Going home…

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I know this road like the back of my hand. I know the curves and gentle slopes like a lover knows the curve of a cheekbone. I know where every pothole is. The damnable things that return year after year, no matter how often they grade, fill or sand that road. I know where all the jagged edges are.
 
There is a bridge, and on a hot summer day, you can always find a few cars parked along the edge, as daredevils attempt to scale the cliff’s edge and jump into the wickedly cold mountain water. I have jumped from the highest point and splashed into icy water. I would try to act tough, but each and every time, the air would scream out of my lungs from the shock of the cold against my body. It has been at least twenty years since I have jumped into that creek.
 
I continue driving, noticing a new fence along the way. Someone is building a shop along their property, and I shake my head, still annoyed that someone had the audacity to build a house there in the first place.
 
The sound of gravel crunching under my tires as I turn that last corner onto that dirt road travels above the chatter of my kids in the back seat. The dogs are looking out the winder, their noses twitching with the new scents yet to be discovered.
 
I gently touch my brakes to slow down, not wanting to kick up dust, and to avoid even more bumps along the way. I can miss every rut with my eyes closed and it feels familiar once again.
My face is smiling. The wild grasses are swaying, as if they are waving to me. The flowers, small and frail, are peeking through, timid and shy. The gentle rocks are still undisturbed; strong and steady. Their pointed overhang, with a thick moss hanging over, provide a bit of cover and an easy escape for the deer who are perturbed by my unexpected arrival.
 
As I get closer to the house, my heart beats excitedly!
 
I am home!
 
Never again.
 
I will never look for excuses not to come back. I will never lose track of time again, and I will remember how much I need this place as much as it needs me.
 
At least, that is what I tell myself.
 
It has been at least five years since I have come for a visit.
 
I had forgotten the beauty.
 
The smell of evergreens, and sweet clean air. The mountains, so close, its as if they are hugging you in a warm embrace. The river calls to me to come and sit for a while.
 
And so, I do.
 
It’s 3 o’clock.
 
That means its “happy hour” down at the river. We have unpacked and it’s a warm day. I know where I can go to cool off.
I follow the trail that leads down to the water’s edge. The tall grass is overgrown all around, but a small trail is carved along a pathway that leads from the house to the rivers edge. Two tall pine trees serve as shade.
He has added a bit to the gazebo. Moved the picnic table closer too.
But the chairs are still propped, facing the town.
I sit down, breathing deeply.
I sigh…
I am tired.
They look at me, a bit of sorrow, a bit of pity and a small smile in their eyes. My children are yanking their clothes off, ready to jump off the dock and into the river below. The dogs, their tails wagging, are smiling, glad to be free of leashes or restraints.
 
This place is freedom. It is solitude. It is peaceful.
 
I hadn’t realized how much I was holding in until that moment.
 
So I sip my drink, and breathe.
 
I let the worries, and the stress: the disappointments and the angst fall off my shoulders. I can pick it up when I leave. After all, it never goes too far. But for now, for these four days, I want…no I need to simply be. I need to have no one ask me for anything, or to need me for anything. I need to soak in the beauty all around me.
 
The splashing and dogs barking make me smile.
 
My children have been playing on this river bank their entire lives. I am happy that they will have childhood memories of this place.
 
This place will have a far different meaning for my children than it had for me in the past, but I am thankful all the same.
 
The sound of a chainsaw across the river draws our gaze upwards.
 
A crane, with a long blue arm reaching high, a bucket holding a man inside, is stretched out to a large leafy elm tree. The chainsaw roars and screeches, as the man wields his weapon against the wise old sage. It is the last of its kind. A tree planted more than one hundred years ago by the looks of it.
We all sit and stare as limb after limb drops down to the ground below.
 
The kids are still jumping and laughing, oblivious to the atrocity happening across the river. The three of us simply sit, with no words to be said.
 
Finally, he growls about the stupidity of cutting down the majestic beauty. It is obvious the tree is not being pruned but destroyed.
 
He shakes his head.
 
I wonder aloud at why they would cut down a perfectly healthy tree like that. Roots? Disease?
 
We have no answers.
 
After our drinks, its time for dinner.
 
The kids want to walk into town to visit with their grandparents, and I am glad. They all need that time together, and I need time alone. I am even more glad that there is now a bridge that connects those who live on one side of town to the other, with a quick stroll. That means I don’t have to drive them around and into town the long way.
 
Memories flood my mind as I find myself strolling along the same path later that evening. Walking with no set destination in mind, I put one foot in front of the other. Listening to nothing but the sound of my breathing and footfalls along the dirt road.
 
I moved to this house when I was fourteen years old. Can you imagine how incredibly angry I was? Moving again, and this time to a town that didn’t even have one stop light! What a horrible idea! I didn’t want to be there, and I am sure I let them know my frustration at being cooped up in a tiny house, so far outside of town, and not knowing anyone!
 
Yet, this house. It was the first place I would feel safe.
 
You can imagine my frustration at having finally started to settle in, only to be told we were moving again. I put my foot down. Hard! I begged to be able to stay. Just four years. That was all I would need: please could we stay?
 
A decision that had both good and bad consequences.
 
They let me stay, but they left. They would go to work for weeks upon weeks, leaving me alone to navigate being a teenager in a small town.
 
Let’s just say, I didn’t make the wisest of choices…
 
I keep walking a bit further along, remembering the parties, the sneaking out on late nights. Kissing boys and hearing the gossip the next day. Planning bonfires or skinny dipping, yet the girls were always too shy to take off all the clothes, and the boys were too shy to even jump in! I remember playing on the water in the summer. I would sometimes sneak out, just to take a wobbly pontoon boat up the river, just so I could float back down and stare at the stars all by myself. If that seemed dangerous or risky, it certainly had never crossed my mind.
 
I remember my mother and the guy that I would later call “dad” when describing him to other people because the telling the entire story would take too long, they broke apart for the last time. Still, I found my way back to that house.
 
Then, instead of sneaking out, I would find my self constantly sneaking back in. A house that would become a summer getaway would be a place I found solace for years to come. I moved back into that house five years later when I eloped with a man for no real reason other than he looked at me and said, “Hey, the Hitching Post is back there, do you wanna?” He seemed pretty nice after a few weeks, so why not?
 
Lack of jobs, lack of education, and desperately needing to set out on our own path, we left, only to return once again, this time with a baby in my belly.
 
But that town was still too small, and I was far too restless to stay there. I pushed farther and farther away. Yet, every year, I would feel the calling to come home. To breathe the mountain air, to feel the soft release, as I sink into that chair and watch the water flow softly by.
 
I would bring my babies there. I would swim with them,
teaching them about the current. While other boaters stay far away from this part of the river, I teach them not to be scared of the waters currents, or the rope holding us back from going over the falls not too far away, but to trust it and know it will pull you to safety if you let it. Don’t fight it, but to swim with it.
 
Years later, I would decide to leave my first husband on that river bank. We held hands, crying, as we said our goodbyes, and after 17 years of marriage, that part of my life ended. It stung to go back and feel so many memories that included him.
 
Maybe that is why I stayed away so long?
 
Or maybe it is because shortly after one part of my life ended, another part began.
ALS.
 
And because of that, I stopped trying to find solitude and peace in places and started looking for it in myself. Or maybe because I felt shame and didn’t want to come home to more criticism. I felt enough disappointment; I certainly didn’t need to feel it from others as well.
 
That first night, I found myself walking to one of my favorite spots. I used to go and sit next to the water as it rushed down the gates of the dam. Those trails are grown over now, and so instead I went to another spot. Still close by, where that cold water from that creek above meets the water from the river.
I sit and stared at the stars. I let the cool night air kiss my skin and for just a while, I forgot about everything else but being in that moment.
The sound of the water rushing by, as it joined into the river. The Milky Way, something I had forgotten even existed, was staring down at me. We seem to recall each other. I walk home, a smile on my face. My body releasing all the tension and letting go.
 
I spent the next two days sleeping in, riding in boats and playing with my children in the water, showing them some of the sweet spots of the river. My dad and I shake our heads at all the houses along the riverbanks. He shakes his head at the crazy housing prices, and I shake mine at all the change. Neither of us like change.
 
We would find ourselves sitting on the river’s edge each day around 3’oclock. Sipping our beer and sitting quietly; watching a giant blue crane across the river continuously rise up and down, getting to just the right angle. We can hear the screeching of a chainsaw as it hacked away at a beautiful piece of history.
 
I spent my nights looking at shooting stars and remembering. Remembering good and bad times, happy and sad.
Remembering how I couldn’t leave fast enough. How it was too slow, and too simple.
 
Now, I want more than anything to have simple once again.
It is day four.
 
I don’t want to go back to Idaho, but I must. I find myself stalling for more time.
 
This time, instead of rushing away, I try to find any excuse to stay. But I know I cannot. I watch, as the chainsaw cuts down the last limb. It has taken four days to chop the tree, leaving only the trunk left to saw down.
 
I nod and try to take a picture with my mind’s eye as the bald eagle flies overhead. A lone duck swims over towards the dock, but the dogs don’t understand that it doesn’t want to play. It quickly paddles away. Dragonflies swoop around, and the sound of the train horn begins whistling in the distance.
With another deep breath, and a sigh, I stand. I glance over my shoulder for one more glimpse of a sleepy little town. A town I had once hated and couldn’t leave fast enough. Yet now, all these years later, a town that I find myself gravitating towards more and more.
 
A place I once called home…and I expect, always will be.

connections….

She must have noticed how my face fell in disappointment as my head turned, first to the right, and then to the left of me. I had run into the store to grab a prescription, leaving everyone waiting in the car. As I went to close my door, he asks me to quickly grab him something as well.

I nod my head, irritated as I hurry inside.

Matthew had a craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups lately and asked me to grab a few. I tried to remind him that we had plenty of M&M’s and Kit Kats at the house, sitting in the freezer. The kids had been gone for several days, so the candy hadn’t been gobbled up just yet. But, no, his craving was specific, and judging from previous experience, if I don’t acquiesce, than the craving builds into some incredible hunger monster of epic proportions, often resulting in his “Go BIG or go home” philosophy that ends up with him miserable and having a stomach ache.

Now, I am standing there, prescription paid for in one hand, and three king sized Reese’s packages in the other, hoping to get through the checkout in a minute or two…not the twenty minutes it looked as if it were going to take, judging by the long line of full grocery carts in front of me.

“Would you like to go in front of me?”

I looked up into a sweet face, waving for me to come closer.

“That would be great, thank you!”

I squeezed in between the cart and her, sucking in my stomach as I did this, shuffling my feet in a strange dance as I place the candy bars down on the conveyor belt. In full disclosure, sucking in my stomach does not, in fact, make my ass any smaller as I try this…but it is always worth a try.

I had noticed, as this older lady and I had done our strange shuffle dance, that she had a bandage just under her shirt. I assume it is a port, and I try to glance away quickly so as not to make her uncomfortable that I had been staring. My eyes venture over to the stacks of pizza boxes and frozen egg rolls, and various other over-processed foods. Maybe she has a Matthew at home as well.

She reaches over to rearrange the food, smiling.

“My grandsons are coming over tonight for a sleep over. They are bringing some friends and instead of cooking, I am hoping this might be enough to fill them up for a while!”

I know all too well how hard it is to feed the never-ending pit of teenage appetites. I learn that her grandsons are in their teenage years but still love coming over to Grandma’s house. I share with her I how I can’t wait to become a grandma!

Wait!

I quickly clarify that I can in fact wait, as my oldest is not quite 18 years old, but that I am looking forward to spoiling babies…only handing them back when I am done!

She mentions that she has enjoyed having her grandbabies over since she moved her almost thirteen years ago.

We talk more about parenting and the joys of kids.

She tells me how perfect her grandkids are. I nod, telling her that my children are also pretty perfect.

“It’s the parents, you know.” She leans in to tell me this as if it’s a secret between us. I laugh, telling her I don’t think I had much to do with it. I was really just blessed with great kids.

“When people tell me that kids today are awful, I just don’t agree! It’s the PARENTS that are awful!”

I can’t help but agree with her a bit on this.

She mentions the cancer.

She is doing really well with the chemo. In fact, today was her anniversary and she celebrated by having another chemo round. Her husband wasn’t doing anything to celebrate, but she seems content with feeding teenage boys with copious amounts of junk food.

She proudly pats the stylish grey bob on her head, “I did lose my hair, but I have plenty still to spare!”

I tell her I am sorry but that I am glad she is still feeling so well.

“It was more emotionally hard seeing all the other patients come in, looking sicker and sicker with each round.”

I nod in agreement again. I have no experience with that, but I can imagine it must be really scary and difficult not knowing.
She says how thankful she is, because she knows it can be worse.

I mention that my husband has ALS but that I have learned to find even the smallest things to be grateful for.

Her eyes widen, and then fall as they fill with sadness, her hand squeezing my forearm.

She gets it…

I give her a small smile, trying to comfort her as she tries to apologize for something she has no control over.

I don’t have any person experience with cancer. I know people who have had cancer. I knew people who have passed from cancer, but my experience with having a close loved one with cancer and caring for them is next to nothing.

However, there is something comforting about looking into another person’s eyes and finding compassion and understanding.

For just a moment, two complete strangers were able to connect about how life isn’t fair, but that joy can still be found in the love for family, a few boxes of pizza and maybe a Reese’s peanut butter cup or two.

And that craving of Matthew’s?

Yeah, those king-sized bars made their way into the freezer, along the other piles of junk food…

 Matthew Wild

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T.M.I.

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Disclaimer*** TMI!
 
If bodily functions make you queasy…I suggest you just keep on scrolling…Nothing to see here…
 
************
Almost five years ago, when I tepidly decided we could date, but that I really wasn’t looking for a serious relationship at the moment, I had no idea the adventure I was headed towards with Matthew.
 
Take for example shortly after we began dating. Matthew thought it would be great to take a quick weekend and explore Glacier National Park.
 
Having no children of his own, we packed up my (then) 6, 8, and 13-year-old children for a fun excursion. Things were off to an awesome start. Fun things to see, hiking and all the smells and sights, in majestic mountains. After day 1, we headed into Whitefish for dinner. I believe Yelp was the go-to app that directed us to a lovely café, on a beautiful street filled with quaint stores, and all the Montana paraphernalia a person could buy.
 
I remember the kids chose the customary mac and cheese dinners, while Matthew went with a burger and fries.
I chose a warmed spinach salad.
 
A healthy and delicious meal that I smugly ate, assured in my choices to help my waistline as well a great example to my growing children.
 
A decision I quickly began to regret.
In less than an hour, my stomach was rolling and gurgling…a sure sign I had food poisoning.
 
Now, if you know anything about me, then you would know that bodily functions are something I don’t want to announce. So with all the strength of an elephant, I shakily kept my face neutral, while the goosebumps spread across my skin and the sweat broke out across my upper lip and forehead. I quietly prayed I was wrong, and this was just a little stomach bug and nothing more. This would pass, I know it would. I would not throw up. The very idea was ludicrous!
 
I forged ahead, willing my stomach to hold its contents and not embarrass me in front of my boyfriend on our very first vacation together. And, in less than an hour I knew what was coming, and I was hoping against hope that my body would not embarrass me with what was sure to be an eruption of epic proportions.
 
Thankfully, I was able to hold it together until they were asleep. Then I hastily crept into the bathroom, running the shower water and sink water, and expelling, quite violently, all the remnants of the rotten, warmed spinach salad.
 
This event lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. I remember gingerly placing the small waste basket, unassuming to the poor passer-bys, outside the hotel door for the poor housekeepers that morning. I don’t even want to go into details of what happened, but let’s just say, it was violent and from both ends… And poor Matthew…he had to load up three children and myself, weak and unable to move, to drive the five hours back home.
 
Now fast forward three months after that…
 
My first trip to Cabo San Lucas! My first vacation in I don’t know how many years.
 
Matthew has, as usual, planned the most amazing time to be experienced. We went on bottomless boat rides, and sunset cruises. We had drinks on the balcony and walked the beach, watching the sun melt into the ocean.
 
It was perfect…
 
He excitedly grabbed my hand one evening, wanting to show me the very location where he personally partied the night away with the very famous Sammy Hagar as well as various other celebrities. His eyes lit up like a school boy at Christmas as he excitedly showing me where he sat, drinking and dancing with wealthy socialites and bodyguards, and how he was invited to the after party, long after most people would have called it a night.
 
The place was called Cabo Wabo. Maybe you have heard of it?
 
He ordered his usual Coors Light and three tacos.
 
He raved about these tacos.The flavors and the fact that we just had to try them…
They were good, I guess. Nothing too mind blowing that I can remember. The atmosphere was fun, but I guess without Sammy Hagar, it was just another one of those overly hyped up locations in a tourist trap. And the tacos?
 
The damn tacos gave us E. Coli that lasted at least fourteen days.
 
Yep..the same thing that happened to me just three months earlier, only 100x worse!
 
Only this time…we both were sick…
 
The rest of the vacation was spent staying within ten feet of any bathroom…and we both were walking a bit funny after the rest of the week, when our bathroom breaks were still happening at least every ten to twenty minutes..
It was less embarrassing, since we were both suffering together, I guess.
 
You might be asking yourself why I am telling you all this…
 
Well, I think the Poopy Curse has struck again.
 
Let me just give you the little by-play last night.
 
11:00 Pm – I finally close my eyes.
 
12:00Am – Matthew needs adjusted.
 
2:30 am – he groans. I sit him up. He tells me his stomach is gurgling. We wait a few minutes. He seems content to go back to sleep.
 
I lay there for a while. I can’t fall back asleep. I grab my phone. I know better, but I catch up on the news, and waste away an hour. Finally, I set my phone down and close my eyes…
 
3:30 am – He moans again. He needs to use the bathroom.. ASAP!
 
Well, shit!
 
I left the hoyer lift in the trailer. Bad planning on my part.
I quickly dress and run outside into the parking lot, unlock the door and wheel it out. Quickly, I throw the deadbolt back on the hatch and hurry as quickly as possible back into the room.
 
If you haven’t figured out by now, bodily functions while having ALS is a process…and never a quick one.
 
Without going into too much detail lets just say, there were sad eyes, apologies and a lot of gagging on my part…and his. And a lot of groaning from him, and comforting words on my behalf
(btw..how I had three children and changed diapers daily is beyond me! I can do anything…literally, I can handle anything…but poop!)
 
The damn waste basket was put outside the hotel door again. A pile of towels, and about two hours later, Matthew was all cleaned up again.
 
When we had checked into the hotel that evening, there had been a mistake and we were placed into a regular room. At the last minute, I switched our rooms. (Just in case, I told myself.) There was just no room to move around. After the last two hours, I was so thankful I made that switch..or the mess would have been much worse.
 
And the kids…yeah, they slept through the entire ordeal!
 
5:30 am – I close my eyes and finally sleep
 
7:00 am – my children are giggling, ready for the day to begin
I am determined not to let a little lack of sleep ruin Day two of our vacation!
 
We load up and are right on schedule!
 
Well, shit!
 
Matthew has to poop again. ( I groan a bit inwardly here, not gonna lie..)
Deep breath…Okay, no biggie…
I send the kids out to begin loading up the trailer.
 
As this is early in the morning, we have plenty of time to make Crater Lake and then a short drive to our hotel in Klamath CA.
 
I wheel the hoyer lift out to the parking lot…determined not to make that mistake again!
I pull the deadbolt key out of my pocket. Ready to hit the road, the kids are bouncing around, feeding the local chipmunk and being generally goofy.
 
The damn key won’t fit.
 
Well, Shit!
 
In my rush last night to get the hoyer, I had slammed the deadbolt on upside down. Now the key won’t fit in the hole.
 
Freaking wonderful.
 
The maintenance man is summoned. After about thirty minutes, he moseys along, hacksaw in hand.
 
With a shake of his hand, and a $20 bill, I tell him I appreciate his help. He seems to take it in stride and gives me a toothless grin in return for the tip.
 
Okay, NOW we are on our way. An hour and a half behind schedule now, but all’s well that ends well!
 
A quick stop for another deadbolt, and we are off!
 
Kids still have no idea where we are headed or what adventure awaits.
 
Crater Lake was breathtaking!
 
Souvenirs are purchased, and without WiFi or a map, and the wrong turn, we finally figure out we were going in the wrong direction for 45-minutes!! Ok, NOW we are finally going towards our next destination!
 
The Redwood National Forest!
 
We stop for gas, a quick stretch and a pee break.
The kids and I run in, as I am ushering them through the aisles, sending them towards the snack aisle. FInally, I make my way towards the restroom.
 
I fumble with the top button of my pants, my mind scattered, trying to hurry so as not to leave Matthew alone in the car for too long, and make sure this time we are headed in the right direction. My jeans are shimmied down and..
 
Plop!
 
My cell phone, which was in my back pocket of my jeans, lands in the toilet bowl…
 
Well, shit!
 
 
 
 
****Disclaimer #2
Day 2 of Vacation is still awesome! Even with all the little unplanned for quirks!

When angels have to leave…

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“Mama passed away”
 
It’s six am, and I am eight hours away from home. This is the text message I wake up to. I set down my phone and lay there.
The hotel room is modern, with sharp edges and a cold surface. It seems colder now.
I turn my head. Laying next to me is my baby boy. He is not so little anymore, but when he sleeps, he still reminds me of the baby I held all those years ago. His little upturned nose, long dark lashes laying across his sweet face. His mouth is open slightly, and his hand is near mine. I reach over and gently touch his cheek.
 
She is gone.
 
The thought seems foreign to me for a moment.
 
I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
I had seen her the month before, but it was a whirlwind of people and activity, so visiting with her was short. Matthew said she was having difficulty breathing, but I still refused to accept that she could be close to the end.
 
I quietly rolled over to glance at Matthew.
He is laying in his wheelchair, pillows tucked around him. Blankets piled on top of him. Not much is seen except his head poking through. His mask moving in and out with each breath the machine pumps into him.
 
How will he take this news? A tear slides down my cheek, and I flash through the memories of when I had first met her and her family. So many smiles, so much laughter, even in the painful moments.
 
Anticipatory grief is knowing what is coming, being helpless to stop it, yet still feeling the heart break, even after you have prepared for it.
 
This time is no different.
 
I knew she was in Hospice. I knew she was tired of fighting. She was in pain. She was hurting. And selfishly, I wish she would have held on.
 
She was so loved by so many. A mother to many, and a woman who was known for her friendship as much as for hard work ethic, her love of family, and her laugh. Her sweet and caring nature was easy to love.
 
I doubt I will ever be immune to the sting of hearing when someone has passed. I have seen it almost daily on Facebook for years now, another angel has gotten their wings from this disease called ALS. This may be why I don’t visit the support groups anymore. I meet them, grow to love them, only to lose them.
 
This family is another one I have come to know and love, and it makes the loss that much harder.
 
I had the honor and the privilege of watching a family come together during chaos and sadness and hold each other up.
To say I was jealous would be an understatement.
The strength this family possesses, and the love they have for one another has been inspiring to watch.
I witnessed a man, weary and worn down, still get up every day. Even at times where he probably felt he couldn’t muster up the strength to continue, they circled around him, supporting him, so that he could care for her in her last years. Eyes that hold pain, but shoulders that continued to carry the burden and grief of it all.
 
Her daughters cared for her with comforting hands, helping with showering and dressing. But more than, they were pillars during times when the disease became too emotional for her to hold in. They allowed her her tears and her grief, so that she could show a courageous face outside the walls of their home. Grandchildren that wanted to be with her all the time, no matter that towards the end, there was a constant reminder of her illness wrapped across her face to help her breath.
 
I am not naïve to think they did this perfectly. There is no perfect. And there is no right or wrong way to deal with a diagnosis like this. But if I could look to a family who handled this with grace, support and love…this family came together during the most difficult of times and I am in awe of their strength and determination to walk this journey together, side by side. I wonder if they know how truly lucky they are to have each other. So many other families are torn apart, but this family seemed to huddle even tighter together.
 
I can’t help but hurt for her family now. This woman was giving and kind. She wanted to support others as they traveled the same road she was on. She wanted to lend comfort and wisdom and she wasn’t shy in schooling those about the ins and outs of ALS.
I have no doubt that those who walked away, or lost touch with her after those three letters consumed her life will have guilt. Somehow, I just know she wouldn’t want that though. She has found peace. She is no longer trapped inside a body that refuses to move, and the pain is gone.
 
I lay there for a while longer, staring at Matthew. Do I tell him? Or do I wait?
He must feel me staring at him because he turns his head and opens his eyes. I begin the process of hitting buttons to move wheelchair plates down, and seat positions up, and more buttons for machines that I still hate, the beeping always so loud in my ear.
 
I sit next to him on the bed.
 
“Kathy passed away last night.”
 
Matthew winces. We are both silent. What more can be said? Our eyes fill with tears, but no words are spoken.
 
Our drive home that day was filled with quiet solitude. There is nothing else that can be done. And that is the hardest part of all.
 
And our hearts are broken once again…

sharing is caring…

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Tonight, I want to share an article that was sent to me recently. It has some good thoughts about the stresses that many of us deal with on a daily basis.
For example…Guilt!
 
Oh my! I could write a book about just that emotion!
 
So. Much.Guilt!
 
I do not understand why there is guilt, but it is there in bucket loads. I am never doing enough, trying hard enough, or just the fact that I feel I am “never enough” is all it comes down to.
 
I live with guilt that my children are growing up and will remember their stepfather as someone who was dying during their formative years. Worse yet, I feel guilty that they had no choice in this part of their lives, I simply made the decision for them.
 
I feel guilty if I feel I am neglecting Matthew. I know he is a grown man and can and will tell me when he needs something, but damn if I don’t carry the weight of each decision on my shoulders.
 
While being a caregiver can never truly be understood until you are actually in those shoes, I feel it is always good to try to find empathy and compassion for those who are in a role that we may find ourselves in one day or simply to offer someone a place to fall apart if necessary.
 
Really, the world just needs more people to take the time to learn about the plights of others, to hear their stories without judgement and to, at the very least, offer a bit of kindness. At the most, really try to step up for those they can, and offer empathy.
 
And if you are a caregiver…allow yourself some grace, damnit! It is hard to be selfless and giving and even harder if you are doing it all by yourself. Remember, you are only human, and you are doing the best you can. Some days may not feel like it, but you are worthy, and you don’t need to think years down the road…just breathe, and make it through today<3
 
I am also sharing this article because I am tired, and my words just are not flowing like they normally do. I decided to let someone else do the talking instead. Yet here I am, still typing…
 
Ok..read it if you can..I’ll shut up now:)
 
 

slowly, they all just disappeared…

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You didn’t think it would happen. Not to you. You had it all. You had a loving and supportive family. Siblings and cousins you saw or talked to almost every day. You had friends. Friends who grew up right down the street from you, buddies who had gone through thick and thin with you.

Slowly, so slowly at first, it seemed almost as if you might be imagining it all.

First, the words of condolences.

“I am so sorry you are going through this.”

“I heard about the diagnosis. I am so sorry.”

Next, they see you out and about, but instead of the happy greeting you would normally get, they avert their eyes. You sort of stop. Unsure of how to proceed. You see them look away. You clearly make them uncomfortable now. They are hoping you don’t call out or draw attention to them. They duck, they turn away, they do anything to avoid having to face you.

It seems awkward at first. You take it personally. You feel as if you have inconvenienced them in some way, but you aren’t sure how.. After a while, it becomes such a common occurrence, you do them the courtesy of simply not even looking in their direction.

The pain is less sharp with every ripped page of a calendar month. It seems that time has a way of helping you adapt. You adapt to the loss of mobility. You adapt to losing your independence. You adapt to losing camaraderie with co-workers you used to see daily. You simply adapt to losing something, each and every day.

You think you have managed to come to terms with all the changes, but then you realize that the changes never stop.
After your body has morphed into something you no longer recognize, and you only slightly look like the person you used to be, you must now adapt to a new challenge. The friends and family you hold so dear. have all just slowly dropped out of sight. You had no idea that this is the part that would test you.

You thought dealing with the disease would be the hardest thing you would ever have to deal with, but you discovered you were wrong.

The hardest part, in fact, would be watching everyone around that you love move on with their lives, and all you can do is stare at a screen and watch it all happen.

You do everything in your power not to click on that icon, you try so hard to stay away from social media.

You don’t need to be reminded of all the Christmas parties, the weddings or the birthday celebrations that you are no longer invited to.

You don’t get to be included in the phone calls, or the invites for a drink to commiserate a friend’s breakup or loss of their favorite sport teams championship game.

The connection is gone.

Funny that you didn’t notice at first. You were so focused on the loss of your legs, you hadn’t noticed that those friends who used to talk to you every day, haven’t reached out in almost a year now. No one has stopped by to visit in so long, and you don’t even bother asking for visitors. They all promised, but its been so long, you finally quit anticipating anyone knocking on the door.

The invitations you had gotten were either to someplace that cannot accommodate your new situation, or it was a pity invitation. At least, you assume it is a pity invitation, so you politely decline. You feel you have done everyone a favor by not going.

You thought the disease would be what caused your body to stop functioning. Now, you no longer believe that. Your heart is breaking, and you begin to imagine that it is possible to die from a broken heart.

If you had only known the disease would not be the hardest part to deal with. You found out the most difficult part of each day would be to live and then die from isolation, depression and sadness. The ability to see all those people you once had a connection with, posting pictures of their lives, their loves, and their ups and downs, but you somehow, realize that you were forgotten.

You want to turn away, but you so desperately need to feel as if you are still worthy of their time or effort.
Now, you scour the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…anything that connects you in some way to the people you used to know. The anger is gone. Now, you simply want a connection with them. Even if the only link to them again is by pressing the “like” button.

a woman’s strength…

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Tonight is not about me.

Tonight is not about my journey, or those around me…at least not in regards to ALS.

Tonight is about her.

Her bravery, her strength. Her beauty and love that shines through her eyes and her smile.

She tells me I am the courageous one, but I wonder if she ever stops long enough to look in the mirror. She is battling something she has little control over. The only choice she has is follow the doctor’s orders…and pray.

And still, she keeps moving…one foot in front of the other. She keeps pushing forward and she keeps fighting.

They have drugged her and cut into her body. They have poisoned her, day after day… and still, she keeps pushing forward. They give her statistics and case studies, and long tedious answers about the latest therapies, and percentages… and still, she keeps pushing forward.

She usually hides behind her wit and her charm. Her smile and her charisma. But tonight, she shared a piece of her soul.
I can’t take any credit for it, I wish I could. Because when people show up, and are real, and jump up and down and say,

“Hello world, look at me!”

they shine brighter than any star. And she has always had a presence about her, the kind of natural charm that most women envy and men desire. But tonight, she stood up, and shone bright for all the world to see.

I am not moved to tears often and this one left me rocked to my core.

Kristina ~ I am so incredibly grateful you are in my life. You are all that any woman aspires to be. You are brilliant and kind, and you show grit and determination when others would have buckled by now. Trust me, telling your story is not vulnerable. It is gut-wrenching…and it is beautiful.

The world needs more women with your strength and your grace.

I can only hope to one day shine as brightly as you do…

******************************************************************************

Here is just a small piece of her story…

How do you get through two radiation treatments in one day? Two spa treatments, of course!

That’s the positive side. Here’s the ugly side.

One week and a half left, if my skin can take it. If my mental health can take it. They said radiation makes you tired. 
There’s no physical reason. It’s definitely mental.

Every day you go in, partially disrobe and lie down on a hard table. Arms are stretched above your head, goggles on. The entire time three to four people move about the room, aligning you, adjusting you, drawing on you, radiating you.

Arms go numb from the awkward position, but you can’t move. You itch, but you can’t scratch.

“Breathe, hold it. Ok breathe. Let’s do it again. This time hit the middle of the box. Now we’re ready. Let’s go!”

And repeat multiple times.

The breath holds are challenging for me. Sometimes I wiggle my fingers so they can see in the camera that I’m about to pass out. Holding your breath pushes the heart down and out of the way of the beam. Nobody wants a radiated heart. I certainly don’t.

When I breathe, a yellow bar rises. I’m to hit the center of a green box above it. It looks like an Atari game in my goggles.

I’m frustrated when I don’t hit the precise spot they want me to hit. So frustrated that sometimes my eyes well up. When I feel the water trickle down the side of my face I get even more frustrated “Hold it together.” It’s become my inner chant.

It’s all quick. 15 to 20 minutes most days. But it seems longer.

I’m tired after. God I’m tired. Not because I do anything, but because I’m confronted with The Cancer every day. I’m confronted with my mortality every day. It’s exhausting.

I lie there, my chest ravaged and my skin so red, peeled and on fire it hurts to move. I’m exposed and it’s uncomfortable, awkward and cold.

Then I’m done. I hop off the table and wave my tingling arm. “See you all tomorrow” and I go put on my clothes.

I look in the changing room mirror examining my angry battle wounds. Who is this person? How the hell did she get here? I slather on Aquafor and off I go.

Some days I just walk out as if nothing happened. Other times I linger to dry my eyes. I’ve never fully cried there, but I’ve come close many times. I save it for when I’m alone. Instead I suck it up and tell myself “Hold it together.” It works.

I hop into an Uber and either head to the airport or to a place here in Seattle, depending on the day of the week. Sometimes I walk, if I’m close enough. I did today. I like those days. I get into my head and get closer to God.

That’s daily radiation. Although today I slipped in two glorious spa treatments … just because.

Most of my posts about this topic are generally positive. I’m not nor have I ever been comfortable being vulnerable. So I tend not to share that side. But I’m inspired by a woman who so often shows the vulnerable side and I have learned a lot through her and her honest -sometimes brutally so – insights into ALS and the journey she and her husband are on. Theresa Whitlock-Wild shows me daily that it’s ok to drop the veil, to be honest and vulnerable and then gather up the strength and continue the damn fight. Thank you T. ❤️

So this post is meant to share a little insight into my journey and the journey of so many of us who have, had and will have breast cancer.

I think about my cancer sisters who have gone through radiation before me and I want to hug them tonight. I know what misery they went through. They are warriors.

I think about all the women who will go through this after me, not just the radiation but all of it.

They don’t yet know it. But they will be warriors, too.

#igotthis

 

Nightly routines…

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It is the same process, every single night.

Mundane…sameness…always the same monotonous events that take place for bedtime.

  • Brush his teeth, but don’t use the minty toothpaste. He doesn’t like that one.
  • Wash his face, but only in certain spots. It makes him chilly to have his face damp.
  • Use a q-tip and scratch the itches his fingers can no longer reach. He gets that look in his eye when you find that good spot, not unlike a dog feels when you hit the magic spot.
  • Use a bit of tissue, and pick at his nose. (I used to feel squeamish getting up in each nostril, but now, my stomach doesn’t even do a little flip flop as my fingers go up and wiggle around, the tissue swiping at any loose snot balls.)
  • One medicine for anxiety, one for sadness. One that is supposed to slow down his progression. We know two out of three of those meds work for certain.
  • Pour a capful of white powder and swirl around until dissolved. (It helps him poop.)
  • Place the pills in his mouth, his tongue is twitching again. Quickly lift the thickened water to his lips.
  • Remove his lap blanket and place the hand-held urinal between his legs. Push his legs apart so that he pees in the urinal and not all over himself.
  • Roll into the bedroom and start a machine. The clicking of air, pushing in and out, his cheeks puffed, as he coughs.  (The cough is weaker now. Nothing much ever comes out.  I can’t tell if I should be thankful for that or not.)
  • He tells me he thinks he may be getting sick. His throat hurts and he feels warm. I tell him he isn’t getting sick and deep down I silently pray I am right.
  • Grab the giant metal arm, attach the loops and hit the button. The arm pulls him up and out of his wheelchair. His ass scrapes along his controller, again. I seem to do that every night.  He gives me a pouty face, as I apologize…again.
  • My face turns red as I pull and twist the metal contraption over towards the bed.
  • Grab the remote for the bed to lift the headboard up, as I simultaneously lower the metal arm down on the bed. Push with my shoulders, and pull his legs out straight, so he doesn’t cramp.

Pay attention, Theresa!

  • Don’t sit him too high or too low. Keep the headboard at a little less than 90 degrees, just the way he likes it.  Unhook the loops, pull the metal arm away from the bed. Tuck it back into the shower, where we can hide it and pretend for just a few hours that it is not a necessary tool for me to move him to and fro.
  • Pull the straps and the sling out from under him.
  • He winces.
  • Place the bandaid over the bridge of his nose. It looks raw and sore again.
  • The mask goes on next. Hit the ON button. It screeches to life.
  • Find the remote for the headboard, which is now buried between his legs and blankets. The dog is laying by his feet. The dog isn’t much help.
  • Laying him slowly back, there is one more thing. Scratches…
  • Grab the baby powder by the night stand
  • Dump it anywhere there is a crevice. (I’ll save you the embarrassment of describing all the places that baby powder goes.)
  • Attempt to roll him onto his side. Not before he whines. He wants scratchy time to last longer. I do not
  • Check for pressure sores. On the back of his legs and his buttocks.

I grunt again…I swear he is more square than he is round.

  • Get his leg pillow just right between his legs. Adjust his head pillow to match. (He asks me to push him more. He isn’t on his side all the way. He will tip back over if he isn’t just so. Several more attempts. Several more grunts)

I give one more hard push…

  • “OWWW, I think you did something to my back!”

I panic! My eyes scanning his body. I can’t imagine what happened. I pause looking him over, his butt cheeks out in the open, legs bent

  • “I don’t think my legs work anymore!”
  • Then he giggles.
  • Rolling my eyes when I realize he was trying to be funny.
  • “Ok, I am going to go lock up.” I say, as I pad barefoot out of the bedroom.
  • “I’ll be right here!” He yells.
  • “Don’t move!” I yell back.
  • I shake my head with a little grin.
  • It is always the same thing…every single night.

sorry you had to see that…

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I’m sorry you had to see me like that today.

I try to keep that side of me hidden from the rest of the world. Well, except Matthew. He has seen it a few times. If only I had known you were going to walk in, I would have pulled it together before you saw me. You seemed shocked to see me like that.

Sorry.

It doesn’t happen all the time. Well, actually, that’s not true… it seems to be happening more frequently lately. Maybe it’s the holidays? Maybe it’s my birthday that is fast approaching? Maybe it is all the what if’s, the why’s, or the somedays….Trust me, if I could figure out how to get it under control, I would. I would do anything to numb this…to make it stop…I wish I could make it go away.

I wish I could describe what it is like. It is so strange, especially in the moment. One minute, life is fine and then, before I know it, I am just so angry.  I didn’t mean to let it happen. Sometimes these emotions just seem to overpower me.

Today though…today was different.

I was so tired this morning.

I just wanted to sleep.  Matthew wanted to sit up.  It wasn’t even 6 o’clock in the morning. Then I remembered…the house was a mess and my list of to-do’s is piling higher and higher.  I know, I know…I will always have so much to do, but today….today, it just seemed overwhelming.  My wrists and hands were already aching..and I remembered that it’s a “Shower Day.”

Matthew wants to sits up, but less than ten minutes later, he wants to go back to sleep. I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I can still sit up. He can’t.

I know. This isn’t about me. I am not the one dying….There is no reason for me to be so irritated, right?

Sometimes, with every little need, from him…from my children…from everyone around me, I feel selfish for wanting something for myself. I want to ask what happens to me when I need something? What then?  But I shouldn’t think like that…should I?

I am the one who must get up, take his mask off…then wait till he decides if he wants to go back to sleep or not.

I am the one who has to reach for the cup to give him a drink.

I am the one picks him up and transfers him.

I am the one who helps him use the bathroom.

I am the one who feeds him.

I am the one who covers him when he is cold.

I am the one…

Today wasn’t any different than yesterday. And it won’t be any different than tomorrow.

But today, with each little need, and want or request, and with each thought of what I should get done: the shopping, the cleaning, the errands, the bills, the appointments, the kids, the animals, the cooking, the showering, rearranging the garage, finish the Christmas decorations, the homework….

It just seemed like so much.

And I snapped..

I never said a word. No outward reaction could be seen. But inside, I was seething.

I became so angry.

So angry, that if someone had said something to me in that exact moment…I could see myself going insane!

There was a big possibility that would have seen my face splashed across the newspapers, “Caregiver and wife of man with ALS has gone BESERK! Aggravated Assault and Battery Charges have been filed!”

I laid there, trying to force myself back to sleep. But soon the kids were running through the house, the doors were slamming,.the footsteps were stomping…and then with a quick kiss, they were gone.

Too quiet. Too easy to think, to remember, to analyze, to contemplate, and then over-react.

What was it my therapist told me?

“Anger is really just a mask for sadness and fear. It’s easier and more powerful to feel anger. Imagine when you finally admit what you are really feeling.”

I check with myself.

Yep, that is a whole lotta anger, ready to come pouring out of every cell in my body.

Instead of the rush of endorphins…the rage…instead, I realize…he is right.

I am not angry…I am sad

I am so unbelievably sad, and scared.

And just like that…I begin to cry.

I fall into a million pieces.

I am sorry that you walked in during the part where I was trying to put myself back together.

That probably wasn’t a pretty sight for anyone to have to witness.

It’s okay though.

I spent the day gluing all those cracks and crevices together.

I can’t say that I am back to my usual self.  There were a lot of pieces today.

And I can’t say I am going to sit in the emotion of sadness anytime soon. Apparently, that is a powerful emotion.

Instead, I turned it back into anger.

Anger I can manage.

Anger I can control.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you I am sorry.  I hate when someone sees that side of me. It feels far too vulnerable, and too much to have to burden someone else with. And I just wanted to apologize for bothering you…

Let’s just pretend this never happened…what do you say?

 

❤ Matthew Wild