in memoriam

In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery  The Little Prince

three goodbyes in one year’s time

A year ago, our humble little condo floor was covered in small, washable rugs and we had a cat- scratched sea foam 50’s era sectional in the living room. It smelled like a mix of old dog and pee, and we didn’t care. Our geriatric cattle dog Emma was still making her way in the world, despite having no control of her bladder and a limited ability to walk further than a few blocks. She still had a spark in her eyes, though, and we were glad to have her around. A year ago, we spent a good portion of every Sunday drinking tea at our elderly friend June’s house. We spent hours and hours listening to stories about The Great Depression, hidden places to find booze during prohibition in Seattle, and sailing the Puget Sound. June enjoyed spinning a yarn with her stories and loved nothing more than an engaged friend or two who were willing to make a pot of tea and sit with her. A year ago, I was waking up early every Monday to dash off to yoga class, but not before hearing the phone ring and chatting briefly with Reen’s mom Patsy who called like clockwork at 7:00 am. Patsy had a gift for gossip and a wickedly good sense of humor that I cherished. Even in a few minutes on the phone, she created a connection that many people can’t craft in hours.

Funny how so many things can change in one year; the absence of a canine companion, the adjustment of furniture, the shift in Sunday schedules and the silence of the phone on Monday mornings, to name a few. One year passed, and three beings who meant so much to our days and weeks are gone. One year passed, and we aren’t the same people we were before.

Emma died at home this spring and we were fortunate to be there to hold her paws and kiss her sweet fur as she breathed her last breath. Patsy died in the same hospital she retired from as a psychiatric nurse so many years ago. She suffered a brief but painful decline at the end of summer, leaving us with the scent of fallen leaves as we departed New England for Seattle with tear soaked cheeks. Our dear tea companion June died just a few weeks ago while her husband and I held her hands and talked her into her next adventure. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to read June her favorite Truman Capote story A Christmas Memory the day before she died. I like to think it brought her comfort. It certainly brought that to us.

heart stretching, soul expanding, life altering grief

2012 was a year of major losses and a year that taught me more about love and of spiritual connection than any I have had so far. Even my dealings with cancer could not prepare me for the heart expanding experience of sitting vigil with our beloved dog and with two women who taught me in immense ways about love, faith and friendship. Even nine years of experience working in grief support with a hospice agency did not prepare me fully for the immensity of my own grief and the ways I would be physically, mentally and spiritually stretched by these losses. That’s the thing about grief, though. Every loss is unique. Every person is unique. Every situation…unique.

One of the many ways my yoga practice has helped me in the past year (aside from my little bits of midnight asana and meditation in the confined space between the hospital bed and the radiator) was to recognize that it doesn’t help to judge any experience or any thing or any one as fundamentally good or intrinsically bad (and yes- I need to remind myself of this often). Sometimes things are just the way they are. And the one thing that can be counted on, thank goodness, is that every experience, thing, and person not only can, but will change.

So, here’s to a new year of experiences and connections, losses and gains. As much as I love new beginnings, I also love pausing to think about how I’ve been blessed and transformed by the souls in my life; living and deceased. Right now, I light three candles and pause for Emma, Patsy and June. These three remarkable souls brightened my life and reminded me in equal measure to listen from the heart, to laugh from the belly, and to get up from time to time to shake it out and play.

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change of scene

Every morning and evening I massage the skin and scars on my chest, feeling my ribs and sternum more intimately than I ever have before. I take care not to bother the port that sits just below my right collar bone, and I look carefully at my scars to make sure they continue to heal properly. It’s become a normal part of my routine, and yet there are moments when I am stunned at how bazaar this entire experience truly is. I’ve lost a part of my body, and I very rarely take the time to breathe that fact in. If I had lost a hand, foot, my ability to speak, or to hear, I would be in some sort of rehabilitation and people would be able to recognize and talk about those losses. I would be forced to think about those losses and to acknowledge them. Instead, I’ve been blessed with the freedom to consider my losses on my own time, and to witness my healing in the mirror. What is shocking to me is how strong I feel, even though I see a fragility in my appearance.

This Friday will mark my fourth chemo infusion. I consider that one month down, three and a half to go (ideally). So far, I’m only experiencing mild nausea and fatigue, and I’ve been told some of my symptoms are due to chemo-induced anemia. I’m crossing my fingers for continued blessings in this process, and hoping for strength in the months to come. I’m also ready for a change of scene. The more immersed I am in this process, the more completely exhausted of it I am. It’s the only thing on my mind, and yet it’s sometimes the last thing I want to think about. I want to know what’s happening in other people’s lives, and yet people don’t want to “bother” me with their problems. Believe me, I want to know. Cancer is a big, fat bore. I want to be gifted with other people’s dramas. I want people to stop sensoring themselves for fear that I don’t have the time or the capacity to hear about what they’re going throught. I may have little time right now, but I sure have the interest, ability, and desire to listen. Give me a break from my little drama.