Esperanza

I’ve just been told about @imadilife passing this am –

I met Madi via IG, right as she posted her stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis. Each day forward, I waited for Madi’s stories and posts – her strength soothed the grief I’m still processing since the loss of my beloved friend to stage 4 lung cancer almost 2 years ago. I dm’d Madi that.  She responded with love and “followed back.”

Often heartwrenching to see her IG stories,  I celebrated Madi’s rawness and transparency; giving her followers an insider’s view into treatment and survival and, sadly, Madi’s story and suffering are so relatable to so many in our world.

As the months went by, Madi’s treatment became much more difficult, and Madi began to lose her grip on cancer’s progression. She still mustered up the positivity and strength to post her treatment updates as she negotiated through surgeries, labs, hospital transfers, and cancer complications. I could see beyond the images and videos and know too well the realities of treatment – weakening: trying to comeback, sliding downhill and crawling uphill, day in and day out.

And then, last week, online silence.

Madi stopped posting.

As the coronavirus spread and the world’s shutdown began, I intermittently checked on Madi via her IG feed.

Quiet.

I began to worry about her.

I hoped, maybe she’s healing from surgery?

I knew she’s vulnerable, so I hoped everyone’s sheltering-in-place for people like Madi.

I didn’t know who to ask how Madi’s holding up, but I believed her silence said enough.

Now, as I hear the news of Madi’s passing, I sit in stillness and silence, stunned by what she’s endured and grateful for what Goodness she leaves in her wake and in my life.

I hope that Madi’s finally free from her physical pain, and I’m in awe of her loving husband, mother, and family who protected her from evil and are now humbly lifting her up to God.

I’m overwhelmed with “Esperanza” —  of living life to the fullest, right here, right now,

And celebrating the intention when we allow a stranger to become a friend.

Touched by imadilife, I believe an angel sent to me via IG and via jwls2707 from above, for life.

 

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“Esperanza”

 

 

Earth Angel

For my birthday, LCP, my daughter, gave me a trip to Puerto Vallarta, using her mileage points.  She flew from SJC to SNA, and I flew from PHX to SNA. Meeting in the middle, we then traveled together to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

On the first leg, flying SWA, I had A37. I chose an aisle seat in a 3-seat row where a man was already sitting by the window, and as the plane began to fill, a flight attendant announced it was a full flight.  Minutes before the plane’s doors were closed, a woman asked me if she could sit in the middle seat next to me. I stood up, allowing her to move past me into the seat. As she shoved her carry-on under the seat in front of her, I noticed she, too, carried a black pack.  I commented, smiling, “nice backpack, that’s the only way to go.”

She responded, “yes, a purse doesn’t work for me.”

It doesn’t work for me either.

We began a conversation that lasted the duration of the 55-minute flight to SNA.

“I have my work and personal stuff plus my daughter – who I take everywhere with me when I can – so I need a bag to carry it all.”

She has a daughter, too.

I used to take my daughters to work when they were young. Instead of play dates, we had work dates.  We needed our load to be light, too, and a purse was extra baggage.

I got an SWA drink coupon out of my backpack and offered one to her.  She said, “no, thank you, I have one of my own, but I’d like to have a drink with you.  Is it bad to drink this early in the morning?”

Don’t worry about what other’s think – if you want a drink, have a drink.

I felt like her mother.

She told me about her job – that she works for an organic food brokerage company. During her pregnancy with her daughter, she was exhausted, stocking shelves and doing manual labor at a local organic grocery store.  She worked 14 hour days. Her body ached, and her legs swelled from her pregnancy.  She was a mess, worrying about how she’d be able to sustain this pace after her child’s birth.  One day, while stocking shelves, a man approached her, asking if she’d be interested in a sales position with his company.  He said, “you have a twinkle in your eye, and I know you’d be great.”

She was dumbfounded – how could this happen?  A stranger randomly hired her, and now she has this great job that allows her to travel, and often, when in-state, with her daughter – she says, it was God.

She told me about her travels all over southern Arizona, her work territory.  Often she takes her daughter, who sits in her car seat in the backseat of her car.  They talk about the beauty of the desert (she says, Patagonia is awesome right now!) and try local restaurants, together. She mentioned a great pizza place in Sierra Vista, and I mentioned I’d recently been to a great, pizza place in Florence.  She related that she goes to Florence quite a bit. I told her the only thing I knew about Florence, before finding the pizza place via Yelp, was the prison that’s there. She said, “yes, I actually have a friend who’s in that prison who I try to visit pretty regularly.”

I asked what the charge is –

Armed robbery and car theft.

“He likes to fight, so he’s in trouble quite a bit. Lots of times I don’t get to see him during prison visitation because he’s being disciplined.”

I asked her how she knows him.

“We lived together throughout our childhoods – so he’s like a brother.  Our parents were meth addicts –  3 couples and their children lived with my parents.  When the parents would go on drug binges, we children would be handcuffed to a metal pole for hours. We were forced to do meth at around age 11, and there were times that we’d be up for 6 days straight, tweaking.  It’s weird though when our parents would disappear, we’d sneak up to the top of this hill near our house and just hang out – we felt like we were good.  It was in those moments that I’d talk to God, and know that everything would be OK, that He would take care of me.”

The children of meth-addicted parents craving love from mothers and fathers, only to be shackled to a metal post and abandoned for their parents’ highs.

“Just yesterday I had work that took me back home – I visited my mother, who’s still using. I had to tell her that she couldn’t take care of my daughter.  She was outraged.  I left with her being mad.”

You don’t have to feel guilty for leaving your mother yesterday. You can love her, but you can’t fix her.  The drugs are her daughter, not you.  She’s attentive to the meth, but you’ve been abused.  You can’t return to your abuser and allow it to infect you. As you love your own child today, you’re clean and sharing the beauty of this world with her.  Who knows – but I’d put money on it– your daughter will be taking you on a trip when she grows up and is out on her own.  She’ll be meeting you half way and helping you carry the load because you’re deserving. You share hard work, respect, and love, and with that cocktail, healthy relationships are born and nourished.

We each have our own drink coupons and mileage points – our own culminations of life experiences and influences.  Not all comes free – some of us have had to pay and to sacrifice enormously and to learn really hard lessons the hard way. However, finding happiness through goodness is free, as is trusting we’re never alone.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Be a good mother. Be a good daughter. Be a good father. Be a good son. Make a new friend or visit an old friend who needs reminding of the good in the world.

Change the world by changing the cycle. Rejoice when it’s awesome and believe

Good can come from the weirdest places, like sharing a drink on an airplane flight before 9 –

Life exists beyond the handcuffs –

Those cuffs make both prisoners and earth angels.

As children, we often have little choice,

but as adults, we choose.

Growing up and old has its perks –

Drink in these moments.

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So-n-so

In 1971, on my parents’ 9th wedding anniversary, my mother readied for a celebratory dinner with my father.  In the front hallway closet, I was peacefully playing dress-up in my older brother’s winter coats.

Needing to shower, my mother peeked her head into the closet, telling me she was headed upstairs to shower and instructing me to not play with a particular older girl from our neighborhood,

“If s0-n-so should come by, do not play with her.”

Well, sure enough, while the shower sounded from upstairs, So-n-so showed up at our front door. I can vaguely remember So-n-so’s face, but I distinctly remember she was always taunting me.

I cracked the front door and peeked outside. There she stood, her “grown-up” self,  waiting for me to answer.  She summoned me with a plastic baggie,

look what I’ve got

I still remember the sight of that plastic baggie – a sandwich-sized bag full of bright red, gum ball sized red hots.

My mother’s words filled my head –

don’t play with so-n-so, she’s trouble

but those red hots were just that – red hot – and boy, did I want some.

So-n-so opened up the baggie and in went my hand – Pop! into my mouth went one of those glorious gum ball sized red hots and instantly, I choked, gasping for air!

My mother came running downstairs, dripping wet in a towel – her bare skin still wet from the shower – she picked me up, turned me upside down and shook me until the red hot dislodged from my throat. She scolded the girl, telling her to leave and not to come back!

Boy, who’d think after all these years, with memories of such a dramatic scene, I wouldn’t have learned that when someone hurts me, I shouldn’t open the door and allow them inside to repeat the abuse.

– Avoid temptation – no matter how fun-loving, adventurous or red hot a person may seem – if we allow dark, shady, negative people into our lives, they will feed us with toxicity , pain, and torment.

Fact.

Listen to the warnings, and at every age, stay away from red hot So-n-so and gum balls – they cut and suffocate you.

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“Red Hot”

Rojo Fuego

“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.

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boiled at fire-hot temperatures and now the color of fire-hot red

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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“Rojo Fuego,”

the fire-hot name of our matching sweatshirts.