Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hoping for February to be better

On the way to work Thursday I heard a really sad story on the news....a woman and her dog had both been struck and killed by a car while walking down the road. The snow had hampered the driver's sight. Tragically, it was unavoidable.

When I got to work an email came across from my dad.
Mary Beth, the family friend who'd taught me how to ride, who'd help us pick out Bear (my beloved horse) had been the one killed in that accident.

I'd last seen Mary Beth right around the time I was in treatment. My dad had taken Lucy, (then a puppy) and I up to the pond to play and there Mary Beth was with her dog. She had marvelled at how I'd grown...perhaps in her mind's eye she'd seen me as the young kid she'd gently reminded to put her heels down in the saddle. Perhaps I'll always see her as that young woman in her 20s who I'd idolized.

Tears came...but I had just ten minutes before I had to proctor some students in a Regents test.
I proctored that test, but all the way through kept thinking about Mary Beth and how I'd wish I'd taken her up on her offer that day to visit her farm. Some regrets you just can't help.

I wish there were something that could explain to me why bad things happen to good people.
There is philosophy that I read that explains some of it. Harold Kushner does an excellent job of it. Sure, there are words of comfort that help give higher meaning to so many of life's unfairness....but sometimes I think its okay to just throw our hands up.

I guess I am ready to put January's been a difficult month.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You captured our hearts buddy

I lost my dear friend this weekend.
Zach passed away quietly and peacefully Sunday morning.

And I am changed...yet a way that is shades different than the person that I was even when Zach first stepped into my life and into my heart.

Just two weeks ago Zach's mom called me to tell me that Zach would be up at the hospital again that following day. I had a doctor's appointment and knew I might cut it close swinging by the other side of town...but felt compelled to chance it. As it would happen, this would be the day that with the help of his Mom and Dad, Zach told me he would be going to the hospice. For this fierce, determined young man who fought for so might appear that this was giving in...accepting that the fight was over. But this was not the case.

He was taking control and bravely deciding how his final chapter would play out. There in that room, sitting by his bed I was feeling weak, crestfallen at hearing this news. But I couldn't show it...not when Zach was resolute. When you see strength like just don't want to be the one to crack...I was just trying to follow his lead. As hard as it was to hear this...the finality of it--- Zach was facing this with the bright side immediately ready to share with me. He could "have visitors there...he could watch his videos...bring his favorite things...hang the "Lance bike" in his room."

After all, as Zach had reminded me on countless occasions his blood type was just right for him--- B positive...and that was what he had to do---be positive. It's one of many things I'm remembering now...things he said and little inside jokes...simple things he enjoyed that the rest of the world takes for granted. Like Triscuits...who lives to taste a Triscuit cracker?...Zach did and I'll never go by a box of them without smiling and thinking of him.

Zach had a sneak peak at several little goofs I made. Anyone who knows me any length of time catches on to my scatterbrained nature. I've been trying to correct it...but alas it's just here to stay. But what was so good about Zach was his ability to sweetly point the goofs out...but not broadcast them. I told him once jokingly that I only did that to make him laugh. Well, he knew the truth...

While I was driving him somewhere once I realized to my frustration that the shifter was stuck.

"Oh man! So much for this new car," I said haphazardly jerking the handle back and forth.

Without missing a beat Zach lifted a quarter out that had rolled into the shift track, thus immobilizing the shift. "Here...try it now," he said smiling. Then we both laughed...and there was no judgement. He could have thought to himself, 'geesh, this dippo---Aha, somebody's got it worse than me', but if he did he never let on. Zach lived in the moment.

Though that might have made a great story to add to his storytelling creds he never retold it for a cheap laugh. It was our little inside joke.

What I'll remember forever about Zach is that he shared his whole heart with you. From the first day I sat with him and Michael in the lobby of the 5500 floor lobby next to the candy that last visit and that very last hug, the one that would be goodbye, he didn't hide his gratitude. "Thank you" was a word that passed his lips often and without trepidation.

And as we all prepare to say goodbye this week I am thinking of one moment that sums up Zach and his determination to face the most unbearably difficult trials of his life with positivity.
The afternoon after Zach had been awarded the Lance signed bike at his local bike shop the small little group that had gathered to see him get it dispersed. I too headed out the door. But he called after me just as I passed the threshold...he ran up and stopped me. As I turned around to face him, he looked at me with a look of contentment. " you ever sometimes think that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you?"

Knowing the absolute sincerity with which he uttered that self pity, no desire for accolades about how brave he was...I felt a pang of truth. But it didn't settle easy. I wanted to agree without reservation...but I felt how painful and layered some heartfelt truths can be. Despite the fact that his storm had never truly subsided...and there hadn't ever been a reprive...a enticing promise of a future. Despite the fact that he struggled, he felt it made him stronger. He felt he was learning as he endured each part of the journey...his faith was no small part of that. And he also was grateful for the people that were brought into his life...people he once said he may not have ever had the honor to cross paths with in different cicrcumstances.
"The best thing?" I thought, and it hurt to even contemplate, looking at where the road was leading for him... but I knew he meant every word...that much was clear.

I nodded through tears and it almost stung to agree, looking at him in a moment I knew I would always remember for the rest of my life."Yes, Zach...sometimes I do"

So one night later when Sean Swarner, the mountain climber who'd shared friendship and his posh hotel room with Zach, echoed those very same words about his own experience----there were at least two audience members in absolute awe.
That keynote speech struck a chord. Zach turned toward me with an ear to ear smile of jubuliant recognition and gave me a wink.

I will always remember Zach DeRidder. He is alive in my heart.

I hope as you read this you'll keep him in yours.
Miss you Z-Man.
Zachary T. DeRidder July 30, 1984--January 18, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reminders of gratitude, songs of inspiration

This past Sunday we were lucky enough to have Christine Baze perform here in Rochester to benefit Melissa's Living Legacy. I'd first heard Christine's emotional and inspiring music on the I'm Too Young For This benefit album.

Her song Radiation Katrina grabbed me but hearing her tell the real story behind it before she sang it live was amazing.

Katrina was a radiation tech who Christine befriended while she was going through treatment for cervical cancer. Katrina assured her that everything would feel better on the other side...when she was well again and cancer behind her. At that point Christine found it hard to believe then, as all of us in darkness might question. Indeed it's human nature that in the midst of the trauma of an experience our line of vision can be cut. We need people around to tell us that somehow there will be something better waiting for us when this dark cloud has passed on by.

I was lucky enough to have those people in my life..but surely, I didn't always trust that they were right when I was in the thick of things.

That song hadn't been on Christine's set list but when I told her before the concert that that song was a favorite she nodded and took mental note. "This one's for Leah" she said when she began to play. Tears started to form in my eyes as she sang it. Yes, everyone who knows me knows I'm emotional...just like my Mom.

The refrain rang clear and true...
Radiation Katrina was right...

Funny but we can't trust the beauty of the future until we're living in it. And then the gratitude is incredible.

Thanks Christine!