Tag Archives: Comfort

A Christmas Card Kind of View

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I owe it all to Rachel. I’ve written about this before, the way she made her kids believe in magic—the way that, for a time when we were very young, she glowed with humor and energy and wonder and beauty in everything she did, and the way that all came together at Christmas time. As I sit writing this, a few days before Christmas 2016, my 60th Christmas, it’s natural to look back upon other Christmases: childhood Christmases, falling-in-love Christmases, new-parent Christmases, teenage Christmases, grandparent Christmases, lonely Christmases…Christmases filled with family and friends—all of them precious in some way.

This year Mike and I will be in California and then Arizona visiting our kids and grandkids. We are so excited to be going together this Christmas, though our visits will be shorter than we’d like! (I have plans in the works for springtime…)

Every Christmas, since my first in 1956, when I was a six-month-old infant with a beautiful and entrancing mother—yes, Rachel, not to mention a kind and loving father, and a brother who loved me so much he called me “his present”—every December since, whether happy and relatively carefree, or saddened as I was while enduring hard times and loss, has left a lasting impact on my view of life. A Christmas card kind of view, Rachel Style.

The card is part Norman Rockwell, all homey and twinkly and smelling like home-baked Swedish spritz and candied oranges, but there’s a liberal dose of boozy smoke haze wafting over the rooftops and a neon tavern light or two blinking on and off in the distance just like Rudolf’s shiny nose.    christmas-decor-2013-017

The house on Sheridan Road had a fireplace the length of the entire living room. One memorable Christmas Eve, Billy and I were sitting on the rug in front of the fire, drinking cocoa and talking excitedly about Santa already being on his way to Wisconsin from the North Pole.

“That sucker is going get a big surprise when he drops down the chimney into that fire,” Mom said, taking a long sip of egg nog.

“Don’t scare the kids, Rachel.” Dad’s voice was always mild, and he assured us that the fire, which was blazing in a newly menacing way, would be out long before Santa and the reindeer arrived. Dad was an excellent camper and he knew how to put a fire out.img_1149

We knew Mom was just making “a funny” about Santa. Mom loved Santa. We knew that. After all, she’d taken us to Dickleman’s Toy Store to meet him, spent hours helping us prepare his favorite cookies, and, other than this one slip, she spoke of him in glowing terms, as if he were probably almost as magic as she was.

“He knows everything, and he loves you both more than anything in the world,” Mom had said, which pretty much made Santa her chubby, white-bearded twin or something, because that description fit her like my Barbie’s velvet gloves fit her tiny stiff hands, easy to put on, easy to take off. Magic.

Of course, Billy explained, Mom didn’t really want Santa to burn up in our fireplace. Still, it was unsettling. Later, she tucked us both in bed, nuzzled us, told us stories about Santa’s big night, and about the times she’d glimpsed him in the past. She’d once caught him bringing Rudolf right in on her clean carpet, she said, and another time Santa was rolling around on the floor playing with our dog, Duchess.

“Duchess loves Santa.” She patted Duchess, who was on the bed with us. “Don’t you, girl?”

Duchess wagged her tail and stretched. Billy and I drifted off to sleep. In the morning, there were presents under the tree and Santa’s cookies were gone.

Mom and Dad looked happy.christmas-decor-2013-013

Magic.

Billy caught the magic too, and no one else I’ve ever known has come so close to capturing Rachel’s spirit, style, grace, or humor.

“He’s a lot like me,” Mom often said, and she was absolutely right.

Billy didn’t just love people, he became their most loving and loyal supporter—celebrating with them and letting them take what they would, whether his love, money, home, possessions, or heart. For many years, on the day he cut down his Christmas tree, Billy jumped (I’m quite sure, naked), into a freezing stream in the High Sierras of Northern California. That night, wearing warm jammies and cozy socks, with the tree lit and decorated, and the fireplace burning, he would pile up loads of pillows and sleep underneath his tree. It was part of his magic, I guess.

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So many memories. There are a lot more, but it’s getting late. Anyway, I know you have your own Christmas memories, your own pictures of the people who shaped your view of this truly magical time of year.

May you be at peace, in your heart and in your life. May you recognize the true gifts and hold them dear. And may you be blessed with abundant and unconditional love.

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Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to All!

 

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Filed under Christmas, Holiday, Holidays, Memories, Mom, Santa, Uncategorized

My Body

Winefiction 002Last night in bed, I started thinking about my body. About how it aches. About the way it doesn’t move anymore, not in the ways it used to. About the way it gives me very little pleasure anymore. I mean, I still get up every day and put clothes on. I even walk my dogs most days. There’s some pleasure there. My body takes me up and down the street, along the river, and if I so choose, into the woods. The dogs definitely derive pleasure from these walks and I, too, am grateful for them.

I also still very much love hugs. And kisses, especially on the back of my neck.

I love the cool touch of the wind, and the warm caress of the sun.

I love the sound of laughter. And music. And falling water. And birdsong.

I still love the taste of good food and drink, but only late in the day after my tummy settles down from its angry-cramps-in-the-morning routine. Still, I do get to eat and enjoy doing so, which is a big part of the enjoyment of having a body. Oh, and a lovely chilled glass of chardonnay served outside in a garden—that’s pretty blissful.

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

It’s not that I am particularly decrepit for my age. I guess it might just be that I haven’t been this age before, and I am realizing how much I took this amazing body for granted for so long.

My skin, for example. I was never much enamored of my skin—too pink, too blotchy, too many freckles—and those moles. I covered my forearms throughout my entire puberty and adolescence, thinking that if anyone knew I had two moles on my left forearm, well, I’d never be loved. But my skin was amazingly sensitive. It buzzed with life and reacted to everything that touched it. Quite spectacular, thinking back.

My joints were supple. I could wrap my legs around my ears!

I ran. I ran for fun. I ran to cleanse my mind and change my emotions.

I was a sensual being. My body, well. All bodies, really, I hope. Electric.

My womb carried two babies, my breasts fed them, and my arms held them. Those were exhausting times, I remember, but oh so incredible. There was no end to the tasks needing to be done and no end to the hugely blossoming love that encompassed every simple movement. Ah, those nights rocking my baby in the dark, singing an old lullaby, afraid to get up and tuck the baby in the crib, afraid to lose the magic

.My body took me on camping trips, road trips, plane trips, and a few trips of another sort—like when I fell down a flight of stairs. What a crash. And what a healing. My body always healed.

My body brought me to my beloved classroom and allowed me to teach for many years. I remember when I could hop up on the counter while reading the scene from The Call of the Wild where the man in the red sweater breaks Buck out of his crate and all of the men in the yard jump up on the fence to watch. I remember replaying that scene in the classroom for years, and then one year, I just couldn’t make the jump. I landed on one of my eighth-grade students.

My body survived numerous surgeries, cancer, and chemotherapy.

My toes have been numb for several years now. Neuropathy from the chemo. My joints ache, especially those on the left side of my body. My skin is wrinkled. My hair is silver. I wear bifocals. I can’t hear out of my right ear. A one-mile walk leaves me exhausted. I find myself longing to go to bed with my heating pad early in the evening, and I basically never really want to get up.

My body likes to rest, and I like to try to forget about it altogether. Meanwhile, my mind considers other things. Like, maybe this is a normal part of aging. A stage of getting ready to let go of this old body and move on. So I pray, and read, and write, hoping to figure out what it is that is happening, and even if it is in fact, a real experience, or maybe it’s just a new and interesting facet of depression.

IMG_1192I look for articles about anything and everything connected with this sense of disconnectedness, wondering if anyone else feels this way, too. And then, today, my friend Stephanie posted an extraordinary article from The Washington Post about a rare illness that makes people think they’re dead. Timing is everything. I mean, it does seem that you attract what you think. Last night I’m thinking about being dead and today I’m reading this article. You can read it, too. It’s quite fascinating:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zombie-disease-makes-people-think-they-have-died/2015/10/30/ca8ab52c-532f-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html.  Though it doesn’t describe my experience, in particular, it does contain some familiar aspects of what I’m trying to describe.

I remember, for some reason, right now, something my brother told me after our mom died. He said she came to him and said, “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ok.” That’s all.

I was sort of miffed. Why didn’t she come to me? But I guess she knew Billy would tell me. And maybe that’s all I need to know.

It’s ok.

What do you think?

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Filed under Aging, Depression, Writing

Tatonka!

My computer screen scrolls my pictures. I’m sure many of yours do, too. Today, after my first full week (which was only 4 days long!) of work teaching high schoolers to become legal Wisconsin drivers, I came home to an empty house and decided to celebrate with music and a little bit of wine and writing. To be honest, my house is never empty, because I have dogs. They are not tatonkas, but they are furry and large (considering the extent of my downsized cottage).

I’m thinking of tatonkas because of this picture.tatonka!

The tatonkas pictured here are not real bison, of course. We are just three friends pretending to be tatonkas at a wonderful country western eatery and music venue located in downtown Chicago. It’s the picture that came up first when I turned my laptop on tonight. Sometimes a thousand words can be useful to describe a picture.

People who know me well know that I am a big fan of wolves—that I have aligned myself with the Defenders of Wildlife for many years, in part because of the hard work they do to protect wolves. Wolves, you may be thinking, are not tatonkas.

True. But everything is connected.

In the beginning of this story, there is a girl laying in the back seat of a 1972 Oldsmobile reading a book. It is a hot summer day and the car has stopped somewhere in South Dakota because the driver, my dad, and the copilot, my brother Billy, have come across a herd of buffalo. “Sis! Sis! Put down that book and get out here and look,” Billy says. “Bison!”

The girl, me, barely looks up. “What’s the big dif?” she asks. “Big cows.” (To be fair to the girl in the backseat, she has spent the bulk of her childhood reading because…well, there are all sorts of both good and sad reasons for that…and she has been living in the Midwest, a land that is loaded with large four-legged bovine creatures…she just doesn’t see the “big dif.” She is young.)

Fifty years later, she is still reminded of her disdain for the tatonka herd. And she is sorry.

Little did she know that the camping trips of her youth would have such an impact on her future world view. As she matured, the girl learned that such sights were akin to great magic. In 1990, when she saw Dances With Wolves for the first time, she was shaken to a degree that can only be described as cataclysmic. Tears. Yes. Weeping. Yes. Regret?

That, too.

Tatonka! If you’ve seen the movie, you are picturing the lovely faces of Kevin Costner and Graham Greene as they connect over the Native American word for buffalo. Just as she did. Finally.

And she began learning more about endangered animals, and history, and love… Eventually, she became a teacher. And eventually, she became a better sister. But never good enough. She bought Billy a beautiful sculpted bison one year for his birthday. She understood that her father had taken her to the wild and free places to observe and to appreciate the creatures of the world. And that her brother had always understood.

More years passed and the girl invited her brother and husband and dear friend to her graduation ceremony at a small college in Washington State. And what did these people see while driving to Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA? A herd of tatonkas, majestic in the green, green grass.

The girl’s brother, Billy, is gone now. Her father, too. But the wolves, and the tatonkas, even more strongly, are making a comeback. So we continue to celebrate and play tatonka when the time is right. The girl stops to catch her breath when she reads a story or sees a picture that reminds her of the great struggle every living creature makes, and must continue to make, to remain. To be remembered, revered, and yes, loved.

All creatures, great and small. All creatures.

Mahalo.bedtimesundanceGood Night.

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Filed under Buffalo, Camping, Dances With Wolves, Nature, Work, Writing

The Cancer Journey, Part Two: What Goes in the Bag? June 19, 2015

Is this the kind of bag I mean? Well, almost as much fun.

Is this the kind of bag I mean? Well, almost as much fun.

The Bag

I’m not talking about a metaphorical bag here. You are going to need a real honest to goodness bag that you truly love. It should be as large as you can handle, maybe a large postman style, back pack, or beach bag. Splurge on this. It will be your companion throughout your journey. It should be washable, at least wipe-down-able, as it will be entering into all kinds of compromising situations—everything from car floors to public restrooms. Be sure it has at least two separate compartments and a zippered pouch for smaller valuables.

What Goes in the Bag?

  1. The first and most important item is a journal. Your journal will be used at doctor’s visits, during hospital stays, chemotherapy and or radiation sessions, and in all manner of waiting rooms, not to mention while reclining at home on your most attractive and comfortable piece of furniture.
    1. Regarding the journal
      1. Date every entry
      2. Write down every question you can think of to address with your oncologist, nurses, family, and for your personal research
      3. Freewrite about your symptoms, reactions, and all the fears and feelings, good and bad, that you experience.
      4. List your intentions, hopes, and everything you are grateful for. And yes, there is always something to be grateful for. Add to this list often!
  2. Colored Pens and Pencils (Any and all types you like, possibly including a Fountain Pen)
    1. They are fun!
    2. You can used them to highlight things you don’t want to forget to address. This may become increasingly necessary if you fall into the chemo fog that afflicts many patients: forgetfulness, confusion, sleepiness, and staring off into space for long segments of time, thinking about—absolutely nothing! Don’t let this scare you. I think of this chemo fog, or chemo brain, as a sort of cushion for your mind, a valuable stress reliever.
  3. The nicest lotion you can afford. This goes for men, too! Perhaps several different types, for example, rosemary or lavender stress balm to rub on your temples, hands, and feet. Maybe some peppermint, or eucalyptus.
    1. Check into essential oils and their uses. They can be added to any plain “base” lotion.
  4. Lip balm or moisturizing lipstick
  5. Small comb or brush. This is for the days you actually have hair. Keep in mind that not all treatments cause hair loss, but if yours does you can use the space for something more appropriate, such as a jaunty hat.
    1. You might think about getting a super short haircut before beginning treatment. I did this rather late, but it gave me a real boost at the time and my new hair came in thicker and in lovely shades of caramel and silver. I’ve never gone back to coloring it.
  6. Baby Wipes. Essential.
  7. Reading Materials. Your attention span, ability to focus, and mood, will probably fluctuate quite a bit. I found keeping a wide variety to most helpful.
    1. Magazines
    2. Novel
    3. Inspirational/Self Help/Health: When I found myself wondering if I was going to die, I read some lovely books on the afterlife. I even found myself at one point almost looking forward to the moment when I could put all earthly cares aside and walk into the light. While this was a joy and relief to me, it may not have the same effect on you.
      1. Choose your literature wisely. Avoid anything you might construe as negative or depressing (unless that’s what you’re looking for, of course!).
      2. It’s your mind and your spirit; you must decide what is right for you.
    4. Cancer-related literature. This is deeply personal. Some of us want to read everything we can get our hands on about our illness, others avoid it.
      1. My favorite book on cancer during my illness was (not surprisingly) The Journey Through Cancer by Jeremy Geffen, MD. It really spoke to me in a loving, affirmative, and informative way.
      2. Cure magazine is filled with good articles and is free of charge to every cancer patient.
      3. For a funny/touching coming of age novel involving cancer patients, I adored John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
  8. Cell phone. You know what to do with a phone, but also consider these internet sources:
    1. Caring Bridge.org is a private and free site for anyone going through any health crisis. They provide an area to share your story, an online journal, a visitor’s tab where your loved ones can say hello and leave personal messages, a link page for resources you can customize, a photo gallery, and more. I depended on my Caring Bridge journal to serve as a safe and supportive way to inform my loved ones and organize and understand my own journey, and it made it tremendously easier for my caregivers.
    2. Specific online support groups for your diagnosis can be wonderful.
  9. A lovely soft pillow
  10. Water Bottle. I couldn’t bear anything chilled during chemo. I drank room temperature water (sometimes the flavored kind).
  11. A Prayer Shawl. Many faiths organize prayer shawl groups to knit or crochet shawls for those who are ill or in any situation where comfort needs are paramount. I was lucky to receive two of these as gifts during my treatment. Just knowing they were made by hand with love and prayers in every stitch made me feel safe and loved. I often slept in them, and always wore them during treatments. Your caregivers can find these online for you if you aren’t given one by a local organization.
  12. Electric Heating Blanket (or any cozy blanket). Cozy for the car, bus, airplane, or whatever doctor’s office you find yourself waiting in. It may surprise you; it did me, but you may find yourself wanting to drop off to sleep in places you wouldn’t have imagined possible.

The first time I saw the recliners lined up inches apart in the brightly sunshine-filled room where I was to receive chemotherapy, and saw the veteran patients snoozing with tubes in their arms, hands, or chest ports, and all of the other paraphernalia attached to that, I thought, “I could never sleep in here.” I found out quickly they put relaxing drugs in those tubes along with the other drugs, and by the second treatment, with my heating blanket plugged in along with everything else, I was nodding off with the best of them.

  1. Hat, scarf, mittens. Head gear is essential. A scarf to wrap around your face on a cold or windy day will be a great relief if you’re on a medication that makes you hypersensitive to the cold as I was. One brisk wind can steal your breath if you’re not covered.
  2. Thank you cards. These help you maintain that all important attitude of gratitude. Dole them out liberally. Use your colored pens! You will find that people near and far, known forever and just met, will show you many kindnesses. Each card you write will bring you a bit of happiness!
  3. Food. This can be tricky. What I could choke down one week, would be torture the next. My dear husband made a mad dash to the store any time I showed interest in any type of food, and was disappointed constantly by my inability to eat the same thing the next day. My friend Sandy actually flew across the country with a potato ricer to make me her grandmother’s famouslatkes. Nothing worked. At every weigh-in I had lost another three pounds. Everything tasted like charcoal.
    1. I didn’t worry about not eating, but it was hard on my caregivers, so I tried.
    2. Fruit was the least offensive food. And water that tasted like fruit.
    3. Health bars, Jell-O bowls, cashews…sometimes.
    4. I ate oatmeal occasionally at home.
    5. If something sounds good, toss it in the bag! Just don’t forget to refresh your supply. If something seems tasteless and nasty fresh, you don’t even want to think about how the sight of it will affect you after it’s been stuck in the bottom of your bag for a couple of weeks.
  4. A sense of humor. This is every bit as important as the blanket and the attitude of gratitude. Without a grin, or a chuckle, or a crazy moment when you laugh at the predicament you’re in, your situation could close in on you. Do not let this happen! Your life is impossibly, unrelentingly important, and filled with opportunity for humor. Sometimes you have to look had to see it, but it’s there.One day your therapy will be over. Please pass along the secrets of your journey to someone new, someone who was like you before you learned everything that you know now. Make a difference and pass on your travel tips. You may never know what your grace provides, but pass your hard found comfort forward.Mahalo. Carry On!

    St. Paul's Cathedral, London

    St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

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Filed under Cancer Journey, Patient Advice and Support