With Lois, For The Win

I determined I’d open  2017 with a gratitude post, but to be honest, and this is no complaint, there were so many avenues I could go, I wasn’t sure where to start. I’m privileged enough to have most of my needs met and most importantly, I have pretty amazing family and supportive community.  It was in this, that I felt inspired to say how writing has played a role in winning me some of that love and support.

Years ago I reported for newspapers, later side-lined for an opportunity to make a bigger splash by managing the start-up of a non-profit foundation.  After that, a similar turn in the private sector, and then onto the biggest job ever, motherhood.

Throughout those years, I continued to write – scads of your basic business letters and mountains of personal journals. Then Facebook came along.  Once in awhile I’d wax on, and on…. and on and fill my status box with a full-page of opinion. I’d get pretty good feedback, but more likely, I’d hear from Lois.

loisWe’d met at a performing arts studio where our kids attended.  Lois was smart, an English major and she was a writer. A real one; which she practiced with a business blog.  I enjoyed her replies to my status comments – witty and smart. Sometimes, she intimidated me. Not in a bad way, she made me want to try harder.  Then she brought up the idea of starting a blog. She’d simply suggest it now and then, until one day after yet another of my Facebook essays, her inner- warrior firmly tapped out the order, “Blog, woman”!!!

And thus a new blog was born.

Lois continued the encouragement through my spotty and rough start. I do know I’m not above some clunky writing here and there. Anyway, she was always very kind about it all and this was just an extension of her amazing generosity and wonderful, thoughtful presence.  Our shared connections always gave her the highest marks for decency.

Yes, it’s a cliche’ when I say it feels like only yesterday, when I got that Lois smack-down to work up to something. it’s especially so now, because we lost Lois last October.  A brain tumour discovered a couple of years ago overcame her.  I was out of town when she passed and I wasn’t able to attend her service.  Not unusually, I struggled about what to say to her family, especially from a distance.

I wrote her daughter, Kathryn, a friend also and within that note, I ended up explaining how her mother’s influence affected my life in ways that I’d never told Lois. I asked for permission to print parts of that note here.  I thought my 2017 gratitude for writing couldn’t begin without my 2013 re-start from Lois.  What writing has done for me over the last nearly four years is inextricably tied to her…

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Kathryn… I’ve tried so many times to write something to you about your mother.  It’s hard to admit a loss for words, but it’s especially frustrating when you want to tell someone how sorry you are for their losses of such significance…

I want to tell you what a wonderful person your mother was… is.  But you know that – and I am so glad about that for you and your family.

I want to tell you how much your mother influenced my life.  I want you to know how she actually changed it.  I want you to know that her insistence, with that boot to the butt,  that I write for real, introduced me to a world I had no idea existed and yet there it was, waiting for me to meet dozens of amazing people who would then move me along into opportunities I never could have dreamed were waiting for me.

Even love was there in that new world.  I found all sort of love and that too changed me and grew me up some more.

I would never have found new work that challenged me to use every creative thought I could muster. I would never have found friends that stand like sentries whenever I need.  My whole world would not have been so beautifully enforced.

Initially, I think I found it hard to believe that a writer really thought I was a ‘writer’.  I was once a reporter, but somewhere along the way, I’d lost the idea that what I’d write in my journals could possibly be readable, or understandable, or maybe even helpful to someone else.

Your mother gave that gift back to me. She made me take a chance by offering a glimmer of confidence that I could claim for myself.

So, I want to say, I am so glad and I am so enriched in so many ways to have met Lois Wasstrom.

I thank God for, Lois.

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I’d also mentioned to Kathryn I was certain her mother would always be a guiding force for her family. I can only hope that maybe now and then, she’ll continue to lend a hand to this very grateful writer.

RL

With a Little Help From My Friends; Paul Curran “The Invisibles” Part 1

While I’m off batting away demons, some friends have come to bat for me by sharing some pretty amazing survival triumphs of their own. I am so happy and grateful to share them.

Think you’ve heard of some tough years? Read on for a chronicle of unbelievable, stunning setbacks and lifesaving ennui.

This is a two-part tale of an incredible trip to save one’s sanity along with body by the beloved blog-o-sphere cheering and writing champion, Paul Curran.  

paulcurran2015.-2As I lay restlessly in the hospital bed, a plan began to form. I was here for internal bleeding, one of many, many complications that had cropped up from my cancer treatment.

It was under control but I knew what it meant – I had lost my right kidney, which we all knew was happening and came as no surprise. An ultrasound had confirmed that there was but slim remnants of that organ.

This had been a rare side effect of the radiation treatment – a treatment that was really a pact with the devil. In my case it was exceedingly effective and had destroyed the cancer, but it also created a list of horrendous side effects from the destruction of my kidneys to temporary impotence and many others in-between. I was now officially a dialysis patient and would remain so forever, barring a transplant. That was hard to accept.

This was the final straw, and the worst was that I KNEW it was not the end of the side effects – which the literature says can continue to appear up to 25 years after treatment.

quotation mark 1At 45, I would pretty much be at the end of my life before I’d be done with the potential lifespan of side effectsquotation mark 2.

In the preceding year I’d spent all my savings on a degree that I finished just in time for an economic downturn; got laid off from my job because with the new degree I was overqualified; ended a 12 year relationship which meant giving up my house; was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent radiation, chemotherapy and three operations.

I’d also suffered major treatment side effects including a colostomy, temporary impotence, a fistula between my bladder and rectum and then endured the many, many issues that crop up with dialysis such as multiple operations, scopes, colonoscopies, endoscopes, too many more to list.

Along with all of that, the engine of my car blew up. I was unable to work and with no funds left, I finally had to draw welfare.  The final topper, I had to move from where I was boarding because my landlady (not much older than me) died of a blood clot in her sleep.

I started drinking too much and clearly recognized that I was suffering from severe depression – certainly a state of mind that was natural given the few years of my life.

I had seriously contemplated suicide but didn’t have sufficient desire to follow through – sigh, a failure even at that. Ha! I needed help, of this I was sure and while lying in that hospital bed I decided it was time to get some help.

As difficult as my health issues had been over the previous few years, I had gotten excellent care and anything I desired treatment-wise was readily available. For instance when I came out of the last operation and recovered, I realized that they had cut through my belly button.

This meant nothing to me, but when my surgeon presented himself and asked if all was OK, I responded with: “My belly button is gone”! I was being funny, obviously having survived the cancer and surgery, my belly button was immaterial, but he took me seriously. “I apologize”, he said, “I can arrange for a plastic surgeon to rebuild your belly button and it will be covered under OHIP [the government health plan which normally did not cover non-life threatening plastic surgery].”

Invisible Beginnings…

Expecting mental health care to be as carefully and meticulously addressed as physical health care, I requested a psych evaluation – my intention was to eventually get sessions set up so I could talk my way through the depression and get a hand up back to normal.

In physical health care the doctors were so thorough that I sometimes had to turn down tests or watch for duplication. I had never requested help that I did not enthusiastically receive.

My requests for a psych evaluation went unanswered. I knew that the hospital had a whole psychiatry floor filled with patients and psychiatrists, but try as I may, I could not get one to come to my room.

After a week of asking daily, two interns showed up – doctors in training – who were not psychiatrists or even psychiatry students, but rather were doing a rotation in their training for a few weeks in psychiatry.

These students were typically kept busy doing case histories and such. I thought perhaps this was the route to a real psychiatrist, so I was cheerful with them and we chatted for an hour or so while they took careful notes. (They were humorous at times in their naivety and when I complained about the impotence, they asked how I knew.  Of course, I pointed out that I was sequestered here in the hospital so obviously it was an inability to masturbate – at which they turned all red, stuttered and moved to another topic).

And then nothing happened…

-Paul Curran

————— You can find Part 2 here ————–

Dejah is Soaring

The bagpipes were playing and the Red Serge of two RCMP officers were present when we arrived for the service.

Hundreds of us gathered to say goodbye for now to Dejah; our hearts heavy as we looked at each other knowing this made it more real.  It was time to acknowledge that one of our babies had moved on.  He came to us through Glo and Bob, but we all saw how he was family to many more, some he hadn’t even met, but to whom he became beloved nonetheless.  Such was, or rather, is, his beautiful spirit.

The air was a mix of warm expectancy and wistful anticipation, the kind where we needed to say to ourselves – hold it together here.  Just hold it together at least until you can take a seat.  We pinned on little yellow ribbons in support of beating childhood cancer as we lined up to sign the guest book on our way in.

There was so much love gathered today through Dejah that at times it was overwhelming.  They were not tears of grief, it was the fullness of hearts spilling over.  All got lifted up with all the messages of love spoken by those who took turns to share their feelings and experiences with him. His sister Rayne couldn’t have had a better letter of sibling love to share with us.  His Uncle Dwayne spoke to that part of us that loves with a parental heart.  Family friends shared how their lives have been impacted by him and his family.

We watched a video that displayed how much life that young spirit lived in between the bouts of inconvenience caused by cancer invasions.  It was astonishing to realize how much life he packed into the short thirteen years he was to be here.  It seems miraculous actually. Through those pictures we saw how much he loved to laugh, and he showed what really living was about, even with insurmountable challenges.

One of his best friends, Tre, stood up and told us, in the way only a kid can, what it was to be Dejah’s friend.  He told how Dejah was a video game king that regularly brought his opponents to their knees.   Tre made us laugh as he admitted he was one of those friends who felt like crying when Dejah wanted to play a video game because he knew he was going to get wiped out within minutes.  He reminded us of what it means to be a kid when he described how they would put Dejah into a baby cart at the grocery store and run until it fell over, and then they would fall over laughing.  We were overcome by Tre’s beautiful recounting of his friendship, and from the wisdom, far beyond his years, that he gained from it.

Dejah was the typical hockey-obsessed Canadian kid – one happy to throw a dig at his soccer loving friend, Nuvin, in good-humored contempt.   This is especially funny because Dejah was the inspiration for the start of a fantastic organization, started by that friend, called Kick for a Cure.  They work to raise awareness and funding for research of childhood cancer treatments – mainly through annual soccer tournaments.

He was an inclusive caring boy who lit up the hearts of so many with a remarkably warm smile.  That was an often mentioned point.  He laughed, and loved, and played the hell out of life.

He showed, even today, that to really live is about grabbing the moment we have, this one right here and now, and making it as worthwhile as we can.

Grab the opportunity to smile and laugh at anything you can. Do whatever it takes, even something as crazy as recording yourself elaborately eating your last bite of a sandwich.  Just. Do. It.  You have no idea how funny that will be some day.

It wasn’t an easy life for Dejah, and just like the rest of us, he had some days that made it too hard to smile.  His lesson isn’t that life will always be easy, it’s make the most of it when you can.  Strive to make the most out of what you do have, while you have it.

All too soon, the celebration was nearing the end.  We were all given tree saplings to plant in his honor and then we were given blue helium-filled balloons.  It was time to symbolically release our fears and pain and send out instead, our love for Dejah and for each other.

We cheered as the balloons rose and we watched as they drifted up into the sky, up and up, and then somebody realized a distinctive shape to them.  Look, Caroline said, they’ve gone into the shape of a heart, and they had.  Somehow that didn’t really seem all that surprising.   It was just another addition to the moments that display the power of Dejah’s spirit.

An earlier post I wrote about Dejah has, so far, been read over 1,100 times on seven continents.  Those are the reads that I can track, the ones that I can’t probably drive that number into the thousands.

It’s astounding to realize that a seemingly average young boy from Eagle Ridge in Coquitlam has touched so many people around the world.  It boggles my mind to try to comprehend that his spirit has literally surrounded the planet.

Glo and Bob, that spirit that was to be such a gift to so many came through you, and you nurtured it until it became whole in its perfection, until it was time to be released.  You are to know that you did well.  You did very, very well.

Dejah's second last Facebook post

Dejah’s second last Facebook post

RL

The family requests in lieu of flowers that you consider making a donation in Dejah’s memory to (your choice):

Canuck Place Children’s Hospice:
https://payment.csfm.com/donations/canuck_place/donate/
or
Kick For A Cure:  http://www.kickforacure.ca/donate-to-kfac/