As we approach another Valentine's Day, I feel especially grateful for the love not just of my husband (Troy, if you're reading this, Valentine's Day is on Monday!) and family but also for the often taken-for-granted gift of being healthy and happy during a time when we have been touched by the recent and tragic losses of neighbors' parents and of friends' courageous and exhausting battles with cancer.
In fact, as we approach the side of 40 that starts to get uncomfortably closer to 50, it seems that not a week goes by without hearing of a friend or relative's life-changing illness that they or someone they know are currently battling. And when I listen to the stories, I never cease to be amazed at their strength, grace and good humor as they face their greatest challenges; always expressing how blessed and deeply grateful they are for the support so eagerly offered by their family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.
I’m not sure if cancer, serious illness or worse, death of a loved one, has ever touched you or your family’s life, but when it does, it certainly shifts your definition of what is important, doesn’t it? And it certainly challenges your faith in the fairness and “karma” of life, regardless of how positive your outlook usually is.
I remember when our good friend found out that she was once again battling breast cancer after five years of remission. She and her family got the news only one day after giving birth to her baby boy, born on Valentine's Day almost 6 years ago. I know that in this instance, Troy and I felt even more deeply affected than we ever had since their family is so similar to ours. “If you ever left me, I would be so ticked off at you!” Troy jokingly said after we got the disturbing phone call. And although we nervously laughed together, it was only to hide our fear and sadness, for we knew that if something so scary and life-altering can happen to this happy and vibrant household, then it can and does happen to anyone, including us.
And while I'm happy to say that today, our friend is cancer-free and will joyfully celebrate her son's sixth birthday with her family on Monday, I realize that it’s often news like this that can dramatically change your perspective from arguing over whose turn it is to get up with one of the kids after a nightmare to willingly staying up all night just to watch them sleep, because you’re afraid you won’t be around long enough to watch them grow old…
So now, when your toddler pinches your leg because you won’t pick her up for the 50th time that day, your son is screaming at the top of his lungs at his brother for sitting on his head naked, and then his brother runs and squirms away from you, laughing because you can’t catch him at the precise moment that your cell phone rings with that important call you've been expecting, stop and take a moment before your blood pressure rises too high, to realize how it is precisely this relentless and precious mess of parenthood and life that you would miss if you knew that they would suddenly be taken away from you.
During the last days of her beloved father's battle with cancer, my friend sat with him in his bedroom, savoring the last precious moments that she could have with this man who had meant so much to her throughout her life and who still so remarkably held fast to his sense of humor, even knowing he was soon going to die. A former airline pilot, he had also been an avid bird-lover, fond of watching the eagles that nested nearby and feeding the crows that made their home around his property. That day, as they watched the eagles together flying outside his window, she asked him to give her a sign that he was still watching over her when he was gone. He agreed with a smile on his face, perhaps already planning what that sign might be.
Shortly afterwards, still very saddened by his death, my friend was walking through town after getting her hair cut. All of a sudden, she felt a warm, liquidy substance fall from the sky and land right on her forehead. Realizing what happened, she looked up and saw the guilty crow looking down at her. She laughed as she "cawed" proudly at her, and she in turn lovingly cursed at him, knowing in her soul that true to his famous sense of humor, this was his sign, once again reminding her to take joy in the precious messiness of life, no matter how it comes...