Friday, June 21, 2013

Questions and Answers....

Last night I went to see the latest billboard we have up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This one shows photos of several Melanoma Warriors who are no longer here on Earth, sharing their lives with their loved ones. The very first billboard we had after Jillian died was an extremely emotional time for me. I’ve posted about it already, (The Chain Link Fence), so I won’t elaborate. 

Although I’m grateful we are able to spread awareness to this horrific disease with these billboards, seeing my daughters face all lit up for the world to see is still a punch in the gut. It should come as no surprise to me that I’m feeling a little lost today. That’s okay. I’m getting used to these “off” days, and I’m embracing the emotions.

I was going through Jillian’s room the other day and ran across a Poem Book she had written. She was fourteen at the time. It was a school assignment where the student had several topics they were required to write about. The poems were then bound into a book. I remember reading the poems after her book was “published”. I read them now, and they hold a whole different meaning for me. I realize that poetry is all interpretation, but the thoughts are coming from somewhere.
Through my reflections today, I was reminded of a time when Jonathan was around 13. We were at a church event. I can’t remember exactly what it was for, but it was just the two of us ,mother/son. The host of the event engaged the group in some games. This particular game was aimed at the parents in an effort to see how well we knew our child. Both Jonathan and I were handed a piece of paper. The leader asked us several questions about our child:

What is your child’s favorite meal? What is his favorite color? Who is his favorite musical artist? What is his favorite sport and so on…..We all wrote down our answers to the questions and then compared them with each other. Damn. I failed after the first question. I looked at Jonathan, and he rolled his eyes at me saying, “You KNOW my favorite meal is steak”.

I should have known this. How could I NOT know? We live together, we talk with one another, we share meals. What an eye opener that evening was for me. It is so easy to become involved with the day to day tasks of living, that we don’t take the time to really know our children. Slow down, life! This is such an important, yet fleeting time in our lives when our children are little. Once it’s passed, there is no getting it back.

This brings me to one particular poem Jillian wrote. I wish today I could ask her what she was thinking when she wrote these words. I can’t.  But one thing I do know without doubt or interpretation, is that Jillian was strong as a child, and strong as a young woman. I’m just beginning to understand the depth of her strength and courage.


Monday, June 3, 2013

The "D" Word....

Summer has almost officially arrived. Kids are winding down with school. People are making their summer vacation plans. Summertime, a time for fun, and making memories with family and friends. I look back on the summer of 2009. The kids had just returned home from Georgia after visiting with their uncle. The mole on Jillian’s back had been bleeding and needed to be looked at. She was nineteen at the time. Cancer was the furthest from our minds that summer. No one could have  prepared us for the words, “It’s melanoma. Cancer”.  It wasn’t until the next year when we realized just exactly what we were dealing with after we were told her cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and brain.

 I’ve written about Jillian’s journey since that stage IV diagnosis. What I haven’t touched upon is the word Death.

We live in a society today where people talk about issues fairly openly. So why is the word” Death” so difficult to talk about with those who have been diagnosed with cancer?  It’s the White Elephant’s twin sister in the room.

For family members, or caregivers, perhaps it’s hard to bring up the subject because we don’t want to appear less than hopeful. As if our words would bring images or thoughts that the cancer patient hasn’t  already been thinking about. Every. Single. Day. Or it could be that the person who has been given the cancer diagnosis isn’t ready to say the words. If they say them out loud it becomes more real. Or maybe it’s because they don’t want to worry those that love them by speaking what is truly lurking in their hearts.

We aren’t prepared for talking about death with our loved one any more than we’re prepared to talk about cancer. It’s painful, frightening, and unknown, so we avoid the subject.  But the reality is that each of us are going to die someday. We push off the “someday” to the very depths of our minds to deal with at another time.

I wasn’t prepared to talk about death any more than the next person. When my dad was on Hospice care last August, we spent a lot of time together just talking. He didn’t want to die. He told me that he didn’t want to leave us. What a normal reaction when living here on Earth is all you’ve ever known. It felt uncomfortable for me to hear those words when I knew he wasn’t going to be here long. It weighed heavily on my heart and I prayed about it often.

I’ve read that the process of dying is different for everyone, but if there is unfinished business, if they are afraid, or if they don’t want to leave their family, the transition can be more difficult. I think this was true for my dad, as he struggled the last few days of his life. He didn’t want to leave us.

On the Sunday before my Dad died I was driving to the Hospice facility when God told me to talk to my Dad. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say, but I prayed for the right words. And they came. I asked my Dad to promise me that he would be there waiting for Jillian when she died, and to give her a big hug from her mama. He looked at me and slowly nodded his head yes. This was a father making a promise to his daughter. He had a job to do, and he was at peace with it. He died peacefully two days later, holding my son, Joshua’s, hand. I’m so thankful we had our talk.

My Dad was a strong man, both physically and emotionally.  He taught me many things growing up, but  I’ll be forever grateful for the magnificent gift my Dad gave me through his own death. He made it possible for me to talk to Jillian openly when she was home on Hospice care. I was able to tell her about the promise her Grandpa made, and that he was waiting for her. I told her how proud I was of her, and how much we were going to miss her.  I was able to reassure her that I was going to be okay when she was gone, and that our family would take care of one another. I’m just beginning to understand the true value of my Dads last gift to me.

Now that the Twin White Elephants are no longer in the room, I can honestly say that those intruders are only as large as we allow them to be. Have those talks, even if they are difficult. There are words that need to be spoken. There may not be a second chance.You have the rest of your life to either live with regrets, or to be able to say, “Well done”.