measuring time

Taking a trip down memory lane this morning. Excited to immerse myself in writing once again as my time becomes my own. The business of my life is quite purposeful because sitting in silence forces my mind to places I don’t want to go. It’s not about burying it for sure; it’s about putting it where it belongs because I have been given the gift of life and with that comes the responsibility to spread joy, love and build on relationships that are meaningful to me.

It is really kind of a cruel joke to adore birthdays so much and then have your cancer surgery scheduled for that very day. I pushed it to the next day however I still spent the day at the Cross. While the staff there are extraordinary individuals, optimistic, kind, caring and compassionate, it was where my father spend several weeks very ill, with little to no hope. It’s a place where many go to die on their final journey with cancer.

I’ll never forget that first visit. I checked In, much like a hospital. At that moment, they gave me a red “charge card” identification card that listed my name and a number. I was to carry this at all times as it was my record within the hospital of treatments. I took a deep breath because in that moment, I was branded a cancer patient. I had cancer. I couldn’t donate my organs. I was flawed, broken, sick and in some ways felt pathetic. This was contradictory to my own internal view of me. Seeing that little red card made the journey real. Physical. It wasn’t a dream. It was the next step on my path.

I researched and was determined to request the best care I could possibly receive. I had individuals assisting me while I sourced treatments. I saw two surgeons, both excellent. My dear friend Adam sent my results to the Marvelle Koffler Breast Center in Toronto. They reviewed my files at his request and were in concurrence with what I was being told. Lots of amazing individuals stepped up to be there for me in those moments. The most difficult piece was that I had to immediately stop my life. My work. My choir. My responsibilities. My joys. Fear of the unknown settled in. I decided to release all of it, take deep breaths, an Ativan or two, and remember the words of Sally, my psychologist; “your body will do everything it can to heal you. Let it do its job and welcome the difficult parts knowing it is doing its best to make you better.” This worked brilliantly for my issues with vomiting so I put my trust in it for my cancer treatment.

Without walking that path again, which I extensively documented, I came out the other side. There were magical moments in all of that.

The first was being able to attend my choir finale performance with my daughter and husband. I knew all of the repertoire but had to miss the final practices so I sang in my seat. Of course, I was sad to not be a part of the beautiful music but knew that the healing power of music in my life would be there once again when I was well and ready.

The second was meeting and developing lifelong friends in my Healing Connections Class. I decided to step out of my boundaries; I requested that anyone interested in meeting pencil down their names, hoping that they would show up and then wishing for the mutual supportiveness of our parallel journey with all the identical issues that go with the same diagnosis. The ease of being together and sharing honest feelings, our treatments with different Oncologists and everything we were learning and feeling was incredibly empowering. So began my friendships with my breast friends. Birgit, Cara, Holly, Karen, Crystal, and Nathalie. We have been together now since June 2014 and while some have chosen to move in different directions, there are five of the original eight that remain wholly committed as friends and we continue to support each other through life’s challenges. We walked for the CIBC Breast Cancer Walk in 2014, 2015 and 2016, raising collectively over $10,000 in our last walking year for research into this horrible illness that affected each of us so deeply. Of course, the silver lining is that we will remain on this journey together throughout our lives and you can’t ask for a greater gift than that.

My friend Pat then flew me to camp to surprise Kami. She knew her dad was coming but when I stepped out of the “barn” where we were waiting for the girls, there was this beautiful moment she and I shared. Her eyes met mine, she looked at me twice, tried to focus and then screamed with joy, running into my arms with tears in her eyes. It was one of those magical moments I will cherish forever being her mama. Our love is very deep because she knows she is loved THAT deeply.

Many other moments included food, floral tributes, chocolate, visits, coffee, rides to appointments, the individuals I met during radiation, ringing the bell. So many incredible, heartfelt and special moments. I returned home from work on the day of my diagnosis to find my brother Randy sitting on my front porch just there to hold me while I cried. It is a significant drive for him, at least four hours, so to just do this speaks to his character, integrity and the deep feelings of love we share for each other. Never have I felt that I mattered so much while sitting in my own, present pain.

I chose not to share much of it with many people. While I was open on Facebook, I was trying to be honest about the unknown and I knew that hearing the words from my lips would give cancer more power. I wanted cancer to hold NO power over my life. Over and over again, I asked myself how I had contributed to this diagnosis. I was actually surprised that there is no data collection on the possible “whys” of cancer or that the patient history is not collectively entered into a database to determine these reasons. Logically speaking, I find it difficult to understand how a cure can be found when you don’t know the “why” something like this happens. This is the most disconcerting information that stays with me to this day. You never know if whatever you feel is that fucking cancer once again. Time allows for the release of those feelings of fear however it will never completely disappear.

So I am writing this to congratulate myself and share my gratitude to all those people who have been there for me throughout the past five years, supporting my wellness and propelling me forward in all the positive ways so I can celebrate this milestone of 5 years cancer free. It is huge. My father lived 10 years past his diagnosis but was never 5 years cancer free. What a blessing to truly believe now what Dr. Kelly Dabbs said to me, “this is just a speed bump in the road of life. My job is to get you back living and feeling joyfulness as soon as possible. You are safe with me.” I will always love her for that gift. To the radiologists, my oncologist Dr. Fleur Huang, my life coach Beth, my doctor, Chinyere Otitoju for all of her ongoing support. WOW. I am touched by angels – truly. And I feel surrounded by them.

 

Happy Birthday Bob…

September 17th, 2017

My dearest Bob,

It is your birthday today. I wish we could share a Tim Horton’s donut – with coffee (and double cream). My preference is a mocha from Starbucks but for whatever reason, in our relationship, there was no caving in. You always got your way when it came to food and restaurants. All this despite you continuing to forget my birthday. But then, you always sent a card. Usually on your birthday. ❤

We never had enough time. We met when we were so much younger and both of us believed we’d be on this earth forever. The universe had other plans. I just wish I would have given more of my time to you. And I know you wish the same. There is never enough time.

21761617_10154611039100670_1526650923510587968_nReally – life is all about our time. I just never felt the time we would spend together would ever run out. I believed with all my heart that we would grow old together, sharing stories and laughing well into our 80’s.

As I sat on the leather sofa in your room at Lisa’s, watching you trying to breathe… that steady strong breath… I was moved by the strength of your body. How hard you fought to stay with your girls. You wanted more time and you weren’t leaving without a fight. Believe you me, you truly never gave in. Your body let you down. Your spirit was still strong. But you weren’t willing to give up and give away any time you could have on this earth. And as you gasped for air, with everything inside of you leaving as you struggled to breathe, I was choking and coughing. Gasping to breathe for you. Trying to breathe my life into yours. Because I also wanted more time.

In those moments, I felt so helpless.

I had to resign to the “gift” of knowing your body wouldn’t allow you to stay in such discomfort. To feel Lisa and Tammie sending their abiding love through the stale air of that room; your amazing brother Doug, wiped away the remnants of what was once your beautiful, healthy self, going through the motions of tenderness so you would feel safe, secure and comforted. I became a spoke in the wheel of compassion that surrounded you and my heart was touched deeply witnessing the depth of this truthful, heartfelt love.

I couldn’t stay to watch you depart. While I have been present for many transitions, I felt this moment was to be shared with your children so I gave you my last kiss, told you how much I loved you, put on my boots and walked slowly to the car. Maybe I couldn’t, on some level, let you go feeling comfortable with it, in front of your children. I just knew it wasn’t my place to be. As I drove home, the tears began to fall. In my heart, I knew you would be with the stars, in the heavens, sooner than I had wished.

And when that moment came, my screen lit up and in the tenderest of ways, your beautiful Lisa told me you were gone.

My heart continued to beat. Yours had stopped. Time froze. Our time together on earth was over. Time. Never enough time.

I called John and I cried and cried. We both cried. And we shared the stories of all the joy and laughter we shared as best friends. A moment in time that we both treasure as living legacies sharing the beauty and joy of the man you were to us.

So what do I have left now that you are gone? I hold on to the memories of all the special time we spent together. We absolutely clicked, were destined to meet and remained true to each other, respecting each other and loving each other despite our differences. We were really more alike than we were different. I truly loved the treasured friend you were to me. The friend you will always and only be for me. And I will never have another friend that meant what you meant to me as you did. Ever.

What have I taken away? That relationships – our love and our friendships measure so much more preciously than any prosperity of possessions or money one could have. How could anything – any one thing – matter more that our time together and the great joy and love we shared? Bob, you and I were truly blessed. I just wanted more time. You deserved more time. I deserved more time with you. It’s so unfair.

You leaving me was a great teacher. It became abundantly clear to me that life had an expiration date. Our time on earth is absolutely limited. On some level, I did believe we really would never grow old. Or maybe I never wanted to believe it. None of us get out of this world alive and I am aware that the time we all think we have is much shorter than we believe it will be. And in that, we must live. To honor those we have loved and lost, it is our responsibility to create those beautiful memories. So that when we are gone, those special moments can remain in the hearts to recalled at precisely the right moment. It allows those we love to carry our own life’s story forward and forever. Living our lives in perpetuity of a legacy of that love.

So I promise you I will take every breath in gratitude for the incredible joy you brought to my life. I will bathe in every sunrise and bow at every sunset. I will hold you in my heart and love you for an eternity. Thank you for the legacy of laughter and love you imprinted in my heart. In me, your life will never be forgotten.

I need to say these things because they matter to me, Bob. You loved me more than I ever deserved and I loved you with all of my heart. You were my best friend and my steady and I was yours. You trusted me implicitly and I you and we never betrayed that trust. You protected me or at least tried to keep me from hurting from my own mistakes, and I protected, defended and  fought for you. We frustrated each other but our love was so strong we never held on to anything; nothing mattered more than our love for each other. We shared our deepest secrets and were fiercely protective and loyal to each other. You truly made me to believe I deserved to be loved and I validated you were worthy of loyal and true love. I repeated the lines, over and over again, that love never dies and your girls would never leave you. You eventually heard me. You gave me your truth and I gave you mine. We could depend on each other. Most of all, you were so fucking funny. In every single way. I’d like to think I opened your heart to love and a bigger brighter world. In fact, I know I did. Unfortunately, I had little influence on your eating and dating habits. We never let each other down and we hurt for each other, when each of us when in pain. Life moved forward but we remained the best of friends. I lost the chance to make up for the time I spent in Idaho. I will hurt forever having lost this time with you.

If I could give you one gift, it would be peace. If you could give me one gift, it would be to hear your laughter and loving words once again.  Forever is a long time to be without you. My heart tells me we will be together again. That we will hold each other again and we will be young, beautiful, healthy and happy. The spirits of who we once were. Our best selves. And I truly can’t wait.

I love you, my bestest friend…  Happy Heavenly Birthday  xox

18892956_10154611039215670_3946172739195693694_n

 

 

my best friend Bob

I know we all have that one friend. The one that calls you at 2 in the morning with a problem, knowing that you’ll listen until you fall asleep with the receiver, only waking to the loud bland tone. The one that will walk across a field of 5’ snow drifts to light your pilot light.  Or drop everything to unplug your toilet. The one that when you are so scared and you hurt so badly, that will hold you, comfort you and tell you they’ll always be there for you, always. That’s my Bob. That’s my best friend Bob.

Ours was the most natural and easiest of friendships.  I was 24 when we met at Grand and Toy. I was recently separated and had returned to Edmonton. Bob was in the process of getting his divorce. I have always been drawn to people who have an incredible sense of humor. This was definitely one of Bob’s greatest gifts. His comebacks. So I thought maybe he’d like to go with me to my divorce class and learn about how hard it would be moving forward from this catastrophic loss. He said sure, why not?

And so began what has become a lifelong relationship. We became each other’s dates to parties and events and both felt safe enough to just have fun and enjoy our new-found freedom. I know our bond solidified as we grew to share our deepest secrets, our wishes for the future and our wildest dreams. We were really, in exactly the same place then. It was serendipitous.

Bob had so many fabulous traits – he was very mischievous.  He was caring, honest, pure, loyal to a fault, a great lover of life. He was enthralled with his daughters. They were like the honey to the bee. I was truly taken by his sense of priorities given that he was still a young man and could easily have shirked them for some passing fancy. The girls spent a lot of time with us.

16195129_10154019976665670_3715155013991226525_n

Here’s the thing about my Bob. He was 100% trustworthy. His word meant everything. He had integrity and character and he always followed through with his promises to me. This never wavered in all the time I have known him. What you saw is what you got. A person with very definite opinions. A champion for the rights of children and I mean – no one ever hurts an innocent child. A believer in doing the right thing and holding others accountable for their behavior. It reminded me of my father, who was absolutely similar to Bob in that way.

We spoke a lot about what he wanted for us gathered here today:

“Bob, your Eulogy, what do you want me to say?”

“Tell them everything Wendy. Actually, don’t do that. No one will ever speak to you again. Well, maybe some of them might. But a lot of them won’t.  I won’t be there to cover for you. This is the most important thing sweetie.  I did absolutely everything I could to be exactly what my father wasn’t. My girls are my legacy. I think it all turned out well, don’t you?

“Are you kidding Bob? After everything you and I have been through, you did win the lottery. You won the love lottery. You have exactly everything that meant anything to you in this home, at this moment. Your girls. Your grandkids. You are incredibly blessed.”

“I love my girls more than anything. I tried to spoil them as much as I could. I am very happy being their daddy. They are my everything. I am luckiest man on earth to have the two most beautiful daughters, inside and out.  Nothing else matters when you have great kids. Wendy, thank you for making me believe it could come true. I am so grateful for you helping me believe that they would come back someday.”

~~~~~

Those are the recorded words of one of my last conversations with my friend Bob.  After the blessing of his friendship for over 33 years, I felt like his story wasn’t over. Like I was being cheated out of many more years of spontaneous laughter and stories we would write and share together. Just growing old and complaining about our health.

Sharing our kid and grandkid stories over a coffee. Laughing. Yeah – I do feel cheated.  Death has a way of forcing you to feel so many emotions all at once, until you can part the marsh and wade through the muddy water to shore.

Bob was born Robert Charles Arthur Ferguson, to Helen Maller Ferguson on September 17th, 1953. As you can well imagine, Bobby was a handsome baby, filled with lots of love to share. The Fergusons were a typically large Catholic family, growing up in their faith, with many mouths to feed and siblings who maintained strong bonds, taking care of each other over the years. Bob was the second born of 4 boys and 3 girls; Barry was the oldest (or Bay as Bob was able to pronounce as a tot), then came twins Doug and Charlene – all born in Edmonton. Henry came next, born in Oshawa, Ontario. After the family returned to Edmonton, sister Kelly arrived and finally wee Tracy, the baby of the Ferguson family.

Growing up, Bob was very well liked and was never at a loss for things to do, making friends very easily both in school and his professional life.  He did well in class, was a Boy Scout and enjoyed a variety of sports. After a failed attempt at learning to fish, Bob was given a full set of orange and black hockey equipment where he dove in face first into the sport as one of the participants of the Wellington Park Community League Mites.  He just knew he was headed for fame and fortune as a hockey superstar.  He also took up downhill skiing after receiving ski equipment for Christmas. It also became something he so loved to do.

During his time at St. Francis Xavier High School, Bob was active in high school basketball and football and he had his own attractive cheerleading squad. It was there he met his first wife Diane and when he graduated, moved on to work for ITT Grinnell Systems and then as a Loans Office with Scotiabank in Slave Lake.

In 1977, Bob fell hard for a pretty young woman named Shirley Hooper.  He was 24 and she just 20 when he proposed to her in April, 1978. Bob had just accepted a job at Grand and Toy, Ltd. and was settling into his large sales territory. On April 8th, 1979, their first child Lisa Jo Ferguson was born. Bob would always tell me this was the happiest moment of his life.  When Bob was 27, their second child, Tammie Leigh Ferguson was born on May 12th, 1981. Again, Bob would always tell me this was the happiest moment of his life. You can see where this is going. His love for both girls was powerful and indistinguishable.  A lifelong love affair with his daughters began and they truly have been the source of all his pride, joy and strength.

Over time, I grew to see that his priorities, given how hard he fought to keep the girls, were unchanging. He was going to see to it that Lisa and Tammie would not be casualties in a divorce he did not want.  That is all water under the bridge now and I know that that period of time, was the most difficult of his life short of his health challenges and of course, facing his imminent death.

In the months prior to his passing, we spoke at great length about those years.  Having to leave his girls. he told me, was the hardest piece of dying for him. Sharing these fears only further sealed our bond and our promise to always be there for each other. Then for Bob. Now for his girls.

I had the incredible privilege of spending time with his daughters who I fell in love with so many years ago. Then they were just sweet little girls – both under 7. Lisa, so demure and quiet. Soft spoken and observant. A true girly girl. She would watch my every move and always return my smile and hug. Tammie, the precocious one, who admitted that for every time she asked me when I would marry her dad, he would give her a quarter.  She was a pistol – lots and lots of questions! So much fun to be with. Bob and I spent many visits in the park, at West Ed on the rides and shopping for treats, like Cabbage Patch Dolls. I still remember the baby powder smell of the diapers. Who couldn’t adore these little Ferguson creatures? What special little living souls of Bob’s enormous heart.

Our duo became a trio when I told John, another friend at Grand and Toy, that Bob was looking for a roommate. The three us became inseparable and were seriously having the time of our lives in the eighties.  Lots of Club Malibu, where Bob was an evening bartender, lots of dancing and some great movies and dinner dates. Truly, we spent all our spare time together. With John being openly gay, Bob was introduced to a whole new world of tolerance, compassionate and understanding for issues he likely never gave a second thought to before. John recently came out to see Bob and was able to thank him for being his friend. Remember, this was the late 80’s, so this remarkably loving  friendship of opposites, truly Oscar and Felix, spoke strongly of how we all wish all people could truly be. John has been a great comfort for me during this time and is sad not to be here. There were many other Grand and Toy friends that loved Bob so much; Les and Estelle, Ray and Joanie, Dennis and BJ, Ron, Val and Bryan. So many laughs with this crew!!!

After Grand and Toy, Bob moved on to the Brick Warehouse, where he was the top saleman – which involves dedication and is no easy feat. He was very proud of that. I remember him working so hard during those times and his joy to meet and make new friends. Then on to McLachlan Mitchell Homes where his success again multiplied and he found himself buying and selling and moving up with every home he purchased. It was an exciting time for him.

I came to know all of Bob’s quirks and views of life. These habits of his were etched in stone, not easy to shift and became known to me as Bobisms. I will share a few with you – perhaps you know these to be true or maybe he’s shared them with you?

1)      No food can compare to a well-made hamburger.  If you can get it with lots of ketchup, all the better.  When Bob came to visit me in Idaho, we spent every night getting take out at Snow Bunny Drive Inn. It is advertised as home of the road kill patty melt and Bob absolutely loved their burgers and fries. He would defer to that hamburger over a home cooked meal at every opportunity even purchasing t-shirts to bring back for the girls and himself to advertise his favorite culinary experience.   This Christmas, he requested a new t-shirt to wear this year as apparently, he’d worn his out.  Seriously, I have never eaten that many hamburgers before or since that visit.

2)      Pass on the veggies. If you are going to serve them, then please separate them. That way, I can decide what I want to eat and leave what might not be overly thrilled with. When I had Bob over for dinner the first time at my Millwood’s apartment, I made him a well-rounded meal with mixed vegetables. I received the crash course in vegetable separation and eating food clockwise, around the plate. Better still Wendy, you don’t need to make veggies for me. Hilarious.

3)      He had very specific junk food preferences too.  Pepsi not Coke. Large Tim Hortons Coffee with double cream. McDonalds sausage McMuffin – no egg but lots of ketchup. Make sure it’s muffin, not a bagel. Arby’s value meal roast beef with cheese. “Don’t forget the horsey sauce. It’s the only one without the onion bun. I hate onion buns.” He would remind. So gross. “Dill pickle chips please – they are better than salt and vinegar. Lately the chip factories are using too much vinegar so I’ve had to switch.” “Cheetos are awesome – don’t eat too many of my Cheetos,” he would scold me, “They’re mine. I know you have your eyes on them.” “Bob, why are you throwing away all these jujubes?”, I would ask him. “I can’t stand the orange and yellow ones. They’re gross.”  I would get him some ripple potato chips: “Can you bring the dip too Wendy?”  If there was no dip made and I offered to make it, his response would be,  “No you can’t. Only Lisa knows how to get the onion bits out. I’ll wait until Lisa gets home.” So funny.  The best part of it all was its predictability. If you hit the mark, the smile was enormous and the love overflowed.

4)      Wendy, if a guy’s eyebrows grow together, don’t trust them. I can’t tell you why. Just don’t trust em.

5)      Helping me fold my laundry. You’re never gonna get a date wearing Hanes underwear. Those are butch panties. Only lesbians wear those. How did he know that? What is the matter with you Wendy? Get rid of these things. No Hanes underwear. Ever.

Unfortunately, Bob was to encounter an incredibly serious health scare. A brain aneurysm that ruptured would statistically gave a person very poor odds of surviving.  Not Bob. I remember hearing of this and falling to me knees. Being so far away from my friend and unable to do anything to make it better.

The challenges of this were immense. He could no longer concentrate for long periods of time. His memory suffered a lot. He was tired and sometimes confused. The flip side was he was able to use this as an excuse for not returning your phone call or forgetting your birthday. He was crafty.

It was at this point that Bob had to reevaluate his entire way of life and career and in that, decided to simplify things, move out to where his girls were living and be a very present father and grandfather. It was enormously challenging for someone used to great achievements to retire, but his health and survival would depend on that change. Looking back, what a gift this decision was given that he has left us so young. His grandchildren have come to know him very well and have solid memories and bonds that they will hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives. You can never take the investment of time and love away when you create such beautiful memories. All kids want is your time and Bob knew that.

Death came to Bob several times over his life and he fought it valiantly. I truly believe that his love for his daughters is what has kept him here with them as long as he could control his destiny.  He was going to win this battle. He was defiant and determined. I was absolutely amazed at his strength and resolve.  The mere fact that he fought death until his last days shows his incredible will to live and his deep love and appreciation for his life.

In the end, it is the small things you remember, the little imperfections that make that person perfect for you.  Although I am extremely sad, I am feeling grateful. Grateful that Bob was able to die as he wished, in Lisa’s care, in her home and with his family. I am grateful that we all shared those special moments watching movies, endless reruns of Last Man Standing (which he loved) and purging on an endless supply of Bob’s favorite junk food all over his queen size bed between the naps. I am grateful Bob was finally able to stay awake with Lisa and finish the ending of the Beverly Hillbillies. We watched it repeated and as simple as it sounds, he could never make it through the film. That made me happy.

I am grateful that he met all his grandchildren. That he knew them personally and intimately and cared for them very deeply. He was surrounded by his things that mattered to him. He was able to spend Christmas with Lisa and Tammie and enjoyed all the usual laughter and goings on in a home bustling with busy children. He got to attend hockey games and school concerts and go out on a few trips to Tim Hortons as long as he held his strength.

I was grateful he has the best home care available and a charge nurse named Lisa Elliott who monitored every moment of his care, diligently and meticulously noting each event and medication dose. Bob never once doubted her commitment or her instruction to do what he needed to do to live as long as he could. Both Lisa and Tammie showered him, dressed him and told the truth to the home health nurses when he would lie to them. Comical. That’s Bob.

Bob didn’t have the best of luck all through his life. His health put him through a lot of stress during the past decade. But what others may have viewed as misfortune was actually his trump card. He believed that every day he was writing his legacy. He knew he was richer than most everyone he knew, because his children would run to his arms, even when his hands were empty.

16426167_10154028826720670_3684222391631314552_nHe lived in such a way, that his children define him as a man of kindness, compassion and love, with a heart that bloomed as it gave. He knew, his greatest contribution would never be what he did in his life, but who he raised.  He moved through his relationships with his kids without judgement, only praise. Ever optimistic. So, as Lisa and Tammie, their beloveds and their children continue to move through life, they will remember him as a man of fairness, caring and integrity with this sentence forever in their minds, “As long as you don’t hurt my girls!”

Love never dies. To love someone so deeply that the grief of that loss absolutely breaks your heart, is the sign you loved hard and you loved well. How incredibly blessed I was to cross paths with this beautiful heart, my friend Bob.

Our last conversation ended the same as every one we’d ever had –

“I love you sweetie.”

“I love you too Bob.”      I love you too.

spring vacation

Let’s just say that this has been one of the worst months of my life. I felt as though I was riding a freight train, ever increasing its speed until 11:29 AM on Monday, March 20th when it slammed into a brick wall, with me catapulting head first into the coral colored brick and mortar. Everything that sat in the “worry box” section my brain, collected over the past four months, ceased to matter in that moment because in that second, all of it became about me. I guess that is what mindfulness is all about when you’re not a real meditator.

I have come to realize, this late in life, that nothing is ever about me. It’s a character defect that leans towards others, readily offering my service, love and dutifulness. Rarely, for me, is there the gift of that moment in time where I get to sit in silence to form my thoughts. So in essence, this break can be compared to a wealthy person who checks into the Hotel BelAir for a weekend respite. They have the view of a glorious garden and streams of pinks and whites and yellows, birds singing and swans swimming.  Not to mention the aroma of heavenly lemons and oranges ripening on the tree. My view is a cutting edge, green and beige autumn leaf setting, clean and bright, with the smell of bland antiseptic and the flurry of a hundred beeps, telling the Gods at bay that the patients are still breathing. On this day, my friends, this is my personal BelAir, with all the joy, anticipation and excitement of a six week vacation!

IMG_0048Well, things began as smoothly as my last knee replacement. My surgeon, who is an ortho-God, came and rubbed my shoulder. He is a sweet, soft spoken man, who works in sports medicine and exudes true kindness. First he checked to see if I was all right with my sharpie marker note written on my legs and arms. I told him I was a bit nervous but who wouldn’t be? He said, “In six weeks, you will absolutely grateful you did this. Knee replacements are a miracle of modern medicine.”  He grabbed my hand with both of his, gave me a nod of confidence and said, “See you soon.” A lovely smile, a brush against the curtain, and away he went.

As I wheeled into the OR, I shimmied onto the bright silver table. Jesus, so cold.  I looked ahead and noticed an enormous x-ray of my knees on a flat screen TV. One straight with glorious hardware, the other, bowed and crooked, waiting for it’s new, shiny, titanium hardware. There were several nurses greeting me and lots of silver instruments everywhere. Hammers. EEKS. Clean. Clean. Clean. And so shiny.

I noticed on the board up front the names of my doctor and anesthesiologist. Dr. David Mu….   Oh dear. Not him. Not the boy next door. I froze. Should I tell him who I am? Well, never being one to keep a good secret, I asked, “Did you live in Kenilworth when you grew up?”  He responded, “Yes, I did.”  I replied, “Well, I was your neighbor then. We lived two doors down from you.” To which he said, “Shari?”  I said, “No. I’m Wendy, the older sister.” Honestly, I don’t remember what he said after that. I just noticed he did not look remotely like he did when we were kids. His mother was insufferable – he was forced to wear horrible big brown galoshes with silver magnetic clips and a brown wool coat with an adult’s briefcase and round metal lunchbox. His grownup self – well – he looked like an unshowered, unkept student, studying endlessly for finals. His hair was long and straggly. Almost like he was in full rebellion!  I was then taken back to being a child, remembering that I, my sister, Trish, Tamara and Tonya, had decided he had something he didn’t need and we were going to pull it off. So on his front lawn, while running through the sprinkler, we pulled his trunks down and tried to pull his penis off. He didn’t scream or anything. And we believed we were helping him become more like us. But his mother sure didn’t think so we got sent home pretty quickly.

At that moment of remembrance, I was praying that he had forgotten we were such evil girls and that this wouldn’t affect my afternoon surgical nap.  Believe you me, I was more than a bit worried.

At some point during my hour and a half surgery, I awoke to the sound of what my brain processed as a chainsaw. My mind couldn’t make sense of it and immediately, I was out once again. The second time, I looked up and ahead, only to see this yellow and blue sheet that was suspended in front of my face. I was sitting up, to my amazement, so I turned my head to speak and then I was gone once again. It was quite surreal in so many ways and the light anesthetic likely explained why I was almost immediately awake as I was being portered to my room. Maybe he did remember, I wondered.

The Hip and Knee Center at the Alex is a beautiful facility, recently built, to serve only those individuals that are registered for work on either of these joints. Short of two rooms, everything else is private and impressively comfortable. I had signed for a private room but noticed my bed was moving closer and closer to the one of two shared occupancy rooms in the building. Now what was the luck? Oh well, maybe a nice roommate perhaps?

From the moment the front wheel of my bed crossed the threshold, the occupant of the window seat bed was talking. It reminded me of the time I pulled the cord on my Chatty Cathy doll so I could write down everything she said. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. In retrospect, it became like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. None of it registered to me. I came to know my roommate as Francesca (not her real name because she doesn’t like her real name and Jesus gave her this name, so that’s her real name), a 77- year old woman from South Korea. Holy, what a pistol.

The infusion of high test drugs began – an anticoagulant, an anti inflammatory and 10 mg shots of morphine every three hours. And beyond the drugs, the constant chatter of bed number 2 as I tried to steady myself and determine whether I was nauseous or just feeling a bit of vertigo. No, it was the nattering.  And I was just going to ride on the wave of confusion.

I will admit, I am a friendly sort who loves to converse and consider myself well read. So meeting people from other cultures is very interesting to me. Especially elderly people that are friendly, not cranky. I can only say, without repeating myself unendingly, that from the moment my bed reached it’s destination, until the physiotherapist signed my release papers two days later, that for 24 hours a day, this woman never, ever, quit talking or asking to borrow my phone to talk to her husband, who couldn’t talk because he’d had a stroke. Whatever, it was entirely comedic in so many ways. In fact, the entire experience was.

I had learned when diagnosed with breast cancer, that when you find an excellent doctor, you do exactly what they say. To the letter. And I told myself, I would become my own advocate, standing up for every need and never being afraid to question their education and authority.

So began my two day trip with morphine.

I announced to my nurses that as per the instructions of my surgeon, I was to receive 10 mg morphine every three hours and that I would set my phone alarm and call to remind them (this is what you are told to do as it is protocol). And gosh darn it, that’s exactly what I did. Somewhere towards 8:00 PM that evening, my nurse came and sat in a chair next to my bed and said, “We must discuss your morphine.”

“What’s wrong with my morphine?” I asked. “It feels like it’s working because I am not in pain.”

“Well, Ms. Wil- We-Wil Norbern (no one can pronounce my name), you have pinprick pupils. We believe you are overdosing and can’t understand whether you are actually in pain, or whether this 3 hour protocol is something you need to be following for some reason we are not aware of. We might have to move you to the other building!”

“Other building? What for?” I exclaimed.

“Where people have overdosed!!”

Remember everyone, I am stoned. Totally stoned. At that moment, I don’t feel stoned. But I know that I can’t read my cell phone, I certainly am having problems texting, and I can’t stay awake for more than a few minutes. “Listen carefully. This is important.” I make sure I look into her eyes – pretty funny really because I want to be taken seriously. “I have learned in my medical experiences over the past three years that I am to obey my doctor’s order. This is his order and I will be requesting it just as I am supposed to be. It is not up for discussion.”

“Well, it is not what we are used to dosing. (Or something like that.) And we would encourage you to only call us when you are around the four hour mark as you…..”

“You can say what you wish,” as I gesture her to leave like I know what I am doing, “but I will be following my doctor’s protocol.” Stupid enough to stand up for myself and just dumb enough to not remember what my actual dosage amount really was.

She blathered more words and over the next day, other nurses came to visit me to speak of their own issues with my dosage, but I stood my ground. Then on the night prior to my release, they switched my from shots to pill form. I looked at the pills and they didn’t look right. So I call my GP physician on my cell and asked her about morphine. She told me I was to receive 10 mg every 4 hours. NOT THREE. Oh sweet Jesus. The nurses were right.

Instead of telling them, I decided to remain on the 3 hour protocol until I left. Certainly, I don’t remember much about any of the three days of my time there. But I will say, that I walked the halls at three in the morning with my walker (and it felt like I was out in the forest, so peaceful – and nuts) and I send a number of texts to friends that made no sense at all, (“When are we going to go mall walking? Am I to return your bed sheets? Jeannie is on on Thursday nights.” or the famous, I’m…. with nothing to follow.) The responses were hilarious, like, “Are you stoned?” “Boy you must be medicated.” “I didn’t think you exercised?” “Mall walking?” “You must be confused.” The best part is that the morphine took the edge off the nattering Korean woman – even though the nurses knew she was keeping me up all night, they never told her to hush. So I guess I was able to get some of the rest I needed despite having no earplugs.

My discharge nurse, Faye, was lovely. She said I was a model patient even though I stuck to my morphine guns to their dismay. My knee was already moving very well considering, but everything moves well when you don’t feel anything. As I came out of the drug fog at home (my nurse Karen diligently worked on that for a couple of days), I remembered that my friend Bob, with end stage cancer, was receiving less morphine than I was dosing myself and I thought, gosh, that wasn’t enough to handle his pain. So I learned a lot from that experience.

I am four weeks out now and able to negotiate a lot. My knee is bending over 100 degrees and I look forward to my 6 week check with my surgeon. Everything went so smoothly and I am incredibly grateful. Hopefully, I will be up and dancing in no time and this will become another bump in the road of my life. You learn a little bit from every challenge you face and my take away is that being stubborn can kill you. So I am going to compromise a bit more.

 

it’s all about love

It is my first full day of double fives. I must share that it felt like the very best birthday ever. We’ve all had parties, where we dress in our finest clothes to suit whatever theme is chosen for us. We’re showered with hugs and kisses, we imbibe a bit too much on those wonderful fruity cocktails and we share too much about all the things we hate about getting older. Our puffy eyes, our sagging bodies, our weight… a lot of complaining about stuff that truly doesn’t matter. 


For me, it was very different this year. It is two years since my cancer surgery today. And on my birthday, two years ago, I spent the day at our local Cancer Center – traumatized and fearful of the world that awaited me when my pathology results would return. It was the saddest birthday, wandering the hospital floors seeing those who had traded their hair for survival, IV’s moving along the halls banging against wheelchairs of people who looked desperate for peace. I felt deaf that day. The endless information being told as I sat unable to process anything but cancer, death, fear and the feeling of being completely alone. If there is ever a moment you doubt you are alone in this world, this experience will validate it for you. It’s a harsh reality. But it is also truth. 


This entire experience showed me clearly what I was made of. How strong I could and needed to be. And I look back at that as a gift of sorts. It brought a lot of amazing experiences into my life and taught me about myself. It swung the windows of my mind open, to let the light of truth in brightly.


Fast forward two years. So many things I had prayed for to be stable still remain a challenge. I was planning to retire at 55 and that is a distant memory. I live outside the mountains and I miss their strength and how they envelope me with protection. But there is so much more. So many greater, more meaningful things. My family is intact and we love deeply. We are genuine friends that respect each other. And we are safe under one roof in a home filled with compassion, kindness and big human, as well as furry canine and feline, hearts. Most importantly, we are healthy at this moment and embracing our health and that good fortune of having a roof over our heads, the beauty of our life’s work surrounding us and a well stocked pantry. Life is good.


Simply put, the smallest experiment of my belief that ones life is all about love and the relationships you make as you navigate your path through the years, came true for me. I expected nothing and received much. Not in the way most expect, but through words and gentle expressions of kindness. Through the loving remembrances of friends. Tales of love and connection. A blanket to keep me warm. Food to feed my soul. Some bubbly to savor the moment. Flowers to connect me to the beauty of our earth. Hugs. Kisses. Laughter. Appreciation. And most important of all, gratitude to the universe for allowing me to have another birthday. To feel that kind of love and to tell others how much their love and remembrance meant to me. 


Thank you to all of you who made this day exactly the way I had hoped it would be. All of you. Those who surround me here in the city, those who live in my Ida-home, those scattered around the world – you have all touched my life in ways I cherish. You are all a part of my life’s story book and have decorated those pages with brilliant colors and words; you validate the ever so small contribution I have made in your life that you hold dear by remembering me. And that is the ultimate gift. To be remembered for goodness. I do love and care for you all and thank you so much for making this the happiest birthday ever. 


Each birthday to come is an incredible gift. But life offers no guarantee so I will live with great joy in this moment. Thank you for loving me. How lucky am I?

torture – familial torture

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. I wish I could feel the love. Maybe come closer to Sunday, the obligatory celebration date, I will be able to wrap my mind around the never ending flow of false love and adoration. Not unlike the heat of molten lava, I can feel the burn of blame statements and lack of gratitude for all I have tried to do to make peace with a relationship that has never worked.

As I watch my 88 year old mother shuffle through the grocery store, my heart aches. It’s this tiny woman whose mind is angry and complex. All I ever wanted from her was support for my achievements, praise for good deeds done and unconditional love. The dance I performed to achieve these accolades was exhausting. Have you ever heard, “there is no there there?” Well my whole life relationship with her is pretty much summed up in that statement. God, I just want to love her. I just want to be loved for who I am. But it isn’t going to change. It is never going to happen. Back to the grocery store shuffle. Am I sad because I know I can’t bridge this gap of discontentment with her before she passes away? Am I hurting because I never received what I truly needed as a child? Am I just confused because I can’t shut the emotions off that ruminate in my heart? I am not sure which one it is but I do know that I feel absolutely powerless to stop it. It is almost like the love left years ago with all of her rage and anger statements directed towards me.

One thing about me. I listen very carefully. I also choose my words carefully. When someone I care for is hurt by my words, I am disheartened because I try to explain things very clearly to avoid any conflict or harm. To me, words carry a lot of power and when used incorrectly, can be very painful. Because I have experienced someone who was supposed to love me deeply use words to break my spirit, it makes me extra vigilant to ensure that I be careful.

I am not proud of last week. I took my mother to the physician. She lied to the physician. I apologized to the physician. My mother had a hidden agenda of other activities for me to accomplish for her that were unplanned. It was 5 PM. Her prescription that she needed RIGHT NOW would not be ready for an hour. I became irritated and it showed in me being somewhat impatient. She also wanted to get groceries, which she does every Sunday. But this was Tuesday. I used every coping skill I was taught to avoid conflict. I finally allowed her to break me. As I felt the tears gently fall from my eyes down my cheeks, I thought about my age. The language and words she uses with me now differ not from what she would say to me as a child. How did I cope then? Those words created a very unsafe environment for me. I began to have panic attacks and anxiety when I was 11. She used to tell me that I was weak so I would have to live with her all of my life. On some level, I believed this because I was always sick. But there was a little fighter in me that pushed back. I pushed hard enough to escape her mental prison to find my own way. But the scars were very deep indeed. And even though I have had the best therapy from an amazing psychologist, the triggers remain and the damage to my self esteem and my feelings of worthiness will be life long.

I don’t burden my husband with this. In fact, I don’t burden anyone with this. I carry it on my own shoulders. That horrible day, with my mother berating me and swearing at me in the car, was no different that the hundreds of upon hundreds of days she worked diligently to destroy my sense of self. I put in my headphones as she pelted me with her dissatisfaction that I didn’t know where her personal grocery store was. I tuned her out.

Get her a token of love for mother’s day? I likely will because I have to. Really, I do this for my father. However, the day only means what it does because of my daughter. My second chance at motherhood came with her and for that I am grateful.

My car, myself

Today, I have come to the decision that everything that is wrong with my car is a direct reflection of my life. Strange as it sounds, I have done so many cosmetic repairs to my vehicle at my own expense that were caused by the carelessness of others. No accidents that I have caused. Just random acts of violence against what was once a loving shade of grey, green and blue paint. It has become so frequent that I finally called a truce with it’s sleek metal body. I gave up repairing it when I reached $5,000 in body work out of pocket. 


The signs are clear that I have finally ceased to believe it is possible to keep it looking smart. My front bumper is half gone – almost to the license plate. The wheel well on that side is missing it’s sleek, black coated trim. Two separate events. The glow of the silver duct tape that holds the side to the front is lovingly pieced. It reminds me of good upholstery work I would expect as a designer. I must say, if vehicles could hold with tape, mine would be exquisite.

My automatic side door jambs and complains by grinding itself after being hit by an errant grocery cart. Or maybe someone threw someone else against it. It is hard to tell because I wasn’t there to defend it. The bumpers have all been dented or scraped by what I can only assume are people that really NEED backup cameras so they are warned when a car is within striking distance.


For whatever reason, while attending to my morning coconut mocha at the Starbucks drive-thru, my car began to speak to me.  It started as a little cry for help and then escalated to a squeal.  Like a fork being dragging along a metal plate. Obviously, the brakes. I am no genius when it comes to cars, but I do know that when I hear this on another car, I cringe. I have never let anything in a vehicle I have owned get to this point without repair, so quite frankly, it was shocking.


Now I can barely get by the embarrassment of the front end with my damaged “Explore Glorious Idaho” license plate. but as I travel down the sand laden roads of what was once winter in Edmonton, my vehicle screams continuously in utter disgust. Like it is being violated by the driver. Meaning me. Attract attention much? What is worse, is I am told a two week wait to get in. Nothing is more mortifying than thinking I must allow my good car to wait this long.


There is no drowning out the contempt coming from my Odyssey. I have tried to turn up the stereo as loud as my speakers will take. And despite me, it gets louder. I am not sure why I think that if I can’t hear it, that everyone else can’t either. I just put on my sunglasses and look straight ahead.  


So here’s the rub. I have been dealing with grief in my life since the impact on our family of the economic turnaround of 2008. Grief is not just a process you move through when someone passes on. It comes in many forms. The loss of my home by short sale, the loss of my retirement to someone at  Leiman Brothers (who I am convinced is sailing the Atlantic coast to Barbados), the move from my home of 18 years in the mountains (where I loved to live), the loss of my job working in mental health (that I loved and did so well), the loss of my closest friends (who were my family), the loss of my husband’s peace of mind and health due to a stroke (likely from the stress of everything), the insult of the $3,000 increase in my husband’s health care premiums (which we had faithfully paid into for 18 years) and the later loss of my health to a bout of cancer and hereditary arthritis. All this in a short, six year span. When I look at it on paper, it is really more stress than most could endure. But my father raised me to be a good, strong Irish girl so I remain soft-hearted, yet stoic. My core beliefs have helped me through it all. And a lot of love from my husband and daughter. 


But that damn screaming car! The violation of it’s beautiful body and it screaming for attention symbolizes everything that has occurred in my life in the past 6 years that was done without my knowledge. My acceptance. My permission. 

There are no concrete reasons for what happened to me and my family. I can’t find my retirement (we would BE retired now – but that doesn’t look promising) and I don’t know where the 6 figure equity in my house disappeared to. I am not sure why my physically fit husband had a stroke (which he thankfully recovered from), why insurance companies who have received over $350,000 in premiums from yours truly think it is OK to gut you when you are down or why I was selected to endure a battle with cancer that blindsided me. I know that moving was essential because of the elevated cost of health insurance so it was a decision we had to make to keep us safe. But not unlike all of this, I am not sure why my sweet car has been the target of so many unkind and uncaring people who have damaged all four corners of it without leaving their name or even a note to say they are sorry.


Maybe it is acknowledgment of the damage that is important to me? Or maybe I want to believe that people are better than this. I think that it all goes back to accountability, integrity and character, which are incredibly important traits in anyone I choose to build a friendship with. 


One of the greatest lessons of the past 8 years is that I control nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had a false sense of safety and control. My husband and I believed we were secure. We followed all the rules we were taught. I park within the lines. I read what I sign. I believe in a hand shake. And for some foolish reason, I want life to be fair. So maybe this life is about learning that I must live in each moment with gratitude and be thankful that I am surrounded by love and relationship, despite all of the damage being done around me, to my so-called “stuff”. Sure, it has impacted me greatly. It has shattered so much of what I believed and trusted to be true. But I am still here. I am still a forgiving and kind-hearted person that hopes for only goodness from others. And I still fight for fairness for all.

Until a unicorn appears, I think I better go buy myself some ear plugs and hope that the “Brake Pad God” hears my fondest wish to get my sweet, reliable car into the garage as soon as possible.