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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

While It Was Still Night

This was not the summer I thought I'd have.
I spent most of my time away from home due to multiple deaths in the family (plus a wedding.)
I spent more nights in my childhood bedroom in the past seven weeks than in my grown up one.
There was a week in there where I went on a silent retreat.
I went to it heavy hearted as a dear family member lay dying in a hospital in another province.
There were surprise breakthroughs during the retreat that I am grateful for.
If I'm hanging on to resentments I cannot find gratitude.
If I accept what is then it's easier to embrace what is in front of me rather than pine for what I'd hope would be.
Stuff I knew on a head level but were felt deep within the heart.

An unexpected comfort was this verse:

"While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed." - Mark 1:35

Huge gulping tears recognizing that even though within me it is still night, I don't have to wait for dawn in order to pray.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Protecting The Invisible

"You're favouring your right side like you're protecting it."

He stands in front of me and mimics my stance so I can see for myself. He drops his right shoulder and curves that side of his body inward. As he does this it looks like he's protecting something invisible, something stuck to the right side of his chest. I don't know what's going through his head as he stands there but there is lots going through mine. What the hell - I'm protecting a breast that doesn't exist anymore? And accordingly it's largely responsible for the debilitating back pain I've been experiencing.

Earlier in the week they'd ruled out breast cancer migrating to my bones being the cause of the pain. Huge relief. X rays showed severe narrowing of a disc in my back. I will take that over cancer any darn day of the week even though some mornings it's a challenge to figure out how to get out of bed without being in excruciating pain.

The good news is that this physiotherapist had lots of ideas as to how to correct tiny imbalances in my posture and gain some pain relief.

We tell the world so much without even saying a word.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Countless Layers

We are slowly settling into our new home in the city. It's so odd to look out windows and see houses and people instead of landscapes and endless skies. I've found two views out my windows where I only see trees and sky and finding those views is a relief.

At heart I don't think city living is for me but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. The biggest benefit is that I am no longer body weary; no longer waking up tired because of the daily 100 mile roundtrip commute we used to make. I am grateful for that as I didn't know that being rested was ever going to be mine again. Between that and seeing our grandson regularly - those things make city living worthwhile.

It is a stretch to go from living on 80+ acres to a little plot of land in the city. Once the leaves are out on the trees and we have more privacy in our backyard it will seem easier to enjoy the beautiful yard we do have.

I feel full of contradictions. Full of "yes, but". So few people can handle the contradictions - instead they remind me of only the good as if the the hard stuff, the adjustments, can be dismissed - unimportant to acknowledge. I know from past experience that I need to acknowledge all of it before I can gain perspective. Too many years of trying to bypass my honest feelings did not work out well in the end.

The move has shifted inner worlds for both of us in a way that is good in the long run but shitty in the moment. Redefining our relationship in groundbreaking ways. When I came out of treatment I was told that when one person gets emotionally healthy they call the other person in the relationship to emotional health. If that person doesn't heed the call the relationship crumbles. At that time Dearest One heeded the call and I will be forever grateful for that. Now he is growing in ways that are calling me to deeper emotional health. I'm scared of this, of not getting it right, and I welcome it at the same time.

Who knew there are countless layers to the onion we call relationship? Should be no surprise then that with it comes tears, too.

Friday, February 28, 2014


It is bitterly cold out there tonight. Close to -50C with wind chill factored in. Spring is such a hopeful time of year. Let's hope it starts showing signs of arrival soon.

We move to the big city in spring. I spent part of my day packing up my books in my office. I have given away hundreds of books over the years. Now I only keep those that really speak to me, those that I will pick up more than once to read. I have a stack of unread books that I have already pegged for reading next winter.

My grandbaby is wonderful. He has the most beautiful smile that lights up his whole face. Only daughter is expecting a baby later this year. Two grandbabies. Doubly blessed. I never knew I was capable of loving the way I love my grandchildren.

Some people have more than their share of sorrow. A young woman who lost her parents last Spring lost a baby this past week. Holding the tiny baby in my hands (it was that tiny) I just couldn't stop the tears. "this is too much sorrow, Lord. Too much."

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Gift Of Regular Life

Good things happening in my life tend to lend themselves to no blogging. I told my grief counselor the other day that this blog is where I process what's going on in my life, particularly, the tough stuff. At the moment there is no tough stuff. Lots of great stuff, though.

Although I haven't yet completed the blood work for my second 6 month post cancer check up, the appointment itself was uneventful. I've been saying little prayers of gratitude for this uneventful life as opposed to a year ago when I felt like I was drowning in the grieving process of losing my breast to cancer.  I remember so clearly, when I was in both physical and mental pain, that I longed for regular life.

I've become one of those grandparents who just can't help showing off pictures of said grandbaby ad nauseum to whoever will humour me. Lordy, he is the sweetest gift ever and his face lights up with smiles when I talk to him.

We have sold our farm and are moving to the city on Maundy Thursday. I have yet to start packing but have been buying new furniture which is both fun and yucky feeling at times. I am not used to spending money like this. We bought a new dining room table. Our old one we've had for 27 years. See, I am not used to buying furniture. I told my counselor that it is pushing every security button I have and he laughed quite loudly at that. "So you are in a period of growth, are you?" Why, yes I am.

I am a hoarder by nature. Not of stuff but of money. If I was the only one in this relationship I would balance my budget to the penny and hoard everything leftover and get my security from it. I know that about myself. Hoarding money is my tendency. There has been this conflict going on inside me about new furniture not meaning a thing in the end nor is a bank account of any merit, either. It is both unsettling and freeing to know that. My counselor did point out, (after I told him that if I had a recurrence of cancer that the new furniture wouldn't mean anything), that if I had a recurrence I would need a beautiful space to heal in. I had instant tears at that thought. How do other people reconcile this stuff? Jesus had no place to lay his head. I can feel a little haunted by that.

My oncologist called me last week. Just over a year ago I had a particular test that helped us rule out the need for chemotherapy. It is not covered by health care in this province and I was one of the fortunate ones who got the test for free (it comes with a $4000 price tag) while this doctor lobbied the government to start covering the cost. He is ready to start talking to the media about it and was looking for a patient to speak to them as well. He asked if I would like to be a part of that process. Why yes, I would.

So, as you can see, lots of things are going on and none of them are life threatening. I am grateful.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Not Whiny

One day this week I was asked to go for lunch  with a coworker to meet up with a former colleague.  I hemmed and hawed a while before deciding if I would go. I had been sitting at my desk eating my lunch when she approached me. She asked because this woman we would meet up with had recently been diagnosed with cancer. In the end I thought, yes - being a silent support would be good. As if I could ever keep quiet.

We chit chatted about work stuff for quite a while. Then I looked at her, seated directly across from me, and said, "How are you." She replied, "Today is a good day."  and gave a brief smile. Zing. Instant tears formed in my eyes. Whew. It's not all behind me. It being my own cancer journey. I was caught off guard by the tears. I sure didn't want to make it about me in that moment so I swallowed hard and made a mental note to think about those tears later.

She worried aloud that she was being whiny if she phoned the specialists to see when she could see them. She's had the diagnosis for several weeks. Her particular cancer does not have a good outcome. I told her to never apologize for being an advocate for her own health. Certainly the doctors do not have her on their radar screen unless she is directly in front of them. She made some phone calls after lunch and as a result got an appointment slot right away. This is not a time to worry about appearing nice and not whiny. Is it ever?

Today is my second of four scheduled post cancer check ups. They happen every six months. I told my doctor at my last one that I wouldn't see him until this appointment. It's the longest I've gone without seeing a doctor in years. I'm grateful for that. I do get a little twitchy waiting for these check ups to be behind me. A friend in the program, who has had cancer several times, told me that it would take at least a year to not worry that every pain I experienced was an indicator of a recurrence. I have two friends who are dealing with metastatic breast cancer. They are on my mind often. My grief counsellor told me that he bet I thought about having had breast cancer every single day. He was right.

Next month I will have the opportunity to speak to a group of health professionals in training about my breast cancer journey. There is a lot going through my mind as to what to share and what to keep close to my (one sided) chest.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Somewhere Beautiful

I belong to an online writing group that suggest  a new word every week to be the focus of a blog post. The first week went by with the word 'vulnerable' and the second arrived with the word 'waiting'. I've felt completely uninspired. Until this. It's the first time I've spoken about it on the blog. While it was happening I couldn't write about it. Last night I finally did. Dearest One read it this morning and gave his blessing for me to share it here.

"You called her babe!"
"Well you never like it when I call you that."

"You fucking, fucking asshole." The last is said in my head as my husband walks out of our bedroom. I resist the urge to throw things at his retreating backside. Instead I thrust my middle finger in the air, waving it up high as if to add an exclamation point. And then I dissolve in tears.

Earlier in the day I had noticed his work email open on his computer and because I have several friends in his all female work department I was curious as to whether any of them email him. My curiosity had been fun in intent as I loved these women and they loved me.

What jumped out at me from his inbox was not any email from a coworker. Instead it was an email with a subject line that read "Re: Good Morning Babe" from some woman in the UK whose name I didn't recognize. Mercifully, or not, I couldn't remember his email password so I couldn't open it.

All day long I waited for him to get home from work. The subject line answered so much. The reason for his increasing emotional distance. My puzzlement over our daughter mentioning to me that he was thinking of going to Britain this summer and how he hadn't mentioned it to me. I thought of the last time we had sex and how angry he seemed.

We went for a walk after supper and I casually asked him who she was. After the initial deer in the headlights look on his face he tried to back pedal out of the conversation. I kept him focused on the moment with an eerie calmness. This wasn't the first emotional affair he'd had but it was the most devastating. There was something about that word, 'babe' that made me feel like I was going to go bat shit crazy.

What ensued was a summer of pain and growth and grace. He moved out of the house and into our holiday trailer under the guise of not wanting to be in the same house as me. There is something about not being at home within oneself that ripples out towards others in often painful ways. While I wanted to instinctively protect myself and step away from him emotionally I felt a nudge within to step towards him in love. The big gulping sobs that rose when I surrendered to this nudge affirmed my course of action.

When he phoned our adult children to let them know he was thinking of leaving me I followed up with a phone call of my own to remind them that beneath the man whose actions were foreign right now, was a good man and no matter what happened, please don't forget this about their dad.

I reaffirmed to him aloud several times that he was a good man. He recoiled from my words with both anger and tears. What I was really telling him is that while he was being a shit head please don't lose sight of the abundance of goodness inherent within himself.

I'd only recently discovered this about myself. The years of self hatred had dissolved into a self acceptance that made it possible to face the worst demons within myself. The healing that had ensued was humbling. I felt like I had come home to myself at last. It's also what led Dearest One to tell me that he didn't know who I was any more and that's why he didn't think he could remain married to me. The irony of finally learning to love myself while being rejected by him cut deeply.

One day, in the blink of an eye, I still can't explain how it happened, the wall of protective emotional concrete that I had carried like a protective shield since I was a child, fell away and in its place was an openness that was fraught with fragile beauty. For years I had prayed that God would break down that wall whatever it took. I never dreamed my husband would be walking away from me when it happened. I was stunned to find myself capable not only of emotional intimacy, but craving it. I wanted to run after my husband and say, "it's not too late, look it finally happened!"  I thought of all the years he had craved a mutual emotional vulnerability, and how I had thrown it back in his face.

I spent the summer waiting for him to decide whether he was staying or going.

This many years later we refer to that summer as the summer from hell. The good man that he is eventually emerged from underneath a shit pile of anger, confusion and pain.

Last night we were lying in bed, he on his back and me on my stomach so that we were looking at each other. Talking in bed before we go to sleep is about my favourite thing in the world to do with him. It opens up the best conversations and often lots of laughter. Somewhere in the conversation he called me baby. I tell him I've given birth to babies and I am not his baby. I feel a ping in my heart as I think about the last time that word came up in our conversation. I know he doesn't even remember it from the summer  of hell.

It's why he can continue the conversation by telling me that baby or babe is a term of endearment.

I turn the phrase lightly over in my mind and tell him it just isn't me.

"Try it," he says, "Look at me and say, I love you, babe." His eyes, framed by the rainbow arches of his eyebrows, are full of merriment and radiating with love towards me.

I practice saying the phrase in my head and look at him waiting in anticipation. My hands fly up to my face as I realize to say it and  mean it is so full of vulnerability that my eyes well up with tears and I can't talk.

Finally I choke out how I can't get the words to come out of my mouth because I feel too vulnerable, that it really is a term of endearment. I had had no idea. He tells me I would never have discovered that had he not challenged me would I?  No, no I wouldn't I tell him. I ask him to give me some time to get used to the phrase. Saying it will be a gift of the highest kind, one he will treasure in his heart.

The word that drove me bat shit crazy is now an invitation to somewhere beautiful.