Friday, February 17, 2012

There is a Time for Everything

It has been more than 9 months since my last post. Long enough to conceive, gestate, and deliver a baby. I'd like to say to say that that is what I have been doing, at least in a spiritual sense. I sense the time for labor and delivery is coming.

To use another image, the last 9 months have been spent in a cocoon of sorts. I felt tightly bound and there was little movement. My protective case was tough and my experience of all that surrounded me was muffled and diffused. Thinking about this image and the image of gestation is somewhat comforting to me now and allows me to experience some hopefulness that the long months without a voice and confined to a small and limiting space emotionally and spiritually will yield newness.

I entered my cocoon out of necessity back in March of 2011. I needed the protection. I needed a safe place, a place where newness would have a chance to incubate. I was spent, used up, exhausted. I needed to limit my energy so as to focus my energy. The previous 2 years had been depleting. (Little did I know what was to come.)

My father was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in January, 2009. Soon we began our family journey through the land of chemo, radiation, and intimate visits with my Daddy to see his wonderful oncologist and her compassionate technicians. At the same time this journey began, the store I had worked at for 10 years and managed for 5 of those years, closed and I was moved to another store 45 minutes away. Life took a another turn. I felt I was in a perpetual state of loss or preparing to lose. When that store closed just months after I arrived, I was sent to manage a third store, I felt the roller coaster had picked up speed and I was just hanging on.

The summer and fall of 2009 brought a bit of a reprieve. Daddy had finished his treatments and was feeling better and gaining back his strength. I spent every other weekend with him and my step-mother. Those were sweet and simple times of just being together, sharing meals, watching movies, and sitting on the deck. I drove up one day to find him out mowing the grass. My husband, brother, and son joined him for a couple of rounds of golf. That wonderful foursome gave extended life to "Grandaddy's rules of golf". Those days were filled with simple gifts.

I felt pretty good myself and got in a lot time on my road bike and competed in a couple of triathlons during the summer and a metric Century ride in the fall. But, as we approached Christmas we all knew the cancer was back and it was confirmed in January. The next months were hard. The winter was cold and dark and the knowledge that my Daddy's life was ebbing was my constant companion, though a silent one. We watched a lot of basketball and a lot of movies. We sat at the table and prayed and ate. Routine was a blessing.

Just prior to Easter of 2010, Daddy died. My sisters and I spent more than a week with our step-mother moving as one unit with the rest of the family through those first days without him. We buried Daddy under the Cherry trees that were in full bloom and 45 family members gathered at our lake house to celebrate his life and ours.

The work of grieving through that spring and summer and on into early autumn took a toll on my body as a heavy layer of lethargy descended on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just moving through each day and taking care of the basics left me depleted. The grieving was complicated by a challenge in my workplace that burst the bubble of naive ideology concerning my job. To realize one's situation is really not at all perfect, but instead tainted by weakness, poor communication, pride, arrogance, and lack of compassion was disheartening. I just wanted to quit and go mow grass for a living. I wanted to avoid the messiness of the pressure I was feeling. I wanted to not feel disappointed. 

With the birth of my grand daughter in the fall of 2010, a gathering of all my children and grandchildren in one place, and the hope of a revitalization of a longtime friendship in the fall of 2010, I could feel a shift. The heaviness was not so heavy. I slowly began to rise up out of the miry clay. I once again felt some creative energy. I thought, "Okay, maybe life is worth living, not just enduring". We as a family had a wonderful work weekend at our lakehouse and then another gathering for Thanksgiving with many "grands" to play with the old Fisher Price toys brought down from the attic. My store recorded its best Christmas season on record. My staff infused life into my weary soul. I had almost forgotten the summer's sorrow. I felt the beginnings of  rebirth. But, it was just a short time of R and R. 2011 would prove to be another ride on the roller coaster.

In the middle of what had been a record cold and seemingly darker than normal winter, my brother was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. Within a week he was in the operating room at Duke Medical Center and we all found our places in the waiting room again. The surgery was a "success" according to his brilliant surgeon, but we had all begun our homework and discovered a tumor of this sort has many unseen and resistant characteristics. Treatment would involve a radical change in my brother's life ... and ours. My husband and I opened up our house for the rest of the winter and into the early Spring as my brother and his wife "moved in" as part of our household while Rick received radiation and Chemo more than half of each week. We burned alot of firewood and logged many hours of communal laptop, ipad, and iphone lab work while eating meal after meal dropped off by loving friends from our church family. We were practicing what we had learned through Daddy's cancer treatments ... to lean on one another and anyone that was willing to draw near.

Miles away in Boston, my brother-in-law was living his last days of life with colon cancer and in Annapolis my mother-in-law's life began waning as her body could not produce red blood cells as a result of being plagued by myelodisplastic syndrome. My husband began making the trip to Annapolis from Durham and back every other week. He spent a lot of time talking with his brother who desired to die well. We got in a rhythm of waiting and watching. We knew we likely were not going to have either of these with us by the end of the year. Right in the middle of our waiting, the favorite Uncle in the family died suddenly.  In March Bill Stuntz died. In September, Our Mumu died  just before our son Mark got married in Grand Rapids.The weekend following that fabulous, yet exhausting wedding, we were in Annapolis with 40+ family members to remember and celebrate Mumu's life. She was indeed the hub of the Stuntz clan.

After a spring and summer of longing to carry a lighter load and needing to create some boundaries, I chose to give up my Store Manager role. A new manager came in and I backed up into the assistants role. It was a timely and necessary move for me. Even though the choice was a good one, I was quickly reminded that  anytime you give up something you have had for a long time and hand it to someone else you have to grieve. Change is always a form of dying to what was and allowing for the new to grow out of that. I didn't anticipate it would be difficult for me and yet it has been, but even more so for my staff. I have taken up the mantra, "Change is good. THIS change is good." And it is and it will be.

In October, 2011 after several "clean" MRI's my brother's glioblastoma tumor cells showed up again in an inoperable location deep in the center of his brain. After much soul searching and consideration of options they came back to Duke Medical Center and back to our house for a week Gamma Knife Radiosurgery sessions. Then they went home to wait. It takes 2 months before you can know the results of this type of procedure. The results they received in December were excellent but we know these tumor cells have a way of mutating and adapting, growing resistant to the drugs and traveling unseen to other areas in the brain. So, Rick was not allowed to go home and recoup. He went home with the chemotherapy regiment of 3 weeks on and one week off and every 2 weeks receiving an infusion of Avastin, a drug so powerful and so hard on the body that they save it for when all the other options fail. Another MRI will be administered next week. Another step....another chapter, in his forever altered life.

We have been blessed and bathed in grace these last years. With the gift of hindsight, you can recognize things you can't see along the way or when you are in your safe cocoon. We have received much and given up much. We have rejoiced and we have grieved. We are learning the lessons that only waiting can teach. We are learning about hope. We have known life and death. And even as I emerge from my cocoon and face this "next life" of many life-death-life cycles within my one,  I long for the day when we will all be done with the troubles of the world.

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