Friday, January 31, 2014

Intimacy and privacy

It bothers me immensely that this blog is going to be a cancer blog for awhile. But there it is. I write about the things that matter most to me and, right now, what matters most is my beloved's fight with pancreatic cancer. If you're looking for a great storytelling blog I recommend Priscilla Howe's. I'll get back to story eventually, but for now, this is my story.

As Kevin and I travel the cancer road together one of the things I am increasingly aware of is the way illness increases intimacy and erodes privacy. Let's start with intimacy.

Ever since we became a couple intimacy has been one of our guiding principals, not only physical intimacy but emotional. We have tried to maintain a deep sense of honesty with one another, which deepens into a more meaningful kind of intimacy. As he's become ill, that intimacy has increased. The bathroom is no longer such a private place. We've talked more about bowels than is likely wise. We have had some big, hard conversations and more are likely to come.

What's more, my barriers to intimacy have eroded. I have cried in the arms of nurses, doctors, strangers in the grocery store. I have been prayed over by people I didn't know ten minutes earlier and I've accepted their prayers gratefully even if it is a version of prayer that I don't participate in. I have been clutched to the bosoms of women I will never see again. And I am grateful for it all. These intimate acts are gifts when I need them most, providing comfort and the possibility of hope.

But too much intimacy might suggest that nothing is private anymore, and that's just not true. All of this intimacy needs to be balanced with privacy. In the hospital Kevin has been poked, prodded, examined and measured via every orifice and fluid. He is asked questions that seem intrusive and has to give the information freely and honestly, because it all has a bearing on his health. Because of this I am trying to maintain as much of his privacy as I can.

I don't go into his bags without asking. I make all the doctors - including the silent interns - introduce themselves before they can be in the room while he's being examined. I make sure he can shut the door when he goes to the bathroom and isn't interrupted if at all possible. I ask why, why, why so often that some of the doctors are now telling us why before I can even ask.

I want to ensure that Kevin has as much authority as possible over his own life as he walks this path. And privacy is one piece of agency that reminds him that he is still whole, still a man, still his own self. (Mind you, I have and will make mistakes here. But at least I'm aware and trying.)

For all that we need intimacy, we all need private time as well, especially when ill and facing the big issues. I'm honored to be the guard dog at the door.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, January 27, 2014

Grateful for the pain

As you may have noticed, I've fallen off the 365-day-blog-challenge wagon. With good reason. Just over a week ago my husband, the love of my life, the thorn in my side, the man who challenges me to be better every day, who believes I already am better, the man who makes me laugh and sigh, that man, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Just typing that hurts.

If you want to know more about his illness you can check out his caringbridge page. I don't want to recount it here. Go ahead. I'll be waiting when you get back.

In the last week we have spent most of our time in the hospital, where they are poking, prodding, determining, diagnosing, arguing and trying to understand what's happening to him. He has been in so much pain he cannot walk and is moaning aloud. Through all of this I have been only able to hold his hand or rub his back or tell him I love him. Over and over again.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Because there is nothing else I can really say.

I have never cried so hard as I have this week, though I expect I will have lessons in crying harder. I cannot bear to imagine what he will have to go through, what is to come, yet it is all I can think about.

Through it all, there is a peculiar kind of grace emerging, one I never wanted but recognize. I am so angry this is happening to him. And I am so grateful that I am here with him. I have never hurt like this - and I know my pain is nothing compared to his - but even this much emotional pain is exceeded by love. By the love I feel for him. By the love I feel for my friends and family. By the love I see wrapping around him with every text message, every phone call, every moment spent reading by his bedside, every act of kindness. I would not see it so easily were it not for the magnitude of the pain.

I'm in no way talking about physical pain. What my beloved is experiencing in his body is awful and bears no gift. But the very rawness of this time allows us to see what we miss in everyday life. The grace. The small moments of kindness that make life manageable, if not always bearable. The love. Always the love.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

365 day blog challenge, 21: Significant other

Day 21: everything you wish for in a significant other
I have it. He is smart, funny, kind, handsome, supportive, loving, challenging, clever, wise, generous, patient, fallible and more.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, January 20, 2014

365 day blog challenge 18-20: Why, family and beauty

So life happened and I missed a few days.

Day 18: why you made your blog, why you still have it
I started it after the first time I finished NaNoWriMo, because I so loved the writing. I still have it because I still love the writing and I like sharing my thoughts with people.

Day 19: your thoughts on your family
Complex. Loving. Formative.

Day 20: what you think makes someone beautiful
Their eyes and smile. Kindness. Sense of humor. Intelligence. Strength. Compassion.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, January 17, 2014

365 day blog challenge, 17: Idols

Day 17: your idol and why you look up to them

I don't really have idols. I do have people I admire.

Sojourner Truth
Brother Blue
Stetson Kennedy
Mr. Rogers
Pete Seeger

There are others. This is enough to list for now.

Whom do you admire? Do you have idols or heroes?

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, January 16, 2014

365 day blog challenge 16. Trust

Day 16: someone you trust

Wow, some of these questions remind me that this is an exercise aimed at people other than me.

I move through the world choosing to trust. There are certainly people I trust more deeply, but I'd rather assume most people are trustworthy.

A story.

Many years ago my friend Amy and I took a trip through England. While in a hostel somewhere in the west country we met a man named John who claimed to be traveling to ease a heart broken by his wife's death. He was a doctor, born in Scotland but with many years spent in Australia, his wife's home. She had died the year earlier. He had quit his job and was on walkabout, finding himself here, back in his country of birth.

He was a great storyteller, a bear of a man with sad eyes and a ready laugh. He drove us to several sites we wanted to see, we shared meals together and it was a lovely time. He said he needed money to keep going and, while we didn't have much, we gave him a few pounds. A week later we ran into him again, this time in London. We again had a jolly time and again, he asked if we could give him some money so he could keep going. He promised to pay us back, taking my address in the U.S. and giving me his in Scotland.

I never heard from him again.

I knew it was a risk when I gave him the money, probably no more than 40 pounds, but I chose to trust him. I would make the same choice again. I don't know the circumstances of his life beyond the stories he told us. If they were lies then they were well told and compelling, good stories. If they were true then it would be nothing less than cruel of me to hold his pain against 40 pounds.

I'd rather give people the benefit of the doubt, the gift of my trust, than assume they are lying. It almost always leads to a better story, anyway.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

365 day blog challenge, 15. Songs

Day 15: a song that makes you cry and why

Oh, there are so many. Here are a few. The reasons, frankly, are private.

Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.

Train Song by Tom Waits.

Mozart's Requiem.

Johnny's Camaro by David Wilcox.

So, those are a few of mine. What are yours?

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

365 day blog challenge 14: Be kind

Day 14: write about something you believe in, anything at all

Be kind. Let kindness be a reflex, a default, the automatic response before anger, before fear, before assuming the worse.

Be kind. To yourself, to others, to the trees, sky, air you breath.

Be kind. Even when it is hard, when you want to lash out, you don't know what pain others are carrying. You can always behave otherwise, later, but let kindness be your first response. It may not be so easy to choose kindness if your first response was otherwise.

Kindness can be listening, walking away, offering a hand, not laughing when you might want to. It can be refusal, demonstrating assertiveness without ire (you never know who is watching), it can be saying no. It can be protecting yourself, it can be staying still, it can be simply not flinching.

It is not weak.

It is not submission.

It is asserting to the world that you choose to act in the ways you wish to be treated.

Be kind.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, January 13, 2014

365 day blog challenge 13: Quote unquote

Day 13: your favorite quote

I hate naming favorites.

What's yours?

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, January 12, 2014

365 day blog challenge, day 12. Good advice

Day 12: the best advice you’ve ever heard or ever been given

As with yesterday, I have always tended to to follow my own lead. Some would say I am headstrong.

That being said, some of the great advice I've heard is also some of the most common.

  • Be true to yourself
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Be compassionate, you don't know what someone else is going through
  • Take a risk
  • Listen first
  • etc...
It looks a little trite, written out in front of me.

Let me tell you a story about unexpected good advice.

When I was in my mid-twenties, my job required me to interview former psychiatric patients, often in their homes. It was fascinating; I learned the basics of skip tracing (remember, this is before the internet was pervasive), learned how to deliver psychiatric interviews and developed tremendous respect for those who are fighting for their own minds.

Most of the people I interviewed were lovely with a history of depression. A few had more complex histories. A few were still ill. Of the hundreds of people I interviewed, I only ever felt nervous about a few.

One of the people who made me nervous was a man who had a history of depression with psychosis. This means he was depressed and heard voices or saw things no one else could. When I arrived at his home it was clear he was still outside the usual measure of "normal." The place was in terrible disrepair. There were abandoned toys over his front lawn; they looked as though they had been there for years, half submerged in the dirt. He was unwashed and couldn't hold eye contact. I was, I admit, cautious. I was alone in the house with this man.

As the interview progressed I became more nervous. He had a great deal of anger towards his ex-wife which spilled over to anger at women in general. He did nothing to suggest a threat to me, but his words were alarming. Most of his answers had something to do with the evil of his ex-wife and women. I felt quite wary, but didn't feel as though I needed to leave.

We finally got to the part of the interview where I was asking him about his family. After raging about his ex-wife (again) he told me about his children. He glowed. He sounded so proud of them. And then he told me he hadn't heard from them in 20 years. Everything he knew was because his sister kept him informed. His kids wanted nothing to do with him and he hadn't made any effort to reach them. He kept their toys in the yard because he missed them and he thought maybe someday his grandkids might like them, if he ever met his grandkids. In that moment my fear shifted. I was still wary, but now I could view him with compassion.

And then he said this, "You don't regret the things you do. You regret the things you don't do. I guess I should've called them years ago." He was quiet for a minute and then finally met my eyes in a quick glance. 

We finished the interview and I never saw him again.

But his words have stuck with me. Maybe that's the advice I needed to hear then and I certainly carry it with me now.  You can twist it into something it's not, but I think it's worth remembering - life is here to be lived.

You don't regret the things you do. You regret the things you don't do.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday story: Nasrudin

Oh, but I love Nasrudin! And really, who doesn't love a wise fool? Nasrudin is a figure in stories across the Sufi world. He may be a fool, he may be quite wise, he may be a trickster, but he will always make you think.

When I was a child I learned several Nasrudin stories from a neighbor. I don't think the family was Persian, but I so clearly remember the mom telling some of these tales, over and over again, as we all laughed ourselves to bits. It was only later that I realized she told us these stories at appropriate times, to help us learn.

Wearing Hats

"Nasrudin, why dp people laugh at you?"
"Well," said Nasrudin, "Think of me as a turban. Laughter exposes the cruel and untrue. If people laughed at themselves they would feel naked and revealed, so I give them with a fool in a turban to laugh at instead."
"But Nasrudin, they are still naked!"
"Shhhhh," said Nasrudin smiling . . .

Last wishes

Nasrudin is drinking coffee with friends. They are discussing death.

"When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say?" asks one man, his whiskers in his cup.

The first says, "I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man."

The second says, " I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference to our children of tomorrow."

Nasrudin says, "I would like to hear them say... Look! He is moving!!!"

Riding backwards

Nasrudin will sit on the donkey in his own way, facing backwards.

"Hey! That's the wrong way!! You look like a fool!" called out a man nearby.

"Enough of it! The donkey says it wants to go that way! I said I want to go this way. Why pick up a fight with it? I let it go in its way. And I am sitting in my own way. Truce. Any objection?" asked Nasrudin.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, January 11, 2014

365 day blog challenge, day 11. Bad advice

Day 11: the worst advice you’ve ever heard, or ever been given

I don't know. I have always been someone who follows her own mind, sometimes to my detriment. I don't regret my odd degree, my loves and losses. I've received and followed some poor financial advice, but honestly, while money is important and I regret the fiscal loss, it could be worse.

Of course, there was that time with the monkey suit, blue paint and the bottle of honey. Probably shouldn't have listened to the voices in the tv about that one.

Anyone care to chime in? Bad advice stories can be interesting...

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, January 10, 2014

365 day blog challenge, day 10. Be yourself.

Day 10: what you think when you hear the words “be yourself”?

Who else am I gonna be?

Even if there are days when I might want to be someone else, it's only the dressing that would change. Everyone has their own joys and turmoil.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, January 9, 2014

365 day blog challenge, day 9. Happiness

Day 9: things that make you happy

Being alive.

Friends, family, puppies, trees, the ocean, a nice glass of wine, accomplishing things, reading, walking, coaching, performing, listening, breathing, steam rooms, biking, rivers, lovely surprises, poetry, music, dancing, wiggling, sleeping, sex, massage, yummy things, good conversation, jokes...

Being alive makes me happy. Simple things, complex things, experiencing the moment.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

365 days of blogging day 8

Day 8: things that make you sad

Unkindness, waste, grief, cruelty.
Those I love being in pain, distress, sorrow.

I could go on and on but... I am no different from you, we each carry our own sorrows and triggers. Mine are little different from yours.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

365 day blog challenge

My friend Joy recently posted the 365 day blog challenge. I thought I'd give it a shot to keep her company. These will be tiny posts, for the most part, but this first one is longer since I'm coming in on day 7.

Day 1: hopes, dreams, and plans for the next 365 days with a picture of yourself
I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I hope 2014 will be a happy, healthy, prosperous year. I hope I perform regularly and well, teach effectively, consult with organizations and have a positive impact. I hope all of my loved ones know they are loved and have wonderful years.

Day 2: something that’s illegal but you think it should be legal

Day 3: what you think your reason for being here is
To listen to the world. To translate. To bring a little whimsy when it's needed and kindness all the time.

Day 4: how you think your life would change if you achieved your dream
I am achieving my dreams! I think it will be much the same, with new dreams. I like my life.

Day 5: something you would change about the world
Kindness first.

Day 6: something you would like to change about yourself
I'd be more fit, more able to get fit.

Day 7: a show or a movie that has changed you, and how
Bliss. You'll either love it or hate it. About surviving and thriving in hell.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Eight things I've learned in the last 14 months

A year ago today I got in my car in Boston and began driving to Kansas City. A year and two days ago, I got married. A year and a month ago I gave notice at a job I'd held for 12 years. A year and two months ago my love and I decided to throw our lives up in the air and see what happened.

It's been a wild ride.

I don't regret the choices we made. We decided to leave Boston and come to KC for good reasons. Over the past year we've learned so much about ourselves, our world and our place in it. Here are a few of those lessons.

  1. It's impossible to drive alone. I get a lot of surprised looks when people find out I drove from Boston to KC by myself. For one, I like long drives, they give me time to think. And for another, I wasn't alone. While I was the only human in that car for three days, I carried with me memories, imaginary friends and one guinea pig in a carrying case beside me. When your passenger is continually demanding carrots, you know you're not alone.
  2. A companion helps. While it's had its challenges, this year would have been immeasurably harder had Kevin Brooks not been by my side. Not a sidekick, not supporting character, not the hero waiting for me to come along, but companion.
  3. Don't deny the feelings. In the past year I have grieved a place, a community, a way of life. I've fallen in love with a new place and a new life. I've been confused, frustrated, elated and more. Living the big life means you feel your feelings and accept that even the best and worst will change.
  4. Shit happens. You can figure it out. Two days before I drove to KC, leaving all I knew in Boston behind, and the morning of our wedding, Kevin and I lost the house we were planning to live in. We were without a home. And we figured it out. We figured out so many things this year, alone and together. Take a deep breath. Even if it's bad, you can find a way through.
  5. Pfft. Who needs maps? Get lost once in awhile. I've discovered some great parts of Kansas City by turning off my GPS and just exploring.
  6. Don't be afraid to be alone. I have had more solitary time this year than ever before. It's been wonderful. I've learned how I work, how I play, how to balance the two and who I am when no one is looking. The time spent in the car with only ghosts and a guinea pig for company helped me launch into this new adventure with a clearer mind. Every day, I have a chance to check in and see who I am today.
  7. Given a chance, people are generally kind. Sure, there are assholes. But most people, most of the time, default to benign disinterest. If you ask for help, they fall in love with the idea of being useful. Give them the opportunity to be kind. From the waitress in the Huddle House to the desk clerk somewhere in Indiana, people were kind to me for the whole drive. They've been kind here, too. I am grateful.
  8. When adventure calls, say yes. Every hero's journey starts with the call to adventure. It's very easy to pretend we don't hear it, amidst our comfortable homes and technology and routine. This year has helped me remember that saying yes to adventure, while difficult sometimes, can't help but be rewarding. Give it a shot. Who knows, at a minimum you'll end up with stories to tell.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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