Sunday, December 6, 2015
Mom and I were at the hospital several times a week. I was on a first name basis with the lab staff, and I knew the coffee and cookie schedule in the waiting room. The hospital was like a second home for awhile there...Mom and I even got to the point where we could find some levity in our situation. Her experimental treatment was beginning to work, and the scans showed her Cancer slowing in growth. I'll never forget the sparkle of hope in her eye when she asked her oncologist early that December, "Will I be able to play Santa one more year?" Time: you just don't realize how overwhelming such a gift can be until "tomorrow" is no longer assumed. We were going to make it a Christmas to top all Christmases.
To add to the dichotomy, I was learning to accept end of my marriage and work through the hurt and bitterness that was left in my heart at its sudden end. In the way that it ended, unexpected for me, it induced strong feelings of grief. It was as if my spouse and life partner had died. Meanwhile, I was trying to put myself out there...meet new people and find myself again. I signed up for an online dating account to find companionship...I wanted an occasional evening of socialization...conversation in a coffee shop...maybe I would even find a friend. I had no expectations of permanency with anyone I met, I just needed to get out of my own head and away from death now and again. You see, by this time, I had decided that I wanted to live, and I wanted to love life. There were some very dark days in there, and I am profoundly grateful to have had my mother to pull me up from the abyss.
I had an online dating account for a whopping three weeks. That's how long it took for Nick and I to find one another. That's not entirely true...more accurately, that's how long it took us to connect. Part of the registration process for an online dating profile requires you to specify who you are looking to meet. I get the logic of that, but I know from my time on this earth that the best things in my life have been "off plan" so to speak. We don't always know what we want, so we outline what we think we should want. I was 24 at the time, and I think the age range I provided capped at 30.
Nick was 33 at the time and saw my profile soon after I registered. Yet, he never reached out because he didn't think he was what I wanted. Meanwhile, I could see that there was this guy who kept looking at my profile...I liked the person his profile painted, and he seemed kind, but obviously he wasn't interested in me or he would have reached out. So we played cat and mouse online for a few weeks until one of us finally broke the cycle (hint: it wasn't me). It was Christmas day 2005 when Nick contacted me the first time. Our first meeting and date was New Years Day, 2006.
I certainly wasn't in a good place to start a serious relationship. I just wanted a friend now and then. Sometimes though, if you're lucky, you meet a person who fills all the empty places inside of you and warms away all the cold. I still don't know who would sign up to begin dating someone in my position...my life was shrouded in darkness then. He didn't know me...barely at all really...but he wanted to be the person I could lean on as I said goodbye to the best woman I'd ever know.
You see, Mom got that one last Christmas, but time was running out. It didn't matter what the tests showed, we all just knew.
I never would have imagined that I would become whole again. I never thought I would enjoy another Christmas ever again...how could I? She was the joy, she was the spirit. I just got to be along for the ride all those years (or so I thought). It turns out that I was apprenticing all that time to carry on the spirit after she left...but it's at this time more than any other that it doesn't feel like she left at all. She's in every ornament I hang, every memory a Christmas carol triggers, every tradition I uphold. It's trite, but there really is magic this time of year...warmth that transcends differences, self interest, and even the divide between this life and the next.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
With the exception of last year, the year I have given the working title of The Living Death, Nick and I have had a longstanding tradition to welcome the unofficial start of summer enthusiastically with a day of biking, a day of hiking, and a day of kayaking (in no particular order). We refer to it as the trifecta, and it's as much a reason to jumpstart our out-of-shape cold weather bodies as it is to embrace the reasons we still live in the midwest despite the long bite of winter.
This year, it doesn't appear that the forecast will allow three dry days to complete the trifecta, but we hit kayaking and hiking with a vengeance while the sun was in session. We both used vacation time on Friday to squeeze in an extra day without rain. We were out on the water just after 9:00 on Friday morning for a smooth, soul-freeing paddle along Mirror Lake.
We had the lake mostly to ourselves until the afternoon matured, and weekend visitors arrived in the Wisconsin Dells area to begin their long weekends. Those hours of solitude were the definition of perfection, but the weight of underused upper body muscles made itself known on the last stretch of our established path as we fought the current rolling toward the dam where we turned around. (We'll save portaging over the dam for a time when the arms don't feel so noodly as we approach.)
When we decided to call it a day, we worked like a well-oiled machine to pack up the boats. It felt good to work in tandem so naturally, like this is who we are—an active couple who likes spending time together...and it is. The seamlessness of our actions was so automatic that I didn't appreciate it until an older couple who parked near the boat launch remarked upon how easy we made it look to transition from paddling to travel-ready.
I felt fine on Saturday. I felt alive. I felt happy. Endorphins are so yummy...I can't believe I forgot the high. Saturday was to be the last pleasant day of the long weekend, so we planned a morning hike at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin: Devil's Lake.
In typical extremist Laura fashion, I picked the hardest trail to begin and agreed that we should take the harder of the two trails on the other side of the lake to get back to the car. According to my Fitbit, the first part of the first trail was the equivalent of climbing the stairs of 45 floors without rest—basically a long, continuous, boulder staircase straight to the top of the cliff. By the time we finished the paths on both sides of the lake, Fitbit had me clocked in at 113 floors.
I was proud to have accomplished such a feat because it had been years since we completed a challenging trail on both sides of the lake. By the second side, my right hip (the wonkier of the two) was definitely protesting movement, but I talked her into sticking it out (mainly because we had no choice if we wanted to get back to the car).
The photo of myself at the top of this post was taken before we left the house that morning...fresh-faced and happy. I used to feel like that every weekend, because every weekend meant a new adventure. I want to become fit enough to recapture that spirit. My mom used to have a plaque at her desk (at work) that read, "If it is to be, it is up to me." It's a statement that has stuck with me through some of my tougher times. I decided to put it in play through this journey; I've even added it to the site header.
Today, it's difficult to interpret the results of my enthusiasm. Difficult because, while I am in increased pain, I can't know why. Today is also rainy, and though it's cliché, my [arthritic] lower body joints become real jerks every time it rains. I'm still navigating physical activity on the D-L, so I will have to pay attention and listen to my body (when I figure out what it's trying to tell me).
I dearly hope I don't have to take two steps back after taking such a thrilling step forward this weekend. For the sake of the trifecta, I would love some dry time tomorrow to take the bikes for a spin, but the forced break might be a kindness to a mind that has decided to push through whatever pain may come. For now, I'll post an old photo to help me remember where I want to be again.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
I tend to spend the evening before my birthday (Birthday Eve, if you will) walking through the dank mist of what ifs and whys. I have chosen to skip that step this year, primarily because something popped out of my mouth today when talking to Nick that made me think. The words formed so naturally and practiced that I have no doubt the idea has always been there, waiting for me to take notice.
I've never thought about why my birthday brings such happiness and excitement. I never request presents, but I have a lot of friends who do just that. I don't expect grand gestures or pretty words, but my family sometimes does just that. My joy has nothing to do with material gain or flattery though: it's just a reason for me to be giddy...or so I thought.
You see, I keenly remember the day my mother died. The details from the last week of her life creep up upon me in random moments...I can't get myself to forget. I think that this would be true for any life event that dramatically changed my life. While my mind may not have been able to form lasting memories on the day that I was born, I've always been thankful that I was given such a great start...it was great because I had my mom. I was absolutely blessed with that kismet bond. I don't know what I did to deserve such a gift, but I will be grateful for it until my last breath.
Unrestrained acceptance...that's what we had...that, and a deep, fathomless friendship. Of course there was love, love is almost always there when I hear people speak about their childhoods fraught with disagreements, resentment, and hurt feelings that they've carried into adulthood. The acceptance and friendship weren't required of my parent, but they made me a better person. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do something so big for another human being or if I even made her life as replete as she made mine, but it is a gift meant to be reciprocated.
So why do I love my birthday so darn much?
I love it because it was the day I first met my mother, and knowing her has defined my life.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
So, Cancer…it was nothing more than a word, an idea…not until Mom was diagnosed.
These pictures were taken on the morning of her last Christmas in 2005, one month before she passed away. I remember a lot of things about that Christmas, and not many of them good. I remember the heaviness in my chest and the feeling in my gut that time was running out. Yet, I look at this picture of Mom, who must have felt the same things, and there is a brightness to her smile and a sparkle in her eyes that none of the rest of us had. We all look empty by comparison...fake smiles and vacant eyes staring back into the camera lens.
Mom was happy to be alive just for that day, while we were all hung up on the days ahead. I could say that it's an appreciation that grows when one stares death in the face, but that's just the way my mother was. Appreciative...happy to be breathing the same air as her children...absolutely in love with life.
I felt so blind-sided by the entire situation, not least of all because I knew nothing about Cancer. I had remained blissfully ignorant of the disease until Mom called me on that clear, sunny, North Carolina afternoon with the results of her medical tests. The lights in my world dimmed instantly. But legions of people across the world are working to fight the darkness that grows from those three small words: You have Cancer.
February 4th is World Cancer Day. I think it's about time that we take "Cancer" off the taboo discussion list. When I took out my first life insurance policy a decade ago, the actuarial research showed that one in three people was expected to contract the disease in some form during their lifetime. The prominence of Cancer can only have grown since then...so that's more than one in three. Let that sink in a second.
More than one in three people will contract Cancer at some point in their life.
Just think of the strength of numbers if all of them, all of their friends, and all of their family banded together to change the course of this disease? There is power in knowledge and value in time...both are what we need to defeat this enemy once and for all. I hope that one day we can all meet during the survivor lap.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
One post-per-week seems to be all that I am capable of producing lately, so I'm going to steal it for myself instead of dedicating it to Sophie even though it's Sunday and all—call me a bad cat-mom, I know I deserve it. I've actually been trying to think of ways to keep this site updated regardless of the time (or lack-thereof) I have available to write. Maybe a weekly summary is the way until life calms down a bit.
So, last week was crazy.
I think those are my two main topics. As for the rest…
There you go: my week in a single exhalation.
Monday, December 31, 2012
We are in Chicago this New Year's Eve. I wonder if this will become a tradition, traveling over the holiday. Tomorrow marks the start of a new year, yes...but also two years of marriage to Nick and seven since our first date. Where does the time go?
2012 has been a melancholy year for me. I have watched others cope with recent losses of their loved ones, and it rubs the wound raw. That is not to say that 2012 has been an unhappy year! Countless days have been a complete delight, and I am constantly awed by how sincerely wonderful life is.
I cherish all the tender people in my life. It is magnificent to feel so surrounded by kindness and love every day. I was lonely for so long after Mom died, and I know now that it was my own doing. I've found the courage to let people in again.
What will 2013 bring? Nobody knows...but that's part of the adventure. It's pretty difficult to fear the unknown when you know that you won't be facing it alone.
I wish a very happy new year to each and every one of you...may you know joy.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Nick gave me this song a few weeks ago. He heard it on television and found me immediately to share the lyrics (via YouTube).
Every now and then he finds a song that makes him think of me. I have been with Nick nearly seven years now. After all that time, he still works to win my heart. I think that's pretty special.
Nick and I express ourselves differently. He says the first unrefined thing that comes to his mind. I am more reserved; I speak only after I've found the right words. This can cause some conflict.
I sometimes (unfairly and often during moments of frustration) label Nick a poor communicator. I couldn't be more wrong. At times, he responds too impulsively for my comfort, but he knows how I value words. He gives them to me in his way by sharing messages that articulate his feelings.
I could not have found better words to give him than those he gave me just then:
And I am, over-whelmed, by you
Am, over-come with joy
You’ve, taken me higher, and shown me what love can do
Where would I go, or be, without you?
I am grateful for Nick this Thanksgiving (and every day)…my husband who continually makes me fall in love with him. He keeps our love fresh.
Nick, you communicate just fine.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Yesterday was a very big day for one of the best people I know: after 42 years with the same company, my aunt Debbie retired. I know that she was probably nervous to be the center of attention (us first borns always are...we've been coexisting with the younger attention-robbers most of our lives, after all), but her smile was contagious as she sat in front of the room full of friends, coworkers, laughter, and fond memories.
I often stop and revel in the fortune I have been granted with the people in my life; they have been a wealth beyond all comprehension. There was my mother of course—it's no secret, particularly here, that I had a very dear relationship with the woman who gave me life. I wasn't always the greatest daughter, and I gave my share of sass, but I knew early in life that she was a gift that I probably didn't deserve.
Mom was quite close to her sisters, and I was blessed to have two extraordinary women play a prominent role in my life as a result.
Debbie has worked tirelessly all her life, possessing a work ethic that is becoming rarer every day. I respect the way that she pushes through pain to get the job done…I appreciate the mental toughness that it takes to keep on going, even when it hurts. Really, I just appreciate her. Debbie, you've spent decades rushing around to make everyone else comfortable. This is your time to sit back, catch your breath, and enjoy life.
I am excited for you to write the next chapter! Congratulations…we love you very much.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
We had an amazing vacation. We had two—count 'em, TWO!—glorious weeks in Florida. We typically take a lot of long-weekend type vacations. They are nice, and they break up the mundane with a spot of fun…but there's something about an extended vacation that allows a person to actually turn off. I really needed our time away; I feel refreshed and clear-eyed. Once again, I have faith in the decisions I make—both personally and professionally—and confidence to keep moving forward. I didn't realize how close I was to burnout until I reentered reality and found a levity and excitement to go about my routine that wasn't there before.
We spent just over a week at Disney's Boardwalk Resort. Disney can make anyone feel young and carefree, especially if you give yourself up to the experience. Nick packed our agenda while we were there. I actually referred to him as the Disney Nazi during that first week because of his militant stance on maintaining a hectic schedule. In the end, the busy week was exactly what I needed to stop thinking about work (I was too distracted plotting my husband's demise).
Oh, and I got to hug Eeyore…twice.
We spent our second week in the Florida Keys—Marathon, to be exact. We vacation in the Keys often (Hey! We even got married there!), and I looked forward to that week like I was visiting an old, dear friend. We had no plans for our time in Marathon…it was bliss. Everything was warm, still, and picturesque. There in the balmy breeze, I found pleasure.
So I have been back in the real world for about a month now. I was driving home one day a few weeks ago when I noticed that leaves from a tree near our condo were no longer green. After two weeks that felt like the dead of Summer to my Midwestern skin, I was so shocked by the seemingly sudden change in season that I drove around the block to pass by the tree again. It was a reminder that the hands on the clock keep moving, regardless how you use the seconds between.
Time: use it well.
I will say goodbye for now, but I will be back soon.
In the meantime, all vacation photos from Orlando and Marathon are on Flickr. There are a lot…can't be helped with two hobbyist shutterbugs, I'm afraid.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I haven't disappeared from posting again, I promise. We are in Orlando and keeping busy despite somewhat rainy [hurricane] Isaac bouts. Might as well just sing in the rain!
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