Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roller coaster

I wrote this last night when I was feeling very, very sad. Today is a new day, but I wanted to post it anyway, in the interest of honesty. These feelings are part of this journey.

This is a self-indulgent post. Please skip or read it kindly, knowing I am doing the best I can.

Kevin tells a great story about taking a friend on her first roller coaster ride. While that story isn't about me, he also took me on my first roller coaster ride. I loved it. I loved the dips and turns, the g-force thrills.

I do not love this roller coaster. I do not love the emotional pummeling pancreatic cancer is giving us. I do not love the fact that I am struggling to retain my emotional stability, my momentum, my intellect and my integrity all the time. I do not love that I write something meaningful, something I believe, and ten minutes later I feel like a liar because I just can't live that way in this moment, that in this moment all I want to do is howl.

Everything is the stomach-lifting surge right now.

And even with that, I don't want the ride to end, because it is at least the ride. If we are screaming together we are still here together.

I may never ride a roller coaster again.

(Please bear in mind, I don't feel this way all the time. But I do right now and it feels dishonest to deny it. Thanks for understanding.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Redefining "Happily Ever After"

When my beloved and I first became an item 15 years ago, I told him that I wanted happily ever after. That led to a lot of discussions into the nature of this state. He was afraid I expected a fairy-tale romance every day when in fact I meant simply that I wanted a chance at happiness every day. Or every day happiness, with all of its irritations. Or at least the opportunity to work side-by-side and see what we could build.

For 15 years I have had that. I am very, very lucky. And I had every expectation that I would be able to continue this version of happily ever after for years to come. After all, in fairy tales happily ever after means at least for a really long time.

On January 18th that changed. My beloved was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. You can read about it here and frankly in just about every post for 2014 to date. If you want to know how he's doing go here. Now, just over a month later, the shock is wearing off and I'm beginning to think about how I manage in this new normal. What does happily ever after look like now?

I don't have a good answer for that yet.

I do have some ideas of what happily ever after is becoming. This is subject to change, of course, but it might be useful (it's at least useful to me) so here they are.

  • Ever after means something different now. Each morning I wake up and try to remind myself that I have today. None of us are really guaranteed anything beyond this breath; I am just in a position of being more aware of that than most people. Today can be a kind of happily ever after.
  • The happily part is different now. I used to take great joy in the every day pleasures - going grocery shopping together, laughing until we couldn't stand, stuff like that. Those pleasures are changing now. I'm looking for smaller grains of happiness and learning to cherish them. Holding hands. The moments of clarity through medication and pain. Watching him take a small bite of something and remembering, however briefly, that food can be good. Knowing he is finally sleeping well.
  • Happily ever after now means a different kind of work together, different problems to solve, different understandings of time. But it still exists in glimpses I will not deny.
There will certainly be times when I can't find light, but to deny what happiness there still is in this stressed, painful, uncertain place is to submit to illness too early. There is still joy. There is still a future, though it may have been redefined. There is still a kind of happily ever after.

I know this may sound like I'm denying what's happening or as if I am a pollyanna. I am not. What I am is one person, standing witness to what has been and what will be, and reminding myself that what happily ever after really means is right now. This moment. I am reminding myself that even in the dark, even when I am at my most scared and desolate, happiness can be found in difficulty and that ever after is all any of us ever have.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, February 17, 2014


I have always been someone who needed solitude. Alone time gives me a chance to refresh my batteries, listen to my internal dialogue, reconnect with my secret selves.

These days alone time is confusing and not a little scary. I still need it, but it no longer feels safe. It is too easy to imagine what may come, the pains and hardships. It's disquieting, finding myself dreading one of the things I need the most.

In this state I find myself clinging to social media. Has anyone posted anything new on Facebook? On CaringBridge? Anyone? Hello? I suppose that's why I'm writing this post, to feel connected, even if I am alone in our home.

I need to relearn how to dance with solitude, relearn how to trust myself in the dark.

Maybe more than anything I need to remember that I am in new territory and the old rules may not apply. I am forging a new path through unfamiliar lands and maybe the only thing I can really do is trust that I have managed this well for this long, I can manage a little longer.

And maybe I need to remember that I am not alone. All I need to do is reach out and I will be accompanied through the night.

Ultimately, that is why I write. So I am not alone but in company with my thoughts, with you  reading this, with the universe watching me dance.

This isn't the most coherent blog post, but right now? It's enough to look up from my own fear and say
How are you this evening? 
I'm managing. 
And for now that's enough.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, February 14, 2014

The best Valentine's Day gift

I've always had fairly skeptical feelings about Valentine's Day. When I was a little girl I pretty quickly figured out it was a popularity contest - remember delivering those tiny little cards into paper bags on everyone's desk? There was always the kid who got more than anyone else and there was always the kid who received none. Once I realized that, I decided it was a crock.

That isn't to say I want to be forgotten on Valentine's Day, but it's not that important to me. I know I am loved. Since it's not a big deal to either of us, Kevin and I give each other Valentine's Day cards and might grab a bite to eat, but really, when you've been together this long you don't need a specific day to say, "I love you," right?

This year is different.

This year Valentine's Day is being spent in the hospital. My Valentine's Day gift today was holding his hand as the first chemo infusion began to make its way into his veins. I could not ask for a better gift.

I am extraordinarily lucky, in that I don't need a holiday to remind me that I am loved and that I love. I just love. Every day. And today I can celebrate the feel of his palm on mine as we fight, together.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Life, actually

I wanted to write about how everything continues, even when my own life is focused intently on one room in one building with one person. I wanted to write about how, even in the midst of (the beginning of) what is surely the most difficult thing I've had to do to date, life doesn't stop. I must remember to eat and move and care for myself, to honor my commitments. I wanted to write about that. We each are the protagonists in our own stories, I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about all of it, how life goes on even when it is circling one spot in a very tight orbit. I wanted to write about that.

But what I find myself needing to write about is this: This is life, actually. This tight orbit, this person, this building, this room. Life is not what happens out there, beyond my care and concern for my beloved, it is what happens in every breath. Mine. His. I don't know if all of this sounds trite and worn, if it does please forgive me, it's just that right now, it's all I know. That this is life, my life, in this moment.

What I need to remember is that every moment is what life is about. It's about watching him sleep. It's about honoring my commitments  and telling stories at gigs, even if I don't know if I can do it. It's about helping others find their story. It's about the tears, the laughter, the anger, the untasted food, the intrusive questions, about Every Single Moment.

Even the hard ones, the ones that feel as though the rest of the world should stop and pay attention, dammit, something important is happening here! How can things like traffic lights and bills and other people holding hands still happen when everything in the world is orbiting this bed in this room in this hospital? Because that's what life is about. All of us caught in the dance, swinging by each other and interacting only for a moment. Everything. Every moment. Every story. Every breath.

In this moment, in this hospital room, with this man.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday story: A Tale of the Tontlawald

As many of you know, my husband Kevin is ill. I've taken to reading him fairy tales to help him rest and as a distraction from his current discomforts. This morning I read him A Tale of the Tontlawald, an Estonian fairy tale retold in Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Tale Book.

I love this story. It describes what is essentially a stolen child tale with the assumption that this is the best possible thing for the child. It is full of wondrous detail (trees that bleed, the sea in a box and so on) so it's just juicy for telling. I also love the way the written tale wanders about, establishing setting for quite some time before delving into the story itself. It is a complete piece that provides context for listeners unfamiliar with fairy land.

As I read it to Kevin this morning I could watch him relaxing into the lush images. He became that stolen child, taken away from a place of discomfort to a world where the fruit is lush, the beds are soft and love is inevitable and sweet.


A Tale of the Tontlawald 
(as written by Andrew Lang, collected by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald in the mid-1800s)

Long, long ago there stood in the midst of a country covered with lakes a vast stretch of moorland called the Tontlawald, on which no man ever dared set foot. From time to time a few bold spirits had been drawn by curiosity to its borders, and on their return had reported that they had caught a glimpse of a ruined house in a grove of thick trees, and round about it were a crowd of beings resembling men, swarming over the grass like bees. The men were as dirty and ragged as gipsies, and there were besides a quantity of old women and half-naked children.

One night a peasant who was returning home from a feast wandered a little farther into the Tontlawald, and came back with the same story. A countless number of women and children were gathered round a huge fire, and some were seated on the ground, while others danced strange dances on the smooth grass. One old crone had a broad iron ladle in her hand, with which every now and then she stirred the fire, but the moment she touched the glowing ashes the children rushed away, shrieking like night owls, and it was a long while before they ventured to steal back. And besides all this there had once or twice been seen a little old man with a long beard creeping out of the forest, carrying a sack bigger than himself. The women and children ran by his side, weeping and trying to drag the sack from off his back, but he shook them off, and went on his way. There was also a tale of a magnificent black cat as large as a foal, but men could not believe all the wonders told by the peasant, and it was difficult to make out what was true and what was false in his story. However, the fact remained that strange things did happen there, and the King of Sweden, to whom this part of the country belonged, more than once gave orders to cut down the haunted wood, but there was no one with courage enough to obey his commands. At length one man, bolder than the rest, struck his axe into a tree, but his blow was followed by a stream of blood and shrieks as of a human creature in pain. The terrified woodcutter fled as fast as his legs would carry him, and after that neither orders nor threats would drive anybody to the enchanted moor.

A few miles from the Tontlawald was a large village, where dwelt a peasant who had recently married a young wife. As not uncommonly happens in such cases, she turned the whole house upside down, and the two quarrelled and fought all day long.

By his first wife the peasant had a daughter called Elsa, a good quiet girl, who only wanted to live in peace, but this her stepmother would not allow. She beat and cuffed the poor child from morning till night, but as the stepmother had the whip-hand of her husband there was no remedy.

For two years Elsa suffered all this ill-treatment, when one day she went out with the other village children to pluck strawberries. Carelessly they wandered on, till at last they reached the edge of the Tontlawald, where the finest strawberries grew, making the grass red with their colour. The children flung themselves down on the ground, and, after eating as many as they wanted, began to pile up their baskets, when suddenly a cry arose from one of the older boys:

'Run, run as fast as you can! We are in the Tontlawald!'

Quicker than lightning they sprang to their feet, and rushed madly away, all except Elsa, who had strayed farther than the rest, and had found a bed of the finest strawberries right under the trees. Like the others, she heard the boy's cry, but could not make up her mind to leave the strawberries.

'After all, what does it matter?' thought she. 'The dwellers in the Tontlawald cannot be worse than my stepmother'; and looking up she saw a little black dog with a silver bell on its neck come barking towards her, followed by a maiden clad all in silk.

'Be quiet,' said she; then turning to Elsa she added: 'I am so glad you did not run away with the other children. Stay here with me and be my friend, and we will play delightful games together, and every day we will go and gather strawberries. Nobody will dare to beat you if I tell them not. Come, let us go to my mother'; and taking Elsa's hand she led her deeper into the wood, the little black dog jumping up beside them and barking with pleasure.

Oh! what wonders and splendours unfolded themselves before Elsa's astonished eyes! She thought she really must be in Heaven. Fruit trees and bushes loaded with fruit stood before them, while birds gayer than the brightest butterfly sat in their branches and filled the air with their song. And the birds were not shy, but let the girls take them in their hands, and stroke their gold and silver feathers. In the centre of the garden was the dwelling-house, shining with glass and precious stones, and in the doorway sat a woman in rich garments, who turned to Elsa's companion and asked:

'What sort of a guest are you bringing to me?'

'I found her alone in the wood,' replied her daughter, 'and brought her back with me for a companion. You will let her stay?'

The mother laughed, but said nothing, only she looked Elsa up and down sharply. Then she told the girl to come near, and stroked her cheeks and spoke kindly to her, asking if her parents were alive, and if she really would like to stay with them. Elsa stooped and kissed her hand, then, kneeling down, buried her face in the woman's lap, and sobbed out:

'My mother has lain for many years under the ground. My father is still alive, but I am nothing to him, and my stepmother beats me all the day long. I can do nothing right, so let me, I pray you, stay with you. I will look after the flocks or do any work you tell me; I will obey your lightest word; only do not, I entreat you, send me back to her. She will half kill me for not having come back with the other children.'

And the woman smiled and answered, 'Well, we will see what we can do with you,' and, rising, went into the house.

Then the daughter said to Elsa, 'Fear nothing, my mother will be your friend. I saw by the way she looked that she would grant your request when she had thought over it,' and, telling Elsa to wait, she entered the house to seek her mother. Elsa meanwhile was tossed about between hope and fear, and felt as if the girl would never come.

At last Elsa saw her crossing the grass with a box in her hand.

'My mother says we may play together to-day, as she wants to make up her mind what to do about you. But I hope you will stay here always, as I can't bear you to go away. Have you ever been on the sea?'

'The sea?' asked Elsa, staring; 'what is that? I've never heard of such a thing!'

'Oh, I'll soon show you,' answered the girl, taking the lid from the box, and at the very bottom lay a scrap of a cloak, a mussel shell, and two fish scales. Two drops of water were glistening on the cloak, and these the girl shook on the ground. In an instant the garden and lawn and everything else had vanished utterly, as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up, and as far as the eye could reach you could see nothing but water, which seemed at last to touch heaven itself. Only under their feet was a tiny dry spot. Then the girl placed the mussel shell on the water and took the fish scales in her hand. The mussel shell grew bigger and bigger, and turned into a pretty little boat, which would have held a dozen children. The girls stepped in, Elsa very cautiously, for which she was much laughed at by her friend, who used the fish scales for a rudder. The waves rocked the girls softly, as if they were lying in a cradle, and they floated on till they met other boats filled with men, singing and making merry.

'We must sing you a song in return,' said the girl, but as Elsa did not know any songs, she had to sing by herself. Elsa could not understand any of the men's songs, but one word, she noticed, came over and over again, and that was 'Kisika.' Elsa asked what it meant, and the girl replied that it was her name.

It was all so pleasant that they might have stayed there for ever had not a voice cried out to them, 'Children, it is time for you to come home!'

So Kisika took the little box out of her pocket, with the piece of cloth lying in it, and dipped the cloth in the water, and lo! they were standing close to a splendid house in the middle of the garden. Everything round them was dry and firm, and there was no water anywhere. The mussel shell and the fish scales were put back in the box, and the girls went in.

They entered a large hall, where four and twenty richly dressed women were sitting round a table, looking as if they were about to attend a wedding. At the head of the table sat the lady of the house in a golden chair.

Elsa did not know which way to look, for everything that met her eyes was more beautiful than she could have dreamed possible. But she sat down with the rest, and ate some delicious fruit, and thought she must be in heaven. The guests talked softly, but their speech was strange to Elsa, and she understood nothing of what was said. Then the hostess turned round and whispered something to a maid behind her chair, and the maid left the hall, and when she came back she brought a little old man with her, who had a beard longer than himself. He bowed low to the lady and then stood quietly near the door.

'Do you see this girl?' said the lady of the house, pointing to Elsa. 'I wish to adopt her for my daughter. Make me a copy of her, which we can send to her native village instead of herself.'

The old man looked Elsa all up and down, as if he was taking her measure, bowed again to the lady, and left the hall. After dinner the lady said kindly to Elsa, 'Kisika has begged me to let you stay with her, and you have told her you would like to live here. Is that so?'

At these words Elsa fell on her knees, and kissed the lady's hands and feet in gratitude for her escape from her cruel stepmother; but her hostess raised her from the ground and patted her head, saying, 'All will go well as long as you are a good, obedient child, and I will take care of you and see that you want for nothing till you are grown up and can look after yourself. My waiting-maid, who teaches Kisika all sorts of fine handiwork, shall teach you too.'

Not long after the old man came back with a mould full of clay on his shoulders, and a little covered basket in his left hand. He put down his mould and his basket on the ground, took up a handful of clay, and made a doll as large as life. When it was finished he bored a hole in the doll's breast and put a bit of bread inside; then, drawing a snake out of the basket, forced it to enter the hollow body.

'Now,' he said to the lady, 'all we want is a drop of the maiden's blood.'

When she heard this Elsa grew white with horror, for she thought she was selling her soul to the evil one.

'Do not be afraid!' the lady hastened to say; 'we do not want your blood for any bad purpose, but rather to give you freedom and happiness.'

Then she took a tiny golden needle, pricked Elsa in the arm, and gave the needle to the old man, who stuck it into the heart of the doll. When this was done he placed the figure in the basket, promising that the next day they should all see what a beautiful piece of work he had finished.

When Elsa awoke the next morning in her silken bed, with its soft white pillows, she saw a beautiful dress lying over the back of a chair, ready for her to put on. A maid came in to comb out her long hair, and brought the finest linen for her use; but nothing gave Elsa so much joy as the little pair of embroidered shoes that she held in her hand, for the girl had hitherto been forced to run about barefoot by her cruel stepmother. In her excitement she never gave a thought to the rough clothes she had worn the day before, which had disappeared as if by magic during the night. Who could have taken them? Well, she was to know that by-and-by. But WE can guess that the doll had been dressed in them, which was to go back to the village in her stead. By the time the sun rose the doll had attained her full size, and no one could have told one girl from the other. Elsa started back when she met herself as she looked only yesterday.

'You must not be frightened,' said the lady, when she noticed her terror; 'this clay figure can do you no harm. It is for your stepmother, that she may beat it instead of you. Let her flog it as hard as she will, it can never feel any pain. And if the wicked woman does not come one day to a better mind your double will be able at last to give her the punishment she deserves.'

From this moment Elsa's life was that of the ordinary happy child, who has been rocked to sleep in her babyhood in a lovely golden cradle. She had no cares or troubles of any sort, and every day her tasks became easier, and the years that had gone before seemed more and more like a bad dream. But the happier she grew the deeper was her wonder at everything around her, and the more firmly she was persuaded that some great unknown power must be at the bottom of it all.

In the courtyard stood a huge granite block about twenty steps from the house, and when meal times came round the old man with the long beard went to the block, drew out a small silver staff, and struck the stone with it three times, so that the sound could be heard a long way off. At the third blow, out sprang a large golden cock, and stood upon the stone. Whenever he crowed and flapped his wings the rock opened and something came out of it. First a long table covered with dishes ready laid for the number of persons who would be seated round it, and this flew into the house all by itself.

When the cock crowed for the second time, a number of chairs appeared, and flew after the table; then wine, apples, and other fruit, all without trouble to anybody. After everybody had had enough, the old man struck the rock again. the golden cock crowed afresh, and back went dishes, table, chairs, and plates into the middle of the block.

When, however, it came to the turn of the thirteenth dish, which nobody ever wanted to eat, a huge black cat ran up, and stood on the rock close to the cock, while the dish was on his other side.

There they all remained, till they were joined by the old man.

He picked up the dish in one hand, tucked the cat under his arm, told the cock to get on his shoulder, and all four vanished into the rock. And this wonderful stone contained not only food, but clothes and everything you could possibly want in the house.

At first a language was often spoken at meals which was strange to Elsa, but by the help of the lady and her daughter she began slowly to understand it, though it was years before she was able to speak it herself.

One day she asked Kisika why the thirteenth dish came daily to the table and was sent daily away untouched, but Kisika knew no more about it than she did. The girl must, however, have told her mother what Elsa had said, for a few days later she spoke to Elsa seriously:

'Do not worry yourself with useless wondering. You wish to know why we never eat of the thirteenth dish? That, dear child, is the dish of hidden blessings, and we cannot taste of it without bringing our happy life here to an end. And the world would be a great deal better if men, in their greed, did not seek to snatch every thing for themselves, instead of leaving something as a thankoffering to the giver of the blessings. Greed is man's worst fault.'

The years passed like the wind for Elsa, and she grew into a lovely woman, with a knowledge of many things that she would never have learned in her native village; but Kisika was still the same young girl that she had been on the day of her first meeting with Elsa. Each morning they both worked for an hour at reading and writing, as they had always done, and Elsa was anxious to learn all she could, but Kisika much preferred childish games to anything else. If the humour seized her, she would fling aside her tasks, take her treasure box, and go off to play in the sea, where no harm ever came to her.

'What a pity,' she would often say to Elsa, 'that you have grown so big, you cannot play with me any more.'

Nine years slipped away in this manner, when one day the lady called Elsa into her room. Elsa was surprised at the summons, for it was unusual, and her heart sank, for she feared some evil threatened her. As she crossed the threshold, she saw that the lady's cheeks were flushed, and her eyes full of tears, which she dried hastily, as if she would conceal them from the girl. 'Dearest child,' she began, 'the time has come when we must part.'

'Part?' cried Elsa, burying her head in the lady's lap. 'No, dear lady, that can never be till death parts us. You once opened your arms to me; you cannot thrust me away now.'

'Ah, be quiet, child,' replied the lady; 'you do not know what I would do to make you happy. Now you are a woman, and I have no right to keep you here. You must return to the world of men, where joy awaits you.'

'Dear lady,' entreated Elsa again. 'Do not, I beseech you, send me from you. I want no other happiness but to live and die beside you. Make me your waiting maid, or set me to any work you choose, but do not cast me forth into the world. It would have been better if you had left me with my stepmother, than first to have brought me to heaven and then send me back to a worse place.'

'Do not talk like that, dear child,' replied the lady; 'you do not know all that must be done to secure your happiness, however much it costs me. But it has to be. You are only a common mortal, who will have to die one day, and you cannot stay here any longer. Though we have the bodies of men, we are not men at all, though it is not easy for you to understand why. Some day or other you will find a husband who has been made expressly for you, and will live happily with him till death separates you. It will be very hard for me to part from you, but it has to be, and you must make up your mind to it.' Then she drew her golden comb gently through Elsa's hair, and bade her go to bed; but little sleep had the poor girl! Life seemed to stretch before her like a dark starless night.

Now let us look back a moment, and see what had been going on in Elsa's native village all these years, and how her double had fared. It is a well-known fact that a bad woman seldom becomes better as she grows older, and Elsa's stepmother was no exception to the rule; but as the figure that had taken the girl's place could feel no pain, the blows that were showered on her night and day made no difference. If the father ever tried to come to his daughter's help, his wife turned upon him, and things were rather worse than before.

One day the stepmother had given the girl a frightful beating, and then threatened to kill her outright. Mad with rage, she seized the figure by the throat with both hands, when out came a black snake from her mouth and stung the woman's tongue, and she fell dead without a sound. At night, when the husband came home, he found his wife lying dead upon the ground, her body all swollen and disfigured, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. His screams brought the neighbours from their cottages, but they were unable to explain how it had all come about. It was true, they said, that about mid-day they had heard a great noise, but as that was a matter of daily occurrence they did not think much of it. The rest of the day all was still, but no one had seen anything of the daughter. The body of the dead woman was then prepared for burial, and her tired husband went to bed, rejoicing in his heart that he had been delivered from the firebrand who had made his home unpleasant. On the table he saw a slice of bread lying, and, being hungry, he ate it before going to sleep.

In the morning he too was found dead, and as swollen as his wife, for the bread had been placed in the body of the figure by the old man who made it. A few days later he was placed in the grave beside his wife, but nothing more was ever heard of their daughter.

All night long after her talk with the lady Elsa had wept and wailed her hard fate in being cast out from her home which she loved.

Next morning, when she got up, the lady placed a gold seal ring on her finger, strung a little golden box on a ribbon, and placed it round her neck; then she called the old man, and, forcing back her tears, took leave of Elsa. The girl tried to speak, but before she could sob out her thanks the old man had touched her softly on the head three times with his silver staff. In an instant Elsa knew that she was turning into a bird: wings sprang from beneath her arms; her feet were the feet of eagles, with long claws; her nose curved itself into a sharp beak, and feathers covered her body. Then she soared high in the air, and floated up towards the clouds, as if she had really been hatched an eagle.

For several days she flew steadily south, resting from time to time when her wings grew tired, for hunger she never felt. And so it happened that one day she was flying over a dense forest, and below hounds were barking fiercely, because, not having wings themselves, she was out of their reach. Suddenly a sharp pain quivered through her body, and she fell to the ground, pierced by an arrow.

When Elsa recovered her senses, she found herself lying under a bush in her own proper form. What had befallen her, and how she got there, lay behind her like a bad dream.

As she was wondering what she should do next the king's son came riding by, and, seeing Elsa, sprang from his horse, and took her by the hand, sawing, 'Ah! it was a happy chance that brought me here this morning. Every night, for half a year, have I dreamed, dear lady, that I should one day find you in this wood. And although I have passed through it hundreds of times in vain, I have never given up hope. To-day I was going in search of a large eagle that I had shot, and instead of the eagle I have found—you.' Then he took Elsa on his horse, and rode with her to the town, where the old king received her graciously.

A few days later the wedding took place, and as Elsa was arranging the veil upon her hair fifty carts arrived laden with beautiful things which the lady of the Tontlawald had sent to Elsa. And after the king's death Elsa became queen, and when she was old she told this story. But that was the last that was ever heard of the Tontlawald.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Learning to accept help

I have always been a stubborn person. My parents tell a story about how, when I was maybe a year old, they were busy with a task and couldn't pay much attention to me. Apparently, they leaned over my crib and told me they would be with me very soon, something a baby might not have the capacity to understand. I started to cry as soon as they got to work, because I wanted their attention. They completed their task as quickly as possible then came over to me. I had stopped crying. And I would not look at them. I turned my face away no matter how sweetly they cooed. It is my first recorded sulk and moment of stubbornness.

I am still a stubborn person, though now I try to temper it with thoughtful actions and analysis; I'd like to think I am a bit more understanding of the world and its distractions than I was at a year old. But there are some things that are very hard for me to do, places where I get my back up. Accepting help is one of them. I want to solve my own problems and create my own solutions.

The last three weeks and the coming months are a lesson in learning to accept help. Kevin is learning this because his body requires it; I am learning it because, if I am to help him, I need to accept help myself.

And help is coming out of the woodwork. I am amazed, overwhelmed, astonished and honored by how many people have offered to help. Kevin's kids all came to visit. Friends are flying in from around the country to help him once he comes home and to make sure I have support. Work friends are helping with yard work. Neighbors make sure the papers get picked up and bring me food. We are being cooked for, our home is being cleaned and we are constantly, constantly being reminded that this help is without obligation, it is given freely because we need it.

I wish we didn't need it...

In some ways all of this help makes me feel a little useless, but then I remember that right now? doing the dishes is less important that being with him. That shoveling the walk takes time away from talking with doctors and being his advocate. And that accepting help allows all of these people who love us an opportunity to be involved. To support, to fight back at illness. To help.

I am reminding myself over and over that right now, accepting help only makes sense. I need more help now than I ever have before, except maybe when I was that stubborn baby. I remind myself that help freely offered is a gift to both the one who receives and the one who gives. I remind myself, over and over and over again, the we all get by with a little help from our friends.

This isn't an easy lesson for me to learn. I will surely make some unkind mistakes or, at best, fail to ask for what we need. But I'm trying.

Thank you all. Thank you for your good thoughts, for your help, be it a prayer, a hope, a dish washed, an offer of a massage, a pot of soup, a ride to the airport... whatever it may be, please know that I appreciate it, even if right now I may not be effusive in my gratitude. Thank you for helping me help him.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, February 3, 2014


By now you know that my beloved and I are going through a tough time together. I am finding myself in a continuous state of kintsugi. This is the Japanese art of repairing shattered pottery with gold to create a perfectly imperfect piece of beauty, one that reflects its history and experience. I am shattered. I am continuously repaired. I am re-formed every single day though my purpose remains firm - to help Kevin on this journey in every way I can.

Below is an excerpt of a note I sent to my family, describing how I feel. But really, the simplest way to say it is that I have become a piece of kintsugi.


I do not know the words to describe what I'm feeling. I come up with all kinds of metaphors and similes; none are accurate or strong enough. I've said I feel like a ruined city, lifeless and abandoned, but that's not entirely true because I am thinking so hard and loving so much. My ability to cope changes from moment to moment, depending on what I'm facing, it's as though I have shattered into several Lauras. 

Shattered is a good word for it. 

There is the Laura who howls. She shows up every couple of days and makes noises the likes of which I didn't know I could produce. She is composed of grief and rage.  There is the Laura who is thinking, analyzing, figuring out how to fight. She is around in the hospital and whenever I have to strategize. She is really, really smart. I'm glad she's here. There is the Laura that believes we can beat this, that holds hope, because if I don't hold hope then the first Laura takes over. There is the Laura that knows the statistical outcomes and timelines. She keeps whispering in my ear and is, frankly, not yet useful. There are so many Lauras right now, each one of them with their own needs and voices. I suppose this isn't uncommon or even a bad way of coping with it. I remain functional until I am not, then I pick up again and keep moving on.

I hate this. I hate that Kevin is suffering like this. I hate that the universe could dare give me such love, such happiness, such hope and then do this. I am also aware that this is a deep and powerful lesson in love, because frankly that really is all I have. And I am being so well loved by people I don't even know. I counted it up and think there are probably in excess of 1000 people praying for Kevin. Maybe it means something for his health, maybe it doesn't, but it does mean that people are kind. People love. We are creatures composed of hope, believing our faith makes a difference in the face of the universe. We must hope.

I hope that whatever happens (and here the hopeful Laura and the statistician square off) he is able to make decisions that give him the best journey he can find. I hope I remain strong and functional throughout. I hope. Because I can't not. 

There are microscopic moments of grace, even now and I'm sure throughout this journey. I hope I remember to see them. If this situation won't simply become a bad dream, then I would not be anywhere but here. With him. Walking beside him.

I love him so much. I have been so lucky and, in some twisty little way, still am, because I have not forgotten, because I have had 15 years and may have more, because. I am loved and am able to love in turn.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.laurapacker.com.
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