This morning: Lament and thanks

Lament

This morning I woke up with a profound sense of grief and loss.

This morning I let myself grieve the loss of my pre-cancer life. I let myself grieve the loss of my pre-cancer body. I let myself grieve the loss of my pre-cancer hair.

This morning I let myself grieve the loss of my pre-coronavirus Covid-19 life. I let myself grieve the loss of being able to spend time with my family and friends.

This morning I let myself grieve all the losses.

This morning I let myself lament.

This morning I reached out to a friend for prayer. She responded with a written prayer. I read it and I prayed. Almost imperceptibly my focus shifted.

This morning I remembered the times I woke up with tears on my pillow as I waited for that first chemotherapy. That fear of the unknown. That visceral fear.

This morning I remembered the words that comforted me then:

“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

(Psalm 56, The Message)

This morning I pondered the meaning of these words. I am not a theologian but I believe God cares intimately for me and us and our suffering world. I believe God cares and remembers our sorrow as if he kept each tear in a bottle.

This morning I remembered that

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Revelation 21, NIV)

This morning I know I am loved.

This morning I know that ultimately all will be well.

Thanks

This morning I am feeling thankful for lament. I am feeling thankful I am able to able to connect with my grief and my loss.

This morning I am feeling thankful for my post-cancer life, my post-cancer body, my post-cancer hair.

This morning I am feeling thankful for my life.

This morning I am feeling thankful for life.

This morning I am feeling thankful to God, for his care and his love.

This morning I give thanks to God. Like a child with a loving parent I am held in his loving arms.

This morning.

Summer term: reflect, review, reset

So the Easter holidays have come to an end and it’s the beginning of a new school term unlike any other.

Earlier this week as I hung out the washing I noticed how quiet it was. Normally I can hear children playing in the school playground nearby but at the moment living in lockdown means most children are at home with their parents.

As I look back and reflect and review over the last four months I am choosing to focus on the highlights, the particularly special times.

January

Early in January I went to the 100 stories book launch in West London. I hadn’t been on the train into London for four years, since my cancer diagnosis, and decided it was a perfect opportunity and reason to have an overnight city break with my husband.

While my husband was at work I spent time exploring Covent Garden and the British Museum and the area around it. In the evening we took the tube across London to go the Maggie’s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital. Maggie’s Centres provide support for people living with and beyond cancer in a ‘home’ environment. I’d never been to a Maggie’s Centre before and I was impressed. I’d never been to a book launch before either! Or written for a book…It was great to meet Helena, the author, and a few people from the cancer community who had also contributed. Like most people I’ve never wanted to be defined by my cancer experiences but in some ways it’s inevitable because it’s a part of my life, my journey and my story. The online cancer community is my tribe and one I am thankful for. Day or night there is (reciprocal) support if and when I need it.

At the end of January we had a great time when we visited family for a belated ‘Christmas/New Year’ get together.

February

Towards the end of February I went away to North Wales with one of my good friends. We had some amazing outings. The highlight was a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia to Caernarfon. I love North Wales, the people and the incredible scenery; the beaches, snow covered mountains, streams, rivers and waterfalls. We also enjoyed coffees and meals out as well as evenings in around the stove with her daughter’s cats (we were cat and house sitting), the friendliest cats I’ve ever met. Bendigedig!

March

By the beginning of March it was clear that Covid19 was starting to become more widespread in the UK. I carried on with most planned activities for a while before deciding to stay at home apart from essential trips out and walks. I managed to spend some time meeting up with a few friends I hadn’t seen for a while and had mum and dad over for Sunday lunch before the lockdown. Good memories!

April

Because we couldn’t be with our family over Easter I found myself having more time to reflect on the Easter story.

We’ve adapted. Many of our regular activities are online now so we’ve been able to continue with a familiar routine and stay connected and meet with others online and on the phone. We’ve enjoyed remote meals with our family. I’m trying to ensure I’m as fit and healthy as possible by appreciating and enjoying good food and exercising (via YouTube). I am relaxing by baking, gardening, reading and writing. I am limiting how much news I expose myself to and when I expose myself to it. When I feel myself being drawn down I shift my focus. I am enjoying nature; birds, flowers, the lengthening days, warm sunshine, the moon and stars. I am thankful for those who care.

Life isn’t always easy. During these months I’ve had the usual migraines, aches and pains which are especially bad when I don’t pace myself as well as I should and also I’ve had the usual colds, infections, mishaps etc. There’s also been a lot of difficult news, and we’ve waited on tenterhooks as those known to us have been admitted to hospital. There’s been heartbreak and hope. Most people are pulling together and I’m thankful to all those who are playing their part, often quietly. Along with everyone else’s, many of our plans for this year have been cancelled or postponed: From the appointments at hospital to family celebrations and get togethers and holidays.

I find the long term and wider impact of this virus too much to think about. As it says in the Bible in Matthew 6 ‘…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’.

If you are struggling to lift your gaze at the moment perhaps have a look at your camera roll and remember some of the good times you’ve had or start taking some photos to look back at in the future.

With love x

Our daily bread (part two)

We’re all different and have different ways of coping. One of the things that helps me is my Christian faith. However, I’ve had doubts and I’ve had questions. When I was on placement as part of my Masters and working with people living in extremely difficult circumstances I had so many questions and felt so unsettled that I sought help from a vicar trained to provide spiritual direction. She suggested this quote might help me:

‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer’ (Rilke, my emphasis).

Just over two years later, as I lay ill in a hospital bed on the oncology ward I realised all that really matters is love.

Without noticing it, I had lived into the answer I needed.

One thing that really helps me is to use the Lord’s prayer to ask for my daily bread, that is for my daily needs to be met.

These needs are different on different days.

On Saturday I relaxed by baking and then sitting in the garden. As I sat there with our dog lying on the grass next to me, I took in the blue sky and the blossom and the budding leaves. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and I listened to the birds singing and buzzing insects. My needs were met.

Life is so strange at the moment. It’s really, really tough in many ways. Whether you have a faith or none, I hope your daily needs will be met.

With love x

New Year Reflection, Review and Reset

I’m sitting outside on the penultimate morning of not only this year but this decade. It is cold so I’m wearing a coat, a hat and a scarf but the sky is a beautiful blue and the sun is shining, warming my face. My coffee cup warms my hands. I take a sip of my coffee; its rich flavour tastes good. I can hear birds singing and our neighbours saying their goodbyes to their Christmas visitors.

Right now life feels good.

I close my eyes.

It’s been about four months since I last spent time intentionally reflecting, reviewing and resetting and a lot has happened in that time. Sad times and happy times.

At the beginning of September our son had just moved in so we could care for him, and his dog, following surgery to fix a badly broken ankle. He couldn’t move much, had to keep his leg raised and was in pain. However, we got to spend precious time with him, and his girlfriend when she wasn’t working. I loved their chat, their laughter, their youthfulness. I loved getting to know their cheeky and energetic but sweet natured dog.

At the beginning of September we also heard the news of the death of a former colleague and friend of mine due to metastatic breast cancer. A couple of weeks later came the news of the decline in health of my auntie, again due to metastatic breast cancer. After everyone had visited to say goodbye she died. A few days later, at the beginning of October, another friend died. It’s hard to explain all my emotions. I’m still grieving but although it has been a time of deep heartache and grief it has also been a time of connectedness with others as we’ve celebrated and remembered our loved ones. I’m thankful for our reciprocal support. I’m also thankful for the support of relative strangers.

One day I felt overwhelmed with grief, fatigue and pain but somehow struggled to my exercise class. I knew I needed to be with other people but my body felt completely broken. Not surprisingly the others noticed and a few came over. I found myself tearing up and telling them all how much I hate cancer. They enveloped me with their care, encouraged me to do what I could and a couple of them invited me out for coffee and a sandwich. I felt loved.

After our son had been given the okay to start moving and weight bearing again he was able to return to his home. Our lives resumed their usual pattern, we caught up with friends, enjoyed a few outings and spent time with family and friends. We were able to visit our daughter and son-in-law to see them in their new (to them) home and we also visited one of our favourite places, North Norfolk.

I’m sure there is a psychological element to pain and this is one of the reasons why self care is so important to me, which includes discussing any concerns with my medical team. As the autumn progressed my migraines and pain became worse and worse. I met someone recently diagnosed with metastatic cancer who urged me to get checked, so after some procrastination I phoned my medical team who arranged a couple of scans. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long for my results. I received the latest news on Christmas Eve, four years to the day that I felt my lump, that my bone scan did not show any signs of metastatic disease. I’m so relieved (although it breaks my heart that other people have not had good news recently) …

These are just some of the things that have been going on in our lives since September. Looking back has given me a new perspective about this time. In the midst of all life’s difficulties (and I’m aware that other people have it worse) there has been fun and rejoicing for which I’m thankful.

The New Year is often a time to rest and take stock; to reflect, review and make resolutions and pray but these are things you can do at any time of the year. Any day can be the beginning of your new year.

There is need to wait if there are changes you want to make. One approach that I have found helpful to discern direction is to look back over a period of time and review everything that has happened. Then I reflect on what brings energy and what drains me and from there I am able to discern and make more space and time for the things that bring me energy.

I am not one for making New Years resolutions, but as I go forward into the new year I will continue with good habits, being grateful and practising gratitude. I will continue being open to change, new experiences and new people in my life. During the last few weeks I’ve been discerning a word for myself for the year ahead. This year my word is courage.

Advent

It’s the beginning of Advent. I’ve been thinking about what the season means to me.

First of all the memories. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s watching the presenters make the Blue Peter Advent Crown every year was a childhood tradition.

Another tradition was the card Advent calendars. I found it exciting to see what lay behind each window in the lead up to Christmas, the pictures of beach balls, teddy bears and toy cars. Then came the chocolate Advent calendars, hmm chocolate! Now you can buy Advent calendars filled with different treats, Lego, cosmetics, perfume, skincare, candles, beer, wine, spirits, breakfast cereal, chutney, popcorn … Of course you can also make your own.

One of the things I like about social media is the sharing of ideas. One of the ideas that has gained traction in the last few years is the Reverse Advent Calendar which involves filling an empty cardboard box with one item everyday during Advent and donating it to a local food bank.

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment Advent has become more meaningful for me as a time of both reflection and expectation, intentionally being in the present and waiting as I reflect on my faith and hope.