Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Days are Rainy

It's been storming today, outside and in my heart. Katie said, "I don't like the rain. Why is it raining, Mommy?" I told her some days are sunny and some days are rainy. We can't have sunny days every day.

As I said this, my eyes teared up. Oh, how that statement is so true: we can't have sunny days every day, can we?

My rheumatologist called early this morning. He received the results of my blood tests, and officially diagnosed me with Lupus. My ANA (antinuclear antibody) levels are positive, as well as my SM/RNP antibodies. The good news is I don't have any organ involvement; my kidney and liver functions are fine. But he said two of the four tests are positive, which puts me in the Lupus category. And then he said, "I'm sorry."

So... I don't know what else to say right now. There's not much I can say, I guess. "It could be worse" is the phrase that keeps coming to mind, but so does "I have Lupus." Over and over like a broken record in my head.

I'd appreciate your prayers while I take a break for a little pity party. Thanks, y'all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Waffle Sundays

Years from now, I hope my kids remember Waffle Sunday with fondness. I copied the tradition from my sister, except their waffles are usually on Saturdays. But since that's my one day a week to sleep in, I'm not about to get up just to make waffles. So Sunday is our day!

Sometimes Katie helps me make the waffles. She pulls out our little red stool and gets her apron on, and helps me measure the ingredients and pour them in the mixing bowl. Then when it's time to pour the batter into the waffle iron, her favorite part is adding the chocolate chips. (It isn't Waffle Sunday without chocolate chips!!!)

Katie and I eat our waffles together, and Jackson has recently started eating them too. He's a smart boy; who would say no to chocolate chip waffles?! Here are some photos I took of today's Waffle Sunday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fifteen Years

Where were you 15 years ago? Where will you be 15 years from now? I can say, without a doubt (and God willing), that I will still be in the same place 15 years from now - in the arms of the love of my life.

Fifteen years ago today, Dan walked in to my life. (He then quickly walked out of it, but that was just a minor delay. Read more about Our Story here.) Fifteen years ago today, I had no idea the trajectory of my life was about to veer sharply in a new direction. I also had no idea that the one person who would love me unconditionally, the only person who's ever loved me the way I feel God loves me, was getting ready to set up camp in my heart.

Thank you, God, for bringing him to me. Thank you for each and every 5,475 days of my life that I have known this man. He has been the glue that has mended my broken heart back together countless times. He has brought me richness beyond value, understanding, laughter, patience, adoration, frustration, growth, security, strength, comfort, and two more loves of my life.

Thank you, God, for loving me and using Dan to show me how much.

"Sometimes I swear I live with an angel, sent from above to watch over me. He wears his love just like a halo. If he's not an angel, what else could he be? He wouldn't say he's anything special. Bet 'cha that's how all those angels are. But when he comes around miracles happen. I felt the first one when he touched my heart. Oh, I've never seen him fly. On the wings of love he carries me. Heaven-bound I'm mystified how with just one kiss he made me believe in angels. Though I've never seen him fly." (Fly by The Wilkinsons)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tiger in Training

Jackson is so smart. He knows so many animal sounds already. What does a monkey say? "Ah-ah." (As in oooo-ooo-ah-ah.) What does a cow say? "Mmmmm." What does a snake say? "Sssss". What does a cat say? "Meeee." What does a duck say? "Ack." What does an elephant say? This one is just a motion where he brings his wrist to his mouth and extends his hand like a trunk. Sometimes he'll even blow some air like he's trying to imitate an elephant's trumpet call. He also does a motion of opening and closing his mouth to imitate a fish.

A couple of weeks ago, Dan started teaching Jackson a new animal. You know we're University of Missouri graduates, and the Mizzou Tigers have a BIG rivalry with the Kansas Jayhawks. So Dan's been teaching Jackson what a Tiger says and what a Jayhawk says. I finally caught it on camera tonight. We're so proud of our Tiger in Training!
video

Steele Butterflies

I decided to participate in the local Lupus Walk on October 5, which is coming up in just over one week. This was a decision I made after seeing my rheumatologist on Monday, so I'm kind of scrambling to get things together and organized. Before I made the decision, I emailed friends and family to see if anyone might want to join me. I got lots of positive feedback, so I decided to take the plunge.

My friend Catrina is going to walk with me, and her sister is also joining us. I have one or two other friends who are considering walking with me too. I am excited to have their support!

Catrina and I decided to name our team Steele Butterflies. Steele is my maiden name (so that part of the team name will memorialize my mom and dad). The Butterflies part of the name is because butterflies are the symbol for the Lupus Foundation, and also something that reminds me of my mom (she made a comment about becoming a butterfly when she was in hospice).

If you'd like to read more about the Lupus Walk or Steele Butterflies, or if you'd like to participate in some way, just check out our team website. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My First Award

Oooo, I'm so excited! I got a very nice award from my friend Scarlet O'Kara. She picked me as one of five favorite blogs that she enjoys. It's the first bloggy award I've ever received. I feel so loved! Thanks, Scarlet. Here's the award:

So now I have to pick five blogs to present the award to. Hmmmm... hard to decide! I'm tempted to pick my friend Danielle's blog, but I think I've mentioned her about a million times already (haven't I?). So I'll try to mention some "new blood." And I'm making myself narrow them down by naming only blogs by people that I know personally (in person, in real life). Here goes!

AbFab Geek: My friend Robin writes this one. She cracks me up almost every time I read it, because she writes the same exact way that she talks. I can hear her voice in my head when I read her words. It's weird. She is so funny and also such a geek, but in a good way. I love that because she's knowledgeable and informative. I like people who are life-long learners.

Life in the Burbs: Sarah is a new friend I met through my mom's group. I've only known her a short while, but I keep telling her I will get along well with her. We have a lot in common, and she is real and down-to-earth.

Catrina's Thoughts from the Fire: Catrina is a former co-worker from my days before I became a SAHM. She's the first person I ever knew with a blog. She's one of the most tenacious people I know. I can call her with any question and if she doesn't know the answer, she won't rest until she finds it. I always tell her she's like a dog with a bone.

Are You There God, It's Me Brina: Brina is my friend who moved from Missouri to Florida. The first time I met her, I knew we would be more than acquaintances. She was one of the few people I knew who had suffered enormous loss, so I was drawn to her immediately.

Where the Wild Things Are: Jennifer is another friend from my mom's group. She just started a blog a week ago, so I'm hoping you'll go visit her and welcome her to the world. She and I always joke about how we can be blunt and straightforward and sometimes scare people off. I'm often quoting her to other friends, telling others about some hormonal link or bit of information she's passed along to me.

So, there you go. Can't I have honorable mentions? There are so many others that I don't know in person, but read daily (My Garden Hat, World's Greatest Mommy, Southern Grits & Tidbits, Gretchen's Travels). Oh, well. Know that you are loved, just the same.

Thanks again, Scarlet!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Watching Barney

I avoided the purple dinosaur when Katie was little. But I decided to Tivo an episode for Jackson after he found a stuffed Barney he likes playing with, and he also likes when I sing the "I love you" song to him. We watched the episode tonight. Katie was mad at first, saying, "But I don't watch Barney!" but then ended up engrossed in it, and Jackson LOVED it. He was bouncing around the living room, spinning and dancing to the songs. He kept running up to the TV, pointing at Barney and saying, "I see it." Dan caught some of the action on camera, and it makes me smile to see Jackson so happy!

video

I Already Knew

I paid the rheumatologist a $40 copay today to tell me what I already know: I'm having symptoms of MCTD.

No, I wasn't diagnosed with anything. I had more blood drawn for tests which I'm sure will be positive, like they were in January. (Not being pessimistic; I already had positive results, and things like this don't change back to negative.) The doctor put me on Plaquenil, which is the main drug prescribed to patients with autoimmune disorders like Lupus and MCTD. He said it'll take about 2-3 months before the Plaquenil kicks in and I start to feel some relief from the joint pain and tiredness. I took my first one tonight, hoping the 2-3 months will go quickly.

I asked the doctor what the difference is between Lupus and MCTD. He said some doctors don't think there is a difference, but he does. He said the main difference is an antibody found in Lupus patients that isn't found in MCTD patients. The other difference is Lupus can affect the brain and liver, while MCTD doesn't. I asked how he knows someone has progressed into the stage where the disease is considered active. He said the person will have positive test results and also start showing symptoms. I guess it's as simple as that. As for my symptoms, the doctor said to take Advil or Aleve three times a day, plus the Plaquenil. If I am still in a lot of pain, he can start a round of steroids like Prednisone. I go back to see him in 8 weeks. And that's that.

I know the next thing y'all are champing at the bit to know is how I'm feeling about all of this. I'll admit that I cried as soon as I left the doctor's and called Dan. (I'm proud of myself for not crying in the doctor's office!) I don't want to go down this road. It sucks. I don't want to be on meds for the rest of my life. (And especially NOT Plaquenil - it has a sordid history and was a major issue between me and Mom.) It. Just. Sucks. That's all there is to it.

And then I take a step back and tell myself that I've gotta do whatever it takes to feel better. If it means medication forever, then so be it. And I tell myself it could be worse. It could be the C word, or some other awful disease or disorder. Thank God it isn't. At least now I have a game plan, and I'm doing something instead of sitting around on my butt just waiting and hoping that I'll miraculously start feeling better. God knows what He's doing, and is working through me through this. I have faith in that. I already knew what the doctor was going to say anyway. And I already know how this is all going to end. It's my choice on how I want to live with it, right?

P.S. In talking to Dan about this just now, I had an epiphany. The main reason I'm upset about any of this is because I have a big fear of turning in to my mother. So I need to keep reminding myself that no matter what diagnosis I might get, it's not going to be a diagnosis of, "I'm sorry. You're Brenda." I need to let go of that fear. I am not my mother.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Good Writing

There are some things in this world that I absolutely love. Things that will make my heart hum like a tuning fork. One of them is a great choir. How can you not help being caught up in dozens of voices singing different parts of one song? Another of those things is good writing. And I mean GOOD writing. The kind of writing that makes me say, "Man! That is so true! I feel those words, and they were put together exactly right without wasting even one tiny letter." The kind of writing that pleases even the anal-retentive English teacher hidden in my heart.

This anal-retentive English teacher is the reason I have a little compulsion I'd like to admit. Whenever I read a book, sometimes I come across a sentence that is GW (Good Writing). I mark that sentence, either with an indentation of my fingernail or one of these handy Book Darts. After I finish the book, I sit down at my computer and type the sentence into a Quote Library that I keep in an Excel spreadsheet. (The spreadsheet currently has 1,197 quotes in it, but they're not all from books. Some of them are ones I fell in love with through Reader's Digest or elsewhere.) If a book had several pieces of GW, then I open a Word document dedicated to that book, and type up the multiple examples of GW there. (I currently have 102 files like this on my computer.)

I felt compelled to confess my odd little habit after I just finished typing some great quotes from the book Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. She has a way with words. For example:

"Like always, he made her head swim with seasons – his hair was all the colors of autumn; his eyes the bright blue of a winter sky; his smile as wide as any summer sun."

"She thought of Sam, how she’d left him sleeping this morning in his crib. During the night he’d kicked off a sock; his toes were plump as early peas; it was all she could do not to taste his caramel skin. So much of the language of love was like that: you devoured someone with your eyes, you drank in the sight of him, you swallowed him whole. Love was sustenance, broken down and beating through your bloodstream."

"Alex thought of all the parties she’d ever gone to where the first question she was asked was What do you do? as if that were enough to define you. Nobody ever asked you who you really were, because that changed. You might be a judge or a mother or a dreamer. You might be a loner or a visionary or a pessimist. You might be the victim, and you might be the bully. You could be the parent, and also the child. You might wound one day and heal the next. I’m not perfect, Alex thought, and maybe that was the first step toward becoming that way."

"Everyone would remember Peter [a high school shooter] for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million? Lacy [his mother] would have to be the keeper of those, because it was the only way for that part of Peter to stay alive. For every recollection of him that involved a bullet or a scream, she would have a hundred others: of a little boy splashing in a pond, or riding a bicycle for the first time, or waving from the top of a jungle gym. Of a kiss good night, or a crayoned Mother’s Day card, or a voice off-key in the shower. She would string them together – the moments when her child had been just like other people’s. She would wear them, precious pearls, every day of her life; because if she lost them, then the boy she had loved and raised and known would really be gone."

Wow. Sometimes I tell myself that the reason I keep these samples of GW is in the hope that one day I might be a writer, and can use them to help school myself on what GW should look like. Maybe I'll re-read these quotes to help my creativity flow and crash through some yet unknown writer's block. Or, maybe I'm just kidding myself and the truth is I really do have OCD. I guess it could be both!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Conferences, Breaks & Pirates

Last night, we had our first parent-teacher conference. Didn't know what to expect, but it went well! The teacher referred Katie to the Firecracker program, which is the Kindergarten version of Spectra - our school district's gifted program. It doesn't mean she's gifted, just that she might get tested for the Spectra program when she turns six. That made my heart swell with pride! Then the teacher gave us her report card, and Katie got 3s in every area except one. (The new report cards grade on a scale of 1 to 3.) She got a 2 in music, under the "behavior and participation" section. Her teacher didn't know why because she didn't ask the music teacher, but she guessed that maybe it's because Katie sometimes has a fear of failure. She has noticed that there are times that if Katie thinks she might not be able to do something well, then she doesn't want to try it at all. (Oh, God! Did I do that to her?! Have I been riding her too hard?) The teacher said the thing is that Katie shouldn't doubt herself at all because she is so advanced already. Dan and I told the teacher we have noticed Katie's fears too, and we discussed ways to encourage her or phrase things to help her believe in herself. She also showed us a reading test she gave Katie with a Level C book, which is first-grade level. Katie got 91% of the words correctly, and would have gotten 98% except she kept substituting didn't for don't. Wow. Our girl is amazing the heck out of us.

Today was the first day of cycle break for our school district. We have year-round school, so the kids go nine weeks on, three weeks off. Today started the first three-week cycle break. I think the best part of my day was sleeping in, since we didn't have to catch the bus. At 7:30, Katie crawled in to bed with me and cuddled while I dozed off and on. It was wonderful. She actually held me, and brought her favorite animal to bed to cuddle with me too. I am in love with her!

Did you know that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day? I took the kids to the carousel, where kids who were dressed like pirates got to ride for free. Jackson wore a shirt with a pirate dog on it, and his pirate doo rag/skull cap. Katie wore a pirate hat and a hook. She enjoyed riding the carousel, but Jackson wasn't so fond of it and clung to me the whole time. Can you see his look of worry in the photo?
After the carousel, we played in the nearby park and I got some good photos of the kids. I'm looking forward to spending the next three weeks of cycle break with Katie and Jackson: together, just like "old" days!

I'm a Believer!

After Tuesday's post about my joint pain, I truly am a believer in prayer. (I already was prior to that too, of course! You know what I mean.) That morning after I posted, I still felt so crappy and was having a pity party for myself. On the way to a playgroup, I had a stern talk with myself. I said, "Self, get over it. Here's the best news of the day: you are ALIVE. Breathe it in, let go of the pain, and appreciate the fact that you have the grace you need and all the love in the world to get you through the day." Or, as my fave quote from The Shawshank Redemption would put it, "Get busy living or get busy dying." I decided to shift my focus.

I think Katie's kisses also helped me on Tuesday. I woke her Tuesday morning and laid in bed with her, pillow talking. She rubbed my right hand, which was aching badly. I told her it ached, so the blessedly sweet child took my hand in hers, lifted it to her lips, and kissed every single finger. She takes my breath away sometimes, when the veil is lifted and I can see how raw and pure her heart is.

But, mostly, I think prayers have helped. Katie and I prayed for me to feel better at the end of our morning pillow talk, and then I asked for your prayers in my post. By late Wednesday morning, I felt tremendously better. Same thing yesterday and today. Almost so good that I entertained the thought of cancelling my rheumatologist appointment. And then I remembered that I can't avoid it forever and I am still having severe pain upon waking in the morning, so I'm sticking to my plan to see the doc on Monday.

Thank you for praying, and sending love and good thoughts my way. I'm praying for a relaxing weekend, a huge weight loss at Weight Watchers in the morning (ha, ha!), and relief from pain until Monday (at least). I hope y'all have a good weekend too!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our Story, Part VII

(Go here for Part VI.)

I’ll try not to bore you with all the petty details of 1993, my first year with Dan. But there are a few points worth mentioning.

After my trip to Israel in March 1993, Dan and I started a little ritual. I bought a notebook in Israel, and decided to use it to write Dan every few days. I would write a note in it, then pass it to him. He'd write me back, then pass it to me. It's been missing in our house for a few years, but I FINALLY found it yesterday, stuffed into a trunk where Dan keeps all the letters I've ever written to him. It's interesting to read and see how insecure I was about Dan's love for me. If I had only known that his love would be one of the few constants in my life, our early years together would have been so much more enjoyable! Hmmm. Anyway, this notebook chronicles our breakups and makeups, poetry we wrote to each other, silly nicknames (Tigerpaw?!), external events, funny comic strips, worries, and the growth of our friendship. On July 25, 1993, I wrote: "You have loved me harder, longer, and sweeter than anyone has in my whole life and I am so grateful for that!" We were so silly in love with each other sometimes and so crazy stupid other times, when we almost messed things up pretty badly.

One of those times can be summed up with one word: lavalier. (I know Dan is groaning as he reads that word.) First, let me explain. A lavalier is a pendant with a sorority or fraternity’s Greek letters on it. Not a big deal. Except that when a guy gives a girl his lavalier, that’s kind of like a pre-pre-engagement. Not as engaged as a diamond ring nor as pre-engaged as a fraternity pin, the lavalier comes before a pin or a ring. It kind of just means that you’re really really going steady. Silly, huh? Seems like it now, 15 years after the MAJOR fights I picked with Dan over the stupid lavalier. We even broke up over it because he wouldn’t give me his stinkin’ lavalier and therefore I assumed that meant he didn’t want to commit and didn’t love me and all that boo-hoo drama.

And then, finally, that October Dan lavaliered me. We were having dinner at Katy Station, a nice restaurant in Columbia. I was thrilled and overjoyed, and I’m sure he was dreading it because of all the stuff frat boys do to each other after they lavalier a girl. Like tying them to a ladder in their underwear, pouring dinner leftovers on them, parading them through Greek Town, then leaving the poor guy on the front lawn of the girlfriend’s sorority house. Luckily, Dan avoided that because he didn’t live at the fraternity house by that point. Phew!My sorority had a candlelighting ceremony where I announced my lavaliering, then I wore that lavalier everywhere. (See it in the photo?) I loved knowing that I was Dan’s and that he was mine.


Check back later for Part VIII of Our Story! And if you start writing your own version of Our Story (like Catrina did), let me know because I'd love to read it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Real Mothers

I got this in a forwarded email today, and it rang true to me. It came at a perfect time, when I wasn't feeling like much of a mother. Hope y'all enjoy it too!

REAL MOTHERS
Real Mothers don’t eat quiche; they don’t have time to make it.
Real Mothers know that their kitchen utensils are probably in the sandbox.
Real Mothers often have sticky floors, filthy ovens and happy kids.
Real Mothers know that dried Play-Doh doesn’t come out of shag carpets.
Real Mothers don’t want to know what the vacuum just sucked up.
Real Mothers sometimes ask, “Why me?” and get their answer when a little voice says, “Because I love you best.”
Real Mothers know that a child’s growth is not measured by height or years or grade. It is marked by the progression of Mama to Mom to Mother.

Joint Pain

I haven't posted in a few days for a couple of reasons.

First off, we had a busy weekend. We went down to the campsite on Saturday to play in the river and on the playground, but we didn't camp because of the pending thunderstorms. We met our friends Beth & Sean at Incredible Pizza that night, and Katie and Ryan had a blast playing all the games. (The adults did too!) They spent the night with us, and Katie and Ryan tried to camp in a small tent in her room. Didn't last long, and they both ended up sleeping outside the tent. Sunday was LOTS of rain, so everyone decided to stay put and hang out at our house. Dan cooked a huge pot of white chili (still using your recipe, Maureen!), and we let the kids watch way too much TV. They were little TV addicts by the end of the day.

The other reason I haven't posted much lately is because I've been feeling pretty crappy. Remember the joint pain I've been mentioning for a while now? I thought it was the new bed we got, so we returned it and got a different one. It helped for a few days, but I'm back to being in pain almost every day. I seem to feel best between 10am and 6pm, when I'm most active. But the evenings and mornings are killing me. And when Jackson wakes at night, I can hardly get out of bed to go to him because my body is in such pain. Sunday night, he was up five times and every time I was almost in tears from just trying to get out of bed. Last night Dan was on duty, so I had to get up only once - when my alarm went off and the day started.

On Labor Day, the pain was so bad that I caved and said I'll go try my chiropractor as a last resort before going to the rheumatologist. (More on the rheumatologist in a moment.) The chiropractor adjusted me and did lots of accupressure on different joints and gave me accupressure tips I could do at home. He also started me on a heavy dose of fish oil called EPA-DHA 6:1, which is basically six times the EPA in normal supplements. From what I understand, studies show that a large dosage of it will help with pain. So I told my chiropractor that I'd try one bottle. After seeing him the first time, I felt better the next two days. But it hasn't lasted, even though I've seen him at least 3 times a week for the last two weeks. I still feel like crap, so I called my rheumatologist last week.

I saw this rheumatologist for the first time in January, after I got some routine tests to check things like my cholesterol and lupus "markers." After my parents' diagnoses (Mom's lupus and Dad's mixed connective tissue disorder) years ago, I've had my levels checked now and then to make sure I'm in the normal range. This time, I was a little elevated. So the rheumatologist ran some more tests, and basically told me I have the markers for MCTD, which is what Dad had. He said I may never show symptoms (I wasn't at the time, except that sometimes it was hard to open a jar of something - my grip wasn't as tight as it used to be), or it could be years until onset. He told me to contact him if I started showing symptoms, and said there's really nothing I can do to avoid getting MCTD. Great news, huh? I called him last week and I have an appointment to see him on Monday, 9/22. I've been avoiding it for as long as possible, maybe because I fear that if I go I'll have to start medication for the rest of my life, or because I fear I'll be diagnosed like Mom or Dad. I really don't want to go down that road, but now I have to admit that I can't keep living like this.

My body hurts, and I'm not enjoying life at the moment. I'm yelling at the kids (yesterday morning had all three of us in tears before the bus came, and I carried a residue of guilt on my shoulders all day long), and I can't pick Jackson up sometimes. I feel old and decrepit, and don't like having to take a break from my normal routine.
So... all of this is to explain why I haven't blogged much lately. (It hurts to type sometimes too, by the way.) And all of this is to ask for your prayers for me. I'm usually better at praying for others and not asking for prayers back, but this time I think I need to be the "taker" and not the "giver." I just need grace to get through the next 6 days until I see the doctor and can figure out what might be wrong.

Thanks, y'all! For listening to me whine and complain, and for your prayers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

2008 Scrapbook

I'm Still Here

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth - it's just been a busy week! We had school events on back-to-back weeknights, and enjoyed the (mostly) dry weather on other evenings while playing outside with the neighbors. Tonight Katie tagged along for soccer practice, again with the neighbors, and seemed to have lots of fun playing goalie. Any spare time I've had in the last two days has been spent trying to catch up on my 2008 scrapbooking. I actually made a dent and got all the way through our trip to Vegas in May. See the slideshow in the post above? (I can't figure out how to make the HTML appear inside this post, and I'm too tired to waste any more time working on it.)

We are *possibly* going camping tomorrow, but it looks like the rain might ruin our plans. Tonight was spent discussing every option, packing some gear, and getting all the fixins for s'mores. Yum!

I'll leave you with some photos from this past week. I'll be back later this weekend to let you know if the camping was a go!



Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Coping

An old coworker friend called me last week, and we talked for an hour about the grief process. Her mom died six years ago and she is having a hard time coming to terms with the loss. She wanted to know how I've handled the grief process since I've done it three times now. She said I am an "inspiration" to her because of how "normal" I've turned out. Oh, Lordy. If only she knew.

I was quick to clarify that "normal" is relative. And the way I am today does not genuinely reflect all the years of grief, anxiety attacks and fears that I had after my family members died. I may have come through it all looking okay, but there are still huge rips in the fabric of my soul. Let this be a lesson: the way someone appears on the outside and the way they actually are inside are often two completely separate things.

I think the difference is I choose to focus on living instead of dying. Although, trust me, I have also done lots of focusing on the dying part too. I have my funeral (mostly) planned out, and often think of what I'd like to leave behind - which is yet another reason I started this blog. Besides, what normal 30-year-old asks friends to commit to speaking at her funeral, and tells those said friends that she'll "renegotiate" their contracts every five years?

I digress. Back to my friend, C. I know she called me for help, but I feel like I also got help by talking to her. I believe that when someone goes through something, whether it's divorce or a bad customer service experience or postpartum depression or a life-altering illness, it is your responsibility to share what you've learned with others who are crossing the same bridge. I believe that it's our God-given duty to help each other. It states in the Bible in Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Y'all who know me know that I don't often quote Scripture, but this is one that is worth quoting, especially in this context.

I was blessed (or cursed, whichever way you see it) to learn about the fragility of life at the early age of 22. My brother's death forever changed my thinking, and I realized that I am now in a lonely fraternity of others who have lost close loved ones (not people like grandparents or old aunts and uncles). Before my brother's death, I had no idea how sad a birthday could be. I didn't even think to remember the anniversary of a friend's sibling's death. Back then, my thinking was, "Who would be so morbid as to keep remembering a death?" Oh, how I have changed. Until you've lost someone incredibly close to you, you have no idea how comforting it is to hear from a friend that they remember that person too. Just to get a card or a phone call or a mention of your loved one on those emotional days is loving beyond measure. It makes you feel less lonely knowing that someone else is keeping your loved one alive in their hearts too.

In talking to my friend C, I found it hard to pinpoint one exact piece of advice for her about how to process her grief. I told her the one thing that doesn't help, and that is the "just get over it" advice that the world likes to cram down your throat. I told her that no matter what, she'll never "just get over" a major loss like the death of her mother. But she can learn to live with it, and still have joy in her life despite the sadness.

For four years after my brother died, I barely processed my grief. I thought the only time I was "allowed" to grieve him was in October, the month of his birthday and his death day. Can you imagine trying to hold back a flood of emotions by only letting out a trickle of tears twice a year? Now you know why I started having anxiety attacks, and my walls started crumbling in the year 2000. Finally, near the end of that year, I started seeing a Christian counselor. I continued seeing her for almost three years, and I credit her for a majority of my "recovery." Talking about my pain was excruciating at some points, but each telling of the story lessened it by just a teeny tiny bit. And talking to others (Dan, my friends, coworkers, my family) helped me process some of the pain. I told my friend C that the number one thing she HAS to do is to talk to someone. Not necessarily a counselor (although I think that is a vital part), but maybe a support group or a trusted friend.

The second thing I told C was that she needs to exercise. Exercise releases natural endorphins, and can help take the place of anti-depression medication (in some instances, but not all - of course). Exercise begets sleep, which can be hard to come by when you're grieving. Exercise also makes you feel alive at a time when you feel numb or you feel like your heart has been ripped out of your chest.

The third thing I suggested was writing: a journal, a blog, or maybe even letters to the dead. I know writing isn't for everyone (it feels like breathing for me), but it is cathartic to empty the swirling thoughts out of your head.

Lastly, I told C to use music as a tool to help her cope. You might scoff, but I have a "Grief Songs" playlist on my iPod. There are songs that were my loved ones' favorites, as well as depressing songs and also songs about reuniting. The 36 songs include "Go Rest High On that Mountain" by Vince Gill, "Can You Hear Me When I Talk to You" by Ashley Gearing, "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from Phantom of the Opera, and "Who You'd Be Today" by Kenny Chesney. These types of "grief songs" help me at the times when I just need to cry. And sometimes, I need songs to help uplift me and remind me to go out and LIVE. That's a whole separate playlist! Music has become a dependable way for me to ride my emotions. Besides, nothing beats driving in the car, singing my lungs out with the music cranked at max volume. It's good for the soul.

So... there you go. Those are my four ways of coping. The reason I'm blogging about this is because I know there are some of you out there who read my blog and who have gone through the death of a close loved one. I am hoping that you will take a moment and leave a comment to let me know what ways you have coped with your losses, or maybe even suggest more grief songs. That way we can all bear one another's burdens. If we share our grief, it makes the load much easier to carry.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Hooney!

I wish I could buy you an amazing birthday present. Something that would show you the depth of my love and pride in you. I guess a sweet little note on my blog will have to do!

There are still days, after knowing you for 16 years, that I stare at you in shock, amazed that you are my husband. I watch your strong arms hold our daughter, and my heart liquifies into a puddle of pure love. When I see you tickle and wrestle with our son, it makes me laugh out loud. And I know that you know I am watching you. You always turn to me and glimpse the raw emotion in my eyes. And then you shrug it off. No big deal. Yeah, right.
You, my Hooney, are a big deal. You cause my sun to rise and set, and nothing in my life is worthwhile unless I'm sharing it with you. My girlfriends and sister help sustain me, but you fulfill me. I am overly in awe of you, abundantly in love with you. Every day I pray that God keeps you safe and brings you home to me, because a life without you would be... would be... Oh, Lord. Please don't even make me consider it.

Happy birthday to my hero, my best friend, my lover, my provider, and my Hooney.

Mom

I got the call on Monday, July 19, 2004 when I was at work. My sister Mary called to tell me Mom was in the hospital. One of Mom’s friends had called Mary, after finding Mom stranded and immobile at home. Thank God the friend had insisted on coming over to take Mom to the doctor. When Mom didn’t answer the door, the friend went around the house to a back window and saw Mom inside, unable to move and calling for help. The friend broke into the house (we all need friends who will do that for us, right?) and called an ambulance.

When Mary called me, we argued about who should be the one to go to Atlanta to see Mom in the hospital. We figured she’d be out in a day or two, and wouldn’t want us to come meddle in her affairs. (She was VERY private.) Mary was busy with the end of her school year as a teacher, plus her husband’s return from Iraq and her own two children. I had a part-time job and a 1-year-old to take care of, plus VIP tickets to see President Bush the next day. I did NOT want to go to Atlanta, but ended up being the chosen one.

I didn’t think Mom would be too happy to see me. We had been having issues for the past decade, ever since Dad left her. She had closed herself off to me during the divorce, when in the past we had been incredibly close. Then I broke her trust one too many times when Dad manipulated me against her. The result was lots of distance and unhappiness on both our parts, and those feelings festered for the next five or so years.

I flew to Atlanta, and walked in Mom’s hospital room on July 20th. I thought she might roll her eyes at me or worse, but her reaction wiped away the decade of pain. She saw me and said simply, “My baby.” I hugged her, and we went forward from there. No more talking about the past hurts, no more accusations. I wish I’d known then what I know now.

Mom was in the hospital for the rest of her life – about six weeks total. There were numerous complications from her years of living with lupus (and not properly taking care of herself), which thinned her mucus membranes and caused her to bleed internally. We were fighting battles on multiple fronts: two strokes in her brain, blood clots in her legs, C-Diff (an awful bacterial infection), a diseased gallbladder, bedsores, pneumonia, a congestive heart, and ovarian and/or breast cancer. We never cleared up the other issues enough to even start testing for cancer, but her doctor was emphatic that Mom had either ovarian or breast cancer and told Mary and I to include it in our family history. Of course, those were only the physical battles Mom was fighting. She was also struggling mentally with hallucinations brought on by the medications and an extended hospital stay. She was transferred through almost every wing of the hospital, including the sub-ICU and ICU.

Throughout those six weeks, Mary and I tag-teamed Mom. I can’t tell you how many calls I got at 2am that Mom was bleeding out again and I better get to the hospital NOW, or get on a plane to Georgia as soon as possible. It was exhausting and emotionally draining. Thank God Mary was there to walk with me, and Dan was there to pick up the slack when I had to leave in the middle of the night.

It was my turn in Georgia during Mom’s last week in the hospital, the first week of September 2004. I went down there with the intention of packing her house up and moving her to North Carolina to live near Mary. I brought her photos of every single area of her house, so she could decide what she wanted to take with her and what she wanted to give to me and Mary. Dan flew in that Friday, and we rented a U-Haul truck with the plan to move her things on Saturday. Instead, we moved Mom to hospice.

Mom’s doctor sat us down Saturday morning and told us that Mom was fighting a losing battle. We could continue with surgeries and medical care to help prolong her life, but she would probably be confined to a rehab hospital for the rest of her life. Her body was shutting down and giving up on her. Would she want us to continue performing painful tests and surgery, or would she rather finish her days in peace?

I balked and couldn’t believe we were talking about hospice for Mom. I had been in battle mode for so long, and couldn’t imagine “giving up.” When we moved her to hospice that day, oh. Oh. Every fiber of my being fought it. We told her where she was going, and she looked at us with eyes of a child, full of fear of the unknown. Her tears fell because, in her hallucinogenic state, she didn’t know what hospice was. (Yet she did know because my brother was in hospice care before he died. Her brain just wasn’t processing.) I rode with her in the ambulance transport, and she clung to my hand the entire time.

While the nurses settled Mom in to the hospice center, I went to the back patio and sobbed. I couldn’t believe we were giving up on her. I was convinced that we’d give her a week or two in hospice, and she’d get better and we’d move her back to the hospital. She wasn’t dying, for Pete’s sake! C’mon, people! The nurses said that based on their experience, Mom had at least a week to 10 days before her body started shutting down. I thought they were crazy.

That Saturday night, Mom was allowed food (which she was rarely allowed at the hospital because of the intestinal bleeding) and looked better than she had for weeks. It was so reassuring to see her feeling well. Sunday was even better. She slept well because no one woke her to draw blood or take her temperature. She told us, “I know I’m not a butterfly, but I feel like I’m in a cocoon,” going from this life to the next. (And that is why Mary and I collect butterflies now, to remember our mom.) We left her on Sunday evening with a kiss and a hug, an “I love you” and a promise to see her in the morning.

We got a call Monday morning (Labor Day) to tell us Mom had moved into the “actively dying” stage. Her breathing had turned ragged, and they couldn’t wake her. We rushed to the hospice center and sat by her bed all day, listening to her struggle to breathe. Mary slept by her that night, and Dan, Wally and I slept in the waiting room. I was awakened at 7am on Tuesday, September 7, with the words, “She’s gone.” I ran into Mom’s room, and she was silent. Gone.

There are so many things I remember from the following days: writing her eulogy and obituary, hurricanes in Georgia, picking out urns, eating at Arby’s, notifying friends and family, selecting two calla lilies, celebrating Dan’s birthday (also on September 7), celebrating Peyton and Dad’s birthdays (September 9), trying to figure out the words to “Check Your Tears at the Door,” and seeing all the people who loved Mom so dearly at her funeral. The day after Mom’s funeral, Mary and I begged friends for help and, once and for all, loaded Mom’s things into a U-Haul truck. We left our childhood home, and drove away. I have never felt so lonely or abandoned in my life as when I drove up the road and said my last goodbye to my mother and my childhood.

I inherited a legacy from my mother, along with my curly hair, the Gantt chin, and some of her most precious belongings. I inherited her ability to make friends with anyone, her ability to make something out of nothing, and her ability to walk tall despite intense emotional and physical pain. She’s the reason I am who I am, with all the faults and qualities that I have.

I miss hearing her voice, holding her hand, and watching her cry at old hymns. I long to hear her say she loves me and is proud of me and the mother I’ve become. Sometimes I can feel her beside me, holding me as best as she can from far away. I miss you, Mom. Thank you for the love you have given me, and the love you continue to give.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Poor Man's Pool

The neighborhood pool closed on Monday, like all pools in our area. Bummer.
Tuesday was HOT. So our neighbor turned on his sprinkler for the kids to run through. Turns out they got buckets and filled them up, then found his cooler in his garage and started filling it up too. Each kid (7 of them) took turns sitting in the cooler and letting the other kids dump water on his or her head. Watching them in their makeshift "pool" cracked me up. Kids always have such fun with the silliest things! Seriously... what adult would ever think to go soak in a cooler?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Are These?

I saw these flowers on my morning walk, then drove back by later when I had my camera.

It looks like a daisy or mum peeking up through a rose, doesn't it? Anyone know what kind of flowers they are?
I also took some other photos. Gorgeous! Wish I could've been there the day God dreamt these up.

Wordless Wednesday - Shoes as Shape Sorters


"Wanna play, Mom?"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Our Story, Part VI

(Go here for Part V.)

For the next few months, things were busy. I was concentrating on studying and holding two officer positions in my sorority, but Dan and I were still going strong. I went to Israel with Dad on Spring Break in March 1993 (see the photo of me and Dad in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and was lovesick the entire time. Can you believe it? I spent a whole week in Israel pining for a boy?! If I had only known he was going to marry me one day, I would have stopped fretting that he wouldn’t miss me while we were apart and dump me when I returned. Ah, what a waste.

But our relationship wasn’t without hiccups. About two months after we started dating, we broke up for the first time on March 29, 1993. (Thank God I kept track of this silly stuff in my diary, or else y’all would be so bored!) The breakup lasted only three days. In May of 1993, I wrote this in my diary: “You know what I think the greatest thing is about him? He’s one of my best friends – I love that.”

When the semester ended in May 1993, Mom drove up to Mizzou to get me. Dan came back home to Georgia with me for about a week, which was pretty cool (the photo is from his visit). I was home for probably only a month before I returned to Mizzou for summer school. Turns out that little break at home was the last time I would be home while my parents were still together. They split up at the end of June 1993. Of course, I was devastated.

Hindsight is 20/20, and now I know that Dan was brought into my life at a certain point for a reason. God is always faithful, isn’t He? He knew that I wasn’t ready to connect with the love of my life in the first semester of school. No wonder we had that embarrassing fiasco (being the forward person I am) the first time I met Dan. It just wasn’t time. I needed to make a few more mistakes and get my head screwed on right before I could be ready for Dan. God knew that. Dan didn’t come into my life a moment too soon. It was just nine days after we started dating that I got the call my Grandfather had died. And Dan was there when I got the news that Mom had been diagnosed with lupus. Most importantly, he was the rock I leaned on when Mom and Dad separated – and he was the rock I clung to during the two years it took them to officially divorce. It was a nasty split, and I was thrown into the middle of it. Thank God Dan was there for me.

You know, there are still more details. Of course. Check back later for Part VII.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tub Time

It's Tub time for Mommy. I walk into the master bathroom and turn off the lights. I light some candles, and turn on the electric candles in the chandelier above the Tub. I turn the faucet on, and get the water as hot as I can stand. I pour some bubble bath in the water.

The bubble bath is a gift from my friend Mama Stacy. I don't use it very often because it's special and I like saving it for when I "need" it. Last night I decided to treat myself... because it IS a treat. It's Double Cocoa. Oh. My. Goodness. It literally smells like Hershey's chocolate syrup. The bubbles in the bath smell like chocolate, and I use it as a body wash and shampoo so I smell like chocolate too.

I get into the Tub and the water is so hot it stings my skin but it also gives me chills. I say a prayer out loud to God, thanking Him for hot water. It feels so good. The only thing I can hear are the bubbles popping in the water. Then it's time to go under.

I go underwater with only my eyes and nose sticking out for air. Going underwater makes the world disappear. I can't hear any noises because the water is pressing up against my ears. The only thing I can hear is my breath. It is meditative and calming to hear the in-out-in-out whooshing of my lungs. I am the type of person who doesn't sit still very well, and I have trouble meditating or trying to be quiet. The only place it works for me is in the Tub. It is so grounding and centering to do this.

While underwater, I open my eyes and see the chandelier. It was a gift from my friend Karen. I also see the candles that I bought on our last girls' road trip to IKEA. These things make me think of my friends, and how blessed I am to have them. The water is hot, so I need to sit up and cool off. I use a big sea sponge to drizzle water on my back. Sometimes Dan joins me in the Tub and drizzles water for me, but tonight I do it myself.

The Tub is surrounded by the shrapnel and clutter that comes with having a baby in the house. The daily use for the Tub is to corral the one-year-old while I quickly shower. Toys usually fill the Tub, but tonight they're propped on the sides. I see the favorite book and rubber ducky, and think of the sweet boy asleep on the other side of the wall. His sister too, across the hall from him. I whisper another prayer of thanksgiving for their lives, and that they are on loan to me.

I'm getting drowsy and ready to go read in bed. I dry myself off and put my favorite Bath & Body Works Honeysuckle lotion on my blazing hot skin. Dan comes into the bathroom to get ready for bed too. When I'm finished with my beauty routine I meet him in bed to perform our role of Old Married Couple, which consists of laying in bed and reading. (He won't get near me anyway because he says my skin is too hot.) The sheets are clean, the kids are asleep, I'm relaxed and all is well with the world.

Labor Day Weekend

We had a good holiday weekend.

Grandma and Poppy picked Katie up on Friday, straight off the bus. They took her to see Wall-E, which she liked. Dan and I got to have a quiet evening with Jackson, and hung out on our neighbor Sheryl's lawn for a while.

Saturday morning, Beth and I took the plunge and joined Weight Watchers together. I'm tired of being blubbery, and haven't been able to complete the rest of my "Taking Care of Elizabeth" plan that I vowed back in July. I've joined Weight Watchers before, and it's the only thing that has worked for me. I've given up on trying it alone, and decided enough is enough. I don't have the excuse anymore of baby weight or the thinking of "why lose weight, I'm going to have another baby." Whatever. It's time to fish or cut bait, right? Right. Wish us luck! Hopefully you'll see some photos of a slimmer me in the coming months.

On Saturday morning, we swapped kids with Grandma and then Dan, Katie and I went to the CrossRock concert at our church. Katie loves the praise band leader at our church, Brandon. His band sang, as well as lots of other great bands. Dan used the Steeley Pit to grill the burgers and hot dogs for the event, so he put in a lot of work. But it was a fun, relaxing afternoon. Here's a clip of the Brandon Salter Band playing one of Katie's favorite songs:

video

On Sunday morning, Katie went downstairs to play for a bit while Dan and I slept in. Around 8:15, she woke us up saying, "Uncle Leo is at the door!" We thought she was crazy, since Uncle Leo is our former neighbor who moved to Omaha years ago. But lo and behold, I opened the door and there was Uncle Leo. Ha! He was in town to pick up a car for his daughter and drive it back home. It was a fun surprise, and good to see him!

Grandma and Poppy came over Sunday afternoon and had lunch with us. I went grocery shopping for food to buy on my Weight Watchers plan, and also bought a new entry cubby for our garage door entry (although we may put it in the laundry room instead). Then Grandma and Dan replaced the railing on our front porch. Beth and her boys came over to play last night, and Ryan spent the night with Katie.

Today started off not so good: I had lots of joint pain when I woke, then Katie and Ryan fought from the moment they woke up. They bickered over everything you could imagine, and spent lots of time in separate rooms. I took them to the pool after lunch, and that seemed to ease everyone's frustrations. Beth, Sean and Liam joined us there later, before we had grilled burgers (a yummy WW recipe) for dinner.

All in all, it was a pretty good weekend. I'm looking forward to a nice, long soak in the tub in a few minutes, before I crash in bed and hit the ground running for another week.

I will never spend another Labor Day weekend without thinking of the one in 2004, when Mom was moved to hospice. She died the day after Labor Day that year, September 7 (also Dan's birthday). The rest of the country was enjoying the holiday weekend, and we were mourning my mom's death. So tonight I'm thankful that I have a husband to curl up to, and happy and healthy kids.

P.S. Mary, I added a special song to the playlist for you. Scroll down and see if you can find it, then leave me a comment letting me know you did. I love you!

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