Suicide – my thoughts in the wake of a celebrity’s death

Yesterday I read some jerkwad’s *coughmattwalshcough* opinion on suicide after the media frenzy of Robin William’s death. (I started this post last week, but haven’t had the strength to finish it until today.)

To say I felt he completely missed the nail is putting it lightly. He wasn’t even hammering in the same room as that nail.

I feel like I have something to offer on this subject and I want to share it. Normally I don’t want to share the deepest darkest parts of me, but I have been rolling the whole subject over and over in my mind since the news broke and I just can’t stay quiet. I have been appalled by some of the things I have read concerning suicide and his suicide in particular.

I have been depressed before – clinically and situationally depressed. I have been depressed to the point that I have lost jobs, only left my apartment to get some soda and cigarettes, stopped talking to friends and family, and self medicated – heavily. In those times I have often thought that perhaps the world would be better without me. I have thought that I was no good and nothing good could come from me and I would never ever get better. I have toyed with the idea of killing myself. I still struggle sometimes with depression.

But twice, twice I was truly suicidal. Twice it was only because something interrupted me that I am still alive today. Twice I had a plan and a time and day and I was ready to go through with it. That’s the difference between being depressed and having suicidal thoughts and being truly suicidal. The plan, the preparation, the time and place and day. That is what it means to be really suicidal. One of those times I was hospitalized for about a week. Obviously I am happy I was interrupted and happy I had the chance to get past those times in my life, as hard as it was.

Matt Walsh (I won’t link to his article because I don’t want to increase his traffic, but all you have to do is google “Matt Walsh blogger” and you will find him and his article) states:

“I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”
From this one comment I can see he has never been suicidal in his life. He has no idea what it’s like. Being that depressed and that suicidal is not a refusal to find beauty. It’s not a turning of the head away from anything good. It’s a feeling that there will never be anything good again for you. Not that you can’t see what you once did, but that you can no longer enjoy it. Not that there will never be happy times again, but that you can’t find a way to get to that point. You can’t find a bridge to take you from the worst emotional pain you can imagine to a place where you are happy again at least most of the time. And the family part – yes, most of us think of our family. We try to make it easier on them. We hang on as long as we do because of their love. We don’t want to hurt them, but our pain is so great that we can’t hold on any longer, not even for them. Depression lies. Sometimes it tells you your family would be better off without you anyway. It lies and it’s lies are mean.
Mr Walsh also indicates that happiness is a choice. That people who are depressed need to chose to be happy. While there ARE things that help many depressed people (therapy, medication, exercise, eating well, meditation, socializing, being outdoors, getting sunshine) there is no one choice you make to become depressed or *ping* undepressed. It’s not a conscious choice. I dare anyone out there to choose to change their body chemicals. Why isn’t he calling on diabetics to change their blood sugar and for thyroid patients to make their thyroid start functioning more correctly? It’s a chemical imbalance tied together with a whole lot of situational stuff that has kicked you until you are down. And kept kicking you. And most people don’t ask for help until they are truly down
There is another component in this particular case, though. Robin William’s wife issued a statement that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. A horrible disease that takes away the control of your body. It attacks the nerves. People can live for decades slowly watching their body betray them more and more. When people learned this fact, the whole tone of the suicide changed. Suddenly the angry and mean comments were no longer being said.
I also know something about this side of the issue. My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A little more than 3 years later she killed herself. She told us from the start to expect that. She had seen other people decline with this same disease and she wasn’t going to allow herself to get past a certain point. She didn’t want to lose all she was and had been. But she was also depressed. From the moment she realized what was happening (in my opinion) it depressed her. While Alzheimer’s does that to many people – the chemicals in the brain being completely different can cause chemical depression – I feel it was also situational. She couldn’t stand her mind not working the way it used to and she didn’t want us to see her in a different light. She couldn’t take the land slide of changes in her life due to this disease.
She attempted once and then she succeeded a few months later. Everyone in my family has a different opinion on it. Some just feel like she died from Alzheimer’s – that the suicide wasn’t really her choice, that it was the disease that forced her hand so to speak. Some feel like she purposely planned it to happen just as she was really losing herself so that none of us would see her at the worst part of it. I fell like it was an act of love and kindness as well as the act of a diseased mind. She loved us too much to “become a burden” (though none of us saw her that way) and she wanted to spare us from taking care of her in that state. I also don’t believe she would have killed herself if she hadn’t been physically ill.
The interesting thing to me is that while many people see it as tragic, I haven’t met anyone who sees her death as wrong or selfish or hurtful like they do with a younger or physically healthier person who takes their own life. They understand it. They empathize with it.
Why is that empathy removed from so many people’s reactions when the reason is “just depression”? Why can’t people understand that depression is just as painful as other diseases?
I suppose my answer lies in the fact that people who can’t understand suicide have simply never been in the type of pain that severe depression brings.
When I was in high school a teacher of mine asked the class to raise our hands if we had been in physical pain before. Then he asked us to raise our hands if we had been in emotional pain before. Then he asked us which one we would choose if given the choice. Of the three people who had raised their hands for both, all of us said we would choose physical pain. Being 20+ years older now, I have had severe physical pain due to cancer and surgeries. Very severe pain. And I have experienced more emotional\psychological pain since then as well. I would still chose physical pain over psychological any day.
(I won’t even start with how the physical pain and psychological pain feed off each other.)
I suppose I am writing this post is to implore you. To ask you to please try to see suicide for what it is. To stop calling it selfish and hurtful and weak. To ask you to realize that it takes a lot of pain for someone to get to that point in their lives and that you may never realize just how much it takes, but that perhaps you can try to remember that your experience and someone else’s are completely different. I can’t truly know your pain and you can’t truly know mine. But we can BOTH be kind. We can both stop pointing fingers and saying that this or that is wrong for the other person. I think that the post I read made me so upset because instead of finding compassion and hoping to reach readers who need help and give them just a little, this person instead chose to blame and tell others that their pain isn’t real – it doesn’t count. That they can just suck it up, pull on the old bootstraps and fix themselves.
Please, instead, find it in your heart to open your arms and help others who are in pain. Listen for the people who need help. Show them compassion and love. And know that even if, in the end, they choose to leave you, like my mother did, that the compassion and love was not wasted. The kindnesses I showed her were not in vain. She felt them and they helped her at that time. Please know that the good doesn’t take away the bad and the bad doesn’t invalidate the good.*

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Henri Nouwen

Be the one who chooses to give love and share pain rather than telling other people what they need in these situations or that they are wrong.

*paraphrased based on a quote in Dr. Who

Come and Get It! *insert farm-style dinner triangle sound*

Mealtime.

The word mealtime makes me sick to my stomach. The thought of making food makes me anxious. Feeding my child makes me feel frustrated and alone. It makes me want to avoid real food of my own. It makes me want to curl up in a corner by myself with some artificially-flavored processed food in a bag and eat with no one around. No utensils or pans or pots or strainers. No knives and cutting boards. No dinner time banter. Just easy, non threatening food. Just the type of food that keeps you alive but doesn’t satisfy.

No, I don’t have an eating disorder. I have a son who has real and serious food problems. Those of you who know me know that my son has sensory processing integration issues. He also has geographic tongue. He also has tongue thrust. He also now has tons of anxiety about food and an aversion to putting things in his mouth. He mentally blocks out the rest of the food at the table and barely acknowledges his. I have written about food therapy before. We have done a lot in the past and we continue to do therapy for it. “We are working on it.” is our motto.

 

But today I want to share a little about what all of this feels like to ME. (if you want to skip the in depth details because you already know how frustrating it is – scroll down a few paragraphs to where I say “breathe.”)

 

I have been dealing with this since before he was about age 3. Actually, I have been dealing with it all of his life – he had a hard time suckling at first – we had to supplement, he was picky about his bottle nipples and couldn’t ingest enough to ever go up from a new born sized flow. His first 3 formulas (after I had to quit nursing for cancer treatments) made him sick. He did ok with pureed baby foods, but when we got to the chunkier textures or mashed up foods he resisted. Once we got him to accept those, moving on to table foods was like climbing Mount Everest. But we did it, and he ate almost anything I gave him for probably 6 mos to 1 yr. And then it started. He began eliminating foods from his diet. He began eliminating textures from his diet. It became so exhausting that I gave up and fed him what he would eat. It took a long time to get his doctor to send us to feeding therapy. It cost a lot of money to just get him sitting at the table with other smells of foods. Fast forward to 7 yrs old and it is still exhausting. I have learned to deal with it at home. I have figured out foods I can send to school. If he goes to a friend’s house, I send snacks. We work on therapy every day. There is one major thing that still makes the problems he has really difficult. Traveling.

Traveling with a child who won’t eat is challenging. Generally when we travel I have to plan as much or more for his eating as I do for anything else. We recently took a lovely trip to Yellowstone National Park. Half of the back seat and alongside the middle seat in our van was full of food for my son. Non perishables in bags and perishables in a cooler. It is far easier to bring most of what we need along because I can’t always find what he will eat in another area. For example, my son will eat blueberry muffins for breakfast. That is the easiest and most portable breakfast he eats. But he will only eat one kind. One brand. One version of blueberry muffins. One version of cheese sticks. One version of spaghetti sauce. The only thing we can order in a restaurant is French Fries (some places with chicken nuggets) or Spaghetti. Not Penne with marinara, not Bow Tie Pasta, not Mac and Cheese. Spaghetti. With no meat marinara. And I just have to hope he will accept the flavor of the sauce or that I can get enough of it in him and supplement with snacks.

Generally when we travel I try to have a home base. That makes it much easier to feed him. This trip happened to be near my family and we were going to be staying with them for all but the last 2 days of the trip. I was able to make him spaghetti at the first house and I was able to put it in his thermos and take it for our long day excursions. He ate a good breakfast, had a lunch to go, and along with other snacks and some fruit, we did ok. Then we arrived at the second house we would be staying at. I still had lunch for the next day, but after that it got a little dicey. I guess I didn’t convey what I needed well, because they didn’t have any spaghetti to make. They had linguini. But he won’t eat that. That day was difficult. I was very worried the whole day about feeding him. He doesn’t eat super nutritious on our trips, but as long and he maintains calories and isn’t fussy and crying all day, I am ok with that. I knew from our last trip to Yellowstone that they didn’t have anything for him to eat at most places. Chips and ice cream was all he ate last year. It didn’t work out well. So, from now on, instead of just taking the spaghetti sauce, I will make sure I have spaghetti as well. We stayed in a cabin the last few nights and that was worse. I had to keep getting new ice to keep some of his food cold in a cooler, there was no microwave or toaster, all he really ate was snacks – no actual meals. It was so frustrating. Generally I only stay in hotels that have a mini fridge and a microwave, but that wasn’t an option. Protip: there is no McDonalds in YNP.

The stress of feeding my son on a trip can be as exhausting as the actual trip. We did have a nice time and despite the food challenges we made it through mostly happy and very glad we went.

Two weeks later here I am trying to figure out how to feed him for 3 days at our family reunion at a ranch in the mountains. They are serving plenty of kid friendly foods – sandwiches, pancakes, sloppy joes, hotdogs, and my son eats none of them. I am making myself sick with worry. What can I take that I can keep in my room? What can I take that I can store in the fridge and how do I make sure I have enough in case some of the other 40+ kids see it and want some? How do I prepare food for him? What will be available? Is there a toaster or microwave? I will have to feed him before the rest of us or rush around trying to get his food and my own before the actual food is gone. I almost don’t want to go between that and the way the timing overlaps his school starting. Can you see where he gets the anxiety piece from?

 

OK. Breathe. Just typing this makes my skin crawl.

 

Let me try to put into words why this all makes me so frustrated and upset. There are a lot of reasons, but I will try to express them.

1. What is the main job of any mother? Break it down. After you strip away all the stuff. All the activities and play dates and homework and school supplies and exercise and OT and dental exams and “say please and thank you” and EVERYTHING, what is left? The main job of any mother is to feed and shelter her children. To feed her children so they grow to be strong and healthy and to shelter her children from the elements and harm. That is the job of mothers. If you can not feed your child, it makes you feel like a failure at the deepest level. It makes you feel like an unfit mom. So, you can’t afford swim lessons. You can’t buy the shirt they want. You can’t fit any thing more into your already too busy schedule. You can’t get off work to see the school play. You can’t take them to the park this time. You can’t tuck them in bed and tell them how loved they are tonight. Strip all that away. You are feeding and sheltering your child and that is what really truly matters.

Now try to consider how it feels to fail in that department. Some of you may be able to. I know some of my in laws can. They were in war torn Georgia when my husband was little and they DID know what hungry was. People who have been homeless or lived in shelters before may know what it feels like. I don’t know what it feels like to not be able to PROVIDE some kind of food for my child. (thank everything that is out there that I just happen to have all we NEED) But I know how it feels to have nothing he can eat without throwing up and to have his anxiety so high he is in tears and to have him telling me that he is hungry. It feels like failure. It tastes and smells and looks and feels like failure.

2. Other people just don’t get it. There are other people I know who understand some of what this challenge is like. Other sensory processing moms, other food therapy group moms, the therapists we have worked with and the staff that supports them. But most of the people I come across, including doctors and some of my family and in-laws, they just don’t understand. They think if I just did this or I just did that or I just tried harder or I just let him go hungry – they think it is my fault. And if they don’t think it’s my fault, they do think it’s a little ridiculous. The looks and comments I get, the zero sympathy, the cold shoulders, the “we do have food in our house” comments – it’s too much sometimes. It’s enough to make me isolate and avoid those situations. Even really well meaning people make it more stressful for me. We are contemplating going to Russia next summer. The last trip we made was horrible as far as food went. He wouldn’t eat. The baby food tasted different, the soups and foods were all different. He ate fruit and drank juice for a month. My MIL force fed him a few times behind my back and just the thought of that makes me irate. I am afraid to go to Russia next year. Even if I get him eating hot dogs, their hot dogs taste and feel and smell differently. Even if I get him eating sandwiches, their bread and meat and cheese and jam is all different. I suppose what we will have to do is get him eating one solid meal his grandma makes – soup or pizza or something – and that’s what he will eat. Except even that – even one food – seems nearly insurmountable. And the thought of the relatives (who ask all the time on the phone or Skype about it – and who truly mean well and want to help – but who just stress me out) makes me want to hide in the closet.

Try not feeling like a failure when most people you know are telling you that you are. Try moving past that to help your child. It’s difficult at best.

3. It is difficult and expensive. Trying new foods for weeks on end, just to have most of it thrown away – that is frustrating and wasteful. But I can only eat so many hot dogs or chips or cheese sticks or whatever. I am trying to nourish my body too, and I’d rather throw some of it away than keep stuffing my face with junk. Why do we try mostly junk? We don’t – we try new fruits and veggies and dairy products too. But the other stuff – I just have to throw a lot of it away. I can’t buy generic brand anything. He likes blueberry Eggo waffles. He likes Kraft 2% string cheese. He likes Honey Maid graham crackers. He knows if it’s a different brand. He does not have to see the package to know that this waffle doesn’t taste “right”. To most of us, generic brand tastes a little different. To him it’s a huge difference. One of the ways we try to give him variety is to try different “forms” of a food he already knows. So applesauce – we tried the squeeze packs all the kids are taking to school. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t eat it. Same brand, same flavor, different package. That was too much. The amount of work we do on eating and feeding is insane. I can’t even go into the cost of therapy. It makes me want to cry. The extra work I do to make him foods he will accept and include them into our meals is very time consuming. The encouraging him to help me in the kitchen and having to supervise and sometimes redo what he has done is exhausting. But I know it’s all good for him, so I do my best.

4. It’s emotionally draining. For all of the above reasons – it’s draining and it’s lonely. Trying to hide my emotions about it is exhausting. Our therapists have told us that we need to keep the emotion out of it, because he has enough of his own. So when he gags or throws up, I am not supposed to run comfort him. I am supposed to tell him he’s ok and encourage him to keep going. That one isn’t hard for me, because after a few gags you get used to it. When he gets anxious, that’s a little harder for me. I understand he can’t help it, but I just wish it wasn’t “how things are for us.” I wish sitting down at the table could be enjoyable. I wish going to a restaurant where they throw food in the air and your dad catches it in his mouth could be an adventure. I wish watching someone make sushi and trying it could be exciting. I wish I could just feed him healthy foods and have him eat when we go somewhere else. I wish it so much that sometimes I get more frustrated than I should and I show it. On this last trip there were several times when I was able to keep my calm and help him work through the anxiety. But there was one meal that I just lost it. I couldn’t take the not eating and the frustration any more that day and I wasn’t very nice. I got upset and I told him he would just have to be hungry. There wasn’t anything he would eat and I probably made a scene. I felt embarrassed because I had gone next door to this little “deli” to get turkey meat. He will eat deli turkey meat. I said “I need turkey meat.” “The sandwiches are over there, miss.” “yes, but I need just the meat. No bread. No cheese, no mayo, no lettuce. Just the meat.” I had to explain it several times and he kept staring at me like I had 3 eyes. Finally he figured it out, but he told me I would have to pay for the whole sandwich. I was totally willing. We go back and sit down with our family and I have to go get my own food. Generally I have to rush to eat because I have had to run around feeding him first. When I got back my son told me he couldn’t eat the turkey and after 5 days I was exhausted and spent. I did not keep my emotions out of it. I did not help him with his anxiety. I had just had too much.

And then, we are back to #1 again, because the worse I make him feel about not eating, the worse his anxiety and the guilt are, the less successful we are at trying new things. So there you go, another failure.

There isn’t a happy ending to this story. I don’t know when we will get to a place where I am more comfortable with the whole food issue. I don’t even know how we will get there. I still have a reunion to try to prepare for. I still just want to go hide in the closet. BUT, there is this: if your child is like mine, know that you aren’t alone. And know you really aren’t a failure and you really aren’t doing everything wrong, even though it feels like it and well meaning relatives tell you that you are. Just keep swimming. Or tread water if you have to. Keep that nose above water if that’s all you’ve got. Hate mealtimes, try not to let your child see you roll your eyes or sigh deeply or go into the bathroom to cry. Or don’t if you can’t. It’s all ok. You can get through it again. Day after day. I mean, after all, what choice do you have?

SensoryBlogHop

(this post is part of a Sensory Blog Hop – click above to see blogs from other sensory families)

 

 

Draw your lines, dude.

Today was a difficult day. My son’s sensory problems were overwhelming for both of us. It doesn’t matter that we do home therapy every day and that we have come through a year of professional OT services and that he has improved so much. Some days are still just difficult. And I suppose that is ok. We all have difficult days. I try to remember that, I really do.

Today started out bad. Socks didn’t fit right, waffles didn’t taste right, there was too much sun, too little sun. Everything was stinky. His friends came over and jumped on the trampoline with him. One of the friends accidentally tripped over him and he thought his arm was broken because it hurt so badly. I made him come inside to rest and lay down.

Days like this, I don’t know what to do. Screen time makes him feel worse, but that’s all he wants – to rest in a cool dark room and veg out watching movies. Taking him anywhere (I have learned) is useless – nothing will turn a day like that worse faster than going in public. So, we melted into a pile of his tears, my hair and snuggles. It didn’t make everything better, but I was able to show him I am here for him, anytime – every time.

Maybe that’s the key.

Maybe I can’t fix everything. Maybe I can’t make it all better. I know when I am having a bad day no one else can make it right. So, we did some OT. Then I threw him in the bath. Then when he couldn’t eat more than a couple bites of ANYTHING, I just let it go. I let him munch a little on what he asked for all day. He snuggled with the dog and with me. I took some time for myself on the computer.

At some point it hit me:

Why do I expect more out of my son than I do myself? No, I don’t have his sensory issues. But I have anxiety and fatigue and pain and some other issues. Do you know what it’s like to go out into a loud, public, crowded place when you are anxious? I do. And I think my son feels similarly when he is having a hard day. I don’t expect myself to do things that are too overwhelming. I have very well defined lines that I won’t make myself cross for much of anything. Maybe my brother’s graduation or a cousin’s wedding. But for the most part I do what I need to to help myself. So why don’t I allow my son the same?

And right then and there I decided that might be the best thing I can teach him on days like this.

Draw your lines, dude.

Stick to it. Don’t let anyone make you do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or hurt, even your mom. If you can’t play with your friends, I will tell them you don’t want to play. (Not that I said you can’t, not that you aren’t feeling well, but that you don’t want to, because that should be all it takes for you to not have to do something. Saying you don’t want to should be enough. No excuses. Do what makes you feel best.)

Tell me what you need. Tell me your frozen gogurt sucks today. Tell me you can’t stand the smell of the dog’s breath. Tell your dad he is wrestling too hard. Tell us what you need.

Maybe THAT is the point of these days.

Maybe THAT is what you need to learn.

That you can’t always do it all.

No one can.

And THAT is ok.

 

 

*this is part of a “blog hop” for talking about Sensory Processing problems. I wrote it before I was invited to that, but it seemed to fit, so I waited to post it.*

Image

 

Slogging Uphill Through Jello – AKA Mother’s Day

Moms, we need a gang sign.

Something that says “I get you, mom” or “I got your back, sistah” or just “keep on keepin’ on – only 4 hours til bedtime, girl.”

I have discussed this with some friends and although I really like the “double chest pound/peace sign”, the kids have already used that for “I’m out” – which isn’t really the feeling I am going for here.

So, can we work on that, please?

For those of you who don’t understand what I am saying, let me be a little more clear.

We need a sign – a sign that says “I saw that. I totally saw your kid spit on his sister. I know he just wanted to make her cry. Ignore the lady behind you giving you the stink eye, because I get it. I get why you are infuriated with him right now – and I know this is probably the 15th time today that you have had to tell him to stop and you just can’t. take. it. anymore. I get that. Don’t you feel bad about loosing your mind right now. It happens to the best of us.”

We need a sign that says “you gotsta pick your battles, mom. There are only so many times you can say no in a day, or stop it, or what is going on with you today? Seriously. You aren’t made of steel. Let that lollipop she probably found between the seats from the dr’s appointment 2 weeks ago go. Just let it go. Like the Disney song you would like to let go of too. Let it go.”

Our sign needs to encompass a lot of emotions. Because we ride a roller coaster of emotions every day. Our sign needs to say “oh mama, with your eyes full of pride for your child and tears threatening to spill over – Oh mama, I love you. I don’t know you, but I love you and I love your love for your babe, and now – now you have me crying too. Mama with the baby that just started walking, or the 1st grader who overcame her stage fright, or the big boy who wrote a poem that you didn’t know was in that amazing heart of his…. Mama, I know that love and I want to share it with you.”

Our sign needs to say “Mom with the special needs kiddo, mom we get it. We know that some of your mornings you don’t think you can get up again. We know that not sleeping for the past 35 years has just about done you in. And we know that every day you do it. You do it again and again. And you love that kiddo with all your might. We know that special needs often also means a special love. That you give so much more than you ever knew possible. We thank you. We thank you for showing us what that love looks like.”

And it needs to say “Child, you need to thank your mom when you grow up, because you have NO idea how patient she is being right now in the middle of the store while you kick and scream and throw a fit over whatever cereal it is you want. You have NO idea how hard it is to stand there and let you scream and fall on the floor and attract attention from EVERY one in the store. How embarrassing it is to have to push you out of the way with your foot so someone can get by. You don’t know the looks she is getting right now, while she pretends to read the label on another package and wait for you to calm yourself down. Thank your mama one day, child.”

Moms, we need a gang sign.

We need a sign that says “It’s ok if your child ruined the chances of my child getting to go outside in the sun on this beautiful day in group therapy because he was melting down and had to take most of the therapist’s time. It’s ok. Sit down and tell me how you are.” Like some beautiful ladies did for me today.

A sign that says “I get it. I feel like I am slogging uphill through jello too. I feel like I will NEVER see the top. And really, I never will. I will worry and hope and wish and love my child every single day for the rest of his life, and he won’t even know how I feel. He may never know this unconditional, pure, perfect love. Maybe if he has a child of his own one day…   But he may never know what it feels like to love him no matter WHAT he does or who he is. In fact, sometimes you love him even more on those hard days because you hate to see him struggle.”

We need a sign that says “Whatever struggle you are going through, you can rest assured that we want to support you. Whether your child is sick, or struggling in school, or just got arrested for possession of drugs. Whether you don’t know where your child is because they ran away, or you can’t get them out of your basement because they are depressed. Whether your are beaming at your child’s graduation from medical school, or you are cheering the fact that they finally talked. We are here. We may not know your specific struggle or joy, but we know what it feels like to struggle and have overwhelming joy. We support each other.”

This sign also needs to say “All types of moms – we are here for you. Moms who want to be mamas and can’t, or moms who are waiting to adopt and have been heartbroken too many times. Moms who have had children but knew it wasn’t the right time for them and gave their baby a chance at a life they couldn’t give. Moms who have inner demons that are too strong to wrestle and who have lost their babies in the process. Moms who have known the pain of miscarriage. Moms who took in children who needed a home, temporary or permanent. Moms who struggle every day to take care of their child. Women who know that they aren’t meant to be moms and trust that instinct and understand that it’s ok not to be a mom. We are here for you. We are thankful for you all.”

We need a way to tell each other that we understand. That we are going through it too. That we are going to keep on keepin on through every bedtime and teachers conference and principal’s call and therapists appointment and bad grade and college drop out. That we may need wine (or tequila) to get through those things, but we will be there. We need something that says “this is the hardest, most demanding, most exhausting, most frustrating, most anger ensuing thing I have ever done. AND it’s the best, most wonderful, most amazing and mind blowing thing I have ever done too. And THAT, my fellow moms, is beautiful.”

Can we work on that, Moms?

Happy Mother’s Day

Keep on keepin on.

 

 

Perspective and 7 year olds

My son and I had a “your life isn’t so bad if you really look around” conversation this morning. It may have been the first one we have had. I purposely avoid comparing our lives to other people’s lives for several reasons. One is because everyone has pain and your pain and my pain may be different, or even seem less severe, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am in pain. Another is because he is 7 and let’s face it, 7 year olds don’t have the brain development necessary to really understand that across the world somewhere is another boy just like him who’s life sucks – bad – and we can’t even really do anything about it from here. Not directly anyway. However, this week has been challenging for both of us. The last few weeks really. This morning we were talking about getting his hair cut for his uncle’s wedding and school photos. He was upset because cutting his hair makes him “so itchy”. Now, I know that haircuts are challenging for my son. Lots of kids with sensory issues have a hard time with haircuts. He hates the razor, it doesn’t feel ticklish or funny, it feels like it hurts. He doesn’t like the scissors either – he feels like he is getting poked or pulled or hurt in other ways. He feels attacked. And a few times the stylist has told him they weren’t hurting him, and then nicked his ear or neck. It’s better than it used to be. We used to have to hold him down and only got haircuts every 6 months or so. But. We weren’t going to the stylist today. He didn’t need to freak out about it today, before school. So I told him to stop. I said that being itchy after a haircut isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are lots of worse things and he needed to chillax. He asked what the worse things were and I said “kids who are hungry because they don’t have enough food.” He said “or kids who are orphans.” I said “or kids who don’t have a home and have to sleep on the cold hard ground who are orphans.” It actually helped. He was then thinking about other kids who’s lives were harder instead of worrying about being itchy. And then my fussiness about people being in my way in the kitchen as I prepare his lunch for school also seemed pretty petty. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.

Trauma and Hope – My Messy Beautiful

We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?

String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.

They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.

This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.

I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.

But, did they shape me the most?

What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?

The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.

This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.

But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.

So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.

We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.

Image

messy-beautiful-450b

life

Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.

I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.

1. Pain is inevitable.

Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.

It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.

2. This moment will never happen again.

This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.

3. No one can live like this all the time.

When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.

4. Life is easier with those you love.

Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.

I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.

** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.

Fat, Fit, Free

There has been a large amount of press this last few weeks about weight, and fat shaming, and people not feeling good about themselves – or about people feeling good about themselves despite living in a culture that tells them they shouldn’t. Or about people who work really hard/hurt themselves/go to extremes to feel good about their body.

A friend of mine posted about it today and I loved her post because it wasn’t just about the societal issues. It was also about health. It inspired me to talk about my own story.

My opinion on this comes from a different point of view and I feel it is a valuable opinion that might help others out there.

First, a little background.

Most of the women I grew up around were a healthy weight. I remember them talking all the time about needing to lose weight though. My mom was proud of the fact that she was 98 lbs until after her second baby – she was also short so it wasn’t an unhealthy weight for her. After that she was always talking about the 5-15 lbs she wanted to lose, though I never saw why she needed to. Some of the other women in my family had closets full of different sized clothing because they were constantly trying to lose weight and went up and down the scale. Most of the women in my life, however, were a healthy weight and they were not super active, but busy with family and work and such.

As an elementary school child I was skinny – much more skinny than most of my friends. I remember being teased about it a little. Not much. I was never athletic – I was clumsy and didn’t enjoy running or sports or PE. In middle school and high school I was healthy – definitely not over weight but not super skinny. I still didn’t enjoy sports or exercise, except weight lifting. I had injured my ankle twice and had to do physical therapy after surgery. Part of that included going to the gym and I liked feeling strong and healthy when I could lift weights. When I was sixteen I went through some situational depression. I lost weight and the doctor had my mom give me carnation instant breakfasts in addition to anything she could get me to eat. That was the last time in my life I was underweight. When I went to college I put on a few pounds – the freshman 15 – because I was eating top ramen and noodles and cheesecake. I did exercise at the field house though and enjoyed that, especially with a friend.

During college I was put on a bunch of medicines for “psychological issues” and many of those had a side effect of gaining weight. After that I perpetually went up and down on the scale. Dieting, exercising, losing weight, then gaining it back again, being sedentary, eating poorly.  Most of the time I was a little overweight. Sometimes I was a lot overweight. That’s hard to say. But it’s true.

When I was 24 I had my gall bladder out. I found out that gall stones are often a result of extreme weight loss, which I had recently experienced. I had been dieting in a very unhealthy way and lost a bunch of weight and my body created gall stones and by the time they took it out it was gangrenous. I had a horrible recovery, staying in the hospital for 28 days and numerous drains placed to try and stop the abscess in my gut. I was so weak and sick when I got out I couldn’t walk around my apartment. Little by little I gained back my strength, but I don’t feel like I ever really got back to the health I had before that. I was also putting a lot of partying miles on my body. I’m sure that didn’t help.

I look back now and I wish I had realized the wonderful thing it is to have a healthy body. I wish I had realized that having a body that could run and jump and exercise and take a walk without asthma acting up or my vocal chord collapsing was a wonderful thing. I went through periods where I was more active and physical – running and eating well and going to exercise at the gym. I went through times in my life when I was less active – rather sedentary – and didn’t use my body at all. I went through times when the fuel I put into my body made me feel healthy and clear. And times when it muddled my brain and other body parts. I went through times where the work I did was very physical and I enjoyed being strong. I went through times where my work was very sedentary. But through it all, one thing never changed. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

Wait, let me say that again. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

And then cancer came into our lives. And my body forever changed. I won’t list all the ways it has changed, but there are a few that are important to this discussion. First – I have asthma. AND a paralyzed vocal chord. Sometimes breathing is difficult. Especially when I am exercising. Protip: Ya gots ta breathe to exercise. I have several parts of my body that are permanently damaged in ways that cause me extreme constant pain. I have limits to what my body can lift. I can no longer lift weights with anything but my legs. I can’t lift my body in any way – no push ups or pull ups or burpees or whathaveyous. I can’t lift my son. I can’t even do many of the household/gardening type activities I used to do – my pain flares and I am down for days. Carrying groceries is a monumental task. I no longer have a thyroid and no matter what they tell us, a synthetic pill just doesn’t completely replace the natural chemicals your body makes. I have fatigue issues. Many thyroid patients do. I have found ways to deal with the pain, with the help of some awesome doctors. But I have yet to find ways to deal with the fatigue. Still hoping to find that part of the puzzle. I get sick extremely easily. It seems we are sick every month and when that happens, I am in bed unable to complete daily necessities, much less exercise.

And now – now I see what a wonderful thing it was to have a healthy body. To have a body that worked the way it is supposed to. I see what I shouldn’t have taken advantage of. But… that is the way of health. You never really know what you have until it’s gone. You don’t truly appreciate being healthy until you aren’t. You don’t truly appreciate having a strong body until you don’t.

When I read these articles about “losing weight and being healthy and crossfit and boot camp and if I can do it you can too”… it makes me angry. It makes me angry that I can no longer do those things – because I think if I could again I would. I would never stop running and lifting weights and doing crazy crossfit workouts. If I could feel strong again I would never want to let that go. It also makes me angry when others don’t realize that not everyone is like them. Not everyone CAN do those things. That “if I can do it you can too” attitude isn’t the truth. I want to scream: “There are plenty of people out there who literally CAN’T do what you do. So stop shaming others and go enjoy your healthy body.” I love that they are encouraging others to use their bodies in a healthy way. If you encourage in a certain way, then it WILL help. But shaming others into feeling fat and “not the way they could/should/ought to be” is wrong.

Could I do more? Yes. I could. I should. I work towards that. But my body will never be the same. I will never do what I did 7 years ago. I will never be strong and healthy and full of energy again. I will never feel like I once did. I honestly think about whether I will live another 20 years and what I will feel like at that age a lot. The other day I said “blah blah blah in 20 years…” to my husband. He said “do you think you will live to be that old?” He was teasing. And he wasn’t. I don’t want 20 more years of pain and exhaustion. I don’t want to live in a body that often feels like a prison.

What’s the point of this post? The point is this: I encourage everyone I know who has a relatively healthy and strong body to use it. Use it in ways that make you feel good and alive and happy to be here. Use it in ways that make you feel like you are the king or queen of the world. Jump and dance and run around with your kids. Ride a mountain bike. Climb a tree. Go on a zipline. Run up a mountain. Feel the sun on your face. Backpack with your friends. Go to the school jogging club in the mornings with your kids. Take martial arts with your friend, or boxing, or ballet. Go rafting and ice skating and slide down slides. Go to concerts and dance until you want to pass out. Do all of this for those of us who can’t anymore. And do it for your family. And do it for you. Don’t do it because you want to see a certain person in the mirror. Don’t do it because you feel like you have to weigh a certain amount of pounds. Do it because it feels damn good. Do it because you are alive and you want to FEEL alive. Don’t put pressure on yourself to weigh in or measure up or have a certain body type. ENJOY your body. That’s the magic of the human body. It can be enjoyed. And the more you enjoy it, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the more you enjoy your body. It’s a wonderful “mysterious” cycle.

Use that cycle – love your healthy body – allow yourself to realize that all that really matters is if it works well. And if it doesn’t, well, you and I have a lot in common – and we still find ways to be happy and love life. That’s the big secret. Love life. If you do that, the rest is just gravy.

Guns

Sometimes things happen in your periphery that make you stop and think. Make you truly wonder how you feel about a particular subject, make you stop and decide what side of the fence you are on.

I have been around guns most of my life. I was raised around guns – my family did small amounts of hunting, we had small rifles. I went hunting a few times, my brothers went hunting, though none of them liked it much. I had an uncle who had a pheasant farm for a while for hunting. My community was a hunting type community. I never felt badly about hunting or people who hunted. I have eaten dear and elk and other types of game meat. I like it. My husband has a pistol. He needed it when he was working on armored trucks and now he just uses it to shoot once in a while – go to the firing range and shoot. I am careful about the gun safety since I have a son, but not overly so. I am comfortable around a gun. We keep our gun locked in a digital safe, with the ammunition in a different place. I don’t discourage my husband from teaching our son about the gun, and it’s danger/uses. I think it’s important for all the people in the house to know about any gun the family owns and how to be safe around it. He has showed him how it works, how to load it, how to make sure it isn’t loaded and doesn’t have a round in the chamber. I have encouraged him to take him to the firing range soon to let him see the power a gun carries and let him get his curiosity out about this thing we have in our house. I think he is big enough physically as well as mature enough now to go try it out with his dad in a safe setting. I am not anti gun in general by any means.

Lately, though, I have wondered what I really believe about guns in the general population. Last night there was a news clip about a shooting in a Portland Mall right before I went to bed. I didn’t hear the whole story about how many people were wounded, etc until this morning. This summer there was a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Co not 15 min from my home. I have been reading a book which has at it’s beginning and as a recurring theme the Columbine shootings. I lived here in the Denver area then, and remember the horror of watching that – the terror of it’s unfolding on the TV before me. The feeling of shock and anger and sadness in our community is still fresh in my mind and heart. I have watched since then for years as every year another school or college or church or mall or theater is attacked by gun wielding “madmen”.

Last night as I lay in bed thinking about all of these things I decided I need to think about what my position on guns and the general population is.

I do not know if this will be the first in a series of posts yet or not. I will say I am researching as I write – I am looking at facts. Numbers, statistics, meaningful and measurable things. I am formulating opinion as I go along. Let me just say right up front that I don’t know WHAT the solution is right now. I don’t know HOW we change this problem, but I do think it needs to change and that we as a population need to change it. I hope to find some answers in this discovery process. Answers I can be a part of.

Violence in America is an epidemic and gun violence is a big part of that. Compared to other industrial countries, an American child under the age of 15 is 5 times more likely to be murdered, 2 times more likely to commit suicide, and 12 times more likely to die of a gun related death.

On average 24 people in the US are killed every day by people with guns. This does not include suicides or accidental shootings. It is one person being shot by another person. If we include all of the accidents and suicides and attempted suicides and the cases where police officers are forced to shoot someone, that number increases to 268 people a day.

268 people a day are shot by a gun in America.

Shockingly (to me) according to the Brady Campaign, “Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.” That’s compared to the 23 most wealthy countries in the world. (Obviously places like Darfur and the Sudan have more gun deaths, I assume.) This fact floored me.

So, what goes into this whole “Americans with guns and violence” equation?

First – why do people own guns in America? 1. For hunting. If you own guns for hunting you only need to own rifles or shot guns. No one needs a pistol or a semi auto gun for hunting. I have read the forums with people arguing that semi autos have a place among hunters. I don’t buy it. If you can’t shoot it with a rifle or shotgun, you don’t need to be hunting it. People shot bears and moose and caribou for hundreds of years with regular rifles. If our forefathers could kill all of the meat their family needed for the year with a musket, we can shoot animals we mostly shoot for sport with a rifle. There is no reason to own a semi auto for hunting. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. 2. Protection. This is where the pistols come in. People feel that pistols are more powerful and more easily accessed in an emergency. Also, they are easier to carry with you. 3. For sport. Some people keep guns for hunting as a sport (not to eat), some people skeet shoot or target shoot. This is a common reason for owning guns. Especially the big, semi auto guns and the pistols.

Let me get the hunting part out of the way first. According to several gun owner organizations, between 11 and 15% of Americans report being active in hunting. That certainly can’t account for the enormous number of guns out in our population. I feel people should be able to hunt for food if they want. Really, I don’t mind trophy hunting all that much, I don’t see it as necessary, but there are a lot of things we do that aren’t necessary. I’d like to see people who hunt use the meat for food and leave the trophy part out of it. That being said, am not really in huge opposition to it. I think hunting helps keep elk, deer and other populations down, and I think it is good for our ecology. I think rifles should be used in hunting and I think that if used/stored properly, hunting rifles are fairly “safe” type of guns. In fact, hunting rifles and other long barrel guns make up less than half of the gun deaths in our country per year and are mostly accidental deaths, not homicides and suicides.

I was surprised to find out that in homicides from 1976 to 2004 in the US handguns were used more than 2 times as often (some years 3 times as often) as other types of guns (including assault riffles), more than 2 times as often as knives, more than 3 times as often as “other methods” and more than 5 times as often as “blunt objects”. Some years the handguns were used up to 8 times more than other methods. I know that if someone wants to kill another person, “they will find a way”. I also think that guns make killing another person easier. They put some distance, some anonymity, between the victim and the killer. They take away the up close and personal part of the killing usually. They make it an easier split second decision.

Now, let me address the home protection part. I think people have a right to protect their homes and their families. I also think that guns are rarely used in this type of protection. (By rarely I mean comparing how many people say they own a gun for protection, and how many of those people actually USE the gun for protection.) The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence states on their website:

“DID YOU KNOW? On the whole, guns are more likely to raise the risk of injury than to confer protection.

  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide (11x),criminal assault or homicide (7x), or unintentional shooting death or injury (4x) than to be used in a self-defense shooting. (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263)
  • Guns are used to intimidate and threaten 4 to 6 times more often than they are used to thwart crime (Hemenway, p. 269).
  • Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens (FBI, Expanded Homicide Data, Table 15) compared with over 30,000 gun deaths (NCIPC).
  • A 2009 study found that people in possession of a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault (Branas).”

Those statistics say a lot to me. If less than .6% of all deadly shootings are legally justified self defense, I would say that self defense is really a negligible part of this equation. I would also go on to say that it is a poor excuse for owning a gun. IF there were to be some sort of foreign invasion on our soil (the type that includes large numbers of people coming into our country by foot or car which we could actually shoot at), or IF there were to be some sort of zombie apocalypse, or IF there were some sort of “post apocalyptic fall of society” then yes – guns would be useful as protection. Except with the zombies. Everyone knows shooting zombies doesn’t stop them. Unless it’s in the head. (A little humor in this serious blog post.)

I would like to address the issue of guns as recreation. I suppose I really don’t have a problem with this part either. Though the kinds of guns generally used in recreation are the kinds often used in crimes.

The problems we have, then, become criminals owning or finding a way to get guns into their possession, people using guns they already have in a crime, and domestic violence/home accidents.

Obviously, making gun safety and education a priority in homes that have guns is an important factor. This would cut down on the accidents. Domestic violence involving guns is a much more complicated matter and will have to be an entirely different post, I suppose. But needless to say there are things we can do to help prevent domestic violence in general, including incidents involving guns.

The guns which most often used to commit crimes? Handguns, as we have already established, are the type of guns most often used in crimes. So… how do we keep handguns out of the hands of people who use them for killing?

Now, I am not one of those people who think that rounding up all the guns and taking them away is a good idea. I am not naive enough to think that the criminal element will not still retain the ability to purchase/locate guns and I am not naive enough to think that there wouldn’t be major fall out from something like this. I know that in studies done on the Australian gun ban and buy back, it has shown to not be extremely effective in reducing  the number of gun related homicides and crimes. There has been a healthy decline in the rate of suicides in general and gun relates suicides in particular. But there are still guns in the population and people still die by gun violence. I do think something has to be done here in the US to lower the rate of gun related crimes and deaths. So what is that something?

I think we need to look at gun violence as a bigger picture. Why are Americans so violent in general? Why do we have such high homicide rates? Why do we have people walking into malls and theaters and schools killing each other? Why do we have children killing other children? Why do we have children being bullied so terribly that they kill themselves? Why do we have strangers walking into public places shooting at people that they have never even met before? These aren’t all robberies gone bad or home invasions turned murder or abusive husbands being shot or one child being angry at another child or group of children. These are very often random killings committed by Americans who don’t even know each other, without an explanation as to the reason. Why? Why are we so violent.

I would like to mention 2 things in the wake of those questions I posed above. First, we are a violent country. We have always chosen war over peace. We were birthed in war. The Europeans slaughtered Native Americans and African slaves. They fought against their own mother country for the right to be a separate nation. Less than 100 years after becoming a country we were at war with ourselves. We have fought many wars since then and I am sure will continue to fight more. We go off attacking other nations, trying to democratize them, saying they are a threat to us, saying the way they do things is wrong. We go to war to help others, sometimes without them asking for our help. We go to war over things like oil and land and control. We go to war claiming that our way of life is the best way and everyone else needs to do it our way, all the while having our own problems here at home that need to be addressed. We are a warring country. We teach our children to fight, we use words that are violence based when talking about most things. Our entertainment is more violent than not, even in the children’s entertainment. Movies, games, music and more all condone and promote violence. We tell our children “stand up for yourselves”, “be brave”, “don’t let yourself be picked on”. While I tell my son these same things I realize only now that they are violence based. Fighting is the solution for my 6 year old boy? Being brave at night in his room alone is the solution? Where does it end? We war with everyone and everything that even slightly resembles a threat. And yet, even war has changed – become faceless and less personal. We have unmanned planes and weapons that go into battle that are controlled by someone no where near the strike zone. We used to fight face to face and hand to hand, looking into the eyes of dying men and women, but now more often than not, it is impersonal, at a distance, and more deadly with the stronger, faster, better weapons we have. Then we bring those soldiers home and expect them to go back to real life without help. And our returning soldiers now have a suicide rate unparalleled to any other group of soldiers in our history.

Second – we are an easily frightened people. Easily frightened people are not only easily controlled, but also easily spurred to violence. Part of the problem with violence in this country is the fear we all have. Fear that the government is “taking over”, fear that the violence is coming to our home, fear that people of a different race or class are coming for us, fear that poverty will take us over. (*one thing that would help our violence problem would be for us to work on our poverty, race, and class issues) Michael Moore spoke about our fear in a very well written post after the Aurora shootings:

“What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, number one in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other.”

We are a violent people. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Look at the statistics. We have the most violent crimes in all of the free world. The most homicides, the most gun violence.

In my readings I came upon the best answer I have found yet. I believe, after reading a lot about this, that he thing we need to change is the way we look at this phenomenon. We need to change our perspective. We need to look at this violence as a human health issue. As a disease that can be treated. I don’t believe that guns should be ripped from the hands of “well meaning citizens”. I do believe that there needs to be a lot of changes made. Do we make it harder for people with a mental illness, a past record of violence, a previous attempt at harming someone with a weapon to get a hold of guns? How do we decide what needs to be changed and when and where to make those changes?

If we take a step back and look at gun violence in a public health approach, it becomes more cut and dried. It becomes less emotional. People stop freaking out that there is “so much gun violence” and that “someone is going to take their guns away” and start looking at the causes, repercussions, and treatments of the epidemic. (Let me note here, I think looking at all violence from the perspective of a public health approach would help as well, but since gun violence is the topic of this piece, I will focus on that here.)

I don’t believe the answer is going to come to us in a drastic way. I don’t believe taking guns away, banning guns, dramatically changing gun laws will help. I believe the answer is going to come in subtle, scientific ways.

On of the doctors who found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shooting last year has written in the Wisconsin Medical Journal about the gun violence epidemic. He says that just because it is becoming the norm doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Dr Hargarten has stated that looking at it as a public health issue is the way to go. I think I like his (and many others) way of thinking.

“Unlike almost all other consumer products, there is no national product safety oversight of firearms,” he wrote in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. Why is this? We are so afraid of loosing our right to own guns that we don’t even want to make sure the products are safely made? We don’t want them to go through the same testing and oversight as a car or a child’s toy? This is our first step. To make sure that guns are being produced properly and safely.

If we look at the issue as a “public health issue” there are certain classifications we look at. It gives us a scientific method to follow. Some of the things to look at are as follows:

“_”Host” factors: (for example) What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners were more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence. That suggests that people with driving under the influence convictions should be barred from buying a gun, Wintemute said.

_Product features: Which firearms are most dangerous and why. Manufacturers could be pressured to fix design defects that let guns go off accidentally, and to add technology that allows only the owner of the gun to fire it (many police officers and others are shot with their own weapons). Bans on assault weapons and multiple magazines that allow rapid and repeat firing are other possible steps.

_”Environmental” risk factors: What conditions allow or contribute to shootings. Gun shops must do background checks and refuse to sell firearms to people convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, but those convicted of other violent misdemeanors can buy whatever they want. The rules also don’t apply to private sales, which one study estimates as 40 percent of the market.

_Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership – a precursor to gun violence – can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.” “There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.”

That was evident in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater shootings. Reports came up around the nation of people bringing guns to “Batman” movies. After Columbine some teachers reported thinking teachers should have conceal and carry permits.

The above examples are just a very few of the things we can look into and find answers in. Subtle changes can make a difference. Treatments to health epidemics often come in the form of education and prevention as well. For example, the spread of HIV slowed down dramatically when how the disease was spread was discovered, and education about how to prevent the spread was widely distributed.

If we take a logically based approach there is actually a lot we can study and use to make gun violence decrease. If we stop freaking out about our second amendment rights and our NEED to have a gun, we could do a lot of good. If we stop freaking out about “the enormity” of it all and stop trying to ban all weapons and work WITH gun owners and gun sellers and gun organizations, we could learn a lot. We could study how guns get into the hands of people like the theater shooting perpetrator or the columbine kids (their 18 year old friend went to a gun show and bought them – no background check, no wait time), and we could make gun laws based on how they are bought/procured and by whom. (why do private sellers not have to do background checks? What happens to guns that are in evidence lockers around the country? How do illegal gun runners operate and what can we do to stop them?) We could study what kind of people are more likely to commit gun violence, we could increase our violence prevention tactics.

I feel like I have started to find an answer here among my research.

We, as Americans, have a gun violence problem. A handgun violence problem to be more specific. We, as Americans, want that to decrease without loosing the rights of the majority of people. We, as Americans, don’t have a crystal ball to see what might happen in the future, but if the last 20 years is any indication, gun violence will continue to rise.

I would like to finish this part of my journey into “how I feel about guns” by saying this: I know that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but really, how many of those people would kill with a different weapon? There are plenty of estimates on this, some say as high as 85% of violent crimes and 80% of suicides by gun would not happen without access to a gun. In other words, when asked if they would have tried the same thing without a gun, perpetrators said no – up to 85% of them. Yes, violence happens without guns every day. A small town close to where I grew up (Casper Wyoming) was recently devastated by a suicide murder in which the perpetrator shot 2 other people with a bow and arrow before turning the weapon on himself. I ask you this, would the Aurora theatre shooter been able to kill or hurt so many people in such a short amount of time without the weapons he had? If he had a knife or bow and arrow, would all of those people be dead or injured? I don’t believe so and I doubt you do either.

Only we can change the violence in our country – only we can heal this epidemic of gun violence. Please, stand with me to stop the dramatic extremes in our opinions about guns, look logically at the problem, and find ways to fix it. We can all play a part. Leave the emotions at the door and look at it through the eyes of scientists and doctors and public health nurses and help to heal this disease.

More reading:

http://www.bradycampaign.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/its-the-guns-_b_1700218.html

http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_21292776/treat-gun-violence-public-health-issue-experts-say

https://fishjello.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/death-and-life-in-america/

 

****EDIT: in talking with some like minded friends about this article it seemed to me that I had left something unclear in it. I don’t think anyone needs to have a military grade weapon in their possession unless they are active military/police force. There are plenty of very responsible gun owners out there who take the time and care to store and use their weapons carefully. But there are some people who don’t. Weapons end up in the hands of criminals all the time – through home invasions or store robberies. These guns, when used in mass shootings such as the Aurora shooting, are more damaging and much easier to use to hit a large number of moving targets. The gun the Aurora shooter used first was an Ar-15 assault rifle which can expend up to 50 rounds per minute. This gun would have been illegal to buy from the early 1990’s until 2004. This year he was able to buy it with no problem. My biggest problem with a gun like that is this: during a mass shooting like this a shot gun, a handgun, a normal hunting rifle, etc – they all have to be aimed and fired and reloaded. This man just shot and moved the gun, pointing it into the crowd. He didn’t have to take time to aim or time to reload. These things may seem trivial, but it could have given some people a chance to run, escape, hide more, try to get away from the bullets. The rounds this gun uses are also very powerful. They shot completely through the wall of the theater into the theater next door and wounded and killed people there. Those walls have sound containing panels and everything. That is a pretty powerful round I think.

I have to admit, I used to think that taking these weapons out of the hands of the majority of the population would do the most good. I don’t anymore. I think it’s part of the equation that needs to be addressed, but it also happens to be a small part of the equation. Hand guns seem to be the weapons most often used in gun violence, and while it might help with the mass shootings we have seen, it won’t help with the other 200 + people shot on a daily basis.

What not to say to cancer patients.

My dear dear friend was just informed (over the phone by a nurse – ugh) that her cancer is back. After 8 LONG years of being in remission she has to fight this jerk again.

It is very difficult for me to just sit when something like this happens. However my friend lives far away and there isn’t a lot I can do this minute.

So….. I decided to write a post about things that are unhelpful to say to a cancer patient. (yes, this is just my opinion. Some people may disagree. That’s fine – they are allowed.)

1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” First of all, this has as the first part of the statement the admission that the thing you are battling could kill you. Seriously? That’s what you want a cancer patient to focus on? Second of all, sometimes when you are going through cancer – going through the surgeries or the treatments or the tests or the waiting – you don’t feel strong. Not at all. You feel weak and vulnerable and in need of some strength from others. Or possibly in need of a day or two in bed – with no responsibilities and some funny movies and some tissues. Maybe some tuna noodle casserole. Some days you don’t want to be expected to be strong. Third of all, for me, this statement makes me want to tell “being strong” to screw off and head back to bed. Just because I’m a rebel.

2. Don’t talk about your uncle’s cousin’s brother who died from the same cancer. Or your friend who had to have chemo and was SO SO sick. Or how everyone in your family has had cancer. And died. Really, just don’t talk about death unless they bring it up. And then just listen for the most part.

3. “I’m sure you will be just fine! You are a fighter!” Thanks for the encouragement. What if I’m not sure I have any fight left? What if I’m not sure I will be fine. It feels like an empty statement. Don’t try to be overly positive. (“Well at least you won’t have to shave your legs when you have chemo.”) What would be more helpful is for someone to say “Wow. I have no idea how you must be feeling (even if you think you do). But please know am here for you to talk to. Or to get out of the house. Whatever you need.” AND THEN be there for them when they call. Listen.

4. “Let me know if I can do anything.” Cause honestly, we don’t have the energy to go around asking for help and telling you what we need. We are exhausted. We can’t begin to tell you what we need. We can’t even make ourselves a list of what we need. The best things you can do to help is this: “I am going to bring by dinner tomorrow night around 6. What sounds good?” “The gang at the office want to make some freezer meals for you. Is there anything your family doesn’t like or can’t eat?” (make sure to include some healthy foods in this – often foods brought over are fatty, carb loaded and heavy. Cancer patients need good nutrition. Add some veggies, a salad, or a nice fruit bowl for dessert.) “I can help babysit on Thursdays and Saturdays at these times. For several weeks. Could I take your kids to the park so you can rest?” or “When you have your surgery, I can watch the kids, also, the next few days so your support team can take care of you instead of feeling frazzled. Here is my number.”

5. When someone tells you that they have cancer, don’t say “My kid has had the flu all week. And you know how I hate vomit.” (yes, that really happened) “I had an ovarian cyst that put me in the hospital once. I totally know how you feel.” I would think this would speak for itself, but apparently it doesn’t. When someone tells you that they have cancer a lot of people don’t know what to say. Try not to fumble for words and just listen. Say “I’m so sorry.” Say “How are you feeling today? Do you want to talk? What is the plan from here forward? Can I go to your doctor’s visits with you?” Etc. Don’t compare, don’t assume you get it.

6. “Wow. That sucks.” Really? Cause I know it sucks. Thanks for the reminder.

7. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Really? Cause right now I feel like I have a hell of a lot more than I can handle. Not only that, but if I DID believe in the kind of God you are talking about, I wouldn’t believe he/she was sitting somewhere watching me, measuring just exactly how strong I am and giving me JUST the right amount of crap in my life. JUST THE RIGHT amount of hell I can personally handle. Letting me feel just the right amount like I have been abandoned by all of the good in the universe and that I can barely BARELY get through the day laying in bed, much less do anything else. That he knows EXACTLY where my breaking point is, and even though I think it was 2 surgeries and 2 years ago, apparently I was wrong. That image – it doesn’t help.

8. “Everything will be just fine.” Maybe it won’t. And not only that, it’s ok for people to be scared. Say “I know you are scared. I can’t imagine how you feel. I am scared for you. Do you want to talk? Hold hands? Hug? Do you want your Ipod with your “soothing music” playlist? The movie “Footloose?”

9. “My aunt has a natural treatment that CURED her cancer. No, she wasn’t ever actually diagnosed. It’s made out of dirt, dust mites and spring water. It’s only available in Italy – but it totally CURED her.” I am just going to leave it at that.

10. Don’t try to push treatments, different doctors, surgeries, different hospitals, etc. If your friend asks, tell them “this is what I think helped my cancer the most…” “this is the doctor my doctor recommended.” Right now their treatment plan is the only thing they have control over, and they need to feel confident in their decision making. I had a doctor (who I love) send me to a new surgeon. I had another doctor (who I also love) ask me to please go to a different surgeon just for a second opinion. When I said I didn’t want to, she respected that. Turns out I really should have gone to the second doctor. I saw him for the next surgery and he did the one thing that truly turned my course of treatment around. She never said “I told you so” or “You should have listened.”

11. “Oh, I heard that’s the best cancer.” or “Oh, you don’t have to do chemo? You are so lucky.” or “Well, at least it’s not _______ cancer. I know three people who died of that.” There is no best cancer. There is no best cancer treatment. (yes chemo sucks. big. so does radiation, radioactive iodine, surgery, bone marrow transplants, etc.) Everyone’s cancer journey is different, and most of us feel like our road is pretty much sucksville.

12. Don’t ask if they will loose their hair, what their new boobs will feel like, if they will have a lot of scars, etc. Honestly – they don’t know and you don’t need to.

If you DO happen to do any of these things, or worse, just stare at them in horror and avoid them for a week, the harm is not irreparable. But don’t pretend it never happened. Say “I’m sorry I acted like a moron. Can I try again? I’d like to be there for you. I was shocked, but I’d like to show you I can be there.”

The things that are helpful:

ACTION. My mom is my best example of this. If you were having a kid she packed a bag. If you were having surgery, she packed a bag. I ended up in the hospital for a week with sepsis, she packed a bag. I had a cousin who needed surgery and my aunt had something that prevented her from helping. Mom packed a bag. She didn’t ask, she didn’t hesitate. She came to my baby shower one weekend. The very next day after she left I was told I had to go on bedrest. Guess what? She packed a bag, got her work stuff to bring down, and came right back. The next day.

I’m not suggesting you move into your friend’s house or head across the country for someone you haven’t seen in 10 years (unless they ask and you can). But take over dinner. Send a pizza gift certificate. Take a funny movie. Take them out to a movie or dinner if they can go, or take it over to their house if they can’t. Send a card. Make a phone call. Plant some flowers in their planter. Do some laundry. Tell them you know a great housekeeper and you are sending her over on your dime for a couple months. (I wish I could do this for all my cancer friends.) DO something.

Listen.

Hug.

Smile.

Cry.

Follow their cues.

 

Edit: I wanted to mention one other thing. My mom was a great nursemaid. She helped me get dressed, prepared sitz baths, helped me learn to nurse, helped me dress wounds, helped me put on a bra when I couldn’t, propped me up in bed when it hurt to lay down, took care of my son and my husband, emptied drains, helped me pull out stitches that had become abscesses (with my dr’s direction). My aunt also came to help me for a week after one surgery and she has always doubted whether or not she helped me. She did. She cleaned my closets, she entertained and exercised my son, she re-potted my plant, she fed us, did laundry, took me to the store, helped me walk down the block, made sure my house was spotless before she left so I didn’t have to worry about that part of things. She made me laugh. She was kind. She was just what I needed. A breath of fresh air and lots of good energy. Everyone can help in their own ways and according to their own personalities. Never doubt that there is something you can do do help someone who needs it. What you can do might be just what they need.