Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Are You Living a Life of Substance?


 I had the strangest thing just happen. I woke up hearing the oncologist’s voice as he diagnosed me with terminal cancer and gave me two years to live. 


After he left, I looked out the hospital window and just thought, “I’m tired of living in fear and regret and dealing with so much guilt.” 


I suddenly felt exhausted from trying to accomplish things so people would be proud of me. My gosh, I wrote ten books in less than ten years. I became a physician liaison for the biggest hospital in southeastern Idaho. I worked as a publisher for a newspaper—and it STILL wasn’t enough. Like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it, no matter how much I put in there, it eventually ended up empty and dry.


At the end of my life, when I looked back, the only thing that really mattered was making a positive difference for the people I love. My so-called accomplishments, degrees, and careers all came up short. So, I wanted to make a change with the time I had left. And it wasn’t about me; life became about bettering the lives of those around me.


Whether my soul went on after death or ceased to exist, it no longer mattered anymore. What felt important was if my memory would remain with the people I care about. 


I wanted to ask you: Are you living the life that you really want? I’m not talking about quitting your job so you can move to the beach and surf all day; I’m talking about living a life of substance… of purpose. Or are you doing what I did: Searching for significance in all of the wrong places? Striving to fill your soul but getting stuck in monotony and forgetting that each day is a gift?


I hate to write this, but I do have terminal cancer. I’m fighting. Every single morning is a struggle to get up. It’s a struggle to go out. But I’m grateful because the fact that I’m struggling means I’m still alive.


If you’re reading this post, I hope you’ll take a minute to remember how lucky we are to have consciousness and the ability to even make choices. It’s vital that we recognize one simple truth: Our quality of life hinges on perspective AND attitude. Positivity can be an immense beacon in the darkness. Search for it and embody it.


So, even though life can be tough and I’m often in pain from the tumors in my bones, I’m grateful that I’m still alive—longer than doctors predicted! 


I’m going to enjoy today with my husband and my kids. Some days I can hardly believe that G-d decided to make me. He made all of us—and I don’t think we should take His handiwork for granted. Despite cancer and hardships, there are so many good things too. 


I… really am the luckiest.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Lucky $87 and the Grocery Store Angel


 The Grocery Store Angel

By EC Stilson
ECStilson.com

So many incredible things keep happening that I've begun worrying... 


Let me explain: Have you ever had to put an animal down? Unfortunately, I have. And the night before their final day, we've given them steak, eggs—even ice cream—to ensure they're having the best possible day. Then, the next morning, we've had to let them go. This could be due to illness or just quality of life… Anyway, so many Godwinks keep happening in my days that now I'm worried this is my steak dinner from G-d.

 

"Don't be such a negative Nelda," you might say, but the problem is that once oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer, my world changed. I have an early expiration date. So, whether this is my steak dinner from G-d or not, I better enjoy each moment—and that's exactly what I've been doing.

 

“Do you remember the story about the $87?” I asked my mom after we’d gone to the grocery store. 


“How that lady paid for your groceries?”


I nodded. My card hadn’t worked, and a cashier—of all people—footed the bill. I kept looking for her so I could pay back the $87, but she'd quit working as a cashier. “I finally got to pay it forward,” I told my mom. “Last week a guy couldn’t get his card to work, so I paid his bill. Guess how much it was?”


She looked at me, stunned. “$87?”


“Yep.”


“That’s totally a Godwink. Is this the store where it happened?”


“Yeah. The cashier didn’t even know that I’m fighting terminal cancer—I wonder what she would’ve thought if I’d told her.”


My mom and I shopped for a while after that. I felt bad, but we took an extra long time because I had to keep stopping. “I’m so sorry,” I almost said it more to myself than my mom. I know she understands. After all, we’d gone to the store so she could make me her homemade chicken noodle soup. The problem is that I get mad at my body sometimes. I want to walk like I used to and jump around like Tigger, but I can’t even stand for long and I often use a wheelchair.


“Mom,” I said, trying to knock some sense into myself. “I’m gonna buy ice cream. It just sounds… fun.”


We’d rounded the corner when my mom’s expression changed. “You have…” She paused, trying to get another customer’s attention. “You have the most beautiful hair.”


A woman turned, practically glowing. Long gray hair danced from the back of her baseball cap, and after she left the ice cream isle, I could hardly speak. 


“Mom! Oh, my gosh. Mom! That’s the cashier!” The words wouldn’t come out fast enough.


“The cashier?” she asked.


“The one who paid the $87! The one I’ve been looking for all this time.”


“You have to tell her what happened,” my mom whispered.


I moved as quickly as I could, almost frantic as I tried to find the woman.


“Excuse me,” I said. “Excuse me.”


She turned, looking every bit the angel I remembered.


I told her then about how I’m fighting terminal cancer. I explained that she’d paid for my groceries on a day years ago when I needed kindness the very most. “I tried to find you, but you’d quit.”


She laughed so hard, those thoughtful eyes sparkling. “I just switched departments! I’ve been here the whole time.”


“I wish I could pay you back! But I ended up buying someone else’s groceries last week. And can you believe it was for the same amount?”


She didn’t seem surprised at all. “That’s how these things work. Thank you for paying it forward.”


“It was your money.” I laughed. “Thank you for what you did for me.”


As my mom and I walked away, I heard a distant voice say, “I’m so glad I saw you again. You changed my whole day.”


“You changed mine,” I said.


That night as I ate the chicken noodle soup, we wondered over the experience from the store. “I’d been so upset that I got sick and took forever. But if I hadn’t been so slow, we would’ve missed her. I guess it all worked out.”


Filled with good food and the blessings only G-d and kind people can bring, it suddenly didn’t matter how sick I’d felt that day. Life once again shone so bright, and I realized once more how lucky I am to even be alive.



 

 


Saturday, February 3, 2024

A Change of Perspective


 I turned 41 today. Birthdays mean a lot more than they used to, and I guess it’s because doctors said I’d never turn 40. Even though I’m still fighting for each day, I’m really lucky to even be here.


This reminds me of a birthday from a few years before doctors diagnosed me with terminal cancer. I’d gone to get my taxes done, and as the accountant assessed my information, I studied a photo in her office.


It’s an intriguing picture with five people lying on their backs in a grassy field. Each person is a different race—and the concept of “diversified yet unified” is beautifully clear. But there was something even more that I couldn’t quite grasp.


“Wow, you really like that photo,” the accountant finally said.


Suddenly what eluded me before shone through. “It’s amazing,” I said, seeing the whole scene differently. 


“I like it, but I wouldn’t say it’s ‘amazing.’” She set down some papers and turned to me. 


“I know there are a lot of photos out there like this, but I just realized what makes this one different,” I said. “If you stop focusing on the obvious things and just focus on their glasses.... Did you notice that every person is wearing eyeglasses?”


She came next to me and stared at the picture. “Their glasses, huh? Well, they look like regular gla— Wait, I see it: the reflection! I’ve never had anyone point that out before.”


The reflection shone faintly in each of their eyeglasses, but even those replicas were far more beautiful than the obvious picture itself. Greying buildings, lanky trees, and a stormy sky showed itself in the glasses. As if every subject looked at a dry, dying world, ready to be refreshed…


I momentarily wished the photographer had rested in the grass as well and taken a picture—not of the people, but up, seeing what had appeared above and around them. 


Were the people the real subjects of this photo, or had the artist realized what the glass told about their surroundings?


“You’re right, Elisa. That picture is amazing!” As I took my paperwork and got in my truck to drive away, I looked through the business window. The tax preparer sat down where I had been moments before, and she intently studied the picture in her office.

Friday, January 26, 2024

A Veteran in a Truck Stop


stood at the truck stop, debating which candy bar to get, when several groups of people darted into the store at once. The cashier balked, watching as more and more customers got gas or parked in the parking lot, and I couldn't help studying every person who came in.


An older lady gazed at herself in the mirror, pulling strange faces as she tried on different sunglasses. A young mother and father chased their toddlers, and numerous people perused the drink section. But out of everyone, an elderly veteran intrigued me the most. He stood on one side of the store near a younger woman with the most beautifully dark skin. 

She kept glancing at the veteran whose baggy eyes bulged with fatigue. He limped, using a gnarled cane, yet as he walked past various people, he smiled at everyone. His jacket displayed badges, pictures of planes, and something about years of service. The beautiful woman must’ve noticed all of this, too, because even as she purchased a hat, her eyes hardly left the man. 

I thought she'd leave after that, but she didn't. Instead, she gracefully edged toward the veteran, long arms and legs majestic—like rippling like water. Her black hair floated behind like a veil. Then, she stopped right in front of the man. 

He seemed taken aback to have such a stunning woman approach him. "Can I h–help you?" he asked.

"You already have," she said, opened the bag, and handed him the hat. "Thank you for your years of service. People might not tell you all of the time, but you are so very appreciated.” Then she turned and simply left.

After a moment, the man shakily donned the hat and gazed in the mirror where the older woman had been before. But instead of pulling strange faces or preening like his predecessor, he tipped the hat a little to the right and wiped a few tears from his eyes. 
 
A brightly dressed lady suddenly spoke next to me. I'd been so enraptured that I hadn’t noticed her studying me—and the entire situation. "That was so amazing to watch," she said.
 
"It really was," I said with more emotion in my voice than I'd expected. How ironic that I'd entered that truck stop simply wanting to get a candy bar, but instead, I'd gotten so much more. It goes to show you never know where or when a miracle might happen. 

I paid for my favorite kind of candy bar, then surprised myself and gave it to the cashier. "I just wanted you to know you're doing an incredible job." Then, after complimenting him on his various tattoos and piercings, I left the store with empty hands and an overflowing heart.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

It Finally Came Full Circle, and It Only Cost $87

Something came full circle, and I'm so excited about it. In 2020, nearly two months after oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer, I finally got out of the house. Of course, I had to use a walker after surgeons removed a tumor-ridden vertebra in my lower back. Yet, there's always a silver lining, and I felt surprised to find that grocery carts work much like walkers—and they look better, too.

After a very slooow shopping session, I weaved toward the register, proud of my achievement. Sure cancer has changed my "wins," but I can still revel in accomplishing what I can. Before, success meant finishing a marathon. Now, I'm lucky to get out of bed and do my makeup. Before, I boasted about milestones, degrees, and promotions at work. Now, I'm grateful when insurance companies pay medical bills we've been battling over for years. 

Anyway, going shopping seemed a Herculean task, but I'd done it all alone! Unfortunately, when I went to pay, my card wouldn't go through. I stood so long that my right atrophied leg shook at the register. Why wouldn't the card work? We have a lot of issues—like... terminal cancer—but we're good at stretching pennies and saving what money we have. 

I flushed with embarrassment. (I wish I'd known earlier that the bank shut off our cards 'cause suspicious out-of-country charges aren't a good sign. Too bad I'd gone shopping instead of answering my phone.) 

"It's only $87," I squeaked. "I am so embarrassed."

"It's no big deal, ma'am. It happens all the time," the sweet cashier said. "But I will need you to go over to the customer service area to either return the groceries or figure out a form of payment. More customers are coming."

"I'll take care of it," another cashier said, then darted from her register several feet away, whipped out her personal credit card, and paid for my groceries before I could resist.

"But that was... That was... $87." I balked. "That's a lot of money."

"No big deal."

"Well...," I thought about my previous stay at the hospital, all of the grueling treatments and surgeries. I remembered my ongoing fights with insurance companies and how sometimes death seems easier than all of this. "It was a huge deal," tears filled my eyes, "to me."

Plus, who does that for someone? Especially a cashier?! I don't know how much they make, but she's not taking much home if she helps everyone who saunters through those doors.

The beautiful elderly woman simply returned to her register like she hadn't just saved my day... and then she helped the next person in line. 

"Thanks again," I said, slowly walking past her. My previously aching leg somehow felt a bit better.

"You just enjoy a nice meal with your family." 

Those unforgettable blue eyes twinkled, lighting up the entire checkout area, and it seemed ironic she had no idea what I faced. Her action meant much more than a monetary amount or a well-cooked meal. The timeliness changed my life because it made me feel like G-d "might" have a plan. Even in my loneliest times, sitting with the magnitude of having a terminal illness, preparing for surgeries, or getting long MRIs, I remember her actions. 

"It was a kiss from G-d," a friend told me the next day, and I decided to return the favor. I immediately visited the bank, withdrew $87, and returned to the grocery store. I'd prepared my speech. I wanted to tell the woman with the long silvery hair how much she changed my outlook. "I have terminal cancer," I'd say, "and you gave me fuel to keep fighting for my four children and my husband." I could hardly wait because I wanted her to know how much she blessed my life. But when I got back to the store, the lady no longer worked there; they didn't even have her forwarding address! 

That left me one option: I'd have to... pay it forward.

Since then, when I've gone to get groceries—for almost three years—I've wanted to pay for someone else's food. Unfortunately, it never seems to be the right time, and I don't want to embarrass someone. This has gotten so ridiculous it's a bit like a hunter/prey situation—except I'm a chick who's too excited to do something nice.

Can you believe that after YEARS of waiting, today it finally came full circle?! A man in front of me couldn't pay for his groceries. His face paled as he swiped the card again and appeared mortified. "I'm sorry, sir. They can help you over there."

A bagger materialized out of thin air and escorted the man to the customer service desk. 

I looked at the cashier. "I want to pay his bill." But I could lose my opportunity. Why had they whisked him away that quickly? There are people jonesing to do something nice, but I have issues, and I can only move so fast. 

"Don't you want to know how much it is?"

"No, I just want to pay his bill."

She pointed to the customer service area, and I lumbered over and simply swiped my card. The man stood, pleading with someone on his cellphone, but he hung up and stared at me, slack-jawed. "Did you just... Um. You just... You paid my bill?"

I lit with so much excitement that I could feel it radiating from my eyes. I had shocked the hell out of this stranger. It was the best. Moment. Ever. Kindness is (to use a word my teenage son hates) RAD.

The man looked quite a bit older than me, but after I paid his bill, a massive smile spread across his face, waking up all of his features until the worry and fatigue of life crumbled in the wake of happiness. He looked so young and full of life.

"Yes, I paid. It's no big deal," I squealed because I felt like a Jedi or something.

"But that was... $87!" he said, looking beyond shocked.

Chills ran up my spine and tingled in all the places where doctors say I have cancer. $87! I could hardly believe his bill was the exact amount that angelic woman had paid years before. Suddenly, sickness and cancer didn't matter to me—they were just words that can't damper my love for life. I felt so much joy in simply being alive and enjoying the moment.

The wonder in that man's eyes filled my soul with such hope. Even when I returned home, I gushed with pure happiness. I have been waiting for this moment, and it finally happened for me. $87 spent on my groceries and now someone else's! It seemed like it hadn't even been my money at all. Just like everything in my life is a gift. Everything. 

Life is beautiful. Oncologists said I'd never live to see 2023, but he


re we are in 2024, and I'm so grateful. Thank G-d for experiencing the greatest win in life—just being alive. Even if my goals are different than they used to be, I've realized what really matters. It's not about the degrees we attain, the books we write, the mountains we climb; it's about helping others along the way.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

A Great Way to Show Love



It seemed  like an assembly line where receptionists checked people in, phlebotomists drew labs, and nurses took vitals. At the melanoma unit in this particular cancer center, most of these things take place where patients and staff can hear each other. 

 

As I sat waiting for almost an hour, something really surprised me. Each patient would go back and talk about their journey with cancer. At first, I found it quite beautiful that they could talk there. One man in particular seemed so bottled up. I wondered if he'd ever talked with anyone about his struggles with cancer before, yet there he sat, telling everything to the phlebotomist. Another patient said they'd be getting surgery later that day. I shook inside because I've had so many surgeries over the years. I can't fathom having another one. Doctors talk about knowing where my "hard stop" will be. Is it when I'll need radiation again? Or is it brain surgery?

 

I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's hard not to listen in, especially when it helps me feel like I'm not alone. It had been difficult getting to the cancer center that day because I needed both cancer treatments and bone infusions. These make me feel especially unwell for weeks (if not months), and it can be tough dragging myself to the cancer center for all of this. 

 

Thinking about my own plight and hearing fellow patients talk about theirs, at some point, I realized that no one had asked how the staff members were doing. The main receptionist bubbled with exuberance while helping patients, but when she didn't think anyone was looking, she seemed beyond tired. Same for the phlebotomists and nurses who had their own worries. That's when I vowed to solely ask staff members about themselves. I felt grateful patients could talk with them about everything—after all, that is their job—but for just a moment, I wanted to be the respite in the day.

 

"Elisa?" a phlebotomist called.

 

"I'm here." I stood and went to get my blood drawn. Although they couldn't see everything, I knew fellow patients could hear the conversation, and I momentarily wondered if anyone else in the waiting area was listening.

 

"How are you today?" the phlebotomist asked, looking genuinely concerned.

 

"Well, the only thing wrong with me is cancer. That's it! The real question," I turned to him, "is how you're doing. I want to know how you are?"

 



This opened up the most beautiful conversation. Instead of talking about my problems for the millionth time, I got to hear about the goodness of humanity. "This is just part-time?" I asked as he prepared to draw my blood. 

 

"I'm usually a firefighter."

 

"And that's your passion?" I asked.

 

"For sure," he said, then gave me a conspiratorial smile. "I'll tell you something most people here don't even know about me."

 

"Okay."

 

"Well, I made national news a little while ago." 

 

"For saving someone from a fire?" I guessed.

 

"No," he said and almost smiled. "My team and I have saved quite a few people and barely even made local news. But when I saved a couple of kittens from a fire, that's when I made national news."

 

"Were they in a house that was on fire?"

 

"Nope. They were under it. I had to climb under a house that was on fire."

 

"You are so brave. That's absolutely amazing!"

 

That night when I got home, I told Mike and the kids about my day at the cancer center. "I really didn't want to go because treatments are brutal, but then I decided to try making the day better for everyone around me. Whether they were facing cancer or working at the center, I asked about their lives, their days, and how they're doing. It ended up being the most incredible day. Sure, I don’t feel well, but my heart is full of the most amazing stories. I even met a man who saved kittens from under a house while it was on fire." My family thought that was pretty great.

 

Anyway, there are times when I want to share my story, but there are other moments when it's much more important to listen. I'm so glad I got to hear everyone's stories and talk with the people I came across at the cancer center. I heard some pretty wonderful things that I'll never forget.

 

My grandma once told me something, and I think she was right. She said, "One of the greatest ways to show love is by asking people about themselves." My last trip to the cancer center really proved her point.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Hope is a Powerful Motivator

 This is my second 90-minute scan since Thursday. Wow, this journey is exhausting. I didn’t fully understand how tough fighting cancer was, and like I keep saying, you never know what someone else might be going through. Be kind. 🤗


Anyway, I can hardly wait to get home, give the kids their charms from the gift shop (they love it 💓), play a board game with Mike, and snuggle Borah.


I met a family from Africa today. They were so grateful to be at the Huntsman specifically. It sounds like this cancer center might be their only hope at beating the exact cancer they’re facing. I need to remember to pray for them. To travel from soooo far away… Just the thought was sobering. And I act like Idaho is far 🤦‍♀️😅


Monday, January 1, 2024

Hope is a Powerful Motivator




 Even though I continue to fight stage four melanoma, every day that I wake up, I feel amazed.


Doctors said I’d never make it past October of 2022, so some friends got together and gave me and Mike money to bring our kids to Italy (my biggest bucket-list item). I can’t tell you how humbling that was, especially since several of those friends were also fighting cancer. Yet, they still found it in their hearts to do something kind for us despite their own struggles. Anyway, we bought the tickets almost a year in advance and, after finding surprisingly cheap prices (that felt like a miracle itself), we booked flights for a time when I would most likely no longer be alive. THIS was a huge leap of faith… but, even with our health, it’s important to make goals because hope is a powerful motivator.


I’m so proud to say that almost a year ago today (in December of 2022), we visited Italy, and it was life changing. (Mike and I both have grandparents who came from Italy, so this was extra special.)


The time spent after the expiration date (that men gave me) has been filled with beautiful moments. I’ve lived much longer than doctors predicted (going into calendar-year three—whoot!). I had a massive surgery and needed a blood transfusion, got pulmonary embolisms (blot clots in my lungs) on different occasions, needed to be hospitalized several times, went into liver failure, and almost died of sepsis before pulling out of it… But I ALSO went skydiving with my family and survived a crash landing (because of my bum leg), sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a semi-pro baseball game, got a real Maine Coon (Trey did, but we all love the little guy), wrote two books—one that got traditionally published, but both are now audiobooks—and now, we’ve actually seen Italy! It’s sad it took fighting cancer for me to truly “live,” but I’m grateful for the extra time and memories. 


It’s rough still having cancer and fighting sickness each and every day, but I’m so grateful to still be living. I’m not in remission but my crappy attitude sure is. 


Life is such a miracle, and I’m surrounded by the most wonderful family and friends. To the people who generously made the time since my diagnosis shine, I don’t know how to truly thank you, but I hope you know how much my family and I appreciate what you’ve done for us. 


And in regard to Italy, the people who made that happen a year ago… They gave all of us—especially my kids—memories that will last a lifetime. I know no matter what the future might be, my kids can look back and remember backpacking through Italy while Mike pushed me in my wheelchair! 😅🤗 In fact, sometimes when I’m facing bad news, possible surgeries, more radiation, and grueling treatments, I remember Italy. And those beautiful moments with my family get me through. My kids were just so happy. Unbelievably happy. Maybe Heaven simply looks like Florence the exact days we were there. Probably…


You can see pictures of that trip below. If you’d like to read more about those adventures, they’re in my memoir, “Ring the Bell”: https://amzn.to/3tBC2TI



Sunday, December 24, 2023

One Single Day: The Value of Time


 The dream is always the same, my mind’s way of processing terminal cancer.


In my dream, I’ve died and I’m missing my family, wishing I could see them, talk to them, hug them… one last time.


“Would you like to go back and repeat a day from your life on Earth?” God’s voice is strong yet gentle, just like His hand—the one I’m standing in right now. I look at the giant lines on His palm and the callouses on His fingers. What type of work caused callouses on the hands of God? Is He a musician like me? Does He work and toil too?


“Any day?” I ask, unable to hold the eagerness from my voice. To see my kids, Mike, and my loved ones again, well, that sounds like… Heaven. It’s suddenly ironic how subjective Heaven must be.


“Yes, Elisa. Any day.”


I think then about the days each of my kids were born, their milestones and triumphs; the moment I met Mike, our first kiss, our honeymoon; running a newspaper in Blackfoot, Idaho, and chasing so many stories my boss nicknamed me “Scoop”; visiting Italy, Mexico, Arizona, or Missouri with family; playing my violin for crowds and feeling the pulsing unity only music can bring… Each of those days were incredible, but would I want to experience them again? Or would that tarnish the memories? Plus, I wouldn’t want to change a thing. So, I shyly look down at my clasped hands, and I do something that surprises me.


“If it’s all right, God, I’d pick a regular day, nothing special. Just a day when I can talk to everyone I love.” I think about the words then. How interesting: What my life boils down to isn’t about my career, degrees, accomplishments, or experiences. At the end, to me the only thing of value is that my loved ones KNOW how much I love them. That I believe in them. That I’m proud of them. That they matter in general but especially to me. That is all I want in the end.


“A regular day. You’re sure?” He asks.


I nod. 


“Well, to talk with everyone… You met a lot of integral people toward the end of your life. What if it’s a day with suffering? After doctors discovered melanoma had gone to your brain? You’d still pick a day like that?”


I think for a moment. “As long as I can talk to everyone I love. Well, then it would be worth it.”



I wake up then, and most of the time after having this dream, I’m groggy and half asleep, wondering if this is my one day to “live” again. Seconds later, I shake off these thoughts and slowly start my day. But even though I’m living in a new “normal,” and I can’t walk quite right since melanoma ate my L3 and doctors removed a section of my spine… Even though I’m actively getting treatments and throw-up bags seem to be my best friend… Even though there are days when I want to complain because doctors say I’m slowly dying… After I’ve had this dream, I stop.


If I had died and this were my “one day” to re-experience life and tell my family and friends how much I love them, would the pain and sadness about cancer matter quite so much? Probably not.


So, it’s 5 a.m. on Dec. 24th, and I woke up after having this dream again. My back is flaring with pain and the damaged nerves in my legs and arms are tingling with electric shocks and as if they’ve simply fallen asleep from lack of blood flow. But I know this is “normal” when my pain medicine wears off. When faced with something like cancer, trauma, or any terminal illness, each of us discover what price we will pay in order to live. This. Is. Mine. I chose this. And you know what? That’s okay.


So, I’ll treat today as if it were my one special day to come back. I’ll reframe the pain, try to bring joy to people around me, tell everyone in my life how much I love them, and hope today will be as wonderful as it can be.


Although I’m not in remission, my crappy attitude sure is. Even though there isn’t a cure for the mutation of melanoma that I have (yet!), I would be a fool to forget how lucky I am to even be alive. My life is pretty good. I’ve lived a year longer than doctors expected, and I’ve realized the true value of… time.

Monday, December 18, 2023

A Miracle for the Holidays


 Trey goes above and beyond to help out, but I know things haven't always been easy since oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer. No matter how much we try to stay upbeat, sometimes the kids get sad—like when our Doberman passed away.  


Months after this, Trey somehow became enamored with Maine Coons. "I'm so sorry, Trey. But they're just too expensive," I said. A full-blooded Maine Coon is between $2,500–$3,500. "That's more than our most expensive car!" We wanted to help Trey feel better—our Doberman had slept in his room every night—but it needed to be within reason.


"I'll get a job. I'll do anything." 


"You really want this?" I asked, and he'd nodded with such determination that I could already envision Trey, who's nearly six feet tall, holding a perfect little kitten. 


Trey saved every cent he could, and I wanted to help him, but soon we'd exhausted numerous avenues, including animal shelters, cat lotteries, and much more. 


At one point, a friend said this entire endeavor "didn't make sense" and I needed to save my energy. But they're missing the point. I just want my family to know how much I love them. Doctors say I'll never beat this, so I'm spending every second trying to build a legacy so my family will look back and say, "Hey, she loved me MORE than anything." "I was her world." Plus, I really felt that if Trey could get a Maine Coon, they'd have each other for much longer than I'm expected to live, and in the future, he might look back and think, "Mom helped make this possible for me…. Because… she loved me." Crying over my keyboard and a cup of coffee, I typed all of this into the computer and shared the story.   


"Elisa, do you hear someone coming?" Mike asked, bringing me back to the moment. We stood outside a home in Boise. I squeezed Mike's hand as we watched Indy and Trey. They both could hardly wait to see the kittens inside. 


Dana and James glowed as they opened the door. "Come in," they both said, motioning us to the living room. They'd read the story I'd shared months prior (the story about Trey wanting a Maine Coon), but I could hardly believe we were actually meeting them in person—on the other side of the state!


It's surreal, but after initially posting that story about Trey, I received an email from a woman named Erin. She wrote, "Today, I read your post about your son wanting a cat. My own adult son (24) has disabilities and was gifted a service dog many years ago. It changed our lives. I felt called to try to help you connect with a breeder."


Because of Erin, Dana heard about us... I could hardly believe how many things had to go "right" for this whole experience to take place. 


I sat down, stunned. Indy, our 13-year-old, looked like she'd gone to Cat Heaven, but Trey appeared more nervous than I'd seen him in years. "You can do this," Mike mouthed, encouraging Trey to speak up. He'd given us his speech repeatedly for almost 200 miles. Surely he hadn't forgotten it now? 


"I was wanting to… do payments for a kitten?" Trey said haltingly. "I don't know if you usually do that?" 


"I don't," Dana said kindly. "But tell me what you're looking for." 


"I would get a job, and then I'd be able to pay off all the money within a year. I'd definitely train the cat really well. I have $300 right now." 


"Do you know how much our cats are?" 


"I think my mom said $2500?" 


She paused. "They're $3500." 


Trey's face fell, but he forged on anyway. "If we raised it," Trey said, "I would try to help it become the best version of itself—and the happiest version it could be." 


"Well," Dana said, and it seemed Trey's words had deeply touched both Dana and James. "Let me run up and get one of our kittens, and we'll… We'll see what happens." 


While we waited, Mike talked with James, Trey seemed resolved, and Indy fell in love with the cats lounging like royalty beside her.


Moments later, Dana came down with a kitten, and I watched as Trey's hardened resolve fell when his eyes connected with Borah's, the kitten he'd been watching every day from afar for weeks. "He's like a celebrity," Trey had said because he constantly viewed the Mermazing Maine Coons' site and fell in love with that exact kitten.


"Trey," Dana said, "we've decided to give you a kitten. We're giving you… Borah." 



Trey held his breath, blinked twice, and seemed completely dumbfounded. "Are you… Are you serious?" They handed Borah to Trey. "I don't know what to say." Trey gently sat down, not wanting anything in the world to separate him from Borah or this moment.  


"There are no payments," Dana said. "There are no stipulations except that you keep good grades and take extra—extra—good care of him." Trey couldn't hold his emotions back. "Thank you!" He wiped tears from his eyes. 


I thought about Dana and her inspiring story. She had breast cancer at 26 years old and underwent surgeries, chemo, and radiation. The fact that she's been through so much and wanted to help us… That's when I cried along with Trey, Mike, and Indy. As huge tears rolled down my cheeks, I somehow felt the goodness of generations, the kindness that unites strangers, and the love that makes fighting cancer worth it.


"You knew I was getting Borah, didn't you?" Trey asked me. 


"Yes," I laughed, "but Dana did such a good job that about halfway through, I started to wonder if I'd misunderstood her."


Before we left with Borah and the bag of goodies Dana and James had prepared to send us with, Dana gave me a huge hug. "What have you learned from your battle against cancer?" I asked.


"I've learned that I'm strong. Doctors can give us the medicine we need, but when we work on our mental selves and say, 'Yes, I can,' we'll have the fortitude to make it through.' It's hard to remember what it was like to not be a… 'cancer person,' but I just couldn't say I was done. It wasn't a possibility." 


I nodded. "I needed to hear that so badly today. I really did." 


Trey walked by us, and we watched him cradling Borah. "I'm just shocked that you did this," Trey said to Dana and James.


"For me," Dana said, "this is better than Christmas."



So, as we drove home, truly realizing that a miracle had transpired, Trey gently sang to Borah in the backseat. 


"I feel like I'm in a dream," I whispered to Mike. "I'm just so happy. This has got to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for us." I thought about my upcoming appointments, and instead of being anxious like I normally am about scans and treatments, Dana's words came back to me: Yes, I can. 


"I'm so grateful we got to meet them. Dana and James, from Mermazing Maine Coons, gave us two things we desperately needed: They gave me the courage to keep going and Trey got a lifelong friend. 





#HeartwarmingMoments #HeartwarmingHoliday #Heartwarming #christmasmiracle #miracle #randomactsoflove #randomactofkindness #kittensoffacebook #ecstilson #mermazingmainecoons #mainecooncat #mainecoonlovers #mainecoons #mainecoonlife #randomactsofkindness #kitten #cat #kittensofinstagram #braintumor #melanomaawareness #melanoma #terminal #terminalcancer #terminalillness #terminalmelanoma #stage4cancer #stagefourcancer #Stage4Melanoma

He Became One of My Heroes

The “Little Caesars Dancing Man” worked tirelessly, spinning his sign on the corner of Antelope and Main. Regardless of how hard his job must’ve been, he beamed, so happy and ALWAYS kind.

My kids were still quite little, and they’d smile and point as he’d spin the sign on his foot and flip it over his head. We saw him from our car nearly every day, and no matter what kind of crappy mood I’d been in, this stranger would always make my day better.
    
In fact, I received some really bad news one particular afternoon, but as I drove home, I spotted the #LittleCaesars Dancing Man, just rockin’ away to some unheard beat. The light turned red, so I continued watching his complete exuberance for life. I fully realized then; he's perpetually happy even though he's out there, working in the blistering sun or the freezing cold. He waves back and smiles. You’d think he didn’t have a worry in the world, but in actuality, he must have been so tired.

That day, I turned right instead of going straight home, parked by the dancing man, and decided to finally meet him.

“I’m Raymond.” He grinned, offering me his hand.

“I’m Elisa!” I smiled and knew an awesome friendship had begun. Then I told him what an inspiration he is—how he might not know it, but he makes life better every day for people like me and my family. He grew quiet, and I thought the words meant far more than I knew.

When I got home, I friend requested Raymond through Facebook and blogged about my experience.

A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from Little Caesars’ corporate office across the country. They’d actually read my blog and sent two $20 gift cards! They had one request: for me to keep a card and give one to someone else. I remember reading the letter in the post office, then I gave the second gift card to the post office employee, John. He said the story was even better than the money!

The whole experience felt surreal at the time. And to think, if I’d never stopped that day, I would’ve missed out on the whole adventure. 

Raymond and I became friends for well over 10 years. I watched him experience good and bad times—and he smiled the whole way through… just like he used to when he danced for Little Caesars. Then, in 2020, after doctors diagnosed me with terminal cancer, he became one of my biggest advocates, sending me encouraging messages and kind words when I needed them the most. Who would’ve thought all this would start after I saw him spinning a sign on the corner of Antelope and Main? Life is such a miracle.

I’ve had the most wonderful people, like Raymond Lowery, come into my life over the years and show me how to be strong, smile when life is the hardest, and keep going against all the odds. 

Rest in peace, dear friend. You made such a positive impact on my life. I think you did that for everyone you met though. You, well, Raymond… you were incredible. Put in a good word for me, all right? Maybe save a seat for me in Heaven? 💓 

 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Writing a Letter to God with No Return Address


 Throughout my life, I’ve written letters, addressed them to God, and dropped them off at the post office. I did this when my first son died, when I got divorced, and when I finally attained my bachelor’s degree after being a single mom. I never included a return address or a clue to my identity. This was just my message in a bottle, so I felt like Heaven heard me…


Today, I thought about this at the pharmacy. Mike had tried getting my prescription, but there are national shortages on many medications—and mine are some of them. “They ran out,” Mike said, coming back to the car. “Sorry that took forever; there’s a huge line.”


“But… my oncologist called yesterday. They have just enough for 18 days.” And then I did something I rarely do in front of Mike; I cried.


We walked back into the pharmacy to see six people in line, and as we stood there, my right leg began to shake. “You should go sit down.”


“It’s okay,” I told Mike. “I don’t wanna miss when it’s our turn.” They hadn’t listened to him. Maybe they would listen to me.


At different points, each person in front of us glanced back. They all seemed around my age (40) or younger, healthy, probably doing some Christmas shopping. Then, I had the audacity to think, “Why don’t they offer to let us go ahead? Mike was just in here. And I can barely stand this long.”


One man in line called his mother and complained about his kids while we waited. “Hi, Mom.” He paused. “Yes. Just at the pharmacy. There’s a huge line.” Another pause as he glanced back, listening to her reply. “Right?! He said he can’t even face his friends unless he gets a new gaming system this year.” He exhaled with such force that I clocked it at 50 mph. “Oh! And you know I take Nicki on a shopping spree every year? It just never seems to be enough. I hate this time of year. Are all women that needy? No wonder men joke about marriage.” 


Mike looked at me and smirked. I plastered a smile onto my face, but it felt subpar. I thought of this woman, “Nicki.” Meanwhile I’m just praying for another week, another day, another moment with my family.


After a bit longer, they called us up and my leg shook so badly that I held the counter in a death grip. “I have terminal cancer,” I said, my eyes pleading with the pharmacist and my knuckles turning Porcelain 10. 


“It’s for Magagna, right?” He looked at Mike, remembering him from earlier.


“My oncologist called yesterday and said you have enough for 18 days,” I begged.


“But like I told your husband, we can’t fill this for the full 30 days. We don’t have enough for this prescription.”


“My doctors’ office is closed for the weekend, and I’ll be out of this tomorrow. If it’s not too much to ask, can I please have the 18 days?”


He typed something into the computer, and my breath stopped. He practically held my life in his hands. “This’ll take about 15 minutes. I’ll come get you when it’s ready? You can take a seat over there.”


I noticed then how stressed the pharmacist looked. “I’m sorry about the line,” I suddenly said. “This must be a stressful day for you too. Thank you for your help.”


His peered at me and Mike, his eyes widening with disbelief. “What you're both going through is so much worse. I’m sorry you have cancer.”


“Well, let’s just say I didn’t ask for it.” I tried to laugh, but it came out like a hiccup. Then I turned away. 


Mike decided to shop for some ice melt, and as I walked toward the chairs, I fought falling into the throes of irony. A private corner seat, behind a display of reading glasses, seemed ideal. I felt secluded as I mulled my thoughts. Why had this hit me so hard? Then it came to me, the thing I’d said to the pharmacist: “Let’s just say I didn’t ask for it.”


One of the hardest things about cancer is knowing it can affect anyone. I’d gone from participating in marathons to barely being able to walk to my mailbox. I faced the pharmacy’s northwestern wall and tears flooded my cheeks. I have terminal cancer. And there’s no denying it. Every moment in pain is a reminder.


God, not this! Not here. Wiping my face with my scarf, I dug a medical bill from my purse and flipped it over. “Dear God,” I wrote, hoping to calm down.


Dear God,


I didn’t choose this situation, and right now that’s hard. I don’t want to have terminal cancer anymore. I want a day where I don’t feel sick at all. Even ONE day. Just to remember what that was like. I’ll appreciate it so much. God. I feel trapped in my own dying body.


I hate knowing that without certain medicine I’ll die. I hate that these are my fears while some man’s wife is upset that she won’t get as much STUFF as she did last Christmas. Seriously?! I need strength. Strength to stop judging people. 


Strength to keep getting cancer treatments. Strength to not complain and let this turn me into a bitter person with a curdled soul. No one can uncurdle milk! (Well, I guess YOU can.) But anyway…


Another person called last week and said I should quit getting treatments because I don’t have a quality of life. I laughed at first, but on my hardest days, I remember their words and it’s hard to keep going.


God… I’m sorry to be so judgmental. I really am. I’m working on it.


AND… if it’s not too much to ask, can you please give me strength? I know you’re gettin’ a lot of requests though, so if you can’t, I understand.


-Elisa



At that moment, I glanced toward the counter and spotted a woman who looked 10,000 times worse than me. She’d lost her hair and probably weighed 100 pounds—even with her walker. She could barely walk and hunched so badly; I wanted to pick her up in my arms and hold her tight. Why hadn’t I looked back when I was in line? Why hadn’t I offered to trade HER places? Screw my aching hips and shaking leg. Why hadn’t “I” done more? Then the answer came: Because I was too wrapped up in my own problems. And that’s exactly why other people hadn’t offered to help me…


Woah. Mind blown… 


I suddenly felt sympathy for the man whose family always wants more. I felt bad for his wife who doesn’t know what really matters. I felt even more compassion for the pharmacist who’d just been yelled at and wiped sweat from his brow. And I felt a bit of strength come with every second that I stopped focusing on myself.


“You wanted to swing by the post office?” Mike asked as we walked out of the store.


I looked at the letter I’d written on a medical bill. It simply had my first and last name above all of the numbers. For the first time, I’d broken my one rule: to never write a letter to God that included personal information. “No, it’s all right. We can just go straight home,” I said.


With one hand, I crumpled the bill and threw it into a big garbage can at the front of the store. God had already answered my prayer. He’d given me strength AND empathy. I guess He really can hear us anywhere, even in a pharmacy in southeastern Idaho. Plus, He didn’t charge for same-day delivery or anythin’. 


Friday, December 1, 2023

The Ability to be Kind


 Long before her death, my grandma labeled a yellow recipe box her “Happiness File” and filled it with notes to cheer her up.


Today, after pulling a card, her words reminded me of something from my youth. I stared at the drooping cursive: “As we get older, what's important seems to change." 


I shook my head from the irony. It’s odd how as I fight cancer, these words have become a lifeline from Heaven.

__


The elderly man called me his “angel” because I'd been kind to him. But who wouldn't be kind? A smile is the simplest, easiest thing to give. Yet, he treated it like keys to a mansion. 


Despite that, looking at him hurt me because I saw all the potential: incredible jobs he could've had, children who would've loved him, and even the person he might've married. If he'd just gotten his life together...


"What did you want out of life?" I asked.


He thought for a while before saying, "We might not see God's hand in our lives, but trust me, He's there." Then, he sighed. "People's priorities aren't always the same, Elisa.”


I blinked. He hadn't answered my question. Not at all. I didn't say much after that, so he finally did. 


He talked about how he'd married the woman of his dreams. They were overjoyed when she got pregnant. Then, although his baby blue eyes faced me, they looked at something far into the past. He took a deep breath, obviously wrestling with the memory. 


Did his wife have an affair. Maybe she wasn't the person she claimed to be? Was the baby someone else's? His shaky voice brought me back to the moment. His wife—everything he'd wanted in life—had died in a car accident along with the baby she'd been carrying. His baby. His world. “And when she died, my will to live died too."


"I…" I couldn’t find words to convey how sorry I felt. “I am so sorry,” I finally said. Sadness emanated from him, and my throat tightened. “How long ago did that happen?"


"It's been decades." 


He talked a bit more about how they’d fallen in love and seemed to brighten a bit. After that, he called me his angel.


I never forgot his story no matter how many things life threw at me. After I grew up, I realized how completely idiotic—and judgmental—I'd been to feel bad for that man over all the potential "I" felt had been lost. How dare I judge his actions, thinking about the jobs, children, and wife he could've had. He'd tried for all that and could barely find the strength to keep going afterward. Yet, despite hardships, depression, and struggles, he still treated everyone with kindness.


Now, as I let go of so much because of cancer (numerous friends have died, I had to quit my job, my health is waning, and I can't walk as well as I used to), I remember this man and the lesson he taught me. When I feel my resources depleting the most, I want to be heroic like him. 


I'll call people angels and be as positive as I can. I'll try to give them hope when I don't feel it myself. I'll try to stay strong even if strength is much different than I ever thought. It's often in a gentle action, a good word, a smile… He called me his angel, but he was wrong. He'd been the angel to me. And he kept going despite tremendous adversity. 


Rereading my grandma's words today, I realized she's right. Sometimes, as we get older, what seems important does change. And that's all right. Even though I'm losing so many things, I still have what matters most: the ability to be kind and the drive to keep going until it's my time.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Key to Happiness

I couldn’t help thinking that despite cancer, I truly have everything. But the brunette who vented at the table across from mine felt far differently. "I'm just soooo miserable," she said to the woman with her.


I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but Sky had gone to the bathroom, and I couldn't stop myself from listening. "We don't have ANYTHING.” The brunette pouted. Her beautiful sweater glistened under the restaurant's lights.


I shoved some fettuccini into my mouth and chewed. Maybe this would keep me on track. It’s not nice to eavesdrop.


"If he worked harder, we'd have a bigger house." 


"I know, honey. He promised you so much," the gray-haired woman responded.


"Check!" I waved down the waitress.


Later that day, Trey and Indy asked if we could visit the music store. I agreed, thinking maybe it would banish the brunette’s words from my thoughts. Maybe there was more to her than what met the eye? But she’d complained about everything: the food, her friends, that her husband didn’t make more than 100-grand a year…


I couldn’t stop thinking about it or why it flummoxed me. That’s when my nausea peaked and the fettuccine almost made a comeback. See! That’s what eavesdroppin’ will do to ya! 


“I'm gonna step outside,” I told Trey and Indy.


So, I stood on the curb, hoping the cold air would cure me. Then I noticed something; a few feet away, three rough-looking men stood talking. "God is so good," the tallest man said. He wore a hat, a scarf, fingerless gloves, and a massive beard. "Being homeless was the worst experience of my life, but now I see that it’s happened for a reason."


I took in a big breath, grateful that the sickness had momentarily passed. Then I dug through my pockets and found a $5 bill. "Um..." I walked up to the men. "Maybe you can use this?"


The tallest man nodded, and I couldn't help smiling. His skin crinkled with age, but his eyes shone, and I bet his grin could've lit a thousand fireplaces. 


“How's your day been?” I asked, leaving my previous worries behind. Who can worry about nausea when they're talking to a Jack Sparrow lookalike?!


"It's cold," he said, "but God's in it. And He makes it beautiful." He seemed so happy, not just feigning contentment but genuinely grateful. 


"You have a wonderful day, Miss," his first mate said, little clouds billowing from his mouth as he spoke into the freezing air.


When the kids and I got home, I had to mull over the day. What was the difference between the disconsolate brunette and the joyful pirate? How could someone with nothing be happier than someone who had everything? 


I decided the difference is gratitude.


___


I hope you'll remember this as you enjoy your family and friends over the holidays. Whether you're experiencing grief, loss, sickness, financial trials, or any other hardships, I think it's important to realize that true joy comes from gratitude.


Today I might be sick and life might be a bit scary because I know how I'll die (I just don't know when). Despite that, I'm grateful to spend any second that I can with my family. Looking back at my life, and after thinking about the brunette and her plight, I'd much rather be like the homeless man.


Monday, November 20, 2023

Desite Cancer, It's Rooted in Gratitude

 "Aren't you ready to give up?" Jessica asked over the phone.


The appropriate response eluded me.


"I mean…," she continued. "Do you even have a quality of life? Maybe it's time to stop getting treatments and bow out gracefully."


My mouth hung open, and I suddenly felt so grateful we weren't in person. This friend from childhood isn't sick. She doesn't know how difficult it can be dragging myself to the cancer center. That's why she wouldn't understand why her words are literally the last thing I need to hear. "I do have a quality of life. And I want to see all of my children grow up. I can't stop now. I've made it so much longer than doctors expected. And I will know when it's the right time to quit. That time is not right now."


I woke up at 4:40 the next morning, and as I hurriedly donned my clothes and slapped on some makeup, Jessica's words pulsed through my brain. Is this journey something I should've lied about? Like when you're at the grocery store and the cashier asks how you're doing… You invariably say, "Good." "Great." "F'ing fantastic!" Even if you just had a lobotomy and your husband left you for your uncle… I shook my head. But this isn't something to politely fib about. God made me someone who likes to share. And I want people to know they aren't alone. Fighting health issues sucks. I have good and bad days. But that doesn't mean it's my time. Not yet, anyway.


I packed my fiddle into the backseat of our dilapidated car and prepared for a grueling day of driving to another state and getting cancer treatments. Some people feel bad about this, but they don't realize it's by choice. I love going alone and having time to think, listen to audiobooks, and make new friends. But this day felt exceptional because the customer service supervisor actually approved my request to play for fellow patients. Neither of us probably knew at the time, but his kindness became my lifeline. After the call from Jessica, I felt my resolve fading. Was it time to quit treatments? Did she see things more clearly? Does she have some sort of knowledge I've been missing since my diagnosis?


After driving three hours and getting my labs done, I sat in the lobby at the cancer center. They'd slated for me to play my violin in between appointments, after the guitarist finished.


Glen doesn't know me, but a lot of the patients know about him. He plays at the center every Wednesday and that's generally when I get treatments. I wonder if he realizes how much his playing means to most of us. I've spent many of those days alone on the second floor, reading as his music wraps around, giving me peace while I wait for my next appointments. I sat up at that moment and shuffled my violin next to me. It sounded crazy, but I suddenly had an idea. Sometimes while he's playing, I imagine joining in, riding high above the guitar's somber chords.


After a song ended, I gingerly walked forward. This took forever because I felt nervous and I don't walk as straight as I used to before surgeries. "I… I play the violin," my voice escaped weakly. "I'm scheduled to play right after you, but I just have prerecorded songs to play with. Would you want to…" I cleared my throat, hoping to evict the fear. "Can I play with you instead?"


He seemed really surprised. 


"I play by ear," I pleaded, "and I hear you play all the time. I'm confident it'll sound amazing."


At first, he played a few chords away from the mic, wanting to see how it sounded. "Wow! You follow me really well," he admitted.


"I told you. I've been listening when you play here."


So we started an official song for everyone to hear through the mic. At first, I played gingerly, tenderly cradling my violin like a newborn, but then my fiddle took over. I felt notes rise above the sickness and the heartache. The music became a string connecting me to God, filling me with resolve, hope, and even joy. None of life's hardships mattered. It seemed so finite to worry about cancer and pain, especially when so much gratitude soared through my body and out of my violin. When we finished the song, dozens of patients had gathered with family members and friends in the lobby. Tears filled my eyes, and everyone clapped. The moment after we played, well, that was beautiful.


After I got home, I called Jessica. "I do have a quality of life," I said. "Every day I find something to be grateful for—to be happy about. I'm not ready to be done. Life is too much of a miracle. Yes, I experience pain every day, but life is pain. It's simply a reminder that I'm still alive."


I could hear tears lacing her voice. "Elisa…" She paused. "I'm so sorry I asked you that. You're living more than some people I know. Sometimes I think you're living more… than I am…"


We ended the call, and after I'd hugged my children good night, I sat by my husband and shook my head, a bit amazed by the entire day.


"What are you thinking about?" he asked.


"Just how surprising life is. I think it's a glorified act of letting go, but as we let go, we learn." 


Then, I slowly took my violin out of its case and stared. So strange a collection of wood, glue, horsehair, plastic, and metal has so drastically changed my life. We've traveled around the world together and met an inordinate number of unforgettable people. The next time someone asks if I have a good quality of life, I need to remember my family, friends, and my violin. Of course, I do. Is my life great? No. It's f'ing fantastic. And that perspective is completely rooted in gratitude. 


Saturday, November 18, 2023

My Angel Baby Brings Resolve


 We're walking along a beach, and I find myself holding his hand even though we haven't seen each other in years. “I've dreamed about this," I say, tears in my eyes.


“So have I."


We continue like this for miles with bits of sand gathering between my toes. It’s so chilly then that I use my free hand to pull a shawl closer to my shoulders. I should fasten it with both hands, but I'd rather die than lose contact with him now.


After a time, we both turn to the sunset. “Once,” I say, “when I was very young, I said a prayer."


He smiles. “And what did you pray?"


“For God to give me a sign that He still loved me."


“Did you doubt His love that much?” he asks.


 “I guess I did." I pause, wondering over the small moments that make up our lives. “I expected something huge to happen after I prayed, but almost the entire day passed without anything. Finally, I knelt next to a rock and cried, begging God for an answer.” I took a big breath, just remembering the power of the moment. “I didn't hear His voice at first because it felt… like silence. Then, after a long while, I looked at the sunset. The clouds stretched orange—my favorite color.” 


“And you knew God loved you because of the orange sky?” He still gently holds my hand as he looks down at me. “You thought He answered your prayer?"


“I knew He answered it. I realized how He painted the sky for me—for each of us—every single day. His love shines everywhere, through almost everything."


“And that's what you hold onto whenever bad things happen?” He studies a shell by our feet, and I don't say a word. “You remembered that, even when I died?”


I don't want to talk about his death, not when he's standing beside me. I need to answer his question though; he deserves the truth. "Not at first, but yes. I remembered that sky. I couldn't lose sight of His answer to my prayer or the gifts God has given me each day of my life."


Zeke—MY son—just nods. I can tell he's thinking hard about something before he breaks the silence. “I'm glad God picked you to be my mom."


His words hit me like a hot iron, shaking the core of my being; they're something I always longed for and never thought I'd hear, even in my dreams.


“But we’ll see each other again," he continues. “Orange is my favorite color now, too, a reminder…”


Tears fill my eyes. He's so strong and healthy, much different from the infant who died after two and a half months in the hospital. 


He did love me. He WAS proud, although I had to take him off of life support. I remember how hard he fought to live, even as he took his last breath in my arms. 


“I'm so proud you're my son. You never gave up on life. You never would have given up on me." I try acting brave in that moment, so my pain, guilt, and regrets can't hurt him. "I've done everything I can so people will know you; your life won't be forgotten." 


My eyes close and a deep part of me starts fading. A heart once full, seems a bit empty, and my fingers close on themselves because HE is no longer holding my hand. 


I breathe slowly. It's okay, though. Peace remains because the warmth of his touch stays on my skin like perfume, and somehow it will never leave. "Please know I won't forget you," my voice drifts away just like my son did. 


When I’m just about to leave, I feel something. It’s just a nudge at first, then a word surfaces through the silence: “Look."


My eyes turn toward the sunset. Those colors wrap around me, giving me new reasons to live. I no longer simply long for eternity because I realize the truth in its meaning: Eternity is part of right now.


My spirit wakes up with an unflappable resolve. Someday we'll see each other again, someday beneath a golden sky.

 

Happy 21st birthday Zeke. You are not forgotten.


To learn more about my oldest son and his story, you can find that memoir here: https://a.co/d/e8GFSP1