***Monday afternoon update***
Once again my heart is heavy and the news I have to share is terrible. Haley Vincent, the beautiful girl in the turquoise shirt in the Chili's picture at the top of this page, passed away this weekend. I am simply stunned; we just had dinner with them last week. We went out of town and I wasn't even aware Haley had become suddenly, critcally ill until today, when I learned of her passing. Her mother Cheryl and I have become online friends this past year or so and this family is a good one; I'm sure their hearts are broken right now, and mine is also, for them. Haley has a beautiful voice and I know the angel-choir in Heaven is even better today ... but that doesn't diminish the sadness we are feeling down here on Earth. All my condolences to the Vincent family; I am so sad for them and the loss of their beautiful daughter Haley.
***Friday morning update***
It is with a sad heart I tell you that Clare from Maryland passed away yesterday, after a brave battle with her ALL relapse in May and transplant in July. Like many of you, I have followed Clare's story closely these past few months and have been so touched by the unwavering love, support and dedication her family has shown. This is every parent's worst nightmare, and I wish I had words adequate to express my sympathy to Clare's parents, Karen and Benno, and sister Phoebe. Please visit Clare's site and leave her family a note of condolence and support.
78 Days to Go
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Always, always, always. Since I was a little kid and my parents used to have friends over to watch the Sooners play, and I would eat myself sick from the relish tray of cheese cubes, Vienna sausages, and sweet pickles (who says we didn’t have class?) -- since I was old enough to enjoy back-to-school rituals (yes, I was one of the dorks who loved going back to school each fall)…. shopping for supplies, new school clothes, even the smell of freshly-sharpened #2 pencils. Knowing that football season is starting -- that’s the absolute best. I am a huge college football fan. The State Fair (corndogs and caramel apples; need I say more?) The drop in temperature, the chill in the morning air, the beautiful colors of fall leaves, dragging my sweaters and sweatshirts out of the garage, pumpkin patches, hay rides, even that smell you get the first time you turn the heat on in the house. I have **always** loved this time of year.
Autumn in Georgia isn’t quite “real”. Although my calendar tells me it is officially “fall”, it is 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. We’re still wearing shorts and sleeveless tops and sweating away the afternoons. Leaves don’t really change (at least not for long) and our two local pumpkin patches both take place in church parking lots, on asphalt. No meandering hay rides or corn mazes there. But that’s ok. I can envision myself in New England, hiking through the forest trails, crunching the fallen, golden-red leaves beneath my Doc Martin hiking boots. (Me? Hiking? Ok, it’s only a fantasy!) So even in Georgia, thanks to my imagination, autumn is still my favorite time of year.
Now, thanks to leukemia, autumn, while still my favorite, is bittersweet to me. Two years ago, I was apologizing to Kendrie’s pre-school teacher for not being able to chaperone her class field trip to the Georgia National Fair. “I’m sorry, Mrs. C. It’s just a virus, I’m sure, but since she’s still running a fever, I don’t think we should go.”; wondering if the teacher could bring me back a caramel apple. Two years ago, I was outside with Brayden’s Brownie Troop enjoying the crisp evening air when Blaine called me, to say, “Something’s really wrong. … she just fainted on the porch. I think we should take her to the emergency room.” Two years ago, my only view of the changing autumn leaves was from out the ambulance window, as my daughter was taken to Scottish Rite hospital to begin her treatment for leukemia. Two years ago, I brought my youngest child home from the hospital and then took my older two children to a pumpkin patch at a local church. Watching them enjoy picking out pumpkins, the bright sunlight in the clean, cool air --- how could life be any more surreal? My daughter has CANCER for goodness sake, how dare the fall weather be so beautiful? Two years ago, I took my youngest daughter trick-or-treating for Halloween, dressed in the Superman costume that she had picked out months before; home from the hospital only a few days, her face already puffy from steroids, her expression sad and confused, her legs too tired and painful to walk far, so we pushed her the entire way in a stroller, until she begged to go home. Is that how a four-year old should enjoy Halloween?
This year, I’m trying hard not to dwell on the “bitter” part of fall, but to focus instead on the “sweet”. Kendrie is doing well, nearing completion of her twenty-six months of chemotherapy. I don’t know if it’s over for her ….. as we discovered all too well, there are no guarantees on this ride called LIFE. But hopefully this will mark the end of her battle with leukemia and soon be no more than a blip in her rear view mirror. My other two children, while obnoxious as hell some days, have remained healthy these past two years. I have most definitely learned that that is the best you can hope for. We have made friends with families whose children are doing well …. that is sweet. Other families have children who are struggling … unquestionably, that is bitter.
It makes me sad that no matter how clean the air, how cool the morning, how beautiful the leaves, or how viciously the Sooners kick Longhorn tail, I can never take autumn at face value again. I will never see a pumpkin that I don’t remember that day in the pumpkin patch, trying vainly to carry on a normal conversation with the worker and not break down crying. I will never carve pumpkins with my kids without remembering the year Kendrie didn’t have the energy to get off the sofa and take part. No matter how much fun she has this year, running from house to house on Oct 31st, gathering all the sweets and goodies she can carry, I’ll never forget the year she cried to go home and lay down. I don’t think I will ever feel a cool fall morning without remembering that stretch of mornings after diagnosis when I never left her hospital room.
My rose-colored glasses appear to be working in reverse. Although I still love autumn, I no longer embrace it without hesitation, enjoying only the sweet. There is no way to forget the bitter --- the sadness and fear that struck so deeply that one beautiful, crisp autumn day. Fall is tainted, just a little.
But with the experience we’ve gained throughout this journey (I hesitate to say "wisdom" or "maturity", for fear those of you who know me will laugh!) perhaps bittersweet isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe appreciation earned is better than blind appreciation? Who knows? What I do know is that as I type this, I can hear my husband and my children outside my window, playing football in the front yard. The temperature has not fallen and the leaves are not changing, but for this moment, I will do my best to appreciate the beginnings of autumn. (Now, where is that cooler weather???)
Have a great night,