We recently hit the nine-month mark in a grieving process that was largely interrupted by my husband’s medical crisis. I see signs that life is slowly moving on for all of us, and in a way that actually makes me sad. I don’t want us to ever forget those two precious souls who brought so much love and joy to our lives.

As time passes, I struggle more to recall the exact sound of their voices and the exact way their eyes crinkled when they laughed. The memory of that day is fading a little around the edges and has become more of a dull ache than a sharp stab. I know it has to be this way, otherwise our hearts couldn’t bear the pain, but still…it feels like we’re losing a little bit of them. We’ve lost so much already that I can’t stand the thought of letting all those wonderful details slip away, too.

We also recently passed the nine-week mark since my hubby’s spinal surgery. His surgeon becomes increasingly optimistic with each passing week. The journey is far from over, as it may take up to another year before my husband regains the lost strength and motor function in his left hand. But given the odds he faced when his tumor was first diagnosed, the loss of a little function in one hand seems insignificant.

My hubby has been back at work on a limited basis, slowly increasing his time every couple of weeks or so. His list of restrictions is still pretty long, but in another three weeks, those will start getting lifted. He still gets exhausted easily, but being out of the house is good for his spirits and a great way to regain some of the muscle mass he lost.

I’ve been working for several weeks now as well. When I went back after my leave of absence (which, I should remind everyone, I took after working only one day), I was moved to a different department. It has been the most amazing experience! I love my students, and I love the challenge of keeping everyone on track. Even the smallest victory these kids achieve makes me feel so dang proud that I fear I may burst.

I never imagined that I would feel this passionate about a job, so it took me by surprise when I came home yesterday (Friday) and felt a little pang of sadness that I didn’t get to go to work today. There is nothing easy about this job – it’s constant running, constant shuffling, always tracking down missed assignments, hounding kids to get back to work, and times when you have to be the bad guy. There’s often a lot of resistance and days when you feel like you failed. But more often than not, I go home feeling like I made a difference, and that’s the absolute best feeling in the world.

Unfortunately, staffing upheavals leave my long-term stay in this department a bit uncertain. I pray daily that I get to stay, because this position is the perfect fit for me, and I know the teachers I work with are very happy with how things are going. My students are making progress, and their continued success is everyone’s goal. So hopefully I’ll be able to count many future anniversaries in this department.

Speaking of future anniversaries…we’re going to be remembering this week for a long time. On Thursday, my brother had to evacuate from Paradise, CA, where he lives and works. A wildfire tore through the town, and it’s still uncertain if he has a home or job to go back to. Thankfully, he and his dog made it out safely, and they’ve been sofa surfing at friends’ houses in the nearby town of Chico.

My brother is the epitome of calm (he must have got it all instead of me), and he’s coping with this recent disaster in the same collected manner he’s faced every other challenge he’s been thrown in life. Somehow, he always manages to land on his feet. So as devastated as I am by his loss, I know he’ll be okay in the long run.

One thing is for certain – life is crazy and unpredictable. Anniversaries of both the good and bad events in life remind us how hard we’ve fought to survive and how lucky we are to have gotten this far. They remind us to be thankful for our blessings and to keep fighting for what we love.


Back to Center

Boy…my last post was a real whine-fest. I think I just needed to wallow in self-pity for a few days. I’m happy to report that it’s over. At least for now…

Some good things have happened in the past few days. It’s easier to be positive when things are going better.

Amazingly, our health insurance company assigned us a representative to help with the gigantic mess they made. The bad news is that it’s probably going to get even messier before all is said and done, but the good news is that they do seem committed to fixing it. I think they realize that their incredibly stupid mistakes (and the timing of them) look very suspicious – like the kind of thing that could get them reported to a higher authority. We’d have one hell of a case if it ever went that way…I’d just rather it didn’t.

Next, a small miracle occurred in my little job realm. Due to student and staffing upheaval and rearrangement, I’m moving to a different position when my leave of absence ends on Monday. Hopefully, it’s one where I will do less chasing and more actual helping. It’s a completely fresh start. You gotta love fresh starts!

Our appointment with the surgeon last week was more like a debriefing than anything else. We’ve been on this strange, scary journey together, and I think we all needed to talk about how close to disaster we were.

The surgeon shared some frightening things that we weren’t completely aware of before. We’d known the situation was serious, but we didn’t know my husband was only a few days from becoming paralyzed from the neck down. We’d known bleeding during surgery was a concern, but we had no idea how much of a concern. The surgeon said he could’ve easily lost enough blood to have a stroke or heart attack on the table.

Wow. Just wow.

We also didn’t know how extremely precise the placement of the hardware had to be – we’re talking millimeters. There was no room for error. And that also means that there are no do-overs. If something gets messed up in the healing process, there’s very little (likely nothing) that can be done to fix it. THAT was kind of a wake up call, because we also didn’t realize that the hardware isn’t completely solid yet (as one poorly informed PA had told us). My husband’s bones need to fuse to the hardware, and that can take several months.

Just when I was getting more comfortable letting him out of my sight…

I’m nervous about him trying to go back to work, even half days of light duty. But the docs and therapists think it will be okay, as long as he’s careful. They really put him through the wringer at his PT appointment, and they were impressed. His balance has improved dramatically, and his strength is returning. He says his feet feel more like his own these days, with less numbness and tingling. There’s talk of maybe even cutting him loose from PT after one more visit!

It’s in OT where my hubby’s deficits are more obvious. The strength and fine motor skills in his left hand are an issue. When we talked to the surgeon about it, he wasn’t surprised. He said it might be an issue for another year or more. The tumor was very invasive on that side, and there was a time when he wasn’t sure he was going to get it all out without sacrificing nerves and hand function. He said it didn’t come to that, but just digging around in that area was enough to irritate things for a while.

Still, the OT was impressed with the gains in dexterity my husband has made just by working on it at home (with plenty of gentle reminders from me). She felt that strength is going to be a bigger issue, and she assigned some specific home exercises and recommended some things we can get from Amazon to help. The OT feels that returning to work will be beneficial in helping him improve his hand strength and fine motor skills. If all goes well, he might only need one more appointment with her.

So all in all, things are going generally well. Ups and downs are unavoidable, and I have to learn how to ride those waves without getting so overwhelmed by them. I don’t think I’ll ever become an all-out optimist, but maybe I can learn to find my way back to center a little quicker when I find myself swept away by a wave of pessimism.

Here’s to all of you trying to find your own way back to center.


Trying…and Failing

As I’ve said before, I am not an optimistic person. I don’t know if that’s due to some pre-determined genetic code, or if it’s simply because of my less-than-awesome life experiences. I do believe that living through certain things fundamentally changes your perception of the world. I think the more you have to struggle, the fewer good things you come to expect.

Believe me, I’d LOVE to be an optimistic person. I’ve faked it and faked it, hoping one day I’ll make it. I WANT to automatically believe that good things happen more often than not. I WANT to meet each new challenge with perfect calm and a quiet assurance that it will all work out in the end.

I do try to practice gratitude. I try to pause and breathe. I try to meditate. I try to remind myself that nothing is permanent and that “this too shall pass”. I try to stay calm in the face of chaos. I try to be optimistic and confident that good things will happen.

I’m TRYING, people. But I am also failing miserably.

Even in the best of times, I’m always secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s just been my experience that the other shoe ALWAYS drops.

Feel like you’ve FINALLY got things humming along smoothly? Everyone is more or less happy at school and at work, good new things are on the horizon, and…BAM! Hubby has a spinal tumor and your whole world gets turned upside down. All the pieces that were falling into place are now falling apart.

Somehow you absorb that impact, and you’re feeling grateful and blessed that he survived surgery and hopeful that life might someday return to some semblance of normal, and…BAM! Your health insurance company makes one little, seemingly un-fixable, clerical mistake and you go from owing thousands of dollars to owing HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars.

Will it all get ironed out in the end? Possibly. Probably. But how many weeks, phone calls, sleepless nights, stomach ulcers, threats, and lawyers will it take? More than I feel like I can realistically handle right now. Can I please just take a moment to throw myself on the floor and have a good ol’ fashioned tantrum?

I think it’s just been a really long stretch of bad upon bad upon bad, with no time to catch my breath in between. Talk about forgetting to breathe!

I also think optimism is overrated and that what really matters is that you keep plugging away, no matter how shitty things seem at the moment. I don’t think I’ll ever be an optimist, no matter how much I meditate and breathe. But plugging away in the face of so much crap? That’s something I’ve got lots of experience with.

And I suspect optimism is not the point, anyway. I suspect the point is being able to ride out the bad without quite so many sleepless nights and stomach ulcers. And probably without quite so many tantrums, too.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a sip from my decidedly half-empty glass and try to ride this mess out. Kindly step over if you do happen to see me kicking and screaming on the floor somewhere. I’ll keep trying to do better.