Tomorrow morning at 8:40am, a surgeon in Portland, Maine will be removing the tail of my pancreas along with those nasty precancerous tumors that are attached to it. He may also be removing my spleen, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that won’t happen.
Having a distal pancreatectomy has been frightening to think about, but I’ve felt quite calm about it since yesterday. There’s nothing more I can do now, right? I have my workplace as settled as I can, I finished the password book for my family, and yesterday I ran my last 5K in what I expect to be at least 3 months.
So as they’re prepping me tomorrow, I will pretend I’m back in that sensory deprivation tank I tried out a few weeks ago at Float 207. It was really lovely. I chose the purple light and I’m so glad I did.
But after imagining this calm space, I know I’ll be thinking of my boy, my family, my friends and all the incredibly kind words and thoughts you’ve sent my way. Thank you.
“Showing your vulnerability is how we get stronger, right?”
I was at a library conference last week with loads of other Maine librarians. For me, it was one of the best Maine conferences I’ve attended due to a number of factors: I was on a panel with folks I consider my new friends and we discussed having community conversations (yup, we were talking about talking and I loved it), I got to hug and chat with some colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in person in some time, and I met new colleagues and did my best to welcome them into not only the library conference world but into librarianship and some of the beauty of it. (Which is kind of funny since I’ve been thinking about changing careers at some point. But that’s for a future blog post.)
The commonality among everything I loved about the conference, were the people. Meeting new people, getting reacquainted with others, talking about our libraries–both the successes and challenges, but also just talking about our lives–our interests, our children, our families. And in these conversations– sometimes in hallways or at a table before a session began or over a drink and a meal–many of us were vulnerable with one another.
Now, maybe this happened because this is me. When you “wear your heart on your sleeve,” it means you often advertise how vulnerable you are–you show your feelings even when you could be hurt. You’re willing to say “I love you” first, even if it feels like you’re stepping off a cliff. It’s scary shit, but my word, it can be exhilarating. And if you’ve read many of my blog posts or if we’ve been friends for a while, you know that I tend to put most of my feelings out there for the world to read about. But maybe people were willing to share more because we’re living in frightening times and we were willing to say, “Hey, my friend died of Covid last year and I really miss her,” or “Thank you for saying you don’t think you know what you’re doing as a librarian, because I think that every day” or if you were me, in front of a large group of people in a session that you were attending, you admitted that you cried in a meeting with another colleague because you felt overwhelmed and lost and needed help.
Because, you know, I REALLY put it ALL out there.
But after that session, the person leading it came to me to say, “Thank you for being so vulnerable. And showing your vulnerability is how we get stronger, right?”
I think I nodded my head and thanked them but then walked away thinking, “Really?!? Then emotionally, shouldn’t I be freaking She Hulk by now?”
I let the phrase “showing vulnerability begets strength” simmer in my brain this week. (And yes, I’ve read and/or listened to a LOT of Brene Brown, but for some reason it never quite clicked like this.) So, I tried it out. I shared some information with some people that I might not typically and was happy with the results. I felt more connected with them then I had in some time or ever. A few friends have also shared some deeply tough issues and emotions with me recently, and besides feeling that wonderful connection it has created, I feel so much gratitude towards them for trusting me, for letting me really see them.
I know this isn’t for everyone. And I’ll be honest, it hurts like eternal papercuts when you open yourself up to someone and they don’t want to hear what you have to say or see who you are. But my friends, when someone DOES finally see you? To me it’s like taking a bite of a pie that you’ve been dreading because it sounded awful but you knew you should because it’s supposedly healthy and recommended by a friend and it won’t kill you so just friggin’ do it already. So you take that bite…and it tastes like the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted. You’re so happy because it made your mouth and tongue sing and you’re relieved because you can tell your friend that you ate it and it was delicious.
Yeah, that was a stupid analogy, but I hope you get what I mean.
Holidays can be tough for those missing their family–either if they’re no longer near you or are no longer on this planet. Last week was the 5th Thanksgiving without my brother and the third without either of my parents. Typically, my little family of three spends Thanksgiving by ourselves and my brother used to come over to spend it with us, while his partner slept during the day (he worked nights). After my brother died, we always brought my mom over to spend the day with us. Now, though, we invite my brother’s partner to have dinner with us and it remains the four of us. On Thursday we toasted our lost family with our drinks and chatted about all of them throughout the day. It wasn’t a horrible day.
That night, my son and I sat down to watch a movie, and we got on the subject of my mother. My boy was comparing the grandmother on the Garfield Thanksgiving special to his grammy, my mom. We started to talk about Mom’s laugh and I realized that I couldn’t remember it. At all. I could picture her laughing, like this photo when she tried out our Bowflex for the first time back in 2001 and it nearly catapulted her backwards. But every time I pictured Mom laughing, it was silent. I just could not imagine what her laugh sounded like. I started to tear up, grasping at my memories of her, trying to find something that would trigger that laugh in my head. I could hear her voice, I could smell her perfume, even feel her hands in mine. But her laughter was gone.
When my teenage son saw my eyes and the look on my face, he tried to imitate his grandmother’s laugh. He could clearly hear it and was doing everything he could to share that with me. After a couple of failed attempts, he found it. He created a laugh that was enough like hers that I could hear it again. I closed my eyes and listened.
I cried a little and thanked my son. He was so relieved–not only because I didn’t break down into sobs, but also that he could find a way to share Mom with me, to share *his* memories of his grandmother with me. If anything could warm the cockles of my heart, it was that!
Unfortunately, as I write this, I still can’t remember her laugh. I’m hoping someone has a video with a clear laugh track of Mom on it. I hear my brother’s laughter nearly every time my son laughs, and I can easily hear my father’s deep, gruff chuckle. But not my mother’s. So until I find that video, I’ll have to consult my boy whenever I need to hear Mom’s laughter. I envy his gift.
If you do have the opportunity to record your loved ones’ voices or laughter, I suggest you do it (and have others do it to you). It may sound like a morbid activity, but if something like hearing your parents’ laugh can make your day, then wouldn’t you want that to listen to after they’re gone?
Have a good week, friends. Find laughter wherever and whenever you can. ❤
Let me begin with thanking so many of you for sending your good thoughts, vibes and prayers my family’s way last week. My husband got through his heart surgery and everything looks great. Two stents were placed in his arteries instead of one, since they found a clogged artery they didn’t know about, but now blood is actually getting to a majority of his heart. His energy has skyrocketed and I think he may be on his way back to the living. Now he just needs to clean up his act by eating right and exercising. Not everyone gets a second chance, so hopefully with encouragement he’ll be ok and take advantage of this rare opportunity.
And now…back to running. 😉
Sundays are typically my long run days. I was up to 10 miles a few weeks ago, but ratcheted it down to just 4, then have slowly been building back up again. Today was a 10K (6.2 miles) day, and although I felt good and ready when I left my house, the feeling didn’t last. I had a hot flash around mile 1, which is a weird thing to have when you’re already sweating. I felt completely depleted by the end of mile 2. I almost called my husband to ask him to bring me a banana or maybe drive me back home, but then in my head I heard my friend Heather say, “I take walking breaks. It’s really ok!” So I stopped beating myself up and walked for a few minutes and sipped from my electrolyte drink that tasted awful. But the combo gave me a bit of energy and I pushed on. By 2.5 miles, I started to feel better. I was tremendously slow and walked up nearly every hill (except the giant hill I tried to run up and then realized I was so hunched over that I could touch the ground), but the run was finally feeling good.
I was ok with being slow today, but I wanted to feel good. I wanted those endorphins to kick in. Hell, I just wanted to feel like myself. I’ve had so many moments in the past few years when I don’t feel like me. Do you ever have that? Like you feel out of sorts, like something isn’t right but you don’t know what that is? Now that I’m perimenopausal, I certainly feel like that more and more. It’s not just the physical–the hot flashes, the 15-20 pound weight gain since 2017, the occasional lethargy. But also the mental and emotional changes and challenges that are not necessarily due to perimenopause–the occasional emotional outburst, the grief, the anger, the stress of so much loss–and trying to find a way to not only take care of myself (which admittedly I’ve been pretty bad at), but also to take care of my son and husband AND to be a support for my friends and the rest of my family.
After living through the deaths of my brother and parents, watching my husband nearly die twice and supporting a stressed and grieving child, then managing to get through (and currently going through) all the logistical shit people don’t tell you about (burials, funerals, wills, estates, financial loss while recovering from illness), I have learned a lot. But I also received a HUGE load of emotional support from my friends and family. And I want to give that back in spades. I know I still don’t have the right words to say to someone after a loved one dies, but I often say that I’m here if you need anything and often suggest a meal or time together or even $20 if I have it. I don’t say any of that unless I mean it. Occasionally someone will take me up on it and ask for help. And I’m grateful. When I was desperate, I did reach out to my friends and asked for help. Nearly every time they were more than happy to lend a hand or an ear. That’s what being a friend is. (And more than once I did NOT ask for any assistance, yet some friends helped me anyway. Because they are that awesome.)
Reach out to your friends and family this week. Contact the ones you want to. I give you permission to not bother with those folks who continually disappoint or hurt you. I know that the holidays can mean being forced to spend time with people you might not want to. Admittedly, I had a great family and loved to spend time with them. Not all the time, mind you, but enough. I know our family was lucky that way. But if you don’t have that kind of family but one that is toxic and treats you badly, I hope you get to have dinner with your chosen family this week. If you can’t do that, then please find SOMETHING that makes you happy this week, ok? Preferably nothing that can harm you. Go for a hike, pet a cat, read a great book, have a glass of good wine, walk a dog, eat pie, bake a pie, have sex, go for a run, buy new shoes–whatever makes you feel good!
And if you need a hand or an ear, I’ll do my best to lend you one or the other. I’ll try to be here for you, as you’ve been there for me.
Until then, I’ll try to keep running amidst hot flashes and cold mornings. You’d think they’d cancel each other, right? Sadly, no, but at least your voices in my head will keep me going. (I’m standing up straight, Sonya!)
On my run today, I started working on my posture. It’s truly awful. I’ve always been a sloucher. When you’re over 6 feet tall and a majority of your friends are “average” height, you find yourself hunching your shoulders and slouching to try and shorten yourself. My brother was 6’6″ and his posture was just as horrible. He had a little hump near the end of his life and I can see that happening to me, too. (As I’m typing this, I’m sitting ramrod straight just thinking about it!)
Since I was trying to relax my shoulders and run tall, I didn’t worry about my pace this morning. But the route I took included a long, steep hill, and normally that’s when I feel my shoulders meeting my ears and my gaze aiming at the ground. Not today! I kept thinking, “Ok, you can do this. Don’t worry about your pace, just keep those shoulders back and look straight ahead. And relax, damn it!” So I talked to myself in my head for a few minutes, then started to think about the week ahead.
Tomorrow, five months to the day since his “widow maker” of a heart attack, this guy is undergoing another cardiac catherization and a stent inserted into a 100% clogged artery.
As I was slowly ascending that hill, I thought about this blog and the outpouring of support I’ve received because of it. When my husband was on a ventilator and in a coma in 2020, people around the country were sending him healing thoughts and prayers. I’m not exaggerating. We know a lot of folks between the two of us and they’re all over the place. And due to this blog and at least one dear friend’s move, we now know folks all over the world. So, once again, I am asking for those positive thoughts sent this way.
When Husband had his heart attack in June (the day after my birthday), he was told he might need this upcoming surgery. But he didn’t really remember that. I did. He was a little surprised in the fall when his doctor told him he’s need this stent fairly soon. And then in October, what little energy my husband had, he was losing quickly. He wasn’t (and isn’t) well. Then one day, while I was away at a conference, both his doctor and his boss told him he needed to take a break from work. His boss’ words were, “You’re not having another heart attack on my watch.” Our family doctor has been concerned and thought he might need to stop working…possibly for good. But Husband said “no.” He’ll stop working until after the surgery, but he’s too young to stop all together. We hope! (Meanwhile, he’s been getting shots in his eyes due to his diabetes…and those shots have advanced his tiny cataracts into full-blown cataracts. So that surgery will be next month!)
Tomorrow morning, we will head, once again, to the hospital. This time, though, they won’t have to save his life while quickly putting a stent in. This time, the operation will take three hours and the surgeons can take their time, look around, do what they need to do. Hopefully it will extend my husband’s life. Hopefully his energy will improve and he’ll be able to do things again. Maybe he can do yard work without having heart palpitations or take a walk with me without having to nap afterwards. I thought those things would happen this summer or fall, but they didn’t.
So let’s get this shit fixed, ok? Let’s raise my husband’s quality of life.
Let’s get him living again.
Love to you all. Thank you in advance for sending those good vibes our way. ❤
Let me first say that the reasons I blog are because I love to write what I want and I typically use this as a no-cost therapy tool. I vent my anger and frustration with the world. I grieve my brother’s death and my parents’ memory loss. I discuss my love (and hatred) of running and my continuous battle over my weight and my eternal body issues. BUT, I also like to use my blog to express my love and gratitude for particular people or things or situations.
My post last week brought a HUGE amount of love and support from my friends and family and I cannot begin to thank you enough. I had co-workers and friends and family members all bring us food we could freeze and put in our pantry, several friends gave me money to finish Christmas shopping for my son, and the amount of hugs and good thoughts and prayers were nearly innumerable.
I have been fortunate enough to surround myself and my family with so many wonderful, big-hearted people like yourselves. If you’re reading this, than more than likely we actually know each other–have met in person–and probably think highly of one another. Or I do you, at least. But if you’re reading this and have enjoyed what I’ve had to say and we don’t know each other, I certainly hope we meet someday. We need more love and friendship in our lives, don’t we? (Cue “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles.)
My husband is still looking for a job–it’s only been about 2 weeks–but we do have hope. We’re hopeful that this is just a bump in the road and we’ll be able to stay in our home, pay our bills and feed ourselves. We know we can’t live on love alone (that would be nice, wouldn’t it?), but with a little luck, we’ll be ok.
Thank you again, friends, for caring about me and my family. Your love, support and friendship is something I hope to never live without.