Monday, November 5, 2012

Hurricane Cancer

I've been thinking long and hard about a November theme. It should've been easy. Monsters for October and thankful for Thanksgiving. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just couldn't bear that theme.

The prospect of writing posts about ways to be thankful, or any public counting of blessings struck me as entirely insincere. There are numerous reasons and arguments for why I should be both thankful and grateful, but this year, I'm not.

About six weeks ago I wrote a post about optimism and talked about my worries about my father's health. Since that time he's received a diagnosis. He has a glioblastoma, a stage four, inoperable, brain tumor located in the middle of his language center. He's 68, and it's unlikely he'll see 69.

Over the last six weeks this brain tumor has been his own localized hurricane. It's sweeping through his brain, uprooting everything in its path, setting fire to his synapses and collapsing his ability to speak, read or write.

There are spots of good news. The physical pain is minimal. He can still get around, go out to eat, understand funny stories about his grandchildren. Those are the things I think about when the hurricane wall of sadness threatens to suck me under its oversized tide.

Joy of whitewater rafting with my dad.
Which is why I decided to make this month's focus on joyful things.

Hurricane devastation, whether its personal or on a grand scale, is obvious. It's demands are clear and unrelenting. But even the worst hurricanes leave behind survivors and you either sink under the grief or swim through it searching for little bits of joy that will buoy you up until the lifeboat comes and returns you to a place that bears some resemblance to a place you once knew.

I know you'll want to tell me you're sorry about this sad news, but please don't.

Instead focus on joy. Tell me the things that make you smile. It's only fair because that's what I'm going to talk to you about for the next month, or maybe more. Sometimes it might be little things (believe me, I can do an entire post about the joys of lipgloss or Luluemon running tights) and sometimes it might be big things.

Whatever it is, you'll know that it's my daily splinter of joy and my hope is that it might inspire joy in others who are adrift on a similar windswept and rainy ocean.



Unknown said...

If it's laughter and smiles you're looking for, have I got a story for you. I took my nephew downtown with me when he about 5 and we had lunch at the Thompson Center food court. We had 30 min to catch our train home. He had to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately the Men's room was out of order and the nearest working one was on the fifth floor. I asked him if he could hold it. He said no so I took him into the Ladies. I went to go into the stall with him and he tells me "Auntie Mo, I'm a big boy. I can pull my own pants down." Mortified, I closed the door and told him to lock it. It started getting crowded a huge line was forming and I hear Joshua say "Auntie Mo, you can wait outside. I have to poop." Everyone starts laughing so I back out and go outside. I wait and wait, train times comes and goes. What is taking so long? He walks out a few mintues later and announces that he "...had a two flush floatie like my dad." I can still hear chuckles.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Remembering the joy is the best attitude you could have right now.
My wife is good at seeing the little joys and I rely on her to see them as well.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Focus on the joy.

My joyful moments come when I'm having a Hammy the Squirrel moment and it makes my husband smile.

Emily R. King said...

I think being happy is a choice. You're so right that there are good things to focus on. Devastation and destruction are everywhere. If you look for them, you'll find them. Focus on the good stuff. LIFE IS GOOD!

Charity Bradford said...

My general favorite joyful moments are the quiet ones with friends and family. When you are just happy to be together and it's all you need in the world. Those are the ones I cherish and hold onto when things get hard.

Specific--my best friend came over last night and we sat at my table making jewelry together. We didn't even talk much. Just enjoyed being in the same room.

Johanna Garth said...

Melissa, I love that story. Kids are always a great source of bathroom amusement.

Alex, it's good to have a partner who keeps you on that joy track.

Diane, I have no idea what Hammy the Squirrel is, but just the name is making me smile.

Emily, Yes. It's a choice that I'm reminding myself to make every day.

Charity, I love hanging out with family and friends too and yes, the friends who you can just enjoy being with are the best kind.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, Johanna, I'm SO SORRY to hear about your dad. That would be so frustrating to lost the ability to communicate, too. I think you are doing great to concentrate on those good things. I appreciated skipping the gratitude theme for the month even before I read what you're coping with (I find it a little sacharine and insincere, too) but WOW. I think focusing on the small good internally is AMAZING. You are up for a hard holiday season--you really can't expect yourself to bleed online--just concentrate where it matters. Hugs to you!

Morgan said...

<3 <3 <3

It's amazing how beyond blessed we are... and I'm always doing my best to focus on the good and what I do have instead of what I want... it's so dangerous/unhealthy to be in the "I'll be happy when" mindset.

You, Johanna, have amazing perspective. That comes across in all your posts. I really do look up to you so much and am floored by your strength!

Barbara Watson said...

Each day you still have your dad is joy of its own. My own joy often comes in the little things of life--an unexpected smile from stranger, a hug from one of my kids, a kind act from my husband.

Nicki Elson said...

Joy is good. :) Here, this brings me a smidge every time:

Nicki Elson said...

Shoot, I meant for that to link: Was that Sarcasm?

jenny milchman said...

It made me smile to see that picture of you with your dad. Your dad will see many more ages, because of what he made that lives in you.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Joy ... is reading student work that makes you laugh or tear up and forget for a moment that you *have* to read it. (and grade it)

Unknown said...

Just seeing my kids smile makes me happy. And celebrating oldest son's birthday makes me happy. He was born 3 months premature.

Gail said...

For many there is never laughter. You have that. Gather the moments. You can pull them out, hold them close and remember how great the love.

Carol Kilgore said...

You're on the right track. Focus on the good, the smiles, the happy.

What makes me smile? So much. Smiles come from almost everything. The key is your outlook.

It can be as simple as first opening your eyes every morning to seeing the moon at night. Seeing someone reach for another's hand. A cat tumble end over end turning a corner on the run only to regain it's footing and look at you as if to say, "I meant to do that."

You'll be in my thoughts.

Gwen Gardner said...

Joy...seeing my book in print was a joy. My kids just got back from a 5 week vacation and cruise. Bora Bora, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia. I was just so happy they got to experience it. And I got to housesit with my granddoggies for part of the time. I do adore them! They make me happy:)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Good memories, especially good memories that you have and make with your family, are sources of joy. A major source of joy for me is when I see people do kind things for perfect strangers; it gives me faith that there are still good people out there.

Johanna Garth said...

Hart, thanks so much for your hugs and sensible words.

Morgan, your comments are always so, so nice!

Barbara, joy is always in the littlest of things.

Nicki, great link!

Jenny, that picture makes me smile too.

Dianne, those sound like amazing teacher moments.

Gail, good advice!

Gwen, that sounds like an amazing and joy-filled vacation.

Carol, I like the idea that the key is in your outlook.

Stina, I get a lot of joy from my kids too :)

Neurotic, I LOVE that. Commented almost the same thing on another blog today.

PK HREZO said...

This is a beautiful thing to do, Johanna. Life is so full of joy and beauty and choosing to see that first and foremost will always help lift our spirits. How awesome you've had an amazing father to help shape and mold your life. You are so blessed!!
peace, love, & hugs

Kristen Wixted said...

My cat, Frida, is adorable.
Your book has a naked lady on the cover. (!)
My husband is very kind, not to mention good-looking.
My children...well, I won't. Because I would go on and on.
Just about two weeks ago, I started drinking coffee and I could go on and on about how right everyone is about coffee being a good thing! I only drink French Vanilla with French Vanilla flavored creamer, but I make it at home, so it's cheap.
I love your blog. It is one of the best ones out there.
You are one of my favorite blogger friends! Let's have coffee.
You coming to Massachusetts or should I come to Oregon?

Lisa Gail Green said...

Well... My oldest nephew (really his wife) had twin boys today. :D Whenever I look at my kids, I feel joy. Go see some babies.

Ella said...

(((hugs))) I want you to get the best cup of coffee, in your world and rent or watch your favorite comedy~ Do something silly with your children...a picnic indoors, make a fort and read to them, dance like you have ants in your pants.

I asked my daughter this question(I put it on my blog...)
It made me smile!

I asked my daughter one of the questions in the book..."if you had only a dollar and wanted to buy a gift for someone special, what would you get?"

My daughter said, "Mom I would buy you a pen, so you could collect n' capture all your thoughts."

That's my girl! A pen...yes, that would make me happy! I'm always writing lists and trying to catch words!

Go now dance! :D