Grief and Gratitude

I am tired of writing about grief because I am tired of grieving. I have been here before, teetering at a crossroads. I have learned some things over the years, like the importance of letting myself feel whatever it is I am feeling. I have learned the difference between honoring my feelings and wallowing inside of them. I have learned (though I don’t claim to be perfect at it) to notice when it is time to make a conscious shift in perspective—when doing so doesn’t mean pushing away feelings that need to be felt, but rather, slowly shedding what is ready to fall away.

More than one person has reflected my experience back to me, describing my emotional state like that of a wounded animal. I have been battered, shell-shocked, shaking with fear, and hence too timid—and far too exhausted—to leave my den. But I have begun to sniff the outdoors; to circle the perimeter before crawling back inside.

I still carry my grief with me: somedays, like today, I carry it on my chest like a ten-ton weight; but yesterday I carried it in my back pocket and laughed like I haven’t laughed in weeks.

I know healing, like life, is not a straight trajectory. I know not to get too attached when the days feel easier, just like I know not to give up when the days feel unbearable. I carry a strength that I have built, one challenge at a time, brick by brick by brick, and it will get me through anything.

I carry fear and rage, but I also carry joy. These days, it mostly lives in my back pocket like yesterday’s grief, but I know it’s there. I can feel it like a seed, precious, with an entire garden living inside its shell.

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I want to water it with gratitude and watch it bloom:

I am grateful to be running again, slow and heavy, but running nonetheless.

I am grateful for all the women who, because they have been through what I have been through—are going through what I am going through—understand even when I don’t have the energy to explain.

I am grateful for this week’s sun, hot and bright and luring me out of my skin.

I am grateful for the people who have never waned in their presence and support; and for the people who have shown up unexpectedly with their presence and support.

I am grateful for my family’s tree-planting ceremony; and for our new tree (a
sweetly-sad looking specimen that will blossom into a beautiful weeping cherry); and for our meditating frog that makes me smile every time I look at him. (I’m not sure why I think it’s a him, since I usually go with “her,” but I do.)
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I am grateful that my children love each other the way that I always wanted a sibling to love.

I am grateful for my home, which wraps its walls around me like a cocoon.

I am grateful for Josh, my love, for loving me still. For loving me more than ever.

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Last day of breast cancer treatment!

A short but VERY SWEET!! post:

Today I had my last day of radiation and my last day of 9 months of active breast cancer treatment! (I have ten years of Tamoxifen to go, but thank the gods and goddesses everywhere, my emotional state seems to be stabilizing after two months of…. well, hell.) The end of chemo was bittersweet for me, but today is simple: I feel like celebrating.

Thank you to the wonderful radiation therapists, Sara, Mariecruz, Kate and Dana, who tenderly administered my treatment every Monday-Friday for the past 6 weeks. (And yes, I do have purple hair. I felt the urge to do something a couple of weeks ago; now I’m anxiously waiting for the purple to grow out.)

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Moving forward, I will continue to explore questions that have been prominent in my mind and heart these last many months. (As always, I would love to hear other people’s responses!)

  • What brings me joy, and how can I bring more of that joy into my everyday?
  • Who am I really? Who am I now?
  • What about my life do I want to change and what do I want to nurture?
  • For what—and for whom—am I grateful?

My Day In Gratitude

I woke up this morning feeling a bit blue and a bit sorry for myself. I think I was emotionally hung over from yesterday’s no-big-deal appointment with the surgeon that nonetheless left me teary. Surgery has always been the scariest part of my treatment plan—me lying unconscious in a room full of strangers, none of “my people” there to fight for me, to keep on eye on me, to keep an eye on them. And here it is, right around the corner. Real.

So this morning, after I pulled myself out of bed and pulled back the curtains to a gray, rainy day, I decided I would practice gratitude. (For a quick and beautiful and moving dose of gratitude, I highly recommend this video, brought to me by my children via their to-be-grateful-for elementary school music teacher.) Gratitude has proven itself to ease my woes, buoy my spirit, shift my perspective. As I walked through my day, I compiled a mental list:

I was grateful for Harrison, who always, including today, kisses me and hugs me and waves, “Bye!” before running off to his classroom and his independent life.

I was grateful that I got to hold Sophie’s hand as I walked her to her classroom.

Grateful that I got to leave her with Ms. Brown, teacher extraordinaire.

Grateful that I ran into a woman I adore but rarely see, and that we got to chat in the parking lot about gratitude.

I was grateful for the warm rain.

Grateful for the mysterious mist that reminds me of my hometown, San Francisco.

Grateful for a morning spent with my friend Nunia, meditating, sharing our intentions for the week, writing side-by-side.

Grateful that I as I yawned and yawned and yawned with fatigue, I was sitting on my couch, a blanket spread across my lap and nowhere I had to be and no one I had to take care of for hours.

Grateful for the Cancer Connection and for Mary Ann and her tender, healing touch during my reflexology session.

Grateful that I had a car to drive me home.

Grateful that I had a home to return to.

Grateful that when my children came home from school, the three of us laughed together in the living room while they bounced their boundless energy on the couch and I listened, really listened, to them share about their days, and for 12 whole minutes, I refrained from nagging them about putting their lunch boxes away and washing their hands.

Grateful that after they washed their hands and put their lunch boxes away, we all gathered in the same room again, where Harrison played with his Legos and Sophie played piano and I read the paper on the couch, the three of us together.

Grateful for my view of the branches through the window whenever I looked up from the paper.

Grateful for the article about giant salamander bones I got to share with Harrison and for the kids’ maze and crossword page I got to share with Sophie.

Grateful for the sound of the rain.

Grateful for my writing and my writing groups and my writing friends.

Grateful for my colleague, Julia, who always comes through for me.

Grateful for my cousin Cathy (Josh’s really, but I’m officially claiming her as my own) for giving my heart new reason to grow.

Grateful for my arms and my legs and for managing to eek out a few sit-ups and push-ups.

Grateful for the delicious quiche that Shawn delivered on my doorstep and for the time spent with my family of four—Josh, Harrison, Sophie and me eating together at the dining room table.

Grateful for my doorstep and my dining room table.

Grateful for the sound of Sophie’s snoring and the feel of Harrison’s skin as I rubbed his back.

Grateful to have this life and this day.IMG_0389

What are YOU grateful for? I would love to know. (Maybe you’ll share your own list in a comment?)

Bumpy Landing

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. My silence is a reflection of how I’ve been feeling emotionally—like I am through the initial whirlwind of a cancer diagnosis and beginning of treatment, and I have since landed in a “now-what?-all-the-hoopla-has-died-down-and-I-have-nothing-new-to-do-or-report” kind of quiet. For so many weeks there, I was on this strange high. Odd considering the circumstances, I know. So odd that I hesitate to admit it in front of who-knows-who is reading this.

But this is what transpired for me: I was diagnosed with cancer on a Wednesday. I (barely) moved around in a drug-like haze for the next two days. Then I woke up IMG_4220on a Saturday, bubbly and excited to make Harrison’s 9th birthday party that afternoon all he dreamed. After another day or two of continued bubbly, I started to think I was in some deep denial and that any day now, I would snap and feel the darkness one is “supposed” to be feel with a cancer diagnosis. But the darkness never came. Instead, friends and family came (in the form of cards, calls, meals, visits, texts, packages) with a stunning vengeance. A great night out with Josh came. The sun came. A beautiful rain came. The holidays (which I love) came. Special time with my kids came. In other words, everything before me felt like a gift. I was so happy. So blissfully grateful for my life.

I still am grateful! But I’m not riding the same high I was through the holidays. Though it makes sense to me now, I never expected my emotional state to decline as my physical state improved. But since I’ve been responding to the chemo with more ease and therefore able to do more, my mind and my ansiness have been busier, searching for things to lock onto. charlie's anxietiesI’m more troubled again by a cluttered home. I’m anxious about my future: What I will do in the short term as I finish treatment, but now with more energy and comfort than I had before? What will do in the future beyond my cancer treatment now that I’m letting myself dream up a different kind of work life?

I’m also starting to feel the weight of constant company. Having my parents here has, up until now, been utterly blissful. What a dreamy, happy, perfectly fulfilling and present holiday we had, just being together, in the moment, letting the days unfold. I never wanted it to end. Felt my familiar “I want this to last forever” grasping early on in the kids’ school break. But by this past weekend, it felt time for the kids to go back to school. And around the same time, I started feeling us grownups bumping up against each other a little more. My parents have been living with us for a month now, and I am craving space.

Everything felt so blissfully easy (however ironic it might have been) when I was feeling so crappy, and all I was doing was attending to my health from moment to moment to moment. So little anxiety. So little thinking about the future. So little thinking about the endless possibilities in life. Now, the more capable I feel, the more complicated things feel, and old familiar patterns of anxiety are seeping back in.

The Best Day Ever (Cancer or No Cancer)

Just wrapping up the best day ever. This second chemo cycle has been EONS better than the first. I was still pretty laid up the first week with nausea and fatigue, didn’t leave the couch much, but even so, it was less all-consuming-debilitating than the first go around—evidenced, for example, by the fact that I could tolerate TV watching and book reading (last time both only made my nausea worse), and by the fact that I actually started to get stir crazy a week in (last time I felt too putrid to feel anything other than putrid until almost two weeks in).

Today I woke up and went for a VERY SLOW but nonetheless RUN with Josh in the first sun we’ve had here for days. Then I ate a full bagel-with-the-works brunch followed by some good ol’ Monopoly (no surprise, Harrison negotiated us out of our properties and took us for our money, too). IMG_0283After the appropriate amount of said lounging around the house, we ventured out, and the kids helped me pick out a very fun, very purple wig; and then Harrison and I chopped IMG_0063down a Christmas tree (with Sophie, Amma and Zayde—aka my mom and dad—in tow). The only way the day would have been more perfect would have been if Josh had been with us instead of studying away. (Josh graduates in May 2015 from his very time- brain-energy-consuming physician assistant graduate program.)

But wait, there’s more. Then we rescued Josh from his books for a tree-decorating, cheese-and-cracker-eating, dance party. Hard to say whether my highlight was twirling around the living room with Harrison and Sophie (and you, dad!); or lIMG_0096aughing with them as we tried on pink and green wigs; or running with them through the fields of Christmas trees; or sitting around the dinner table just a bit ago with my parents and my smiling, happy children, and my love Josh, talking about what a great day itwas and knowing there are more to come, whether it be tomorrow or next month or next year.

(The bad news is that I have terrible mouth sores, a new symptom that developed a few days ago. The good news is that chemo #3 isn’t until Thursday, so mouth sores aside, I am looking forward to a few more days of feeling more physically able.)

Here Is My Village. Here Is My Gratitude.

For the last hour, since Josh left at 5:30 a.m., I’ve been lying in bed trying to compose a thank you to my incredible, life-supporting, soul-nurturing community of friends and family. Such a feat might prove impossible because the list is so long and varied and awe-inspiring that my fear of inadvertently leaving just one person off of the list might out-weigh my deep desire to mention every single individual by name. Let’s see what happens…

The “composing in my head” started because I was thinking about this afternoon, post-chemo, which got me thinking about my Dear Maggie, who is coming straight IMG_0507from work to spend the afternoon and evening with me, until Josh comes home from work, whenever that happens to be. Maggie who has filled every nook and gap on our “needs list” like only a sister (or mother or spouse—and only a particularly wonderful sister or mother or spouse at that) would do. She calls me no fewer than three times a day. Swoops up my kids at a moment’s notice; drops off prescriptions; shuttles me about; creates gifts to be opened during chemo (the latest a bag with enough individually wrapped goodies for me to open one, every half hour over the course of treatment); and does no doubt endless hours of behind-the-scenes work, from managing the site to coordinating support via phone and email to updating out of town family to navigating the dozens and dozens of emails she finds herself cc-ed on because of her integral role in my family and care. I wrote of godsends recently and have found no better word as of yet to describe people like Maggie.

People like many of you who are reading my posts. Thank you. Thank you to:

Annie, for traveling here from the Catskills, twice, to take care of my family and me in the days following chemo (or in the case of this week, to spend some quality leisure time with me in the days following not-chemo!).

Joe, Andrea and John, for, between the three of you, driving more than ten hours to transport Annie (who has chronic back pain and can’t drive long distances) between Hunter Mountain and our house.

Nunia, for taking me to chemo today.

Jen Bernache, for taking me to almost-chemo on Monday.

Keegan, for dropping everything at a moment’s notice, more than once, and giving up an hour here, an afternoon there to take me to last minute appointments.

Barry for driving me to yet more appointments, dropping off scripts and generally being on call for just about anything, anytime.

IMG_0509Jenae, for coming up from Brooklyn tonight to take care of me through the first several days of this next treatment. For checking in on me constantly, constantly. For being, even from afar, one of the first go-to people on my short list.

Clover, for “saving my life” :)) by 1) taking my kids for their flu shots; 2) arguing with the staff until they agreed to let you, a non-family member, give your consent for said shots; and 3) stopping the nurse just in time from giving the mist—and thereby protecting my chemo-suppressed immune system from live viruses!

Clover, Jen Bernache, Cara, Renee, Emily and Phil, Michele, Maggie and Barry, Andrea and John, Laura and Josh, Nuni and Silver, Molly and Mosie, Hannah and Greg, Eric: for inviting my kids to be carefree, happy kids in your care, entertaining them for hours on end (and letting me be miserable in peace).

Jeff and Tala, Sarah Buttenweiser, Shawn, for grocery shopping for my family.

Cathy, Tricia and Tonja, Tala and Jeff, Clover, Janet and Mark, Kerry, Jen Reed, Mary Bates, Noel, Jain, Elanit, for dropping off delicious, nutritious food and seriously cutting down on the dinner-time stress.

Jain, for being so on it from the start, doing what had to be done to get me seen, and hence treated, asap. For all the visits and check-ins and the super cozy hand-knitted hat, too.

Karen, for sharing your personal experience and wisdom and books and head wraps and walking company.

Ms. Jenny Jen and Mary Ellen Reed, Michele, Keegan for taking my kids to school.

Tricia, for picking up my folks in Springfield and delivering them on my doorstep.

Aimee, for leaving your own family and driving up from New Jersey this weekend to take care of all of us until my folks arrive on Tuesday.

Julie and Debbie, for all your help navigating doctors and second opinions and treatment recommendations.

Terry, for taking such good care of my mom while she’s in Northampton, so she can continue to take such great care of me.

Marsha, for taking such good care of me.

Cousin Brian, for offering to leave your own family two hours away to be with my children after school.

Nancy, for signing up to pick up my kids, whom you don’t even know, to love and feed and distract them at your house.

Shawn, Angela, Elanit, Amanda and Eliza, Kai, Jeff, Mike, Cousin Stephanie, Cousin Caroline, Aimee, Joe, Ginny, Cathy and Josh, Amy, mom’s friend Michelle, Kathleen, Cory, Lucy, Julia, Katherine, Betsy, Bri Guy and Rachel, Norma, Mark and Nancy, Aunt Rie, Uncle Stirlin and Aunt Beth, Aunt Christine, Aunt Jackie, Aunt Marjorie, Davood, Peter, Jodi, Mica, Ellen Obradovic, Jo, Ann, Louise, Dina, Connie, Taije, Jason, Jannell, Jared, Rosie, Megan for sending one or more of the following: gifts, hand-written letters, repeated phone calls, inspiring emails, such love from near and far.

Margot, Mary, Jenae, for getting in your car and driving up from Brooklyn as soon as I gave the okay. And for secretly pasting photos and notes to be revealed over time when I open a cabinet door, the toilet seat (ha!), a closet. For being on the ready to walk me through questions for the docs; debrief information; talk me through hard decisions. And for making me laugh, so much, all the time. Such good medicine. Also, for the box from Amazon filled with YA novels and the stack of trashy magazines to help me pass the time.

Ellen, Kim, Gwen and Sarah for taking extra special care of my babies at Jackson Street, making them feel safe and loved and heard and thereby making me feel that much more at ease about my children’s well-being during this complicated time.

IMG_0265Mama and Poppy, for doing everything I would want to do for Harrison and Sophie if they ever found themselves in a similar situation. For making it possible for me to take a leave from work. For putting your West Coast lives in order so you can have an East Coast life for an indefinite period of time. Really, there are no words, but I think you can feel my heart and all its gratitude for both of you.

Josh, for doing everything, everything, every thing you could possibly do to support me. For singing “You are so beautiful” while you shaved my head. For IMG_0501telling me how strong I am and how proud you are of me. For washing and cooking and taking over the dreaded bedtime hour and changing the sheets and rubbing my neck and packing lunches and coming to all of my important appointments and refusing to sleep in the other room when you have to get up in four hours to be VERY ON and my restless discomfort is keeping you from sleep, but you still won’t switch beds because you don’t want to leave me. Thank you for all of that, my love, plus the 374 other wonderful things you say and do every week for me and the kids and our family.

I will no doubt wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night when I remember ten more people I wished I had thanked. Please do not take it personally, especially since, at this point, my brain is fully wonky from the drugs.