Archives for category: anticipatory grief

My neighbor Frances is 89 years young. I would estimate she is just as much, if not more of a southern spitfire as she was back in 1924 on the day she was born in farmhouse down east (as we say here in NC) in Elm City. Frances has seen me through many a life trial always without fail, inviting me into her grandma like home when I ring her buzzer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Last week, I found myself on the receiving end of a big, fat, loud “Pshaw.”

I guess Pshaw is what you call it, that’s what it sounded like at least. An exasperated sigh plus eye roll; an unspoken, “Oh brother, give me a break.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been avoidant. 

Okay, maybe a little lazy with a capital Z mixed in as well. 

A little unfocused. Perhaps a little scattered and overextended.

But really.

Mostly avoidant.

Despite the urging and friendly Yoo-Hoo’s of others to come back out to play, I have dug my heels in and looked away. 

In fact, I have a confession to make. Please forgive me y’all. I’ve been avoidant of reading the other bloggesses blogs as well.

Truth is, way back yonder in December I promised I’d be back soon. And “soon” by any stretch of the definition well, “soon” has done come and gone. And I still sit here, avoidant.

At first I thought I just needed a little break. I really loved writing my lil blog every week, and kinda got to where it was a part of me. Initially, it felt good to empty out the trash can, and to spill out the rummage left behind in my head by cancer. I felt humbly, that I had figured out why I was still here. At first.

My little über analyzing brain has tried and tried to figure out what’s up with the delay of my return to the blogosphere. After a year of writing about the ick and nonsense and cancer drama, I can only describe to you more what I didn’t feel than what I did.

What I didn’t feel anymore was the gratification of the purge; I didn’t feel the expected satisfaction of succinctly tying up so many loose ends and setting them free. At the end of it, I no longer felt the organized glee of putting them all into neatly categorized drawers and boxes and sliding the drawers shut.

No, I didn’t feel the satisfaction of the emptied attic. It left me with nothing to do with my hands. And really, what’s the point of being the crazy old woman in the attic if there is no fodder, if there are no chests to open and frantically grab and wildly throw the contents about while screaming about cancer? 

The empty space, albeit peaceful, haunted me more some days than a head chock full of trauma bits.

I mean, who was I if I wasn’t the girl with cancer? What should I do with a mind born to dissect and analyze everything to death when there was thankfully, no apparent death to analyze? 

Perhaps (I entertained but for only a moment) I am a tad histrionic after all, thriving on drama and needing crisis to feel like I was alive, forever needing something to do with my racing mind and hands. Perhaps it’s why the stillness, which I did not really resent, felt odd.

What I felt was nothing. Not good or bad, not relief or angst. Nothing. A void. An absence of something that had taken up a whole lot of space. Emptiness where the cancer was, a big empty attic previously taken up by the cancer.

And a reluctance to refill the room with those thoughts again.

Early on in my cancer diagnosis, I was sitting in Grandmother Willow’s office. This was shortly after the dirty little secret of breast cancer was whispered in my ear; that the trick is not it getting rid of it the first time, but in keeping it away. Grandmother Willow was trying to stem my rapidly racing thoughts as they made loop after loop, trying to assure me that one day this cancer would all seem an afterthought.

Because I can sometimes be a Little Miss Know It All, I often tend to call bullshit on theories that don’t match up with my picture of the world, and that day was no different. I remember thinking maybe she was the crazy old lady in the attic because I could see nothing but a life from here on in with the grim reaper as my constant traveling companion, forever bound like members of a chain gang with his endless whisper distracting me for eternity.

I distinctly remember her telling me about woman who recently came to see her who, after a whole first session of spilling her current emotional history said, “And oh yeah, and I had breast cancer ten years ago.” “Oh yeah,” like she had forgotten about it. “Oh yeah,” like it was an afterthought.

“Bullshit,” I thought.

Sitting bald and frightened on her couch, it seemed inconceivable that cancer would one day take up so little room in my life; that it would become such a non entity in my identity. That in the game board of Lauren’s life, cancer would become such a non player in my current emotions on any given future day.

Yet, this is how I have felt these last months. I have felt the absence of cancer. 

After years of thinking about nothing but cancer, I have somehow managed to get to where it is not part of the complexion of my being. One day last week, a neighbor stopped to tell me she had gotten her port out that morning. I felt this blankness when she said it, not lack of empathy, but more a situation where I was unable to summon the empathy because I had forgotten how it felt to be in her shoes. I knew she must feel relief, but I couldn’t feel the taste of it in my mouth anymore. When I started to try to remember what I had blogged about ports, I couldn’t even remember what I had written. All I could remember was how hilarious it was that Wendy had made hers into a daisy.

When I went back to read that blog, I swear to you,  it was as if someone else had written it. Sometimes this happens with my mom; I can’t remember what she looked like until I look at pictures, and then I am surprised at features in her face that I forgot.

I was detached from cancer. Detached from the chain gang.

Years ago, big surprise, I had to take Concerta for my ADD. With that drug, the thought of food and hunger vanished. I’m not saying I wasn’t hungry or my appetite was curbed, I am saying that the thought of food no longer crossed my mind. I’d be sitting there feeling faint and go, “Oh, yeah, I haven’t eaten in two days.” This little pill took away the emotion and rituals and grooves in my brain that were attached to food and eating; it eliminated the craving and the timing and desire to indulge in this so familiar and daily ritual.

This little blog did the same with cancer. I don’t indulge in cancer much these days. But, it’s not healthy to not need food, nor is healthy to avoid part of your being.

I remember reading how Lance was in an doctor’s office finding out he was just covered with cancer. It seemed insurmountable, yet a few days later after he talked to doctor after doctor about what each intended to do with each and every metastasis he proclaimed, “We had talked this thing down to size.”

Blog by blog, a bite of the proverbial elephant (or grim reaper) at a time, I too had talked the memories and trauma, the cancer down to size.

While the bell can never be un-rung, somehow, somehow….swirling my pen around in the well un-cast the dye. Like a magnet, my pen pulled the dye cast long ago from the water, bringing it from pink to very, very pale, almost indiscernible pink.

Perhaps I lived my way into (at least some of) the answers.

Perhaps I am just reluctant, not avoidant. Perhaps I am detached; not sure that I want to re-attach, or how to re-attach without it filling the room up again.

Perhaps, I have just moved seamlessly, as we do with grief, into acceptance.

Perhaps, I have indeed outlived it.

So in these last months, my life has been filled with all the stuff of teenagers. Colleges visits, college apps, obsessing about the right high school and college choices, proms and dances, driving lessons, graduation preparations for two and undergoing some good old-fashioned teenaged drama teaching me I better grow some thick skin real fast. (Suddenly, I have become a whole lot less smart and a whole lot less funny.) My pop survived another wicked pneumonia, and Scout is still the best dog ever made at the dog factory. Through all of this, I have worn some very good friends down with my new looping obsession; my anticipatory grief that life is gonna change real soon as the kids and people and dogs I love fly away. But in all this, we are busy, busy, busy here at the ranch distracted by life not death; indeed life is moving forward at warp speed.

And oh yeah, six years ago I had cancer.

 

 

I’m back.

 A little at a time, so as not to fill the attic,

but I’m back. 

xoxo

Lauren

Years ago, then President Kennedy made a speech about the space program and our need to keep advancing it. He referred to the story of some little boys running through the green, green fields of Ireland and coming upon an orchard wall that seemed perhaps too high to climb. Instead of turning back the boys took their hats and threw them over the wall, and thus, then had to climb the wall to go get their hats; the toss leaving them with no choice but to go over the wall to retrieve their caps.

I have always been a throw my hat over the wall kind of girl. Sometimes it’s because I am just dying to know what’s on the other side, sometimes it’s just for the thrill of the climb. Being an eternal sunshiny optimist, I think it’s mostly because I believe that what is on the other side of the wall is not better than what I have, but something new and different and grand to experience. Mostly though, just like those little Irish boys the toss is made to force me to do something I thought I couldn’t do, to make something happen, to experience something that would not have had I not done so. Truth be told, I get a wee bit agitated when there are no walls to climb, my fingers itch and fidget with a cap in hand, and I start to actively search out walls when that happens. 

When we are making our way through our life and come across the cancer wall, I think that most of the time our oncologists and surgeons rip the cap out of our hand and toss it over the wall for us. They lay out their neat tactical plans of how we will scale the wall and give us visions of how 85 or 95 percent of the people have made it over, and how they are living life on the other side of the wall. We want to visit this magical and unbelievable land on the other side and really don’t have much choice but to go after our cap to cover our bald heads; then too, to go after it is infinitely better than staying on this side of the orchard wall, where things appear to be dying.

But after cancer, as we continue onward through the vast field that is our life, what do we do when we come upon a wall? Do we bemoan the fact that it is unfair, because we already had to climb the big wall o’ cancer? Do we even have the strength or gumption to climb anymore? I mean honestly what’s the use if we are gonna die while trying? Do we avoid walls altogether? Do we see it as a positive or negative? An adventure or labor? 

Cancer makes us hesitate. It makes us want to hold on to what we have and clutch tightly to our caps because well, we might need it to cover our bald noggin again sometime soon. Cancer makes us afraid to plan and take on new things. Throwing our hat over a wall feels like buying green bananas. Cancer eats zest. Cancer makes us afraid. Cancer makes us tentative and bit distrusting of planning for the future. Cancer makes us think the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. In the months just after treatment is completed it is hard to believe there are better days ahead, it feels counterintuitive to trust that the ice is thick enough to skate out on and into our future.  

After five years, I prefer to look back at that time of caution and fear as a time when I was just resting and gathering my strength. I remember it now, with my sunshine spin, as a place where yes I may have taken the cap off and considered the toss but in the end held kept it in my hands as I sunk down with my back against that wall to as they say in the south, sit a spell.

But I can tell from my perch high atop of yet another wall, five years and a million walls out from cancer that once you catch your breath and no longer need that cap to cover your head, cancer becomes a catapult sailing you high over the wall and into life after. Cancer catapults both our caps, and us. Cancer makes us want to experience everything that is behind wall number one and two and three and four. Cancer in the end, makes us adept and easy hat tossers, and skilled climbers with a penchant for finding even higher walls. Cancer makes us grateful for the toil of the climb.

To move from a place of fear, from a place of clutching our caps to our chest to a place where we are making the toss we have to believe that the days ahead are better than the days behind us. We must believe we are capable of making the climb and will live to see the other side in order for us to throw. We must be willing to give up the status quo and the safety of what we know, for perhaps the devil we don’t (which may in fact, be a devil of a good time.) We must toss our hats over with glee and sense that an adventure beholds us, not a tragedy. We must be excited about the climb. But mostly we must actively find our own walls by beginning to move through life again. That is what life is all about Charlie Brown; making the run to kick over and over, even though the ball may get pulled out at the last minute.

A tad impulsive I am yes, and admittedly I have been known many a time to toss before I totally think it through. Sometimes I have created my own walls just so I can toss. But I have found that ninety-nine percent of the time the climb is worth it and that the sweat and toil of working toward a goal remind me I am alive. If I thought about it too long, I might not make the toss; cancer has given me the luxury of not having a lot of time to think about it.

Life is in the preparing to climb. Life is in the climb. Life feels like drawing the deepest of breaths when you are on top of the wall. Almost always, I find not greener pastures but my hat, and lots more life experiences to fill it with.

There are a million things that cancer took from me but two million more I have because cancer, many found on the other sides of walls I would have never thrown my hat over had it not been for cancer, and many found while making the climb.

And heck, I’d rather die while climbing a wall than die while standing at the bottom, anxiously peering at it, clutching my hat, trying to screw up the courage to make the toss. As Mr. Buffet says, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

I didn’t survive cancer to just stand there. Neither did you.

Walls don’t come to us, we must go to them. As they say, ships in the harbour are safe, but that is not what ships are made for.

The prospect of a short life has made me to run gleefully to them, and throw my hat over the wall again, building my wings on the way down the other side.

Just not angel wings…not yet at least.

“One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on”

~The Polar Express

I’ve recently taken on this less than sparkly little habit of calling 2011 my Lost Year. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t want to talk about 9/11. Not here, not now. Sometimes intense emotional experiences are so private, so personal, and when people around us launch into their own personal narrative of how it unfolded for them, it flavors it for us. And that is not what I want to do. It is not fair to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Last weekend, with the approach of Irene we once again went through the oh-so-familiar drill of preparations for the coming storm. Hurricanes seem to find our little state a magnet, and here in North Carolina we are seasoned pro’s at prepping for these events. Read the rest of this entry »

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