Thursday, November 13, 2014

Make It So


Every once in awhile, I'll see or read something and think, "I'm gonna put that on my Bucket List." Then I promptly forget about it until the next time I see or read about it. I never actually Make It So. When you write things down, you Make It So. They're there for everyone to see, and for you to be held accountable. Years from now, someone could approach me in the grocery store and ask, "So how's that Bucket List coming?" and I can say, "Well, I've done #3 and #7, and I'm working on #8 - thanks for asking!"

OK, that probably won't happen. But it could.

Anyway, I decided that instead of randomly remembering things I want to do during this interesting and unpredictable life of mine, only to have them slip into the ether of my mind minutes later, I'd write them down, and thus Make It So.

So here goes - in no particular order, because that's how my mind works.

1. Learn sign language. I've always been fascinated by this language and would love to be able to become fluent. Then I'd like to volunteer my skills in helping with those who are deaf. And I'd also like to be able to teach it to my best friend so we can secretly communicate at parties.

Climbing a silo. Not the same.
2. Climb a big rock. I took a rock climbing course at Upper Limits in Bloomington and loved going over there to climb. However, I've lost my climbing partner and don't get over to BloNo much anymore. A few years ago, I looked into a rock climbing course they offer in Southern Illinois - like the real deal. Real rocks. I wanna do that. As soon as I build up some badass arm and leg muscles and figure out a way for my pelvic region to not look all bunchy in a harness.

3. Go to Canada. I have no idea why. I don't even really know what's up there, other than coldness and hockey and maple leaves. But I'd love to go to French-speaking Canada, since I will probably never make it across the Pond. I took a total of six years of French - one year in grade school (an after-school class - how dorky was I?) four in high school and one year in college. Surely there's more than "Comment allez-vous?" and "Quelle heure est il?" in the depths of my consciousness somewhere?

4. Lambeau, Baby. I know, right? This Marquette grad, former Milwaukee resident and HUGE Packers fan has NEVER BEEN TO GREEN BAY.  It's just criminal. It has to happen - preferably with someone who is as much of a fan as I am, because it'd be lame to take someone who was just doing it as a favor. Because it's gonna be cold, yo.

5. Play the bass in a band. Yeah, this prooobbbbaaaabbbbllllyyyy isn't going to happen, but you never know where life is going to take you. When I'm trying to pass the time during a workout or standing in line or trying to fall asleep, I sometimes fantasize that I'm a bass player in this garage band. You know, the one who kind of hangs back all cool like and sways back and forth to the beat just thumping away - most likely while wearing a hat. It's all about the hat. And the swaying. And the thumping. Oh, and maybe some backup singing, too. This one may take some work.

6. Find my go-to volunteer place. My dad has two go-to volunteer places - Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Midwest Food Bank. He's there a lot and is getting to know the people there. I'd like to become a part of something like that someday. The last time I really felt a part of something volunteer-wise was when I was on the board at Charter Oak School. Man - I felt like I owned that joint and I knew everybody. What a great feeling to be around a group of people who all like each other and believe in what they're doing. Too bad Old Lady Lathan put the kibosh on all that. But they're good memories and I'd like to recapture that spirit of giving back and that sense of community someday.

7. Write a book. Yeah, yeah, everyone tells me "You should write a book." That's usually because a) I'm a writer and "don't all writers write a book?" b) because I seem to have an unusually quirky life or b) I have an unusually quirky way of looking at my life. My book won't be fictional - other than names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty.)

I have an immense amount of respect for those who can come up with story lines, characters, plots, and write chapter after chapter over the course of years that turns into - well - a story. I'm more the "extended blog version" kind of writer, and I have far too many thoughts in my head about real life to make room for imaginary friends. (Sidenote: I just read  Carry On, Warrior - The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton - which, if you like my writing, you will LOVE hers. I highly recommend this book.) Anyway, I read that stuff and think, "YES! THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO WRITE! THAT'S IT! SHE GETS ME AND SHE WROTE IT AND PEOPLE READ HER!" And yes, I say it in all caps.

8. Fall in love. Obviously this isn't something I can just go and do, but I'd like to cross it off someday. It's probably more likely that I'll go to Canada. Or climb a real rock. Or learn sign language and how to play the bass. WAIT A MINUTE. Maybe I need to do ALL those things before I can meet my soulmate - a deaf yet musically-inclined Canadian rock climber! That's IT!

I gotta get busy. Make It So.






Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What is Dying with Dignity?


My first thought when I read about Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who took medication to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was, "You go, Girl."

The Oregon, Washington, and Vermont Death with Dignity laws allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. This is one of many end-of-life care options available in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. - See more at: http://www.deathwithdignity.org/access-acts#sthash.pBkIu0Sc.dpuf
Brittany moved to Oregon because of that state's Death With Dignity Law, which allows mentally competent, terminally ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive prescription medication to hasten their death. If you haven't read about it, here's her story:

Brittany Maynard, advocate for "Death with Dignity" dies

She was young. She knew she was going to die. And she knew it wasn't going to be pretty. And I'm going to assume that those close to her were on board with it.

A Vatican official denounced it, calling it an "undignified absurdity." My faith and my upbringing tells me that it's wrong, and that we can't play God. That the cards we are dealt is the hand we are stuck with. We don't get to decide when we come into this earth we don't get to decide when we leave. Those are the rules.

Then I put myself in Brittany's place. I don't have a husband, but I have children. If this happened to me, I can't imagine them having to go through all that, even though I wouldn't have had it any other way with my mom than to go through what she went through with her. See my dilemma here? I certainly don't have the funds to withstand years of treatment or hospital care. And I don't want to die a long, painful death if I don't have to. I want quality of life.

That's what my mom wanted. That's why she sought out the oncologist she did, because he believed in quality of life. She knew that he would provide her with the options that would allow her to be treated yet maintain quality of life. And she knew he would tell her when it was time to stop.

And he did. And I often wonder what she thought during those final months. Did she wish for death? Or was she valuing each and every day she had left? Or maybe a little of both? If given the option, I am nearly 100% sure that her faith would have prevented her from taking the measures that Brittany did - but then again, her situation wasn't the same as Brittany's.

So though I was accepting of Brittany's decision, because the non-judgey side of me realizes that I haven't walked a mile in her shoes, I really did wonder how I felt about it and if I would do the same thing if I was ever in a similar situation. Then I read this article, ironically in the Jesuit Post (I attended the Jesuit Marquette University, as did my mother and my oldest brother), written by Jason Welle, SJ:

On Love and Dignity and Dying

In short, the author tells the story of his brother's struggle with cancer and his initial thought of ending it all versus riding it out."I don't know," he tells his brother. "... what I do know is that we love you so much, and we want to be able to love you all the way through this; we would support you, and it would never be a burden on us to be with you and care for you even in your suffering. Tony, please, let us do that for you. Let us love you to the end, whenever that may be.”

Mr. Welle takes offense that the option of taking one's own life, even as a relief from dying a painful death, is known as "death with dignity." That the real dignity "isn’t opposed to suffering; sometimes in suffering dignity reveals its truest face."

I'm not saying this very eloquently, so read the article. It's hard to explain. If my mom would have chosen to move to Oregon to take advantage of this law, I would have supported her. But when she became sick, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go through this with her. I wanted to do that for her. I wanted to love her until the end.

And there was no doubt that she suffered. Were there parts of it that were undignified? Certainly. Did she suffer with dignity? Yes, she did. She made sure of that, her family made sure of that, and hospice made sure of that. Did she die with dignity? Absolutely.

But I get it. I get both sides. And I'm torn. Then it occurs to me, I don't have to be on one side or the other. My heart breaks for Brittany and her family and what they must have gone through and are going through. My heart breaks for the thought process that got Brittany to realize her fate and the bravery (mind you I say bravery, not courage) to publicly make the decision she made, and how many waverings she must have had in her own mind to come to that decision. But again, if she had the support of those who loved her, then that's the whole battle right there.

And if it was me, in her situation, I don't know that I wouldn't have thought of doing the same thing. I just don't know if I could have. I don't know if I could have played that last hand that's supposed to be God's call. I guess it would depend on who was left in my life and the role they played. For Brittany, it seemed everyone was accounted for, so maybe that made it "easier." My struggle, I think, would be with not so much who is left behind, but who is waiting ahead.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Somewhere between "hate" and "great" - is 48.


So my year of being AK47 has come to a close. Which is fine, since I'm pretty much anti-assault rifle, as well as any other kind of gun. I'm square like that - don't judge.

Looking back at my "What it's like to be AK47" post from a year ago, I noticed that although I wrote what I was thankful for, I designated the year as "one of the hardest of my life."

Guess what? This year makes last year look like a walk in the park.

BUT! But, dear readers, before you click away thinking this is going to be another one of those morose posts from yours truly, give me a chance. I'm trying to do the whole "silver lining" bit here. And I will say that though this year has been extremely challenging on almost every level of my being, I believe I have learned more and grown more than probably any other year I've been alive. And that doesn't include the few extra pounds from what is apparently premenopause, which is the least of my problems right now.

Maybe this is the wisdom/experience you acquire with age. Maybe it's "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Maybe it's a little of both, with some open-mindedness thrown in for good measure. Maybe that's why I'll look back at the "Year of AK47" with mixed feelings - somewhere between "hate" and "great," wherever that is.

So here's what I've learned. And like with every self-help article you may read, take what you need and leave the rest behind. Works for me, anyway.

I've learned that family is first. 
Last year's birthday card from Mom.
Two years ago, our family definitely took each other for granted. This one was pissed at that one for something he or she couldn't even remember. Phone calls weren't returned, emails not replied to, family gatherings complained about in advance or blown off all together. It was too easy for everyone to go about their lives that included their own families and work and friends to really remember that where they came from is what they needed to nurture, foster and be appreciative of.

My mom's illness seemed almost like a cruel ploy to bring our family together, something that had always been of utmost importance to her. She often lamented and lost sleep over our petty sibling fights. She sent emails and kept calling even if the response was sometimes lukewarm at best. She knew in her heart that in a crisis, each and every one of us would be there for the other.

And we were. When Mom got sick, we came together as a family and began to realize what she had been trying to drill into our heads all our lives. Family is important. Family is for life. Family is what you have when you have nothing else. And for the last months, weeks, days and hours before her death, she had just that - family beside her every single day. And some of us remain close now, for the most part - almost clinging to each other because we get it now, and we know we owe it to Mom to stick together.

I've learned that parenting truly means LGLG. 
I got so sick of hearing that phrase, "Let go and let God." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Let go of WHAT? I'm not letting go - I got this. I can FIX this myself, thank you. 

No, I can't. Which is a realization of which I'm still coming to terms. But, on a cold day in February, I let go. I turned my son over to God. Not without second-guessing, mind you. Not without remorse, regret, and a lot of tears. But deep down - deep down in that place you try to squish when you want to believe something the way you want to believe it, I knew I did the right thing. I knew I did a very brave thing. And in "letting go and letting God," I not only did the one thing that I believe saved his life, but I think I may have saved mine as well.

I've learned and grown right along with my son, and have a completely new perspective on my life as I know it versus my life as I thought it would be. I understand even though I may not accept, and I accept even though I may not understand, if that makes any sense at all.

If you haven't tried this whole "let go and let God" thing, I encourage you to explore it. It doesn't have to be as holy roller as it sounds. It's basically just saying, "I've done all I can do, and by grasping at straws to do something else, I'm only hurting myself. So I'm giving it up to You, God, OK? See what You can do."

For the record, don't think I'm good at this every day. Sometimes God and me, we play tug of war. Well, at least I do. He basically just stands there and holds the rope - WITH HIS MIND. Because he's God.

He just sits there patiently waiting and I say, "Screw you, God. You're not moving fast enough. I don't have the patience for this. I've been waiting to see the results of me letting go and letting you and I'm just not seeing them. So let me just grab this away from you because I am SURE that I can turn this around faster than you can."  Yet every time I do that, I'm blinded by worry and uncertainty and what-the-hell-do-I-do-nextness. So I meekly reach for the rope again and tell God to go ahead and pull me over the line.

Sidenote: I heard a great thought from someone just the other night about worry. He said, "Worry is almost admitting to God that you don't trust Him." Good point. Very good point. 

I've learned how to communicate - better. 
OK, that's a lie. I really haven't. But I've thought about it. And I've learned that I NEED to do a better job of communicating. Because I can't write down EVERYTHING. Sometimes my voice and my actions have to be enough, because I can't just walk around with a pencil and paper writing things like, "Sorry I'm not smiling and I'm acting kind of bitchy in the checkout line but I would rather be anywhere but here buying crap that I can't afford and have to go home and actually prepare for someone who would rather eat 10 piece chicken nuggets with medium fries every day."

But through the village of individuals whom I've had the pleasure to meet over the past year, I want to say to you - I have learned from all of you. Across the country we've converged to help one another, teach one another and comfort one another. And I've learned so much.

Like how to validate someone's feelings instead of trying to change them or give them reasons why they shouldn't feel that way. So instead of saying, "Don't be silly. You're not hopeless." when someone says, "I feel so hopeless!" you say, "I hear you feel hopeless. That's an awful feeling. Tell me more about it." And then if they do, listen. Because by the time they've talked through it, they might have helped themselves with their own problem, or at least found a way to get to a solution that's best for them, and not just necessarily what you might tell them to do.

Sure, you can offer insight if you want, but if YOU'RE not feeling hopeless, you don't have the answer. And the answer is different for everyone. Sometimes, we all just need someone to listen. And validate. Especially kids. While you want to make everything all better for your child, your best bet is to listen and help them work it out themselves. By fixing everything, you do a huge disservice to your children in a world where people don't generally give a shit about what's going on beneath the surface of your bitchy resting face - and your kids need to learn that sooner rather than later. Especially if they have bitchy resting face.

I've (sort of) learned that it's not (completely) my fault.
I've learned that no matter how awesome of a parent you try to be, it's not necessarily your fault if things don't turn out the way you planned, or wanted, or dreamed of, or hoped for. (And yes, Mom in Heaven. I do realize I'm ending these sentences in prepositions. It's for effect, OK?) Oh, I'm still definitely working on figuring out that not everything that my child is or isn't is not my fault, and I still blame myself for a lot of crap. But I'm getting better at realizing that I did the best job I knew how to do with what I had, and at some point the ball is in my child's court.

Because here's the deal. There's not necessarily just two paths in life, with my child standing at the fork in the road trying to choose to go right or go left. There's more hidden trails and exits and entrance ramps on and off of every one. And I can love that child no matter what road he's on. The hard part comes when I have to say, "I love you, but I will not support that decision." THAT'S where the rubber meets the road, and all the more reason to do the whole "LGLG" thing.

In that same vein, I've learned that relationships end for a reason, whether they be my doing, his doing, or by mutual agreement. I've spent waaaaay too long beating myself up over what I should or could have done differently when in reality, I did what I thought was best at the time. And though hindsight is 20/20, I venture to guess that if I had to do it over again, I'd probably do the same thing.

That sucks, and I'm not saying I don't still spend countless hours rehashing what I could or should have done differently. But I think what I'm really thinking is this. "I wish I would have been the person that would have been OK with all that. I wish I could have been the person for whom that was enough. I wish I could have been that person who was SO good at communicating that everything was out on the table with no margin for error." But regretfully, I am not that person, so the cards fall where they may and I move on and try to do better next time.

I'm learning to just keep going. 
I haven't mastered this yet, but I'm more cognizant of the theory, and it's making more sense. I just read a great post entitled, "Work Like You Don't Need Money and Love Like You've Never Been Hurt." In a nutshell, it basically reminds us to quit letting the past define our future. Life isn't fair, sometimes it sucks, get over it. Do what you do because it puts a smile on your face, not because you get a big fat paycheck at the end of the month even though you're miserable. Do what you do because you truly believe it's your best option, then don't look back at all the other choices you could have made. Nobody's looking to be in love with life every single day, but if you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK with the person looking back at you, you're more than halfway there.

This passage from the article sums it up best:
"It’s not because you’re paying for your earlier sins; you’re just living and things are just happening. You can try to control as much of your life as possible, but you will always be left with countless variables of uncertainty. So what does this all mean? I’m still trying to figure that out. The way I see it right now, it doesn’t change a damn thing. You’re still going to want what you want. You’re still going to dream the dreams you dream. You have only one choice: keep going."

So I can sit around lamenting that it seems like it's been one thing after another this past year. A long relationship reluctantly put to rest, like a dog that you didn't want to have put down but knew it was suffering too much. You know it was for the best, but you still miss it.

An unspeakably unfair end of a journey with the woman who brought me into this world. A journey she nor my dad deserved, but made me realize all too late that beside every Superman is a Superwoman. And grief that doesn't follow a timetable because six months later you will  burst into tears when you hear them sing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park, because that was her favorite Neil Diamond song.

A parenting nightmare that turns you into "that parent you never wanted to be." Crying tears of such such extreme sorrow and frustration and loss, then tears of utter joy when you see your son standing at the top of that hill in the middle of the woods, dirty from head to toe but with a white smile that's bigger than you've seen in years and striking, clear blue eyes. And all you can do is run to him as fast as you can, grab his face and repeat over and over, "You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful." Yet also knowing that your journey - and his - has just begun.

Life is messy, and you just have to keep going. Try to find a little good in every day, and try to find someone who does the same, and makes you feel like you want to keep going even when you don't want to for yourself. Try to live your life somewhere between hate and great, even though you'll have those two extremes every now and again. They're OK. You'll learn from both of them. But the real meat of life is what's in between hate and great. For me, maybe that will be 48.