Just Be Happy

My alarm clock pulled me from the most amazing dream yesterday. The dream was so incredible that I just laid in bed for a while thinking it over. I was trying to hold on to every detail and the beautiful feelings it gave before it all dissolved from memory as my dreams typically do. I don’t often remember dreaming at all, and when I do dream, I barely remember the specifics or make sense of the nonsense I do recall.

Even a day later, I’m still in awe of the whole experience, partially because waking up hasn’t been my favorite thing to do for quite some time now. I think even before my dad died last December, as my parents’ health began to deteriorate rather significantly, I’d begun to recognize I’d always enjoyed a certain sense of security in my life. I hadn’t even realized I was taking it for granted until it was suddenly gone. Since Dad’s been gone, it feels like so much has fallen apart. I worry constantly. My siblings feel so far away. I spend more time than ever with Mom, taking care of things for her or just providing a meal and some company. Every day, in the back of my mind, I wonder if she’ll go soon too. And I I’m not sure I’ll be able to deal with it.

Losing my best friend last month has only compounded my daily feelings of weariness.

Lately, I wake up frequently at night and have trouble falling back to sleep. Mornings have become a time when I wake up feeling heart-heavy and tired.  I almost always pull myself out of it pretty quickly, but typically have to spend some time talking myself into the idea that I can handle what awaits me in the next twenty-four hours.

But yesterday was different. The experience was more than just a good dream that helped me greet the day with an unexpected positive energy. I know it was. There was something incredibly significant about this dream.

In the dream, I was sitting in a room. It wasn’t a familiar room, but I didn’t seem concerned. I was sitting on a couch and suddenly noticed a picture hanging on the wall directly across from me. It was a photo of my best friend, Gina. I remembered all of the photos Gina’s family and I had sorted through as we prepared some photo displays for her memorial service, and I didn’t recall having seen this particular photo before. It was beautiful and I really liked it. It wasn’t a formal photo, but a snapshot. Gina’s eyes were turned toward the camera, but the posture of her body showed that she was facing someone else. Her lips were parted in such a way that I knew at the moment the photo was snapped, she was engaged in conversation. Her eyes were sparkling, and her whole face was smiling, almost laughing. Wherever the photo was taken, whatever event was happening at that time, she was clearly happy and enjoying herself. I even imagined there was a beer in her hand, just outside the frame of the picture.

As I sat contemplating the picture, Gina was suddenly in the room with me. Even in the dream, I knew she wasn’t physically there with me, and maybe I was even imagining it, but I didn’t care. She was sort of spinning around, almost dancing to some melody I couldn’t hear. Her head was tipped slightly back, her hair swirling over her shoulders as she moved around. She was simply joyful. In my dream, any thought of the cancer that had plagued her so relentlessly over the past years was nonexistent. Gina didn’t speak to me, but somehow I heard her telling me, “Just be happy.”

I remember thinking, “I have to tell Jenny about this.” (Jenny is Gina’s niece and her other best friend. We got to know each other well in the days following Gina’s passing as we helped the family with funeral arrangements.) Just as I began to text Jenny in my dream, my alarm clock went off and I was back in reality. And instead of my usual desire to sink back into a deep sleep, I laid in bed marveling over what I’d just experienced. I couldn’t help but feel that Gina had paid me a visit from Heaven, and she’d used my dream to tell me something very important.

Just be happy.

It seems almost too simple, but it dawned on me that Gina has a point. Sadness and worry have their place in this world, but it’s dangerous to let them take over at the expense of all else. While none of life’s problems are going to just disappear because I change my mindset, nothing can be improved by wallowing in self-pity. In fact, I’m certainly only making things feel worse by maintaining so much negative energy. This is not a new concept, and certainly something I think I’ve always tried to remember. Maybe I’ve just forgotten to keep fighting for it lately.

Gina’s visit has reminded me that I need to really strive to appreciate every little good thing. And she’s left me with a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in such a long time. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have received such a gift from her. I know I’ll never stop missing her, but now I really understand that she never truly left me and she will always be such an important part of my life.

Just be happy. Okay, Chica. I’ll do my best!

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Much Needed

Vacation!

I have just returned from our annual visit to Bayfield, Wisconsin.

Four amazing days!

Lake Superior is as breathtaking as ever. The Apostle Islands are more majestic than I remember.

The air was so fresh. The sun so bright. Even a full day of rain provided an unexpected air of tranquility. I read for hours. Finished one book and started another. I can’t tell you the last time I read an entire book.

We took boat rides to some of the islands, and spent a day on a beautiful and quiet beach. We watched kayakers paddle to across the water. I dipped my toes and then some. There is just something about the lake life. It’s … undemanding. I could get used to it.

I relaxed. I walked along the lake. I slept. Like a baby! Deep, peaceful, dreamless sleep. It’s been forever…

And I paddle boarded for the first time ever.

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I loved it! I must get myself one of these. This is the land of 10,000 lakes. No reason I can’t put one to good use.

I came home determined to change one or two little things. Relaxing should be a more regular part of my life.

In memory of my Chica

Gina and I met back in ’88 or ’89. I’m not exactly sure. I just remember that the definitive start to our friendship began while we were both in the midst of our first pregnancies. So I guess late 1988 would have been where it all began.

I was newly married and 21 years old. She was my brother’s friend’s girlfriend, 19 years old, and a total spit-fire. I, having always been somewhat shy and insecure, was instantly attracted to her confidence and zest for life.  She was young, unmarried and pregnant. At that time in my life, I couldn’t imagine being in her shoes. But she was unapologetic and marched forward in life doing all she could to make a good life for the baby girl who soon arrived … and the four other babies who followed in the years to come. And she did a great job of it.

We fumbled our way through parenting in those early days. In addition to figuring out how to be good moms, we both had our share of struggles with financial issues, home-ownership, marriage, and all of the stuff that life throws at us. What stands out most about my friendship with Gina is that she helped me view life through a lens of humor. She seemed to know instinctively that if we couldn’t laugh at ourselves, we’d run the risk of letting life swallow us up, and she was having none of that.

As we grew older and began to find our footing, we settled into our own life routines. We shared it all with one another, often over the lines of a telephone. For so many years, not a day would go by without one of us calling the other. And even though we were in touch daily, hours could pass easily as the constant flow of conversation passed between us.

Our lives shared similarities, and yet had enough differences to help us appreciate one another. We both made livings as home daycare providers for many years, and so supported one another with ideas for keeping kids productively busy, and provided therapy for the inevitable frustrations of dealing with a house full of children all day, every day. We shared parenting successes and failures, relationship issues, family frustrations, and all the day-to-day stuff that kept life interesting.

I honestly still can’t say what it was that attracted her to me. But I was initially drawn to her wicked sense of humor. Once when we were discussing how neither of us thought we could stand one more game of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, she began proposing names for potential similar adult versions of all these early childhood games. Soon we were tossing inappropriate game names back and forth, things that I dare not put in writing. And all I can say is that we were laughing until we couldn’t breathe. That’s what I loved about her.

I loved that she could do anything. Her parents divorced when she was young. She lived with her mom, and had all of the “stuff” a kid could want. But it doesn’t sound like her parents were involved with her very much. So I don’t know how or where she gained some of her domestic talents, but she had them! The girl could sew like nobody’s business. During her early years of marriage, money was tight. She sewed clothes for her kids, window curtains and valances, bedding, and made pageant dresses for her girls that looked like a million bucks. She was Italian and loved to cook, and she did it well. There was no home project she couldn’t figure out how to do on her own, whether it was construction, painting, tiling or landscaping.

She coached her kids’ sports teams and was always involved, if not as a coach, then on the athletic association’s board, or with the booster club.

She was a talented photographer. She loved photography and taught herself all the ins-and-outs and tried to share some of her knowledge with me, though I could never quite remember all of the right settings for different levels of light. But oh, the fun we had going out on what we called our photo excursions. We loved to go downtown, or to sprawling parks and capture everything we saw with our cameras. She eventually earned her living as a photographer, and the proof of her talents fills the homes of so many, including mine. She was always on the “taking” end of the camera, and I only regret that this meant there are far too few pictures of the two of us together.

As our kids grew older, leaving us time to explore hobbies of our own, she discovered bowling. She called me one day and asked if I would fill in as a sub on her team. I remember saying, “Oh, I don’t bowl. I’ve probably done it five times ever in my life.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll help you. You don’t even need your own ball. You can use a house ball and rent shoes. You don’t have to be good. We just need a body.”

Well, the pressure was off and the rest is history. It wasn’t long before bowling became one of my pursuits and we shared many fun nights in the women’s league, laughing, improving our games, and drinking beers.

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The years passed by … some good times, some bad … but we hung on to each other and at some point along the way, we decided we were best friends. Our kids grew up. We spent time together along the way, usually helping each other with life stuff, like painting rooms or making food for high school graduation parties. We made time to have fun together with our husbands on the weekends, and even celebrated some holidays together. Our kids came to think of each of us as family, and I was given the honor of being godmother to Gina’s son. Not so many years ago, I helped her family pack for a move that took them out-of-state and hours away from me. It was such a sad and difficult day when they drove away from here, but the miles couldn’t keep us from remaining the best of friends. Our phone calls were filled with affection, calling each other Chica, as had become our habit, and ending our conversations with “I love ya, man!”

Within a year after her move away from me, Gina was diagnosed with cancer, one of the most aggressive, horrible forms of the disease.  Within days of her discovery of a lump in her breast, she had undergone a double mastectomy. She fought it and bounced back, but within a couple of years, the cancer had returned. She continued to fight and I prayed. I prayed, and prayed and prayed. Lately, I wasn’t reluctant in my prayers. I outright begged for a miracle.

On Memorial Day weekend, Gina’s husband, Jeff reached out to me and we talked. He explained that the cancer was winning. I had been wanting to go out and visit, but had not been able to fully work it out with Gina. Jeff told me she was never going to agree to have me come see her at this point because she would want to make the house perfect and ready for my visit. And she couldn’t do that herself because she was getting too weak and sick to do it. He told me if I wanted to come, I should come now. He said to pick the dates, any dates. He would make it easy for me. So we planned it and in mid-July I spent four wonderful days with her. Over the past few years when she would come “home” for a visit, my time with her usually had to be shared with others. She had so many friends and so much family that when she was here, everyone wanted some of her time. So one-on-one time wasn’t much of an option. Going there gave me that time with just her that we had been lacking for too long.

She had been having some really good days just before I visited. I was encouraged and told my mom so. Mom mentioned that when a terminally ill person has some really good days, it usually means the end is near. I was appalled that she would say such a thing to me, but I realize now she was right.

Gina and I had some beautiful days together. She was never able to leave the house, but she sat on the loveseat in the living room where she was basically spending all of her waking and sleeping hours by then. We talked a lot. She slept a lot. We watched movies. Actually, we watched “a” movie – Miracles from Heaven – multiple times. She had requested it and I picked it up at a nearby Red Box. I watched it again and again. Because she couldn’t stay awake for many hours at a time, she never quite made it all the way through the movie. I contemplated the real-life miracle of which the movie told, and asked God if a real-life miracle might be possible for Gina. But it wasn’t to be.

I passed the time while she was resting or sleeping by cooking meals for her family and for us, or taking short walks or reading while I waited for her to awaken. We cried when we hugged and had to say goodbye. I told her I loved her and she told me the same.

Last week, her family flew here to spend a week and to celebrate her son’s high school graduation with family and friends. They stayed with her oldest daughter who still lives here in Minnesota. I visited on Friday evening, the day before the party, and spent a couple of hours with her. I held her two grandbabies and talked with her family while I watched her sit quietly in a wheelchair, clearly struggling. She wasn’t feeling so great, and her husband told me she’d been having some difficult days. He worried that he’d waited too long to bring her here, but she had insisted on the timing and he hadn’t wanted to panic her by pushing to do this sooner than she wanted.

Saturday morning, the day of the party, Jeff called me very early. He said they were in the hospital. She had gone into distress during the night and he could not adjust her oxygen to the point where he could calm her again, so he’d called for an ambulance. I hurried to the downtown hospital just as quickly as I could get there, and spent the next eleven hours by her side as she struggled to breathe and find relief from her pain. I was honored to spend this time with them as she traveled this difficult road, and was allowed to be included in all of the conversations with doctors and specialists. It soon was made clear that there was no fixing this. All that could be done was to try to make her as comfortable as possible until the end came. Gina would not be going back to her home in Ohio with her family.

Jeff and I passed the hours by her side while the graduation party went on without us. We tried to make her as comfortable as possible, and he checked in frequently with the staff to see what more could be done. Gina maintained her sense of humor through it all. Even as we could see that her mind was partly in this world and partly in another, her true self came shining through at times. As one nurse asked if it was okay to do something for her, she raised her eyes and weakly responded, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

At one point, she looked wearily at me and teased, “You need to quit crying already.” Somehow I agreed and managed, if only from the sheer weariness of having been doing so much crying.

As night fell, Jeff kept asking me if I was sure I was okay. And didn’t I want to go home? I did and I didn’t.

Eventually, Jeff called his kids to come see their mom. I needed to check on my own mom and also knew that in the ICU, the hospital staff would probably appreciate if visitors were kept to a minimum. Part of me wanted to see my friend through to the very end, and part of me felt I should step aside and let her family have that time alone with her. Around 9 pm, I kissed her goodbye and hugged Jeff. I told him to call me at any time.

I went home and fell into an exhausting sleep. I woke up before the sun and began to dread his call, which came not long afterwards. He told me that the doses of morphine had begun to be administered hourly, while she struggled to make it through each hour before needing more. She had been able to spend some time talking with her dad, sisters and children before things grew to their worst. He said eventually, she settled down after yet another dose of morphine. Her breathing grew shallow and at some point in the predawn hours, she simply stopped taking another breath. My Chica left this world peacefully.

This hurts more than I could have imagined. I have guilt that I didn’t find a way to spend more time with her in these past couple of years, but am encouraged by those who found their way into her heart in her new home in Ohio. There were a few who took such good care of her and did the things for her that I wish I could have. I am so grateful to Jeff for making sure she and I were connected during her last days. He and I talked about how maybe this was all meant to play out as it did. So many decisions remained undecided about where to hold services and where to bury her if it all came to that. He said that maybe she was only waiting to be here, amongst the majority of her friends and family before she departed from this world.

Even in the midst of the pain I feel in losing her, I am grateful. Grateful that she is free from the pain and struggle. Grateful to have had a friend who loved me so much, who looked past my many flaws and insisted only on seeing the good in me. Grateful to have someone who stood by my side and lifted me up during times when I felt utterly alone. Grateful to have had someone who helped me see the world as bright, beautiful, fun and adventurous.

As Faceb00k was filled yesterday with tributes to her, I realized the significant impact she had on so many. Her friendships spread far and wide, and her influence on everyone was so similar and postive. She will forever be remembered for her humor, her adventure, and her many and varied creative talents. She was a friend, a willing listener and a source of encouragement to everyone. Her talents as a photographer beautifully captured the most emotional and important times in the lives of others. I only hope that in the void left in the wake of her passing, I can take on a part of her and share all the good that she was with the world around me.

Gina, I will love you always and look forward to the day that we meet again in Heaven. You will be deeply missed, my dearest and best friend. Thank you for being a part of my life.

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It’s been a while

I haven’t written much lately. A lack of time is partially to blame. Being caregiver to Mom means that one day  often runs into the next. If I didn’t have to work, it would be so much easier. But I like working! Plus, having an income is nice.

Also, we may have bit off more than we can chew by deciding to build an addition on the house this summer. Thankfully Jack is managing that pretty well on his own. He checks in with me when he knows I’ll want to have a say in some aspect, but otherwise is moving the project along without me for now. I’ll get more involved when it’s time for flooring, paint and furniture.

I frequently find myself wondering where my life has gone. Then I remember my friend from high school, the one whose dad suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives with her. Her Faceb00k posts tell stories of sleepless nights, constant worries for his safety, the exasperation of trying to have reasonable conversations, and the sheer loneliness of being an only child with such an ill parent. I try to remember that I have it so much easier, that I actually have other people to help out now and then, and that I should stop feeling sorry for myself.

Still, I do feel sorry for myself, which is the other reason I haven’t written much lately. I can hardly stand to be around myself and I’m not fond of this version of me. I hear the words coming out of my mouth at times when it’s safe to just let loose, and I wonder how I slipped into such a bitter place. I cry too easily lately and hate that I feel like such a wuss at times.

It’s dark inside my head too much these days, and I’m embarrassed to share that. I hate feeling sorry for myself, but feel so helpless to fight it. I’m angry a lot, which I would also prefer not to be, but can’t seem to let go of it. I feel abandoned by my siblings. I don’t hear from any of them or see them much at all. And that’s fine. I  guess I can live without them. But Mom can’t. She misses them and I hate knowing that. She might hear from them periodically, but some of their visits with her are rare and  often all too brief.

I want to scream at them sometimes, tell them that Mom needs them and remind them that I’m the one who’s there almost every single day. I want to ask them how it’s fair that they don’t have to plan their days around Mom’s needs. I want them to realize that I’m the one who will be there when no one else is. I’m the one who takes time off work to take her to all of her doctor appointments. I’m the one who makes sure she has a hot meal each day, takes out the trash, changes the bedding, walks the dog, picks up the dog sh*t, fixes the computer, brings in the mail, waters the plants and a host of other things that Mom used to easily manage but can no longer handle on her own.

I’VE BECOME A WHEEL WATCHER for crying out loud! And deep down, gladly so. Mom loves her Wheel of Fortune.

The hardest part is that I feel like I’m the only one seeing her slowly slip away, day by day. And there’s no one to lean on while I worry that Mom isn’t safe in her house and wonder how much time we have left together. I see my siblings’ Faceb00k posts and feel resentment. I see them out with friends, on vacation, proudly displaying the results of hobbies they have time to pursue. I haven’t read a book in forever. My camera is literally gathering dust. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent time with friends this summer.

Once in awhile, a little light seeps in and I feel a little bit more like my old self. That’s happened this week and it’s a relief.

Perspective. Everyone has a back story. We don’t always know what it is. My siblings have back stories and I guess I have a small sense of each one of them. I need to remind myself that I don’t really know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

It’s my privilege to be the one whose life allows me to be there for Mom. She’s appreciative  and she never fails to tell me so. And the reality is that at least once a week, one of them, usually my sister, takes a turn and gives me a night off. I rarely know until the last minute when that might be, but I’ll take what I can get.

Clarity. All I can often see is what things look like to me. I imagine my siblings breezing through their lives without a thought as to Mom’s well-being, without any sense of sharing in her care. In my heart, I know that’s not really the way it is. Still doesn’t make it any easier that on a daily basis, I feel like I’m the one who has to carry the weight. But I know that Faceb00k tends to showcase only what others want us to see. It’s not the whole picture. My brothers and sister are struggling, just like me, but with other issues. I feel sorry for some of them. I know I’m  probably the lucky one.

A break in routine helps, and that’s come this week. I’m going away for a few days. Leaving the state. Getting out of this house and away from the office. I’m going to see my best friend. By all accounts, cancer is going to take her away from us long before her family or I could ever have imagined. It was suggested that I make this visit before it’s too late. It’s been a tough journey for her, and hope seems to be drifting away. But not if I have anything to say about it. I am praying daily for her. I am praying fiercely for her. Every once in awhile, there are signs of hope. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but I can’t and won’t give up on her.

I’ll cut myself a little slack, because I don’t think anyone would argue that watching your mom and your best friend hang in the balance at the same time is a lot to ask of anyone.

I ‘ve worried about being away from Mom for four whole days. I pondered reaching out to my siblings while at the same time feeling bitter that I would even have to ask them to look in on her. But by some miracle, things are falling into place and it seems there will be someone to look in on Mom each day while I’m away. It occurs to me how arrogant it was to think that Mom couldn’t survive without me for a handful of days. How prideful of me it was to struggle with the thought of reaching out for help for my mom’s sake.

I’m hoping this break shakes me up a little bit and helps me to keep my head in a higher place. I’m better than this person I’ve allowed myself to become. I am so blessed. I’m stronger than I think I am sometimes. And I need to remember it.

My Turn to be the Warrior

“Hey, Chica!”

This is how my best friend and I have greeted each other for years, whether in person, or on the phone.

So many phone calls we have shared throughout the years of our friendship. In the early days, we thought of those calls as our daily dose of sanity. We started our families in the same year. It was 1989 and her oldest child arrived just three months after my firstborn. In the following years, I had two more babies. She had four more. We both spent those early years as home daycare providers. At the end of the day, it was nice to swap notes with someone who was in the same trenches.

I remember our phone calls being filled with her bubbly laugh. There’s always been a spark to her personality, and so much energy in her spirit. She’s known for her sharp and unapologetic sense of humor. I’ve always seen her as the friend who leads the charge. There’s never been something she couldn’t do. If she didn’t know how, she’d learn. She’s an amazing cook, a talented seamstress, a gifted photographer. There’s never been a home or yard improvement she’s envisioned that she couldn’t make happen. There are few people from whom she couldn’t elicit laughter. She’s always been the life of the party.

When her kids started playing baseball, softball and hockey, she became an expert on each game. She was the parent, sitting on the bench, keeping the book. When I had high school graduation parties to throw, she was the one with me in the kitchen in the days ahead, cooking and preparing homemade stuffed pasta and sauce for a crowd. Countless times, we worked together in her house or mine, painting kids’ bedrooms with the latest and greatest technique. She was my favorite shopping partner, the one who knew how to find the best stuff for the lowest prices. She was the one to yank me out of every one of my comfort zones and show me what an adventure life could be.

Always, there’s been an endless flow of words and laughter between us. If ever I’ve been down, she’s lifted me up, though not usually with a warm, fuzzy kind of support. Nope, not from my Chica. She’s always been more likely to offer a swift kick-in-the-pants kind of help. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself around this chick. She’s not having any of that. She lets you know in no uncertain terms that the only way to conquer a challenge is to stand up and face it, to fight it until you’re back on your feet again. No looking back, only forward.

Over the past few months, our conversations have slowed. There’s been a noticeable quiet, though her husband’s efforts these past few weeks have helped to connect us once again. These days, it’s her voice that’s quieter. It’s her spirit that’s weaker. And it’s me trying to learn how to be the uplifting drill sergeant in this relationship.

We always used to end our phone calls with a silly “I love ya, Man.” Now, it’s a more sincere “I love you” that we offer to one another.

She called me during my work day yesterday, which is unusual. I saw her name come up on my cell phone and I chose to answer. She needs me now more than ever. Work could wait. As I answered, I walked away from my desk to find a quieter place to talk. She said she wasn’t sure how she’d called me. She’d been waking up from a nap and didn’t mean to call, but must have pressed something on her phone and next thing she knew, she was ringing me up. I said that was okay. I said I don’t get to talk to her enough, so I’ll take her call, any time, anywhere.

Her  voice contained the weakness I’ve noticed lately, the intermittent coughing and struggle for a good breath of air. Instead of laughter on her end of the line, there were the tears which have become so frequent of late. I struggled to find the right words and did my best to stay positive.

I asked how the last couple of days have been.

“Not horrible,” she said. I found this encouraging, all things considered.

“And your cough?”

“I’ve still got it, but… I don’t know … it might be getting a little better,” she admitted. She made a dark joke about her lessening cough being either a tiny sign of improvement or an indication that she’s going down.

“You’re improving,” I said.

“Heh,” she muttered, the smallest glimpse of humor hiding behind that utterance.

“You are,” I insisted. “I believe it. I’m praying for you every day, every time you cross my mind.”

“Okay,” she agreed quietly.

I couldn’t blame her for her lack of enthusiasm. Her body and mind have been pummeled by this cancer over the past four years. At every sign of hope, a reason to despair has followed. Who could blame her for feeling so defeated, this warrior chick who has never let any situation get the best of her?  And with a physical distance separating us for nearly as long as this cancer’s been around, I haven’t been there for her like I wish I could be.

So now it’s my job to help lift her up, just as she’s done for me and others so many times. It’s my turn to be the warrior.

I feel slightly guilty for the amount of communication between her husband and me. Though it’s all for her benefit, he says she feels like everyone’s talking about her all the time. She doesn’t want to be the subject of so much pity and discussion. She just wants to feel normal. And yet here we are, talking about her “behind her back.” But he’s trying to protect her feelings and I get that, so I go with it. So far she hasn’t questioned how I manage to find her awake every time I call lately. I’m glad for it.

Anyway, she’s going to have an idea soon that her hubby and I have been in touch, and then I’ll feel better. Last night, I texted him to confirm some dates and times. One last check to make sure everything is right and it all works for them. My flight is booked and next month, I’ll be spending some in-person time with her. He’s going to text me this weekend to let me know when she seems to be doing well. And then I’m going to call and tell her to get ready. I’m coming out there to kick her butt!

St. Peregrine and Mother Teresa have become my newest friends. I’m asking God and them daily to relieve my friend of this horrible disease. If anyone reading this is the praying kind, please offer up some prayers on behalf of my friend. She needs a miracle.

Kinda Wish I Lived in Colorado

For months now, I’ve had trouble connecting with my best friend due to the effects of her cancer. Sometimes when she’s actually able to answer the phone, it’s mainly to tell me she’s not really able to talk.

Her husband told me she’s been really down lately. He thought it would really do her good to talk with me. So he proposed a system. When he thinks she’s doing well and likely to manage a phone call, he’ll text me. We tried this, four days in a row. Three times, she picked up the phone and began coughing so much that she had to cut our call short. We both ended up in tears. But on the fourth day, yesterday, something clicked. We had one of our good old-fashioned gab fests! It was amazing.

She put me on speaker phone and all three of us talked for a while. She talked about how defeating it has been, to have experienced great evidence of recovery, only to have the cancer metastasize to her brain. Still, their attitudes are great, and they maintain a good sense of humor. She talked about having had pneumonia for about ten weeks straight, and she joked that I must not be praying hard enough.

“Yeah,” he said. “You gotta get on your knees more.”

We all laughed. But seriously. I assured them, prayer is the one thing I can do, and am doing. Daily.

I’ve never been a good pray-er. My Catholic upbringing means there are a few prayers that for most of my life have rolled off my tongue effortlessly … and without much thought. But aside from that, I think I was always the sort that, when I actually bothered, just kind of offered up my grocery list of worries and requests.

Things are a bit different these days. Prayer is not always a conscious effort, but sometimes simply the backdrop of all that’s going on around me. I think it’s a good thing that it doesn’t always require so much thought before it happens. Other times, it is very specific and focused. And it’s not just about asking for the things I want or think I need. I try to remember to first express gratefulness.

My mom and I actually had a conversation tonight concerning what the Catholics believe about praying to the saints. Apparently it’s acceptable. Mom mentioned there’s a patron saint of cancer. I looked it up. St. Peregrine. He’s going to be hearing from me from now on.

I wondered if half the battle of receiving what we ask … might sometimes just be a matter of asking. I’m going to keep asking.

Also … I’m researching Cannabis Oil and dosage recommendations. So there’s that. I really wish I lived somewhere this was easily accessible and where I could talk to an expert. This is my best friend we’re talking about. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help her fight this.

Pulling Oneself Up by One’s Bootstraps (and Getting By with a Little Help from One’s Friends)

There’s been a distinct shift in my perspective this past week. Looking back over the past few months, I recognize that  I’ve sometimes been so deep inside my own head that I can’t get out.

I know I’ve been wallowing in self-pity lately. It doesn’t make me proud, but I’ve somehow felt helpless to really rise above it. When I think about this time in my life, I try to remember that this is just a season. When I contemplate the time I spend with my mom, and how it contributes to her ability to continue living somewhat independently, I realize that years from now I will not be sorry. But I’m also guilty of worrying too much about her hours alone. Is she okay? Is she staying safe? Is she feeling lonely? I know it’s not bad to consider these things. But there has to be some balance … a healthy amount of worry coupled with productively contributing to her well-being.

I’ve been overly focused on the fact that my free time feels nearly non-existent. I can barely manage a text or email to a friend these days, much less actually spend time with anyone. And I’ve been bitter because those whom I always thought would be here to help either truly can’t or  simply … won’t.

When I’ve stepped outside of myself lately, I’m disappointed in what I see. I am stronger than this! And I know better. Lucky for me, I’ve been shaken out of my stupor. It’s funny how just the right person can come along at just the right time. Or in my case, the right people. I guess I needed reinforcements.

A call with my best friend’s husband last week, meant to bring me up to speed on the state of her cancer battle, has turned into almost daily communication. He opened my eyes to how truly difficult my friend’s days have been. I’d been a bit clueless due my inability to connect with her recently. But he’s also sharing hopes about bringing his family back to Minnesota in the coming weeks, to celebrate their son’s (and my godson’s) graduation with family and friends. We’re talking about how I can help with the party and anything else they might need. We’re discussing the potential for me to make a trip there to spend a few days of one on one time with my friend. Becoming so aware of the depth of her fight and how much ground she’s been losing has been cause for many tears this past week. It was easy to believe things were okay when I didn’t really know. But knowing allows me to really focus my prayers for her and for them. And being in touch with him, discussing how I can support them, makes me feel better somehow. At least I have a sense of direction. And he seems grateful to be able to talk about it with someone.

Kim  also contacted me this past week, to ask if she’d ever sent me a hard copy of her latest book. Kim is someone I would never have met if it weren’t for the internet and blogging. I’ve met her in person just a couple of times, and in spite of long stretches of time without communication, our friendship is a close one. She is a living example of the faith I’m always trying so hard to build within myself.

Kim is an author, and I’ve had the honor of previewing all of her books over the past several years. I’d read and reviewed some months ago an electronic version of her fifth and latest book. During our online conversation that day, I admitted that she’d never sent the promised hard copy (and I’m thinking she shouldn’t, that I should support her by actually purchasing it instead.) And then we moved on to the “How’s life?” kind of stuff.

Kim shared some of her struggles of the past few months, including the fact that her best friend is fighting a rare and aggressive form of cancer. This news itself lifted the fog of loneliness I’d been feeling. In spite of her trials, she exudes positivity and continues to rely on her faith to keep forging ahead. The simple fact that she could closely relate to the helplessness I’ve felt in regards to my friend’s situation, and could offer tips on small gestures I could offer … well, it simply gave me a renewed sense of strength and resolve.

And then there was an email from Rose, my longtime friend. We’ve known each other since we were six or seven years old. She’s one of the few offline friends with whom I’ve shared this blog. She’d read my latest post, and emailed to offer her time and support. Rose took care of her own mom during a time of declining health. She did it on her own, until her mom left this world. She’s been where I am. It truly helped to converse with someone who gets it.

I’m out of the grip of my funk now. It’s funny how nothing’s changed, and yet everything’s changed. The sadness of watching the decline of loved ones is still there. There’s still the sense that sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But I’m managing to write here at least once a week, which is always such a release for me. And somehow there is just enough time to connect with a friend now and then, even if it is a simple text or email. I’ve remembered to stop feeling so sorry for myself. My life is good. It’s not me who’s truly suffering. The struggles that weigh on me are not truly mine.

Abby posted about how she writes a “Question of the Day” on a white board at home, meant to keep her son’s mind sharp over the summer months. I commented that I write things around the house too. My writings are meant to keep my  mind in a good place too, to center my focus in positivity.

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Periodically, an idea comes to mind that at various times in our lives, we’re called to something specific. I realize that my calling right now is that of caregiver. I’ve been mistaking this as a sort of burden. I’ve been wrong.

It is a privilege.

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This long weekend has been good for me. It’s provided me some breathing room, and the realization that I have been neglecting to keep a positive focus. That is something I’ve been purposefully striving for over the past few years. I remember when I first realized that it’s possible to remain hopeful even in the midst of storms.

How easy it is to slip back to old habits. I hadn’t even realized how fretting and worrying had overtaken me lately.

But like I said, maybe a break in routine is all I needed.

Jack and I were able to go to the ball game with our friends Friday night. It had been raining all day, and the rain continued as we drove to the field. If the weather didn’t break, we were just going to find a restaurant downtown and have dinner. But the clouds parted and it ended up being a perfect night for baseball.

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St. Paul Saints games are SO much fun! We had great seats, behind home plate with a clear view of the game. We enjoyed silly fan events held on-field between innings. And the “cheerleaders” in the form of a nerd couple who danced on top of the dugouts kept us laughing and cheering the whole time.  The post-game fireworks, choreographed to commercial jingles were the perfect ending to such an enjoyable night.

Saturday morning arrived with more rain, the perfect day to be stuck in the house painting walls. I called Mom before we dove into our project and was relieved to hear she was finally feeling much better.

Jack and I got started and we made a great team. I did all the taping, while he edged along the ceilings and then the baseboard that I had protected with blue masking tape. While he continued with the detail work, I followed behind with the roller. When those first patches of sage and caramel hues hit the walls, I wondered if we’d made the right choice, but by Saturday evening when we were almost done, we were really pleased with the results.

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It’s hard to take pictures of walls, so this photo doesn’t do it justice, but there is definitely a new vibe of serenity in the living room.

Yesterday, I had plans to go with my Mom and my siblings to visit my Dad’s grave. While waiting for my brothers to arrive, I received a message from my best friend’s husband that I should call him. My heart sunk. My friend has been battling cancer and it’s not been going in her favor. When I called, her husband told me that he was aware she has not been communicating much with her friends, and basically, while he did not feel anything was immediately imminent, I might want to plan a trip to see her sooner rather than later. My mind reeled. How phenomenally difficult it must be for that poor man to have to make that call and to have that conversation with his wife’s friends. Yet he was calm and detailed. Clearly, he has reached some level of acceptance.

IMG_4229aAs I stood quietly with my family around  my dad’s grave yesterday, I tried to process all of the pain and struggle I see happening all around me, not just in the world in general, but too close to home these days, in the lives of family and friends. So often lately, I think of the world as a dirty, ugly, dark place. It’s so easy to feel lost, and it’s hard to keep moving forward with a hopeful spirit. But at the same time, I realize that I have to, that the whole point is to find the joy in spite of all the chaos that surrounds us. Otherwise, what is the point?

Difficult as it may be at times, even if it feels like I’m just sometimes just going through the motions, I’m moving forward … with prayer, hope and optimism.

Paint Therapy

I took the day off to extend my long holiday weekend to four days. I just need a change of pace, some breathing room…

… and to paint.

I need to paint walls. I’ve been saying this for much too long without doing something about it. Every time I look around our main living space, the walls look outdated and tired. I have this constant urge to give them a facelift. They’ve looked the same for too many years. These old walls have really been driving me crazy for about three years, but something always seems to stand in the way of doing anything about it. I decided a couple of months ago that this year would not pass by without fresh paint.

I’ve been picking out colors for months. I want at least two that will complement each other. I’m planning to make over the dining area,  living room, hallway, and the foyer as well. I want something different and yet I kept veering back to the same family of colors that already fill our spaces.

Maybe a fresh pair of eyes would help. I asked my friend. She’s familiar enough with my house in order to express an informed opinion. She recommended bringing some green into the mix. I typically tend to gravitate away from greens. I like fall colors … golds, reds and browns. I like the warmth they offer. But my friend mentioned that green offers serenity. I gave that some consideration. I looked around at my furniture, floors and woodwork. I realized that green could definitely provide some balance in our color schemes.

And I could use some serenity. I have not felt serene lately. My mom seems to be going downhill, especially this past week, and I worry about her constantly. I’ve been in a downward spiral of self-pity because I feel very alone in managing her care. She’s still living on her own, but I wish she wasn’t. It’s just beyond my control.

At my lowest point this week, I took out my frustrations on Jack, angry at him because he could not see inside of me and realize how scared and helpless I’ve begun to feel. I hope that I’m off-base, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that Mom’s body is simply wearing out. I’m not ready for that. I’m having trouble keeping my mind in the present, constantly battling against the tendency to imagine how much worse things might get if she keeps losing ground like she’s been. I disaster-fantasize that while I’m still working through the grief of my dad’s passing, I’ll be adding to it a fresh blanket of grief.

I keep reminding myself to think positive thoughts, but I’m having trouble remembering how.

Of my three siblings, one has typically been there to tag-team with me in taking care of Mom. But that sibling has had some struggles of her own building lately, actually for much longer than I’ve been aware. We talked yesterday and I learned that her burdens are way beyond anything I could have imagined. She needs to focus on her immediate family right now. She apologized for not being more involved with Mom. I told her not to worry. I said I could handle Mom. And I will stop being so reluctant and afraid to ask for help from the other two siblings. I have a new perspective and a huge reminder that when I think my struggles are more than I can handle, in comparison to others, I’ve got it good.

Last night after getting Mom settled for the evening, I went back to the home improvement store for yet more paint samples. I think I’m closing in on a combination that combines my love for fall colors with some serenity.

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The four samples on the lower right are in the lead for winning colors.

My mom has had a bad week. She’s been extremely fatigued and uncomfortable. I took her to the doctor on Wednesday and he made a best guess as to the reason for her symptoms, of course, all the result of her debilitating chronic conditions. He put her on a broad spectrum antibiotic and advised that she would probably go downhill for another day, but if he had the issues pegged, the medicine should kick in by today. If not, I’ll be taking her back to the doctor and worst-case-scenario, to the hospital. But I’m hopeful that the magic meds do their job and she’ll feel stronger today.

Jack and I were invited to go with friends to a St. Paul Saints baseball game tonight. It sounded like such a welcome opportunity since my days have become so routine. (Gym, work, time with Mom, bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.) I was reluctant to commit to the game before I knew if someone else could prepare dinner for Mom and even better, share the meal and spend some time visiting with her. She spends way too many hours alone as it is, and I don’t want a day to go by without someone stopping in to at least check on her well-being in person. I reached out to my youngest brother and was pleasantly surprised when he readily agreed.

Hopefully Mom will report that she’s feeling better this morning. If so, I’m going to a ball game and diving into a long weekend of paint therapy.

My Niece’s Wedding

What a beautiful weekend it has been! I love this time of year, when we can sleep with the windows open and wake up on a lazy weekend morning to brilliant sunshine spilling over blossoming trees, carpets of lush green grass, and the colorful blooms of spring flowers.

What a perfect weekend for a wedding. My niece got married on Friday night. It was beautiful. And I? Was an emotional sap. After all, this niece gave me my first experience of Baby Love. She is my sister’s oldest child, born just months before my own oldest child, Jaeger. I remember when she was born, how precious and small she was, and how my heart instantly ached with love for her. She is Jack’s and my godchild. My parent’s first grandchild. I have many nieces and nephews, but this niece holds a special place in my heart. This was a momentous occasion! Not to mention, we just adore her new husband, J!

IMG_0150aHow can I describe this wedding? It was unique. Niece and J tossed many traditions to the side and just poured their own spirit and personality into their special day. Both the ceremony and reception were held in a hotel banquet room. I know that several of our very Catholic family members frowned upon the fact that the ceremony wouldn’t take place in a church, but I wasn’t bothered. This wedding was so filled with love and joy, that it was hard not to rejoice with the happy couple. Months before the big day, my niece had asked me to participate by doing a gospel reading at the ceremony. I wore my dad’s ring on my thumb, wanting him to be there with me, with all of us as we celebrated his granddaughter’s wedding. I wasn’t nervous standing in front of all of those people, maybe because I envisioned Dad standing with me, reading the word of God as he so often did in his time here on earth.

The groom had asked his aunt to read as well, but he wanted something other than a Bible passage. He wrote something personal and from the heart. I wasn’t the only one crying as we listened to his aunt read his words of deep love for his new bride, and the anticipation of an adventure in their life ahead.

Chesney was in the bridal party. She’d been provided an itinerary for the day of the wedding, which began early  on Friday with hair styling, continuing on to the hours of photos, taking them up to the start of the ceremony, and finally ending with Dance your faces off!

After dinner, there were speeches galore from both Dads and Step Dad. A bridesmaid and several groomsmen offered toasts as well. Finally the bride and groom expressed their thanks. More tears from all around. It was just such an incredible celebration of love and joy.

And later, we did indeed dance our faces off! It was bunches of fun, with family and friends just enjoying the celebration and having fun together. As the night wore on, most everyone let their hair down and we just had a good time, talking, laughing and being silly.

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Jaeger, Ryker, Chesney and the Boyfriend

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Another Niece, me, Youngest Brother, Jack and Chesney

It was really amazing to be a part of this special day, to put aside for a while the sadness that still often lingers in the wake of Dad’s absence from our lives. Any hard feelings were tucked away as we remembered that this is what life is really all about. Being together. Forgiving our differences. Remembering that through thick and thin, we are family. And LOVE.

It was a beautiful day!