Last year, after my dad passed away, as I was writing the eulogy for his memorial service, I asked my mom and sister to share memories with me that, to each of them, captured or conveyed who Dad was, what he valued and how he lived his life. Mom shared a memory that has stuck with me—and has, in moments since, become a part of my life, too.
She told me and Kathryn that, over the years, throughout the summer and into the fall in Northern Michigan, Dad would occasionally take the boat out on Crystal Lake by himself before making dinner. (Anyone who knows our family knows Dad was the cook—and a really good and talented one at that.) Dad would take a drink with him and told Mom that, out on the lake, he would toast his parents, telling them how great his life was and how blessed he was.
This short story is emblematic of Dad’s gratitude and approach to life—his approach to living.
This year has been a big one, so to speak, in countless ways — and it’s not over yet. It’s a year full of some of the most difficult days of my life, and those of my family, and simultaneously a year of abundance and blessings. I fully feel the second part of that statement. God has shown up time and again this year, and I’m encouraged by the challenges and the victories because I see how He is there in all of it. He is a good, good God. Every day, I’m learning more and more that so much of life truly is about our perspective, the way we choose to see and respond to what’s in front of us — no matter who or what we believe in.
Shortly after Christmas last year, my dad was hospitalized. On January 3, 2019, he was diagnosed with B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctor who broke the news to us, while kind, was vague in terms of my dad’s chances of beating this and how long he might have to live. We learned a week or so later that, were he to continue without treatment, the cancer would likely take his life in 4-6 weeks.
So once an abscess in my dad’s intestine was treated — another story altogether, one where I also 100 percent see God’s hands at work — he started a month of inpatient chemotherapy at University of Michigan Hospital. Another round of outpatient chemo followed in March. In April, we learned my dad had several strong matches for a bone marrow transplant, and at the end of April, he successfully received a bone marrow transplant from a 20-something-year-old man in Germany. While the transplant was successful, my dad was not in the clear, and I would argue that May and June — though still full of blessings — were his toughest months and the most challenging for all of us. I know they were for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to sit down and just write in recent months. To write about how I’m feeling. To write about the mountain tops and valleys of life and everything in between. To write about my family. To write about the pull that I feel between here and there — at a time when “here” was Michigan and “there” was Patagonia. That pull is the same, but “here” is once again Patagonia and “there” is now Michigan.
I feel as though the wind has been knocked out of me in recent months. I feel as though life is a bit of a blur these days, and I’m having a tough time bringing everything into focus. I feel as though I’ve been running on autopilot — I can’t imagine how my mom, or my dad and sister, must be feeling — trying my best to support, take care of and be there for my family, those I love and myself.
I’ve felt dried up, void of emotions and words. At times, I’ve felt as though there’s nothing left for me to give to those I love or myself. I’ve felt numb.
The last 2-3 months could be a novel in and of themselves. I suppose all of our lives are that way to some extent. Each day carries so many ups and downs and details that are small but important.
I’m getting ahead of myself. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where this story begins, but I think this is a place to start.
I think about my sister a lot, but this week, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, a lot. She’s spent the days leading up to her 25th birthday — a time in a young person’s life that’s typically about dreaming big, testing the water and living freely and fearlessly and without abandon — in a hospital bed.
For 4-5 years now, Kathryn has been living with epilepsy. Doctors haven’t found the right prescription to control her seizures through medication, and over several months, she has undergone / is undergoing a series of tests while hospitalized to see if and how surgery might be an option as well. She’s living with a great amount of risk, but it’s not the kind of risk you want or seek out in your 20s — or ever, really.
I think about my sister, and I cannot help but imagine how terrifying it must be to be in her shoes. For so many reasons. For reasons that don’t even cross my mind, reasons I can’t comprehend. I think about my sister and everything she’s facing, and I think about how she’s taking it in stride, how she’s working two jobs, how she doesn’t complain, how she isn’t quick to anger. When it comes to my sister and her health and her life, I think about a lot of things, but more than anything, lately, I think about how brave she is.
Brave. That’s the word I keep coming back to.
I think the way distance can affect relationships is one of the hardest parts of being here. I miss being able to just call my grandparents. I miss getting phone calls from them. Sunday is usually our day to connect, so I miss their voices the most on Sundays. But I also miss the surprise calls we give one another throughout the week.
Technology makes it easier to connect — and my grandparents are pretty up-to-date with technology — but it’s harder to get in touch with someone when they have to be at their computer and logged into X app versus simply dialing their phone number, it ringing and them picking up the phone.
I miss talking with my grandparents. I miss talking with them because I know time is precious and that it’s not slowing down. I miss talking with them because they’re a constant in my life. I miss talking with them because it is easy; it comes naturally; it is support. I miss talking with them because when we talk the world seems to stand still.