Monday, September 17, 2012


Today I was at my brother's house. I was searching for my husband and my son, who was pushing his little lawnmower around the neighborhood. As I turned a corner and looked up I saw this little piece of land.

It stopped me in my tracks. It felt like it was three years ago. It felt like heaven. This little spot is where this picture was taken three years earlier.

As I stared at it I could feel us there, laughing, joking, so excited. It was more than feeling like it was just yesterday that the picture was taken. It felt like it was today, now. As if we were all there while simultaneously all being where we are now, three years later. That was a special day. Through a serious of random events and some tricky maneuvering we were able to get our entire family together for one hour. Just one hour. And we made sure to have a photographer there at the same time. This was no small feat given that at that time our family was stretched across two countries and four different states. It had been years since all the original siblings and my parents had been together. And since we had added new family members through marriage and birth since then in reality we had never all been together before. Part of the tricky maneuvering meant that I needed to leave work early. My sister came to pick me up and when we arrived at my brothers house the whole place let out a cheer. It wasn't for me, it was because I was last to arrive, and with that we were now complete. It was a happy, happy time. We were laughing and joking and for the most part completely carefree.

Looking back on that picture now I know that cancer was already in my sister. That it had already spread from her breast to her lungs, her liver and her bones. But on that warm summer day we didn't have any idea. And we were happy. So happy.

It was hard for me to leave that place. Three years later it still seemed so close. And I knew that it really wasn't. That things were so different now. I longed to live in that day forever and I felt that as long as I stayed looking at that little piece of ground it might just be possible.

Back at the house I found this.

That little beauty on my sisters lap is my new daughter. She didn't exist three years ago on that warm summer day. Neither did her big brother. As I watched my sister rock her (eventually sound asleep) I realized that life is hard and scary and sad. But it is also still beautiful.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dancing In The Rain

Today is my Birthday. Normally I love my birthday. I stay up until 1:52 am, the time I was born, reminiscing about my life and especially the last year. But this year I can't shake the feeling of melancholy. I don't even want to. The melancholy is appropriate given the events of the last two weeks.

Three years ago I celebrated my Birthday in India with a team of volunteers that I barely knew. Unbeknownst to me back home my boyfriend was planning a marriage proposal. And my sister was being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. I returned home from India a week later and within 12 hours I was engaged. Thirty minutes later, after a phone call from my brother telling me the news of my sister, I couldn't stop crying.

In the last three years I got married and had two babies. I couldn't be happier about this. Today I took the day off of work because all I wanted to do for my Birthday was take my kids to story time at the local library and spend every minute of the day with them. Throughout the day I would stare at them and marvel about their beauty and my good fortune to be their mama. But just as the events of my engagement paralleled  my sister's diagnosis my feelings of joy for my kids was paralleled with feelings of sorrow. My sister's willpower turned a 6 month prognosis into three years. Three years ago today. She is amazing. Ten days ago she called me from the hospital crying. She had an allergic reaction to the chemo. An experimental one. Basically the last one they had left to try. The doctors were running out of options. She was running out of energy. And she was ready to come home. It's a surreal feeling buy tickets to fly out immediately to meet your sister in a hospital room and sit by her side as they talk about comfort care. To sit by her as she puts her finances in order. As she packs her house up. As she says good bye to her grand kids. As she leaves it all behind to come home. To die. Feelings of melancholy are appropriate for this situation. Just as feelings of joy are appropriate for moments with my kids. Both appropriate. So opposite each other. Both constant feelings that I feel simultaneously. And I don't know how to do this.

Nine days ago I spent the day at my brother's house sharing the news of my sister with family members and making arrangements to bring her home. It was a day full of tears. Lots and lots of tears. As I drove home, my heart so heavy I felt I couldn't bear it, it occurred to me that someone somewhere was getting married. And babies were being born. It felt impossible to think that happy feelings could coexist in the world when my sorrow was so great. It seemed to me that it would be more appropriate if each day was designated for different emotions and experiences. The world would have sad days, and happy days, and boring days, and working days. And everyone would experience emotions together. That to me seemed more appropriate. But I know that is not how the world is designed. And because my own sorrow is so consuming I just can't understand why not.  And if I can't find room for other people to feel happiness, how can I find room for myself to feel it?

It is 5 days since I started writing this post. I couldn't finish it, because I didn't have an answer. Five days later I'm not sure an answer exists. I thought about it a lot. Constantly actually. They say that the bad times make the good times sweeter. That you appreciate the happy because you have known the sad. But I can't make that work in this situation. I don't appreciate my kids more because my sister is dying. I appreciate them because they are. And I don't laugh at jokes more easily because the funny contrasts the sad. I don't appreciate the jokes at all right now. I decided that there was no resolution to this dilemma and so I would do the only thing I knew to do - just make peace with it. Accept that their is no answer and do the best I can. Yesterday I went to church and couldn't focus on the person speaking. I decided to read notes I had written from previous meetings instead. One that I read  reminded me of the saying "Life is not about avoiding the storms, but about learning to dance in the rain". I loved that saying from the moment I heard it. I have always tried to be positive and make the best of a bad situation. I thought that was what this quote was all about. But when your sister is dying you don't feel like being positive, no matter what a positive person you are. Not all dances are happy ones. Sometimes it is a slow dance, when you sit with your sister as she packs up all she can fit in a moving truck and gives the rest away. When she watches all that she has worked  for be divided up, given away, thrown away or packed into the back of a moving truck. Sometimes its the Cha Cha when you tell an addict that you love him and hope he will someday choose life over his addiction and in the meantime you are choosing to free yourself from the bondage that his addiction holds on you. Sometimes it is a two-step as you share your sorrow with a loved one and wipe each others tears. Sometimes it is a waltz when you do a good dead for someone else in an effort to relieve someone's suffering, anyone's suffering, because you desperately need to know that it is possible for someone else if not for yourself. And sometimes it is just a gentle sway as you cry yourself to sleep when the storm seems too hard to dance in for one more minute. Dancing in life is not always about disco and polka. As long as there is some sort of movement with any sort of rhythm you are dancing. And it is not always about being positive, or making the most of a bad situation.

Dancing in the rain means that you just keep moving. Sometimes the dancing is just about making it through.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Little Nest

Last night I was awakened by fighting outside our bedroom window. I don't mean fighting like yelling about hurt feelings. I mean fight like the F-bomb being thrown around with punches and talk of being jumped and having bloody faces. And I think I heard something about a knife. I immediately dialed 911 and then ran around the house trying to close all the windows and shut out the noise. I accidentally caught an actual glimpse of the fighting and that image has been haunting me for 8 hours now.

I don't like fighting. In school when everyone else was running to the front of the circle to see the fight I was running to the principals office, or the nearest teacher, or whoever I thought could make it stop first. I don't like action movies. In a car crash scene in the movies I can't just focus on the cinematography or the narrow escape of the hero. I think about the people in those cars, and the injuries they sustain, and the families left behind. I don't like the thought of people being hurt. Ever. In any way. At all. So I don't watch action films. And rarely the news.

I am not immune to the fact that bad things happen. I am a social worker. At a children's hospital. I think that could be part of why I am so sensitive. I already see so much "sad", I don't want to expose myself to any more of it. Which made the sound of the fight drifting into my own bedroom, my own house where my babies are sleeping so upsetting. I felt so vulnerable. I wanted to shout to them that the police were coming to make it stop. But I didn't want to risk my own safety. Or that of my own babies. I hate that the world can be such a hard place sometime.

After I finished what I can agree was not a very calm and polite conversation with the 911 operator I turned on the radio to shut out the noise and watched until I actually saw the police car drive by to assure me I was safe. Then I went to each of my babies' beds and stroked their heads, grateful that they slept through the noise and were seemingly unaware that anything had happened.

After I spent some time reading and unwinding I laid down in bed and thought about my little home. And the big world around it. I have always believed that while I cannot protect my kids from the world at large that I could keep my own little nest safe from harm. Now I am wondering: Can I? It is such a dreadful thought. Such a vulnerable feeling. I couldn't handle that thought on top of everything else so I did what I do at those moments. I prayed. And as I was praying for all the children everywhere, and some specifically, and vowing that I would never intentionally hurt another one of God's children I drifted to sleep. And when I woke up my baby was cooing. My toddler was giggling. The world seemed happy. The night seemed surreal. My husband didn't mention it, reinforcing the question of its reality. And the day went on.

My little babies. My little nest. Placed in such a big world.