Thursday, November 5

Not by the Hair

Most of the time, I'm proud that I've processed the whole cancer caregiver experience pretty well.  I can totally go to hospitals without trauma, talk reasonably and positively about my experiences and be truly happy for other people who stay in remission.  But I've realized I do have a small but brightly colored and oddly shaped piece of baggage.  It's when some cancer patients talk about how they lost their hair in a similar tone to a former POW alluding to torture.  Then, my mind blows up.

I want to say: wouldn't you rather lose your hair than have to give up driving because your reaction times are too slow?

Wouldn't you rather lose hair than be hospitalized every 1/4 of the time because your immune system has stopped working, and you even miss your brother's wedding as you lie in a hospital bed?

Wouldn't you rather that hair loss thing than be nauseous constantly, or lose your taste for food, or have sores in your mouth to the point that even swallowing water is painful?  And you lose so much weight that everyone jokes about your great weight loss program but really you are malnourished, weak and terrified of what will happen if you can't consume more calories?

Wouldn't you rather lose all your hair than have to chose only one thing to do each day because you have almost no energy?

Wouldn't you take hair loss over being in constant pain?  And you have some pills that help somewhat but if you take them your mind loses focus and all you can do is lay on the couch watching TV, watching the hours tick by and your life passing.

Wouldn't you rather lose your hair than watch your spouse give up their home and goals?  And you feel guilty that their life revolves around taking care of you but there's not much you can do about it?  And you must watch your friend's sorrow and your parent's worry and grief which you caused but can't relieve.

Ben would have.

By now, gentle reader, you may have have noticed a false dicotomy and unfairness on my part.  Ben both lost hair off and on and also had all the other experiences listed above (though he would put them more graciously than I did).  Most people don't even know for certain what their side effects will be, much less have a choice in them.

I only wish that some cancer patients did not present hair loss as the pinnacle of suffering.  It seems to invalidate what patients like Ben endure.  But shouldn't I just be thankful on behalf of these patients, that they haven't had to suffer worse?  Shouldn't I be sympathetic, as hair is strongly tied to identity and beauty (and perhaps even value) especially with women and hair loss is perhaps symbolic of a greater loss?  It's all very well for me to be pragmatic when I've never lost my hair.

Shouldn't I, too, take hold of this lesson that I wish others would learn and keep learning it myself - being thankful for my present clarity of mind, physical strength and emotional stability, and the overall functionality that keeps me useful and able to connect to people I care about?  Like many healthy people, I usually take these things for granted.

Thanks for enduring this rant!  It seems it was time for another theraputic writing session and that I'm still processing and healing. I'm also curious about your thoughts on this subject.  

Tuesday, October 13

Why you haven't heard from me lately (spoiler: double moving)

1.  Summer in Seattle
Brings boating, hiking, and a steady stream of out-of-town relatives and friends here to experience our gorgeousness.  Next to Christmas, summer is the most action packed time of year (and refuses to be ignored while I'm trying to do something productive instead of roasting marshmallows or jumping in the lake).

2.  Work
My job does allow for a good work-life balance.  But as a full-time gig with definite responsibilities, it warrants mention as something I've been spending time and energy on.

3.  Studying
After more than ten years of work, I finally qualified for the architecture exams!  So for the next couple years I will emulate a student by hanging out in coffee shops with flash cards and thick books, reading about construction contracts, HVAC systems and accessibility codes.  Seven exams later, I can finally call myself an Architect!
Well, I can now.  Just not legally.

4.  Dating
If you're on Facebook much, you may have seen that I'm dating a man whom I really like.  Purely due to my native caution and my history of the past several years, dating has been a challenge.  But my boyfriend was patient, and I'm now at a happy place.  It's amazing to be able to say that whatever comes of it, I've learned and grown positively from this relationship (particularly in my trust in God).

5.  Sorting
In May, the boxes that had been stored at my parent's since I moved to Seattle came out to become reacquainted with me.  Some I decided to continue to fraternize with.  Others and I parted ways.  A good 95% of the stuff has been considered now; it's freeing not to have those unsorted, unused things lingering.  Some of the sorting was weepy, some was fun.  Much was plain elbow grease.

6.  Moving
That is, double moving.  Yup.  I'll have lived in five places in the span of 2.5 years!
The full story is too tiresome and possibly not advisable to post.  But vaguely: my sister, a friend and I found a lovely little house in Seattle and moved in in May/June.  The situation was not what we thought, though.  The house was in foreclosure and now has been sold, so we must leave.
Because God likes to give me cool dramatic moving stories, a connection with a friend's family yielded a spacious and interesting condo for rent even closer to work.  I'm hoping we can stay there longer than four months?  Please?

Through the drama and toil, I'm thankful for the friendship and love I've received from ya'll.  And I'm sorry if I've been bad at keeping up with you lately (online and off) but do always appreciate hearing from you.  Cheers!

Thursday, July 16

July 16th, 2015


Ten years ago, I got married.  Yes I was a baby of 22, but no, I don't have regrets.  I became Mrs Ben Morrell and joined the Morrell clan.  It's been 10 years of puns, and amazing food, and family gatherings with dogs running everywhere.  Ten years as part of a resourceful, resilient, loyal, talented and kind family. Ten years since my mother-in-law hosted my bridal shower, and twelve years since my father-in-law and I had our first conversation (about Ernest Shackleton).

I put a lot of wedding photos on Facebook today, with some narrative about the wedding.  Looking at them, I can't help but think... why did I love peach so much?  And why were all of us ladies plucking our eyebrows down so small?  It looks weird to me now.

But seriously, I am thankful for the time I had with Ben and the people he brought into my life who are still with me.  Those of you will who have grieved will know that sometimes the pain is sudden, wordless, and almost physical.  Today is one of those days for me.  Today is difficult and sad.

There - brutal honestly in the moment.  I think of Wesley in 'The Princess Bride,' saying "Princess, life is pain."  Or perhaps a sunnier way of putting it would be what the widows of Modern Widows Club like to say, that great grief is a mark of great love.  I listen to one of Ben's favorite songs, "Grace" by Phil Wickham, and say to God "I need You, cuz I can't do this alone... I'm cracked and dry, on hands and knees.  Oh sweet Grace, rain down on me."


Life has such a different shape now, a shape that Ben Morrell would not fit inside.  It feels like in finding a new life I've changed the locks and he can't come home anymore (if that were even possible).  Occasionally, this seems even sadder than staying the same.  At the same time, I see it as a Great Confirmation of the diverging of our paths - his path to his eternity with God, and mine on earth for awhile longer.

And much of the time, I just wish we could have coffee and catch up.  Except instead of coffee, Ben would be nursing a chai or bolting down a raspberry lemonade or three.  He'd want to hear if Venice was as amazing as he always told me, and shake his head over my "old" phone and computer.  He'd be proud that I finally qualified to take my architecture exams.  He'd encourage me to keep moving on. I'd tell him about how I hope I'm becoming more like him - more resourceful, generous, helpful, an observant listener, not complaining, full of faith, using humor as a tool, quietly confident.

All of his anxiety and fears would be gone.  Maybe he'd have a pet dragon?  He'd definitely have peace about leaving earth when he did, and a million new ideas (which he's probably already discussed with some of the movers and shakers in Heaven). 

He hasn't been to a hospital in quite some time :)

Wednesday, May 27

Feelings V Lisa

Last month, some vignettes bounced around and came tumbling out in this (pictureless) cartoon form.  You budding psychologists out there may find the following instructive, and perhaps the rest of you will be entertained.  Let me take you instead my head...

Feelings: Weeeeee!!
Rational Lisa:  Woah, woah, guys.  Can you go play in my subconscious until I'm done with work?  Just lock up when you're done. 
Feelings: *retreating*
Rational Lisa: Wait, maybe one of you can help me.  You know, put all that energy to good use.  Just... come over here, but stop - wiggling.  Oh, that tickles!  Teehee!

Rational Lisa: Lalala, just filling up the water pitcher like a person who is trying to not sit at a desk for longer than two hours straight...
Feelings: Wazzzup?
Rational Lisa: *bursts into tears* Why would you say something like that to me when I'm wearing eye make-up?

Feelings: Can we talk?
Rational Lisa: Maybe this can wait?  It's midnight.
Feelings: It will be easy.  You just have to sit there and stare into space.
Rational Lisa: But... I really should be sleeping.
Feelings *smugly bouncing on bed*: Oh, you can't avoid me any longer.  I've been waiting all day, and now it's just the two of us.
Rational Lisa: Well, I suppose just for a few minutes...
Rational Lisa *shakes herself from stupor an hour later*: Not again!

Friend: So, how are all the feelings?
Rational Lisa:  Oh, totally feeling them. Yep.  Feeling the feels.  Just... not at the moment.
*Looks around* Huh.  They all seem to be hiding right now.  Sometimes, if you pretend like you aren't looking, they'll sneak out just at the edge of your peripheral vision... is it working?

Rational Lisa: OK, I finally have time for you all.  Just line up and state your position.  And if all related feelings could stand near each other in order of intensity?  Make sure you answer the question "and how does that make you feel?". 
Guys, this is great.  I really do prefer it when ya'll stick to my office hours.

Thursday, April 23

Crescent Tales

Disclaimer:  I smile and laugh a lot these days, loving the wonder in this world, the stories in the lives around me.  So the following is not a plea for pity, but for self-therapy and also for education.  Ben told you about illness and I can tell you about the hidden side of grief, years later.

Yesterday, an amazing friend of the Morrell family, who prayed for Ben and I, passed away.  Cancer.  Last month, a man from my church, who had just moved to Mexico with his wife to work with a missionary group finished this life a lot sooner than he'd planned.  Heart attack.  Another old friend's mother died, and Ben's dear grandmother is in the hospital.  I *know* this is not how it works (and it's silly to remotely suppose), but I feel like I should have grieving figured out by now.  But instead past grieving seems to have whetted a new awareness, and pain grips me. Cancer is not done.  Pain isn't finished.  Death waits for us all.

On Sunday, waiting in line for the ferry, I wrote an email to a friend who has been diagnosed with a serious illness.  It turns out that when iPads get wet the keyboards don't work well.  I gave him some words, but I know that he and his family are still suffering.  It feels like Ben's suffering should have purchased relief for others.  It hasn't.  Still, I can pray: that the people around my friend will be loving and gracious, that he will have some inkling of how his story glorifies God.  And yes, for healing.

I am preparing to journey again to Lake Crescent.

Lake Crescent.  Where the Morrells skipped stones one year ago, as my Dad and I poured Ben's ashes into ceramic cups with a deep-rooted tree on the side and when my dear tough sister Kate (who used to play video games with Ben after I had gone to bed) went to sprinkle hers beneath another tree, she actually cried.  Everyone was there (sharing memories or silent), even if it was difficult for them.  We sang in the lodge while Cheryl played the guitar; the hotel staff thanked us.  My mother took pictures of the forget-me-nots.  Later, some people said that the grief became easier after this day.  And after I had sent off all of the relatives and friends who came to remember and honor Ben with me, I hiked through the rain to a waterfall and then collapsed into bed for twelve hours.

Lake Crescent.  Where Ben and I drove with his oxygen tank two years ago.  It took about an hour to get him ready to go outside each time, his body was so slow.
Where he smiled at the ducks and savored delicious food, and said that this was his favorite place in the world.
Where I prayed over his slow body.  
Where Ben made one request: that I never lose my passion.
Where I finally asked Ben what he thought about dying and when he started talking about the technical details of the moments after death, I knew he wasn't afraid.  
Where Ben wondered out loud what his legacy would be.  And four days later, his legacy began.

Lake Crescent.  Where years ago, on a visit from Texas, Ben and I rounded up our sisters Beth and Cheryl, and friends Ryan, Chris and Chanda and took them to all the beaches around the lake.  Chris climbed a tree, which is a thing he always does.  This was around the time when our sisters became roommates.

Lake Crescent.  The location of half our honeymoon, almost ten years ago.  We discovered that every time I moved, it woke Ben up.  We made up half a dozen 'country songs' as we drove around, with such titles as "You can hold my shifting hand."  I think I was a little scared, but also happy.  It was the sunniest week of the year on Washington State peninsula.  

Lake Crescent, where our high school summer camp was stationed eighteen years ago, before it all began.  Before that mission trip when we were 16, and I teased Ben when he knocked on a watermelon to determine its ripeness ("Hello?") and later in the church van I tried to get him to tell me about the story dream where he was a knight on the battlefield, but the conversation faltered and stuttered to a halt.  And we sat silently through the Wyoming wilderness as all the other students around us slept, never remotely imagining that one day we would get married.  Last year, youth pastor Glen told me that he thinks there was always something between us, but I think with this statement Glen has outed himself as a hopeless romantic.  Nevertheless, years later both of us remembered this classically awkward hour.

Before our first successful conversation, when Ben was 19 and I was 18.  In the hall at church he was carrying Augustine's "Confessions;" I was intrigued.  We chatted amiably for half an hour.  He almost joined the fencing class that I was about to take, but was too busy.  We didn't talk again for a year.
Before Ben asked me to be the keyboardist in the college worship band,.  The previous keyboardist had married the previous worship leader, and Ben was warned by them that the keyboardist he chose might be his wife.  So it began.
Lake Crescent is waiting, and I think I'm ready.  It's time to remember.