Monday, September 20, 2010

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them...

Somehow they know. Maybe God whispers to little kids, telling them things that take us grownups months and years to face. Last Tuesday morning my nineteen month-old granddaughter, Haven, walked up to the refrigerator, held her arms up toward my mother's picture, and said "Please?" Her mom got it down and handed it to her. She proceeded to walk around with it all morning, kissing it as she went about her business.

Who knows? Maybe it was the exact same time my brother and I were with our mom at the oncologist's office that morning, hearing the news that she has two to three months to live.

We knew that this day would come, but that foreknowledge still didn't make it any easier to bear. Last weekend Haven and her mom (my daughter, Amy) came in to town to spend some time with the family as we prepare to say goodbye to my mother (who is also known as Nanos, because that's what my children and grandchildren call her.) Late Saturday afternoon all three of my daughters and both granddaughters stopped by my mom's to see her. Mandy's daughter, Piper (age two and a half) can sense that things have shifted, and she's been a little more prone to stand on the sidelines (rather than referee the game, which is usually a beautiful feature of her extroverted personality!) She just took it all in and apparently came to her own conclusions.

Later that night Mandy was putting Piper to bed. At one point Piper said, "Mommy, I'm sad." Mandy asked her why she was sad. "Because Nanos is tired," she replied. "I need to go and see her."

Two year olds can't comprehend death, but yes, Piper, Nanos is tired. She's been battling ovarian cancer for three and a half years, and she's put up a hell of a fight. Truth is, we're all very tired. Helping a loved one battle the disease is one kind of energy, and saying goodbye is another (though the two undeniably overlap.) Just about the time you're hitting the 26th mile after years of chemo and hospitalizations and blood transfusions and accidental falls and more CAT scans, MRI's and diagnostic tests than god himself should have, the marathon staff changes the road signs and points us in a different direction. They say, "Death: 26.2 miles."

And we are all plodding along. As a family we are blessed to have so many people who are cheering us on and handing us cups of cold water. We've been extended so much kindness and grace; people cook us food, send us texts/emails, and ask if there is anything at all they can do. And it really helps to know we are so loved. My niece posted a video on my Facebook wall today, just letting me know she was thinking of me; it meant a whole lot. But the bottom line is that there's not much anyone can do. We're walking our mom toward death and none of us has ever done it before. It's scary. Sad. And though I can say without reservation that my siblings and I are deeply, fiercely committed to running this race, we still have shin splints, bruised feet, and are out of breath. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but for now I can't figure out how to convey how overwhelming it is to help a loved one face a terminal illness. That said, I can't even imagine what it's like to be the one facing it. And to think: it happens to people every single day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Music Nirvana

My husband and I have spent the afternoon, evening (and now wee hours of the morning) listening through Rolling Stone's top 500 songs of all time. We still have 100 to go, but what a great playlist. Check it out here. I need to make myself a playlist from this playlist.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Say Cheese

It's happened to us all at one time or another: we're walking down a long hallway or sidewalk and we pass a stranger. With all the kindness we can muster, we smile widely and offer a greeting of some sort. And what do they do? Sometimes they smile back. But quite often they scowl or look away. When that happens I often feel like I want to take it back, as though giving a smile away to someone who clearly doesn't appreciate it somehow diminishes me. Really? Giving away kindness is only worthwhile when a person reciprocates?

A few years ago I was falling deeply in love. I had just gone back to school full-time and between classes I would call my boyfriend (now husband) to catch up. One day I was particularly charmed by whatever he was saying and as I was walking across campus with my phone up to my ear, I wore a huge smile on my face. And though my face was only lit up because of what he was saying, I noticed that an unusual number of people were smiling at me. Only later did it occur to me that they were smiling because I was smiling at them first.

I've been trying to practice giving away smiles more often. I still get insecure at times and want to protect myself by looking straight ahead with an aloof look on my face. But I make deals with myself: Smile at the next five people you see, and decide in advance that it won't get under your skin if they offer a less than favorable response. Somehow if I go in to it with that mindset it seems easier. I suppose it has to do with expectations, i.e. "If I am nice to you, you owe it to me to be nice back." Problem is, sometimes we interpret things wrongly. A scowl might be saying, "I was just diagnosed with cancer and I'm scared to death," or "I wonder if my husband is having an affair" or "What am I gonna do if I get laid off?" It may also be saying, "I'm worthless." In short, peoples' unfriendly responses probably have very little to do with me.

Here's my challenge: take an hour or an afternoon or an entire day and purpose to smile at people more. And then see what that does to you. Does it feel draining? Energizing? Do you feel like you've given away parts of yourself that you can't get back, or are you somehow changed by offering kindness to strangers? If you actually do it I'd love to hear what happens.

And if you want to hear a nice rendition of Charlie Chaplin's song "Smile," you can do so here. I love it.

Photo Credit: Muffet on Flickr
Liscensed under creative commons