Acceptance

“I know what I want to give my Father.”  Dee looked at me through her veil of blonde hair.  Her face always bore such sweetness, yet the young girl I knew was so intense.

“Tell me.”

Dee was dying.  This was her third dance with cancer, and the doctor’s said it would be her last.  I visited daily, at her request, and we talked about fears, and dreams, and spirituality.  Lately, it had been on her mind that if her life was to be a short one (23 years), then she had to make it purposeful.

“I have decided that the best gift I can give him is to accept that he loves me, even if he doesn’t show it the way I’d like.  What do you think?”

Dee and her father had been fighting since the news came.  He wanted to take her home, but she refused.  She wanted to die here, in the town she had been living the past four years.  He couldn’t understand her unwillingness to fight in the face of death.  He wanted the doctors to do more.   She wanted him to let it go, and to be more emotionally available to her.  We had been discussing their relationship during my past two visits.

“I think that is an amazing gift, Dee.  I am forty years old, and I haven’t even been able to do that with my own father.  That’s the best gift ever.”

* * *

Dee had me thinking.  What would happen if I were to accept my father, just as he was?

Dad’s 75th birthday was coming up and I hadn’t yet bought him a gift.

He had asked for my acceptance once, and I’d said no.  It was the night he shared with me his awful secret.  He sat the family down and told us all.  He said that all he wanted was acceptance, and when he turned to me I said I couldn’t do it.  I said I needed my Father, and what he asked of me was too much.  I stormed out.

So, on his 75th birthday, I wrote him letter.  I apologized for that girl so many years ago, and I told him that I never really understood his problem.  I told him that I knew he loved me,  and that I loved him too.  And I said that when I got past all my self-righteous anger and frustration, I had to admit that he was probably the best teacher I ever had in life.  If it hadn’t been for his struggles and the challenges they presented for all us, I might never have been the person I was.  If there is a divine plan, or higher purpose for life, I wrote, then he accepted a hellish existence in order to give us the opportunity to grow and evolve.

He cried when he read it, and he called me up after, and said I had an odd way of looking at life, but that he appreciated it.  He appreciated it that I was willing to accept him as he was, but he wanted to be better.   Did I think it was too late?

I told him what Alan Cohen said:  “Look in the mirror.  If you see yourself looking back, then there’s still time.”

* * *

Dee’s father liked his present, too.  His anger had broken the next time I saw him, and he even let me see him cry.

 

Calming Breath

Imagine being able to clear the clutter of your mind; to set aside all your thoughts, worries, obsessions, and just breathe.  Imagine letting go of all the tension in your body; setting aside pain, and discomfort in favour of just being.  Imagine the noise and distractions of everyday life just floating through you without sticking; your awareness not blocked, but heightened.

Through the practice of meditation, I have experienced this feeling of being suspended, at peace, in a state of harmony.  It is calming, reassuring, refreshing.  Reaching this place offers renewal, and at times, a sensation of bliss.  It is amazing how, no matter how stressed, this state of being offers such relaxation, that it shifts perception.

Breathe deeply, slowly, and let your exhale carry the tension out of your body and mind.  Take your time.  Let thoughts flow in and out.  Perceive them, and let them go.  Everything that is important will be there later.  Affirm it.  It’s safe to set all thoughts aside.

Let your in breath fill you with clear, calming energy, washing over you, helping the out breath carry away the tension.  Give your self permission to relax.  Empty yourself, body, mind, and spirit.  Surrender to the nothingness.  Suspend your grasp on reality.

Just be.

Hints for success:  Practice the same time each day.  Create the opening.  It doesn’t take long, it takes discipline.  Practice in the same place, establishing a routine.  One of my teachers suggested taking 2-3 minute intervals throughout the day where you stop and breath consciously.  She said she would find a tree, and focus on that tree, imagining what it would be like to have roots that run deep into the earth, and branches that reach high into the sky, and bend with the breezes.  She described it as strong, but calm, centered in peace.

Aside:  I learned to meditate when my children were babies, which meant that the only place I could get any alone time was the bathroom.  Meditating in the bathroom established a correlation that still exists today.  Some of my best inspirations happen when I visit the bathroom.

(Image:  quotesgram.com)

Relief

The verdict is in:  there is no cancer!

Relief is immediate.  I find myself breathing easier.  I feel lighter.

So, what was that about?   Months of uncertainty, unknowing, like a cloud hovering over each day.  Dare we plan….?  What if…..?  What about…..?  The questions were there, but unanswerable.  Just as quickly as it arrived, the cloud is gone.  The sky is clear again; life is back to normal.

But I am not the same.  I am more aware.  I more aware of how important my love ones are to me, and that I let them know.  I am more aware of how fortunate I am to be working at a job I love, but that my health and well-being comes first.  I must look after myself.  I am more aware that as I grow older my body is less forgiving, and it needs my care.  Health is not a given, nor a promise; it requires work and commitment.

I was lucky.  Not everyone is.  I have been given another chance.  I’ve got some personal work to do.

 

An Unexpected Lesson

On April 15, 1978, I married for the first time.  It was also the day my eldest sister was diagnosed with leukemia and given one month to live – a year, if she had any fight in her.  I was nineteen.

As a young woman, I viewed life’s issues as black and white, and was often intolerant and impatient of others.  Now, thrown into a world of uncertainty, I was ill-equipped to cope.  Jo was a single mother of one, and asked for my help and support.  I vowed to be there for her, but had no idea what that would entail.

Even though we were siblings, my sister and I could not be further apart.  Eleven years my senior, Jo was born with a hole in her heart, a condition that saw her constantly in and out of hospital as a child.  At thirteen, on the brink of death, a new procedure, open-heart surgery, saved her life.  Much of our family’s energy and attention centered around Jo’s well-being, which was always a difficult task.  Coddled as a child, and setback by illness, Jo was temperamental, self-centered, and high-spirited.  If there was a fight to be had, she would instigate it.  She was reckless, impulsive, and emotionally immature.  At nineteen, she was unwed and pregnant.  She insisted on marrying the child’s father, but it didn’t last.  A string of bad relationships followed, along with several moves, in and out of our family home.  It seemed, Jo had a knack for creating chaos.

In contrast, although fifth born, I played the role of the responsible, sensible child, often trying to mediate calm in our tumultuous lives.   It was the natural order of things for Jo to turn to me for help.   I signed on as legal guardian of my niece, and accompanied my sister to medical appointments.  She underwent intense chemotherapy, and many times we thought we were losing her, but Jo would rally round again.

I learned from my sister, that life is often grey –  that uncertainty, and change are givens – and this rattled my sense of self-righteousness.  I felt inadequate and overwhelmed.  Pursuing education in the medical field was never an option for me, as a I was a fainter.  Instead, I sought understanding of the psychological and spiritual aspects of illness.  It would lead me to years of study and a career.

I don’t know how much I actually ever helped my sister.  She was never open to any of the ideas or approaches that I studied, and she never became any easier to get along with.  Her survival, fourteen years beyond the initial diagnosis, can only be attributed to an incredible fighting spirit and will to live.  She never changed.  I, however, was forever altered because of her.

I was with my sister the night she died, holding her hand as promised.   She was one of my greatest teachers.

(Image from Pinterest)

Adjusting Focus

At thirty-one, I suffered from acute anxiety depression.  Translation:  the amount of stress in my life overloaded my ability to function.  My mind snapped, and I was reduced to a blathering blob of human jelly – trembling uncontrollably and  unable to perform even the simplest of tasks.  I lost all sense of self.

While incredibly frightening at the time, in retrospect this a time of breakthrough.  The black abyss into which I had fallen was a wake up call to re-examine my life.  Obviously, the way I had been progressing was not working for me.  I needed to regain equilibrium.

In desperation, I sought inspiration.  I found it in one particular quote, whose author I have long since forgotten:

I turned to God when my foundation was shaking, only to discover that God was shaking my foundation.

Prior to losing my grip on reality, my life had been externally focused.

My oldest sister was dying of cancer, and opted to die at home, which resulted in my mother and I becoming her primary caregivers. At the same time, I had returned to work full-time in order to allow my then husband the luxury of finding himself career-wise.   Ideally, the plan involved swapping roles, but his search led him to uncover an insatiable love for racing, and I found myself juggling work, childcare, and homemaking.

In response to the unhappiness I was feeling, I strove to better myself by enrolling in a fourth year French course at the university, and pushing myself to become more physically active.

In short, I had taken on way too much.  I like to think God pulled the plug.

Alone in the bottom of my black hole, I discovered something miraculous – my faith.   I hadn’t given it much thought before, yet, there is was, like a faint beacon of hope, drawing me out of my darkness.  I realized that I did believe in God, and more than that, that God believed in me.   My doctor offered long term drug therapy, but I preferred to take God’s challenge, and build a new foundation from within.  A spiritual dialogue began.

Twenty-three years later, with the threat of the c-word over my head, I find my equilibrium challenged once more.  I have not forgotten that God uses nudges as reminders.  I need to find balance again.  The dialogue continues.

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The Beginning

An image from my dreams has been haunting me for some time, mostly due to its oddity.  The image is of my chest, with nipples akimbo.  Why would I dream such a thing?  I could not fathom the answer, but I did become self conscious afterwards, always checking myself before going out.  I saw a woman once who had nipples so misaligned that it was hard not to notice.  I was afraid to ask, but judging by her general physique and character, I assumed it was a breast enhancement that went terribly wrong.  That would not apply to me.  I have no cosmetic surgery in my past, present, or future.

Then last night, after waking out a deep sleep with heart pounding and a burning thirst, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and what should I see, but one nipple pointing north west and the other lost in orbit  – my dream image!  So was my dream a premonition?  If so, what was the message?

December 13th I had a lumpectomy.  In late June, my doctor sent me for a mammogram, after noticing it had been many years since the last one.  Not long after the routine examination,  I received a recall notice.

“Don’t worry”, the message said, “in 9 out of 10 women, it is nothing.”

I assumed it was related to the length of time since my last one.  No real borderline for comparison.  Re-examination day came.  They wanted to do two procedures: a spot screening and an ultrasound.  Unlike my first visit, which was in and out in a surprisingly short period of time, I found myself waiting and waiting after the initial procedure.

I asked if they had forgotten me.  A nurse assured me they had not.  Instead, she invited me into a private room and handed me a pamphlet.

“We would like to do a biopsy.”

There was something about calcification, but it was unexpected and so I didn’t ask any questions.  Never a fan of needles, the thought of having my breast punctured overwhelmed me.

One of my professed philosophies is don’t worry until there is something to worry about.   The threat of a sharp object invading my delicate area was real and immediate.   I worried about that.   The appointment was scheduled for two weeks down the road.

My daughter was due to give birth any moment.  I worried about not being there for her.

A cancellation four days later, saw me headed for biopsy without the time to fret.

“Your doctor will have the results in 10 days” I was told.

Two days later, my doctor advised me I needed to see a surgeon.  She said the finding were “suspicious” and the area needed to come out. I would be seeing the surgeon on October 31st.  Trick or treat.

I ran into a close friend who had been going through the same thing.  Her doctor said they would just monitor her more closely.  I liked that solution.  I decided I would be a “wait and see” also.

In the meantime, I had a beautiful new granddaughter to occupy my thoughts, and I had just started a new job, at a new school.

Then in mid October, my beloved mother-in-law suffered another in a long line of health setbacks, and did not recover.  She passed away on the 23rd of October, and we held a memorial “cocktail” party in her honour the following weekend.

By the time October 31st came along, I was physically exhausted, and emotionally spent.

My ‘wait and see’ approach was met with a chorus of “Absolutely not!” from both the surgeon and her resident.  Nor was I to be allowed to put it off till summer vacation.  December it would be.

“Any questions?”

I couldn’t think of one.  My mind was flooded with concerns for work, Christmas, and our annual trip to Mexico.  What would happen to all of those?

Try as I might, anxiety got the best of me.  I threw myself into planning for Christmas, finishing up work, and cooking for post-surgery.  I found myself becoming irrationally temperamental, losing patience easily, and tearing up without warning.

“It’s not like having a toothache,” my husband reassured me.  “With a toothache, you call the dentist, and know what will happen.  There is no certain outcome here.  It is fear of the unknown.”

I wear a sports bra now, 24/7.  It supports the area and helps with the healing.   Without adjustment, it also pushes my breasts into awkward positions and creates an image similar to my dream.

So what was that all about?  Did some part of me, with some warped sense of humour, try to warn me in advance?  Was the intended message that this would be the worse to fear?  Or that there are worse things to worry about than whether or not your breasts line up?