Take Care of Yourself and Each Other

My husband’s Aunt Mary Alice ends most of her emails to us by writing, “Take care of yourself and each other.” If you’ve read any of my Flighty Friday posts, you may have noticed I end my posts with a similar saying, “Take care of yourself, and be kind to each other.” I adore Mary Alice, and I adore Mary Alice’s family.

Mary Alice played the piano and organ at our wedding. Now in her 80s, she continues teaching piano lessons and playing the organ for various churches in her area. Mary Alice is an active, strong and classy woman. She has experienced a great deal in her 80+ years, including taking care of her in-laws during their illnesses.

James and his Mom, Mary Alice

Uncle Edward, Mary Alice’s husband, died three years ago. Edward had Alzheimers and cancer, and Mary Alice took care of him. Mary Alice’s daughter is a cancer survivor, having won the battle against Breast Cancer. YES! Sadly, this past Saturday, Mary Alice’s son, James, lost his battle with cancer. James had all kinds of cancer.

Cancer sucks. Death sucks. Having a cold or the flu sucks, but cancer and death suck more. I realize when “suck” is used in certain context, some may find the word offensive. My apologies if you are offended. I find ‘death’ and ‘cancer’ offensive.

Death sucks for those left behind. Cancer sucks for those fighting the battle. Sure, cancer sucks for those helping their loved ones fight the battle, but I think it sucks more for the actual fighter.

And the cancer fighters? There is an army of fighters. Though lately, it seems the fighters are losing the battle. My neighbor’s friend’s Dad died this past Wednesday. He had cancer. A friend from my son’s school had a friend die last week. His friend had cancer. My boss’ Mother-in-law died earlier this year. She had cancer. Another friend of mine lost her Mom to cancer three years ago. My father died over 20yrs ago. He had cancer. The list goes on and on. Have I mentioned cancer sucks? How about death? Did I mention death sucks? Just checking.

I realize there are thousands and thousands of cancer survivors. Ya’hoo! And, I say that at the top of my lungs! YA’HOO!!! And, I remind you that Mary Alice’s daughter is one of the cancer survivors. YES! The survivors help motivate those caught up in the battle. The survivors give us all hope that remission and cures are possible. Still …

I asked a friend of mine recently, “Is cancer more prevalent these days or are we just getting older?” Her thought was that we were just getting older. I’m sure there were friends and family members that died of cancer when I was a youth, teenager and young adult. Alas, during those years I was was pretty self-absorbed. (Yeah, yeah – maybe I am still a little self-absorbed. Your point?!)

Later this week, my husband and I will drive to Savannah, GA to attend James’ burial. We are missing the visitation and funeral in Jacksonville, FL. I am trying to prepare myself emotionally. James was a light in my life. He inspired me with his wit, his smile, his optimism, his wit, his wit – and have I mentioned his wit? I stop short in calling him a smart-ass, out of respect for his Mom. But honestly – in the best way, he was a … well, you know. (At least he was with me, and I loved it!)

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I feel James around me. And, I know when I attend the burial (and reception), I’ll feel his optimism and joy for life. Joy for life at a burial? Yes. Seriously, James was so bright to me, I know I’ll feel his joy. What I don’t know is how I will handle seeing his Mom. His Mom. Wow. It should come as no surprise that Mary Alice’s kids are as awesome as they are – because their influence is/was nothing but the best. Seeing Mary Alice will break my heart. As a Mom, I can’t fathom burying my child. That is not how the circle of life is suppose to play out. And yet, a child losing a parent is also hard – regardless of age.


Andrea's daughter with 'Nana'

My friend’s Mom is battling cancer. Like James, my friend’s Mom has all kinds of cancer. Like Mary Alice, my friend is not new to cancer. She lost her brother over 20yrs ago to a brain tumor. My friend lives in FL, and my friend’s Mom lives in NC. My friend, her name is Andrea, left FL this past weekend, to spend the week before Thanksgiving with her Mom. She’s spending quiet time with her Mom, before the rest of the family gathers for Thanksgiving.

Ever since Andrea’s Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve taken it upon myself to touch base with her daily. Yesterday, during our emails back and forth, she described the overall feeling at her parent’s house. I asked Andrea if I could share her thoughts with you. She said I could.

Andrea writes, I’m hoping to spend time with her talking and recording some of the conversations. But I keep finding things in the house that need to be done. There’s a mess in the linen closet that needs to be cleaned. I need to update and print her contact list. I need to go through the refrigerator and throw out old food. Of course these are things I’ll do while she’s asleep, but things I need to do because she would never allow things to get to the state they’re in. Not that it’s horrible – it’s just not up to her standard.

“It’s just not up to her standard.” That gets me. Andrea’s Mom is alive and actively battling cancer. But, she is fighting the battle in bed. Normalcy has changed. The ‘new normal’ is different. The standards are lowered.

It’s weird, Andrea wrote, I don’t really feel her presence in the house anymore, other than her bedroom that is. I don’t know how to put it in words. Her “essence” or “being” isn’t in the kitchen. Or the living room. Or the sun room. Her purse isn’t hanging on the chair in the nook and her sweater isn’t draped over the back of the chair. Her sunglasses and keys aren’t on the table. Little stupid stuff that makes this her home aren’t there anymore. I open the refrigerator door and it’s so obvious that she hasn’t been in it for awhile. The house is no longer under her control. It’s not her domain. I’m trying to find the right words to describe it, but I can’t. Does this make any sense?

Andrea and her Mom

Yes, Andrea. What you wrote makes sense. And, I know anyone who has experienced what you are experiencing will ‘get’ what you’ve written. And, I believe they will find comfort in your words. And, I hope you find comfort knowing you are not alone. And, maybe your Mom’s presence is hard to feel now, because her new normal is not the real normal – the true essence of your Mom. But, when all is said and done, your Mom is with you each and every day – alive or not. She’s in your expressions; she’s in your mannerisms; she’s in your attitude; etc. And Andrea … you look like your Mom.

Obviously, this is a personal (and lengthy) post. I hope I haven’t overstayed my welcome with my 1300 plus word count. But, I needed to write this post. I wanted to shout out support and appreciation to Mary Alice, James and his sister. I wanted to shout out support and appreciation to my friend, Andrea, and her Mom. I needed the release. And, I need (and love) my friends and family. Thank you.

In honor of Mary Alice, James, my friend Andrea, her Mom and your loved ones, please take care of yourself and each other.

Back at the Ranch

This morning, I was suppose to go to my boss’ house to work. Typically, the boys wake me up around 7am. I’ve come to enjoy them waking me up, so I rarely get out of bed before I hear the patter of their feet coming to my bedside. And, this was the case this morning, even though I needed to shower before heading out for the morning.

The boys greeted me, and my oldest quickly requested I turn on Curious George. As he sat down to watch the show, he asked me to sit and snuggle with him. My oldest is five, and I am aware that the snuggle time with my boys is limited, especially with my 5yr old. He rarely asksĀ  me to snuggle with him. As I sat with my oldest, I knew I had things to do before I took them to daycare and myself to work. I needed a shower. I really needed a shower. Still, I was enjoying the time with my boys. The youngest asked to join us, so the three of us sat in a chair, snuggled and watched Curious George. And, I began to think of ways to skip the shower and enjoy the snuggle time. Thankfully, my boss was OK with me staying home today, we rescheduled for tomorrow and I continued snuggling.

On the way to daycare, we were talking about pancakes and maple syrup. Dad made pancakes for supper last night, and the boys loved it. My oldest remembered the time the three of us went to the Seventy-Four Ranch, in Jasper, GA. We ate pancakes at the ranch, too. He was reflecting about the trip to the Ranch and how Larry, the owner, was a good pancake maker. The boys loved playing with Larry, and the ranch hand, Junior. They also had fun hanging out with Menny, the foreman.

I loved listening to the boys talk about our trip to the ranch. The oldest has a better memory of the trip, because he was age three. My youngest doesn’t remember the trip all that well, as he was only 2 yrs old. The irony to my son’s happy memories comes from the fact that I took myself and the boys to the ranch to get away from my husband. I did not kidnap the boys. It was a planned week long getaway, with my husband’s permission (so to speak). While staying at the ranch, my family was going to help move my things out of the house and into a rental house I found. However, long story short (too late), my husband and I agreed to work it out while under the same roof. Still, the trip was booked, I had the time off work, and I took the boys to the ranch.

Back in August 2008 there were many hurricanes. Though the State of Georgia doesn’t get the full brunt of hurricanes, it does get wind and rain from recently demoted hurricanes. And, in the Summer of 2008, specifically the week of August 19th, it rained for two days straight. I was stuck at the ranch with two boys under the age of three, while it rained those two days. Actually, it rained for three or four days, I think, but I called my husband after the second day. Yeah, I was ready to leave the guy, and I called him and asked him to come save me. Apparently, I like eating crow.

So, my husband drove up immediately after work, spent the night with us and left for home later the following day. I can’t say we got along swimmingly when he came to help me, but we made it work. And, I could tell he liked seeing the boys enjoy their surroundings. In addition, I could see the boys liked sharing this experience with their Dad. Before he left for home, I asked if he would come back and stay with us on Friday, after work. He agreed, and the last couple of days were spent as a family of four enjoying our time on the ranch.

The purpose of this post was to express my gratefulness. For so many years, I have been living (barely) in a bad marriage. And, as I said earlier, I originally planned the trip so my family could relocate me and the boys while we were gone. But, rather than taking the boys to live in a new place, we returned home. Though the time at the ranch didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped, my son has such fond memories of it. Truth be told, I have wonderful memories, too. I can still see the boys wearing their boots and nothing else, running around and laughing loudly outside, as the rain came down in buckets. I am grateful my son looks back at the ranch with smiles and giggles. I am grateful my son remembers Larry and his pancakes, the two jack russell terriers jumping up, pulling a string and ringing the bell and Junior taking the boys for a ride in the truck to see the many horses, cows and bulls.

Though I have fond memories of the trip to the ranch, I also remember the main reason I booked the trip. And, I remember the struggles I had in my marriage prior to the trip, as well as the struggles after the trip. Now, nearly 2yrs later, my husband and I have a better relationship and a stronger marriage. The boys are older, becoming more independent with each passing day and we continue to have adventures, as a family. I am pleased my son had so much fun at the ranch, and I am thrilled he asks (often) if we can go back. The purpose of the trip was to start the process of ending my marriage; thank goodness, things didn’t work out as I had planned. I’ll take another helping of crow, please, while I sit next to my son and listen to his happy memories back at the ranch.