Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Their lost memories are a loss to all

Our second wedding in honor of Sharon Noonan (fourth from the right)

She knew me. For more than three years she knew me and asked about me and called me by name.

Whatever time I had, it was a gift. I had the pleasure of knowing that my mother-in-law really loved me. She told me all the time...often too many times to count. Those words are ringing sweetly in my mind and they comfort me.

It's more than any girlfriend who became a fiance who became a wife could ever ask when her mother-in-law to be was falling inside a cavern of waning memory carved by a disease - Alzheimers, clearly some form of dementia. Whatever name you put on it, it's been heartbreakingly stark to know at this point I'll never hear her say my name again. No matter what that feels like, it can't compare to the bitter ache I have for my husband...and what he has to endure.

Nearly a year ago we were all celebrating. By grace of time and the capacity of her mind then, we were able to share our joy with her. We found a way to have a wedding with his mom. It had to come to her. We did it all over again in Wisconsin a week after the real wedding - the cake, the dress (more travel-friendly version) and a smaller wedding guest list - all of Patrick's family. My parents flew into Milwaukee and met us there.

 Patrick's mom smiled a lot through that day - though I'm sure parts of it were confusing and foggy for her...she knew her siblings and they had time with her. Though they say weddings are a bride's day - there was no mistake on this special day. This day was all for Sharon.

"I Hope You Dance" played on a little digital speaker in that community center where we staged this celebration. Patrick took his mother's hand and they danced. Finally, this was the lonely ache, the missing piece of our wedding in Rochester. I don't think there was a dry eye in that room.

I just can't stop thinking about how happy I was on that day to see that dance.
Patrick & Sharon - Mother and Son Dance




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gratitude & the Eddie Bauer raincoat

Many married couples go through the growing pains of the home they've long outgrown. Patrick and I are beyond the pale of frustration at this point with our humble abode.


The cozy one bedroom apartment with limited closet space that was tight for a single girl is beyond frustrating for two. Some day we will have another place to call our own - but right now is not the time. We are renters and that's going to have to be okay for now.


So one conversation Patrick and I have had which makes good sense is on the subject of downsizing. Having lived as a bachelor in New York for close to two decades, Patrick is an expert at this. I admit it - I am not. Downsizing my wardrobe is tricky. I think I speak for many women who treasure pieces and have trouble letting go - even amidst duplication.


I realized the other day that I had two raincoats. As I left work on Friday in the pouring rain, I set the green one down on the passenger seat. On my passenger seat was the other raincoat. Two raincoats. One coral, one green. I laughed to myself and realized this is evidence of my needed downsize.


Driving home, I took the exit to my too small apartment only to be reminded of 
how lucky I truly am. 

A scrawny man was standing in the rain, head down and drenched and holding a cardboard sign that I couldn't read because rain had smeared the words.

Some signs don't need to be written clearly - the dejected look on his wet face said it all.
I rolled down the window and handed him my extra raincoat...the green Eddie Bauer that looked least like it belonged to a woman. He thanked me profusely as he slipped it on. 

The light changed...and I had to go. I watched him hug the weatherproof fabric around him and I smiled and waved to him as I drove away. He had something to shield him from the merciless weather. I wondered with our stretch of rain how many times he had been out in the elements without it.
I thought of Father Bill Trott, the pastor of my church growing up, and remember his mark on my life. Father Bill died suddenly when I was a freshman in college and I often think of him during challenging times. His philosophy was to be grateful first and foremost for the gifts we are given and to have faith that we will be carried along even when things look bleak. He absolutely believed that helping others was how we made ourselves richer. Father Bill was and is so right - love is our greatest resource. 


My luxury of a second raincoat could be a blessing in a moment to someone who needed it. In truth, my second raincoat was there sitting next to me blowing an airhorn signal that it was time to say goodbye. Things are not as important as people and the look in his eyes was the look of love for a stranger - a most transformative gaze for me that day.

I am grateful for my small one bedroom apartment and grateful for all I have to downsize.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Take it from Aunt YaYa

My beautiful niece Rachel has come a long way!
She calls me YaYa. It's her attempt to say Leah. It's like the gold flecks of an angel's whisper when she tries to say my name. It means everything to me.

There aren't quite words to describe what becomes of the heart touched by a little life. 

She is a reminder to my heart of all the good things that come when we slow down and get to ground level...and open our eyes and ears...watching and listening with excitement at every moment. 

My niece Rachel reminds me how an adult's life can get too complicated for enjoyment.  It's a lesson she doesn't consciously teach but an all-too important one. Adults lose enthusiasm and wonder because they wrap themselves in complex and monotonous pursuits that are somehow supposed to prove our worth.

Children have the brilliant knack of discovering, learning, delighting and sharing.
How is it that we adults become swallowed into the drudgery of a life we design?

The mindfulness movement, in many senses, integrates all things regressive. It teaches us to go back to the simplicity of childhood. Currently, I see Rachel as my greatest mindfulness practitioner. She's my pint-size Pema Chodron.

Watching her discover splashing water, making sounds and adapting them to the squeals of her admirers, watching out a window at the birds swooping down into the trees.

 Her life is one new miraculous and mysterious discovery after another.

I urge those of you who have previously been thinking yourself ultra-enlightened (and yet ultra-burdened by the world) to find a way at some point in the day to stop the cycle. Get down on the floor, pick up a crayon...study what's outside your window, instead of what's on your newsfeed.

The decreased time and increased demands of life have a cost. The cost is our awareness, our appreciation and our enjoyment of the simple wonder of everything and what it means to be alive.

Seriously, laugh at a fart noise. 

Stop being an adult long enough to remember that we get to be child-like when we choose to be and the reward is the time to open our senses to all the things we miss, the life right around us - waiting for our attention. Thanks Rachel. You are teaching Aunt YaYa so much!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tell them now...tell them every time

I've had a sleepless night or two lately. I think the coverage of the train crash grabbed me in a way that I had not expected a disaster story to grab me.

That train route of D.C. to New York my husband has taken twice in the last few weeks for auditions.

It's kind of caught in my throat that this was his very route...and thankfully, this wasn't his week to make that trip.


The circumstance, the timing, the randomness of why we find ourselves where we are when bad things happen are out of our control. Sure the astronomically rare odds that someone we know or love could be there in the midst of such a freak accident are small.
But for those that lost a loved one Tuesday, those odds don't matter because there they were in the midst of astronomical odds - shattered by disbelief.

It's one lesson I'm going to take to heart today.

My family has had this funny little habit through the years of never quite wrapping up a conversation without saying 'goodbye' and 'I love you' multiple times in every parting - phone or in person.


I love you.
Bye, I love you...
okay talk to you later...I love you.
(**Random forgotten mention & more conversation**)
Okay...Love you.

It kind of has been the thing my husband and my sister's husband have laughed about in knowing our family and this kind of funny repetitive ritual.

Byes and I love yous are always extended, sometimes almost to a parody-worthy level. 
Somehow, through it's wackiness both of our husbands have also over time adopted it lovingly. 

But it's what we do. Silly or not.


Say you love the people closest to you in your life...say it often, say it always. 
Never part with those nearest and dearest to you without making sure they know.
Tell them now, tell them every time.




Saturday, May 9, 2015

Here's to the scrappers

Yesterday was a tough one. And yesterday was a great one - all in the same breath.

Let me explain something...I'm the wife of an actor. I married my husband's auditions.


Callbacks and gut feelings can trap you with a sense of hope that you always want to be careful not to mistake as the sure thing. It's the dusty dance of rejections and rejoicing.

It's the fickle and sometimes mystical process of casting. And it is also the way we must let all things go after choices have been made...and settle in on, it's just the way it is.


Anyone who has stayed the course in the arts knows this is the way it must be.


For actors today it's a life of following a dream that cuts you down and builds you up over and over and over. You have to weather it with grace or be eaten by it whole. Every actor who has stayed in the profession knows this feeling with a very sharp and honest acceptance. 

Cue the "I Hope I Get It" song from A Chorus Line and all who have limited concept of careers in the arts will at least understand it on a 'scratch the surface level'.

Within ten minutes of hearing that his 'hope I get it' was not to be - "the hope I get it" we had been both praying on, we were both thinking the same thing. New plan - scratch that, what's next?

Somehow, something else is meant to be at this time. That's just what we believe because that's life and how we better ourselves. 

"We're scrappers, you and I," Patrick said last night.

And then I agreed with him. I'm no actress...that's for sure. 
However, what my husband and I have in common is seeking out something special out of the most challenging circumstances.

I'm not saying missing most of your high school experience through misdiagnosis that comes back to bite you as cancer (twice) is the same as an actor's path. Yet, we're cut from the cloth of hard knocks optimism. Somehow in that way, we speak the lingo - one that helped us fall in love in the first place.

Curveballs. Bends in the road that take you down another. 

Transformation of sour lemons with the addition of sugar.


Such
is
life.



So after a heartbreak like yesterday...I've learned sometimes a door opens almost near the same breath to one closing unexpectedly.


Let me explain. One day, two scenarios. 
Heartbreak. Happy news.
Happy? 
Florida in July? Ughhhh thank God for air conditioning.



I write this post because there are people in many professions who have to 'dog it' hard. I have to say actors have it tough. Forget your pre-fab Hollywood vision of the actor's life. Forget the public relations semi-fictional account of rags to riches stories of stardom.

The craft and its decisions are governed, at least partially, by layers of influence that even its hardest working actors have no control over. Those actors with the biggest hearts accept that as part of the profession...dust off the heart on the floor and move on to the next thing.

I am so proud of my husband and every other actor who lobby to stay with the ride of a lifetime - as hard as it may be, especially in its unpredictability. But that is life.

The safe choice is not always the choice of our wildest dreams.


Many have left this profession - the world of the arts can be thankless and colored with one too many tough clubs to the ego. Many have realized that this dream brings with it too many sacrifices and understandably, reroutes on life's winding road.


And don't let anyone fool you - husbands and wives, partners and families of those who work in the arts make incredible sacrifices. It's something we learn quickly. 

Yet, if the fire burns, we let it.
And we scrappers will find a way.

My husband and any other actor could tell you scores of stories of the 'almost big break' or the role that got away. Yet, somehow they are just muted Kodachrome memories that fade into the distant background. They blend into the collective reminder that no gig is for sure and every chance, even if it isn't the one you wanted most, is a new opportunity.

My husband has the most wonderful combination of mid-Western boy next door and plucky confidence - it cut him through nearly two decades of living in New York. I remind him that his television and film residuals help pay the dues of what rent robbed him of with this long-suffering address.
Talk about Throwback! check him out!
Twenty one years ago Boston University paid for a full page ad in the back of American Theatre magazine. They featured a young actor who had won the Rex Harrison Award given to one actor each year who showed promise and carried on the tradition of one of theater's greats. My husband never talks about this...I once found it nestled in the few bits of memorabilia he brought on his move from New York. (He's the minimalist I long to be.)


That kid got his face on the back of a national magazine for this award. Rex's Harrison's widow personally congratulated him as part of his honor. Big stuff in a time when all seems possible on the road following college. Yet, there are no sure things. 


Except one, true heart.
In the poetic way of life, my husband just accepted a role in 'Hounds of the Baskerville' at Florida Studio Theatre. This work is a hilarious take on Sherlock Holmes. He accepted it mere minutes after learning of the other disappointment. 

I've been watching Youtube videos of Hounds productions and laughing my ass off. Tying my husband's comedy with one of his first roles after college...is my idea of poetic forks in the road. 


Back in the day, one of Patrick's first professional gigs was as none-other than Sherlock Holmes. It's kind of like coming full circle, at least I think it is. It's all about taking the shot you're given. After all, he took an extreme gamble taking a Rochester cancer survivor out for pancakes on the final week of a three week gig. 

We both took a gamble believing that this city I love and one he has grown to love could allow us a place to both live our dreams. It's a challenge.

We're used to challenge. We're kind of hard-wired that way.
So, yes, if I have to make a trek up to Sarasota in the swelter of summer heat...it's where it's at. I'd rather him within driving distance and home for breakfast (our little joke). I was looking forward to him finally getting to see the Independence Day fireworks up at Pine Grove...
It's so freaking hot in Florida in the summer. Snowbirds evacuate the place. 
But you know what...I can't wait to go sit in air conditioning and see him in this role.


Here's to the scrappers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You just never know...Be kind anyway

This quote always grabs me. Sometimes you don't know what those that pass in and out of our lives are going through. It's not always easy to be kind. This is truest in our momentary glances of strangers who throw us a wind of something negative. Those short but jarring moments make us want to fire back with the same. I always try hard to resist. Sometimes it's darn-right hard and I walk away with tears.

I'm human, it's natural to feel threatened and react. Yet, my hope is always that I never change my own nature to someone I am not...and maybe just maybe kindness wins.


Most times we fail to discover what it is that makes someone unkind to us.
These momentary nasty moments make us write that stranger off. Feel contempt.

About a month ago, I had an encounter at the blood lab that literally almost set my blood to boiling. Working with my incredible endocrinologist, I have been struggling with my thyroid levels for over a year trying to get a handle on them. Over the last two months we have been moving to blood tests every two weeks to monitor my sometimes precarious situation.
This is pretty much me every time.

The picture above pretty much illustrates how I used to face every single blood draw I ever had.Over the years, anxiety has been a constant for me during these 'simple' tests until I started finding comfort in one person and one lab.

There is only one blood lab I will go to- it's Wilmot's outpatient blood lab.

With damaged veins from years of treatment, it's the only place I trust. It's the only place where I don't have to endure painful and frustrating attempts to be drawn. There has been one girl at the lab who always gets it right. Over the last 2 years she's gotten me every time- one attempt, over in no time, no pain.

If I am not able to reach the blood lab on my lunch hour I race to get there before it closes at 5pm. One such time six weeks ago I was running down the hall looking at the Wilmot hall clock. Friday. 4:52PM. Almost quitting time.


Oh shit.


I knew my favorite phlebotomist would be packing up her things but if I made it in time she'd squeeze me in. I ran faster. Breathless, I swung open the door only to find a new face in the white lab coat. I started to feel my heart race as I signed in.

She was just shutting down her computer when I signed in. She huffed out loud and begrudgingly checked my ID. Under her breath she murmured about getting out on time on a Friday.

I apologized but began to explain I couldn't find time in the week before and this was my only window. "No, that's fine" she said unconvincingly, but as she watched me tap my left hand her eyes began to widen in fear.


"Oh dear, you're a hard stick too, right?" She reached into the cabinet to hand me a plastic hot pack.

I put it on my hand feeling the humiliation rise inside of me.

I guess I'm pretty much every phlebotomist's worst nightmare at the 5 o'clock whistle.
I felt tears forming. Already anxious and fearful about this new person drawing the needle...now I felt like I should turn tail and run out.


For some reason, I didn't. I needed these results and here I was.

Deep breath. She drew me, and to my surprise it was quick, painless and she used the same talent as I'd known with Jeanie.

I was tempted to go out of there in the huff she had greeted me with.
I decided to do something different.

"Thank you for taking me. I know it's hard on a Friday," I said with my head turned away from her- averting my eyes for fear of the glances of annoyance she had greeted me with.

"Sure," she said back in a perfunctory tone.

But one more thing. As I headed out, I turned back and looked at her and tried to smile at her - hopefully it was somewhat convincing."Thank you for drawing me without pain. It's never easy for me with a lot other blood techs...and you did it well."

I closed the door before I had a return comment. The whole ten minutes had been a lot to take in.


It's not always easy to be kind.

Sometimes cruel and impatient encounters by strangers or even those you know, can leave you easily led into dishing out the same. But I never want anyone to change how I am. It doesn't always turn out that way. But every once in a while I can persevere in keeping my calm.


Never have I been more proud of doing this than yesterday.
This time I was early to the lab...4:30PM to be exact.
Sure enough there was the same woman who had huffed and puffed before.

As she was drawing me this time, I looked at my last name on the tube. It was my married name...even though I had given her my maiden name (sure that insurance records had still not been corrected).


In astonishment, I talked with her about the whole process being a maze for me - making sure my married name was corrected. I made a natural assumption-  asking her about if she ever had any of these difficulties with married name changing...

Her face fell. The steel facade immediately fell away.

"I haven't been as lucky..."

I could feel in every fiber of my being where she was.

I had been there.

"Well, you know I just got married this summer...and I'm no spring chicken."

Suddenly, with only the two of us in this blood lab she began to tell me about Match.com and the challenges of facing her 40th birthday alone.

"I don't need a man in my life..but I just always thought it would happen," she said

"Been there, girl..." I said.
I almost gulped as I realized I was addressing her comfortably, like a friend.

"Really?"


"How did it happen for you?"

"I changed my way of thinking..."

She leaned in and her eyes widened.

As I proceeded to tell her about how I'd almost given up after cancer on finding a life mate...because so many guys who looked for 'that perfect girl' that I didn't fit their definition of their 'safe bet'.

I told her I had previously followed the same old approach...picked the safe paths in life...walked the roads I'd always taken - in dating, in routines...in shutting out opportunities that were outside of my comfort zone.

I told her I started believing in what might be...if I just tried something different. I was different...and that is okay.


I told her if I just believed in possibility a little more...who knows? Nothing to lose, right?

You never know if you don't try, right?


Her eyes began to sparkle.

I told her about my husband and how we both took a chance on something that others had warned us was 'challenging'- long distance, different careers.

We closed the rule book- and we tried it out together.

"That kind of gives me hope," she said.

As I left the blood lab yesterday the woman I had almost wrote off was smiling.
And with the sincerest smile she thanked me. No joke, she told me it was her last day.
She had been unhappy for a while and she was being transferred.

"I'm sorry I won't get to draw you again," she said.

"Me too. I hope we cross paths again."

Miracles happen every day, friends. They happen when we work hard enough to get out of our gut reactions and think about a stranger who crosses our path.


Never forget. Be kind - every one you meet is truly walking a life we can't know on first glance. Sometimes the face we present to the world has been placed their because of hurt and disappointment. 

Sometimes it takes just one moment, one stranger to change your day...

BE KIND. PASS IT ON.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

6 years later the Z-Man still lives in my heart


The most influential people in your life. 
Quick, think ...who are they? 
  • After they leave this earth - do they realize what this whole thing called life is all about and share it with you later on?
Yes...and sometimes (if you're really lucky) they share that message while still here on earth.Yet, we miss that message far too often. 

I guess I became drawn to Mitch Albom's 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' (read it and reread it and even own the movie) because of this very universal wondering.

Sometimes it does not require a close encounter with the afterlife or actually crossing over to receive a heavenly message. If we open our eyes and stop our own 'personal rat races' for long enough to be truly touched by someone's life - even a stranger - 
something miraculous can happen. 

Yet, most of us can be on our own track - hustling, bustling and miss a life that is supposed to intersect with ours. If our routines and obsessions abound and we dismiss this person, I believe we miss what we are supposed to learn THEN - in that moment.

My moment began in October of 2007. I had been trying to, on my off hours from work, chase down every young adult cancer survivor I could find in Rochester to bring them together. It bugged me that any of them out there were like me - feeling terribly alone and I just felt like we could be one big party together.

I didn't really say it out loud, but I was looking for cancer survivors who had put their disease behind them and were moving on. I was not intending to find someone who would never put it behind them but live with great passion and joy, even as it robbed him over and over.


It was this search that brought me to Zach. 
October 2008

***********
HERE is the first blog I wrote about our first encounter


October 29, 2007 - This weekend I met someone really amazing. His name is Zachary DeRidder.
Zach competed in several triathalons, 5K Races and rode 100 miles on his bike this summer.

  • Do I find this amazing because these kind of athletic endeavors are uncommon? Yes.
  • Am I slightly in awe of that kind of athletic ambition? That's a given.
When I tell you that Zach competed in these feats of strength and endurance all while undergoing treatment for cancer, you might sit back in awe yourself. He has a rare form of liver cancer called fibro lamellar variant liver cancer.

It's started from a random email from someone I've been 'hassling' to join our building group of young adult survivors who thought Zach would be a better candidate than he. I followed it up with an email to Zach, one that was never returned. Something in my gut told me there was something besides ordinary procrastination that led to this unanswered email.

 So I did what we do these days- I googled. I found a website, read through it and found an email from someone connected to this young man's story. I casually sent an email to his friend, Michael.


Apparently Zach had other things to attend to...like the fight of his life. I would have expected no more than a vague summary when I got an email back from Michael. Strangers don't really need to know the whole story, right? Certainly, I never expected Michael to invite me to go to the hospital to meet Zach.
So that's just what I did. 


Zach, his friend Michael and I chatted from chairs in the lobby of his hopsital floor. Through pain he's still smiling and he still has hope that he will be back on his bike.
He has called this floor home for more than a month. I watched him waved down a passing doctor and openly chat with her about the next steps in his treatment. He joked and pointed longingly at the candy bars in the vending machine. He's fighting with everything he has...and hasn't forgotten his passion or what he sees for himself beyond the walls of the hospital. His dreams are just beginning to take shape and ZHope, orhttp://www.zhope.org/, the foundation that his friends set up to honor him is just getting off the ground.

Talking to Zach, you get the idea that he sees this cancer as just a road block. With an attitude and a vision like his you'd never think he was facing incredible odds just in his own survival.
While talking to him about the group I was forming and he got an incredible light in his eyes. He started talking about activities we should do in our group when he is well.
Could we go camping as a group...you know stuff like that? he asked.
He seemed amazed that other young adult cancer survivors were uniting in such a way. You see Zach hasn't had access to a computer for a while and hadn't really been looking for others. As a matter of fact, months ago while he could have searched the internet for support for young adults with cancer, he was way too busy...training like a machine. He was too busy defying the odds. He still is. Tomorrow's plans are still there.


*********

That was more than seven years ago.
Yes,we indeed took a picture that fall day in a hospital lobby in 2007. I didn't have my camera but it was on Zach's camera. Truthfully, I remember feeling sad because I would never see the picture. I still never have seen that picture.
I thought surely Zach would die before we'd get to snap another moment together. I had never seen someone that thin and ravaged. I had never seen someone so young and so close to death. Most people never have and there's a reason. In the final stages of life most people hunker down and stay in the safe huddle of those they love. Inviting anyone knew into that life circle is not the typical priority of a dying person. Zach defied that rule with an understanding that was both youthful and wise beyond his then 23 years.

The reality is, as fate would have it, we had many pictures together after that first. I treasure them. Zach DeRidder became a part of my life and even in death he's still a part of my life.

Zach DeRidder died 416 days after that first meeting - long enough to etch his way into my heart. If Mitch Albom's fictional account of momentous life intersection plays out like it does in his book, Zach is one of those big 5 I will see when my time ends.


Six years ago today Zach left this earth. I was in Long Island visiting my best friend for the Martin Luther King Day weekend. I remember taking the call in the spare bedroom where I was staying - blotting my face of tears, trying to collect myself enough to go back and join her. I knew then that I would never forget him.

I know years later I will still recall my friendship with Zach as one of the most influential parts of my human life. 


He taught me to seize meaningful opportunities no matter what others caution you against. Caution sometimes keeps you from living. It keeps you safe but many times it imprisons you in ways you later regret. Zach made that message clear to me. He looked me in the eye and told it to me straight. His message was direct and unabashed. He needed to say it to me and he didn't tread lightly. He told me I lived too safe and played by too many rules.

No regrets for Zach - he didn't have time.

Zach, I am married now and in some ways my life has changed wildly. Some of them I owe to you. I lived in a safe zone...and it was your advice that allowed me to take chances.

Because of this, I'll probably be forever thanking you because you saw the fear and hesitation I lived with - I was so different from you in that way.
Thank you Zach for helping me grow.

Six years ago today a really special person left us...and I know we will meet again when I'm done here. I miss you Z-Man.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GHaruxpVwg