Lisa (Insignificant at Best) is much more significant to many than her blog’s title suggests. A mom, a tireless worker, and an aspiring writer, she wears many proverbial hats but has ample energy left over for her blog’s readers–and for giveaways, of which she is quite the maestra! All of this aside, she’ll ever hold a special place in my heart for being the first person to interview me as an author.
Recommended post: A letter to someone who has hurt you recently
The Strongest Woman I Know
My grandmother, whom I’ve always called Gran, is one of my heroes. All of five feet and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, she is the matriarch of our family and the strongest woman I know. When my grandmother says something, you don’t argue, you do it; the whole family knows that.
When my parents divorced, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents and Gran became a second mom to me. When my mom was at work or on the rare occasion she went on a date (she normally left that for when I was with my dad), my Gran was there to watch over me. Sadly, I didn’t appreciate it at the time because we are both stubborn and would often fight. However, I look back now and cherish the memories I made while living with her and my grandfather.
I can still clearly remember the day I found out this woman I love and cherish so much had lung cancer. I was about four months pregnant and standing in front of the dryer in the laundry room when my mom broke the news. She told me not to panic, but try and tell a hormonal woman that. I remember hunching over the dryer silently crying after I hung up the phone. All I could think of was that my Papa (what I called my late grandfather) was already gone and wouldn’t get to know my unborn child and now possibly my Gran, too. It seemed so unfair that my baby wouldn’t be able to get to know two of the most important people in my life. I cried for a while after that phone call, but once I was done I pulled myself together and tried to be strong for Gran.
About a month or so later, she was admitted into the hospital so they could try removing the tumor. I will never, ever forget sitting there with my mom, my aunts and my uncles and hearing the doctor tell us that he didn’t think the surgery would be a success. (I still get teary eyed when I think about it.) He told us that from the looks of the scans, the tumor was in a spot that would be very hard to reach. He said that he might be able to remove some of the tumor, but doubted he’d be able to get all of it. The sadness in his voice was apparent and it broke my heart.
We were told we could go and see her once last time before she went into surgery.
I don’t know how I managed it, but I walked into pre-op and told my Gran good luck and that I loved her. I held it together, but just barely. I wasn’t even able to stick around until everyone wished her luck. I waddled as fast as I could out of post-op, through the waiting room and outside door. The moment I knew I was alone I broke; it literally felt as if my heart was going to break into a million pieces.
Finally I managed to collect myself and went to the one place I knew I’d find comfort; the hospital chapel. I sat there, eventually joined by my great uncle (Gran’s brother), for about two hours. I stayed until the baby would let me no longer; it (I didn’t know the sex at that point) was hungry and I needed to eat.
My aunt and I went and grabbed something in the cafeteria and the returned to the waiting room to see if there was any news. It wasn’t long before the nurse at the waiting room desk called out for my grandmother’s family; you could hear the panic in our voices as we told her that was us. She quickly explained there was no need to worry, but that one of the nurses in my grandmother’s operating room had called down at her doctor’s request. He had wanted to let us know that despite is worries he was able to get the entire tumor.
The surgery was a success.
The doctor was just putting her tube in and closing her up and he’d be down to talk to us. He just hadn’t wanted us to wait any longer to hear the good news. Can I just say, best doctor ever? I’ve never heard of a surgeon having someone call down to the waiting room like that and when we finally got to talk to him in person we couldn’t thank him enough for it.
It turns out that while the surgery was a huge success, my grandmother did have to have a third of her right lung removed. He told us this meant she would probably have to be on oxygen for the rest of her life and that she would have to go through chemo to make sure that she was completely cancer free. To us, though this news was nothing; she was likely going to make it and that’s all that mattered.
Little did we know that some of the worst was yet to come.
That afternoon we saw Gran and she looked great and even said she felt pretty good. I left the hospital with a promise to see her as soon as she was released (she made me promise not to come back because she didn’t want me pregnant and around all the hospital germs…gotta love her). I was emotionally exhausted, but elated; all in all the day went perfectly.
She got out of the hospital a few days later and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. My mom had offered to stay with her for the first week or so, after recovery, because nobody wanted Gran to be alone. When I wasn’t visiting I was calling to check up on Gran and each report started to worry me more and more.
My grandmother doesn’t like water, she’s always been a diet pop or crystal light drinker. Unfortunately, part of her recovery was to drink so much water a day and this was not going well. My mom could hardly get her to drink one glass, let alone the two quarts she was supposed to be drinking. It’s not like she was drinking other things, either. She just wouldn’t drink.
Then came food. She was periodically throwing up and said everything tasted funny so she’s barely eat all day. Gran started to rapidly lose weight right before our eyes. Not to mention she was maybe getting 1 to 3 hours of sleep a day. In fact it got so bad, about 4 or 5 days after returning home she was back in the hospital; where they kept her for a day or two and then sent her back home.
This is when things got their worst.
My grandmother was now home and back to her non-water drinking and eating ways. Not to mention she had started to say things that were very much unlike the woman we know and love. My mom was a wreck and so were the rest of us. In fact it got so bad that my grandmother said some very hurtful things to my mom and kicked her out, for no reason. Devastated, my mom packed up and went back home.
Nobody was comfortable with her being alone, but we had no choice. I still remember the day we had called to check up on her and got no response. I called my mom to see how Gran was doing since she didn’t answer my two phone calls and she informed me that Gran hadn’t answered her calls either. Since it was about three in the afternoon and we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her all day we started to panic. Since I lived closest my mom asked me to go over there and check up on her and I agreed. I called a few more times as I was heading over there and still no response. I don’t even want to tell you the thoughts that were running through my head.
When I arrived, I called out to her and got no response. I climbed the stairs (her condo has a first floor foyer and the rest of it is on the second floor) and made my way through each room until I found her in her bedroom. I crept up to the bed quietly and made sure she was breathing; to my relief, she was. I started to walk out and her head popped up. She questioned what I was doing and I just explained that we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her and we were worried. She told me she had been sleeping and that was it. I honestly thought she was going to yell at me for being there, but thankfully she didn’t. I apologized for interrupting her and let myself out.
I remember sitting in my car wondering when something was going to give. Did we over react by my coming here? Maybe. However, Gran was acting weirder and weirder by the day and she still wasn’t eating or drinking. Her weight had dropped into the 70’s; she was wasting away to nothing. Christmas was drawing very close at this point and I remember thinking all I wanted was for her to get better.
About a week later, give or take a day, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Gran was back in the hospital. We were all concerned and hoping the doctors could figure out a way to help her; but as it turns out she helped herself. I got a call from my mom a day or two after Gran had been then admitted, telling me they figured out what the problem was. As it turned out “they” meant Gran. Turns out my grandmother started paying attention to when she was throwing up (this never stopped from the first time she came home from the hospital). Because of some other medication they had given her the previous night they had refrained from giving her another that she had been taking since the surgery. That evening she had no problems and even ate something. The next morning they gave her that medication and within a few hours she was getting sick. She explained her theory to the nurse and then her doctor, but neither wanted to believe it at first; likely because they were too stupid to figure it out on their own (to clarify this doctor was not the same awesome surgeon from earlier in the story). Being the spitfire she is, my grandmother fought to make them listen and got her medicine changed.
Once the problem was identified, my aunt, who is a nurse, looked up the troublesome medication Gran had been on. It turns out throwing up was just one of a few symptoms she was having. She was always complaining of a metallic taste in her mouth, which was caused by the pill. Not to mention this medication was known for causing strange/aggressive/uncharacteristic behavior in some people. With the change of her pill, all of this quickly went away. To this day we don’t even know if my grandmother remembers what she said or how she treated us (why upset her over something that wasn’t in her control?).
A day after her medication was changed my grandmother came home … for good. It was a slow and steady road to recovery after that. Her disposition went back to normal, she started drinking more, and eating more too. Sadly, she wasn’t up for spending Christmas with the family that year, but that was a sacrifice all of us were more than willing to make. We were just so glad she was going to be okay!
It’s been five years now since Gran’s surgery and about four since she was officially declared “cancer free”. Despite the fact that they told us she would likely have to use oxygen, she hasn’t needed it for even one day. She has never been able to gain all of her weight back, but hovers around the high 80’s (way better than low 70’s) and tends to get sick easier than she used to (to be expected when you’re older and missing part of your lung). However, she is still as feisty and vibrant as ever!
My daughter will be five this March and Gran has become a big part of her life. Every Thursday my mom picks up the kid (she works a 4 day work week and this is her day off) and heads over to Gran’s, where they spend the day. Not to mention the kid has spent many a weekday with Gran when my mother-in-law can’t watch her and there are times she has spent the night with her too. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me that Gran is a part of my child’s life. I cherish the fact I am blessed enough to watch my daughter and Gran form a bond. To say that Gran adores her great-grand child is an understatement. I thought my cousins and I were doted on and spoiled when we were kids…we’ve got nothing on my daughter. She’s got her Great-Gran wrapped around her tiny finger and her Great-Gran loves every minute of it! It truly is a joy to see.
My grandmother once told me that before she went into surgery she had made peace with dying. I asked her why and she told me that she honestly thought she was going to make it through. She said she was surprised to wake up and find out that she was going to be okay. Well, she might have been surprised, but I’m not. My Gran is one probably the strongest and bravest woman I know. There was no way she was going down without a knock down drag out fight and a knock down drag out fight she had.
Gran 1. Lung Cancer 0.
This post was written in honor of my Gran, whom I love like a second mother. She is my hero and a true inspiration to me and my family. I love you, Gran.
Special thanks to the wonderful Deb for letting me tell her story. It felt good to finally get it all down on paper.
Also, thanks to all of you who stuck with this super long post and read the entire thing! I appreciate it!
There weren’t many white kids in my first grade class in a California military school.
My first crush (if I may use so strong a word for the affections of a first grader) was on a black boy who was so sweet, he immediately forgave me demonstrating the mad karate skills I’d just learned from The Karate Kid . . . even though I’d demonstrated on his groin.
His sweetness went only so far. He lost my favor before the school year was done. A year is, after all, an eternity to a first grader.
My second crush was on another boy, who—like the first—I didn’t think of as “black” at the time. Just cute.
Returning to my Oregon hometown for second grade was a little jarring. To my young eyes, almost everyone’s skin was colored minor variations of the same tone.
When I was old enough to start questioning things, like whether I was really a Republican like my parents, I remember catching sight of a banner flying throughout downtown Eugene and laughing.
The banner proclaimed we ought: “CELEBRATE DIVERSITY!”
“What, as long as it’s somewhere else?!” I remember thinking with equal mirth and incredulity.
I studied Anthropology in college. Most of my mirth remained, but strands of more analytical thought started creeping in. I found it impossible to wrap my mind around how vastly human experience could vary, and nearly impossible the further my studies progressed to speak in absolutes about “the” human experience.
Still, my engagement was largely intellectual. It remained that way until a couple of weeks after I told my boyfriend, Ba.D., I was pregnant.
Ba.D., you see, is black.
In one of our early conversations, he told me, “You know our baby is going to experience racism someday.”
Wait, what? In Los Angeles? In 2009? No way.
“I’ve been called a ‘nigger.’ Lots of times.”
I started reading articles and finding myself incensed at examples of racism very much alive and present. Even in L.A., today.
I’d rant about these things to Ba.D. only to find myself flummoxed by his calm. It took me a little while and lots of patient explanation on his part to understand this was borne of decades of personal experience. What was new and pressing to me was something he’d already lived for 3.5 decades.
A couple of months into my pregnancy, I flew home to tell my mom I was pregnant. When I showed her a picture of me and Ba.D. from the scariest weekend of my pregnancy, one in which I’d been told I’d just have to wait and see if my baby would live, she said, “So it’s gonna be biracial.”
I wrote about that conversation and what I took away from it in my blog “Race and my mother’s footsteps.”
Although I blogged a response to a racial profiling incident on 9/11/11, I haven’t been aware of any racism evidenced in my vicinity since I had that conversation with my mom. But every hateful word I’ve read has caused me great sorrow as I’ve wondered, “How on earth could someone hate my child without even knowing him? Without knowing how his laugh sounds, his touching concern when anyone around him hurts themselves, how much comfort he brought my mom in her dying days? How can that even be possible?”
When I read about Trayvon Martin, I wept to imagine losing my son over the color of his skin.
I quietly raged at people who waved off the suggestion race played a role in his death, and rejoiced earlier today at this comment #10 responding to such an assertion.
I rejoiced the comment, but not the reason for the blog that began the conversation. Some fans of the The Hunger Games books left the movie outraged by their belated discovery that a beloved character was black, a “discovery” made surprising by the fact it’s clearly stated in the book.
As always, after letting it simmer for a few hours, I eased my raging heart by transferring some of my outrage to print:
A few years ago, Joss Whedon (creator of the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, to start) was asked why he keeps writing strong women characters.
His response? “Because you’re still asking me that question.”
Along the same vein, I’ve heard questions like, “Why are we still talking about race?” My take? Because the question is still being asked. The fact an asker hasn’t experienced, witnessed or understood they’re witnessing racism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or is wildly diminished. The question alone implies a disheartening depth of misunderstanding about internal experience versus external reality.
Today’s real world is still very full of very real inequities. We can’t change that by saying “But look how far we’ve come!” and leaving it at that.
Ba.D.’s response was, as always, perfect to calm and focus me:
Love ya and hold onto that rage. Don’t let it rule you, but let it guide you. Temper it with the knowledge that most people are at least trying. Steel that with the truth that you will have to fight.
Unlike first grade, the fights I face won’t be on the schoolyard. They won’t likely involve punches, kicks (groinal or otherwise) or thrown stones.
They’ll involve words.
If I’m able to mirror Ba.D.’s patience, those words won’t sound like fighting words. They’ll sound instead like considered assessments, and the more I practice shaping them, glimmers of hope.
I do have hope. I have seen horrible things done by the hands of man, but I have also seen great kindnesses, even by those whom I’ve witnessed behaving monstrously.
So I’ll keep reading. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep struggling to use words instead of inarticulate cries of outrage.
Words are, to me, our bridges to other hearts. When used wisely, to cross over to someone else’s heart or to grant them passage to our own, their power to transform is immense. Not fast, usually.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
As I type this, I have nearly 100% less hair than I did the last time I posted.
My progression toward baldness began with reading the post “Blissfully Bald,” in which my friend Chris (From the Bungalow) announced that he and his wife, Karin (Pinwheels and Poppies), would be shaving their heads for St. Baldrick’s. Their inspiration, Donna’s Cancer Story, chronicled one girl’s 31-month battle with cancer.
I’d seen references to Donna’s Cancer Story since September, but it seemed like such a commitment to follow a 31-day blog series. Also, really depressing. I couldn’t imagine a more depressing read.
After reading “Blissfully Bald,” I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. That Friday evening, I settled in and began reading about Donna.
I cried. Oh, how I cried. But I also felt barriers between me and others removed by growing understanding. Through Mary Tyler Mom‘s open, raw descriptions of her daughter Donna’s life with cancer, “them” became “us.” “Those parents” became “someone who could be me”; the children, “someone who could be my son.”
My world grew simultaneously smaller and larger.
As a writer, I (naturally) had to write my way toward clarity. I did so in my post “On bald heads & being unending.” I let people know where they could donate to team Blissfully Bald.
On Valentine’s Day, following a prompt from Chris, I joined an abundance of bloggers in writing about the March head-shaving event in which Chris and Karin would be shaving their heads. I knew I’d be in Chicago for the event, as well as to catch up with my old friend Dana, but I had no idea I’d end up joining team Blissfully Bald.
On March 11, Chris sent an email including the following paragraph:
I just wanted to mention that anyone can join our team or Team Donna! If you are/will be in the Chicago area on March 24th, we’d love to see you. And if you decided to join our team as a shavee, well, we’d love you forever.
“Damn it, Chris,” I muttered.
Once thoughts like that get in my brain, it’s hard to make them go away. Typically they’ll only do so if I do something like sign up. Which I did the next day.
I’d like to say mine was a really considered choice, but it wasn’t. There were little fragments of thoughts here and there, but mostly it was a gut choice inspired by a girl named Donna who’s been in my mind and heart every day since I read her cancer story over a 12-hour period.
I wrote about my decision to join team Blissfully Bald here. It still didn’t feel like a huge decision, exactly. Just something I was doing.
Then I started reading the comments, both on the blog and on my Facebook page. I learned about more people who’d fought or continue to fight cancer and was bowled over. What started as “something I’d be doing for Donna in a few days” became something all-consuming. Something that I felt bound me so much more powerfully to this world, and to the hearts of others. Beautiful, inspired, inspiring hearts.
The days flew by. I found myself in Chicago. I was a little nervous, but a lot excited.
I got to meet Katy (I Want a Dumpster Baby), whom I instantly loved every bit as much as I thought I would.
By the time we parted ways, I felt like I’d known her forever. Indeed, my heart continues to insist it has.
That evening, I met my teammates. Like Katy, I loved (and laughed with!) them immediately, and couldn’t believe for a second we’d only just met.
By the time Chris and Karin collected me the next morning, I was feeling anything but collected. I’d had a rough night’s sleep, imagining everything that could go wrong the next day and fearing what I couldn’t imagine–in other words, everything about the event.
As we ate lunch just before the event, my anxiety had a direct line to my bladder, which it used to send me scrambling to the bathroom four times in an hour and a half.
Arriving at the event venue, the very place where Donna had celebrated each of her birthdays, I found my nerves instantly soothed. I looked into the faces of others who’d soon be shaving their heads as well as those cheering the shavees on and knew I was safe. I couldn’t imagine anything bad happening, but I knew I’d be fine if it did.
We met Mary Tyler Mom. I wanted to crush her with hugs and tell her how much she’d changed my life with her words, but instead simply hugged her.
We chatted. We schmoozed. We checked out the haps. We hugged Katy lots when she arrived.
Chris was one of the first to get his head shaved.
Karin followed soon after.
My slot was an hour and a half after Karin’s. I was impatient for its arrival, but needn’t have been. It came quickly.
What I’d built up in my head to a momentous, earth-shattering thing was instead quick. Painless. Hardly noteworthy.
My hair was divided into four ponytails I’ll (hopefully) donate to Locks of Love.
Each ponytail was clipped.
My hair was cut.
My head was shaved.
I beamed the whole time. Just beamed.
When I stood in front of a bathroom mirror a couple of minutes later and took in the change, impossibly, I found myself smiling wider still.
I was seeing me. Me unconcealed.
By the time my friend Dana arrived, fresh in from Ireland, I must’ve rubbed my head 100 times already.
Dana returned my sock puppet Arrrgyle, who’d visited Ireland with her for reasons described here, but demanded a picture in exchange.
Dana, her honey and I left the Candlelite shortly afterward, but we had time for a few more pictures first.
By the time I returned to my hotel around 8 p.m., full up on Indian food, I was equal parts exhausted and happy.
I’d started out the day so anxious I was shaking, only to conclude the day so calm I could’ve given 90% of my calm away and still been feeling just dandy.
In the morning it had seemed like such a huge thing to be shaving off my hair, not just for me but for the people whose loved ones’ names I held in my hands (on a couple pieces of paper) and heart throughout the day.
By the evening, it seemed such a small offering. A token, or one-tenth of one, especially in comparison to all those who’ve lost their hair in the hopes that doing so would allow them to only lose their hair.
My baldness pales by compare, but I hope that someone, somewhere, someday will know greater health because of my small step toward conquering cancer. I wish everyone, everywhere could know that health now, but that’s outside the power of any one individual. Real progress will be in the accumulation of all our small steps, one added to the other added to the other.
My steps were small, but in the right direction, and taken with arms linked through those of so many other steppers, each of whose steps take might different forms, but all of whose steps leads us toward a brighter world less full of needless loss.
It’s thinking of all those steps we’re taking together, with arms and hearts linked, that I leave Chicago not only bald, but blissfully bald.
- Read Karin’s account at My Tale of Baldness, Bliss, Magic, and Cheese Sandwiches.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Once a quarter during college, I’d receive my financial aid and go on a book-buying binge. I’d vow to spend my remaining money wisely enough that I’d be able to keep the books.
Once a quarter, nearer its end, I’d look at my books and wish they were nutritionally as well as intellectually sustaining. I’d then haul them to Smith Family Bookstore, where I’d trade one form of sustenance (books) for cash for the other (food).
Only a handful of books survived my college days. Fewer still moved overseas and back with me. Twice.
Early last year, my dear friend Sarah started recommending books she knew I’d like. A Brief History of Montmaray didn’t just suck me into its own pages but back into reading. By the end of 2011, thanks to copious readwalking, I’d read 40ish books. Most of those were ones I’d bought myself, which meant I was adding books to my shelves* knowing I really would be able to keep them this time around.
Since my return to reading, most of my books have come from Amazon. With time in short supply, it’s been convenient to click straight from a review to my online shopping cart, having to waste time on nothing more than cutting open a box.
It was all so easy, I forgot how I used to enjoy the book-buying experience. In bygone days, I’d spend hours maneuvering through stacks of books and savor the weight, feel and smell of each book I touched, whether or not any given book came home with me. Being surrounded by books was better than being surrounded by anything else in the entire world, and in the presence of so many books I felt the vastness of the world represented across all those pages.
What reminded me of the cost of “ease”?
I’d driven by it many times before I actually stopped and peeked in a couple of weeks ago. With my little one, Li’l D, close at heel, I picked up books based on a combination of color, title and whimsy before scanning their blurbs and selecting some. Unlike the old days, my perusing time was limited.
Also unlike the old days, I was able to partake of the goodness of sharing the book-buying experience with my own little (pre-)reader. I left with five books; Li’l D, three. Sadly but predictably**, Li’l D’s favorite thing about his books was learning that pop-up books are really fun to demolish. (Li’l D: “Mommy, look! I have a monkey!” Mommy: “Sweetie, the monkey was supposed to stay in the book.”)
I had maybe ten minutes to explore. In ten minutes, with a little help from a little helper, I’d found eight books to take home. Each of those books has its own history, from inception in the writer’s mind to agent to publisher to reader to bookstore . . . and then to me. With each book I touched, I touched more than pages. I touched history. I touched humanity. I touched the words of others who make these things accessible and tangible.
As long as I read, I’m granted the ability to see this world and others through others’ eyes. This is the antithesis to loneliness.
I left the bookstore wondering how much time I’m really saving when I use Amazon. Am I saving minutes? Seconds? Is any “saving” worth the loss of really connecting with the individual books I decide to make part of my home, hopefully forever?
I’m not going to answer this question with a timer. I’m going to rely on intuition as I always used to. My intuition says the loss is greater than the gain, in most caess.
If I’m after a really specific book, I’ll still nab it off Amazon. But I’ll not keep making the mistake of thinking only books recommended by friends and available on Amazon are worth buying. There’s a whole world of books out there, and no matter how behemoth any online bookseller might be, its inventory reflects only a portion of what’s out there.
As for the portion in my own neighborhood? There’s little sweeter than seeing my future reader running through the stacks of knowledge that might someday become his own.
Do you still visit book stores? Libraries? What do books mean to you? Your kids?
* The floor counts as a shelf, right?
** “Curse you and your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” — Oh, man, have I ever been waiting for a chance to quote this! What Wash (Firefly) said.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Christine (The Dash Between) is a daily inspiration to me over at her Facebook page, but our paths first crossed in the blogosphere. Our conversations now flow between Facebook, our blogs and email, covering everything under the sun, but it was our first conversation about family that really helped me see Christine’s brilliance.
Her words expressed heartache, but even more deeply, a fierce, loving determination not to let her future be defined by the past or “The Family.” Every day I know her, I’m more inspired by her, and I’m delighted that you’ll soon see for yourself exactly why that is.
Recommended post: A letter to my Daughter: I know what it’s like
Thanks for the Pain
When Deb asked me if I would write a FTIAT entry, I was honored and thrilled! I have so much to be thankful for, I figured it would be a piece of cake to write. Was I ever wrong about that. The doubts started coming, and hard. I wasn’t good enough to be included with the many amazing writers The Monster In Your Closet has featured. I don’t write well enough. What I had to say was boring by comparison to other stories. Then I realized that I don’t have to be a fantastic writer. That comparing myself to others was ridiculous, given that we all have our own history. So, I have sucked in a deep breath and started to write.
A little over two and a half years ago, my life started to drastically change. I had been told by my then-husband that a relationship with me was too much work, and too hard for him to try. I realized that I had been a “mother” type figure in a one-sided relationship for far too long. I was home-schooling, and the kids and I were in a small town and stuck in the house 24/7. I was severely depressed, and often thought of driving into the nearest highway overpass support. Or downing an entire bottle (or two) of alcohol.
My parents had come for a visit, and I remember pouring out my heart to my mother about my marriage. I confided many humiliating things, and let her know that there was a very good chance my marriage would be ending soon. As she was getting ready to leave for home, I asked her if she was mad at me and if she still loved me. I’ll never forget the feel of her cool hands stroking the sides of my face, while she told me that she was not mad, and that of course she loved me. I felt such relief. And I felt that my foundation was rock solid.
When my husband and I finally separated, there was an uproar within The Family. These things do NOT happen in this family. The pressure was incredibly intense. I also told The Family I was no longer going to go to their type of church. The Family and Church are so tightly interwoven, that this decision was completely unacceptable to them. And the pressure increased exponentially. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I remembered trying to reach out, to have someone HEAR me… But no one seemed capable of that.
My mother seemed to have forgotten our discussion. My sister was constantly on me to do “the right thing.” Every discussion was such a struggle. I discovered my sister had been having private discussions with my husband on how to get me to stop “this behavior.” I was asked if I had started taking medication. I was told that I wasn’t explaining myself well enough for The Family to approve of my actions.
I decided to spend a weekend away, planning on locking myself in a hotel room with several bottles of booze and never to leaving the room again. I’ve never had such an internal fight as I did that weekend. I felt the simplest solution for everyone would be for me to no longer exist. This struggle to live my life, just wasn’t worth it anymore. If I couldn’t live it their way, I shouldn’t live it at all. As I wandered that weekend, lost, feeling hopeless, yet trying to search my soul for another solution, I happened to walk into a gift store and see a plaque that changed my world.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…”
When I saw that, I felt all the despair lift away. I realized this was MY life. My family wouldn’t approve of my decisions, and that was okay. I was 34 years old, I didn’t need permission from them to do what I knew was right for me. I left that store filled with hope, and determination.
During that same weekend, my husband had gone to my mother and reiterated all of the things that had happened in our marriage. The things I had told her when she had come to visit. I received an email from her shortly thereafter in an attempt for us to start honest communication. The one thing that I remember most from that email was her telling me that she just hadn’t believed me when she and I had our discussion, but she realized what I said was true when my husband confirmed it. While that hurt me more deeply than I can say, I decided to overlook it since I wanted to focus on the fact that we were having communication during this very difficult time.
I moved to another state and started life over. I started to fall in love with someone who had been a very good friend to me. However, the tension in my family was high. I knew they weren’t happy with my decision to move. Strike that. They weren’t happy with the way I was living my life, period. That was made clear when I visited them for a weekend nearly a month after my move. I remember my Mom hardly looking at me. Whenever people would ask about the area I lived, or job interviews, she just scowled. The day I was to return home was on a Sunday. The depth of her anger at me became apparent to me that morning. Mom was harrumphing her way around the house, hardly looking at me, hardly saying a word before leaving for church. When it was time for her to go, I got up from the couch to say my goodbyes. She walked right past me. I grabbed her, gave her a hug, and told her I loved her. I got a quick hug as she mumbled “I love you” back. That was the last time I saw my mother before our estrangement began.
Two days later I told my parents that I was starting a new relationship. That phone call reminds me of the saying, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” My entire body was shaking. During this call my mother told me that she would not approve of my relationship. For the first time in my life I stood up for myself, and told her that I was not asking for her approval. I was simply informing her of what was happening in my life. She went to hang up, and I remembered rushing to tell her that I loved her before she ended the call. I got a terse “love you” in return, and those were our last spoken words.
I have been estranged from my family for two years and three months. My mother did not like my decisions, and encouraged my ex to take custody of the kids, since I had been “taken over by satan.” Finding her emails to him, and being served papers by him to take the kids away were so stunning that I literally couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I hurt all over… inside and out. The pain was unlike any I had ever felt before, and that’s when I realized that my foundation I had been so assured of months before had vanished. I felt utterly alone, completely rejected, and betrayed by the one person I should have been able to trust.
I wrote a blog not long ago to my daughter about some of my darkest times. This was
one of those times I referred to. I got myself up, and put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew that I just had to breathe to get to the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week. And I did. I truly started life over that day, and I survived.
I started blogging to focus on living life. I blogged to remind myself to appreciate
everything, and everyone, in my life. I needed to focus on being grateful and thankful. But, I refused to write about this stuff. I didn’t want to go back through it, and remember the hurts, or feel the pain again. However, once Deb asked me to write about being thankful, I think I knew deep down that I was going to have to delve into this painful time in my life. I needed to remember that these are the things that have made me who I am today. And I like that person.
So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful for being hurt, rejected, and betrayed. I am
thankful for pain that cut me so deeply I thought I’d never recover. These things have
changed who I am. They have shown me that I am capable, I am strong, I am brave, and I can survive. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
last: My Blog Saved Our Family | The Strongest Woman I Know (3/30/12) : next
* Read the follow-up to this post here.
I’ll be bald in eleven days.
There was a time I swore I’d never have hair shorter than chin length again. At 18, I’d made the unfortunate mistake of dozing off at the hands of a new stylist, who thought I’d look just fabulous with one-inch hair.
Despite my old vow, I choose baldness now.
I do this to stand in solidarity with children who do not choose baldness, or cancer, but face these things determinedly nevertheless. On March 24, 2012, I’ll join my friends Chris and Karin in having my head shaved for St. Baldrick’s children’s cancer charity.
I love my hair. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. But there’s a heckuva lot I love even more in this world.
As I learned at 18, hair grows back. People do not, so I feel honored to do this one small thing I can to help some young people battling cancer stay here in this world, and illuminate it longer with their own unique and beautiful gifts.
If you’re able to donate, please do so here or via team Blissfully Bald. If you’re donating or wish you could donate in someone’s honor or memory, please tell me a little bit about them in comment here so I may share your words in a future blog entry. I believe it is a blessing to the living to remember our departed beloved.
If you are inspired to share this blog, please know now that I am deeply grateful.
Am I a little nervous about my impending months without much hair? Sure. But right now, my hair will do much better off my head than on it. I live in Los Angeles, for Pete’s sake! I don’t need hair to keep my head warm here. Not even in March.
And if I do end up needing a little help heating my head? It just so happens I’ve got a hot pink wig lined up for the occasion.
I’ll be happy without the wig, though. ‘Cause you know what? Beautiful is beautiful, with or without hair. Seeing my mom without her hair taught me that.
Gorgeous, spirited Donna Quirke Hornik, subject of the series that inspired me to make this choice, helped me see it more clearly still.
I’m gonna be bald. And, man, am I gonna be bald in great company. Present in person, and ever-present in our hearts.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Shannon (Mynewfavoriteday) spoke with such candor about the simultaneous grace and hardship in her life since becoming a mother, I was immediately drawn to not only her prose but to her.
When she asked some months later if she could interview me for her blog, I was delighted. Could she ever! I was excited to complete the interview, but even more excited when the interview unearthed a few similarities between us. It turned out Shannon and I were both (a) Oregon Ducks (b) living in SoCal after (c) each spending some time teaching in Japan. While I couldn’t really tell you if there’s such a thing as fate or if it led to our connecting, my heart frequently weights in with a hearty (get it? comic genius right here!), “You betcha!”
Shannon’s voice of gratitude, love and compassion brings light to the gloomiest of days, and yet she is also a vocal advocate for her children—and her readers. As you’ll see if you meander over to her page, which I sincerely hope you’ll do, her “About me” is in part about her well wishes for you.
Recommended post: Lost and Found on Hallowed Ground
My Blog Saved Our Family
‘Whenever someone sorrows, I do not say, “forget it,” or “it will pass,” or “it could be worse” — all of which deny the integrity of the painful experience. But I say, to the contrary, “It is worse than you may allow yourself to think. Delve into the depth. Stay with the feeling. Think of it as a precious source of knowledge and guidance. Then and only then will you be ready to face it and be transformed in the process.’
To say I had sorrows could not begin to describe the emotional place I was in in March of 2011.
As I sat on the couch with my legs crossed and my computer in my lap, my babies were on the floor. E in her baby chair with the oxygen tube delivering her the air she needed to survive with each breath while her monitor quietly registered her heart rate and oxygen levels with each beat of her pulse. Q happily rolling around on the floor knocking into seemingly every hard and potentially dangerous surface with his overly large head. My precious babies were now 18 months old from the day they were born, but because they had been born 3 terrifying months early, they were supposed to be developmentally around 15 months. Supposed to be.
It became clear after E came home after her 4 months in the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) that something was wrong. She wasn’t engaging, or looking at our faces. She wasn’t cooing or doing any of the things her brother was doing, or anything that any baby her age would be doing at any age over 20 days old. She was now 18 months old and virtually the same developmentally as a 2 month old.
I was crumbling into tiny little bits and pieces: one moment, one breath, one conversation at a time.
The resolve and strength I had been mustering and presenting to the world was only seconds from falling down around me. Everything was at stake. Our lives were at stake. I was no longer able to construct a future for us.
Like so many families, I, as mom, am the hub. And with 2 babies with medical and developmental challenges, I had been thrust into a world I had not imagined or planned for.
As a business professional, I am good in a crisis. Methodical. Rational. Practical. Resourceful. I can navigate systems and present my case to get my desired outcome.
I had been doing this in our personal life for 18 months and now it was all at risk.
I no longer really wanted to get out of bed. I wanted to stay there, with the babies. Just be with them. Shut the world out. Pretend. Pretend that for 5 minutes everything was “normal.” Not our “normal,” but “The What to Expect When You’re Expecting” normal. I wanted to pretend there were no wires or monitors. I didn’t want to talk about how they were doing, or what E’s prognosis would be, or have to make anyone feel better about our situation so that they wouldn’t worry.
I was consumed by worry but couldn’t show it and rarely spoke about it for fear of making it so.
At work I would cry, in the car I would cry, alone with the babies I would cry. I would never cry in front of anyone else; only when I was alone.
All around me people had regular babies. Happy, healthy babies. As those babies grew, they surpassed E in her own development. More cracks and tears into my façade.
I just wanted to hide.
So there I sat on the couch, hiding in our house with our precious babies but knowing I had to do something. I knew I needed therapy of some kind, but I couldn’t fathom sitting across from a therapist who had never sat in a hospital day after day as their children nearly died and came back to life on a semi-regular basis. So, a therapist was out but therapy of another kind quietly lurked at my fingertips.
From the time the babies were conceived through IVF, we had kept a journal for them. Thoughts, sentiments, pictures to show them just how happy we were they were coming to be and had come to our family. In the writing I had found some catharsis. Relief. As if air could fill my lungs can come out through the pen as it rolled across the paper.
Almost hauntingly my fingers started typing “blogging platforms.” And so it was. I would start a blog. It would be my therapy.
As I am optimistic by nature; my idea was to get back there. To pull myself out of the darkness that was enveloping me. The darkness would not beat me. My precious babies we here and alive and we would make it through. The simple gift of being here, in this world, fighting to survive, was enough to incent me to remember that each day can be and will be “mynewfavoriteday.”
And so 8 months later, “mynewfavoriteday” has become something greater than me.
It has set me free. Free to grieve, free to feel, free to speak, free to share, free to be supported, free to be me. To say my blog saved my life is not an exaggeration. It saved my life, as I know it. The positive, mostly happy, optimistic, compassionate, empathetic, hopeful, loving, and resilient, life as I know it. So today, in this great honor to guest post on TMiYC, I am grateful for my blog as it saved my life and the life of our family as we know it.
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