The Bystander & The Husband

A little over a year ago, I was struggling with the emotional state of my team at work. We were getting work done, but not necessarily meshing as a group of people and I wasn’t actively spending time cultivating our relationship as a team. I wasn’t sure where to turn as a manager, I felt like I was failing them, and ultimately, myself.

In an effort to not spend everyday in the office in misery, I sought out inspiration on the internet. I watched YouTube videos, searched endlessly on Pinterest, and read books on how to break bad team dynamics. Slowly, I became inspired and started to devise a plan that I would implement as soon as I returned from a vacation. I started a Pinterest board called “Moving Forward –>” (Yes, the arrow is included). The board had developed into a place where I would keep pictures, quotes, and motivation that later would be sent to my team in the form of a “Motivational Monday” e-mail. It was a little high on the cheese-o-meter for my personal taste, but I figured a little cheese never hurt anyone.

Together, we decided that one consistent aspect of our weekly e-mails would be listing three things that we are grateful for. I start with my Monday e-mail and, when they feel like sharing, the team hits “reply all” to share their three things as well. Ultimately, starting our week by focusing on what we’re grateful for.

Over a year later and, for the most part, those e-mails go out every Monday morning. It isn’t always easy, I’ve run out of stuff to fill up the space with, sometimes I’m not in the motivational mood, I run out of time in the morning, or just felt like it didn’t matter anyway, but with the exception of a few weeks, I have been very diligent with making sure that e-mail goes out. Whether it actually motivates anyone is not for me to say. No one has complained yet – at least not to me.

revofkindnessPersonally, by starting my week with listing out three things that I am grateful for, it has forced me to be more intentional with reflecting on gratitude, I now have a more natural inclination to recognize my sparked gratitude. So, when I read the focus of Week 5 of the Kindness Challenge, I knew I was equipped to accomplish my goals.

Usually, when I am listing out the three things I am grateful for each week they are relatively simple things, I don’t go too deep with them, I try to remain professional, but I tend to keep a balance between little, silly things (coffee), and personal, important things (family). I tried to focus more on the latter last week. There were numerous points in the last eight days when I said to myself “Grateful!” – there were so many moments that felt special and I was appreciative to be a part of them. As I ran down the list of “Gratefuls” I started noticing a pattern, most of them fit into one of two categories:

  1. Moments between other people that I witnessed from afar
  2. Justin

One of the aspects of the Kindness Challenge that I have appreciated over the last five weeks is that our challenge was not structured to just focus on ourselves. It wasn’t just about the kindness that I put out into the world, but also about observing kindness around me. That experience seemed be the most influential, it forced me to observe the people around me in a meaningful way, to think about kindness outside of the four walls that I tend to put everything in. Now, several weeks later, I have noticed that I have clung to that concept, only now I tend to notice them without making a conscious effort.

The one moment I was grateful to witness that stuck with me the most happened on Friday. I, for the first time ever, was responsible for facilitating a parent-child interaction group. I have managed to go six years and three promotions without having to facilitate this particular kind of activity. I volunteered to be the lead staff member on-site so that my team could have a couple of extra days off after traveling. I was happy to do it, but not necessarily excited about it, it just isn’t in my wheelhouse. I had a room full of parents and young children swirling around me, I was aimlessly walking throughout the room just making sure that I was engaging with each family. At one point I felt comfortable taking a step back and just observing the room as a whole. I slowly paned the clumps of people, ending my sights on a mom and her three year old son. He was sitting in a little kid chair, mom was crouched down beside him. From what I could gather, he was asking her when it would be time to go home and what they would be doing for the rest of the day. They had a calm and loving conversation about their agenda, kissed and she rested her head on his. At that moment he wrapped his arm around her face just embracing their moment together. They sat there, still, for a few moments before the graham cracker he was munching on fell apart to the floor. Mom and little man just laughed and broke apart to continue with the group. In those few minutes that I was able to observe their quick interaction, I felt so grateful to bear witness to their love and kindness toward each other. It’s comical that something that has nothing to do with me, and quite honestly borders on me looking like a creeper, had an emotional impact for a bystander across the room.

I suppose that’s the point of all of this though: putting kindness out into the universe can spread to other people, eventually coming back to you. Imagine what we could accomplish if we all took a little more time to absorb the kindness that is out in the world and less time absorbing the negativity that seems to be so readily available.

Early on in the week I started to pick up on the fact that I was racking up a list of moments with Justin that I was grateful for and that gratitude kept building throughout the week. Justin and I have been together for over thirteen years, and we were friends for about four years before that. At this point there is very little mystery in our relationship, we understand each other more than we understand ourselves on occasion. I found that Justin surprised me a few times last week, which is something to be grateful for in itself. Since moving into our new home, we have made it a point to try and eat dinner together, at the dining room table every night. No dinners in front of the television, just us, our meal, and conversation. One night we ended up talking about marriage, and the kind of work that goes into deciding to fight for your partnership, every single day. We laughed, and poked fun at each other a couple of times, but the conversation was real, we were saying real things that we probably hadn’t said to each other in a while. He said things that I so desperately needed to hear, and I said things that I so desperately needed to say to him. We took the opportunity to build each other up instead of focusing on the mundane, frustrating, and difficult aspects of keeping a marriage alive. I was so proud of who we have become, as a team.

Through the last five weeks I have learned a lot about myself and what kindness means to me in a practical sense. It takes courage to be kind, to be open and vulnerable. I have developed a greater appreciation for the people in my life that are genuinely kind, those are the people that I have gravitated toward as I have pushed forward with this challenge. I have found a confidence and sense of calm as I know my words and actions are rooted in kindness, I don’t second guess my intentions. I have become more selective with the qualities that I look for in the people I surround myself with, and I have started, organically, initiating kindness that never would have crossed my mind previously. I had no idea what to expect when I took this journey, I figured, at the very least, it gave me a weekly blog post to keep up with. What I’ve gotten is so much more valuable than seven blog posts, and there’s still two weeks to go.

Gratitude and a Good Weekend

It had been nine weeks since I didn’t have any type of moving on my agenda. For over two months, if I wasn’t at home packing up our own belongings I was with my mother helping to pack up and move my grandma. This past weekend was the first time, in a long time, that I didn’t feel guilty for not doing anything. If I wanted to take a nap, I did. If I wanted to lay on the couch and watch endless episodes of One Tree Hill on Netflix, you better believe I did. Oddly enough, I found that my weekend was packed with generosity, pampering, family, cooking, and preparing for a full week back in the real world.

In March I wrote about a personality assessment I took at work and how I was surprised to see the connection between my conscientious – dominant personality and my struggles to accept help from the people around me as Justin and I navigate this new life of ours. The struggle hasn’t changed. I push myself to be open, ultimately vulnerable, so that I can accept generosity and support. With the help of some incredibly supportive friends I opened up myself to accept support from my family at work. For months my friends have been planning a “Stuff a Freezer” campaign at work where people can donate food to our new freezer – also supplied by my friend. Friday was my first Food Friday, I was shocked by the generosity of the small group of people that were contacted, and our freezer is, indeed, stuffed. There is a variety of home cooked meals, frozen pizzas, meats, vegetables, gift cards, and cards that came home with me, filling our kitchen and supplementing our grocery shopping trips. It is incredibly comforting to know that I don’t have to have a meal planned every day, my work family have taken care of that for me.

thank you

As I sat at my kitchen table last night, writing out thank you cards for all of the people that supported the “stuffing” of our freezer I just felt so grateful. Grateful for friends that think of ways to support you, for people that took time (and money) out of their week to help, and for the comfort that comes from knowing people have your back. I wish that I had more to give back than just a card, but I’ll be waiting for the day that I can repay their kindness.

 

Starting off my weekend with such remarkable generosity provided the springboard for great couple of days. In addition to celebrating Mother’s Day, Justin and I also celebrated our sixth anniversary. While we have only been married for six years, we have been together for the better part of the last thirteen. Sometimes it seems as though we have been married forever and other times I6years wonder where the years have gone. We have been through more than our share together and it seems only fitting that as we finally start settling into our new home and routine that we celebrate our marriage. In the midst of celebrating Mother’s Day, cooking, cleaning, and running errands, we just had fun with each other. We found small ways to enjoy each other’s company and the life we’ve built together. For a little while, it was just us, the same two kids that decided to fall in love all those years ago.

I would say the one thing we needed after the last couple of months is a good weekend that was just refreshing and focused on spending time with each other while getting comfortable in our new space and new routine.

Here’s hoping a good weekend is the jumpstart to a good week.

 

 

The New Normal: Waiting. 

“We are going to have you wait here, ma’am.”

It’s not very often when I am asked to stay behind in a waiting room while Justin goes in for a test or procedure. However, when it happens, I hate it. 

I’m not sure if it’s a control thing, which let’s face it, is entirely possible but I know it’s most certainly a selfish thing. 

I want to be in the room.

I want to hear what the doctors say. 

I want to keep and eye on my husband. 

I want to know what’s going on. 

One of the things I love about the University of Michigan’s Cancer Center is that it takes into account that most patients come with a person. The hematologist talks to both of us and specifically asks me if I have any questions. I am comfortable in the Cancer Center. When we branch out into the rest of the hospital is when I start to get anxious. I’m just an extra body beyond the Cancer Center doors. I have very few complaints about the University Health System, I am very confident in their ability to provide excellent care for Justin. Over the years I have just come to realize the vast differences between being a Cancer Center patient and being a hospital patient. It makes me sad. Not sad for me or even for Justin, but for the people that only know that side of healthcare. 

I am getting dangerously close to promoting people getting cancer just to get the exceptional care that is provided. Don’t misinterpret that, the Cancer Center is full enough. 

So, here I sit in the packed radiology waiting room, about a football field away from the Cancer Center. Somewhere beyond those doors is my husband, I guess I’ll just have to wait for our 40 minute ride home to hear about what his morning was like. Either way, I will be thankful that we are here and we have experts doing what they do best. 

A little blog housekeeping: I have tried very hard in the past to not make all of my writing about cancer but it still remains a huge part of our lives on a day to day basis. I have found that writing about my experience is helpful to me. I, however, will not use this platform to tell Justin’s story. All posts about my life as a caregiver will be tagged with The New Normal. I will continue to try and maintain a variety of topics on this blog and hope you enjoy reading either way. 

The New Normal

I cried at work this week. I hate crying at work, and frankly have done it more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve learned to control my crying, which is a skill I have longed for over the years. Earlier in my life I went from prickles behind the eyes to full on blubbering in less than 10 seconds. Quivering chin and all. Thankfully, with a deep breath, staring off into space, and usually, a pinch to my forearm, I now have more control of those tear ducts. But on this particular day, with this particular set of circumstances, no amount of deep breaths, staring or pinching was going to make a difference. I broke down.

I’m always prepared to hear the news that Justin has a reoccurance of his lymphoma when we visit his doctor every few months. You just never know and we are always equipped to take what comes. We’re pros. When Justin told me a couple of weeks ago that he knew it was back, I started mentally preparing for it. We went to the doctor, he got some tests and we “lived our lives as normal” as we are always told by his hematologist. Fridays are doctor days. I usually have an entire week to prepare myself for every aspect of our trip into the office, down to the clothes I am wearing. You never know when you’ll have to spend 13 hours at the hospital. Comfy shoes, jeans, a decent but comfy top, a light jacket in the winter, and always freshly showered. Doctor visits give me things to focus on. We sit together in the waiting room, make jokes, play on our phones, people watch, and complain that we are hungry. We’ve got it down. That’s the part they never show on TV or in the movies. The part that makes it bearable.

It was only Monday. I had four more days and back to back meetings all day. Justin was home sick with a rather disgusting version of the stomach flu, I was worried but knew he would be on the mend. In the middle of my last meeting of the day my cell phone rang for the third time that hour, it was the hospital again. I stepped out of the meeting into the busy hallway of my office and had a doctor “go over Justin’s test results” with me over the phone. Justin was home sleeping and hadn’t picked up his phone. I was the one who was going to have to tell him.

I listened intently as this person I had met only a week before told me about where in my husband’s body the cancer is. My mind immediately was split in two.

“I need to listen to him” I’d remind myself.

But it was Monday, I was in a hallway at work, I was not with Justin, I wasn’t wearing my doctor appointment attire, I had to pee, and had a meeting that I had to get back to. This is not how we do this. I awkwardly left a message for my husband relaying, word-for-word, what I had been told.

“I love you, see you soon.”

And I walked back into my last meeting of the day. After the meeting ended, I got back into my work area and broke down. It wasn’t really that the lymphoma was back, it was that Justin and I have found a way to just make this a normal part of our lives. I got a heartbreaking phone call in the hallway of my office, left my husband a detailed message on what is happening and walked back into a meeting without missing a beat. Its the new normal.

I don’t cry about the lymphoma in front of Justin. It is one promise I made to myself when he was diagnosed. It’s not about me. At all. My role is to support my husband however he needs me to, to be his second set of eyes and ears, to love him just as I do any other day of the week. To make “living our lives as normal” relatively possible. So I cried at work. I finished my day, smiled as I walked out the door, called my mom on the way home, walked into the house and went back to normal.

“How was your day?”