There have been many disruptions in my daily outdoor walking ritual in the last few months, cold and darkness accounting for most, but I am happy to report that I am back to my early morning walks! Two photos below, taken yesterday and the day before, show how beautiful it is out there and why I love these walks.
Category Archives: Life
After the Diagnosis Reading
A few weeks ago, I published a post about the books I have been reading since my husband’s diagnosis of cancer. I called it “My Other Reading” because I felt at the time that it was a separate reading journey for me. It was also a little easier than coming right out and saying that I am reading about disease, death, dying, end-of-life, and grief. But I have come to understand that it is not a separate reading journey for me. It is a very important pursuit of knowledge, and is taking central stage for much of my reading time these days. So I’m going to keep an ongoing list of this new journey, (like I do with my other reading journeys) and the books I am reading that help me understand and process what Byron and I are going through. I hope you will check back here occasionally to see where this search for knowledge and understanding is taking me.
I recognize that “end-of-life” is a topic that is uncomfortable for many. It is a very private journey, and our culture deems it to be something we just don’t talk about very much. But I make sense out what is happening in my life by reading, learning as much as I can, and then writing and talking over those ideas/learnings with my friends and loved ones. The conversations that have already been sparked, the book recommendations from friends and family, the kindnesses being shown to us by so many around us and in so many ways, are all deeply appreciated and help us with our processing. I also hope that in talking openly about our experience, it may help someone else process their own experiences with loss and grief.
And I am finding such interest, understanding, and solace in my reading about what we are going through right now. My reading is empowering me to do the best I can to be supportive, helpful, and understanding of Byron’s daily struggles with this disease. It is Byron’s illness, but our journey, together. And I want to do it well.
Red = click to read my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed yet
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwandi. (Recommended by my friend, Les, at Coastal Horizons.)
- The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. (Recommended by my friend, Sandy, a breast cancer survivor.)
- Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life, by Jeffrey Rediger, MD. (Recommended by my grief counselor, Nina.)
- Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
- Notes on Grief, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.
- That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour, by Dr. Sunita Puri. (Recommended by my sister-in-law, Nancy.)
- The Springtime of the Year, by Susan Hill.
- Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.
- Courage, by Bernard Waber (a gift from my friend, Marlo.)
Welcome to the family, new computer! It’s a late Christmas present to ourselves. We couldn’t decide what we wanted for Christmas 2021. Finally settled on a new desktop computer. I can sit in the bay window area and work on my photos and my blog. Heavenly!
A Busy Week
It’s been a busy week even though we are spending most of our time at home these days. We are trying to avoid exposure to Omicron because of Byron’s impaired immune system, and earlier in the week I found myself feeling quite blue about being so housebound. But then I started looking at how we are spending our at-home time and decided that we are actually spending our time very well and I have nothing to complain about! The photos above are of this busy week:
First of all, I read three books this week. Love in an English Garden, by Victoria Connelly, was a gentle read, a light romance with garden at the heart. Then, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, was a powerful and beautifully written and illustrated story about the first slaves brought to America in 1619. I highly recommend it! And then, I listened to an audiobook of the first book in a new-to-me mystery series, Murder is Binding (a Booktown Mystery), by Lorna Barrett. It was fun.
We watched Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. It was an awesome production, and I thought it was very much like a film by Ingmar Bergman. That’s a high compliment!
I have been working each morning on my Spanish, using the app/program, Duolingo. I’m really enjoying the challenge, and am hoping to regain some of the Spanish I have lost over the years by not speaking it often enough.
And one last activity…Byron and I trapped and relocated a pesky squirrel that moved into our attic recently. This seems to happen almost every winter so we’ve become quite skilled at using our trap and taking these squirrels to a decent relocation spot.
Overall, a pretty interesting week. Feeling blue can definitely be part of this ongoing pandemic, but I am trying to make positive choices about how to spend my time and emotional energy.
Some Very Wise Words
Although reading books (and listening to audiobooks) is the favorite entertainment at our house, Byron and I are also avid birdwatchers. We have always enjoyed watching the birds that frequent our yard, no matter where we have lived. However, watching birds has become a major entertainment since we have been mostly housebound in the last few months while continuing our Covid precautions because of Byron’s impaired immune system, and because of our recent snowy and icy weather.
A few months ago, with our daughter’s help, we expanded our bird feeding station, added new platforms and a suet holder, bought a 40-lb box of Audubon bird seed at Costco, and put our binoculars and our favorite bird book in the drawer by the kitchen window. The birdwatching entertainment has been endless!
I’ve been keeping a list of the birds we’ve identified. There are two other birds that don’t show up at the feeders, but that we know are keeping close tabs on the entertainment below (the Great Horned Owl which we hear often in the early morning, and the Cooper’s Hawk that has taken two of our scrub jays in the last few years). And of course I must mentioned the squirrels that add even more drama and entertainment out our kitchen window.
Here’s a collage of the winter birds we’ve had visit our yard recently and keep us highly entertained by their endless antics. (Photos from the internet)
In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Wilson Lynd
Happy New Year 2022!
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! May your 2022 be filled with love, happiness, good health, and lots of good books!
My Word(s) for 2022
For the last few years I have chosen a word as my focus for the year. That word becomes my guide to positive thoughts and behaviors, and my reminder to myself to live up to the essence of that word.
The first word I chose was “HOPE,” and it was so appropriate for 2019. Then I chose “GRATITUDE” for 2020, and that turned out to be the perfect word for such a crazy year. It reminded me each day to focus on the positives instead of all the negatives that surrounded us all during a year of pandemic and quarantine.
When 2021 arrived, I chose a word that reminded me each day to be present in the moment, to appreciate the love and beauty that surrounds me, and to treasure all the people in my life. That word was “CHERISH.”
Here I stand at the beginning of 2022, a year that I already know will be filled with challenges like no other. I will need to continue to be guided by HOPE and GRATITUDE, and I will continue to CHERISH the people in my life and the precious moments of each day. But to face the unknowns, and all the physical and emotional challenges of Byron’s declining health, I will need courage, and all the different words that help define it, such as grace, vulnerability, strength, love.
So my word of the year, for 2022, will be COURAGE.
Blessings for the New Year
Last year I found a beautiful blessing that I shared with a friend who had lost her mother. It was such a simple, but deeply heartfelt thought to give someone at a time of loss. It was something I read by Naomi Shahib Nye, one of my favorite poets, and it touched my heart:
“Blessings on your mom’s memory and her spirit in you.”
Since then, I have been paying attention to all kinds of blessings and things written about them. I am not a religious person, but I believe in the power of words and poetry, and blessings are some of the most beautiful and powerful phrases to be found.
I recently read To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue, and found some very nice ideas, poems and blessings. About blessings, he says:
In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness.
The publisher said this about the collection:
…his compelling blend of elegant, poetic language and spiritual insight offers readers comfort and encouragement on their journeys through life. O’Donohue looks at life’s thresholds—marriage, having children, starting a new job—and offers invaluable guidelines for making the transition from a known, familiar world into a new, unmapped territory.
As we enter the new year, we are all transitioning into new, unmapped territory with new goals and with many challenges to meet. So I share with you, as a New Year’s gift, one of his poems/blessings about new beginnings. And may your New Year be blessed with health and happiness!
FOR A NEW BEGINNING
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
This year, I loved our Thanksgiving because we celebrated it three different times! I often feel quite anxious about the holidays, but this year is different. I decided that we will simply be prepared to celebrate whenever our loved ones can be with us. So for Thanksgiving, I had the dinner fixings ready to go when our grandson could be with us on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and with our son on Thanksgiving Day, and then again when our daughter arrived on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We are now repeating that same practice with the Christmas holiday!
So last night we had an early family Christmas celebration because our daughter is with us for a few days. This celebration included our family dinner, opening a present or two, and watching a video…and lots of laughter. We will repeat this when our grandson is with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
These are cherished times with our family. May your holidays be warm and wonderful, and full of love, too.
My Other Reading
My reading has always been all over the place. There are genres I love, like mysteries and gardening books, and I love children’s literature. But reading is how I process most things in life. Books and authors are my guides. I am curious and a learner and have gotten my best education from my books. So simply put, I read all kinds of things, and when I need to learn about a new topic, I dive in head first.
Byron and I are now facing changes and challenges that require a whole new education. Thus, I am reading about all kinds of topics that I haven’t read about before so I’ve started calling this “my other reading.” Many of these books, articles, even research papers are recommended by our current support team which is made up of family and friends, doctors and our grief counselor, and new acquaintances who are going through similar things to what we are facing.
Some of this reading I am doing slowly, over time, because the topic is so intense emotionally. Others I am reading quickly needing the information right now already. And some are fiction that give me a completely different view and understanding of our situation.
This “other” reading is helping me understand, cope, prepare, and live with the certainty and uncertainties of life since Byron’s diagnosis.
My current “other” reading:
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwandi, after having loaned it to our daughter to read. This is a reread for me. It’s such an important topic, rarely discussed in public, but a book that I think everyone should read. We are all mortal.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, is beautifully written, but difficult (emotionally) to read. I’m reading it a little bit at a time, learning sooo much about cancer, and finding passages that perfectly describe our life right now.
During one session recently, my grief counselor read to me an excerpt from the book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. The passage she read to me was called “An Accumulation of Losses,” and it really hit home with me. So I ordered that book and am slowly reading it, savoring the wisdom it imparts.
She also recommended that I read the book Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life, by Jeffrey Rediger, MD. I was hesitant at first to read this one because “being cured” seemed like such a long shot when we are coming to terms with the finality of Byron’s diagnosis. But as the author says, “We have a lot of work to do, in both medicine and as a larger culture, when it comes to talking about death and understanding what it can tell us about life,” and this book is full of ideas to ponder about life when faced with a terminal diagnosis.
Last year, I read a fiction book that touched my heart. The Springtime of the Year, by Susan Hill, was a story of loss and grief. A young, newly married woman loses her husband in a sudden accident. Her journey through grief and how she found her way back into Life, was beautifully told.
I also recently read a non-fiction book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Notes on Grief, was about the sudden loss of her father during the Covid 19 quarantine (he did not have Covid), and her own journey through the grief and difficulties of losing him during a pandemic. I wrote a mini-review of it here.
One of the most poignant stories I’ve read about loss and grief is Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. My review of it is here.
And finally, I am reading a lot of Mary Oliver‘s poetry…because she puts it into words…beautifully deep-felt words.
A Birthday Celebration
Today our family is celebrating Byron’s 74th birthday. There is chocolate cake and lots of laughter. I reminded him that he told me early in our relationship that he didn’t think he would live to be 30 years old (not an unusual statement from a man facing the draft during the Vietnam War). We will pamper him all day, make his favorite dinner for him this evening, and let him know in as many ways as possible that he is so dearly special to all of us. A happy day!