Offering hope to those on the path behind me

Tag: #grief (Page 1 of 3)

What is holding you back from your calling?

I have mentioned to a few close friends that I have felt the calling to be a speaker and a writer. I mean, come on, as Elton John sings “I’m still standing after all this time, Picking up the pieces of my life…” But I’ve never really felt the time was right. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was not having the qualifications. Maybe it was something else altogether.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a book discussion group. We are reading It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst. The book has been on my GoodReads Want to Read list for a long time. In fact, it had been on there so long that I didn’t even remember that I had the Audible version so when I signed up for the group, I got the hardback book and the study guide.

I have heard of Lysa through some of the podcasts that I listen to and even some friends had mentioned her name and the book (which is why it was on my Want to Read list). But I did not know anything about her story. What I did know was the title of the book resonated with me.

She is right, I thought. It’s Not Supposed to be This Way.

Certainly, if someone asked me 25, 20, 15, 10, or even 5 years ago what I imagined my life would look like in 2020, never in a million years, would I have described what my life looks like right now. To be honest, I have had to make adjustments in a lot of areas in my life. But looking back over it, as Garth Brooks sings so well, ” Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Coffee on the deck at the beach
A fabulous way to start any beach vacation. Coffee, blue skies, and a view for days.

I will admit I still need to go back and read some chapters I skipped (I had an unexpected opportunity to sit on a beach for a week and relax and missed 2 of the book club meetings, but you would have made that choice too most likely).

This week, instead of playing catch up, I jumped right into the chapters we were going to discuss. I had errands and an appointment on Friday so I listened to chapter 7 via the Audible version I had purchased a long time ago. I really had no idea what would be in those chapters.

As I backed out of my driveway I heard Lysa say “Every syllable of the last chapter is true.” Hmm, ok, I will have to go back to that and read it I thought.

I continued listening while driving down the toll road on the way to my appointment at Texas Oncology. Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic, so I was headed for my monthly blood work, treatment, and appointment with the nurse practitioner.

“The ink hadn’t even dried from the last chapter when the need for another mammogram turned to the need for a biopsy. Everyone, including my doctor, assured me there was little reason for concern.”

Lysa Terkeurst

Seriously? Was I listening to my story or hers? I wasn’t sure at the moment. It sounded so familiar. I won’t spoil chapter 7 for you any further, but let me say I could have written a chapter very much like the one I was listening to if I had written my story in 2003.

As most of the people I know living with cancer can attest, cancer muggles (a term I have adopted after reading it on Twitter to refer to someone who has not had cancer) will say things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” when they are trying to comfort a newly diagnosed friend. Honestly, I think they say that because it makes them feel better, speaking from my own experience it does NOT help the person staring down the road of chemo and radiation.

I don’t subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy. I do, however, believe that we can turn our pains and scars into something that is helpful to others (which can then be mistakenly identified by those on the outside as a justification for the “everything happens for a reason” comments).

I often find myself wondering “Now What? Am I supposed to take these lessons and share them with others? And if so, how?” Or in more simplistic terms…What is my new calling?

Monday night the group watched the video and delved into the study guide that accompanies Lysa’s book for Chapters 7 and 8 (or Session 4 in the study guide). For the first time, I was beginning to understand why I have not pushed forward on this calling that has been lurking in the back of my mind.

In Chapter 8 (Letting Go of What’s Holding Me Back), the author walked through a passage from Psalm 51. Written by David, his words go through a progression of Confession, Cleansing, Creating and Calling.

As I sat and listened to Lysa’s discussion the proverbial light bulb started to light up. Although I had been going through these steps in my own way over the past year, it finally made sense why I

  • recently reached out to someone to say if she “needed a motivational speaker to talk about resilience, let me know” (and why I might have taken several deep breaths when she said “I might just take you up on that.”
  • reached out to another person to ask for help in “pulling together a talk about resilience from a true getting up and speaking perspective.”
  • finally “allowed” myself to sign up for a Writing Workshop that has been on my list (yes, I like lists – my Enneagram 1 wing showing) for several months.

The calling has been in the back of my mind for a long time, but I needed to process and walk through these other steps first.

The confession – Although she was talking about sin, I don’t believe that sin caused my cancer, or my husband’s cancer. But sin also means a separation from God, which means that I had been angry with the pains I had been through and had kept God at arm’s length for a long time. I hadn’t abandoned God, and I didn’t thing God had abandoned me, but there was a distance in our relationship. Several books, therapy sessions, and lunches/happy hours with friends has helped me to understand that God is still in my corner and is waiting for me to reclaim the relationship.

The cleansing – For me, this has mostly been tied up in grief. Allowing myself to fully experience the stages – and being ok with them not being in any kind of order (that 1 wing again) – recognizing them when they happen and allowing the feelings to process. Unfortunately, there is not a timeline for processing grief. And when you continue to see friends die from a disease that you have been living with for 10 years, the process can begin all over again.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me
Grant me a willing spirit

The creating – In grief terms, this has been reaching a level of acceptance. It has taken me a long time to accept what my new life looks like. I have asked God to help me accept and love who and where I am. A new creation based on the ashes of the past. And I’m grateful He has had the patience to show me how to love the person I have become.

The calling – I am placing this in God’s hands. Now that I am ready to listen and heed the calling, I feel certain, God will put the people in my path that will lead and guide me to wherever this calling is taking me.

What is holding you back from pursuing what God is calling you to do?

Maybe It’s Not Supposed to be This Way. Maybe, just maybe, if we embrace it, life can be better once we get to the other side.

What I learned creating an online dating profile…

Recently I set up an online dating profile. It was an attempt to entertain a friend who was dying from metastatic breast cancer. She was outgoing and full of life, and she had been suggesting, in her own unique way, that I should put myself back out there.

I didn’t take it seriously but I shared some stories and pictures with her and a couple of other metastatic friends (wow there are some interesting people on dating sites). She passed away not long after that.

I kept the dating profile up and was intrigued (in more of a research kind of way than an “ohh, he would be nice to date” kind of way) by the kind of men my profile was attracting. 

I ended up deleting the profile after about a week.

A couple of weeks ago I decided maybe it was worth trying again and one of my daughters “helped” me create a new profile. I will be honest, I have not found anyone that I am ready to date but I have found that reading other people’s profiles and then swiping left (or right on occasion) is more entertaining than spending the evening scrolling Facebook. 

What I learned about myself (and others) through online dating:

  • I’m not sure I’m ready to date (or if I will ever be ready to date);
  • There really is someone out there for everyone or every type; and
  • Creating a dating profile is one of the best ways to figure out who you really are. Not necessarily for finding a date. It is a way to tell your story.

Since I haven’t “dated” in 30 years, this was a completely new experience. I never used an online dating site before and it is rather intimidating.

How much do you put on a profile and how much of your story do you tell? Everyone is different, there are some that will post one picture and 3 lines of “description” – if you can even call it that – and others will write a book.

Not many men write “seeking a widow who is living with metastatic breast cancer” in their profile. In fact, about 80% (yes, I made that number up) want a woman who is physically fit, loves to bike ride, goes hiking and/or dancing every weekend, and “takes care of themselves mentally and physically”.

For those who follow my story, I thought about writing “likes short walks on flat surfaces” on my profile but since I have been working out and increasing my distance on walks I decided to let it go (although it still gets a good laugh in my circle of friends).

So how much of my story do I share? After reading what these men really want, I started to delete the online dating app. I mean, I am happy with where I am in my life; I have good friends and 2 great kids.

Will I keep swiping left/right or will I delete the app? Only time will tell. But after 4 years (yes, tomorrow, July 24th will be four years since J.R. passed away), I believe if you don’t have a story to tell by the time you are in your 50’s (yeah, I’m not embarrassed to say I am 54 years old) have you really lived? I’m going to own my story.

Like everyone who has Disney+ I recently watched Hamilton. The last song in the musical is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” 

Our stories, or our experiences, are those things that have shaped us into who we are right now, as well as allows us to grow into who we are becoming. 

In order to love who you are you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you - Andrea Dykstra

A friend sent me this quote from  Andrea Dykstra this week and it completely resonated with me. “In order to love who you are you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you.”

If you have ever lost a loved one, you can relate to how that experience can shape you. I have moved beyond the anger phase of grief, at least mostly – there are still a few triggers that bring that anger to the surface but I have finally allowed myself to feel the anger then move forward again. I have found that if I try to bury the anger it just tends to linger longer (probably true in a lot of situations). 

We each have a story. Some are more interesting than others. And it may have taken me a few years, some therapy, and finally listening to what God has been telling me, but I have reached a place where I can Love who I am because I do not hate the experiences that have gotten me here. 

During this pandemic, I shared my story with my church family, and recently I was asked to share my story with another group. God has been nudging me to tell my story (well nudging may not be a strong enough word, but you get the picture).

As I think about the lyrics from Hamilton, I want to be the one to tell my story. I am the only one with the unique perspective of having lived every part of it. My story is still being written but that makes it that much more interesting.

I may not find someone on a dating site who is looking for a widow living with metastatic breast cancer, but I am comfortable owning my story and telling it to others.

Who is going to tell your story?

“And when you’re gone, who remembers your name?

Who keeps your flame?

Who tells your story?

Who tells your story?

Who tells your story?”

Cancer, Grief, and COVID19 – The Isolation Trifecta

Isolation. A feeling we most certainly can all understand in our current circumstance. #StayHomeStaySafe #CoronaVirus #COVID19

It seems every post on social media these days is a reminder of what is going on in the world. And rightfully so. Everyone is scared and feeling the walls closing in.

Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, I was not prepared for the feeling of isolation. Even when people were surrounding me, there was still that feeling of isolation. The words “you have cancer” floated around my brain constantly. And while others tried to share their own experiences with cancer, this new path was one I had to walk alone. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and many friends were there. But it felt like I was running a marathon by myself and they were all on the sidewalks, behind barricades cheering me on. The treatments were mine alone to bear.

In 2010, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the feeling of isolation came back with a vengeance. This time the isolation was more tangible. I was unable to walk because of where the cancer had attacked. My husband would get me situated on the couch or in one of the recliners before he would leave for work. At lunch, either he would come or he would make arrangements for a friend or family member to come over and keep me company for a while. But then it was back to work. I was alone, while the kids were at school and he was at work, left to wonder what this new life was going to look like.

For me, metastatic cancer came with a new set of physical challenges. But also mental challenges. At home with nothing but time on my hands, I discovered the average life expectancy was 36 months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (thankfully I have far exceeded that life expectancy, but I had no way to know that at the time). Friends and family once again rallied around us, but the isolation sat heavy in my soul.

Grief

Similarly, when my father passed away and then four days later my husband passed away, I was surrounded by friends and family. There to lift me up, to give me a shoulder to cry on, or to make sure that I had food to eat. But again, it was the times in the middle of the night, when I was unable to sleep that I found so isolating. Even going out with friends was hard. Most of my friends are happily married. I never felt more isolated than going to dinner with a group of happily married couples when I was now a widow. I have gotten better at being in those situations, but there are still times when that pain of isolation will rise up and make me understand what I lost when I see the looks that pass between husbands and wives who have known each other for decades.

COVID 19 – The trifecta of Isolation

In some way, I feel like I have been in preparation for the isolation brought on by COVID. But, it is just a little different. This one is being felt by everyone in some way.

And yet, even this new circumstance brings about a different feeling about grief and isolation.

During each of the previous life events, there were people around me. Helping me. Comforting me. Bringing me meals, sitting with me at doctor’s appointments, in the hospital, at the funerals, driving me to appointments, cleaning my house. They were sharing in my isolation as much as I would allow.

COVID 19 has reignited the feeling of isolation that I have struggled to overcome in the last few years. The isolation and grief from a cancer diagnosis, to loss of my father and my husband.

I have discovered I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my connection to the outside world right now, however, the posts also remind me of the other things I have lost: my husband; my limited mobility (makes it really hard to do things I used to be able to do easily), even my healthy immune system.

Thanks to my metastatic cancer and a compromised immune system, I have not left my house, other than to take the dog for a walk or go to my oncologist appointment, since March 18th. Days upon days of no contact with friends and family except via phones/computers.

The physical isolation is hard. But the reminders of the emotional isolation of past experiences is like ripping a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t finished healing.

If you, like me, are feeling the isolation from cancer, grief, or COVID I have found the following help me get out of my isolation funk:

Papers burning in fire pit
After writing down the things causing anxiety, burn them and let them go
  • Keep a pen and paper or some kind of notebook on your nightstand. When I can’t sleep it is usually because I need to process what is going on, no better way to do that than to write it down.
    • If what you have written is something you don’t want others to read, I have also found that burning the pages in my fire pit is very therapeutic.
  • Go for a walk or run (I don’t run, but you might enjoy it)
  • Find a good exercise video or sign up with a virtual trainer (I just signed up with Camp Gladiator for a 6-week challenge – all classes are on Zoom). Sweating out the frustrations has always helped reset my mind.

What have you found to help you not feel so isolated?

On the road to self-discovery avoid the exit marked “should”

This may come as a surprise to many, but I have been seeing someone lately: a therapist.

She has been a safe place for me to express my emotions and feelings without being judged. If you haven’t seen a therapist, maybe you should try it.

Four things I have learned in therapy:

  1. Grief isn’t just for the loss of a person: I thought I was going to see a therapist to get help dealing with the grief of losing my husband and my father to cancer three and half years ago. As it turns out, I discovered I had a lot of grief that I have never dealt with regarding my own cancer diagnosis. It had honestly never even occurred to me that I should have grieved the life that I lost to cancer and the tolls it has taken on me mentally and physically.
  2. Being strong isn’t all it is cracked up to be. People see me as “strong” because that is the persona that I allow people to see. I wear a mask regarding my cancer and my grief that I have just recently begun to take off around people whom I know I can trust. I have used this mask to hide my vulnerability. You could say I don’t like to ask for help and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I have come to understand that it has much to do with feeling vulnerable (thanks Brene Brown, I watch her Ted Talk every time I feel the mask holding me down). Like most people, I do not like to show my vulnerability. I prefer to put on that mask and hide.
  3. I am a prisoner to “Should”. I have been exploring the enneagram lately (I am a 9, the peacemaker). I have a tendency to do things because I think that is what others expect of me and therefore do it because I think I should. If I do things others expect or tell me I should, it will keep the peace. Instead what I have discovered through therapy (and the enneagram) is that I may be achieving outward peace, but have sacrificed my own inward peace.
  4. I have a right to be happy. Many of the things I have done in my life were because I perceived others thought I should (yes, this is just a continuation of 3 above – but it is me learning to break the chains of should – the next level). It is OK for me to seek happiness and 2020 is the year I have chosen to travel the road to discover my own happiness.

Therapy has helped me see things in a new light and learn to explore why I feel the way I do. This morning I had an aha moment. Many friends and readers of this blog have told me “You should write a book, a blog, share your story.” This morning I realized the word “should” was a trigger. I started this blog to share my story. I even wrote a mission statement recently: “To offer hope to those on the path behind me.”

Lately, I have been avoiding writing because I am fearful of falling in the same trap.

But I’m here to tell you. I ‘m not doing this because someone told me I “should”, I am doing this because I want to explore what I may have to offer – to myself and to those on the path behind me.

Bucket list memories – who are the memories really for?

Do you have a bucket list? My guess is you do. Most people have ideas and dreams of things they want to see or accomplish before their time is up. I even wrote a post about bucket lists before my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

I have some items on my bucket list. But lately, I’ve been rethinking my idea of a bucket list. I still want to do some of those things in the link above (yes, I still want to go to the Ellen show and fly on a private plane). However, instead of making these memories for myself, I have come to realize it is the memories we make with our loved ones (be it family or friends) that will be how we are remembered.  

A year after JR died my oldest daughter graduated from college. To celebrate the fact that we all made it through the toughest year of our life the girls and I took a cruise. It was a time to get away from everything. What we discovered (aside from the fact that my snoring had gotten really bad) was that we weren’t really “cruise people.” I wanted to go on a cruise because it had been on my bucket list. JR had planned a cruise for our honeymoon, but plans had to be changed and he promised me for years that he would take me on a cruise one day. Unfortunately, that day never came and I shared this bucket list item with my girls instead.

If you were to ask the girls if they liked it they would say no. However, we did make some good memories on the trip. Like the boat ride where the dolphin played in the water beside us. Or their excursion at Roatan where they played with the monkeys. The mysterious midnight WiFi that brought us text messages even though we didn’t upgrade to the WiFi package. Watching Moana on a big screen at midnight in the middle of the ocean. And even the day we stayed on the ship when most got off (definitely one of the better days).

This weekend my youngest jokingly (but seriously) suggested I take her to Vegas to see the Jonas Brothers. She turned 21 last year and she just graduated from college a semester early. At first my reaction was “I don’t really want to go to Vegas”. The last time I was in Vegas was on my honeymoon. It would be bittersweet to go just a few weeks after what would be my husband and my 27th anniversary. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that I should go and make memories with her. Because when we are gone, the sweet memories are what get us through the days of sadness. And who better to make memories with than those you love the most in the world. 

So I’m going to dust off my bucket list and figure out who wants to make memories with me – memories that we can share now and they can use to reminisce when I’m gone (don’t worry, I don’t think that will be anytime soon – I have lots of items on my bucket list and adding more every day).

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