Sunday, February 9, 2014

Brian Sterner, Rest In Peace

"Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel." -Aldo Leopold

The world seems a little darker this week, a little duller. My friend, Brian Sterner, left this earth on Sunday, Feb 2nd, at a little before 7PM. The evening before, he was extremely weak and could only speak in whispers, but his personality and sense of humor were as sharp as ever. He made jokes. We laughed. Before we left, we made sure he was completely comfortable, adding hundreds of pillows at every turn. I said to him, "OK, we're heading out now. Goodnight friend. Are you sure there's nothing else we can do for you?" to which he replied, "Can you leave a diagram of the way these pillows are because I think I have to pee." We all laughed as we removed every carefully placed pillow, and the process began all over again. We left reluctantly at midnight. I hugged his neck carefully and he whispered in my ear, "Take care of Kelley." I tried to tell him, "I will. She's my person. She's my best friend. I will take care of her." He said it one more time, clearly, with staccato, "Take. Care. Of. Kelley." I told him I would with tears in my eyes. I left him in the capable hands of Kelley and his best friend Jim.

The day he died, everything was different. He spoke only a few words in the morning and a few more in the afternoon. He focused mainly on breathing, but he was still present. He motioned for his glasses. He blinked when I asked if he wanted eye drops in his eyes or a swab in his mouth. People filtered in and out to see him, to say thank you's and I love you's and see you again someday's. He wanted things to be upbeat and he didn't want to see people cry. These were his last requests. Brian was not a demanding person, a leader not by brute strength but by quiet honor, and when he asked, people struggled to give him what he asked for and more. His friends and family recalled stories, mostly funny, happy stories with Brian as the instigator or main character. We laughed at his childhood and teenage antics. At one point we were reprimanded by the hospice staff. Positivity in spades, just what he had asked for. As the day wore on and his breathing became more labored, quiet solemness reigned. He passed peacefully with his mother and father at his side and Kelley softly telling him, "It's ok, Brian. I love you. You can go. It's ok. We'll be ok. Don't worry about us. You can go." A few minutes before 7, the light was gone from the room.

I remember the day I became a part of this story. I received the call in July one evening as I was making dinner. Terror in her voice, as Kelley, my best friend in the world, told me the unbelievable news. It's not pneumonia. It's stage 4 lung cancer. My first thoughts: How can this be? He's never been a smoker! He's a vegan! There must be some mistake! Yet there it was, the diagnosis; cancer cells on a slide from a biopsy cut from Brian's very lung. He started treatment as soon as he possibly could. His mantra, "I'm going to beat this. I'm going to live." I tried to encourage him. I thought to myself, If anyone is going to beat cancer, it will be this healthy, happy man, and I truly believed that. I still believe that in some ways, he did. He fought hard and he lost his life, but I cannot bring myself to say that cancer won. It may have taken his body from his life, but it did not take his life from his body. He truly lived, ever positive, even when he was in excruciating pain.

The cancer was invasive. From the moment it was first discovered, it was inoperable, and even with each radiation and chemotherapy, it continued to grow, invading his body like kudzu in the Georgia forest. He still had hope and maintained it until the very end. He had several walkers as the cancer had moved to his hips and the vertebrae in his lower back. His favorite walker was one that he had wrapped tape tightly around the silvery tubes. It was Superman tape, a testament to his strength and determination and a sign of his quirky personality and sense of humor. He did look a lot like superman; chiseled features, tall and healthy, not extremely thin. He was a gentle giant. Tall and lanky, although not awkward as some tall people tend to be. He had a rhythm to his speech. His gait had a bounce to it and his arms and hands spoke as he spoke, with a sway and a lilt. He was always thoughtful when he spoke, not quick to speak, and never in anger. I have never heard him say a disparaging word about another person. He was the kind of man who was filled with passion for nature and education, and although his passion overflowed and infected those around him, it was not pushy or loud. It was quiet and energizing and positive. His actions were a reflection of his words. I remember one day, I was eating dinner at their house and afterwards, I went to throw away a piece of plastic trash in the trash can. Brian never stopped the conversation. He didn't reprimand me or lecture me about the environment. He simply continued to talk as he walked to the trash can, removed the plastic and placed it in the recycling bin on their back porch. It was many lessons wrapped in one simple movement.

Be gentle with people. Lead by example. Be mindful about what you are putting back into the earth.

If only more people would teach that way. It was an easy way to learn.

The memorial was yesterday, beautiful and poignant, and sorrowful, yet dotted with laughter as each person who spoke recounted stories about Brian, his beautiful hair, his candy addiction, his undeniably brightly colored life, and the way he loved other people, the way he loved Kelley, the way he loved the earth; unfillable shoes left empty.

Kelley recounted one story at his memorial that really impacted me. The radiation target was his brain and though he was obviously in crippling pain when all was finished, he said "Thank you. Thank you for helping me," and these people who had hurt him to help him, couldn't help but cry. Thank you is not something they hear very often. What a loss for the world; this simple, sweet, brilliant, thankful and humble soul. Kelley's plea was simple, "Help me help him live on. I can't do it on my own. He always said throughout this treatment that when all this was through, he wanted to be better, give more, help more people. So please do this, in honor of Brian, hug someone you love. Introduce yourself to a stranger. Tell someone you like their shoes. Tilt your head back and sing with abandon. Love people. Love the earth. Make the world a better place." In this way, Brian will live on through the lessons we've all learned from his life, either directly, or by stories told by others.

With every hug, handshake, bent knee, hand clutching trash from the ground, shovel of dirt patted around a sapling tree, the world will be a little brighter, a little lighter, and a little more like Brian.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

We Meet Again

So this is where I start blogging again, as if I never stopped.

I could try to catch you up, but so much has happened that a list just wouldn't do it justice. So let's just pick up where we left off, like old friends meeting for coffee who haven't had a chance to catch up.

Yes, I'm still married to this guy.

Oh my baby is so adorable, and hardly a baby anymore. Let me show you 700 photos of her that don't do her justice because she's always on the move. She's a walking, talking, real life angel princess sent from Heaven and the most beautiful baby that has ever lived....not that I'm biased.

We still have two Labradors and love them to pieces. No, we didn't get rid of them because of the baby. They play well together and for the most part Kadence plays nice with them without need for correction. We have learned that although Kadence often says, "hey dog." and, much to Clover's chargrin, loves to "pet" their noses, she does not like to share her bed. Poor Ginger learned this the hard way.

We've moved back to our hometown, where we've bought a small home with a large back yard and are finally starting to feel settled in. The last year have been a whirlwind and I'm starting to slow my life back down from warp speed to living in the fast lane. One day I hope to slow down to a Sunday drive pace, but those days will be later on in our lives, when our children are not babies my debts do not weigh so heavy on our shoulders.

I feel as if my mood follows the seasons. Once the joy of Christmas slips away, I am left with a slight depression that I can't seem to shake until the sun begins to shine again. Sometimes, I can pound the sad haze away when my tennis shoes hitting the pavement. I'm still trying to fit all the puzzle pieces of my life back together since baby, graduation, and moving. For so long, exercise just didn't fit anywhere and I'm struggling to squeeze it in. I have to fit it in, for health and happiness.

I didn't make a single new year resolution this year, not to lose weight, or pay debts, or spend less time on facebook. I gave some thought to a few resolutions that I thought might make me more successful this year, things like; eat more slowly, eat more vegetables, stay off the couch when I get home from work. Of course, I have to tell you that today I've been under the weather and so naturally I've spent the day eating ramen noodles, looking at facebook and laying on the couch, sleeping and throwing toys and gold fish crackers to my daughter to keep her pacified. I don't even feel guilty about it....

well, maybe a little bit.

So here I am. Maybe this blogging bug will stick with me better this time around. If not, there's always next year.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite

Kadence Arrabella Anderson is here. Right here. Sleeping soundly on my chest while I try to type. I'm not sure how to even begin the story of her birth. I still get choked up when I think of all that happened and all that has happened since. These moments have been fleeting and soon my time at home with her will be gone, but I can't think about that. It's too hard to type through tears.

It's true what they say about labor. I know it was painful, really painful, the most painful thing I've ever experienced, and yet, I don't remember most of it. I know that I had my eyes closed most of the time. Korey tells me that I threw up several times because of the pain. I remember that I didn't want anyone to touch me. I remember refusing pain medicine for 19 hours, but simultaneously praying that the doctor would come in unexpectedly and say I had to have a C-section. Mostly I remember Korey's voice at every contraction, full of concern and affection, helping me to relax, helping me get through one more. I will admit that I am proud that I went so long without an epidural, but I can't take full credit for it. Without all the love and support of my family, and especially Korey, I would've never been able to do it.

 It was a surprise for us to be in labor that day, but not in the traditional sense. I had dreams of my water breaking at school or during the night, laboring at home for a while and then Korey driving madly to the hospital between contractions, but none of that was meant to be. My girl was past her due date and I had developed pre-eclampsia, something that I will admit I questioned when the doctor said it, but now, after losing over 30 lbs almost immediately after the birth, I am willing to admit that he was probably right. Thank heaven for good doctors who can see what mothers cannot. I went in expecting a normal visit, knowing that it would be my last doctors visit before the baby. We already had an induction date scheduled for the following monday if she didn't come on her own before then. I had expected to have a procedure done to jumpstart natural labor. The doctor seemed hurried and I wasn't quite sure why it was a total shock when he said, "No, I think it's a good day to have a baby. I've already called the hospital and they're expecting you. Don't even go home and get your hospital bag. Just go straight there and we'll start the induction." Immediately, the tears started flowing. I was excited, but I was also scared and feeling overwhelmed and underprepared, afraid of the pain and excited that we were finally going to meet our baby girl.

They started the Pitocin drip at 12:00PM on October 3rd. The first few hours were not too painful with the exception of an intense backache. Our sweet baby girl was facing the wrong way. As I said, I don't remember too much of the following labor. It became more and more intense and I escaped more and more inside of myself. By 7:00 AM the following morning, I had been in transition, the hardest part of labor, for 4 hours, but I could not progress the last centimeter required to start pushing. The doctor came in to check me one last time and said I was still at 9 centimeters dilated. I started crying and he said that I was so tense that it could be preventing me from progressing and that if I did take the epidural it might help me progress that last centimeter and avoid a C-section. I immediately begged for the epidural, anything to make the backache go away, which to me was worse than the contractions. The epidural provided immediate relief and I was assured that because it was done late in labor, it wouldn't slow down the contractions and prolong labor. I was able to dilate that last centimeter and I pushed for an hour and a half before the doctor said the C-section was imminent. I was scared. I had never had major surgery before, but I was so excited to finally meet my baby, the one I had worked so hard for.

Kadence Arrabella Anderson entered our world at 12:01PM October 4th, exactly 24 hours and 1 minute after the start of the induction. She weighed in at 9lbs 2oz and was 21 inches long.

I was upset that I wouldn't get to lay with her skin to skin and be the first to meet her, but the charge nurse came to the OR with us and laid her on me as soon as she was assessed, and so we met, before she was whisked away so that I could be stitched back together again.

They had a little trouble stopping the bleeding but after more than an hour of stitching I was able finally go meet my daughter properly. It made my heart melt to know that during that hour, Korey had been the one to bathe her and that they put off putting goop in her eyes and giving medications until I could be there with her. Korey had taken off his shirt and rocked with her, skin to skin so that she wouldn't feel alone. It's easy to see, even now, why she responds the way she does to him. At times, just the sound of his voice can calm her.

So here we are, doing the best we can with this little life we've been blessed to take care of and amazed that she is actually ours.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I am in awe of this sweet little face.

I find myself wondering, will she really have my mouth and Korey's eyes and is that nose mine or his?..It's so hard to tell. All I know is that she is beautiful and when I lay down in my bed at night to blog or catch up on facebook, I get distracted by the miracle backlit by the screen and I wonder, how on earth will I ever get anything done again? Everything seems to take a backburner to the picture of her sweet little face

and fist 

and the way my belly bounces and sways as she wriggles inside of me. In some ways I am terrified of her coming, and in others, I can hardly stand the wait.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Half-New Years Day

My heart is still broken, but I'm on the mend. The truth is that sometimes I feel like my Pawpaw is still here, living in Clermont, sitting in his favorite chair. I forget that he's gone. The hard moments are when I think of a story that includes him, or when I think of planning the next visit, or I pass his cellphone number in my phone, or when I make the guest list for a coed baby shower and I can't include his name. Those are the moments that sting, the moments that build pressure in my chest and bring tears to my eyes. And then I feel a sweet little foot (I think it's a foot) kicking me from the inside out and I remember that I still have a lot to be thankful for which is just enough to send those tears streaming down my face. 

I am so emotional these days. 

I wonder if she will have reddish blond hair like him, or milky white, scotch irish skin.

I reread my New Years Resolution today. 

To be evergreen.

I had forgotten all about it. Funny how my resolution was to live all year long and how life has gotten in the way of it. Living on purpose is an entirely different animal than mere survival and I've not done a great job of being evergreen. I'll be the first to admit that but I'm gearing up to try again. There are so many things I want for my little girl, and one of them is to be remembered as a joyful and peaceful mother. I want her to know me as someone who is steady and full of life, even in the face of adversity, someone who is evergreen. 

What better time to learn to be peaceful than in the midst of chaos? At least, that's what I'm telling myself, because those are the circumstances I've been given. It's so easy to be discontent in this world. People who have money are happy. People who have romance and love are happy. People who are beautiful are happy. People who have extraordinary talent and intelligence are happy. People who have an "easy" life are happy. This is the message that is force fed to us every day, but it just doesn't settle as truth with me. I guess I've read too many underdog stories. I've come to believe that every day is a new battle for contentment and some days I fail miserably. Ok, most days, and some of those days, I'll admit, I hardly tried, running on autopilot. But today I'm resolving to live more purposefully daily. 

Who says that resolutions can only be made once a year? If you can have a half-birthday, certainly you can have a half new year. And who says that half new years resolution can't be the same one you made six months ago? My resolution is usually the same every year anyway, to lose weight. So I'm making my half-new years resolution and it's to lose an altogether different kind of weight. I resolve to live more purposefully, in spite of my circumstances. I resolve to stay alive even in the midst of death. I resolve to be steady and strong. I want to be evergreen. I want to live all year long. So I'm putting down my burdens of worry and stress and discontentment each day. It's hard to live with all that death upon your shoulders. I don't expect to be instantly happy and I don't expect to stop missing my Pawpaw, but I will be grateful for the time I had with him. I will be grateful for my little baby girl who is kicking so hard I can see my belly squirm. I will be grateful for the career I'm blessed to have and the husband who is such a strong support and my very best friend. And if I fail again today, I resolve to try again tomorrow. 

Happy Half New Years.

"Try to become not a man of success, but try rather to become a man of value


Albert Einstein 

“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”

 Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There is something about death that makes you so vulnerable to the outside world. My heart is still heavy and my eyes still swell at random times during the day. I hate the timing of it all. I hate that I missed saying goodbye. I hate that it was right before father's day and I knew my dad would struggle with the loss of his father. I hate that it was Korey's first father's day and that parts of it will always have tears and a tinge of sadness. Weeks before  any of this happened, we had planned to go to brunch at a place called Flat Creek Lodge, so we went. It was a great distraction from the sadness and I was glad that it was special for Korey's first father's day. 

He even did the duck face to cheer me up. Who can look at that and not smile?

This time of my life is laced with sadness, but I'm counting my blessings in baby kicks, nursery decorating, sweet songs, and a man who was made just for me. I have no fears about how Korey will be as a daddy to our sweet little girl. He is already so good at loving a woman like me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away

Its funny how it feels like the world should stop spinning. Just for a moment. Out of reverence. Out of grief. But it wont. It keeps turning loudly and obnoxiously, irreverent. As if he was insignificant. Strange to think that thursday morning when I was praying for him, he was already gone. 

It should feel better to hear that he is in Heaven. He has gone to be with the Lord. At least he was a Christian. He lived a long full life. Everyone keeps telling me. But it doesn't make it better. I know its wrong to feel that way, but there it is. Unchanged.

Isn't it strange how happiness can slip in and out of my day and then suddenly with one memory sadness grips my heart? It seems that all my memories have been tainted by sadness. They're fond memories, not sad. Maybe it's that all the stories that will include Pawpaw as a character have all been written. Maybe it's the loss of memories we never got to make, never will get to. He will never meet my daughter. I'll never have that picture I wanted of his hand holding hers. 
I feel better today than yesterday, but I haven't been sleeping well. I'm fine while I'm busy moving, but when my hands are still and the world is quiet, my heart is heavy. I don't think I've ever been so sad. 

After the funeral was over, we went to a hilltop and sent off lanterns and said our goodbyes, but somehow it still doesn't feel real, like he's still in Clermont and I'll see him the next time I go home. 

 I love you, Pawpaw. Happy Father's Day.