Monday, February 19, 2018

The Blame Game

This will be short and sweet, but I wanted to share my big epiphany from yesterday.

I blame myself for everything.

It's my fault that my class fell apart - I should have been able to control them.  It's my fault the house burned down - I might have left a curling iron on in my bedroom (never mind that the fire was started on the front of the house).  It's my fault my family had such a difficult time when Mom had her transplant - I should have stayed home instead of going to college.  And here's the biggest one:  it's my fault John has cancer - I should have made him go to the doctor earlier (and don't even get me started on the fact that when the doctor said, "he has colorectal cancer," my immediate response was, "it was supposed to be me").

I know these thoughts are irrational, and truly, I haven't really ever acknowledged them before.  But it's one of the stories I've been whispering to myself all my life (and we all have these stories).  And guess what?  I get to change my story!

Now if I could just figure out what that new story will be...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Feelings. I've Got 'Em.

Previously on "Apple Ear Life" - Despite nothing going according to plan in the 2 weeks leading up to yesterday I stepped out in faith that this was where I needed to be, got on a plane (with Anxious in tow) and headed to CD2 in Florida. 

Over the last few days my friend (and traveling companion - I always wanted to say that!) Sarah Catherine and I joked that if we could just get here we would be able to say we'd accomplished something.  This morning I woke up and thought, "Well, I'm here - now what?"  Coming to CD2 reminded me of being a freshman at Meredith.  All fall the upper-classmen would talk about an event called Cornhuskin', but every time we'd ask what it was and tried to figure out what to expect we'd simply be told, "you just have to experience it."  Over the last 3 and a half years anytime I asked someone about CD2 I got the same kind of responses:  "Oh, it's life changing..."  "You really can't describe it..."  "It's like a week of therapy..."  If you think I don't like it when things don't go according to plan, I really struggle when I don't even know the plan.  When we got here yesterday we kept asking for a schedule and kept being told, "oh, just show up for dinner, don't worry about the schedule." 

Keep breathing, Rachel.

But now I understand.  One day in and I already can't explain what's happening here.  I'm learning so much about myself and one of the big realizations is that I'VE GOT FEELINGS.  Boy, do I have feelings.  But if I'm going to stay true to my commitment to just be present and experience this retreat then I've got to experience my feelings. 

And I did.

Before lunch.

Yes, that's right.  Yours truly was crying before we even made it to lunch on the first day, and you know what?  I'm going to OWN it.  Yes, I cried.  Not because I feel sad about everything going on with John (that came later in the day).  Not because of how anxious I am feeling about being away for the better part of this week and knowing he's got surgery next week.  Not because I'm feeling guilt about leaving my students with a sub yet again

No, I cried because it's hard to be seen.  Having someone you consider an acquaintance look at you - really look you in the eye - and see you is HARD.   Allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to feel the tears well and overflow and yet continue to let that person look me in the eye felt raw.  Owning that it's ok - that was priceless. 

So my big takeaway from today?  I spend a lot of time running around doing the things that I think other people want to see, but I rarely pause to let them really see me. 

Here's to seeing and being seen...

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hello Anxious My Old Friend

Back in October I stepped out in faith and applied to attend the Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute (CD2).  I felt a knot in my stomach as I completed each section of the application, not knowing if I'd be accepted, if I could afford to go, and where we'd be in John's journey with cancer.  Finally I moved my fingers away from the keyboard, took a breath, looked up and said, "God, You know where I need to be and when I need to be there.  So I'm trusting you.  If this is the time for me to do this I need you to spell it out for me.  If your answer is 'wait', I'll wait." 

And then I clicked submit.

At the time I felt like the answer was clear.  Not only was I accepted, but within 3 days various people (friends, family, parents of students, total strangers) had pitched in to raise the funds needed for the registration and my flight.  My parents agreed to come stay at the house with John while I was gone.  My team agreed to hold things down at school.  I excitedly began preparing for my trip.

But that was 4 months ago.  Little did I know what these last 2 weeks would bring:

  • I didn't know that we'd spend all of January struggling with John's insurance company trying to get things straightened out, or that once we did we'd spend 5 out of the next 7 days going to appointments for all of the things that had been on hold while we waited.  
  • I didn't know that while John was checking into one hospital (it was easier for us to do his blood transfusion overnight than for me to miss another day of work) my mother would be checking into another where she'd stay for a week little over a week.  
  • If I didn't know that she'd be in the hospital, I certainly didn't know that she'd need to do a week or more of rehab, and therefore wouldn't be able to stay with John.
  • I didn't know that John's doctors would choose this time to start talking about giving him an ostomy, nor did I know that they'd suggest doing it while I was out of state...
  • Which also means that I didn't know that I'd miss 4 days of school for this trip, just to turn around and miss more for his surgery when I get back.
And that's when Anxious moved back in.

Hello Anxious.  It's been a while since we've hung out this much, but this week you and I have BONDED.  You sat on my desk while I taught my classes (one 1st grader even checked each day to see if he was still there).  You stayed by my laptop while I worked on my CD2 presentation.  You rode in my backpack when I picked up John from the hospital.  You even hitched a ride in my purse to fly down here to FL (I'm sure airport security got a kick out of seeing you on their scanners).  

But you know what, Buddy?  Because I've been practicing my Conscious Discipline skills I know that your message tells me to focus on the present and seek more information.  So having you here helps me to know that I can handle this.  And I'll just keep taking it one day at a time.  Clearly this - sitting right here on the bed in the retreat center getting ready to start my CD2 journey - is exactly where I'm supposed to be.  I've got friends back home who are watching out for John.  I've got other friends who are here with me.  I'm going to be present in the moment and grow, trusting that I'm safe in my Father's hands.  

But, hey Anxious?  You can still stay in my purse right next to me!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Beach Therapy

My mother's family started their annual Beach Week tradition in the summer of '96.  A year after my grandfather's death my grandmother decided that she wanted more time with all of us, so she rented a beach house at Emerald Isle.  That first year it was a small group - my grandmother, my parents and sister (I was in the mountains of NC working as a camp counselor), two of my three aunts and their husbands and children.  The oldest grandchild in attendance was 14 and the youngest was 3.  I don't think Grandma could have foreseen that 21 years later we'd still be making our annual trek to the beach, now an older and larger group.   We've added spouses, another aunt and her branch of the family, another generation and their significant others... and 17 and a half years later we still miss my grandmother and remember our time with her fondly.  

I find myself thinking about death a lot lately.  I know that none of us knows when our time will come, but the prospect of John's death is never far from my mind.  Do we have days together?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  How do we plan for the future?  This past week we made that annual journey to the beach with the family and I watched him closely, saw his belly filling with fluid (he gained 20 lbs in two weeks), saw the discomfort etched on his face, and wondered.  How much time do we have left?  

And yet I knew that the beach was where I needed to be.  

There's something so therapeutic about the beach - the salty breeze, the soft sand, the sound of waves crashing.  Be it sitting under an umbrella on the beach (yes, I'm a pale girl and I need my shade), swimming in the water (yes, Mom, I was safe and didn't go in higher than my waist - no sharks or riptides claimed me as their own), or sitting on the second-level covered deck of the beach house (again - pale girls need sun protection) I felt waves of God's peace and comfort rolling in to envelope me.  

John and I left Beach Week early so I could go to work (our first teacher workday was Thursday) but little did I know that instead of spending Friday readying my classroom I'd spend it crocheting in waiting rooms while John had a CT scan followed closely by a paracentesis.  I think we both knew that the oral treatment they were having him try over the summer wasn't as effective as we'd hoped and certainly wasn't very tolerable for him, but we certainly didn't expect to receive a phone call on Friday afternoon informing us that he's been scheduled to restart chemotherapy on Monday.  I wish I hadn't taken my Feeling Buddies back to school on Thursday - I need Anxious to sit with me this weekend.  

I think I need another round of beach therapy...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In sickness and in health...

Tonight John and I celebrated our 8th anniversary with take out food from Olive Garden (John managed to eat 3 spoonfuls of soup and 5 bites of spaghetti - he has a very small appetite and difficulty swallowing as a side effect of his current chemo cocktail), then moved to the bedroom (no funny business - sitting is quite uncomfortable when you have colorectal cancer so it's just easier to be in bed) and spent our evening talking and laughing together.  My favorite conversation of the evening went like this:
ME:  These past 8 years have been the best years of my life.  
JOHN:  Me, too.  Wait, even the last 17 months?  
ME:  Yes, even the last 17 months.  We've really put "in sickness and in health" to the test, haven't we?  I wouldn't mind more health for a while.
JOHN:  Yeah, I wouldn't mind more "for richer" instead of "for poorer", while we're wishing.
(we both burst out laughing)
But all joking aside, no, our life is not what I thought it'd be at this point.  I had no idea that John would be diagnosed with cancer, or that in the almost year and a half following that diagnosis he'd go through 10 rounds of chemo, radiation on 2 different fields, a fluid draw off his abdomen that made him 20 lbs lighter, all to be followed by another 12 rounds of chemo.  I had no idea that we'd be on a first name basis with everyone at the chemo clinic, or that we'd know the ins and outs of the local ER.  I didn't know that I'd miss work every other Tuesday for 5 months or that my students would handle it so wonderfully.  I didn't know that we'd come to realize just how amazing our friends and family are - from my parents driving up once a week to hang out with John and take him to appointments to my friend who has dubbed herself the "gift card fairy" and sends a new gift card every few weeks in the mail (this week she's inadvertently bought our groceries, bought me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and bought our anniversary dinner tonight).  I couldn't have predicted that John would lose 160 lbs in 2 years, or that we'd need to buy him new pants in a smaller size every 2 months.  I didn't know that we wouldn't be parents, that my husband would ask if I'd ever thought about fostering, or that he'd then follow up with the question, "but would they even consider letting us foster given my health situation?"  

I didn't know we'd feel like we're always running a race against time.  Racing from treatment to treatment, his side effects starting to subside just in time for another round.  Him living for the weekend when I can be home with him and he won't be lonely, me living for the weekend when I can take a breather from work (school) and focus on work (home).  Racing toward the next holiday, the next spring break, the next summer vacation, hoping for time together and yet fearful that it will be the. last. one.  I didn't know we'd be anxiously waiting for my next pay check, for his next disability check (did you know that short term disability checks come more frequently while long term disability checks only come once a month?  we learned that this month) and yet dreading every bill, every time the receptionist at the doctor's office asks, "would you like to make a payment today?" not because we don't want to pay, but because we can't.  

And yet, I didn't know that I could love this man infinitely more today than I did 8 years ago when I vowed to be his wife.  I didn't understand the full meaning of what it would be to cherish this man, but that's exactly what I do now - I cherish him, every day he wakes up, every moment we have together.  I live for his smile, his touch, his love.  I tend to him when he's nauseous, I remind him to take his meds when he forgets, I give him his shots after chemo.  I laugh at his jokes and hold him when he cries in pain.  

As I say to him almost daily, "I love you more today than yesterday..."

...and he answers, "but not as much as tomorrow."  

We'll take as many tomorrows as God will give us.

our wedding day

8 years later