Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Emotional Tsunami

(Dante's Prayer) Please click to play

Dear God.........Give us.....

it is coming

our peaceful shore is going to be hit

wave by wave

some big

some small

it has not even been a week

we have done a lot

to prepare

we can't stop it

it is coming

even when we don't see the waves

we feel them just below the surface

it is brewing


building speed

and power

we are going to be hit

it is coming

it has to come

so it can be over

(I wrote this today in response to emotions that are starting to surface and come in waves as our family faces Sarah's cancer....our family is weathering its own tsunami...)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gramma Is Available

Sarah, Dave, Davey (6) Jackson (20 months) and Derek (4)

It was 10:10 a.m. and the phone rang.



Gramma....."Hi Punkin! How's my punkin today?"

Davey........"I'm glad you're available."

Gramma...."I'm here honey."

Davey......"I don't want to be alone."

Gramma....."How come?"

Davey....."I'm scared."

Gramma......"Ok darling. I'll be here."

It's 11:10 a.m.

Punkin and I are still together.

He is playing computer games and I am listening.

Every now and then he says something.

I clip my cordless phone onto my shirt and go about the things I think I need to get done.

They will get done.

They always do.

First I will be a gramma.

Life is changing at his house.

I am glad I am available.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Today Turned Out To Be A Good Day

If I start at the beginning of today.........I did not want to wake up or get up or get ready or go to the meeting with the surgeon. I felt exhausted and sick to my stomach. The question of "what will we hear?" loomed big in my mind and filled my air with fear.

Funny how we find ourselves able to wake up, get up, get ready and actually go......why? Because we have to. Because facing our fears is the only way we will find out the real story. And, maybe, just maybe.....the real story won't be as bad as the one we are afraid of.

So, I went.

I went to the Piper Breast Center.

I went to meet the surgeon who will take care of Sarah. I went to be an extra pair of ears and set of eyes. I went to be with my daughter and Dave. I went because there is no other place I wanted to be.

I was there first. Sarah and Dave were on their way. I was greeted by two lovely and kind ladies who made being there ok. One lady was Sybil and she took this picture of me. She also brought me some orange juice to drink in a pretty glass. It made me smile. The other lady was Judy and both their smiles brought a bit of sunshine into a day that felt a little dark.

Sarah had had a pedicure and manicure last night. She had Dave's and the boy's names put on her nails. Every finger and every toe is touched by love. Davey picked out the color for her toenails. It is a lovely, lovely bright blue. Now that makes me smile!

Sarah loved the nurse who came in to take her medical history. Her name was Karen. Sarah told her she was pretty and had soft hands. Sarah told her, "I just want to touch you." Sarah tells people what she is thinking. Isn't that nice? The world needs Sarah!

It was hard to wait. We all wanted the surgeon to come in and we didn't want her to come in. I looked at Sarah and saw agony. I saw my scared beautiful scared child. I could only love her.

We heard a knock on the door. It was the doctor. Dr. Bretzke. The one who would tell us the story...the real story.

The real story is better than the one we were afraid of. We were afraid one of the cancers in her right breast was attached to the chest wall. It wasn't! It wasn't! It wasn't!

I could only stare at Dr. Bretzke. Sarah made a sound of exclamation and put her hands to her head. I watched her face flood with emotion and her eyes fill with tears. Dr. Bretzke kept talking.

I put my hand on Dr. Bretzke's knee and said, "Stop, we have to take a moment to feel enjoy celebrate it..........we have to!"

I had to breathe.

I had to touch Sarah.

This was not just information.

This was LIFE being given back to me........LIFE being given back to Sarah.......LIFE being given back to Dave.......LIFE being given back to Davey and Derek and Jackson and all the people who love Sarah.

Dr. Bretzke told us about the surgery she will be doing. It will be a simple mastectomy. A bilateral mastectomy. Sarah wants peace of mind. Sarah will have breast reconstructive surgery as well.

So, now we wait until probably Monday when Dr. Migliori, the plastic surgeon, will call and make an appointment for a consultation. If I start at the beginning of that day, I will want to get up, get ready and get going. That appointment will be like moving into the future.

I have a funny feeling I will be putting a picture of Sarah hugging Dr. Migliori on my blog sometime next week. What do you think?

Dr. Bretzke.....I liked your story today. I have hope and faith that the final chapter of this book we are writing won't be written for a long, long time. When you told us that you expect Sarah's cancer to be Stage 1 I wanted to hug you myself. I will someday. For now, hug my daughter. She is precious to me. And, I am putting her in your hands.

The goal of Piper Breast return YOU to your life the best way we know!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Uncharacteristically Quiet

Maybe if I don't write about it, it won't be true.

Could that be?

I can talk about it.

I can read about it.

I am not sleeping very well.

Three nights ago I woke up at 4:17 a.m.

Two nights ago I woke up at 3:15 a.m.

Last night I woke up at 2:52 a.m.

Sometimes I might go back to sleep for short periods of time.

Mostly not.

If I keep waking up earlier and earlier I will wake up before I go to sleep.

That sort of made me laugh.

I don't laugh much right now.

Nothing is funny.

My daughter has cancer.

I sit and look at those words and feel strangely disconnected from them.

Maybe it's just the day.

I have had moments of tears.

I have seen pain in my eyes.

I have heard her voice during the days when she is just like her old self running her life.

She has three little boys.

And, a husband.

Life goes on.

Things have to be done.

She goes on.

And, sometimes naps.

I have heard her voice late at night when the things that kept her busy don't anymore.

She has feelings.

She has thoughts.

What if?

What if?

Would my boys remember me?

Nobody wants to go there.

To that place.

I know she has to.

To get beyond it.

I was supposed to keep her safe.

I am her mother.

I couldn't.

I would take it away if I could.

I would trade places if I could.

If only I could.

I don't feel strangely disconnected anymore.

My daughter has cancer.

And, I will start to tell her story.

Our story.

I love you Sarah!

Mom xo

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Saturday We Pack

My sister,Linda, just called. I have been waiting. I have been waiting to help. Saturday is the day. I will call Sarah. I will be there Briana's apartment. It is another start. We will pack and we will help move...move Jahmari to his new home.

I have been saying to myself all night.........I can't even say it...I thought I could be done with .......

I am not....

the reality hits when you least expect....

I have been on hold..

the hold button just got pushed...

and tears come....

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Jumbled Thoughts....Part Of Briana's Story

I still can't believe Briana is gone. I keep thinking about her. I think about Christmas when it comes again. Briana is supposed to come here for Christmas. She is supposed to say, like she always did, "Oh, Judy will have plenty of food. She will have her beans and barbequed meatballs." She is supposed to stand in my kitchen and be in my way. I am supposed to hear her laugh from some other room. I keep thinking she can't be gone. She has a son. He is eleven years old.

My thoughts are jumbled. I don't know where to start. I have one thought and before I can write it another one jumps into my mind.

I was sitting in her hospital room. It was a big room. It was a double room, but she was alone. She had the bed by the window. The window was a beautiful bay window looking out over downtown Minneapolis. She didn't look out the window. I wondered if I would have if it were me in the bed.

I sat in the chair and looked at the number 26 on the calendar on the wall. It was January 26. As I stared at 26 I started writing a poem in my head. It is what I do when my world feels big and I want to bring it down to size.

It is January 26
I am going to bed with it
When I wake up
on January 27
Will I still have it?

I couldn't write anything more in my head. Something happened. A nurse came in. Briana needed something. Something was usually happening.

I wondered what it must feel like to go to bed with cancer and what it must be like to wake up the next morning. Is there a moment before a person remembers it is there?

I think I went home the night of the 26th. I remember not knowing exactly how to get home from the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Sarah talked me a little way home on her cell phone. Then I was on my own with the voice from my navigation system. I liked Sarah's voice better.

I went back on the 27th. And, stayed.

The University of Minnesota Medical Center, Ward 7C became my temporary home. It became home for a lot of Briana's family and friends. Some of us didn't feel the outside air for days. I can still see the halls, the nurses desk, the familiar faces of the nursing staff, the family lounge that we kept stocked with food and kleenex, video games for the kids and our ever present cell phones.

Technology became a virtual member of the team. Whenever anyone or anything was needed to help Briana the young people texted each other and the old folks made calls. Every member of the team could be in constant touch with another member within seconds no matter where we were in the hospital.

Briana had left some things untended to in her life that required being tended to as she faced an uncertain future. She was told she needed to take care of things because she had a ten year old son. What did that mean? What were they saying? How could that be? She was 36 years old. No!

She was told she needed to make arrangements for her son. Who would look after him? She was 36. She didn't have a will stating her wishes. She needed to have a will stating her wishes. How else would anyone know? The team had only days to make that happen. There was a window of time in which she was able to sign her name. It was one of the miracles that happened. Her wishes were made known. Had we waited just one more day, she wouldn't have had the strength.

We were all praying for a miracle. We prayed for the miracle of healing and getting better. We prayed her temperature would go down, the fever would stop, so the next round of chemotherapy could be started. It never did go away. They started chemotherapy anyway. They said it was the most powerful chemotherapy available. There was nothing else they could try.

We didn't get the miracle we had been praying for. But, oh my goodness, we got so many other miracles along the way.

One of the best miracles was the day Briana was able to get out of bed and actually sit in a chair so she could visit with her son, Jahmari. It took a monumental effort for Briana to do this. She was even able to talk with him in sentences. Both before and after this miracle she only communicated with her eyes.

We think we have an explanation for this miracle. At the same time Briana was able to be up and talking to Jahmari, a Bible study class at her church had stopped the lesson and simply prayed for her for an hour and a half.

Yes, it was the wings of prayer that lifted Briana up.

On February 2nd, Briana was moved from her big double room with the bay window to a smaller single room. It was here she would live her last hours. There was no more they could do for her. They said to visit with her. Talk to her. Tell her things. Even though her eyes were closed she may not be asleep. She could still hear us they said. Hearing is the last thing to go.

We had the praise and worship music she loved playing in her new room. We had a digital picture frame with pictures of her life close to her bed. We sat by her and held her hand. We talked about memories. She was never alone. We kept the curtains closed. The room was a room with good energy. The nurses said so. They said it felt good when they came in. It was a happy room.

When she was moved to her new room we said she was being moved to her new life. That is how it felt. It felt like we were all on the porch of her new life.

And, then, she turned and left us and went through the door to her new home as we circled her bed and held hands.

It was February 3, 2010.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Part Of Briana's Story....The Families

Briana's story is both an interesting and an inspirational story. Briana was adopted by my sister, Linda and her husband David, when she was nine weeks old I believe. Her biological mother's name is Phyllis and her biological father's name is Ivory.

Briana met both of her biological parents as a young adult and had somewhat of an ongoing relationship with Ivory. They texted, called each other on the phone and Briana and Jahmari spent a week with Ivory on at least two occasions. She also had siblings that she was able to meet and have ongoing communication.

Phyllis, Ivory and all the siblings attended her funeral. I don't know how common this bringing together of two families is, but it doesn't seem very common to me at all.

In addition, Jahmari's biological father's family was at the funeral. The father, Gene, is currently out of the country, but his wife and extended family were at the funeral. They are African and wanted to make a contribution to Briana's funeral. The video at the end of this post is them singing the benediction. It is beautiful!

To have all the families who have a connection to Briana at the funeral still expands my thinking and touches my heart. It is like Briana was in the center of a circle and all the families joined hands to surround her life in her death.

Linda and David talking to Phyllis, Briana's biological mother

Linda talking to Phyllis

Ivory, Briana's biological father...they look so much alike

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Christmas Day 2009 With Briana...Part Of The Story

I had a feeling before Christmas. It was one of those things that is hard to explain. It was just a feeling. I thought to myself that this might be Briana's last Christmas.

One night, earlier in the month, I was talking to my son, Adam, on the phone. He told me they were going to be spending Christmas Day alone. I said, "You could come here." Not only didn't I want them spending Christmas Day alone in South Carolina, but I wanted them all here. I wanted my whole family here this Christmas.

I had a feeling. It had to happen. We had to be together. We made it happen. They came.

Then the snow came. It came and came and we hoped and prayed everyone would be able to be here. And, perhaps it was a miracle. I don't know. But, everyone was able to be here.

Christmas Day 2009 was special. We were all together. All of us, (including Joe from Ireland, who was in NJ that day) had chipped in some money to give Briana and Jahmari a nice Christmas.

Below are three videos from Christmas Day. Briana passed on to her new life February 3, 2010. So much happened in such a short time.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Day After

(Dante's Prayer) Please click to play.

Today is Sunday, February 7, 2010. It is the day after Briana's funeral and two days after the visitation. It is also Briana's son, Jahmari's, birthday. The last two sentences take my breath away.

Today is Jahmari's 11th birthday. He didn't want to celebrate his birthday today. He didn't want to celebrate his birthday the day after his mother's funeral. I don't know what he will choose to do. His grandma and grandpa, his mom's parents, are with him.

None of us will be the same. Briana was so loved and brought such laughter, humor, understanding and compassion to her world. Even the nurses at the hospital fought over who was going to take care of her.

Below is a picture of one of Briana's most beloved nurses. Her name is Natalie. Natalie only looks like a person but she is really an angel. She was with those of us who were fortunate to be at Briana's bedside as Briana stepped through the door to her new heavenly home. In the stillness of the moment Natalie gently reached down to take Briana's pulse and then quietly listened to her heart. And, then Natalie spoke the words........

"She is in heaven now."

Natalie at the visitation

How often does a nurse come to a visitation? I don't know. She came up to me and my eyes flooded with tears and poor Natalie.......I grabbed her cheeks with my hands, held her captive in the palms of my hands, and just looked and looked at her. I could only say, "Oh, Natalie! Oh, Natalie! You came!" My heart ached with happiness! I had to pull her toward me and hug her and hug her and hug her! She was there with us all like it was meant to be. "Natalie darling, I hope you know what your coming meant to all of us! You are very special and you have a wonderful gift to give. We are so thankful for you!"

And, below is a picture of my 97 year old father, Briana's grandpa, signing the guest book at the visitation. He spoke a few words at the cemetery the following day as we stood in the cold and the snow. He said,

"Briana, it was wonderful to have your company for 36 years. We will miss you. We love you. Bye, bye. Amen."

And, then we sang the doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow............

My dad.....I love this picture

There is so much to write.

There is a story to tell.

Our experience over the last, what has it been now? Close to two weeks? There wasn't time to feel or understand. There was only time to do what needed to be done next.

Yes, there is a story to be told and perhaps as the pieces of the story get told others might benefit. Briana would like that!

Thursday, February 04, 2010


(Winter Light by Linda Ronstadt) Please click to play

Briana at the U of M Medical Center days before she passed through the door to her new life

At 11:45 a.m. on February 3, 2010 our dear Briana entered her new life. She took her faith seriously and fought valiantly so she might get better. God had other plans for her and for us. He wanted her to come home.

Some of her family and friends kept constant vigil at the University of Minnesota Medical Center for five days and nights. We watched over her, cared for her, prayed for her and took care of countless details on behalf of her and her son, Jahmari, age 10.

We learned over the course of days that her cancer had spread like wild fire throughout her body giving her and her doctors no chance of overtaking it. She believed her God was bigger than the cancer. Her faith made it so difficult to grasp that she had worldly things she needed to tend to. It was a dilemna that was hard to reconcile. Why did her faith and real life seem so far apart? Would it mean she didn't believe strongly enough if she took steps to deal with life after death here on earth?

I am left with many questions. I am left with no immediate answers. I am left with unshed tears because of what I experienced in that hospital over so many days and nights. I am left with exhaustion and more miles to travel before this new road reaches a place of rest.

Each time I looked in the mirror at the hospital at a face that hadn't been washed for days and a body that had not slept for nights, I simply said.......

"You can do this. You CAN do this. You can DO this. YOU can do this." And, I did. And, I wish I had not had to.

I love you Briana, and I will miss you. I do miss you.

May you rest in peace in your new heavenly home and it was an honor and a privilege to be part of your journey home.