The breaking news of my day included the younger of my two brothers–the one not in the Northwest– being in the hospital with serious heart symptoms. Again. This was not long after a surgical procedure that was to fix significant electrical anomalies deep in a heart chamber’s tissue. The gist of it is that he has dealt with a difficult situation for awhile–far more so than my own heart issues of late. And resolution is yet being sought.
We are a family rich in figurative heart, I think, being musicians, writers, artists; makers of things and seekers of knowledge. It isn’t so simple or easy being in this family–all that temperament get deeper and more tiring than one might desire, myself included. And we are a family with literal heart problems, ones that can take us down. It seems to be one or the other of us during each year, sometimes two or three of us as during this year. And we lost our oldest sister two years ago to congestive heart failure/heart attack at just 78. I am dearly hoping to keep my other three siblings around much longer.
I called him when he was able to talk. His equanimity and good nature were holding steady. He explained the problem, his organized, logical nature routed past the acreage of feelings (of which he owns large amounts in addition to a fine intellect). I understood the medical issues. It was his mellifluous voice I needed to hear. His presence I wanted to access. It was, in truth, reassurance I sought, and it was enough for now. And “now” is exactly what there is at any given moment.
But after I got the first messages I tried to simply prepare for the day. Soon I found myself singing “The Lord’s Prayer”, a fine song based on the prayer that I cannot recall singing in years, as I am a singer who no longer sings much. Gratitude bloomed within me. The energy that arose from the very act of singing of faith as well as my human need rendered me still within. And also readied me. I felt able to pray deeply for my brother’s well-being and felt imbued with a sense of God’s awareness of us here on earth. (Both the making a mess of it and making things better.) It may sound strange, but it is what it is–I just do feel God (assuredly, many do). I texted friends and family who might not have received the news, asked for offerings of healing energy, a few words of prayer, their generous caring. I believe he’s getting this from people all the way to the other side of the country.
He is somewhat better by now. He has had ongoing confidence that there will be a way to amend the problems. He has faith in good medicine, yes, but he has an abiding hope in his beliefs and great zest for life, as well. He has been through many ordeals, the Viet Nam war and more. I know he is in the right place with his steadfast wife and a competent staff. He is certainly not alone.
I think of how often life has brought scathing, disastrous, alarming or grievous times. We all have them. We every one of us toss and turn through wretched nights and cast about for peace as we endure. How do we manage to make do in the worst of it? How do we determine a path to a cohesive balance? The options may include escape, sharing the burden with another or sinking into solitary perseveration. We can become outraged or self-pitying or go numb. We also can try to change what we can and learn how to accept life on life’s terms as, for example Twelve Step programs state. We are not the only ones who gain such coping skills; its been going on for thousands of years. It has got to be in our DNA by now: humans typically do not give up that easily. We are willful–and resilient.
I am pensive tonight. About my brother’s well-being, yes, but also about the order (or lack) of various matters in my life. Plans gone awry. This shouldn’t be a surprise since nothing is for certain except change. But the past few months leading up to Christmas have been different this year. My husband, Marc’s, health has plunged into crisis twice. My chronic issues have given me a some hard days though I manage quite well, overall. Then M. traveled on business for longer than expected. Christmas preparations were partly delayed. There are activities we always get excited about that we have thus far been unable to do. What happened to our big annual, handmade holiday calendar in bright markers that shows all we plan to enjoy? It never even got made. We missed two special concerts, as well–the weather interfered, then my own faulty heart.
Yet I am nearly ready, accept for cookie making which will have to be shared, happily, with my first-arriving daughter. And oh, yes–every single gift for twelve people still needs to be wrapped. But I just take it a step at a time since there is no other choice. I get done what can be done, work faster, but I know much is overlooked by my family and forgiven with good humor.
In a few short hours, my East coast daughter will be arriving. And a few days later another one will be flying in from another state. And when I think about them, everything finds its place inside my teeming mind. Because they are so brave, I can at least be present, accountable and entirely ready to offer hugs. I did as much when I worked (well, actual hugs were infrequent, sadly) in mental health and addictions treatment for decades–it comes more readily with the kids.
The first daughter was born two and a half months early, weighing only two and a half pounds. In the 1970s, there should have been no way she would survive. They understood preemies very little then, and interventions were few and often little help. She barely fit in a nurse’s hand; her skin was so ivory-translucent that the map of her veins was visible. She wore a heart and respiratory monitor that went off with terrifying regularity as I lay aching, way down the hall, craving just one touch of her. She did not come home for over well two months; I did not get to hold her, to nurse her during hospital time. The one time I was allowed near her, she turned blue as I tried to bottle feed her. Allergic to almost all formulas, she was allergic to many other things, too. Her father and I pressed our hands against the nursery window, gazed at her in the cage-like Isolette. My spirit felt like it jumped out to find her, hovered near her, longing for her, sad but full of a new and complex tenderness. Her tiny fingers were tapered, artistic, I thought; I wondered who she would become. I did not think she would not be able go on; she had come to us, she was breathing.
Each additional day she lived, she began to thrive. Her presence altered everything, changed what mattered in ways I never imagined. She was fortunate to not have any intellectual deficits or physical problems. Later labelled a talented and gifted child, she was so shy she barely looked at people or spoke for years but she paid strict attention, mind percolating a brew of ideas. She sat silently with a pile of blocks and built, then rebuilt structures for hours by the time she was two. She began to make things out of odds and ends that were unusually complex. She later became dedicated to opening up her life and fulfilling her dreams. Has pushed forward to become an artist; has shared kindness, made tremendous friends as she’s traveled the world. The child who hid behind my legs is, it turns out, fiercely independent. A quicksilver mind allows for lively discussions and intrigues people, including us. She keeps going forward, creating sculptures, teaching, finding more adventures, all 100 pounds of her.
The other daughter coming was born with serious hypopituitarism, in layman’s terms severe growth hormone deficiency, a rare congenital condition that became apparent at about six months old when she nearly stopped growing, then barely inched along the next months. She was overflowing with energy and laughter. But very small. Testing of endless sorts began in earnest within a few months, some very painful for her, frightening for us, but after a couple of years the culprit was exposed. When treatment of daily injections of DNA-recombinant biosynthetic growth hormone were administered at age four and a half, she began to grow better, more steadily. More evaluations at medical research centers, blood drawn, dosages altered, statistics charted. Growth hormone cost two thousand dollars a month. Soon she was entered into University of Michigan Medical Center’s free research study protocol for just 200 other GHD children across the U.S. The idea was to try a new kind of growth hormone, in other words, for her to become a study subject. It was scary decision to make–a child depends on parents doing the right thing.
After awhile her skin became less baby-soft, voice slowly gained a richer timbre, her very face changed before us–she finally looked older. Everything is affected by growth hormone if one does not have it in proper supply. Think how everything in our bodies replicates, our very cells. Without proper hormones, things fail to act correctly. She became used to the shots. Still, in kindergarten she was yet the size of a toddler. When anyone said mean things, she wiped her tears and carried on. We so wanted to protect her but what good would come of it? She was to add good to the world and explore its variety, not be afraid of it. And she was thrilled with learning, loved chatty socializing.
It took years of injections she learned to give herself; additional hormone replacements needed, it turned out; of trial and error in treatments. She was nonetheless a child who celebrated life, gabby, given to spontaneous songs and dances. She endured the rest, accepted the frequent medical visits, shots, routines. Strangers were drawn to her when we went to the store, the library. It was her size, yes, but also her easy smile and bright eyes. My child smiled at everyone, just started up conversations so I had to keep an eye on her. This daughter wanted to pull life to her in a full-on embrace.
Eventually, slowly, she grew enough so by 16 she came to be considered just a rather short person at 4 feet 10 inches or so. Her medical treatment did not end because she got taller. Severe GHD is a complicated medical condition that requires lifelong monitoring and treatment with several hormones. The shots continue daily. She often doesn’t feel well; her immune system is less defended. She quickly can overheat in the sun. Her muscles tire more easily than many her age and her joints ache. More easy breakage of bones is a risk. Yet she was a roller derby skater and enjoyed every minute–until she hurt her knee. But she is indefatigable in her arts career goals and is moving ahead. Her leisure time is spirited; her marriage, a good one. And unpaid work embraces the disenfranchised, undervalued and forgotten.
The point is not that my daughters are spectacular, even if I love them profoundly and thus suspect they may be. All of our daughters everywhere are extraordinary, unique–and also our sons. (I have also written of my son, who survived a ruinous, near-fatal motorcycle accident in his early twenties, then went on to success as a pro skater.) No matter who they are or where they live in the world, they each must learn life’s twisty lessons, meet untold challenges, be inventive enough to nurture contentment and what can seem like elusive joy. But my children taught me more than they’ll likely ever know. They are beacons for me, all five of our now-adult kids. I only want to share a fraction of what these two have faced, gotten through, plus a view of what we, as parents, have had to learn about adaptation, unerring hope and tenacity. We have been on a journey that has been hard–not as hard as for many, that is certain, but what we each experience first is our own particular sort of pain, and our smaller and larger triumphs. We can come through more than we think we can and be the better for it.
As I finish writing I hear that my persevering, optimistic brother now better rests. A new heart medication is working to bring down weeks-long, dangerously high heart rate to a workable 75 beats per minute. I am hoping for even better news tomorrow.
How we address life’s hardships and trials, how we manage to live through it: this is much more the issue, not the difficulties themselves. And then not only through it all but beyond it to the next step, and next and next. What choices can we still make if and when faced with powerlessness and hardship?
I yet choose–my family chooses–to believe in the transforming power of an intricate, numinous design of life in this realm and beyond. I cannot imagine managing the deep ruts and landslides of life without wonder or hope, without manifestations of love. These give breath to breathe, light to shine upon winding paths.
Ready or not, Christmas will happen in my home. This is not the case for everyone who desires to celebrate it–or other religious occasions or holidays. We are well aware, are we not, that there is heartbreaking suffering going on in this often-sabotaging, murderous world. Our own country is approaching a perilous time of change. So much more reason then to trust the impulse to reach out and aid one another, to connect our lives with generosity of Spirit. To endure what may come with even a small dignity. To tend a creative faith in something finer, something brighter than what we think we can see. There is a sort of heaven we can encourage on this small, spinning earth. We can make it happen one moment at a time. Here, now. Trust the possibilities of living this life with expansive charity and a wellspring of hope. Take hold, hang on, share whatever good you can. Welcome Divine Spirit into your dreaming and doing. You will make such a needed difference.
Off to pick up our oldest daughter. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May the blessings of healing love and strong peace take root and grow well in your lives.
(Note: I will write my usual shortest post on Friday, then will not be posting until January 2017.)