Light the Night.

http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams

When I was 7 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia.  Of course, being so young, I had no idea what that meant.  But I could tell by the look on my parents’ faces and her parents’ faces, it wasn’t good.  Elizabeth and I met in pre-school.  Shortly after, our mothers got us involved in the same dance company, where we would drive out to New Boston…her and I being the youngest girls in the class.  We were ballerinas one day and gymnasts the next, all the while having no actual clue what we were doing…simply following whoever’s lead to whatever Disney song we were to perform to.  One of my fondest memories is when we were backstage for our very 1st dance recital.  Our mothers were fluffing our hair and applying our makeup and calming our nerves.  My mom said as she was leaving us backstage, just a few songs away from taking the stage, “I’m going to leave some makeup right here for you, if you think you need a touch up on your lipstick.”  Needless to say, as 6 year old girls we DEFINITELY thought we needed a self-imposed “touch-up”…lipstick, blush, blue eyeshadow.  The whole works.

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Sleepovers and pool parties and dance class and then, all of a sudden…she was sick.  And just like that, her long hair that nearly to the ground was gone.  Then it was us in matching head scarves as we learned to roller blade in my driveway.  The slumber parties started to decrease and the worry in her mother’s face was more apparent.

We had just moved into our brand new house.  My bedroom was all pink except for this old, ugly recliner that used to be my grandpa’s, sitting against my window.  I remember being asleep and hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night.  I sat straight up in my bed and waited for any kind of sound to follow.  My mother came in a few minutes later, sat me on her lap in that hideous recliner and broke the news to me that Elizabeth had passed away.  I remember sobbing until I was sick.  It was a week before my 9th birthday.

I can recall being paranoid throughout her battle and after her death.  I was in grade school, reading fiction chapter books about teenaged girls fighting cancer.  I took every bruise, every time I brushed my teeth too hard my gums bled as a sure-sign symptom that I too had leukemia.  Thankfully, I did not.

A  couple years later, my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother, was diagnosed with leukemia.  At this pointIMG_5700, I felt more prepared with what to expect.  I knew it’d be hard.  I knew he’d go bald.  That was as far as I got in my “mental prep” before he too passed away.

It was around that same time that Elizabeth’s father, Bob, relapsed and fell ill with leukemia.  We lost him too.  I can still remember sitting at their house after the memorial, not taking my eyes off her mom and her little brother.  It was at this point, not even a teenager yet, that I started to understand the frailty of life.

I’d lose more people to cancer in the years to come and they’d all hurt.  They’d all seem unfair.  But the “leukemia cloud” would seem the darkest.

Last summer, my godfather, Uncle Mike, was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, just weeks after we lost his brother to liver cancer.

I’ve written about this before but holy shit…writing about it again still feels like repeated punches to my chest.  (As I’m currently sobbing off my eyelash extensions and pouring more wine.)

I was so sure he was going to beat it.  I really was.  It had been 20 years since this disease left it’s 1st hole in my life, surely we’ve come so much further now… He wasn’t a small child.  He was my lion.  When I saw him just an hour before he passed, laying in his hospital bed, I knew…his victory was not the one I had been pleading with God for.  It was Heaven.408718_10152770655530581_1544559536_n[1]

I cry for him almost every single day.  I cry for my mother that has had to bury 3 brothers.  Two of them dying within a year of each other.  Two of them dying of the same disease. I cry because I’m afraid my aunt, Uncle Mike’s widow, will think she is alone and that we are “his family”, when I feel like I belong to her just as much as I belonged to him.  I cry for all the emotions his death brings up in me and my long history of loss to leukemia.  I cry for Elizabeth’s family, who I’ve lost touch with for no real reason except that we just did.

A few days ago, I was contacted by someone from a local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, asking if I would like to volunteer.  Somehow, she had come across my blog and the entry I’d written months ago about the loss of my godfather.  To say I was moved would be an understatement.  To have my honesty recognized is beautiful enough.  But to be called upon to play a part in such a worthy cause truly feels like God talking to me.  So I’m listening.

I’ll be walking and volunteering my services for Light The Night in Ann Arbor, MI on September 30th.  I need this light, literally and figuratively.  I need to stand amongst survivors and those standing for lost loved ones.  I need to honor this fight and this hurt.   I need to shine a light.

My birthday is this coming Friday.  And I can’t think of any better way to commemorate another trip around the sun than sharing my story and supporting this cause. Please help me join in bringing light to the darkness of cancer by donating towards my fundraising efforts to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night.  Money raised through Light The Night allows The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to fund treatments for patients who are suffering from all forms of blood cancers. The impact of LLS supported research goes beyond blood cancers. The discoveries made in blood cancer research have led to break through treatments for many cancers and other serious diseases.

 

Even a $5 donation goes a long way in this fight.  You can contribute to my Light The Night page at http://pages.lightthenight.org/mi/AnnArbor17/RWilliams

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the celebration and devastation of time…

the celebration and devastation of time…

This morning hurts.  I can feel it already even though it’s only 8AM.  It hurts like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.  I’m not really sure how to begin explaining it because it’s highly possible that no one will relate.  But maybe some of you will.  I have been trying to find the words for what I’m feeling for weeks now… And again, I’ve fallen victim to the train of thought “I should write about that…Make time to write about that…You can write about that tomorrow…” and then I don’t.  It just gets added to my brain’s ever-growing pile of Post-It notes.  Aside from being distracted, I know there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write this blog because I’m weary of giving a public voice to the crippling fear inside my head.  I don’t want to jinx anything.  I don’t want God to find me ungrateful.  I don’t want anyone to find me ungrateful.  I’m so grateful sometimes it feels like it’s too much “gratitude” and my chest might literally explode…maybe that’s my problem.

My Granny is 90 years old today.

Yes, you read that correctly…90.

I am completely blown away with amazement and adoration for this human, who clearly, has stood the test of time and is still looking as beautiful as ever.

Anyone who knows me knows of this unwavering love I have.  It’s a love I make quite public, whether it’s on social media/up on a stage/hanging out with friends/pouncing on her & annoying her with compliments every chance I get.  People see it and think, “How sweet, she’s so close to her Grandma.”  I wish it was as black & white as that.  But I know better.  God definitely knows better.  It’s a love that has without a doubt saved me from myself on more than a few occasions throughout my short lifetime.  A love that was so deep-rooted inside of me that even in my lowest of times (and they were low indeed), I was reminded that even in all the bad, I had a soul that was good… I still wanted to see, hold the hand of, hear the voice of, take care of my G and make her proud.

When I think of “the pillars” in my world, God and my Granny.  I established a relationship with the Lord by going to church with my Grandma, starting around the time I was in 5th grade.  And in turn, God has heard me pray/sob/plead/rejoice over her every single day since.  She is without a doubt my 1st and most important prayer request.  Keep her safe.  Keep her healthy.  Keep her happy.  Let her know You are there so she won’t be lonely.  

This past Saturday (August 26th), we threw my Granny a surprise birthday party.  We reserved a little banquet room at a restaurant not far from her house.  The party fell on my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary, so the “lie” to get Granny to attend was that my Dad was throwing my Mom a surprise anniversary party.  My sister and I put in the time making sure the decorations were perfect.  Photo collages, big balloons, enlarging and framing photos that were nearly 70 years old, making table centerpieces that featured photos of Granny from a woman in her early 20’s to this past Easter Sunday.  Family, friends, neighbors all gathered to celebrate the life of this woman.  She was certainly surprised.  Then overwhelmed.  Then a little nervous.  Then realized that she had no choice but to be the center of everyone’s attention so she went along with it, ha.  We showed her all the pictures we’d “borrowed” from her old photo albums and copied to include in collages and centerpieces.  She laughed as she pointed out who/what/when/where/what they had for lunch that day with all the photos we’d acquired.

Seeing my Grandma young, freshly moved to Detroit and living in a boarding house with her exciting girlfriends…posing with her brothers while wearing a headscarf, youthful and playful and proud to be their sister…her and my Grandpa their first handful of years as a married couple…with my Dad and my Aunt Kathy as young kids, big glasses, big hair, and always at least one dog in the photo…

My Grandma was someone and something other than my Grandma in her lifetime.  The proof of this moved me in ways I can’t adequately describe.  It’s beautiful.

I was equally fascinated as I was saddened.  Sad, that my Grandma has lived alone for the past 25 years on that very same property as these old photos were taken.  Or that she doesn’t see and laugh with her girlfriends like she used to.  Or that she only has one remaining brother now, her youngest brother, my Great Uncle Johnny down in Tennessee.  Or that they took away her license this past spring, so loneliness feels more isolating…Because as much as these photos document what a big life she’s had, it also serves a reminder that “the good ol’ days” are a thing of the past.  

I knew at a very young age that I was called to be my Granny’s best friend after my Grandpa tragically passed.  I’d volunteer myself every Sunday to attend church with her, sit beside her in the back pew and hold her hand, spend the day with her, invite her to every single dance recital/choir concert/cheerleading event/musical, etc. (And she was at every single one of them, with a bouquet of flowers.)  When I moved away to Nashville, I made a point to call her twice a week and never go more than 2 months without seeing her.  I volunteer to fly her or drive her to Nashville and transport her 90 minutes to Hohenwald to see her family.  I don’t list these things for a pat on the back, I really don’t.  I summarize my closeness to my Grandma because it was something that was so natural, so easy, and so understood.  And honestly, it might be one of the ONLY concrete things I’ve ever understood in my life thus far.

She was and still is my constant…my unconditional.  I went through some tough tough shit as a kid.  I then willingly allowed myself to go through some shit as an adult.  And with every fracture to my heart, there was my G…even if she didn’t have all the facts, she didn’t need them because she always came through, no questions asked.  She picked up the phone.  And unbeknownst to her, she picked up my pieces.

A few weeks ago, I started trying to pray through my fears.  Every time I’d get choked up, I’d ask God, “Please allow gratitude to overpower grief.”  And it would help calm me down.  For this last week, I’ve continued to pray the same thing but alas… tears.  Every day.  And what am I grieving?  She’s still here.  Yes, she’s slower, she’s sorer, she’s sadder…but she’s still funny, feisty, grumpy, and loves tappin her toes and snappin her fingers to some Josh Turner all day, errryday.  I looked up the term “anticipatory grief” and I hate it’s definition.  Maybe I hate it because it sounds like bullshit.  Or maybe the thought of waking up to a world where she’s not here really is something to fear with every fiber of my being.

They say to cherish your loved ones.  To let them know how you feel and how much they mean to you.  To never take a day for granted.

So, what do you do when you’ve lived for someone making sure there was nothing left unsaid…or undone…or unloved…?  

I don’t know the answer.  Maybe that’s why it hurts.

So I guess I’ll just continue with what I DO know…  Saying.  Doing.  Loving.