There are some things we just can't explain.
Some times it's better that way.
My trips to Maui these past six years, first to scatter Leroy's ashes on October 21st 2008, and these years to follow, I have had some "odd" experiences that have connected me to him. As a Maui friend said to me last night, "You never know how, but he always lets you know he knows you're here."
I do a mini "paddle-out" for Leroy every year, a Hawaiian tradition to remember loved ones. Our amazing friends here never forget to make flower lei's in his honor. I bring Fall leaves from home, and his favorite Snickers candy bar and a Mai Tai. Leroy never drank Mai Tai's unless we were here on Maui.
So, with that in mind, it was time to "remember" the Big Guy yesterday....
I had collected all the items, except the Mai Tai and went to the pool bar that was packed with happy vacationers. The bar manager flagged a bartender for me and I made my order. When he turned to hand me the drink, he looked at me and said, "I've added angel's wings." "YOU need an angel today." "I know you need an angel today."
I looked down to see two pineapple wedges placed on the edge of the cup and they looked exactly like angels wings! I looked at the bartender and said "YOU have no idea what you just said." When I explained it, he grabbed my hand, held it in his hands, and kissed it.
My sister and I paddled-out and had our special ceremony and it was special....
Maui....my special place...OUR special place. On angels wings....
The day was much like this one....a beautiful sunshine day.
The trade winds built as the hours passed.
The ocean, his ocean, my ocean would be welcoming.
I scattered his ashes on this day six years ago.
It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I was filled with so much sorrow and so much loss.
This morning, I walked to the spot, smiled as I looked out on the rolling Pacific and said a quiet prayer. The sun was just beginning to smile on the ocean and therewere just a few feather-like clouds that turned pink as the mist and the sun warmed the air.
A perfect beginning to a day as the sun rises on a remembering day.
"A hui hou" ...Till we meet again.
I have so many pictures of Leroy at so many different stages of his life.
They begin when he was just an infant sitting on the grass at home in Southern California. It's a sunny day and he's smiling and I see that little face and even at that young age, I see the man. I see the adventurer, I see the smart guy, I see the little boy who would grow to be 6 foot-5 and I can almost hear the laugh.
I have two pictures near the computer where I'm typing and they are among my favorites. He's standing with a glass of wine in his hand, his other hand is on his knee and he's relaxed and there's that smile again. The other photo is from Iraq. He's dressed in his camouflage gear, a bandana over his hair and he's in the middle of the desert with tanks everywhere. But, there's that smile. A huge smile in the middle of a war, but he's with friends and he's in no danger...at least not in that picture.
Some would say I probably have too many Leroy pictures and Leroy memento's around the house. I couldn't disagree more.
At one point they were hard to look at because they made me so sad. But now I look at them and they bring a smile to my face. I've broken through that deep, sad time when even his name would bring a tear. Now, I've pushed away the force that worked so hard to keep me from remembering that these pictures were moments in his life that made him real: they made him alive and he was living in his time.
These pictures captured that lightning in a bottle moment that was Leroy Sievers. I was lucky enough to spend some time inside that bottle.
I'm even luckier to be able to relive some of it in pictures.
I looked down at the ground this morning at all the leaves. Most of them are yellow and various shades of brown. That's how Fall always begins: with the early, worn out leaves of the summer. But just a few feet away there was a little sprinkling of what's to come....bright red maple leaves, brilliant in their Fall clothes. I gathered up the few that were on the ground and they are now tucked away for a long journey West.
Six thousand miles from here, they will find their way to an ocean shore. They will bring a little piece of "home" to Leroy's resting place.
It's tradition that I bring with me some of what he loved so much about being home. Fall was always a favorite time of year because of the colors. Our canal walks had a better pace in the Fall because the air was so crisp. We would watch the colors along the C and O Canal Towpath change by the day.
It's almost like someone gives those trees a brush stroke of color every evening so they greet the sunrise with new Fall color until they almost glow in orange and red and yellow hues.
I'll gather other important pieces that will be a part of my annual remembrance on the beach. The Snickers bar, the Mai Tai, so many of his favorite things.
It's hard to imagine it's already been another year.
I wonder if he wonders where I've been?
There is no escaping it. We all go through it at some point in our lives. Some of us go through loss earlier than others, so we're introduced to grief at an earlier point on our journey. No matter when, it is painful.
I was introduced to a woman over the weekend who is suffocating in her grief.
Her loss, the death of a parent, has enveloped her totally. We took a long walk and she talked about her lack of motivation. She stopped working. She doesn't exercise any more.
I could tell just by looking at her, that she's not sleeping and she's probably not eating well either. She's sad...so sad. The world has turned gray.
As we turned corners and covered the neighborhood, slowly she opened up and the sadness poured out of her. I felt like she hadn't exhaled in months.
After convincing her that she needs to start living again and stop dwelling on what's been taken from her life, her clouds parted, in a manner of speaking...
"I used to be a sassy girl," she said with a faint smile.
I told her to go find her "sassy" because it's still in there, it's just been covered by so much "sad."
Remember when clinical trials in cancer world really were just that: a trial balloon that most patients stepped away from for fear of getting some strange drug that would hasten their demise. Cancer trials USED TO BE scary stuff.
Now doctors and patients alike, look for trials that will fit where they are in the progression of their cancer. Trials hope to be the standard treatments of tomorrow, but plenty of them are being used today to help kill some cancers.
A friend of mine who lost her husband to a blood cancer a few years ago, heard about a trial that may have made an impact on her husband's life IF it had been available just a few years ago. It's moving into phase III now, so plenty of patients are applying to make it into the study. HOPE has stepped up to the plate with this new drug because it's shown signs of lengthening lives and providing a better quality of life for those with this type of cancer.
Clinical trials are HOPE, wrapped up in new emerging treatments and drugs that blast away cancer cells like never before.
We've talked about "paying it forward" here so many times and there's no better way that to enter a study.
Researchers learn from these trials, some patients get a longer, better life from these trials and cancer gets clobbered in a new, dynamic procedure.
That's an equation that adds up to HOPE
He'd probably cringe if he ever read this post, but it's got to be said: Momma Bear's are one of cancer's biggest enemies.
If researchers could figure out a way to bottle a Mom's energy and persistence and super advocating powers in the fight against cancer, this disease would be over.
I have a friend who is a Super Mom like this. Her son is a grown man. He has a family of his own, he's been fighting a very difficult cancer for a few years now and I can tell you this, he would not be alive today if it wasn't for his Mom. She just won't stop searching for the next cutting-edge treatment. If it's a trial or a something that's been around for a while, she does her research and pushes her son's doctors to tell her why it isn't worth a shot.
This family has found the best cancers specialists in the Midwest. They are using state of the art techniques to care for this man and they've been successful so far. He's responded in various trials over and over again and it's in part because his Mom is the driving force behind his care.
Now the cancer is moving to places where it's going to be hard to keep it under control but that's not stopping this Momma Bear.
She's back at her desk, researching, digging, trying to find any little nugget that might lean toward the next big drug that will help her son live.
I've always said, one of the most important pieces in the fight against cancer is to have a strong advocate.
This Momma Bear brings a whole new meaning to that belief.
Momma Bear's unite...you have powers chemotherapy can't touch.
One friend has dropped at least 30 pounds. Another is a shadow of herself. The same goes for two more and all of them are cancer survivors.
They've all been away from the treatment floors of their cancer centers for at least a year now, so it's not the chemo or radiation.
It's a new lease on life, or that's the way one of them explained it to me. She had always been over weight and didn't really pay attention to exercise or diet. She was forced to make a change once cancer came into her life. One of the most important parts of her cancer treatment was the addition of a nutritionist as part of her medical team. This specialist made all the difference in how she responded to treatment.
She followed the suggestions her nutritionist, who specializes in helping cancer patients maintain a healthy diet during treatment, and yes, she had some of her hardest days after chemo, but she still thinks she pushed back the worst of it, by eating foods that stood up to the harsh drugs.
The others feel the same way and they've all maintained their weight loss and feel so much the better because of it.
Diet during the battle and diet to stay healthy when life returns to life as they remembered it....healthy changes paying off.
It was the end of a long afternoon of talking about women's health. Cancer was a part of the conversation, but so was aging, memory loss, heart issues, and all things women have to think about as they march through life.
So it was down the elevator and into the cancer center and eventually out to my car.
I've come to the conclusion that nearly everyone who steps into that elevator is looking to connect with someone, anyone, who has a smile and a short conversation available and for just that moment, it's enough of an escape from cancer world.
The woman standing next to me had all the signs of going through treatment. Her hair was very thin, her skin did not have a healthy glow and her eyes still carried the glaze of harsh drugs pumping through her veins.
Another couple stepped in and the doors closed. Three of us wanted to go down to the lobby floor and that's where this elevator was going. The woman realized too late that she was going in the wrong direction....again. She sighed and said, "Not again."
She'd been going up when she wanted to go down, and down when she wanted to go up.
I asked if I could help and she just smiled and shook her head no. She whispered something about chemo and this feeling of being in a fog. Her eyes looked so sad.
When the doors opened to the lobby, we made sure she had directions to where she needed to go, and hit the up button.
The doors slowly closed, but her image stayed with me all the way home.
I can still see those sad eyes.
The other day a friend of mine who is even more challenged by computers, than I am, was complaining about how slow his computer was running. I asked him if he'd hit the "refresh" button and he gave me a look of total befuddlement.
"The what button?" he asked.
I explained that to refresh his computer: allow it to reset itself was sometimes all that was needed to fix that kind of a problem.
"Did you ever do that when you were caring for Leroy?" he said.
How I wish I would have thought of that possibility during those years of care giving.
Care givers need a "refresh" button on those long, hard days when cancer is in the drivers seat.
How hard all of us worked to keep it from getting to that place, but some days it just was not possible.
Remember the "bad news" days when the tears poured over the smiles?
Remember the days when the clock never stopped and the mornings ran into the afternoons and the afternoons faded into the nights and there was no rest, no breaks, no breaths?
OH, for a refresh button.
Just a moment or two, to find our resilience once a crisis had come and gone.
To all who are caring for a life, remember this post.