Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Rock Garden...

Memorial Day weekend was spent working in my yard. All weekend. And I’m not complaining one bit, because I was in my “happy place”, my “woodshed”. Spreading bark, moving perennials, planting flowers and pulling weeds isn’t really work for me. Not in the physical sense anyway. The work I do in my yard , is the emotional work needed to tend to my heart. When the kids were little, it was a great way for me to find some time alone. Funny how everyone scurries when there is yard work involved.

I spent a lot of time talking with God, with Jillian, and my Dad this weekend. We were talking about past Memorial Day weekends.  I can remember all four kids jammed into my Ford Explorer, along with the dog and cat and whatever stray animal we may have had that summer. Could have been the bunny, or the Robin. Each entity was fighting for space between pots after pots of Hosta plants, as we drove the hour and a half up North to our cottage. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be driving down M-37 and have the cat land on my lap. The kids wanted to hold her during the drive, but all bets were off when Cleo started heaving.  I’d hear her retching, and brace myself for the landing as she sailed over the seat to my lap. I’d pull over, clean myself off, and we’d continue on our way. I got smart after the first incident, and drove with a towel on my lap. 

It was like this every weekend. Pack up, run to the greenhouse, drive, heaving cat, drive. The kids couldn’t wait to play in the lake, I couldn’t wait to play in my yard.

I look back on those magical Memorial Day weekends at the cottage, and it almost feels like those memories happened to someone else. And they did, because I am not the same person. My children are not the same people. Our family is not the same family, where we were once innocent and unaware.

As I’m chatting away with my Trio this weekend, random thoughts zip through my brain and it happens so fast, I can’t keep them all straight. It usually takes a day or two before the seeds of thought begin to grow where I can recognize what I’m supposed to take away from these exchanges.

The weeds in my back yard were plentiful. As I’m  pulling them out , I’m noticing how much harder they are to pull out of the stone, rather than the bark. Okay, I get that one. My faith is the rock and that rock will help me weather the tough times. The Rock keeps me grounded as I blindly weave through this new path I’ve found myself on.  

After I wrote the last few paragraphs last night, the words just stopped. I’ve had this before when the words wouldn’t flow, when I’m stuck. I shut off my computer and went to bed, praying that whatever it was God wanted to teach me would come to me in the morning.

I’ve been reading about grief and stress.

I’ve found that the following life events are the top stressors.

  • Death of a family member
  • Terminal illness (one's own or a family member)
Physical incapacitation, chronic pain, or chronic illness
Drug or alcohol abuse (self)
Drug or alcohol abuse (family member, partner)
  • Divorce
Loss of job or job change
  • Moving house
Change of school (primarily for children or teens, but this can effect adults, too)

Grief: The loss of a child is generally considered the worst possible grief, making it one of the leading causes of prolonged grief. In the natural order of life, children are supposed to outlive their parents.
"The death of a child is like no other, "says clinical social worker and grief counselor at the Children's Hospital and Clinics, Minneapolis, Minn., Theresa Huntley, in her book "When Your Child Dies".
Your life has been irrevocably changed. Life is different. You are different". 

Parents universally say that when their child dies, a part of them dies. A child is a symbol of the future and losing that child represents a loss of hopes and dreams. While the experience of pain and loss is universal, transcending culture and class, the grieving process is still a very individual and personal experience. There is no right or wrong way, nor is there a timeframe. It is a lifelong process that involves absorbing the death and memories of the deceased into a new life.

 For the many who are dealing with stressors and grief, have patience with where you are in your grieving process and don’t expect anything from yourself. Forget preconceived notions about what grief should look like or how long it should last.

So how does all this fit into where I am today? I’m dealing with several of the top stressors, and I’ve lost my child. For the most part, I’m doing okay. There are days when Jillian sneaks up on me and punches me in the heart. It can come out of nowhere. I’ll be looking at a photo of her on my desk and I’m sucked into the darkness with the knowledge that this beautiful, vibrant, courageous, young person is no longer here on this Earth. Just gone. It’s hard for me to wrap my arms around that fact. I know she is in Heaven, I know she is with my Dad. But do I feel that? Sometimes I do, some days it just feels empty.

I am tying that empty feeling to the weeds in my garden. Even though I’m rooted in the Rock, the weeds can still be pulled out sometimes. I’m a crabby mama bear slipping into the habit of doing things on my own. I should know better.
I’m thankful for the conversations I had this past weekend with my Trio, and the opportunity to tend to my garden. Next time I’ll be armed with Round Up and landscape fabric.

~ Peace

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Name Your Price...

Melanoma Awareness Month. This is the month where our grassroots community bands together to make ourselves loud by sharing awareness to this horrific disease. There have been many memorable moments so far this month, just to name a few.

The AAD tried to change our color from Black to Orange. It enraged the melanoma community, but it also brought attention to melanoma and all we stand for.

We have had movement in getting bills passed in several states which would  ban minors under 18 from using tanning beds. Oregon just passed the bill into law, being the third state in the United States. Illinois and Texas are right on their heels, just waiting for their Governor’s to sign the bill into law. People have been working hard to make this happen.

There have been numerous awareness walks, honoring our warriors, and remembering those no longer here with us.

And then there are the Billboards all across Grand Rapids, Michigan showing Jillian’s smiling face, along with her beloved pup, ”Chancy Pants”.  

Indeed, these determined warriors have been busy this month. But at what cost?

I was having dinner with a friend last night when the waitress noticed my blue bracelet and asked me what it meant. It was one of the rubber bracelets with the inscription, “Jillian 9/24/89-12/29/12 Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight”. I looked up at her and said, “This is in memory of my daughter who died from Melanoma”.

She stuttered a little bit as she apologized for my loss. I felt the familiar lump rise in my throat as the stinging tears threaten to fall. Looking across the table, my friend said, “That must be very hard for you…what you do”. I didn’t understand what he meant. He explained, “ Your cause. Always the constant reminder”. I tried to explain without breaking down that this helps me with my grief. It helps me to keep Jillian’s name alive. It helps me to fight her enemy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this exchange. It reminded me that I am not the only person working hard for a cause. There are real hurting people that stand, holding tight to their passion, whatever that may be. We applaud their efforts, congratulate them on any advances, without really realizing what it means for them. What does it mean to be constantly reminded their loved one has cancer, or some other illness? That their loved one is no longer with us?  What does it mean for the person holding a placard with the face of their loved one? There are times when I’m sure those people wonder, what am I doing here? I don’t want this. What is the cost for sharing their stories?

I sure don’t have those answers, but I want to be more aware that there is a price, and to acknowledge their selfless efforts.

So, thank you, my warrior friends for having the courage, the voice, and the determination to continue on this journey towards awareness, in spite of the pain.  

~Peace and Hugs~

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Still Standing...

May. Skin Cancer Awareness month is upon us again. Last year I was busy getting donations for several Billboards in the Grand Rapids area in an effort to spread awareness to Melanoma. When the first Billboard was up and running, it was so exciting. Jillian’s own words were, “Chancy Pants is Famous”!

One year later so much has changed. We have five billboards up again this year. I have been receiving texts and emails from individuals who have passed them on the highway. I , myself, was driving home last night and there she was. All lit up, once again sharing her light and her story in the hopes that another young person, another family, doesn’t have to travel the same road our family is currently on.

I’m happy with these efforts, and the progress we’ve made this past year. I promised Jillian that I would continue to try and educate others about the dangers of tanning beds and the sun. And we really are making steps in that direction.


When I’m alone and I see all the posts and photos on face book showing her face, I am slapped with the reality that Jillian isn’t here. Each photo pierces my heart, and the wound begins leaking all over again. It has been 4 months since she took her last breath here on earth. Seems like yesterday. It isn’t easy being out there. Perhaps it would be easier if we weren’t sharing our story . We wouldn’t be dealing with the constant reminder that our beloved Jillian is not here with us today. As if we needed that reminder.

But we aren’t alone. There are hundreds of people who are currently engaged in their own battle with melanoma, in a battle for their life. There are just as many caregivers who are standing by their side. And those who have lost their loved one to this disease. They are all out there sharing their story, sharing their scars, all in the hopes that someone else will learn that melanoma is way more than a word. So much more than "just" skin cancer.

So we unite. As tough as it is, despite the hurt when the reality of melanoma slaps us square in the face, we are an army with a mission. We Stand.

Please Stand with us against melanoma by joining the event, Melanoma Black Monday, May 6.