Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grief and Gifts continued

Magoo is the nickname my oldest sister has given our 21 year old niece. I'm going to refer to her with this name for her privacy ... even though she's given me permission to write this and to use her real name. Of course everyone who knows her will know who this is about but I'm sticking with Magoo.

Magoo is the youngest of three in my middle sister's family, and the only girl. She is also the only one who was born in Nashville. The family would come home to Maine in the summers and we would get to see how much the kids had grown, what teeth were missing and begin to hear the twang starting to seep into Magoo's dialect. At four years old she would sit in her car seat and wave a tiny hand saying "Bah, bah, y'all."

One summer day, when Magoo was maybe five, I got to babysit her for several hours. We went to a playground, we went to lunch where she entertained me and the waitresses and we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Sitting in the front seat (this was before mandatory car seats), not tall enough to see out of any windows, she looked up at me and said "Aunt Mary? I love you." That was it, this kid - who has the exact same eyes as mine - had stolen my heart.

This family soon moved back to Maine, to a small town two hours north and into the inherited family farm. There the kids became busy in all the school activities. During these years we headed north to see the school musicals, headed north so Jim could play ice hockey on the pond with the boys, and north to witness and celebrate the high school graduations. Magoo was around a lot more then her brothers, but usually we were there when my very large family gathered en mass so connecting was difficult. Close family ties and all, I had lost knowing who she was.

Until Jim was in Hospice.

When we went to Hospice friends and family circled the wagons; those who could take the time would come and go in order to be with us for the days we were there. Friends cooked dinners and brought them over so we could all sit in the dining area and eat ... while Jim drifted away in his room. I had such a hard time leaving that room, leaving him, watching him leave me.

Magoo was in her final exams at school and had several days when she didn't have to be back. She asked me if she could stay and be with me in Hospice. Her mother added, "Mary, you'll find she is very helpful!" My response was, of course you can stay! And you should just show up in the morning and hang in the room, don't wait to see if it's OK to come in, just come in, camp out and you will soon become part of the ebb and flow, the rhythm, the pulse in the intricate energy of the room. And this is exactly what she did.

Jim went to Hospice the first week in May, with the days warming and daffodils popping. During those days I could only leave the room for short periods of time; to sit in the sun, to eat a bit of food, to see friends who were gathered outside and wanting to see me. The days were incredibly long and yet timeless. On most afternoons Magoo would look at me as the shadows were lengthening and the sky was turning pink and say "Time for a walk Mary."
"I don't know, maybe I should stay and ..."
"Nope, let's just take a short walk around the neighborhood. It's really nice out. We won't be gone long!"

And thus, she would get me out and she and I would talk about what was going on in her life and not talk about what was going on in mine.

Magoo had to leave while we were still on watch in Hospice. She had to go back to school and take her last exam. The day she was getting ready to go I went looking for her and her mother. I was told they were out in the parking lot so I ran out to find them. Magoo jumped out of the car and came running, literally, into my arms. She was crying and shaking and bubbling a verbal stream of consciousness, "I don't want to go ... I want to stay with you ... I want to get to know you and I wanted to get to know Jim and I wanted to be able to hang with you when I finished school and get him to help me learn photography and maybe travel with him and now he's gonna be gone before I even get back and I'll never know him and you have so many friends and I want to be a friend even though I'm family and I'm just gonna be around now and I hate to have to go, this stupid math exam and I'll never see you again and .... "

"Whoa, whoa! Hey, I'm still here! I will still be here when you finish this damn math exam and you are welcome to come be with me at any time!" Never have I said words that were more true. We were both crying now. I hugged her and said, "come say goodbye to Jim." As we entered the room I asked other family members if they would mind leaving for a few minutes and went with her to Jim's bedside.
"Magoo, I truly believe he still hears everything, even at this point. So say what you need to say to him ... he loves you. No regrets, OK?" And she did. And then she left ... and I missed her horribly.

Jim died two days later on May 7th. I went into robot-like motion that allowed me to do all that needed to be done to celebrate the life of one amazing man. All that needed to be done to bring our amazing circle of friends and families together to put closure on a life that was so big, so full and ended so early. As some of you may understand, things are too busy at the end. But then the dust begins to settle, people go home and you're left alone with that hole that you try to walk around all day long but keep falling into regardless. And this is when Magoo came to be with me. She moved into the TV room and asked nothing of me. She and I would sit and read over coffee in the morning and she would allow me to stare into space for short periods of time before she would say,
"Hey, what do you want to do today?"
"Huh? Oh. I don't know"
"Well, how about we go .... " and she had ideas, and she got me moving and off the couch and got me out ... again. She was just there, just being with me, just getting to know me better and allowing me to get to know her better; a small piece of joy in my not so joyous life.

She's still here. She's doing her student teaching in Portland and staying with a friend of ours just down the road who has an extra bedroom. She calls me up to see if I'm around, comes over to make cookies, have dinner with me, help to move a wood pile, sit by the wood stove and read.

She is a real gift. In all the horrible things that were going on for me in May of 2010, she is the biggest gift Jim brought back to me.

And with this said, I have to add that all my nieces and nephews have rallied around me in amazing ways. They all loved Jim and they reach out to me; another niece, JW, asking me to do acupuncture and attend the birth of her little girl, my grand-niece (that was amazing and a huge honor! That little one was born one day before my own birthday ... we may find she and I are a lot alike!). They all are helping me in far more ways then I can mention here and being there for me in just as many ways.

So, there are gifts that come from cancer and from the death of a loved one. In all that darkness there are tiny beams of light. And many of them are in hindsight ... but many of mine are here now in the present, and I cherish them all.

Thanks Magoo,

PS - the photo is of Magoo and her two uncles, Jim Daniels to her right and Jerry Sanders on her left. The little sentry in the back was a friend who was visiting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rings n' Things

I took my wedding ring off. It wasn't planned, I didn't really think about it a whole lot. I love this ring and figured it would be on my finger for a long time. Jim designed it and then had our good friend and jeweler, Kate Wolf, create it for our 10th wedding anniversary. It was/is the perfect ring for me; gold band with Mayan temple step design that runs around the band. It has a southwest look to it as well. But Jim and I traveled so extensively through Latin and South America that I knew instantly what it was when he presented this ring to me on our celebratory night.

But it's off my left ring finger now. I took all my rings off while spending the night in a hotel in Millinocket, Maine. My hands tend to swell at altitude and in the cold. Last weekend I skied eleven miles into Baxter State Park with 8 other friends where we stayed at Daicey Pond cabins for some winter fun. Yes, it's February! I figured my hands were going to get pretty cold. I could barely get my wedding ring off even in the hotel ... soap, water, more soap and then closing my eyes and willing that ring to slide over the knuckle that - with closer inspection - is beginning to show the deformity of arthritis and thus enlarged a bit. And it is that knuckle that makes it impossible to get the ring back onto my left ring finger.

So, it's off.

I realize today that this is actually perfect. While Jim was sick and I was in the throws of caring for him 24/7, with the assistance of so many incredibly wonderful friends and family, I could never look too far down the road. I could never really make plans to do anything as we never knew how Jim might feel. I threw a lot of things to the wind, literally, and was always amazed at how things just worked out. By putting my trust in the Universe, or whatever, and asking for help the help always seemed to come at just the right time. Even in Hospice, I had no plans, no design, no real intention of what that time would be or what I needed to do. But it all just unfolded; I set up a little Buddhist temple on the window sill for Jim and a dear friend brought a scarf and card blessed by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, without even knowing about the shrine I had created. Friends came and went and sometimes sat with Jim holding his hand and sometimes sat with me holding mine - but always there was a feeling of pure love and sanctuary in that room while Jim went deeper and deeper into his being in order to release himself from his broken shell. Nothing was planned ... and yet, it was perfect.

And so, I had not planned to take my ring off. I'm glad that it fits on my right ring finger where I will wear it now until it no longer fits there either.

It wasn't planned but it's perfect.

Loving you all back,

PS - Thanks to my friend Kerry who took the picture of my ring for me!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grief and Gifts

I was told so many times that there are gifts to come from cancer. While in the throws of that disease with Jim I kept wondering where the hell the gifts were and what they could possibly be! My wise friend, KP, said "maybe it's in hindsight, Mary" ... and maybe she was right.

I've mentioned in another blog all the connections to so many varied and wonderful people that Jim had and miraculously maintained. I know my tendency to not reach out is real but if any one reaches out to me, as so many of you have done and are doing, I say "yes" .... and I show up. I may have a little panic attack just before arriving because I no longer have the safety net of Jim to be there and keep conversations going and laughter rippling, but I will show up!

Some connections and reconnections happened due to this damn cancer. Widow to widow I have connected with a friend who we met when we lived in RI - another life time ago. Tina is five years without the love of her life. She keeps reaching out to me, checking on how I am, inviting me to her sweet cabin on Vinalhaven in the summer and to her home in Providence in the winter just to make sure I get a change of scenery. And she understands all my unspoken thoughts and feelings. She's been through this same fire.

And then our dear friends who we met due to the fact that Reg also has a malignant brain tumor. These wonderful people now watch as his glioblastoma wins the battle within him and his family circles their wagons; cherishing each and every minute for however long they have together.

But one of the biggest gifts that Jim left me was reintroducing me to my niece, M. Actually the reconnection with all my nieces and nephews has been pretty profound and deep ... but M stepped back into out lives in Hospice and has burrowed deep into my heart. This needs to be it's own blog as I don't want this one to get too long, so ...

.... to be continued!

Loving you all back,

Morning Thoughts

I woke at 3:00 this morning and no matter what I did, how I breathed, which way I tossed or turned, I couldn't fall back asleep. When the Mexican radio station got so bad in my head I decided to just get up ... pull those warm covers back and crawl out of bed at 4:00. Ella gave a big sigh and put her head back down .. "this again? I thought we were done with this."

The stars this morning are incredibly brilliant. Even here in the suburbs where my neighbors like to light up the night with their outdoor lights and all these street lights blaring - these stars are still outshining all this white light pollution. I took a few moments to stand in my bedroom window and just gasp at the overhead display; Orion's Belt, the Big Dipper tilted sideways and draining the cauldron, it's handle arching towards the earth. "Arc to Arcturus" - a saying used to help find the star Arcturus, which is below the horizon this morning. But Venus, that morning planet, is literally twinkling with all five points distinct and bright in this black early morning sky.

February seven marked nine months. Nine months. A human being is formed in the uterus and ready to come into this world in that amount of time. Nine months, and there has been some healing - I can focus on reading a book now, but I still can't quite organize my life. I've asked my Blah-Blah Sisterhood to step in and help me get some of the piles around the house either moved out or put away since I am crippled around these tasks. My youngest sister told me that rearranging my stuff and moving a lot of Jim's things out is also rearranging my life .... and with that comes new hits of reality of just what this means and how big it truly is.

Damn, my littlest sister can be so wise sometimes!

I'm watching Venus move across the sky. Soon I'll begin to see that thin line of light on the horizon as the sun pokes it's first rays up out of the Atlantic. Another day.

This morning, while I still thought I might fight the chatter that had taken over my consciousness, I lay in my bed looking out the window at the pin points of light in the sky and just asked, "Is this it now? Is this truly the plan you have for me? Is there something else I should be doing? Somewhere else I should be going? Someone else I should be meeting? Should I be letting go and worrying less, trusting more? ... you gotta admit, my trust has been slightly shaken since this was not what I had planned on .... is there a plan for me now?"

Morning thoughts. They'll disappear with the emergence of the violet light as those rays come dripping out of the ocean and my day gets filled with all the doing that must be done ...

... ah, and here comes the sun.

Loving you all back,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just Little-Big Things

It's amazing how much snow we're getting here in Maine. Global Warming? Yes. Although it's been incredibly cold ... so the whole "warm" thing doesn't seem to fit. But the change in weather patterns with the catastrophic storms were predicted as being a symptom of our atmospheric illness.

I'm going through wood faster then I thought might happen this winter. And all the snow storms are wreaking havoc on my weekly schedule. Folks just don't want to come out in the nasty weather to lie on a table and try to relax while they think about needing to drive home as the snow keeps falling. I work in a "mindful" business, so of course I encourage people to cancel if they aren't comfortable driving.

I'm not as comfortable driving in the bad weather lately myself.

When Jim was still with me we would see the snow storm as a good chance to go out and xc ski. I would worry that we couldn't make it up the steep hill that is the main road at the end of our driveway. But Jim didn't worry, we just had to try. When I was with Jim it felt safe and I knew we would be fine. It was a little adventure for us.

It amazes me how little things become so much bigger now without a partner to go through a storm with. That hill isn't something I want to attempt to drive up just to see if I can; if I can't then sliding down the hill backwards is one of many options. At the end of this street sits Casco Bay, so going down the hill backwards without the ability to stop on the ice could have somewhat of a bad ending. This was never even a thought when Jim would be driving; he and I could muscle the car out of the snowbank or park it in the neighbors yard and just deal with it later. JUST deal with it ... it did use to be that easy and simple, a "just". But nothing I have to deal with these days is "just" anymore. So many things feel so much bigger.

Months ago, as the nights were cooling down, I got up in the middle of the night to add a blanket to the bed. Being half asleep I took the folded blanket and just laid it under the comforter on my side, doubled up it was a good weight. I continue to make the bed this way ... one blanket folded into a single bed size to fit over my side covering only me. My bed is too big. My blankets are too big. My life has too many echoing areas in it where there use to be laughter and conversation and daily adventures.

Damn, this just sucks sometimes.

Loving you all back,