Friday, December 31, 2010

Saying Good-bye

I'm a bit reluctant to say good-bye to 2010. Sure, I'm glad to have the cancer treatments behind me. I'm glad we're not worried about business. And new years equal new opportunities and new possibilities.

But to tell you the truth, I feel sad to say good-bye too, because it feels like a farewell to my dad. Tomorrow his death will be "last year", the final days of his life will have taken place "last year", the time we spent together will have ended "last year".

I looked over my calendar for 2010 as I noted birthdays and anniversaries on 2011's. I remembered the night we went to see Joshua Bell, the day I went to Greensboro to see Porgy and Bess, the workshop that was interrupted by his final trip to the hospital. I saw his birthday noted in red, and thought about going into Harris Teeter, asking for a cake that said, "Happy 88th Birthday, Dad", knowing that he would never see it, or see another birthday for that matter.

I'm going to say it now: "Good-bye, Dad. Last year was tough, and losing you was the hardest part. But I'm going to be facing toward the future now, taking you with me in my heart."

Okay. I'm looking forward to looking back on 2010. All peace and happiness to you in 2011, and may your new days be filled with the love of friends and family.

Rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Um, Not so Happy

Okay, last week I talked a good talk about happiness. But today? Not so happy.

My old cat is waking up at 3 a.m. to go outside - he won't use the litter box for certain of his duties - and he's deaf, so his meow sounds like someone getting beaten. This morning, in addition to wanting to go out at that ungodly hour, he woke us up by heaving on the floor. AND when I got up, I noticed something wet and shiny and realized that one of the cats had also peed. Pee that I had walked through in my boiled wool slippers. That can't be "washed, dried, dry cleaned" but instead should be "wiped with a damp cloth". I don't think cat pee responds to damp cloths.

On a week like this, when I wake up at 3 a.m., the list of things I need to do starts scrolling through my head: buy presents, wrap presents, mail packages, clean up for two gatherings, grocery store, end of year at work, etc etc. Once I'm through with my list, I start on my husband's. It was with those lists in mind that I walked sleepily into the kitchen and began complaining. Now after a while, you'd think my man would get it: I'm over the top with imagined stress, he's trying to eat his oatmeal, why doesn't he just say, "Anything I can do to help?" But no, he has to start in with questions about why I plan all this stuff (Christmas with family? Presents? Grocery shopping and laundry? End of the year at the office? HELLOOOOOOOOOO? I don't plan this time of year; it happens).

Okay. So here I am. Monday morning of a week that will be busy and emotional. A week that others will be stressed out too. A week that we've made into a nightmare. WWMD (what will Mamie do) if I want to achieve happiness? I can remember that it'll all be over this time next week. I can revel in the time with my children and my family. I can think about my dad, remembering the time we went to see South Pacific or the time he sat quietly on my sofa with the old cat on his lap. I can make a list and check things off. I can cut my husband some slack, knowing that in the end he'll help with everything. I can count on my girls to do a few things. I write down my thoughts for you to see. I play a couple of rounds of Bubbletown. I breathe and get to work.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Some people might see the flower above and think, "Dying flower." I saw a star for a friend who loves stars. I've been thinking about our ability to create happiness in our lives, and how we view our world seems to have a lot to do with it.

Once I started the thought process, I talked to my friend, Nancy. Do some people just have all the bad luck, I asked, or is it all about perception? I have a couple of friends who can't ever seem to get a break. Are they inviting this into their lives or is it out of their control?

As often happens, when we open the door to an idea, the universe responds. In the past week, these are the things that showed up for me:

1. Daily Peace quote: "Enjoying life - it's a choice and a practice." - June Shiver

2. Daily Peace quote: "In difficult times, you should always carry something beautiful in your mind." - Blaise Pascal

3. Email from a Methodist church in Durham: " Christians, we must not let something as fickle and vacillating as our moods and emotions dictate how we live our lives. Scripture speaks of a deep, abiding joy that can sustain us at all times -through tragedy and triumph, success and failure. So no matter what may come our way...Paul exhorts us to 'rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.'"

4. A friend on Facebook: "I decided to be happy. Forgot how powerful that is."

5. An interview with Barbara Fredrickson in the May 2009 issue of The Sun Magazine entitled, "The Science of Happiness": "There are some bedrock conditions that need to be met. Once they are met, though, even at a very low level, everyone has the same opportunities to experience positive emotions." (Let me note here that, yes, I was reading the issue for the first time. Sometimes I get behind on my magazine reading. Interesting that this was the week I chose to read it.)

Here is what it takes for me to establish and maintain a positive emotional state:

1. A sense of gratitude. Right now, that means that although I have dealt with some pretty significant things in the past six months, I am grateful for where I stand with them at this moment.

2. A sense that everything is temporary. On one of my tomorrows, my sorrow over my dad's death will become manageable. And yesterday, I was dealing with cancer; not today.

3. Something to look forward to. This may be as simple as a story I'm brewing or as large as a trip. It can be an immediate anticipation (my day off) or one that will take a little longer such as retirement.

4. Doing things for other people who are going through difficult times.

5. Creating. Cards, photographs, stories. Relationships, good habits.

6. An ability to be flexible and patient. These are toughies for me, but lack of them contributes to unhappiness in my life.

One of the readings (I couldn't locate it by the time I finally got around to writing this post) suggests that we get up every morning and decide that we are going to embrace the day with the expectation that our day will go well. The holidays will certainly be a good time to put this suggestion to the test. Let me know if you try it and how it works out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Me?

I had my last radiation treatment today. I cheered with the office staff and patients, exuberantly hugged the technicians, and smiled through thirty-seconds of buzzing. I noticed that my funny bone was very closely connected to my tear ducts.

I stayed a little longer after I was finished to visit with a friend I've made, someone also dealing with breast cancer. She's almost through - nine more days - and we decided that we'd like to have a meal together to celebrate when she's finished.

There's a real feeling of "Why me?" about my experience with cancer. Not in the despairing way of why did this happen to me, not feeling the victim at all. But instead an overwhelming sense of gratitude for how easy it has all been. My surgeries went off without a hitch, I've had few side effects from the radiation, and my friends and family and even the people I've met along the journey have been loving and supportive. So why was I so fortunate?

Six months ago, when I found out I had breast cancer and my father was recovering from hip surgery, everything seemed very bleak. And a month later, I was recovering from surgery and my father died, and I didn't know how I would maneuver through the next few months.

But here I am, five months later, looking back on that time, healing emotionally and physically. Amazing.

Last night I dreamed about my dad again. He was with us for Christmas, had actually come back from the grave to be with us. And this morning, my husband called me to the window to see the sunrise: vivid reds and vibrant pinks with the trees silhouetted black against the sky.

What does this day mean to me? It means that when we gather at Christmas, all the members of my family, my father will be with us in spirit. It means that a new day has dawned for me, and I have a responsibility to take my fortune seriously and move on with my life. It means that no matter how slowly time passes, it still marches on, and eventually we get to the end of the things that we worried about and from there they don't look half so scary as they did in the beginning.

So why me? Maybe so I could come to this night, thankful for endings, anticipating new beginnings, and begin to look at scars instead of wounds.