Friend

I don’t think I will write anything again unless I post my blog about my friend Mike. Sometimes if I don’t let words go out into the world it blocks my other words. I wrote this a month or so ago. Mike died in March. I am still dealing with it. It has been a whirlwind of a few months and I scarcely know how to wrap my mind around it all. ….. here is what I wrote…

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Seems as soon as we got the news about Kevins cancer and he began treatments we got hit with another sadness- the loss of our friend Mike P.  

I have been wondering if would write about Mike. I have so much to say. But when you lose a dear person in your life you realize there is never enough words to explain the loss and grief or what they meant and represented in your life.  Thats how it is with Mike. My words won’t be enough. But I think I need to write them so I can go on and write about other things. I feel like this is just something that has been hanging out there needing to be written – and I have been just to darn sad, and overwhelmed in my life to do it.

But now I am going to try to write about my friend. 

Mike- wow. Sometimes he could make you laugh like hell. And other times he could make you so mad!  He was smart as hell. He new how to fix almost anything and he knew the most obscure facts.   But mostly Mike was a good friend. He was one of my best friends… really he became family. 

I met Mike through Kevin. They had been high school friends – maybe even before. I have heard numerous stories of their antics back then…many centered around one summer in Ocean City , MD. Needless to say they had some fun.  

Mike and his close buddy Reid left the Maryland area in the mid 1980’s headed for California. They made it to Arizona – in the Phoenix area- they were out of cash and tired. That stopover – that was only supposed to be for a few days – became home for the next 35 years for Mike.  There, both young men found careers – Reid in teaching and Mike in surveying – and their wives – Reid married Vicky and Mike married April.

When I first met Mike in the early 2000’s he scared me. He was overwhelming. He made me a little nervous. I was a mom raising little kids. He was a rough around the edges, hard partying, and very intense guy. I think it was his intensity that scared me the most. You could feel it coming off of him. No wonder he partied like he did he needed to have something that tamped down all that fire. But Mike was a great guest in our home- sweet to the kids and kind to me.  He always bought me gifts to thank me for letting him stay with us. Once he got me a nearly life-sized wooden rocking horse(he knew I collected horse things). There was hardly room for it my house!

Mike came to see us a number of times over those years. Sometimes Reid was with him – other times he flew solo.  I noticed Mike’s incredible mind from the start. It was that sharpness that increased his intensity I think. But he was a blast to talk to . And he always had the most amazing stories. If you are to believe him he cheated death on more than a few occasions. 

Sadly his wife April passed away in 2005. I only got to meet her once before she passed. Losing her left Mike unmoored. She was the anchor that held his ship steady. Mike went a little crazy after her death. And in the housing bust shortly after her passing Mikes surveying business began to see less work.  And he had to close it down. We saw him once after April died and he was looking very poorly. I was worried for him. Losing his wife and then business was hard on him. 

Turned out he needed a break and he left Arizona all together for a while and headed to Mexico. There he took a job on a party cruise boat in one of the coastal towns. In his stories of that time, he told me he worked on tourist party day cruise boats. Part of his job was to jump off the boat along some of the small barrier islands to check for sea life- the safe kind -like seals and dolphins-  and the dangerous kinds -like sharks.  If it was safe the party goers on the boat could jump off and swim among the wildlife. Pretty cool job unless you get too close to the dangerous things!

Mike didn’t have the best health as he was a diabetic. During his time in Mexico he got a foot infection and it became so bad he went back to Arizona where they tried to heal his foot and in the end they couldn’t and he lost his leg below the knee.  We used to joke that maybe his boat job left him a good story about a shark biting his leg off. Mike liked a good amputee joke.

Eventually, Mike made his way back to Arizona and he moved into an apartment in Phoenix and this is where we pick back up with him again. He came to visit again – and I can’t recall if it was this house where we live now or our old one – but Mike was different.  Yes he had part of a limb missing – but it was something else. Some of the intensity was gone. He had been through a hard time – and losing April took some of the wind out of his sails. And maybe I was just different too. Maybe I lost some of my intensity as well. Sometimes we see things in others that are characteristics in ourselves…and sometime something we  find unsettling in someone else happens to be a trait we carry too. Mike didn’t make me feel nervous anymore. Maybe our auras didn’t ping against each other anymore. Maybe I was a little mellower.  Maybe I wasn’t as busy with my kids as they were older and more independent. 

This change in him or both of us allowed us to develop a much closer friendship. It developed over some years. But at some point we began texting – at first just the periodic check ins – then more often. On one visit he really opened up to us about some things that he had going on and I think that allowed me to see a side to him I hadn’t seen before. He carried a lot of sadness- many of us do. I think after that talk I saw this vulnerability that I myself understood.  I think it made us closer and more open with each other. We shared a lot – and I got used to hearing from him via text each day “What up sis?” “Beauty day”. Or giving me the weather report for his location. 

Mike could put on a lot of bravado. He definitely had some chips on his shoulders and sometimes that made him irritating. He could get stubborn – and even I as a close friend and confidant I could not sway him when he was mad. But he usually cooled off and came to his senses. And when I got mad he would let me vent but normally he had a lot less words of advice for me. He’d say “Rax it on back baby- don’t stress so much” ! 

Mike changed locations in 2020. He moved from Arizona to Gettysburg, Pa to be closer to his family and us (but to me by then he was my family too), His twin sister and her kids lived in Gettysburg and his other sister Lynn lived in Maryland. As well as other family sprinkled about. 

Mike got set up in an apartment above a comic book store. In AZ he went on Disability because of his limb loss – as he could not hold the job as surveyor anymore. So being close to family and in a small town where he had access to family, good medical care, and public transportation was a huge plus for him in this stage of his life. And he was about 45 mins from us.

Mike was good at trying to – as my dad would have said- “keeping the nose of the plane up”. He always had a good word for anyone – and I mean anyone he met. And he met all kinds of people. In Gettysburg he made many friends. I didn’t really even know how many until after he passed away. He truly was one of a kind. If Mike liked you he would do anything for you. Literally give you the shirt off his back. If you crossed him- and there were just some traits in people that he didn’t like – you would know it. But Mike gave everyone a chance. He knew more friends than enemies. He put on a smile even when he was down.

When we found out he died on a Sunday night in March I was in shock. Despite his many health issues – it took me off my feet. He was just 59. I stayed in bed crying the entire next day. I just could not believe this person who had become such a close friend- another brother really- was no longer here. No longer would I get my morning texts, “how’s my Anne doing today?”, no longer would we spend weekends on our little farm with him helping us out with projects, or all of us just kicking back and chatting. God I miss the crap out of him.  Sometimes I cuss him out for dying. We are never prepared really to lose the ones we love. But I know he is with his best love- April. He never stopped missing her. On every birthday or anniversary of the date they met or got married Mike would text me something about it. He hated being without a companion – he was lonely – despite his many friends.

But what I know is he limped on without her…that’s not a joke—-well it kind of is – I said Mike liked a good amputee joke – he would laugh at this.  But the truth is he wasn’t the same without her. And I’d like to think that last day after some drinks with friends he got home and all of a sudden he saw Aprils hand reach out from beyond. Maybe she said “Hey Mikey want to come home now? It is great here you will see.” and he didn’t have to think he just grabbed her hand and off they went. I know he would not have said no – it is my belief he is missing her no more. 

When news of Mikes death got around so many people reached out – from Arizona, from high school, from Gettysburg. Mikes funeral was held in a Catholic church in Maryland it was very nice, and it was hard for me – and very sad.  There I met some of his Gettysburg friends I hadn’t met before. I am so glad they played a role in my friend’s life for the time they did, they meant so much to him, and he to them .

Mike was a unique soul. He was my friend- my family and I miss him so much! I shake my fist that he left me. But I thank God he is out of pain physical and mental and with his bestest friend and love once again. 

I hope everyone gets to have a Mike in their lives because they will have the most dedicated and loyal friend that has their backs no matter what. Really – thats priceless…

I miss my friend. 

Rest Mike…Rax it on back my friend. Thanks for everything.

Mike – my friend

The hard news…

I think I am the kind of person that can’t ever be fully comfortable when life is going generally well. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I this goes back to my feeling worthy of good things. And that is another topic. But living with this wariness does cut back on joy and I know this. And inevitably because this is life – the shoe is going to drop. 

And that is precisely what has happened to us. My health, strong, sweet , best friend, husband of almost 23 years ,was diagnosed with cancer. I can hardly stand to write this post. I can barely except what is happening. 

 I never expected the shit show to befall Kevin. I was the one who had cancer almost 9 years ago, I was the one who had chronic pain issues and multiple surgeries after..I was the one prior to cancer who had bad anxiety, auto-immune disease and other maladies. Kevin was the guy whose doctors were in awe of his health, never having much of anything wrong.  Knees surgery for a patella tear, eye surgery to correct his terrible near sightedness, a few lipomas removes, a basal cell here and there and last spring what was called localized rare cancerous lesion on his upper back (but now -bc we have had all his records pulled- was shown to be benign on the pathology report) his track record was pretty good for a man almost 60 years young- until it wasn’t.

What began as overall “just not feeling my usual energy” – and he saw his doctor for this – bloodwork good – then he felt a bit better – eventually led to stomach issues that were very uncomfortable. Thankfully his doctor was listening – he saw a healthy man – even on all the bloodwork- but he heard someone who just felt off. AND he agreed with my suggestion that Kevin should have a test for H-Pylori (a stomach bacteria responsible for ulcers) as he had all the symptoms- and also at least a chest CT. The doc did better and ordered CTs of the chest and abdomen.

H- Pylori’s standard treatment is a bear… 2 antibiotics and bismuth (think pesto – bismal) and a drug like Nexium – multiple times a day for 14 days. I am all for the natural way to go with this but Kevin suffered through his standard drug regime and lost ten lbs bc one of the drugs made him so ill. There was not another drug option because of past antibiotic treatment that can make the H-Pylori resistant to things previously used. So he pushed through it. And he now is taking some natural things to further help keep that bug at bay.

In the meantime he had the CTs a few days apart..I think n Kevin’s mind and the doctors this was just as a precaution- bc we had found the thing that was making him feel bad- the H-Pylori – which comes with stomach issues and fatigue and other systemic symptoms with can vary for human to human. I thought the CTs were a good thing to have to reassure us all was ok. And yet something kept niggling at me – so I really would not let him put this off. 

When the first CT result came back that he had a large liver lesion his doctor felt sure was a benign hemangioma – but when I read the radiology report the radiologist wasn’t so sure. The niggling kept up. The next CT came back seeing the same thing and a small stress fracture on the spine. That radiologist was concerned this was possibly malignancy. WTF? 

My stress levels went through the roof. My fingers googled. I hated what I read. The doctor recommended an MRI. He still feel that because Kevin’s liver numbers were normal that this could not be liver cancer. There was an MRI- with still no definitive diagnosis. But something kept nagging at me. 

He then was directed to consult with a GI doctor who went over the MRI and even he felt this was all so odd. He wasn’t worried about the spine as it want mentioned on the liver MRI as anything but normal.  But he ran some bloodwork for liver tumor markers and they came back normal. A liver biopsy was then recommended. This was getting real. 

Kevin had that biopsy in early February. It took nearly 9 agonizing business days for any pathology to come back and the first report was still unclear- but it was looking like cancer but not primary to the liver – and some type of skin cancer was noted as being possible in the pathology report but the report needed to go to an expert hospital and we were told that was going to be Hopkins. Which was good because we wanted Kevin to be seen there.

We were scrambling to get into Johns Hopkins and were directed to the liver cancer center not realizing they only deal with the primary liver cancers. We were moved over to the skin cancer dept. and after more waiting things began to move.

For some reason his liver biopsy landed at Mayo Clinic and not at Hopkins which caused some delay – which frustrated me – as we needed to get to the cancer team asap. Kevin’s pathology came finally in from MAYO which said strongly this was melanoma. Holy crap. After a PET scan,  Kevin saw an amazing Dermatologist expert at Hopkins and he looked for a primary melanoma and told Kevin had he not know why Kevin was there he would have said “see you in a year” – his skin was fine. This doctor was so compassionate and made some calls and got the ball rolling and we quickly had an appt days later with the skin cancer team at Johns Hopkins.  

So how does this happen? We get our bodies checked by a dermo yearly- was there something missed? You go straight to metastatic melanoma? (I feel sick typing this).  This doesn’t seem normal. Sadly it is – in a small number of cases – I have read 2-9 percent of metastatic melanomas present without a primary tumor. The oncologist at Hopkins told us it is more common than that (and maybe more common at Hopkins since it is a research and teaching hospital so they likely see more rare cases). The lesions apparently can present on the skin but the body fights them off leaving small cancer cells to replicate inside the body. Anyway looks like this is what Kevin has. His PET showed the lesion on the liver and a probable area or two on the spine. He has had back stiffness for a while so this could be why he has a “stress” fracture in his back. He has a brain MRI this week. 

From Mayo experts to Hopkins pathology experts – his slides will be well researched. Hopkins is also looking at the slides from the lesion that I mentioned above from last spring too. Just to rule out any misread pathology.

While I want to spare this post from most of my emotions – I will say I have wanted to find someone to blame- someone to hate….In some moments I hate everyone and everything. I can’t even describe the feeling it just comes over me – I am so angered and gutted. This is the second time we have had to tell our children one of their parents has cancer. Once is hard enough…twice? Come on! 

But now I am putting that hate and despair aside as best I can (one second at a time, one minute at a time…) so I can walk this walk with Kevin who has to fight the fight to beat this beast. He did that for me. I need to do this for him. And how is Kevin feeling?  Well he is shocked at his body- he is puzzled by the betrayal. He feels dazed somewhat but he as always has the amazing positive spirit. He says he feels up to this challenge. He never pities himself or if he does he wallows there for a very short time and then moves forward. I know from experience that you find some amazing inner strength to take each step.

He now has the benefits of being able to get immunotherapy It is well studied on melanoma but there are no long term study data available as yet –  thus far the only study data they have is 6 1/2 years out from inception and those results show much better prognosis than before this option was offered. So that is a blessing- that gives us hope. It also doesn’t destroy the body as chemo can. It helps the bodies immune system to wake up. There are side effects and they can varying in severity. All we can do is take it one day at a time – one treatment at a time. 

He has begun treatment. Two days ago we reported to the wonderful very nice infusion area of Johns Hopkins new cancer center. Kevin received his first dose of two immunotherapy drugs. He will do this protocol every three weeks for three more treatments -if he doesn’t have severe side effects. After that it is monthly treatments with one drug – and it can be ongoing as long as the body tolerates it. He will be scanned again in May or June we suspect. 

Thus far , after treatment one, he has had mild effects of fatigue and maybe mild fever with some chills. He wants to try to keep his routine with animal chores and he wants to be able to workout  – though he has been told he can only workout mild to moderately. But I know how much being able to continue to do things is important. 

We are trying to get weight on him again and he is eating many times a day. We have also changed our diets to better eating habits – though we already ate fairly well so it is not a hard change to make really. Less processed stuff more whole foods. Less meat.  He met with an integrative doctor as well. I think this is a needed part of the team to help guide Kevin in his recovery. 

One day a few weeks ago I found myself walking in the field behind our house – I was pinching myself willing myself to awaken from this nightmare. Of course this was reality and this was our next thing. Sadly too many people have been through this. Some like us more than once. I read a staggering stat last week that cancer now occurs in one out of every three people! And soon it may go to one out of every two. This seems untenable to me. Where are we going wrong?  

I guess in the days, weeks, and months ahead I will share more on how Kevin is doing. I know there has been so much concern. I want to thank all who reached out and have prayed, sent good vibes, made meals, gave encouragement etc.  I didn’t mean to be vague about his diagnosis – it is just hard to for me to share. 

And I again I mean it – it takes a village. And right now we are fine as far as needs. He won’t be getting surgery at this point as I once thought. But I will be sure to shout out if we need anything. Blessings and love to you – from Kevin and me. 

pointless updates….

pointless update ? for writing exercise! …

I feel like the last two pandemic years have gone by fast and slow at the same time. I guess I never fathomed this would be our world for now almost two years. It seems unreal that this Covid virus doesn’t want to give us – and our hospitals – a break. My grandmother lived through the years of the Spanish flu – she did ok from what she told me -but she did lose an older brother to it. That is a loss that saddened her throughout the rest of her life. I only wish I had asked her more about that time. What it was like. Was it scary? How did they stay safe? I never fathomed that this would be our world 100 years later.

So here I am on the flip side of the holidays. I am just taking down my decorations. I am happy to say I was up for putting them out this year. Last year it seemed enough to put out the ceramic tree and a wreath. This year we had a larger tree- a $99 home goods find (love that place) – and other decor splashed about the house. I also planned on sending out cards – and I did send a few- but then I just got behind – or overwhelmed – or both. I really wanted to try once again to really dive into the season after last years flame out of the holidays and I did pretty well – the house looked festive and that made me happy. Its the disassembly of it all that is a bummer though – and time consuming.

After last years Zoom Christmas which included me trying to play the elf and have my kids -who were in three different cities- open big boxes of stuff while we watched – which brought laughs but was so weird- we decided not to do that again! We were going to have one child home for this Christmas. My Navy son got a 2 week leave. For this I was so very grateful. He was fresh off a sub deployment so I think having some quiet time and family time was much needed.

We had some family over on Christmas day and had some eats. It was a small gathering but very nice to be able to get together. For Thanksgiving we did the same (except none of our kids were here). We hosted Kevin’s family and my brother came from Texas – I hadn’t seen him almost three years! We left the invites flexible so anyone could cancel if they felt unsafe bc of Covid.

I guess we are trying to have some ability to go out and do things despite being in the midst of a pandemic. I am very careful and I am trying to still safely go out and live life. Maybe not in large crowds but to still get out and get things done and do fun things. My KN95 masks have become my accessory of necessity. And they go with everything. Sigh…

While we had my son home we wanted to take advantage of doing some things with him. Otherwise he would just game the entire visit and since I stink at it (and he didn’t invite me to play -probably bc I am horrible at it)there was little chance I would see him if we didn’t create some experiences for all of us. “Experiences” is a fancy word for doing stuff that forced us all together – and to do stuff and to maybe even – gasp – talk some during said experience.

So we went to the beach for a long weekend and we did a new years walk/run together- and really just chilled out. Then back in Maryland my daughter -who now lives in Chicago- flew in to join us for a few days. We hadn’t seen her for almost 18 months! Thats hard to believe! Again- experiences… some went well others not so great. One that didn’t go so well was us driving to a bowling alley only for it to be closed due to many employees being out with Covid (hey bowling alley owner? hello just stick it on your website or facebook page and phone message that you are closed- yes we called)-that was a bummer but an ice cream float experience waited at a nearby soda shop.. and we bowled another day- I won two out of three games bowling..yep and left armed because I can’t bowl with my other arm because of nerve damage. (I did use bumpers while two of my opponents opted not to us them(lots of gutter balls!)- so I had an advantage..will I take the win? –yep!….). And one day my daughter rode horses with me. All of her skills came right back. And we had fun. That’s what counts most. (and I am always grateful for my ability to participate in any activity after so much pain sidelined me for so long.)

I think we all needed to reconnect and these things helped forge that. My kids are off living their own lives and sometimes parents get put on the shelf. I remember myself back in my 20’s and I know that I wasn’t calling home weekly! And now we parents freak out if we don’t get a fast response to our texts to them. I now know how my parents may have felt as their children went out into the world. I guess it is the inevitable plight of parenthood….the letting go. So the reconnecting is special.

I have one kid who isn’t speaking to us at the moment. It is a bummer but I have now concluded that if I have 2/3 of my kids speaking to me that it is a win! If we get the trifecta that is a bonus! My kid that isn’t on speaking terms with us is mad at us when maybe he should be looking at himself. And I just don’t think he is there yet. He moved home for a time and it just didn’t work out for all of us. So he moved back to Florida. I can say in this situation I tried very hard to make it work and things didn’t go the way we hoped. I will give him space as he processes things and perhaps he will come around. I am always here for him.

I am trying to learn when I just need to step away and give my children space. It took some therapy to get there. I am a fixer. I want to jump in and fix their problems but I am learning I am not responsible for fixing my children…they have to want to fix themselves. I am always here to listen and give and opinion but only if asked.

When I had the two kids home I felt that old familiar mom feeling. That sense of purpose and place. It is not something I would have defined in myself when I was in the act of being a parent when my kids were living at home. I always prided myself on having many interests and I didn’t live vicariously through my children. But when they were all gone I felt the emptiness probably known as empty nest. I was surprised. I felt lost and as my kids went to find themselves – I have been left to redefine me. That is a work in progress.

My mom lives with us and though she can care for herself she does have health issues that require frequent doctors visits. And I have my own health issues so I have found myself in many medical buildings often during Covid. I go to PT weekly to get cupping to help with my chronic pain and I get trigger point injections every 6 weeks or so. I also have scans coming up and that gives me scanxiety.

It is what it is. I just try to move forward and enjoy my joyful moments- which include text from my kids- hint.. hint (they won’t read this – haha!).

So the pointless post -which I guess is kind of an update because I haven’t been writing much- is done. My message is life goes on – find joy where you can!

[My goal is to write more- it always is. If I can do it once a week or so just to exercise my writing part of my brain I think it will be good for me – ergo this post- but who knows if even that will overwhelm me too much. Its how my brain works now. It has been through too many surgeries (all that anesthesia!) and it has to deal with meds that take away some of its power to think straight! But my love of writing is always there. I have a million topics to write about…then I just don’t!. So we will see. ]

Be well- stay safe….

Bowling….Luke (navy son) would not remove his mask! Stinker.

My daughter learning the “gears” on my horse- Umay!

Dealing with “Stuff”

This past weekend I went to my 40th high school reunion.  This post isn’t really about the reunion really, but being there brought up some “stuff” for me.  And the stuff it brought up is not new to me. The stuff this time was dreaded social anxiety, dreaded “I don’t belong” syndrome. I think when these things happen we have an opportunity to look at it and grow from it or at least try to become more accepting of ourselves. and

First off I will mention that this was the first high school reunion I went to in.. well ..40 years. I know we had a number of them over the years. I had friends go and ask me to come and I never felt I could. My severe generalized anxiety just kept me away. Sadly it limited me a lot in my life and I had to push myself to do things that are everyday doings for most people. Like going to the store or picking up your kid from the bus stop or school.

 So I was happy that this was not such an issue for me this time around. My anxiety is dialed back some…either because of my age and menopause or maybe because of the meds I take for nerve pain – they are sometimes prescribed to help anxiety. I am not sure but I am able to go and do more these days – and when one of my very best friends- Debbi-  who I met in high school said she was up for going I said I was in. 

I have this recurring issue with social anxiety. Some people may not see that in me because I don’t present as anxious. I can chat away. But sometimes I just babble on…and this is because I am super nervous and just keep on going. I over compensate for my anxiousness. 

I can’t do more than one social interaction in a weekend. I need down-time.  I often deal with post event social anxiety – where I awaken at night and worry what dumb thing I might have said to this person or that. Then, I need to decompress  for a couple days just to feel “normal’ again.  Typically this issue does not include meetings with close friends because I know they get me and love me warts and all so I feel blessed I can spend infinite time -well ok not infinite –  that’s a stretch-but the time I spend with them is not in a heightened state of angst. 

I did not go into this event without some nerves. Debbi told me we could stay as long as I felt like it. We could leave anytime. That’s a friend who gets you – and accepts you. My husband also agreed to go to this event – God love him. He said “I am in this with you!”  He gets it because he experiences the some anxiety issues too. I am glad he decided to go to this with me. It is like you just know your honey and your good friends have your back. 

It was awesome seeing Debbi and Rick again and all in all it was a nice event- even with the rain. There was an old beautiful barn  – with music being inside played by various members of our class. There was a tent outside and best of all decent porta-potties. I mean for women this is appreciated! 

I caught up with some old friends. Some people knew me,  some didn’t remember who I was,   and vice versa (my memory isn’t great these days). I must admit I did take some liquid courage from a can of sparkling rose’.  It helped some but I could not shake the overall and familiar  feeling of awkwardness. Later in the day I found myself wandering alone and I walked into the barn and people were engrossed in convo’s or watching the band and I felt all of a sudden like I did back in high school…where do I fit in here? It was an amplified version of the feeling I have had much of my life when it comes to new friendships and social situations. 

It was really off-putting for me. Nobody wronged me during this event. People were just catching up with people.  I met new people and a cool dog..and a cow or two. This was my thing. My issue. I even saw a few people I thought I might know and I hesitated to go say hello. I appreciated an old neighbor who came over and chatted with me for a while. It was nice catching up.  Why did I begin that negative story that I don’t fit in? Why can’t I just flick the switch and feel more comfortable in my own skin? If only it were a simple flick of the switch!  

 I wonder if I am the only one who felt this way that day – or other times – when I feel like I rather talk to the dogs then have to make small talk with people. I think I am not alone in this- but when you are feeling it you feel like you are standing in a room in your underwear and all are looking at you laughing.  

After the event- that night I woke with my normal post social anxiety angst. Did I say the wrong thing? Can I ever fit in with people?  It sucks waking with these thoughts popping into my head! Pop pop pop – stop it. Shut up brain – it is 2AM!

Our high school years are a pivotal time so being with old classmates was bound to be kind of intense for me. A little PTSD maybe? My high school years weren’t those one would write about as glory days. Very severe family drama perpetuated much of my life then. A bad divorce between my parents and an alcoholic parent didn’t lay the best backdrop to the rest of what can be a hard time in our growth.  So it is probably not shocking that these feelings came up this past weekend.

Why is it so hard to rewrite this narrative? Why do I continue to deal with these issues? Is some of it just past stuff that I have deal with over and over and over again to learn from each time? Is there really the ability to fix this? Will I ever stop questioning my value as a friend, co-worker, or classmate? I am not sure. I can tell you it is hard for me to make friends with new people. And the less you put yourself out there the easier it is to not put yourself out there. Covid hasn’t helped. This for me is an ongoing process I think. A story that won’t end until I end my time here in this world. 

I think what I did realize is that we never rid ourselves of the younger versions of us. I have always hoped that my social anxiety and awkwardness would go away.  And I will say as I have gotten older I have stopped caring as much of what people think of me (hey that is why I can write about this) and my ability to face social situations is better but that nervous feeling just won’t go away. Some people are more comfortable in their skin I suppose. But we all have something. We all got stuff going on.

On Saturday I saw the young 17 year old Anne  make an appearance…well not see but I felt her in there. She came up to the forefront…she was shaking in her boots. She brought me back to a time that had many good things but also many bad. She deserved a hug not a chastising. So I gave that to her, I let her feel her feels. And I gave her the space to just be. She is loved and she has her people. She is love. She is me…I am her. We are one. I accept her.

As for the reunion it was nice. I don’t regret going even though I suffered some. In fact, I am proud of myself for going out of my comfort zone. I think it helps with growth and acceptance. And I got to spend time with my bff of many years. That in itself was worth the experience.

And I got to meet young Anne again and remind her she matters and no matter what stuff we carry we are worthy…she is, I am…you are…. 

Happy Birthday to a Sailor

Today my navy son turns 21. It will be the second one where I won’t see him – he was away last year in Navy training school. This is the first one where I can’t speak to him at all. Thats bc he is now deployed somewhere in the depths of an ocean. He is a submariner. He is in the silent service. One where once they are under you only hear from them via email and that only rarely.

This is his first underway – so it is the first for Kevin and me as well. It ain’t easy. There is so much he can’t say- like even when he is going or returning. I can’t say much here either. There are rules for so many things that I am just learning. I can tell you he is in a ride-along as a guest bc hi sub is in dry-dock and he has to do some things that earn him qualifications that lead to him earning a medal that will make him an official bubblehead (aka submariner).

I can only imagine from what I have read what sub life is like. I know he will be busy. His rack (bed) is small and quarters tight. I’ve read the food isn’t bad. And lets hope it is good- as the days (if they even know day from night) are long- good food must be a respite. I can’t imagine begin crammed with that many people in one place for long stretches. But the duty time become the times where they focus on protecting our waters and nation. The stinky sock smells become part of the journey and the mission at hand. I am proud of my sailor …but I am proud of him no matter what.

Selfishly I didn’t want him to do subs. Because of my own issues with claustrophobia and just fears of things I can’t control. Most control is an illusion but when he is on land I can text him and call. It has no effect on anything that might happen to him but for some reason that ability to communicate is a panacea for moments when I need to feel connected to my kids. It is very very hard to not have that contact.

I had no idea until I became mom of someone in the military how hard it is – especially when you first have your child go in. There is just so much I didn’t know. Acronyms for everything. I sometimes had to ask my son to explain something he said in layman’s terms as the navy way was too confusing. And your kid isn’t yours anymore – they belong to the navy…but that is just one way they fly away -i suppose. It happens inevitably—the strings loosen– but they are always attached from the mom’s heart to the child’s.

I am learning to let my anxiety go and give this to God. It helps some. But in the water somewhere on this earth is part of my heart. Today I made him a cake and we will eat it in his absence. But when he comes home – sometime- we will raise a glass and toast his 21st birthday – and have some cake whatever kind he’d like.

If you have time send some thoughts of love out to my sailor and to all of the men and women in the military who give of themselves to keep us safe and free. Many of them have spent their 21st birthdays in places where nobody but their bunkmates could wish them a happy day- if they know at all.

Maybe between watches my son will get in a game or two on his Switch with some friends. Maybe someone will get out of him that it’s his birthday. He is pretty tight lipped. Maybe he will know that at his family home far away – his mom made a cake with love for a young man with a heart of gold.

The sailor…

Seasons

This morning was a beautiful – fall is in the air. Shorter days – which I don’t love but the cooler weather I do love – great for doing more outside like riding my horse. I won’t lie riding in the hot humid din of August was not my thing nor my horse’s thing either.

Another new season is around the corner. Seasons… how many do we go through in life? If we are lucky we could get many. Not just seasons of winter, spring , summer , and fall but also seasons of change in our lives. New chapters that we have to navigate – some good and some bad – some sad and some happy. 

A year ago Kevin and I were empty nesters – well kind of – my mom lives with us but the kids were all gone. They – the kids  – are all over the place. One was in the sunny south, one is in the midwest and has moved from place to place out there, and one has been traveling where the Navy tells him to go – so far Illinois, Connecticut, Georgia and Washington state. 

The Navy kid just went on deployment – his first one. I can’t write about that yet – my heart is so raw. Suffice it to say being a Navy mom is not easy. 

My son who was living in the south has just recently moved home to Maryland to make a restart. He has a new job that he really is enjoying – and could lead to a career for him – and maybe he also will take some college courses. He is currently living in our bedroom in the basement.I was worried about him living down there for many reasons. One being the mess one young male human can make, the other that he will like it too much being home.

 We even bought a travel trailer thinking he might live in there for a few months and that would be enough for him to want to move on. But the mom guilt got to me so he’s in the house. 

So now we have a young adult “child” living back at home. We are trying to navigate it. Come up with expectations that work for us all. It is nice having him here (for now) and maybe when he is ready to find a place of his own it won’t be too far away.  I know our kids have to do their own thing and find their way but I guess I always hoped my kids might land not too far from us. We will see. They are young yet.

We have a pretty full house now. Sometimes I wish I had a bigger home! My mom lives with us so we have a number of generations under one roof and finding the balance of expectations that are comfortable for all of us is a challenge. We will get there I hope.

 There was a time I thought I could never live with this kid again. But in his journey south he matured and grew to appreciate his family more. And I matured and grew some too. So it is better. I feel good that he is here. We are getting along pretty well. I hope that continues. 

I have been unmoored some over the last couple years and maybe having a kid living at home that needs some help and guidance is a good thing for me.  But I don’t want to enable him – he needs to grow -and it is easy to come back to your childhood home and regress some. It is easy for this mom to fall into the problem solver and the appt maker and the food fixer. 

And to be honest I can’t do it all anymore.  I had a lot on my plate before he came home.  Helping my mom, caring for this little farm and the animals and working part-time takes a lot of me. And I physically can’t do what I did in the past either. So we will have to make sure we are all participants

I am trying navigate these seasons and meet them with gratitude and be thankful now for a full home. It is a strange time of life. I sometimes have big plans and ideas and other times I want to slow down.  I go between wanting to get a new job or going back to school and even sometimes moving to another farm or even state – to just being so overwhelmed by it all. 

Sometimes I wonder how I would ever find the time to try something new. I never make the time to write either. Sometimes I feel like I am just getting old so what is the point. Am I even relevant now? 

I suppose I am not alone in much of what I write here. We all face the time marching on, changes in family dynamics, aging.  All I can hope as the seasons change I am able to weather the storms and delight in the sunshine –  and grow from the experiences. 

to loath or not to loath thyself?

I think I am surprised to find myself writing again. I really thought I would stop- I could not fathom sitting down to try. I thought over the last few months that- well it began before that really but came to a head over the winter – I had lost my way. I felt I was lost and was not sure of my purpose. I just felt stagnant and blocked. What little creative blood that was a trickle much of the time this last a couple years had become a drip drip drip. I know it is there as I feel it light up sometimes. Today I felt it when I received a notice of a local photo contest. And yesterday when some uncanny thing happened involving the IRS – maybe uncanny is the wrong word when using it with IRS – I heard the thought in my head- “you should write about this”. But as with so many of those same thoughts, with that spark that comes with those thoughts the light quickly flickers out.

This past couple years has been hard for me and my family. I guess I would venture to say since my cancer in 2013 things have been tough. There is nothing like a serious illness to change the dynamic of the family. I think I have been harboring a lot of guilt over my getting ill. I had no idea that my cancer treatments would lead to years of chronic pain and my just being unable to be the mom my teen kids probably needed. Sometimes I was someone I did not recognize. And this all during their neediest years. Forget toddlerhood – teens need us more than they ever let on.

I became an official empty nester in March 2020. Just as Covid began my youngest child went off to the Navy. That left me unmoored. I never thought I would be effected by my empty nest. I have my mother living with us, and we have lots to do around the farm. I have my job- even though it pays little. I have various hobbies (of course on hold in early covid). Anyway I was effected by his leaving. I know it was that he was going to the military and to bootcamp that made it worse. In bootcamp they can’t talk with you much if at all. You feel very disconnected and that is hard in a time when we can text our kids at any moment and hopefully hear back from them. As sure as I was that I would not have a life crisis I found myself crying – missing him, my two other kids, and something else… Could it be my identity?

I was shocked about this. And what followed has been months of my getting used to my kids being gone, the military owning one, the other two in various stages of finding themselves, and me doing some deep personal looking at myself. And up came so much guilt of every failing I had as a parent. And they keep stacking up! My daughter got pissed at me last winter. So pissed she didn’t want to talk to me. For like a couple months. This hurt. And also during that time a long friendship ended. That hurt too. There is nothing like the sting of rejection – especially by your kids-to get you to look into the mirror and try and see how things happened and if you can do better.

Learning how to parent young adults is an art. I will think that I am helping my kid- no I am overstepping. I think I say something constructive – no I hurt their feelings. And since they too are learning how to adult they themselves lack the expertise on how to communicate constructively. It is easier to just not answer the texts. Or to curtly say they need space. SPACE? If anyone should need space it should be ME – the mom! I get to say I need space before you do!

I went from anger to sheer sadness to anger and back during the time my daughter didn’t want to talk with me. I sent emails apologizing. And then I realized at some point this issue of my feeling so awful about her need for space was not about her need for space. It was somewhere inside me. The lost me. The me that feared rejection – this fear goes back to my childhood- dysfunctional family -blah blah- we all have some baggage! Just when you think you have dealt with your issues…and believe me I had spent years trying to deal with issues in many a therapists office- on a soft couch or chair -only to have these feelings of rejection pop-up when my young adult daughter got mad at me. Son of a gun.

Once I got down to the issue(s) I knew I needed to jump back into therapy. First working on how to be the parent an adult kid needs and also to look at these rejection feelings…this lost feeling…finding my purpose…maybe even what color my next vehicle should be…ok thats a joke. But here I am trying to figure out what this next chapter of my life will look at. Deal with the sadness over losing some years to illness and pain and to try to not live in fear… but most of all self loathing over the many many mistakes I have made in my life. For not being the “greatest mom ever”.

My therapist told me she has had no mother come in touting how great a mom they were. Most moms beat themselves up over their parenting at some point. And when your kids are young adults and out making their own choices and trying to become independent persons and inevitably making mistakes- (inhale Anne)-you want to help them to not fall down! And when they do it is so easy to blame ourselves for the fall. And when they tell you they want to figure it out on their own it hurts bc we know so much more than they do, right? So much more that we want to instill all our wisdom on them – and yet they would rather hear from an earthworm than from us…it hurts. Then you ask yourself what did I do wrong that they would rather take the advice from the earthworm over me?

And if you keep hanging on to all that stuff it will just drown you. Well it was drowning me anyway. I needed to get off the drama triangle- its a thing -I can come back to this in another post. I needed to step away. Let them live their lives. Let them fall and not feel blame.

I had a kid who two years ago had to go to a rehab for severe drinking issues. He went to Florida to a rehab and a half way house, then another rehab out-patient, and another half way, and during covid another rehab out-patient for depression. I felt terrible for him and for months I didn’t know how to navigate this world of addiction. I still don’t really. As we went along I did realize that I was enabling my son. Not to drink–no no. The drinking was a shock to me (I always thought I would know if my kids were drinking too much being a child of an alcoholic – turns out that is false). Turns out I was helping him too much in rehab and in his making his way in his half way. So I backed way off. We had to. He needed to figure out things for himself. But crap that was so hard for me. But it was a good thing we did it. I am happy to say he found an apartment this winter with a sober friend. Got it on their own. He is working in a steady job – and prayer after prayer -hopefully staying sober.

Just as these accomplishments are not my accomplishments neither was his drinking my fault. Why would I take credit for either?….but I would easily blame myself for my fails as a mom for his drinking. Logically I know it isn’t my fault but I beat myself up when I found out he had a problem.

The things I accomplish in therapy this time may be better for my kids as I learn to parent adult kids. But for me it will be granting myself forgiveness for real and perceived failures. I hope this will help me open up again creatively. But most importantly – maybe I won’t feel so lost and I can begin to navigate where I fit in. What I want for the next chapter. Anne 3.0 haha!

Small to Huge Overnight

Years ago we raised chicks and ducks in our basement bathroom. It was a large bathroom – laughingly so- it was large and ugly. Very outdated but warm and quiet- perfect for a couple of brooders (bird nursery). When we first decided to raise ducks we got three ducklings on a whim from tractor supply. They were so tiny and SO cute. They get you with their cuteness. These ducks were Pekin ducks. They get to be quite large. At the time I knew nothing about these ducks except I had seen them on the menu at most Chinese food restaurants!

I set up their brooder in the bathroom one February weekend. We oohed and ahh’ed at their cuteness and took lots of photos and videos. Three days in I could not believe how much they had already grown. Kevin- who at the time had an office in the basement- would go in to check on them (and maybe to use the facilities)and he swore they grew from hour to hour. And I think it was true. By the time I let them out to the real world I was done with ducks (not ducklings anymore) in the bathroom (though I did it again a few years after this! short memory!)

This growth is uncanny – it happens in real time – you feel like you can see it. The same has happened with my Golden Doodle Del. He is hardly the tiny puppy that he was when he came here. And we expect that right? But I hardly feel like he was a little pup at all. Like I cannot recall what he looked like – I look at photos and think he was never that small. But he was – but for like one day! He has grown so fast that I can honestly say that he would go in his crate one size at night and leap out of it the next morning – and he does leap out- as a bigger version of the dog who went in. That kind of growth has to hurt!

Del is now a huge, leggy, 6.5 month old joyful and boisterous puppy. He is 63 lbs. For reference Rudy – my golden- was probably less then 50 lbs at the same age. Del is not a giant breed. But his mix can get large. At his growth rate he could be over 90 pounds! I am hoping not. He is already a lot to handle.

We joke it was some type of gamma radiation that has caused this growth rate. When he came home he was as large as my mother’s Corgi mix who weighs in at 18 lbs. Within a week he was much bigger than she and now he towers over all my other dogs. All of whom are not small dogs. Del doesn’t weight more than the adult dogs yet but in height he towers over them by 2-3 inches! A couple of our dogs took their merry time in accepting the likes of this new puppy. I kept telling them that he was going to get big and then what? And now they look up to him maybe not in admiration but definitely in stature. They have also decided that he isn’t too bad. They are adjusting still. They do play together now but there is posturing and this will continue probably forever because they are male.

Del will need to be neutered. There are so many varying opinions on when to do this. Some say for males to wait at least a year – some even say 2 years. Rudy was neutered at age 2. I waited with him because he was not dominate – though he was mounting our lab a lot and never stopped after neutering- which is why I am not waiting two years again! So I am less inclined to wait two years. I know there is a chance if we do it before his growth plates seal that he could become taller. It can increase the issues for other health problems if done too soon and lower risks for others!

I think our vet will recommend to wait until he is a year but only if he doesn’t exhibit behavioral issues such as mounting humans, or aggressive behavior towards humans and dogs. I will be honest -I am leaning towards sooner. Like in May. I have many reasons for it. But my main one is that I don’t want him to become too high on his horse and try to rule all the dogs here because he is intact. If he is the leader of the pack eventually thats fine. I just don’t want a bully situation. I think neutering mellows them some. Thats also can’t hurt with training and maybe his ability to walk on the lead better.

Del can be a handful on lead. I have been working with him on many things. He can sit, lay down, shake, twirl, sit for getting his lead on, wait and not bolt out the door when we are going out with him, he can stay pretty well if I am carrying his food bowl around and inside if I have a treat. We are working on the stay- inside is better than outside. But he is terribly exuberant outside. So this has been a the challenge. I have begun to try to manage and train away some of the behavior issues. Pulling – I am using a head lead now which is the manage part of the issue. I was using a Gentle Leader type device but I found a very neat regular leash that makes into a head lead. I got it on Etsy and I haven’t tried it on a long walk yet because the weather has been hideous here. But on a short walk he did well with it. I will post videos of it on IG and FB. The head lead is an adjustment for dogs and they will try to get them off – not because they hurt but because they work! It is the same idea as with a horse with a halter on. I have not used it enough yet to have a full verdict on it. I feel like I have his attention more with leads like this and I can train him better.

For me this head lead is like night and day walking him. I need to be safe walking him. I need to have control. Since I have nerve damage I can’t have him yanking my arms. I feel with this type of lead and consistent training there will be a time when he won’t need this. But he needs it now. I have tried a number of no-pull harnesses and he walks with one on so I can switch between then when we go on long walks. But the head lead seems to be the better one for me at the moment. We will see how we progress.

Barking! I think Del gets his barking gene from the poodle part of him! He is more wary of people and maybe because he hasn’t been as well socialized with humans because of covid – so on walks he will bark at approaching people and other dogs. So I began to use a product called Pet Corrector. It is a a can of air that makes an annoying hiss sound. It is annoying I will say that. So when we approach others we ask Del to sit and not to bark. If he does this he gets a treat but if he barks we use the spray. I hold it behind me so he doesn’t see it. But it does get his attention. He was barking at the door in the house along with our higher strung collie mix. I used this spray and it has curbed the worst of the barking. On walks it is going to take time and just having him become more socialized. He is never aggressive once a person wants to pet him. But he looks scary when he barks and carries on because he is so large. He has been good with new dogs as well on the few occasions he has met one.

I will admit I thought for some reason getting a puppy during COVID would be better for his socialization. I am not sure why. I mean everyone has to stay six feet away from us. I think I just got sucked into the COVID puppy vortex! I really have no regrets. Having five dogs again (my moms makes 6) in the house is a challenge especially because of his size but after Ridley died last January it seemed like we lost this big personality. And Del is a sassy and funny guy. He is not hyper and is really pretty calm for a puppy. I keep telling people we will get down to three dogs and not go back up to this many. But nobody believes me. It is true I have a thing about dogs but I know we aren’t getting younger and having less dogs will make sense in the not so distant future. So that is the plan. Who knows if we (I) will stick to it.

Having a puppy was challenging in the first month but it just went too fast! I can say that there have been moments where I have been down during the pandemic and Del has made me laugh – belly laugh- every single day since he has been with us. He is loving to all of us and already very dedicated to me. I know this because so often I turn around in the bathroom and I see that he has nosed his way in and is just sitting there watching me brush my teeth. Thats dedication! We will see where he ends up on the size chart only time will tell. And of course it doesn’t matter how big he gets. It is just fun speculating.

Having a puppy does make you feel joyful and hopeful – these are things I think the world needs now. Thats probably why there have been so many dog and cat adoptions during COVID. Animals give us a break from the human world. They can look into your eyes and make you feel loved – then they try to nip your nose or breath their foul breath in your face and you laugh. They are likely saving many lives during COVID just for the company they give. I have said before- a life for me would not be a life without a dog in it. I stand by that- and I am sure many others join me in that feeling (dog/cat/bird/horse etc) especially during COVID. I owe my pets a debt of thanks. Truly grateful for them.

input-data crunch-output

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

I have had dogs for many years and I am always amazed at how they learn. They are sponges the way they take in the world around them and form their behaviors as a result of that environment. 

Dogs learn from other dogs from the very start of their lives. Their mother teaches them about food and water and then that feeds their instinct to survive. She teaches them bite inhibition and they learn how to play by interacting with their littermates. 

Dogs learn from other dogs too if they have them in their homes and at the dog park. I am raising a puppy now and I am amazed at he mirrors the behaviors of our other dogs. Dogs of course form some of their behaviors because of instinct but they do learn from observation. He has learned proper etiquette in a pack of dogs by being corrected by them. My puppy has learned the art of calming down by watching my other dogs settle down for an afternoon snooze.  

He also has learned form watching humans and from training . He learns how to live as a dog in a human world. Dogs learn what is expected of them and because they for the most part like to please humans they modify there behavior to be able to live with us and I think they do so with happiness. 

Or if they don’t have positive modeling a dog can become what we would call a “bad dog”.  It is uncanny how what the dog sees and learns – the inputs- can create the type of dog he will be – output. 

I was a programmer and software engineer in my past. And I sometimes look at things in that logical vain. A program gives us information after we have given it input and it thinks about what it was given and then gives us output…its view of the info we sent it. 

 Input- crunch data – output

I was thinking about this today as I watch my dogs interact. And I thought about this is terms of how humans learn from birth – it is different than dogs of course  – our minds are complex but the way we form as humans  – the information we get (the input) -from our very first breath- is coming at us and we begin to develop (crunch data in our immature brains) our worldview and sense of self(output). 

It is in this early time that we are given most of our input from our family. We had schools and friends and Tv and now there is social media as well. But what we saw at home mostly influenced what developed our worldview – our truth based mostly on our families inputs. Positive and negative.

As we become teens we begin to see the outer world in a more real way. We may then begin to question our parents worldview if we see things that stand in opposition to what we have been taught in our homes. -We begin to form our own worldview – our own truth. 

What is truth? If we each have our own idea of it is any of it real? Truth only exists in the mind. We can get input like – the sky is blue and we can decide if that is true or not. 

Some of the input we receive help us to develop our values and morals. 

It is amazing how two people can receive the same input and have a vastly different opinion or learning experience from It (output). And our worldview can change at any time based on more input. 

One person may see a racially unjust society while another thinks there is opportunity for everyone. 

We are fed so much information in this day and age from many sources. I have Apple News and Facebook and Twitter, Tv news, podcasts, and family. There is so much. So much to influence how we can see the world. How do we decide what is right? What we hear at any given minute can form or reform our truth. It kind of freaks me out. We each can see one thing in such a different way. Like the witnesses of a car accident or a robbery all giving conflicting stories. 

We are all living with differing version of reality. 

Wow-

How do we coexist with each other when we each have a version of truth that differs values that may conflict? 

Well we see recently that it can be very hard to do.  

I think we all need the willingness to step outside of ourselves. I try so hard to step back from my views and look at the big picture so I can be sure I am not  being sucked in by some false observation – or maybe I will have an input that I misread or decide that it means something else entirely than I first thought.  I need to be willing to take all the input and reprocess it and to see if my output changes. Many times discussion between humans can help change our perspective and view on a topic…maybe seeing something else through another persons eyes may not change your view but can invoke compassion and care for the other person.

New real life experience can change us too. I know cancer changed mine.

As I have matured I try to choose the truth that sides with compassion, love, giving, respect and tolerance. A view that doesn’t stew in anger and one that can be helpful.  It is easy to tear things down. Harder to build them back up. I have failed myself and rebooted many times. But I am glad I am open to do that. We will always be part of our past. If we shed beliefs they kind of follow us around…like they are still attached – and we can pick them back up again but we want to be sure they are worth taking back.

I am always working on my worldview. But great writers and seers and philosophers leaned on love as truth. So I try to process my inputs using that algorithm. I can’t say that it’s the absolute right way but it’s is the right way for me. My reality.  I am a work in progress and will always be. Ask me next week- I might have a different worldview. 

But we all have adapt to a world of people who live different truths.

It is hard to get along in this world with so many different truths lolling about. We all think we are right. But in order to get along we have to look outside ourselves and as my husband says “model the behaviors we want from others”.

Acts of Kindness- my Virginia story

I found out today that a very special person who touched my life passed away. I had lost touch with her over the last couple years and I missed the announcement of her passing last September. I just saw it today- I don’t know how I missed it on her Facebook page. Her name was Virginia. She was 88. She was a vibrant and active lady up until a year or two ago when she fell and hurt herself and went into assisted living. Her daughter wrote that was very hard for her to go there and then Covid hit and that was very hard for her in her decline.

Her husband, love of her life, had passed a number of before we met. She often posted about him on Facebook – it was clear she missed him very much. I picture her with him now. She loved milkshakes – a particular orange one from McDonalds I think I recall. I picture her sipping one as she sits with her beloved on a bench in heaven.

Virginia and I met not by chance. It was an act of divine intervention- and that meeting made a huge difference when I was going through a very hard time.

Two days before we met I had just discovered that I had breast cancer. I was 49. I had three young teenagers. And a wonderful husband- who from the moment we got that news and sat shellshocked on our bedroom floor as I was babbling and crying all at once- was nothing but a firm rock for me to hang on to. I had so much to live for and I was so scared. I didn’t know how to face this thing. I sunk into quite a pit of despair.

On the Sunday after that diagnosis I felt I needed to go to church to pray. I could not face the service that was going on so I went into the chapel. I wept and I prayed for help…I prayed that God put the people in my path that could help me out of despair. Many things happened as a result of this and as I recall them now I am still shocked at how the Divine listens.

After I was done praying in the chapel I felt like I could slip into the service if we went into the upper loft. As we made our way into the loft area above the crowds I heard my name called over the loud speaker. That was random I thought – how odd that I walked in as my name was being mentioned. Well maybe not so random. When I heard my name, I looked up and I saw many faces looking up towards our seats (we sat in the loft most Sunday’s- people get to know your seat patterns!)they were in the midst of prayer requests- someone had put one in for me. I still to this day don’t know who it was and it was so kind. I had posted of my diagnosis on Facebook just before we left for church that day. I really didn’t want to post anything but in my despair I honestly felt like I was being compelled to do so. I am sure the prayer request came from a friend in church who saw my post. And the Facebook posting led to so many other amazing connections that ended up helping me so much in such a bad time.

We stayed to the end of the service and we were walking to the exit of the building I saw a very tall, well dressed older woman coming in. We had never met but I had seen her in the church building before. I looked at her just to nod and say a friendly hello but she stopped and said “are you Anne Sweeney?”. I was taken aback she knew me by name and I said “yes” and she then introduced herself as Virginia N. I knew her name as she was a long time member of the church and her name came up often. She was a very well loved and admired person. I could tell that from the way people spoke about her. I was glad to be meeting her but I was in no mental shape to chat.

She began to compliment me on my writing. At the time I was writing a column for the church newsletter. I was very appreciative of her words. I had only recently put my words out into the world and I was always unsure if I was doing a decent job. Later I would find out she had been a media specialist for 41 years in the county school system and so that compliment was even more special!

I thanked her for her kind words and told her I might be taking some time off on my column as I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She just looked straight into my eyes and said she had fought breast cancer 7 years before (I think that was the number of years). I can’t remember all the words she said after that because I was in such a bad place. But I do remember not feeling so alone and connection was made. As we ended the conversation she asked if she could give me a hug. I thought that sounded like a nice thing – so we hugged. What a sweet and kind a comforting thing to do for someone you just met. That meeting was no accident!

I left the church feeling like maybe there was a way back to the light. Back to the fight I was going to face.

Virginia and I became Facebook friends and we would message each other and she would check in on me as I went through my surgery and recovery. When I was going to be facing radiation she left me a message to go to the church office where she regularly volunteered and pick up something she left for me. I was so surprised to see a basket that contained lots of wrapped goodies each numbered up to 35- the number of days of radiation. The card on front said ‘Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful…” and a note said I was to open one per day after each treatment. What a special thing to do for someone.

Gifts from Virginia

The gifts were sweet and simple. A comb, a magazine, a gift card, something to eat. Each day I was so happy to be able to look forward to opening one of those gifts. It lifted me during a very hard time. It let me know someone out there loved me…she didn’t know me well…but she loved her neighbor enough to just want to make a difference in their very hard day. The love is what you feel in the gift. The contents are secondary to the love. That love is what we can pass on- and pay forward.

I completed my cancer treatments and my life went on. Virginia would keep in touch with me. Messaging me asking about my kids and husband. She kept in touch when I was dealing with more surgeries for chronic pain I developed from the cancer treatments.. She always had an encouraging word for me.

By then I wasn’t attending church. My pain issues were just too severe. And I must confess to not having been a church goer these last last few years even as my pain has been dialed back from surgeries. That is something I struggling with still- not my faith but with religion- but that is for another post. So because of this I didn’t see Virginia – I only connected with her via Facebook. We messaged less and less- and I knew she was having a hard time with pain herself. I knew something happened to her and she went to assisted living to rehab and I guess she never got back to her beloved home. But she went home to be with her God who she loved so and was so faithful to – and to be with her husband and the many friends who went before her.

My heart is heavy- she passed in September but I only just found out so for me it just happened today . Virginia was a very special lady. Those who knew her- and there are many- will tell you many stories about her. She had quick wit and a great kindness. She was strong. And she reached out to help a lady she didn’t know – God had our paths cross that day- we could have just nodded to each other and exchanged a pleasant hello as I walked out of the church. And had I left the chapel and not spent the last few minutes in the church service we may have never met. But I am so very glad we did meet.

My writing -which I have struggled with in this last year or two -was a catalyst to our connecting. How she knew my face I will never know. But I am glad we spoke that day. I will never forget her kindness to me and I hope I have paid it forward – I have tried – and will continue to- though I don’t think I will ever be quite as good at it as Miss Virginia was. I wish her a peaceful rest and I thank her for the gift of love and hope she gave me during one of the biggest challenges in my life. I will never forget you Virginia.

I wish for everyone to have Virginia story.