Serious stuff

Farewell, my girl: If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever

If I had known it was the last time I would brush you, I would have complained less.

If I had known how skinny you would get in the end, I would have worried less about you gaining too much weight.

If I’d known it was the last time I’d hear you bark, I would have let you do so with abandon.

If I had known it was the last time you’d lay in the yard soaking up the sun, nose pointed in the air, eyes closed, I’d have let you stay until you wanted to come in.

If I had known it would be my last 3 a.m. potty emergency with you, I’d have been way less irritated.

If I had known it would be the last time you’d come to me for lovin’ and slobber all over me, I wouldn’t have been annoyed.

But this makes it seem like knowing is what would have made me feel better. That’s not true, though.

I knew when you made your visit to Grandma’s that it would be your last, but it still hurt.

I knew when you had your waffle with eggs and bacon that it was your last spoiled weekend breakfast, and still it ached.

I knew when we came home from the steakhouse that it was your last time being excited for the doggy bag of scraps we always brought you, and still my heart sunk.

Here we are, on the precipice of that final vet visit, and my heart is absolutely shattered.

I don’t know how I will say goodbye. I suspect it will be with tears and sobbing and gut-wrenching sorrow.

I don’t know how I will handle the coming days without you. I suspect with a low down grief that even Angus’s sloppy puppy kisses won’t soothe.

I don’t know how I’ll ever fill the void your passing will leave. I suspect I never will.

Goodbye, my Rosie girl. If love truly could have saved you, you’d have lived forever.

 

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Serious stuff

Changes and a New Focus: Dealing with Family Crises and Finding Balance

So much has happened in the many months since I’ve been here. Too much, really. My family and I have faced so much upheaval that we’re just now beginning to settle into our new normal. That has taken eight, long months and it’s a tentative settling at best. Let me back up and explain.

Eight months ago our definition of normal imploded. All within one week’s time we found out that a close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband was diagnosed with diabetes, and I had pernicious anemia (PA) and possibly multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s been an arduous journey to health and we aren’t even at the end. Jim has stabilized with changes to his diet. Our relative is (all fingers crossed) in the last leg of kicking cancer square in the ass. Me? Still in limbo, I’m afraid. I can control the PA with bi-monthly shots, but the other symptoms…not quite.

It all began because  I couldn’t walk without falling. The fall that sent me to the doctor frightened me. I was coming down the stairs after my morning shower and I toppled and hit the wall hard, literally and figuratively. I can no longer walk unassisted. I use a cane to navigate stairs and a rollator for all other ambulatory needs. I can drive only short distances, and then only if I absolutely have to. There are days I can’t drive at all because I can’t trust my feet or hands to do as I command. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are so many other physical changes in my life that I won’t go into here. It all boils down to one thing: I have to accept that I am handicapped now.

And that’s not something I am doing well with. I have always been fiercely independent. Asking for help was not an option I ever employed. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something I just did. Nothing stood in my way. And if I couldn’t do it, well, it just didn’t get done.

But here I am. Needing help every damn day of my life because you can’t just not wear pants because you can’t put them on yourself. You can’t just leave the house without shoes because your foot won’t lift off the floor. You can’t just not eat because walking across the room isn’t an option for the day.

And I hate it. I resent it. I cannot stand it!

The worst part? I am eight months into poking and prodding and testing and multiple doctors and I STILL do not have an official diagnosis. Ask how many Type A people would enjoy that. If you find one, please introduce us. I need help.

All this to say, I am grieving the loss of my independence something fierce. It truly feels like some part of me just up and died. Last August I was walking, driving, and living my life like every other person–going to my nieces’ dance recitals and soccer games, going to the grocery store, taking my kids back and forth to events, going to have lunch with my husband at work. Four weeks later I just wasn’t anymore. Two weeks after that, I was using a rollator once in a while. Eight months later, and the rollator is a part of my body. The fear that a wheelchair looms in my near future is so very real that I want to cry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know things could be exponentially worse. I’m still here, alive and watching my kids transition into the next big phase of their lives, watching my nieces grow, and reconnecting with long lost family. The recent loss of a friend who was only 12 days younger than me drove that realization home hard.  I sat at his memorial last week, weeping for the loss, aching at his mother’s face, his widow’s sobs, and I knew I was being selfish. Talk about forcing some perspective.

However, it’s still a loss I am feeling and grieving. I know, at some point, I will rise above this. I will learn how to navigate this massive change. Until then, I am trying to remind myself that this is not the end of the world. It’s just a hefty bump in my road–a road that I am travelling, like it or not.

For now, I’ve chosen to focus on what I CAN do. It’s the only thing I think will help. I’ve decided to kick my writing goals into high gear while I still can. I’m going to be sharing here about navigating the traditional publishing slopes. I am querying agents for my first novel. I am working steadily on my next novel. I am blogging again. Most of all, I have to remember that I am more than just my rebellious body.

I’m still a wife.

Mother.

Aunt.

Friend.

And writer.

I’m still me.

Serious stuff, Uncategorized

Treatment: Hope

The summer of 2017 has not been kind to me and my family, both close and extended. So many people I care about have had diagnoses that literally upended their lives this summer, some temporarily, others forever. I’ve been operating under the mire of worry for the last month, trying to find my way past the grey clouds swirling about my head. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying, researching, crying and angry, pondering why things seem so damn unfair. No answers, just the echo of my questions as a reply.

This week I realized something, though. As I watch the stress mount on everyone, as I watch the numbness, shock, and dismay turn to anger, I ask, “How much more? How much before we break?” While I do not get the answers I seek, I do get the picture in my mind of a mountain.

Why the mountain? Well, when you think about it, it’s a steep climb with few footholds to make it to the top. It’s a tough journey, the toughest of your life, and questioning whether you can conquer what seems impossible. That’s exactly what we are all doing. We are standing there facing that treacherous climb and asking ourselves, can I make it? Do I have what it takes? What if…?

You have to embrace your strength. You have to face that mountain with every ounce of tenacity, guts, and grit that you can muster, if for no other reason than that the minute you doubt your own strength, the battle is lost. Even before that first step is taken, you will lose if you don’t embrace hope. Hope becomes all you have. And it can be enough.

You have to have the hope that you will reach the top of that mountain, that you will stand at the peak and scream to the world, “It didn’t beat me! I faced my battle and it didn’t beat me!” Keeping that in mind is what will keep you going. It will see you through. It will be enough.

I am looking at all this that our family is going through and trying to convince myself that this bump in the road may be more like a crater, but it isn’t insurmountable. We are a strong group of people. We are fighters. We are stubborn. We are strong. We have hope. And that is enough.

Serious stuff

Thoughts on body image and anchors

A comment from my last post got me thinking and I wanted to respond to her with this, but it was much too long to leave in the comments section. So, this post is for her.

My husband is half Polish and half Serbian. The matriarch of the Serbian half of his family was Grandma Mary. She was the epitome of every stereotype one has of what grandmas should be. She was sweet and kind, always filling you to overflowing with food and never ran short on love. I was fortunate enough to have a few short years with her before she passed away in 1998.

She was a member of St. George’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Lorain. At her funeral, her priest, a young, handsome man from the former Yugoslavia, gave a eulogy that has stuck with me. In my sadness over her passing, his words had a profound effect on me and they apply to so much, in so many instances.youaremore

He was talking about how we shouldn’t be sad that she died. She had gone on to do the thing God created her, created all of us, to do. He placed his hand on the highly polished casket and said, “Do not mourn this body. This is vanity.” He went on to explain that our bodies are only anchors to this earth and aren’t meant to last.

Anchors.

Think about anchors for a minute. What are they? They are nothing more than huge hunks of heavy metal that keep boats and ships from sailing off into the horizon. No one pays much attention to them or what they look like. Some anchors keep fishing boats in place so fishermen can catch dinner for their families, or trawlers can catch seafood for many families. Some anchors hold luxurious yachts in place, vessels so beautiful it staggers the imagination. Still others hold humble boats where they need to be so someone can travel from one place to the next. Regardless, anchors have one simple job and that’s all they’re good for, right?

Maybe.

Or they could be more.

The way I see it, they ARE more. Anchors, and the job they do, can be an allegory for ourselves and the lives we lead. Our bodies are like anchors, very much like what Grandma Mary’s priest said. They keep us here, focused in our lives, on what we are supposed to do. They are attached to the bigger picture of what our lives were meant to be. Some of us were meant to be here to tend to our families the best way we can. Some of us were meant to take care of others. Some people are here to lead beautiful lives, while still others are here to spread humility. None of those are possible without their heavy anchor.

If we can look at those yachts, trawlers and boats and see the goodness and beauty there without a second thought to what their anchors look like, why do we spend so much time on the vanity that surrounds what our bodies look like? The real beauty of what we are, what makes us the beautiful creatures God intended, is within us. It’s what we take with us when we’re called home. We leave our anchors behind and sail off into the horizon.

Remember that the next time you look in the mirror and criticize yourself.

You are more than your anchor.

You are more than your body.

Your body is linked to the very best you have to offer, and that is so much more than the outside.

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Serious stuff

Alan Rickman had me at one word: Always

I’ve written before about the phenomenon that baffled me when people cry over celebrities dying. I thought they were off their rockers, until it happened to me in August 2013 with the death of Robin Williams. Well, 2016 proved that it isn’t just the funny guy that owned my ice-cold heart. Today Alan Rickman passed away at 69 years old. And I wept like a baby.

I remember him from movies when I was younger like Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and several others. He was an actor who was chameleon-like in his roles, changing his appearance and accent to the point of almost being unrecognizable. I remember being in awe of that sort of talent and bravery. In a business where your face and voice are your product, obscuring those in any way could be dangerous to your career, but Rickman proved otherwise.

I’ve got to be honest here, though. As much as I enjoyed his roles and admired his craft, he was never an actor whose work I sought out. It wasn’t like I ever said, “Ooooh, Alan Rickman has a new movie out that I simply MUST see.” That is, of course, until a little wizard grabbed hold of my soul in 1999. I gobbled up the books as quickly as I possibly could, and, right along with most others, hated the character of Snape for being so mean to our heroes. That is until the end. When I realized that Snape was my favorite character of all.

And then the movies came out and Rickman was cast.

My love for that boy wizard grew with each movie, something foreign to this bookworm who usually hates Hollywood’s adaptations of my beloved books. Rickman did such a wonderful job of portraying the Snape that lived in my head that I can’t read those books without envisioning him. No other character from the movies has replaced the others in my mind. Just him. In fact, I don’t recall any actor, EVER, replacing the character that lived in my head. That is saying something, friends.

I watch the Harry Potter movies once a year in a movie marathon with my kids. I sob every time at the end. I cry when Snape begs Harry to take his tears so he can finally tell his side of the story. This scene tugs at my heart:

It’s that last line coupled with the image of Lily Potter in Snape’s arms that sealed Alan Rickman’s place in my heart forever.

Rickman’s end is bittersweet, but he leaves behind a legacy, an immense amount of art that speaks volumes for his talent and craft. But, no matter what role he played, he will remain in my heart, the unsung hero of a tale about a boy wizard. He will be the unlikely, however faithful, friend who kept a promise to his one true love until his dying breath. Always.

Parenting, Serious stuff

Celebrate the small victories

Raising teenagers is tough work. Every parent knows this. Much of our time is spent in constant battle about homework, attitude, fashion, showering and a million other endless and mind-numbing topics. Most days I consider it a victory if I make it through the evening with only one of my two teenagers not speaking to me.

Communication is so difficult at this age that I find myself yearning for their younger selves. Who would have thought I’d miss the days where Elmo and Max and Ruby were topics I’d want to talk about? I remember thinking that my brain was going to turn to liquid and pour out of my ears if I had to watch those two rabbits one. More. Time. Now, I’d give my left arm to have anything to talk to them about that made them WANT to converse with me.

I got my wish today with some of the saddest news the music industry had to suffer. My oldest son and I share a love of music, much of the same music, an eclectic taste that my husband does not understand. Jimmy called me.

“Mom, did you hear that David Bowie died?”

“Yeah, I did. It’s sad. He was only 69.”

We talked for a good fifteen minutes about him, about his music and his influence on culture. We talked about his songwriting and his collaborations with other musicians and the career that spanned decades.

He ended the conversation with, “I just wanted to talk to you about this. I know we aren’t huge fans, but I thought we’d need to talk about this. To process it.”

My 15 year-old son brought me to tears with one word. We.

It occurred to me that this was one of those moments parents need to cling to, one of the small victories. My mind hung on those two letters like a drowning man to a life raft. In this sea of teenage angst, wandering in a forest of parental confusion, we became a sliver of light at the end of a pitch-black tunnel. My heart soared.

Find your moment, parents. Find your “we.” And cling to it with all you have.

 

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Serious stuff, Uncategorized

Oh, Captain, My Captain: On what would have been your 65th birthday

Robin Williams would have been 65 today. In honor of him, I revisit this post from last year.

Dead Poets’ Society, John Keating:  ‘To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?’

One of my favorite movies now takes on a different meaning, especially when I hear the line I quoted above. It’s been almost two years since the tragic suicide that relieved one man’s pain, but set the world to wobbling on its axis. I heard this line just the other night, and it hit me that Robin Williams’ verse is still being contributed after his death.

Robin Williams was so much more than the short, furry guy from Chicago, the actor and comedian whose stream-of-conscious comedy set us to belly-laughing so hard our faces and sides hurt. He was, at the very root of it all, the kindest and most generous of Hollywood royalty.

Few celebrities give as much as Williams did, and even fewer were as genuine about the reasons why. He was a board member for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation where he committed time and his own money to helping fund spinal cord injury research. He will forever be linked to that foundation because of his friendship with Christopher Reeve, and also because of his innate ability to make a man smile. If it weren’t for that sense of humor he wore like armor, Reeve likely wouldn’t have started the foundation. It wasn’t until his friend Robin made him laugh for the first time since his paralysis that Reeve even wanted to live.

Robin Williams, along with friends Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, helped use their gifts for comedy to raise literally millions of dollars to help alleviate homelessness in the U.S. They even personally delivered checks to shelters all over the states, visiting and chatting with the homeless, hearing and internalizing their stories.

It wasn’t just the funny side of Williams that helped out America’s least fortunate. He advocated in Congress for funding for housing support centers for the homeless and wanted to give them better access to mental health care. He believed that homelessness could actually be prevented. On May 9, 1990, Williams testified before the United States Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, asking them to begin a grassroots program to end homelessness. His testimony stands as a catalyst to what would later become a law that did just as he asked.

In recent years, Williams was one of the celebrity faces that advocated for funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, hoping to raise awareness for their needs. Advocacy wasn’t the limit of what he did for them. He’d visit sick and dying children, making them laugh and spending time with them.

Following his death, his daughter Zelda continued his work for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, raising thousands of dollars for a charity event just one day after his death. Money poured in as fans who loved him donated in his honor.  She is continuing to honor her father’s memory and his drive for charity by picking up his mantel with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a group that helps athletes that face physical disabilities.

His son, Zak, is doing the same. He helps teach finance to prisoners in San Quentin. Like his father, he feels a responsibility to give back whenever and wherever possible. His hopes are that by teaching inmates about finances now, they will be better prepared to make it in society when their sentences are up.

It is evident that the play does go on. The world hasn’t stopped spinning since we all learned of Robin Williams’ untimely death. He made the most of his time with us, leaving a legacy of comedy and film that will forever be remembered. His verse in this powerful play meant so much because of the lives he touched through his work and philanthropy, because he literally did help to change the world. But, let’s not forget that his verse is still playing. It lives on longer through his children who have obviously inherited their father’s love of giving. May we all leave this world having lifted up those less fortunate in as selfless a manner as Robin Williams.