Thursday, April 23, 2015

waiting for the sound of the whistle

We stood at the deep end of the pool, off to the side, shivering as we heard the instructions for our last  class test.  It was a junior lifesaving swim class.  I don't recall how old I was, only how terrified I felt inside.

Our instructor, had just hurled a block of black rubber, (maybe 10 lbs?) down into the 12 foot depths of the deep end of the pool.  Our task, was to get in, swim down, and then somehow, pick it up, and bring it to the top of the water, then thrust it up over our heads.

Even our instructor looked dubious this day, at my friend, Rebekah and I, (the only two girls in the class) and our scrawny little bodies, how would we manage this task?  The boys had completed and passed the test on another day.

So our teacher said, we just needed to figure it out.  She kept shaking her head, questioning how this made sense.  If we failed this test, even though we passed every other test, we'd fail the class. 

So she said we could try and try, until somehow, we figured it out.

I just remember standing there, shaking.  I was relieved it was cold, and no one would wonder about the shivering.  Because the shaking?  Was pure nerves.

I think I dove into the water the first few times.  But I was so buoyant, I couldn't get past a mid-level range of depth before I'd be forced back up, despite my attempts to claw myself back down.  But the pressure was squeezing so tightly around my lungs, I felt like I was suffocating, my thirst for air so strong.  I had to fight against my natural inclinations to breathe, in order to keep going down.  Rebekah, was no different.

Finally, I just decided to jump in.  And somehow, the idea of propulsion kicked in.  

We both began jumping in and instinctively threw our arms over our heads, and pointed our toes straight down, in awe of how much more quickly we could get down.

Rebekah finally exclaimed she'd found the bottom, on the last try.  Now where was the brick? 

We were growing exhausted by now, nearly half the class time had passed.

How on earth would we now find and grab that brick, and get it to the top, before running out of air?

Somehow, despite our nerves, we kept jumping in.  A small crowd of swimmers and instructors gathered around.  

Eventually we found the brick with our feet.

And then.  

Rebekah grabbed the block.  And kicked and kicked with her legs.  Once, then again, dropping it to the bottom, having to come up for air. Would she ever get it all the way up?  

Would I? 

  Suddenly,  Rebekah's head finally broke the surface of the water- and she still held the brick!   Could this be it?  While she couldn't hoist the block above her head like the boys had- a small glimpse of a corner of the block was seen coming out of the water as Rebekah's head started going back under… oh no… don't let her drop the brick!

But she held on, persevering, despite the odds.  And it was all it took for the instructor to blow her whistle signaling Rebekah had passed the test.

As she swam over to the edge, completely out of breath, getting helped out of the pool to go and lie down, her sides heaving… I stood alone at the edge of the pool, summoning every last shred of strength I could muster to try again.

All these years later, I've found myself staring up from the bottom of the deep end of the pool  in wonderment once again.

How am I going to do this?

The brain MRI shows 2 tumors, both growing.  

One has been treated with radiation before.  Is it really growing?  Or could it be necrosis- or tissue dying that we really see?  Its impossible to tell on a scan.

The suggestion for my next step?

To meet with a neurosurgeon.

Brain surgery.

Just one option to consider.  Others have been presented too.  But its too overwhelming to think of too much for now. 

So, I'm standing here again, looking up from the depths of the pool wondering how on earth I am going to hoist that big, black, block, up out of the water, so that I can breathe free again.

Because I'm shaking again, and  and I have to somehow summon the courage to face the smothering and murky deep end all over again.  

And yet… all those years ago...

With all eyes on me,  I jumped again.  This part had grown easy.  Then suddenly, I felt the block with my toes and managed to kick it up with my feet.  As the end came up, I leaned down a bit, and grabbed it between my hands.  

I kicked and kicked.  The air squeezed out of my lungs as I climbed through the blackish-blue depths of the pool.  

And then… as the water turned bluer, and the light started to stream in… my head burst out of the water, as the brick stayed in my grasp between my knees. 

But no matter how much I kicked and gasped and struggled, I couldn't for the life of me hoist the brick.   

On the verge of defeat, all I recall, is that I simply leaned my head back, arched my back, and by some miracle I'll never quite understand, the brick arched through the water with me, just long enough for the instructor to see.  As my head plunged backward through the water, it was the sound of the whistle that day, that was my saving grace.  

I'm still making it through my days, but at times I feel a far off look grow upon my face.  I'm straining, listening, longing- for the sound of the whistle blowing one more time. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"This much I know is true…"

April 15, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

"Trust Me, and don't be afraid.  Many things feel out of control.  Your routines are not running smoothly.  You tend to feel more secure when your life is predictable.  Let Me Lead you to the rock that is higher than you and your circumstances.  Take refuge in the shelter of My wings, where you are absolutely secure…"

My phone lays quietly, often in some remote spot I left it in.  No need to hover anymore for her call.  Mom's call.  It would come at 10, then 3, and then 9 pm when I was readying for bed.  I startle now, when the phone rings.  My heart leaps for a brief instant, and then I pause, realizing I no longer have any idea who it might be.  

Its so quiet.  How do you fill the silence? And that space.  That "Mary Ann," shaped space in my life that refuses to fill right now, with anything else.  

I numbly stumble my way into Dr. Panwalkar's exam room on Tuesday.  When he asks how I am, I blankly answer, "Okay, I'm okay."  

He pauses, searching my face for clues.  "Why just okay?"

The tears rimming my eyes, threaten to slip, as my voice hushes and I barely squeak out a reply "My mom died a week ago."  

We sit in silence a moment or two.

Dr. P's face registers compassion, and understanding.  As usual, his understatement speaks volumes to me.

"I'm sorry."  

But I already feel it, hovering in the space between us.  

And really?  I'm still in that haze of grief and loss and what just happened to us?  

Suddenly, I see we've moved on as I shift my focus again.

But when we go over the PET scan?  And he shows the 3 tumors that have grown?  

"Oh well,"  I think.  Because I can't multiply sadness any longer.  I just can't add more + more + more.

The news barely registers.

At the end of our conversation, I remind Dr. Panwalkar its been 4 years.  He smiles, in acknowledgement.  

Then says, "You are a trooper," while shaking his head.

And I tell him, I am lucky, and beyond grateful, and have a deep desire to keep going on.

He walks me to infusion and as he reaches over to side hug me- I reach my arm back around his side and hug him right back.  

Even though I have no earthly idea how I am going to do this.

This much I know is true.

I deeply desire moving forward.

Today, I am going to have my brain MRI with sedation.  I am bringing you all with, to pray over.  

I'll be back with results soon.

I also long to come back and share about my mom's funeral.  

Her dollar story.

The word "come," and my Uncle Ernie.

And the gem of a quote my mother wrote on a small square of paper she carried with her.

It lightens my heart to come here and share.  This is one way, I know, will help me find my way back from the grief filled haze that obscures my days right now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Our Mom...

"Just as hope rings through laughter, it can also shine through tears."

The day before mom's party, (Saturday, April 4th) mom grew less present with us.  Sleeping more, eyes closed, working harder to just breathe in and out.  

We simply decided to leave her in her room, resting in bed, during the party.

We had a steady stream of people for her party.  They all so bravely came down to her room, and spoke to her, even though her eyes barely fluttered.  There was much laughter, with tears sprinkled in.  So many wonderful stories shared about our mom.  She'd still raise her eyebrows, or smile at mention of someone's name on occasion.  She was clearly taking it all in, as were we.  I didn't even manage to reach for my camera.

All 3 of mom's sisters were there.  So many of her nieces and nephews had come.  Neighbors and friends from years back.  Concordia College faculty and staff filled the unit.  A card even arrived, from the President of the College.  

Dr. Jalil, mom's liver specialist, arrived with this beautiful gerbera daisy.  It was his first time visiting the Palliative Care Unit, and he was noticing the tranquility he felt.  He had been so instrumental in getting mom into the unit, without even having been there.  I only hope more doctors will visit the unit and get to know what a true gem it is.  

He somewhat, apologetically said, "I thought she had longer, two maybe, three weeks."  But I assured him, we treasured any time we had with her, and nobody really knows when.   Its clearly not in our hands."

Sunday, I awoke to an early phone call from her nurse.  Mom's breathing had grown more shallow, perhaps I would like to come in and sit with her?

Lee and I both spent Easter Day with mom.  With lots of visits and support from our family, we watched over mom.   She seemed to be less comfortable and worked to position her in ways that may help.  More pain meds were delivered and yet all we could do was watch as she struggled to take in air.  

It was hard to leave her that night.  I longed to stay, as much as I needed to go.  

I spent extra time, brushing her hair.  Moisturizing her lips, her face.  Holding her hand, and whispering to her how she was loved.  Treasured.  Cherished.

My phone was silent all night.  My mind, prepared for the possibility of a call.

Yesterday, I arrived mid-morning.  

Mom labored, so, with her breathing.  Her chest, shoulders, and neck, askew, working so hard to bring in air.  I noticed a new noise to her exhale.  The pale enshrouding her face.  The positioning, again, of her head and neck at awkward angles.  And yet, the reassurance by nursing staff, that all was a natural part of the process.

So Lee and I, sat, watching, each breath, each sigh, each little thing.

She no longer responded to our words.  

Sometime, yesterday morning, I felt an energy in my chest.  Something shifted.  The air changed.  As I went out to get a drink of water, then returned, the sight of my mom stirred me.

It felt to me as though her spirit had already left.  While we still had no idea if she had mere hours left, or days, I sensed her journey moving forward.

Her sister, Marlene came.  We sat sharing stories about Mom.  About Grandma, and Grandpa, and their passing.  About her first husband Emery, and then our Dad,  and so many others who had gone before us.

And ever so slowly, mom's breathing slowed.  Our voices grew softer, as her breathing grew quieter.  

We filled the in- between minutes with chatter, 


It was Marny's voice that sing-songed through the air…

"Mary Ann, do you hear me?"  You can leave.  Time to go, Mary."  

And we chuckled, at the sight and sound of the older sister, doing what she had done since childhood.

She got up and leaned over the bed, peering into mother's face.  She kissed her cheek and told she was loved.  Then sat down.

It felt like mere minutes, as Marny and Lee sat across from me talking.

But, I noticed the lapses between mom's breathing.  Longer and longer till she breathed again.

I stood, noticing how still and quiet it had become.  Marny and Lee were right there with me.  We surround the bed, searching for signs, searching each other's faces, while stroking her hair, her cheeks, just her.  

Each breath now,  a mere sip of air.  

We all three spoke our love to her, and then, it happened.

The slightest smile alighted on mom's lips, as Marny proclaimed,

"You see the pearly gates, don't you Mary?"

The smile lingered a second.

And then it was gone.

And so was she.

Shortly before 5 pm yesterday, our sweet mother, Mary Ann, went Home to be with Jesus.

We are both joyously celebrating her entry into her eternal life, and deeply saddened by our lives going on, without her lively spirit in our midst.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”  Rumi

Today, as I downloaded a couple of quick snaps from my phone- this vision caught my eye.

Do you see it?  The reflection in the window?  

I have to tell you, I believe.  And I felt it, and now, I feel as though I see it too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

side by side, roots and wings- plus an invitation

"Side by side, heart to heart, we will always be connected in our traveling journey.  Remember your roots, and trust your wings."  Kelly Rae Roberts

The room streamed warmth and sunlight as soon as we entered it last Friday at noon.  Mom was quickly hugged by the Resident, Dr. Harmon, who helped get mom into the Palliative Care Unit.  They chatted in earnest as we went through the admission process.

Visitors showed up almost right away.  Mom chose sitting in the recliner, covered in her warm blue sherpa blanket we bought for her long ago.  

Mom's sense of humor is as quick and sharp as ever.  Her spirit remains strong, her outlook positive, her love pouring forth from every interaction.

The loving care she receives is exceptional.  Its been a long time since I've seen my mom so rested and peaceful.  The quiet and calm, everywhere, do much to foster the tranquil environment.

My brother, surprised mom, showing up in her room on Saturday.  The sheer delight and joy on her face was a moment we'll never forget.

Lee and I have been busy, spending time with mom, and making plans for one big wish she'd like to fulfill.  

She would turn 80 in October, and had dreams for a big celebration.  Dr. Harmon so astutely said, "So why wait?  Lets celebrate now!"

So if you are a friend of my mom's or a family member that would like to come celebrate- we would love to have you!  

The gift of your "presence" is most welcome.

(please no gifts) 

This Saturday, April 4th.

From 2-4 pm- open house style.

We will have coffee and Mom's favorite treats lovingly baked and furnished by Concordia.

Sanford Hospital, Palliative Care Unit, on University in Fargo.

Take elevator B to the 5th floor, and we'll be in the Family Room directly across from the Elevator, with Mom.

Will you come help us celebrate her life?

We're simply following His plans, day by day, leaning on Him, as our Dear Mom continues her journey to her Eternal Home.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

I am~

My arm bling, is bringing me such joy.  I trace over the words trying to imprint them on my brain, when I'm struggling to hold tight.  This was a dear and thoughtful friend who gave me a beautiful card and remembered I had turned 4 years in living with cancer. That shouts "blessing," bigger than anything right now.

A jar of beautifully hand-folded stars, shining bright with affirmations on them.  These came from a friend in Texas and she had them sent from an Etsy store named SistaLuna.  Worth checking out!

The devoted hockey moms behind this rapidly rising brand of hockey everything- TeagsandRy- gifted me with this bag.  Its light, yet durable.  Has pockets for water bottles, change for the concession stand and lots of mittens, hats, and scarves.  Its the perfect bag for any busy hockey mom!  You have to check out their adorable site!  TeagsandRy

When I received a message from a friend wondering if my mom would like some flowers?  Naturally, I said yes, knowing my mom.  She is such a caretaker to plants and flowers.  The bigger surprise came with a knock at MY door.  Flowers were gifted to myself as well.  

I'm searching for the rest.  Struggling with the words.  Needing the time to soak in His tender mercies.  To feel His Grace wash over me, again and again.

I'll be back as time allows, and words pour forth. 

I'd be so honored to pray for you, as you all have done for me and mine.  Please leave a comment or message me if you desire to be added to my list.  

~All shall be well~ 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

our nolan

He crawls onto his Dad's side of the bed and lays down next to me.  He sighs.  I quickly hit the pause button on the tv, not wanting to overstimulate him.  I watch the rise and fall of his chest as his eyes glisten with tears.  I fold my fingers over his hand, softly, murmuring, "oh buddy…"  He grips back, hard, strong.  A man's hands, with a young boy's heart. 

How was it that just hours earlier, we had arisen with hope on the horizon?   He had done better on the computerized concussion test, the night before.  He was showing some symptoms, but so many seemed better.  This day he would physically get to ride the exercise bike, and push his heart rate up, to see how he would do.  

Then he finished school, and waited for his Dad to come.  They would hear the results offered by the Concussion Specialist, the Dr. at the Orthopedic Clinic, overseeing Nolan's care.  

How do you prepare for that news?  Where the rug feels like its being ripped out from underneath you, and you reel back, not sure you are hearing what is said.  Based on some of the previous test results, some further testing was indicated. So when asked to close his eyes and balance on his feet, Nolan wobbled right away, as they suspected.  His eyes fluttered and couldn't stay still.  Almost instantly he was dizzy, and had a headache.  

When asked to follow a finger slowly moving in front of him, Nolan's eyes shifted up and down, twitching and unable to focus with any coordination.  It was all, everyone involved, needed to see.

Even Nolan.

He was unable to perform, the most basic tasks.  

He was told he had to go back to shut down mode.  Quiet, dark rooms.  No computers, no phones, no tv.  Limited school.  Nothing- which meant everything all at once.

Because it meant,  no hockey.  And hockey is everything to this man-sized boy. 

Oh my hockey-mom heart was broken for this boy. 

Our puck-moving, ice-loving, team- belonging, goal-scoring, State- Champion-dreaming, hockey-loving, son, has played his last game of his Moorhead Youth Hockey Career.

He may at least be able to attend and watch the VFW State Tournament games with his team mates this weekend, from the bench,  but we will have to monitor him for symptoms of too much stimulation.  His brain simply can't filter out noise, lights, and sensory input in general.  

We will re-test next week.  


We're trying to build him up.  To piece him together.  To help him move forward.  

I go down to his darkened and unusually quiet room.  His head is throbbing again, and we're waiting for the acetaminophen to kick into action.  I rub his temple, watching again as his chest rises and falls.  

"Just believe, Nolan," I whisper, "Just keep believing."  

I lean in and kiss his chiseled and stubble-filled cheek, as he drifts off to sleep. 

Thanks to sweet Angie, and Robynn, my "word" embraces my life everyday. (Just a couple of blessings to come our way… more soon.) 

And in case, I needed a boost- Robynn added in a helping of "Grace," for good measure.

We're so thankful for all of you!  

Monday, March 23, 2015

4 years… and updates

Superman and I escaped for an hour in Duluth, with the sun shining bright and the boys busy with their friends.  We simply went for a drive.  Rick googled and found the name of a park- Enger Park- that was close by.

The light was bouncing off everything, surrounding us with warmth and beauty.  Everywhere our eyes sought out, seemed to be cast with a golden glow.

Enger Park is the home to an observation tower that overlooks the city of Duluth,  as well as Lake Superior.  

Up we climbed.  Stopping to soak in the golden hues already lowering in the sky.

People were quietly traipsing about, going in and out of the tower.

The concrete staircase was in the middle, with each level having places to sneak a peek.

And this is what awaited us at the very top…  my camera may have been tilted just a tad, but what I love is that it looks like the curve of the earth, in the photo below.  Could the sky be any bluer?

Here is the draw bridge below, and areas where the the ice has been broken and it won't be long and ships will be moving through once again.

A peek out the back of the tower which overlooks a golf course.

The lake view through the front.

One last look back, as we descended the hill out of the park.

As we drove down the hill from the park, I squealed when I saw this next structure looming in front of us.  This was just one of the hotels we stayed at over the course of our honeymoon- almost 18 years ago.  

I sometimes feel, like God, puts these reminders in my path and helps me conjure up memories of what has stood the test of time- like Superman, love, and our marriage.  

Speaking of still standing...

As much time as I spent at the hospital with mom last week, when our book club found a night we could all meet last week, I knew how much my spirits would lift being around these beautiful women.  Impulsively, I lifted my glass and said I had just passed a milestone worth mentioning.  

March 16th, 2011 was the date of my breast cancer diagnosis.  We had book club just the night before my appointment. 

Last Monday, marked my 4th year of living with cancer.

So many have continued to walk with me, all 4 years, like these special friends.  We lived fully this night, and I am one blessed woman.

I've always thought that reaching a million views on my blog, was like a fantasy dream.  But suddenly, I am well over half way to that reality.  Want to help me achieve another goal?  Visit away! 

Its still the "little" things that add up to the biggest joys.  

Mom is settled back into room 212 at Bethany on University.  I finally crumbled on Saturday.  My body simply unable to tolerate much food, my legs cramping, and the rest of me just worn out.

It was Rick and my Uncle Bill and Aunt Carol, along with my cousin Pam who saved the day for us.  They fully moved mom out of her apartment in the basic care side and moved her all the way in to the skilled nursing side.

We took pizza over to her last night and Colton entertained with his new card tricks.  

Mom ate a little.  Talked a little.  But she has a new look in her eyes.  A far away look, that goes right past the grandchildren, right above my shoulder, and seemingly penetrates the brick wall, in a dreamy way.  

We talked about celebrating her 80th birthday earlier than October 21, her actual birthdate, with a big party, sometime this spring.

But as Rick so poignantly said last night, "the time to celebrate your mom, seems to be right now, in this moment, today."  

Thank you to all who have done exactly that- the love is streaming throughout her room.  

I have received some lovely and encouraging gifts in the mail, and on my doorstep.  Thank you!  
 Nolan's re-test for his concussion looms later today.  Infusion tomorrow.  I will be back with more as soon as I can… 

Live your moments.  Live them full. 

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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