Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Too Soon Too Late

Against my better judgement today I made homemade french fries. I've been sick with the flu and haven't been able to eat a full meal since late last week. I ventured to work this morning after the holiday weekend and was home again by lunch time. Too soon to venture out. Too soon to be fed. Too soon.

Dearest One was home so we sat and visited with one another before he decided he better go to the office for a bit. As he was getting ready to leave I looked at him and said, "Guess what I'm craving?" He joked about all sorts of foods he had been teasing me about eating earlier - foods that made me look for a container to throw up in - visions of canned spaghettios not one bit appetizing. (It's okay - he has a warped sense of humour and after 30+ years I've learned to laugh, too.)

I was craving homemade french fries. Even when I'm well they sit in my stomach afterwards like a lead balloon. A delicious lead balloon. However......

all my growing up years when one of us kids was sick my mom made us homemade french fries. It was our very favourite food - so favourite that in good times she stood at the stove for a very long time making them - giving us each a turn to have first dibs taking the biggest helping that came out of the fryer. When we were sick she just wanted us to feel better, tempting us with our favourite food in hopes that she could breathe a sigh of relief that we were truly on the mend. I don't recall that any of us ever regretted eating homemade french fries when we were sick. When we were faking we were sick she never cooked them(!)

Food has always been my mom's love language. She and her idetnical twin sister would sit on the phone, even though they lived just a few miles apart and watch cooking shows together, oohing and ahing over both what the chefs were cooking and what they were cooking food in.

Both of them had been drooling over this special cooking pan that all the food show chefs were using. They were hard to find and expensive. I finally found one for my mom for her 75th birthday and all us kids chipped in to buy it for her. She raved about how delicious the french fries were when cooked in her new pan. No need to cook them twice like she taught me growing up. They browned so nicely the first time around.

I always regretted not buying her sister one at the same time. But eventually I found another one and my mom told me she'd pay for it and give it to her sister as a surprise. I brought it home a few months later and my mom ,who doesn't have a much more than lick of spontaneity in her, was so excited to surprise her sister that we made an impromptu trip down the road.

When my aunt unwrapped the pan she looked at my mom and cried. She turned and hugged me. It was Christmas in the middle of summer. My aunt was in too much pain to be able to lift the (heavy) pan to the stove. Just a few days later her husband passed away unexpectedly. A month later she was diagnosed with bone cancer. A month after that she was gone. The pan never made it to her stove top.

Not long after the funeral one of my cousins brought the pan back to my mom and my mom told me she was setting it aside for me. I'd been home most of the summer and wasn't expecting to be there again for a year. My mom eventually had to cover the pan with a tea towel because it hurt too much to look at it. This past Christmas we made a last minute trip home and it was one of the things I brought back with me.

This afternoon, as I sliced the potatoes and skipped soaking them in water to get out some starch, I felt a weird kind of comfort.  I thought of my mom and her sister as I watched the potatoes turn the shade of scrumptious brown my mom said they would. I sprinkled them with vinegar and coarse sea salt and devoured every last one.

Years ago, after I'd made french fries for supper, I phoned my mom later that evening only to find out she had made them, too. Now every time I make them I call her to see if she had them today or yesterday or was planning on having them tomorrow. Ninety-nine percent of the time we will have made them within a day of each other if not on the same day.

Tonight I will call her and ask her what she made for supper. If I can find the courage.

Monday, March 09, 2015

All is Well

That spot on my face was pre cancerous. I'm grateful it was so easy to fix. And I'm glad I went with my gut and asked for it to be removed. My doctor had said on a previous visit about it that it was just a patch of dry skin. 

All my other tests were good, too. I graduate now to yearly cancer checkups and I am very aware that not everyone makes it to this milestone. 

Spring appears to be coming early to our neck of the woods. The winter seemed much more bearable which I think was due to no longer having a one hundred mile daily commute. No worrying about road conditions, no getting up an hour earlier. That part of living in a city is quite wonderful.

Doing the Spiritual Exercises has brought me back to doing Centering Prayer. That is always a positive in my life. 

Like my mom said to me in our weekly phone chat yesterday - there's nothing much new to report. I think of my whole breast cancer journey and how I longed for regular life. I will take it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Awful Shit and Grateful Milestones

Dearest One has spent the better part of all his free time these last two months at the bedside of a friend with terminal cancer. Yesterday this friend passed away. We feel both relieved and sad. He wanted so much to live and struggled mightily to do so. Two days ago I was sitting at his bedside so Dearest One could get some rest. There was a point while sitting with him, looking him in the eyes, his suffering so great that I thought to myself, "it's like looking into the face of Christ." Awful shit to witness, I can only imagine it's a thousand times worse to be the one actually going through it.

I had my last 6 month post cancer check up last week. Today I had a biopsy to rule out a spot of skin cancer on my face. Next week there is another test for other post cancer issues and the week after yet another. Having the doctor stop cold while doing the breast exam was a little disconcerting even though I knew the lump he was feeling was there. We are both quite sure it's a cyst but it will be good to have that hunch affirmed. I'm always a little puzzled when people say to me things like, "it's just one thing after another." I want to say, um - that's life - especially as we age. More deaths, more stuff, more. I have a quote by Richard Rohr that I like which says, "To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is." Does reality suck sometimes? It surely does.

In a few weeks I'm giving a talk to a group of university students about my journey through breast cancer. I shared that with my doctor and he said that the most memorable talks he remembered from his medical school days were the personal stories patients shared in lecture theatres. He asked how I felt about this being my last 6 month cancer check up. Was I scared? I told him I wasn't; that considering the people I knew who have died of cancer in the last 6 months I was grateful to reach this milestone because so many people don't get to and I named a friend that we both knew who died a few months ago.

I have signs hung on the wall on both sides of my computer screen. The one on the left says, "Be here now." The other one says, "Hello courage." Both needed to accept and forgive reality for being what it is. Lord have mercy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Be Open To Seeing

"I don't think the way you think." ~ Isaiah 55:8a (The Message)
Can I please have some peace about this? ~ October 20th Ignatian Exercises journal entry.
Yesterday I spent the day sick in bed and read Kerry Egan's book Fumbling, an account of her journey walking the Camino de Santiago. The best books are ones that speak to our common humanity and I know I read to find myself in the pages of another`s story.

Those of you who have journeyed with me these past few years, through the suicides of friends as well as my breast cancer diagnosis and recovery know how shattered my faith has been. Deep, gut wrenching grief has darn near immobilized me at times. I have a print of an icon on my wall where I can see it as I type in which Archangel Raphael says "Take courage! God has healing in store for you." I keep it there to remind me that today is not the end of my story. Even if today was the end of my life, the healing would continue.

Towards the very end of this book Kerry Egan meets with a spiritual director who tells her that she herself tries to watch for the Spirit in her life - to see how God works. She says she tries to pay attention to it. This baffles Kerry and she asks how do you know it's the Holy Spirit. Her spiritual director says, "Well, I guess what other people call coincidence, I would call the Holy Spirit."

Kerry had bumped into three people in one afternoon who directed her to this woman for help with her spiritual journey. In a matter of hours the first person suggested her, the second person knew of her, and the third person worked with her and gave her the phone number.

You know how I feel about connecting the dots like that. It's about made me puke at times. Kerry herself questions this, too and her spiritual director says, "You'll just have to start paying attention for yourself. Just see what you see, and let yourself be open to seeing."

I read that line and thought to myself, 'Okay I think I can do that. I can let myself be open to seeing.' It felt like a small step towards God. Towards considering that I can trust in the unknowingness of life and perhaps even trust God again.

And then Kerry Egan goes on to talk about her problems with grief and her problems with God. Although our grief comes from different places there I am smack dab in the middle of her story so clearly that it leaves me sobbing:
"If prayer is the attempt to understand God, then grieving is the deepest form of prayer, rising from the body and soul and mind, asking God and really and truly wanting to know, no matter what the answer: Who are you? Why did you create a world with pain? Why is life this way? What are you? Because you are not what I thought you were. (emphasis mine)
Grieving, at its deepest level, is to acknowledge that creation can be cruel and that people suffer. To look at this truth, to allow yourself to feel it, you are forced to consider the nature of this world and this existence. you ask how this can be and who set this up and why this happens. To grieve is to ask God the hardest questions. To grieve is to ask who God really is. It's to change your perspective on all other human beings and their relationships to one another and to you and your place in this world. To grieve is to start over, to be re-created. (emphasis mine)...... 
Why suffering? Why grief? And why grief and God?
I don't know. I'm not sure anyone does." ~ Kerry Egan, Fumbling
I read this and think to myself that I can see glimpses of being able to live with that. To find some peace about the unknowingness of who God is and how God works. To be okay with not having answers. It feels like seeing a faint light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel after repeatedly kicking the walls and telling people who are shining flashlights in your eyes that there is no fucking light, okay? Because in your blinding grief you couldn't see any.

At the end of this passage she quotes Isaiah 55: 8 and 9. The verses twig at my brain. Hadn't I just read those verses a few days ago. I pull out my journal and find  the quote I typed at the top of this post.

Okay, then.
I think I saw something.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Could the reader that sent me this encaustic please email me? In a flurry of emptying my inbox of emails I inadvertently deleted the one with your new email address.  Thank you.

Isn't this a lovely piece of art? It's titled Skinless Soul and is from a friend in honour of my breast cancer journey. I have it hanging where I can see it every day.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Naivete et al

So much going on. I keep thinking I need to send this person or that an email and fill them in but seem to have no energy to actually do it. I've felt that way for so long.

Lots of wonderfully good things. Like having our grandson for the night once a week every week. He's not quite walking yet and spending time with him is just plain fun. And hard work. His smile lights up my world. Rocking him to sleep is lovely.

Only daughter had her first baby just over a week ago. Wonderfully exciting. I spent the week with her and it was a privilege to care for her and to hold her daughter again and again and again.

I am keenly aware that were I not in recovery and had not continued to do the hard work of inner growth through the grace of God, that being invited into my adult children's lives and the lives of their children might never be. I was not the mother I wanted to be but by God I can be the grandmother I want to be. And I'm serious when I say, "by God." There is no other way. I know this. Not everyone in  recovery is this fortunate. I've heard people in meetings say so. Years of unpleasant behaviour held against them decades after they've changed. Lord have mercy.

This month is the month of anniversaries of cancer diagnosis and surgeries and life changing happenings. I read an article the other day that had a line in it that resonated - cancer took what was left of my naivete. Too true. In the vein of this being Breast Cancer Awareness month and you are bombarded with pink everything please keep in mind that the research dollars need to be going to finding a cure for metastatic breast cancer not for awareness. We are aware already. Statistics show that early detection does not save lives. Surprised by that? You can have grade 0 breast cancer and still experience metastases. Mine was grade 2, stage 2. It's going to hang over my head for the rest of my life. Here is a link that says it well.

Spiritually I've felt afloat for most of the past two years. This month I started the 19th Annotation - doing the spiritual exercises of Ignatius over the course of the next 8 months. In the short week since I've started I've come face to face with how deeply in need of grace I am. I'm horrified really. I mean who else reads Psalm 139 and writes in their journal in response 'utter bullshit." It bothered me that that was how I felt. I wanted to write something so much different than that. Thankfully a day later I returned to this psalm and felt more kindly to it. As if it would take much to feel that way! I have avoided personal scripture reading for the past few years - unable to get past pat answers that reverberate in my head when I read it. Since making this commitment to doing the exercises I have a feeling it's going to change me. I can avoid the hard conversations with God much more easily when I stay away from scripture. But scripture is living and breathing and I run smack into God when I spend time in it. Do I truly want change or do I want to pretend to change? I want change. I have to show up. It's going to happen.

Dearest One is facing potentially serious health issues. There's a part of me that says - now wouldn't that just be unfair - as if fairness was our birthright. Diagnostic tests this week should help pinpoint the problem. We are thankful for a family doctor who listens and takes action. Much better than the ER doctor who advised taking acetaminophen for pain - as opposed to our family doctor who ordered a stat CT scan to rule out a brain tumour. Huge difference, no? There are all kinds of worrisome symptoms. I keep reminding myself to stay in the day and not run towards tomorrow.

Work - what can I say? Days of an inner mantra "I will not quit my job." Then taking an opportunity to be gracious instead of vindictive to the one who causes me the most angst changed our relationship overnight. How bizarre it is. I don't like her any more than I did and certainly don't trust her any more than I did but things have changed and it continues to intrigue me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Throwing Words and Things

Thirty three years ago today Dearest One asked me to marry him. We'd been together for a week, meeting face to face, after having started out as pen pals when I was a very young teenager. The odds were certainly against us. I give God the credit for us making it for the long haul. Had we not become people of faith our relationship would have crumbled long ago.

Because we spent such little time together before we married - after we got engaged he went back home across the country and I stayed put to finish college - he had no idea I might have a drinking problem. I didn't get drunk until 5 days after we married in a most embarrassing social situation for him which could've cost him his job and which resulted in a blackout for me.

In those early years of marriage and well, well into sobriety I didn't know how to communicate how I was feeling other than to throw words and things at him. He didn't know how to communicate his feelings other than to go silent and sometimes literally run the other way. At least once - no twice - it's a very good thing what I threw didn't hit him.

My sponsor and I are working through the steps. We're on step four -using the Al-Anon step four book. Something happened within me shortly after we began working the steps - a keen awareness and desire to be a better human being. A realization of things that both surprised and humbled me. A voice within that insistently said, "If you get nothing else right in this life - be kind to this man."

My summer was spent mostly away from home and after going on a silent retreat I met Dearest One in a campground for some 'us time'. I don't know if it was because I came from six days of silence or whether our prolonged absence from one another made my awareness keener but a few days into our camping trip I said to him, "You know what I've noticed? I'm hyper critical and super bossy of you." He told me that he had noticed it, too and that it wasn't much fun. I apologized and told him I was awareness and working on it. I felt no defensiveness about my actions - no need to justify a thing. He was matter of fact when he confirmed that my awareness of my actions was not my imagination.

Such a better way of communicating than throwing things and words. Thanks be to God.