Old Toys

Oh, God, what have you done?!

I don’t recognize any of this!

You remind me of a child. I was an old toy that you forgot about for years. Now you’re suddenly interested. Now you play with nothing else. You dumped out the dollhouse in which we lived. I was broken in the fall. She was lost. You shoved meĀ into a newer, prettier dollhouse.

My head is still spinning and I’m too dizzy to move.

I have a new home. A new life. A new mind.

Who am I anymore? Who am I without her? How am I without her?

I don’t think I want to know yet.

God, you were reckless. I am done playing. Put me back and leave me alone.

 

 

They say God does not make mistakes… I sure hope that’s true. I hope that one day all this empty space will be filled with something so much better than what was before.

The Other Side of the Wall

It was the end of the longest day I’ve ever known.  

We watched you leave your broken body behind… and we followed. Us and you, departing into separate darkness. 

Bittersweet abandon. 

My body holds the truth within every cell. It is riddled with grief and tangled in knots. My mind, on the other hand, has locked itself away in a tiny room with paper-thin walls. 

My safe room where I cannot feel. 

Everything looks the same. I go about business as usual, but something doesn’t feel right. Colors are dull. Food is without taste. I cannot focus.  I cannot rest. 

On sleepless nights, I press my ear against the wall to hear whispers of truth. 

She is gone, never to return. 

Never to paint. 

Never to talk and laugh.

We have to go through her belongings.

It was so fast. 

I can’t listen anymore. I want to go home. I cover my ears and pretend you’re just away on the road.

I’m afraid of the towering wave of grief that awaits me. An all encompassing wave of reality and truth. A new way of being that I never wanted to learn. 

Take deep breaths.  Take one day at a time… that’s what you would say. 

The Woodpecker

The woodpecker is said to be connected to the heartbeat of Mother Earth herself. Their black and white feathers symbolize seeing the issues and aspects of our lives clearly. Their red head feathers symbolize a new way of looking at things or new wisdom in general. 

When you see these birds in nature, or they come to you in a dream, it is fairly simple to assume meaning.  

The way it came to me was much different. 

My friend and I sat at a coffee shop, killing time as we waited to depart for my surprise bridal shower.  We sat peacefully outside as the sun warmed our backs. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something approach quickly, followed by a loud thud. No more than 2 feet away, a woodpecker had flown into the glass widow. 

It died instantly. 

We stared in disbelief at the bird. Belly up. Wings still spread. 

I was shaken and overcome with a feeling of dread. 

Simultaneously, we stood up and headed for the car.  

All I could think was that this was a bad omen. Was that about me? Is something bad going to happen to me? We tried to come up with positive explanations about “new beginnings” and “creativity”, but nothing would replace the doom that had settled into the pit of my stomach. 

Believe what you will, but I feel in my heart that the woodpecker was a warning. After that day, things changed rapidly and irreparably. 

Never in a million years would I have imagined this for my life.  

I got better as her body began to show signs of disease. I finished my treatment and 1 week later she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.  

We started out hopeful. We hoped for radical remission.  We hoped for time. We believed it until her belly began to fill.  

She became distended and weak and I started seeing a cloaked figure lurking nearby. I could not speak of it. I lost my words. I could not tell her what I saw. 

I was afraid to be without her. 

I was afraid to see her in pain. 

I was afraid to watch her wither away. 

I hid my fears, and I’m pretty sure she hid hers from me as well. 

The storm raged for weeks. I could not see past the black clouds that surrounded me. The wedding was weeks away and I couldn’t force myself to care. Without her, I just couldn’t bring myself to celebrate anything.  

Mothers are miraculous beings. They hold within a reserve of strength that allows them to protect their children in the most dire situations. 

On the 29th of April, despite weeks in a hospital bed, my mom found that hysterical strength and left the hospital to be with me at my wedding.  She and my dad walked me down the aisle like we had always planned. She read a blessing during the ceremony, after being afraid that she would be too weak to do so.  She found the strength to laugh and dance and smile. 

The stars aligned for one beautiful day. It was a miracle.

My mom passed away 5 days after my wedding. Tomorrow will be 1 week.  

Despite the terrible loss, I’m doing ok. I feel relief.  She’s no longer in pain.  

After the wedding ceremony concluded, my mom told me that she saw a white dove fly up into the sky from behind where we were standing.  I didn’t see it, but she thought it was beautiful and it made her smile.  

I have not seen any more woodpeckers since the day at the coffee shop. But since her passing, my world has been filled with doves of hope. They are everywhere letting me know that she is close by. 

I am grateful that she was with me in my darkest days. I’m grateful for my magical childhood. I’m grateful to have a mother that transcends time and space to give me comfort.

She will be with me, always. 

I love you, Mom.

My Universe

There was a point in my childhood when I realized that every single person resides within a universe that can only be seen through their eyes. Every feeling, every experience, every connection made is unique to the individual person. I would sit quietly and watch the souls around me navigate their world and think, ‘I wonder what their universe looks like.’

From the outside, I may seem unflappable. I may seem as though I have everything under control. But, inside my shell exists a world where the very ground on which I stand is shifting. I am unsteady. I am afraid to even move incase the ground beneath me will crumble into nothingness. The air is thin and I cannot breathe, though everyone keeps telling me that in my breath I will find some peace.

The weight of the world is piled high upon my shoulders and my knees are fighting the urge to buckle. I wish I could do it all, but I can’t. All I can do is wait for the opportunity to unload some of these burdens. 

Atleast I have my words. I find distraction in the careful puzzles of expression. 

In the meantime, I tell myself:

This too shall pass.

Try to enjoy these moments.

You will soon be able to unload some of these burdens, just hang on a little bit longer.

You can’t do it all, and that’s ok.

The Pendulum

The face of time is no longer recognizable as 3 hands and 12 numbers. It is no longer characterized by a predictable, linear path on a slightly inclined plane connecting your birth to your death. That would be too simple. God doesn’t give us our lives to live them free of adversity.

These days, time is no longer predictable. It is no longer just in the background, reminding me of it’s presence with the soft ticking of the second hand. Time has a swinging pendulum, to which I cling with both hands. 

Up and up we swing, moving further and further from stable ground. We hang freely, hands slipping, waiting to swing back to a place of safety. I believe that my pendulum is still on the upswing. 

How much more of this can one person take?

I’m doing my best to stay in the light. I am trying to remain positive and calm. I have faith in the plan. God gives us adversity to teach us the lessons that will refine and strengthen our souls.  

I am holding on tight, waiting to swing back and set my feet on solid ground… even if only for a few moments in time.

All the Fears

And in swept the thunderous clouds. 

A storm, the likes of which we’d never seen before. 

But we, the chasers of storms, glare back at the menacing eye.

We will be quicker.

We will be one step ahead.

The storm may destroy many things, but it will not break our spirits.

Time to fight all the fears.

Time to be bigger and stronger than anything that came before.

Seamless

Exactly 1 week after completing my active cancer treatment, I found myself right back where I started. I sat in an exam room, listening to a doctor share the same soul crushing, stomach turning, burning words. Affirming that the tumor was in fact cancer.

This time, I was not the patient. This time I was the nearest bystander. I heard the blast as the landmine was detonated. I was sent flying into the air and now I sit and watch from where I landed, hoping to see that she remains in one piece.

My mom. 

Does Cancer sit beside the Grim Reaper, sadistically placing his mines, waiting for detonation? Laughing maniacally as people attempt to repair their broken lives?

It feels that way.

How seamlessly God has woven together this tapestry of misfortune. 

Why?

I’m listening. I’m watching. I see the perfect transition. 

I’m trying to hold onto the bright light of faith. That same bright light that shines at the end of long, daunting tunnels. The light that makes up our very souls.

We will fight through. If I can do it, so can she. 

How Far We’ve Come

On May 18, 2016, Brian and I sat in an exam room across from a doctor who told me I had breast cancer.

Sometimes I go back to that day. I sit in that moment, looking out from my scared, disbelieving eyes, and feel the terror. The memories, still raw, leave me queasy.

I’m forever changed.

There are so many different sets of beliefs about why things happen to us. Some people believe there is no God and that things are random, with no rhyme or reason. Some people believe in a loving God that knows all things. Others believe that the evil in the world is what causes things like cancer to exist.

What do I believe?

I believe in the lessons. Sometimes it takes dropping a bomb in the middle of your world to force you out of your own way and make you see things without obstruction.

Certainly, I miss the days when my worries were simple. The weight of my worries have been permanently redistributed. People are what matter. Love matters. Kindness. Experiences. Lightness. Faith.

I am grateful for these lessons. I am grateful for the lightness that filters through my world, now that it is unencumbered by so many insignificant burdens.

In a way, we that have been broken by illness are the lucky ones.

Today was my last day of radiation. I am no longer in active treatment. I have survived the rigorous, terrifying, aggressive lifestyle that is characteristic of this fight. I am a survivor.

I used to hate the term “survivor”. I viewed it as a poor alternative for “cured”. I was resentful of the fact that being cured is something that we can only obtain after years of waiting in fear. Years of hoping that the disease has been eradicated. I now see that survivors make up a small population of people that have traveled through and returned from some circle of hell; forever changed.

I guess this is where faith comes into play. I always wanted to be one of those people that could believe without seeing. Now I must sit back a trust that I will be okay. I must have faith that I have done more than enough. If I follow my heart and pay attention to God’s subtle voice, I will end up right where I’m supposed to be.

Onto the next chapter.

The Storm

I have to believe that God is involved. I have to believe that the good, the bad, and the scary are all part of a bigger picture and that God has a reason. I feel like we’re on the same side of things, but God speaks in another language. I try my best to decipher the messages.

The waters were beginning to calm. I thought that God was planning a period of quiet for me to reflect and recover fully as I near the end of my cancer treatment. I sit along the shoreline. Behind me, a home is being erected with a backyard and bedrooms for a family. But from where I sit, I can see a violent storm brewing on the horizon.

My mom has a tumor on her ovary. They don’t know what it is yet.

I’m not sure where this storm will go. It could hit my little island. It could change course. It could minimize into a soft rain.

But why? What is the point? Why here? Why now?

I have so many fears. I’m scared of life. I’m scared of death. I’m scared of loss. But, life is balanced. The counter of suffering is joy. It allows joy to float up and exist in the heavens of experience. I have had my suffering and now I am ready to enjoy my life.

I’m doing my best to re-frame this situation. I’m trying to see the point.

Perhaps this storm is not truly mine…?

It’s sometimes hard for me to see that my family and friends do not exist on a contiguous plane; we are a chain of islands. I can help my neighbors. I can help them to prepare for storms and rebuild after they have passed.

It’s excruciating and terrifying to watch a neighboring island be ravaged by life. All we can do is pray and hope and wish for the best possible outcome.

I am also learning that I cannot be the heroine of anyone else’s story. It is time for my mom to decipher God’s messages and learn to be the heroine of her own life.

I have decided to build myself a temple of solitude. A place where I can heal and focus. A place where I can have peace. A place where I might be protected from the impending storm.

Vanity

When I was about 11 years old, I figured out that if you opened the medicine cabinet door and leaned in toward the mirror, you would be able to see your profile. That was the first time I saw my nose from the side. I was shocked! I didn’t have a cute little upturned nose like the ones I saw on my friends. It was long, it came to a point, and the shape of my nostrils made it appear to have a slight downward slope. I was horrified. 

I believe that was the moment when I lost the unwavering confidence of childhood.

Through my preteens, teens, and twenties, I spent much of my energy wanting to look different. I wanted to be thinner. I wanted my hair to be lighter, softer, and straighter. I wished for less body hair. I was self conscious of my muscular legs. I wished I had a different nose. I wanted to sweat less. I wanted bigger boobs. My arms were too thick. 

It went on and on.

I was constantly trying to fix myself. I tried to eat less and exercise more. I ravaged my hair with heat and chemicals. I spent hours trying to figure out how to make up my face. I filled my closet with trendy clothes. It was exhausting.

As I grew up, I gained a little confidence. I still worried about my weight, my hair, and what other people thought about it.

And then came cancer and chemo.

Your focus changes considerably. It wasn’t about having the perfect hair or the perfect body. It became having any hair and a healthy body.

I lost my color. I lost my hair. I lost my eyebrows and some of my eyelashes. I lost my muscle strength and endurance. I gained scars. I gained a wig. 

I gained perspective.

I spend alot of time in the car these days. I do some of my best thinking during long drives. I think about how much I used to worry. I think about how much I used to compare myself to everyone else. How much I cared about opinions.

I don’t care anymore.

When you have no eyebrows, you stop caring if they are perfect. When you have no hair, you don’t worry if it’s straight or curly, you just eagerly anticipate it’s return. When your body doesn’t have the strength it used to, you don’t care about vanity weight, you care about it being healthy and strong. And when your boob comes down with a little cancer, you stop caring about how big or perky they are, you just want them to be healthy.

Perspective.

I’m nearing the end of my fight. I have 8 radiation treatments left. After that I will be left alone (to a degree) with my body. I have learned so much. The things that matter are bold and clearly defined amidst the vast existence of everything. Vanity is just one of the things that I now see as black and white.

It’s almost time to get my body back into its healthy, fighting shape. It’s almost time to figure out how to deal with styling short, curly hair. 

It’s time to live life to the fullest, beautifully.