Cancer Stole My Friend Too Soon

My friend died last weekend. My heart is heavy. Christine was such a beautiful soul. Thoughtful, kind, warmhearted. Far too young to part already. She leaves behind 3 children - beautiful reflections of herself -whom I had the privilege of teaching.

Cancer crept up insidiously. She had shortness of breath. She felt run down.

Aren’t all dedicated teachers?

She left school one day for a doctor’s appointment; she never came back to class. Instead she went to war in the cancer ward. The diagnosis. The deception. The despair. The carnage. The crusade.

She fought her battle against leukemia so gallantly. After the first rounds of hospitalizations and chemotherapy, she went into remission. When cancer reared its ugly head again, she returned to battle. Her sister selflessly donated her bone marrow for a replacement. More hospitalizations. More isolation. More pain. More anxiety. More anguish.

How hard to believe you are getting better when your body weakens from the endless fight?

All that effort bought her a little more time before she succumbed to an infection that attacked her heart. Her heart. Her generous, loving heart.

Who among us has never lost a loved one to disease?

Cancer is especially cruel. It attacks the self. It can only be beat-sometimes just temporarily - by knocking out the immune system leaving the victim vulnerable to the very air breathed.

She left us with a bittersweet reminder we only have today. And treasured memories.

I have so many. She once baked my favorite carrot cake and brought it to our department meeting for my birthday. When I couldn’t drive, she picked me and took me to one of my retirement parties. Years later, wearing a knitted cap to hide her bald head, she swooped in to carry me off for coffee where we lamented our fight to survive.

After my brain surgery, I looked to her for inspiration. I saw how hard she fought with so much grace and dignity. I thought if she can prevail, so can I. And so we faced another day.

Until we didn’t.

Now she is no longer here. A good person gone too soon. I never had the chance to say goodbye.

She lent me books and lesson plans, shared smiles and stories, offered rides and meals. She gave me laughter and joy.

She brightened my days.

Now I mourn for her children, her husband, her sister, her parents, her colleagues and friends, all who feel her passing as an ache that will not subside.

I miss her already.

Rest in peace dear friend.

You left behind the best kind of legacy.

You were greatly loved.

Second Chance – One Year Anniversary Changes My Perspective

On the 1st year anniversary of my second life, I wonder where am I now? I still feel lost. A year ago, I remember standing in our living room, turning to my husband to ask a question, and then face planting on our tile floor.

Days later, I woke up in a hospital thrashing against my bed rail and shrieking “Let me out! What am I doing here?”

Second ChanceMy head hurt, my face hurt, my right side hurt. One side of my head was shaved. I reached up and traced the scar dissecting my skull from my forehead to my earlobe.

On the telephone, my husband tried to explain why my head was sliced open in a 5 hour surgery and why no one, not even him, was allowed to visit me due to the COVID pandemic.

And so began a long year filled with fear, self-doubt and hopelessness.

Recovery required a team effort - a neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, neuropsychiatrist, rheumatologist, chiropractor and psychiatrist.

But my front line family care team kept me going day to day.

At the same time 4,000 miles away, my 89-year-old dad fought a daily battle to keep moving.

Recently, he was released from the hospital after a series of health crises that created the perfect storm. Wearing a special therapeutic boot for an infected toe, he walked off balance, leading to sciatica. Unable to sleep due to excruciating pain, the combination of pain meds and lack of sleep led to hallucinations.

I relived my accident in hearing about his. Ever the coach, in his delusions, he called out, “Keep hustling team!” And shot a wadded up pillow at a wastebasket. Ever the athlete, in mine, I blamed the nurses for hiding my basketball shoes and stealing my uniform making late for the big game.

Second ChanceWith my daughter, nieces, siblings and dear mom, helping him regain mobility and self care, my determined dad learned how to push out of his chair and walk unassisted again. Just like I once I relearned how to tie my shoes, grasp utensils, and button my shirt.

When I got out of hospital, I couldn't walk 60 yards without sitting down, now I walk 6 miles a day.Second Chance

At first, I was so frustrated. I couldn’t grip my guitar and play chords with my left hand. My left arm hung limp like dead weight. Then Gerald told me about Melody Gardot, an American jazz singer, who was hit by a car while riding her bike at age 19.

She suffered severe brain injury, broke her back and pelvis and could no longer sit to play the piano, so she taught herself to play guitar lying in her hospital bed. Like me, hypersensitive to light, Gardot, still wears dark glasses too.

Without a voice, no longer able to sing, she hummed. Unable to remember words, she wrote them down. Eventually she composed and performed again.

After my accident, intubation during surgery and hours with a speech therapist, my voice was a whisper. On long distance phone calls, I asked my daughter to sing with me like she did when she was a child.

Inspired by Gardot’s story I picked up my old guitar, practiced in 5, 10, 15 minutes increments and hummed too. I dreamed of being able to strum and sing around a campfire with family this summer at Summit Lake.

Thinking about my dad and remembering my own accident, I am reminded of our vulnerability. No one knows how much time we have left. Or how long we will retain our capabilities.

The human condition is humbling.

Life offers no guarantees. Will I ever recover completely? Maybe not.

I may never drive again or ride a bike, but I can still play a song, type a blog, read a book, walk a mile and cherish a new day.

4th of July 2020 – A Time of Reflection

4th of July 2020 - A Time of ReflectionOn our nation’s birthday I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, but I don’t feel happy. I am deeply troubled about our future.

This is the first 4th of July since I moved to Europe 4 decades ago that I am not in my homeland celebrating the American holiday with family. Due to the present situation, I am not welcome there nor is my French husband or anyone else from Europe. No planes from abroad are allowed to land on American soil due to the Covid epidemic, but the great irony is that European leaders have done a much better job of handling the crisis than. Trump. The pandemic is under control here especially where we live in Switzerland.

The US has the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Americans are not allowed in Europe either, which is sad for European business.

“In 2019 around 18 billion Americans came to Europe spending 70 billion Euros (about 78 $billion dollars), “says Tom Jenkins CEO of the European Tourism Association.““

Europe’s borders have reopened to Europeans and 14 other countries – no one knows for how long— but they won’t be open to Americans anytime soon. Long haul flights and exchanges between Europeans and Americans look even more doubtful.

The financial fall out from lack of international trade between Europe and the US is massive; the emotional toll on families even greater.

I don’t know when I will see my children in the States again. My British daughter- in- law does not know when her family will be allowed to visit. My niece’s Chinese boyfriend has no idea when he will see his parents. And my eldest niece, who will be a new mother in two months, wonders what kind of a world awaits her baby.

Like most Americans living abroad, I am ashamed of our country’s leadership. I am alarmed by our President’s incompetence, his total lack of diplomacy, compassion and integrity.

I am worried for my daughter and niece who work in the medical health field in the States at a time when people show lack of respect for human life, refusing to do something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask.

I am troubled by social unrest created from years of blatant inequality and lack of tolerance

I am horrified by the anti woman, anti gay, anti black, anti European rhetoric that fuels hatred and gives free license to bigotry.

Families may not be as international as mine, but so many of us can trace our ancestry to other parts of the world and so much of our nation was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. To ignore the role of the African Americans, Asians and Europeans in the making of our country is a travesty, to sever the ties to our motherlands is a crime.

But I hope there are still pockets of America where the old values I grew up with still remain. Places like Summit Lake where time stands still, where hope runs eternal ,where nature heals our broken hearts. A place where the 4th of July is a celebration of a forgotten way of life of what is good about Americans, their childlike optimism and joie de vivre.

4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

 

A place remarkable in its simplicity. Every 4th of July people dressed in costumes ride in decorated pontoon boats that circle the lake waving flags and throwing out candy and icees to people sitting on their docks. Later in the evening fire works explode from the public beach across the lake rivals any big city display. On the dock, wrapped in blankets, we swat mosquitoes while admiring the burst of sparkly colors illuminating the black waters and believe in childhood dreams again.
4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

This year though I am sad for my country, I am thinking of happier 4th of July memories. Still my heart aches for family, for the lake and for a simpler time when we weren’t isolated and separated by a pandemic.

Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, after a bad bike crash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.swimming saved my life

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained.

But weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg,Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.

Happy 60th Birthday Baby Sis Little Miss Me Too

Happy 60th Birthday to my almost-born-on-leap-year baby sister Little Miss Me Too. The last in line in a family of 4 siblings born 5 years apart, Mom always said, “Karen raised herself.”
“She tagged along with the big kids and figured things out on her own.”
Born 3 years apart almost to the day, we celebrated birthdays together growing up. In our younger years, I made sure she never fell off the dock or crossed the street without looking both ways. In later years, she looked out for me by driving me to doctor appointments and hanging out with me in a dark room on bad days.
Karen was born cute from the tip of her perfect toes to her gorgeous toothpaste commercial smile.
Athletic, energetic, outgoing, to an outsider she made life look easy. She starred on her state championship basketball team, made friends with everybody she met and always saw the bright side of things.
But she worked hard.

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She reinvented herself midlife, returning to college to earn a master’s degree in education while working as a recreational therapist and raising family.
She’s never shied away from a challenge. Even today she courageously continues teaching kindergartners — pulling off 23 little pairs of boots 4 months of the year — in the snow belt of Minnesota.
An adored aunt, treasured wife, loving daughter, revered mother, cherished sister, she collects people as easily as others collect stamps. Church friends, high school friends, work friends, neighbor friends, family friends. Everybody loves Karen and her jovial partner in life Dick. She’s energetic, upbeat, easy-going and down right fun to be with on any occasion.
She raised 2 beautiful daughters, but also became a Mamá Dos to her niece and nephew who moved 4000 miles away from home in Switzerland to attend university in the Twin Cities.
My little sis and I shared a love of sports. She passed me the ball on the basketball court and long after my playing days were over, she took me to my first WNBA game. When I could no longer run, she ran for me completing her first half triathlon at 50something.
She works hard, but plays harder and never passes up an opportunity to celebrate life.
Her friends call her Care Bear, but to me she will always be The Babe, my beloved little sister, blessing my life the past 60 years.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids