Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blueberry Banana Bread

This is another great recipe from Susan Voisin over at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  Actually this recipe to me is also wonderful because it has solved my dilema about healthy quick breads.  Most low fat or vegan quick bread recipes I've made (and posted) use either egg whites or some kind of egg replacer (like flax seeds) and I always find the texture of the breads to be kind of chewy for my taste.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my sweets and I still eat them but they just didn't quite hit the mark for me. 

This recipe is just simply delicious.  I've made it with the almond milk/lemon juice mixture and with the applesauce.  I've made it replacing the blueberries with chopped peaches.  Any way I make it it just turns out perfect every time. You honestly would never know it is low fat and vegan.  I am going to try it with other chopped fruits instead of the blueberries and peaches this weekend!

Check it out HERE!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Re-thinking Food

The other day I had the opportunity to see Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. M.D. speak at a local event. I had read his book Prevent And Reverse Heart Disease last year as soon as Brennis was released from the hospital. I really didn't take it too seriously then. I had enough on my plate without having to try to figure out how to change our diets so drastically. Dr. Esselstyn advocates a diet that excludes all meat, dairy, eggs, oil & nuts. It is pretty much the exact diet I am now eating but back then it seemed crazy. The science behind his diet, however, is something you simply cannot argue with. If you have heart disease and you haven't considered Dr. Esselstyn's approach to treating disease through diet you might want to think about reading his book.

After Dr. Esselstyn spoke, his wife, Ann did a presentation on how to make these changes in the real world....the kitchen! She had tons and tons of great advice and lots of recipe ideas but she also was smart enough to know that everyone would come to this diet on their own terms and in their own way. She kept saying...."Try it, and if you don't like that try something else!"

I have been cooking vegan food without oil for several months now and I didn't start by using Ann's recipes. I just found my way slowly over time and using some great vegan bloggers as guides. The other night Ann opened up another new world to me and once again my culinary world expanded. Lettuce is not just for salads, greens don't have to be boiled with a ham hock, hummus can be used as a condiment. I wasn't eating the same things so why should I eat the things I was now eating the say way I was eating the old food?

I am a vegan for many reasons and they are all personal to me. If you are already a vegan or considering becoming a vegan (or vegetarrian) you are doing it for your own reasons. The roads we took here are not as important as the fact that it has dropped us off at nearly the same place. That's one of the reasons I started this blog. I felt it was important to share my experience with other people. Along with that I wanted to share some ideas that I come across from time to time that I find interesting, If you find them interesting too I hope you will share as well.

One very simple idea that Ann gave last week involved the fact that she and her husband believe that we should be eating a LOT of leafy green vegetables. I have become a fan of leafy green vegetables but honestly there are only so many salads you can eat. Kale is one of the most nutritious greens there are but I really don't enjoy eating it raw and sometimes It's hard for me to work it into recipes. Ann's suggestion? Chop up some kale and throw it in the water with your pasta while your pasta's cooking and when it's done you have cooked pasta and cooked kale and you can add whatever you want to them (chopped tomatoes, beans, black olives, etc).

I simply boiled whole wheat linguini and two minutes after I put the pasta in I put the kale in. When the pasta was done so was the kale. I suddenly had a delicious, healthy bowl of pasta that I could have fun with. This time I added a bit of steamed cabbage, beets and a spoonful of hummus to add some extra flavor. This was something I would never have thought of before I was a vegan.

So many people tell me that they wouldn't become a vegan because it is too limiting. I used to think the same thing but I find the opposite to be true. Since I've stopped eating meat and dairy my culinary world has opened up in ways I never imagined. The next time you're in the kitchen look at your ingredients in a different way. I can't wait to see what I make for dinner tomorrow! It will probably be a nice surprise.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Baby Steps

I'm not sure if it was because I wasn't smoking or just because I had been through so much but those first few days back at work I felt like a toddler....making small tentative steps, being overly cautious, acting like I was seeing everything in the universe for the very first time.  It was not a pleasant feeling but not particularly unpleasant either.  Everything felt unfamiliar. 

I think now that part of that feeling came from the fact that during the time immediately preceding Brennis' heart attack I was essentially on auto pilot.  I was in my life but not really living my life.  Many of you might know what I mean by that.  If you're currently just in your life you probably won't.  As a matter of fact you're probably not even reading this. 

There is, truthfully, a huge difference between "being alive" and "living".  It's not really about being active or jumping out of airplanes or traveling to exotic locations.  "Living" is about participating in your life. It is about being aware of the choices that you have and taking advantage of your ability to make those choices.  It's not about doing the same thing over and over again because that's what has always worked before. It is about taking each new opportunity that presents itself to you, considering it and acting upon it.

I had had glimpses of this at certain times in my life but nothing like the experience I was currently having.  I felt enveloped by the universe, the air around me weighted with significance, every sound amplified with importance every interaction meaningful and profound.  I was centered and alive.  I felt it.

The trouble was I felt very alone.  Only with Brennis did I feel that I was with someone who was experiencing the same things I was experiencing. We didn't really talk about it.  We just knew it.  Being close to death, I believe, means being closer to your soul.  Even though it wasn't me who came close to death I was in close enough proximity that I was able to feel the power of it. It is about being close to your essence...close to the energy that creates you.  You may have experienced this in your own life.  You may experience it some day.  It is not something to be taken for granted.  It is a miracle.

What, however, was I supposed to do with this feeling?  I knew instinctivly that it wasn't permanent.  I knew that it was fleeting like the memory of a dream upon waking.  I needed to know and understand its significance.  I needed to experience it long enough that I could learn from it and allow it to guide me through the next part of my journey. 

I was back at work now and feeling guilty.  I wanted to be home more with Brennis but I had been away from the gallery for so long I had to relieve the people who had been helping out and figure out what I had missed while I was gone.  Every time I left the house I felt lost.  I was now tied to Brennis by a bond that was incredibly strong.  It wasn't a link of dependency but of mutual respect and gratitude.  We had been through "the worst" and came through it together with each other's help.  That kind of a bond can never be broken.

The more I was at work the more I felt as though I was once again going through the motions.  This time, however, I was aware of it.  I recognized it so I was able to stop it.  When I found myself repeating a certain pattern I stopped myself and did it differently.  My awareness of this was so heightened that sometimes it literally made me smile.  When I had enough I went home....back to where I was really needed.  This was not like me at all. 

Now a year later I feel more and more like I am going through the motions.  I've allowed it to slip back into my life slowly over the last twelve slowly that it was unrecognizable.  I think that is why this blog is so important to me.  It is my connection with that feeling.  It is my way of reminiding myself what it was like.  Some people have told me that I dwell on what happened last year too much.  I don't think I dwell on it enough. I'm not talking about the heart attack and the surgery and the recovery.....I'm talking about being alive. 

I want to dwell more on that feeling of being alive.  I want to be able to feel that way all the time.  I know it is real and I know it is possible and I don't believe you are only allowed to feel it after you go through a crisis.  So I begin the journey again today back to that place.....back to the place of "feeling alive". 

Once again I am like a toddler; taking small tentative steps, being cautious and seeing everything in front of me with brand news eyes.  The journey itself reminds me that I am alive.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Walnut Carob Cookies

Walnut Carob Cookies

A few weeks ago at the local health food store I bought a bag of carob powder. I'm not exactly sure why I did but I did. Chocolate is one of my eating triggers. It's probably my worst. If I eat one candy bar I will generally end up eating several candy bars. I hate it but it's true. So I try to stay away and don't even start. I thought that carob might be different.....but I was having a hard time finding recipes using carob that were also vegan. Then I happened across this recipe and it was perfect! SO easy to make and absolutely delicious these rich, sweet "cookies" (actually a mix of a "no bake" and fudge) will satisfy your chocolate craving without the chocolate. I'm sure you could substitute cocoa powder in this recipe if that's what you have available.

Oh yes and it's flourless so it's also a terriffic recipe for my gluten free friends!
Sweet dreams....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Today a friend of mine went in to the hospital for a heart cath.  He told me about it a few days ago and I've been worried for him since.  I'm not one of those people who say "I'm sure everything will be alright" because obviously I'm not sure.  I certainly hope that everything is going to be alright but that doesn't sound powerful enough to tell my friend to make him feel better.  Then I remember....I don't have to make him feel better.  I can't make him feel better.  The only thing I can do is to let him know I'll be there for him if he needs me.  That comfort I can promise.  Anything else would just be words.

My memory of Brennis' heart cath is still so clear to me that when I think of it sometimes it feels like I'm still there. This was the test that was going to tell us what was wrong.  This was the test that was going to tell us what happens next.  Needless to say we were all on the edge of our seats.  He went in on that Monday afternoon.  We really had no idea what was going to happen.  Once again, before his procedure, Brennis looked at me and I was confronted with my desire to make him feel better by saying "Everything is going to be alright".  I didn't.  I couldn't.  I think both of us knew where this path was headed but we didn't want to say that either.  "What if.....?" he would say.  "Well, then we'll deal with that if it happens" I would reply.

So he went in.  I was in the waiting room with Brennis' mother and a dear friend.  Even though I felt like I knew what the outcome was going to be I was still hopeful that this drama would be over that day. I was hoping that it was something they could fix while they were in there.  I was hoping he could come home the next day. Then the doctor appeared.

When they tell you that a procedure will last a certain amount of time and the doctor comes out significantly earlier than you thought they would it's not a good sign.

"He's going to have to have open heart surgery." he said.

I nodded and the doctor explained the number of blockages, where they were, when they would schedule the surgery, who was going to do the surgery, etc.  I wanted him to leave so I could cry.

When he did, I did.

I got on the phone to call my mother and I broke down.  I sobbed and sobbed.  I couldn't talk.  I told her what I needed to say and I hung up the phone.  I was beside myself with despair.  I looked at Brennis' mother and knew I couldn't be strong for her.  I was a wreck.  My friend sat down next to me and put her hand on my back.  "Brennis is going to be coming out soon and he won't want to see you like this", she said. 

She was right.  He wouldn't.  I had to pull my act together and  quickly.

After a few minutes I had regained my composure and Brennis was wheeled through the lobby toward his new room in the Coronary Care Unit.  The three of us walked up to his bed with somber smiles.  "Well, I've gotten myself into one hell of a pickle" Brennis said.  We laughed nervously.  We comforted him and he comforted us and they took him to his new room.  That was that.  This is where we were and it was okay.

I think about that particularly today with my friend going in for his heart cath.  I worry that they will be faced with the bad news that we were faced with.  I hope that they don't have to experience that.....I don't ever again want anyone to have to go through that.  That's part of the reason I write this blog.  These are people that I love and I want to take this day away for them.  I want to make it be over for them. 

"Knowing is always better than not knowing", is something I'm fond of saying.  At times I try to think of instances where that might not be true but I still haven't thought of one.  Knowing is always better than not knowing.  Just because we might not want to know the answer we are always better off knowing it so we can move forward.  The more we ignore the answer the worse things get.  As long as we know the answer we can deal with it and move on.

Fortunately, as I write this, I have learned that my friend's issue was resolved with a simple procedure during the cath and no surgery will be necessary.  That makes me happy.  Knowing is better than not knowing. 

So we all move on from this moment knowing what we know and we deal with the world better because we have gained knowledge from the past.  These collective lessons guide us through our lives as we continue to gain even more knowledge and hopefully become closer to the people we want to be.  Being alive carries with it great responsibility and we must be careful not to forget that.  I had a responsibility to my friend to share my lessons with him by the way I spoke with him when he called me last week.  I didn't tell him everything was going to be alright.  I told him I loved him and I gave him the opportunity to tell me he loved me. I told him I would be there for him if he needed anything and he told me he was scared.  After matter what the outcome was, we knew we had said what we needed to say.  That was a gift.

Tonight, now knowing that he will be okay....that is another gift. Tonight I will be thankful for my gifts.

Black Eyed Pea Relish

Black Eyed Pea Relish

I used to make something called "Cowboy Caviar" which was essentially, Red Onion, Peppers, Jalapeno, Black Eyed Peas and a bottle of Italian Salad Dressing. It was delicious but the oil and added sodium from the dressing are now things that we try to avoid.

I got this recipe from my friend Connie who has mastered the art of cooking no-fat vegan dishes for friends of ours who follow the Esselstyn diet. This was a huge hit in our house and we didn't even miss the oil or sodium with the flavorful Rice Wine Vinegar making up for both. I used garlic flavored Rice Wine Vinegar but if you use a different flavor you will want to add a couple cloves of chopped garlic to the vegetables.

Happy Trails!

1/2 Cup Garlic Flavored Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Green Pepper. Chopped
2 Yellow Peppers, Chopped
1 Red Pepper, Chopped
2 Jalapeno Peppers, Chopped
1/2 Red Onion Diced
2 15 Ounce cans of Black Eyed Peas, drained and rinsed
4 Roma Tomatoes, Chopped

Dice all of the vegetables and add them to the rinsed black eyed peas in a large bowl. Add the flavored Rice 'Wine Vinegar and mix thoroughly. This gets better the longer that it sits so be patient! I served mine with home made corn tortillas but they make a great side dish for any meal

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cherry Berry Forbidden Rice Pudding

Cherry Berry Forbidden Rice Pudding

I saw this recipe on one of my favorite blogs "Healthy Girl's Kitchen" and I had to try it. I love rice pudding and I love berries so I imagined it would be a good choice. I was so right.

This is one of those recipes that call for a few things you may not have on hand but it's also a great introduction to some fun new ingredients without a lot of fuss.

Chia seeds are not difficult to find. They are available in the healthy section of most major grocery stores or you can buy just enough for this recipe from the bulk bins at your local health food store. You can read about the benefits of chia seeds here. Here they are used as a thickener/binder and also add their own unique texture to the pudding.

The black rice might be more difficult to find. I was able to find it at my local Giant Eagle and, as luck would have it, they were discontinuing that particular brand and had it at 50% off. It's a bit pricy but for a special occasion this can't be beat. I would like to try this recipe using brown rice and see how it compares. I will say the black rice holds up to the second cooking very well and I imagine the brown might fall apart. If I give that a try I'll update!

Dates are easy to find but you may not have ever cooked with them before. Here they act as a sweetener (I didn't need to use any additional sweetener for my pudding) and they have a wonderful naturally sweet taste which is a perfect combination with the berries.

Check out the recipes here at Healthy Girl's Kitchen
For my version (pictured above) I used frozen cherries and fresh strawberries and blueberries. Play with the types of berries as long as you keep the ratios about the same.

Happy Pudding!

Sunday, June 24, 2012


If you thought that the last post was the end of the did I.  Turns out, it wasn't.  Just because the really hard part was over didn't mean that all was going to be easy.  We still faced a long and difficult recovery, our return to work and trying to figure out just what we were going to do about the hospital bills (they are gracious not to mail $75,000 in medical bills to you directly after you get home from open heart surgery but we knew they were probably sitting on somebody's desk with stamps on them).   Oh yes....and we had to do this while trying to quit smoking which only added a very surreal air to the whole experience...somewhat like trying to swim with a fish bowl on your head. 

We were blessed to have a group of people volunteer to bring healthy meals to the house every night so I didn't have to worry about shopping or spending time in the kitchen and could spend more time taking care of Brennis.  That was amazing and so helpful.  Every day somebody would call or text and let me know when they were coming and they usually got to visit with Brennis for a few minutes and we got some wonderful healthy food. Brennis' appetite still wasn't great but it was helpful to have something available when he was feeling hungry. 

We settled into our new life fairly well.  Brennis' complications were few and minor.  The visiting nurse was sweet and informative and we soon no longer even required her services.  Brennis was taking baby steps toward a full recovery and I was thinking about returning to work a few hours a day to relieve the artists who had been taking care of things while we had been gone.  While I'm certain that things seemed to be moving too slowly for Brennis they were moving far too quickly for me.  I wanted to stop and spend all of my time with Brennis.  I wanted him to get better but I was enjoying the time with him.  We hadn't had the chance to just sit and relax like this for years and it felt nice. 

Brennis and I met in 1986 but didn't really get together as a couple until 1991 after I graduated from college.  When we first moved in together I opened one of his drawers and it was filled with unopened bills.  Several months of unopened bills.  I asked him what they were there for.  He was working three jobs at the time so I knew he had enough money to pay them.  "I just pay those when I think about it," he said.  I opened the envelopes, got out his checkbook and the mothering began.

It's not that Brennis needed another mother.  The mother he has is perfectly wonderful and he certainly was capable of doing anything and everything he would ever desire.  This was totally my desire to take care of him and make his life better.  It's how I am wired.  I like to make things better.  Because I loved Brennis I wanted to do that for him especially.  I wasn't always successful.....often in my attempt to make things better I make them worse or, at the very least, more complicated.  The important thing is that I try.  At least that's what I think.

Those first few years together felt a lot like what we were going through during his recovery.  We spent a lot of time together, just sitting and talking.  We hadn't yet established the weird patterns couples usually establish after they've been together for a thousand years. We just enjoyed each other's company and spent any free time we had together.  Sitting next to him in our den now twenty years later felt good.  It felt like nothing had ever changed.  Any of the conflicts, dramas and heartaches had been washed away.  We were starting fresh. 

I am the type of person who likes people....just not a lot of people and not all the time.  If it hadn't been for Brennis I likely would have ended up living in a studio apartment eating beans out of the can with a plastic spoon for the rest of my life.  I would have had friends and I would have been social but I was shy and insecure and didn't really need to have people around me all of the time.  Brennis made me feel good about myself and he loved to be around people.  I began to love it too.  Many times during the past twenty years I have looked up while Brennis was walking through the house and thought quietly to myself "How have I managed to stand living with someone for all these years and how has he been able to stand living with me?"  I am a perfectly nice person but I am a mess.  I am moody, compulsive, sometimes clean, sometimes messy always unpredictable.  We just fit together naturally, Brennis and I.  Living with him was just like living alone....except he was there and we loved each other and laughed a lot.   

Now it felt like life was starting over again.  Going through what we went through made me realize how much I really loved Brennis.  Almost losing him and almost losing the life that we created together frightened me more that I would have ever imagined.  While I didn't want his recovery to take forever I wanted this feeling to last forever.  I knew it couldn't but I also now knew that it was in my power to make it a part of my was my choice. 

We all have the power to feel that connection with people we love.  We all have the ability to spend more quiet time with people we care about.  We are all able to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. Why don't was take advantage of these opportunities more than we do?  Life is complicated and relationships are beyond complicated.  There are as many reasons for us not doing these things are there are people in the world. 

Stripping away all of the unnecessary baggage from our lives....from our a great place to start.  Relationships (whether they are familial, friendly or romantic) get "dusty" over time and it's hard to see them as clearly as we used to.  Clear off the dust.  Forget about old hurts, irritating habits, petty fears.  If your relationship with this person is worth anything it is worth valuing it enough to spend time on it.  There is no secret.  You just do it. 

The one thing I said to people over and over again while we were going through the experience last year:  Don't miss an opportunity to tell the people you love that you love them.  I would like to amend that now.  Don't miss an opportunity to sit next to your friend and laugh with them.  Don't miss an opportunity to snuggle with your significant other.  Don't let another day go by wondering if you should call your mother (or father or niece or sister).  These may seem like small gestures but they are not.  They are the manifestation of love and that energy is powerful.  Try to be conscious of the people around you and make the decision to share this energy with them.  If you're lucky, twenty years from now you'll still be there for each other. 

Roasted Beets With Beet Greens

Roasted Beets With Beet Greens

Today was the first day of our local farmer's market. I missed most of last year's market because Brennis was at home recovering from his surgery and two years ago I wouldn't have known a beet from a turnip so I just never went. So...this year I've decided to make up for lost time.

Yesterday I opened up an old can of beets and added it to my Confetti Salad for a change. I had forgotten how much I loved beets but I wasn't crazy about the added salt in the canned version. So I got two bunches of beets this morning at the farmer's market, googled some recipes and made this tonight. It was a huge success. The beet greens are kind of "earthy" tasting at first but have a really nice rich taste....very similar to Swiss chard. They make a beautiful colorful presentation with the bright red roasted beets. Something totally different for me and I'll revisit this recipe again and again.

2 bunches beets with greens
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

Remove the beets from their stems, cut the tips off (if necessary) and clean thoroughly. I had about 8 medium sized beets. You can drizzle the beets with a little bit of olive oil but I didn't. Wrap the cleaned beets in an aluminum foil packet and seal tightly. Roast the beets in the sealed packed at 350 degrees until a knife goes easily into the largest beet. This took about an hour an fifteen minutes for me but check after 45 minutes to one hour since so much depends on your oven and the beets themselves.

While the beets are roasting remove the green beet leaves from the stems and clean them thoroughly. Chop the beet greens roughly. You will have a large amount of greens but like most greens these will cook down considerably.

In a medium saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute an onion in the oil for about two minutes and then add the garlic. Saute the garlic for two more minutes and add the cleaned and chopped beet greens. Stir the greens to heat them through and then cook, stirring occasionally, until done (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat and add fresh black pepper and red wine vinegar and stir.

When the beets are done allow them to cool enough so that you can peel them. The peels come off easily when they are roasted. Chop the peeled beets and mix into the cooked beet greens. Add only as many beets as you want to the greens. Two or three are more than enough and save the remaining beets for another dish!

These would also be great with some slivered almonds added for a little crunch!

Eat and enjoy!

Note: Since this was my first time cooking beet greens I played it safe and used olive oil. You could easily saute everything using water and/or vegetable broth and make this fat free.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


And then it was over.....

Anyone who has ever been in the hospital will tell you that no matter how good or bad your care was while you are there....when it is time to leave they generally don't waste any time getting you out.  The same is true when they cut a hole in your chest.  When you poop on your're going home.  Take your balloons and your flowers and get out.  We need the bed for someone who's really sick.

So when that time came for Brennis it was very fast.  The nurse came in and gave us our discharge instructions, told us that we would have a visiting nurse at the house a few times a week and a couple of the nurses came in to say a quick good-bye before they ran off to attend to other patients.  These nurses, orderlies, cleaning people.....all of the people we had come to know as our family over the previous ten days were and are remarkable people.  They treat you like you are their own family while you are  in their care but they know that their attention must be on the people who need them the most.  When it is time for you to go they don't get sentimental. 

So we left.  The transport aide wheeled Brennis down the hallway, to the elevator and then to the curb where I had the car waiting.  I helped Brennis into the car and we were on our own.  No monitors, no nurses, no orderlies, no cleaning people....just us.  We broke down.  I honestly have not experienced such a huge wave of emotion in my entire life.  I don't know if it was the relief of being allowed to leave, the fact that Brennis and I were alone together for the first time in what seemed like months, sheer exhaustion or a combination of all three but we both sobbed and sobbed as I drove out of the hospital parking lot and to our home.

There was no fanfare, just us driving and crying....going home. 

I had prepared the house for Brennis two days, bleaching, scouring every surface; bringing his bed down to the first floor, renting an automatic recliner from the local rent to own store, making sure there were plenty of videos for him to watch and plenty of healthy food for him to eat. We were prepared for our summer of "camping in".  It felt so good to have him home.  The house once again seemed filled with life. 

We settled in and I tried my best to make him comfortable as we attempted to figure out this new way of living.  Brennis could get up and get around but he still was considerably limited in energy and was restricted from any strenuous physical activity including lifting.  I sat next to him and we were quiet.  I think we probably fell asleep right away.  It felt good to be home with him. 

Brennis and I had been through so much over the previous ten days that it was amazing to think that the experience was over.  It was also, we suddenly realized, very frightening.  At the hospital there was always someone right there if something went wrong.  If you had a question you rang a bell and someone came right away.  Here it was just us.  If anything happened we were on our own.  If we ever stopped to think about it the fear was paralyzing.

Much of life is like that.  The more freedom you allow yourself the more frightening life becomes.  It was like that when we started the gallery.  We were tired of working for other people so we started our own business but that freedom only brought a different set of rules and responsibilities.  Freedom is scary.  It's the reason most of us don't take advantage of it.  It's so much easier to be safe, comfortable and protected than to go out on a limb and take a chance. 

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay in the safety of the hospital for the rest of our lives.  Not only would it be extraordinarily expensive but it would be silly.  We didn't need them any more.  If we had needed them they wouldn't have let Brennis leave. 

When my father had had open heart surgery fifteen years before I was living in South Carolina and had come home for the surgery and stayed for a few days after to be with my family and monitor his recovery until he came home.  I remember the day I left I was so thankful that I didn't have to go through what my mom and dad were going to have to go through.  To me at that point in my life it seemed like something I could never handle.  I was about to find out if that was true.  I had to trust myself and trust that this was where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do.  It didn't seem as scary at 45 as it had at 30 but I still wished it never had to happen.  I did, however, feel grateful  that I was able to be that person for Brennis.  My own heart ached thinking of all the people who had nobody to come home to when the hospital let them go.  Despite the stress and the ugliness of what was about to happen I knew that really we were very lucky.

The first part of freedom is the hardest part.  Finding your legs, taking the small tentative steps toward something new....experiencing life as you've never experienced it before.  Then, as you begin to take those first steps away from your old life and toward the new one you begin to realize that you are still you....with the same strength and wisdom and spirit as the person you have always are just free now.  Then you take the first steps into your new life and for the first time you start living.  That, it turns out, is when you are truly free.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


As I write this it has been a year since I quit smoking.  I quit the day before we thought Brennis was going to come home from the hospital but instead the  surgeon didn't sign his release orders until the next day so I spent my  first day as a non-smoker sitting in Brennis' hospital room stressing out and watching him stress out because both of us just wanted him to be at home.   I had actually planned on quitting around that time anyway since it was the time when Brennis would have been at his Church Art Camp overseeing the programming and I wanted to quit when he wasn't going to be at home since he didn't particularly want to quit.  As it turns out he quit first....though my stop smoking plan was considerably less expensive than his. 

I quit because it was stupid to keep smoking after what we had just been through. I quit because I didn't want Brennis smelling cigarette smoke on me when he got home.  I quit because it was expensive and we were now facing tens of thousands of  dollars  in hospital bills.  I quit because I really wanted to.  It was, by far, the single best thing I have ever done for myself (smoking, of course being the single WORST thing....).  Honestly, seeing Brennis in his bed after his surgery I don't know how on earth I could have continued.  I never in my life wanted to have what happened to him happen to me or anyone that I loved ever again. 

The morning after Brennis' surgery I woke up early at home, called the hospital (probably at 4am) and got a great report.  Visitation hours didn't begin until 10am so I left my depressing house and my wonderful, patient dog and went down to the gallery to check on things and otherwise occupy my time until I could go see Brennis.  I hadn't really spent more than a few minutes at the gallery since the Saturday that we left and the artists who had taken over for me had done an amazing job keeping things together. I honestly hadn't given the gallery a second thought since the day we left.  It could have vanished and I wouldn't have cared.  My focus was Brennis and all of the rest of the world would just have to get on without me. 

I had been at the gallery a few hours when my phone rang.  It wasn't a number I recognized so I panicked and answered quickly, fearing it was the hospital calling with bad news.  It was Brennis.  "Hi Baby.  You can come see me now" he said. 

I had never heard a more wonderful sound before in my entire life.  It was very nearly time for me to leave  and see him anyway but I had never expected him to be making a phone call after the way I had left him the night before.  The nurses had told him that I had called very early and really wanted to see him (they had seen me almost as much as they had seen most of their patients and they knew me pretty well). 

I was beside myself with joy.  I don't think I stopped smiling the whole way to the hospital, through the corridors, up the stairs and down the hallway to his room.  When I saw him he was sitting up in his bed and most of the machines on the back wall of the room were dark and silent.  I know he was still in a lot of pain but he managed to smile when he saw me come through the door. It was the smile I had waited to see.

I think back at that time as the beginning of a new life.  From that moment on things were going to get better.  Brennis was in bad shape, in a lot of pain, unable to move much....but he was going to get better!  From that day on he was going to improve.  While it was a horrible thing to have to go through we knew that this was the worst.  Many people never get to recover. Many people in this hospital have gotten worse news.....some are never going to walk again, some will be in chronic pain....some will not survive.  We were the lucky ones.  Brennis was going to get better.

We certainly didn't take this fact lightly.  We knew how lucky we were.  We never once bemoaned our fate. They fixed him. It simply doesn't get any better than that.

We both felt different.  We felt like we had been asleep for a long time and now we were awake.  We had made so many mistakes, wasted so much time.  We knew we had been given a second chance and we weren't going to squander it.  It didn't seem right. 

The rest of Brennis' time in the hospital  was filled with joy and pain.  The nurses kept describing the pain after open heart surgery as similar to being hit by a truck.  I'm not certain how anyone knows this for sure but I can tell you that being hit by a truck might be better because you probably don't have to LIVE through it. I knew it was bad for him but he said it got better every day and that was all we could hope for.  Despite the pain, however, we were all filled with such joy that Brennis had made it through the surgery so well and was recovering ahead of schedule.  We had numerous visits from people who wanted to celebrate this joy with us.  We were so fortunate in so many ways.  Being awake felt good....even though it hurt sometimes. 

The day that Brennis was released from the hospital the nurse who was discharging him went over some after-care information.  This is the one fact I will remember forever:  "If you don't go back to smoking the grafts from your surgery will last twenty years.  If you go back to smoking they will last only five."

I have never forgotten that.  I never will.  I wasn't going back.  I was awake now.

Last year I missed this because I was either at the hospital or sitting inside with Brennis.  You can be certain we aren't going to miss anything this year.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


There were a lot of really terrible days during Brennis' hospitalization and recovery.  Many great, wonderful days filled with love and friends and family but certainly many other ugly, sad, gut wrenching days we just had to get through and relegate to our past. 

The day of Brennis' surgery was one of those days.  Brennis was in the hospital for ten days total but it seemed like the day of his surgery took up about a week of that time.   I had been at the hospital almost the entire time since Brennis was admitted except for an hour long daily trip home to see the dog and get a quick shower.  98% of that time I was sitting in the chair next to his bed (the other 2% I was out smoking cigarettes in my car).  After Brennnis' surgery was over there was no place for me.  They took Brennis right from the operating room back to his room (which at this hospital was equipped as a stand-alone Intensive Care Unit) where he would be monitored by a one-on-one nurse until they were able to remove the breathing tube.  I was only allowed back during a very short visitation period that evening.  I felt a bit misplaced but I was somewhat grateful for the time away. 

I don't recall what I did during that time.  I think I went home and fell asleep with the dog on the couch.  I had stayed with Brennis at the hospital partly because I wanted to be with him but also because our house had ceased being a place I enjoyed with him not there.  Actually, I hated being there.  It was quiet and seemed darker.  It definately had no "life" inside.  Even during my short trips home I felt a huge weight of sadness while I was there an couldn't wait to leave.  Thankfully people were coming several times a day to take care of our dog Chance.  I did miss Chance but every time I looked at him all I saw was his sadness because his Daddy wasn't home.  Being there was just too emotionally draining for me.  It was too quiet.

When it was finally time to go for the visitation that evening I was glad to be able to see Brennis again.  I knew that he would be in an awful state.  He would be hooked up to all sorts of machines, have a breathing tube in his mouth and would probably still be unconscious. I didn't care.  I just wanted to see him.

I got there  just as the visitation hour began.  In fact, as I was pulling into the hospital parking lot I was in line behind Brennis' mother and his brother.  Thankfully we all got to the room at the same time so we could be there for each other. 

Brennis looked very much like I had imagined.  He was still unconscious but his color was good and despite the tubes and wires I could tell that everything was fine.  His nurse was at the foot of his bed attending to the dozen or so monitors and controlling the input of the drugs that were being remotedly administered by tubes dangling from poles that surrounded Brennis like a metal curtain.  "You're just in time," she said.  "We were just waking him up". 

We were all excited and felt very fortunate to be able to be there when Brennis woke up.  All three of us surrounded Brennis and talked to him while the nurse slowly began to stop the medication that was keeping him unconscious and allowed him to regain consciousness.  It didn't take much time at all.  We were there to see him wake up and, more importantly, he was able to know that we were there when he woke up.  I was standing next to his bed rubbing my hand on his forehead when he opened his eyes.  As he slowly regained consciousness we could tell he was trying to talk.  He mouthed the word "Love".  After a few moments he mouthed "Ow!".  We knew then that he was going to be alright.  He couldn't really talk but between those two words and the "thumbs up" sign he was able to give us we communicated quite a bit in our short visit. 

Anyone who knows Brennis will tell you that he likes to talk.  I rembember when we first started dating when I was in college I fell asleep during our first telephone conversation because he was nervous and rambling on and on about something (not sure exactly, I was sleeping).  He isn't one of those people who talk and talk and don't listen to what you have to say.  He just likes to talk.  He likes to tell stories and shoot the breeze.  So it was more than a little strange all of us being in the room together because we had always relied on him to be the conversationalist.  If he wasn't talking he was giving us something great and fun to talk about.  So we were mostly quiet. 

Soon the nurse told us she had to perform some tests to see if they would be able to take his breathing tube out.  After a few minutes and a lot of effort on Brennis' part he passed the test and the nurse was able to take his breathing tube out.  Because the tube was such an irritant to his throat he still wasn't able to do more than whisper "Love" & "Ow".....I'm fairly sure there was still so many drugs coursing through his veins that they might have been the only two words he could remember. 

We didn't stay long.  We wanted him to rest and there really was nothing to say.  We knew he loved us and that he was in pain.  He communicated with us everything that was going on in his life with two words and a thumbs up gesture.

It seems strange that we spend so much time trying to explain ourselves, to struggle to get our point across, to tell someone how we feel about them when this very highly emotional, complicated situation could be summed up with two words and a hand gesture.  It made me wonder if we spend too much time trying to "communicate" when really we could just say what we really mean.  How many times have you tried to be honest with someone and didn't want to hurt their feelings and ended up just confusing them?  How often do we beat around the bush when we really want to tell someone that we like them.....or love them (or don't like them)?  

Living in the moment means making the most of the time we have.  It means seizing the opportuntities that lay before us and taking advantage of them.  Part of that is being able to communicate what we need to the people around us.  I am genereally guilty of letting my passive-agressive side win when I am tired and don't feel like dealing with problems.  I just storm around and don't say anything.....angry that nobody knows why I am upset.

There are a lot of reasons that we don't always say what we want to say: We don't want to hurt people's feelings; we don't feel like getting into an argument; we are not entirely sure we really believe what we are going to say.  I have to believe, however, that there are many more reasons why we should say what we want to say.  It is direct.  It gets us what we need.  It allows the people around us to know us better because we are being our authentic selves.  It is honest.   

Once again it is about choice.  How can I make the most out of this opportunity to communicate with the person standing in front of me?  What is it that I want to say and how can I say it in the best way?  And it's not just the tough stuff.  We often miss an opportunity to tell people the good things too.  We figure there will be another opportunity.  Sometimes there isn't.  We've been given a voice.  It is a gift.  We are not doing anyone any favors by not using it.

That night I went home to sleep.  It was quiet and lonely and I was up most of the night wanting to call the hospital to check on Brennis' status.  They had told me that I could call as much as I wanted but I knew that they were busy and every phone call took them away from patients.  I also knew that if something was wrong they would call me. So I curled up on the couch with Chance.  We layed there silently and drifted in and out of sleep. I missed the sound of Brennis' voice.  I missed his footsteps in the hallway.  I missed all of the little quirky annoying things that used to make me roll my eyes at him.  I knew that the worst was over and he would be home soon.  That made me feel better.  Without him my life was too quiet. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alive Again

Having the anniversary of Brennis' heart attack behind me has allowed me to let go of a lot of those intense emotions of the last few weeks.  I didn't really mind having them....but they reminded me of a very stressful time and I didn't really need to go back there again.  Once was enough. 

I say it was a stressful time but I honestly don't remember feeling "stressed" per se while it was happening. I suppose I was.....and probably in such a constant state of being stressed that I didn't even notice it. I often say that I was living in an alternate state of consciousness during that time and I believe that to be mostly true.  I think that the things I remember most vividly from that time are from moments when I let my guard down and tried to allow myself to relax.  More often than not I was usually jerked back into that safe alternate state of consciousness so I could "forget" what was happening while it was happening. 

A great example of that is the day of Brennis' surgery.  I remember very little from those five hours.....just a few things from right before the surgery and the end.  Everything else from that time period is gone from my memory.  I think I let my brain take a vacation for a while.  It gladly left.

Shortly after Brennis was taken to the operating room my family and I went to the waiting room.    After about two minutes a nurse came out carrying Brennis' glasses and his bracelet.  I must have watched too many hospital dramas on TV because as soon as I saw her coming out with those items my first thought was that they were going to tell me that Brennis had died.  I used to be fond of saying "expect the worst...that way you won't be disappointed."  Apparently I had taken my own advice.  Thankfully, they were just giving them to me for safe keeping.  Brennis was still alive despite being surrounded by my insanity for the past twenty years. 

That was literally the last thing I remember until it was over.  Honestly, there probably wasn't much to remember....just some middle aged people sitting in a waiting room talking about whatever might keep their mind off of what was happening.  Who knows?  I certainly don't recall a single thing from those hours.  The first thing I remember after that is the nurse coming out to tell us that Brennis' heart was beating on its own.  Those words were magical to me.  They didn't sound like medical words.  They sounded to me as though Brennis had been "away" and was now with us again.  To me it just wasn't about the was about Brennis being able to live in a new life with to live with all of the amazing lessons from this time we had all gone through;  live with a heart that worked more efficiently which would enable him to enjoy life more.  While I understood the medical significance of Brennis' heart beating on its own again I was so much happier that he would be alive in this new world with me.  We both had wasted so much time and I wasn't ready for him to jump ship just yet.

I have always been fascinated by stories that people tell when they have "died" on the operating table.....about seeing the white light and people that they loved who had passed on.  I am not sure I believe that that's really what happens but I believe that THEY believe it and really that's all that matters.  I like the idea that they got to experience something so wonderful and then come back and tell us all about it.  Brennis didn't have that kind of experience but I believe he can tell you what it was like to feel not alive and then to feel alive again.  I think maybe we all can tell that story to different degrees if we really thought about it.

Dying, being close to death, having someone you love close to death....they remind us, of course, of our mortality.  They remind us that our lives could be over soon and that we must make the most of our time here as we are able. That, however, is not big news.  We've known this since we were old enough to know what death is. 

What happened in the operating room that day was nothing short of a miracle.  I cannot even wrap my brain around what the doctors, nurses and technicians had to do to Brennis to fix his heart.  I do, however, know that it is possible. 

Likewise, I believe, that it is possible for us to fix our own spirits when we feel like they are broken.  Like our hearts, our spirits sometimes get clogged with junk and they don't work properly.  Sometimes it is necessary to cleanse your spirit so that you can once again feel alive. There are, however, no emergency rooms for the soul.  There are no x-rays or MRI's that will help you diagnose your broken spirit.  Only you have the power to know that it needs repair and to go about the business of making it better.  We are all born with the knowledge of how to do this but we often lack the courage or the will. 

I know that there is nothing better than to feel the best that you can feel in your body, mind and spirit.  It has been a long road for me and I am still traveling.  I don't know where it will end or if it ever will and that does not matter.  I am enjoying the journey and really that's more than enough to make my soul feel alive again.



Monday, June 11, 2012


One year ago today Brennis quit smoking.  That's what Brennis wants to call it now but it also happens to be the first anniversary of Brennis' heart attack. 

Coming up to this anniversary has caused a lot of emotional upheaval for both of us the last few weeks.  Just simple things like the warm summer air, gardening and our local Blues Festival are bringing back very vivid memories about that day, that week and that summer last year when our world changed.

I don't generally like to dwell on the past but there was something so monumental and meaningful about that event for us that it has made us both reflective and thoughtful.  I think mostly I am grateful.  I am, of course, grateful that Brennis made it through that day and the year since without any complications and is healthier now than he has been in many years.  I am thankful that we have made it through this year surrounded by friends and family who have been there for emotional, physical and financial support and who remain our friends even though our needs have been great at times.  I am grateful for so many things it would be impossible to list them all. 

What I remain most grateful for, however, is what I was able to take away from that day a year ago. It is what I have been writing about over the last two months....the feeling that the things that have happened to me (to us) happened for a reason.  I will never say that I know the reason but it is evident to me that there was something purposeful about our experience last year that I will forever know to be forged by a power greater than myself and knowing that power has given me the strength and courage to try to become the person I most want to be. 

I think I thought when I started this blog that I wanted to teach people things that I had learned.  What I realized, however, is that people didn't need to learn anything.  They just needed to know they weren't alone.  We are all essentially on our own out here in the world.  We don't really know how we got here, what our purpose is and how we are supposed to get through this life but we are all doing the best we can with what we've got.  What happened to Brennis last year has allowed me to be more honest with myself about how "alone" I have felt in this life and how the connection with other people makes that feeling dissipate. 

This anniversary will come and go and it will roll around again next year and hopefully it won't be so emotionally charged.  It is good to remember what happened so I can renew my gratitude and remember that we didn't travel this path alone.  I don't, however, want to live the rest of my life in the past.  Today is a stepping stone to the next journey (whatever that may be) and I am excited to see it unfold in front of me. 

The only part about that day a year ago that I play over and over in my mind is the decision to go to the emergency room.  We could just as easily have chosen to wait and not go to the emergency room that day and I may have lost Brennis.  Remembering that fact helps me to remember that the only thing we are guaranteed in this life is this moment.  We are here now.  We are alive.  And whatever state we are in we need to savor it, be thankful for it and, if possible, share it with people we love.

Please take an opportunity today to tell someone that you love them. Do something nice for someone who isn't expecting it.  Bring someone flowers.  Call an old friend.  Never forget that this moment right now is your life.  Please live it and for God's sake.....please don't waste it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


My last blog post was particularly difficult to write but it was also probably one of my favorite posts. Remembering how sad and anxious I felt and how intense everything was the day of Brennis’ surgery brought me to a very honest and emotional place and I thought it was reflected in my writing which is what I strive for. I held on to the post for a while re-reading it several times before I posted it and when I finally did I was happy that it was finished. Then it vanished. The whole blog vanished. The entire site that hosts my blog disappeared for twelve hours. I was surprised by my reaction but I now am glad that it happened.

I have always considered myself a writer. It may not always be what I DO but it is always who I AM. Just because I haven’t had the time to write since Brennis and I opened the gallery eleven years ago doesn’t mean that that has changed. It is still who I am. When I am not writing I am thinking about writing or imagining what I could be writing about almost every moment of the day. It is in my soul and it always will be. It is my gift and I understand it, honor it and am thankful for it.

When my blog disappeared last night I was upset. I had just posted the last blog and only a few people had a chance to read it before it was gone. This morning when I woke up and it was still missing I was angry. I know that this is not a website that is crucial to establishing world peace or saving lives but I know that some of my friends are reading and this was very inconvenient for them and for me.

Then when I got to work and it was still not there it occured to me: maybe it was gone forever. I don’t pretend to know much about the internet, web hosting, cyberspace and the rest. I just type words onto my computer screen and they magically appear on this blog. The part of the process that happens after I hit “publish” is not the least bit interesting to me. I just do my part. So it was in the realms of possibility in my mind that the site just ceased to exist and the twelve posts that I had written over the course of the last month and a half were gone forever. That thought, honestly, was more than I could bear.

I felt as though my best friend had died. I was overcome with despair and began sobbing. I understood that my reaction seemed and probably was overly dramatic but it was my honest gut reaction and I couldn’t help it. I tried over and over to find a cached version of the blog so I could copy and paste the posts but wasn’t successful. I emailed the support staff and asked for help. I cried and I cried and I couldn’t stop. I really thought I was losing my mind.

I couldn’t understand why this was so important to me. At first I thought it was because I enjoyed the comments that people were leaving and I was just being a selfish egomaniac who craved adulation. That honestly wasn’t it at all. I realized fairly soon that what was making me so sad was that I felt like I had been erased. Because writing is what I am and my writing disappeared I felt like I had disappeared. I understood that there is more to me than this blog but the blog has become for me what I love doing. It was become my favorite thing to do.

Several hours later the blog re-appeared. I quickly went about the business of moving the blog posts to another hosting site and made a better blog that I love even more than the original. That, however, is not the best thing to come out of this episode. What I am most grateful for is that what happened made me realize just how much I love writing and how happy I was to be writing again. Now I know I can’t give it up. It’s what I do and it’s who I am. That fact can never be erased.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Feet First

When I was about ten years old I climbed up the stairs to the high dive for the first time. I wasn’t a particularly daring child nor was I particularly athletic. Watching the older kids gracefully diving from the high dive, however, I thought it looked like they were flying and I so wanted to feel like I was flying being an overweight pre-teen trapped on this earth with my embarrassing family.

I climbed the stairs….slowly at first….then slower, and slower and slower until I finally made it to the top and stood on the narrow board which might as well have been on top of the Empire State Building. There were no reference points for me to judge my place in the world and I was terrified that the gusts of wind which were the only weather on the high dive were going to blow me to my death. As I walked closer to the edge I understood that I now had no choice. Climbing back down the stairs was not only prohibited by the pool rules but seemed a thousand times worse than dying. I walked toward the edge, my toes gripping the glistening sand that was glued to the board for traction and edged closer to my fate. I knew I had to jump. I knew it had to be soon or everyone would be looking at me. I did it. I’m fairly certain I survived.

The morning of Brennis’ surgery felt a bit like that. Brennis and I were both certainly in a place we had never been before. Though my father had had open heart surgery fifteen years before and I was at the hospital before, during and after his surgery I really had no idea what my mother was going through until that day. Though we did not talk about it we knew the risks of this surgery and we knew that the recovery afterward would be long and difficult. There were many frightening things about what was going to happen. We also knew that there really was no other choice. So we stood there on the diving board together but in very different places.

We were given a general idea about what time the surgery was going to be (I assume they don’t like to promise specific times since things can be terribly unpredictable in a hospital). Brennis’ mother, my parents and my sister wanted to be there with me while I waited during the long surgery….Brennis’ sister was going to come after work. We had also asked the minister of Brennis’ family church to be with us beforehand for a few moments of prayer. Much earlier than we had expected, however, we were informed that Brennis was going to be going into surgery soon (I honestly don’t remember what time but it allowed me to stop worrying about Brennis for a few minutes and worry about getting our family and the minister there as soon as possible). I called everyone and told them the news. Brennis’ mother arrived first followed shortly by the minister. My family was coming an hour away from Cleveland so they probably wouldn’t get to see Brennis before the surgery.

This was it. We were standing there on the edge of the diving board and we couldn’t wait any longer.

When I was ten, when I finally jumped from the high dive I jumped feet first. I realized I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself. I didn’t need to do a perfect dive. I had done everything I had set out to do. I jumped one time onto the board and then…..I flew. It didn’t feel much like flying actually but I imagine it’s the closest I will ever get to it. It really felt a lot more like falling but in my mind I was newly alive with pride in myself and trying to feel all of the new, amazing, exhilirating feelings in my body. It was over before it began and soon the cold water began to envelope my body and I was plunged deep into the pool. I had done it. I climbed back up the stairs for another turn.

After the minister said his prayer he and Brennis’ mother left the room leaving us to say something to each other before the surgery. What should I say? Should I say “I love you” or would that make him think I thought he might die? Should I tell him I knew everything was going to be alright even though I didn’t really know that that was true? Or should I tell him that he was the solid ground beneath my feet….the one who for the past twenty years had been the one I clung to when I was afraid of falling…..that he was my frame of reference when I was lost…..Should I tell him I was only afraid when he wasn’t there? Should I say good bye?

There wasn’t time. Before I knew it the orderlies came into the room to take Brennis to the operating room. We gave each other a look that let each other know that we really didn’t need to say anything. We knew that we loved each other and we knew that what was happening now was no longer in our hands. We both smiled and shed a tear and that was it. Before I knew it I was standing there alone and helpless while the people who could help him took my Brennis through the doorway feet first.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Private Lives

Anyone going through a medical crisis will tell you that one of the most frustrating things about it is that people don’t know how to act around you while it’s happening. It’s not a surprise. While we spend thousands of hours a year discussing the latest reality show with our friends and family, we almost never talk about things that are really important like our health. Of course, it’s because these discussions generally aren’t pleasant or fun. We complain about our aches and pains, compare our allergies and talk about how exhausted we are but we don’t really go beyond that….it’s just not what we do.

Then one day we find ourselves diagnosed with cancer and nobody knows how to act around us. People stop calling, call too much, ask personal questions, offer unsolicited advice….in general act as awkward as is humanly possible. It wasn’t until months after Brennis was well recovered from his heart attack that this fact became crystal clear to me. A good friend who had been very supportive of both Brennis and myself during our crisis was diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked and saddened but despite the fact that we had just been through a similar drama I had no idea what I could offer her or do for her. My first reaction was to leave her alone….I reasoned that if she wanted or needed help she would ask for it. This solution had nothing to do with my own recent personal experience where Brennis and I had to ask for virtually NOTHING for months. It was probably partly selfishness on my part - not wanting to commit myself to being intimate with another health crisis…..I was barely recovered from the last one. The truth of the matter, however, is that I really just didn’t know what to do. Did she want me to make her laugh, hug her while she cried, research treatment options? I didn’t know what I could or should do.

Fortunately, my friend told me. Shortly after she was diagnosed she sent an email to her friends letting them know about her cancer and told us in a clear language what she needed, what she didn’t need and that she understood that we cared about her but were out of our element as friends. It was such a relief. She told me what she needed like she was writing her Christmas wish list….it was so easy. There would be no awkward conversatoins (“How are you feeling?”…..said with a cocked head and pained expression on my face), guilt (me waiting by the phone for her to call me and ask for help while I felt guilty not offering help), or feet in my mouth (“Well, of all the cancers to have that’s the good one!”).

Somehow I knew that this was needed while Brennis was in the hospital but wasn’t really aware how to address it. Many people came to visit him in the hospital which was very kind. It wasn’t always the best timing but just knowing that they cared enough to give up time from their busy day was very heartwarming and touched us deeply. Many, many people sent cards, called, emailed, posted on Facebook….generally kept their distance but wanted to be sure we knew that they were praying for us. That was such an amazing feeling…..knowing that so many people cared and it was something that we could almost tangibly ”feel” every moment Brennis was in the hospital. Some people disappeared. For whatever reason some people just vanished. We didn’t take it personally because we might have done the same thing in a similar circumstance. What we knew was that those people were probably thinking about Brennis and maybe even praying for him….they were just quiet about it. It didn’t make them any less friends…it was just what they could do.

The morning that Brennis was scheduled to have his open heart surgery we waited nervously after a sleepless night for the nurses to move him to another room and begin to prep him for surgery. Instead everyone was very quiet and nobody had been in the room for longer than usual. Then his surgeon entered the room and informed us that they were going to have to postpone the surgery for a day because one of his team members was ill and not able to do the surgery with him. The Doctor was very kind and apologetic and really there was nothing anyone could have done to make things any better but it was still terribly upsetting news for both of us who wanted so desperately for this part of our journy to be behind us. I tried to make Brennis feel better but he was silent and reflective. The more I tried the more I knew it was best for me to just leave him alone. I told him I was going to go out and call our families and let them know the news. He asked me to tell them that he didn’t want any visitors that day….he was too upset. I understood and left the room and made the necessary phone calls. By the time I got back up to the room he had changed his mind. He realized that another twenty-four hours of loneliness would be terribly depressing…..I left the room again and made the same phone calls with different news. It was one of the few truly funny moments before the surgery that I remember and God knows after that major disappointment we needed something to laugh about. As it turned out that was one of the nicest days we had at the hospital. Some great people visited, we laughed about Brennis’ rapidly changing moods and we found ourselves more relaxed about the next day’s surgery than we were the day before.

I wonder how often we miss an opportunity to let people know what we need or how they can be helpful to us….especially people who are there always asking us if we need anything. We try to be strong and independent but really we all could use a little help sometimes…..advice, companionship, someone who will just listen to us. And yet we plow on alone…thinking that this is what makes us strong individuals. It doesn’t. It makes us incomplete. The greatest part of the human experience is the quality and depth of our interactions with other people. Some people like to be surrounded by people all of the time, others would rather spend most of their time alone but at some point we all desire the intimacy of friendship…..we learn from it, we grow from it and we are better people because of it. Part of intimacy is being honest with those closest to us about what we need and what we want from our relationships.

My friend was honest with me when she was diagnosed with cancer and I was grateful. She was also kind enough to let me be among the first to know after her surgery that the doctor said that she was cancer free. Now she and I share a bond that can never be broken. We both have gone through a harrowing medical crisis and have come out on the other side. We feel we understand better the value of life and the importance of speaking your needs while you are still able. The fact that Brennis had to have a heart attack and she had to have cancer to understand that is merely a footnote now. The gift is that we know it separately and we know it together and we appreciate each other more because we didn’t try to go through it alone.