The Working Title Is…The Ache from a Journey Down Memory Lane

I traveled a million miles in my mind before I even got out of bed this morning, and there were four things that fueled my trip.

In fact, the title of this essay should be “My SUPER GROSS Morning with The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, The Big Sick and Princess Diana,” but that doesn’t flow very well.

Let me break down how my day started. I rolled over when the alarm went off and felt a little itch on my neck. This was not so surprising since my one mid-life crisis move so far has been deciding to grow my hair a little longer. For the first time since I was seven years old, I’m getting used to luscious locks that can almost be pulled into a ponytail. As I went to swipe the hair away, I grasped something in between my thumb and forefinger, and when my eyes finally focused, I saw a squished spider.

SUPER GROSS!

There was a god-forsaken spider on my neck. And I killed it with my bare hand.

Just to review for those of you skimming text quickly; a freakin’ spider was walking over my jugular and now his guts were smeared between my fingers.

Final review: Spider. Neck. Guts. Fingers. Super Gross.

I reacted as any grown woman would have…I screamed bloody murder and jumped out of bed wiping my hand on the carpet at warp speed. (After later review of the crime scene, he must have been pretty tiny because I could barely find any body parts to scoop up. But in the heat of the moment, I was a main character in the sequel to Arachnophobia.)

I continued to react, as any grown woman would have, trying to problem solve while sitting on the floor in the fetal position. I asked Siri, “Where can I get one of those giant plastic bubbles like John Travolta lived in back when I thought he was super good looking?”

I suppose my plan to spider-proof my room should have taken me straight to Amazon Prime rather than Siri. Instead, I spent the next ten minutes reading this twenty-year-old Houston Press article about David Vetter whose life story was the inspiration for the 1976 television drama starring John Travolta. And perhaps the inspiration for a less emotional, albeit hilarious, Seinfeld episode.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

The actual story is heartbreaking and could fuel debate on a host of topics related to medical ethics, parenting, savior siblings and HIPAA. What is not up for debate, however, is the fact that John Travolta’s path from Bubble Boy to Tony Manero and ultimately Vinnie Barbarino was the thing of which a young girl’s dreams were made.

As I read about David Vetter’s relationships with his caregivers and his family’s struggle to do the right thing, I was soon lost in reverie. My mind couldn’t help but recall the path our family took seven years ago with an army of caregivers searching to find out what was wrong with my husband and how to bring him to full health.

I make a painful walk down memory lane each year. It begins on Fathers’ Day when I recall being first worried something might be really wrong with my husband and ends in mid-August after the anniversary of his burial. This morning I found myself remembering how lost we felt as we searched for answers. I remembered specific meetings with healthcare professionals and discussions with family and friends who felt as helpless as we did.

And when I considered where we were at this point on Memory Lane, my thoughts turned to The Big Sick.

The Big Sick

If you have not yet seen this movie produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, go now. Like, right now. You can finish reading this later.

The film is hilarious. I mean really, really funny. But it’s also beautiful and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. It will have you talking for days about love and cultural tradition and interracial and interfaith relationships. And it will have you thinking about The X-Files and how tiny Holly Hunter is and if you could ever make it as a stand-up comedian.

If you have intimate knowledge of the word thoracentesis, it will make you shiver. If your mind’s eye holds an image of someone you love unconscious in a hospital bed and hooked up to machines, it will take your breath away. And if you’ve ever missed hearing that person’s voice so much that you sat in your car and replayed a voicemail over and over and over again, it will make you weep.

Cue the Royal Family.

Princess Diana

As I wiped a tear with my spider gut-free manicured hand featuring my go-to nail color which also happens to be that of the Royals, my thoughts turned to Princess Diana. This week, I watched the HBO special Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy.

It is recommended viewing for everyone, especially anyone who stayed up an entire summer night in 1981 dreaming of becoming a princess and wondering, “Who the heck gets married on a Wednesday?” Also recommended viewing for anyone who kept their kids home from school on an April 2011 morning while all wearing tiaras and cutting photos from Brides magazine and pasting them into wedding planning notebooks.

Prince William and Prince Harry shared very similar stories of a mother’s love and very different stories of facing and coping with loss. The documentary is a poignant journey down a painful memory lane.

As I stared at the television, I watched our memory lanes converge a bit. William and Harry were 15 and 12 when their mom died. Our daughters were 14 and 11 respectively, and just weeks away from their next birthdays, when their dad died.

So much of what these boys, now men, had to share resonated with me and echoed feelings my daughters have shared. Most comforting of all were continued feelings of the presence of a parent in your life many years after a far-too-early death and keeping memories alive for people who never even had the chance to meet that parent…people like spouses and children and grandchildren.

In the documentary, Prince William says, “There were times when you look to someone or something for strength, and I very much felt she was there for me.”

There is no doubt in my mind that is true.

As my walk down memory lane continues, happy memories soften the ache. And new memories and new experiences and new paths bring the girls and me such joy, just as Pat would have wanted.

Pat would have turned 50 on Friday. On that day, we will toast him and the positive, joyful, witty, calming influence he had on our lives. And continues to have. Everyday.

Who needs a plastic bubble when you’ve got all that?

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The Working Title Is…Hope Does Not Disappoint

I like being Catholic.

Just yesterday, a friend who inspires me through his deep faith asked if I ever study the day’s scriptures before going to mass. My answer came quickly, “Nope. I like to be surprised.”

In retrospect, my answer was pretty juvenile. But it’s true. I genuinely approach my faith and life in the church thinking, “Okey dokey, God, what nugget have you got for me today? Because I could really use something.”

Invariably, the message is received.

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day, a holy day set aside for honoring the dead.

With the rain falling on this gloomy Michigan day, I found myself very, very sad. I know far too many dead people. And I miss them terribly. And, almost as much, I miss who I was when I was with them.

People speak of feeling a “hole in your heart” that comes from suffering the loss of a loved one. On this All Souls Day, the hole can feel cavernous.

Cue the nugget.

Today’s scripture readings offer us the greatest solace in referring to those who have died by saying ”they are in peace.” (Wisdom 3:3)

What more could we ask for those we love?

And then those of us who remain are offered comfort and inspiration; “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.” (Romans 5:5)

Peace. Hope. Love.

What more could we ask for our world today? They each seem in short supply.

Disturbing reports of violence continue. Political attacks, by candidates and their supporters, reach epic levels of ignorance. And ripped from this morning’s headline, “Washington parents accused of injecting children with heroin.”

Sure makes living life with a cup half-full almost impossible.

A rabbi recently defined the difference between optimism and hope for me by saying, “Optimism is thinking everything will work out fine; whereas hope is believing we have the capacity to change for the better.” Couple that with “hope does not disappoint,” and I think we have the blueprint we need to inspire us moving forward.

We need to seek out reasons to have hope. We need to make an individual effort toward building peace around us. We need to share the love of God that has been poured into our hearts.

And I know this as the far, far, far from perfect Catholic that I am. And when I say far…I mean far. I can swear like a sailor, and I secretly delight in the bible story where Noah got super drunk after the flood. It’s nice to know even biblical people rise to the occasion, survive a challenge and then feel compelled to order another round.

Hope is not static. The capacity to change for the better is fed by those around us.

My sense of hope…my renewed sense of faith in humanity…was ignited late this summer. I decided I needed a change of scenery from my newly emptied nest, and took my book to sit and read at our club’s pool. After walking through the gate, my eyes were drawn to a little girl of about three giggling and bobbing in the shallow-end, buoyed by puffy arm floaties.

At just about the time I became aware that my staring was coming dangerously close to stalking, an ambulance came roaring down the four-lane street that runs adjacent to the pool.

I watched as this little brunette bathing beauty…. bowed her head toward the water and made the Sign of the Cross.

Upon hearing the siren, she paused to pray.

I have hope. I know love. We need peace.

We have the capacity to change our world for the better. Let’s keep searching for the things that renew our faith in humanity, comforted by the belief that hope does not disappoint.

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