Bright Side of Life

On Tuesday, June 7, 2015, I stood in front of gathered family and friends, and said “till we meet again” to my father, my Dad.  I can’t find the words again to express how I felt then, much less how I am still feeling.  Instead, I’ll share the “long version” of the eulogy I pared down, not trusting myself to make it through anything longer.

On Father’s Day, I spoke to Dad for what would turn out to be the last time. I was getting ready to go into church that Sunday morning. It felt a bit odd; none of the men in my life were going to be there. Dad was in South Carolina, David was at work, my boys were still asleep I’m sure, Ed was still at Conference. Kelly and Mike had even left after Sunday School. So it was just me. I don’t know why I chose to call him before walking in; normally, I would have called him after. But I didn’t. I sat on the steps and told him about stopping by the Bellwood Flea Market that morning. Again, I can’t explain why I stopped there that morning; it was hot as blazes and I always feel I need a shower after I leave that place. But there are so many fun memories tied to the blacktop and gravel converted drive-in theater; when Kelly and I were little, we used to go most weekends with Dad, stopping at Hardee’s to grab a sausage biscuit with grape jelly and a coffee to take to Grandpa, my Dad’s dad, as he manned his stall selling old tools, electronics he had meticulously restored, and old radio parts. As I told Dad about stopping there this morning, we laughed about how it had changed; not so many folks just unloading the overflow of basements and garages, but nearly half of it an amazing assortment of fresh produce. Seriously, cactus leaves alongside other fruits I can’t even identify, but am still tempted by, all the same. I did manage, for old time’s sake, to score a lovely coffee table and tin tray, just begging for a makeover. Guess that “thrill of the hunt” and the urge to renew something old, runs in the blood. Dad seemed excited to hear my plans for the items. David and I have started a side business “flipping” and creating home furnishings, and Dad wanted to know my plans for these pieces.  Just as he had done two days prior, he imparted his words of advice for getting our fledgling enterprise up and running.  He was pleased to hear David seemed to have caught my contagious love of looking at all things old with a new vision.  Or, as he remarked, at least David was humoring me.

As he always did, he asked about my boys and if they were behaving. Dad was amused to hear Lee had finally decided he could drive the full-sized F150 in the city without running over everyone and everything in his path. I drive that truck now.  See, it was Dad’s truck, and he had recently sent it up the coast to Lee, as his car had croaked.  Dad was no longer driving and didn’t want it to sit there.  I can feel Dad riding co-pilot everytime my short-legged self crawls into the cab.  Sorry, Lee. He wanted to know how Ryan’s most recent broken body part was, and told me to tell the boy, to “Quit breaking shit!” Dad wanted to know how Morgan was doing, and told me give Noah and Peyton a hug and a kiss from Big Grandpa. He has such a soft spot for his first grandchild, Morgan, and would always tell me make sure I give her a hug, and tell her I love her, even when I felt like choking her, as all mother’s and daughters tend to do at times. He asked about Martin (my ex) and said he commented on the Father’s Day post Martin had made: a great picture of my former father-in-law, drink in hand, in the tub. He said he missed Pete. I got choked up; those two were great friends and the source of much embarrassment to “the women folk” when we dared take the two of them out in public together.

We laughed about it being June 21st: Father’s Day, first day of summer, and David’s birthday all in one. Dad was laughing as he said something along the lines of “Good grief! Bet he thinks this weekend is all about him! Well, he’s a good man; let him have a day to do what he wants before he goes back to work.” Me: “Dad, he had to work today.” Dad: “Well, can’t have everything. Give him a hug from me and tell him happy birthday, Father’s Day, and all that happy crap.”

We talked briefly about the storms the night before and the oppressive heat. I was grasping at small talk, not wanting to get off the phone. That’s not usual for me; I hate talking on the phone normally. But that Sunday morning, I just seemed to bring up any little topic to keep the conversation going, even when it was clear that Dad was having a hard time talking. I kept talking. I told him about the furniture we were working on now, and once he again felt compelled to give me business advice, just as he had 10 minutes ago. I listened…again. I told him David’s kids were taking us to Jurassic World tonight for Father’s Day…he asked about them, again laughing at our modern-day Brady Bunch. I told him I wish he had been able to meet Christian especially; they could have quoted lines from Monty Python and shared highly inappropriate jokes, just as he did with Lee and Ryan, and I’m certain he would have eventually with Noah.

Which leads me to this; I learned compassion, forgiveness, humility, and passion for the written word from Mom. Dad, on the other hand, taught me to be curious, to be fearless when faced with the risk of failure, to spin a great story, to make use of the “flow chart of life” as he called it, and above all else, to laugh….a lot…and to not take life so seriously as to miss out on all the truly hysterical minutia that make up the every day. As a teacher, that particular piece of advice has turned out to be the single most important nugget of wisdom that wasn’t taught in a single one of my degree programs. As long as I was affiliated with VCU first as a student, and later as faculty, you think they might have mentioned that one. Dad’s advice to me at times of angst or confusion were always the same…Lay your burdens in God’s hands, pray about them, maybe have a good cry, apply the “flow chart” to it to make a plan, then find the humor in the situation and laugh your ass off.

As Kelly and I prepared for today, we grieved each in our own way. I came to understand that Dad had prepared us for this day, each in the manner that would bring us the most comfort. They were just quite different; it took me a few days, and venting to a few folks wiser than I to understand that. Many thanks go out to Keith and many, many others for keeping me sane these past two weeks.

But thanks to Dad, beyond the first initial gut-punch shock that had me doubled over in a parking lot outside of my car wailing, I’ve chosen to find the humor in the situation, and I’d like to share a small sample of those moments. Before I could even make it back home from the movies, I remarked that I was fairly certain the first thing Dad did after the initial check-in and hugs all around, was to meet up with his brother, Jon and my former father-in-law, Pete, and t.p. the Pearly Gates. After the gathering at Dad’s church in South Carolina with Johnnie, Lonnie & Susan, and Charles among others, we went back to Lonnie and Susan’s for lunch, as Lonnie had pleaded with us to help dispose of an extreme excess of Baptist women’s food. On the way up the walk, Johnnie turned to me, spied my hat, which was firmly on my head at the time, and informed me that she wanted my hat. She very matter of factly told me Dad had been after her to get a hat to protect her skin when she was out walking, and my hat was perfect and she wanted that hat. She wanted that hat. No discussion.  She.  Wanted.  That.  HAT!

Obviously, I handed over the hat.

Johnnie, thank you from the bottom of my heart; that moment was the best gift you could have given me that day…you made me smile. I will forever think of that second hand straw hat as Dad’s way of ensuring we stay connected over the miles. Wear it often; it looks beautiful on you. Then there was the “little brown jug” as an urn misunderstanding. You’ll have to catch me at Kelly’s if you want to hear that story. (I’ll share that story in a future post).

Let me leave you with a few final thoughts on Dad’s behalf as we draw to a close. Today is a respectful, dignified, and loving “till we see you again” to our Dad, Mickey Newell. We’ve had readings of favorite passages and the playing of hymns that moved him the most. We’ve been comforted by the Word of God and His promises in our time of grief. But I cannot return to my seat today without leaving you a nugget of take-home wisdom from Dad and thereby keeping a promise to him I made so many years ago. A promise to read at least a portion of the lyrics to a favorite song, which incidentally, is the 3rd most requested song at funerals in Great Britain…I’ll refrain from inflicting my singing on you, but feel free to sing along or whistle the tune if you know it. I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging ever so slightly, these words composed by the gifted lyricist, the late Eric Idle; if you don’t know his name…they have Google for that…

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing

For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it’s your last chance anyhow
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

Advertisements

Halloween or Thanksgiving?

So yesterday was a typical, fall day in the Old Dominion…bit gray, drizzly off and on… No wait, that would be an average day in the countryside of England. But the air was crisp, bit damp, overcast: my kind of relaxing-with-no-agenda weather. “Bruce” and I were just taking it slow; farmers’ market, coffee and breakfast, visit with the sis and her family, more coffee, wandering aimlessly around a really cool (not so little as it turns out), shop in Chester that showcases various artisans’ wares and second-hand goods. Check out The Lazy Daisy if you’re ever in town. Bring your coffee and take time to peer into every nook and side room; there’s no telling what you will find: from the hair bows in school colors for the cheerleaders in your life to a chicken crate repurposed into a coffee table. It’s all there. For us arsty/crafty folks, places like this are heaven sent! The Tattooed Boy Wonder was home from college, and having fun just hanging with his brother, so of course, Buffalo Chicken pizza was on the menu for dinner, preceded by very manly sandwiches….BLT with cheese. Bacon makes everything better, but I digress.

 

It was on the way to the old ‘hood to pick up this heart-attack inducing pizza that I decided to detour past the old house. Bruce had never seen it, so in the interest of sharing my past, I swung by. Big mistake.

 

I had no idea just how many bad memories were attached to that place, until I drove past it. It was so swift, and so unexpected, that it took every ounce of self-control to not floor it Dukes of Hazard style and get out of that cul-de-sac. Don’t get me wrong; we had some laughs there too. But the majority of experiences there were just depressing. Dark. Stressful. Scary. Like a perpetual monster under your bed in the night. Not just the life events, but the house itself. It wasn’t until after we had closed on the house that we learned a teen had died while living there (not in the house, but in a car accident). Even the high school my boys attended seemed cursed with a high accidental death rate among the student body. The frights of October 31st had nothing on the “cloud of doom” that seemed to hang over that place.

 

I flashed back and remembered that while living there, I experienced the darkest days of my life. My marriage disintegrated, and I sunk into a depression that I didn’t think I’d ever dig my way out of again. Granted, I started to pull myself together there too, but the damage was already done. The house just had “bad juju” as a friend likes to say. In those brief moments as I rolled past the yard and the house that now just seemed quite ugly and cloned (planned community you know…you’re not permitted to show any individuality unless approved by a committee in advance), I lost sight of where I was now, only seeing the darkness that hung over that place.

 

The whole drive back home, my mind flipped through the Rolodex of events as if trying to tally every negative moment that occurred there. I finally crawled in the shower, as if I could wash those painful memories off like dust and mud. As I stood under the steaming water, near to tears, I just sent up a simple prayer of thanks for a reminder of where I was now. I didn’t need to forget those memories, but I needed to lose my grip on their place in my past. I believe I was led past that house again in order to fully appreciate what I do have, just how great are the gifts that I have now. I still struggle with deciding about the path my journey will take, but I am truly blessed to know that I am loved; that by turning my life over to God’s will instead of mine, I can find my way through any challenge. It may be a bumpy path at times to traverse, but I will make progress. My vision for my life’s work is becoming a bit more clear day by day, as I embrace that I am meant to serve and love others through my vocation, my service to my new home church and community, and my relationships with those around me. It has also become critical to me that I grow my writing as well as my side business as these celebrate who I am as an artist: a description of me I have taken a curiously long time to fully embrace. I also know that just as I have rediscovered this side of me that lay buried for too long, I am meant to encourage that gift and passion in others who either lost touch with that part of themselves or who are only just coming to understand that it burns within them as well.

 

This morning as I reread a letter I wrote to “Bruce” recently, I was again reminded of all for which I have to be thankful. My life going forward with him is a story of gratitude and faith, just as gratitude and faith brought him to me. We never know how long we will have someone in our lives, so give thanks for every moment you do have. When the first words you hear in the morning are “Have I told you yet today how much I love you?”, there can be no other choice but to smile and give thanks for all that you have, letting go of what you don’t have or wish you had…because there is nothing else to compare to the gift of love.

Part 2.5: Becoming Me, Almost….

Yes, I know I promised the next part of this series was going to be about how I understand intimacy, but a bit of something happened last night to cause me to get this out first.  Please pardon the interruption and the detour.  And please excuse the coltish awkwardness to follow; I’m terribly out of practice at writing any sort of poetry.

 

He walked the graveled path on bare feet,

Pain impaled the body and mind

Alone and lost in winter’s freeze.

He stopped, howled his anguish and

Tried to soothe the temporary ache

With fleeting relief to the wounds that quickly fell away.

He found, discarded but fair cloth to bind his feet.

And the walk became less strained…

And the path began to yield its light.

A willow’s feathers brushed the ground,

Offering a tender invitation to rest a while.

Pleasant and soothing, but only for a moment

Before offering protection for the continuing journey.

Though the path remained loose and rocky

The stones grew smaller and less threatening,

Further separated from his self

By the gift of the willow’s boughs wrapped tightly ’round his feet.

Color peeked from the undergrowth

As flowers peered their frilly faces upward in encouragement to continue his search.

Taller and brighter grew the petals and

He smiled.

Then, in the garden of the home he left a lifetime ago,

The sweet scent of a flower emerged from a tangle of thorns.

Recognized yet unknown in youth.

Confidently, he pruned away the sharp distractions to exposed the red heart of a rose.

Small. Soft. Delicate yet sturdy on its own straight spine of scattered minute thorns.

He drew his breath at the find,

Bent.

Cupped the bloom to his face in hands folded as if in prayer.

Closed his eyes to bend and drink her scent.

He took nothing from the rose, yet gave her nourishment.

Her spikes lost their threatening stance and

She enveloped him in her beauty and invisible gifts,

While she  grew stronger and brighter.

For he was home,

And she, tended.

 

Part 1, Becoming Me: Hiding publicly

This post series may be a bit difficult for some of you to read…or stomach…or even believe. I’m even going to preface this series with a disclaimer: there is absolutely no disrespect, ill-will, or anything else intended to be deliberately disparaging in it towards my ex. He is happy now as am I, and I joyfully want that to continue. I will touch on some issues we had as a couple, and perhaps he (if he actually reads this), will accept this as an “exit interview” and take some of the observations in the spirit intended…as my own personal views and interpretations. No one else’s. Now on with the show…

 

Unless you’ve been under a virtual rock, or had a life, or are new to the blog, or [insert any one of a million valid reasons], then you’re aware that I am at a real crossroads in my life, and a very happy place that is to travel. When the ex and I officially separated in January 2014, it was a complete “non-event”: no wailing and howling or dish-throwing. True, tons of glares exchanged lines of sight, but that was about it. But I made a decision in an instant, that from that day forward I was going to be myself, own my feelings, be unapologetic for my beliefs, and do what made me happy. To some this may sound wholly selfish; for me, it was a matter of reclaiming myself.

 

One of the first things I started doing was writing again; it’s been one of the best decisions I could have made for me. I had an outlet for my creativity, in addition to the candle making, and it felt wonderful to put “fingers to keyboard” so to speak. This was more than a diary or a journal; this was a sharing of my soul at times…perhaps a bit exhibitionist one may believe, but let’s be honest, without that bit of narcissistic belief that someone other than ourselves is interested in what we have to say, there would be no books ever written. There is something that drives a writer to publicly commit their thoughts, ideas, dreams, fears to a public airing and open themselves to criticism. Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment and pain, as it is painful to hear/read that someone judges our heart’s blood to be…heaven forbid…drivel. After all, “it” meant enough to us to agonize over a single phrasing of a sentence for hours or days before releasing it for public consumption; how dare someone else proclaim it unworthy of a read much less a second thought? But, as surely as there is cream and sugar in my coffee, I will continue to write and put my thoughts out there for your review. No longer do I have a fear of rejection of this part of me, regardless of what views I express, when I sit down with the keyboard in my lap. The only agony connected to my writing now is in reigning myself in sufficiently to avoid using the real names of those characters who now write my life’s scripts. I love them all, and it is my choice to not bring their true identities into the telling of my tales.

 

Case in point. I’ve skirted around many of the details surrounding the relationship between “Bruce” and I, and will continue to do so; I may share some of our conversations, but more in the manner of sharing things we have learned or believe in the spirit of hoping that it may encourage someone else in their journey. For a bit, I was annoyed that “Bruce” didn’t want to make us “Facebook Official”, meaning, changing our respective statuses to read “In a relationship with…”. My old self-esteem immediately assumed he was hiding something, such as me or another girlfriend(s). I was ready to share my joy with anyone dumb enough to be in earshot or visual range as the case may be. But in his calm, unflappable manner, he took my face in both his hands for a sweet kiss, hugged me tight, then explained,

 

“I want this to be about us right now. No one else’s opinions or suggestions or comments. Just us. If something happens and we decide to back up the U-Haul*, people would feel the need to take sides, and I don’t think either of us want that.”

*backing up the U-Haul: our phrase for going our separate ways

 

We still comment and like each other’s posts on Facebook, but we don’t directly say we are dating each other. We have had a bit of fun with my status, changing it from “single” to “It’s complicated”, as in, he is a fan of American football, and me a fan of real football (a.k.a. soccer). Or complicated because he is “Bruce Wayne”…just plain silliness bourne out of my need to call him something. I’m sure we’ll make a quiet status change to real names before much longer, but for now, this has been a bit of fun.

 

I finally understood his need for privacy on social media was in a manner of speaking, a showing of respect and protection of “us”. We have since allowed a select group of friends in on our secret. They’ve been very respectful of our wishes. We’ve met each other’s family, visit with his folks regularly, hung out with our kids together, and even had our parents join us together for a relaxed dinner out while my dad was in town. I was very fortunate to have loved my ex’s parents while they were still alive, and I am equally fortunate to adore Bruce’s parents. Lovely, lovely people…as is apparently everyone related to Bruce. Amazing folks. But what I find so refreshing with Bruce is his attentiveness to me in the presence of our friends and family…yes, even in front of my lovingly intimidating and protective father! For me, this was missing from my marriage, and it’s partially my fault for not speaking up more clearly perhaps that I needed this: this public acknowledgement that yes, we are together, yes, there is a bond here, and yes, the man with me feels lovingly protective and proud of me enough to put his arm around me or give me a quick public kiss. Nothing mushy or sloppy or hugely demonstrative…just a quick “I love you and I’m glad to be with you.”

I had another “yes, this is going good places” moment this morning along those lines when we passed an elderly couple walking on the side of the road, holding hands. At the same moment, we both sighed and let out an “Awww”. I once told my ex upon seeing an exceptionally older couple, in their 80’s perhaps, out for a stroll holding hands, “That. That’s what I want.” He had no reply or comment at all at the time, but after our split, he brought up that moment, and said his heart dropped when I said that while watching the sweet pair walk along the water, hand in hand, heads bent together laughing over a shared memory perhaps. Might have been my hair standing on end though that amused them, who knows. He said almost sadly I think, that he just couldn’t do that. As I told Bruce this story, I confessed that the night of our first date, when I “accidentally” brushed his arm and he reached out to take my hand, that the accidental klutzy move was really a “test”. Had he pulled away, it would have been a deal breaker. Then and there. I will never spend my time investing in a relationship with someone who is afraid I might have cooties. I never expected him to actually reach out and take my hand and heart in his in that one split second, three hours into our first date, but he did.

 

He hasn’t let go yet, and it is the most amazing feeling.

 

Coming in Part 2, Becoming me: what is intimacy?

So what’s wrong with you again?

This is freakishly long…go get something to snack on.  It will still be here when you get back.

I haven’t spoken a great deal about my spondyloarthropathy, but someone new and very special to me in my life was asking “Bruce” what was “wrong” with me, and I thought this was a great time to talk a bit more about it. Don’t take offense with the wording; I’m so blessed to have this person in my life now, but they are new to being Facebook friends with me, and as such, is a bit behind on some of the conversations I’ve had over there about this over the years. I knew exactly what they meant though. Trust me, those with this disorder often ask the same of ourselves…”What IS wrong with me??” Seriously, it can be baffling and confusing to live in a body that can just bop along all happy if somewhat sluggish, then suddenly revolt and decide that excruciating pain and Tin Man impersonations are the order of the day.

The timing of the question was excellent, because thanks to the incoming storms/heavy rain, a friend and I were having a conversation yesterday about how some of us seem to do such a lovely job of predicting the weather more accurately than the local weather guys…when the bones, joints, or muscles start to tighten up when bad weather is coming. Some feel it is the damp, others believe (and science is just starting to back this one), that it is the drop in barometric pressure that triggers the discomfort. The pressure drop seems to get to me the most, and the heat was tough for me to handle before starting the Enbrel. Heat increases inflammation, and inflammation, unchecked, not only increases pain but puts you at greater risk for joint damage. Cold on the other hand, might make my muscles and tendons slower to warm up in the mornings and bit stiff at times during the day, but it is FAR easier on my body. Typically, a slow morning yoga sequence gets me on my way during the cooler months, but honestly, waking up exhausted is so…well…exhausting during the heat and humidity of our Virginia summers.

The sort of spondyloarthropathy the boys and I have (Undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy or USpA for short) affects the connective tissue and not the joints themselves (enthesitis are the points where the tendons and ligaments attach to the bones..this is where we’re affected). It explains why as a child, I would get horrific leg pains…it was the tendons pulling on the growth plates of the bones. Not every pain is “growing pains”, which even the docs said they didn’t think it was when I was a kid. Had them totally stumped. Even into my early 30’s, the rheumatologist said he could only call it a sero-negative arthritis (which means having arthritis without it showing up in the bloodwork), however, the doc I had at the time said flat out it couldn’t be spondyloarthropathy, as it only affected old men. Shame when the medical community doesn’t keep up with their own research; it would have saved me nearly 8 years of suffering and damage needlessly. We’ll skip the entire “how I was finally diagnosed story”, but suffice it to say, I love living in a city with one of the top teaching hospitals in the country!

Unfortunately almost all variations of spondyloarthropathy affect the spine. My lower back is toast, as is my neck, but here’s the thing. I can whinge and moan about it, or I can continue to be proactive and do everything I can to stay healthy and active. My rheumy credits my activity, especially yoga (which I am sorry to say I’ve neglected recently…) with keeping me so mobile, active and flexible. Yes, there is a chance that at any point in time the Enbrel will quit working its magic, and I’ll be left scrambling to find another medication that slows the progression, but in the meanwhile, I am going to do everything I can to take control over this, rather than it taking control over me.  I truly feel for those who are unable to get a handle on this disease medically due to circumstances beyond their immediate control (insurance issues or medical incompetency).

But perhaps I am most concerned for those who have the services and means at their disposal, but who are unable to mentally take charge of the situation. I’ve always been a “strong person” mentally, and at times that has admittedly been my downfall. But whenever I’ve been faced with a crisis, I tend to have a quick cry about it, time and urgency for action permitting, then, I dust myself off, and ask myself what I can do to take control back. Sometimes, having a slight issue with control pays off! I recently got a bit of news about the progression that occurred while I was off the Enbrel for a bit, that sent me briefly over the edge. It was a true relationship test that “Bruce” had to witness me having a pity party for about an hour, but as I’ve come to expect from him now, he was rock-steady, calming, and just asked me the same questions I knew I would have asked myself if he hadn’t beaten me to it:

  1. What exactly did the doctor say?
  2. What should you do now?
  3. What can you control?
  4. What is out of your control?
  5. Then do it.

 

Honestly, how does he know me so well? It’s like we’re soul mates or something (although I know he’s really been placed here right now by God to take care of me and for me to take care of). So when I encounter others who are desperate for this disease to just go away, I have to wonder where their support system is and why they feel so alone and helpless. I try to do what I can to offer my support through our closed Facebook group (closed to protect their identity and our very frank conversations). I decided some time ago that I would not hide this journey with USpA in spite of the risk of discrimination or judgment. Instead, I knew I wanted to lend my ear, heart, and encouragement to others who may be struggling with challenges. You are never truly alone if someone is willing to listen.

But a word of caution is in order. If you are a care-giver/spouse/partner/friend of someone with a chronic illness, you have to set some boundaries with the person you care about. Take time out for yourself and your friends/interests too. Having sat both sides of the caregiver/receiver fence, I understand all too well that you can give until you crash and risk becoming resentful, or even falling ill yourself. Do not feel guilty about taking a break; think of it simply as recharging your batteries so you can be as effective as you possibly can be. “Bruce” has the most wonderful way of asking “What can I do to help your day end so you can relax?” We’ve both been at work, we’re both tired, but he knows that being a woman, I’m going to keep going after every little thing I see that wants doing until it’s done, or I keel over, whichever comes first. What might take me two hours at the end of the day, takes the pair of us about 30 minutes, tops. How cool is that?! So caregivers, ask, in novel ways as Bruce has, how you can help without making your partner feel dependent. That’s critical, as few people enjoy feeling helpless.

For the person on the receiving end of the help, I’ve got some advice for you as well. Don’t be a wet rag all the damn time. Yes, you are faced with challenges that perhaps your caregiver/partner will never quite understand, and perhaps you are living with obscene amounts of pain, but guess what? Everyone has a cross to bear. Practice being thankful and thanking your partner. You don’t have to literally say “Thank you” at every little thing they do, but a smile, a hand on the arm, a back scratch, giving up control of the remote, being okay with a less than Martha Stewart perfect house, appreciating efforts at cooking or cleaning up…these all let your partner know you appreciate what they do. Laugh. Once in a while, force yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. Sure, you might be exhausted at the end, but you know what? Take an extra dose of meds before you go, take a nap before or after, but especially have a frank discussion about the possibility of needing to take breaks or even leave early. I honestly can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone ahead and pushed myself, and then ended up having a blast. I have gotten more intuitive though about knowing when I really do need to back out of something, and I’ve also learned another very important lesson. Forgive myself for having to say no. I think though that since that doesn’t happen very often, my friends and family have gotten the message that if I do say no, it’s a rough day/week whatever, and that they just need to let me recoup a bit so I can be there for when I am needed as well. And here is another important tip in my opinion…think before you open your mouth. What is coming out? Is it constant complaints or do you temper the Grumpy Cat days with moments of positivity? If you’re more grouch than grinning, then force yourself to do/say something positive. It supposedly takes 21 days to form a new habit, but trust me, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel the benefits of a more positive outlook, and you will be less likely to drive your support system away. It is very stressful, confusing and scary to be a caregiver/partner to someone with a chronic illness; it is very easy to walk away.  It is extremely difficult to stay, so don’t for one moment take for granted those who do, and forgive those who try but have to leave in the end.  Not everyone is cut out for the task no more than everyone is capable of hiking the Himalayas….it takes a certain mindset, heart, and fortitude to do it. Yes, I completely understand that there may always be someone(s) in your life who just won’t get it. Decide if they are worth your energy to worry about. Think about it.

 

So I hope this has been a bit helpful, hopefully quite informative, and I wish you well with whatever you may be facing in your own life. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts here. No flame wars though…I don’t tolerate personal assaults on anyone, myself included. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

 

 

Sticking Around

Things that “stick around”…good friends for an extra cup of coffee or a beer, fans after an autograph, the smell of cabbage cooking…dog farts….  “Sticking around” implies there’s something else the “sticker” could be doing, but chooses otherwise.  Perhaps, they just enjoy what they’re doing, and are loathe to change the activity.  Maybe, the sticker is just a touch on the lazy side and can’t be bothered to do something different that would require effort to change direction.  Now, cabbage and dog farts don’t exactly have a choice in whether to stick around or not, but to a certain extent, their pungence causes them to hang about…a mixture of chemistry and olfactory memories combining to keep them around longer than either necessary or desired.  A good squirt of air freshener or a strong fan will generally help them along their way however. Usually.  Unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I’ve got the crock pot filled to the brim with corned beef and cabbage….or if one of the boys has fed the pug beans.  That’s bad news there. 

But what about people in your life who stick around…in spite of something weird, negative or scary… Have you ever questioned their motivation? You throw work drama at them.  They pour a couple cups of coffee, pull up a chair, and say, “Tell me more.”  You decide to sulk over an unsolicited text they get…they didn’t invite or ask for it, but you decide to act like an ass about it…just because.  They just hug you, and show you that there is no conversation to this text, and that it is all one-sided.  You know they’re right; you just had a moment of acting self-centered and about 5 years old.  They still keep hugging, texting and calling you though, even though the tantrum probably deserved a dose of the silent treatment.  Some folks, and let’s be honest, we’re talking about partners/boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses and even family members here, would walk pretty quickly away from these little life dramas.  Face it, in the grand scheme of things, these really are petty issues, and typically don’t deserve a huge amount of energy to get through.  

Then life throws you a curve ball.  A big ol’ smack upside the head, reality check, heart stopping, make you want to barf continually moment.  You can’t catch your breath as you try to process what is happening.  Then an even darker feeling creeps into the edges of your reality…you’re in a pretty new relationship…how do you share this with your partner and not expect them to pack up the U-Haul?  Now let’s think about this rationally for a moment…would it really be fair to share this life-moment with a new partner?  You’re barely out of the burping in front of each other stage, although you’ve shared a great deal of your history, but seriously?  You expect them to be there for this?  “THIS” is heavy stuff…it can make or break marriages, so it really might be more kind to just quietly break this off with them now, and spare them the process.  True, they might be confused and hurt at the rejection, but then you wouldn’t feel the guilt of the alternative….

…the alternative, is to tell them, and then hold your breath, waiting for them to leave.  But they don’t.  You start to wonder, if they are sticking around only not to seem heartless: that once the event is past, they will be the ones to quietly bow out before anything else can crop up.  You wouldn’t blame them, although you would be hurt, but who wants to wade willingly into a crisis, make it through, then hang around to see if something else happens again.  That might even be the definition of a sadist come to think of it…..

Or….your partner, after you tell them, sits silently for a moment, then tells you (forgive the changing voice…) “WE will get the facts, then WE will get the plan, then WE will follow through with it.  WE will get through it.”

It then becomes clear to you that it is the truly extraordinary hearts that are capable of such “Stick to it-iveness”.  The only guilt that you should be feeling is in ever doubting that they would be there in the first place.  You know that you too, would be there for them were the tables turned, and that is what makes the relationship have longevity potential.  Something else may come along in time to send you each down separate roads, but for right now, this…this challenge will only cause you to stick even closer together.  

Pain, Fog, and Stillness

Used with permission from flickr.com/photos/2kun.  Photographs on this site are copyrighted and are available for purchase.  Do contact the original owner for details.

Used with permission from flickr.com/photos/2kun. Photographs on this site are copyrighted and are available for purchase. Do contact the original owner for details.

What a dark sounding title for a post, eh? I promise it’s not all gloom and doom, but it comes from joy birthed through pain. At first glance, the photo above struck me as painful…despairing…alone. But the more I stared at it, the more I could see it as a metaphor for life, specifically, my recent life.

 

Let’s start with the bleeding obvious, the barbed wire: sharp, restrictive, and exclusionary. It says “You are not allowed in here, or out of here. Any attempts to gain entrance or escape will be met with sure pain…and lots of cursing and blood.”

 

Now, turn your attention to the fog. Fog clouds, shrouds, and obscures our field of vision. Think about driving down the road when you encounter a smoky blanket of cloud, kissing the pavement and making you nervous about what lies ahead. Where is the road? What if the guy in front of me doesn’t have on his/her lights? I might smack into him! I can’t see! Never mind you’ve traveled that road a gazillion times before and know every pothole and bump. You doubt your own history, prior knowledge, and assume the worst. You know the road is there somewhere, but you’re just not certain where anymore.

 

Finally, the water: gray, still, perhaps stagnant. It’s deserted; there is no sign of activity, devoid of all visible life.

 

If I were to describe my life for about a three-year period, I would use these descriptors as the colors to paint what seemed a grim picture. I felt trapped and the only way out would be painful. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything out there that wasn’t as bleak as what I felt at the time. Just nothing. In my mind, there was absolutely nothing out there to find that didn’t have the potential to be more painful than what I already knew. So for the longest time, I stayed with the pain I knew, rather than risk a pain that was new and unknown.

 

But slowly, I came to understand that reality is what you make it at times. Through an enormous amount of hard work and a dose of prayer, I began to rewrite my reality. I could now look at the picture above in a different light. The barbed wire came to represent the challenges to my life that I could get through; all I had to do was find the right tool to cut it. That tool exists; it’s not mythical. It’s Faith. My faith allows me to break through any obstacle to reach what I need to live.

 

In the concrete sense, I need water…the still quiet of the water. I find that I am calmed by water. A mountain stream, the gently lapping tides in the morning on the beaches at the Outer Banks, but especially the Chesapeake Bay…these all ground me and have the ability to instantly make me appreciate that there is a Creator who made these marvels for me to experience and protect. In the abstract, water is to me a metaphor for love. Love, like the waters of the Earth, can be calm and still, or turbulent and stormy; it’s never the same from moment to moment, sometimes it is present in abundance. Other times it seems scarce or fouled. I look through the pain of my past, break through with the aid of my faith, to find love, still, quiet, and ready for me to wade in as deep as I am willing to go. I will float along in it, and allow it to carry me where it will, unconfined.

 

Which brings me to the fog. No longer does fog represent fear and darkness, but rather a soft unknowing. I think of this as trying to understand or explain God’s purpose for me. I think I have an idea of what lies ahead, but in fact, I don’t know for certain. I can decide what I think lies ahead, but when I open my eyes and my heart, I may find something very different…that God’s purpose for me may be unknown or unclear at the moment, but the uncertainty isn’t permanent. In time, when the conditions are right, the fog will lift and all will be made clear.

At church this weekend, the pastor spoke of unanswered prayers, or more correctly, that God answers all prayers, just that sometimes, the answer is “No”. And like children, sometimes we don’t like to be told “no”, but it’s for our own good. I really struggled with this for the longest time in my past, and I even used this as a rationale to turn from my faith for many, many years. If I prayed, and the prayer was answered the way I wanted, then I could “see” that there was God. But if the prayer went, in my mind, unanswered, then this must be proof that there was no God, as a merciful God would surely grant me what I wanted. But it doesn’t work like that, no more than a child asking for cake for breakfast is going to get told he can have it (well, ok, once in a blue moon we get something extraordinary like that, but you get my point). We are children who need to be told “no” once in a while, for our own good.

 

So when I look again at this picture, and I think of my prayers for the pain to be lifted, for the path to be cleared to love again, and I reflect on who is in my life right now, I can’t help but believe that this is a special time in my life of prayers being answered and people being placed in my life in response to those prayers. The question that now remains to be answered…that will be answered in time, is this: has God placed this person in my life, so seemingly out of the blue, for the remainder of my life, or only as a lesson that His plan is for me to have this love for a moment? I don’t know, but I do know this; I will do everything I know to be a good steward of the love He has laid at my feet and not take a single drop for granted.