I’ll Have What She’s Having

For those of us old enough to know the movie When Harry Met Sally, we all know what Sally was having in the diner and what caused the older woman to ask for the same thing. It’s so easy to look at other relationships and see the good, shining moments, and want that for ourselves.dance

I’m working on a novel about family relationships and it’s been causing me to think about my relationships with nearly everyone in my life. Last week, I posed a question to my connections on Facebook:

If you and your spouse/partner were given the news that one of you—but you don’t know which one—will not be alive to see the next new year’s, what would you change in your life today?

About a half dozen people answered with specific things they would do differently. Some answers were typical—I’d quit my job and we’d travel the world. One person, who is about ten years into a second marriage, didn’t give an answer. Instead she thanked me for reminding her that each day is a gift and we should treat our spouse royally every day. That was the last answer I received.

Sometimes we don’t need to order what the other person is having.

The Dog in the Road

When I was growing up, our neighbors had an overweight dachshund named Lady. She was a classic “weiner” dog. My memory tells me she was about three feet long and had legs about 10 inches tall. When our neighbors would go on a vacation in the summer, their grass would grow tall and Lady’s belly would make a path through it, from the back door of the garage out to the street. Lady would take to laying in the middle of the street, causing quite a commotion for cars trying to get through the narrow road. At the time, we kids thought it was funny and thought the dog was just a dumb dog. But actually, she was pretty smart. She was upset and lonely and didn’t know what to do with herself. So she’d go lay in the middle of the street, where people would pet her and talk nice to her and try to get her to move out of the way. She was too heavy (and too cranky) for anyone to pick her up and move her, so we were all at her mercy.

In our house today, we have a black lab mix named Diva, who tops out at a whopping 110 pounds. She has “issues” and no one ever really tries to tell Diva what to do. Diva is fearful of thunder and firecrackers, and will hide out in my clothes closet for hours on end until she’s convinced it’s all clear. No amount of food or dog treats will get her to leave that closet. But drive a UPS truck down the street and you’d swear she’s a ferocious tiger who hasn’t eaten in a week. And no amount of food or treats will get her to walk away from the windows overlooking the street and that brown truck.

Diva loves to go for walks, but sometimes when we put on her leash and step out the front door, she’ll stop dead in her tracks, take a few good sniffs of the air, and turn and head back into the house. There is no cajoling her into a walk on those days, and not enough strength in my husband’s arms to drag the dog out of the house. She is dead weight. And she’s not moving until she decides to move. We wish we knew what she smells on the air that causes her to turn and go back in the house. We wish she could talk to us and tell us what’s on her mind. Anyone know a dog whisperer?

We’ve all known dogs such as Lady and Diva. We’ve all had experience with trying to move a dog—or horse, mule, cow, pig—that didn’t want to move. Sometimes it’s funny as can be. Other times, it’s so frustrating you just want to scream.

Lately, this analogy of a dog in the road has been on my mind a lot. In many ways, my youngest daughter has become a similar creature. No matter the many morsels of sweet temptations I present to her, or the countless threats and scoldings I issue forth, Brianna is stuck in the middle of the road, unable to move, unable to process any thoughts (that I know of), unable to hold her weight and tally forth. Not an inch. She just stagnates. And she seems to just love it. She’s not unhappy, although some days she gets in a mood and causes all kinds of drama asking what value there is in life. Much like Lady the dog who’d lay in the middle of the road waiting for people to pet her and tell her what a pretty dog she was, Brianna seems to need the attention once in a while and she’s learned drama is the quickest way to get it.

I’m grateful for having experienced fewer drama-filled episodes in the last six months. That tells me the parenting choices I’ve been making have delivered the correct message. Well, at least that’s what I want to believe anyway. I’m still looking for a “maturity pill” I can slip into Brianna’s food. And I’m still trying to get her to develop a “plan” for what her life looks like in the next month, three months, six months. But mostly, I’m absolutely frustrated by the fact that she is that one-hundred-pound, cranky dog laying in the middle of the road. No amount of treats or screams or large cars (or even brown trucks) can cause her to move. I’m open to new ideas. Again I ask, anyone know a dog whisperer?

Love Prevails

I can’t stop thinking about two men. One is my cousin, and one is a classmate from high school. It’s been more than a year that my cousin has been on my mind, and only a week that my classmate has occupied my thoughts.

I don’t know the exact number of years my cousin has been married to his wife, but knowing his age and how long they’ve been together, I’m guessing they’ve been married about 35 years. John and Jenny make an adorable couple. They have three beautiful daughters and a couple of grandchildren. Probably close to two years ago, Jenny suffered a seizure one day after taking her dog for a walk. One thing led to another and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Since then, John has taken up with journaling about their journey and has compared Jenny’s fight with that of a boxing champ. Think Ali vs Tumor. John has a fabulous sense of humor, but an even greater love for his wife.

I’ve sat back, ringside as it were, and watched John do everything in his power to make Jenny comfortable and to offer support, encouragement, and laughter. The extended family has rallied and circled the wagons with prayers and more support, encouragement, and laughter. Reading John’s journals has given me new insight into what my parents must have gone through when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer around 1971 or so. Then when my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1973. My mother died in 1975. One year later, my father learned his cancer had returned and he passed away in 1977. I was so young and so sheltered, I had little comprehension of all that was happening in their lives. Reading my cousin’s journals has helped me understand just a little more. I am grateful to John for sharing his thoughts, and all that he has learned about chemotherapy and blood cells and lasers.

My high school classmate has also been journaling, thrust into that role a week ago. Phil’s wife, Shelly, experienced a rapid onset migraine so severe that she was rushed to the ER. Several tests brought doctors to a diagnosis of a rare disorder causing internal bleeding in her brain. As of this writing, the doctors still are not convinced that they’ve figured out exactly what is going on in Shelly’s head. Phil has been by her side nearly nonstop, to help Shelly communicate through her pain and drug-induced confusion, to offer a moment of laughter amidst the fear and the tears. Shelly’s not altogether thinking right, so I suspect Phil’s words are chronicles of the experience for Shelly to read when she is restored to good health. But they are also a testament to how far he will go to provide support, encouragement, and laughter to his wife.

Since Phil and Shelly are close to my age, and have two sons the same ages as two of my daughters, their plight hits a little closer to home for me. I am awed by Phil’s ability to stand beside Shelly and hold her beautiful long blonde hair away from her face as she vomits profusely from the pain and the meds. And my heart cries as I read Phil’s words scolding himself for losing his patience, yelling at a nurse-in-training.

John and Phil were going about their lives when one day, BAM!, everything was turned upside down. They are the healthy ones in their relationships. They are the ones who must hold down the fort and remain strong for their wives and their children. They are the ones who must listen to a nurse or doctor’s report, then summon enough “good thinking” to know to ask questions or seek clarification when something doesn’t make sense. And even though they are exhausted, they still find energy to sit at their computers and research their wives’ illnesses. And then, in the wee hours of the morning when nightmares want to invade their minds, instead they take to journaling their thoughts.

As I’ve watched John from afar all these months and now Phil for the last week, I’ve wondered about my own stamina. Could I do it? Could I offer round-the-clock encouragement and support to my husband? Could I find a morsel of humor to share in an otherwise dark and hopeless moment? Could my husband do that for me?

Surely, I want to believe that if put to the test I could and my husband could. There are all kinds of stories about superhuman strength and resilience people experience when put to an extreme test. The bottom line, I assume, is that love prevails. Love trumps all.

I pray I am never tested as John and Phil, and many, many others are being tested tonight.

My Illness Is a Walk in the Park

I really despise being sick. I think it has to do with having to publicly acknowledge that I am weak and I must rely on others. Or, maybe it’s more the case of hating the messes that develop in the kitchen, laundry room, bathroom while I lay in bed recuperating. Or the inevitable boredom that quickly sets in.

And when I don’t feel well, I get super (hyper?) emotional and get teary-eyed just breathing. And all that makes me feel vulnerable and anxious. What a mess!

This morning, after two and a half days of being in bed, I stayed home from work and dragged my pitiful self to the doctor. An x-ray confirmed walking pneumonia and I’m now taking some uber antibiotic with the fancy name of “Z Pack.” Already I’m feeling better and will probably go to work tomorrow, even though I should stay home one more day and rest.

Truth be told, I’m not sick. Well, yes, I am, but really I’m not. Antibiotics and rest will (have already) make me feel better. I was a lucky one today. My doctor didn’t tell me, “There’s a spot on your lung I’d like to investigate further.” And I wasn’t a candidate for immediate surgery or to occupy a bed in ICU. My measly pneumonia will be gone by the end of the week. Funny how life turns on a dime and teaches you to be thankful.

This afternoon I learned a friend of mine has been staying by his wife’s side for the better part of five days. She was taken to the ER on Wednesday night with a rapid onset migraine, something she’s had to deal with before. Only this time, something was different and in this case, different wasn’t good. After a couple of days of intense pain and many tests, they’ve diagnosed a rare illness named Call—Fleming Syndrome. This is scary as hell, folks.

This vibrant, beautiful 50-year-old woman was taking meds prescribed to deal with migraines and now specialists are telling her family that the meds may have caused her to have a stroke and gave her this rare syndrome. The problem is, it’s so rare that they really don’t know that much about it. What they do know is her brain is bleeding as if she’s suffered a brain injury. And she can’t tolerate even a nurse whispering or the light creeping in from under the door. Imagine her pain while enduring a third MRI today. (If you’ve ever had one, you know how noisy they are.)

My illness is a walk in the park compared to the mountainous trek to good health that this woman has been thrust upon. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family as they struggle to find answers and make sense of the nonsensical.