Archives for posts with tag: loss

My husband and I moved around a lot during the first several years of our marriage. We were married in 1990 and it was not until 2001 that we bought our first home in Seattle, which is the home in which we still live. This is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. and we don’t live an ostentatious life style. Consequently, our house is not fancy or stylish. But we love our 1950’s house and have worked to inject it with our own personal style, which is colorful and eclectic.

When we moved into the house, there were flower beds in the back. I spent the first year in the house weeding and seeing what kind of plants there were. There was a grassy front yard, bordered by two huge juniper shrubs. Juniper shrubs were commonly part of the landscaping for homes built in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I imagine that they were cute back then. They get rather prickly and enormous over time. Also, they are really ugly, so ugly that the house had what my brother, a realtor, called, “No curb appeal.”  After we’d been in the house for about three years, John removed the shrubs and built a rock wall. The shrubs were weighed at the city dump for the composting program; a half ton of shrub. 1000 pounds of juniper, people!

I planted a rock garden. A year or two later, John removed the front lawn. I covered it in layers of newspaper and cardboard followed by four inches of beautiful black compost that I had delivered to my house, which I carried around the yard by the wheelbarrow full. I didn’t plant anything in the yard for a year to make sure that all of the grass and weed seeds under the paper barrier would not get exposed to light. The following years, I started a long project of putting in flowers, summer vegetables, shrubs, garden art, soaker hoses hooked to an automatic watering timer, and slate walkways.

After the front yard was “done”, I started work on the planting strip, the piece of grass between the sidewalk and the street. This land is owned by the city but the home owner is responsible for upkeep. The city encourages people to make the strip into a garden. We had already planted two trees there, which were given to us by the city as part of their Street Trees program. I got out my garden edger and started the long process of removing sod from the strip. I did it in pieces, removing a small square and filling it with compost and new soil. I planted beans there the first summer. After a year, it was all removed and planted. Right now, it is full of blooming tulips, which I have planted in wet fall weather, my garden gloves filling with cold muddy water.

Until my cancer diagnosis, I spent a great deal of time in my yard, weeding, pruning, and planting. Then I stopped working in my yard, for the most part. I had repeated surgeries that made it hard for my to use my arms and abdomen. I started exercising regularly, which meant less time for gardening and also another way to fulfill my need to spend time outdoors. I had trouble with fatigue. I had friends that came to help. Later, I decided to get rid of the little strip of grass on the left side of the house to open up more planting area. I got about half done with that project and lost steam. It is still unfinished, a year and a half later.

But after years of working out there several times a week during the summer and frequently during the rest of the year, I found out what happens when a yard doesn’t get such regular attention. It’s not pretty. It gets weedy and full of brown stuff. Some plants get out of control and propagate wildly. The rose bushes did not get pruned. One of them got as large as a Volkswagen. It was really overwhelming. I often found myself thinking, “My yard used to be so beautiful. It was so much easier to maintain. Now it is a mess.”

Last spring, I actually hired a landscape service to weed, prune, and mulch the front yard, which is where most of the flowers are. I couldn’t afford for them to work on my back yard, too. I figured that after they did the heavy work, I would be inspired to get back into the yard because it would not be so overwhelming. The landscapers did a great job and I didn’t end up doing anything out there.

This year, I found my yard overgrown once again and myself, once again, thinking, “My yard used to be so pretty. People used to take photos of the flowers in my yard. Sometimes cars would slow down to look at my yard.” I called the landscapers out again. It was not quite as big of a job this year and it made an enormous difference. And this year, unlike last year, I did gather some momentum. I weeded my raised vegetable containers, my husband turned over the soil, and I added compost, fertilizer, and new soil. I transplanted flowers to other containers because they were getting in the way of the vegetables. I replaced broken soaker hoses for the front yard as well as for the vegetable containers. I removed three years of old bean stalks and tomato plants from my two story metal growing cages.

Today, I went back to the yard. I planted lettuce and bok choi seeds in my vegetable containers. They are fast growing and should be finished by the time for planting summer vegetables, beans and tomatoes. I cleared the hair allium that had started out as about eight bulbs and spread into several hundred plants. Waaaaay too much allium. Clearing that out took a couple of hours, working around tree roots and plants I wanted to save. The number of little allium bulbs under the soil was unbelievable. (Hair allium is cool looking and it used to be a moderately expensive plant. My guess is that they are now being giving away at Home Depot check stands. They are worse than bluebells for “naturalizing”, a.k.a. taking over like a hostile alien race from another planet.) After I dug that out, I had to use a couple of bags of soil to replace what I’d removed. When I finished, my yard looked so nice, nicer than it has looked in years.

I came across a random photo of my front yard from my pre-cancer days. It shocked me. My yard looked terrible! Now the fact that I’d taken a photo tells me that it was probably a “before” photo taken for spring clean up. The yard always looks bad for part of the year. My surprise at the photo got me wondering how much I had exaggerated the state of my garden in comparison to the years prior to cancer. “My yard was so beautiful before cancer.”
In truth, it was better maintained in the past and that does make an aesthetic difference. But I think nostalgia and loss has nudged my memory to increase the contrast, closer to, “Before cancer everything was wonderful.”

Truly, there are a lot of losses than come with cancer, and they are losses to grieve and honor. But sometimes I think I may be too quick to interpret “before and after” in a negative way, when I am feeling discouraged, worried, or overwhelmed. I think this is natural for people to do, to think about significant aspects of life from the past with fewer shades of gray. I learned last year with my 30th high school reunion that perhaps my recollection of high school being terrible in certain respects, was not accurate. I suspect that friends who look back at high school with very strong positive feelings and memories, may be forgetting some of the bad aspects. And then of course, there is the whole lamentation of culture and young people, “Kids today…” “Society is going to Hell in a hand basket.” It can be easy to idealize the distant past. It is not clouded with immediacy of the present or the unknown of the future.

I don’t really know how much better or worse my yard is. After all, living things grow and die, regardless of whether we work the soil or not. Things change all around us.

What I do know for sure is that today I dug in the dirt and I had a marvelous time.

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My garden

My roses in 2012. They will start blooming again soon.

My roses in 2012. They will start blooming again soon.

I was walking through the woods and I noticed her out of the corner of my eye. I snapped some photos using my phone and I memorized her location.

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A humming bird sitting on her nest! I was thrilled! I ordered a real camera to take better nature photos. And the next day, I found this.

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An egg! The tiniest egg you could ever imagine. A tiny little package of life.

This was the only view I got of the egg. Here’s a little video of the time she was kind of peeved with me for getting too close to her.

After a couple of days she seemed to get used to me. And she sat on that little egg, day after day. I was thrilled to have a chance to see the miracle of life in the nearby woods. Hummingbirds are small and feisty. And this mama, despite the fact that she has the brain the size of a pea, had the instinct to protect her baby. She knew how to fly around to make herself look larger and to make lots of noise. And she also knew when it was time to quell her own instinct to flee and to stay sitting on that egg.

This is a photo I took on a very rainy day. She sat there with the rain dripping on her head from the little twig above her. I thought it was a good metaphor for a mama’s love.

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Every day or two, I visited the nest. I had done a little research on hummingbirds and learned that the gestation time would be 16-18 days for the egg to hatch. So, not knowing how recently she had laid her egg when I first found her, I expected to see a chick within a couple of weeks. I kept visiting and started feeling a little impatient because day after day, there was no chick.

Then I went to New Orleans for a few days. John and I walked back into the woods the day after our return.

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Still no sign of the chick! It is possible that there was a chick under mama but it had been far longer than 16-18  days! Rip off! Where’s my miracle? Isn’t this a zoo?

Then it happened! A chick, a chick, a chick!!!!!!

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I visited the chick a couple of times. I was planning to keep taking photos of the chick’s growth, the increase in feathers, and how little bird get loud and demanding as they await food from mamas who are scurrying around to get food for a baby who grows to her size.

Today, John and I set out for the woods. It was a breathtakingly beautiful Seattle spring day.

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Nothing. Empty. That chick was still small and homely two days ago. Sometimes nests are empty because a chick has gotten strong and fledged. But other times, they are eaten by a predator or fall from the nest. This chick, whom I’d affectionately called my “grand baby” and who my Facebook friends had fussed over, is dead.

I had been saving my photos for a post on this blog. This is not the post I had in mind. But life is still a miracle and this Mama did her best, as we all do with our children to help them be strong enough to leave us.

Mothers’ Day is typically a very happy day for me. I have a close relationship with my mother, who is a healthy woman. I have a wonderful daughter. But I know that it is a day of loss for many. For those of you who have lost your mothers, who have lost your children, or who wished for children who were never to be, Mothers’ Day has a much different meaning. And then there are those of us who are mothers who understand that we can’t take our own health for granted. We pray that we will be there for our children as long as we can, especially while they are still chicks in the nest.

Life is full of mixed feelings. I hope that at least one of the feelings you experience tomorrow is serenity. If you are a mom who has lost a child, I know you worked to love and protect your children. If you are a daughter who has lost a mother, I know you brought moments of great joy into your mother’s life just by being her child. If you wanted children but it was not meant to be, think of all of the children to whom you have mattered by being a nurturing presence.

Today is Good Friday, a particularly good day to meditate on loss and resilience.

I had a wonderful visit with my friend, Mike, a couple of days ago. He and I became friends in our teens. We were in the same woodwind quintet through a high school program at Cornish Institute in Seattle. He played French horn and I played flute. I continued to play through college at the University of Washington but not as a music major. Mike went off to Oberlin Conservatory and then the Julliard School. Our lives after high school diverged though I did see him a couple of times during college, when he came back to visit his parents.

While I was becoming a psychologist, Mike was a professional musician. In particular, he played in the orchestra for a lot of Broadway shows. After about 20 years, he decided to study Chinese medicine and he currently has a practice in New York. Now I see us as doing similar things again; we are both healthcare providers. I think that’s pretty cool.

Mike has been in Seattle for the last few weeks to be with his father during his last days. His father’s funeral was last Saturday. Mike’s mother died several years ago of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I was relieved to hear that his dad did not suffer horribly like his mom did. Mike has had some really big loses over the past year. Remember that I mentioned that he lives in New York City? Well, like many people in that area, he experienced the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Mike also traveled around neighborhoods to help people. He inspired me with his FaceBook posts, describing the positive ways in which people were helping each other wade through chaos and fear. He reminded me of the Fred Rogers’ quote that went viral on Facebook after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

Mike’s family is incredible. His parents, who were both born in the U.S., were forced to leave their homes during WWII because they were of Japanese ancestry. He and his family have continued to face discrimination as people of color. Mike is one of the most loving and kind people I know. Nonetheless, he and his partner, Dennis have faced discrimination as a gay men.

I know that Mike has experienced many hurts in his life. But I am struck by his grace, resilience, generosity, and optimism. Mike and I have never discussed mindfulness though I know he practices meditation. I believe him to be a very mindful person, someone who does not ignore painful truths but who observes and accepts them. He also accepts the beautiful truths. I think this is what allows people to grow from hurt, instead of remaining stuck.

Why have I been meditating on loss and resilience? Well, in addition to being inspired by and having a great deal of affection for my friend, Mike, I have been trying to sort through this cancer thing. Many positives have resulted from my experience thus far and it’s hard for me to write about it without fearing that I sending a message like, “Cancer is an awesome gift! I’m so lucky! Yippee!”

Cancer is not something I would invite into my life, but I got it whether I wanted it or not. I do have control to a large extent, over how I live each day and how I incorporate these experiences into a meaningful life. There is growth that can come from adversity and as long as I am experience it, I might as well grow.

This C.S. Lewis quote comes close to what I am trying to express:

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

I’m not a big believer in destiny as I am not much into the idea of pre-destination. How about the idea that hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary future? (Note that it says “often” and not “always”; let’s not bring that big old buzz kill, Nietzche into this.) Yeah, I know that it’s pretty nervy of me to mess with a quote from a most highly regarded Christian scholar. And I’m brazen enough to do it on Good Friday, too!

A purple form of trillium intertwined with bleeding heart buds.

Trillium intertwined with budding bleeding heart. My garden is really cooperating with the theme of my post today.

Trillium ovatum. This trillium is native to our area. It's three petals and the change in petal color from white to purple is often viewed as symbolic to the Lenten season. Lent and Easter are early this year so mine is still white.

Trillium ovatum. This trillium is native to our area. It’s three petals and the change in petal color from white to purple is often viewed as symbolic to the Lenten season. Lent and Easter are early this year so mine is still white.

Helleborus orientalis. "Lenten Rose" If you are able to grow this plant in your area, do so as it is not only beautiful, but starts blooming in winter.

Helleborus orientalis. “Lenten Rose” If you are able to grow this plant in your area, do so as it is not only beautiful, but starts blooming in winter.

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