OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Monday, August 19, 2013

Happy 22nd Anniversary -- Learning to Let Go and Grow

When I look at my life so far, including being a mom and my professional achievements, and think about what I am most proud of and what brings me the greatest joy, I have to say our 22 year union is definitely at the top of that list.  A long, fulfilling marriage doesn’t just happen, much as the fairy tales of youth promised I just needed to find my prince and live happily ever after.  I found it is definitely work, tough get in the trenches through disappointments and challenges; take a good hard look at myself and what is most important to me, stuff.    

In getting married, I gave up a lot of what I cherished.  I am extremely independent and self sufficient. By joining my life with Michael's on an August day two decades prior, I had to take into account another's perspective. I have definite thoughts on the proper “how” of many things – how the house should look, how to raise kids, how to pursue a career, and the list goes on and on.  Marriage made those all up for discussion and debate.  I treasure solitude as an introvert who lives in an extrovert world.  I need time to fill back up what, putting myself out there for so much of the time, takes out.  Sharing a domicile with another (and then a few more) means solitude must be planned and sought out; sometimes it is not even possible.  I like life steady. I have been described an unnaturally “Zen” person.  Not much gets me upset or panicked.  I assume things will work out until faced with unconverted evidence to the contrary.  My spouse more often takes the first warning sign as an omen of terrible things to come.  His family and culture seem to me to revel in huge ups and downs whether for matters of great gravity or those of relative triviality.  Now I must work harder to keep an even keel living alongside someone whose natural balance includes wild swings.
Why then do I feel our marriage is one of my proudest achievements and greatest joys?  It is because the more I let go, the more I am able to stretch my horizons to evolve and grow as a person.
The very hardest thing for me to surrender was the feeling of maintaining control; which I fiercely guarded for years after we were married. I was fine making decisions together.  But I needed to maintain a sense I was still in the driver seat of my life.  But one October day, the steering wheel was wrest violently out of my hands.  I could either accept a co-pilot or . . . . . 
I was diagnosed with cancer at 37.  Devastated and terrified, I could see all my emotions perfectly reflected on my love’s face when I shared the news.  I then made a request I know now was totally unfair. I asked, “Can you please act like everything is normal or I don't think I can get through this.”  I lost control over my life and was trying desperately to get it back.  After a lengthy surgery, I wanted to get on my feet and get moving, against the nurse’s instructions.  I recall a heated discussion at the hospital.  I couldn’t fathom why Michael did not get this was important to me.  He didn’t seem to appreciate how helpless I felt and how much I hated that feeling.  We had two little boys who needed their mom back.  And I wanted to hit the fast forward button and put this nightmare in my rear view mirror, no matter the cost. 
For a long time I was confused by Michael’s reaction and frankly a little hurt and disappointed.  Life characteristically moved on and we relocated cross country, both got new jobs and had a million different activities to take up the time – so we never really resolved the disconnect.  Then I attended ceremony where Michael gave the key note address to graduating high school students as they faced their futures.  I knew a bit of what he intended to say about life altering events for him, including the birth of our  first son who they feared had a life threatening condition, both his parents health crisis and my run in with the “C” word. 
However, I heard more than I expected.  Michael's brown eyes filled and his deep voice cracked trying to maintain composure while he shared his experience as the spouse. I found tears welling and then freely rolling down my cheeks as he described sitting for 6 hours, all alone, in the hospital waiting room and praying, praying, praying . . while I was under the surgeon’s scalpel.  I realized I didn’t know he was alone.  I didn’t know the surgery took 6 hours.  And it hit me why he had the reaction he did when I came out of surgery those years ago.  I could only imagine what it must have been like for him; his sense of helplessness must have been equal to, if not greater, than mine. 
Being married for 22 years provided me many opportunities to learn and come closer to the person I would like to be.  Letting go of what appears so critical at the time, often gives me great clarity and insight.  My husband’s final words to the graduating class said it best, “What is more important than all the success you seek to achieve, is to find someone you love to share it with, as I have.”  
I love you Michael. Happy 22nd anniversary! Looking forward to the next 22!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"My Son is Getting Chemo"

My husband asked me to accompany my nearly eleven year old son, Damian, for his minor surgery a few years back.  Michael is not comfortable in hospitals.  I agreed although the thought of spending time there was not appealing to me either.  My son grumbled on the drive because he had not been able to eat or drink for most of the day to prepare.  He definitely has enjoyed being well nourished since he was a baby.  We laugh at his first picture where it looks like he is sucking.  The two of us arrived late afternoon and checked in. 
As I was filling out the paperwork, I overheard one nurse tell another, “We are behind by at least an hour.  This happens all the time and I wish they planned better.”  I asked for an update on our scheduled time and they confirmed it was delayed.  I pointed out it would have been easy to make a phone call and let me know.  We could then have avoided spending extra hours at the hospital waiting around.  I got the obligatory, “So sorry, there is nothing we can do.  This is hospital policy.”  I felt talked down to and that my even raising the question was somehow a breach of etiquette. 
The nurse then, on her own initiative, got her supervisor to come by to tell me exactly the same thing.  Now I am starting to boil.   I understood the words perfectly the first time.  Having them delivered by a person with some authority did nothing to rectify the situation or make me feel validated.  In fact, it had the opposite effect.  I was then told I was welcome to file a complaint.  I tried not to lose sight of why I was there - -to support my son – although I was getting more upset about their efforts to justify their actions than I was about the original delay. 
To get my focus back on track, I turned to my son and asked if he was glad I was there with him.  He replied, “I am happy you came, Mommy, because I am scared.”  Now I was refocused. I told him, “You don’t look scared,” as he happily watched cartoons in his unflattering hospital gown.  (He was none too happy with having this memorialized as you can see.)  He replied, “That’s because I am good at hiding it.”  Hmmm, not the response I expected.  My mind was taken back to when he was a toddler and not so good at hiding his fears.  We decided to go to an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico for a family vacation.   We settled on the only one with a kids club that accepted 2 year olds.  We discover another resort next door with exciting options including turtles, black panthers and an underground water way you could float down.  We decided to see the animals and experience the river. 
When we got to the entry point of the stream, we were each given life jackets.  Damian, then two, excitedly pulled his on over this head.  And he and I jumped together into the unexpectedly frigid water and began floating with the current.  As we entered the underground caverns, Damian, no longer was sure this was for him, started thrashing and pushing me down.  I was afraid for both of us.  So I started singing nursery rhymes and asked him to sing with me.  As soon as he started belting out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” his body relaxed.  And he again floated peacefully with me inside the dark spaces.  We continued down this river tour with people laughing as they passed by us or occasionally even joining in the impromptu caroling.  After serenading perfect strangers with every child friendly song we knew (and a few twice), we arrived safely at the other side.  His ability to change his perspective, and focus on the something other than his fear, gave him a whole new view of the experience.

Since we had time, we decided to walk around a bit.  After some exploration of the hospital, we eventually received word the doctor was out of his prior surgery.  Damian was wheeled away for his turn.  And I went to find a Starbucks and get a much needed cup of coffee.  I found myself again reflecting on the annoyance of the unplanned late night and the unpleasant exchanges of earlier. 
As I waited for the elevator, another mother walked up and asked, “Done for the night?”  “No,” I replied.  “They just took my son away for surgery.”  She smiled sympathetically and shared, “My son is getting chemo.”  I quickly retorted, “Oh, that’s worse.”  She had the look of someone who knew too much about the subject as she said wearily, “They are all bad.”  During our brief ride, she shared her son was 15, just about the same age as my eldest at the time, and was being treated for lymphoma.  I sensed she received some small measure of comfort from what she perceived as our shared experience.  I did not have the heart to tell her my son’s surgery was of a routine nature and nothing like what her son was battling. 

I walked out of the elevator feeling humbled and small.  How could I complain about such minor inconveniences when there were mothers, like this one, facing down gut wrenching challenges?  Why wasn’t I more grateful for the health of my children?  I realized for me too, like my son when he was a toddler, a change in perspective made me instantly see things very differently.  I owe that mother a big "thank you" for the important reminder.