The Gremlin Grin

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“What if…?” I thought to myself, as I stood in the shower, my sanctuary away from the rest of the world.  This is usually where I surrender to the deep gratitude of the day.  This is usually a happy, relaxing place and time of day. But– there were so many things that could fill that space, trying to push gratitude out, and fear in.

What if I die?

What if I suffer?

What if treatment doesn’t work?

I couldn’t distinguish the warm shower water from my tears, but I had enough sense to stop my thoughts in mid-track.  We can’t do that all days, nor should we be expected to.  But on this day I did.

I realized that if you’re saying “What if?” to yourself (or to anybody else, for that matter), then you’re not living in the now.

“But I can prepare myself better if I think of all of the things that could go wrong,” I think to myself.

I have learned that is not true.

I switch gears.

“I can handle anything that comes my way.”  Today is ___ Fill in the day, time, year.  I am safe.  I am alive.  I am healing.

I am healing.  Not “I’m going to heal.”  I am healing or I am healed.

It’s not easy, managing those gremlins.  It’s like a full-time job.  They want to come out at the most inopportune times (like when I want to sleep, or when I’m alone).

I imagine a monster that lives in my closet, and the more I try to shove my body against the door so as not to let him loose, the harder he pushes to get out.

Doesn’t it seem like it would be easier to just let those gremlins out?  Let’s give them a voice, actually.  Let’s see what they have to say.  Perhaps the fear of the what they could say is worse than what they do actually represent.

“What do you want Mr. Gremlin?”

Oh, just to make you suffer, he says with a gremlin grin.

That sounds pretty bad.  But still you think:

“My g-d, what would happen if I just stopped leaning against this door?”

So maybe you do let the gremlins out.  They want you to know that nothing is for certain.  They want you to lose confidence.  So you crash, burn, and head for the worst. They make you feel as though all the hope in the world was just washed away by your tears.  They make you want to live in the pain, the fear, and the terror.

So you live there.

But not for too long, OK?

Today is what matters.  And hope– well hope can never be washed away by anything that you don’t want it to.

And I promise you that once the gremlin is out, he loses a lot of his power.  Because you remember:  You can handle anything that comes your way.

XO.

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My Thanksgiving Gratitude List

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These days we hear the word “gratitude” thrown around so much that I can only hope it is not one of those “buzz” words that we have started to tune out.  And hopefully it’s not just at Thanksgiving time that we actually take a moment to step out of our busy lives and look around at the good.  Did you know that there are now lots of studies out that showcase how keeping a gratitude journal (or just mentally stockpiling as you go) can actually be beneficial to your overall health?

I love Thanksgiving.  Anybody who knows me well knows that it is my favorite holiday Though I am a big lover of giving gifts, it is a nice time of year when no gifts are actually required; it’s simply about being together, having fun, eating comforting foods that we’ve been eating on this day for years (our traditions are rich just like I bet yours are) playing games, and cuddling up with a good movie.  There’s also some mandel bread lying around which reminds me of my Grandma Jeanette (who always had some in her freezer in case somebody was nice to her at the hair salon, the bank or the dentist).  Nobody will play $100,000 Pyramid with me any more (rightly so).  And on any given Thanksgiving you can usually find a few people upstairs in the loft watching football, a few people downstairs on the couch napping, smells of stuffing and pineapple souffle (yes, pineapple souffle wafting through the house (it is a family favorite and sooo good) , maybe a game of mah jongg or backgammon or Balderdash going on in the corner, and maybe (just maybe) the women are getting a little rowdy while checking on the turkey and giggling like not one day has gone by since we were all in the kitchen together checking on the food.  Snacks are out, apple cider is out, maybe some deer wander through the backyard.  This year our surroundings will be different this year (we’ll be in Florida instead of West Virginia or Virginia), I know that good memories are to come, and I can’t wait for the sunshine, warmth, and palm trees to help us create these new memories.  As long as I’m with those that I love, I could be in Timbuktu and be OK (though I’d prefer Florida).

Though I think about my blessings every day, silently to myself or in a journal, this year I wanted to just share a few with you before the holiday.  So here goes:

I’m grateful that even though I’m treatment, I can travel to be with my loved ones this Thanksgiving.

I’m grateful that my relatives and I love each other.

I’m grateful that my relatives and I like each other.

I’m grateful that I can eat my favorite foods on this holiday.

I’m grateful that my treatment doesn’t fall during Thanksgiving week.

I’m grateful for warm showers, meditation, gratitude confetti, green juice, blueberry smoothies with bee pollen, and warm cozy sweaters.

I’m grateful that each member of my family plays an integral part of my team from research to hand-holding to calmness to making me laugh to sending me feather tattoos.

I’m grateful that my friends forgive me for not calling, emailing or texting more.

I’m grateful that even though yesterday I was so tired I cried, I was still able to go out for a walk and enjoy nature.

I’m grateful for autumn in New England.

I’m grateful that my co-workers (and my boss) seem to miss me and send me nice notes telling me so.

I’m grateful that my nephew loves to cuddle, lets me call him Pop-tart (and hopefully will until he goes away to college), and keeps me laughing.

I’m grateful that my best friend’s kids want to FaceTime with their Sam Auntie so that I can tell them just how much I love them.

I’m grateful that my best friend A has the wisdom and heart to walk this path with me– all with such grace on her part.

I’m grateful that my best friend M has taught me the value in meditation, patience, and compassion.

I’m grateful that my Mom is my best friend.

I’m grateful that my husband is my best friend.

I’m grateful that he gets me.

I’m grateful that I have a beautiful office where I am writing this from.

I’m grateful that my family would go to the ends of the earth for me and my health.

I’m grateful for my doctors, researchers, physician assistants, medical assistants, nurses, nurses who give me my infusions, people checking me in at Dana-Farber, my surgeons, my nutritionist, and everybody who has ever smiled at me or said a kind word to me at any of the institutes/hospitals where I have ever been treated.

I’m grateful that my oncologist hugs me when he sees me.

I am grateful for the nurse Alexia Marcous who took care of me when I was in Brigham & Women’s Hospital after my surgery last February.

I’m grateful that my surgeon wants to do everything he can take to help me, and bonus:  He has a great bedside manner!

I’m grateful that there is a shot that can help with my glaucoma. Having said that, I am also super grateful for Ativan.

I’m grateful for the support of the Cancer Hope Network.

I am grateful that I can sleep every morning until I need to.

I am grateful for naps.

I am grateful for my kitties who cuddle with me and sit on my chest and purr and make me pet them instead of looking at my phone.  They are reminders that nothing on my phone is as important as what’s right in front of me.

I am grateful that through my meditation and spirituality practices these last few years, I have learned how to let go, forgive, and find freedom in the unknown (sometimes).

I am grateful that Facebook has kept me connected to so many kind and awesome people.

I am grateful for the Jimmy Fund.

I am grateful that my husband understands my need for coffee.

I am grateful for YOU.

What are you grateful for?  xo.

 

Where I Live

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“Please g-d, find me,” I think to myself, though I know that g-d is already near and always has been.  I release some sort of anguish that lies inside of me until I sound like an injured animal.  I am alone, in my car, crisp fall pieces of the season tapping against my windshield and thick red trees still adorned with leaves despite the fact that it is almost Thanksgiving.  I live in a beautiful wooded area of Massachusetts and cows with long brown streaks greet me through the setting sun; I see one meandering slowly down to a stream for a drink of water.  On the next corner a beautiful wooden fence (so New England) stands between me and three gorgeous horses who are always wiling about eating grass without a care in the world (every time I see them it makes me want to go horseback riding again overlooking the Tetons standing grandly in Jackson Hole, in the lush green hills of Cong Ireland or through coffee plantations in Costa Rica with my Mom.  This all makes me think about the richness of life, the travels, the different cultures, the experiences that I carry with me.  It makes me think about taking a breath and being alive).

The tears brim in my eyes for what feels like forever, and I admonish them not to fall, though I know it is way too late for that.  They feel hot and tired, just like my body.  And when do I release them I feel a great sense of relief, as if this batch of tears has been brewing like an overdone tea kettle that has been whistling longingly asking for me to finally let it go.

I wonder what it will be like to be alone.  I think about a box of wrapping paper that sits on my top shelf in my front hall closet; ribbons all tangled up together and bows of different colors situated perfectly and soft pieces of felt and markers and cards and things that I do not use.  Because of where the box is every time I hang up my coat I see it and think of it.  I long to use it, but I am not really the “crafty type,” and now with things like Amazon I hardly ever wrap gifts to give in person anymore. I love this box because pretty things make me happy, the thought of giving gifts makes me happy, but it mostly sits alone on that top shelf in the closet where the only other guests are old hats and an umbrella that we never use.

I wonder if this is what it will feel like after I am gone.  If I will feel beautiful, but not really needed anymore.  Saved for posterity, but still, dusty and distant.  I wonder if heaven is what I think it is (somehow everything is white like in the movies) and I wonder if those I leave behind will ever be OK.

It is too painful to talk to my loved ones about, the crushing fear of death, or how it will end.  If this will be it, or if it will be many years from now.  I cannot fathom how I could ever leave behind my husband, parents, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and friends.

So I talk to strangers.  I tell them how tired I am.  How I’m being treated for cancer and when the woman applying my lip gloss in Blue Mercury asks me why I need a “pick-me-up” (because what better what to say fuck you cancer than a new lip gloss), I tell her that I have cancer.  Why would I do this?  The words just slip out quickly and I long to pick them back up again, but they’re out there now spilled all over her beautiful make-up free floor and there is nothing that I can do about it.  “What stage?” she asks, and I get ready for a drama-filled face before I say, “4.”  Yup, there it is.  Her eyebrows raise and her mouth frowns and she looks me in the eye and says, “I’m so sorry.”  Her genuine compassion touches me, but I feel the need to tell her that I’m not gone yet, that I’ve actually had Stage IV cancer for years now.  Somehow telling people that legitimizes my space in the world.  Like, “I’m here.  I’ve been here.  I will continue to be here.”

She says that anytime I want my makeup done for a “pick-me-up” she can come to me, or I can come back into the store.  I wonder if this is using my “cancer card” but I don’t get anything for free, so I don’t think so.

I go into Magic Beans a few hours beforehand (maybe this is why I needed the new lip gloss today) to buy a baby present for the woman who cuts my hair. I argue with myself all the way to my haircut appointment today.  “You don’t really need to buy a baby present,” I think to myself.  After all, we’re not friends per se. We’re friendly because she cuts my hair and she’s very sweet.  But she’s been cutting my hair now for about two years and she does a great job.  I want to do something nice for her, I’m glad that she’s returned to work.  So I go into Magic Beans and pick out a lovie/teether and as it’s being wrapped in paper with puffy white clouds on it (so good for a baby, I don’t know why, maybe because babies are so soft and squishy like those clouds) I see a pregnant couple shopping for strollers.

I give the baby present to the woman cutting my hair and she loves it and tells me all about the things her two month old is doing now, giggling in his sleep, sleeping for 5 hours in a row, smiling.  She shows me a picture on her phone and says it’s the best thing in the world.

I’ve brought this upon myself.  Magic beans, the lovie, the gift wrap.

I wonder how I can live in a world where– according to others– I’ll never get “the best thing.”

She can tell something is up and asks how I’m feeling.  I tell her, since she’s been out on maternity leave, that I have taken leave from work, they’ve found more tumors, and I’m now in treatment again.  I hear myself say “I’m so tired,” and I finally turn my face up to look in the mirror (I’ve been trying to avoid mirrors lately) and as she cuts my wet hair I see it in my eyes.  The fatigue.  The fear.  The gremlins.

I ask my inner-ally to stop by for a visit, I really need her right about now.  She always visits me on a beach, and so that is where we connect.  I tell her that I’m scared:  What if the treatment isn’t working, how can I know?   I’m so tired which I think means my body must be working pretty hard at fighting this cancer.  That gives me hope.  (Being fatigued is a common side-effect of cancer and most treatments and it fazes nobody at Dana-Farber when you tell them that you sleep at least 10 hours a day now).  I feel a little bit sad because I can really only do one thing a day now without needing a nap.  I’m also somewhat worried about going back to work with such little energy, but I’m also scared not to work (what would that mean?  I cannot let this cancer define me but yet it is such a huge part of my life.  I struggle continuously with this).

We talk, for a long time, my inner-ally and I. And in the end I finally drain my tears until it feels like there is nothing left.  I imagine the tears that I have just shed inside of my body, pouring over my liver and the tumors, washing them away.

I imagine what my life would have been like without cancer.

But I can’t.

All I can see is that unused box on the top shelf.  The puffy white clouds.  The tea kettle begging for relief.

All I can do now is wait until the next collection of tears build up and wash over me, like the waves at the beach where my inner-ally lives.  Like where my hope lives.

And where, I remind myself, I live too.

 

 

Giving Time

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THE JIMMY FUND GOLF FIRST YEAR EVENTS CELEBRATION

NOVEMBER 17TH, 2016

Key Note Speech By Samantha Lozier

My story of fundraising starts with gratitude, so please just indulge me a little bit while I talk to you about my favorite season, autumn, and how the leaves and the New England scenery remind me of what we have to be thankful for this time of year, and always.

As I was driving home the other day, before dusk so the sky was still that beautiful brilliant fall blue, I noticed the trees lining the street just exploding.  Pop, pop… Pop pop pop!  Deep reds and fiery yellows and all of a sudden it was like an autumn rainbow right before my eyes.  I drove by a high school and watched as the kids ran back and forth chasing after the soccer ball, smiling to myself, which was a little ironic since I hated playing soccer as a kid.   But somehow, seeing these kids playing with their cute jerseys and their shin guards and the bunch of sliced up oranges on the side of the field and the crumpling of the leaves and the sweet air that whispered through my car window… It just felt so… Comfortable.  Soothing.  Nostalgic.

These are the types of things that catch my eye now that I have cancer.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a grateful person and very aware of my blessings, even as a kid.  But since being diagnosed for a second time with cancer before the age of 40, I’m even more aware of my surroundings (especially nature).  I’m even more thankful; like a hot shower at the end of the day is the best thing ever, a few minutes of meditation has the capacity to ground me in a new way and I’ve made deep and loving connections one of the most important priorities in my life; I now feel things even more intensely (in a good way) than I ever did before.  It’s as if cancer has magnified not just the scary, but the love as well.

Things like time, forgiveness and freedom take on a whole new meaning.

And when the wind brings down those gorgeous leaves from the trees to the ground, I imagine little bits of gratitude floating through the air like confetti.

And so on those days, the ones where I wonder what other challenges and joys my life truly does hold, I come back to my memories of my connections.  Of our pasts, our laughs, our secrets, our jokes, our stolen moments that only my loved ones and I know about.  And then I think about the future.

I “future-trip” if you will.

We are “supposed” to be in the present moment, but sometimes I’ll sneak a glance into the future.  And instead of seeing cancer and treatments and scans and doctors and blood and needles and fear, I like to picture us– you and me– on a bench somewhere, in the sun.  Drinking coffee.  Laughing.  Planning.  Thrilled with the idea that we have time– plenty of time– to travel and experience and share and live.  To live without regret.  It’s because of my “team”, which consists of everybody from my husband to my parents to best friends to my colleagues to my high school English teacher to my Dana-Farber nutritionist to my oncologist that I feel hopeful that I can—and will– live a long life filled with what I like to call “gratitude confetti.”

But where does this gratitude start, and how do we let our true light shine in a world filled with so much stress these days?

With all that we have on our plates these days, we need people to make it easy for us to spread the gratitude and to help others, and I can’t wait to talk to you about how easy it is to do just that by continually fundraising through the Jimmy Fund.

But back to gratitude, and how it leads me to give you a little glimpse inside the life of not just a cancer patient, but also somebody who has a “team,” and to gently remind you that what you do here for the Jimmy Fund is so, so valuable.

Each person who has come out to a Team Lozier mini-golf fundraiser has shown me that I am not just a statistic.  I’m not just a person with cancer, or somebody who needs treatment.  I’m a human being.  I go way beyond just “having cancer,” and having a “team” is a lovely reminder of that.

When you fundraise, that’s part of what you are reminding others of as well.

Now let me tell you how Team Lozier came to be.

I was living in New York City when I was first diagnosed with cancer.  A tumor was found one day in my left eye; I was 28 years old.  I came back to Boston to be treated at Mass Eye and Ear for ocular melanoma where there was a doctor who had invented a treatment for such a rare cancer, and I got amazing care here in Boston.  I stayed with my parents while I had surgery, then came back to New York to my home and job with an eye patch on (and I worked in a school at the time so you can imagine the stares that I got from the kids; there were a lot of pirate jokes), then flew back to Boston again to have my radiation treatment and recover at my parents’ house.

Thankfully, I was back living in Boston when I needed treatment again.  Unfortunately, my cancer traveled to my liver and I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic liver melanoma in August of 2013. I was 36 years old at the time of this re-diagnosis.  I was being followed at another hospital in the Boston area but when I needed a second opinion after my first biopsy I came to Dana-Farber and knew immediately that was where my team needed to be.

I can’t quite put into words exactly how comforting it is to know that I only need to travel 45 minutes to see some of the best oncologists, nurses, and staff in the world.  I guess you could call it luck that I live here but the beauty of that is never lost on me.

Cancer has taken a lot away from me; the ability to have children, any kind of innocence, a lot of my physical energy, a lot of my mental energy trying to make heads or tails of this disease, or even being able to sleep through the night.  But it hasn’t taken away my hope that I can live a life where adventure reigns supreme, and joy fuels me. It has not taken away my ability to believe that we can find cures, we can improve treatments, and we can show people with cancer that we will not abandon them—or their dreams–, no matter what.

I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to help others, as my Mom tells me even when I was a little girl I would remind my friends in the second grade that it didn’t matter how many VCR’s one had, as long as somebody at home loved us. (And Josh, being a child of the 90’s, see me later if you don’t know what a “VCR” is). It seemed that from an early age I got a sense of altruism from helping others in need, and I became a social worker and have been in the field for the past 13 years.

It’s hard when you’re on the other side of needing that help.  I went from being the one that friends would call for support to being the one who needed to pick up the phone and ask for help. Relying so heavily on my husband, family and friends and my team at Dana-Farber has been humbling; giving up control to Western medicine while incorporating Eastern and holistic modalities, trying to live in-the-moment and be present with my loved ones, and not let fear dictate how I live my life every day has become my norm.

I have learned so much these last few years.

Two years ago, I was at Dana-Farber for a check-up with my oncologist when I saw one of their TV screens flash an ad for fundraising for the Jimmy Fund.  I had, throughout the years, donated to my friends who did the Jimmy Fund Walk every year, but this advertisement was for a golf tournament!  And not just that, but it said that you could raise money playing mini-golf!  It was an absolutely perfect advertisement for somebody like me:  Not only somebody who loves mini-golf, but somebody who wanted to feel some control, who wanted to do something to help not just myself, but other cancer patient and their families, who wanted to become involved in some small piece of Dana-Farber as a way of thanking everybody who has any hand in this hospital; from doctors to nurses to medical assistants to nutritionists to physician assistants to our fundraisers like Josh Belowich and Katie McGuirk, and their whole amazing team, who give so much of their time and love for us.

My husband and I have always loved playing mini golf, and it’s something that we started doing together right when we started dating.  In fact, one of our first dating memories is of us playing mini-golf and I guess I didn’t start off so well and I remember my husband Sean saying, “Don’t worry honey, you’ll beat me someday!”  True story!  This must have spurred me on because I ended up beating him!  And now every time we play we still joke about that comment and how I ended up winning that day.  We even played the day we met with my oncologist when I found out that my cancer may be back; after going over details of biopsies and clinical trials we needed to feel normal, like everything was going to be OK, and mini-golf felt like just the thing to remind us of that.

We have now held two Jimmy Fund mini-golf events, and have raised over $25,000 in these last two years thanks to the incredible generosity of our family, friends, and the super organizing force behind the Jimmy Fund.

We call ourselves “Team Lozier,” – my last name is Lozier—and a friend of mine had t-shirts printed and so now even the little kids wear their Team Lozier shirts and we come together in May at a great venue and just have fun.  We do opportunity drawings and have been lucky enough to get the backing of some great businesses around here, restaurants, spas, and we even got Red Sox tickets this year!

But I want to tell you the truth, which is that after my initial excitement at starting a fundraiser, the reality of it set in, and I was worried that with my full-time job as a social worker and the CEO of my own health, I wouldn’t be able to dedicate enough time to it and it would be a flop.

That’s where the staff at the Jimmy Fund came in, and they guided me every step of the way.  It was very easy to get approved to start the fundraiser and they gave me lots of great ideas about how to start small, get the word out, pick a venue, decide on pricing, and how to set up an opportunity drawing (which is basically like a raffle).  I had no fundraising experience and the first year we raised over $12,000!  I quickly realized through the help of the Jimmy Fund that they want to make it as easy as possible to fundraise, and they answered all my phone calls and emails in a timely manner and always with lots of easy to understand instructions.

The second year turned out to be even better, though perhaps I was even more nervous because I was just coming off of three surgeries in two months and I was tired.  But I knew that I wanted to keep the tradition up.  I was matched with Josh Belowich who immediately had the enthusiasm for Team Lozier that my family and friends have had since the day I was diagnosed.  We bonded over Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm and he quickly became part of Team Lozier (and I don’t just invite anybody to be on my team!).  And then I needed to bother Katie with questions about the website and donations but she never, ever made me feel like a bother and she took care of everything like it was the easiest job on the earth and though I’m sure they have a hundred and one people to look after, made me feel like Team Lozier was just as special as anything.  So she too quickly became a part of Team Lozier and I feel like I have known Josh and Katie for years, and not months!  Josh was always available by phone (including the time I called him frantically from a restaurant who was about to give me a gift card for our opportunity drawing and I had misplaced the tax ID #!), or email or even in person to hash out the details, and not only that, he had some great ideas but was also happy to go at my speed.  Again, I had work and health and my husband and a house and was busy and the dedicated staff at the Jimmy Fund is very understanding of all that we are trying to balance as we fundraise.

The second year especially they really encouraged me to enlist the help of my family and friends and it was such great advice because not only were people more than happy to help, but it gave the whole thing such a sense of community.   I think as the “patient” I sometimes forget how helpless those in my life must feel, but this was a time when many felt like they could step up to the “tee” and feel empowered as well.

The end result?  A day full of fun, love, and support for all that Dana-Farber does not just for its patients, but for the family members of those patients as well. Because you’re not just raising important funds for patients and the staff who care for them, you’re committing to helping the quality of life of family members, friends, and caregivers of these patients as well.

You know, I was here just a couple of days ago for treatment.  I heard the medicine dripping into my IV and it was making a ticking sound, making me think of a clock.  It reminded me of time; so much of having cancer is wanting more time.  The time it takes to find a cure.  The time it takes to tell somebody that you care what happens to them.  The time it takes to show a patient that their life is valuable.

You’re giving that time.  And optimism.  You’re giving chances, and memories, and lives filled with hope. You should feel really proud of that.

I ask that you please consider continuing your fundraising efforts for one of the most important issues facing our world today:  The epidemic of cancer.  I promise that you will feel nothing but joy, love and fulfillment from giving your time to such an important cause.  And on behalf of myself and all the other patients and fundraisers here at Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund… While thank you just doesn’t seem like enough, I hope that it will be.

xo.

 

Us

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As we drive home the sky turns magenta right in front of us; Daylight Savings Time is coming to a close, just as autumn is.  Though winter doesn’t officially start until December 21st (SHL’s birthday, as a matter of fact), it is November 5th and we are getting ready to turn the clocks back and all of a sudden it starts to feel “winterish” to me.  It’s as if the air changes overnight.  I can smell the cold weather coming, and as I slide into the car with just a linen jacket and sweatshirt I feel a chill go through my body and wonder (curiously and bitterly) where my winter coat is hiding at home.  Probably lurking in some extra closet in the house, just waiting for its turn to be worn again.

A few days before:

I arrive where it’s warm (or supposed to be), albeit it a bit rainy.  M and I have flown in from Miami and Boston, respectively, and stand in the driveway of our best friends house in Austin, eagerly awaiting her husband to go in and ask her to come out to get something from the car.  She appears, shuffling her feet tiredly, looking down at the ground.  Never in a million years does she think that we will be there when she looks up.

But there we are.

We could sense, as best friends, that she needed us.  Also her birthday is approaching.  We agree that she is the kind of person who is always taking care of others, especially her husband and three little kids.  But even her friends and parents and extended family and probably even people that she has just met (that’s kind of her way).

This time, we want to take care of her.

It doesn’t work out like that exactly, because of course she still goes into taking-care -of-mode and cooks for us, making us the pumpkin coffee that we like in the mornings and setting up toppings for tacos for dinner at night, but M and I do our best to take care of her, too.

Mostly we talk and laugh.  Sometimes we get teary-eyed.  We lift each other up.  We listen.  We support.  We give ideas, and sometimes advice.  Sometimes we just say to each other, “That is really hard.”  M points out that although we all have different challenges in life (career, family, health), we are all at a point in our lives where we’re trying to take better care of ourselves, trying to find purpose and meaning, and trying to find that balance that seems, most of the time, almost unattainable.

We remind each other of the things that we cannot seem to see in ourselves.

My heart almost bursts open with love not just for A and M, but for A’s family too.  It was what I had hoped it would be when we left college and started lives outside of each other:  That her husband likes me, that I like him, that her kids know who I am.  Though I had imagined us vacationing together, renting a house on the beach somewhere every summer for a week in August, all of our kids running around together and feeling like they were cousins or best friends, I realize that the vision has had to change.  A vacations with other families, and I give these kids no “cousins.”  But whoever said that you can mother in lots of different ways, I realize with relief, was right.  The kids call us Marla Auntie and Sam Auntie and we steal glances and chuckle with love every time they do something adorable (so basically most of the time that we’re together).  We keep the kids company while one has a piano lesson, building towers of Legos, or playing 20 questions (the little one doesn’t yet understand the concept and just tells us what she’s thinking of immediately.  “Cheetah!” she yells out, so happy with herself, and even her big brother just has to laugh).

We go to the kids elementary school and get to see little D accept an award at school for “fairness,” for listening and including others in his play so well and for not just “playing by the rules,” but most importantly, “with his heart.”  The night before he tells me that he’s shy about receiving this award in front of the whole school and so we practice, me pretending to hand him the award and him smiling and saying thank you.  He is off-the-charts excited that the Principal who is giving him the award may say his last name wrong, in which case he would get a dollar!  He asks me to snuggle with him in his car bed and I just can’t get enough of his questions for me:  Sam Auntie, did you have assemblies when you were a kid?  I tell him about what I remember from my elementary and middle school days, the poem that my friend and I acted out (what was the scenery like he asks?  Such awesome questions), and the play that I was in in the 6th grade.  I tell him that I was Smee in Peter Pan, “Captain Hook’s right-hand man.”  I forget that he’s only 5.  A few minutes later he asks, “Sam Auntie, who was the left hand?”

He reminds me that I can love and listen without being an actual biological mother.  I love those kids so much and just want to continue seeing these little magical beings blossoming.  A and her husband are doing such an amazing job with their family, I am in awe.

We celebrate A’s birthday with chicken nuggets for the kids and pumpkin ice cream with Bailey’s for us.  (!) We shop (what we do best) and we reminisce about our shopping escapades, even back in college (some things never change, and that is comforting).  But of course there’s so much more to each of us and so much more to our relationships:  We fill each other in on more details than we often can over the phone, in text or email.  The real nitty-gritty.  Our visits bring us closer, if that is even possible.

We put a candle in the ice cream and I hope that A makes a wish about herself this year.  I hope that even in the sacred moments of each day when she is taking care of others, thinking about others, doing for others, that she can find it within herself to see what I see when I look at her:  A sensitive, compassionate, loyal, thoughtful, smart being.  She deserves so much happiness!  She’s the kind of person who can have meaningful conversations with a homeless man on the street or the CEO of a huge corporation.  She can cook a delicious meal with her eyes closed and throw a party like it’s nobody’s business.  She listens to my fears about cancer and life and she weeps with me knowing that I can’t have children, in a way that only a sister truly can, and then helps me to get back up and want to dig back into life again.  She gives me advice on my writing and speaking dreams and how does she know these things?  She’s so wise.  She always has been.

I remember the first time we met; her Pet Shop Boys poster proudly displayed in her dorm room, me showing her where to get her college ID, my Mom’s chocolate chip cookies and us rushing together and then ending up in different sorority houses (we each became honorary members of each others sororities because we were always together), and neither of us ever guessing that 21 years later we would be here. Family.  Love.  Life.  Fear.  Adventures.  Traveling. Challenges. Cancer. Marriage.  Houses.  Friends.  Sisters.

Us.

You can’t change things for others, but you can remind them of who they are at their core. I hold that hope for her dreams even when she can’t hold them for herself (we all need somebody to hold our hope for us sometimes.  She has done it for me countless times).  Yes, you can’t change things for others, but you can remind them what they can change for themselves.  And you can also remind them that sometimes, there is nothing to change.  Sometimes, they are perfect just the way they are.

And they have always been.  xoxo.

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