Time Stolen

My husband and I enjoyed our trip to Florida so much!! It was healthy for him to spend time with his sisters, and to laugh and enjoy each other.  I only wish we would have stayed longer.  I can’t imagine why we didn’t.  We are now on permanent vacation…so to speak.  For our brief time now, we have nothing but time.  It’s a strange feeling too, learning to fill busy days, and finally just letting some of those days go by sitting together propped up on mounds of pillows, coffee cooling on the bedside tables, Shih Tzu snoring at our feet, watching television, and talking about nothing in particular.

I think that in our battle with the Monster, time is the first thing stolen simply because we don’t know how to refill it. The moments of our days that were once relegated to work, chores, family, friends, and church are now freed up, and we simply don’t know what to do with it all.  Therefore, we feel we must be doing something productive, and believe me, I am no expert.  I can only speak my small voice from this tiny corner of the universe to say that the most productive thing my husband and I did the other day was to sit propped against pillows in our bed, watching hour after hour of the Animal Planet.  We laughed, pointed, shuddered, grimaced, and laughed some more.  We held hands.  He asked for a kiss.  We ate potato chips.  We didn’t answer the phone.  There were moments of conversation.  Moments of silence.  A tear or two.  Mostly, we were just together, sharing the same space.  I don’t think any profound conversation passed between us.  There were no great words of wisdom.  He told me at one point to “Move over.  You’re on my side.”  And then, “Look!  Your foot is touching my side!”  I got annoyed with him, and told him to “Put a sock in it, buster!”  We were just us being the us that we are…

I realize that every minute doesn’t have to be full of meaning and the despairing chase to fill the gaps in a dam that cannot be saved. You out there, I know how you feel…you feel you must say your words, and speak your heart while there is still time. I know.  I know. Within our struggle (my husband and I) against the Monster, we are coming to understand that time is stolen from us only when we don’t allow it…when we don’t allow ourselves to spend the time we have left.  I know that I will remember the holidays and the trips we had together.  I will remember camping, and gambling in Vegas, walking the dog hand in hand, and laying on a Mexican beach.  I will remember the hopes and dreams we shared, and every minute detail of the life we built together and what we would do if we won the lottery, etc.  But I will also remember the afternoons spent propped up against pillows in our bed.  I will remember the pillow talk.  I will remember that it was in those softly lit moments of intimacy that I shared with this man, so strong and frail, my deepest secrets, and that no one alive will ever know me that way he knows me. So while no words of profundity passed between us that day, the time itself was “the pearl of great value.” Be comforted. No time is wasted if it is shared.

One of my favorite poems is by the wonderful Rainier Maria Rilke:

“I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make every moment holy. I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough just to lie before you like a thing, shrewd and secretive. I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will, as it goes toward action; and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times, when something is coming near, I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. I want to be a mirror for your whole body, and I never want to be blind, or to be too old to hold up your heavy and swaying picture. I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie. and I want my grasp of things to be true before you. I want to describe myself like a painting that I looked at closely for a long time, like a saying that I finally understood, like the pitcher I use every day, like the face of my mother, like a ship that carried me through the wildest storm of all.”

I don’t know what this poem meant to Rilke, but I know what I think it might mean to my husband and I in this “here and now.” I think this is a voice speaking to itself.  I think this is a person seeing herself in a mirror, and experiencing her being within the passage of time, and realizing who she is and what she wants to be.  She sees herself in her great and clumsy eagerness to rush through life, her willingness to stubbornly avoid the consequence of time, her need to come to terms with herself, and her dire urgency to learn self-reliance.  She is all of these conflicting things at the same time, both flawed and fearless, and oh so human.  Mostly, this poem is about observing the moments that bring depth…moments that are “the quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,” that identify and release all that we are and all that we are to each other.

My sister has a terminally ill child. She told me that once, before they knew of his disease, they used to see time as a thing in volumes and oceans and ‘what will he be when he grows up?’ Then the diagnosis reordered their perception of time to ‘this is who we are today.’  She’s good at time now and gave me a new understanding of the wisdom of the Psalm, “This is the day that the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

The Monster has stolen life and replaced it with pain. It has taught us suffering.  It has stripped the dreams of our future away and with it the hubris and untruth of ‘knowing’ tomorrow is also ours to spend as we choose.  It has left us clinging to fragmented hope because we can no longer see the days rolling out before us like a carpet.  All we have left are the moments.  These moments, these irretrievable moments, the Monster will steal too if we are not careful.  So now, as the Monster’s prison encloses around us, we huddle together, propped up against pillows in our bed, and live inside the moment where hands touch, kisses are exchanged, and we squabble over who is on whose side.  And we learn what enduring love is and how the Monster cowers at the Light that still enters to defend us as we steal back from its cruel grasp our most precious moments…quiet, propped against pillows.

Only, Merely, Just a Friend

This blog series has been about the journey of my husband and I during his battle with Cancer. Cancer being “the Monster.” I am fortunate in that my husband is also my friend.  My true friend. And I have begun to contemplate this truth about my husband in the past little while. He is certainly my friend in all the ways a person must be a friend, and he is devoted to that friendship first before all other aspects of our relationship.  It was a devastating realization for me. I am not only losing my husband, but I am losing my friend. And now I have begun to contemplate friendship anew, and how enormously important it is.

Several weeks ago, the Monster murdered my sister-in-law’s best friend. A couple of days ago, it did the same to my sister’s best friend.  These women it killed, women who were both at the age when most women are their most strong, intelligent, resourceful, independent, creative, sexy, and beautiful—their 50s and 60s—died with dignity, loved by many family and friends.

It’s interesting how we tend to compartmentalize the ones we love to display their levels of value to us. For instance, “He/she is my spouse/partner”, “She’s my daughter”, “He’s my son,” “She is my grandmother/auntie/mother/sister.” And in our minds, we rate the value: a child has more worth than a cousin, a spouse has more worth than an uncle, etc.  Our employers do that too. We’ll get a week off for the passing of our mother or father, a month if it’s our child, three months if it’s our spouse, and so on.  Some places even give a couple of days if the family fur-person dies.  But not too often is there any time given if it’s a friend who has passed. For some strange reason, friends don’t count.

Many years ago I knew a man whose best friend committed suicide. He had known this friend since they were four years old.  Both coming from difficult home lives, they found comfort and comradery with each other.  They experienced all the firsts of boyhood together, camped out together, explored together, fought each other’s enemies, and were devoted to each other.  All their lives. They knew each other better than their respective families knew them. I would even say that who they became as men was partly due to who they were together as children and by the many ways they impacted each other.  When he tried to get time off so that he could attend his best friend’s funeral, the request was denied.  The response was that it would be different if it had been a family member who had died.  Yet, these two men had an intimate relationship that spanned a lifetime.  They were so much more than mere family.  Nevertheless, their relationship was not treated with value by those outside of it.

My sister has come up against this already…this just a friend wall.  She has been relegated to cooking.  She can cook for everyone. That’s how she can help the family and support them in their time of loss.  No one has asked her how she feels and if she needs anything during her time of loss.  No one knows, of course, that she went to her dying friend nearly every day and rubbed lotion on her feet.  That she slid into bed beside her, held her hand, and silently sat with her while she slept until her friend’s husband got home from work.  She fed and bathed her.  She watched funny movies with her.  Took silly selfies and videos and told each other secrets, and kept all of these treasures for the day when her children would need them.  She was there when her friend knew death was near and experienced her first true feelings of terror.  She was there when her friend wondered what would become of her husband and children, and then entrusted them to her.  Because she knew they would be safe with my sister watching over them.  Because she trusted her with what she loved most. Because, that’s what friends do.

Not everyone is close to their families…those people about whom we had no choice. Friends though…our friends are different. Our friends are the ones we have chosen.  No relationship was forced or provided when it comes to our friends.  Every moment, every week, year, decade of friendship was built and nurtured by us.  We work at our friendships and we work on being a better friend than we were yesterday.  We learn, we evolve, and this never stops so long as the friendship remains.

Friendships differ from close acquaintances and “pals.” It’s like the cooking thing after my sister’s best friend passed away.  Pals and acquaintances were all saddened by this woman’s death.  They are there, organizing everything, taking care of details, and helping out the family.  They are moved to tears, but they are not devastated.  They brought a plate of cookies or a lasagna so her husband didn’t have to cook. One vacuumed the house. Another did all the laundry. And they don’t understand why asking my sister to help out with these necessary chores at this time is inappropriate.  They don’t understand because they were not “friends” in the truest sense of the word.  This does not make them bad people.  They were just outside the friend relationship, because friendship is utterly, completely, profoundly personal.  The loss of a friend is also utterly, completely, profoundly personal.  And I know my sister is stumbling about right now, bumping into memories, and tripping over shared intimacies, and wondering who she is going to be now…now that the person she had been, with the one who first made that person come alive, is now dead.  Anais Nin said that a friend “represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that the world is born.” When a friend dies, they take with them that identity they created in us and the world in which we lived that identity.  When our friend dies, we lose the world.

People make jokes about friendship: Acquaintances bail you out of jail, but friends are in the cell with you. Acquaintances will help you move, but friends will help you move a body.  Yes, these are comical, but actually, the underlying message is true.  Friends are with you through thick and thin.  Friends will come to your rescue.  Friends will help dig you out of crap, even if it means they might fall into the crap pit with you.

My sister talked to me about being in the just a friend category, because it grieved her so, and she needed to talk to someone who also has “friends.”  We who have friends will totally understand where she’s coming from.  She doesn’t want to intrude on “the family”, but she also feels that she has a place within the circle of grief.  And that’s the bad thing about being in the just a friend category.  If our sibling dies, we can hold on to our other sibling/mother/father/grandparent and share our tears.  We can comfort each other in a grief shared.  But what does the best friend do if the family members do not always know how the friend was loved, or do not care?  Friends have no say, no legal rights, and usually no part of the inheritance.  Yet a person’s friends, their true friends, were probably the most meaningful, most defining relationships of their lives.

The Bible speaks often about relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, elders and youth, but the relationship it speaks most to is the relationship of friendship. Of all human relationships, Jesus put the most value on friendship—those relationships we choose.  The people we meet that we choose to love and whom we draw to us for no other reason than a desire to nurture and cherish them. Isn’t that bizarre, actually?  I heard someone once say something to the effect that we choose a person who was a stranger to us and say to that person, “it is to you that I will divulge my secrets.” Then we love that person, and they love us back for the very same reason, because they choose us too. With 7 billion people on this earth, what are the chances??

That’s why it is friendship that is the “pearl of great value.” It is our friend who is the “one who sticks closer than a brother.” How can that possibly be accurately measured for worth in a world that seems to thrive on betrayal, despair, and a BFF/Frenemy mentality that states “we will be friends until we are not.”  What does that even mean? I am who I am today, not only because of my parents, or the high school I attended, or the job I do.  I am also who I am today because of four women and one man of all the millions of people on earth who impacted my life in ways that I cannot fully verbalize and to depths that I don’t quite understand.

Euripides said that “one loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” Hahaha. Sometimes this is true, but I am not saying that friends are somehow better than family because family consists of a different set of relationships, each with its own complexity. We love our moms. I am saying, however, that friends and family are of equal importance. There is no such thing as just a friend.

I have been blessed in my life to have a circle of friends who have been the gardens I watered with tears, the clowns who made the milk come out my nose, the mirrors who revealed my truest self, and the immovable rocks against which I beat my fists. You friends out there, you just a friend friends, the Monster would have you walk about numbly, feeling the weight of this on your shoulders, wishing you knew just what to do. Wondering where you belong amongst the bereaved.  It wants you to believe that no one seems to know your pain, and everyone who does know belongs to an inner circle that for some incalculable reason does not include you.  The Monster thrives on suffering and division.  But maybe this will comfort you when you remember that while your friend created an identity in you, you also created an identity in them.  Maybe you can make some of those secrets places you knew together with your friend into coins of gold, and bring them into the gathering of family—not to give away—but to display and to trade.  The Monster doesn’t want you to share.  He sure doesn’t want feelings of love and gratitude to overshadow loss and anguish.  Beat him at his own game—be your friend’s friend even in their death.

#cancer #surviving cancer #living with cancer

Fighting Fear by Fighting Each Other

My husband and I married for love. We loved each other.  I thought he was really cute and a great kisser, and vice versa.  I thought he was fun and charming.  But I also thought that he was a good man, and an honest one.  He had that rare moral nature that so many gals look for in a guy, and when they find it, they know.  They just know.  I knew too.  I knew as certain as the sun rises in the east that my destiny and his were intertwined—inexorably, indissolubly, and interminably.  I could not, and cannot now, imagine my world without him in it.  I think this is what “becoming one” means.  I am no longer just me.  I am now us.  This understanding goes right to my bones.  His fingerprints are embedded beneath my skin. My flesh, naked and vulnerable, is offered up to his embrace. My DNA has altered.  I am tethered to him with profound words and gold rings.  My heart is no longer my own.

I have always wondered how it is that people stop living in their unions. I don’t mean people who have been beaten and abused by the lie of false love, or those tragic souls deceived by an infatuation that became toxic; I mean people who once loved, and were loved, and then just…stopped.  It is called “irreconcilable differences,” I think.  What surprises me is that these couples didn’t know, or didn’t believe, that there would inevitably arise differences between them that they would never reach agreement on. Yet every single couple in the world (that I know of anyway) has an irreconcilable difference or two between them. More often than not, it is the couples with long and healthy marriages that seem to admit to the most irreconcilable differences. What astonishes me even more is that once passionate love can turn into the most caustic anger.

My husband and I have always been “The Bickersons.” We squabble about stupid little things, all the time, almost by habit. I remember one day not so long ago we debated Naan bread.  Yes. Naan bread.  He said he has always disliked it even though he places a double order of the stuff each time we go out for Indian food.  When I reminded him of this, there followed a 20 minute row over what he does and does not order in a restaurant and how he is well aware of what he likes and does not like, thank you very much, and for the love of all things holy, he does not need to be treated like a child.  And never was I to give him Naan bread again! Ever!! He then went back to his dinner and ate his fill, including all the Naan bread.  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  And don’t drive anywhere with us, if you value your sanity.  My husband always asks me to drive now, but then he sits in the passenger seat and tells me how to drive—like some kind of psychotic, OCD driving instructor. It’s maddening.  Before long, we become the squabbling Bickersons again.  I could go on, but I think you pretty much get the picture.  Basically, we are married.  We have been married long enough that we are quite comfortable speaking our minds to each other.  Most of you married couples might know exactly what I am talking about.  Mostly, our bickering is harmless.  It’s not like a fight.  A fight is different than a squabble.

Over the course of our marriage, my husband and I have had a couple of knock-down-drag-out-humdinger fights. Mostly yelling colorful language at each other. Stomping around and finger pointing. More yelling.  Slamming doors.  Silence.  We’ve averaged about one per year.  I guess that’s normal, but then what’s normal?  Let’s just say that it’s normal for us. In spite of our bickering and the occasional fight, my husband and I get along like a house on fire.  We’re best buddies. We laugh and chat a lot, and we also spend a lot of time together in peaceful silence.  You know how after you’ve had a hard day at work and you get home and get into your jammies and you settle down on the couch in the evening and relax? The day just drains off you because you are now curled up in your Minnie/Mickey Mouse onesy, and sipping a glass of wine. There’s nowhere you need to be.  Comfort.  That is how my marriage has always felt to me. Then the Monster invaded our home, and our cozy rhythm was set on its ear.

I’m angry. Yes. I am angry. I’m angry at the Monster, but to my utter shock and horror, I also seem to be angry at my husband.  But then, how can I be angry with him? That makes no sense at all.  He’s the one whose been handed a death sentence.  He’s the one suffering terrible pain, needing a plethora of pills just to make it through the day. Every activity he once loved is over. Finished. Gone forever. His golf clubs collect dust now, his fishing gear has been commandeered by a couple of black spiders, and he’s thinking about selling the tools in his man cave.  He can’t throw darts anymore. He can’t lean over a pool table.  He’s not allowed to have a beer.  He’s unable to drive his car on his medication.  He can still play poker if he sits on a thick cushion and is prepared to give up his pile of chips if the pain is suddenly bad.  He trembles against his cane like a man twice his age, bent and frail. The smile has left his eyes.  How can I be angry with him when I feel such aching sorrow for him, such sadness for his losses, and such terror over what I know is yet to come? What’s wrong with me?

It’s because we married for love. With that marriage came the promise of days, of wine yet to be drunk, of sights yet to be seen, of adventures yet to be had, of love yet to be made.  The gluttonous Monster has wolfed down on our bright path and now we are lost together in a thickening darkness.  But it is my husband who is leaving me and I am filled with rage at the sight of his wasting body, and horror at the thought of this world alone. Striking out on my own.  Making a new life. Surrendering to the ether the dreams I conjured with this dying man who is leaving me.  How can he leave me like this, so broken already… It’s more than I can bear.

He is angry too. White with fury, and teeth clenched against the pain racking his body, he can only strike out at the one thing moving within his reach. Me.  The thing in the room weaker than him.  The thing he can drag recompense from for the pain he must endure.  We don’t bicker right now.  We don’t fight either.  This is something else. We contend and grapple with each other, we spit bitter words at each other—terrible, cruel words.  Words we don’t mean, but words meant to stab each other.  Because the pain the Monster brings isn’t enough.  The Monster isn’t satisfied with mere broken bodies. He must have broken hearts also.  But then there is grief and weeping and regret and we forgive each other and confess our motive of panicked anguish.  There’s just nowhere safe for this toxin to go, even though it must be released.  We have no choice, or we will ignite and crumble to ash like desiccated leaves in a flame.  This is how we spend our days of late—battling between rage, pain, and tears, because we married for love.

I’m not leaving him, if that’s what you’re thinking. I will not be dragged from him, and the doctors, so caught up and concerned with privacy issues and all the doctor/patient stuff, have given up.  They have stopped trying to separate us or to speak confidentially to either of us.  My husband and I are united against the Monster, fiercely inseparable, and clinging to each other with every ounce of bravado we can muster.  Friends have assured me that this “stage” of anger will pass, even though sometimes I entertain the disconcerting notion that the only reason I am able meet the day, to grasp the reins, to lower my lance, and engage in hastilude with the Monster, is because I am so angry so much of the time.  Even when I am exhausted, anger has the power to spur me forward.

Perhaps there is a reason for this stage of anger, and a reason why this stage comes so early in the process. Without it, I think some days that I would run away screaming, or just lay down and try to die beside him.  Then he offers me a tremulous kiss and cops a feel before leaning back against his mountain of pillows. His wicked smile is tainted with the pale of melancholy, but I still see him nevertheless. He’s in there somewhere, trapped in the Monster’s dungeon.  My anger melts away as he settles down to sleep.  For the moment, he’s in the soft, grassy valley between pain’s steep cliffs.  It’s a relief from everything: pain, anger, fear, and all the desperate bargains we make to keep each other safe and present. We married for love, and it is for love that we “rage, rage against…”

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving cancer

The Importance of Buckets

Tomorrow, my husband and I leave for Florida. His bucket list includes a trip to somewhere warm with palm trees, and to visit with his sisters while he is still well enough to travel.  Turns out both his sisters are going to be in Florida at the beginning of February, so yay, two wishes on his bucket list taken care of in one shot.

We hear the term “Bucket List” splashed around a lot. There’s even a movie with the title.  Of course, it comes from the term “kick the bucket” which is a colloquialism for “to die.”  According to Phrase Finder, “kick the bucket” can be traced back to the late 1700s. “The wooden frame that was used to hang animals up by their feet for slaughter was called a bucket. Not unnaturally they were likely to struggle or to spasm after death and hence kick the bucket.” There you have it…more stuff to cram into the useless trivia file in your head.

On closer inspection of the term…I would like to examine the “bucket” in “kick the bucket.” Buckets can be filled with anything, carried from place to place, used as a means to fill a larger container, as the receptacle to clean up a mess, or put out a fire…sometimes lots of good stuff can be loaded into buckets.  They used to carry bricks from the kiln to the builders—in buckets.  I like buckets.  It seems to me that buckets serve a very useful purpose.  They are meant to be filled up—it is their only true function.

I suppose the most important thing about the bucket list is to fill it with memories. To see and do and go and experience things.  To reach out and touch the sun-warmed brick of the Pyramids, or the cold iron of the Eiffel Tower.  To return to a place of enormous nostalgic meaning and walk the streets, cross the fields, feel the shade of the trees lining that special path.  To have with you that one person who will share the profundity of these times, who will savor them, who will remember them for you when you no longer are able…the person who will be the other you when the time comes.  One cannot build a life together without creating memories.

As for my husband and I, we have buckets of memories. Letters and cards, emails, photographs, videos. We had our wedding filmed.  We have recorded our life together, carefully, reverently. All these have been collected, and filed, and named, and labelled.  I have albums and disks, and tubs of photos I want to make into albums yet.  And each photo is a memory.  When I say I have buckets of them, I honestly, literally, do.  Number one on my bucket list is to fill more buckets.

There are never enough, you know, but you won’t know this for sure until you are faced with the actual time when the bucket list moves from dreams to reality.  You will fret about what is not in the bucket yet, and you will strive to see that it is in there…while there is yet time.  No trip away can do that.  Not really.  Not so much as saying the things you need to say.  And hearing back the things you need to hear.  The intimacies are what make the photographs and the memories live.  We look at the photographs someday, and remember the day and the smell of the breeze and the occasion, and we remember the one in the photograph, and then we remember love and joy.  Yes, I definitely will need more buckets….

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving cancer

A New Understanding of Sleep

Anyone living with the Monster will tell you that sleep takes on a new meaning. Sometimes day is night and night is day. Sometimes a 24 hour period is a series of naps interrupted by The Big Bang Theory, Hawaiian Pizza, or a trip to the bathroom.  Other times it’s about whispering nose to nose, holding hands, and negotiating with the furry lump that is an immoveable fat Shih Tzu laying on her back across the bed, snoring.  Then there are times of waking to tears and knowing with profound certainty that we are mortal, transient things, meant to live only for an instant.  In those whispered moments between sleep, we learn that most everything we believed about men and women—or men versus women—is an illusion…a sad illusion.  As it turns out, we are all equal in strength and weakness, in pain and suffering, in life and death.  We are the same after all.

But I do understand the need for the masks we wear. Careers sometimes demand that we are impersonal.  In a world full of thieves, we hide behind our sunglasses, fend off the approach of a stranger with our cell phones, and we give very little information about ourselves to anyone we don’t know.  We use masks to cover our fears and insecurities.  We puff up our breasts and fan out our feathers to make ourselves bigger.  We are rarely who we truly are.  Only a very few see behind the many masks we wear and interchange daily.  Without the masks we are raw, usually scarred to some extent with the odd wound that hasn’t quite healed.  Sometimes we think our imperfect mortality makes us unattractive and frail and so painfully vulnerable, and sometimes we are right about that. But then, it all depends on who’s looking at us.  When it is that person, well then, we are looking back at them, aren’t we?  It is more than two people knowing each other. It has become now a meeting of souls, and a joining.

The Monster likes to tear off our protective masks, to bare us before a cynical world, and leave us broken and humiliated. However, that can only work in the presence of potential fear and shame.  For two who are beyond the need for masks, where all fears have been assuaged, and all shame has been removed, the Monster can only beat his fists against the impenetrable barrier of commitment and devotion that surrounds us.  If we are to be mortal, then we are mortal together.  If there is to be pain, then we suffer together.  If there are to be tears, then we will bathe each other in them.  I must tell you that there is peace in that assurance.  With peace, the spirit rests, and sleep follows.  Sleep is the result of the removal of masks.  Take that, Monster!

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving cancer

Time For Pretty Dishes

My husband and I were married later in life. We had both been married before.  My son was almost grown.  And each of us had a complete household.  Therefore, when we got married, we really didn’t want any wedding gifts.  I imagined getting yet another toaster… One only needs so many toasters, and as it was, my husband, my son, and I were going to move in together, and our newly forming household was replete with three toasters already—one each.  We each had our own toaster.  While I suppose another toaster could have been carefully preserved as the guest toaster we decided to nip it in the bud instead.  No wedding gifts, thank you.  Send us a card with your best wishes. Write us a letter or a poem that we will add to our wedding album keepsake.  But no gifts please.

However, after further discussion with my girlfriends, I finally admitted to wanting some china. Not just any china.  I had always loved Royal Albert china, and in particular, the Old Country Roses pattern. And what is Royal Albert’s Old Country Roses without a set of Pinwheel crystal stemware??  Yeah, alright then.  I fell face first into all the wedding registry nonsense that I swore I would avoid and had previously eschewed as unnecessary. So, my friends all went together and got me a four place setting.  My sister, sister-in-law, and mother threw in some stemware, and afterward, I bought flatware and some table linen.  Then I placed it reverently in an oak china cabinet where it remains to this day, beautifully displayed.  I have added to it as one does when one first gets china.  Now I can serve eight with all the serving bowls, tea pot, little extras, you name it.  I got it.  And if I don’t have it in Royal Albert, I have it in Pinwheel crystal.  Yep.  At my house you can eat off gilded dishes and hear the musical ring of crystal glasses.  It’s just that it rarely happens. In 13 years of marriage, I have used the dishes 11 times.  This is because they are set aside only for the most special of dinners.  Usually Christmas dinner.

I have another set of dishes. They are beautiful, hand-painted, and a design by a dish artist (yes there are dish artists) that she has moved on from.  This means that the art of her dishes, which I own in a complete set, is irreplaceable.  And they are absolutely gorgeous, super cool, expensive, and I love them.  There are pasta bowls and footed soup bowls and matching footed mugs.  All hand painted and designed by an artist.  I have a complete setting for four.  To compliment this set, I have over sized wine glasses—you know, the kind that will fit an entire bottle of wine for THOSE days—and a gorgeous pasta platter, olive trays, and other little porcelain cute things.  In the past, when my husband and I have invited another couple to dine with us, there’s always a comment or two at how beautiful everything is.  But again, we rarely use them because we rarely have a dinner party.  We are just so caught up in our busy lives, that the special days to use the special dishes never come.

Now, I am rethinking the meaning of time and special days. As I sit here writing, I am sipping Chocolate Salted Caramel Dessert Wine from a long stemmed Pinwheel crystal champagne flute.  Not so long ago I would have saved this dessert wine for a time when my husband and I were having the dessert course after dinner with friends.  I would have cleared the table, and we would have sat afterward in muted light around a table and chatted and laughed and drank this lovely wine.  I would have set it aside, and we would have waited.  Like we wait to use the dishes.  How did dishes become so meaningful to me? What am I waiting for?

But we do that, don’t we? Maybe not all of us, but lots of us certainly have a special thing that is hoarded away carefully for a time when a special day matches the specialness of the special thing.  “I have saved this bottle of champagne/scotch for a day like today…” or “I’ve been keeping this for you for when this day came along.”  I used to believe in that kind of sentiment.  I, myself, kept two bottles of the wine made specially for my son’s wedding.  I had planned to open one when his first child came, and the other on the day he bought his first home.  Landmark occasions to be celebrated with something that would bear special meaning to him and his wife.  Think. Do you have that special thing you are keeping back? That special thing you never use? That ring from your grandmother you are too afraid to wear outside the house?

You see, we all believe that the day will eventually come. There will be a day to open the wine, to wear the ring, to use the china, to dust off that treasure so carefully hidden away.  Sometimes though, we can wait too long.  Time runs out on us unawares and we must go, without ever having tasted the champagne.  Thus, I am learning to see the special now.

Two days ago, my son and his wife came over for dinner. I got out my special pasta dishes, and linens, and set the table, and poured expensive wine.  My husband asked, “Why are you doing all of this?  It’s just the kids.”  True enough.  My son shows up, and flops on our couch, and puts his feet on the coffee table, and always forgets to use a coaster.  He’s at home here.  But every time he comes over, he brings vibrancy and the incomparable gift of laughter.  Contagious laughter brought forth by a lightning fast, razor sharp wit. When he walks through our door, joy follows with him.  How is that not special?  In fact, it’s the most special thing in all the world to me, to have my beautiful son bring his beautiful wife to our table.  How lucky we are to have each other and to live so close by and to enjoy each other’s company as enormously as we do.  Not all families are close.  Not all families love each other. We don’t just love each other.  We really like each other too. I think that deserves a special dish.  How did I not know this before?

When my son and his wife had gone home, I put the dishes back in their special place. Then I sat for a while and listened to the abrupt quiet and felt that temporary cavity caused by the kids’ departure.  You parents whose kids have flown the nest will know what I mean.  How worthwhile it was, and how meaningful to catch up and laugh and enjoy a really good meal.  (Okay, so I’m a pretty good cook. Just saying.)

When the monster first attacked, I was of a mind to down-size. Sell things.  Give away my beautiful dishes.  The monster made me feel that everything was meaningless.  There was no point to anything anymore.  Just, whatever.  Here…take it.  Take it all.  But now, I am seeing that I was being hasty.  Now, I want to do the very opposite.  In fact, I think I’m going to use my china every week from now on.  It is now my mission to seek out and acknowledge the special.  My husband needs to be surrounded by beauty and happiness.

I want fresh cut flowers in beautiful vases decorating my home. Instead of waiting, the time is now. That little vacation fund we put away.  No time like the present.  I want to have little trips to see the theater in Vancouver.  I want to have weekly book and pajama days. I want to fill my house with company, rather than keeping people at arm’s length during the monster’s residence in our house.  I don’t want to play his game at all.

Monster!  You thought we’d shut down, turn up our toes, and die the death you’ve forced upon us. Instead you’ve reminded us about the precious moments of our life, and that they come every single day.  Each day has something priceless in it that deserves to be celebrated. And so we will celebrate indeed.  I’ll bet you never saw that coming, did you! You may dictate death to us, but you cannot take away my dishes!

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving ancer

Introduction…

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Galileo

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. This article was written by me and previously published by me on another blog. I will be collecting other previously published blogs and re-publishing them here. New blogs will appear when the “moving in” process is complete. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

I have finished my Master’s degree now. Just as my husband and I believed this huge mountain was behind us, we immediately slammed into another one.  This one is bigger and meaner and we will not survive it together.

People talk about “living with cancer” as a thing that one simply does. One “lives” with cancer.  I don’t know how true that is.  I know, so far, that my husband has “suffered” with cancer.  By suffering, I mean that he has experienced intense pain, overwhelming sadness and grief that his life is ending, rage at the enormous unfairness of it, the terror of approaching and unavoidable death, and the utter indignity of losing much of his mobility and independence.  As for me and “living” with cancer, I simply die a tiny piece at a time, like a chisel is being applied steadily to my soul.  Little bits chipped away slowly.  There is no “living” with cancer, at least not when compared to how we lived before the monster invaded my husband’s body.

Our life together has changed catastrophically, permanently, and profoundly. I cannot NOT see minutes, moments, blinks, or inklings without the yellow-bile haze of the monster’s breath filtering the light.  We are polluted by this thing that not only follows us into our dreams, but also nags every word, smile, chuckle, or kiss that passes between us.  It is the rotting zombie, ever-present, mindless, and voracious that stands in the corner of the room—it watches us.

But… I still, strangely enough, hold on to my faith. I truly do.  But my faith has shifted…or it’s now focused on something truly solid, where before it was “in theory.” You see, I’ve come to realize that my husband has always been mortal.  At some point, my husband was always going to die.  And that truth was covered in my marriage vows, come to think of it.  That whole “til death do you part” thing.  That “as long as you both shall live” clause.  Death is already written into marriage, as a thing of certainty that, barring its own inevitability, the marriage will continue.  I did agree to it.  I did swear by it.  I did promise my husband that I would do it before God and Man.  I did.  It’s just that the other stuff, the “to have and to hold, to love and to cherish” part took pre-eminence and I narrowed my focus to the living my husband and I would do, and forgot about the dying we would also do.  I can’t be the only one who has done this, and so foolishly, so humanly forgot about mortality.  But how can we concentrate on the mortal while we are consorting within the realms of the immortal?

Love, true love, is forever. As a Christian, I believe that I take my love with me into Eternity and meet with my love there, again.  Reunited forever.  To me, love is immortal.  And I choose this belief in a world where love has become tenuous and throw-away.  Where marriage vows have changed from “until death do you part” to “for as long as you both are able.”  And this is not an assault on modern marriage vows or a holier-than-thou-only-Christians-understand-marriage thing.  It’s just one woman’s desperate attempt to attach a sense of hope to that which has moved so far from hopefulness.  I would shake my fist at the sky if it would help, but then I am reminded again that I did indeed marry a mortal man—and that I agreed to his mortality. I guess I just didn’t understand what I was agreeing to until I met the monster. Therefore, you who have vowed to love, be warned. Remember the “small print.”

So now, bucket list. His and mine.  My husband needs to clear up and order the paperwork of his life now.  And he needs to take his leave of everything.  The actual paper paperwork is almost done.  That was the easy part.  Now it’s done, the harder stuff begins…people, places, things.  Saying words, sharing hugs and kisses and tears as one person passes through the gate and boards the plane to their new home while others remain, and wave good-bye, holding on to each other as the plane lifts away until it merges with an ocean of blue.

I watched a television show yesterday where a character mused that there are people in our lives whose presence we simply take for granted as a part of our being in the world. They are such an integral ingredient in our daily living, that they are fused to us, they help define our meaning in life.  We don’t even think about losing these people.  Neither do we imagine what life would be like without them.  Maybe it’s because the mere thought is too agonizing to entertain even for a moment, so we never do.  Or, maybe it’s because losing them would cause such a catastrophic shift in our life that it’s frankly impossible to wrap our head around it.  I don’t know what it is exactly. All I can say is that it is a sudden and bizarre reality, and the person who wrote that television episode understands what THIS is.  The person who wrote the episode has been touched by a monster like mine, and understands the depth of finality it brings. Because whoever that writer is, absolutely nailed it.

Therefore, having admitted the truth to myself, I will return to faith. It’s what I know for sure.  And I know that within that safe place of faith, I can hold on to love and find joy and laughter. I will report on all of these things equally, as coins of the same value.  Telling this story will be my new project. Watching my husband’s struggle will be fearsome, but witnessing his splendid courage will surely become the yardstick by which I will measure everything that ever afterward enters my life.  And maybe someone suffering with their own monster will read this “tale of us against the monster” and know that they are not alone…

#cancer #living with cancer #surviving cancer