Monthly Archives: August 2013

Healing From Loss: Coming Home

CAMPINGTRIP1On vacation last week at the Rocky Gap Campgrounds, I was hardly ever alone. But in the afternoons I napped with my dog in the little teardrop camper, looking at the flat-felled seams of the red awning where it met the mesh of the windows. Under the red canopy everything was bathed in warm pink light.

            This was my first camping trip since the magical summers with my children. The camper belonged to my friend, Liz, and we were enjoying a vacation with our dogs, her friends from her former life, and their two granddaughters. For four days we swam and hiked around the lake. We read. They kayaked and bicycled. I watched the dogs and wrote. We played games and cooked home fries, tacos, waffles and blueberry pancakes from scratch. We made s’mores over the fire. We slept, our beds stuffed in the tiny camper, hugging our dogs.

            The two sisters loved the dogs and walked them with leashes dragging in the dirt. We took Suki swimming and laughed as she doggie-paddled in the shallow water. But the most memorable moments for me were washing the dinner dishes with the girls and watching them run across the beach under the light of the full moon. And having people to say good morning and good night to for five days.

           Even my memories of past campouts with my daughter did not cloud over my time with friends.

           We packed up in the rain. Our peaceful sunny days of camping ended abruptly as it started to pour on the last morning. After the frantic gathering and stashing away of bedding, boats, tarps, dogs, and kitchen gear I was drenched but happy. Then Liz drove the five hours back and we transferred my things to my car. By the time I arrived home it was late and I was exhausted. I attacked the laundering and went to gather groceries at Wegmans anyway.

           By nine I finally sat down for my nightly ritual of brushing the pets while watching the news. But the television offered only a silent screen that begged me to “order this channel now or call DIRECTV for more information.” I called and was immediately put on hold.

            “Agent! A-Gent!” I screamed impatiently.

           “Good evening. This is Barbara from Florida. How are you doing this evening?” This was an open invitation I was not expecting and could not resist

           “I just got back from being away and I’m tired and cranky and my TV isn’t working. I have this weird message on the screen telling me I have to order this channel and this is the only channel I ever use. I just want to watch my TV,” I barked at Barbara in Florida, holding back tears. “ My son’s coming home from Afghanistan tomorrow and he’s not going to be happy if there’s no TV. I haven’t had any dinner yet and … why does this have to happen now? I just want to watch my TV. Now.” I could not believe this was coming from me.

           “I’m so sorry you’re having this problem. Well, welcome back home. Let’s see if we can help you. Can you please press the orange select-button?” I pressed the button.

           “Oh.” The television was instantly revived.

           “Well I hope you have a good night without any more problems. I’m so sorry you had to go through all this. Thank you for calling DIRECTV tech services. Is there anything else I can help you with this evening?”

           “No. Thanks,” I say. “Uh … you’ve been perfect. Good night,” I tell Barbara in Florida.

           Relieved and grateful to be back home, I sat back and brushed the cat and then the dog in the soft pink and blue light of the television.

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Healing: Am I a Cancer Survivor?

SUMMERPONDAm I a cancer survivor?

            I’d written only that one line when I was suddenly attacked by a wave of pain and nausea. Barely able to walk, I hobbled to the bathroom holding my middle, catching a glimpse of my pale grey reflection in a mirror on the way.

            Heart attack? Gas? Cancer? My mind raced to locate the pain that moved from front to back and from low to high, all over me. I thought of the beer and two and a half hotdogs I ate at the hikers’ picnic a few hours before. And then, for a half hour, I sat on the toilet with a wastebasket in my lap and remembered my daughter during her chemo treatments, moaning on the bathroom floor, hugging the toilet.

            As I waited to feel better, I recalled the cycles of remission and relapse, and how everything in our lives was put on hold as we waited for the pains to subside and for her good days to outnumber the bad.

            Following my daughter in and out of hospitals, I lived with cancer for almost three years. It was a life-changing experience. Marika got completely washed out by it. But I survived.

            As a result of cancer I run to show the dermatologist every new freckle that appears. I put off my annual physical exams. I give blood whenever I can. I drag my feet in finding jobs and can’t seem to return to my normal daily life. I feel compelled to volunteer and donate to cancer-related organizations. And I want to hug and hold every chemo warrior and her mother. Like Erica Zimmer the Awkward Cancer Girl. And Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. And Suleika Jaouad with Life, Interrupted.

            But mostly, I watch the world like it has put on new jewels and makeup. The sweetness and fragility of life awes me each morning and every night and all the blessed moments in between.

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Healing From Loss: I Have Choices

BABIES4During the storm the power goes out so I sit in the old rocking chair and sing in the dark. I hold the dog and my flashlight. And as the small light bounces off the ceiling and walls, I remember other storms and power failures long ago when I gathered my young children close and gave them flashlights, “So you can always have light when you need it.”

“Whoa! That one was REALLY loud,” we’d agreed of the thunder.
            “That was a BIG one.”
            “Yeah.”
            “Should we turn off our flashlights and make it REALLY dark for a moment?” I’d challenged.
            “Yeah.”
            “No.”

It was just a tiny bit of control in the blackest night as it poured and thundered and shot SUKILIGHTwhite stabs of lightning all around outside. We were not completely stuck. We still had choices, even in the dark.

Suddenly the lights flicker and the electricity comes back on.

“Look Suki. Power’s back,” I say to the dog, still rocking as all around us appliances beep to reset.

The phone rings. I drop Suki and run to answer it, annoyed to be leaving my memories so abruptly but eager to converse with a friend.

“Hello, is the lady of the house there?” I hesitate, stunned.

“No,” I say simply and hang up. For a little while longer I sit rocking with Suki and my memories.

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Healing from Loss: Sharing my Words

Suki and I went on the Sunday morning hike this morning. But my mind was already at the bookstore where I would be reading from my book in the afternoon. I’d practiced, reading to Suki every day the past week, eliminating excess words to fit into the allotted 8 minutes. But even this morning I was not satisfied and not confident that I could pull this off. If I read some parts quickly I might get by but I had to chop some favorite paragraphs.

Then there was the weather. I’d exhausted myself taking out the raincoat and then putting it away, trying on the long skirt and the short skirt and then pants, eyeing the sandals but considering the cowboy boots. It was a day filled with a bit of everything in alternating patterns: rain, sun, clouds, cold and warmth … I took a big purse with the raincoat, plastic bags, a sweater, and extra shoes.

           The hourly changes in weather reflected my range of emotions. At home, reading to Suki, I cried and laughed. I punched the timer when it went off before I finished my passage.  Arriving early at Buffalo Street Books, I worried that no one would come. I complained, I hugged. I nearly severed the director’s hands in my eager attempt to be helpful setting up the plastic chairs. Drawing my number for the order in which to read I was elated to get the second spot. But shortly after, I learned there would be no microphone. Looking frantically out over the small sea of chairs I fretted that my voice would not project. Sitting and waiting was impossible. I went to the ladies room twice. Finally people started to straggle in. So I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was what I’d wished and worked for. And then Bob who runs the show says,

“How do you feel about going first?”

 FIRSTREAD

As I introduced myself I looked around. The audience was full of friends. They want me to do well, I told myself. And I wanted them to know I’m okay, that I’m back in the world after my years of heartbreak and sorrow, and that I have a story to share. And so I began.

             When I read, it’s like I am slow-dancing with the words. Even when I read the works of others, I am transported to where the words lead, to their rhythms and the images that rise up around me. The book is my partner and I am wrapped in its hold, breathing in its scent, my cheek against a rough chin for a moment before burying my face in its warm pulsing neck. I am completely engaged in following, stepping quickly then sliding, slow.

          Somehow I managed to read all my words before I ran out of time. The dance ended and I thanked my audience.

          Right away I knew I wanted to do it again.

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