Friday, December 23, 2011

I Never Imagined...

It never entered my mind when talking about chemo treatments that many are required to be given in the hospital. It was my na├»ve thoughts as to what it meant to go through chemo treatments.  I had known several people who had chemo and their treatments were done as outpatient procedures in one day. When Dr. Fastenberg first was telling me everything that we had to do I went totally numb and could not process it all. I didn’t understand what he meant by in hospital chemo every 21 days. We had great plans to make trips and do things to make the chemo process fly by. Of course those plans were not to happen. The HYPER-CVAD chemo plan was so much more than my small mind was able to process. What would I have done different? Lots of things…I would have taken video and a bazillion photos of her journey. I would have worried less about the house and cooking and spent more time breaking the rules and letting Heather have fun during her time off. We would have snuck out of the hospital more to enjoy Dairy Queen blizzards and I would have found a mattress store to jump on the beds to the count of triskaidekaphobia. (The fear of the number 13)

It never entered my mind when I began planning for the Grand Duchess Survivor ball that that would really be her wedding I was planning. It seemed so normal to me to have a huge celebration to mark the end of chemo treatments. I was told by the hospital staff that my kind of celebration is not done by anyone they have ever heard of. I guess I think out the box. What would I have done different? Lots of things…I would have taken video from beginning to end of the event and gotten a photographer to take a bazillion photos, allowed Heather to invite anyone and everyone she knew even if it was going to be 1000 people and I would have had 100’s of flowers all around.

It never entered my mind when I planned the trip to Disneyland for Heather’s 21st birthday that this would be her last birthday and her last trip to Disneyland. It just seemed like the best place to celebrate a milestone birthday after such a tough year. We had lunch with the Princesses and had a personal Disney crew member show us around and get us on rides. We stayed at the Disneyland hotel and overall had a great time. The one thing that was done that I always wanted was the silhouette cut out of the three girls. Glad this time I made the girls go get this done. What would I have done different? Lots of things…I would have taken hours of video and a bazillion photos. I think I would have spent the huge amount of money to stay at the Grand Californian to give Heather the royal treatment.  I would have bought anything and everything she wanted in the stores and yes even more stuffed Mickey and Minnie Mouses.

It never entered my mind when I was buying for Christmas in 2008 that it would be Heather’s last Christmas. I bought her several things from her list that she would make for me each year but nothing that really made the holiday stand out. The biggest thing I am thankful for is that I made dinner before we went to family’s house for dinner…Yes, I made a ham with all the trimmings. Looking back now that was very important that I was able to do that I did decide that year to put up the BIG tree. Heather helped me put the tree together and then put on the 1500 lights. It was great fun to do that with her. We also had a Christmas open house for Jenn and Heather’s church friends complete with lots of homemade goodies. What would I have done different? Lots of things…I would have taken more video and photos of every single moment and tried to find something super special to give her for Christmas.

It never entered my mind that on that Friday morning when Heather was more like herself that she had been in a long time that was the last lucid conversation I would have with her. I won’t say what our last conversation was about for it still makes me mad that so much time was spent talking about something. I would have held her and looked into her eyes and told her over and over again how much she meant to me and made sure she understood what I was saying…

It DID enter my mind right before she was placed on the vent that my last words to her and hers to me were I love you…I really didn’t have good feelings about what was happening.

Am I writing to tell you to spend everything you have on your kids and grandkids for birthdays and Christmas??? No I am not, but what I am saying is make sure you have no regrets later for the would of, could of, should of done or said something. Especially at this time of year I think it is important to remember our blessings and how fragile and precious life really is. Everything in your world can be changed in the blink of an eye…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Grieving Bill of Rights...

by Bruce Conley
Author, Handling the Holidays

1. You have the right to say, “TIME OUT!”, anytime you need to. This may mean stepping away from the holidays and giving yourself an opportunity to blow off some steam and start over. This year I only put up a one tree and Heather's nativity set. No stockings or anything else. Because of so many different things changing all at this time of the season, this was all I managed to do and I am fine with it. In 28 years of marriage I have never had such a small amount of decorations. I am good with it for this year.
Sleeping Beauty Castle
2. You have the right to TELL IT LIKE IT IS. When people ask, “How are you….?” You have the right to tell them how you really feel. If you want to tell them you are “fine” because you don’t think they will understand, that is okay too. Some people I share Heather with and other people it is just screw on my smile and act as if everything is just fine. People seem to need to hear that I am ok and fine and doing just great. So that is the answer I give them. I share my true feelings with very few close peeps.
Our Tree and me
3. You have the right to some “BAH HUMBUG” days. If you don’t feel like singing Christmas carols, that is okay.The biggest thing I have heard over the past few weeks is that I need to change and move on. Well, I cannot move on. I am sorry. Imagine yourself spending your holidays without a child forever. Not because they moved away or at the in-laws house this time. But never ever will your holiday be complete again this side of heaven. I am not fine with spending the holidays without Heather...
Entrance to Disneyland with train station
4. You have the right to DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. You can change some of your traditions. You can have the holiday meal at someone else’s house. You can choose not to decorate at all. Christmas was celebrated on Tuesday night the 20th. This was the only night before we left that the whole family could be together. We went to Chipotle for dinner and there was no dessert, no eggnog or candy. We did gifts at Wendy and Steven's new apartment. And it was wonderful.
Snookie enjoys her princess castle form Mimi and Papa
5. You have the right to BE WHERE YOU WANT TO BE. You do not have to stay home. You can have the holidays anywhere you want.This year we will be going to Williams Arizona to ride The Polar Express for Christmas Eve. We will be staying at a hotel meaning I am not cooking dinner. I really wanted to do something completely different and away for the holidays this year. I needed to change for the sake of change and not doing the normal things again.
It's A Small World
6. You have a right to SOME FUN! It is okay to laugh and have fun. Don’t worry what others will think if they see you having a good time. Laughter is just as important and healing as tears.Bill and I just returned from Disneyland. We laughed and had a good time. there were a few moments of bittersweet as we went to our spot and then saw the castle all lit up. But it was a good time away right before the Christmas holiday. We were able to relax and have some fun. We also met up with some good friends that just happened to be there at the same time as us. They had never really been to Disneyland and it was great fun to see Disney thru a newbies eyes.
KaSaundra and Holden Davis
7. You have the right to CHANGE DIRECTION IN MID-STREAM. Grief is UNPREDICTABLE. You never know when the wave may hit you especially during the holiday season. If you are having a bad day and feel overwhelmed, it is okay to change your plans.In the middle of all the holiday doings, I remodeled my kitchen. All new appliances and countertops. this was a huge undertaking so close to the holiday season. But it looks wonderful and feels good to have something new. But I don't really suggest a remodel at Christmas time.
Main Street Square Christmas Tree
8. You have a right to DO THINGS AT DIFFERENT TIMES. Go to church at a different time. Eat at a different time. Open presents at a different time. I don't even begin to know what the plan is for Christmas Eve and Day. I do know that we will be stopping at the Outlet shops in Anthem to just kick around and window shop for a while on the way up. No idea where or what we will eat.
Looking up at the tree
9. You have the right to REST, PEACE and SOLITUDE. You don’t have to be busy all the time. Take time to rest, meditate or pray.Coming home will be downtime to go to the gym and movies before the new year begins. My dad will be coming and school beginning in January and then time will be all scheduled for me till May. Also thinking of taking a small trip to Disneyland with the entire family in January to rest as well and just have more fun. yes, Disneyland is my favorite place in the whole world. It will be our 5th trip this year.
Heather's Spot at night
10. You have the right TO DO IT ALL DIFFERENT AGAIN NEXT YEAR. You can keep the changes you make in your holidays or you may decide you want to try something different.I have no idea what 2012 will bring. I do know that with each passing holiday that keeps coming, Heather gets further away from when she was here. 
The most beautiful Christmas lights ever

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Roses in December...

“God gave us memories so that we can have roses in December…”
~J.M. Barrie~

Whenever you hold an event whether it is a large party of some kind or simply attending church on Sunday, you are bound to hear amazing stories of how the people were in attendance. I would like to share with you several stories from the blood drive this past weekend.
The first story is about Taylor. We met this young man last year when he just happened to sign up for a blood drive as part of his family’s tradition of doing for others during the holidays. He had no idea when he signed up that the drive was in honor of Heather. Bill talked with Taylor while he was waiting and told him Heather’s story. This year Taylor was the first one to sign up for the event. Taylor also found out that he has a blood type that newborn babies need. He is a regular donor about every 12 weeks. He received a phone call in October asking for him to come donate blood. Taylor replied that he had a very special event that he had to donate blood for and would he be able to donate then if he did in October. They told him he would not and he declined the offer. Someone Taylor never ever met has made such an impact on him that he has to share in our event every year.
 The next story is about a couple that was simply going shopping at Arizona Mills Mall and his wife told him they needed to come donate blood. As he was donating he was talking with Bill and asked him if this was something special because of all the balloons and cake. Bill told him it was in memory and honor of Heather, our daughter, and it was her birthday today. This man then went on to tell about his 16 year old niece that had died of Leukemia about 5 years ago. They both were so moved by someone they have never met that he took my email and said they would be back next year to donate again.
   Heather’s piano teacher, Fran, said this was the first time she had ever been able to donate an entire unit of blood. Our youngest was one of Heather’s first students when she began teaching piano. This was Kale’s first experience and we hope that at 16 he is very proud of the hero in him for helping people this season. Steven was not too sure about giving blood but managed to look away the whole time and gave a power red (meaning he nearly gives 2 units). We were very thankful to David our good friend who came before work and give a power red in 23 minutes. The techs said it might have been a new record. We had several first time donors with Jenn, Wendy, Naomi, Barbara, Sarah and Annette. Repeat donors are Tom, Bill, Alice, Julie, Kerry, Judy, Jason, Sarah, Carla and Ann. Those of us that tried and were not able to make it past the interview process for high pulses, or antibiotics will try again next year.
Wendy chillin'
Jenn was successful this time
I am very proud to announce that Heather’s Birthday Blood Drive collected 30 units of blood, 9 of which were power reds. We had 38 people sign in and try to donate. In two years we have collected a total of 47 units of blood, and 15 sets of power reds. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of everyone who comes to donate, everyone who tries and everyone who shows up to support us on drive day.
Steven looks away
Kale found the Hero in him....
This year was different than last year and maybe it was because the drive was on Heather’s actual birthday. I woke up Saturday morning and wanted to cancel the whole day. The amount of gloom and not wanting to face the day was weighing heavy on me. As I lay in bed for a few more moments, I began to think of everyone who might need blood this season and decided I needed to get up. The day went remarkably well and we did not have any problems. The staff with United Blood Services was thrilled with the amount of blood we were able to donate. I made sure that everyone signed a balloon that came during the day and even the staff signed this year. The highlight of the day is at the end when we release the balloons. There is something so healing about holding a balloon, letting go and watching it drift towards heaven. It almost feels like Heather reaches down and gathers them to read in heaven.
Snookie naps after too much party
The day was over nearly as fast as it had begun. It was a good day but a very difficult day. The questions that surround this day seem a bit crazy to me. After I have celebrated the 3rd birthday without Heather has it gotten any easier?…that answer is NO!!! Not only NO!!! But in some ways it feels like this year was more difficult. She has been gone longer. A birth-day is a joyous day when a new baby comes into the world. Each year after the birth-day, I would plan a party to celebrate the day Heather was born. From Minnie Mouse, to Belle, to a formal tea party, to the final celebration at Disneyland, each birthday had cake, balloons, gifts and spending the day with my girl. Now, I have memoires of each of those birthdays, photos of them as well, but no girl to share it with. Heather will remain 21 forever, even though her birth-day continues to come round each year.
A few have asked if we should be dwelling so much on Heather and maybe we should move forward. I have news for everyone…we have moved forward in great leaps and abounds according to other grieving parents who can barely function years after their adult child died. I think personally I am allowed to be sad, or grieve or go back to the past on heather’s birthday and her death day. In my way of honoring and remembering Heather we saved over 90 lives this holiday season. My gift was a gift to other in memory of Heather. Honestly if she were here, she would have been walking up and down the bus making jokes at everyone who had needles in their arms and saying “you can’t stick me, I had mine…ha ha ha..” She would be very proud to know that we are doing something so positive to help the entire community on her birthday. How many of us can say that about our own birthdays? 

Friday, December 9, 2011



Memories pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories sweetened through the ages just like wine
1st Christmas-6 days old-1987
Christmas 1988
September 1990
Quiet thought come floating down and settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with
Sweet memories, Sweet memories
4th Birthday-sparkle Minnie Mouse
Age 5
March 1995
Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilight trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you
Christmas 2005
Christmas 2005
18th Birthday
Memories pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories sweetened through the ages just like wine
Summer 2006
Christmas 2008
21st Birthday
21st Birthday
Those eyes-January 2009

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tis the Season to be Jolly...

Clinical depression is an illness characterized by clear diagnostic criteria – sad mood or anhedonia for two weeks or longer and then 5 or more symptoms ranging from loss of appetite to sleep disturbance to feelings of worthlessness.

Sadly, we still view this as something that a person can "control" – and they often get feedback like "Get over it,” “Cheer up," "Toughen up," or "Man up." A person with depression often already feels ineffectual; hearing this can often just push them deeper into the shadows and less willing or able to seek help.

Can you imagine if someone just got a diagnosis of cancer, or MS, or diabetes and were told to "Get over it”?

The research is clear that untreated depression can lead to significant worsening of symptoms, greater occupational and social impairment, and poorer treatment outcomes. Depression is a very real condition; it is not just about getting over it, but often taking medications, engaging in the work of therapy, and being prepared for future symptomatology.

Holidays are celebration days. But for many they mean another day of loneliness, pain, fear, etc. I wonder why I can't feel joy as I have in previous years.  A major sign grief resolution is when I will be able to once again feel good about feeling good.

I must remember that grief has no season. It is always the season to feel sad. In the US there are approximately 2 million deaths a year. 10 people are affected by the death of that 1 person-therefore 20 million people will not be as jolly for the holidays as before.

The expectation is that I should be jolly...the reality is I am not. Good grief work requires one to realize I am altered forever.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas," “Joy to The World," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," etc., all remind us of the feelings for holidays. Music brings me back to memories. Memories remind me of what was...and what can never be again. Music moves me; it disarms me just when I feel the walls have been safely built around me to protect me from the invasion of memories.

During the holidays, music is everywhere...on the radio, in the kitchen, in the car, television specials sing out the oldies, retail stores play it over the loudspeaker, telephones repeat it while on hold. Religious services repeat them over and over again. I am almost unable to escape the "memory music that moves the bereaved beast".

Since most are Holy Days reflect a religious and spiritual message.  These messages and the rituals and ceremonies in which they are carriedare often not easily accepted by us if we are angry with our God during this time of loss and grief. We may feel unloved and punished by our God and often find ourselves unable to engage in religious ceremonies.

Those fellow believers who continue to be supportive often ask us to "BE STRONG" for the holidays and they may suggest to us that "true believers don't cry nor are we to feel unloved by God". Even worse we, at this time, may feel we are suffering another major loss...the loss of faith. Thus, contrary to widely held belief, religious belief systems may add to the woe at holiday time.

Grief work is the job of re-identifying the new self. Holidays are often the time where we relate to the old self.

Celebrations, customs, rituals, and certain people that once met the needs of the old me, no longer seem to meet these "new me" needs. Statements like, "I should be putting up the tree but this year I will decorate this windows instead. I should have all the old friends for the traditional get-together but I'm just inviting my three best friends this year to share the holiday meal". The "shoulds" suggest the old part of the old me and the new decisions represent the “new" reidentified self.

Feeling guilty because you can't meet both the old needs and the new needs at the same time creates stress during the holiday season.