one more blessing

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago counting my blessings. As most of you know, I lost someone I loved dearly to cancer this summer and finding happiness has been a challenge. I hoped outlining some of the wonderful things in my life would help with the grieving process, especially since my late friend always urged me to focus on the good. If you read the blog, you might have noticed the absence of “good health” on the list. This was not a mere oversight, but a purposeful omission as I was afraid being healthy was not something I could count among my blessings and didn’t want to jinx myself.

I had my annual mammogram in late June. Although the mammogram was normal, it was suggested I have an ultrasound because cancer is difficult to detect in a mammogram on someone with “dense” breasts like me. The ultrasound picked up a minuscule (less than .5 millimeters) spot on my right breast and although the doctor who reviewed it was not concerned and instructed me to schedule another ultrasound in six months merely as a precaution, my own doctor thought it would be prudent to see a breast specialist for a second opinion. Although my doctor assured me that consulting a breast surgeon was merely a precautionary measure due to the density of my breasts, and the likelihood of it being anything serious was very slim, I freaked out.  My best friend died of cancer only a month before. My newsfeeds lately on Facebook are littered with friends mourning the sudden and tragic death of friends who were seemingly healthy only a short time ago. How could I be so confident my friends wouldn’t be posting these things about me? My fourth novel is set to be published on December 2nd and as excited as I am to release this book, I worried I wouldn’t be around by then. What if the cures for cancer, i.e. chemotherapy, resulted in my organs shutting down like what happened to my friend? I knew I was getting WAY ahead of myself and was told as much by others, but I was seriously spooked. This is why I didn’t feel comfortable including “good health” among my blessings.

My mother offered to tag along to my doctor’s appointment as moral support, an offer I eagerly accepted. We discussed having lunch afterward and making a day of it. I also had dinner reservations with some friends that evening and had taken the following day off from work. I tried to look forward to the long Labor Day Weekend and the fun plans I had made, but it was difficult with the weight of my doctor’s appointment on my shoulders. The location of the doctor’s office inside the cancer center at Beth Israel only added to my fear. My mother tried to make conversation while I completed a questionnaire rivaling the eHarmony application in length, but tears were already forming in my eyes and all I could think about was my friend Alan and how much I missed him and hated cancer for taking him from me. I used to say I would follow him anywhere, but I meant in the physical world. As much as I miss him (terribly and constantly), I’m not ready to die. But neither was he. These were my thoughts as I waited alone in the cold examination room.  

After careful review of the ultrasound results and a thorough clinical breast examination, the breast surgeon assured me the tiny spec located on the ultrasound was nothing of concern and sent me home with instructions to simply keep the six month follow-up as originally directed. She further appeased me by saying even a six month appointment instead of the usual year was probably being overly cautious. When I returned to my mother in the waiting room, she knew I was okay by the huge smile of relief on my face. We embraced fiercely once we got outside and I told my mother I could now add “good health” to my blessings. I only wish my dear friend was as lucky. While I continue to mourn him daily—not a single day has gone by when I haven’t cried over his death—I am forever thankful that, at least for now, I can begin to truly appreciate the good things in my life and look forward to what I hope will be a long, healthy and happy one. I know it’s what he would want too.

counting my blessings

I’ve been very unhappy lately and it’s been over a month—five weeks and two days exactly—since I’ve been able to experience true joy. Probably longer than that if I’m being honest. If you follow my blog, you’re aware that my boss of almost twenty years, who was also one of my dearest friends in the entire world, lost his battle with cancer last month. People keep asking if I’m “okay” and depending on your definition of “okay,” the answer is “yes.” I’m functioning. I get out of bed every day, work out, go to work, indulge in some social interaction, read, write, etc., but despite the outer appearance of hanging in there, I’m merely going through the motions. My friend’s death weighs on my mind almost constantly and I miss his presence in my life more than I can convey in writing. Throughout our years of friendship, whenever I would express unhappiness or dissatisfaction with my life to my friend, he would acknowledge my feelings, but urge me not to lose sight of the wonderful things I had in my life despite not having other things I desired. With his advice in mind, I have decided to dedicate my blog post to listing the wonderful things I have in my life even in the midst of my sadness and the gaping hole his death has left in my heart. I hope by putting these blessings down on paper, I will be in a better position to appreciate my life as I currently know it.

Friends – Alan was extremely special to me (still is), but he is not my only close, loyal friend. My friends have always been there, but they have really stepped up in my time of need. They check up on me without being overbearing. They are patient with my mood swings. They attempt to distract me while acknowledging how difficult it will be. My friends who have also experienced true and devastating loss have shared their stories and reassured me that my feelings are normal. My friends who live farther away have invited me to come visit them and have offered to come to me. With their words and actions, they have made it clear I have friends in this world. I’m positive Alan knows he can never be replaced, but I’m sure it gives him peace knowing I have so many other wonderful friends looking out for me. I thank my friends from the bottom of my heart.

Family – My closest family members know how much I valued my relationship with Alan and they’ve been completely supportive during this difficult time. I fear that I will grieve too long and eventually frustrate my family, but my mother has assured me she’s there for me every step of the way. My brother in New Mexico checks up on me regularly and I know it pains him to think of me so sad. He told me so. My sister Marjorie picks up the phone each and every time I call unless she’s at school and if she can’t get talk, she sends me a text to let me know when she’ll be around. She’s been a rock to me this past year. From the day I called her crying when Alan received his diagnosis to the day his wife told us his organs were failing and he might not make it, my sister listened on the other end of the phone while I cried hysterically. She apologized for being powerless to make the situation better, but just being there for me was a comfort. I get to see her three weekends in a row which hasn’t happened since we lived under the same roof over twenty years ago. I am grateful for something to look forward to.

Writing – Writing has been my most powerful distraction from pain. When I get lost in my writing, I’m able to put my own problems to the side at least temporarily. Most of the fleeting moments of happiness I’ve had over the past month have been due to the act of writing, the success of my existing novels, and the anticipation of publishing my fourth book later this year. I’m busy with my book manager and cover artist working on the cover, my editor has completed her first round of edits, and I’m genuinely excited about and grateful for this aspect of my life.

Good books –Besides writing, another true distraction for me is reading. I read on average a book and a half a week. I have no idea how I manage to do that. Okay, I lied. I read whenever I have a few minutes of free time, including while blow drying my hair, riding the subway, and eating my lunch. Sometimes I get so engrossed in a book, when I pull my head out of my Kindle, it takes a moment to remember my sadness. I’ve read the following amazing books in the past few weeks: Is This All There Is? by Patricia Mann, Spin by Catherine McKenzie, Killing Ruby Rose by Jessie Humphries and Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison and they were all five star reads.

Job – Many people use going to work as a distraction from dealing with their personal problems.  Unfortunately, my friend’s death threw my world off-kilter both personally and professionally. My grief follows me to work each and every day since Alan was my boss for eighteen years and at three different law firms. Aside from the last year when he was sick, we saw each other five days a week (not including vacations) and ate lunch together almost daily. Walking into work each morning knowing he’s never coming back is so hard and I often have difficulty catching my breath. I have broken down at my desk on multiple occasions. It took me a week to be able to walk past his office. This doesn’t sound like much of a blessing, but bear with me. As challenging as it is to proceed as if it is business as usual when it’s far from it, I’m blessed to work with some great people who understand my pain and are dealing with their own feelings of loss. For the most part, people at work have expressed their sympathy but have also given me room to breathe. My clients have been kind as well and often check up on me. I’ve taken to eating lunch in Alan’s office which now provides me with some comfort and makes me feel closer to him. And of course, there is the obvious: I make a good living, I have comprehensive health insurance and a 401K plan. People tend to take these things for granted, but I’m thankful for a steady paycheck.

Television – I’m a huge fan of the small screen and I am blessed that despite the limited first-run shows currently on the air, I can curl on my couch and binge-watch my new favorite show, The Good Wife, on Amazon Prime. I also can watch back-to-back sappy original movies on The Hallmark Channel. Finally, I’ve recently rediscovered The Long Island Medium on TLC. I’ve always believed that our spirits live on even after death, but now more than ever. Watching The Long Island Medium reinforces my belief that Alan’s energy is still out there and that he can hear me when I talk to him. I know not everyone shares my thoughts on the afterlife and everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but I’ve heard too many stories from credible individuals as well as had my own experiences and I will not be swayed. If it brings me peace of mind and doesn’t hurt anyone, why not?

Spin class – I’ve been running since I was in grammar school and until recently it was one of my favorite activities and certainly my exercise of choice. Since Alan passed away, running has becoming painful because it brings all of my thoughts and feelings to the surface and I wind up breaking down in tears. Spinning, on the other hand, takes so much concentration that I can’t follow the class and focus on my despair at the same time. Since I don’t want to be the only one in the saddle when everyone else is in third position, I choose paying attention to the instructor. As a result, I get a great workout without crying. Here’s to that!

Text messages – I am unbelievably grateful to have saved all of the text messages Alan and I exchanged. Although I only allow myself to read them every couple of weeks, each time I go through a month of texts, it’s like traveling back in time. I can laugh at his jokes, read his advice, and marvel at the amazingly sharp, witty, and easy banter we shared. It’s truly priceless. Unfortunately, I only have messages since October, 2013, after he was already diagnosed with cancer, but his sense of humor was always present.

Memories – Above all else, I am grateful for my memories of Alan and for eighteen years of having the best, most loyal boss in the entire world. I used to say that no job was one hundred percent stable but mine was as close as you could possibly get because Alan always had my back. More valuable to me than that, however, is the friendship we built together over the course of close to two decades. It was a marathon, not a sprint, but when we reached the finish line, neither of us had any doubts of where we stood in the other’s heart. I carry no guilt about the things I said/did not say to Alan and there is nothing Alan could have told me before he died that he didn’t already tell me with words and show me with actions at least a hundred times. For that, I am truly blessed.

And there you have it. Tonight before I go to bed and more than likely shed a few tears over missing my dear friend, I will also count my blessings of which there are many.