43 Years have gone by so quickly

September 17th, 1975. I was living in Austin, Texas. I was barely 20 years old.

I had been released from the Air Force just two months earlier, which was something that I did not want. But at that time, under the circumstances, that’s what happened.

I also had been married 17 months earlier to someone I only knew for 25 days. It had been a stupid, impetuous decision, and one that I wish I had not made in my life for reasons that I will not discuss here today.

Labor was very tough. In 1975, we certainly were trying to be better-equipped for the birthing process with Lamaze classes, but that assumed willing partnerships with the coaching father, and also with the medical team.  There was little support from either, so it made it even tougher, but when it came down to the actual birth, I remember other women rallying around and helping me through it.

When I look back on my life, there have been a lot of struggles. I don’t remember a lot of easy or good times. Birthing a child was one such struggle, as it is for many of us.

But the one thing I remember that gave me great joy was at 3:03 p.m. Central time on September 17th, 1975, is when I heard the doctor say, “Congratulations! It’s a little girl!”

Happy birthday to my dear daughter, Dawna Marie.

Do it before it’s too late

It’s been nearly eight years ago since a dear friend of mine died at the age of 41 from aggressive metastatic breast cancer.  I met her early in 2006 on a training walk. She had been diagnosed several months earlier, at the age of 37.

We spent some face-to-face time together from time-to-time, but most of our friendship was spent talking on the telephone. There was an instant connection between us, whether we saw one another at events, had lunch together, or talked for minutes or hours.

I was 13 years older than she was, but Kim was wise beyond her years, and I learned so much from her.

As the time came closer to losing her battle, I remember the weekend that Kim, her husband and young son, sister and brother-in-law, and mother went to the coast together to take Dad’s ashes to scatter them into the ocean.  Kim’s Mom had kept the urn in the bedroom for the 10 years, but as Kim told it to me, “She needs to let him go as she faces losing another family member.”

It broke my heart on so many levels. I was glad that they were able to do this as a family.  It certainly marked a moment of reality in their lives.  It was a remarkably bittersweet moment of love and family.

It serves as a reminder to me (to us all?) that family get-togethers are important to take when they are joyous memory builders.  The same can be said for friendships.

How often are we “too busy” to make time for friends and family? How often do we simply NOT take the time for those we say are important to us? How often can you “not afford” to share in moments that may cost nothing more than time and willingness?

At the point that I met Kim, I had not dealt with the loss of too many people, other than those who were quite old.  Losing young people I knew personally was new for me. I could not imagine having lost a child or a sister.

I was as involved as I could be toward her end-of-life. It was not easy, but I learned the pain of life and of death having gone through it with this woman and her family, all whom I loved dearly.

Since Kim’s death in 2010, I have lost some significant people in my life, ranging in age from their 20s to 80s. Each is loved as a child, parent, friend, friend and more. It escapes no one.  I have also know many other people in my life who has shared their heartaches of losing with me.

There is universal advice that I have heard throughout the years since Kim has passed…

Spend time together, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to be…not just once a year on an obligatory holiday. Whether by phone, through regular mail, or face-to-face, take time to laugh and cry with one another. Let one another know your secrets.  Make memories. Include, do not exclude. Ensure that they feel loved.

Not everyone has as a family that was as intact as what I experienced with Kim and her family.  I was lucky to experience it and to be included in the family as a friend and extended family member.

We can choose friends to be the family we do not have. We can build on what we do have with family members who are important to us.

The important thing to remember is to get-together.  Laugh. Make memories. Love one another. Take time. Show love. Create. And, please…

Do it before “losing another…”

Kim 2009

 

Photo credit:  (Photo 1) My photo of Kim carrying the strength banner at the 2008 Seattle Breast Cancer 3-Day.  (Photo 2) 2009 photo shared at her memorial.  Kim passed away in May 2010, just three days before her 42nd birthday.

18 years… no longer a little boy

I was not there for the birth of my grandson, as I was for my granddaughter three years earlier. Things were such in the family that I did not receive an announcement but heard the news from others. The estrangement had been solidified soon after my granddaughter was born.

Miles was born 18 years ago today. I met him for the first time when he was nearly two years old. He was in my life until the last time I saw him, nearly three years ago, shortly after my daughter left her marriage. He has lived with his father and things have been strained since. There is no contact with his grandparents, and it’s one of the toughest things anyone should have to sit by and watch or endure.

I am grateful for the times over 12 years I was able to see him and spend a little time with him. He was such a cute little boy and as he grew into a teenager has become a handsome young man. I appreciated his creativity and his sense of adventure through storytelling. He had a loving, Generous Heart.

Today is his birthday, and I have no way of reaching out to him to let him know that I’m thinking of him today and that I love him. We should be celebrating as a family these milestones.

I keep looking forward and trusting that someday there will be reconciliation. Life can be so confusing and so painful for so many of us from early ages into old age. I pray that someday soon we can all get together and celebrate those things that we have missed.

I love you, Miles, and I hope that you enter into this stage of adulthood with anticipation of wonderful things to come. I’m proud of you for your creativity, your generosity and your wit. I’m sure that in this next stage of your life you will do great things with all of them.

Happy 18th birthday.

Our last phone call

I remember the phone call. My sister-in-law was the the one that called me about 11 p.m. I was already asleep. It was three years ago tonight.   I offered to make the call to two of my other two sisters who had not yet been called.

Our father died that night. He had just had his 83rd birthday a little over three weeks earlier.

I had spoken to him for his birthday. It was the longest conversation that we had in well-over 40 years ago. It lasted for nearly 20 minutes. Through the years, the birthday calls lasted about two or three minutes.

There were decades that passed in our lives with little communication between us.  Oh, there were the obligatory phone calls, holiday cards he signed as “Neil,” and we saw one another five or six times in those four decades.

I always tried to be a “good daughter,” to mend fences, and always told him that I loved him, but always seemed to run up against a brick wall. I could not seem to break through, and he never seemed to be interested in helping to knock down the walls. I never did quite understand the reasoning behind it, and it is never something he ever cared to share.

At one point many years ago, I knew that I could no longer hold onto a fantasy of a father-daughter relationship that I wanted.  It was when I finally was able to let go and forgive the hurts of the past.

Back in June 2012, a few days after my surgery after my cancer diagnosis, my father called me in the hospital.  I was still dopey from morphine, but I remember him saying, “You tell that cancer to leave my baby alone!” 

I remember little more about the conversation, but I remembering him offering the words in return, “I love you, Coral.”   I had not heard those words in several decades.

When we spoke for his birthday, we spoke of music, health, and a bit more. It was a pleasant call, and he once again surprised me.  He offered, “I love you, Coral,” before I had the chance to say it first.

“I love you, Coral.”

These were the last words I heard my father speak to me. They were also the last words I spoke to him. He passed away three weeks later.

************

Though decades passed and what might have been in a family never came to fruition,  I am forever grateful for the two calls that helped to mend the many years of silent pain between us. My only regret is that we did not have more years to explore together.

I love you, Dad, and hope that you are resting in peace.

From (what you called),

Your #1 Daughter

Today she turned 21…where does the time go?

Twenty-one years ago, my first grandchild was born.

Twenty-one years ago, I took on the name of “Gramma” or “Gramma Coco.”  I was there when she was born.

It is a day that I shall never forget.  One never forgets something so profound as seeing your own daughter give birth to her own daughter.

Life has been such that for most of the 21 years, the dreams of what grandparent-hood might have been or the possibility of the Hallmark relationships between family members was not our reality.

There is an inexplicable connection between us, however.  We may not always feel it, or recognize it.  But it exists in the free-spiritedness that runs at her core. She is not afraid to challenge others and ask questions.  She takes parts of life on like a storm, not afraid to try new things.

There are so many other things I could say, but I would write a book.  Let me end by saying…

I love you, Marian,

and I am so proud of you! 

 Happy 21st Birthday, and…

STOP getting so old!  I cannot keep telling everyone I am only 49, if you keep having these milestone birthdays!

Vulnerability and Telling More of a Story

 

Coming to understand myself and the “whys” behind my beliefs about the world and the people in it has always been of interest to me.  I am also just as interested in others and their stories. As I tend to be rather curious and analytical, I have often been told that I “would make a good counselor.” I am not sure that it is truth, but I do see that I am willing to look in the mirror and find the connections with others and the correlations of experiences. It requires us all to be more vulnerable.

Recently, I have begun to “look” beyond some of the issues that have presented in my life. They seem to be inter-connected in so many ways.

It has been more than two decades since I have truly done anything to “celebrate” the Christmas holidays in my home. There have been some moments where one may have seen a glimmer; however (for the most part), it has been non-existent. I have cooked or helped to cook the holiday meals elsewhere, but it was never the same. Much of the time, I went to a restaurant for a meal…sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone.

“Hoarding,” or just Scared?

This past summer I began to open up and admit to “shutting others out.” The easiest way for me to do this was to not deal with clutter in my home.  This way, I did not allow others into my space.

I could have let others into my home, but there would have been some who would have been judgmental and then  would have told others how awful it was…I was.  Some would have accused me of being “a hoarder,” likening me to the extreme hoarders featured on the television show.

Truth be told, I bought into those visions of myself. I did not see reality, but saw myself through the judging eyes of others. So, I shut down not only from others, but myself.

One of the things that I would never have been able to tolerate is the filth of rotting foods, the scampering of rodents, and the other horrors that are sensationalized with the show.

Yet, the piled-up, unpacked boxes from previous moves kept me from “LIVING” in my home and accepting others into my home to celebrate life, friends and family, and the holidays we share throughout the year.

Preparing to Die

I moved into my current townhouse in September 2013, preparing to die. It was a year-and-a-half earlier that I was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)/Carcinoid cancer, and told by an Army Lt. Col. and surgeon that I “…(had) six months to a year, two…if lucky.”

So, when I moved, I truly believed that I had less than a year to live. That being the case, why unpack?

Looking back, I understand the ideas or thoughts and how they manifested in the way that they did. But I also recognized that how I choose to look at my life and what I think, believe or do is MINE to choose, despite what others will tell me, think of me, or treat me.

Starting to Live Again

This summer, I have started to “let go” of the accumulation. I am unpacking and donating items that I no longer need to friends, family, and organizations.  I am beginning to see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.  It has much less to do with the condition of my home, but the condition of me and my view of life and the people in it.

I call this my “Clutter Project.”  I am facing my inner turmoil around letting others see who I am on the inside, which is difficult. It is not easy to be vulnerable. It is not easy to be open, knowing that there will be some who will act in judgement, and then reject and abandon. It is downright painful, and then very tempting to pull back and shut down even more deeply.  It is not easy, and their is so much more to do, but I have started.

This is where the choice to keep moving forward is so important. Trusting when it is scary to do so.

I have allowed two trusted friends to see the chaos on the inside of me and in my home. Each has been invited to dine with me, including Thanksgiving Dinner. Two other friends have come over (separately.)

There was an online friend from Australia who stayed with me for a week this month.  We had only spoken by phone for an hour total (two calls) in the 18 years that we had “met” online.

Last week, I committed to hosting Christmas Day dinner here in my home. It will not be formal, but rather informal. There will be seven of us for certain, and maybe a total of three more.  I must admit that I am a bit anxious about it.

Since I have opened up about my struggles to one of my sisters, and to my best friend (BK), each has shown me so much love and support.  The relationship between my sister and I has strengthened in ways I never imagined, and it is much more authentic than
any other relationship that I have had with a family member.

If not for BK’s help in going through things here in my place these past five months, I would feel paralyzed. She has been here to help me as I push through the process in my own way. She and I (together) are learning our own lessons of telling our stories, and listening with more love. Of course, it requires us to be truthful with one another, but more importantly…truthful with the person in the mirror.

So, Christmas get-together at my place!

I will likely invite others over during the season between now and the New Year holiday. It is getting easier to allow people that I know care and who are not going to walk in judgement of me into my home…into my heart. I am also confident that if I felt there were others who would walk in and look down their noses, I would be gracious enough to offer a coffee, but cut the time short.

Keep telling your story

I know my story. I know the characters in the story, up to this point in my life. I understand how the story has been written, but I also know that there are twists and turns in every story, and that we never know how any story will end.

Is it not wonderful that we get to write more chapters and change the direction of the plot of our stories? We find other characters along the way. When the story is all-told, as we come to the end, it is a far different story than we expected.

I am grateful to all who have become part of my life. I thank each for taking time to read and “listen” to more of my story.  I appreciate all who have shared their stories with me.

And I look forward to continuing the journey.

(Note:  Edited from original post by the author, “There is always MORE to the story, if one is willing to listen to the storyteller” written and published on 13 December 2017 at myLot.com.)

Rites of passage

As the day comes to a close and I prepare for bed, I remember the first night I spent on my own, property of the U.S. Government, in a bottom bunk in an old, wooden barracks at Lackland AFB, San Antonio.

I had no idea what the next day or month or year would hold, but I had made the decision. No one made it for me.

As I reflect on that first night, I recognize now that I knew very little about what it was to be in relationship to other people. I did not know what it was like to have very many friends. Nor did I realize that most of the women that were my “flight mates,” who were in the same basic training squadron that I was in,  had their own stories.  Perhaps, some of them were running away from the lives they had before the Air Force, just as I was doing.

Maybe they, like me, were just as clueless about who they really were outside of a family that did not really know them, as we tried to live up to (and break out of, simultaneously) the expectations of what we were supposed to be as women.

Forty-four years ago, I had a difficult time falling asleep in the old barracks with no air conditioning on a muggy Thursday night in San Antonio.  Two all-cotton flat sheets, a wool blanket, and a feather pillow with a cotton pillow case were all that separated me from the lumpy mattress on the bottom bunk of a metal bunk bed. The newness of being solely responsible now for my own decisions had my mind racing, and I thought back to earlier  that morning…

I had turned 18 just thirteen days earlier. I was now considered an adult. I remember not wanting her to go in with me. I told her that I did not. It was my way of letting her know I was a big girl and to cut the ties.
I wanted my mother to drop me off in front of the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Los Angeles, California. We got there before 7:30 a.m. and all I wanted to do is get out of the car, say a quick “Goodbye,” and pass through the doors…by myself.
All of the rest of the memories of the morning are foggy now, 44 years later. what I might say could very well hold some inaccuracies. I do remember that it felt awkward.
Today was the day that I pushed my mother away, declaring through my actions, that I was an adult now and did not need her…nor want her. Of course, I never said those words. Yet, is that not what we all do at some point in our lives when we “grow up”?
I was her firstborn, but now I was leaving. Abandoning the family…abandoning her, a 39-year-old single mother of four more children, ranging in ages of 14 down to 4. My father had left her only a year-and-a-half earlier for a younger woman who was only nine years my senior.
Today was also the day that I felt my mother gave her final push to get me out of her hair. I was an adult now and did not need her. She did not need me either…nor want me. Of course, she never said those words either.
In some ways, it felt like an emotional stand-down. Two generations of women, who had not yet learned how to say, “I need you. I want you. I love you. I am going to miss you.” It seemed so much easier to simply push away or push back.
Forty-four years ago today, I left home–my mother and my four siblings–to join the United States Air Force to serve my country. I loved my country.
I would not do things much differently than I did, except….I would have told my Mom that I was and always would be her little girl who needed and wanted her, and would always love her.
(Original story–“My rite of passage into adulthood”–as written by me and posted at MyLot, 23 August 2017 10:23 a.m. PDT )
As I prepare for bed tonight, many years later, it is still my racing mind that keeps me separated from the sleep that has always proved to elude me.

A Conversation with My Mother

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my mother. Today was no different, except that I talked to her today…a lot.

If you were able to ask her about me, she would tell you that I would talk to anyone who would listen. She might even tell you that she was a bit concerned that I was talking to myself, and blaming her for me talking to myself today!

Today marked five years since she has been gone.

Mom always told me to keep looking forward…“you can’t go back in time.” Sometimes, even remembering or talking about the past, she would call, “living in the past.”  We never did agree on that point.

I thought a lot about Mom today, but not only because it was this anniversary. I went to visit my dear friend, who has been in the hospital since last Wednesday. I call him “my brother from another mother.” 

I think that my mother would have liked him.  He doesn’t talk too much, and he has the same rapier wit that she had.  They both deliver those zingers like no other.  They may have become rather competitive. They would both get a chuckle at who could come up with the best ones.

I asked my Mom to put a good word in for my friend, and let whatever “Big Guy Upstairs” there is to find something else for him to do here.

Soon after I had that talk with Mom, he reached for my hand on the railing, and took it to squeeze it. Though he’s very ill and not coherent, he is still showing signs of responding to voice commands. A day earlier, this was not the case.

Having dealt with this situation with him, and losing another friend, Pam, to carcinoid cancer/neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) on Saturday, I am glad that I was able to spend some quiet time while remembering Mom and feeling her presence.  But yet…

Mom, I miss you so very much. 

 

 

Funk(ing) the Dumb Stuff on an Anniversary

carcinoid

The longer we live, the more apt we are to have days that remind us of life’s events.

Anniversaries of things we would like to remember, or wish we could forget, will stick with us.  Some of us are better at remembering those dates than others.  Anniversary dates of birthdays, weddings, divorces, being hired or being fired, accidents, other days that simply have some sort of impact on us and our lives, both big and small, become a month, weekly, and (dare I say?) daily occurrences, especially as we approach our golden years.

Some of these days coincide with normal holiday seasons and, if the event has been particularly challenging or painful, we never look at the holiday or month or season quite the same. As we anticipate the anniversary of the event, the grey clouds of doom and gloom seem to hover over us, and we can dread the very act of waking up to face the days ahead.

We can get caught in a funk.

If this funk were the music of the band, Tower of Power (ToP), then it would be a lot more fun. But this is the kind of funk that sucks the very life out of you.

I have been approaching this funk for about six weeks now, as I foolishly continue to recall or ruminate on the dates, and remember situations and stories that take me back to April to July of 2012.

Today, I asked my sister, Sonja, if she knew what today was. She remembered, yet I proceeded to mention that this was the date four years ago that I was informed of stage 4 diagnosis with neuroendocrine tumors (NETs)/carcinoid cancer. He said the prognosis was “six months to a year, two if lucky.”

I cannot even begin to articulate what it is like to hear those words. It changes the world, as you know it. There are a few days where you are in a complete state of shock, trying to wrap your head around the knowledge, most of the time in disbelief. Then you have to move forward somehow. I did not know how I was going to make that happen, and nearly made a decision where there would be no moving forward.

But I did move forward and have now come to this four-year mark after diagnosis.

But have I truly moved forward?

My sister may not realize it, but she kicked me in the ass today.  We all need it from time-to-time.  She held a verbal mirror in front of me, and I had to take a hard look at myself.

“Yes sis”…she knew what day it was.

“I don’t focus on that though.” 

And then she knocked me over.

“You showed me to let go and never look back, to keep moving forward because that is where our future resides…You taught me to never fear the moment…”

At that moment, all I could think of is, “I did?” 

Inside, I felt like a fraud.

Presenting the image of having it all together…

…and asking others to see beyond their own challenges is certainly much easier than going through the pain of moving forward.  Even if others do not know it, because I can talk a good game, I know it. And the couple of people whom I let in to see the pain, and fear, also know it.

Thankfully, they will call me on it, when I need it. They do it with love, but just as directly and compassionately as I do it with my clients and students…and with them.

Yes, today is an anniversary. It has been four years since I hear some bad news that changed my life. The events leading up to it were painful, scary, and confusing. The months following were challenging on many levels, including my choice to stand up to a doctor that I did not believe had my best interest at heart.

But, I must let go of the internal hold these dates have on me, because I am holding on to the fear, anger, and pain of those days, weeks and months from four years ago. It has been insidious; so much so that I did not realize it.

I am alive. I live with neuroendocrine tumors. I have had surgeries, and more CT scans, MRIs, monthly injections, and blood work than I can count.

BUT…I am ALIVE…and my future lies in moving forward.

In the words of my sister:  

“…it’s easier to preach what we know to be true…, but difficult to apply to our own lives…Logic and emotion collide and we…are paralyzed to apply it…We feel empowered (however) to help others…”

I do not know when I ever taught her any of the lessons she taught me today. But she does understand me, and we are very much alike.

Today, I move forward into my fifth year after diagnosis. The future. And I am eternally grateful for those who have stood by me, understood me, and loved me every step along the way.

As far as the “funk”…I think I will take a lesson from (ToP), and “funk the dumb stuff” from now on…

© Coral Levang 2016

 

 

Mothers Day Lessons: Learning to say, “I love you”

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Author’s Note:  Today I wanted to share with you three things I wrote –one for today, one last year, and one from three years ago. Thank you for taking the time to read all that I share from my heart.  

I overheard a  conversation  yesterday in which someone commented on “the obligatory phone call.”  I felt a sense of sorrow having heard it. I understood the need to act like a dutiful child, when I  was angry at my parents and the rest of the world for dealing me some crummy “life cards.”  I wondered if the person engaged in the conversation would understand what I wrote this morning in…

 “Mom gave the gift of life”

Last year, I remembered the last Mothers Day that I had with my own mother five years ago.  There had been many Mothers Days over the years that I had missed having spent with her after leaving home at the age of 18. Having been there with her on the last Mothers Day of her life was a special moment for me…

“Mothers Day Without My Mom”

Each year spent without being able to call my Mom is a reminder that she has been gone for nearly five years.  I cannot say that it “gets easier with time.” But what I can tell you is that there is not a day in my life  where I do not celebrate those moments that I used to take for granted. It really hit home for me on the  first Mothers Day without her, when I wrote…

“The Best Gift”

I hope that someday there will be a sense of reconciliation for those who continue to hold onto the anger, sense of obligation, and the hurt they continue to clutch to their hearts. Learning to love someone in spite of the hardships is certainly not easy.  We are not even sure what that is supposed to look or feel like.

But when we look to find those soft-spots in our hearts, and reach out in love, however awkward it may be or feel, there is a peace that can surpass all understanding. It will open up the world to receive more love that we knew possible. It all starts by saying…

 

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© 2016  Coral Levang

Photo credits: Pixabay; No attribution required, Public Domain