Saturday, March 27, 2021

Layton Funk, Meeting an Inspiration

Sometimes we meet people who profoundly influence our lives—and they might not even know it. That’s how I felt when I met Layton Funk.

After cancer interrupted my life, I browsed Facebook and simply found Layton’s profile; he seemed inspiring...and so interesting. We started talking and eventually decided to meet up sometime. But meeting someone in person is always so much different than talking online, and I was really nervous.

When I entered the building, I mentioned who I’d come to visit, and everyone around raved about Layton. 

It took quite a bit to see him though—COVID-19 has put so many obstacles in everyone’s lives. Both wearing a mask, Mike and I had to wash our hands for the appropriate time (as someone watched us), then we donned plastic gowns, took a COVID nasal swab test, washed our hands again, sanitized, then waited behind a glass screen.

“I’m so excited,” I told Mike. “He seems so awesome online.”

Then Layton simply rolled into the room, and I immediately smiled. He joked with us right off the bat, being far more witty than I expected, and the hour-long conversation that followed has moments I’ll never forget—he even let me play my violin for him. 

Layton is quadriplegic. He was in a car accident in Idaho over a decade ago, and now he lives in Utah, where he’s made his entire staff fall in love with him! 

We talked about everything from his identical twin, our love of superheroes, board games, and his advice about how I can handle terminal cancer. 

We were told to stay behind the glass, but at one point Layton talked about his room. So, we repositioned the “straw” that he uses to move his chair with, and then he broke us out of jail and led us on a secret mission to his fortress of solitude.

“Just act like you own the place,” he told us, grinning. And we strutted past the desk, like nothing was amiss! The staff didn’t even look up—and we actually reached his room! I could hardly believe it. But I guess that’s just what happens when someone like Layton leads you on an adventure.

He has an ENTIRE walk-in closet filled with the greatest superhero collection known to man. “Holy crap!” I whispered. “This is...AWESOME.” It was like walking into Narnia, but different because I saw a bunch of Supermans instead of Mr. Tumnus.

We sauntered back to the meeting area—with the glass barrier—and this time someone from the center followed us, probably a villain on our scent.

At the end, I asked Layton how he does it. He had a completely normal life until the accident. I just can’t imagine what he’s gone through over the years. This handsome man, who’s still young and has endured unfathomable trials...

“I’ve been able to help so many people through this. It’s my purpose.” 

Tears brimmed my eyes because I’ve never met someone that positive and strong! He went on to explain how life can bring the strangest miracles—even if they don’t seem “good” at the time. His eyes sparkled when he spoke and for me the world changed. I still can’t imagine that kind of strength—but I’m proud to know someone who does.

“I’ll come back! We’ll play board games.” I promised, BUT that doesn’t mean I’ll let him win! 

Even after Mike and I left, I couldn’t shake the experience. Layton completely inspired me. His positivity and kindness are humbling. I can hardly wait to get back there so I can beat him at Monopoly!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Looking Through the Glass

In 2019 I visited an elementary school to cover a special news story—I never expected the moment to change my view on life.... 

Everyone had already gone to an assembly, so no one could let me into the building. I remember that day had been quite snowy and as such the school’s windows were a bit dirty from the morning’s storm. 

I knocked, but no one heard me. I tried all of the doors; they remained locked. Then people started flooding the hallways. I knocked again, waved, even yelled out, but NO ONE saw me.

Some of the teachers and kids appeared to look at me, but they couldn’t see me at all through the window. After a while, I just ended up standing, shivering in the cold. 

As I watched people laughing and smiling, I started to feel a little bit reflective, thinking of the irony. The fact is that sometimes I’ve felt like this in life, as if I’m knocking on a window where no one understands me or my true worth. Maybe I’d be capable of so much if just given the chance to “come in.” Gifts and potential, waiting dormant, hoping anyone will answer the door. As I stood there, I wondered, “Is this what it feels like to be dead? Just watching people who can’t see.” Is that what I was feeling for years….

Suddenly a little boy and his teacher—from way down the hallway, behind nearly everyone—somehow spotted me. He waved and tugged on her sleeve. They both smiled wide and bolted down the hall to the door.

“You must be freezing! We’ve been waiting for you. They’ll be so excited to talk with you and to be in the newspaper.”

“How did you see me?” I asked. “No one else could.”

“We’ve been waiting for you!” the little boy replied. “You’re with the paper. It’s a big deal!”

I walked in and some snow fell from my hood. The teacher patted me in the back and, as the little boy went toward the auditorium, she said, “You’re making such an impact in this area. We appreciate you and your positivity.”

I bit my lip and tried not to get teary-eyed because her words meant so much. As I walked into the auditorium, everything seemed brighter, better, such a contrast to the cold, dreary world I’d been freezing in moments before. 

The kids squealed the moment I entered the room because they’d met me before, and I represented something they thought was awesome—a chance for their faces and stories to appear in a paper that had stayed in business for over 100 years.

As I took picture after picture and answered questions for kids who love to write, I realized I should never feel like I’m locked outside, looking in on everyone else and wishing I had a purpose. After all, everyone has a purpose, even me. For a time, that was running a tiny newspaper and writing stories for the people of Bingham County. Now, it’s finding the best in life even as I fight to survive cancer.

Honestly, although I cry and struggle some days, I’ve found so much good even in these current circumstances. It’s wonderful to still be on the inside.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Dying to Live

 “Can you lie on the exam table for me?”

But it’s not a typical exam table. It has a huge body pillow on it, and the “table” is built to slide in and out of the CT machine.

The techs and nurses start forming the pillow around me, and as they push, the tiny beads inside begin to harden and bond together. 

I start shooting the bull with the team during that, telling them how I wrote an erotic novel that was finally published traditionally. For some reason they think that’s funnier than hell because I “look so innocent.”

“Those are the ones to look out for.” I practically giggle the words. And I realize all of our laughter makes this whole thing a little less terrifying.

“We have to remove your gown now,” they say, and I’m a bit mortified because Mike packed my underwear for this trip to Utah. And when men pack underwear, you end up with fashion—not comfort.

“Oh, my,” a nurse says, blushing. Were they uncomfortable about what my husband had packed? Well—join the club. 

The team pulled a plastic bag around the legless table, over my feet, and then brought it to my ribs. “This is a suction technique we use to immobilize patients during radiation.”

“I promise not to move.” Was the vaccum seal necessary? I mean, I’m not a spastic toddler.

“It’s nothing personal. But this is gonna get tight. Ready?”

I nod before she flips a switch and I become like a human sandwich in a Food Saver bag.

The lights dim, and the table starts moving me in and out of the machine for about a million years (actually 45 minutes). And I get so scared that I tell myself this is a spa treatment, and I’m gonna be soooo toned afterward.... Want cancer AND abs, try this thing out!

But soon it’s too damn tight, my arms are practically glued to my sides, and I’m struggling to breathe normally from all the anxiety.

I slam my eyes shut, trying to remember something good because being vacuumed—in a CT machine—well, it wasn’t on my bucket list.

And then I remembered something that fully took me back in time:

The closest I've even come to touching heaven in when I fell from it. I didn’t dive or jump...I simply leaned out of the plane, right before the wind took me. And when I hurtled toward the Earth, a feeling of freedom completely replaced all of the fear I'd felt moments before.

The wind rushed past, and my stomach hurtled into my throat, but only then could I truly “see” the beauty of the world. I looked everywhere, completely amazed by God's creation. The waters glistened, and the mountains seemed far more monstrous and  impressive than ever before. And when I should have been more terrified than any other moment in my life, well, time just stopped.

After seconds had turned to hours, my tandem instructor pulled the parachute’s ripcord. And I remained amazed, thinking about God and this great gift I've been given. It’s astounding that God created such brilliance and beauty. And yet among all of that He'd somehow seen fit to create me. 

So that’s what I thought of in the CT machine: how being scared of death can truly bring us to life.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Real Magic

 I'm lying on my back, practically glowing with happiness. My chubby toes twiddle in front of me, and I'm purely delighted that I can tell my body to move, and then it magically obeys. 

So much joy. There's a fish tank behind me with creatures that move and dance in a strange world all their own. I love the Betta fish best because they seem to wear flowing dresses that fit just perfectly!

There's a bay window in front of me. And the sunlight shining through catches all sorts of dust particles. I let my feet playfully fall to the carpet, and that's when I take my hands out of my mouth and start trying to grab the tiny flecks that are illuminated all around. It's magic--my first memory. I'm so filled with wonder and joy, enough that it lasted a lifetime.

I loved everything to the fullest: those around me, the beauty of simplicity, even the warmth of the sun. It's strange to think that the sun is eventually what made me so sick. What inspired my first memory might also be the cause of my last. It's not a shock really; after all, it's far more common for people with reddish hair to get melanoma. And looking back it doesn't matter so much...not anymore. It's too late.

The sun made an impact so strong that it's what I remember very first--that and a pure joy of just being alive. I've heard that first memories can give us a glimpse into our purpose. Well, I'd say mine is joy, experiencing it and then trying to share it with others. It's that simple. 

So, that’s my first memory, and, looking back, it’s the first time I experienced real magic.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Sunday of My Life

 I haven’t had a fairytale life, but as I look back, there are numerous moments that shine out with pure magic. I might share those someday, write them down so my family can know a little bit more about me and remember the good times. Maybe...

The relationship with my second oldest daughter is strained after she ran away. She’s still living in another state, and I just worry she doesn’t know how infinitely I love her, especially since I really know her—I mean, I raised the kid! Ironically, she doesn’t seem to know much about me as a person. The latter point might sound silly, but, it’s important to me. The doctors say time could be running out. If my words are all she has to really remember me by during this time, well, at least she’ll have those—if she ever wants them.

I need to be forgiving even though it’s much easier to feel hurt. Being a teenager is hard. At that age we often think we know everything, and it’s awfully tough to look beyond ourselves. After all, I remember running away at 17 so I could be a homeless street musician in Hawaii. When I wasn’t cold and hungry I had an absolutely amazing time fiddling...but I didn’t think of what it had done to my family back home.

All of this reminiscing and regretting again because I talked with a different doctor last week, and the conversation still has me reeling. Specialists had hoped for all the cancer to be eradicated in some areas, but it’s not. To top that off, the tumor in my tailbone is still growing. My regular doctor hadn’t fully relayed the import of this news, and when this different man spoke with me and Mike last week, although I appreciated his honesty, his words made it hard for me to breathe.

He also talked about the melanoma in my brain and how all sorts of things could happen out of nowhere. The “coulds” went on and on—and on. But at the end of the conversation, he urged me to write a will.

“I met you in the hospital,” he said.

I felt embarrassed, but I couldn’t remember him. Parts of my one-month stay in the hospital are still a blur.

“I remember how much everyone liked you there. You’re just so happy and innocent-seeming...about everything. They still talk about you—and how you played the violin for the other patients.... How happy you were even after surgery. And even now your doctors have spoken highly of you.”

“Thank you,” I said, but I wondered where the conversation headed.


There it was.

“I don’t know if they’ve talked candidly with you,” he said. “It’s hard when you like someone so much—and they seem so happy. You don’t want them to hear the worst and lose hope. You don’t want to be the person to ‘break the spell.’ But I feel like you need to hear it. Right now you’re active again.... The point is that you need to be prepared.... Unless something very unexpected happens, you know what you’ll die of. You just. Don’t. Know. When.”

I held the tears back for the whole appointment, but later I sunk into a deep depression that lasted for days. I know I need to think about death and how I’d like to live if I do need life-support or something else. But it’s still hard to fully comprehend that “I’m” the one in this situation. Not some stranger, distant family friend, or older acquaintance. Me. And I have to make difficult choices right now.

So, I ended up calling a friend. He’s a tall cowboy who you’d  never expect to be a lawyer. In fact, he and his family (mainly his epic wife) taught me how to inoculate cows! Anyway, I made an appointment with him. I said, “If I have to do this, I might as well have a legend draft my will.” Nothing can be normal when I’m involved.

This took a lot out of me, but we’ll just add it to my list. I’ve done some crazy things throughout this experience. I sent a letter to monks in Brazil, ordered these strange mushrooms (for cooking) that are supposed to cure cancer, saw a psychic, started attending church again, talked to all sorts of specialists about what they offer across the world, and received a feather blessed by the ancient ancestors.

Something’s gotta work, right? But if it doesn’t, it’ll still be nice to have a will that was drafted by a legend—and this blessed feather that gives me hope.

When you find out you might die everything just sort of stops. You stop taking Italian lessons, stop buying dresses (that you might only wear one season), stop planning for retirement, you just STOP....

One of the dearest people in the whole world is Dee Ready. She once said, “I want to see you in your 40s. Those were such wonderful years for me.” She explained that she really embraced herself....

“This is terrible,” Mike said. “You’ve been through so many hard things in your adult life. And now this.”

I laughed. “And I just keep thinking how lucky I am not to be a pioneer. I could be alone on the trail after my family died of some strange disease. Then I could get killed by a traveling stranger or raped—right after watching my whole family die. Nope, I don’t have it bad. And every time I think I do, I just remember how grateful I am not to be a pioneer.”

And it suddenly hit me how I need to start planning again. Sometimes when the work week is over and we’ve reached Sunday, I so dread not seeing the family on Monday, that I ruin Sunday. If this is truly the “Sunday” of my life, I don’t want to ruin it. I want to really live.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Feeling Like an Inconvenience

decided to bring the kids to church and then take them to get their hair cut. To a regular person this might sound like a simple day, but to me it’s a huge endeavor. Driving the car means I can’t take my pain medicine. And doing more than one activity a day is just so utterly exhausting—since I got cancer.

Anyway, when we left church, my back had stiffed from sitting in the pew. And there’s this strange feeling that creeps in from where the tumors are. It reminds me of when someone has a festering wound, something they just want to slather with Neosporin—that’s how the tumors feel inside of my body sometimes. But nothing has been taking that feeling away...nothing yet anyway.

So, I limped into the hair salon and passed a family that left as we entered. Two hairdressers (who didn’t have clients at the moment) laughed and joked; another helped a patron toward the back of the shop. I realized none of them had seen me and my two youngest kids until one of them turned and sighed.

“Did you check in online?” the woman asked, giving me a once-over.

“I didn’t.”

She shook her head. “Well, you should have. You might have to wait for a while.” And the way she said it, I felt like a huge inconvenience.

I stood against the wall. They’d taken away the chairs because of COVID, and after a while of watching the two available hairdressers BS, my leg started shaking from the pressure. I should have left then, but my kids have needed their hair cut for a couple of weeks.

“I can do this,” I thought. “I can stay!”

Then, my thoughts wandered, and I thought again about being an inconvenience. I wondered what the main beautician had gone through to act the way she had when we’d come in. Maybe she’d had an incredibly busy day, and she just needed a break. But still, I’d finally gotten out of the house, I have cancer for crying out loud, and I did not need her attitude.

My thoughts turned to other things: I guess being a burden is something I’ve worried about my whole life. I want to make people’s lives better, not worse. And now that I have cancer, so many people are worried. So many people have had to help take care of me, doing things I simply can’t anymore. 

After about five minutes one of the women left with orders of what her coworkers wanted to eat. I thought the other woman might start bringing the kids back, but instead she began sweeping the floor—in slow motion.... After another 10 minutes, I finally couldn’t take it anymore 

“How can I help you?” she said in monotone after I’d limped to the counter. 

What was her deal? What had I done to anger this stranger?!

My back suddenly turned to fire. It wasn’t good that I’d stayed standing so long without my walker. “Please! Take me off of your ‘waiting list’!” I hadn’t meant for the words to come out that way, but my filter left a few months ago.

“Well—you don’t have to get angry.”

I blinked. She had no idea how much effort it had taken to come to their store. No idea about the cancer. No idea how happy I’d been to finally be doing something on my own. 

At that moment a man walked in and the beautician turned. “Did you check in online?”

“I did,” he said.

“Right this way,” she responded. 

My son’s mouth fell open. “That was ridiculous.”

Both of my kids headed to the door. And as I limped out of the beauty salon with my children, I could have cried.

Monday, March 15, 2021

It Died and I had to Think Fast!

 Our dogs barked and ran in the basement while our cats hissed frantically. I went downstairs, but it took me minutes because I’m still unsteady on stairs. And when I rounded the corner, I screamed. Indy’s kitten pawed at a squirrel!

I’m still not sure why I screamed. But after I did, my 11-year-old, Indy, stood by me, mouth ajar, and then she screamed too—in perfect harmony. I always knew that kid could sing.

My son, Trey the Warrior,  came down after that, his eyes bouncing from our vibrating vocal cords to the dead squirrel. 

“So, it’s...a...squirrel,” he said like a young Christopher Walken. “So...what?”

“A DEAD squirrel,” I responded. Plus, the thing was actually almost as big as Indy’s kitten! From its tail to its head, it stretched at least a foot and a half. “I’ve seen dead mice, and I can handle But this is huge!”

“Dude, look at its razor-sharp teeth, too!” Trey said. 

I rolled my eyes. Had he just called me “dude”? So there are worse things than finding a half-squirrel/half-bear in the basement.

“That’s so cool,” Trey poked it with a decorative flower stem.

“Hey, now! Gross! Leave the decorations out of this!”

Indy didn’t seem quite as excited as her brother, and we were all a bit relieved when Mike joined the “celebration of life.”

“Oh my gosh.” Then the man actually picked the behemoth up by its tail before lowering it into a bag.

“Don’t touch it with your bare hands!” I screamed again—because—germs. Plus, I knew I’d be holding those hands later. *wink*

Ruby heard about the squirrel, too, and that evening all three of the kids wanted to talk about it. 

“Well, death sucks,” Indy said. “I’ve learned that from the school counselor. Plus, I think that was the cool squirrel we’d always see jumping from tree to tree in our backyard. Won’t see that again now will we? The counselor is gonna hear about THIS tomorrow!”

We’ve had to talk about death a lot lately because of the cancer.  It’s nice that the schools are trying to help the kids, but they come home with a lot of questions I don’t know how to answer: “Why are you sick?” “How long will you live?” “Why would God let to us happen to you—to us?” 

I looked into Indy’s somber face and knew I had to think quick.

“Squirrel death!” I suddenly announced. “We each need to come up with a story of how it died.”

Trey and Indy seemed immediately stoked about the idea and Ruby and Mike joined in, knowing exactly what I was doing.

So we went around, and suddenly instead of it being this terrible thing, we were laughing so hard I could hardly breathe.

“It was a tragic romance. That squirrel died for love!”

“Well, I think it was a spy!”

“I KNOW it’s been living in our house for weeks.”

And the stories went on and on. Living in Idaho isn’t for the faint of heart. Now we’ve had mice, a raccoon, and a squirrel in our house. 

Despite the squirrel death, cancer, and all, I’m still glad to be making memories with my children. Hopefully they’ll never forget the day we tried figuring out just exactly how Bucky the Squirrel died. Personally I think it was a “hit job” by the mob; you should’ve seen that face—he looked like he’d been up to no good!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Phone Call Away

 Before we really knew what was going on, Mike and I went to a physic. He doesn’t believe in that sort of thing, but I honestly thought it would be interesting. 

The woman is a modern-day Maureen O’Hara, so beautiful you want to believe everything she’s saying. It’s almost like getting your fortune read by a Disney princess.

I thought even if it made no sense, it would be memorable. But deep down I hoped she’d be able to tell me something the doctors couldn’t last September. Why was I in so much pain?

Instead the reading went to a weird place and at one point Mike’s grandmother “appeared” in the room. Strange fact, both of Mike’s grandmothers are still alive. “She wants me to deliver a message to you....”

“They didn’t have to come all this way,” Mike said later. “If they wanted to talk to me, they can just call.”

Anyway, it’s hilarious. And we’ve both laughed about it. I did learn something really important though.

I guess I’ve been looking for answers in all the wrong places. Sometimes the people we should be reaching out to are only a phone call away. It shouldn’t have taken a psychic to tell me that. I’m so lucky to have such an amazing support system. Maybe next time, instead of seeking out strangers, I’ll just call one of Mike’s grandmas!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A Vulture Needing Money

 Yesterday was weird. A funeral director called and left a message on my phone, “Hello, ummm, Elisa. I heard you were interested in hearing more about our services.”

Funny thing. I didn’t call that man. And I don’t want to hear about his services. This came on the heels of three strangers’ messages about miracle drugs that cure cancer. One drug is only $1,000 a time, but each cost an exorbitant amount of money—and all of the sales reps became incredibly pushy. 

Honestly, these messages were sobering in a way that made me sink with weariness.

“Who would give my name to that funeral director?” I asked Mike.

He stared at me, stunned. 

“Do you think they saw my interview on TV?”

“I have no idea,” Mike said, looking less stunned as his voice came out forced and his muscles pulled with stress. “Can I see your phone?”

He listened to the message and called the man back. “We didn’t call you.”

“But someone said you’re interested.”

“We—listen, we’re not interested. We’re just fine.”

But it was the biggest lie in the history of the universe because we really weren’t fine, not that day. Sometimes this crazy fear grips me; maybe I should call a funeral home and just get an idea. Will my funeral cost $8-10,000? How much will my family need?

I guess maybe we all should think about this at some point...but I don’t want to, not yet.

Mike hung up the phone, and I looked into his big, blue eyes. “We’ve had so many amazing people help us. We’ve received a tremendous amount of emotional and financial support. I shouldn’t let this bother me. But that man, well, he was like some sort of human vulture.”

Mike held me then, in his capable arms.

“I’m scared,” I said after a moment. “The cancer is getting worse where they thought they took it out. I just want to know if I’m going to make it or not. I don’t want to lose hope, but I also need to be realistic.”

And then Mike, that hilarious, strong man, said something that shocked me. “Sometimes... Elisa, well... Sometimes I get scared too. I don’t want to lose you.”

And we stood there, crying, holding each other so tight, just because a funeral home director had called, trying to make some money.

Monday, March 8, 2021

More Radiation

 “You need more radiation,” the doctor said, and my heart sunk. The last time I had radiation, I threw up in front of my mother-in-law—THAT was embarrassing. Plus, radiation made me perpetually flu-like, caused hair loss (from the brain radiation), AND gave me massive headaches.

“Well, at least it’s not surgery,” I said, forever an optimist.

“The neurosurgery didn’t think your body could handle another serious back surgery so soon. Radiation is the next best choice. Radiation...and an adjustment to your treatments. Elisa, you might not want to hear this, but we need to double your dosage of medication and schedule your treatments more frequently. I know you were really sick before, and I hate to tell you, but this will be much worse.”

I’d practically lived over the toilet for a couple of months after radiation in 2020. At least I know the drill and what it feels like to be a human pincushion. But for some reason, this news just struck me, and I’m mortified to tell you that I started choking up. It’s just now that I need treatments every three weeks, it’ll be extra exhausting and vomit-inducing. I’ll be too tired to be a “fun” mom. It just sounds like hell. I cleared my throat after the momentary weakness. “Like I said, at least it’s not surgery.”

The doctor spoke slowly. “You know, I’ve been reading your book, ‘The Golden Sky.’”

“Wait, what?! Really?” It completely took me off guard. And despite everything, I smiled. You see, one of the things that makes me truly happy in this life, is to hear that my books are being read. “Why?”

“You’re just so positive. I thought it would be fun to read about you! So, you were a homeless street musician?”

My face flushed. “Why, yes...I was.” Did I have to put my whole damn life in that book?! It suddenly seemed like a poor choice.

“You’re quite the writer. I feel like you’re talking straight to me.”

Her kindness, well that busy woman probably had no idea how much her actions meant to me. “I can’t believe you’re reading it. I’ll never forget this. Ever.” That kind of generosity is the type that changes lives.

“Elisa, about this cancer stuff, whatever the future holds, I know you’re strong enough to handle it. You’ve made quite an impact on us at the hospital. And just know, we’ll be reading about you.”

I laughed so hard. “We?” I asked when I could finally talk.

“My nurse is reading it too!”

After I hung up the phone, instead of being totally discouraged that the cancer is getting worse and that I need more radiation and stronger treatments, I sunk into my couch and shook my head. I can’t believe my oncologist and her nurse are reading my book! They are so incredibly busy and this showed a level of thoughtfulness that I can’t quite explain. I really hope they’ll like “The Golden Sky” and not want to dismiss me as a patient! It is so raw and honest—straight from my heart, about the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through and how I still found the good even after the death of my son.... 

So, I have to get more intense treatments, but I’m thankful to my doctor who helped me find something good despite the hardest of days. Thank God for such generous people. Once again, I am the luckiest.

Friday, March 5, 2021

They put me on the news....

 They put me on the news today....

The reporter did such a phenomenal job. Really. This made me cry. I sure hope it will help someone.

A Guilty Conscience

 Eminent death has a way of bringing things to the surface. Like oil dumped into water it segregates to the top. That’s what all my memories are doing—forming a barrier where they’re all I can see.

I met a man many years ago. He seemed strong and carefree. I believed him when he said he was divorced. Hell, I believed him weeks later when he told me they were only separated (and he’d been scared to tell me earlier). But everything blew up one night when I called him late and a woman answered. “Who is this?” she asked.

“‘Kevin’s’ girlfriend,” I said.

“Well, this is ‘Kevin’s’ wife.”

And I’m ashamed to say that it took me a couple of months to get away from him—even though he was married and obviously living with his wife. 

Being the other woman, well, it’s not what they say in the movies. It wasn’t glamorous; we didn’t go out dancing. I got flowers—but they wilted.

The guy had a family...and the most beautiful wife. Yet, it took time for me to get away. Sickening, right? Can you believe that’s not even the worst thing I’ve done since then?! 

After it ended, he’d try to contact me. I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. So I found his mom online, and forwarded one of his messages to her. That was the end of it, and I can only imagine what his mom did to him after discovering he’d been messaging another woman. And not even that was nice. 

It’s settled. I’d make the worst Quaker ever.

So, now death is waiting...and the guilt I felt about these things has multiplied. Now, I seem like a true monster with a jaded past and a broken, sick body. 

So memories like that keep burdening me, giant yokes around my neck. My husband keeps telling me to let them go. “It’s over. You need to forgive yourself.” 

But I just can’t. “Maybe the cancer is some sort of punishment from nature, karma and all that.”

Anyway, the other day my friend randomly gave me a book called “Inspirations.” The author shares how we have negative things happen and they appear as rocks and boulders in our path. Some people actually pick up the rocks and tie them to their backs! (It’s sounds preposterous, until we’re really honest.)

“You have been carrying scissors with you this entire time. The scissors are made of forgiveness. [...] Cut away the cords and feel the difference in your body and spirit.” 

I read the chapter several times, and the book became a tool for me. Sometimes it can be hard for me to truly understand the depth of something—unless someone is using an analogy.

So I’ve been thinking about scissors since I read that book. And about tying boulders to my own back. I’m tired of walking around with all of those burdens. I know I’ve done some absolutely terrible things, but I just can’t stand carrying the weight of them anymore. Sure I’m worse than most, but I want to be forgiven anyway.

It’s strange what thoughts death will bring to the surface, but I guess that’s a topic for another day. For now, I’m working on forgiving myself, letting go of the past, and cutting cords.

If you’re looking for a good self-help book, check out “Inspirations.” It’s definitely been helping me:

Sorry if this post is too personal for you, but I hope it’ll help someone else who hasn’t been a saint for all their life. Maybe it’s time to let things go. It’s time to forgive yourself and others.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Breadcrumbs in the Path

I was lost at the picnic. Droves of people weaved past, making me feel minuscule—insignificant. And that’s when I saw her.

The woman wore short brownish-auburn hair, an apron, and the cutest smile I’ve ever seen. She parted the crowd easier than Moses parted the Red Sea, and I actually giggled when I spotted her! My grandma—that tricky possum—ran toward me and clutched my hand. “You don’t need to be scared of them,” she told me, motioning to the crowd, “or of the future. It’s all been figured out.”

And as soon as I saw her, I wasn’t scared at all because, well, I wasn’t quite so lost anymore.

The strange thing is that my grandma died over a decade ago, and we had so much to catch up on. I wanted to tell her all about my kids and our lives. Describe to her how hard it’s been being sick, hurting so much, and watching everyone else worry and cry. I wanted to tell her that the thought of an early death is daunting because I don’t feel like it’s time to go.

As if she heard my quietest thoughts, she peered into my eyes with so much love, and whispered, “Now, you’re gonna come here much earlier than you’d want to. But don’t be scared, Elisa. I get to be the one to show you around and help you get used to things. That’s why I’m here, to tell you I’m waiting. Don’t be scared because it’s me who’s waiting to help you.”

And with those strange words...I woke up.

I tried describing the dream to some friends, but they didn’t get the same peace I did. “Let me get this straight,” one said. “You dreamed about a ghost who said she’s just waiting for you to die. Oh, but it’s okay because...? This sounds like a horror movie.”

“Well, that makes it sound creepy. It wasn’t creepy. It was peaceful. Happy. She’s my grandma, not just some ghost!”

Anyway, life can be so weird, how we lose people, but many of us somehow know we’ll see them again—in a good, non-Hollywood way.

I’ve been thinking about that dream for over two months. In fact, I thought about it today. The doctors did an MRI and found something the CTs couldn’t display. The tumor in my tailbone has tripled in size, and they might need to do yet another surgery. I’m just starting to really walk after the last one...and this is a blow. The pain, the debilitating pain. And then the worries that this will just continue, surgery after surgery until I’m gutted like an Alaskan salmon.

Today, I waited for the call from the doctor, apprehensive at best. And that’s when my mind drifted to the dream. I could almost see my grandma again, and I slightly smiled over the fact that she’d been wearing an apron in the dream. She loved God and her family, but what she loved next seemed to be decorating, cookin’, AND aprons. I’d just been thinking about that when my little girl came into the house with a huge package.

“Some mail came. It’s for you!” She waited excitedly as I opened the box, and when I opened it, I cried. 

I swear I have the greatest family and friends in the world, and somehow—no matter how tough life is—they always make things better. My Aunt Colleen, Uncle Verlan, and five of my cousins (Laura, Sara, Amy, Melissa, and Amanda) had sent a care package with sweet notes, dish towels, and...a homemade apron.

I immediately donned the orange apron and stood. I could almost imagine my grandma somehow smiling down on me, telling me not to be scared of sickness or death. I slipped my hands into the pockets and was surprised to find a paper inside. 

“This was from an article Grandma Stilson cut out of a newspaper many, many years ago,” the note said and below was a story about (you guessed it) aprons. 

I cried again, huge tears that wouldn’t stop. I just couldn’t believe my family had taken the time to do something so thoughtful—something so timely. 

I never got the call from the doctor, they’ll probably call with the news tomorrow. But somehow I’m not as worried today. I call these moments my breadcrumbs. If I’m lost (even at a picnic—or anywhere), I should always look for the breadcrumbs God has left in my path. After all, they always lead me straight back to peace: to Him.