Monday, September 27, 2010


I read how anger is very much a part of the grieving process. Oh, I've had my moments of needing to bite someone, but I haven't really gone into a lot of anger ... yet. Mostly I'm just sad, empty, fearing the future and my financial situation and wondering what possible grand plan there can be with all this ... or if there even is one.

But today I am angry and want to start any conversations with the Creator with "WTF?". A very good friend has been given months to survive. MONTHS! This man, R., walked into our lives back when Jim was undergoing radiation treatments because R. also had a glioblastoma, grade 4 that had been removed. I always said, "R. walked into our lives and just never left". Jim and R. fell in love with each other and when I met his wife, G., I felt that I had found someone who truly understood all that I was going through ... somewhat. R. was doing so much better then Jim; he could drive, he could talk, he could play tennis! But he didn't have a tumor on his brainstem so this made all the difference in terms of some normalcy with life. This man has a huge heart and a lot of compassion which he shared with both Jim and I. We felt we had found some real comrades with these two people, even though their battle seemed so different from ours.

Back in May R had to have another tumor removed. After two years the aliens seemed to be returning. Last week I found out that R. has an additional tumor that has grown back, deeper in his brain this time, not as easy to operate on - though they're going to try this week. It grew really fast .... as the damn things want to do .... and it's very aggressive. This operation may give him a few more months.

A few more months .... of life. WTF?!?!?!?!

Now I'm angry! And asking WHY? Why the best of the best? I know I can scream this at the stars, throw things at the moon and never get an answer to this question. But I may still do it because it feels good and keeps me from biting someone.

But, honest, WTF is going on?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Web of Life

This morning I got back from an early run in the woods with my dog, Ella. My crows were screaming at me as it was late for their feeding. I took the food out to the lawn by walking across the deck and to one side of my big oak tree. On my way back to the house I went to the other side of the oak and almost walked into a HUGE spider and her web. She's tried a new location. For the past few days she's been on the wood shed door and I've wrecked her web too frequently I guess. So now she has constructed her trap from the oak tree, that grows up through my deck, and the wood shed, directly in my normal path of passage from kitchen to yard.

I stopped just in time so as not to get entangled and therefore did not end up doing the flapping dance of swatting, jumping around and squeeling knowing how big this mama is! Instead I looked real closely at her construction - it's gorgeous. She's actually quite stunning too. There are two very long strands that run from the oak tree and then branch out making a perfect V, one going to the top of the web and the other to the bottom of the web. Nice architecture. The web sits closer to the wood shed wall, not hanging too far out and thus safe from the wind .... but not me if I forget she's there again!

I spent a few minutes talking to this large, bulbous-abdomen lady and did a few gentle twangings of her support strings. She didn't like that so much so I stopped, but I was intrigued by the strength and beauty of her design.

As I walked back into the house I found myself thinking "I'll show her to Jim when he gets up" ... and then stopped in my tracks. I couldn't believe I actually just thought that! But I did, it was real and it was painful. Some of my friends laugh at me because I notice things like spiders ... and enjoy it. But Jim never laughed at me. He loved having me point my observations out to him and he would take the time to stand in awe with me over a spider and her web.

I miss that.

Loving you all back,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Morning sunrise

My crows are arriving, I can hear and see them fly into the Oak trees in my yard. The sunrise is a tequila cocktail of colors on the horizon as the morning star fades. Another day ....

Mornings are far better for me then the nights. Jim use to say that I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, and he wasn't far off from that. This is no longer my truth, now I will lay awake in bed with a head full of worries, thoughts of Jim; memories from when he was sick and wondering if I could have done things better for him, memories of before his illness, memories of his laugh, memories of his body. Thoughts of all that I must do now, things that must be taken care of ... and fear seems to lie crouching just under the bed hoping that I'll give completely over to it so it might devour me.

I do not fall asleep when my head hits the pillow anymore.

People tell me how strong I am and I truly do not understand this, I don't know what they mean. I feel anything but strong these days. I feel like I'm trying to set sail without a mast, without a compass. This house is now all mine, and all my responsibility. This life is all mine, and my responsibility. I really liked sharing all this before. There was a feeling of a safety net before, a support system that Jim and I would construct for each other. A feeling that we could weather anything, we could survive anything .... except brain cancer ... and loneliness.

Oh it's all such unchartered territory for me. I'm not one who ever minded being alone. I would love it when Jim needed to travel for a couple weeks, love the feeling of being by myself, watching whatever I wanted to watch on T.V., not needing to tip toe around in the early morning as I would get up to go for a run and he was not going to join me. But now, this solitude is an entirely different beast. What I would give to be asked if we could watch the Red Sox game.

The light is turning white as the sun gets higher. I've got a lot of busy-ness to do today to get ready for a friend arriving from the west coast and a weekend of gathering for the annual reunion of my gal-pals I went to acupuncture school with. I will soak up the feeling of being supported by this group of amazing women. I will push the fear back under my bed and lock the door as I leave for the weekend ... maybe it will shrink down to size while I'm away.

My crows are sitting on the branch directly in front of my vision reminding me that they are there and they are hungry.

Another day.

Loving you all back,

Monday, September 13, 2010


Last night was a really bad one. Couldn't get to sleep, all these memories flooding my head, sobbing into my pillow, tossing and turning to try to shake the fear that grips me because I'm so alone now. I feel stuck in the acceptance stage of the grief process .... because I can't seem to accept this, can't seem to get my head around the fact that my Jim is dead. DEAD. Never coming back, gone where I can't follow. Last night I prayed that my breathing would just stop, my aching heart would stop beating and I would fall asleep and walk towards the light where I would see Jim again. So much easier then trying to do this life now without him.

Home. My hives are back, my lousy sleep patterns are back, all my fears are back. That was a gift the sweat lodge gave me .... my hives calmed down out there and after the sweat I slept better then I had in over two years. Fell right asleep and did not move until morning. I think I actually got two nights of that kind of sleep before all the demons came back.

Tiny sips of air ..... that's what was needed last night ....

Before the third round of the sweat the men brought in more rocks. A lot of them! Even Debbie, Stan's helper, commented on how many rocks there were. Molly started to go into a panic again and needed to lean over behind Deb so that she could put her head out the little door while they brought the rocks in. My claustrophobic friend had to slip out before the doors closed (she did return for the fourth round - two out of four when panic gripped her throat so hard she couldn't breathe at all - was pretty good actually!).

Debbie handed me a small bundle of sage with explicit directions as to what I was to do with this. Another deeply sacred ritual that I was being honored with, or this is how I felt. There was more praying and more singing and the heat was incredibly intense. My comrades shared after the sweat that this third round brought them all too close to the panic line, they all wanted to yell for the doors to be opened but my 12 year old warrior friend, who had come in at the beginning of this round, was the one who relieved everybody. He yelled to his uncle, Stanford, that he couldn't breathe and said the Arapaho word for "OPEN", the doors were opened and this little guy was whisked out into the cool evening very quickly. Everyone was grateful.

Back out into the cool night under the Wyoming stars. It was late so Daniel and his girlfriend had left to take their two year old boy home. I spent the break retrieving my fleece sweater from the dogs that were using it as their bed after stealing it off the bench I had left it on and then getting my water bottle from another group of dogs who were using it as their chew toy!

Before the fourth round Stanford spoke to me "Mary, we are going to smudge you". I know what 'smudging' is and understand it's power and importance. I was instructed to move closer to the fire pit (where it is surprisingly cool ... the heat from the rocks goes up, thus, close to the pit is the coolest spot) and told how to sit while, Marty - one of Stanford's clan - used a small pile of burning sage to smudge me, to bless me, to honor me and cleanse me of my broken heart. I am far too stoic and do not cry easily in front of others - I don't see this as a good thing mind you - but my tears in this lodge in front of those gathered were flowing unchecked.

A few more rituals were performed for all of us and then the heat came again. By now my clothes were drenched, my towels were all soggy and when the doors opened we could see the steam billowing out. Everyone sat a little longer in the sweat after this fourth, and final, round. Just chatting and feeling the cold night air flood into the lodge. When Stanford was lifted off his mat and put into his wheelchair someone said "Stew time!" We all laughed and made our way to the cars so we could change into dry clothes before heading into Stan's kitchen for the dinner that Willo, Terri and Eva had prepared for all of us.

There was one more ritual that I needed to perform before anybody else could eat. Stan had told Molly what I was to do. With my hearing impairment and Stanford's voice timber he and I found it hard to communicate sometimes so I was glad that he had spoken to Molly. She and I went back out to the sweat lodge to perform this last act of gratitude. When we returned to the kitchen everyone started to eat. Stanford asked me how I felt and I stopped for a minute to focus on this. I felt lighter, I felt open and expansive. He nodded his head and smiled at me. And, since I was struggling with a store bought salt shaker I added, "and stupid! I can't figure this salt shaker out!" Stanford laughed and reached for the shaker to tap the top of it and told me to snap that top off. DUH!

One of the amazing things about this sweat was how clean I felt after. I'm an endurance athlete and have done my share of sweating. Always after a long event I can't wait to hit the shower to wash the salt and sticky feeling off my skin, to wash away the human scent that is stronger. But after this sweat lodge I felt so clean, as though I had taken a luxurious bath. I even felt moisturized. Out west the air is so dry your skin literally puckers up if you don't put on lotion, but this night I did not feel this. My skin was clean, soft and needed nothing added to it. What a surprise this was!

My entire two weeks out west was devoted to Jim. He was with me during this sweat lodge, I carried him with me up to almost 13,000 feet when I hiked in Telluride - and cried the last switch back to the top remembering how he was always out ahead of me on these hikes. It was a hugely spiritual journey for me. I guess being home I'm surrounded by all that Jim and I once were and will never be again .... and my heart breaks again, over and over.

Loving you all back,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sweat Lodge -chapter three

At the beginning of the second round of the sweat I leaned over and asked Debbie - Stan's assistant during the sweat who had told us she was from Boulder, came up for a sweat after her mother died and, basically, never left - if there would be more sharing during the second round? She said no, just praying. There is a ritual with water that is done while the doors are still open and someone had brought flashlights so we could see as the sun had completely set at this time .... though I had no clue what time it actually was. After this water ritual Stan asks that doors be closed. I looked over at my good friend who had to slip out just before the first round and she was already in her towel tent ... she was staying!

Several folks have emailed me asking what is worn for clothing as well as what the heat might be compared to. The Addison's are a very modest bunch and this is not a Swedish sweat so clothes are worn and all of us were very conscious about being discreet regarding the length of the shorts we wore and the tightness of any tops. But basically once that water is added to those hot rocks the towels are the most important thing you can have in the sweat with you, and big enough to make a tent to cover your head and face as well as other towels to cover your legs and any other exposed skin. The heat is so incredibly intense that no steam bath comes even close in comparison. I think all of us experienced moments of panic at some point with this wall of heat. I found the advice my friend, Roseanne, had given me about taking small sips of air through the open mouth to be the only thing that kept me from screaming for the doors to be opened. If you breathe too deep it actually feels like your lungs are burning and thus your breathing is so compromised that it can bring on panic. But if you can sit with this and breathe through it there is something beyond this panic .... if you stay with it, sip the air that you can and dig deeper into your own reserves ... there is a hugely spiritual thing on the other side of that panic. This is one of the many layers of power that the sweat lodge seems to offer; to be tested to your breaking point and be able to move beyond it .... there is another level that one can reach.

As this second round began and the doors were closed Stan said a few words of thanks and prayer and then asks that the water be added. Again, the heat slammed into me and the sweat began to pour off me. I have never felt the flood gates to my pours open like this; the sweat poured down my face dripping off my nose and chin, cascading down my spine, soaking the towels and my clothes. I would open my mouth to take my little sips of air and suck in water as it drained off me.

And then the praying started. Stan started to sing in his native language the high careening and flute like trilling of the Native American chanting. He has a beautiful voice and when Daniel joined in the sound hit me in the solar plexus, or heart chakra, and my body began to rock. There was something very ancient and completely familiar to me in this music. My tears of gratitude and grief for Jim were mixing with the waterfall of sweat so that I couldn't tell one from the other. As the young Addison girls joined in there was a higher pitched ensemble added to this miraculous melodious prayer. It is one of the most amazing and gorgeous music I have ever heard. Then it stopped and the doors were opened and we all funneled outside once again.

I went and sat with Daniel on the rug under the canopy of the Milky Way. I pointed out a few constellations that I could recognize to Willo and Molly. Daniel shared with us one of the stories of the Milky Way that he had grown up with that involved horses and buffalos. And then he began to sing another song for us ... and again my body began to just rock and a huge smile grew on my face. I so loved hearing his voice, hearing this language, hearing this music. Sitting out under this brilliant display of stars in the chill of the Wyoming air while being sung to by this Arapaho man in his land was more then I could have ever asked for, more then I ever expected and I am eternally grateful to this family for their acceptance of all of us white women who came to them for healing, who embraced us with their songs, who enveloped us in their ritual sweat lodge and brought us all to an understanding of what equality is, what shared pain is all about.

Loving you all back
(and there is still one more chapter regarding the 4th round of the sweat that was incredibly wonderful)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chapter 2 - Sweat Lodge

On this sweat lodge night the sunset was magnificent with the mountains of the Wind River Range in the distance turning purple. The few streaks of clouds in the sky turned bright pink to pastel orange and then the first star (a planet really) appeared. A new moon, the stars would be glorious at this altitude tonight.

Molly was beginning to get very nervous so Stanford had talked to her for awhile in the kitchen and loaded her up with a big bed spread and other large beach towels. She was told to sit beside him. I was also to sit close to him (and of course, Molly!) so that I could hear him tell me when to remove my hearing aids. He didn't want me to wear those as the heat would be too much but he didn't want me to miss out on any of the sharing and things that would be said either. So Molly and I were put beside Stanford, who lies on a mattress by one of the two doors.

We already knew to have towels to cover our skin to protect it against the heat. One of the young Arapaho girls doing the sweat educated us on how to get as low as possible and completely cover yourself with the larger towel if the heat got to be too much. This was really good information! Molly practiced this and with her bed spread she was completely covered and therefore protected.

Stanford spoke softly to me while everyone was getting settled and asked if I would be willing to share my story with everyone. I agreed that I would. I knew that this is part of a sweat; participants share the pain in their heart, the purging of emotions that must be purged. He asked that the doors be closed - the "doors" are just heavy blankets that are pulled down over the 2 entrances to the lodge. It is pitch black once the doors close. I moved closer to Molly and she and I grasped hands through our towels.

Stanford thanked everyone for coming and for all the help he got in preparing the sweat tonight. He then said "Mary, would you share your story with everyone please" ... and I did. My voice was very shaky but I was able to get through it without breaking down. I shared my story with the 5 women who already knew it intimately and with a dozen Arapaho people who didn't even know my name. I shared that my husband, Jim, was diagnosed with brain cancer on December 29th, 2008 and how he survived for sixteen months, almost twice as long as all his doctors predicted. I shared how his right side had become paralyzed and he lost his ability to speak, how strong and beautiful his spirit was, how the Eagles had circled Jim and I that morning back in April, so close that we could see their eyes and this prompted me to contact Stanford to have this sweat for Jim ... but Jim died in May and I decided to come anyway and that perhaps this is what the Eagles saw as what was needed all along.

Stanford quietly thanked me for sharing, thanked me for all the work and caring I must have needed to do to take care of Jim. My tears were now flowing silently and freely. Then he asked for the water to be poured on the rocks. I suddenly realized, since on one else was asked to share, this sweat was devoted to Jim and that all those gathered were now going to support me in my healing. And then with a large hiss we were hit with a wall of heat like nothing I have ever experienced before.

There are four rounds to a sweat. Each round lasts only 10-15 minutes and then the doors open and everyone gets to take a break. As I emerged with bare feet I saw my friend, Willo, sitting with Daniel - Stanford's adopted son, the biological son of Stan's dead brother - and Daniel's girlfriend on a rug beside the lodge. They called me over to sit with them. Daniel leaned over and asked "who are you?". I was taken aback by this question as I understood now that this was not really asking me my name. Who am I? For a few seconds I thought of saying I'm the woman who traveled from sea level where the air is salt kissed to 7,000 feet and a sage scented land. I'm the woman who lies down alone at night with a heart so heavy I'm never sure I will be able to get up and carry it again come morning. I'm the woman who, after all these years, must try to navigate a whole new life without an oar anymore ... or an anchor. But I looked at Daniel and said, "I'm Mary".

Willo leaned over and told me that nobody knew who was talking. OH! Yes, I'm Mary. Daniel - who has jet black hair that flows to his waist and the high, strong cheekbones of his people - leaned over, took my hand and looking me in the eye said "I'm sorry for your loss". His girlfriend then did the same thing and told me that her grandmother had died in April from lung cancer and she understood how terrible it is to lose someone to this disease.

I realized that this is what a sweat lodge does, all who share in it are equal, everyone has pain, everyone has some kind of tragedy in their life ... and in the sweat lodge all are embraced because of this pain, because we all share it, because we are all connected. It's truly a wonderful thing to experience.

Stanford had spent the break talking to one of my comrades who, due to a severe jolt of claustrophobia, had to make her escape from the lodge before the second door got closed, thus missing the first round. I don't know what Stanford said to her but she entered the lodge again and sat by the door determined to stay for the entire second round. I was incredibly proud of her and my respect for Stanford rose even higher.

Round two was about to begin .....

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sweat Lodge - chapter one

I'm realizing this whole event needs to be done in chapters, there's just too much to try to put into one blog.

On Wednesday, September 1, all 6 gals rendezvoused outside of Fort Collins, Colorado and in 2 cars we made the journey towards Lander, Wyoming. The sweat lodge was scheduled for Thurs. Sept. 2. We were told to plan on arriving at Stanfords house between 12:00 and 3:00 on the 2nd in order to cook dinner for everyone (this could mean up to 35 people - many will gather for a sweat lodge) that would be consumed after the sweat. In addition we would purchase things that Lisa Jones had told us were favorites; Fanta orange soda, diet and regular soda of any flavor, pesto, Kool light soft packs, to name a few.

The six of us had a wonderful morning of exploring Lander, lunch and then hit the grocery store timing it so we would be at the Addison's by 3:30, which we were. The initial "welcome" was very confusing ... nobody seemed to know we were coming and seemed surprised there was going to be a sweat. Stanford was off in another town running errands. Uh-oh. Luckily a couple of my gal pals weren't intimidated by this, started unloading the car saying "well, we've brought dinner and we're going to get it cooking for y'all now". This was fine, no problem. Stanford would be back around 5:00 or 5:30 and the sweat would, indeed, take place by sunset.

There was a lot of just hanging out, walking to the horse corral, walking to the river, all kinds of people coming and going with kids and dogs appearing and disappering. It's literally a beehive of activity. I was struck by how no one really introduced themselves. They would say hello and give big, warm, welcoming smiles but names did not seem important at all.

Stanford arrived and we helped unload the car that was filled with supplies. Stanford waved hello to everyone, drove his wheel chair up the ramp and disappeared into the house to have a cigarette. We slowly made our way in and all introduced ourselves and were told that it was still too hot for a sweat so it would wait until sundown. Molly (my niece) and I decided to take a walk down a cow path. We were immediately joined by 2 young boys who, they told us, were cousins. They had just returned from town with plastic guns that shot tiny, hard, bright green plastic BB's. Great, I thought! These 2 never asked our names and we didn't ask them theirs. They were our warriors and all set to protect us ... once they understood that we would not be intimidated and taken hostage that is! I never knew so many rattlesnakes could exist just out of sight on this cow path. There seemed to be one every 25 yards .... or so these boys said ... and they had to be shot at to scare them away - of course! And then there were free range bulls behind every bush. We were told to "RUN!" but when we didn't we were told that it was OK, they could protect us. Phew.

By the time we got back to the house with these two young warriors they were asking us our names. Ah, getting to know you and understanding how you are as a person is far more important then a name. I liked this, and felt delighted when our new friends now wanted to know how to call to us.

Stanford was driving his wheel chair out to the corral just as we got back to the house so we followed along. After the horses seemed to accept a few of us there with Stan he turned to me and said "Mary, when did you call me?". I walked over and said "well, Stanford, I called you back in April initially. I am the woman Lisa Jones talked to you about. My husband had brain cancer and we agreed that a sweat for him would be good. Then I called you in June to tell you that he had passed away in May but that I still wanted to do a sweat and we agreed on this date, September 2." As I was talking I saw Stanford start to remember all this and I continued to say "I didn't want to bug you and call you again to remind you as I thought you'd probably remember," and then I added with a laugh "but I guess not huh?". Stanford laughed with me and just said "yeah, I screwed that one up!"

The afternoon wore on and since nobody had watches or cell phones we never really knew the time, just that the sun was getting lower in the sky and it was beginning to cool off quite a bit. We all agreed that just being with this family was very much part of the whole adventure. I was sitting on the small porch just off the kitchen when Stanford wheeled out and parked right beside me and started chatting with everyone who was on the porch at this time.
"So, Mary, how many people did you bring?", he asked.
"Oh, about 2,000." He laughed pretty hard at this. The whole family, including Stan, have a wonderful sense of humor and are very easy going so it was not hard to just hang around for all these hours waiting for the sweat.

The fire to heat the rocks had been started and constantly attended by a couple men for awhile now and these same men were now using shovels to carry these rocks to the pit inside the lodge .... it was almost sweat time. Others told us that usually there is a sweat on Wednesday nights but there had not been one last night - Wednesday the first - so everyone was excited that there would be a sweat after all.

The six of us from Maine had many emotions, all mixed, about this sweat lodge that was getting prepared for all of us.

To be continued ....