Last month I was writing to a friend and somewhat jokingly put my address as The Wine Cellar Under The Stairs. We don't have a wine cellar exactly, we have a wine closet under the stairs in the basement. We looked at putting a wine fridge in there, but realized that the temperature is a pretty constant 59 degrees and we don't buy $500 bottles of wine, so it's good enough. I think I could squeeze a barstool and table in there, but that'd look bad. The joke, however, was only partial. I've said a few times that one more icky piece of news and I'm going to hide under my desk.
Since my last posting in August, my husband's sister, Karen, passed away in September, eleven days after she turned 55. She'd battled skin cancer for over six years (a good year longer than she was initially given)and the cancer spread and finally won.
The day after Karen died, my mom went in for scheduled back surgery and ended up having two heart procedures as well - buy one, get two free. She came out of the hospital with an appliance around her spine (planned), a stent in her heart and a pacemaker in her chest (surprise!). Boy will she set off alarms everywhere she goes. She ended up spending three weeks instead of three days in medical facilities and is now home, merrily disregarding the doctors warnings...but that's a story for another time.
It strikes me that this could end up being a whiny post. All this stuff converging at once, along with some outside unrelated stress - sign me up for the vacation with the padded rooms. But, as I look back over the last couple of months, I see how taken care of I've been in the midst of what's been a lot. And I learned a few things about how to live, and that has kept me out of the wine cellar (if not out of the wine).
My sister-in-law Bonnie and I got to spend time with Karen, taking care of her, before she died. We talked about many things, not the least of which was Jesus, a topic Karen and I had skirted around before as I'm a Bible thumping nut-bag and she was not. We talked about what the Bible says about death and what it says about life. And, while I was not with Karen when she died, nothing was left unsaid, and I'm at peace.
It's not that I don't wish we would have had more time. I wish she gotten to live to old age with her husband, I wish...well many things. But with cancer, you have to take the small victories in a war we ultimately lose. She was lucid and not in any pain until close to the end. Hospice was there when she needed them, but that wasn't until a few days before she died.
During this time, both with Karen and my mom, I've been supported. My Bible Study ladies, our Prayer Chain,and my friends were faithful in prayer. I told Karen that's the joy of a small church. They know your business and they follow up on you. Sometimes it's like being smothered in a blanket (mostly when I'm not behaving well), but mostly it's like having a security blanket with you every where you go.
My girlfriends listened to me, got me a massage, and hugged me a lot. I waded into caring for Karen without training, reading all the books on hospice our library had. My friend Karen, who is a nurse, helped me with information. It could have been scary, but it wasn't.
I told God I was there, inadequate, but there, and asked what He wanted me to do or say. And He gave me enough for every day. Things worked out. Some things fell through the cracks, but most didn't - or at least people were gracious enough not to make a fuss about those things that I missed.
My mom's surgeries went well, and, while I found most things of hers more stressful than anything with Karen, again, God gave me enough strength to get through it day to day. And to laugh about parts of it - like the fact that the "Rush" in Rush Presbyterian Hospital has nothing to do with the speed with which they move and everything to do with the fact that, no matter whether you're released at 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., the paper work will come through and let you out into rush hour traffic around 4:30ish. Great doctors, though. I got to spend time with my dad, working out KenKen puzzles from the NYTimes and talking politics and life.
And along the way there've been joyful things. My niece asked me to be her confirmation mentor, so I get to spend time with her on an ongoing basis and talk to her about Jesus. My husband decided to use almost all his frequent flier miles so my friend Kathy and I can go visit our friend Patty who moved to London. We're counting the days. Our Wednesday night program at church has started up and my co-teacher and I have 11 great kids ages 4-8 who come to class excited to be there every week.
But most of all, I'm successfully applying the main lesson I learned from Karen. She was probably one of the least technologically savvy people I'll ever meet,but she could and did pick up a phone and call to keep up relationships. Each time I walked into their apartment, I put down my phone and left it on ring only. That way, if the school tried to reach me, they could. But emails and texts and tweets all went by the wayside in favor of long conversations and quiet pauses while we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by or took walks.
And that time was precious and that pattern was worth repeating, so when my family are home, the phone goes away and the computer gets put down. I'm not as quick on emails - or on posts - but that's okay, because the time invested in my family results in richer relational life. It is requiring me to overcome years of ADD-ish behavior, but it is good. So thanks, Karen Marie McCarthy Quinn, teacher, for the lesson. Because as tempting as the wine cellar might be, it can really only hold one person, and that's not the best way to live.