Today I was going to write about birch trees. I've been watching how they hang onto their small gold leaves longer than other trees in autumn. I was going to write about how birch leaves look like tiny hands waving; about how their leaves turn colour more slowly than others--but I'm not going to do that--not much anyway.
Today, I want to acknowledge resilience and courage. Yesterday and on into today, storm surges, electrical outages, fires, heavy rains and enormous storm damage have ravaged the northeastern parts of the United States, particularly in the New Jersey and New York areas. My heart goes out to folks whose homes were swept away by flood or fire, to folks who lost power and water and sewer services, and who will be without them for days to come.
I am especially concerned about my daughter and her family living in New York. Their home is on high ground so they are lucky, above the danger of storm surges, though not immune to excessive rainfall and winds. The huge trees they lost fell away from their house, with no loss of life or damages to homes. They have no power but are still so lucky.
The next few days in New Jersey and New York will be filled with many stories of resilience and courage, as people help others who weren't so fortunate. Everyone will be dealing with the after effects of Sandy. Those who are able to wave their hands and say, "We're OK," will be able to assist those who have endured greater losses, those whose lives have been stripped bare.
My thoughts are with the millions who, with resilience, must face losses, and clean ups and rebuilding. And my thoughts are with those first responders who, with courage, will be there on the front lines of the disasters bringing help and hope.
I wish them all the best as they deal with enormous clean up and repair tasks.
To my daughter and family, I'm sorry that you are going though this and I send love.
The changing seasons
burst with drama in New Brunswick.One week ago, the leaves were red, orange, yellow, and still on the trees
everywhere I looked.Now half the leaves
lie on the ground, edges curling, turning brown and rust; the fragrance of damp
earth and leaf compost in the autumn air.
Often autumn means time to mulch the leaves, to mow for the
last time, to trim the garden’s dying tops, to bring in the lawn furniture, put
away the lawn swing, cover the less hardy roses and wrap the magnolia.Autumn means completing chores and preparing
But these last days of fall are full of gifts, not just
work.A sheltered outside corner and one
remaining chair make a peaceful break for coffee and time to read, as I
sit warmed by the sun. The last of
October and early November paint a different colour palette, in
shades of grey; the stones and rock wall show again, tree trunks come out of
hiding. Stark tree branches display silhouettes of black arches against a blue sky.Spruce and fir and pine show off myriad tones of green and the larch
dances gold in the damper areas.The
rich smell of the earth, the gently decomposing plants, the soon-to-be-resting
shrubs all fan a faint musk to the breeze.
The sound of birds is different now from summer bird
sound.The “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” of
Black-capped Chickadees, the buzzing rising “zzreeee” of Pine Siskins, the
“jay-jay-jay” of Blue Jays and the raspy “ka-squawk” of Ring-Neck Pheasants
predominate.Red squirrels scratch
over the pavement and crunch through the dry leaves as they seek and hide their
Small children walk by our house on their way to the playground or to school.Sometimes I listen to the bubbling voices calling out in astonishment.“Look at this red leaf.Oh, look at this dark orange one.I can use this piece of rock to chalk on the road.Hey, look, a worm. A ladybug. A pheasant. A feather.”Every small thing is a source of wonder for them.Every puddle is a realm of delight.
How much of the changing seasons do we miss?How many delights do we pass by on our way to complete the chores?How many wonders are right in front of us?How much over-the-top beauty goes unnoticed?
Stop a moment, breathe, see and hear, fill your heart.Don’t miss the show.
Gary is learning to drive different size buses, which he
enjoys very much.It’s an after retirement
career for him, combining his love of driving and his sociable nature.He is having a great time, though it pulls
him away from home more than he was before.Every now and again, he stops by with the bus on his way from here to
there on a trip or a tour.
On Thursday night, he came home late and parked the bus he was
driving on the street in back of our house.On Friday morning, I got a chance to travel with him back to Fredericton
because the bus was empty. He was just
returning it and picking up our car.
I had fun, sat in many seats on the bus, checked them all
out for comfort and view, heat and cold.We listened to Willie Nelson CD’s turned up loud and talked and
laughed.The views of autumn leaves were
incredible; we were sitting much higher than one does in a car.As we drove over the Jemseg Bridge, and near
the Grand Lake Meadows, next over the bridge to Fredericton, we marveled at how
far we could see and what we could see.Miles and miles of green-gold willows, birch with yellowed leaves, lush water
meadows, small green islands and wide blue Saint John river and deep blue Grand
Lake, all sparkling in the sunlight.
I had my camera with me but took only these shots of the
bus at our street and my favourite bus driver.I was so busy enjoying the looking, I forgot about taking photos.It was one of those stunning sun-bright fall
days when the world seems perfect and beautiful; I simply wanted to enjoy it.
After Gary turned in the bus, gassed it up, cleaned it out,
reported to maintenance and filled out paper work, we spent the rest of the day
in a leisurely drive around Fredericton and outlying areas.This too was a treat for me to spend so much
time with him and in such balmy weather.We didn’t have any agenda, or any time to be home, so we meandered.It’s a gorgeous part of New Brunswick and we
had a glorious day in which to explore it.
“I have cancer” she said, as I watched her cut and pat and butter the dough she was making into rolls.
“I’m sorry, so sorry to hear that you are going through this.What can I do to help you?”
“Nothing,” she said, “I don’t know what I’ll need.”
“I love you and will be here for you, whatever happens.”
“Thanks but I don’t know what the future will bring and I don’t know why this is happening to me.I don’t know why God is punishing me…I’ve lived a good life.I’m a good person.”
Now, facing cancer myself, I remember this scene in my grandmother’s kitchen.I remember I was horrified that my Grandmother believed in a God, who would punish her with cancer.I felt sorry she carried that strange belief, adding to her agony and worry over the disease.And I don’t remember what I said to her to comfort her.
I hope I told her that I loved her, that she was important to me and that I would be there for her. I hope I hugged her. I hope she knew how much I loved her.
Now, I know how it is...to tell someone, “I have cancer.”And I have learned hard lessons about how difficult it is, for people who love me, to hear those words.I have empathy with their sense of shock and worry and grief.It isn’t easy to know what to say or do because everyone reacts differently and everyone copes differently.
Because of this universal discomfort with talking about cancer and because I have cancer, I feel the need to offer suggestions from my own experiences.
So, in the hope of shedding light and offering support to those with cancer and to those who love them, here are my responses to the dilemma of what to say or do when someone you care for has cancer.
First, if you don’t know what to say or do, don’t be hard on yourself…it’s a common reaction and a human one.Acknowledging that the news is difficult for you to hear is better than saying nothing at all.Saying you don’t know what to do to help is OK too.The person with cancer doesn’t always know what they need either.
If you can say, “I’m sorry” or “I care about you” or “I’ll help when you need a drive or a meal or a listening ear,” those comments are supportive.
Don’t worry so much about saying the wrong thing.Take your cues from the person with cancer.They may need to talk, or to be quiet within themselves;they are processing all of this new information, just like you are.
Avoid telling them stories about everyone you know who had cancer and died; do I need to explain why?
Share positive stories.Talk about normal everyday life; cancer doesn’t need to be the topic of every conversation.
Respect their need to not talk some times. Talking about it out loud makes it very real; makes it frightening. They'll let you know when they need to discuss what is happening. Be open to possibilities.
If you want to bring a gift, make sure it is something they want or can use.Do they have allergies?Are they having problems with nausea?Do their cats eat flowers?Do they like music?Do they love chocolate?Are they well enough to make their own meals?Is there something they need but can’t get out to purchase?Is there something totally impractical they would love to have? Would they like to share a bottle of wine, and whine? And, you don’t have to bring gifts.Often just being with them is all they need. Yes, just you, really...you are gift enough.
Avoid saying things like:“Well, you have large breasts anyway, so a chunk missing doesn’t matter.”It matters, it matters a hell of a lot.When a surgeon takes ice-cream scoop size portions of tissue from your body, it matters.Think about it. It isn't about breast size. This presents a whole new set of challenges for the person with cancer. Don't make them feel like they're wallowing in vanity when they are mourning the loss of parts of themselves.
Give hugs, but gently.Surgery takes time to heal and incisions are often sore for a long period.For the person with cancer, touch helps.They are feeling isolated enough already and need all the comforting they can get.
Listen to them.Let them talk about what the cancer is like for them.If they cry, that’s OK.You can cry too if you want.The situation sucks and crying is an appropriate reaction. Crying relieves stress.
Remember to laugh with them too.
Don’t give unsolicited advice about how many pain pills they are taking.It’s their pain, not yours.The doctor knows what is happening and is supervising.
If the situation is effing awful, acknowledge that.You saying, “Wow, that’s horrible!” may be a relief.You can’t say anything that the person with cancer hasn’t already thought themselves.Sometimes, it’s a relief to have the situation recognized and named.
Remind them to rest.This situation is new to them and they may not realize how much the treatments and the stress are wearing on them.They are struggling to find their way through this journey.
Send email messages or leave phone messages to let them know you are thinking of them.They may not have the energy for visits or for long phone conversations.Let them tell you what works best. If you do visit, call first to see if they're feeling well enough for a visit.
Listen and pay attention to them.Be patient.
Don’t say, “Cheer up, don’t think about it.”They can’t stop thinking about it.Let the person with cancer guide you in what is helpful to them.Each person responds to their diagnosis differently.
There is a fine line between giving people space and privacy and protecting yourself from becoming emotionally involved.Some cannot and some don’t offer support; recognize what you can and cannot do.Be gentle with yourself.It doesn’t help the person with cancer if you force yourself to be there for them.They’ll know the difference.Again, be gentle with yourself in this situation.We are all different.
Avoid saying: “I’ve read that women who are overweight are predisposed to breast cancer.”Where do I begin?This isn’t helpful; there are other factors involved like genetics and environment.This blames the person for their disease and sounds like, “Well, you’re fat, so you deserve this.”It is a nasty comment and you're an asshole, if you say such things.
Last, if the person with cancer is used to being independent, it may be excruciating for them to have to ask for help. Keep offering and reassure them that you don’t mind helping, as long as you don’t. If you do mind, it's OK; be truthful. People who are dealing with serious illness appreciate the truth.
That’s all for now; if I think of anything else, I’ll write more another day. I hope this helps you to understand and to be gentle with the person who has cancer, as well as to be gentle with your own reactions.
Oh! And remember, breast cancer treatments have come a long way since my grandmother had cancer.The sensitivity of the medical system has improved. The modern equipment and the technology are able to diagnose and to treat cancer more effectively.It is not the death sentence it once was, in my grandmother's time.
There is hope and there is life.Every day, there is hope and there is life.
I choose life and I choose to share my own journey.
Autumn leaves float and spiral to earth; earth now covered in a crunch of colour.Daily, squirrels dash, mouths full of acorns or cones, dig holes in the lawn, scuff brown and gold leaves over their treasures.
We too prepare for winter; cut fading foliage from the hostas, trim back the iris spears, snip the willow hedge, put away lawn furniture, all the while thinking about what’s ahead.
The funny part is we never know what’s ahead, not for certain, not really.Like squirrels, we make our best guess, prepare for what we think will happen, prepare for a future from our experience of the past.However, the future is not yet here and the past, well, it’s the past.
Today, the only thing that makes sense is to live in the now.The only way to live is to be present in this day, fully present; aware of what is right here right now.In this early morning, I hear the crunch of the dried leaves outside my window, smell the fragrance of morning coffee, touch the cat’s soft fur, hear her purr, watch the dark night slowly give way to the orange blue of dawn, see the neighbour’s light come on, hear cars going by on the way to work, watch the city lights fade into the coming day.
The only thing that makes sense to me is to live with being unable to prepare, to live with being unprepared for whatever may happen and to live the moments and days as they come to me.
The autumn morning sunshine slants through the trees, back lighting the leaves. They glow green, rust, orange.The yard is enchanted. Shadows stretch long fingers across the grass.Breezes shake sound from the trees, a dry rustle like the patter of waves washing over pebbles.
The house is quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator and the tick-tock of the kitchen clock.I sit here at the table surrounded by windows on three sides, just being and watching.There is a funky scent of fall in the air, not unpleasant, simply the slow decomposition of yellowed hosta leaves, a cool fragrance whispering of winter.
The red squirrels are busy scurrying about, bursting with energy.They are scrounging for food, digging holes in the earth, burying food, storing nuts and berries and seeds.They chatter and scold at other squirrels and birds, like news reporters. Intruder alert, breaking news.
Red squirrels are sociable; they wrestle and play and chase.Three of them are playing tag in the trees and swirling around the trunk of the ancient maple, a blur and whirl of red-rust on dusky grey bark.
Squirrels are adept at preparation, but make time always for play and socialization.They remind me: work and play go together; one is not balanced without the other.
On this gray, drizzly day, the only cheery notes are the songs of the Black-capped Chickadees, the provincial bird of New Brunswick.They flit to the feeder, grab one black oil sunflower seed and fly, bouncing to a maple or spruce to hide in the thick branches and eat.
Fun to watch, their quick aerobatics to and from feeders mean I have to be quick to capture photos.As I sit by the window on the lookout for them, I notice them investigating me; these enchanting chubby birds with black caps and bibs.
Black-capped Chickadees have white cheeks, soft grey backs, grey wings with white tips and grey tails.Their whitish undersides with buff coloured sides give them a cuddly appearance.