The Wolf at the Door

October 31

My husband receives a call from the doctor who has his biopsy results. The small lump at his jawline is not uncommon- the doctor has been optimistic- cavalier even- but it turns out that his is not benign at all. It is a rare cancer of the parotid gland.

We are about to find out that getting a cancer diagnosis causes one to enter the stages of grief. First stop: denial. How can this be? He is healthy. His medical reports have always been perfect. He is active, a young fifty-five and never felt better.

***

I’ve forgotten all about Halloween and now it’s getting dark, the time that little ones will start showing up at our door, looking for treats. We have no candy and are in no mood for visitors. We turn out most of the lights and sit in the near-dark living room, allowing this new reality to sit with usWe’ve kept the trick-or-treaters at bay, but we are not alone. There is a wolf at the door, and it is Cancer.

I call our daughters and deliver the news.

My husband is very concerned about disrupting mine and the girls’ lives. Always confident, capable and available, he feels he is failing us with this new and shocking title: cancer patient. Usually such a logical man, this makes little sense. Of course he did not choose this, no one does, and all we care about is him getting better. But the love and protection he has always given us, above and beyond what is expected, is one of the things I love about him. And now I want to protect him, to cure him, to save him. I am simultaneously aware of my inner strength and my mortal limitations.

November 8

It is our 31st wedding anniversary and also the day of my husband’s surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor as well as many lymph nodes in his neck. The doctors call it a neck dissection, but my husband prefers to call it a neck fillet. Even in his current state, he maintains a bit of his sense of humor. I am relieved. The past week has been emotionally rough to say the least, but we find reasons to laugh too.

November 22

We follow through on our plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at our home. It is a day of family and food and also of forgetting, for a few minutes at a time, that we are awaiting the next day’s pathology report.

November 24

We stop at the second floor of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We are fortunate to be just an hour drive away from such a reputable treatment center. We ride the elevator to the second floor. “Welcome to the land of the fucked”, my husband says as he looks around.

The oncologist is impeccably groomed and impossibly thin. He’s also friendly and kind but maintains the necessary level of detachment. He delivers the pathology report. It has been a successful surgery. No facial nerves were damaged. But cancer was found in one of the thirty-one lymph nodes that were removed. We discuss treatment options.

November 25

I gather books and food; I read and cook and freeze and clean. My husband makes calls and fills out paperwork. He deals with insurance details and prepares for his leave of absence from work. He is a pilot and I wonder if the radiation from the cockpit has contributed to this misfortune. Friendly skies my ass. I make a mental note to research this.

We update the people closest to us. We are grateful for their kindness, and for the resources that we have to get through this great challenge as best we can.

December 14

Treatment begins. There will be six weeks of daily radiotherapy and weekly chemotherapy. We have had every discussion, imagined every scenario, asked every question.

The technician brings me back to the room with my husband so I can see the radiotherapy equipment. They place the custom-made mask on his face and lay him down on the table. A giant machine looms above, like something out of Star Trek. The technician is explaining things to me, being both thoughtful and clinical, just like the oncologist. I glance over at the table again, at my husband strapped down now, and my eyes start to fill. I silently demand of myself not to cry before I look back at the man who has been giving me the low- down on radiation. I cannot make his job harder, I think. I cannot make any of this any harder.

December 25

Our daughters, sons-in-law and baby granddaughters are all gathered at our home. We are genuinely happy, our hearts full. My husband has a few days off from treatment, which feels like a gift.

January 1

One more month of treatment. It will get progressively more painful from here, affecting his teeth, his mouth, his swallowing. I was made for hard things, but watching a loved one suffer is not one of them. I want to curl up in the fetal position at the thought of his pain, but mostly because of the shadow of uncertainty that Cancer has cast upon his life. I gather my strength though, doing my best to stay in each moment. I recall words from Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now: “Whatever your present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”

Cancer arrived at the end of 2018, unannounced and unwelcome, an intruder in our lives. With all the love and strength and hope we can muster, along with all that modern medicine can offer, I believe we will send Cancer away. I picture my husband and myself, our amazing family, thoughtful friends, and the team of medical personnel, leaning on the door, all of us with all our might. We lock the door.

The new year brings healing, life, and glorious days. I will welcome those moments, those days, eagerly as if I had chosen them, and God knows I have.jonas-jacobsson-344604-unsplash

God, Are You My Mother?

If I were to look at my life through an old fashioned movie reel, there’d be two frames that’d stand out above all the rest, and in stark contrast to each other. The first frame would show the worst thing that ever happened to me: being torn from my mother at the age of four. The other frame would be the best thing: the day I met God.

I’ve written about the worst thing many times. My mother loss is the soul wound that I’ve tried to patch up, wanting to be whole with all my might. Page after page, I’ve been trying to piece myself back together. It is a labor of love, using whatever love I can muster up for myself. That I was taken from my mother, that is painful for people to read. But bad things happen and people believe it. It is true. My mother loved me. I loved her. She was good and I was told to believe she was bad. She was alive and I was expected to pretend she was dead.  It has been scary to tell my truth, but how could I not tell it?

But the good thing, the best day, the day that I became whole, well that has taken me over fifteen years to even contemplate writing about.  I recall that day with  just as much clarity as the worst day; so much clarity in fact that it is almost blinding to my senses when I recall it, even now.

Why didn’t I write about it sooner? For one thing, what if the telling makes it less real? What if I am giving something away that was meant only for me? But also, there is only so much I can expect people to believe.  It might sound unbelievable to some, especially those who don’t believe in miracles.

Which brings me back to God and the day I met Him. Or Her. Or perhaps more accurately, All That Is.  Creator.  Higher Self or Inner Being.   I am not a particularly religious person in the traditional sense. I don’t go to church. I’ve never read the bible. But when you think you’ve been broken, eventually you turn to God to fix you. I prayed, I meditated,  I did God my own way, which was privately, quietly, and with my whole heart.

Then one day God showed up like a Mother. I mean he showed up in a Very Big Way. I had gone to bed the night before distraught over something, the details of which are not important, but that had everything to do realizing I was not  yet whole. I felt desperate to be whole. Desperate. I could not undo the past. I could not fix myself. I had all the material things I needed, and I had true love in my life.  I also had my writing, my passions. But I still had that gaping hole where my wound was and that night I really felt it. That night, I lost hope that I could fix myself, so I turned it over to God. I turned my un-whole self over.  I recall that I  surrendered, completely and intentionally; I am talking Jesus take the wheel surrender. And then I fell asleep.

The next morning, well, how can I tell you about this? How do I frame it?  I was new.  Real.  Whole. And so very alive.  I remember it all so clearly, so I will tell it clearly too. There were five feelings, or knowings, – there were five things that I awoke to find myself being – without even trying. There were just these five ways of being that took me over. Nothing at all was new on the outside, but I was suddenly different on the inside.

Presence  I was completely in the moment. My mind was not on the past or the future. I remember the phone ringing and not wanting to answer it, because I absolutely did not want to be pulled out of the present moment. I was totally, completely, there, mind, body and spirit. Instead of overthinking, worrying, and analyzing, I was simply being. I spent much less time in my head, and more time in in my body where my heart dwelled, where my feelings could flow through me. Instead of thinking, thinking, thinking, I was living. Life was now.

Joy  I was completely satisfied with the moment. Whether I was doing a jigsaw puzzle with my children, or taking a walk alone, it was joyful. I had no craving, no desire for something different. I was enjoying life in the purest sense of the word.

Love  I was filled with love for myself and others. I was overflowing with love. I was love.

Self-Care  I recognized and met my own needs, moment by moment, simply, and directly. When I was hungry I ate. When I was full, I stopped.  When I was tired, I laid down.  I exercised moderately and without fanfare or much planning. I just did it.  And I accepted my body completely, knowing I was giving it whatever it needed, without obsessing or even thinking about it, really.

Belief  I knew that anything was possible. I had met God. God was within me.  My self-imposed limits vanished. I knew that the more I “let go”, and allowed myself to be guided into right action, the better chance of achieving whatever I wanted.
And that is it. That is all of what I felt, and all of what I became that day that I met God. I was living, not in my head, but in my Whole Self . I was whole and it felt amazing. But before I lead you astray, I must confess something.

This did not last.

IT lasted a few days, or a week at most. And they were the most glorious days. But slowly, my doubt came back. My distracted mind returned. I judged people again, including myself,  and I neglected my own care, or expected others to meet the needs that were mine to meet. Bit by bit, I gave my power away without meaning to. My ego woke back up.  I got busy and overwhelmed. I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t check in with my Self. I started to lose my way again.

 

But  the really good news is that I know what to strive for now: To be more present, to find joy in my life every single day, to love and care for myself and to find the best in others. To believe that all of this is possible. Every. Single. Day. 

My dreams are possible.

So are yours.  

 

I aim to feel this way every day now and I fall short, every single time, but sometimes I get close. And God always meets me in the middle.

 

Perhaps I was meant to tell you about the day I met God.

Maybe the story was never mine to keep.

It does not feel less real, now that I’ve given it away, now that I’ve told you about this.

It feels more real.

And I feel more real.

I am whole, just like you. I was all along. I’d just forgotten.

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Memoir Excerpt

This excerpt of my memoir-in-progress was published in Mothers Always Write this week.  I told this story at a Boston Moth live storytelling event and after taking first place, I went on to perform it at the Moth GrandSlam the following year. It is the story of reconnecting with my alienated mother. The Stranger I Call Mother

Parental Alienation is a form of pathology in which one parent alienates the child from the other parent, typically after a divorce. I have been writing and speaking on this topic as a way to spread awareness and education and to be a voice for the alienated child.

More information on Parental Alienation can be found here:  Dr. Craig Childress blog and here: Dr. Childress on Parental Alienation Dynamics