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Don’t Panic

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Molly has developed bare spots on her tail, right rear foot and around her neck. The vet suggested it’s from the stress of James’ death and gave her some oral and topical medications. I’ve developed an itchy patch on my back. It’s in one of those weird places you can’t see by standing in front of a full length mirror and turning your head around to look at it, or with the help of a hand mirror. To my great relief the urgent care doctor said it wasn’t shingles, but like Molly, my skin problem is probably due to stress. Goldie, our Shepherd/Collie mix, looks like she could use an antidepressant. She just lays her head on the floor and, without moving, her sad eyes follow me around the room. And then there’s Sam Dog, our Beagle mix, the shy one who’s emerged from the corner of the bedroom and has taken to sleeping on the rug on the other side of James’ chair. Dogs are so intuitive. I feel like they’re looking to me for a signal to be happy, but so far, the best I can do is let them run free of me, in the yard.

Last week I went to stay with my friend, Gayle, in Austin for a couple of days. It’s one thing to be alone at home, but being alone at someone else’s home is really being alone. Unable to get online or discover which of her clickers turned on the television, I opted for the nearest Starbucks. I’d never stayed in Starbucks for five hours before. Did you know at 2:30pm an instant line of listless looking office types materialize for their mid-afternoon caffeine fix, or that at 3:30pm a swarm of already hyper 12-year-olds come in for mocha lattes? I was amused by the geeky kid in the orange t-shirt who bought a second, double mocha latte. I’d be willing to bet his parents were later in need of a second gin and tonic, with extra gin.

While at Starbucks, I read a Vanderbilt University Medical Center study that said breast cancer survivors with a strong social network and a feeling of social well-being live longer. While the one person who made me feel safe is no longer here, I am surrounded by wonderful friends. My Bible study group has each taken a night to call and check on me, and while I’m touched and grateful, it’s not the same. I still feel alone. A friend who lost her daughter in a car accident said, “Even though you know they’re with God, and they’re doing better than you are, it’s just not enough. There’s a huge hole, and nothing can fill it up.” I’m wondering how my ever-changing sense of social well-being would rank in the Vanderbilt study?

I now understand what the elderly Rose’s character in Titanic meant when she said Jack Dawson saved her “in every way a person can be saved.” James did that for me. He brought meaning and unconditional love to my life, something no one, not even my parents, had ever done, and bigger still, he introduced me to God. As Rose and Jack were clinging to the floating debris in the icy water, Rose promised Jack she would survive and go on with her life. While James and I didn’t have those last moments, I remember we talked about what the remaining one of us should do: go on with our lives. Neither one of us wanted anything but love and God’s grace for the other, but right now, I’d like to know how the elderly Rose went “on and on.”

This afternoon I smelled James’ cologne and became obsessed with trying to find where it was coming from. It was most prominent when I sat at my desk, so I stayed put. For a moment, I wondered if his scent was meant to make me aware of his “presence,” but it wasn’t long before I realized the smell was coming from his iPhone. Earlier, a friend had called James’ number, and after we hung up, I placed James’ iPhone on my desk. Because he and I have the same black rubber protective covering, I’d assumed it was my iPhone laying on the desk. When I realized it was James’ phone and the rubber had absorbed his cologne, I was disappointed, but I know I’ll go there for a smell fix from time to time.

I know James’ love still blankets me, but right now, I’m feeling a bit lost. Every now and then I’m going to need to remind myself not to panic. James is alright. He’s where he’s supposed to be. Like Rose, I’m the one who needs to go on with life. I’m the one who needs to embrace my strong social network and rediscover some semblance of social well-being. James and God saved me for a reason, and I must go on and find it.

Today our minister delivered a great sermon about suffering. We all suffer. It’s a reality of life, but it’s how we view our suffering that determines the outcome in our lives. God gives us the power to endure. I think that’s another way of saying He doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. I hope all of you are doing better than enduring. I hope you’re thriving, surviving cancer and life and, like me, finding your way. Please write and let me know when you’ve found it. I’ll do the same.