Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Dad's Gift of Himself

Our doorbell is unplugged and from my bed, I heard a pounding knock on the door. Sick and in clothing not appropriate for strangers, I zipped my oversized Star Trek hoodie on as fast as I could and saw a FedEx truck outside. I opened the door quickly apologizing for the wait because I was sick and he said, "I'm sorry. But it is from Germany. I couldn't leave it." I signed my name.

I closed the door and clutched the package to my chest. I knew what it was. I leaned my back against the door and wept. I felt incredibly loved and thought: this is my dad--he has an incredible capacity to love and to give out of that love. 

My dad's 60th birthday is today but we celebrated it at my house over the 4th of July holiday with my mom, brother, sister in law, husband and my dad's brother. I had asked them to send me words that described Dad to them. I was hoping to amass sixty words and I got many more. 
The words were used in a gift entitled "60 things we love about You." 

Sixty things we love about my dad are: giving…  listener… insightful… artist… wise… loving… delegator… golfer… explorer … kind… caring… president… humble... clever.. planter... gracious... adventurer… patient… businessman… teacher… understanding... strong... compassionate... sharing… fan… brave… peaceful… trustworthy… student… photographer… sensible… protective… architect… thoughtful… honest…considerate… archivist… intelligent…funny… counselor… driven… athlete… fair… believer… handyman… family… handsome… leader… organized... attentive... generous... creative... chop... talented... traveler... prayerful... direct... dedicated... Christian... aficionado...

One of my favorite childhood memories is that my dad took our family on vacations at least once a summer. He would get really excited, put a map on the kitchen table and show us all the locations we would go and walk through his printed itinerary. One year we jumped in our suburban, affectionately known as the "Black Beast" and drove 5000 miles from Kentucky to California and back. One of many places we returned to more than once as a family is Jackson Hole, Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. Dad and Mom started visiting there before they were married and return often. My Dad was there as recent as June of this year. Dad's memories of being there with his family draw him back to the glory of the Teton Mountain Range and Jenny Lake. Dad, being a talented photographer, captures the endless beauty and the images encapsulate the emotions of being there.

Me & My Brother at Grand Teton National Park, 1990
Jackson is one of those places that if I had a family, we would've been there several times by now.  Admiring Jenny Lake from hiking to Inspiration point; a guided boat tour of the Snake River; a trip to the lodge to eat at the diner; giggling about the meaning of the name of the mountain range; waking up early to capture photographs of the Tetons reflecting on the water; stopping along the road to admire the wildlife such as buffalo and moose. My dream is to someday be well enough to share the Tetons with George. When Dad was in Jackson in June while my mom was on a mission trip to Honduras, Dad shared many photos with me via email. As a photographer, his gift for capturing images is spectacular -- an artistic talent he inherited from his dad. 

Dad's inscription of Christmas photo
For Christmas, I received a gorgeous photo he'd taken of the light coming through the clouds in front of the majestic Tetons. The photo had been processed in a high tech photo-lab in Germany on museum-quality acrylic glass. When Dad was here for his early birthday celebration, he told me he had another photograph coming to me from Germany. I was overwhelmed--it is his birthday and he sent me a gift.
The dogs surrounded me, wanting to smell the package in my arms. I sat on the couch and slowly opened the many layers of protection until it unveiled an image that I interpret as my dad sharing with me his love of Jackson; his love of his mom and his dad; his love of the memories he made with them and his siblings; his love of the memories he made with Mom, with my brother and with me; his love of me. The image is simply glorious and speaks to me in ways I cannot explain.

I know my dad loves me more than words can describe and I know that not everyone has that. I appreciate how my dad loves me, how he has held me and rocked me when a boy broke my heart, how he has given guidance & wisdom, how he ran to my side when George was in a coma and held me up when I was sinking, how he gives to everyone he knows so generously, how he reminds me to let painful things go like balloons into the sky so they don't burden me, how he has done things to love me that I do not even know about. 
I love you to bits and bits, Dad. Thank you for being you. 
Happy 60th Birthday!
Love, Kelly

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Won't Give Up - Dance

Our first dance at our wedding was to a song from Jim Brickman's "The Disney Songbook" featuring Wayne Brady called "Beautiful." Our second first dance, we danced a round dance which is what George grew up dancing in addition to square dancing. A round dance is a cued and choreographed ballroom dance. George's mom gave to us the gift of a choreographed round dance which she cued live at our wedding. Our round dance to the grammy winning song, "Could I Have This Dance" by Anne Murray is something that we still waltz around the house signing and dancing to. Most certainly, dancing is a natural "high" for me.

George braved Friday Chicago traffic. 
When I discovered that Emmy winning choreographer Derek Hough and his sister Julianne Hough who both have been pro dancers on the television show "Dancing With The Stars" were going on tour: Move Live On Tour, I was thrilled. Last Friday night, with excitement, George and I went on an adventure to downtown Chicago to the dance concert despite the multiple health issues that were making us question if I would make it to or through it.

George commented if the average person was experiencing just one of the health issues I'm navigating, they would not have gone. But I can't consider that. This is my life. I push though as much as my body will allow. Frequently the thought in the chronic illness community (especially from professionals) is: do not push past your limits; do not over-do it. We should heed the warning because our bodies will rebel.

But I disregard the warning and yes, my body rebels, but it is so worth it. I NEED to push farther than I can so that I can LIVE and have JOY. I won't give up!  Going to a concert or musical is challenging, but this year we committed to doing it.  I am over the frustration that comes with needing a wheelchair to transport. It is a tool I use to get me to where I want to be. I don't have the stamina, my body is weak, my fibro was flaring, vertigo was affecting my ability to know where I am in space, my IBS was threatening via cramping unwanted trips to the bathroom, the weather was triggering a Migraine and the sensitivity that I have to sound was amping up the severity of my NDPH.

BUT, none of it mattered. Move Live on Tour was a most treasured time. Tears streamed down my face as I watched dance after dance, style after style. I grinned the whole time, cheered and whooped and clapped. The tour is interactive and periodically the audience got up and danced. Still seated with everyone grooving around me, I was engulfed in an extraordinary spirit of enthusiasm for living in that blissful moment. I don't know the last time, I thought to myself "I don't want this to stop." I feel so inadequate in finding the words to describe how dance affects me.

My body crashed midway through the second act, but we stayed. Afterward, in our twelveth floor hotel room, we chatted animatedly about the night. We were interrupted by a screaming crowd. Apparently our hotel abuts The Chicago Theater's back stage door with the Elevated train separating the two. A perfect view of flash bulbs (can I still call them that?) going off in rapid fire. Derek and Julianne were taking photos and selfies and signing just outside our hotel window.

Flash forward to Wednesday night (last night), we were watching "So You Think You Can Dance". One dance in particular choreographed by Lacey Schwimmer moved me to tears. After we watched it a few times --thank you DVR-- George stood up, lifted his arms and opened his stance as an invitation to dance with him. I was delighted. We got in a few steps and two turns until vertigo kicked in and I sunk to the floor because I did not know where I was in space. But those moments of George guiding me around the room were so worth the vertigo. I won't give up dancing or my love of it.

Find something you love and do not let life keep you from living it out- even if in small ways. Watching the dances online again today got my heart racing: especially this one called "I Won't Give Up" performed by Ricky and Valerie. Don't miss out-watch it.

Dance is my happy thought today. What is yours?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dandelion Seeds

Monday was a stressful day. Actually the weekend was a stressful weekend. Well the last several weeks have been pretty rough. We have been struggling for months: months that have been a challenging two years. But Monday, yeah, it was a stressful day.

Stress is a dandelion whose seeds have been blown into every nook and every cranny of our lives. 

Monday, despite the Migraine, I plowed through a list of computer-related tasks I had put off for a while: paying bills; untangling messes; individually reaching out to some of the 100+ "friends" on my Facebook because I'm deactivating soon; filing a warranty claim on my LifeProof cell phone case; starting to compose an email that I've put off for almost two years.

By early afternoon I became aware my body was physically shaking. I had forgotten to take my morning meds but more importantly my anxiety medication which I must take in a regimented fashion to prevent panic attacks. Too late. It occurred to me I hadn't drank or eaten anything all day but no notion of wanting to do either. I ate a few bites of tilapia, a spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes and a couple sips of orange juice. I woke our senior Cavalier, Casper, for his midday potty break. He likes waking up as much as I do. In waking, his droopy eyes and heavy head clearly say: "Just one more minute, Mom." As I walked to the sliding door, I held him close to my chest and I felt his heart beating. I stood still for a bit and absorbed the feeling. The girls charged out the door and down the stairs to the grass. Casper stretched in his pleasure of the sun. I breathed in the warm air appreciating the white puffy clouds and perfect sky blue backdrop. Neither the anxiety or the shaking abated, so, I did what I do. I pushed through. 

George got home and we were both feeling the dandelion seeds. Apparently I was visibly out of sorts. I felt an uncontrollable desire for Knightley's presence. I kept wiping the unwanted tears of stress from my eyes. George verbalized his stress-filled emotions. I was proud of him and silently thanked God.  

We were a bit aimless, standing in the kitchen, each staring at the dogs as they ate. Red bowl, silver bowl, brown bowl.  George's Crohn's was acknowledging his stress. I still wasn't hungry. I hugged him for a long time trying to find relief and also to give support.  We decided to watch a tv show and attempt to eat. The Food Network made us laugh. For thirty minutes, we giggled so much we had to pause the playback. Exhale. Relief. 

George meditates and has quiet time with God each day. During that time, I am re-training myself to read my daily devotional & faith-related books instead of numbing myself with television or Pikimin 3 on Wii U. We have committed to spending time with God together EVERY day -- no excuses -- because we will not make it through the challenges without that foundation.  How we spend time with God depends on how sick I am:  One Year Love Talk Devotional For Couples focused on marriage by Drs Les and Leslie Parrott, or if I'm severely sick with one of my chronic illnesses, a Bible verse or a short prayer. 

Monday was another day just like the other days. Heartbeats and puffy clouds; mental illness and warriors; laughter and Crohn's; empty dog bowls and a butterfly balloon; constantly ill and heartache; confusion and meditation; neglect and repeat; Everest and hinds feet; Angel Knightley and God. Dandelion seeds and Hope? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Celebrate in the Rain

I have thought a lot about my post for today. I have thought how I could share how on the day George and I got married, I thought I knew everything and it turns out I knew nothing. By pure special coincidence, George and I share our anniversary with his cousin and his aunt. His cousin and wife have been married for 25 years. His aunt and uncle have now been married for 52 years!

George and I went to Walt Disney World in September 2013 over the exact year to date of his suicide attempt. Because of my mental health, I did not think I could be at home during the actual dates. I was working through PTSD, anxiety and panics attacks. The happiest place on earth seemed a fitting place to get away. It is where we went on our honeymoon and have visited five times in eight years of marriage.

We scheduled a specialty cruise (boat ride) to watch the fireworks in Epcot. A gluten-free cake was ordered to celebrate George's life. It was a wonderful plan to change a difficult day into a happy memory. I surprised George earlier in the week as Mickey decorated our room, recognized George's "character, courage and hope" as he bravely navigates difficult issues, presented him a certificate and an official medal of Disney Magical Triumph that read "My Husband My Hero" on the lanyard and gave George a card full of notes from loved ones celebrating him. George wore the medal throughout the trip. Many people commented on it and one gentleman walked up to George and shook his hand after asking about the story behind the medal.

The night came for our celebratory boat ride, and we were in for a treat! I had a Migraine, but not severe enough to cancel. Once George & I arrived, we met our boat driver who was old enough to have known Walt Disney (he really did). In our scheduling of our cruise, lines had gotten crossed and apparently they thought we were celebrating a birthday and were given the "pirate" boat that had a huge "Happy Birthday" sign on it. It made it more fun and actually it was a celebration of George's life. "Yo-ho-yo-ho a pirate's life for me."

As soon as it was time to get on the boat, it started raining. It didn't start off slow, it just poured. We had ponchos, but were still soaked to the bone. Everything was soaked. Part of the boat was covered, so we had some refuge, but once we started on our way, the spray was...well...wet. It was like sitting in the front of the boat on Splash Mountain. Again, we couldn't help but laugh. Who doesn't like Splash Mountain? The only thing we were missing was the song from the ride: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah! Zip-A-Dee-A! My! Oh my! What a wonderful day!"

Our driver was chatty, telling us about Walt and special things about the parks, which we enjoyed. We drove down to the area near Disney Hollywood Studios (DHS) before heading back to Epcot for the fireworks. Suddenly our driver stopped talking. The boat's engine stalled and then completely died. We were drifting, in the pouring rain and in the dark. Our driver was a bit hard of hearing, so it was a comedy of errors as he attempted to radio back that we were adrift. The driver couldn't hear the base of operations. And they couldn't understand our driver.

Then came a passenger boat that regularly transports people to and from the resort hotels and DHS. At first they were headed directly for us as we had drifted to the middle of the passageway.  Our stressed out driver flagged the boat down and yelled that we needed help.

The honest truth is that the whole time, George and I were cracking up. We tried to keep it to ourselves because our poor driver was frantic. But, we thought it was hilarious that it was one mishap after another. This is exactly what we are used to - everything not going according to plan. But, we actually were enjoying it.

Eventually two rescue boats came for us. Our hard of hearing driver could not hear the rescue driver repeatedly asking him to sit down. We were towed back to the dock. With great haste, we were moved to another boat and our driver raced us to the area where we were supposed to watch the fireworks.  It had stopped raining, but the fireworks had already started. Our poor driver was so frazzled that when he opened the box containing our cake, the cake fell sideways into his hands. And I can guarantee they were not clean hands. But, he still served us the cake. George and I exchanged secret smiles while telling our apologetic driver that it was okay he had dumped the 8 inch double layer round cake into his hands. I ate around the contaminated part and it was yummy! The speakers on our side of the lake went in and out during the fireworks presentation, Illuminations, but it really didn't matter. Everything still felt magical.

Had everything gone exactly how a specialty cruise was supposed to go, I do not think we would have had as much fun. We genuinely enjoyed ourselves.

After a quiet and romantic ride back to the dock, upon disembarking, our driver apologized profusely for all the mishaps. Little did he know we tipped him more than we would have had it been exactly what we ordered. Our driver had been so sweet and kind and had been grandfatherly to us. Even through all the craziness, he had done everything possible to make the cruise special and it was special. We even hugged him before we left.

To my husband, George, I love that you laugh with me in the rain. Happy eight years, hon.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ready to Write

For many months, I have attempted to write a transition blog post from my last post on June 6, 2013 to upcoming blog posts. I have struggled as to what to say. I have verbs and nouns and adjectives and adverbs and prepositions and pronouns and conjunctions and interjections that I am itching to share with you!  But none of the wordy drafts I have written seemed to do the job of saying:

Here I am and I'm ready to start writing and connecting.

Mission Complete. See you soon! 

Today's happy thought brought to you by six Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Casper (12), Giselle (7), Zuzu (7), Taylor (10), Gibbs (3), Zoe (6)
Casper, Giselle and Zoe my dogs and are all rescue dogs from Cavalier Rescue USA.
Zuzu, Taylor and Gibbs are my parents' dogs who were visiting.