So You Can Know for the Next Time

I wrote this post last Thursday, with the intention of posting it on Friday. We all know what happened on Friday, and it made me reflect and reconsider what I'd written. I think it still holds true, in this moment when America finds itself confronted by tragedy once again.

In the past week, I've read some of the simplest words being written to bring comfort to strangers and it only reiterates what I wrote. Do not be afraid to run toward the fire, even if you do so without being noticed.

Everyone knows those situations where you are at a loss for words. I think death is one of them. I think any tragedy is one. Be it anticipated or unexpected, what do you say to someone who is suddenly missing a loved one from their lives permanently or has experienced a serious life changing event.

A friend gave me the best advise -- something I believe she read in a book. When someone loses a loved one and you don't know what to say, sometimes simplicity is best:

"I'm sorry for your loss."

It's a handful of words that say much more. It acknowledges the situation, the hurt, the sorrow, the pain and the confusion a person is feeling. And it simply lets them know you care. That for one moment, you didn't just continue on with your life as usual, but you stopped to consider them.

I think the same applies to cancer, a sudden accident, a chronic illness to any tragedy that alters someone's life forever. They all create that moment that can leave someone at a loss for words; a moment where your heart stops beating if only for a second, and those that surround you must circle the wagons.

Even if death has long been expected and suffering has been so hard to watch, the end is never easy and leaves a trail of sadness that time often never fills. When you pick up the phone and it's the unexpected and the unwanted on the other end of the line, it sucks the life out of you. You either know what to say or what to do or you don't.

We Americans are so protected from tragedy. Everyone knows someone, but not every family has been touched. We live in our modern world complete with top notch medicine within reach, cars that are big and safe, rules and regulations that tell society how to behave and enough food to keep our bellies full. We can lock our doors at night, set an alarm, sleep with a gun and know that 911 will rally the troops if we need them.

But it doesn't take an NPR junkie to know that so much of the world lives with the daily reality of tragedy. They are hardened to it in ways we cannot know in our first world life. We can stand speechless in a moment, dumbfounded by our own complacency.

When it was me being the bearer of bad news, I had that chance to see people in action, and often inaction. I didn't expect every one on my Facebook friends list to call or write or knit me a blanket. I didn't expect anything from anyone other than a prayer or a thought. But as the days and weeks and ultimately months past, people emerged with a level of care and attentiveness that left me amazed. And friends, close friends that I thought would surround me with their love, dropped back into the shadows of silence.

I didn't have the energy or desire to chase them down with my feelings. I didn't force the subject or volunteer information in a fishing expedition for their concern. I just sat back and watched and finally came to the conclusion that so many of us just don't know how to handle tragedy. We don't know what to say when something bad happens, so we opt to say nothing at all.

For some left watching, their instant reaction is to run right into the fire. They are the ones born with that empathetic gene I wish every soul had. They are not afraid and are like superheros with capes made with threads of solid love. They pour out the simple gestures that can lift you up and carry you along for the duration.

For some, their own fear of contagious tragedy makes them silent. If you deny it, it can't hurt you. If you've never experienced it, you don't know how to process it. The fear of pain is far greater than the gift of hands-on compassion, and they step away. I was surprised at the silence sometimes.

And for some, they are frozen in that moment but fight so hard to do the right thing. Their brain runs wild with compassion while they wait for their body to take action.

I now find myself on the other end of the phone. I now have to watch as some of my dearest friends sit in a room and have the air sucked out for that painful second by that one horrible word I've heard so many times over the last year. Having been down that same road magnifies the pain I feel for them. To know their thoughts and that fear of the unknown makes my heart break even harder. It makes me angry. I can't get angry over my own experience, yet theirs almost sends me into a rage.

And yet here I sit, at a complete loss for the intimate words I want to give them. My mind is running but my mouth won't move. Of all people, I now know how powerful it can to reach out with the smallest gesture. Simple words and quiet actions go so much farther during periods of disbelief. I tell you so you can know for the next time.

A handful of words or a silent act of love will radiate brighter than you can imagine.


Merry Christmas from the Family

We are soaking in so much of this holiday season and grateful to be where we are in our journey. I am thrilled and blessed and openly welcome the chaos that only Christmas will little kids can bring. I will bask in that magical twinkle in their eyes come Christmas morning and know that these are the memories that last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas from me and all my boys.


Christmas Card Rejects

Time for the annual "Christmas Card Rejects."

A collection of photos that were good, but not that good.

Or good, but didn't fit with the cropping and cutting and editing I was doing while designing the family Christmas card. So in Hollywood speak, they ended up on the cutting room floor.

Last year there were no rejects. Last year were were just happy to have one casual family photo where I wasn't in bed doped up on narcotics. But this year life couldn't be more normal and we were on a mission to celebrate it.


A Year Later

This year, Thanksgiving Eve started the perpetual chain of thoughts in my head that were almost always prefaced with "This time last year..."

On that fateful afternoon, I was praying there would be a bathroom in the lobby as I walked in for my first colonoscopy. Pleased I had survived the car ride without a cold sweat or sheer panic, my biggest concern at that moment was finding the bathroom, not finding out I had cancer. How naive I was to it all. I think back and want to slap my silly little self who didn't seem to have a care in the world.

It was amazing how quickly I threw all rules of female bathroom protocol out the window when I had an entire bottle of Miralax sitting in my intestines.

As hard as it is for men to fathom, there are unspoken social mores for ladies and our public bathroom habits. A colon prep makes most of those very hard to abide by. But considering I was walking into a public bathroom adjacent to a gastroenterology office and a room full of fellow colonoscopy preppers, I knew it might be OK to throw caution out the window. Or down the toilet in this case.

And then December 5th arrived.

This time last year, I held my hand slightly over my left hip bone and knew that for only a few hours more I was holding on to cancer. My hand was no more than an inch away from touching evil. Two weeks prior, I would have never in my wildest dreams guessed this would be me.

So yesterday marked my "cancerversary." My official anniversary for being cancer-free.

"Cancer-free" is a relatively ambiguous term at the moment, since I'm not really sure if I'm cancer-free or not. It's like I'm living in cancer purgatory, which is a blast.

On the up side, I can say that I am one year down and have four more to go before I can call myself cured.

On the down side, every time I climb on the treadmill, I have to wonder if every mile I ask of my lungs will be worth it in a couple of months when I climb back on the table for another CT scan.

But life can't stop, I can't stop and nothing can be put on hold in the event of or just in case. Even if, I still have to make the most of every normal day because I CAN. And today will be no different. I'll get on the treadmill and pull inspiration from last year, when I couldn't even make it past the first 10 minutes of Bridesmaids because it hurt too much to laugh.

And later tonight, when the kids are fighting, the baby is screaming and Merrick is begging me to come into the bathroom while he poops so he can recite every line from The Polar Express book, I'll think back fondly to a year ago when I was alone in a quiet room, napping when I wished, the television to myself and heavy narcotics running though my veins.