Mere Intention

be vulnerable

New Marks and Starstuff

As my dad’s quality of life deteriorated, I felt mine becoming more real, like all of the receptors were turned on full-blast to feel everything and anything. Like a high frequency squeal through my body. It has powered me for over a year now; charged me to make hard, big decisions and be confident in them and not look back.

Year one was challenging¬†in a ‘how do I function now that the crazy life of glioblastoma has run its course?’ kind of way. At the one year mark, I said to a friend that I just felt (feel) sad. A whole new experience of sadness. Deeper and stronger than any I’ve ever felt. This sadness literally hurts inside my body. Its like the shock is wearing off and I just have sadness ringing in my ears (chest).

Since Dad¬†died, I’ve been wanting to get a tattoo to commemorate his life, our relationship, the hard road of his illness. Initially, I was going to put his signature on my forearm. After about half a year, that idea was gone. If I would have done it when I felt it, it would have been perfect, but it went away, no biggie.

I’ve spent time here and there looking at tattoo design ideas, and a couple of weeks ago I came across a starburst. I’m not sure where my dad’s spirit is. We had many conversations about what he was looking forward to after his physical life ended, but I’m just not sure. But stars…that’s something I can get behind.

Carl Sagan said in his book Cosmos, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

We are made of starstuff. An urn sits in my living room next to a photo of Dad with my kids about three weeks before he died. Ashes. Dust. Starstuff.

I set to work designing a starburst that made sense; paper, pencil, ruler. I liked a particular completed sketch and happened to count the marks I’d made. Fifty-six. Fifty -six years my dad lived before brain cancer, sixteen more months (and two birthdays) made him 58 when he died. Fifty-fucking-eight. I added two more marks to the design. It clicked. This was it.

Yesterday, I went and had the design permanently placed on my body. I now have a visible mark for the deep loss and sadness that will always walk with me. The pain and anxiety that stirred at my core as I sat down in the studio chair made me cry. I just cried. My fourth tattoo, the most painful.

starstuff

5.10.17 – starstuff memorial tattoo, right forearm

Hysterectomy – night of

Twelve hours ago I was wheeled into the operating room for a hysterectomy. My uterus grew my babies, but otherwise has been a nightmare since I was 13 years old. Endometriosis is horrible. 

In 2003, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove endometriosis adhesions and a dilation and curettage (D&C) of my uterus to remove any fibroids (which were anticipated, but ended up only being one tiny one). Prior to that, at 17, I started taking birth control pills to try and decrease pain and regulate hormone levels. At 21, I began talking the pill continuously in order to maintain a constant hormone level. With the exception of conceiving and having my kids, this is what I’ve been doing since. Sixteen years of a pill every single night.

Life has happened in the midst of all of the pain and tears. I bled and cramped after running, after holding a baby, after intercourse, after being in my feet too long, after sitting too long, after drinking red wine or caffeine. This had been my way of life. A small amount of strain on my body caused bleeding to some degree. 

Twenty six years of menstrating and TWENTY FOUR years of pain…and other nasty uterus related stuff I won’t get into. 

Over these years, I got married, had two babies, lived on both coasts and the upper middle eventually landing here in Colorado within ten years, parents have been ill and had cancers, my dad died, one of my kids is in middle school now, started and stopped church participation, worked jobs that demanded more than I could give, quit said job after much internal turmoil, rested, listened, became an aunt even to kids that aren’t blood, have developed deep friendships, gained 50 lbs since my wedding day, bought three houses…

Today, my uterus was removed. And my Fallopian tubes. And a large, hidden fibroid that had its own blood supply. I have four incisions in my abdomen about an inch long each, my throat hurts from being intubated, I’ve got a catheter and am taking narcotics regularly. I look forward to discussing the surgery details tomorrow morning with my doctor. 


Friends are getting my kids to and from where they need to be. My husband has, and will continue, to just make life happen. He’s the most wonderful partner. I have nothing I need to worry or think about except resting and healing. 

Having this surgery has been so long anticipated. Decades of analyzing the best time to pull the trigger. The anticipation felt like the first few weeks of pregnancy when you know you’re pregnant but nothing is happening to you as far as you can tell, but a life changing event is in the works. Nothing will be the same as it was. Change is happening. 

Permanent life changes for me – having two kids, dad dying, hysterectomy. Life altering to the core of my being and have and will continue to chip away the learned behaviors of life and sculpt myself, ever evolving. 

I am so grateful for a doctor to trust, for health insurance through the corporation my husband works for, nurses who are good at their job and like their job, for the science of robotics blended with surgery. 

Oh! And for a night nurse named David. ūüíú

Love Warrior – Reflection 1

“The process of knowing and ¬†loving another person happens for me through conversation.” ~Glennon Doyle Melton in Love Warrior

Yes. That. Knowing + Loving = Relationship.

I have my people – they have taken time, have asked questions, have listened, have challenged, have argued and disagreed, but loved unconditionally and passed no judgment.

Talking at me, never asking my opinion, not investing time, and assuming things about or judging me?…yeah, that’s going¬†no where. It just won’t. Ever.

Relationships are intentional. We must choose them. When two parties are in agreement about wanting relationship, the relationship itself is not just magically in tact. Hard work with a good amount of truth-telling and vulnerability must be present from both parties.

Relationships are necessary. For us to be our best selves, I believe we must be in real relationship with a few key people. Who these people are and the roles they play may vary from person to person, but true, deliberate relationship needs to be present in our lives. We can not be who we are meant to be without relationship.

Trusting another person with your thoughts and desires and messiness, as well as being trustworthy with theirs, is a risk. A totally terrifying risk.

But it’s worth it.

In true relationship we find a soft place to land after being hurt, we find a firm punch to the shoulder when we need to snap out of our self-centeredness, we find peace and challenge and quiet.

A couple of days ago I wrote that my dad always chose me. He chose relationship with me. I chose it with him. There were a few years during my teens that we rarely spoke or saw one another aside from my birthday or holidays. But when I found myself living on my own, I desired more of the relationship that I had been given as a child. Of time together eating donuts and talking cars. He always listened intently to whatever I was saying, he traveled hours and sometimes days to visit me, multiple times a year. As I had kids, the frequency of visits increased, but interestingly, I still felt like I was his priority.

Our relationships are our responsibility. We usually get from them what we put into them.

I have relationships that have come and gone in¬†my life. Good, real, honest, strong relationships, that after a time, fizzle out for one reason or another and have disappeared. To be honest, I generally don’t yearn to have them back. I just acknowledge the good that was in them when they existed and let the rest fall away.

When talking about close friendships, Melton¬†writes, “To know someone I need to hear [them], and to feel known, I need to be heard […] we go deeper into each other’s hearts, minds, pasts and dreams. Eventually, a friendship¬†is built – a solid, sheltering structure that exists in the space between us – a space outside of ourselves that we can climb deep into.”

Just Fine

Today I met with a trusted advisor and shared my story of my dad’s illness and death. My intention of this¬†meeting was to¬†gain insight into my grieving process: have I missed a step, am I crazy, am I doing this correctly?

While I know that grief is a singular process, and I know it’s something I’m not running from, I just needed some semi-professional reassurance that my process is falling within the boundaries¬†of normal.

Here’s the deal: It’s been almost 7 months¬†since Dad died from a terrible, ruthless¬†cancer. We don’t know how many tumors were in his brain¬†when he passed, with their nasty tentacles. November 14th will be two years since the diagnosis – The Call – and I’m pretty sure I began my mourning and grieving process that day, that hour, that second, that breath.

I shared¬†many great days with my Dad in the 16.5¬†months after The Call. I visited him, he visited me. We ran errands together that eventually required motorized¬†carts at Lowe’s and then forgetting why we were there. The use of a cane to walk 256 feet to the edge of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park – then he posed for photos with my husband and son flexing their muscles like strong men beside the lake. He shared very specific, mystical experiences with me (“They’re waiting for me.”). We watched television and birds and I tried to communicate it was only 4am, so no, we were not going to be able to¬†get donuts and get a haircut yet….choosing to not remind him that he hadn’t been able to walk or leave his bed for months. I emptied his pee bag. I wiped his tears. I prepared food. I was present.

I feel like each and every moment with my dad from his diagnosis was one of mourning, and yet, each moment was more valuable than the one before. Shiny-er and more vibrant, until finally, it was all over.

No more Sunday phone calls, no seeing my kids play sports or helping my husband with a house project. No more giggles and pure joy when we arrive at his house, or he at ours. No more inviting friends over at his request so he could see them while he was in town. No more Fat Tire, Silver Grill, fire pit…rituals – gone. Gone. They’re just all gone.

And here’s where I feel fine.

I feel like my dad lived an amazing life. He impacted so many people. At his funeral a resounding theme was, “I thought I was his best friend.” That is no small feat – to make everyone around you feel like they are the most important person in your eyes. He pulled it off flawlessly – and meant it.

I feel rested, and complete, and hopeful. I feel sad sometimes, but mostly I feel good. Strong. I also feel like I have been given glimpses into the mystical and unknown, through things Dad shared with me, but also by choosing to sit in the midst of the pain and the deterioration and the transition from body and the newly specific loneliness.

Something I said out loud today to my trusted advisor was that my dad always chose me. Always. He breathed life into me and encouraged and truly supported and respected me as a person. He loved me unconditionally. I know that the love he had for me is exactly what I feel about my own kids – and my intention is to be present for them, to show up, and hope that one day they say, “My mom always chose me.”

About fourteen years ago (pre-kids by a few years) I recognized that when my kids started middle school, that would be the time that I was home. Home to send them off and home to greet them. Being present. Being ready to listen, to engage when they wanted to, to just share space with them. This fall my son started middle school. I think the stars have been working to align over the last few years. Aligning to point toward the forgotten desires of my heart, with an unexpected, and frankly, unfathomable trajectory to get there.

I would take my dad back in a heartbeat and my enormously stressful job, too, but that’s not where we are. We are here. Right now. In this moment and this situation.

I’m feeling just fine. I’m smiling. I’m growing. I’m sad, but I am strong. And I am present.

12 Weeks

12 weeks ago, I left my job.

I’ve completed¬†tasks, like:

  • re-stocked my pantry and cleaning closet
  • gone through sections of the house and trashed plenty of things
  • worked on meal plans and grocery shopping
  • vacuumed a lot
  • used the slow-cooker¬†for the first time in over a decade
  • taken cars to the mechanic
  • paid bills
  • taken the dogs to the groomer
  • shredded old paperwork

I’ve¬†been intentional and fully present when:

  • taking my son and friends to football practice twice a week and watching them play on Saturdays
  • volunteering in my daughters classroom about every week
  • staying with one of my best friends from high school for a few days before visiting family
  • planning a trip to Las Vegas for me and my hubby (our first time!)
  • having coffee with friends, often
  • watching my kids, just watching them
  • practicing yoga about three times¬†a week
  • taking my daughter to school every morning and picking her up in the afternoons
  • loading the washing machine
  • reading books

What I’ve not done is:

  • be distracted
  • battled anxiety
  • worried about missing something
  • hurried
  • showered often enough
  • forgotten to pick up a kid
  • spent enough time with my husband

In the next 12 weeks, I hope to continue with intention as I move through my days, thinking about what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for – myself, my family, others – and continue to practice aligning my actions with my desires.

The next 12 weeks finish out 2016. My intention¬†when leaving my job was to focus on my family at least through the end of the year. Half way there and I’m feeling okay about things. Good, I think. But the time has flown by and I’m interested to see how energies¬†move in the coming weeks.

I¬†walked away from too much trying to be accomplished¬†in too little time, and now often find myself pleasantly surprised at how slowly a day can go by¬†– something I’m thankful the universe is handing me.

Ashes 

I just poured some of Dad’s ashes into a tiny ziplock bag. Tomorrow morning we are taking them with us in a hike to one of the last places we took him the last time he visited.  

 

Where to start?

This week marks six months since the end.

Sunday morning at 6:34a central time will be six months since I sat next to Dad as he took his very last inhale. His last long, slow, inaudible exhale. Twenty-two…27…30, 31, 32…35…37, 38, 39, 40…

Since counting¬†the seconds, I quit my job, have absorbed¬†a barrage of emotions and words from a few¬†family members about how I should be/should have been acting/processing/grieving, traveled to Mexico with my husband, extended myself into vulnerable situations¬†for the hopeful long term benefit of my children, try¬†to show up everyday to what I need to do and try to also do some things I want to do, have been practicing yoga multiple times a week and meditated a few times, and just now am trying to write. There’s so much to process. To grieve.

A small urn of Dad’s ashes is¬†now at my house. It was weird when I opened the vessel so we could look at the contents, and then some spilled out on the desk. We all giggled, and my son casually said, “Hi, Grandpa.”

The last phone call with one of my clients was¬†divine – ¬†in the midst of discussing life and choices and death, she said, “Heather, mourning is a singular process.” These words were exactly what I needed in that moment, and I have gone back to them numerous¬†times in the last few months. No one’s opinion of¬†my process is important. No one’s input is needed or sought.

In the almost three months since leaving my job, I have worked hard to find space to think and process and be fully present with my family, which has been harder and more fruitful than I expected. It has taken¬†most of these weeks to stop thinking that I was supposed to be doing¬†something else in the midst of my newly flexible days, that I’d dropped a ball or forgotten something.

It is hard to slow down, to sit still. My intention is to just stop. Be. Get to a place where I can feel again – feel anything.

I told a friend today that I think I’m getting close to feeling things again – I am sensing light, so I know I’m facing an¬†optimal direction, and I will keep taking one step at a time toward the light until I have walked through it.

 

 

 

Protected: First family reality

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The night before

I’m standing in FedEx Office (fka Kinkos) while my dads funeral pamphlets print at 11pm. Alone. Beautifully designed by CJ over the last months with the intention of being printed on cardstock. The lovely employee, Elle, printed up multiple samples for me on different papers and the stock is very heavy and cracks badly when folded. And it’s hard to fold well. 

I sent a few photos to CJ and her response was simply ‘do whatever is best’ and she means it. 

The last few days are a blur. Funeral home, church, catering, flower shop, clothes shopping, travelers, slide shows, family relations. 

I’m exhausted. I’m emotional. I’m sad. I’m blessed. I’m grateful. I’m trying so hard to be intentional with my energy, to take care of me and how I want to remember and grieve this time. I don’t want it to be too blurry or too busy or to distracted. 

This has come off as selfish. That’s a misinterpretation of self-care at a very deep level. Of protecting myself and my heart and emotions. Of choosing me and not spending energy on what isn’t mine. 

My only exception is CJ. We’re in this together. We have been the whole time. That’s not changing now. So it’s really not an exception – it’s part of my intention. 

Day Three – Morning

I said to my stepdad on Saturday that I suspect my then feelings of okay-ness would be temporary. Maybe like having a baby – you’re euphoric and the adrenaline carries you for a day or so, maybe two, then you crash and are completely exhausted and emotional. 

Well, late last night I started feeling a shift. From just pure relief and ability to breath, to sad. The heaviest sadness I’ve ever felt. My eyes burn, my chest hurts. I don’t want to move. 
Being here at the house, just CJ and me, has been amazing. To be in a home that is honest and true, with no unspoken expectations, and quiet. It is exactly perfect for this transition.