Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Irrational Fear

My mind has been a bit preoccupied with fear lately. Perhaps it has to do with the looming date with a surgeon to remove another cancerous part of my colon that is hanging over my head, a date that has not yet been set, for various reasons mostly having to do with doctors who don't seem to see any need to rush getting my records over to MD Anderson.

I've got some smart people affirming my courage and my braveness. But still, I was newly challenged by this quote from one of my Facebook blogging friends:
"Look. It is blowing my mind how afraid women are of apparently everything these days. Ladies! Listen to me! One of the most powerful things you can do right now to change the world is STOP BEING AFRAID." --Lois Johnson
After reading the quote, I put my phone down and went outside to see this guy hanging around. I immediately went back into the house to retrieve my camera and very bravely stood under the spider and his prey to take pictures while the words STOP BEING AFRAID reverberated in my ears!

One of my biggest fears before the last colon cancer surgery (in 2011) was the tube that was going to be coming from my stomach and up out of my mouth. I fretted anxiously over that silly tube until a very good friend finally said something on the order of "Listen, the tube is not your enemy. The cancer is your enemy." I did finally put that concern out of my mind. The crazy thing was that I was so out of it after the surgery that I was never really consciously aware of the tube! It wasn't totally an irrational fear, but it was a fear on which I spent way too much time and energy, considering the other things I was facing.

So, I don't know. Somehow the spider became a messenger who "spoke" to me of fear and the crazy ways we sometimes handle fear.

There was a spider web above the picnic table. There was a large spider in the web and an even larger grasshopper in the web with the spider.

The spider scared me. Knowing he was hanging there above my head scared me. I was afraid of accidentally getting caught in the web as I walked outside. It was an irrational fear—the web was ten feet above the ground. I am barely five feet three inches tall. But, hey, who says all fear is rational? 

My husband asked if I wanted him to knock the spider web down. With a little hesitation, I said, “I guess so” and so he did. Is this not often the tactic we use with the objects of our fear? We take it down, we stomp it, we get it before it gets us. And some of us cower down and slink off to another spot, which is what I was quite prepared to do had my helpful “Mr. Fix-it” husband not intervened.

Yes, I know sometimes those tactics are necessary. Evil is real and there are plenty of legitimate things to fear in this world. But—a spider? Well, yeah, there are some spiders to be feared but I don’t think this one was poisonous.

I thought of an essay I’d read where a woman saw a spider in her bathroom, attempted to eradicate him, failed to do so, and eventually made her peace with the spider as she became aware of their shared energy.

“Did you kill that spider?” That’s what I asked my husband after I remembered the essay and began to think again about how we are all connected and interdependent, about the whole huge, beautiful (corny, cheesy) circle of life in which we are all ensnared.

It’s true—death is a part of life. And there are real dangers in life that stir legitimate fear. But how often do we mistake legitimate fear for irrational fear, and what irreversible damage do we do in reacting to an irrational fear?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Random Thoughts on Grieving Openly

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
     the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
     to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
     the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
     the small round coins
          thrown by those who wished for something else.
  -- David Whyte
      from Where Many Rivers Meet
      ©2007 Many Rivers Press

This is why I post on Facebook and write on my blog about my grief. There is often something to be gained from going downward into the black water of grief. I suspect I have friends, and maybe even family, who worry about me when I am so openly expressing my grief, that maybe they think I have no comfort for my loss. That's simply not true. I am comforted even as I experience and acknowledge my loss.

There are so many happy stories that I have remembered, so many times when we have laughed as a family at some of the things we remember. But we are here, and he is not, and in spite of my comfort and my ability to revel in the memories, the hole in my heart is still here.

I've said it before and I say it again, the very landscape of my life was inescapably altered when I lost my son. I am sad, I am happy, I am comforted, I am hurting. I walk in darkness, I walk in light. My son is gone, my son is in my heart.

I will not run from that well of grief. I will not stand at the edge of the well, and refuse to dip into the dark water.

September 22, 2014

He was born on September 22, 1987. I was on bed rest for a couple of months before that. They put me in the hospital a few days before he arrived. The night before I was to be induced, there was something a little different about the way I felt. It was supper time. I debated whether or not to mention anything about how I was feeling. I told the nurse, missed out on supper, and delivered my boy sometime around 9:30 that night.

He was a chunky little baby and he was a clinger. He would wrap my hair around his fingers and hold on tightly. We were tight. He grew into a serious, tall and thin man with the prettiest hands and the longest fingers (and toes).

He had a tender heart and a sensitive nature. There were many times when I could have pinched his little/big head off. He tried my patience and he taught me so very much about love in the too-short time that he was here with me/us.

He would have been 27 years old today.

How I wish I could hug him once more, and hear him say "Mama" in the way that he did. I can still almost hear his voice in my head.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I Grew A Tumor

After much strife, I received the results from my colonoscopy. The nurse from that doctor's office kept making missteps in her communications with me. She never had all her information ready when she called, she told me things that weren't accurate, she called on Wednesday after I had the procedure on Monday and told me to schedule the procedures. On that day, she told me I probably wouldn't get my results until this week, and she explained perfectly reasonable reasons why that would be. But then she called last Friday, and left a message asking me to call her, that it was about my results. Thirty minutes later I tried to return her call and could not get through to anyone. I finally called the number you use to make appointments and left a message there. 

On Monday morning, she called me, all bright and cheery, wanting to know how she could help me! I told her I had been returning her call on Friday and proceeded to tell her all about how thoughtless it was to call me and leave a message knowing I would not be able to get back in touch with her. It was a hot mess! She kept making excuses and explaining things. Finally I just told her "let's just drop all this and you tell me what I need to know."

She began fumbling around and said she had to find the results and did I want her to call me back. I told her no, that since we were connected, I would wait, if she thought she could get herself together and give me the information. She responded by telling me, "Okay, I'll call you back" and she hung up!

When she called back, she informed me that the tumor is malignant. My regular doctor had called late Friday afternoon and told me most of what was going on, so I wasn't surprised by the nurse's news, though I was still peeved at her for hanging up on me earlier when I had clearly said I wanted to wait while she got herself together.

Anyway, the gist of it is that he took out two precancerous polyps and discovered a tumor where my upper and lower colon join together. I did blood work this morning and I will soon be drinking a delicious berry barium smoothie in preparation for a cat scan tomorrow morning (Wednesday).

I have decided I am going to MD Anderson in Houston this time around, mostly in hopes that they can do laparoscopic surgery to remove the tumor. I worry about my stomach muscles and about scar tissue. But of course, I will go with whatever is best for my situation.

And so the next chapter begins. . .

Monday, September 15, 2014

Throwed Off

Several years back, I participated in a writing group where we were given a quote prompt, and we were to write about the first memory that came to our mind after reading the quote. Mostly, the point was to write early memories, and to write them like we were there, in the moment of the memory, without worrying too much about grammar and spelling. I miss that group. 

Anyway, my current (and forever) bloggy friends writing group tries to do prompts fairly regularly, and this time around, the prompt is "throwed off." I remembered this little story and it is my contribution to the prompt. I can't guarantee that I haven't already posted the story on this blog. The poem is extra, and is also about the land and the woods.
The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences….
One of the roots of mental illness is invariably an interlocking system of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves.
Scott Peck
The Road Less Traveled

Tree Riding

We are walking in the woods after lunch. My grandfather always seems particularly pleased when we do this. Sometimes, just the men get to go on these walks. When we ask where they are going, they always say they are going to see a man about a dog. But today, all of us are going--Mom and Dad, Paw-Paw and Granny, Linda and Timmy.  Granny is finishing up in the kitchen and then we can leave.

Sometimes we go and check the hog pens to see if there are hogs in the trap. Most every time we check the fox feeder to put corn out or to see if they have eaten the corn that was left for them. Paw-Paw always has something going on out in the woods. He loves the woods. He will usually point out tracks in the sand for us to see. Fox tracks, rabbit tracks, dog tracks, deer tracks, hog tracks, all kinds of tracks. He can’t see that well, but he can see those tracks.

Once he cut a branch off a dogwood tree and told me if I would scrape the bark away, the branch would turn pure white, just like it had been bleached. I saved it and took it home and scraped the bark away and sure enough, it is pure white, pure white.

Today the grown-ups are talking about the corner lines and about the old spring that used to be back by the creek. Paw-Paw keeps that cleared away so the water will continue to flow. I can’t quite understand their fascination with the spring. It’s just an old hole with water constantly coming out of the ground, like a house that never gets clean, it is always muddy around there.

I don’t understand the fascination with the corner markers either. We are walking through briars now, getting all scratched up. Mama and Granny, who are in their dresses, are stepping high to avoid getting their legs all scratched up. When we finally get to the corner marker, all it is is a concrete stick poking up out of the ground. But the adults all know where these markers are, and they stand around talking about who owns the property that meets up at this marker.

There are also stories told about how you can follow the road and cross the creek “back there” and end up at Aunt Ella’s house. Thankfully, we are not going that way today. We are turning around and heading back to the house. As usually happens on these walks, they are all telling stories now.

Daddy starts talking about how they used to bend a young sapling down and get on it like horse and then let it go and they would “ride” the sapling. That sounds like so much fun! I’m asking if I can do that and the grown-ups are all acting like they are not sure I can. I am wondering now if Daddy made this story up or what. Finally, after my persistent begging (I can be very persuasive, this I already know about myself), Daddy and Paw-Paw are looking for a suitable tree for me to ride.

They have found one now and both of them bend the tree over so I can get on it. I am so excited about getting to do this. I straddle across the tree and receive my last-minute instructions to hold on tight, no matter what. I can’t wait for them to let go of this tree so that I can go flying through the air. I wonder what it is going to feel like…

Well, that was not what I expected to happen. I am on the ground with the wind knocked out of me. That has only happened to me one other time. I hate when that happens. The grown-ups are looking at me with concern and are trying to help me up. Someone is dusting off my back-side. What a stir I have caused!

After a few moments, my wits are recollected and I can now breathe normally again. We are heading back to the house now, and analyzing my failure to launch. It seems my biggest problem was that I forgot to hold on tight. When the tree went up, I went down and hit the ground, hard. I probably should have bent over closer to the trunk of the tree and hugged it harder than I did. I don’t much care what went wrong I don’t think I’ll ever want to try that again. 

SURVEYING THE LAND                                                            

Sitting on a stump by the rippling stream,
barely a foot wider than my stride.
Just enough to keep me from following the procession
led by the machete-wielding land surveyor, who whacks
his way through briar and thicket,
seeking the corner marker to our wood.

Were it not for the steady whack, whack, whack
of the machete and the warning caw of the crow,
I would be at peace, wooed by the shimmer of water
and the rustle of leaves, meditating on a quiet winter day.
Thoreau on his pond, Emerson in his woods. The surveyor works,
carving away a piece of me I still hold tightly in my heart.

When I was a child, my grandfather led the way on this land,
past the Artesian spring that bubbled from the ground
and on to the mound where arrowheads could be found,
stopping at each land marker as though they were sacred monuments,
testimony to places where God touched the earth,
setting boundaries to our own slice of Eden.

The sound of tree limbs being severed by a man
snatches me back to the present. Birds squawk
mournfully above my head, while the briar branch tears
flesh as I pull it idly through my hands. Looking down, I am surprised
to see blood marking the place where I released grandfather’s
memory and walked away empty handed, stripped
of land that meant so much to us both.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


The weirdest thing happened with the road photo I posted in my last blog post! First of all, I added a small sliver of text from a Mary Oliver poem, "Today". See the poem below.

Here are the pictures I did....

I can't decide which one I like best, the faded text or the darker text. But all of that is not important to the story I am trying to tell.

On Facebook, I accidentally posted the photo with the faded text in the comments section of a friend's post, on her page! The photo didn't show up on my page and I had no idea what had happened until I got a noticed that someone I do not know had "liked" my photo (in my defense, I was doing all this on my phone, which can be tricky)! I figured out what happened when I clicked on the notice and was taken back to my friend's page.

To my surprise, the person had posted a comment about this being a road from her dream 30 or so years ago!

I told her I had not intended to post it there, told her the road was in Kisatchie Forest, and hashtagged it as #oldladytechissues! She wrote back to say thank you for my old lady tech issues! I mentioned how Jung would have said it was a case of synchronicity and she agreed and said it meant a lot to her. 

Is that not the weirdest, most delightful thing??!! 

Here is the complete poem:


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. 

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple. 

~Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Sort of Familiar Road

How I love these red dirt roads and tall pines. But this familiar road is not the road I am writing about today. And I am not exactly writing in a straight line here. I'm going round in circles.

After about a four month hiatus, I went back to yoga and exercise class today. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I did not expect it to be such an emotional experience. There was something about being back in touch with my body through movement. We sort of hadn't been in touch for a while.

When I was exercising regularly, and eating better, I was grateful for my body, grateful I could move, grateful for how good it felt to move.

Maybe I let my body down when I “fell off the wagon” of exercise and healthier eating habits.

Yoga is all about body awareness. 

In yoga class, when I was doing extended child pose, I noticed a twinge on my right side. I remembered I’d occasionally felt that same twinge when I was doing yoga four months ago. I wonder now if my body was trying to tell me something and I was too dull to get the message.

My body has let me down. I had to go early for my regularly scheduled colonoscopy (October), and I had to have an upper scope, too, because I was anemic, or low on iron, or both. They found a tumor, on my colon, or in my colon. Somewhere. The doctor seemed shook up. He said he couldn’t find my appendix, he took lots of pictures, and he’d never seen anything like that before. We are not sure what all that meant. Maybe it’s just that the scientist part of him was excited to see something he’d never seen before. I’m hoping so.

In body sculpting class, which was brutal, because I’d not been doing any kind of exercise (well, it was always brutal, even when I was exercising regularly), I wondered why I was putting forth the effort if I am going to have to have yet another invasive surgery. I may back off from that class and pick back up with my walking instead. The walking seems to benefit me more mentally, anyway, and that’s what I think I need right now, more than anything, among other things, of course. :)

Anyway, yeah, I’m waiting for biopsy results. The doctor did say it had to come out, that part is a given.What "it" actually is, is the unknown. 

In the meantime, I am trying to surround myself with positive thoughts, and peace and calm. I’m also working very, very hard on not “researching” anything on Google. I am a firm believer in staying calm until I have a reason to panic.

I would so appreciate your prayers and positive thoughts.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Marking Time: One Thousand Days

We had him in a place he did not want to be. He was marking his time.

It was the place, the first of several, where the man who I thought surely was a real live angel looked me in the eye and said "You're not alone" and he told the boy who marked this time, "You are in a safe place."

And now there is a grieving man, the father, who continues the marking of time with a new number every single day in his journal. One Thousand Days. That's what today is, the one thousandth day. I told him it sounds like the title of a book. He reminded me of the book about John Kennedy (A Thousand Days).

I was curious. I asked him what he did. Did he write it out in a complete and painful sentence, "This is day number eight hundred and whatever" until finally, the thousandth day arrived? He said he just numbers the top corner of the page, each and every day. I've forgotten whether it was the left or the right corner, details sometimes get very important when you're grieving, I don't know exactly why.

I'm rather fascinated that my husband has kept track of this. I knew he was numbering the days early on (I only marked the months, and then the years, as they went by, clearly I am not one for such minute detail) but I did not know he was still keeping track.

I don't want anyone to misunderstand. Neither my husband or I are wallowing in the throes of grief all day, every day. But I do want it to be understood that losses like this stay with you forever. They change the very landscape of your life, they change the way you mark your time. When I write things like this, I am feeling my feelings, and I am choosing to share them with what I consider a trusted audience. Doing so helps me to remember the value and the love in my son's life. 

One Thousand Days, and still we grieve. In a thousand seemingly inconsequential ways, we grieve.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

Seeing Joy

Anne Lamott, in talking about writing being a bit like watching a Polaroid develop (where we don’t quite know how the picture is going to turn out), said this about a draft she had written:
My life has not been tragic by any means. I’ve experienced my share of tragedy, though, and have persevered through many trying circumstances by means of sheer effort. Joy is no small reward for the effort.

I often question myself as to why I spend so much of my time documenting my life in my journal, my calendar, my blog, and even in my “thangs” I create.

I have no formal degree, no earned title of importance. I don’t even have the capability to fully support myself I needed to. I have no credible way of proving my worth.

Too many times, I use that “lack” to beat myself up and I struggle with feelings of worthlessness.

This weekend I’ve spent some time going through my journal entries and writing a one or two word summary of each one. Looking through those words, I see there really is far more light than there is darkness.

This kind of documentation, which gives me a quick glance at the overall status of my life by capturing one or two word snippets of what I am writing about is extremely valuable to me. When I am lost in the darkness, which happens far more than I’d like to admit, when my mind tells me there is no hope and that I am a worthless piece of humanity, I can look back at my own documentation of my life and I can see the balance (and the tension) of both darkness and light in my life. I am forgetful and I need the reminders. 
The reminders help me pick up, once again, the strand of joy that runs though my life. They are signposts that help keep me from getting totally lost in the darkness.

These journal entries, these blog posts, the thangs, they are all also notes to/for my future self. I so often imagine such a bleak future for myself. If my future turns out better than expected, these notes will offer a bit of joy over how far I have come. If it were to all downhill, as I often expect, these notes might offer confirmation of how far I have come and encouragement to continue on the journey.