It’s been a time of times, a steady landslide of uncertainties. Yes, the Covid, the shutdown. Yes, Bink and so many other adults with disabilities being home all day every day for many weeks, with all the usual programs and activities canceled. Yes, the mass suffering and loss that has accompanied this pandemic around the globe. Like so many others, I’ve been all over the place emotionally and mentally.
All that has paled, though, in comparison to another great big unfolding. Marina, a dear friend of mine, has been diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive cancer. Stage four. She lives in a different state, and I haven’t been able to see her.
The news about her condition came at about the same time everything began to shut down. In a dizzying 9.5 weeks she has been through a surgery that was far more extensive than she expected, dealt with the after effects of that with multiple pain medications that haven’t worked very well, grappled with treatment plans. Each subsequent appointment with specialists has brought grimmer news, with predicted possible life expectancies going from a possible two years down to months. Yesterday a doctor told her that if she opts for no treatment at all, she may only have “days to weeks.”
She had a chemotherapy port installed in her chest, but crippling daily and nightly pain led to more diagnostics, and then confirmation that the cancer has spread into her bones. Radiation, which can’t begin until next week, may help the pain but will delay chemo. The first available chemo appointment may be almost two weeks away. She’s been told hospice is not an option if she opts for chemotherapy. Can you imagine riding on this monstrous roller coaster, exacerbated by Covid complications that keep her from close contact with those she loves? If ever there is a time someone needs hugs and loving touch, this is it. Her beloved cats, whose affection has been balm to her, had to be rehomed due to her inability to care for them.
During this turbulence, Marina, who has given me permission to tell you about her, dipped into Laurie Wagner’s free offering of her Wild Writing course. Each morning for 27 days, participants received a video of Laurie reading a poem, and were encouraged to use the lines as a prompt for free form writing. I’ve yet to take one of Laurie’s courses, but I’ve heard many good things.
Marina is a multimedia artist. She’s never considered herself to be a writer. During the Wild Writing course, she wrote on the days she could manage it, and she’s shared some of her words with me. Such raw and achingly beautiful writing! I keep telling her I want to see it all on the page, and online, for everyone to experience.
I’ve been pretty blocked (understatement) in my own writing lately. It’s true that my main daily focus has been keeping Bink occupied and well fed and reasonably content. There hasn’t been a lot of time for writing, or editing. My bitchy inner critic has also been strident in her attempts to silence me, and I’ve let her. There have been pockets for painting and drawing, but those creations seem to be content with five or ten minutes of attention in between the cycles of care giving.
There is so much I want to say, about endings and beginnings and life and death and change. If Marina can pick up a pen and allow such fierce and tender writing to come forth in the midst of her great challenges, than I can certainly let some of my own wordy impulses break free and overwhelm the block. I can do this in her honor.
For today, just one more thing. Please check out Marina’s art HERE.
She does layered, amazingly textured pieces that, like opals, look different in every light.
Take good and gentle care of yourself, and maybe go call or text or write someone you care about. Tell them a specific something you love about them. The world and all her people need more love.
All day the wind blew
the trees against the house,
and my old ears
heard the hearty breeze
as a roaring river,
the kind that swells
the kind that swallows
half made nests
the wind shakes
from the breast
of tight bushes
towards the sky.
Inside I wander,
room to room,
searching for some trace
of the self
I just this morning
left in that corner,
or under those stairs,
I could have sworn,
on the hanger
next to the scratchy gray cape
I’ll get tired, I know.
My legs will protest,
and I’ll hear a cup of tea
calling to be made.
The wind will slam
against the siding,
insisting on inspection.
The doorbell may ring,
the emails chime,
the text messages
which make a stream of song
from another room—
summon my attentions,
and when I stop looking
for the self I lost
I’ll settle with the cats,
who always tell the truth,
and ask them
where I am,
who and why,
Hello from my couch, where I’ve been planted for the majority of my waking hours for the past twenty five days. Who’s counting? I sure am. I’ve been following doctor’s orders post-surgery and elevating my right foot anytime I am sitting down. This is an improvement, since last week I was gifted with permission to stop elevating it while in bed. This can only be a good thing.
I left my most recent post-operative doctor visit with another gift, though I’m hesitant to label it as such. I said goodbye to the big awkward cast that had covered my right leg from just beneath my first two toes up to about an inch below the knee. In its place I am sporting ( Ha! Tongueso in cheek) a heavier and even more awkward black boot-like thing. It has noisy and strong Velcro strips that multitask beautifully, keeping the boot in place while playing catch-and-hold with large quantities of cat hair.
When I tell people I have a boot now, most assume I am doing what people do in boots: walking. Nope, I’m still diligently keeping any weight off that right foot, awaiting my next X-ray in fifteen days ( but hey, who’s counting!). I think that next picture will determine whether I’ve grown enough bone underneath the plate and screws to allow me to begin walking a bit in the boot with crutches. If things aren’t looking optimal, it could be two more weeks after that before the floor shall know the whole two-footed weight of me. When that time arrives, it will be a very, very good thing.
This has been such an interesting journey so far. I guessed there would be lots of rest, time to read and catch up on the House Hunters type shows I enjoy, and time to create art and poems and essays. I supposed it would be hard for my daughter who is so used to having me as her primary caregiver. Some of that has happened, but there have also been some interesting emotional day trips.
Chunks of memories have risen from the depths, some painful, others pleasant and enlightening, but all inviting me to re-examine the stories I’ve told myself about people and events from the past. As a Yogi and an introvert I’m no stranger to self-examination, but my hours of couch sitting invite a deeper dive. It seems my advancing years have allowed a kinder, broader perspective, and this, too, is a good thing.
Another side effect of this experience: I’m finding a deeper understanding of what it feels like to be dependent on others for basic self-care. I’m becoming acquainted with how isolating it can be to spend day after day indoors, at home, with no ability to get up and take myself somewhere.
I’m remembering all the friends and acquaintances and family who have had long recuperations from accidents and joint replacements and serious illnesses. And those who never did recuperate. I wonder about their experiences, and I see and feel the ways I could have been more loving, more present, more helpful. It’s not regret that fills me, but rather gratitude for the lessons and for the chance to do it differently in the future. This, then, is a good thing.
I’m not trying to bum you out, dear reader. This is not grim, not at all. I know I’m really lucky to be so temporarily disabled. I know I‘m among the privileged few world residents who have access to great medical care and procedures that can and will improve my quality of life. I’m not depressed, I’m not particularly bored, and I’m not spending much time at all feeling sorry for myself.
What’s clear to me: this forced period of limitation comes with gifts. The greatest of these may be a deepening compassion for others in similar and often worse circumstances. And this is a very good thing indeed.
4 am, the favored time for felines in this house;
to dance a catty jig across my soft belly,
scale the cliff your side-sleeping body makes
as it juts, dark and warm, one shoulder
reaching towards the ceiling which,
if I squint my sleep-eyes just so, looks
quite like a February sky.
She slides—the cat who loves you most,
the one-eared gray
with a face like Mona Lisa—she slides
gracelessly into the valley where your neck
and shoulder meet, landing
with a small thump, and you half sigh,
breath paused as if considering,
in your dream state, the wisdom of rousing
to shoo away the one
who has attached herself to your heart,
whose paws and claws have daily
and nightly worn a path
through your resistance,
laying claim to the continent of your body,
staking out the exact place
where she anchors her nose to your neck.
This is the muted drama of our lives,
a home whose floors and walls have been
downright humbled by five
a house that swirls with fur, No matter how hard I try, I say to guests, but truly
I have given myself up to it—the wee hour wails
and squeaks and the sure way the littlest one
dashes under the bed at the slightest
nearing footstep, and the uninvited
company in the bathroom,
where sets of big eyes
green, golden, brown,
watch my ablutions
with what feels like bemused
tolerance with –perhaps – a side of love,
thought it might be anticipation too,
‘cuz it’s always
“Comes a time, “ said the first cat, when you can decide to be different than you were. You can stop scratching at the window, scheming to find a way to get back OUT THERE. You can stop re-living , over and over in your head, the pleasures and perils of running free, looking for cover, trying to keep warm, prizing yourself with baby rabbits and chipmunks and mice and voles.
“You can decide. You can settle into sleeping all day in a sun patch on a soft carpet. You can spend the eve stalking the four corners of each room and pouncing on bugs and worms and little bits of leaf that found its way in from the garden. You can learn to love the predictable plate of food, half crunch and half fish-smelling soft mash. You can decide to trust the big clumsy humans who demand little, really, except a small patience and tolerance of a head scratch, a lap pat.”
The other felines looked, half-listened, began licking their paws in preparation for a preen.
“Point is,” the first cat said, “the big bright light comes every morning, and the big soft dark pushes it away every eve, and you can be new if you want to, because the old bright is over. You can decide how to be. “