Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving- a holiday which we’re told was initially celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Indians to give thanks for bountiful harvests. Today, Thanksgiving is typically a celebration with friends and family where we stuff ourselves full of turkey and other delicious food till we’re in a food coma. Damn that tryptophan. Those still awake watch football or plan where they’re going for the Black Friday deals.
Over the last few days, I’ve been contemplating and reflecting over the things that I am thankful for this year. Some times sarcasm creeps– what can you be thankful for when your world is turned upside down and you’ve lived through the darkest, loneliest, saddest times you’ve ever been through. I’ve then given myself a mental pep talk. After several days of thinking, I’ve found some light in the darkness.
Basically 2009 has just plain sucked since February. Life was so good before February- I had a husband whom I loved dearly and we were such a happy family with our new son. Everybody was healthy. Life was good.
Then along came February and the stage IV diagnosis, followed by our fight and culminating in our lost battle.
But through it all there are things to be thankful for.
Nathaniel. I have a wonderful easy going delightful son. He is a pleasure to be around and his growth and development is nothing short of amazing to witness.
John got to be a father and he was a great one. Some men never have the opportunity to become fathers. Of the ones that do, not all of them are great. John enjoyed fatherhood as much as he physically could through his illness. Mentally it gave him a reason to fight and a reason to live that stretched beyond self. John loved his boy so much. He told me that Nathaniel’s laughter was his most favorite sound.
I had a great marriage and was married to a wonderful man. I’ve been able to experience true love. There are lots of people who can’t say that. I have enough wonderful memories to hopefully last a lifetime.
John’s illness has taught me to stand up for what is right and to fight for those you love and to pick up the pieces and carry on. The Mary of years past, wouldn’t have stood up to the well known and credentialed doctor and told him that we weren’t done fighting and if he was, then he could be forever referred to by name as “the doctor that gave up on daddy and the doctor who let daddy die.” The doctors and nurses have other patients and rooms to visit. The patient has one life. Sometimes you have to stand up for those you love and insist on the best treatment for your loved one. In the end maybe the outcome isn’t the most important thing, but rather how you life the life you have and the memories that you leave. We’ve all been born and we’ll all die… really it’s the parts in the middle that we need to really make count!
John’s death has left me with a hole in my heart- grief, heartache, and loneliness like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. But, I’m getting through it… not over it, but through it. Some days are like walking through a nice grassy meadow with the sun warmly shining. Others are like fighting my way through thick mud and slipping, sliding, falling, and getting up and pushing on. The sun rises. The sun sets. Life goes on. If I choose to live life or not, it still continues- better to enjoy it while I can. Nathaniel, the horses, and the cats have kept me going. They all need me and they all love me. I’m working or re-building my life. It won’t ever be the same or the happy home and strong fortress that it was with the three of us, but we’re making it. It’s not always easy, it’s not always pretty, and it certainly isn’t always clean, but we’re making it…. one day at a time. Life goes on. We never know how short or long our life will be. To me it only makes sense to enjoy it to it’s fullest and be happy as best you can.
For some reason, John’s death has chilled me out more and I don’t usually get upset over the little stuff. In the end, the little things don’t matter. It’s the big picture. I just want to relax and enjoy simple pleasures- hug my kid, ride my horses, take a walk, pet the critters, and just enjoy life. I’m very fortunate that I can do all of those things without even leaving Leaky Creek! I love my farm, my house, my horses, my cats, and my son. I truly feel like there is something else out there beyond our realm. I do think that John has given me signs. It’s reassuring and gives me an inner peace that I need. Attending church has been helpful. I used to fear dying terribly. After I held John’s hand as he died, my fear left. Someday, I’m sure we’ll be together again… as long as he doesn’t hook up with some hot angel in the meantime…
Annapolis Fire Department. They were absolutely amazing during John’s illness and they (along with Community Fire Company of Rising Sun) made his funeral a fitting tribute to a wonderful man and amazing firefighter. AFD did so many wonderful things that I know I can’t mention all of them. They covered John’s shifts, so he received full pay. They allowed him to retire on disability. They came to visit him in the hospital and were there for his 2nd round of IL2 treatments at 6 AM & 10 PM. They transformed our half bath into full bath with a shower that John could use. Sometimes when you’re sick… the ability to get clean just means so much. Sadly, John was only able to use his shower a few times, but it was very much appreciated! AFD built a ramp, so we could get the wheelchair in and out easily. They mowed our grass and did assorted maintenance jobs. They went with us to many doctor’s visits so I didn’t have to worry about driving on little sleep or in unpredictable traffic. They sent meals. They held a fundraiser in Annapolis. They participated in Team Smitty for the LiveStrong Challenge. In, short, they took care of their brother. John truly worked for a topnotch organization. He loved working there and they loved him, too. I miss them.
I’m thankful to the wonderful medical personnel that we encountered… from the friendly, familiar faces on the ambulance, to the caring hospital nurses, to our beloved home health nurses, and every smiling caring face in between.
I am thankful to the friends and family who have supported us and were there for John, Nathaniel, and myself. During times of crisis, you find out who your true friends are. Sometimes they are who you think they are… sometimes they’re different people. I have been very fortunate that no matter how alone I feel, I am not without friends to support me. Some friendships have strengthened and I’ve even found new friends. A simple phone call can make all the difference in the world. Many people have also helped me out with everything from mowing grass, to checking car brakes, to babysitting, to installing ceiling fans, to watching Nathaniel while I got some equine therapy… and just being there when I needed to talk, needed a hug, or needed a shoulder to cry on. This Thanksgiving, I’ve received so many invitations- thanks to everybody who thought about my boy and me and knew that we might not have a place to go.
I also have the world’s best babysitter. I can’t tell you how amazing she has been with my son and how much I enjoy and value her friendship. We’ve known each other since elementary school, but had lost touch through the years. Facebook re-united us and I consider her to be one of my best friends, now. We share conversations, hugs, and tears. There is nothing like having the piece of mind that my son is being cared for as if her were part of her family. Nathaniel helped carve his first pumpkin and made his first art project with them. Her daughter is like a sister to him. Nathaniel adores her husband and I think it is important for Nathaniel to have a good male role model in his life. I can go to work and have no concerns and no worries… to quote the credit card commercials.. “Peace of mind– priceless.” I know John would approve.
I also hope that I can do some things in memory of John to help fight melanoma and fight cancer. I don’t want his death to be in vain. Skin cancer can kill. We need more melanoma awareness and much, much more research. I’d love to do a memorial bike ride, since he loved to cycle.
So, even in what has been the worst year in my 34 year life, there are things to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Hug your spouse. Hug your kid(s). Pet the critters. Eat up and watch some football. And if you get a chance before the food coma sets in take at least a brief moment to remember what you’re thankful for.