Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reflecting On 2013...

It’s the last day of 2013. I don’t have the words to recap this year. I do have one word that jumps out though. Healing. This has been a year of healing. No. That isn’t true really. Hell is a better descriptor. Learning to live without Jillian has been by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It has taken a superhuman effort to engage in everyday activities and to stay present. Healing through Hell.

I prayed this morning for the right words for this blog post. I thought it was appropriate to write one last post for the year. I had no clue what to write about as my heart was full and the words wouldn’t come. This happens a lot. In those moments I just stop and pray.

 As I opened my Pandora, the song from Rascal Flatts was the first to play. “ I Won’t Let Go”. Wow. Well, that song took me back to over two years ago. Jillian had just texted me, “Look at your Facebook”  In the world of a young person, texting becomes a way of communication. You either join in this crazy form of communication, or you don’t. I’ll take it any way I can get it.

Steve had posted the song to her FB page. She told me later that they didn’t really talk about the song, he just played it for her. No words were necessary, they spoke through music. Just as much as Jillian needed to hear that song from Steve, I needed to hear it this morning.

It's like a storm 
That cuts a path 
It breaks your will 
It feels like that 
You think you're lost
But you're not lost on your own, 
You're not alone 

I will stand by you,
I will help you through
When you've done all you can do
and you can't cope
I will dry your eyes,
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight 
and I won't let go

It hurts my heart to see you cry
I know its dark this part of life
Oh it find us all and we're to small
to stop the rain
Oh but when it rains

I will stand by you,
I will help you through
When you've done all you can do
and you can't cope
I will dry your eyes,
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
and I won't let you fall

Don't be afraid to fall
I'm right here to catch you
I won't let you down
It won't get you down 
You're gonna make it
I know you can make it

Cause I will stand by you,
I will help you through
When you've done all you can do
and you can't cope
I will dry your eyes,
I will fight your fight
I will hold you tight
and I won't let go

Oh I'm gonna hold you
and I won't let go
Won't let you go
No I won't

The road this last year has been long, dark and cold. The past few months have been extremely difficult as I’ve worked through all the tough memories of Jillian’s last year on earth. All the struggles as she started to go downhill. All the fear. All the pain. And her death. Her last breath on that dark December morning, holding her, loving her.

I’m reminded once again that even though I’ve had to work through my grief alone, in my own way, I’m not alone. I never was. It takes me but a second to realize I’ve got people out there supporting me, praying for me, praying for my family. I want to thank all of you for your unending support and love. Your kindness really has made a difference.

I’m not sure what next year will bring, but I’m moving forward. I’m standing, I’m fighting, and I’ll win. We’ll win.

~Peace and love for 2014!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Personal Thumbprints....

I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of grieving. Oh, I know. Big surprise. As the month of December moves closer to the 29th, the one year anniversary of Jillian’s death, I’m thinking about those who are dealing with loss.  Especially this time of year. As others are making joyous preparations for the holidays, there are just as many that don’t feel like participating in festive activities because they're grieving.

 The loss and grief may be that of a loved one who won’t be joining them this year for Christmas. It may be grief from a cancer diagnosis as they deal with the loss of innocence in the knowledge that life will never be the same.  Maybe it’s the loss of a job, or it could be the loss of a relationship, the breakup of a marriage. 

Mourning. It’s a pretty big deal! Stop for a minute and think about it. For years there have been customs and traditions surrounding the bereaved. There is something to this thing, and our society feels the need to rush the process. Why is that? I don't know, but I don't like it. 

In the United Kingdom widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate they were in mourning for up to four years after the death.

In areas of Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, widows will wear black for the rest of their lives. The immediate family members of the deceased will wear black for an extended period of time. 

Some cultures require wearing black for at least two years. Other cultures hang black wreaths on their doors.  

There are many different ways people move through the grieving and mourning process. None of them are wrong. Grieving is as individual as your own thumbprint.

I've been like a sponge these past few months. I'm trying to soak in all  the memories of Jillian that I can. The good and the bad as I'm reminded of what took place at this time a year ago. Its a part of Jillian and her journey and demands remembering. 

There are some that may think I should try and push those difficult memories aside and focus on the happy ones. NO. For me, I'm doing it this way to honor and respect Jillian. It helps me to remember her fight and to reflect on how she loved and lived her life to the fullest. I'm doing the work now but that doesn't mean it's right. It doesn't mean it's wrong either. But its my way, and its right for me.

So if you know of someone suffering from loss this Holiday Season, the best thing you can do for them is to tell them you're thinking about them. Be gentle with your words. Give a simple hug. Ask a question or two about their loved one. I can assure you, it is their favorite topic.

Please don't tell them what they need to do, or what not to do.. Don't tell them where you think they need to be in their grieving process. Don't suggest that it's time to move on.You may end up with Eggnog on your lap. Your intentions may be admirable but it isn't what they need to hear.

You probably haven't seen that black wreath hanging on their door either, but it's there. My guess is that they are too wounded to point it out to you.   

As I was watching the snow fall gently to the ground today I felt "Joy". It's these moments I'm not taking for granted. I haven't forgotten what Joy feels like. I'll get there, promise. One snowflake at a time.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Hope, Peace and Joy....

Christmas has always been a magical time for me. I’ve loved giving  gifts and making traditions for my family. This year it’s been a struggle for me to feel the same sense of wonder, the same joy I’ve had in years past. I’m looking, but it’s been elusive.

 I’ve felt a little put out with all the hype surrounding Christmas. The busyness, the rush for the perfect gift, the perfect price. The commercialism surrounding Christmas.  I talked to Rev. Carol about the subject and she summed it up by suggesting that I see things through “Jillian Colored Glasses”. I believe that is true.

I think about Jesus’ mother, Mary. I wonder what she was thinking as she watched her precious baby sleep in the manger, knowing he was the Chosen One. How did she feel as she raised this boy? What fears did she have? What was it like for this Mother to watch her child suffer? Even though Mary knew Jesus was the Son of God, she was  human. She was a mother , and she must have grieved deeply for her Son.

I’m praying for all mothers this season. And fathers, and sisters, brothers and daughters and sons. For all those who are going through the motions this year, trying to find joy in the season.

I believe in Miracles. This holiday season I'm going to continue to keep my eyes wide open so they don't go unnoticed. The beautiful, quiet snowfall, the owl in the morning... Our children. Our family and friends.

How beautiful it would be if we could see the world through “Jesus Colored Glasses”.

~Hope, Peace and Joy

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Simplicity Without Answers....

I don’t have the answers. My mind isn’t capable of grasping the full depth and meaning of life, even if I were given the opportunity to glimpse into God’s window. The universe and it’s majesty are just too big. I’d miss something, and I don’t want to miss anything. I’m not quite ready for His revelations.

December. It’s snowing outside, and absolutely beautiful in its simplicity. Last year, in August, Jillian asked how long she had to live if her treatments didn’t work. She was told that she may not see the snow fall. Well, she did, and I’m thankful for that.

 I look out my window at those huge white flakes and I’m reminded of her, and how she loved the snow. How she loved snowboarding with her friends. I’ll always remember Jillian when I see the beauty of a snowfall and its Simplicity.

Every single day since Jillian’s birthday in September, I'm reminded of things that happened a year ago. And dammit, the memories haven’t been good ones. I’ll be working, or in church, or driving, and random memories just flood my mind. I can’t stop then from popping in for a visit. And I don’t want to.

I remember how her left foot turned in on her wedding day, and how I was afraid she’d fall and break her ankle. I was reminded of the “Buffalo Hump” between her shoulders from all the steroids she was taking. I think about her short term memory loss from all the brain radiation and how frustrated she was. How difficult it was for her to concentrate just to unpack some boxes after she and Steve moved to Gobles. The thought of emptying them and putting them away was overwhelming to her. These are just a handful of memories I’ve been grappling with.

The other day I panicked. I dropped my cell phone in the toilet as I was cleaning. On that cell phone was a voice message from Jillian I had saved. I haven’t been able to listen to it yet, but I knew it was there and I know what it says. I had her voice just waiting for me when I was ready to listen. My very own treasure. I tried to get my phone to boot up, but it wasn’t working. I was devastated. I’d lost her. Again. Oh…..
I put the phone in a bag of rice, and was able to retrieve the voice message the next day. Whew!

Years ago a friend and I trained for a marathon in San Diego. I injured my hip during training and was unable to complete the training and compete in the race. I haven’t been running since, unless you count last May, when I participated in the Fifth Third River Bank 5K Run in honor of Jillian. I ran side by side with my grandson, Spencer. If you could call what I did as running. I walked most of it, Spencer running circles around me. This year, Spencer, Kaytie, Jenni, Josh and whoever wants to join us will be running again. I’m committing to a 10K. Ugh. I don't like to run anymore.

I went to the gym last night, and as I’m on the treadmill listening to my iPod, I hear some songs playing that I hadn’t loaded to my playlist. I have no idea how they got there. I can only think that Jillian must have loaded her playlist onto mine somehow. As I’m listening to the lyrics, I realize this was what she listened to while she was jogging last year. I was given a glimpse into her head: 

"Just one more day, one more day...
Let the world crash, love can take it.
Love can take a little, love can give a little more.
I'll stand beside you, never leave, through it all.
Faith will bring a way to the impossible"

There are several other songs that I wouldn’t normally listen to, but I’m going to listen to each one now. Jillian and I will be running together while I train. I will feel her close to me. I’ll  feel her pushing me on as I hate every minute of this running thing. I’ll think about her and  inspire to be as strong as she was, and to persevere even when I feel like I can’t run another step.I will push through it.

And I’ll think about all the other melanoma warriors I’ve grown to love, and how they battle each and every day with one demon or another. Whether it’s a physical demon, or a mental one as they struggle with this heinous disease. And I’ll hurt with them. And I’ll remember.

So, no.  I don’t have the answers. But I do believe I was given a gift last night.  I don’t need Jillian’s voice message on my phone to remind me that she’s here. She’s been here all along. Like my friend Becca said,
 “ She keeps finding a way to send love to you, doesn’t she?”

Yes. She does.
I’m not alone. None of us are.

~Peace and Love

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Tanning Giant.

Why do I write? This thought was running through my head this morning while I was reading a beautiful email from a new found friend. I look back when Jillian was first diagnosed with melanoma and remember my thoughts at the time. I’m  wondering,  how am I going to help Jillian? I knew she would be up for the physical battle ahead of her. I was more concerned about her mental battle. Jillian was private when it came to her inner feelings. It was hard for her to share. Much like me, really. I was private, I didn’t want myself on display. I didn’t want to appear vulnerable. So by opening myself up and sharing all the crap, I  became Jillian’s voice in a sense. What I’m about to share today, is loud. I think Jillian would approve.

Last week I posted a question asking if there had been any lawsuits filed against the tanning industry from the victims of melanoma. That question prompted an attorney from Ohio to reach out to me, offering to share some insight. He mentioned that if there have not yet been suits filed, there will be. He had been one of the young grunts for some tobacco defense teams, and sees some similar issues between the two. He agreed to be a guest on my blog, laying out some steps for those who may be interested.  Below is Jeff’s article. Thank you Jeff, for your willingness to help.

Considerations in Suing Sunless Tanning Salons and
Tanning Bed Manufacturers

by Jeff Roush
            I am a lawyer, and got my start representing a large tobacco manufacturer in litigation over claims allegedly made by that company and others in the industry about particular types of cigarettes.  That experience opened my eyes in a number of ways, particularly regarding the tactics both sides used in litigating complex issues.  Attorney-client privilege prevents me from revealing any communications or secrets regarding that litigation or that client, but I can say that many of the arguments made in the cases in which I was involved relate directly to what one may face when taking on the sunless tanning industry.  While I know I am writing for a dedicated fighter against this industry, someone I absolutely support in her mission of education against the harms of self-tanning, I will look to take a neutral approach here, laying out the key arguments each side will make and what points litigants need to win to succeed in their personal fights.

Finding a Lawyer
            You are an individual suing an industry, potentially involving the individual tanning salon, its parent company, the manufacturer of the tanning bed or beds used, and even a parent company of that manufacturer.  Depending on strategy, each of those companies may hire its own lawyer, or they may pool resources to hire one firm to represent everyone.  Against this combination of experience and money, you may feel alone. 
You need a seasoned attorney on your side to help even the odds.  This means doing your research.  The attorney you select should have a record of winning cases against businesses.  Ideally, if not someone experienced in suits against the tanning industry, it should at least be someone holding experience in products liability cases: represented plaintiffs suffering from disease or injury caused by a product.  You want someone who is tough enough to stand up to strong-arm tactics from the defense, and yet capable of making the emotional argument along with the logical.  Your local bar association can be a tremendous resource in identifying the right person to represent you.

            The threshold issue you need to show, aside from the fact that you or your loved one has been harmed, is causation: did the defendant (or one or more of the defendants) cause the injury?  Our understanding of the science of ultraviolet radiation has developed to the point that we know the dangers tanning beds pose.  For those suffering from skin cancer resulting in part from use of these beds, this helps with part of the battle. 
            That said, you need to show more than that sunless tanning was one potential cause, or even more than that it was definitely part of the cause.  Defense lawyers look to cast doubt on the claim, pushing to the point that it is as likely or more that something else caused the injury.  Other potential causes will be investigated: other salons, other manufacturers, and old-fashioned sun tanning.  You’ll be asked about how often you or your loved one used sunscreen, and what other steps were taken to lessen the risk from other sources.
Your best chance of success, then, lies with showing the bulk of the tanning you or your loved one has done was with the defendant’s salon and/or product.  If you can show this, demonstrating causation becomes easier.  You don’t have to have been perfect, and the worst thing you can do in court is lie.  But have your information lined up and be prepared for an attack on the irresponsible behavior of the person suffering from skin cancer.  It may feel odious, but you should expect it and prepare for it going in.

Warnings and Assumption of Risk
Knowing use of a dangerous machine allows the defense to claim the person suffering from cancer made a conscious choice to risk the consequences of skin diseases, up to and including cancer.  For most laypeople, this sounds like “blaming the victim,” and certainly an element of this comes in.  From the manufacturer’s perspective, as well as the salon’s, they are making a legal product and providing a legal service.  If they provide warnings of the dangers associated with that product and service, and a person chooses to take that risk, the financial impact of suffering the injury that person was warned about falls on that person.
This argument works very well.  The defense may play on the jury’s sense of personal responsibility, and may go so far as to try to paint the person suffering from cancer as an irresponsible, vain person caring only about his or her appearance and dismissing known risks.  And if this attack goads you into getting upset, you run the risk of looking irrational as well.
One way to attack this defense is to look at the adequacy of the warnings.  Were they visible on the product?  Was information distributed at the salon?  How informed was the person tanning before he or she proceeded?  Assumption of risk becomes a weaker argument if the warnings were not given by the manufacturer or the salon.  If anyone downplayed those risks before the tanning sessions began, or referred to it as “safer” than sun tanning, that can help you as well.  In other words, the best counter to assumption of risk is to show that you did not really know or appreciate the risk.
That counter can be even stronger if the person suffering from cancer began these treatments as a minor.  One major reason tobacco plaintiffs make claims of youth advertising against that industry is that younger people are not held to the same decision-making standards as adults.  If a minor was allowed to attend tanning sessions without a parent’s consent, assumption of risk becomes much harder for the defense.  You will, of course, need to determine (or have your lawyer tell you) what in your jurisdiction makes someone a minor for these purposes.

Time and Money
            Early resolution does not occur in these cases.  You need to prepare for a long fight, possibly taking years.  And while big trial verdicts tend to make headlines, they are rare.  Defense lawyers count on the expense of litigation hurting you before it hurts their clients—and in most cases, they are right.  Stay patient, and plan for a long road. 
            More than anything else, though, you need to believe: believe that you are right, and believe that you will win.  Your case is about righting a wrong, while the defense’s case, whatever bluster they give, is about money.  Remember this, and keep fighting.  Our legal system is not perfect, but if you persevere, it can serve you well.