day in the life
the everyday life of a couple living well with cancer, and now a
cancer widow living well on her own. Life isn’t
easy all the time, and there will certainly be sorrows and
losses along the way. But being alive is good. It is very good.
Pass it on
It wasn’t planned,
but I arrived an hour and a half before my flight departed from
our little puddle-jumper airport this morning. (Am I doomed to
always be too early because of Hubby?)
And now I’m in
Denver on lay-over and find myself
at Wolfgang Puck. This is where Hubby and I
always grabbed a bite to eat in our comings and goings through
Which, in some strange way, is comforting.
Caesar Salad at Wolfgang-Puck at DIA
Sarah, my young
cancer widow friend, stopped by with her six-year-old son, Oliver, on Sunday.
She brought a gift that had been given her. From a
fellow widow. With the idea to pass it along.
with 6-year-old Oliver’s photography skills
It was a lovely
poem written from the perspective of the spouse who has gone on
ahead to heaven. The first stanza
reads like this:
I see the
countless Christmas trees
the world below,
lights like heaven’s stars
The sight is
away that tear;
For I am
Jesus Christ this year.
Our first Christmas
apart, and here is a perspective I hadn't considered.
When I come across
reminders of Hubby—which is all the time, daily, everywhere—I
mostly think of him cancer-free, pain-free, unencumbered with
tubes and bags.
When you add the
thought of his first Christmas in heaven with Jesus, how can your
not be glad and grateful.
I’m not assuming
widowhood will be this easy for the rest of my days. But for
now, en route to visit brother and sis-in-law in Florida, and
then north to the munchkins in Jersey, and still being held in
so much peace.
I don’t like the
thought that another woman I know, with her husband beside her
today, will find herself husbandless next year. But
if losing loved ones is part of life, then I’m going to be the gift-bearer of
the lovely framed poem.
provide a bit of comfort.
As this lovely
young widow did for me. Thank you, Sarah.
Cold beauty on
Thin blue skies.
Temperatures soaring into the low thirties. That’s all the invitation I
needed to layer up and find my hiking boots in the too-clean garage.
Hubby’s and my
favorite in-town trail follows the Deschutes from Farewell Bend Park
upriver for a mile and a half before it crosses the footbridge
and heads back down.
It’s beyond my
comprehension how the color white—a
sort of non-color—can be so beautiful.
On boardwalk and ivy.
On mossy rock.
On fallen log.
I would safely
estimate that Hubby and I have walked this trail a couple
hundred times through the years.
was the first time I walked it alone.
And while it
was different and I certainly missed Hubby’s
companionship—we share so many miles of memories on the
local trails, and in the Cascades, Tetons and Rockies—there
was no sadness or depression.
It was good to
be outdoors. Along the river. Beneath the impossibly tall
trees. Pulling out my phone to shoot photos of beautiful
Grateful that I
was able to do something alone—something that Hubby and I
did so much of together—and sorrow was nowhere in sight.
note: Here’s one of the things I love about Bendites.
They’re generous in sharing their cold weather gear.
To the person
who provided the loggers in the traffic circles near
Farewell Bend Park with some protection in this freezing
weather, well done.
Playing the Top Ten
The rules are
childlike. You simply list ten things for which you are
grateful. But the catch is this: the Top Ten things must have something to do
with the moment.
So, last evening,
for example, as I was driving home from Saturday evening service
alone, in freezing
temperatures and darkness, and my car started up and the
heater kicked on and the roads were paved and Christmas lights
were cheering along the way …
credit: www.freshome.com (not my house)
... well, there you
go – four things on the list already.
This simple game
keeps me focused on the good that’s happening in the moment. And
there is much good in this moment if I look for it.
Peggy Noonan, who
writes an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal:
“What is life? It is the nice big thing you enter each morning
when the alarm goes off and you put your feet on the cool floor
and then stand, with your hands on the bottom of your back, and
look out the window.”
Life is made up of
so many lovely, ordinary, miraculous things. Alarm clocks, being
able to get out of bed, floors, feet to put on floors, windows, eyes to see
credit: my friend Sarah Kamasz
My life didn’t end
when Hubby took his final breath. It doesn’t
start when I realize my dreams and goals. It’s here and now.
I invite you to try
the Top Ten Game. Often. Every day.
Because each time
you play it, you win.
How to quit your
recommended a book a while back by Jon Acuff entitled Quitter.
Subtitle reads like this:
“Closing the gap between your day job and your
The first chapter
“Don’t Quit Your Day Job.”
Hubby and I spent
many hours talking about me quitting my
job to pursue writing full time. Unfortunately (or
fortunately), my job at St. Charles Cancer Center included
great healthcare coverage. And in case you didn’t
know, cancer is a pretty spendy disease.
Which means there would be no
quitting anytime soon. Which was fine, because I loved
the rewarding work, my incredibly kind and caring co-workers,
and the local cancer community I served.
And so it was with
mixed emotions—elation, ecstatic-ness, astonishment, an
ever-so-slightly painful tug on the heart—that I submitted my resignation this week.
Last evening was
the annual Christmas dinner party hosted by our fabulous oncologists.
Bring your kids
because Santa just might be stopping in.
A tough group to
Before he died,
Hubby and I had talked about not making any major decisions
within the first six to twelve months of widowhood. Sound words.
So I’m here to
report that I’m not selling everything and moving to
Switzerland, although the Swiss Alps call to me and I am
planning to scatter some of Hubby’s
ashes in the Alps next fall after I scatter most of them at the
top of Tam MacArthur Rim in the Cascade Mountains next summer,
what two of the Three Sisters in the nearby Cascades look like
from downtown Drake Park this morning.
But I digress.
decided to pursue the vision Hubby and I had together. (More
about that in future blogs.)
No rash decision.
Something that’s been
brewing for a long time, one which Hubby
With family members
detailing options that make it doable for me to take an early
retirement, how can I not run with this opportunity to pursue
the vision full time?
So, tightening my
belt to stay within a leaner budget.
Rolling up my
sleeves and working in the direction of
to see what God will unfold for me.
OK. One final blog
about gift-giving. More creativity left on my front porch. (What
is it with people and my porch?)
nutritious, homemade, mouth-watering chicken vegetable soup.
Candy canes in the shape of a heart fastened to the top of the
Organic Dark Chocolate Truffle bar.
necklace, star-crossed in a circle of green.
And because I’ve
had popcorn the past two nights for dinner—we’re
talking real popcorn popped in olive oil and drizzled with
butter—Sam and Leanne’s homemade soup was a nice change.
not that there isn’t
food in the house; it’s
simply that I can get away with popcorn for dinner because there’s
no one here to say,
should probably eat something a little more dinner-ish.”
One of the benefits
of living singly.
another benefit: you can dump any leftover soup in your bowl
back into the pot. Because you’re
the only one in the house with whom you are sharing germs.
lost many close family members or friends to death. I’ve
not been around houses of mourning.
And so you can
imagine my amazement at the creative gift-giving that has come
Inspiring. It has forever changed how I will give gifts during times of
sickness and loss.
Angels of mercy,
This blog tags
right onto the last one. About gift-giving.
toilet clogged up the day Hubby went back into Hospice House. I
sent a quick electronic plea.
Tom and his lovely
wife, Fran, showed up, armed with all sorts of unclogging
gadgets. (He probably never figured he’d be contacted for toilet
duty when he said, “Let me know if I can help.”)
Picture Tom here
actually snap a photo
since I didn’t
Tom would appreciate
image of him leaning over our toilet
to the World Wide Web.)
And then last week
as I was revving up into de-clutter mode, a friend, Gary, said
innocently enough, “Let me know if you need help with anything.”
Well, since you mentioned it …
garage. Because I’m pretty sure I won’t be using the chain saw.
Or the pipe wrench. Or all the PVC pipe. And someone ought to be
putting these things to good use.
gracious enough to loan out Gary, but as the official inspector
after the job was completed,
she carried a clip board, whistle and tape measure. And a big
there a saying, something like,
softly and carry a big stick”?
That would be Carolyn.)
Gary wondered why Carolyn
got to be in the photo since he was the
one who did
all the work. Well that’s
because we all
really in charge.
What I think I’ve
learned in all this is what Daughter Summer has been
lecturing me about saying. People really do want to feel useful.
Women are so good
at the nurturing, meal-making, flower-delivering,
Chai-tea-delivering, house-cleaning show of love.
And men tend
to operate in fix-it mode. Which is also a good thing. Who says *angels
of mercy* only come in the female version?
We have a
beautiful, old door propped on our front porch.
our toilet, Plumber Tom said, “Hey, do you want me to fix this
old screen door?”
Now that’s where I
draw the line.
mesh may be torn, but don’t be messing with my
repurposed-into-front-porch-art screen door.
I order a wreath
from her every year, but I had decided against it this year. An
And then, this. On
my front porch today.
immediately the handiwork of the Wreath Fairy before even
reading her note. Julie. Owner of Desert Dream Gardens.
And this set of
beautiful bracelets as gift. From Karen. Which I plan to wear
every day for the rest of my life.
my heart is in heaven.”
If there’s one
thing I’ve learned from this incredible experience of caring for
Hubby, of planning a service, planning a new
life, it’s this:
There are a hundred
and one ways to say,
thinking about you. I can’t imagine what you’re
experiencing, but here’s something to bring you sustenance, make
you smile, help defray funeral expenses; here’s something to add
beauty to your life, your home.
People are amazing.
And as many amazing people as there are in my life, there are
that many ways they have gifted. Creatively. Extravagantly.
Hubby and I have
said that cancer was a gift to us ... and certainly not one we
would re-gift, but still. So much good has come of this horrible
disease, so many incredible people we would not have otherwise known.
Monday, December 8,
Hubby may have been
A couple years ago,
Hubby and I decluttered our garage, which nearly landed us in
I questioned his
wanting to keep a tin of rusted and bent nails, screws,
washers; he threatened to toss the boxes of Christmas
decorations if I so much as touched his tin.
You never know
when you might need one, he said.
But wouldn’t you
want non-rusted ones? And couldn’t you just go buy one or two as
needed? Why keep a full tin of rusted stuff taking up space on
the garage shelves?
You see my logic
over his, right?
The other day I
wanted to hang the letters the grandkidlets wrote to their
grandpa while he was still with us.
Words of love and
humor from the three munchkins who adored him, and whom he loved
You know where this
story is going, right? Yep. I needed larger nails than what I keep in
the house with my girlie tools.
And so I found
myself digging through Hubby’s tin of rusted nails and bolts and
’S’ hooks. You just never know when you might need one. Or two.
If you’ll remember
back a few weeks, Daughter Summer and three of her angel
friends cleaned our place, set up the Christmas tree and rearranged the
living room furniture. All rather
secretively, and while Hubby and I were resting at Hospice
Not sure if you
knew this: they had
so much fun rearranging, that our dining table ended up in the
middle of the living room. In front of the fireplace. Where it
has been used more frequently than when it was pushed against the
dining area wall.
Because who can
resist sitting near the fire with a steaming mug of tea or
And then Daughter
Summer showed me a photo posted to Facebook. Of a most unusual
Christmas tree. That hardly takes up any room. That can be left
I sent the photo to
a friend, who is handy with tools and lives on property with
plenty of fallen tree branches following a recent snow storm.
(All tree branches were buried in a foot of snow. Small detail.)
recruited another wood-working friend, and together, with the
artistic lead of wife Carolyn, they built this beautiful piece
of wall art out of white branches.
Which I plan to decorate
at each holiday and with each change in season.
and Al – what you created is even more beautiful than the
original photo. You are amazing.
the Christmas Tree Decorating Fairies had gone to so
much trouble, there was nothing to do but plant the tree smack
dab in the middle of the hall where it interferes rather nicely
with the flow of traffic.
I think another
reason I couldn’t take the fake tree down is because it was assembled on Hubby’s last day on earth.
Little did Summer
know that when she met the Housecleaning/ Tree Decorating
Fairies in the morning, she and I would be coming home from
Hospice House that evening. For good. Without her dad, without my
I have determined
that cancer will not ruin this most favorite time of year, which
begins with early autumn colors and runs through first snow, and
Thanksgiving, and Christmas trees and lights and music.
This will always be
a sweetly remembered time of Hubby living life clear up until he
took his final breath.
Friday, December 5,
machine is humming and Hubby’s side of the closet is looking
my middle name. And while I’m not necessarily eager to get rid
of Hubby’s things, there are men
House who could use
warm jackets and thick gloves and oversized flannel pajama bottoms
this time of year.
legs and hips and abdomen had swollen with edema during his last weeks.
Summer—you remember our Personal Pajama Shopper, right?—came
home with size XXL, Hubby looked at me and said with a straight
next husband will have to be extra-extra-large.”
I came across
this tee hanging on Hubby’s
side of the closet. A gift from Daughter Summer a few years
If you were never a geeky computer programmer in the
70s and 80s, you might not get the humor about the two binary
digits, 0 and 1.
But Hubby got it.
And wore his tee with geeky pride.
And so a trip to
Shepherd’s House yesterday with a drop-off at Salvation Army
These shirts of
keepers, though. I smell a lap
quilt. Or a quilted table topper. Or something patchworked
together as a sweet reminder.
You know that old
saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”?
How about this: “When life hands you a closet full of clothes that
were once worn by the most wonderful man in the world, make
quilts because that most wonderful man in the world is no longer
here to stop you from cutting up his clothes.”
Too wordy to
become a well-worn old saying?
I’ll work on it.
Speaking of Shepherd’s House, when I stopped by
yesterday, one of the men had something for me. It was a framed
copy of a photo I took of Hubby with his Shepherd’s House
friends two years ago. In the cold. Short-sleeved toughness. At the top of
handsome man standing second from right - Hubby
volunteering with these guys.
accounts. Complete Employee Enrollment Form to change benefits.
Remove Hubby’s phone from the cell phone account. Fill out
the Death Benefits Claim Form to satisfy the insurance company.
Vehicle title changes.
I spent more than
an hour at DMV today waiting for Number 217 to be called. And
since you can’t break into the numbered order to ask the expert
behind the counter which form you need for updating ownership,
you’re left to your own common sense.
The Application for
Replacement Title from the Forms area reads: “If there are ANY
changes in ownership (note the DMV usage of capital letters for emphasis) you
must complete an Application for Title and Registration Form
735-226 in addition to this form.”
right? And so I dutifully complete the Application for
Replacement Title and the Application for Title and
Registration Form 735-226. Twice. Two long forms for each
Turns out, all I
need to complete is the Inheritance Affidavit, which was
conveniently located behind the counter.
Oh, and bring it
back with the titles of both vehicles, the initial funders
having signed off. Which means I look forward to another lovely
afternoon at DMV.
That does it. I’m
leaving Hubby’s name on the Amazon account, airline miles
accounts, utilities and garbage bills, Netflix.
If there is no such
book entitled Widowhood for Dummies, there ought to be.
Waiting to see what
On my own for the
first time in days, weeks. Maybe even years.
The last of family
left this morning. But not until we shared meals together.
when the guy wearing the “O” is in the kitchen
And not until
snowballs were thrown.
And not until the
troops got in some good old fashioned rough-housing. (I’m not
sure who invented the term rough-housing, unless it was my
mother: “No rough-housing in here, you kids!”)
noticed that it took two boys to take down one girl, right?
And not until story
time and art lessons at B&N.
And not until
multiple puzzles were assembled.
Not until so much
fun and so many conversations were had, not until so much food
was consumed, not until memories were remembered, did the last
of the troops leave town.
And now, today. On
my own. Today, a dent in the pile of thank-you notes that need
to be written. Grocery shopping. Hubby’s urn from the funeral
home. Today, laundry and housecleaning, and this from Ann
Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts:
does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy
that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the
suffering doesn’t help the suffering. The converse does.
brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and
all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and
discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change
agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”
I want to be a
change agent. Full of unabashed joy. Not afraid to take risks.
Always counting blessings.
I don’t want to
live in the status quo for a widow of a certain age. I
don’t want to sit and watch “Gilmore Girls” reruns—as cute as the
Gilmore Girls are—or “Magnum PI” reruns—as cute as Tom Selleck
I don’t want to
sign up for Saturday night bingo, or get a yappy dog, or take up
knitting—no, wait … too late for that.
God has imprinted
on my heart a visionary idea, and I want to be a change
agent in my corner of the world.
Waiting to see what