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My husband and I are fast approaching our 20th anniversary – I look at my plates, my silverware; all those things that were a part of my bridal registry and cannot believe they are all 20 years old right now.

But my oldest wedding gift was one bought long before I ever married. It is a pair of candelabra my mother bought for me (and a pair for each of my two sisters) to be given to each of us at our wedding.

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I was 12 years old when she bought this wedding gift for me. She was three months away from dying. She knew she was dying and she knew she would never see her daughters marry. But she bought us each a present.

The plan, of course, was that my father would present the gift to us on our wedding day. But he, too, died before any of us married.

I brought out the candelabra last night – they had been packed away for many, many (too many) years. They are ornate and fancy. We are informal and casual. But I was thinking about my wedding anniversary and the many gifts we received and how much enjoyment we’ve gotten from them and I realized it was time to bring out the candelabra my mother had gotten for me. She was so very ill when she embarked on that particular shopping trip. I have no idea what she was thinking when she was looking through the silver section of Marshall Fields. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for my mother to go wedding-gift shopping for three small girls, the eldest being just 12, knowing that she would never see us grow up and marry.

There is so much emotional weight in that choice she made to purchase these gifts.

So last night, in celebration of my birthday, I put out the gift my mother had bought for me so many years ago, the wedding gift bought years before my wedding. It is a beautiful gift. Solid, strong, decorative. And when I light those candles, I think of my mother and how much she missed and how loss never leaves you. But the mementos stay and remind us of the love that went into the gifts we have received from those we’ve lost.

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In the early winter of 1918, after four years of a terrible war that destroyed much of Europe, the Allies and the Germans decided to stop hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

That they could be so poetic in their timing of the cessation of battle, after years of the brutality and horror brought by World War I, is astonishing.

The official end of World War I happened later, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919, but the day that marked the end of fighting was the day that President Wilson chose as Armistice Day, the national holiday to honor the soldiers who served in that war.

Of course, the “war to end all wars” did nothing of the kind. As time went on, we added more wars to history, more heroes to be mourned and remembered.

In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day into Veterans Day to honor the heroism of the veterans of all wars.

War Stories
My father was a veteran of the Korean War, the “forgotten war.” He was the kind of soldier who spoke very little about his experiences on the front line of battle. It really wasn’t until he drew near his own death that stories about his war-time experiences began to bubble up to the surface. The presentiment of his own mortality freed him up to talk about the deaths he witnessed in a distant land so many years before.

What I wish I’d known then: I wish I had known to ask more questions when he shared the bits and fragments of his war stories.

What I know now: the experiences of a soldier in war are incredible, painful, incomprehensible sometimes, yet we need to remember these stories; we need to know these stories; we need to hand them down to the next generation with the hope that in doing so, we are doing a small part to ensure that no one has to endure those experiences again.

Today We Remember
Today is the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Today is Veteran’s Day, the day we honor all the people who have risked – and continue to risk – their lives in battle to protect our rights as Americans. I am filled with gratitude for their sacrifices.

America was born of war and our soldiers are in war zones war today. The bones of our soldiers lie scattered throughout the world. Today, we remember the sacrifices, the valor and the stories of all the American men and women who have fought and died for our principles.

As a nation, we are forever in their debt.

Much has been said about Bill and Emma Keller’s very public war on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman blogging and tweeting about her life as a stage IV cancer patient. You can find Bill’s post here. Emma’s post caused enough of a stir that the Guardian took it down, but here’s a link to the cached version.

I read both Keller posts and think they’ve lost their minds. I don’t know where they’re coming from; I don’t know why this married couple decided to use their bully pulpits at two major newspapers (Emma at the Guardian; Bill at the New York Times) to bully a woman dealing with Stage IV cancer. I don’t know why Bill Keller didn’t report facts correctly. I don’t know why Emma did not reveal to Lisa that she was going to use private messages in her very public story.

I don’t know why it irks Emma Keller that Lisa is “dying out loud. On her blog, and, especially, on Twitter.” But certainly, it irked her enough to write a story about the wrongness of such a public discussion.

Emma wonders: “should there should be boundaries in an experience like this? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies? Why am I so obsessed?”

Maybe Emma is obsessed because she, herself, is a breast cancer survivor. She blogged about her double mastectomy in 2012 – just one post, and then no more. Maybe Emma realizes there’s an audience for a discussion of dealing with breast cancer treatment. And maybe, just maybe, this is a discussion that terrifies Emma, cancer survivor that she is, and so instead of looking away from the blogs and tweets, she attacks Lisa for writing about her struggles. I don’t know. All I know is that a cancer survivor’s attack on a Stage IV cancer patient for writing about being a Stage IV cancer patient reeks of irrationality and fear.

Bill, for some inexplicable reason, decided to follow up on his wife’s controversial post with one of his own in the New York Times. The “heroic measures” he thinks Lisa should take are to simply stop talking and die like his 79-year-old father-in-law did after being diagnosed with cancer. “He died gently,” Bill noted.

“In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”

But quite frankly, I don’t know why Bill thinks that Lisa Adams should emulate his 79-year-old father-in-law’s approach to cancer. Lisa is not just some elderly patient relentlessly pursuing hopeless and expensive treatments in search of just a few more days.

First, she’s not dying. She’s living with cancer. She’s getting palliative treatments to help her manage the pain of cancer.

And she’s not an old person at the end of a very long life. She’s young. And she’s a mother whose children are 15, 11 and 7.

And she’s blogged about how terrifying this is – to be a cancer patient who has children who are so young. Here’s a section from one of her poems about the nightmares cancer brings (I encourage you to read the entire poem, which you can find here:

I will be there, with them, but only in memories.
It will have to be enough.
But I know it won’t be.
After all,
This is what cancer nightmares are made of.
This is what grief does.
I cannot do more, be more, than I am right now.
But I can want more.
It is a parent’s prerogative.

I am greedy.

I make no apologies for wanting to see the things I want to see,
Wanting to share the things I want to share,
Wanting to live the life I want to live.

So I don’t know why Bill feels comparing the death of his 79-year old father-in-law is in any way remotely comparable to what Lisa Adams is going through. And I don’t know why the Kellers feel that enhancing the conversation about “end-of-life” heroic measures should be framed in dual attacks on a young mother dealing with cancer.

I come at this from the perspective of the someone who lost both parents to cancer by the time I was 22. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer when I was 12; she was 41. My father died of metastatic kidney cancer when I was 22; he was 54.

What I know from my experience – every day matters to a mother who is dealing with cancer. When my mother’s cancer came back, she was told she had just nine months to live. She lived 18 months instead. The doctors told us that her will to live was so strong because she did not want to leave us, her children. She wanted to stay with us as long as she could. And that will to live doubled her time with us. She got to see me win first place in a horse show; she got to see me with my braces off. She had nine more months to live with us than the doctors thought possible. And I appreciate those nine months, even as I mourn all the months lost since.

That’s why Lisa is doing what she SHOULD do – she should explore EVERY avenue available to her to stay alive. She’s not just doing this for herself. She’s doing this for her children. That’s what the Kellers don’t understand. And that’s why their columns are so stupidly misguided and offensive.

Been gone a while…

It’s been several years since I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve left the sippy cup stage of parenting – once, it seemed that sending children off to school would mean more time for me. How wrong I was!

I’ve also experienced massive life changes – a move from the Midwestern prairie where I’ve spent most of my life to the Blue Ridge mountains south of the Mason-Dixon line – from Chicagoland, the third largest metropolitan area in the country, to a rural mountain town in Appalachia. And my work has shifted from freelance writing for corporate clients to teaching (for now) at the college level.

But most importantly, I’ve pondered the ethical question of what to write about my children. How much of their lives can I claim for mine? How much of their lives should remain private? My oldest graduates from middle school this spring; my girls are in 4th grade. Life is swift and the moments with my children are precious. But how much of that do I publish to the world? It’s a dilemma…

In my next post, I look at an ethical dilemma of another kind…

…And it will make them happy?

Before answering that question, let me set the stage. My girls are at the beach with their 15 year old cousin. They’re having a fabulous time, until Lindsey cuts her foot somehow. Unlike most people, Lindsey has somehow figured out how to cut her foot on the top of a toe, not on the bottom of her foot. (My children have always shown immense creativity when it comes to injuries!)

Blood, water and sand made for a dramatic wound. The amount of blood left Lindsey in hysterics. My niece had her hands full, then she noticed Nora was on the verge of wailing herself. So my niece suggested that Nora head over to the nearby playground, to play, catch her breath, calm down, so that the lifeguard and my niece could tend to Lindsey.

Nora ran off for all of one minute. Then she raced back to her sister. “Lindsey!” she shouted. “Look – I have an inchworm to make you feel better!”

And it did.

So when faced with hysterics, find yourself an inchworm. It’s just the thing for calming down hysterical little girls. At least in my world, it is!

This is life…

I was on the phone the other day, talking with a friend of mine. My husband was out on a bike ride, so I was on the phone while alone in the house with children.

(Can you see where this is going?!)

I’m at the stage where chatting on the phone with friends is as rare in my life as large diamonds, but my friend and I were chatting about a dear friend who had died last weekend. We were both overwhelmed with the news and, frankly, we were both a little teary.

Clearly, this was an important conversation.

Then, suddenly, all hell starts breaking loose upstairs, where my children have been sent to get ready for bed.

It is difficult in my house for my children to get ready for bed without proper supervision. There are all sorts of battles that can erupt – over who gets the toothpaste first; who stands where at the sink; who gets to use the toilet first, etc. and so on.

From the sound of it, there was a major war going on upstairs. And I am rather irritated because I am alone without the hubby to help and I want to be talking on the phone with my friend about my dear friend and all hell is breaking loose and from the sound of it, if I don’t go upstairs to stop the war, there may be casualties.

Then my son comes down, giggling hysterically. “Mom,” he says, ” they’re fighting about who farted the loudest!”

My two six-year-old girls, dainty flowers that they are, were at war over the sounds of their farts. Not sure if the louder fart was the winner or loser in that battle, but there you go. A new battlefield had been established. And there was a sound and fury to the war that had grown exponentially in just moments.

I decided to plunge into the fray. I explained the situation to my friend, who was astonished to have our conversation about grief interrupted by a story about farts. I went up into the battle zone with the phone so she could hear.

When I entered the bedroom, it was obvious the battle had shifted from farts to beds. One girl had pulled down the covers of the other girl’s bed. Both were screeching at the top of their lungs.

I held the phone up so my friend could hear it all. And she heard my girls screeching the exact same thing to me. “Stop looking at me!” “Stop LOOKING at me!”

And because they are identical twins, the tone and sound of the statement sounded exactly the same – as if one person was fighting with herself.

My friend and I couldn’t help it. We both burst out laughing. And we both knew that our dear friend who died last weekend would have laughed the loudest. In this moment of grief and loss, laughter rang out, and I was reminded once again that life is complex. Emotional. Contradictory. Life is war and anger and love and grief in one room. And life is laughter. Never forget the laughter.

To be frank, I thought the idea of the “montessori graduation” to be a bit overwrought. Caps and gowns. Pomp and circumstance.

For people who were six years old.

I thought the woman in front of me was a tad overdramatic when she started tearing up before the ceremony started. A teacher darted in with a kleenex. It was all a bit sloppy.

Then the music started. Pomp and circumstance played by the music director, who is also our neighbor. The children walked down the aisle of the little church above the classrooms, dressed in their bright green caps and gowns.

And the tears started to flow! My tears! Cynical me, crying at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the montessori graduation.

What a shock!

Then I saw my girls.

And I was in awe.

They looked so big in their graduation gowns. They looked so beautiful. Their smiles were spectacular.

And thus the tears flowed some more.

“Mooooooooommmmm!” said my son. He was embarrassed by his mother’s tears, as boys usually are by such things. But not surprised at all. He knows me all too well.