Still

Though unspoken, they both knew that after 38 years of marriage their time together would soon draw to an end. Despite the valiant war she waged the cancer had overtaken every aspect of her being and we all knew she would not be with us when the morning came. We moved her into the family room as she requested, so she could be among her children and grandchildren, not tucked far away from them in a corner bedroom.

My father knelt beside her. Thinking he was simply bathing her (a task I myself had performed every day over the course of that week), I began to tidy up the nearby kitchen. He raised her left hand and kissed her wedding band. He began to bathe her hand, her arm, her shoulder. He stroked her hair, over and over. She was much calmer, and her breathing that had been so labored in the previous minutes seemed to become less difficult. She turned her face toward him…they were only inches apart from one another.

They did not speak. Their gaze locked onto one another. His hand lingered over her shoulder, then moved toward her chest. Through her entire illness, I had never seen her shed one tear, until now. His hand did not move. I could only imagine what each of them was thinking.

Were they remembering, were they longing? Yearning? Were they aching in anticipation of separation?

Was he trying to memorize her? She, him?

It suddenly dawned on me what was taking place just a few feet away from me. I hurriedly left the room, allowing them to be alone for the last time.

To the casual observer, the scene unfolding may have appeared to a be a sponge bath from a loving caregiver for his dying wife. But it was so much more than that.

What I was witnessing was a most tender act of love making.

Photo Credit: Man met bril (Flikr.com)

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

I used to dread taking down the Christmas tree. Seriously hated it. Dragging down the boxes from the attic…donning oven mitts so I could reach in through the dead, spikey, pokey branches to retrieve precious memories hanging by a bent paperclip to an even deader, spikier, pokier branch…tissue-paper wrapping each [why do they make them so] breakable ornament…tucking the Treasures away in the seemingly shrinking Rubbermaid tote…and toting those totes back to the attic.

What. A. Process.

Process.

Think for a minute about what any process involves. You start at Point A and end at Point B (or C or D or E, whatever way it takes you). Inherent to any process, then, is change. Whether it’s taking down a Christmas tree or preparing for a new year or living and loving…

…process involves change.

I!

Don’t!

Like!

Change!!

I think part of why I used to hate undecorating the Christmas tree is because that act signaled that a new year was about to start. And that New Year always brought with it change. That unwanted, unnecessary, dreaded change.

Something happens to me when I sense change. I get restless. I get uneasy. Kind of like Seabiscuit being held back at the gates. Back in that era, horse race gates didn’t have doors—only a bell heralded the race’s start. When I anticipate change, I see and feel and hear that there are no doors holding me back, no iron bars locking me into a certain position. But I can’t move because someone or something is holding the reigns, keeping me where they want me to be…not where my spirit longs to take me.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, each year I choose a word—one word—that signifies what I feel I need to work on in my life/work out of my life. Last year the word was “toxic.” I spent the year consciously removing any and all toxicity from my life. People. Food. Situations. Thoughts. Relationships. Habits. (Very effective, try it!)

This year I sense that the word is change. I used to be afraid of change. I used to fight it. I used to do whatever I could to hang on to the present so that I wouldn’t have to face change or deal with it.

As we took down the Christmas tree today and tucked the Treasures away, the feeling of UGH didn’t wash over me as it usually does.

Today I felt excitement, anticipation, expectation (and truthfully, a little bit of anxiety. I mean, c’mon–what good and faithful OCDer wouldn’t have anxiety?)

What would you try if the fear of change didn’t keep you reigned in?

I don’t know, either. But I’m sure willing to break loose of the reigns and see what happens. Wanna join me?

Kelly

Photo credit: flickr.com

 

Boobless and….Well…..Still Boobless

This is a lengthy one, so grab your pumpkin spice latte and settle in.

There are a lot of studies out there that have looked at how stress and severe illnesses like breast cancer affect marriages or intimate relationships.

The news isn’t good. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to whether a marriage or an intimate relationship succeeds or fails in times like this (well, or even in times not like this), but a number of the studies show that the divorce rate during or after a serious illness is over 70 percent. Folks, that’s nearly 3 out of 4 marriages that tank after a health crisis.

If you know anything about me, you know that I hate divorce.

Hate it.

I hate what it does to men and women. I hate what it does to kids. I hate what it does to society. I didn’t have divorced parents—but I have taught over 31,000 students and have spoken to college students across this country, and I know what they struggle with. And when I write the books, I read hundreds and hundreds of research articles about divorce. There’s no way to pretty it up. And I refuse to be politically correct about it.

<You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up now instead of talking about breast cancer.>

Here’s my point. If marriage really is about through-good-times-and-bad-and-in-sickness-and-in-health-and-when-life-is-stormy-and-when-it’s-quiet—WHY oh WHY do 70 percent of marriages fail in the bad times?

Because this is what happens when we reduce love to something that we do, instead of experiencing it as a part of who we are.

Are you starting to get me, where I’m coming from?

If you do love, you react certain ways when things happen. When you are love, nothing changes. You’re unmovable. You’re steadfast. Rock. Solid.

When I got my diagnosis, I literally couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t gasp in, I couldn’t breathe out. Everything came to a screeching halt. And that’s because no one in my family had ever survived it. I was petrified, and I had good reason to be.

But I had one thing that a lot of women don’t have: A husband who loved me right where I was.

Not the superficial bring-me-a-cup-of-coffee-or-rub-my-back-when-I-don’t-ask-for-it kind of love. But a kind of love that accepted and embraced my weaknesses.

Rock.

Solid.

Love.

One day Dave helped me into the bathroom (okay, you gotta admit that’s a different kind of love altogether). He made a phone call, a phone call he didn’t expect me to overhear. He called my doctor.

I didn’t listen to the entire conversation. But I did hear him say—broken, sobbing uncontrollably, begging—“Please. Please. I just want my wife back. Just promise me you can give me my wife back. I can’t keep watching her go through this. Please.”

<This is the point where, if I were talking to you in person, I would almost be am pleading with you to understand what I’m trying to say. And I would be am crying.>

I didn’t even need to hear his words. All I needed to hear was the emotion behind his words to know that he. loved. me. with a kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. The kind of love that never fails.

Don’t you see? That’s what this entire blog experience is all about. To teach you, to show you, what I know about love…from a research viewpoint…from a personal experience viewpoint…from reality. To somehow get the message out that love is more than a dare.

And to understand that love is more than a promise.

I want you to experience the kind of love that withstands [the early death of a parent or the death of a child or mental illness or a job loss or bad in-laws or money troubles or rebellious teens or cancer or arguing or a horrible job] anything the world throws at it. The no matter what kind of love.

And over the next few weeks I hope to show you how to get this kind of love—so when you do bring your partner a cup of coffee, it’s out of that rock solid love place in your heart.

A couple of days ago, I said that my breast cancer experiences were as much about love as they were anything else.

I mean let’s be real. When all was said and done, nothing changed the fact that I was boobless and, well…..still boobless.

But even though my body didn’t make it through the experiences unscathed, my marriage did. Our love did.

And that’s a victory in and of itself.

Boobless But Bolder

I am not quiet. At all. By any stretch of the imagination. You can always hear me coming. You always know I was there.

I used to try to be quieter. I used to try to be more demure, more reserved. I used to try to take life more seriously. I used to try to not laugh as often or as loud. I used to try to not laugh at things others didn’t necessarily see as funny.

I tried to conform to others’ standards of what it meant to be a “lady” and what it meant to be “beautiful.” Really—I did try.

And then I got sick.

I’m not going to get all Pollyanna on you right now, because I’m going to debunk the urban legend that breast cancer is the best thing that can ever happen to a woman. Personally, I thought it sucked.

Why I Didn’t Wear Lipstick to My Mastectomies

(And Other Valuable Lessons I Was Supposed to Learn but Didn’t)

  • I didn’t learn to laugh at my situation, at myself—The surgeons only cut off my boobs, they didn’t cut out my sense of humor. (And if you knew me, you’d know that my thighs are a far bigger problem than being boobless).
  • I didn’t learn to turn things upside down, to stand things on end—I had been getting in trouble for this for at least 30 years.
  • I didn’t learn determination—I’m Irish. We’re stubborn. (And as any true Irishman knows, the Irish don’t want anyone to wish them well…they want everyone to wish their enemies ill!).
  • I didn’t learn about the unpredictability of life—I had four sons in six years. And I knew what caused it. But it still happened.
  • I didn’t learn to bend the rules of life to get things done—I think I invented it’s-better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-than-permission in 1977.
  • I didn’t learn to become more opinionated and to voice my concerns—Ummm……heellloooo…..
  • I didn’t have to learn that it’s okay to cry—Name any Little House on the Prairie episode and I’ll tell you at what point Pa cried (and when I cried with him).

Now, hopefully readers don’t think that I’m some callous, soulless jerk, and that I’m belittling or making fun of women who have written about their experiences with breast cancer.

Each of my breast cancer predecessor sisters did teach me a lesson—but just in different ways than maybe they intended to.

God was trying to show me through their experiences and through mine that He created me the way I am for a reason.

“And who knows that you have come to [this] position for

such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

For such a time as this. If I hadn’t been bold and loud and a laugher and a defyer of the norm, I’m not so sure I would have come out on the other side of breast cancer as whole as I did.

You see, I don’t think that God smote me with the double mastectomy smack down to get my attention, to somehow make me more reflective and quieter (as a well-meaning woman told me).

I think He wanted me to find my voice, the voice that He gave me.

So here I am today—boobless but bolder.

For such a time as this.

What things about yourself do you need to embrace? To recognize as a strength and not a weakness?

Photo Credit: arbyreed (flickr.com)

Boobless But Not Broken

It’s Pinktober. That most wonderful time of the year, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. The time of year when you can’t find a roll of white toilet paper at Target, much less an orange M&M or an Oreo with white icing.

That time of year where people everywhere remind people everywhere else that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives.

To be perfectly pinkly correct, I thought it might be a good idea to take a little detour to share something with you about my life. But as I sit here and think about it, we’re not really going off course at all….because what I have to share with you is as much about love, intimacy, sex, and relationships as it is anything else.

I’m the boobless girl behind the pink ribbons.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an intraductal breast carcinoma. I was 36-years-old. At the time I had four boys all under the age of 12, and I had just begun work on my PhD. And just two years prior to my diagnosis, I buried my mother who died of cancer (at the age of 57). Her sister died from breast cancer at the age of 39, her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 52, and a cousin, diagnosed with breast cancer just a few months after me, died at the age of 43.

Talk about a crappy roll of the genetic dice.

Ironically, it all started on a perfectly pink October day. And once it started, it was a runaway train…..

I found a lump and went to the doctor and he said “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, I’m the doctor and I’ll do the worrying for you, come see me in 6 months,” and I thought “You’re crazy, I just buried my mom you [expletive], I’m not waiting!” so I found another doctor and [skip forward about 4 months of maaaaaaany tests and scans and needles and oh-so-painful biopsies but I still needed to be a good parent and an “A” student and a good little Christian who counted it all joy] she said, “Come into the kiss and cry room and I’ll give you the dreaded diagnosis, the diagnosis I know you know is coming because you saw my face when I drew the fluid out of your breast,” and so Dave and I sat in the low-lit room that had nothing but a box of Kleenex on the table, and we looked at each other and knew and she came in and said, “Both breasts need to be removed immediately to save your life!” and she expected us to cry but we didn’t even need the Kleenex because we were so dumbfounded and confused nothing made any sense so there were no tears and she explained how the breasts that fed all of my babies and gave my husband and I so much pleasure would be “removed” and how the surgical “procedure” would take about 12 hours and how the treatments would start about 4 weeks after the “procedure” and I had the “procedure” and the pain was indescribable and parenting and loving and living with 12 glass drain tubes and two IVs and 100s of stitches was ridiculously unbearable and insanely hilarious all at the same time and like every woman who had cancer before me, and every woman who has had or will have it since me, we took it minute by minute and sometimes we were incredibly strong and other times we were incredibly weak but we did it.

Whew.  We did it.  And that’s what Pinktober is all about.

Boobless, but not broken.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share what we learned about love through the process.
Kelly
(Which, ironically, in Gaelic means “Warrior Princess.” In breast cancer survivor speak it means “bad ass”!!!)

Everything That Comes with It

 

I admit it—I was the little girl who used to create Barbie doll wedding dresses out of toilet paper.  I was the little girl who pinned a pillow case “wedding veil” to her pony tail, and I was the little girl who, when asked by her ice skating instructor what she wanted to practice, said, “Let’s practice walking down the aisle!”

Falling in love.  Marriage.  Babies.  I had my entire life planned out by the time I was six years old.  Is it any wonder I had to have the wedding of the century (second only to Princess Diana, of course)?  My winter wedding day, complete with snow, was spectacular.  Perfect.  Flawless.  I was locked arm in arm with my dad, and the wedding planner was making sure my gown would make its magnificent statement (actually, in 1981 we didn’t have wedding planners….but I’m fairly certain he would have been a wedding planner if there were such a thing back then).

The music was just about to cue my entrance, and

It.  Happened.

As I tried to step toward the doors waiting to be opened by the wedding planner wannabe, my dad hesitated.  He wouldn’t budge.  At first I thought he was just trying to slow me down a bit (he had been, after all, telling me to be still and quiet down since I was about two years old).  In a panic, I looked at Dad and said, “Are you okay?”   He took a deep breath.

Oh. No.  I knew that sigh.  I knew that sigh always preceded a lecture, correction, admonishment.  Why now?  Didn’t he maybe kind of sort of think this might not be such a good time?  Couldn’t he have maybe kind of sort of told me what he wanted to say, oh, I don’t know, like a month before? Or at the rehearsal dinner?  Or the morning of the wedding?  The doors opened and I gave him an I’m-kind-of-busy-right-now-Dad-can-this-wait-oh-no-you’re-going-to-say-it-anyway-this-can’t-be-happening-everyone’s-looking-at-us look(s).

Gently, like loving daddies do, he drew me into his side and whispered in my ear, “When you take your first step down this aisle, you must do so as if the word ‘divorce’ does not exist–you must enter this marriage knowing that divorce is a possibility, but something that should be your very last resort.  Because after today, I can guarantee you that along with the happiness and joy you are feeling this very moment, this marriage will bring with it sorrow.  There will be heartbreak, there will be difficulties, there might even be tragedy.  Before you walk down the aisle, you must know in your heart that marriage–and everything that comes with it–is truly what you want.”

I would like to be able to say that I melted into his arms and thanked him over and over for his wisdom.  But, using my wedding bouquet to point toward the altar, all I could manage to get out was, “Ummmm….Okay.  Thanks.  Can we go now?”  And, like loving daddies do, he squeezed me, chuckled, and said, “I love you Chickie.  Let’s go get ‘em.”

Realistically speaking, none of us is equipped to tackle the “everything” that comes with intimate relationships and marriage.  We change.  We grow.  And we soon come to discover that the “everything” is actually quite different from what we expected.  In desperation, we consider divorce because the “everything” just hurts too much. It’s just too much work to make it right again.

But guess what–you can divorce proof your marriage.  You can have a marriage or an intimate relationship that doesn’t just survive, but one that thrives. You can experience a sex life that is almost never dull or boring.  You can be a terrific parent.  And you can leave your kids a legacy that no amount of money can ever buy….a foundation upon which they will someday build their own marriages and relationships.

About now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Here we go again, same-old-same-old tired marriage advice.”

Nope.  I won’t waste your time with that stuff, because it doesn’t work.

You see, the problem with existing books, TV talk show gurus, radio shows, and marriage or engagement weekend retreats is that they assume in their one-size-fits-all fixes that everyone defines “love,” “marriage,” or “sex” in the same way they do.  That’s why this stuff flops–almost always.

By writing with the notion that everyone follows the same pathway to marriage (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ______ pushing the baby carriage), books like The Love Dare and He’s Just Not That Into You reduce love, sex, and the “everything” of intimate relationships to something we do, instead of showing us how and why these experiences are a part of who we are.

Follow me through this blog. Spend some time with me and discover how, from the parent-child love bond, to friendships, to ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, or lovers, every past relationship writes your marriage scripts.

Come alongside and see how you can know–really, really know–who you are as a lover and who your intimate partner is.  Learn what it truly means to vow to “love” or to “honor” or to “care” for that person you’re thinking about marrying, or that person you’re already married to.  Hang out here for a few weeks, and you’ll discover how you can commit to the commitment….even when the “everything” makes it seemingly impossible to do so.

Kelly