The Last Martini

You don’t know when it will be the last one.

Honest.

You don’t know when you will have the opportunity to say, “Gosh, I’ve enjoyed that”, and to not be able to say that again.

So – the lesson is – always enjoy as though it is the last.

That’s not a fatalistic view – it is honest.  And it it pragmatic. There is nothing wrong with that.

Today marks the birthday of one of my favorite aunts.  Honestly, if someone were to ask me who was my favorite, I’d not be able to name her. They all had their moments.  They were all very special. And they all played very different roles in my life.  Some were more supportive than others – some more entertaining.  And Auntie Helen – well… she was the quintessential entertainer.

I have to be honest that I am tired tonight – but I feel the need to recognize this amazing person whom I have enjoyed.  Yes, I would say, gosh I’ve enjoyed her.

One would think that it would be impossible to enjoy someone who has “gone” – but that would not be the truth.  I enjoy her memories  I enjoy thinking about her – and laughing out loud about the time Ron, Auntie Helen, and I spent together – drinking martinis.  Three olives were better than two. And laughter was the elixir of the day.

Happy birthday, Auntie Helen.  Still love you!

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Life’s Pause

“It’s not what you accomplish in life that counts – it’s what you overcome”

Well, the timing of that message to me from a friend this morning couldn’t have been more perfect.  It was a reminder to carry on.  And sometimes, life can cause a pause.  I’m in one of those pauses right now.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing – I think it happens when one processes new information, to adjust to news, to let the brain catch up to circumstances.  Pauses take time.  Sometimes they take a lot of time. Of course, this is directly correlated to the actual drama of the news itself.  Hence, I guess, someone coined the term, “pregnant pause” to explain a really long time of “nothing”.

I’m swirling a bit in this pause.  As always, it is about me.  I’m at the centre – looking around those people who surround me.  And in my mind’s eye, I am watching them.  I watch to see how they react – to see if they are crying, hugging, smiling.  I spectate.  They perform.  Only, they don’t see me watching.  I’m in a different house, a different city, a different province.  Yet – they are so clear to me.

I had visited these people only last summer.  Kevin and I had gone to BC to visit.  Thank goodness we did as this visit has given me context with which I can imagine their grief, their suffering, and their relief.  The visit was more important than I could have known at the time and the visit almost didn’t happen.  I was just not sure if I was travelling too soon after my chemo had ended.  It was always that way, my concern about my immune health.  It was on a wing and a prayer that I decided that life is meant to be lived.  That’s tougher to do than it sounds.  It was a good decision and a good rule to live by.

Pam’s voice was soft and low.  This was in marked contrast to the raucous I heard in the background.  The children and grandchildren had already arrived to her house – the house where she and Brian had lived.  The house where they had entertained friends and family.  The house where Brian had told stories and stuffed the walls full of joyous belly laughter.  The house that gave the family comfort, character to grow into strong individuals, and history to ground them when their roots were ripped from the family soil.

“I am okay, Stacey,” Pam reassured me.  “I have been grieving for a long time now.”

I knew that.  I had witnessed that as late as last summer.

“The thing I grieve for the most is that Brian was robbed of his experience as a grandfather.  He never got to appreciate the gift of grandchildren.  It’s not fair that he missed this part of life.”

She was right.  I hadn’t thought of that.  I wanted to tell he that he would never miss what he never knew and that it was “her” that missed watching him grandfather his children’s children.  No need to voice that one. It would be me yapping away in the face of a woman who was, quite simply, masked quiet by grief.  She paused on the phone.  I heard her breathe.  I heard the sadness in her sigh that told me everything that words would never be able to tell.  I listened.  We were with each other, though on either sides of Canada.  Distance is only a physical measure – not spiritual.  And we were spiritually linked.

She was the first to lose a Mom – of all the cousins.  She was the last to lose a Dad – of all the cousins.  She was the first to lose a partner.  There is something to be said about being first and last.  We look to see what it will feel like when something happens.  We look to see if it felt the same for all of us when it is over.  Losing a spouse to Alzheimer’s… I’m not sure if there is anything more challenging than that.  It’s like a double or triple death.  It is to lose a person – one piece at a time.  At least, that’s how I think it must be.

She is the Matriarch of the family.  That is the role.  How will this role be played?  What are the expectations for her?  She must be brave.  She must be strong.  She must be clever.  She must be stoic.  She must be….. everything that everyone needs.  And then grieve herself.  She is at the centre of the circle – looking out at everyone around her and watching them to see how they cope.  Some will be angry.  Some will be relieved.  Some will turn their backs to her and some will turn to her for comfort.  She remains in the middle of the pause.

But it cannot last too long.

That pause.

A breath in time, really.

And then, life must move on.

They will re-adjust to their new lives.  I know this to be true.  Life will never be the same again. Ever.  That’s the way it goes.  Each event leaves a mark on our lives.  Each person, we carry as a tattoo on our souls.  The ink – indelible.  We never forget – forever changed.

But for a while – we pause.

 

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Living in My Own La-La Land

Yes, I saw the movie.  Yes, I danced when I got home.  Yes, Ryan Gosling is my new rock star.

But what the heck is La-La-Land?

I live in my Ho-Ho-House.

With my HUB-HUB-Hubbie.

And my Fa-Fa-Family.

Is that what this title is all about?

I take my Pi-Pi- Pills.

Every Da-Da-Day.

And I Ea-Ea-Eat a good diet always.

When I’m happy, I Si-Si-Sing and Hu-Hu-Hum.

On week-ends I do La-La-Laundry.

That doesn’t sound like I’m on theme, though.

What If-If-If, however, our Li-Li-Lives were to play out with fun titles representing our actions?

Would I be Bo-Bo-Boring?

Would I be Ex-Ex-Exciting?

Would I be Hi-Hi-Hilarous?

Maybe that’s just plain, Si-Si-Silly.

What I do realize, is that there are only so many two-letter combinations that you can use until the introduction becomes repetitive.  In fact, I guess someone has already used the La-La’s up for a movie.  That leaves a Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu, and sometimes By.  Well, then there’s the vowel combination with every other consonant in the alphabet.

Yeah – so these are the Ra-Ra-Ramblings of my Mi-Mi-Mind when I am taking my time swallowing my Pi-Pi-Pills.  Welcome to my La-La-Life.

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If We All Had a Vandie!

My first thought this morning was, “maybe I just won’t go”.

I had a good excuse; I thought I cracked a rib yesterday.  It was a silly thing – I leaned over the console in the car to reach my purse in the back seat.  I felt something.  And it hurt!  Of course, I was glad to be by myself as a thunderous, “SHIT!” came out of me.   I sat in the car.  Alone.  Stunned.  Terrified my guts would somehow spill out onto the floor.  I waited.  I didn’t pass out.  The world kept going.  No one stopped to ask me if I was okay.  No one passed by.  Another day.  Then, I cried.  All I needed was another tier of trouble.  Living with cancer was enough. Do I now have to deal with healing a cracked rib?

I rolled over to test the limits of my rib.  It felt pretty good.  Maybe it wasn’t broken?  Maybe I strained a muscle.  Of course, my mind wandered even further… maybe my cancer from the liver grew out through my ribs and I ripped a piece of it off and it has spread to all other parts of my body – and I’ll be dead in an hour? Yeah.  Well  – if I’m to be honest, this kind of thinking just seems to happen when you live with cancer.

I sat up.  Okay.  Not bad.  I thought, “If I go to fitness at least I’ll be able to test my limits and know what I can and cannot do.”

So, I drank the coffee Kevin had served me earlier (which I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach, let alone drink), got David ready for school, and away I went.  I must also add, I moved throughout this process ever so gingerly as I did have twinges when I moved the wrong way.

“How are you feeling, Stacey?”  asked Vandie as soon as I arrived.  Did I mention she greeted me at her front door with a concerned look on her face?

“Good to go, Vandie”, I responded hoping my words would define my health.

Laura, who just went through cancer herself, and I were soon positioned behind our steps and ready to go.

“Step touch,” Vandie began.

We all chatted as we do at the beginning of the class.  We have energy and enough breath to breathe at the beginning.  The conversation was casual.  We chat about life, kids, food… Always, interspersed between the chatter, is Vandie’s, “you gals okay?” and “Laura, do this instead of that for your arm”, and “Stacey – do this instead so you don’t strain your rib”.  Always.  There are always accommodations made to our routines.

How would I fare in a regular fitness class, I sometimes wonder.  Exercising with 30 other women with no issues would not give me the assurance I need to move through.  I’d be broken by now.  I know it.  I push too hard and I would not give in to my injuries.  I still get dizzy on occasion and Vandie gives me Gatorade.  I get winded and Vandie modified my work-out.  I want to get rid of these muffin – tops I have since chemo – and damn it – we work on that.  “Be careful what you ask for, Stacey, you know you are going to get it!” Vandie laughs.

I look at Laura, she looks at me.  We smile through gritted teeth.  This happens when we are using elastics to firm up our butts.  We aren’t really smiling and we both know it – we know it is the smile of a woman in pain who knows she needs to give it!  But while Laura moves, so do I.  And while I move, so does she.  We motivate each other – and this is good.  Neither can get away with anything as Vandie watches us.  “Get those legs higher, girls,” she’ll say.  “We can do 8 more, can’t we?” she will ask er… demand.

I got through the class.  Oh, how those stretches felt so good at the end.  “This will help stretch out those ribs, Stacey.” And they did.  I felt relief.  I felt better.  I felt great – both mentally and physically.

As we parted from one another, we all affirmed how important fitness has been in our lives.  It pushed us to know our limits.  Without that, we’d be wallowing in self -pity and getting weaker by the day.  I don’t know how people recover from illness without fitness.  How do you know your abilities?  How do you challenge your limits?  I know I’m a shadow of the fit person I once was – but I am so much better than I would have been had I not had Vandie in my life.  I know Laura agrees.  We all need a push.  We all need inspiration.  We all need to be reminded of our current limits – to respect them.  Oh, if we could all have a Vandie.

 

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I’d Rather Be Riding My Bike

Going in for my monthly check up today.  I’m not worried.  I’m just not into it…

I think I need a holiday.  But instead, I think I’ll go on my treadmill. Exercise, sometimes, is as good for me as a vacation.  Exercise takes my mind off things, it makes me feel better about myself, and it gives me energy for the day.  And I think I’ll feel more like going outside and facing this appointment after my “indoor walk”.

I would rather go for a bike ride – grin.

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Down River

I’ve not yet read the book, but it sure has a good looking cover.  And I really like the title to boot!  So, I keep the book handy – by my bedside in case I get the urge to actually read.  I like to be prepared.  Especially when it comes to indulging my desire to read, since reading is supposed to help thwart the onset of Alzheimer’s – and you never know what is coming at you down river.

Right?

Today is my last day of therapy with my Kelly.  I am sad that she is completing her term as a fill-in for a maternity.  Sad – may not be the right word.  I’m not really sad.  Being sad would imply a negative emotion filled with the angst of loss – and that’s not me right now.  I think it is more that I am feeling appreciative and anxious to be able to thank her appropriately for everything she has done for me.  Yes. That’s it – anxious.  In a good way.  I find myself a bit stumped over how to show her how much I’ve learned, how much confidence I have gained, and how good I feel about my life right now.  A scarf?  (She always liked the scarves I wore to our session.)  A concrete gift, though, just doesn’t seem enough. There are times when something concrete and tangible seems to be so inadequate to express appreciation for saving me from drowning.

There was a time, during my last chemo session, when I felt I would not ever be able to come up for air.  I will never forgot that feeling.  I felt like I was immersed in a pool of water and although I saw the surface, I just couldn’t reach it to take a breath.  Maybe it was the drugs?  Maybe it was my emotions?  Maybe it was just too fucking hot this summer? I don’t know.  I just couldn’t get a handle on things – life was flying by too quickly and I was desperate to create a memory.  You know, sometimes I felt that I was dying and every moment I missed was a gem slipping through my fingers.  “Is it like you are floating down a river and can’t quite reach the shore?”.

“Yes!” She nailed it.  That’s all I needed.  I was speeding down the Petawawa River in a broken canoe, dragging my feet to try to gain control, while the banks zipped by me.  Life was passing by – and I couldn’t stop it – until I could get a handle on the analogy that was alluding me.  I walked out of her office a new woman.  I wasn’t right – but I was going to be.  And I knew it.  Kelly told me what I needed to hear. It was my story, really, but she made it fit my picture.

She did this often.  She turned my story back into mine so I could take control of it again.  Words are so important to me.  They are my salve.  When I am not collected on the inside, they sort me out to make me whole.  When I am broken with despair, they are my glue which builds me back up.  Kelly reminded me, always, of this life strategy.  And I needed much reminding.  She helped me to find my words.

How can one find a way to say thank-you for that – other than by using words.  I hope these words will give Kelly the affirmation that she gave me; “You are good.  You are going to be okay.  The river will calm down eventually and you will be able to get out.”

Kelly taught me that I already had the lesson in me I needed.  I know the strategies.  I know about filling buckets, and circles of life, and letting go… I know about the power of positive thinking, focusing on the here and now, while getting my estate in order.  I don’t need these kinds of lessons.  God knows I’ve taught them enough that I could recite them in my sleep.  What make Kelly different – from all the rest – was that I considered her a friend.  I didn’t need a therapist, I needed a friend.  And I got one.  Now, don’t get me wrong because although I considered her a friend, she was too professional to cross that boundary.  We would have been good friends.  I know my current friends would have loved to meet her and would have offered to her life too.  And that is part of my sorrow for the day… today I must say good-bye.

I find I am struggling with the need to say thank you and the need to say good bye all at once.  I could wallow in that all day long, but then, the gratitude I feel would be lost in translation.  Kelly would not be happy with me at all.. and her work would have been for naught.  On that note, I will turn my thinking in another direction – down river.  I will imagine the great things that await down river and, instead of fighting the current, let the current carry me there.  When one door closes, a window opens.

I do hope that Kelly feels the same way.  I remember how tough it was to walk away from the work you have done for so long – to leave the people you loved to work with – in the past.  I went in to work, to my class, the Friday after my Tuesday diagnosis – to say thank you and good-bye.  I cried.  The students cried. We were all rather stunned at what had just happened.  We were taken aback at how quickly life can change.  I was so terribly sad.  Depleted.  It was one of the most difficult things I had done during my career.  I didn’t know if I would ever be back – or see my students graduate.  They didn’t know if I would be back either – – or what to do.  It turns out that a week or two later, they sent me a beautiful card with quotes from me which I had offered them during class.  To be remembered like that was so very powerful.  I laughed when I read, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty..” as it was a line from West Side Story – a clip I played one morning and sang to them to wake them up.  It made all of us smile.

Who knows what awaits us down river?  No one.  But as long as we enjoy the water,  rather than fight the current, we are in for one hell of a ride!  Oh, and all the while, feeling pretty doesn’t hurt either!  Grin.

TTFN, Kelly! Thanks for the ride!

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Cerebral Squalls

They come and blow your mind away
They make mountains of your thoughts
They will gather strong in billowed clouds
You will find yourself distraught

The sky can blacken all around
Will cause your heart to race
You fear the wrath the clouds may bring
As you quicken up your pace

Then as quickly as it came
It moves along the sky
And out of view the squall does pass
To leave you high and dry

You feel the warmth upon your face
It melts and thaws your mind
You stop and pause and close your eyes
To leave the past behind

The moment seems to slow right down
Life stops and takes a breath
Living in the here and now
Gives minute of brain refresh

Then

There is it, yet once again
The storm is suddenly nigh
You’ve seen it once, you’ll see it again
And know it will pass by

Cerebral squalls like internal storms
Come and pass at will
Neither you, nor I nor, nor shelter strong
Can save us from this drill

Mother Nature teaches well
To expect that there’ll be storms
To build a refuge in our mind
As shelter when they form

As quickly as the snow arrives
We know this too shall pass
And lead to clear skies soon, my friend
When the sun will warm our ass

 

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The Writing on The Wall

At times it seems so far away
At times it seems so near
The writing that is on the wall
Is nothing we should fear

Daytime light illuminates
The words that I can see
Yet never do I seem to know
Which word I think I’ll need

Night brings a darkness to the scroll
Sometimes comfort is at hand
I close my eyes and visualize
The footsteps in the sand

I don’t know why that wall it moves
Sometimes closer into view
I see the words, I see the lines
Enough to understand a few

Then, bam, away it moves so far away
That I forget it’s there
And live my life, enjoy each day
As though I’ve not a care

Still, when I am alone and time
Is given freely for me to think
I look up from what I’m doing and
I feel my soul can sink

There ahead – I see the wall
It stares right back at me
I read the lines, I read the script
I wish that I could flee

And just as quickly as it came
The wall recedes back out of view
At the distance, I no longer see
The words – a meager few

I know it’s there, I know the words
I know the day will come
But at this time and in this place
I’ve only just begun

At times, like these, so far away
At times, it is so near
The writing that is on the wall
Is nothing, today, to fear.

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First World Problems

Oh, how I faced so many issues already today and realized how quickly they could be resolved.

My stomach was growling this morning.  The cure for that was breakfast.

I was cold.  The cure was to turn up the furnace.

I was sleepy.  So, I stayed in bed longer.

Oh, man – I was thirsty.  I filled my water bottle and drank it down.

It was dark.  I turned on the light.

The dishes were piled on the counter – I stacked them in the dishwasher.

The dog was looking at me longingly for food – I gave her kibble.

I really didn’t want to see the snow falling – I turned away from the window.

David couldn’t find what he wanted for lunch.  Kevin took him to Subway before school.

How many more cures can one possibly find in one day?

First world problems.

 

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Thanks for the Memories!

The day is foggy.  It is tough to see across the pond to the woods.  So odd, it is, for a day so late in January.  I do hope my Malloff cousins will get home safely as they navigate this pea soup of a day!

“You weren’t supposed to fuss,” said cousin Ron.  “If you fuss, we won’t come again,” he threatened.

“I did fuss,” I said.  “And I WILL fuss again because I want to fuss.  And that is my choice.  It makes me happy.  It is my gift to you. And you WILL come again, so don’t tell me what to do!”

And so it began – the teasing, the chiding, the laughing, the remembering… What a blast it has been this weekend with them here.  It seems like forever since I’ve seen them.  Ron, Mike, Stephanie, and little Abrianna.  Of course, I’ve known the older two my whole life and watched as these brothers became parents, then grandparents.  I know all about that – I expect this to happen.  What I didn’t expect was for Ron’s daughter, Stephanie, to become so interested in our family, our heritage, our history.

“So, who are my cousins, Stacey?”

And with a little note pad and pen, I scribbled the names of the cousins, the cousins spouses, and children.

“You keep in touch with all of them?”

“Yup.  And I am proud of it!  It is so important to me.”

Stephanie was learning.  She was learning about the family. She was learning about our history.  She was not the only one.  I had had this similar conversation with Pam’s daughters Anna and Alex.  Pam, our historian, knew much more of the history of our family, of course.  I forget all that.  But me? I know who we are now.  And I am driven to unite the next generation.

The strangest feeling of all was that it was clear that Stephanie is younger.  How could she not know that her Dad used to play hockey with me and that her aunt used to read me stories? I mean, don’t we all know that?  Egad.  I have become one of the ones from the past – I am now a more historical figure!  My Dad used to say that it was so easy to know things from history because he lived it.  I didn’t get it – I wasn’t historical.   I am now.  Egad again.  I am a part of our history.

How does that feel?  I think I have mixed emotions about it.  I am happy to know the facts and to be able to be a resource.  I am NOT happy that I am NO longer the youngest, well, at least of the primary cousins.  Not by a long shot.

“So – you need to take over, Stephanie, when I’m gone,” I advised her.  “Someone has to take over my mission to keep us all together.  I think it is you. ”

“I’m on it, Stacey,” she replied.

We ate, we danced, we drank (a little), and we laughed.  We played cards, we played cribbage, and fibbage, and dice.  We stuffed the 24 hours we were together full of laughter, tears, stories, and tales.  We simply enjoyed one another.  And then – we planned for more since 24 hours is simply not enough to make up for so much lost time.  We live far too far apart from each other.  Maybe that’s a good thing as I think we could all get into mischief if we were closer!  Yes, we made a few long-distance phone calls to wish long-distance cousins a happy birthday and sing to them – even though it may not have been their birthday.  We wanted the others to be with us – so – why not leave a happy birthday song?  grin.

The clan.

I love my clan.

I feel I belong.  I am connected.  We are all connected.

The day may be foggy, but my heart rings loud and clear.  My spirits soar and my load is lifted.  I may weigh a few more pounds today – but I am light with laughter and joy.

Thanks for the visit, crew!  And thanks for the memories!

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