“Let’s, together, make a birthday dinner for my mom.” – Phillip
Phil did the lobster tails and salad. We did the green beans, Julie’s Potato Pie and dessert, salted caramel milkshakes.
J⁴’s birthday, July 27th, fell less than a week after her video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), July 21st, and she was still struggling with recovery – the fatigue, as she described, is “unlike anything I’ve ever felt – like I was hit by a Mack Truck.”
By candlelight, J⁴ and we sat at her “Daddy’s table,” in the dining room, celebrating her birthday. I sat next to her. On her arm, she had a tender spot where her surgery’s IV had bruised her. During dinner, she rested her hand on my forearm, mentioning how soft my sweatshirt’s fabric felt.
After dinner, we hugged to say goodbye, and J⁴ a pulled away, saying, “I love your sweatshirt – it feels so cozy and nice.”
Without a second-thought, I pulled my sweatshirt over my head and put it over hers –
“here, it’s yours.”
Home from dinner, I got online and bought a matching sweatshirt to replace the one I’d given to J⁴.
The next morning, I received a text,
Thank you for your sweater. Now I can say that you gave me the shirt off your back. 💕 ❤
Three months before, in May, J⁴ was diagnosed with malignant pleural effusion, a complication from the lung cancer. Her doctors had mentioned, “3 months,” and that night after she heard those words, we were together at a charity event. It was the first time, during all her months of “whacking moles,” that I’d seen her mad.
“I’m not done.
If you’re going to tell me I have only 3 months,
then I want to go to the beach.”
Honoring J⁴’s wishes, Cal, her loving husband and primary caregiver, booked a week-long house rental in Santa Barbara, California, Aug 2nd – August 9th.
So on the heels of her birthday dinner, we had reached the 3 month mark and were headed to the beach, Santa Barbara, to the rental home that we now endearingly call, The Palace.
Cal & J⁴ flew, and I drove J4’s fire-hot BMW X5. During the drive, a road trip that normally J⁴ and I’d have taken together, I had waves of thoughts – what music would we’ve have listened to had we been together, what inside jokes would’ve come from our long distance time side by side and how fast would we’ve been clocked getting to SB? Cal’s and her entrusted care of her car and the understanding that such a drive would’ve been so rough on J⁴ helped me see the good in my solo journey.
After a 7+ hour drive, I arrived at The Palace around 8 PM and was greeted by Cal at the front door –
“She’s been getting sick since 6 PM and she wants to see you.”
I followed Cal into The Palace’s foyer, climbed the wooden, iron-railed staircase, and tip-toed across the glossy wooden floor to the Master Suite. Inside the suite, dimly lit by the remaining day’s light, J⁴ reclined in an upholstered chair with her feet propped on an ottoman. Her head rested on the top of the chair’s cushion and she held a goose-down comforter to her neck. With her eyes barely opened and her cheeks fire-hot red, she took my hands and said,
“I’m so glad that you’re here with me – I’m so sick. I guess I’m not in the best shape to start my party.”
We left J⁴ alone to rest and to drink her Pedialyte. By 11 PM, she was regaining her strength and the nausea had subsided. She even rallied, eating some of the chocolate chip cookies that she’d baked, with her limited energy, for her week-long party before leaving for Santa Barbara.
Blaming the violent stomach sickness on food poisoning from possibly her shrimp lunch the day before, J⁴ felt much better in the morning.
Wearing our matching sweatshirts, we did a mini-outing to celebrate J⁴’s overnight recovery and to lift her spirits . We went to lunch at Montecito Cafe, with her youngest son and his wife, and then checked out a close-by clothing boutique. The shop owner noticed our matching sweatshirts and asked what had brought us to Santa Barbara.
J⁴ gave her the short version of what had brought us to town – stage 4 lung cancer and a desire to be at the beach with “my family and my friend, who is my family.”
Moved to tears by J⁴’s story, the shop owner told J⁴ about her best friend who’s been living with advanced lung cancer for 9 years, don’t ever give up hope! J⁴ began to cry – I did, too. I purchased a Love Heals dog tag necklace, and the shop owner insisted that J⁴ pick out a dog tag necklace, compliments of her and the store.
We wore our Love Heal tags and our matching sweatshirts all week. Solidarity, it’s what we do.
While J⁴ took a nap Monday afternoon, I went out on my own to photograph the Mission Santa Barbara. The mission has a self-guided tour, with directional signs and chained walkways leading visitors through the grounds. I’d completed the walking tour and had arrived back at the starting point, adjacent to the mission’s center courtyard. At the beginning of the tour, I’d admired some waterlilies floating in a water fountain in the courtyard’s garden, but the courtyard was closed and off-limits to visitors. I imagined J⁴ napping at The Palace but awaking to coax me – climb over the iron chains, unlock the gate, and ignore the signs, Courtyard Closed for Maintenance. She’s ornery like that – (if this were her blog, she’d argue that I’m the ornery one.)
I behaved, exiting the mission through the gift shop and headed toward the parking lot. I noticed some chalk drawings on the pavement. Sidetracked, I wandered around the exterior of the mission.
On the mission’s front lawn, there was another fountain with waterlilies – another chance to photograph waterlilies – don’t ever give up hope! And even better, these waterlilies, outside the confines of the mission’s interior, were fire-hot red – the same color as our matching sweatshirts!
I’m reminded of the childhood game, Hot & Cold.
To play the game:
Select one household item for hiding. Player 1 closes his eyes while Player 2 hides the item somewhere in the room. Once the item is properly hidden, Player 2 searches for it slowly and deliberately while Player 1 assists with verbal clues. If Player 2 is not at all close to the item as he searches, Player 1 says, “You’re cold,” but as he gets closer to the hidden item, Player 1 responds, “Getting warmer…” When Player 2 is very close to the item, Player 1 says, “You’re hot!” The verbal temperature indicators aid in finding the item.
When we were young, my sister and I played the game, and when Player 2 was right on top of the hidden item, we’d say, “you’re fire hot.”
At times, when I’ve wondered, where are we headed? Are we getting warmer, getting colder, hot, or fire-hot? I listen for the verbal cues and always seem to get them. I’ve found assurance that we’re close – fire-hot close – always adding warmth to each other’s lives, like those birthday centerpiece candles on Daddy’s table.
We have a friendwhoismyfamilyship that’s willing to give the shirts off our backs –
anytime and anywhere.
We’ve got each other covered –
it’s what we’ve built, it’s what we do.
We’re not going anywhere without the other.
the fire-hot name of our matching sweatshirts.