Friday, December 29, 2017

On This Day.....

I woke up at 4:30 that morning. It didn’t seem strange to be up that early, I hadn’t been sleeping soundly for weeks. I headed for the dining room to check on Jillian and Steve.  Her bed had been moved downstairs, making getting around more manageable with Jillian’s wheelchair.

Oh…..Steve and I made quite the team! We had a routine that worked very well for us. I would stand behind the wheelchair to hold it steady, Steve would wrap his arms around Jillian’s chest, lift her up, while I’d quickly pull the wheelchair out of the way. He would then pivot her to the couch, or where ever we needed to go., and as Steve gently lowered  her down, I would lift her legs and get her into a comfortable position. Whew! We made it. And this went on throughout the day.

At night we used a monitor so I could hear Steve if he needed help during the night. Looking back, I really am amazed at how well we worked together. Jillian made it easy. She never complained.

Jillian’s breathing had changed the past couple of days. Slower, less breaths in between. It was frightening in a way. Unsettling. Maybe because I was hoping for that miracle.  But any change meant change.

I made myself a cup of coffee and walked outside to sit on the stairs of the back deck. It had snowed the night before. I sat down on the step, not feeling the cold through my pants.  It was so quiet.  Just sitting. Listening. Praying.

I heard the owl that morning, I knew there was some meaning behind the haunting call it made, but I didn’t know what it meant. But I do know there was some significance in hearing the owl during the weeks prior to that early December morning. When the owl was silent, I went back inside.

As if in slow motion, with no real thought, I drew a bath for myself. I wasn’t cold. I’m not sure why I felt the need to take a bath so early that morning.

After I was finished getting dressed and ready for the day, I headed back to the dining room and sat with Jillian. I listened to her breathing. It was different. I knew this morning was different.

I kissed her chubby cheek. I caressed her face. I ran my fingers through her hair. I held her hand and memorized every single detail. She had beautiful hands, long strong fingers. Beautiful, memorable hands. I couldn’t stop touching her. I wanted to fuse my life into hers.  My precious daughter- I would gladly have given my own life for hers. But it didn’t work out that way.

Jillian’s last breaths are forever branded into my soul. I hear them when I lay my head down at night. Five years later, I hear her last breaths. She has fused her life into mine.

So, as I look back and remember that last morning, Jillian’s last day on earth, I contemplate what I’ve learned since that day:
  • Grief has no rules, no boundary’s, and will last a lifetime.
  • You are not alone. But in the end, you do grieve alone. You do it your own way. And that’s perfect for you.
  • Do the work. If you have a Jillian day, embrace it.
  • Never listen to what others try and tell you when it comes to how you should be feeling, when you should be feeling or what you should be doing. It’s not about them. It’s about you.

  • You are not the same person. That’s okay. You will learn to accept this new person and love her/him. And so will everyone else. Be true to your new self.
  • Love on your loved ones.
  • Grab your puppies.
  • Get a chicken.
  • Run.
  • Love wins. It forever wins.
  • And always remember… Psalms 46-10 “Be Still and Know that I am God”.
 In loving memory of our beloved Jillian Marie Hayes Wagner-09/24/1989-12/29/2012

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Smell the Stupid Roses.....

I’ve heard it said many times over the years, “Cancer changes you”. I’ve always believed that statement to be true, but what I didn’t realize was that the changes aren’t always so wonderful.

I’ve often heard people say, “Cancer doesn’t define me”. I wonder, what does that mean? In one fell swoop, hearing the Dr. tell Jillian, “ You have melanoma”, has defined my whole world! It sure has defined me. Nothing is the same. Nothing.

I think about Jillian throughout the day, every single day. I cry sitting at my desk at work some days when a random memory skitters across my heart. Not a sob, just tears running down my face with a lump in my throat. I can usually take the memory, give it a kiss, and safely tuck it away for when I can really examine it. And then I go about my day.

But that underlying sadness is always there. Yes, I have memories. Many, many, wonderful memories. But somehow, it doesn’t feel finished.
The memories are not enough and I want more. There goes that lump again. Damn.

I have very little tolerance for people with their judgement's and grudges these days. That is one of the not so great changes cancer has left in its wake. I just have no patience for that nonsense.  Figure out your stuff and fix it.

If you could take yourself to the ocean, or in my case, Lake Michigan, and just be still. Sit on the beach (with sunscreen of course), and let the sounds and smells seep into your being, lulling you into a sense of peace. Go to the place of wonder where the vastness of our beautiful world reminds you that we are so insignificant and small in comparison. Nature has always done that for me. It brings me to God. In the end, that is the only thing that really works for me. “Be still and know that I Am God”.

I look at my life, the plans I had, and I can hardly believe this is where I am today. It’s almost like I’m reading someone’s story other than my own. This stuff just doesn’t happen, or if it does, most certainly not to me. So surreal. But I am making my own story too, in a sense. It’s not all out of my control. I can control how I live through it, how I react to it. How I grow through it. And I’m okay with all that. I really am okay.

Although cancer has made some negative changes in me, it has given me a new set of eyes that come with a deeper understanding than I’ve ever had before. A deeper appreciation for my children, and their mates. For my grandchildren. For all of my family, and Steve’s family. For my friends. I appreciate all of you, and how you’ve stood by me and loved me when I’m not so loveable.

I love you. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May-Melanoma Awareness Month 2017

I’m a blogger. So I guess I’ll blog.

May is Melanoma Awareness Month. We are on Day 3. For quite some time, I’ve been trying to limit my activity on social media. When Jillian first died, I was a mad woman trying to promote awareness to this horrific disease. Billboards everywhere, TV interviews, calls and emails with people touched in some way by melanoma….I couldn’t stop. I had to share what I knew, I had to keep Jillian’s name alive. I was horrified by the thought that she would be forgotten. I did not want another family to experience the searing grief that we do.

I began to realize that all of this activity was hurting me. I would scroll through Facebook and read the stories. Stories of young children fighting for their lives. KIDS! Stories about young wives and husbands trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after their spouse has died. How do they deal with the aftermath? How can they possibly explain this to their young children? “Daddy is in Heaven, sweetheart”. “Mommy loved you so much, she’ll be watching over you and will always be with you”.  (I want them here with me!)

And then there are the young girls loving their tanning beds, showing off their Golden Glow. Getting their “base” tan. Soon after, having to hold their best friends hand as she explains she now has Melanoma Cancer.

And the photos of the scars. Some of them would literally turn my stomach and make me sick. So much mutilation.

But let’s not forget the people I have known and loved that have died from this disease. The Melanoma community is a tight knit group of individuals. We support each other, we share, we cry and we love. And when one of them dies, we all grieve. It brings back every single moment I experienced with Jillian. AND IT HURTS!!!

Mothers and Fathers who have lost their children to melanoma, swimming in grief. How does that work? I can safely say, not very well.
Parent's aren't supposed to bury their children.

And then, we have the dear friends that we have grown to know and love. Some we have even met in person. The ones whose melanoma has progressed. We stand by helplessly. We pray for them. I hate it.

It makes me angry when people know the dangers of the sun and tanning beds but they choose to go ahead and risk their lives in spite of the warnings. Even the people who knew Jillian personally. I wonder if they truly understand that they are not only hurting themselves, but they are hurting the ones that love them. The ones that depend on them. Good grief.

I cannot change the world. I can only change me and do what is right for me on this day. This moment. And it is always changing.

For this Melanoma Month of May, 2017, I will pull up my big girl pants and fight for you. I will continue to post information in the hopes that you listen. I will do this in spite of the pain it causes me. We all do in our grassroots community. I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. We do this for YOU. And for those that love you.

So, when you roll your eyes and move past these incessant melanoma awareness posts in your news feed this month, think about the intentions behind them. Perhaps we might just save a life. Maybe it’ll be yours.

Maybe mine.

~ Peace

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life Is Good.....

How many times do we think, “Where does the time go? My kids are growing up so fast"? And then we have grand kids….

 Throughout our lives we think we have all the time in the world. “When I get to be 80”, seems like a lifetime away. And before you know it our kids have grown up and left the house. They begin to have children of their own, and our parents are aging. And so are we! But it will be a another lifetime before we get to be that age, too. Won’t it?

Do you ever stop to think that this is how our parents and grandparents might be feeling right now? That they are nearing the end of what is their life. Of who they are, and what they know. That they realize they don’t have much time left and that isn’t really likely they will live another 10 years?

Many cling to their faith, and that is a wonderful, beautiful, essential thing. But they are human. They have fears too.

My prayer today is that I be mindful of the elderly people in my life. That I tell them often just how much I love them and how they continue to make an impact in my life. I want them to know how much they still contribute to my life and the lives of my family.  That they are cherished this Christmas season. And every season.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Through the Eyes of a Child.....

There is nothing like viewing the wonder of Christmas through a child’s eyes.

I was thinking about this last night as I’m snuggling with the pups, my Christmas tree being the only light in the room. It’s still dark, but the small white lights sparkle with a warm glow. I feel safe, warm and content. My thoughts begins to drift….

I know how commercialized Christmas has become. Christmas decorations have been on display in stores since October. Black Friday deals, Cyber Monday….buy, buy, buy. And then, buy some more!

I become annoyed with it all. I don’t want to step foot in a mall. The traffic and parking is horrendous. There are too many people everywhere, and most of them are moving too fast. I don’t want to put up the decorations this year. It’s too much work. It takes too long. Most of the kids will be elsewhere this year….why bother.

And then…..

I had a little helper this year. My sidekick, and precious granddaughter, Charlotte. One by one I haul out the Christmas boxes from the attic. I used to count the trips up and down those stairs (maybe one of the reasons I balked at the idea). But this year it wasn’t so bad. I had help with the boxes (Kaytie), and my walking/running with a wiggly puppy has made me stronger. Thank you, Oakley!

Charlotte and I worked on those decorations all day. She had free reign on where to put the Christmas Village and the Christmas Carolers (what are Carolers, Mimi?)

She helped put together the “Merry Christmas” blocks. She threw angel hair and snow where ever there was an open spot. Including the floor. We listened to “Holiday Station on Pandora- Christmas”. And one point we switched to Kid Bop and did the Whip and Nae Nae.

As I’m reflecting on the wonderful time we had last weekend and the memories that were made, I can’t help but be reminded of the JOY in Christmas. Even through all the commercial bull crap, it still gives us pause.

We don’t need to buy into all the hype and material things. But what I believe is important, is that we take the time to slow down. To be mindful of the blessings in our lives. To take a deep breath and remember that we are all here, and it is our job to connect with one another and to love.

And most of all, to give Praise to our Creator, who makes all things possible. It is my prayer that you are all able to see the Wonder and Magic of Christmas through the eyes of an innocent Child. And rejoice in it.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Wonder of it All....

The Holidays are such a special time filled with family, love, laughter. But for so many, this time of year brings sadness, fear, dread, anxiety.
I know for me, no matter how busy and hectic I try to keep myself, I can't hide from what I'm running from. She always finds me.
Be kind. Be loving. Be tolerant. Be an inspiration. Be a helper. Be nice. You may never know how your compassionate acts helped someone through a rough day.
It doesn't need to be more complicated than that.

 I wrote that post right before Thanksgiving. The evening of my Monday Meltdown Day. Before my Testy Tuesday. Because this time of year evokes so many emotions. By Wednesday I was grateful and joyous, because family was with me. But I’m still on a roller coaster. Thing is, I’ve learned to embrace the ride, and I don't make excuses for it. There are days when it takes everything in me to show up at that empty table. And then there are the days when I am bursting with thankfulness and awe. And joy. I would not miss a second of it.

 Today I saw Jillian. I saw her spirit in a vibrant man who is currently fighting melanoma with everything he has. His determination reminds me of Jillian’s motto, Fall Seven Times, Stand up Eight. What an inspiration and an example of the will to live.

The melanoma community is going through a rough spell right now as their melamates are dealing with some staggering blows. But the wonder is in realizing how someone’s journey, someone’s struggle, someone’s pain can somehow bring light for those immersed in darkness. We all need purpose. And we all need help at one time or another. Be that light. Be that beacon through the storm.

“Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life”?

-Mary Oliver

Make it count.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Girls On a Plane, and Bug....

Saying goodbye sucks. As I’m walking into the airport, my chest feels tight, the lump in my throat is making it hard for me to swallow. 

 It pains me to see my daughter, Jenni, cry. It torments me to see her hurting. We’ve been through a lot together the last 5 years, and I hate seeing her so vulnerable, while she tries to be so stinking brave.

 I make a bee-line for the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. I’m hoping I can stop the tears from leaking long enough to get through security.

After a long awaited trip to Florida to see Jenni and her boyfriend, Cody, I’m on my way back home. I’ve enjoyed the time I was able to spend with those two. I loved being able to share in their adventure, and I’m so proud of their independence. 

Leaving family and friends and moving to Florida for school hasn’t been easy for them, but they are making a life together and preparing for their future. It hasn’t been easy for me either. :) Did I mention how proud of them I am?

As I settle into my seat on the airplane, I look forward to reading a little, with the possibility of closing my eyes for a few minutes. The woman next to me asks if I have enough room, and begins to strike up a conversation. Ugh. I don’t feel like talking, I’m missing my daughter and the last thing I feel like doing is being pleasant to some stranger sitting next to me on a plane. 

I sigh and reconcile myself to small talk.

“How many children do you have?”, asks the woman on the plane.

This question comes often, and each time before I answer, I wonder what their response will be. 

Sometimes the reaction is shock, with a quick change of subject. Other times I’ll get some response with an, “at least she is no longer in pain”. Uh huh. Thanks.  

Even though I thought I’d stopped the tears earlier, they’re back in full force. I hate that!

But here they are, (surprise!)  tears rolling down my cheeks as I answer her question. 

“I have four children. Three here on Earth, and one in Heaven”.

The woman on the plane looks at me, touches my shoulder and responds, “I understand what you’re feeling. I’ve lost two children of my own”. Huh?

And we talked. I could feel the kinship. One that you can only feel with another mother who shares in the pain of losing a child. The grief, the devastation, the helplessness and the anger.

I immediately asked her about the children she lost. One child was a four year old little girl when she choked to death on a balloon. The other child was another daughter who died at the age of 50 of a heart attack. We talked about Jillian, but mostly we talked about her kids and her life. And it was good.

Jillian’s birthday is Saturday. She would have been 27 years old. I know I’ll never stop missing her or stop wishing that she were here with her family, sharing in our everyday lives.  Celebrating birthdays, Holidays, new nieces, marriages, accomplishments, new homes. Puppies. Stuff.

I also know that my life and those in it continue to be blessing to me.  I take time for my grief and doubt that will ever change.  I really don’t want it to either. I can lean into that.

But I rejoice in the life I have and the gifts in it. I never want to take those gifts for granted.

Even the gift of connecting with a woman on a plane.

I left my daughter, Jenni, in Florida. But she’s here, and we’ll get through this too. We're pretty awesome, like that. :)

In our one wild and beautiful life.

~  Peace

P.S- Cody- Give my girl some extra TLC, won’t ya? :)