Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 6.51.03 PM
GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

Growth, Progression

DNA is not a perfect molecule. It is mortal. Its synthesis isn’t always a perfect process–that’s why it has an editing/repair mechanism. When this mechanism breaks down due to age and/or damage and/or genetics (with a series of other factors) and contributes to a cell’s inability to stop replicating, you get cancer.

Most religions subscribe to an afterlife of some sort: resurrection, reincarnation. Immortality is their common theme.

When scientists grow healthy cells in a petri dish, the cells reproduce until a nice, confluent monolayer forms. Then they stop. When they cultivate cancer cells, the cells don’t stop replicating; layers of cells keep piling on top of each other. Their off switch is broken or was never activated. These cancer cells form a rather intricate network. This organized madness is called immortality in culture.

Modern medicine has slowed this down a little, but has found no cure. Not even close. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

Yesterday morning around 9:00, this message arrived in my Outlook Inbox at work:

“It is with regret that I have to report the passing of [a dear coworker friend]. She peacefully departed this morning in her sleep. At this time I do not have any other information. Please contact [this person] or [that person] for additional information such as an address to send condolences.

“Please pass this on to those that knew her.”

My first reaction was sadness. I forwarded the message to a coworker downtown, and we discussed it over instant messenger. It was only a matter of minutes before I was crying uncontrollably and excused myself to the bathroom to cry some more.

She worked out of the Delaware office. She came to New York a few times to help establish some of the operations procedures which had never really gotten under way. All I remember of her was how nice she was; how encouraging, and how she emphasized lessons to be learned from every situation. She conferred privately with me a couple times to agree on the faceless monster that is Corporate America. She was always optimistic, always finding a way to laugh.

She had struggled with breast cancer earlier in life. She underwent treatment. Doctors assigned her a good bill of health. Then in the past year, it came back furiously. Seized her body. Recently doctors gave her three months to live. Yesterday wasn’t three months. She was a daughter and a mom and a wife and a friend to everyone who ever knew her.

When we’re resurrected, will all our cells be cancerous, i.e. immortal? Cancer is just the difference between mortal and immortal cells. It seems our bodies wouldn’t know otherwise if all our cells were immortal. Throughout history, mortals and immortals have always been separate. People in the scriptures were always transfigured before standing in the presence of God. Minus the biochemistry, maybe it’s just that simple: the relationship between cancer cells and “healthy” cells will never be symbiotic. Cancer will always win, because it never dies.

You can’t kill it. It tricks you, seemingly. It might go away, but it will always come back. It kills you. Without warning. Without sense. It’s immortal. It kills you before you have a chance to die. It sucks, because WE are mortal, and we’re ticked off because something we can’t control has beaten us at conquering death, to the point of killing us. All the research in the world won’t help us understand why. Nor will it keep us from missing our friends and loved ones.

That separation is temporary, though, as mortality defines. While we’re mortal, we’ll keep missing our friends and loved ones; we’ll keep wondering why the Lord gives us certain experiences. Eventually we’ll all die and reunite with our friends and loved ones. Then we won’t stop growing. We’ll never die. When we’re all immortal, we’ll be just one big happy cancer, except that we won’t know the difference. So maybe we’ll just be happy.