks to plan and wonder if I could do the wedding photos. They don’t have a budget. I understand this better than anyone. I agree to do them. This wedding takes place February 11th.  I need to make another list. A list real photographers use for weddings. I google this.

So, I list this.  The ‘shot list–photos never to miss when shooting a wedding’ list.

There are doctor appointments on my list too. But, these seem such a minor part of my life right now. I put them at the bottom of my priority lists.  Dr. B wants to draw blood.  I am doing well, though I am still fatigued most often and my skin makes me look like I am ninety years old. I am doing better than he expects. I feel sure of this. I think I now know my own cure for cancer.

Make lists. Get busy.  Live.

I just had my last chemo of the harsh Carboplatin and Taxotere drugs. Next time, on Feb. 3, I get Herceptin only. Even though I have an appointment with Dr. K, the radiologist just five days before the wedding, Dr. B thinks we might just pause everything. See how I do on Herceptin only for a while.

I like this idea.  I list this.  Pause to heal.

I also have appointments to meet with Breast Cancer Solutions, a non-profit group. I will meet with the Jewish Family Center, even though I am not Jewish, I am told they help women with breast cancer. There’s an appointment with the Social Security office.

I list this.  The ‘nap when you need to’ list.  Then, go on appointments.

There is no income from me. So, I must meet with any and every organization that can help us. American Cancer Society doesn’t offer much help.  A gas card.  Which I am grateful to have.  We wait to see if I can get disability insurance.

This morning, I am looking for something that is accomplished on my list. I want to put a big check mark across something to show it is done. Complete. Finished.

I also look for something on the list that is easily tackled. I am tired. I need something I can start my day with that doesn’t require too much effort. Sometimes getting started is so hard. Then, I see it. This is what I will do first today. There have been a few stragglers that just won’t fall off, and they are long and annoying. I feel good about starting my day with this particular to-do.

Yes, I did list this…..’Shave my head’.

Of the stories we weave…….

December 30, 2011

She was mean.  Supposedly.  I don’t know, I wasn’t even born yet.  But, the stories of my grandmother always frightened me a little.  I have heard them over and over again throughout my life, yet, I probably still have all of the details screwed up and wrong.

Probably, I don’t remember the stories quite right because I did not want to hear them.

I was the most sensitive child ever planted on this Earth.  I am sure I listened to these stories in the way I watch scary movies.  Shielding myself behind a blanket.  One that I can still see through, of course.

I was so sensitive that I became the neighborhood side-show.  My sister Pam used to love to show me off.  All she would ever have to say to her friends was, “do you want to see my sister, Lori, cry?”  And, I would.  I could without a cause.  Right on cue.

I suppose it was kind of funny.

The stories of my grandmother weren’t.  I didn’t want to hear that my dad didn’t feel cared for by her.  Nor, maybe, even more so, I did not want to hear that her children did not care much for her either.  There is a story of how Grandma didn’t want to be a mom.  She was frustrated.  One day she announced that she was going to just go and drown herself in the lake.  Evidently, the children clapped as she departed from the dinner table.

I particularly did not like the story of when she took a broom handle to my uncle’s back. That was the day that he and my dad both walked out.  Moved away from home.  On their own.  My dad was just sixteen.

Whenever Grandma did come over, I just knew the stories must be true.  Where Grandpa had arms to hug and didn’t care how long I needed to cling ( I was very clingy once someone let me latch on), Grandma only had a pat for me.  A pat on top of my head. Then, she’d make her way to the couch.  Sit briefly and tell Grandpa it was time to go.  She had a dog to feed and crossword puzzles to finish.

He never wanted to go.

I secretly wanted a pudgy little grandma with soft arms and loving eyes.  I imagined her stealing me away for the day, just the two of us, off to her house where she would teach me to bake cookies and how to sew big warm quilts.   By hand.  We would eat the cookies still steaming fresh out of the oven and then she would listen to me talk on and on while we stitched away at our quilt making.  I wanted a grandma that made me feel special.  Wanted.  Important.

Years later, after having children of my own, I did learn how to quilt.  Though, Reita was not a grandmother, and was quite a bit younger than me, she was soft, pudgy and had loving eyes.  She taught me to hand-make quilts.  And, as I would stitch late into the night, those quiet nights when children were finally safely asleep in their little beds, I would think about my grandmother.  The only one I ever knew.  My mom’s mother had died when my mom was still a teenager.

Like me, that grandmother had breast cancer.

Now, both grandmothers are gone.  I had begun to think about those stories I had heard of my dad’s mother.  Stories that were woven into my life as if they were memories of my own.  As my own babies slept, I would create patterns in the quilts I was sewing and begin to realize that we weave stories into our lives that create patterns as well.  I began to remember that there were other stories about Grandma, too.  Although, barely a mere thread in the horror stories, there were stories that were glimmering.  Gold threads of achievements.

For my Grandmother, Fern Miles.

For my Grandmother, Fern Miles.

Stories that made me proud of this woman.  This woman who’s name was Fern.

Grandma was a writer.  A sports writer.  A female sports writer.  In the 1930’s.  Women didn’t work outside the home then.   Much less work in a man’s field.  She was not allowed in the press box with the other writers.  The male sports writers.  Grandma would have to stand outside the box and get information through the window.

Grandma knew Gerald Ford.  The man who was vice president of the United States and tripped his way into presidency.  She wrote for his campaigns when he started his political career in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Our home.   And, somewhere in this family, there is a personal note hand written to her by Carl Sandburg.  I guess she knew him as well.

It made me think.  Maybe this woman, trying to make ends meet during the great depression, loved her children.  Deeply.  What mother doesn’t?  Maybe, she felt tremendous frustration for holding great talent in writing that she could never fully bring to fruition because she also happened to have bared five children.  Maybe, being a mother back then meant only that mother’s were to make sure the children were fed, and that they learn to be seen and not heard.   Maybe being a woman in those times meant birthing and cleaning with no hope of personal expression in any other way.  Particularly not in the man’s world of sports writing.

And, just maybe, my dad was a sensitive little child like I was.  Maybe he secretively wished for a mother that baked cookies, listened to him talk on and on, made him feel special and important. Wanted.

Maybe, the horror stories only seem worse when felt and seen through the sensitive child. It makes me want to heal that little child within my dad.  He must have been such a cute little boy, filled with emotion that little boys were never allowed to express in the 1930’s.

not my dad and uncle...but, what I imagine, as children of the 1930's.

not my dad and uncle…but, what I imagine, as children of the 1930’s.

I hold onto this thread of gold.  The good things that I know my grandmother must have held.  And, I continue to weave this into my memories quilt.

Greg and the kids had a quilt made for me this Christmas.  A most beautiful gift.

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It is baby blue and white with hearts at the center of each square.  The most beautiful part is how each square also contains a quote, hand-written by each of our five kids, by Justin and by Greg.

I cover myself daily with this quilt.  During the naps I still must take.  The chemo driven naps.  I cover myself with this quilt as I sleep at night.  Covering myself with the loving words of my loves.  I have used this quilt so much already since Christmas, I fear that the writing will fade and I will lose these loving words.  So, I will write them here in my journal.

“I love you because you make me laugh, and laugh, and laugh”…..~ Greg

“I love you because you’re my best friend through everything.”…~Greg

“I love you because you are joy, you are happiness, you are love.”…~Chris

“I love you because your smile brings light, your laugh breathes life, your embrace gives strength.”…~Chris

“I love you because you are my heart, you take life with a smile.  I hope to be half the mom that you are.  You’re my hero.  You always beat the odds.” ~<3Cassie

“I love you because you have always been there and I know that you always will be.”…~Trevor

“I love you because you have taught me to be positive in every step that I take.”…~Trevor

“I love you because you inspire me to be better in all aspects of life.”…~Michelle

“I love you because you love the ones who need it.  You accept the ones who don’t show it.  Your love knows no limits.”…~Michelle

“I love you because you have always been the best mother anyone could ever ask for.”…~Michael

“I love you because….when I am sad you know what to say and when I’m lost you know the way.”….~Michael

“I love you because you always see the best in people whether they deserve it or not…. You keep cooking….even after everyone has asked you to stop…You made Trevor!!!.”…~Justin

I wish Grandma had been given a quilt like this.  To know she was loved by her children.  Because, in the deepest part of my soul, I know that they did.

What child doesn’t truly love his mother?  No matter what.

As I cover myself tonight, I pull on the little gold thread that is the goodness of my grandmother.  Maybe she wasn’t the kind of grandmother I had wished her to be.  Nor the mother that my dad might have secretly wished for, either.  But, I will make sure the gold thread gets woven into the quilted memories for my children, her great grandchildren.  I will cover them with the healing of understanding that we are all just people trying only our best in raising the children we are given.

And, then, I cover myself with my own little healing quilt with it’s blue and white hearts.