Sunday, August 23, 2015


Several weeks ago I walked into a tattoo shop, hardcore rapper music playing loudly in the background, and had a brief conversation with the tattoo artist who, yesterday, put the above tattoo on my wrist for me. As we talked at that initial meeting he seemed to be trying really hard to connect with us. The conversation seemed a bit stilted  and I wondered if we were not his typical clientele and if he was feeling a bit rattled. As we talked every single preconceived idea I had about tattoo shops was shouting in my head.

I liked that he maintained eye contact as I was trying really hard to read what was in his eyes. In the vein of trying to make conversation I asked if he had ever done any tattoos on mastectomy scars. I think his ears heard me say vasectomy scars by mistake. Oh, ouch. No. Never. He didn't say that but when he asked me to repeat my question my hand went to the empty side of my chest and he understood instantly. No, he hadn't ever but he was all about doing whatever people needed in order to feel beautiful about themselves.

Beautiful about themselves. I've worked so hard on feeling beautiful about myself and when his words pierced a deep wound I wasn't even aware was there, tears sprang instantly to my eyes. His eyes immediately softened and I was able to see such a depth of kindness there. Dearest One kept talking with him while I left the shop and stood and sobbed on the sidewalk.

Yesterday I walked into the shop and the music was truly awful. Long time readers know I have my very own potty mouth but there was something jarring about f bombs and other indelicacies being shouted out in time to a very heavy beat. I did some deep breathing, some praying, anything to distract me from being bombarded with the noise. At the same time, because I believe that art, all art, speaks truth to us, I respect people's rights to express that in whatever way speaks to them.

I wondered if the tattoo artist would remember our conversation about mastectomy scars. Well, what I really wondered was whether he would remember my reaction to that conversation. He did. He told me he was honoured that I would consider having him do such a tatoo.

The whole appointment to get my tattoo lasted about 30 minutes. We had the nicest conversation that included how he has a tattoo of his mother's name on his own wrist as a reminder to make his mother feel proud of him by his actions and morals. He's a loving father of a little girl and the best part of his day so far had been spending time with her.

It's such a gift in this world when our preconceived ideas get shot full of holes.

Kindness often springs up in the unlikeliest places.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Sitting Right In The Ashes

I had to put my blog to private because my anonymity was breached. Enough time has passed that I felt I could change the settings back. I hope this is a sound move.

I've had a good, full-of-people summer. Grandchildren, children, parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and long time friends in face to face communion. However, after three weeks of not a lick of solitude, I felt relieved to go on a week long silent retreat.

The first night is a communal supper where you can talk all you want, ahead of being assigned to a spiritual director. At supper I sat at the same table as a woman who radiated a warmth that was both solid and real. She also had a sparkle in her eye. I prayed she would be my spiritual director and then let go of that desire many times in the space of the next hour. After all, there were many spiritual directors to be had. But darn, I really wanted it to be her.

And it was.

The week that followed was a gift that comes from the blend of grace and hard work. Do those two words even belong in the same sentence? I don't know. My spiritual director has spent much of her life working with people in recovery. She was such a delight.

I like to complicate things, any thing, even a silent retreat, and had forgotten that it is enough to simply show up.

During the retreat I let go of trying to connect dots, even the dots of my journal ramblings and let them speak for themselves, without needing to come to a single conclusion. My spiritual director was content to let them be as well. It is a mystery how growth can come out of this. Not one tidy package to be had. Imagine that. And yet I feel changed.

Here is a quote from my journal which spoke to me during that time:
"The poor ego is always looking for an easy way out. Deep in the wintry parts of our minds, we are hardy stock and know there is no such thing as a work free transformation. We know that we will have to burnt to the ground in one way or another, and then sit right in the ashes of who we once thought we were and go on from there. But another side of our natures, a part more desirous of languor, hopes it won't be so, hopes the hard work can cease so slumber can resume." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With The Wolves
Songs came unbidden to mind the whole week. I trusted that they came from somewhere beyond me.  I was surprised with where they took me and how songs from decades ago could filter in and impact me.

Most days I went for a long walk that took me from countryside to city and then ended up at a creek on a mostly abandoned road.  There I dangled my legs over the side of the bridge while I sat and watched the water converge as if every drop of water was fighting it out for first place.

One night we had a communal penitential service followed by private confession. As we entered the chapel there was a basket of rocks with a sign asking us to pick one. The chapel lights were dimmed so I couldn't do my usual looking-through-the-whole-basket to find the perfect rock ritual. No, I picked up the first one my fingers found. As I sat waiting for the service to begin the rock felt heavy in my hand. My fingers searched its surface like they were reading braille when they found a ridge that ran through the middle of it and I smiled to myself at its appearance.

During the service we were invited to either place the rock in a basket at the altar afterwards, symbolizing a letting go of all that weighed us down, or to go out in nature do so there. Throwing mine into the creek, where it would take years of water coursing over it to smooth out that ridge, felt like the perfect place to let go of all that had surfaced for me during the week.

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.