autumn days

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Choosing Health

The love of my life, M, died of lung cancer 12 weeks ago.  He was the young father of our three young children.  M ate well, exercised, had a variety of well-rounded routines.  Then why did this happen?  After asking myself this question too many times to count, I have come up with my own translation of events.  M had a family history of cancer.  His parents and grandparents died of cancer.  Each generation seemed to die younger than the last.  M's branch of the family tree has been the hardest hit at the youngest ages.  His parents were the first to die in their generation and M was the first in his.  This genetic predisposition is just the beginning of the challenge.  M and his parents unknowingly lived in homes with radon and worked with chemicals in an old building for much of their last 15 years.  I blame these exterior factors for the loss of my beloved at a tragically young age.  Perhaps I choose to blame these things because they are outside of my control.

After testing our 10-year-old home this last summer and autumn, I discovered my children have unknowingly been exposed to harmful levels of radon for their entire lives.  They also carry their father's genetic predisposition.  This is unsettling.  As the remaining single parent, I have also been exposed to this deadly gas.  I also worked in old buildings.  We are not alone.  Many people I know go to school and live in old buildings with possible.  Our metropolitan area also has substantial air quality challenges (large company emission levels allowed for small companies) that have led to cancer in people we know and love.  It is a true privilege to make healthy choices for my family.  Not everyone gets these choices.

Why bring down our energy by talking about death by everyday poisons?  In my opinion, once we know about a problem, we can finally do something to rectify the situation.  Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be deadly.  After finding radon in our home, I had a mitigation system installed.  I am comforted in knowing our levels are now far below "safe levels".  I make a point of providing regular doses of fresh fruits and vegetables for my children.  They have plenty of physical exercise and outlets for their emotions. 

I take comfort in knowing my children live in a newer home and attend a newer school.  I take comfort in knowing their school doesn't have asbestos in the walls or lead in the water.  I take comfort in knowing my children eat healthy foods, drink a lot of filtered water, stay away from plastic dishes, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, hang out with friends often, and regularly spend time outside.  I take comfort in trusting I am strong enough and resourceful enough to handle the raising of these extraordinary children in our changing world.  I take comfort in knowing it is a gift to get to live life fully with these people at this time.  I take comfort in knowing I continue to choose to be here with my children.  I take comfort in knowing I am doing my best in the roles I have been given.  I take comfort in loving this wild adventure we intentionally choose to share each day of our blessed lives.

Time for Ascending

I get to take a class year on the ascension process.  For me, ascension means to raise our personal vibrations, resulting in benefits for everyone around to witness the shift.  In my new class, I have homework.  Daily homework.  For one year.  Each day my task is to find one way to raise my vibration.  Thankfully these little challenges can fit into small moments.  This project is simple and complex at the same time, as is much of life.  Here is my log so far.

Day One: I sat quietly, breathing in through my heart, and out with love for my whole being.
Day Two: I made a financial contribution to something that feels good to me.
Day Three: I called my electric company to shift my power from natural gas to wind power.
Day Four: I loaded up my porch with unloved goods and invited strangers from "Buy Nothing" on Facebook to take everything home.
Day Five: I picked up cereal and a sweatshirt from a neighboring strangers home and left them love notes.
Day Six: Blog about how I love the privilege of being alive in this life.

My mind loves to focus upon how to I can raise my vibration each day, hold onto that vibration, remind myself to breath, to spend most of my time around others that help me feel good, to focus on the beauty in our world.  What wonderful homework!  Feel good homework.  My favorite kind.

Extraordinary Times to Be Together

Dearest Reader,

After an exhausting day yesterday, I spent a little time on social media.  A bit too long.  One article led to another on where our country is heading.  Together.  There was a great growing of fear involved in this reading. 

My oldest daughter asked me before she went to sleep what that noise was.  I blamed it on the heater outside our window.  Then at midnight my youngest daughter awoke beside me in full screaming.  After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts to soothe her, I went to the other bedroom to let my other two children get back to sleep.  That is when the thumping began.  After my wee one was back to sleep, I went to investigate which neighbor was doing wild activities at this wild hour.  The thumps were coming from near my living room. I opened the curtains to find a wildly swinging bird feeder banging against the house in another before-a-winter-storm wind dance.  I opened the door, cats went flying in the excitement, and couldn't get the blasted thing off its string.  Towing out a chair to reach up higher, the second bird feeder that was standing still began to hum as if possessed.  I found this unsettling to be out in the dark alone with such an unusual noise after reading too many articles.  Finally both feeders were freed of their hooks, the noises seized, and everything was brought inside.  On my way back to bed, the cats flew across the room as if thrown, all in their continued excitement.  I again wondered why I was up in the middle of the night after such an exhausting day.

Instead of bed, I chose to spend a little time in our prayer room.  I went to talk with my late sweetheart M.  I told him I wish he were here.  I wish his parents were here too.  I wish we could talk about how our world is changing, the things shifting within our country, and how to plan for what is moving through our lives. 

I find myself at the keyboard, my bare feet pushing library books around on the floor, cats on the table licking bird feeders and brushing past my ankles.  In this moment, I feel alone in protecting my children.  In this moment, I let fear run through me.  I le myself acknowledge the fear of the changes moving in our direction, of the subtle yet vast movements that shift beneath the colorful world drama.  In our country we are being tested, individually and collectively.  We see history repeating itself in various and unsettling ways.  It really doesn't matter who we voted for or where we think we stand.  It matters that we see we are in this together.  We all feel fear and unsettling winds.  We are all awoken from our comfortable routines and expectations.  We share the same air and water.  We all want our children and grandchildren to live full, healthy, joyous lives. 

Admitting to my fear is a big step.  I am able to witness its flow through my body and mind.  Now that I know where it lies, I can do something about it.  I turn to see this from a different angle, a new and intentional perspective.  I see we are all in this together.  I see we are finding new ways to open our hearts and to connect with one another.  I see we are all moving toward standing up together to make way for a future we all desire.  Stable jobs, a clean planet, nourishing food on the table, a predictable income, healthy children, free will, an occasional vacation, and safety.  Even if in my mind, envisioning the coming together of those who love this country and this world we get to share soothes my soul and gives me something to ease my fears as I return to holding my children through this long night.  My trust in the buoyancy of humanity is my guiding light as I make my way back to that cozy bed.  I am thankful for these midnight musings.  I am thankful for the brilliant gift of getting to be alive on this planet at this extraordinary and challenging time.  I am thankful for my children giving me more reason to take a stand and speak from my heart.  I am thankful for getting to raise and protect such extraordinary children.  I am thankful for this world we get to share and the freedom to get to talk about it all here with you. 

Blessings and buoyancy,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Daring to Dream with Alternate Realities

M planned every detail of every trip for our family for the last 18 years.  Now he is not here to plan for us anymore.  Along with a million other details, trip planning is now one of my new jobs.  M wouldn't fly under any circumstances.  He had an awful flight once and decided his feet needed to stay on the ground.  On the other hand, I took flying lessons as a teenager and adore getting into the sky. 

With the new gut-wrenching freedom that comes with losing a partner, I want to see the world.  I would love to be a worldschooler, to travel the world with my children.  I had the fantasy of backpacking Europe with my children long before I was a mother.  Maybe that fantasy has been there for a  reason.  Maybe one day I will get to do just that, and more.  Now is the time when I stay rooted in our routines, getting the kids onto the school bus and tackling financial projects for most of the day, driving children to classes, keeping up with homework, and taking my own classes once a month. 

And now is also the time when I dream about the possibilities.  I call these alternate realities.  I love my alternate realities.  When M was dying of lung cancer, I had many alternate realities: he would get well again, he would love a long time on immunotherapy, we would all travel together, M would be able to make one more video or write one card to his children, friends would move in and help me care for M, my cousins would visit us, and all my family's needs would be met.  Beginning on diagnosis day and continuing for four months, my focus and energy went mainly to caring for our children and supporting M as he and our extended family reached for a cure.  After he died, I focused on the memorial service and learning to manage the details of our home and supporting my brother-in-law as he took over the family business.  I was not as easily dreaming of the possibilities anymore.

In trying to raise my own energy, I am now intentionally focusing on the many possibilities of my life as a single-mother of three young children.  I see myself sitting with friends playing board games, laughing until my stomach hurts, feeling satisfied after a big meal, driving across the country with friends to see what is out there, my children taking gymnastics or martial arts, sitting on a warm beach, living in another country, getting my hair cut wildly short, sleeping in a bed by myself, eating a whole pint of chocolate ice cream by myself, writing love letters to all my beloved friends, my estranged brother speaking lovingly with me, going out to a comedy club, learning to ski and surf, using up all my crafty materials and selling my wares to pay for trips, starting my own healing practice, finding a way for my children to keep their possessions tidy, painting the inside of my home, driving an art car, traveling with friends and their families, spending a couple nights alone, finding joy in preparing a nourishing meal, and putting on that backpack and traveling the world with my children.  My children dream of driving around the country, opening businesses to sell honey and fried eggs, selling their origami creations and original art works, sleeping in the same bed with me every night, riding their bikes as often as they desire, eating endless desserts, reading every waking hour of the day, and playing with their friends all the time.  We are all dreaming of our possibilities now.

Many of these may not happen.  Some will.  There is empowerment in getting to choose which alternate realities to bring forward into our reality.  My soul takes great pleasure in this daring to dream.  Dream big, and then dream bigger.  My alternate realities open me up to the possibilities that await.  I get to choose.  What a satisfying feeling that is.

Self-care as a Family Investment

It is entertaining to watch my own psychology and grief play out.  It has been 12 weeks since our M died.  We miss him terribly.  Each day is easier and harder than the day before.  Emotions have been heavy and dense in the last month: the recent political election and the resulting challenges, trying to complete and sell the dream home we designed, tackling paperwork to close accounts, the cancellation of eight school days cancelled due to snow and ice, managing our higher emotions, and the other zillion details to keep this family and home up and running.  My usual morning meditation practice has come in handy, but does not get me as far nor as joyfully into each day.

My parents visited last weekend.  I admitted my exhaustion and sadness.  My dad says I just need to step back from over-parenting my children, locking the door to take a bath whenever I want while the big kids watch our toddler.  I told him my children have short attention spans, are easily distracted, can't seem to close the bathroom doors or close toilet lids... ever, and cannot keep our wee one safe.  In my experience, this is completely typical for children this age.  That is why nine year olds are generally mother's helpers and not babysitters. 

I am also putting pressure on myself not to squander the money M and his parents worked so hard to bring into our family, through their years of sweat and sacrifice.  In a heated conversation with my parents, I admitted this money is also here because of my hard work.  I chose to leave my good paying job to raise these children, to support them as they grow.  This money is now mine to use to care for and raise my children.

My parents asked me what M would want me to do in this situation.  My answer was easy: Take care of myself.  That answer is so very obvious to an outsider.  To me, the insider trying to manage on a limited budget, it was not as clear.  I need to take care of myself so I am able to be here for my children in the ways I choose.  Self-care is an investment in my family.

So I've now hired our nanny two mornings a week, with which I will get aerobic exercise, grocery shop, and tackle other errands that must be done.  Our nanny will help with laundry and dishes, read books with our wee one, and sit down with her to play.  What a gift.  A simple-yet-huge gift.

My children and I met our new grief counselor last night.  It doesn't feel like a match yet, but we will give it a couple more visits before fully committing.  We are starting to eat out more, as I was getting tired of our frozen burritos at home.  A couple friends are offering to babysit once or twice a week in the next month.  These details all hold together the current plan of how to move forward together.  Eat out, hire help, exercise, step into counseling, stick together.  Times and emotions are dense, but now we have a plan to get through them together.  Exhale.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dougy Center Support Groups

We have the great privilege of attending free Dougy Center support groups designed for families with children who have experienced the loss of a parent or child.  My children enjoy play therapy with counselors twice a month while I attend a support group with surviving spouses and parents.  My family began with the Pathway Program before M died.  M even attended one meeting with other cancer patients.  Our family is now new to the bereavement program. 

My family has attended two sessions since M's death.  The first time I was even and matter-of-fact.  The second time I was uncomfortably giddy.  Laughter was my coping mode that evening, as a way to break up the density of being in a room full of devastated survivors.

In these sessions we talk about what we are currently processing.  Each session seems to pull out the similarities in the ways we grieve.  In the bereavement group we talked about how it was so uncomfortable to live life in limbo, not knowing when things would slow down or progress.  In the bereavement group, there is a level of quiet devastation.  We all wish we had our loved one back with us, find uncomfortable comfort in doing things we couldn't do with our partner, want to take trips or change our home in ways our partner would not have chosen, worry about our children in all their phases of grief, take comfort in friendships and family, our lives are full and distract us much of the time from our loss, and feel great waves (of grief, anger, sadness, devastation, along with delight) crash over us without warning.  We want to travel and see the world while also staying home and stable for our children.  We together wonder when is the right time to open up to romance again after our loss: 15 months or 5 years?  We find ourselves crying for reasons invisible to others.  We find the quiet moments alone to be the hardest.  We find ourselves explaining to others that grief is not something you get over, but something you learn to live with. 

I treasure being in our sacred circle where we get to talk about how awful it is have watched our loved one die, for us to lose a partner or child, for us to parent alone, and to talk of the ways we support our children and take care of ourselves.  I am so very grateful for this free group therapy, funded generously by donations.  I am thankful for this program touching and supporting so many families.  I am grateful for feeling so supported by these new peers and mentors in our lives.  We are stronger with Dougy.

The Optimist's Guide to Divorce

I love my library, even when late fees get steep.  Fees are part of the deal for my family at the library, especially now that I am the only adult responsible for getting things back on time.  In the two months since M died, I have damaged one book and lost two others.  Our books may be falling apart, but we humans are generally keeping ourselves together. 

In our library's new book section, I found a simple drawing of a woman riding a bicycle in the wind.  It reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun, a book and movie and adventure I love.  This carefree bicyclist was gliding across The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to get through your breakup and create a new life you love.  Six months ago, I would not have considered this title.  I have just gone through a death instead of a divorce, but if you skip a bit here and there, this book completely applies to my situation.  I am trying to get through my broken heartedness to create the new life I love... with my healthy, whole children.  I get a little thrill reading about recovering from divorce... as if to pretend it is what I've just been through, as if there is a small chance our M could walk back into our lives and kiss his children.  Divorce is preferable in some ways to the path our family has traversed.

Reading this book each day for the last two weeks while I wrestle my exhausted-yet-sleepless toddler, I have enjoyed the camaraderie of listening in on other women's stories of how they dealt with heartbreak, how they processed, connected with others, planned, and made the most of loving their new lives.  These women found themselves to be stronger in a myriad of ways than they had previously known.  My children and I are bringing some of their ideas into our own lives.  We have created a meal plan (Soup Sundays and Taco Tuesdays!), a budget, and my children are now responsible for all their own breakfasts and lunches.  (Why do you think Cheetos count as lunch?!)  I make larger dinners that double as leftovers.  My daughter makes toast and fried eggs for our family each morning and then tackles some dishes and laundry. 

There are stories detailing how to accept what has happened, seek therapy, create a home you love, bring in extra income, budget for what is most important, and so much more.   

I am currently right in the middle of the book at Twenty Things that Will Make You Feel Good.  This list reminds me of how I used to care for myself and how I will again.
  1. Take a bath with Epsom salts.
  2. Get your hands in playdough.
  3. Do a good deed for someone else.
  4. Sit on a chair and watch the stars.
  5. Plant something.
  6. Read a fun novel.
  7. Ride your bike in a park:
  8. Take a brewery or winery tour with an upbeat friend.
  9. Cuddle up with dryer-warmed towels.
  10. Visit a fair or theme park and ride the rides.
  11. Focus on gratitude.
  12. Sign up for lessons.
  13. Declare a fashion goal, such as Wild Print Wednesday or avoiding black.
  14. Roll car windows down and put out your hand.
  15. Schedule a massage.
  16. Write a love letter to an old friend.
  17. Wiggle toes in the sand.
  18. Hang chimes outside your door.
  19. Paint.
  20. Create something and get lost in the project.
Our family has been through something awful.  While we would give almost anything to go back to the lives we shared before diagnosis day, there are many silver linings to find on this leg of our journey.  At least that is what I tell myself to get through the density of the situation.  For every positive aspect we find now because of M's death, there are a trillion negatives.  I intend to feel okay about where we are and how we got here, so I focus upon our silver linings.  Here are some.

My children are learning to work hard and take pride in the work they do for our family.  We are expressing our emotions through more yelling and crying, and holding each other as we talk through it all.  Regular game nights and book clubs with friends and family are awesome.  Decluttering without as much negotiation is nice.  I purchase and dole out fewer sugary foods.  We spend less on hot water, heat, and groceries.  I am planning for new light fixtures, wall colors, and simple (summer yard sale) d├ęcor.  We don't need to move into a bigger "dream home".  I get to sort through and pass on my parents-in-law's possessions.  We can see our family together again in family videos.  I am finally reading adult books again.  Good books.  I get to smile when sharing this title with a friend.  I get to make the time to talk about it all here with you.  Silver linings.  For these I am thankful.