family, grief and loss, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title is….Trapped in a Love/Hate Relationship

I find myself being defined by the complexities of a love/hate relationship I simply cannot escape.

No, it is not a torrid romance with a fella. Nor is it in my relationships with family or friends. (love/love)  The love/hate is not found with food or booze (love/love) or exercise and clean living. (hate/hate)

My love/hate relationship is with the Gregorian calendar.

Every since I was young, I loved the order and structure the calendar provided our home. It served as an infallible guidepost hanging in the kitchen, directly next to the phone, with every family birthday and anniversary noted, every party, appointment and school activity logged, every holiday and vacation blocked.

When I became an adult, my head almost exploded when I first walked into the Franklin Planner store. It had the unmistakable magnetism of a fibrous-pulp crackhouse for any type-A, hyper-focused organizational freak like me. When technology amped up the game, I dove headfirst into life with a Palm Pilot, and I haven’t looked back since my iPhone calendar took things to the next level.

The first time I hit “add attendees” to alert my kids to scheduled dentist appointments on our shared Apple calendar, I wept tears of organizational joy.

I love seeing important dates in print, like my girls’ birthdays on a newspaper masthead. Heck, I get excited when I see my own birthday as an expiration date on milk in the grocery store.

Birthday Expiration Date

Our calendars are so much more than the here and now. They are as much a look into the future as they are a reflection of our past.

Ay, there’s the rub.

From mid-July through the beginning of September, my calendar serves a dual role as a painful diary.

Most everyone I know has one’s own personal “day that will live in infamy” where your life changed course forever. For me, those days are nestled in what is supposed to be the most leisurely, fun filled time of the year.

My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 16th.  In each subsequent year, I would replay that day in my head…hour by hour…the call to get home as quickly as possible, standing at a payphone in O’Hare as an ER doc says “despite our best efforts..,” landing in Syracuse to face my Dad’s mournful gaze. It may sound self-destructive to be lost in such reverie, but I can’t help it.

Exactly fifteen years later, to the day, I sat in the hospital with my husband as they tried to diagnose the source of his uncontrolled pain. I thought, for sure, no bad news would come our way on this day that already had its ominous shadow hovering over my calendar, and yet, that very afternoon, we heard the words “cancer cells” for the first time.

Fast forward eight more years to the current year, and again on July 16, a pathology report returns with a melanoma diagnosis for my brother.

It defies understanding.

The beginning weeks of August always replay in my mind like a horrible movie flashing back to Pat’s final days. It’s a movie that I still don’t fully understand or even believe the ending. There is no dramatic goodbye scene, which only leaves the audience feeling woefully unfulfilled and forever at a loss. His absence continues to loom large. The heartache looms larger.

As my calendar flips to September, I remember keeping vigil at my Dad’s bedside. As he slipped from consciousness, I read countless prayers and bible verses to comfort this dear man for whom his Catholic faith was so important. As he continued to hang on, I moved on to Jewish prayers then Hindu, Sanskrit, Buddhist and Islamic. I guess I wanted to make sure we had all our bases covered. After 36 straight hours, I whispered in his ear that I was going home to sleep just a little in my own bed, and I would be back in bit. I hadn’t even yet pulled into my driveway when they called to say he had died. For whatever reason, he did not want me in the room when he breathed his last. I suppose he could finally rest in peace without me babbling in his ear.

For me, it is impossible to ignore these difficult days on the calendar. But they serve to remind me that I am a sum total of all my life experiences, the good days, the great days, the bad days and the devastating ones.

This morning, I went to mass to celebrate my Dad’s life on this third anniversary of his death. I could hear his voice in the reading. It was about God strengthening each of us through the Holy Spirit.

I was reminded that the Holy Spirit aims to bring us gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, courage, right judgment and wonder and awe.

A different day may call for a different gift.   We can only aim to have hearts open to receive them everyday…no matter what may be on our calendar.