Today’s Gift

black-eyed susans

Today was a day of a roller coaster of emotions, not unlike a lot of days recently. The first emotion that came to mind this morning was stress. It was community meal day, and the idea of being the person in charge of getting 80 people fed their evening meal in less than 12hrs just gets me stressed out – no matter how much time I’ve spent planning, emailing, calling, confirming, etc etc. (I co-ordinate a meal held at a local church once a month for people in our community who either need help making ends meet or need a social outlet or both. We usually feed about 50-65 people; but occasionally we’ve had up to 80 show up, so I try to be prepared for that number.)

And so as I found myself mixing up 9lbs of hamburger, 9 diced onions and other various ingredients to make sloppy joes, the second strong emotion of the morning hit. I realized 3 months ago – April 28th – was the day my sister-in-law took her life. That day should have gone a lot like today would go – double checking lists, packing the car, food preparation at home, more food preparation at the church, serving the meal at 5:30p, coming home and crashing. Three months ago, April 28th was a Thursday, and I was in charge of the community meal to be held that evening. Instead at 6:19a we got the phone call from my mother-in-law, and the rest of the day is – well – it’s indescribable. But the realization of the significance of today sent me back, reliving those moments of pure shock and unimaginable grief for part of this morning.

zinniaBut just so you know that my days are not all grief-stricken, you need to hear about the moment late this morning when I realized that my clematis was blooming – oh happy day! Now you need to know the background story about this particular plant in order to understand my joy. My husband will tell you the fastest way to kill a plant is to give it to me in a pot. Seriously, it’s a fine mixture of over watering and negligence on my part, but I’m generally 100% lethal with a potted plant. When my florist-neighbor asked me to water her plants while they were away on vacation recently, Daniel told me I better have a couple sessions from the master on the fine art of watering plants before she left. Luckily I only had to water 2 days and the majority of the plants were in the ground, which I’m somewhat competent at watering. See picture of zinnia as proof.

So when my small group gave us a clematis in bloom as a care-gift after Alicia’s death, I was excited but nervous at the prospect of taking care of this plant until it was in the ground. I had been admiring other clematises this spring; and upon bringing the gifted-plant home, I found out Daniel was pretty excited about it too. We set to work thinking of a place to plant it, but that was about as far as we got due to not having an obvious space for it since it needs a trellis and also due to the craziness of life at that point. I watered it as often as I remembered, but eventually it totally dried up along with 2 other potted plants on the porch. When I reported the death of the clematis to Daniel, he was very disappointed – ok, he was mad. Maybe he just needed something to be mad at that day – there seems to be a lot of that in our house recently on both our parts; but he was upset and rightly so to a certain extent. I don’t know what made me do it, but I tried watering it again for a couple of days – even though there wasn’t a speck of green on the entire plant. Low and behold after time, one lone green shoot emerged from the soil and acted like it wanted to climb something. I guess that was enough motivation for us to finally come up with a planting spot.

clematisSo I planted it and have been watering it since while the green leaves keep coming. (The lone shoot which I thought was a new clematis vine turned out to actually be a weed, but at least it got us where we needed to go.) I’ve been looking at other clematises and am pretty sure most of them have been done blooming for about a month now. But when I went out to water mine today, this is what I found.

One single bloom in honor of Alicia. Maybe the whole plant will bloom again due to the drought I put it through earlier. Maybe it’s coincidence that we happen to see this sign of hope and beauty today of all days. Maybe it’s from Alicia telling us not to forget her. Whatever it is, it is my gift today. And it brings me some sense of peace to know that even out of death – out of the brown, dried-up-ness of life – can come something else, something besides just sorrow and agony. And perhaps – just by chance – with a little love, a little caring, and a “little” watering of tears will come something beautiful too.

border daisies

Breathe in, Breathe out

I scan the email. I probably shouldn’t be doing this now. I have a ton of other stuff that needs done tonight… if the news is bad, it’ll all fall apart. I’ll fall apart. I continue scanning anyway – not really reading the words, but looking for numbers. THE number. I find it. It’s not good. Shock rolls over me in waves, again and again – almost as fresh and new as it was the first time around. It takes a minute, but the tears that I haven’t had the time to cry recently come out in tidal waves and my stomach plummets. I find myself literally holding my breath and remind myself to exhale. ”Why God?,” I ask for the ten billionth time. “Why her? Pick me instead!” I command the Almighty over and over as I try to comprehend the rest of the email. When I’m finished reading, my movements about the kitchen are so slow it’s painful to watch myself. I mechanically fill the dishwasher and put together Daniel’s lunch for tomorrow, opening the refrigerator several times not really knowing what I’m in search of, all the while tears blur my vision – something I’ve grown used to over the past 7 months. Grief – my old friend – I haven’t missed you. You’ve been too close at hand recently. I begin to mentally cross off things on my to-do list which I know will not get done because of this new information to process and because I will once again realize that it doesn’t matter if my green beans get replanted or if my flower bed gets weeded or if I’m the one who brings the “awesome-est” home cooked dish to the family reunion. It’s relationships that count. It’s reading the extra book to my children or spending part of the morning chatting with my brother-in-law. However, I can’t cross off all my responsibility and the thought of me co-ordinating the community meal that feeds 80 people next Thursday is next to impossible to fathom at the moment, along with packing for 2 vacations that are coming up in August. “How will all of this get done?” I desperately wonder. Breathe in, breathe out, I tell myself.

My Sister and I at LAM Convention - 2011
My Sister and I at LAMposium - 2011

My sister had an appointment today with her pulmonologist. I didn’t realize the significance I had been putting on this day until the release of my emotion at the end of it. I guess subconsciously I’ve been waiting for the appointment since the day my sister was diagnosed as having moderate-severe LAM, a degenerative lung disease. At that point, 2 questions became central in my mind concerning her health: 1. How can this be stopped? 2. How quickly is her LAM progressing? The answer to the first question is experimental at best. Researchers have recently finished testing a drug that showed some hope of slowing the progression of the disease. But the long-term effects and sustainability of being on the drug are unknown. Lung transplant is the only other treatment. The second question would be answered more fully by today’s appointment. The pulmonologist’s findings this morning was that my sister’s rate of decline of lung capacity over the past 7 months was almost triple the average rate for LAM patients. Triple.

This dramatic decline could possibly be due to her recent pregnancy and the estrogen surge that comes along with that. If that’s the case, then her diminishing lung capacity rate should correspond closer to average as her hormones balance out over the next several months. (It is thought that there is a connection between the presence of estrogen and the progression of the disease since LAM is a disease only occurring in women.) So now we will wait 6 more long months for another lung function test to determine if this truly is the rate of decline or if the current decline was so intense due to the hormonal surge of pregnancy.

I slowly come back to earth and begin to reign in my emotions gone wild. Through my mental fog, I try to remind myself that there is a lot of life to live in the next 6 months, and that I need to be thankful for every day, every breath. For the moment, I will rest on my sister’s last sentence from her email as I think back over the past 7 months during which time I’ve experienced the loss of one sister and hang in limbo watching another fight for her life. She wrote these words tonight after informing us of the news from the pulmonologist -” We are putting our trust in Him and taking one day at a time.”

God, give me strength to get through this one day – there’s less than an hour left to it. Hopefully I can make it. Breath in, Breathe out.

(This entry was written on July 18th, but I wasn’t able to share it until today. My reaction to  the news was so strong it was hard for even me to process. I can’t explain my feelings. But they are what they are, and they are mine. Thank you for allowing me to share with you.)