Less Than a Month To Go…

In less than a month, I will hit the milestone year which aligns with my father’s collapse at work and his resulting brain cancer diagnosis.  He did not last a year from that diagnosis. His half-sister, Cindy and his brother, Tony also had the same kind of cancer originally found in my father which caused him to have a kidney removed. Cindy survived. Tony did not.

Last month, my voice had become hoarser with all the speaking I had been doing at work and my neck and sinuses have been inflamed. Each year, a new set of symptoms present themselves and I struggle and carry on; but I often wonder if I won the genetic lottery and I am going to get the same diagnosis as those before me.

He died at age 53. I turn 52 in less than a month and I am finding it hard to enjoy things while I feel less and less like myself. I am not steady on my feet after prolonged sitting. I don’t quite trust myself on trips alone for fear of collapsing one day myself.

I’ve noticed changes as I get closer to 52. There is an odor to me which is unlike the natural scent I have always known. It is strange and putrid. My skin is an off shade. (Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was changing since 1999 when I got paler and paler) Now the pink hue is missing and it is sallow. Really notice it in my lower limbs and my left arm.

And oh how I am tired! I’m not eager to run errands on weekends or nights after work anymore. I’m now having the groceries delivered most weeks and ordering supplies for the house online.

On a good day I take advantage of what I’m given and do as much as I can. The good days are not as frequent as they were a year ago. I am struggling.

You might have wondered why I’m going on about all of this. One reason is the genetic factor of what killed my father and his brother and how to identify the onset should I be the one.

Second and most importantly, each day is one better than the last; and even if I struggle and I am barely hanging in there it’s a gift. I cannot stress this enough: don’t waste a single moment. Enjoy it like a fine meal–savor every second you have.

Each Birthday after this point is a huge milestone and I’m going to appreciate the hell out of the day each year.

Never Have I Ever

Remember when I offered you advice on manners and you considered that advice bullying?

Yeah, well buckle up dear buttercup, because I’m sharing more and take heart– this is not you this time, but the acts of others which are teachable moments:

Never…

  • Tell someone the price of a gift you have given them.
  • Pick a fight over politics at someone’s mother’s wake.
  • Crash or tag along to an event if you’re not specifically invited.
  • Express disdain over the food served to you at a dinner party which you do not like.
  • Express ingratitude when given a gift you do not like.
  • Be unkind to someone struggling.
  • Ignore the request to RSVP to an event.
  • Be late to an appointment.
  • Keep someone waiting for a handwritten thank you or an expression of gratitude when you’ve been given a gift or assistance.
  • Act put out if someone asks you for help.
  • Avoid apologizing if you have clearly wronged someone.
  • Never throw someone under the bus to advance yourself in earning esteem.
  • Expect recognition, material compensation or tips for good deeds done

These seem obvious but, in case I am not around let this tidy list of etiquette be a handy guide to living better.

Losing Track of Your Whys

In my years on this big blue marble, I have found it most difficult to be a comfort to those grieving a tremendous loss.

I’ve experienced great sadness over the loss of dear friends, family members and I’ve been witness to those experiencing losses far greater than I can fathom.

In high school, a classmate was killed by a drunk driver and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So I said what most say in their deepest sadness– “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It seemed a thin sentiment, because at the time, I couldn’t sense how profoundly losing someone you love can leave a chasm of emptiness and suffocating pain. And that grief would be ever present.

As the years went on and I journeyed through life, I had my share of grief personally. But before that, I experienced the helplessness of watching a friend process the loss of a beloved parent.

Nothing prepares a friend to be a support for that. Your heart breaks for them as they go through the five stages. It’s a dangerous time for some because they can lose their why.

No, that last statement wasn’t a word choice mistake. I really did mean why and not way. Although losing your why leads to losing your way in life.

You see, our why is our inner sense of purpose. What is our reason for being here? How is it we are here in this path we walk? That’s actually an opening to a song by the Moody Blues. (ref.: A Question of Balance) Though I digress… just check it out sometime. It’s a beautifully thoughtful song.

Sometimes the upending loss can make one question: “What’s the point of even being here? Why go on?”

They can begin a path of self destruction to deaden their pain or support their reasoning when they reach that depth of grief.

As a friend to someone who reaches that point, you can be their support best through carefully listening as they process this pain and help them find their path back towards their purpose by patiently employing a gentle Socratic method of questioning to lead them back to their whys.

Everyone has whys. They push them aside or forget about them in the noise that is the grief and sadness.

I learned most about this from the writings of Viktor Frankl– a holocaust survivor who was intent on studying those who survived the concentration camps and how they carried on. His findings further developed approaches to helping people contemplating suicide find their inner purpose. (ref.: Man’s Search For Meaning)

I can tell you I lost my whys a couple of times throughout my life. On 9/11 for example, I sat there for hours at my desk realizing nothing mattered. You were my why in that moment.

Later, I lost my whys when I realized I was grieving over love lost and paralyzed with fear after the heart attack and turned to self medication in the form of alcohol and danced ever so close to succumbing to the disease. You saw that and it really took a lot to bring me back. But I had to find my whys again. It was a little harder because you were older and my reasoning was stronger that you’re best off without me.

Through counseling and will, I was able to ask myself the questions to get me back to a personal sense of purpose.

Questions which really helped me comfort and guide when I was needed:

  • Who is left behind who still needs your care and love?
  • What impacts have you had on others so far?
  • What have you wanted to do that you haven’t already?
  • What do you think the person you’ve lost would advise you to do in this moment?
  • If it was reversed and they were here and you weren’t how would you hope that they cope?
  • What brings you happiness, joy and/or peace?
  • What are the ways to bring meaning of the lost one’s impact on you in your daily life?

Notice that none of these are yes/no sorts of questions. Always keep them open and encourage the sorting out of their feelings and thoughts.

Most importantly, be there for them and assure them of your love and support through it all.

Hard to Fight But Scared To Give Up

I have shitty veins. They break, I bruise and most times, it’s nothing. Occasionally it is something.

Something that should have killed me.

Those times I was in the hospital and stents were placed.

Recently, I’ve become more exhausted than usual and moderate to light activity causes chest, and limb pain. Sometimes a headache or neck pain.

The two smallest toes on my left foot are mostly numb. It’s a weird feeling.

I believe I may have Peripheral Artery Disease in addition to the Coronary Artery Disease tiara I wear currently.

I brought it on myself. I don’t exercise regularly, if at all. I have a sedentary job. I have a horrible past of eating like crap and weight has always been a problem for me. Smoking too.

I can talk the big talk by saying that no matter what, I won’t fight another episode; but, frankly speaking, I’m sad and afraid to allow my life to end. This is painful.

Yet the current state of my life, with the stressors of my job and family…I kinda do want a clean out.

I know! I just got done watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the second time this season and I cried as always knowing that life is a gift not to be thrown away.

It’s a pity I did whatever the hell I wanted while young with no second thought to the damage I was doing down the road.

I’ve read the articles on reversing heart disease and I do eat a mostly vegetarian diet. My daily fats don’t include butter (unless it’s nut butter) and I eat high fiber foods for breakfast and lunch and add it to our dinner with lean meats or a vegetarian option.

And yet here I am. My left leg numb and stinging after light activity, eating nitroglycerin like tic tacs.

I keep thinking if this is an aneurism or dissection or claudification, I just want to be home to die. I don’t want it to happen while driving or in a stinky hospital or god forbid — in the bathroom stall at work!

I’m finding it harder and harder to go to work in this kind of pain. I’m actually finding it very hard to justify working until I can either recover or just spend my days where I want to be. Home.

I’m also afraid to sleep while in this pain. What happens if I don’t wake?

The control freak in me worries about what mess I may be leaving you and your father to clean up. The paperwork, outstanding bills and accounts to close down. It’s all just a hairy pain in the ass.

I never wanted you to deal with my passing. That’s why I paid for my funeral in advance. That’s why there’s a book that has instructions for after I go. I just don’t have all the rest of the shit in it. Like accounts and passwords. Contacts.

I really must do that for you. I promise if I’m given tomorrow I will get that done.

And if I stroke out (and it’s not deadly) but leaves me where ultimately I am in a vegetative state, do not waste the money keeping me alive. Let me go.

Our healthcare system will ruin you and your father financially if you try to keep me going.

I hope that the afterlife is true and even reincarnation is possible. If I had that assurance I might not be so scared to let go. But this is where I am.

Stuck.

Heartsick.

Sad.

Tired.

Jealous of those who have shittier habits and will outlive me.

A teensy bit angry at myself for wasting the time I had.

Just know that I bragged that my veins were mostly Twinkie frosting when I was your age. How ironic it was for me to hear you brag that yours were filled with cheese this weekend at your grandpa’s house?

I’m here to warn you that even if you don’t smoke and you do stay active, your dietary choices will lead you right down the red carpet I genetically rolled out toward artery disease.

Please do the research now and make the necessary lifestyle choices that reverse the damage you’re doing and you outlive your mother.

It’s Only Human

The single most challenging thing in life is to know when to ask for help, remembering that one is never left to go it alone. Turning a blind eye to the helping hands around you when in a time of great need is a grave mistake.

There are some who get an intrinsic reward from sympathies of the masses by hoisting themselves up as martyrs in the face of great adversity and challenge. Whether it is out of pride they find no resources, or to get the attentions they crave, remains a mystery.

There is no shame in asking for help. Please never take the load yourself if you feel like you are drowning. Reach out when you are overloaded. Someone will offer to help or point you toward someone who can help.

It is no sign of failure or weakness if you ask for help. The important point is that you must recognize when you need help.

  • If it is sapping your energy/resources and there seems no solution in sight, no matter what you try; then you need help.
  • If you feel your back is desperately against the wall with no path to resolution, then you need help.
  • When you feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks/expectations set before you and you begin to shutdown physically or emotionally, then you need help.
  • When you’re experiencing a highly charged emotional state and it seems never-ending, then you need help.

Being in any of these situations it is easy for one to be blinded by the situation and not see who is around who can help – thinking you are alone to handle it.

The important thing is to know you are never alone.

Let me repeat that with emphasis…

YOU ARE NEVER ALONE.

There are hundreds of thousands of folks who probably have gone through the very situation(s) you are in and can offer guidance and solutions. Maybe family, friends, professional agencies, counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, support groups, message boards…even a complete stranger.

But you must open your mouth and say, “I need help.”

Simply complaining or staying silent will not alert those around you that you need help. Everyone around you is working through issues of their own and may not be intuitive enough to know you are in dire straits and need assistance.

Know too, that just because a person is busy does not mean they are not open to help. Please do not use that as an excuse to keep sch-tum. If they cannot help directly, they may know someone or some resource that can help.

I know it is humbling to admit vulnerability, but we are a community and we are put on this earth to help one another.

When that help is given, remember it. Do not claim that it was never received or disregard the help that is offered. You are less likely to be helped in the future.

Some of my favorite songs regarding helping

The Band –

Billy Swan –

Joe Cocker –

The Staples Singers –

The Little River Band –

The Youngbloods –

And most importantly – Bill Withers

 

Risky Business

One of the things we have most in common which you’d be surprised to know is a preference for remaining in our comfort zones.

All through my childhood I wasn’t much of a daredevil or a risk taker. I didn’t like venturing out on my own. Luckily for me I had a companion– my sister. Now, she was a put-herself-out-there kind of person!

I liked being in the shadows, keeping to myself, safe at home. I certainly didn’t like wearing clothing outside of the home that called attention to myself and I didn’t like outrageous hairstyles or gaudy makeup. If it didn’t look natural, I wasn’t having it.

My sister had big hair, flashy fashion choices, big ideas, loud laughter in all places and craved attention. And she believed that we should be included in everything. I was like a turtle in those situations, wishing to tone it down and crawl into my shell.

I was contented to stay at home, read, listen to music, draw and imagine my world. She on the other hand insinuated herself in the world whether there was an invitation or not. Her boldness worked for her.

I tended to watch more than participate. Card games in the back yard, short bicycle trips spanning 3 blocks was as racy as I got. My adventures were in my head or on paper.

I never thought I’d travel much in my life. Until high school opened up a new horizon of opportunity. Band trips crossing state lines away from home for weekends was something which opened me up to adventure–chaperoned structured adventure.

Having been in band at my sister’s recommendation also brought me to having to compete in solo competitions which put me directly in the spotlight. I hated it. I still cringe thinking of the solos. I loved playing, but just for myself. The only way I got through it was to convince myself I was alone while performing. Block everything out and pretend I was in the basement by myself. It worked as long as I didn’t look around.

When I finally had to decide on college due to the family dysfunction I was compelled to get as reasonably far away as I could withstand. One state away was perfect. I chose where I did based on the pamphlets alone. I never visited prior to acceptance. I was going in cold. That was the riskiest thing I’d ever done. Sink or swim.

Mind you, I still didn’t have a license to drive and I had no way to get there except by the family driving me the 7 hours there. Again, even if I knew how to drive I wouldn’t have the strength of character to make the trip on my own. Each break I got more independent and would take the bus home. That was as brave as I got back then.

My mother’s aunt was shocked to know I didn’t know how to drive and she taught me. She was so kind and eased me into it in a manner which helped me overcome any fear I may have had. She always stopped by with a new vehicle so I couldn’t get comfortable with just one model. I drove a sedan, a station wagon, a truck and a tractor. Yet none of them were stick shifts. I passed the exams.

I felt independent with this new skill but owned no car. It wasn’t until my second to last year in college when I needed extra income badly to pay for my remaining time there did I finally obtain a vehicle. A turquoise pearl metallic and rust Manual transmission Corolla.

I had to learn all over again and retake the driving exam. It was as if I had never learnt anything. So stressful and I wanted to give up. My desperation to finish college thankfully overtook my desire to quit the pursuit of a license to drive in my college state.

Funny how a risk taken is usually fueled by extreme need.

I also needed a job and some friends were kind enough to sell me on the job they were doing as long distance operators in a call center. It was on the opposite end of town! I had to venture out to this place with only a route learned from a map in the back of a telephone book. There was no satellite navigation back then.

I found the courage to put myself out there and apply. I got the job and I became braver for it. Each step in my journey to where I am today stemmed from a great need. Taking a risk was the only way to get toward my goal of self sufficiency.

Each job opportunity was based on my fear of going into huge debt after college with no place to live and no way to subsist. I didn’t want to be homeless and I was certain I would die before I would return to my family to live.

Sometimes I had to put on an air of over confidence and fake it till I made it. Not my forte, really. So I worked crazy hours and read scads of books to learn my jobs as best I could.

Do you know the only time I had ever flown in a plane was as a baby at that point in my life? By my early 20s I had to fly to Texas to see my dad who was dying of cancer. Never traveled like that alone and had to research the shit out of the experience in order to do it; because,

Extreme need necessitates taking risks.

As I climbed the corporate ladder the expectations for air travel became the norm and I was flying all around the county. Sometimes with teams, other times alone. The latter scared me to my core. I had plans, schedules, maps, contingency plans, alternate routes memorized before I departed.

When I got to the destination, I rarely ventured out to explore the new city I was in. Stayed at the hotel when I wasn’t at the office. Though when with groups I went along, but they did the driving.

It took me many years to become comfortable enough to actually enjoy my surroundings and do some sightseeing. Luckily at this point, anywhere I traveled someone I knew from college lived there and they would guide me on my sightseeing experience.

When I look back on it all, I am thrilled by how much I traveled and all the lovely places I had the opportunity to see, the wonderful people I met along the way.

When I got sick I knew there was one last risk I had to take and that was a completely solo trip overseas to a country I’d never been and see as much of it as I could in 10 days as a local and not a tourist. It was scary to be on my own like that with just my passport and having to learn a new way to drive in a rental car where local laws were much different from ours. The currency was different. I had to learn all of that on my own.

It was crazy. But I loved every moment of it. It was a risk I chose to take not because of extreme need, but because of a desire to put myself out there. It took me 46 years to get to the same place my sister was her whole life.

I know where you are in your mindset to remain in the familiar, but I must warn you that life has a funny way of giving you a shove to take a risk and get out there.

If I had a chance for a do over, I would have been less conservative and traveled far more than I ever did. So much to see and do. Don’t waste your youth in a comfy shell.

Best Cure For Heartbreaks

When someone shuts you down, turns you out, excludes you from their company; it hurts.

The cut is so deep there is a hollow ache that begins in the throat which feels asphyxiatingly tight. The hollowness spreads so deep within your chest — as if someone took all the wind out of you as your brain begins to process the complex flood of emotions which are about to follow.

  • Disbelief
  • Shock
  • Speechlessness while the hollow ache travels
  • Humiliation
  • Worthlessness
  • Grief-ridden sorrow that appears to have no bottom
  • Anger and indignation
  • Guilt over feeling angry

I find that it is easy to crawl inside myself to heal while simultaneously building internal protective emotional barriers to never allow this to affect me in this way ever again.

That method of cutting one’s self off to wallow and lick wounds takes so much time. So so so much time.

Over that time, whilst wallowing in the flood of emotions, I began to waste so much of my energies dwelling on the event, reopening the wound over and over again. Picking at each second of what had happened to try to heal.

Yes, you must take a minute to cry- sob even. But then there’s an immediate fix, that I offer to you…one that washes everything away.

Service.

Acts of selflessness toward others. Random others. Opening that wound so wide to let the love you have pour out to others in acts of kindness and generosity of spirit. Expect nothing but their happiness in return. Because, as the love of yours pours out, a new form of love surrounds you like a comforting warm wrap. It feels healing. It strengthens your spirit so you may face that hurt with newer eyes.

It may still bring you some sadness; but there will be compassion. And perhaps ultimately understanding and mercy.

The more you serve, the easier it is to find your way back out of the pain.

And it is strange, I’ve often found an opportunity to serve directly following a hurt dealt. As if the universe was handing me a first aid kit for my heart.

I hope that if you experience the kind of pain you did on that rejection ever again you look up and outward for the opportunity to begin kindly serving selflessly.

Don’t shut down. Open up.

And lastly, I’ve found through experience, that in every horrible hurtful event there lies an element of ridiculousness. Some crazy element of funny, that at the time, I could not see.

Always look for the humour in the event. It is there.