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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 - Looking Back on the Day That Changed Everything

Since everyone else is doing it . . . here I go with what I remember about 9/11/01.

I was on my computer, ordering beads. The woman I ordered from sent me an email right after I submitted my order. All it said was, "Are you watching TV?"

I found that to be an odd question. I never watch television during the day, but because she asked, I thought I should turn it on. As I headed toward the living room, the phone rang. I answered to find that it was a friend of ours from Germany. JD immediately asked the same question my bead lady had.

"Are you watching TV?"

So I walked into the living room, sad down on the coffee table facing the television, and turned it on. The first thing I saw as I flipped to CNN was the second plane hitting the tower. Live. As it happened. I don't remember saying anything more to JD. I don't remember if I hung up or if he did. After a while, my bead lady (whose name I cannot remember for some reason) called me. We had never spoke on the phone before, only communicating via email. But that day we talked on the phone and watched CNN together for over two hours.

At some point I called my husband, Mike, at work. We had just moved from North Dakota to North Carolina about six weeks earlier, so he had only been a part of this squadron for a short time. Prior to moving there, Mike had been in Korea for a year. So we were enjoying something of a "honeymoon period" after spending a year apart. But I knew by the tone of his voice as he got on the phone that day that the honeymoon was over. He had his Captain Hat on as he spoke, telling me that yes, he knew what had happened, and no, he didn't know how that would affect him or his new job.

I went to the school down the street to pick my children up at the end of the school day. None of the parents waiting outside the school spoke much as we waited for the final bell to ring. As my children - Mackenzie, age 7 and Keeghan, age 5 - came out, all I wanted to do was hold them tight. They both knew something had happened because they saw their teachers crying. I think I tried to explain as best I could what had happened, trying not to scare them too much. 

Mike didn't get home until late that evening, and then he was home only to eat and change into a clean uniform as he had night shift in the command post that night due to the new, heightened alert status the whole country was at. I know we talked a little that night, but I don't remember what about. As earlier, his Captain Hat was on and he was thinking of nothing but the job at hand.

Life changed drastically in the days and weeks that followed. Fear was a constant. Mike deployed a month after the attack. The kids and I were, once again, on our own. That was the first of what has now been 5 deployments for Mike. All because of the events of that one day, 12 years ago.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Grumpy


I find myself very angry and annoyed lately.  I didn’t really think it was all that noticeable though, at least not until a good friend asked me yesterday why I was so grumpy.  I should be feeling better, right?  August is over.  I made it through the 5-year anniversary of Keeghan’s death and it is finally, gloriously, September.

Enter Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, stage left.

At first I thought it was very ironic that Keeghan died on the eve of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, almost as if he was saying, “Keep on fighting Mama.”  It was fitting.  But now?  It’s like back-to-back hell months.  I just about get through my own personal hell and now I am inundated with everyone else’s hell story, and honestly, I’m just not in the mood for it this year.

That sounds pretty shallow, doesn’t it?  I’m not in the mood.  As if any of those other people sharing their story were in the mood for what happened to them.  But there really is no other way to put it.  My head isn’t in the right place.  For the ones telling their story about how their child was diagnosed with cancer, went through treatment, and is now alive but with side effects from chemo . . . well, good for you.  Your child is ALIVE.  Yes, with definite sucktastic deficits to deal with because of the harshness of chemo, radiation, or both.  But alive.

My anger over this is a little off the chart this year.  I recognize that it is wrong.  I recognize that it isn’t fair to my friends whose children have survived to feel this way.  I recognize that I am being selfish.  It doesn’t change my resentment though.  Of my closest friends in the childhood cancer world, I am the only one whose child is dead.  I don’t wish for any of them to join me in that fact, but sometimes it is tough being the only one.

So yeah . . . I guess I am grumpy.  Right or wrong, I’ll own up to it.  I won’t apologize though.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Can't Turn the White House Gold? Then Do Something Else.


Turn the White House Gold for the month of September.

I signed the petition.  I thought it sounded like a cool idea.

In theory.

I, like so many of my fellow parents of children with cancer, received an email yesterday saying that the White House would not be turned gold for the month of September, but that the President would be proclaiming the month officially as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  I wasn’t really surprised by this.  Disappointed maybe, but not surprised.

The absolute outrage that I have seen on Facebook over it baffles me though.  I am obviously in the minority in terms of not being all that surprised or upset.  I was talking to my husband about it this morning.

By the way, for the record, today - as I sit writing about turning the White House gold - we are marking the 5th anniversary of our son’s death from cancer.  Needless to say, spreading awareness is very important to me.

So as my husband and I were talking, I really started thinking about what it would take to turn the White House gold.  

Numerous light bulbs to start, and if you know of a place that sells gold ones - and I mean truly gold, not yellow - I’d love to know where it is, because yellow light bulbs would just look like the White House had a bug problem that they were trying to fix.

Once they had the light bulbs, then there is the staff requirement to change them all (how many White House staff members does it take to change every light bulb . . .).

Most importantly, how much money would it take to do all of that?

A ha!  There’s the real problem!

Our government is broke.  We all know that they’ve cut funding for cancer research, yet you think they have the money to buy light bulbs?  And if they did have that kind of money, wouldn’t you rather it was given for research rather than . . . light bulbs???

Let’s face it, the real beef here isn’t even that they said no.  Admit it - it’s the fact that they (apparently) turn the White House PINK in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month that bites everyone in the arse.  

But I bet they already have all the pink light bulbs they need, so no additional money is required.

Seriously people, I hate to say “get over it” but really . . . get over it.  A door has been closed in your face, so change paths.  You want the White House gold?  Instead of signing a petition, send them light bulbs.  If every cancer parent in the country sends a couple of light bulbs, I’d be willing to bet they’d have enough.

And then some.

Or, better yet, don’t copy the “turn the White House pink” bit and create a new one.  Instead of sending light bulbs, send gold ribbons that say something about childhood cancer awareness to tie around every tree on the White House grounds.  Inundate them with gold to decorate the White House.

Figure out something new.  But for the love of everything holy in the universe, stop whining about it and try to look outside your own little box.

K?

Friday, August 23, 2013

August Rambling

Ramble time.

August is a horrible month for me.  We started off August 2008 with high hopes.  Keeghan, our 12-year-old son, was starting a new drug trial for the treatment of his relapsed brain tumor.  We knew we were grasping at straws, but still . . . the hope was there.

By mid-August he was on hospice care.  On August 31st he died.

I hate August.  August is a month of extreme anger for me.

After Keeghan’s death, I got involved in a few different fundraisers for childhood cancer research.  In the first three years after he died, I was very involved.  Through all of this involvement, I met many other parents of children with cancer, and through Facebook have stayed in touch with some of them.  They keep me “in the know” on what is going on in the childhood cancer world, whether I care to know or not.  

It’s been five years now though and my fire for fundraising, for getting out there and waving my flag is just . . . extinguished.  I need a break from everyone.  I don’t feel social this month.  I need a break for so many reasons, some of which are not things I think most people would understand or want to hear.  

So to save my 217 friends on Facebook from my anger, I decided to deactivate my account for the month of August.  I even made an announcement at the end of July to let them all know what I was doing.  Apparently that wasn’t enough though, because people just had to know what I was doing.

After finding out from a friend that people were worried, I reactivated my account to let everyone know what the deal was.  And immediately I was inundated with everything I was trying to avoid this month.  People who, frankly, just piss me off.

The people whose greatest challenge in life is dealing with traffic to get to work every day.

The mother with healthy children who can do nothing but whine about her lot in life.

The mother whose child died and who now uses Facebook as her own big pity party, posting pictures of her child constantly so that people will continue to tell her how sorry they are for her.

The people who think posting pictures of children looking sick, or worse, dead children, is a great way to spread awareness.

The parents whose children are cancer survivors - so far - and now spend all of their time on the Advocacy Soapbox because they still have hope.

F*#& that.  I will not use Keeghan to get people to feel sorry for me.  Don’t feel sorry for me; feel sorry for my son who only got to live to be 12.  

I will not use pictures of him as he was dying to scare people into awareness.  

I will not lie and pretend to have hope anymore.  Sure, I have high hopes for the children who are survivors because I don’t want any more children to die, but I cannot pretend that I have hope for me anymore.  No new treatment or cure can give me what I want most.

Which brings me to my recent epiphany.  I’ve been dreading this five-year anniversary of Keeghan’s death for a long time now.  Five years.  In the cancer world, you pray to make it to five years cancer free.  That magic “cure” time.  Not all cancers are considered cured at five years, but it’s still a major goal to reach.  No one prays to reach the five-year anniversary of a death though.  

But in a way, I feel like I have been looking forward to this one.  Laying in bed one morning this month, after waking (once again) from a dream of Keeghan, it hit me.  Why this anniversary is so big.  Subconsciously, the thought is there that I’ve finally made it to five years and, against all odds, my marriage is still intact, my daughter is still alive and well, and I am still reasonably sane (depending on your perspective).

I’ve passed the test.  I’ve done it.

So now give him back.

I’ve proven I could do it, even though I never though I could.  I never wanted to.  But I did it.  I gave him up, watched him die, and survived.

So can the test end now?  Can I please just have him back?

That is what I’ve spent this month thinking.  No matter how much logic I throw at myself, no matter how much reality I face, the bottom line is that I want him back.

No one on Facebook can help me with this.  I don’t need a bunch of people saying, “I’m so sorry hon!” or “big hugs” or just posting hearts in response.  I’m not looking for support.  The fact that so many people care is nice, but it doesn’t help.  Not this month.  Because there is no one who knows how I feel.  

I have friends who have also lost a child, but they still do not know how I feel because they’re not Shannon, and they didn’t lose Keeghan.  Only I know how that feels, just as Mike is the only one who knows how MIKE feels having lost Keeghan.  Same goes for Mackenzie.  

You.  Do.  Not.  Know.

Which leads me to one more reason for deactivating Facebook.  We call all of the people we know on Facebook friends, but are they?  For me the answer to that is “no.”  Here is how my Facebook “friends” are divided:

  • People I have known at some point in my life but never kept in touch with before Facebook
  • People I’ve never met but know through old blog sites
  • Military acquaintances from past places we have lived
  • Cancer world 
  • Family members
  • Real friends

Now, some people fall into more than one category.  True friends that I’ve never met in person.  People from the cancer and military worlds who I am now closer to than I am to my own family.  And then there are the people who I met through cancer, but are also military families and people I consider true friends.  The “gray friend” because they don’t fall into one black-and-white category.

The problem comes from the people who are not “friends” - not in the true sense of the word (talking pre-Facebook definitions now) - but who think they are because we’ve met once and they have a child who had cancer, and so did I and now they feel they have the right to know what I am doing at all times.

Again, f*#& that.  

I’m just trying to keep it real.  I care about a lot of people, but if they disappear from Facebook, it isn’t my place to try to get in their business and find out why.  Facebook “friendship” is not real friendship.  It’s a virtual backyard social at best.  Fun at times, and at others a total train wreck.  


So if I want to turn it off for a while, let me.  That’s really all I ask.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I never meant to be a stay-at-home mom.

I never set out to be a stay at home mom.  In all honesty, I never thought I’d be anything more than a secretary, but I at least thought I would always have a job.  After partying my way through my freshman year in college, my mother told me that she and my dad weren’t sending me back for a second year.  

“A girl doesn’t need a college degree anyway.”

So at 19 I began working as a secretary and that was that.  But after five years of working in clerical jobs - secretary for a pompous old insurance broker, receptionist for a group of psychiatrists, billing clerk for a property management company - I needed to find something else.  

I had briefly dated a guy who was in the Army.  After a weekend spent at the base where he was stationed, I thought, “Wow, this military life doesn’t seem so bad.”  After a particularly boring morning working as an accounts payable clerk, I paid a visit to an Army recruiter on my lunch break.  Of course he made the Army sound like the bomb diggity.

Three weeks later I was on a plane for basic training.  I had chosen to train to be a psychiatric specialist, thinking that it was something I could also do as a civilian when I got out of the Army.  There were a few other . . . unforeseen challenges let’s say, that I had not considered.  The first was that working on a psych ward, while being far removed from secretarial work, wasn’t exactly more fun.  More exciting at times, sure.  But putting a patient in four-point restraints does not really equate to “fun.”

The second challenge that came to define my time in the Army was an injury obtained in basic training that, in the end, not only made it impossible for me to stay in the Army because I could no longer run, but also made me a disabled vet for life.  

I met my husband, Mike, while I was in the Army.  He got out of the military a year after we got married and immediately started college.  I worked - as a secretary, of course - while he was in school.  After graduation, he received a commission in the U.S. Air Force.  When we moved to his first Air Force assignment, I planned to get a job.

You guessed it - as a secretary.  I was 31-years-old by this time and my greatest skill was my 85-wpm typing speed.  But Mike saw things differently.  He told me that it was now my turn to go to school.  

“I am not smart enough to finish a college degree.”   I truly believed that.  After nearly failing out of college as an 18-year-old, how could I possibly finish a degree in my thirties, especially with two preschool-aged children to take care of?

But start school I did.  My initial goal was to get an associate’s degree.  I figured I could probably handle that.  The first few classes I took were basic computer courses that I breezed through fairly easily, which got me thinking maybe I really could finish a bachelor’s degree.  After a year of easy A’s, and a lot of encouragement from my husband, I made the leap and entered into a human resource bachelor’s degree program.

It was around that same time that I started having problems again with the service-connected foot injury and was bumped up to 30% disabled with the VA.  As such I was eligible to apply for the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.  I took all of the aptitude tests they required, met with a counselor who determined that I was, in fact, capable of completing college.  The whole process was a bit comical to me because I already was attending college full-time, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.  When the final decision was made to accept me into Voc Rehab, which meant that the VA would start paying for my tuition and books, as well as pay me a monthly subsistence while I was in school, I was told that they wanted me to get a computer degree because that was where I had scored highest on their aptitude tests.  The problem was that I didn’t want a computer degree.  I wanted, and had already started, a human resources degree.  So the gentleman I met with at the VA Regional Office told me that they would agree to pay for my HR degree if I would agree to also get a computer degree.

“So you’re saying that you’d rather pay for me to get TWO degrees instead of just the one HR degree?”

The answer was yes.  I was in shock.  Just a little over a year earlier I had been convinced that I wasn’t smart enough to finish anything beyond an associate’s degree and now I was going to take on a double major.

What had I got myself into?

But I tackled it with no small amount of cockiness.  Every new “A” I received convinced me even more that I truly was smart.  I was capable. I was relevant.  I was so much more than just a secretary.  

For the next year, going to college was my job, and I excelled at it.  But as I approached my last year of school, I realized that we would have to leave North Dakota, where we were stationed at the time, and move on to Mike’s next Air Force assignment a full year before I was to graduate.  There was no guarantee that the next base we went to would have a local school offering the same two degree programs.  It was a hard decision to make, but Mike chose to volunteer for an assignment in Korea.  It was a one-year unaccompanied tour, which meant the kids - now aged 4 and 6 - and I would stay in North Dakota for the year that he was overseas.  It allowed me that extra year I needed to finish my degrees.  I wasn’t happy about the separation; none of us were.  But I loved my husband so much for being willing to make that sacrifice for me.

In July 2001 I finished college, graduating summa cum laude with a 3.94 GPA.  I’d done it!  A week after I finished my last class, Mike returned from Korea, we packed up and moved from North Dakota to North Carolina.  I was going to get the kids started in school and then I was going to go out and find my career.  

I was ready, and I was excited.

Less than six weeks after Mike signed into his new unit two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, while another hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  All plans for a career were destroyed.   Mike deployed a month later.  He would deploy two more times in the three years we were in North Carolina.  As much as I wanted a career, being home for my kids after school, giving them that one guaranteed point of stability, was more important.  

Looking back, life seemed to suddenly shoot into fast-forward after 9/11.  Mike deployed three times in three years.  He was gone so much, our son Keeghan asked one day, “Why doesn’t Daddy want to be with me?”

In 2004 we (blessedly) left North Carolina and headed to Texas where Mike had been accepted into a two-year master’s degree program.  No deployments for two years!  We were thrilled!  As soon as the kids started school, I applied for a job with a large insurance company in San Antonio and was almost immediately hired.  I wasn’t going to be working in the human resources department as I would have liked, but at least it was a foot in the door with a good company.  It would give me some much-needed work experience to support my education (I hadn’t worked since 1999 when I quit working as a secretary to focus on school).  

Again with the life-in-fast-forward.  I worked for a year and a half, quitting when we were a few weeks out from moving to our next assignment in Washington, DC.  A month after I quit working, Keeghan was diagnosed with cancer.  He was ten-years-old.  Our daughter, Mackenzie, was 12 at the time.  

Two brain surgeries.  Thirty-two radiation treatments.  Nearly two and a half years of alternating between living in hospitals and shuttling back and forth to chemo appointments, all the while homeschooling both children because we couldn’t have them around the germs of a full classroom.  The career I had hoped for had morphed into something entirely different.  My career now was as teacher, patient advocate, nurse, doctor, mom.  It may not have been a job that paid well, but it paid in ways that can’t be measured by most.  It allowed me to spend the last two years of my son’s life with him, 24/7.  That is priceless.

Keeghan died in 2008, a full seven years after I had finished college.  In that seven years, I had worked for less than two.  As soon as he died, my “job” in life was just keeping it together.  Keeping my 14-year-old daughter who had once told her little brother, “If you die Keeghan, I will have to kill myself because I can’t live without you” alive.  Keeping my marriage from completely folding because the weight of grief was so heavy.

I won’t lie, I remember very little about the first two and half years after Keeghan died.  I was treading water in an ocean of tears.  Mike was still active duty in the Air Force, Mackenzie was attending a public high school, and I was home wondering what to do with my life.  

In 2011 Mike got orders to go to Okinawa, Japan.  That assignment was the catalyst I needed.  It got me to a new place, away from family and friends who did more to make the grieving worse than they did to help.  In Okinawa I found an international women’s group to get involved with, eventually holding two positions on their Board of Directors.  Ironically, one of the positions was as Secretary.  My forever curse.  But I learned in working for that group that I was still capable of working, of doing something well.  When we found out in December 2012 that Mike had been selected for a squadron commander position in California, I knew it was time.  Time for me to finally get out and find a job.  Mackenzie would be starting college in California.  There was no reason anymore for me to be a stay-at-home-mom.

Which brings us to now.  I am a 47-year-old woman with two degrees - degrees that, for the record, I kicked ass at - but still . . . two degrees that are 12 years old, with less than two years of paid work experience to support.  I’ve been applying for jobs for two months now and have received nothing but replies of “does not meet minimum qualifications.”  Admittedly, I am in a somewhat remote area of California, so jobs within a reasonable commuting distance are not abundant.  But I cannot describe how much it pains me to apply for a Department Assistant position, nothing more than a GLORIFIED SECRETARY JOB, and receive an email back saying, “Unfortunately, we are not moving forward with your application at this time. We encourage you to visit our career site at blahblahblah . . .” from a human resource assistant.  

Don’t just stab me, why not twist the knife a little while you’re at it?  

I should be working in the human resource department somewhere, and instead I’m being turned down for secretary jobs by one.  My resume full of volunteer positions is probably a source of great amusement for these people who have been fortunate enough to work.  People who probably think I’ve led a pampered life.


I never meant to be a stay-at-home-mom.  I never meant to be nearing 50 and unemployed.  Unmarketable.  Unworthy.  Considering the way our family’s life went, I wouldn’t change anything.  But still . . . I’d like a chance to prove myself now.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parenting 101 - Love Your Children Unconditionally


I’ve often wondered how we managed to raise such a smart daughter.  She is so much smarter than I ever was at her age.  She makes good choices.  She has good friends.  She loves deeply and honestly.  

She and I had a conversation recently about some of the other girls her age that we know who are so eager to be in relationships.  Girls who think having sex on the first date is normal.  Girls who feel like their life is incomplete if they don’t have a boyfriend.  

I was one of those girls.  Started dating a boy at age 14.  Believed him when he said we’d be together forever, making choices that I was so not ready for.  When that relationship ended, I spent the next few years feeling like I was un-lovable.  Then came the years of going from one relationship to the next, hoping every time that this would be the one to love me enough to marry me.  When one finally did want to marry me, I jumped at the chance only to find out he really wasn’t Mr. Right.  

It wasn’t until I learned to love myself that I was open to accepting that someone else could love me as well.

So as M and I discussed why she is so different, why she doesn’t feel the need for a boy in her life constantly, we figured it out.  She loves the person she is already.  She doesn’t need someone else to make her feel loved.

And why is that?

Because we’ve always loved the person she is, and we’ve told her so.  We’ve always allowed her to be her own person, shaping herself in her own way, but always with us as the safety net to catch her when she falls.  Because she knows what unconditional love is, she knows what she wants in a relationship and is willing to wait for it.

How amazing is that?

It’s a rare thing for me to pat myself on the back for anything, but this time I feel it is in order.  Mike and I raised an amazing young woman.  We had no clue what we were doing, but we still managed to get it right.

Go us!

Talk Talk Talk


I think everyone has something that they would like to change about themselves.  Some of us have many things we’d like to change.  My list would probably fill a legal pad, but most of my “fixes” are either impossible (be taller) or out of my price range (tummy tuck/face lift/boob job).  There is one thing on that list, however, that is well within my capability to fix - for free! - and yet I just can’t seem to fix it.

I talk too much.

I know it is true because I’ve been told it my entire life.  Parents, sibling, teachers, bosses.  

“Shannon, be quiet.”

“Do you ever shut up?”

“Shannon is a talker.”

“How do you ever get anything done when you’re always talking?”

My husband is a talker also, but not nearly as bad as I am.  When we were first dating, a friend of ours asked how we ever managed to get a word in.  

::insert eye roll here::
In my 46 years of being told I talk too much, I’ve probably made 46,000 vows to stop doing it.  I’ve failed every single time.

I tend to be at my chattiest when I am in social situations with people I am unfamiliar with.  I’m not the most social person to begin with.  I like being in my own home, with my husband and daughter, maybe a couple friends over for drinks.  I’m chatty then, but not the full on diahrrea-of-the-mouth as my mother used to call it.  But put me in someone else’s house, with people I’ve never met, and I become so hyper-aware of feeling like an outsider that I start to talk.  Incessantly.

I bring up this whole topic because I did it last night at a new friend’s house.  I had met one other person there, but I didn’t really know her.  Everyone else was new to me.  So what did I do?  

Talk, talk, talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk . . . talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk . . . talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk . . .

The worst part about it is the talk-hangover I wake up with the next day.  The feeling of embarrassment because I yammered on and on all evening.  The brain pain from trying to remember everything I said.  The dread that I now feel over seeing any of these women again because of my embarrassment, which is made worse by the fact that a couple of them work in the same building as my husband.

Yes, I know.  I’m probably over-thinking it.  It doesn’t matter though.

Vow 46,0001 has now been made.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Words are . . .


Words are my friend.

I misuse them sometimes though.  I guess that happens in any friendship at times.  The trick is to learn from the experience and not do it again.

I’m a slow learner . . .

Words are weapons.

I have handled many weapons in my life.  I’ve learned to shoot a number of different firearms as well as a bow.  I’ve even thrown a live hand grenade (only once though, and because I didn’t throw it very far, I was never allowed to throw one again).  But words are my weapon of choice.

I do not deal well with confrontation.  I was never a fighter as a kid.  But I learned the power of the proper use of words early on.  Back then it was my diary that caught the brunt of my rants.  I could tear a person down to nothing with just my pen and paper.  Even though the object of my anger never read those words, I always felt better once I got them out of my head.

As a teen I learned the power of positive words.  First love provided me with the opportunity to use words to convey happiness, share the love I felt - so young and vulnerable - with someone else.  Oh, how I loved writing those letters!

And then words hurt me.  The song is right - breaking up really is hard to do.

Words of sadness.  Words of anguish.  Words of apology.  Pathetic, groveling words.  And then words of anger, this time actually shared.  Words that can never be taken back.

For the first time words were used as a weapon against me.

I lost my ability to write for a number of years.  At the time I was young and carefree, experiencing life on my own for the first time, so there was no need for rants, no love letters to be written.

Unless you count that one time . . . does taking a red pen and correcting a letter from a particularly annoying man count as using words?  After mailing the letter back, I never heard from him again, so it had the desired effect.

Words are love.

Love was what got me writing again.  Love letters to the man who would become my husband, and then even more letters after we were married since his job takes him away often.  Such treasures those letters are!  I have jewelry that is kept in a shoe box, but those letters are kept in the safe.

Words are therapy.

Then the Internet came along and words became so much more dangerous.  In the beginning it was a private blog, a place to write about good days and bad.  A place to rage when I was mad at my boss, or sing the praises of my obviously gifted and brilliant children.  I found a few women there to share experiences with, women who to this day are so very important to me.  It was a place to unload all the words jumbled in my head without any chance of hurting anyone.  Free therapy.

I began a public “blog” when my son was diagnosed with cancer.  It wasn’t a blog so much as a mental dumping ground.  Nothing was written with the intent of triggering a conversation like my old blog entries were.  This was a place to inform those who cared, but more importantly, to rail at the universe over the atrocities raining down on my child.  It was a place to say all of the things I couldn’t say out loud.

After his death I found Facebook.  Oh how I wish I could go back to that day and make a different choice.  I joined just to see what all of the hubbub was about.  For months I didn’t use it at all.  Then I began using it as a way to connect with the teens from our homeschool group who came to my house once a week to build a yearbook.  Within a year I was using it to stay connected to friends.  Then came family, high school friends, army friends, college friends, other cancer parents.

The ability to immediately reach a large audience with a few short words killed my will to sit down and write.  The problem with writing only a few words at a time, however, is that true meaning is never reached.  You cannot understand what is in a person’s heart, what the meaning behind the words are, when there is nothing more than a sentence.

People got hurt.  Me.  Them.  Everyone.

Words were a weapon again, albeit an accidental one.

So I went back to my rants.  The problem with rants on Facebook is that there are too many things to rant about!  It is a virtual diarrhea of the mouth.  One small comment, probably meant to be funny, ends up angering someone.  Differing opinions on politics, religion, parenting . . . you name it.  All of it causes rants in my head.  The bounce around in there, wanting to get out.  Sometimes for days before I finally say “screw it” and download it all to the screen, my fingers the conduit.  Oftentimes my high-speed fingers still can’t download as fast as my mind wants them to.

When it is finished, I feel better.  But because Facebook is not the place for that type of writing, I think I leave everyone rolling their eyes.

“There she goes again!”

“Oh god, Shannon’s ranting.  Again.”

“Great, what now?”

I get that though.  I kind of feel the same way about myself.  Because Facebook isn’t a blog site.  It shouldn’t be a weapon, an easy passive-aggressive way to lash out.  “Unfriending” shouldn’t be a weapon used to hurt others.  Especially not by adults.

It’s time for Facebook to go back to being what it started out as for me - a virtual address book.  That place where I could go to see where everyone is at, maybe say hi occasionally, have a frivolous conversation.  Not a place to be angered, and if there are people there who cause anger, they need to be removed.  Just as a name in an address book can be erased, so should those who bring anger, insult or pain into my life.

Words are a lesson, and it’s time for me to go back to school.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thanks . . . not.


23 years and this is the thanks we get.

My husband, Mike, is a Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force.  He's given the U.S. military 23 years of his life.  He's deployed 5 times since 2001, missing birthdays, holidays, anniversaries.  But we've never complained.

I'm complaining now though.

You see, we have pets.  One dog and one cat.  We are currently stationed at Kadena AB in Okinawa, Japan.  Getting said dog and cat here two years ago was difficult - especially considering the fact that we had to be here less than two months after Mike returned home from his 4th deployment - but we did get here with Ceili and B.B. (dog and cat respectively).

Now we are leaving Japan, headed for Edwards AFB in California where Mike will be taking on a new duty - Squadron Commander.  But we are running into problems getting  Ceili and B.B. back.  It seems that the Air Force doesn't set a high priority on getting family pets moved along with their humans.

I get that.  The military pays to move us, not our animals.

But here's the thing . . . they allowed us to come here with pets.  ALLOWED.  Now, as we try to plan flights to move back home, we're being told things like, "We can get you on a flight from Okinawa to Narita (Tokyo), but it's a 50/50 chance that you will be able to get the animals on a flight from there to LAX."

50/50?  So what happens if we can't get the animals on a flight?

:: crickets ::

No answer.  Are we supposed to just leave them?  Or leave one family member while the rest of the family continues on?  What kind of answer is that?

Now, let me tell you a little something about these two pets.  B.B. is a 12-year-old cat.  He belongs to our 19-year-old daughter.  She "saved" him from what was (in her 7-year-old mind) "certain death" in a North Dakota pet store in 2001.  Certain death because he had extra toes and was different, which meant no one would want him if she didn't take him home and love him forever.

So of course, that is exactly what she had to do.

Ceili is special also.  Not because she is our family pet, or because of what breed she is (chocolate lab, just so you know), or because she's a bit of a diva.  Not because of any of those things.  Ceili - pronounced Kay-Lee - is special because she is Keeghan's dog.  Keeghan is our son.  Keeghan is special too.  Keeghan should be a passenger on the flight back to the States with us.

Instead, Keeghan is a carry on.  Or at least his ashes are.

Keeghan should be 17-years-old now, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor just a few weeks after his 10th birthday and died when he was 12.

Keeghan always wanted a dog.  Soon after he was diagnosed, in a fit of paranoid mother panic, I told Mike that we had to get Keeghan a dog because I didn't know how things were going to play out, and I didn't want my son to die never having experienced having a dog of his very own.

It was a good idea because Keeghan and Ceili just clicked.  Boy and dog were a great team, even if they only had 16 months together before Keeghan left us.
 
Ceili is 6-years-old now and is the one living connection that my husband, daughter and I have to Keeghan.  She is more than the family pet.  She's his.

But she's only that important to us.  She's not important to the Air Force.  She's not important to the airlines.  Fine.  But why - WHY? - if we were allowed to bring her here, is it so difficult to get her home.  Why are these things made so difficult for military members?  Why, when they give so much to their country are things made so difficult for them?

We're not asking for anyone to pay to move our pets.  We know that is our responsibility.  We just want some assistance.  Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Milestone I Never Wanted to Reach

So many painful milestones face you when your child dies.  The obvious ones - his birthday, Christmas, Halloween.  Annual events that you must learn to face, to get through with some semblance of keeping-it-together.  Then there are the single milestones that he’ll never reach - learning to drive, prom, high school graduation.  The ones that you know when they should have happened.

In a perfect world . . .

As time goes by, I am finding that there are other milestones that are even more painful because you don’t expect them.  There is no bracing for the pain. 

We have moved twice since Keeghan died.  Because of that, I now know people who never knew my son.  But few people who know me for more than an hour remain ignorant to the fact that I have a son, and that he died.  I am not quite as in-your-face about letting people know as I was in the first couple of years after his death, but if someone asks me how many children I have, I tell them.  Two.  The fact that one is no longer living does not make him any less my child.

What took me by surprise, however, was finding out that someone I know and talk to fairly often didn’t even know what my son looked like.  I know, weird.  Why would she?  She’s never been to my house to see his picture on the wall.  I don’t carry his picture around and show it to everyone I meet.  As silly as it sounds, I guess subconsciously I assumed that anyone who had ever spoken to me about him would somehow see him in their mind’s eye as I see him.  Vibrant, beautiful, alive. 

The other shock came from the realization that she might not know his name.  Don’t people automatically know both of my kids’ names?  If they know Mackenzie’s name, shouldn’t they know Keeghan’s also?  For so many years, when referring to our children, it was always “Mackenzie and Keeghan.”  But that isn’t the case anymore, at least not in the minds of those who never knew Keeghan.  But I didn’t realize that.

It’s hard reaching these milestones.  Facing the fact that there is a lifetime ahead of me of meeting people who will never know him.  A lifetime of reacting to the gut punch of realization that comes with the reaching of these milestones.  A lifetime of knowing that there is a huge part of me missing, but only those who knew me before his death will even realize it’s not there.  Some spark of the old Shannon, the one who was whole, that is gone.

These milestones are like another death, one with no ceremony to mark its passing.  Only more tears.