Sunday, November 30, 2014

About Time: The Landscape of Cancer and of Memory

I have often told Mark that sometimes I write blog posts for my children, sometimes I write them for him, and I often write them for others. But just as often, I write them for me. There are times when I think perhaps I have shared too much of myself on this blog. But I come back to this basic point: I write because something inside of myself needs to write and to share. I usually don't receive comments, but this doesn't bother me, either. The important thing with some posts is simply that I write.

This is one of those posts.

On Thanksgiving Day afternoon, we decided to watch a DVD. We were working on dinner - well, Mark and our daughter Hannah were working on dinner. Nathan, our son, was playing with Hazel on his iPad. I was watching them. Cary, our son-in-law, was at work because American Thanksgiving - for some strange reason - is not a holiday in Canada. Hannah picked out the movie, "About Time." It is one she had spoken of before and obviously loved. She wanted to share it with us, and we were happy to watch it.

I personally enjoyed the unfolding plot of the movie. For those who are not familiar with it, it tells the story of an English family whose male members have the ability - once they turn 21 - to travel back into time. The story focuses on the only son of the only surviving male member of the family. Shortly after the son turns 21, his father brings him into his study and tells him the family secret. The son is incredulous - at first - but then tests what his father has just told him and finds that it works. 

The father - who appears to be independently wealthy - says that he has used the gift to feed his passion for literature. Fair enough ... though exactly how he does that is not spelled out. The son decides to use it for what he seeks most in life, i.e., to find a woman whom he can love who will, in turn, love him.

The movie, for me, had two primary plot lines that run more or less parallel throughout most of the film. The first: boy seeks woman, boy falls in love with woman, boy marries woman and creates a family. The second: boy loves his father, father loves his son, boy and father share the gift of time travel, boy says an unexpected good-bye to a father who has filled his life with light and love and laughter. A third plot line involves the struggles of the son's free-spirited sister to find love and light in her own life, but that line did not resonate as much with me as the other two.

The first story line was nice and romantic and fairly straightforward. The second, less so. I was already having my own dark thoughts about aspects of the movie when a curve ball was thrown: the father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. No one saw this coming. Not even Hannah. But, the ball was thrown, and all of us sat staring at the screen as the effects of that throw hit home.

No, no, no. This was too close to home. No, no, no, no, no. Please, no. Too late. We were there. I started to silently cry. I felt like I wanted to regurgitate all the pent-up anger, hurt, worry and grief that had  been walled off from my functioning self.

Mark, too, started to cry. Something about the movie had pierced his shell as well. I could see it in his eyes: the fear, the sorrow, the pain. No matter how positive we are, no matter how much for which we have to be thankful, no matter how hard we try to live in the moment, there are moments like this when, once an avalanche of grief has been triggered, there is little one can do to stop it until it comes to rest after cascading downward.

The tumbling grief also triggers avalanches in others. Nathan and Hannah were also affected. She was so apologetic about the movie. She had forgotten about this aspect of the movie. The eyes of grief change one's perception of the world and things in it.

But there was another aspect of the movie that saddened and depressed me before we had arrived at the plot twist involving the father. The film had reminded me - especially since I was in Vancouver where we had lived the first ten years of our marriage and where our five older children were born - of what a better dad I wished I could have been to my older children.

There were scenes in the movie that beautifully depicted the tender love between the father and his son. I found myself wishing that I had had the gift of time when I was a young father, to be able to go back and fix things. I realized while caught in this reverie, however, that what I really needed to have the ability to do back then was fix myself, and that was not possible via travel backward in time. Rather, that work would have to be carried out day by day and on into the future.

I have thought much, during our time here in Vancouver, about those years here. About my struggles. About the migraines I suffered on a weekly basis. About the constant tension in my marriage. About the financial constraints. About other frustrations and challenges. About regrets. I have occasionally thought that things could have been different during those years if only ... But things were as they were, and as much as I might like to will them different, they weren't.

It is time for me to make peace with the past. In the end, all we really have is today.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Of Fort Langley, Family and Remembrance

We arrived in Fort Langley, BC on Wednesday afternoon. This is the small, quaint village in the midst of Fraser Valley urban sprawl where our daughter, Hannah, lives with her husband and gorgeous two-year-old, Hazel. 

We used to live near here for about a year and a half in 1991-1992 when I was practicing law in downtown Vancouver. We had moved out to Langley to try to find a more affordable place to live with our little family of two children while I finished articling with a downtown law firm and got started in my legal career. Before arriving at Hannah's, I had driven by our old house to show Mark and Nathan.

It was while we were living at this house that Hannah was conceived. Though we moved back to North Vancouver before she was born, Hannah was blessed in an LDS chapel a few miles from here, just down the street from where the LDS temple now stands. Now she lives here. Life is funny.

Holly tree at the edge of Fort Langley Cemetery. 

I've always had a thing about cemeteries.

Nathan and Hazel immediately hit it off with one another.

War memorial, still decorated from the recent Remembrance Day. Nathan found a discarded poppy and put it in his lapel. It brought back memories of when I used to work in downtown Vancouver. As Remembrance Day approached, veterans' organizations would sell artificial poppies for people to wear on their lapel or dress or whatever. These little poppies were a quiet, dignified way people could express their appreciation and remembrance for those had sacrificed. 

Fort Langley Community Hall

We browsed through shops. I resisted purchasing a Christmas ornament because we are going to the Vancouver Christmas Market on Saturday night. :))

Hazel with her two soothers ;).

Our beautiful daughter, Hannah.

Waiting for lunch to arrive

My incredibly gorgeous husband. 

Our amazing son, Nathan.

We are heading into Vancouver today (Friday). It is going to be interesting as I continue to see and share with Mark. Where I attended law school. Where I/we lived here. Where I worked. Where I road the bus to work every day. Where we took the children for walks or to play. Where my children's grandparents are buried. Where so many, many memories lay scattered about, waiting to be gathered and made whole.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Our Daughter's Thanksgiving Tribute to Mark

We have a new tradition in our family. Every Sunday morning on weekends the Quads are with us, we walk a couple of blocks down to Sharon's Diner in Holladay to have breakfast. We know our usual waitress by name, and we are recognize as "regulars." It's so nice for the kids to have that experience - of going somewhere where somebody knows your name and where the waitress already knows what you want to drink and what you usually order.

This past Sunday, our daughter Rachel brought her camera along. She is an extremely talented photographer and videographer, and she produced a video about that morning. Out of the simple, she creates meaning and loveliness. She surprised us yesterday by sending a link to the video she had just completed. With her permission, I want to share it with friends, family and whoever else reads this blog.

This is what Rachel wrote in the email containing the link to the video:
"As you know, the song choice is the hardest. Throughout watching the footage, I couldn't help but think of Mark's diagnosis and the good news you just got on Friday. I realized when I watched the footage that the video captured a simple moment: a family going out for breakfast. But I felt like it was so much more. It captured, I think, the love we all feel for Mark, and the sense of 'family' we get from being around him. Hence why I chose the song, even though not all the lyrics apply to him (you'll see what I mean when you see it)"
Here's the video:

Thank you, Rachel.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Rainy Afternoon in La Conner

When one comes to the Pacific Northwest in late November, one has to expect rainy weather. I was fully prepared for that, and the fog and mist and rain simply provide an experience that is not available back in Utah.

What I tried to prepare for, but still found difficult to adjust to, is the bone chilling cold. When I lived in Vancouver from 1986 to 1996, my parents would come to visit from Ohio from time to time. I remember them complaining about how *cold* it was. Wait, I thought, you come from Ohio where it gets a heck of a lot colder than it does here. Why are you complaining about the cold? It only took one visit, and the next time they came back, they were prepared. Long johns. Thermal underwear. Woolen shirts. The whole nine yards. I found it all somewhat perplexing.

Now, however, I understand. Although it gets much colder in Utah than it does up here, the cold seeps through layers of clothing, through skin, through muscle, etc., right to the bones. I was accustomed to it when I lived in Vancouver. Now, I'm not. I have seen people wearing only t-shirts indoors and I thought, "God! How do they stand it?" I, meanwhile, was shivering under several layers of various synthetic fabrics that are supposed to keep one warm in an age that has outgrown/superseded wool.

But enough of all that.

Today is Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve. It is only 4:59 p.m. local time and it has been dark for a good 30 minutes. We are comfortably ensconced in our snug B&B in Fort Langley, British Columbia, a few blocks from the house of my daughter Hannah, her husband Cary and their gorgeous daughter (wait for the pictures), Hazel. More on that later.

We flew up to Seattle on Monday and drove to Anacortes to visit friends we had met on our cycling trips. Yesterday, Tuesday, began at 8:00 a.m. with a yoga class that is regularly attended by our friends Michelle and Jen. We, along with Michelle's husband Malcolm, resulted in a four-person male contingent that was added to a class that normally has only one representative of our gender. It was a beautiful class taught by Dunya, an interesting woman who speaks the English language how one imagines it is meant to be spoke: clear, perfectly articulated, with a bit of an Irish lilt that makes everything she says sound happy and content.

Dunya and Jen

After the class, we all went out for breakfast across the street. I was intrigued by Dunya's accent. As we worked our way through the class, I had thought, "Canadian? ... Irish? Where was she from?" (I have a thing about accents.) 

So I asked her at breakfast. "Where are you from?" "Chicago," was the response. Chicago? You've got to be kidding me. She didn't have any of the nasal twang associated with the region around the Great Lakes. And I should know: as a southern Illinoisan who lived with 48 other guys in my college fraternity who were almost all from Chicago and its suburbs, I knew that this woman definitely didn't sound like a native Chicagoan. 

Then, she mentioned the Irish lilt. "A possibility of a bit of an Irish lilt," was how she had put it. I was intrigued. "What's your ancestry?," I asked over eggs and bacon and pancakes. ( I really don't mean to be nosy; I guess I just am.) "I have no idea," was her surprising response. "I was adopted. And I have no idea who my birth parents were. Scandinavian? Perhaps. Irish? I don't know. I have felt drawn to Ireland. But who's to say?" 

"And does it matter?" the unspoken question dangling in the air above the table. 

Through the res to La Conner. 

I was embarrassed. I thought perhaps I had stupidly intruded on spaces that were private, held close to the heart. We went on to talk of my adopted children. Of the movie, "Wilhelmina." Of all the children of unwed Catholic mothers who had found their way into "good Catholic homes." Sigh. Deep sigh, as I think of those mothers. Of all the tragedy and hurt and pain that is forever unrecorded, but whose story is waiting to be told.

All of this. All of this that was unknown to me when I woke up that morning. What a morning! What a sense of connecting, being alive. If you know, you understand. If you don't, you don't. I'll leave it at that.

That afternoon, after Michelle had completed her Soroptimist event, we headed for La Conner.

Speaking of Soroptomists, as I went through the poses of our yoga class yesterday morning, I looked out the third-storey window of the heritage building in which our studio was housed and saw, down the street, the Elks building. When we left to drive to breakfast down the street, I saw the Eagles lodge building. And I imagined that there is a Kiwanis Club and a Lions Club and a Rotary Club. All in a town of 15,000 people. And I thought: (a) this reminds me of Carmi, the town in which I grew up in southern Illinois, where there were these social clubs that provided rings of community within a community; and (b) how these rings of community do not exist in the area in which I now live in metropolitan Salt Lake City. 

I have written enough. Now, I will just post pictures I took at La Conner yesterday afternoon. With my iPhone. 

I think there was a building like this in Twilight 2? Spooky.

Cold, foggy iPhone lens. Me, Malcolm, Michelle, Nathan and Jen.

It was a remarkable day. Not spectacular, but memorable. Cherished. Life. Sigh.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Landscape of Cancer: Thankfulness

Mark and I have much to be grateful for at this Thanksgiving season. Just last Friday, we received an early "Thanksgiving gift": for the first time since it started rising almost a year ago, Mark's PSA actually went *down* a half-point over the past month. His oncologist was (pleasantly) somewhat surprised. Now, rather than having the PSA drawn every month, we don't have to come back until January. If the trend continues, every other month will become every three months. Of course, the cancer is still there. It will always be there. But, for now, it is contained, and we are grateful.

Mark expressed some of his thoughts to members of his family in an email this past weekend. With his permission, I am sharing some of what he wrote:
"Just wanted everyone to know that my PSA (tumor marker) has stabilized and my last visit on Friday showed it decreasing. It means the medication I'm on is working. I was curious as to why after slowly rising for several months my PSA leveled off and is now going down. I believe it's related to several things. Every time we start our physical yoga practice, we are asked to set an intention for class. Mine has been to send my love and consequently the love of the universe to my cancer, never to be adversarial or have any other negative energy regarding the cancer.  
"Additionally I believe all the love sent to me by my family is a significant factor. Most importantly I have the love, support, and extremely positive influence of my husband Joseph who keeps me on the hopeful rails and reminds me daily to be here now. 
"I generally feel well. I skied everyday last week. My yoga practice is deep and refreshing. The ducks in my life are all in a row and I am content."
As it happens, we are currently on our way to visit our daughter Hannah and her family in Vancouver, B.C. for Thanksgiving. What a sweet time it will be, to share this special time with family.

Wrapping our granddaughter Hazel's (belated) birthday presents yesterday. I used to read these books to my daughter Hannah when she was little. Now, she reads them to Hazel, teaching her to say "their good old Bulldog *Jack*, just the way I did with Hannah. 

Before we head on up to Canada, however, we are stopping in Anacortes, Washington for a couple of days to visit friends we have met on our cycling trips. I wrote here about one of the couples we are visiting who have had their own experience with the landscape of cancer. Jen was the one who leaned across the table at lunch on the last day of our cycling trip and said to Mark, "Decide not to be a number [a statistic], Mark." He has so decided, Jen, and Jizo continues to watch over him.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Through the Lens: Home and Family

We have our four younger children this weekend. I got out my new camera again and tried using the different effects and settings in taking pictures of our house, the kids and Mark. Our home. Our family. Through the lens.

Nathan and Mark's nascent bonsai and bamboo collection

Annie and Esther

I love this picture. Sisters. Esther the athlete. Annie the tablet queen.

Working in the back patio



Ajax and Aaron