Coping, Grief, Healing, Squirrels

Finding Sanity.

 

“Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.” Haruki Murakami

Yesterday, a few hours before Game of Thrones was scheduled to air, my Comcast service quit. I was not all that upset: #GOT last-season-how-much-blood-can-you-stand fatigue had set in for me. Mystery solved this morning, when after three hours of ladders, dusty gross cellar crawling, rewiring, more ladders, more dust, a technician informed me that squirrels had chewed through the wires to the house. And I laughed.

When I returned from Seattle last week I didn’t find much funny, or edible, or worthy. I spent days in deep self care, so saddened, wrapped in a blanket staring out the window, recovering from both the privilege of holding my Aunt’s hand through the end of her life and the trauma of this loss. Curled up in a soft chair, I stared out the kitchen window at my bird feeder for hours until it became evident that even the good-sized, cherry-red Cardinal could not compete with the new generation of juvenile squirrels who had perfected the art of holding the bird feeder open with one toe, while spooning out the birdseed with another. By the second day this blatant pirating made me cross: rustling up shoes, I stomped outside with a can of Pam spray and blanket flying, greased the pole.

The little pissed off spitting grey fur-balls dashed up, then slid down faster, to the ground. Some, after wiping off their paws, their tails spinning in an angry, indignant twitch, then decapitated a nearby heirloom quince bush of all the coral blossoms. Payback seems to have also included snacking on my utility line. Maybe not so funny anymore — but this small, focused preoccupation with squirrel sabatage over the rest of the week helped me regain my footing into the weekend.

I treasured our relationship: my Aunt, also my Godmother, my mother’s first cousin and best friend, knew five generations of the women in my family. She unabashedly drank Nescafè all day long with hazelnut creamer and never minced on words. Our connection was part daughter-sister-sage-advocate-protector. The loss of this 87 year-old woman who had grounded me since my mother died, thirty-five years ago, was for some reason unexpected. Are we ever ready? I mourn her completely. Life has experienced a seismic shift. But just when I get buried in this grief I also remember her scolding me —  get on with it what are you waiting for — when, after all my surgeries, I was consumed with lethargy. She would have loved that I took on squirrels to ease my pain about her, to get me out of the chair.

So I grilled this technician: Why? What do you all do for that? Is this common? All the while knowing full well that ‘my’ squirrels — and there are too many to count —  are here for a reason. Much better than Game of Thrones.

Thanks, Auntie.

 

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#trending, Coping, flowers, Friendship, Healing, writing

#Trending: It’s personal.

[tren-ding]: emerging as a popular trend.

What is #trending for you personally this July, 2018? Because that is all that really matters. I was thinking about this as the birds sprayed all the fresh water out of my birdbath this morning, exuberantly enjoying their morning spa. Note that nothing about my list is trendy #trending — you would have to  jump over to twitter for that — instead, a short list of what I realize has unfolded as my compass this last month.

  1. #goodfriendsareshastadaisies:  Leucanthemum superbum are the most trustworthy summer perennial I know — standing tall despite heat or thunderstorms or neglect,  They stretch to the sky and tip their faces up to the sun and grow in the poorest patches of earth. I have friends that stand up to life this way, the same friends who continuously cultivate our friendship despite our differences or geography or challenges.  They are my #trending anchors, my soul soothers, I channel you daily. You know who you are. I am grateful.
  2. #WritingReadingThinking: If I can’t write, I read. If I can’t read, I think. Do not underestimate the power of sitting with morning tea and listening to what is happening around you and just thinking. Some of my best lines float into my brain this way. Some of the best answers come to me watching birds hop in and out of the birdbath. It has taken six decades to allow sitting into my life and to reap the benefits. One silver lining of health challenges I try to pay forward daily.
  3. #Family: As we grow up and old we change. I am all for this. For all of us. What is  #trending for me is the filament that holds us together, though my family grows and expands —  a tie so gossamer it seems invisible but so strong, like the single thread of a spider web. I am thankful.
  4. #Sadsacksofflesh: So I lost a couple of sad sacks of flesh last year and I am about to lose another. #trending for me is understanding what I can live without and remembering how I have healed, over and over. I am writing a to-do list for 2019 and checking it twice. Watch me go after this next surgery. Catch me if you can.
  5. #LettingStuffGo: The Nest, in Seattle, is three rooms and a bath. Enough said. We don’t need anything, really, but the essentials. And chocolate. What are yours?

So what is #trending for me personally? I am picking daisies and talking to friends far and near and staying in touch with my grown-up offspring and getting through another hospital gig and booking tickets and writing workshops and retreats and outlining my new manuscript and stripping the basement of stuff. I can’t wait for the year to come. And in the near future, I will be sitting down, watching the birds and thinking while my body catches up.

How about you? Whatever it is, make it yours, make it good.

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Be Brave., Carcinoid tumor, Coping, Friendship, Good, Kindness, Support, Whoop!, writing

Short and Sweet: We Survived It.

This day, this morning, December 31st — the absolute last gasp of 2017 —  a choice presents itself. Shall I whinge? Shall I whoop?

What I leave behind in 2017: my 50’s, my ovaries, appendix and assumption of immortality. On politics? I gladly leave behind any further fury or speculation. On writing: I leave the year with barely any pages in my files. A new woman looks back at me in the mirror. I lost the other one in April.

But. The gains!

So so many acquaintances and friends gave me unexpected love, stepped forward and shepherded me through the two surgeries and recoveries, ones I didn’t even know had my phone number. I reconnected with far-away family. Writer friends patiently read my work over and over as I got my anesthesia brain cleared, never judged, their patience putting momentum into me once again. Friends and family and strangers pulled off a wedding in a hurricane. A young woman preached self care to me daily and gave me courage.

A son-in-law. My children achieved success. 4,500 people read my blog posts. A tumor shrunk. A new belly button. The Nest awaits me.

In an hour I will take a bubble bath and put on my Gronk socks, wrestle the pot of chili next door, listen to football f-bombs and laugh. It is what it is on this last day of 2017. Importantly, I also know what I want it to be in 2018 and what I believe I can do. Despite.

A friend said to me in April, “You have to be brave.” But I also would say, “So many people will help you do that. Let them.”

The WHOOP won. Welcome, New Year. Thank you, readers, critics, friends and strangers for all you have given me. It far outweighs the other. We survived it.

Let me make this short and sweet so you can get back to your bubbly.

Kicking your butt out the door, 2017.

See you in 2018.

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Begin anew, Carcinoid tumor, Coping, Healing

What Comes Next.

Sitting under a Pacific Northwest sunset, freshly shucked oysters in hand, a friend asked me last night, “what are the top take-aways you have from the last three months and what you have been through.”

The first thought that came to mind? I can heal. No matter how much I thought my body was broken. I have never been health challenged before. I did not know what came next.

The second thought? I was wearing a long, white linen skirt. I twirled it a little. Then said, “I realized saving this was ridiculous and have worn it almost every day.”

What came next for me, when I woke up one morning and realized I could make tea and walk the dog and make it past nine o’clock at night, was a sense of magic and wonder. Every day is a good day. Even if I feel crummy and sit curled up on the couch, resting. Here I am.

If I focus on the what if of that now-removed but large carcinoid tumor I will never get out of bed, or get dressed at all. So that feels like a waste of all my body has been through. I am breathing, right?

Now that I have thought about this, I like the image: Drag the broken body out into the sunset. Decorate it with a long, impractical but divine white linen skirt. Twirl in the sparkle of the setting sun. Pat the stomach pains and remind self: I got this today.

What came next was an understanding: The sun will come up and go down, despite. Every day. I want to watch it, eyes wide open. Surrounded by friends and family, preferably wearing that impractical skirt.

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Mt. Rainier, Restoration Point sunset, July 2017.

 

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Coping, Fear, Strawberries

Hold. On.

 

This week marks one month since my second surgery that removed and rebuilt a portion of my colon. As the four weeks crawled by I struggled to adjust to healing all over again. I stayed upstairs for a week, fear and pain ruling me. I stared all day long at a blue whale print propped across the room and listened to a nature app on shuffle just to breathe. The discomfort was relentless. Night and day were interchangeable. It was easier to close my eyes. Who was this person?

It took me a few weeks to have both the energy and the courage to look down again at the new swelling, stitches and bruising, the new topography of my belly, taped up tight with steri-strips. Then I went back to bed.

Once upon a time I thought exams were a tragedy. I wept nightly into a dorm pay phone my third year of college over an English paper while my mother sat silent on the other end. Soon after she mailed me a small card. I opened the envelope while curled up in a ball on my single dorm bed, eyes swollen. The front pictured a cute little mouse nibbling on a bright red berry. Inside she had written, in her strong, loopy cursive,

Relax and have a strawberry for god’s sake!

Dollar bills fluttered to the floor. Wait. This was sympathy? I have to take care of myself? I have to get on with things? I got off the bed and went to dinner, miffed. Exams ended. I still had good grades.

A flat of farmer’s market strawberries made me turn the corner again this week. I got off the couch at week three and made compote. I spooned the jam straight from the jar and closed my eyes as it sparkled in my mouth. She was right.

Then I took a bath and slowly peeled off the stern-strips. And I had a brand new indent in the middle of my abdomen.

The surgeon smiled as he checked my incisions last week and asked how I liked my new belly button. My reputation was at stake, he said, I couldn’t leave you like that. So he stayed on and did some plastic surgery. We high-fived and I thanked him. His eyes twinkled. We had a good laugh that rolled down the oncology floor.

It’s the little things.

Is life as simple as a field strawberry, red and sweet and full of the sun, perfectly orbed and bursting with remarkableness? Definitely. Do I believe in the kindness of strangers? For sure.

I kept the card from my mother, cutesy little mouse and all, because I count that little piece of paper as one of my big HOLD ON moments: while wallowing in self-pity my mom pushed me to get up and get on with it, ace the difficult and remember how good a strawberry tasted. And it worked.

However, the nature app has to go. Every other track includes the sound of rolling thunder. Olive my Scottish Terrier —  chief nurse and caregiver who has not left my side for ten weeks —  does not consider that restful. It’s me or the app she finally huffed.

I have learned over the last ten weeks that I can and will heal. That is the miracle of my body. The potential of more cancer, the active surveillance by my doctors, will be on my calendar for years to come. That is the risk of my body. This new bodily state can not dictate my life or rule me with fear.

I have so much to do. You can find me at the market, loading my basket with strawberries.

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