Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Are Family

It started out like any other family, for lack of better word, feud. There were no Hatfield and McCoy shootings, just a common agreement that certain members of the family did not get along and therefore stopped speaking. The problem was the dispute, as with most quarrels, had innocent victims.

This is my story.

My Grandmother was a strong willed person who liked controlling situations. No one knows the whole story, but she and my Aunt had a falling out that would never be rectified in this lifetime. Members of the family were forced to choose sides and in the end my mother lost her sister.

Over the years when I came home I would ask where my cousins were. I was told they had moved out of state and no one in the family knew where. I take responsibility for not pursuing their whereabouts, but I was raising kids and on our trips to Ohio attempting to juggle the parent and In-law visits with equal time.

But I missed my cousin. He was one of my best friends growing up. He was an usher at my wedding. He was a big burly football player from the neighboring city, but one of the sweetest men I ever met.

For years, I felt the hole left in my heart from his absence.

Then last year I was cruising some social networks and found his wife’s page. I contacted them and we caught up, as much as one can, on Facebook. Then we realized we were going to be in Ohio at the same time. Plans were made.

I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. I was to meet them at five at a favorite pizza place. Life happened and they were held up. I had to pick my Mom up at seven so our time was limited. I began to worry that I’d miss seeing them. Then the call came. We’d meet at a Starbucks between the two cities.

I sat waiting in anticipation. Wondering, hoping that the reunion would be all I expected. He walked through the doors and I started crying. I grabbed him and hugged, not the least bit embarrassed as other patrons looked on. I met his kids. I embraced his wife. We sat and talked. Neither of us understood the dispute, what had caused it, what had kept it going all these years.

All I knew is that because of a quarrel that was completely out of our control, we had missed being a part of each other’s lives.

I don’t see him or talk to him every day. But there is something there, some small part in my heart that has been opened. And it feels wonderful.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Live Like You Were Dying

I get the majority of my ideas for articles from friends. Most are going through the same aches and pains, trials and tribulations that I find myself dealing with as a fifty-something. But every once in a while I have a conversation with someone outside my group that touches me so much that I have to write.

Two days ago, I ran into a woman I met when I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital at a pediatric home facility where families stayed when their children were hospitalized. More often than not, the child was having treatment for cancer. The woman I ran into had a son who came routinely for two years and was dealing with an extremely treatable form of childhood cancer. "Good news," she told me. The young man just turned 22 and is by every sense of the word cured.

We spoke briefly, but I could see something in her eyes. She kept looking down as she spoke. Finally I grabbed her arm and led her to the food court.

“Let me buy you a coffee.” I insisted.

If I’ve learned one thing in life it’s that you have to stop and reach out to others in their moment of need. Too often I let the moment pass and regretted my lack of consideration later.

We made our way to the food court and over coffee she opened up about her own cancer nightmare.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer some years earlier and going through treatment, she had made it to 4 years and eight months before coming out of remission.

“They say if you make it to the five year mark it’s a good thing,” she told me with a sad smile. She was going back into a treatment plan. But what she said next changed me more than anything. “If I knew then what I know now, I’d have spent more time living and less worrying about death.”

Her son had been sick for so long that even after he was better death seemed to hang around. His immune system was battered and she constantly worried about accidents and illness, about strokes and heart attacks. She’d seen so much illness so early that she spent her life looking over her shoulder at every shadow.

“Do you know the song, Live Like You Were Dying?” she asked.

I smiled, “One of my favorites.”

“It’s true, you should live each day as if it were your last, not give into that fear of dying. Every day, I get up and say to myself, 'It’s going to be a great day, cherish it.' I tell everyone I love how I feel. I take numerous moments throughout the day to close my eyes and just breathe. I look around and I am so grateful for all that I have.”

I wondered what the people in the nearby booths thought of these two middle aged women crying together in the food court at the mall.

We talked some more. We caught up on her other kids that were always in tow when the youngest was in for treatment. I hadn’t seen her for eight years and knew because of the distance between our homes, the possibility that I would see her again was minimal.

“If you need anything...” I said as we hugged farewell.

She smiled, “I’m good, and it was great seeing you.”

We parted ways and I knew that I should take her advice to live each day like the special gift that it is to each and every one of us. Cherish the relationships; appreciate my life, my surroundings, all of those gifts with which I have been so blessed.

It happens, you hear this type of story and for a couple days you try. You attempt to live in the moment, appreciating loved ones. But all too soon we fall back into that everyday routine where just getting through seems to be a challenge.

Maybe, I would fall back into my habitual way of just getting through each day. As I got in my car, I closed my eyes and took in a long cleansing breath and cherished the moment. Maybe not.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who’s there?

I’m not psychic. I have those moments where I get that feeling that something is wrong out there in the universe and I start calling everyone on the family tree to make sure everything is okay.

However, I have been afflicted over the years with hearing or feeling someone close by me when there are no other worldly people in the general vicinity. And occasionally I hear a whisper of a voice say my name. The kids find it hilarious. When they are in another room and I walk in and say, “Did one of you call me?”

But the voice has been useful. There were times when the voice stepped in and possibly changed the direction of my life.

Once when I was small I was running after a ball that had gone into the street when the voice yelled my name. I stopped to look around, trying to find the person who had called out to me. At that instant a car ran the stop sign in front of our house where moments earlier I had been stepping out.

The second time, I was walking on High Street by the Ohio State Campus, at night, and possibly a little inebriated. I decided to take a shortcut through an alley behind one of the more popular establishments. (Papa John’s for those old enough to remember.) As I turned the corner I heard my name called, same warning voice. I stopped and looked down the alley. There was a gang of guys hanging out and the situation did not look like one a lone female should walk through. I back tracked,kept to the main road and walked safely back to my friend’s apartment.

The third time I was driving through South Carolina on my way back to Florida from Ohio. The kids were asleep in the back and Kirk was dozing in the passenger’s seat. I had a tootsie roll pop that I was sucking on, trying to stay awake. We decided to stop once we got into South Carolina but realized there weren’t many hotels on 77 between Rock Hill, where the rooms were sold out due to a softball tournament, and Columbia. I was exhausted. I had the music turned up loud enough to keep me awake but low enough so the kids could sleep. I must have fallen asleep at the wheel because the voice all but shouted my name. I woke up before my tires hit the gravel strip beside the road.

I’m not sure who the voice is. As many of you know I am not a very religious person. As a child I named the voice Thomas.

And I’ve learned to listen when the voice speaks.

Yesterday, I was writing. The words were flowing in a way they haven’t for awhile. Words were coming to me from a myriad of directions. Cacophony, effervescent, abhor, aesthetically, egregious; words I love but somehow am never able to remember with my addled post menopausal brain. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow pass by the French doors of the den and heard my name. I turned, but knowing I was alone in the house knew it was just my friend stopping by to check in.

“Hey Thomas,” I said. “I’m all good, go help someone else.”