Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I AM....

 As we begin to prepare for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, like so many holidays where the original meaning gets lost, I am grateful. I am grateful to be an American.

I’m not sure where this reflective person comes from sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more aware of the world around me. Maybe it’s all part of living and growing older. Maybe it’s menopause. But most likely it’s because I’ve learned how fleeting and precious life is, and how easily it can slip through our fingers without fully appreciating its textured value. Much like the warm sands of Lake Michigan, when summer turns in to fall.



It can be a challenge to be grateful for this great country when it seems that all we see is what we hear. The tickers flying across our screens displaying news headlines that may lead us to wondering, “What is happening in our world”?


                                                                                   
       I am free…
Our country is incredibly diverse. We come from all over the world, and with that we bring along different cultures, different religions, and we enjoy the freedom to celebrate them. I am allowed to practice my religion and attend the church of my choosing. I can marry who ever I want. I can choose to divorce, or I can choose to be single.




I have the privilege to work…
I have the opportunity to work where ever I want to. I have the freedom to support myself and to pass down that strong work ethic to my children. I have the freedom to pursue a higher education, to become a veterinarian, an owner of a restaurant, or a master gardener. We are the land of opportunity, and it is my firm belief that if we want it badly enough, we can succeed.

We're encouraged to express our opinions and to be our own individual…
We have the freedom of speech. We can express ourselves freely without censorship or persecution. I have my own blog, and I can write in the knowledge that I have that right. We each have our own religious opinions and political preferences. We have that right.

We are entrepreneurs…
We have the ability to be innovative and to exercise creative thinking.

We support one another….
I am proud of the way our country shows their support after devastating tragedy. This was evident with the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  


The Boston Marathon where two bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line.


And most recently, the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina




In spite of the controversy and tragedy that we have been historically involved in this past year, I am choosing to remember what my Independence means and why I am grateful. To have the privilege to be an American. And to be proud. Because, I am.




"My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! " ~Thomas Jefferson

~ Peace and love


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

May 2015, Melanoma Awareness Month: Because of You....

The billboards in Grand Rapids, Michigan went up today. The beautiful people on the billboards this time are those who have melanoma or have died from melanoma due to tanning bed use. One person in the US dies from melanoma each hour. Each hour! The pain and destruction this disease causes long after that person is no longer here is almost impossible to fathom. So many grieving families shattered by a disease that may have been prevented by staying away from a stupid tanning bed. I would give anything if I had known.

But I didn’t know, so now all that’s left is to try and share my experience with others, by tapping into that deep well of emotion, digging deeper and deeper, hoping that somehow I can explain this place I’m at. Exposing the things I try and shove down. To help someone who is really struggling with their situation. Whatever that may be. To know you aren’t alone in this.

There are things that may be helpful to keep in mind when someone you know has lost a child. Below is just a glimpse into the window of a grieving heart.



When you ask me how I’m doing, and I reply that I’m fine. I’m not. I lie to you. I’m not sure you can handle the real me. The real “me” died with a melanoma cancer diagnosis. I’m grieving the loss of innocence for the life I had planned. (I’m a planner so this is especially difficult). So I protect you, and I protect me.

Before Jillian died, I blogged about The Face of Melanoma, and how a person with Stage IV melanoma can look as if they are healthy. It is much the same with a person in mourning. They wake up, they go to work, participate in life. You probably wouldn’t know that they are bleeding inside. You can’t see it, unless we feel safe enough to tell you about it. But even then, we are very cautious with whom we share our “pearls”.

When we celebrate a holiday or a special event, there is always that empty spot at the table. Mother’s Day is coming up. A toughie, and the white elephant is lurking about. We will always grieve that empty spot, and wonder what this occasion be like if you were with us.

I think we need to slow down. Slow down and feel. Appreciate the ones that enter into our lives and get to know that person. They may be hurting in some way we can’t even imagine. Our life is a story. Who’s going to tell our stories once we are gone? How will the world know we were even here? Each of us has gifts that have been given to us. I believe we can all use those unique gifts to make a difference in this world. How can we help to make this one wild and beautiful life a better place? Only you know what that is for you. Oh, God. We have to make this count. Because we only get one chance at it.




As May, Melanoma Month approaches, many of my melanoma friends will be involved in projects sharing melanoma awareness. I’m excited to see what they have planned this year. We CAN make a difference. And because of you, and all of your generous donations toward the billboard, we are doing just that.

 It is my hope that this billboard catches a young person’s eye and gives them pause for thought.

In 2015, it is estimated that there will be 73,870 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 9,940 deaths from the disease.

Could this really happen to me? Yes. It most certainly can.

~Peace and love



Billboards will be displayed in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
April 27-May 31, 2015
I-196 .3 mi E/O Chicago Drive SS Facing East
US-131 .5 mi S/O West River Drive WS Facing North

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Not About Me...

The Big Guy on my shoulder is talking to me again. I’ve been hiding. I’ve been running. He always finds me.

An old story I read as a teenager comes to mind. As a child, I always had my nose in a book. Still do, actually. I don’t remember the name of this particular book, but it involved an injured dog.  The main characters of the story were fearful that their pet ran away from home, since they hadn’t seen their faithful friend for several days. I remember feeling a profound sense of loss as I was reading the story. I could relate, as I had experienced such sadness when my Bumpy run away from home. This story ended better than mine, however. The family finally found their beloved pet hiding under their front porch. The dog had been severely injured and was isolating himself as he healed.

I compare my partial withdraw from most things related to Melanoma to that long ago story. I’m healing, I’m processing. But you can’t run forever, Forrest. You can’t hide forever either. Life has a way of forcing itself on you, whether you’re ready for it or not. Some days I feel like I can tackle the world and dive in. Other days, I can only get my big toe wet.

With the month of May fast approaching, Melanoma Awareness Month, I feel like I’m being pushed closer and closer towards the water, and off my solitary island.  I’m afraid.

I see the stories of young children as they are battling this heinous disease. I feel the mothers pain as they try to be optimistic for their child and to be an anchor the rest of their family. Even when she feels like she can’t go on anymore, she does.

I see the pain of a brother or a sister as they try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after they bury their sibling.

I read about a mother and a father as they try to find some sort of joy left in their world after they lost their child. How do they go on? I don’t know.

I read about a mom that shares her daughters last day on earth with her own birthday. That one rocked me to the core.

The stories are endless. I shy away from them, the photos, the fear, the pain. I’m afraid if I get too involved, I’ll sink.

But then last Sunday, in church, I’m singing an old familiar hymn . I know this song and I sing it without reading the words. Instantly, I’m ten years old sitting between my parents on Easter Sunday. I’m proudly wearing my new dress, my shiny patent leather shoes, my hat with the pink ribbon. And my white gloves. I have the corsage on my left wrist that my Grandma gives us every year. I remember the excitement as I open the refrigerator that morning and I see the white box containing my lily. I can hear the paper crinkle as mom carefully takes out the flower and allows me to hold it. I’m a princess and God loves me. I knew it then, and I know it now.

I never in a million years would have imagined then, that I’d be clinging to that foundation of my youth today.

In that moment, while I’m reflecting on the Easters of my childhood, I am reminded once again of God’s promise. He isn’t going anywhere. He promised to be with me no matter what, and He keeps His promises over and over again. He won’t let me drown if I get more than my toe wet.

So though blind faith, I’m giving it a greater effort. I’ll wade a little deeper and trust that although I have no idea what I’m doing, He does. Deep breath. I’m planning to do another billboard for May. I know this will generate exposure to melanoma, and that is what I want. But I’m still afraid. I’m afraid of what may happen to the progress I’ve made so far. But it isn’t about me, is it?  

I don’t do this for me, I’m doing it for you.

I do it for those that have never had the hair stand straight up on the back of their necks when they find out from their doctor that their precious, vibrant child has melanoma.

I do it for the parents who realize that if they had only known about the dangers of tanning beds and laying out in the sun, they wouldn’t be taking trips to see their oncologist every three weeks.

I do it so a young person can finish college, start their career, get married and have a family.

I do it so a parent doesn’t have to bury their kid.

I’d like to have this billboard honor those that have melanoma or have died from melanoma as a result from tanning beds. I’ll need help through donations to get this up and running before May. If you are so inclined, please click the donate button on the blog. No amount is too small. We’ve done it before, we can do it again. I believe that. The cost of the billboard last year was 1600.00. Let’s do this. Together.

Thank you.

~Peace and so much love

   











Sunday, February 1, 2015

83 or 23, It sucks....

Cancer changes you. It not only changes you physically, it changes you emotionally. You don't take things for granted as you once did. You develop a sense of self, and of things so much larger than we can begin to comprehend. Some days we get glimpses into God's window. I love those days.

But death changes you even more. Jillian's death was the single most devastating event in my life. It knocked me out of the game, wounded and bloody. I'm still wobbly, but slowly I'm finding my legs again. Please don't have expectations of me. I never imagined that I'd have to fight for my grief. But I do, and I will. I have to say, I've found this road more complicated and full of potholes than the road I once traveled.


Through the changes wrought through Melanoma, I'm a completely different person. The melanoma community I'm involved with is embedded deep within my  heart. I'm not sure I've ever been around a group of people who embrace a person as fully and as fiercely as these people do. Through Jillian's journey I have been blessed to have met several of these people in person. I praise God for these beautiful, spectacular warriors. These are the people who know and understand. The people I trust with my heart.

By writing this blog, I hope that I can be the voice for some wounded soul traveling the same rugged terrain, and navigating over some of the same obstacles. And this brings me to my story.

Because of melanoma and Jillian's journey, I was reunited with an old friend. Tammy and I worked in the same restaurant many years ago. My first job at 16. When I made 1.67 an hour and was happy since it provided gas money. Where I wore a cowboy hat, Culottes, and life was mine. Tammy and I lost touch as we both grew up. She moved away, got married and had a family. Somehow she heard about Jillian's story and contacted me. Her father in law, Don Bidwell, was living with melanoma too.

Don was stolen from his family on January 9, 2015 at 9:43 a.m. He was 83 years old. One person in the US dies from Melanoma Cancer ever hour. That was Don's hour. And that hour begins one family's journey through loss, grief, laughter, tears and every other emotion you can experience attached to the Black roller coaster from hell.




Who was Don? Who was this man who lived his life on Earth among us? Every single soul has a story to tell. The unique story of their big, beautiful life and how that story keeps going on and on, connecting, moving, surging, as sure as the tide. That Force. That Being. That Soul, to be simply "Gone" is incomprehensible.


Don 



Don was born in Brooklyn and was raised in the hardscrabble streets. His father died when he was in his teens, leaving him to care for his mother. A Brooklyn boy knowing what it means to step up and take responsibility.
Don was a son.

After Don graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and enrolled in City College in NYC where he earned his Associates degree in Engineering. He then went on to active duty in the Navy, where he served his country for two years in the Korean War.
Don was a scholar and a soldier. 

After Don left the Navy, he moved to Ohio and enrolled in OH University. While at his first dance, he saw a very tall, very beautiful dark haired girl. He didn't care if she was taller than he was. He had RED hair, which always got attention from the girls. When he saw her walking across the dance floor, he grabbed her hand and said, "We should dance if we are going to get married".

Don married his dark haired beauty right after graduation and remained married for the next 57 years. 

The life Don and his bride Cherry shared, produced a son, Mark. I've asked Mark and Tammy, Marks wife, their children Aubrey and Beatrice, to write something about this incredible man. Below are their words:




Of course summarizing my father would be difficult. He was a very complex person. He was brilliant, highly emotional, and vulnerable with an incredible sense of humor. There was literally no subject he couldn't talk on. Politics, History, Religion, Finance- it was incredible. He was definitely a product of his times and hadn't adopted well as the world progressed. He was passionate about the  progress of social justice. He devoted himself to reading daily, on every subject. He read several newspapers a day. He was passionate about sports, especially football and baseball. He wore his emotions very close to the surface and thought nothing of bursting into tears when his passions stirred within him, which was often. He had many human frailties, common to passionate people. Don was a genius. I know, a lot of people say that, but he truly was. He was a Vice President at a very young age(USS Lead). But most of all, he was devoted to me and my mother. - Mark



Don was arrogant and confident and also willing to laugh at himself. He took me to the Olympics when they were held in Utah and was determined to teach me to ski. After all, he taught Mark to ski, and Mark had raced all through high school and college. 
I was so determined not to fail that I was skiing the black runs by the end of the week.  

He could talk to anyone about anything, and the same week he taught me to ski we got put on the gondola with the band members Puddle of Mud. Did he care? Nope. He spoke with them about skiing, politics and whether or not they were investing their money right and treating their women with respect. They were smitten. He could charm anyone and was a shameless flirt.

My Father in law and I fought like cats and dogs the whole 23 years I knew him. We may be the same person. Stubborn, loud, fragile. We fought and loved and fought and loved. When I married Mark, Don wanted to put me in his clan and become my leader. I was (am) bossy. He called me and wrote to me nearly every day. He bought me ridiculously expensive presents. I think he liked the challenge. We argued about politics and once when he told the girls they would make good secretaries one day I thought I would kill him. He taught me about life. I taught him about people. We turned out to be a perfect match.

I was the first person that he told when he was diagnosed. Late in 2006 he thoughy he had bad allergies or a sinus infection. Really, he had a melanoma tumor that filled all available space in his sinuses. Doctors told him that he had three months to live. His was reply, "says who? " 
"Science and Melanoma", came the reply. Very quietly Don's reply was, "Melanoma has never met Don Bidwell, and Melanoma can go to hell". 

After chemo, surgery, radiation and then a clinical trial chemo(evastin), suddenly Don was NED. For 6 years. When we found out about Jillian and began to read Susan's blog he cried his eyes out. He could not believe the cruelness of life that would take what he considered to be a baby.

When the cancer came back last April, I think we all knew...he and I spent the last 7 months together planning for the end of his life. Surgery...again 3 months. He told me he had very few regrets and the one he did have he could remember. He wanted me to know that people were more important than anything. He kept telling me to love. He was true to himself right up until he died. Trying to make the girls smile. To make a funny. About a week before he died, (he was in a hospice facility), as soon as we arrived he asked Audrey to go ask for his pain med. Audrey returned with a vial and gave it to him. He declared that it was empty and that he received not a drop of medicine. In comes the nurse. He tells her I absolutely need another vial. I did not get any medicine. The nurse mumbled something about calling the doctor to which Don replied, bring me the vial. Again the nurse was mumbling about too much medication, about calling the doctor first and overdosing. I could see the girls squirming. THEN I saw the glint in his eye and he says, so what will happen? Do you think it might KILL me? He got the medicine. ~ Tammy


  
Grandpa taught us to do the "Lindy" and "Jitterbug". He taught us all the show tunes and showed us all of the musicals. We knew all the words to the score of Westside Story before we could understand the story. 

When Audrey fell in love with Bulls Eye from Toy Story, grandpa built her an exact replica! Next, when Audrey expressed an interest in sailing ( Don was an avid sailor) he built her a boat. While g pa was going through experimental chemo and our Dad was in Afghanistan gpa went on every field trip. He taught us to drink coffee( behind our moms back- we were 3&4) He taught us to ski when we were 2&3. He taught us to chop fire wood, build a fire and to drive a lawn tractor. We moved around a lot because of our dad being in the army but no matter where we lived he came to see us. He wrote us long letters and made up funny stories. 


He would come and visit and spoil us rotten..taking all of us and whatever friends my parents had out for dinner. He always made us laugh. He love us and he loved people. We remember the time g pa wanted to soften his ski wax so he put it in the microwave :)

We miss g pa more than we can express and we are sick of people saying "well , he was 83". "It was his time. " He was a person and his death has left a hole that will never fill and 83 or 23 it sucks. ~ Audrey & Beatrice (devoted grand daughters)



How do you begin to scratch the surface when trying to describe a lifetime of love and memories? How do you explain how you feel when that person you love like crazy is gone? You can't. What we can do is to love hard today. To take each day and embrace it, what ever it may bring. And to understand that it doesn't matter if the one you've lost was 83 or 23. Those silly platitudes do more harm than good. What does help is a hug and a listening ear. 


Don Bidwell
August 8, 1931-January 9, 2015



Friday, December 19, 2014

Run, Forrest, Run!

I’ve started several blog posts over the last couple of months. I save them, but I never complete writing them. Why. Oh, I realize I’ve been busy since I’ve moved into my new house. Landscaping, painting…so many projects that have occupied my time as I’m trying to make this house a home for Jenni and I. But those are choices. Truth is, I’ve been running.

I had a conversation with my wise friend a couple of weeks ago.
Me: I've been running, Stac.
Stac: Do you need me to help you stop?
Me:..................
Stac: Maybe it's all a part of your journey?
Me: Yep. I think it is.

 While I run during the day, at night I’ve been dreaming about Jillian. Not like the dream over a year ago where she came to me. In that dream, she had something to tell me. I KNEW it was her. No words were spoken, but she looked into my eyes with such love and intensity. Her purpose with that visit was to let me know she was okay. Roll your eyes if you want to. I was allowed a glimpse into God’s window. I saw her, felt her, “spoke” to her.

My latest dreams have been different, just normal (whatever normal is) dreams where she is a part of them. My most recent dream was at her high school.. She called me to pick her up with the excuse that she wasn’t feeling well. We were both standing by the counter in the office while I got ready to sign her out. Her cheeks were flushed, but not with fever or illness. I could tell. She just wanted to be home. In my heart I’m conflicted. This kid isn’t sick, she just wants to come home. I struggled with making her remain at school. But then the realization struck me that Jillian was going to die on December 29, and “so what “if she stays home?


I was able to pick my battles in that moment. What if we all knew when our death date was? Would we treat each other differently? Would we mend those relationships, take that trip, make that call and spend time with someone ? I would like to think we would.

So whatever your fear is, whatever is stopping you from making a difference, whatever is making you run……my prayer for each of you is that you find Peace as you continue your journey, that you find your way back on an even path, and that we learn to do it right. We are all connected in some way, to everyone and everything. We only get one shot at this. Just one.

Even after I've fallen, even though I've been running, I want to enter His kingdom one day greeted by the words, "You’ve done good". 

Peace~

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Enter at Your Own Risk....

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love the cooler weather, the crisp air. I love to see the clouds heavy and low in the sky. I love the feel of the balmy breeze as it carries the scent of burning leaves. And I love Halloween.

But with Fall comes memories of the past few years. My dad died two years ago. Jillian’s birthday is coming up. Memories of seizures and sirens.

I had dinner with my mom last night. We were talking about grief, and how grieving is different for each person. We touched on how people, even family members, deal with someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. “They don’t know what to say”. Or, “They don’t want to make you cry”. Or maybe, “They don’t want to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing”.  

I don’t know. I don’t get it. I don’t understand how the topic of death is so difficult. It’s a part of living, and we will all experience it. All of us are going to die someday. It’s the one certain thing in living. So, why aren’t we living our lives reaching out and caring for those that experience death and grief when it does strike? Why aren’t we learning more about the grieving process? Why do we put so many expectations on those who are actively grieving to move on, get over it, to act in a certain way. I think it’s cruel, selfish, and it makes me angry. And if it makes me angry, how many other people are struggling?  It takes a village, right?

There are many groups out there to support those who have lost a loved one. I think there should be more support groups dedicated to help people understand the grieving process. A group focused on helping the supporter of the griever as they navigate through the wild storms of grief. The sea of emotions, and the uncertainty of “what next”.  Friends and Family. Classes mandatory in high school. Family living, family dying. This topic isn’t going away.


And then…just like that, my thoughts head in another direction. I picture myself on a hard, cold examination table covered in white paper. I hear the doctor’s footsteps stop before my door. I hear the rustle of the clipboard as the doctor removes it from the wall, flipping pages as he reads over the findings. He walks in and sits down on the chair beside me. With a grave expression, he looks into my eyes. “I’m sorry, Susan. The diagnosis is conclusive. You have Grief”.

You have Cancer.
You have Grief.

OH! I have Grief! That explains it. The mumble, jumble, messed up tangle of emotions. The lack of focus and forgetfulness. The laughter, the tears. And that stupid, silly mask sitting on my bedside table waiting to be strapped on as I begin another day. So, it’s okay that Grief is all encompassing in its intensity. That it has several unusual symptoms, and there is no cure. Now I know what I’m dealing with.

It has a name.

It’s real. It isn’t this elusive “thing” or emotion. It has real physical symptoms, and it effects the entire person. For a loooooooong time. To say I’m not disappointed in the lack of knowledge or awareness surrounding this subject would be a lie. I’m strong, yes. But I still hurt. And if by my peeling this grief thing off one bloody layer at a time, exposing it for what it is in the hopes that it touches someone along the way, well, good. I’ll get back to stomping on melanoma soon enough. Right now, I’ve got my own work to do.

If Grief had a ribbon, it would be the color of the rainbow, signifying HOPE. Hope as we move from mourning to Joy.

Because even in grief there is hope. We are Grief Warriors. Bad Ass Grief Warriors.

~embracing crabby

Monday, July 28, 2014

And the Journey Continues.....


Two weeks ago our pastor talked about the quote from Mary Oliver- “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” He mentioned it again yesterday. Thanks a lot. I can’t get that quote out of my mind. It keeps whispering to me, poking me, prodding me.

Well, I can say one thing I’ve learned with certainty. There are no plans. Goals, perhaps. The grieving mind is a slippery thing these days. I’m trying to figure that out too.

I was at an outdoor concert a couple of weeks ago, listening to blues music. The park was filled with people, young and old. As I sat watching the crowd, I see these individuals and realize they all have their “stuff”. Each one of them are living a life that extends to friends and family members. Well beyond what I can see. They too, could be grieving. Or sick. Maybe they just lost their job, or their home. Maybe their child is serving overseas. Maybe they are working through a divorce. Something. Anything.

I smile as I watch a young mother chasing her toddler as he runs back and forth across the grass. She patiently picks him up, plunks him down, and goes through the same exercise again and again. Exhausting for her, I’m sure. A young boy, full of energy. He reminds me of my own son, always in motion. What will he become?

 I watched the young girl to the right of me. She was about four years old, playing under the trees, surrounded by blooming Hosta’s. The stalks of flowers were taller than she was. This little mite had two sticks in her hands, keeping beat to the music with her imaginary drum set. She played the rock for over an hour, lost in herself.

That scene brought me back to my own childhood. I must have been close to the same age as the girl with the drum set. My grandmother had a back yard full of trees and wild blooming things. Ivy was everywhere, giving this small yard a jungle like appearance. As I gazed upward into the trees, I watched their leaves blowing and waving furiously. I could hear them whisper. To me. My aunt was leading me through the jungle, holding my hand. “ Do you see those leaves, Suzie? They are smiling and waving at you, telling you that they love you”. I believed her. And I never forgot that day.

What were the Hosta’s telling the precious young drummer girl? I hope she was filled with wonder and the promise of all things possible.

 I pray that I can continue to look at my one wild and precious life with open eyes, filled with wonder and awe. And to know that I’m not lost, like a ship in the night. But that I’m on my way.

 Love and peace~