Monday, February 23, 2015

"I'm doing the best I can."

Here's a line that's found a home in my head for the past several months.

(Tangent alert - As soon as I began to type this post, I saw the bright cardinal perched outside my window...in five degree temp.  Just sayin'.  Back to it...)

I heard this line from Jill w/ significant frequency.  It was often coupled w/ a tone of frustration...and sometimes exhaustion...pointed at me.

I was a bit of a pusher.

If I was getting out for a run, Jilly, you're coming w/ me.

If I was going to down a grotesque green homemade smoothie (b/c of it's health benefits), Jilly, you were going to suck it up and suck it down w/ me.

If I was getting out of bed to have breakfast w/ Ro, Jilly, you're joining us.

The common thread here being that I was truly pushing for our individual and collective benefit.

It was always a push of love, encouragement.  Not aggression.  Sometimes frustration...

Let me say this more clearly.  Very simply, I wanted what was best for Jill.  And when Rory came into our world, I wanted what was best for both of them.  Always and w/o question.

And I can say w/ a great level of confidence that they both know this.

But, again, I could be pushy.  And Jill let me know.

(That bird is still present...)

So, when I urged Jill to juice, nudged her to exercise, or pushed her to play w/ Ro, she'd respond, "I'm doing the best I can."  But, if I'm honest w/ myself - w/ Jill - I'm not sure I heard her in those moments.  My frustration clouded my ability to empathize.

In retrospect (fucking retrospect), real truth was in those words.  I just didn't hear it.  Or I had a difficult time absorbing and accepting it.

Just give yourself a little push, Jilly.  If not for yourself, for us.  I thought this line to myself and actually pointed it directly to her on more than one occasion.

But, damn it, Jason.  Jill was doing the best she could.  Just b/c you can get your ass out of bed at a 'normal' hour doesn't mean Jill has the capacity - the energy - to do the same.

And to be fair to myself (a bit), occasionally I was able to recognize this and give Jill the pass she most certainly deserved, earned.

But, while she had an ongoing armageddon inside of her, I had an internal tug-o-war...or maybe a tightrope walking challenge in front of me.

Do I passively sit back and just watch Jill make her own decisions, honor them, and keep my fucking mouth shut?  After all, it's her life.  Her choices.  Back the fuck away and respect that.

Or, do I get in there, offer/make/fling suggestive behaviors her way, hoping one all will stick and somehow miraculously pull us out of these disease infested waters?  Magical thinking at its best worst...

Really, I had convinced myself that if Jill just did everything I thought was best for her well-being (based on my endless research), she'd fucking run that disease out of her body and into the ether.  How ludicrous is that?  (The audacity of hope...or the audacity of a dope?)

Equally, when she opted for the couch instead of the dog walk, or the Twizzler instead of the kale chip, I was convinced (and dumbfounded by the fact) that she was giving more power and control to the disease.

Fuck that.  W/ that mentality, how do you sit idly by and just watch?  This wasn't a spectator sport.  I was in this game w/ her.  And we were going to fucking win.

(Cardinal flew off.  Maybe my post pissed it (her?) off...)

During the last several months of our time together, my tendency to be overbearing gave way to genuine compassion.  I put aside my agenda and simply aimed to make Jill comfortable - both physically and mentally.  Whatever she wanted, I was going to support those decisions.

That was a jagged pill for me to swallow.  But, in the end, it was the right pill for me.  For us.


So now it's my turn.  While I don't say it aloud, I catch myself directing that line inward.

When I'm dragging (always), can't get out of bed at a reasonable hour (often), or question my abilities as a father (occasionally), this line pops into my head.

I'm doing the best I can.

I just hope it's enough.

All love,

J, J, & r

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Case of Emergency

We had a destination wedding.

While the ceremony took place in Key West, we were actually officially married two days prior in Fort Lauderdale.  (We were required to have our marriage documentation fully executed before we shipped off for Key West.)

And even then, in the Fort Lauderdale court house, Jill took the lead filling out the forms.  Not b/c I'm incompetent (I think), but b/c of the two of us, Jill had legible handwriting.

(I remember Jill prompting me to sign my name legibly so 'this marriage is legitimate.')

Like all of us, Jill's penmanship was unique to her.  As I look at it now (literally now), it's often a combination of both print and cursive.  And no matter the ratio, it was always legible.

I, on the other hand, after receiving an award in third grade for cursive honors, took a nose dive into the illegible world usually held exclusively by physicians.  I can read it.  Most others cannot.

As a result, from that sunny day in Fort Lauderdale on, Jill was the default form-filler-outer in our family.

Applications.  Jill.

Surveys.  Jill.

Medical forms.  Jill.

This last one she became quite efficient at completing.

Ahead of most every oncology appointment, Jill was given a clipboard, a pen, and the same form that required her to circle and/or fill in that week's ailments.  Fatigue.  Neuropathy.  Swelling.  Mouth sores.  Fever.  Bone pain.  General pain.  (This short list being the tippy-top of the ailment iceberg.)

Over the last several weeks before Jilly passed, there were a few appointments where the form-filler-outer duty was shifted to me.

Among the many ailments now hindering Jill's ability to function was neuropathy.  If unfamiliar, neuropathy is essentially a numbing of the nerves (typically in the hands and/or feet) as a result of extensive chemotherapy treatments.

Fuck this disease.

I have to be honest.  When we originally heard that neuropathy was a potential side effect, I didn't think - if it hit - it would have a significant impact on Jill's overall functionality.  It causes numbing, I ignorantly thought to myself.  That might be a welcomed ailment.

Idiot...

What I learned thru our personal experience is that if it impacts your hands, neuropathy can make it very difficult for you to hold, and therefore properly operate, a writing utensil.

You want to witness some sad shit?  Watch your fucking 43 year young wife struggle to put pen to paper b/c her grip is failing her.

I mean, really - murder this fucking disease.  

So, for her last few doctor appointments, I filled out the forms.  I knew all the ailments.

You lay on my shoulder, Jilly.  I got this.

Fuuuuuuuuuck.

Then Jill has pockets where she rallies.  To be clear, this means she has brief spurts of energy to assist in the planning of our impending ten year vow renewal.

After one particular doc appointment, before heading home, we stopped at Jill's favorite local cakery to discuss, taste, and order our wedding cake.

And like most events, Jilly had her vision.  Smart phone in hand, she pointed out images she had bookmarked that clearly expressed what she wanted for our cake.  She was excited, so I was excited.

While we waited for them to finalize the order and pull samples from the back (my favorite part), a day of delivery/pickup form needed to be filled out to complete the order.  Jill snagged the paper and pen, filled out a line, then quietly passed it to me.

"I can't write legibly anymore.  Can you?"

"Yeah, I got it.  No problem," I responded as I glanced at the writing she left for me atop the page.

She was right.  It wasn't Jill's handwriting anymore.  It was illegible.

Come on.  Really?  It's enough already...


One of Jilly's many to-do lists

A few weeks back I needed a script filled.  I called my doctor's office.  Apparently she left the practice, which left me in GP limbo.  I just needed a damn doc to refill a script for me.

I was referred to another office.  But, of course, they needed a face visit before they would give me the goods.  So, I begrudgingly played along and made an appointment.

I rolled into the office and was greeted by a smiling receptionist and a stack of forms.

That's fine.  I'll fill them out.  It's not like I had to tap Jilly to fill out forms for me at my own doctor appointments.  I'm somewhat functional.  Somewhat.

I'm rolling thru the pages, taking my time to ensure I offer my best penmanship.  I don't want medical staff misconstruing any of my medical history.

It says here you have a history of herpes diarrhea.

No...that says 'heart disease.' 

Then I hit the line that causes me to pause.  Emergency Contact.

I pause b/c I genuinely don't know who my emergency contact is anymore.

You want to feel isolated, alone, on your own island?  Dwell in the space between reading 'emergency contact' on a form and actually knowing who to put on the line.

That moment of not knowing anymore felt like I was in a free fall.  If I didn't scratch something down quickly, I would just continue to fall deeper into the darkness.

As I quick as I could I jotted my parents down.  Thank God for them.

But, damn, it's like I'm reverting back to my childhood.  In case of emergency, please call my mommy and daddy.

Not that my parents won't come to my rescue, but Jill's my emergency contact.  She's been my default emergency go-to for nearly fourteen years.  It's a given.

It was a given.

I got my script filled.  But, maybe now I need another one.  One to help numb this grief...not my fucking hands.  B/c I've got many more forms to fill out in this lifetime.

FUCK CANCER.


All love,

J, J, & r

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Birds

When we moved into our current house, Jill was quick to get in touch w/ the nature surrounding it.

She wanted to build, groom, and harvest a garden.  She did.

Then she built another one.  And did it again.

She seemed to have a great appreciation for our property's 'natural' landscape - the bushes that framed the back deck, the various trees that created a natural fence line separating our yard from our backyard neighbors, the towering front yard oak (named "Grandpa" by Rory when we moved in - and so it remains) that now holds the ever popular tree trampoline swing.  (It's safer than it sounds.)

Jill didn't mind getting dirty.  She was at home w/ the soil.  The earth.  In a very real way, it was a therapeutic outlet for her.

The large window in our kitchen yields an excellent view of our backyard and the natural activities occurring in it.

Like birds...being birds.

Unless they're tropical, fighting, or building a nest where I don't want one, I'm likely not paying much attention to birds.

Jill, on the other hand, soon after we moved in, paid closer attention to our little bird community.

"Look guys," she'd excitedly point out the kitchen window as Ro and I shoveled breakfast into our face holes.  "That bird over there...he was here yesterday and I think he's not pleased that this new bird has started to infringe on his territory."

I didn't care.

But, for a five year old (our five year old), any activity was engaging activity.

And so it was.  On almost a daily basis, spotting bird activity outside the house became a regular discussion point inside the house.  These two girls would actively watch to discover the next plot line in the ongoing bird saga.

"Ro Ro Ro, you see that bird in the bushes just beyond the feeder?"

"No...where?" Rory straining to see.

"Riiiiiiiight there," Jill'd precisely point out.  "That bird was making a nest outside the dining room window yesterday.  I bet he's looking for more materials today."

Who gives a shit?

(Yes, I'm aware.  I'm aware that I've used this line in previous posts.  Maybe the feelings behind this phrase are something I need to explore.  Maybe I need to give more credit to the "little things" in life.  Maybe that's where the magic lives.  For Jill and Rory it certainly does.  And they're innately happy.  Hmm...I may be onto something...)

Regardless, the girls' borderline infatuation w/ the (what I would label as) mundane bird activity did tend to warm my heart just a bit.  Admittedly, I still didn't care about the birds.  But, my girls found joy in it.  I'm not stepping in the way of their joy.


Separately but similarly, Jilly would often be the first person to spot and comment on a flock of birds making one of those indescribable patterns in the sky.  We'd be out for a walk, playing at the park, or driving in the car, and Jill'd exclaim, "Oh look!  Look at those birds.  There's just something so magical about the shapes and patterns that they make in the sky."  Jill's expression was always something close to childlike wonder.  I found myself watching her expression more than the birds.  

Because of this, when Rory and I see such a flock, we immediately point it out to one another.

We saw one a couple weeks ago as we walked toward the entrance of Trader Joe's.  Rory looked up and w/o missing a beat said, "Hi Mommy."

...deep breath for Daddy...


So, b/c this is very much a stream of consciousness posting process, I'm going to go a bit 'Pulp Fiction' here and take things a bit out of sequence.


Before we moved onto Sundown Square, we lived w/ my parents.  The initial plan was to stay a month or two to find our spot in STL.  After our initial diagnosis, we opted to stay put, extending our stay for fourteen months.  (And what a freaking blessing that was.)

As we began chemotherapy treatments, an odd recurrence emerged.  Nearly every morning when I left the house for work, I'd step out to my car and see a black bird (crow?  raven?)  perched atop my passenger side mirror.  As soon as I got w/in a few feet of it, the bird would fly off.

The first few times it occurred, I brushed it off.

But it kept coming back.  Day after day after day the bird returned.

And I have to be honest.  I didn't feel good about it.  I mean, it was a black bird.  That's not a positive sign, right?  If it's a good omen, wouldn't it have been a dove or something?  (Clearly I'm not current on my bird symbolism.)

Jilly found it interesting as well, but we didn't talk too much about it...maybe b/c we both had some hidden concerns about what it potentially symbolized.

After Jill's treatments, the bird was gone.

So there's that.


Fast forward to the last week or so.  I'm now working from home.  Thank goodness (and the good people in my work world for this accommodation).

It's winter.  The trees, the bushes, are all bare.

So, when a bright red cardinal sits atop a branch, perfectly framed outside my kitchen window, I immediately take notice.  Amidst a backdrop of grey skies and dried out branches, this vibrant shock of red jumps out.

Fine.  A cardinal was in my yard in the thick of winter.  It's happened before.  Not a big deal.

But this guy keeps coming back.  Morning after morning.

Maybe this is just what birds do...

But but but, when I'm in my office, jamming away at work, and a (that?) freaking cardinal finds me (again?) by planting itself just outside my office window (for nearly two minutes), that causes me to pause...then reflect...now blog.

The truth is this all may mean nothing.  I may be connecting dots that aren't meant to be connected.

But, even so, if this bird provides me w/ a kernel of comfort, of solace, then I'll bite.  I am biting.  Because maybe it's all about connecting our own dots in our own way.

You connect yours.

I'll connect mine.

Here's to birds.

All love,

J, J, & r

Monday, February 9, 2015

Toys Are Overrated

Jill always credited me w/ creating fun w/ Rory sans conventional toys.

Well, Jill certainly had a knack for it as well...


All love,

J, J, & r

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cheese


When Jeremy Piven's character in "Old School" is reunited with the characters played by Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, Wilson refers to him as 'Cheese.'  Vaughn connects, and quickly follows w/ the line "Oh yeah...Cheeeeeeeese."  This nickname is not explained, but Vaughn's delivery of the word 'cheese' by itself tickles me every time I see it.  (If interested, start at the :31 mark.)

For whatever reason, the delivery of that word in that scene sticks w/ me to this day.  So, invariably, any time I hear anyone utter the word 'cheese,' my mind hears "cheeeeeeese.'

Some of you may have heard me do this...but I doubt it.  I think I saved it for Jilly.

And to this day, I'm still not convinced she knew the origin of my response.  I think she just thought I was either mocking her, or helping to emphasize my enthusiasm for (but lack of) cheese.

Regardless, it's one of these 'inside jokes' (I hate that term; it's so exclusive) that has lived w/ Jill and me for years.

So, there's that.


Then we go back to the "West Wing."  Not unlike the 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' game, Jilly could swing almost anything back to the "West Wing" in 2-3 moves tops.

In one particular episode, the day is labeled as the 'Big Block of Cheese Day.'  (Not the best clip, but it gives some reference.)

Not unlike the "Old School" reference, this always stuck w/ Jilly.  If our vegan faces somehow crammed in some cheese (maybe a Pi pizza cheat), Jill would often beam, "It's Big Block of Cheese Day."  She was giddy.

What's better than two of her favorites paired together - "West Wing" & cheese.


And, like many of us, Jill had her weaknesses.  And I'm going to call her out on one.

I know what you may be thinking right now.  Careful.  You can't do that.  Don't expose weaknesses when she can't retort.  Poor taste.  Hold back.  

Yeah?  Well, you hold back.  Refrain from reading ahead if you can't take it.

You've been warned.

Here it is...

Jilly loved ballpark nacho cheese.  There.  I said it.  (It's like a weight has been lifted.)

And as I expressed to her time and again, that shit's not even close to real cheese.  For one, it comes in an oversize can (nearly a vat).  A can opener has to be applied to it before you can drench your stale chips w/ it.

We could - and would - debate this one anytime we were approaching, or at a sporting event.  To be honest, it was just pure entertainment for the both of us.  Jill defending her stance as a fake cheese connoisseur.  Me...well...me mocking her for it.

And, in fact, as I expressed to Ro just yesterday, Mommy had a fake cheese radar (cheese'dar?) that would allow her to naturally hone in on the concession stand that had that shit ready to discharge.

Even in her strongest and most resolute vegan moments, Jilly would cave for the fake cheese.

Gotta love her.



But, we more often wanted to be good vegans...good vegans that wanted a cheese fix.  That's when we discovered cashews.

Cashews are freaking vegan magic.  Case in point - queso.

Jilly made a killer queso w/ cashews as the base.  (I won't go into recipe details here, but it's truly incredible.)  It's some work, so it was usually saved for days like yesterday's Super Bowl.

And regardless of when Jill blessed us w/ the queso, I would always overeat.  I would dip whatever I could find into that queso, ingesting enough to feed a family of eight.  And, of course, I made myself sick.  Every time Jilly made it.  Thus allowing Jilly to label me Queso Jaso.

And like that beautiful queso to my insides, the nickname stuck.

Anytime I picked up the phone to call Jilly, she'd see it was me, pick up the phone, and I'd hear, "Hola, Queso!"

I miss that.



Then there's the more abstract cheese reference that's been sitting w/ me for a few months now.

A dear friend was in the process of watching his father pass.  He'd had many conversations w/ many people about how to cope, and what to expect in the aftermath.  I imagine, like me, he received a lot of insight and advice.

The one he chose to share w/ me referenced swiss cheese.

As I understand it, we are the cheese.  And certain life events, when they impact us, create holes in our cheese.  In us.  And while these holes remain for the balance of our lives, the upside is that the overall integrity of the cheese - our integrity - does not falter.  It carries on.

You carry on.  I carry on.

Makes sense.  Simple enough.  Not necessarily profound, but it certainly stuck sticks w/ me.

However, I have a follow-up question that has yet to be answered.  How do you know how big a hole is going to be in your cheese?

I shared this nugget w/ Jilly, probably a month or so before she passed.  We were in the car, idling in the driveway (probably waiting on Ro to finish tying her shoes inside the house).

I told Jilly, "I just can't imagine the hole I'm going to be left w/ will allow me to stay intact."

Jilly looked at me.  Then looked down.  I followed her gaze as two, three, five, six tears fell onto her denim pant leg.

She looked back up at me, tears in her eyes, and whispered, "You'll be okay."

When?



All love,

J, J, & r