Saturday, August 23, 2014

The difference of ONE

Betty Petersen
1927 - 2014

I attended the funeral today of one of Lauren's closest friends.  It is causing me to ponder on this friend and the difference of one whether "added" or "subtracted."

Betty and Lauren never swapped stories of boyfriends, ate lunch, did homework, or commented and laughed about their science teacher like "typical friends" do.  They never spent hours on the phone or texted a single time.  In fact, Lauren and Betty didn't actually really "meet" until the Carnival celebrating Lauren's first remission.  But, Betty was a close and doting friend.  She had been attentive to Lauren's story and Lauren's needs all throughout her first battle and remission, ... as she would be during her second battle and remission, her third, and ultimately the fourth that ended Lauren's life at 15 1/2.  Cards, gifts, treats, projects to disrupt boredom, and hand-sewn scarves (in every color, pattern, and print known to holidays, seasons, and fashion) to cover Lauren's bald head poured into our home over the 3 1/2 year struggle to defeat cancer .... all at the hands AND HEART of a remarkable friend, Betty - - 

Betty and Lauren became friends, not because of similar life circumstances, or fondness the way many of our friendships began.  It simply began because Betty chose to make it begin.  Through a small association Betty had with us as Lauren's parents 20 years earlier, she heard about Lauren's story and came 'running' (on her crutches) to try to lighten her burden (and ours).  The evidence of her thoughtfulness was apparent all over our home, and most of the scarves she sewed for Lauren (although deeply cherished) were donated to people whose burden Lauren wished to lighten.  Everything we could re-gift was re-gifted and I'll never forget when Lauren sent off the last box of scarves to Primary Children's Medical Center, the name she put on the card was not "Lauren" but "from your friend, Betty Petersen."  Lauren and Betty, although over 60 years different in age, and having no common life experiences, shared the desire to "bear one another's burdens."

I never ceased to marvel at the gifts that would come to us (through Betty's sister Renee who did plenty of serving of her own) even though I came to expect the packages because I knew well enough, the intentions of these two sisters.  Still, I wondered how new Christmas scarves and cross stitch patterns and stacks of $2 bills kept coming after most others would have long since 'lost interest.'  Betty remained Lauren's friend through thick and through thin and mourned deeply when she passed away.

Betty's life had not been easy.  In fact, she had health issues since she was seven years old.  She never had children and never married.  And, though she may have felt otherwise, she made a HUGE difference, especially to a 15 year old dying from cancer that she had met only once, but provided support on a level so very unique to this beautiful woman and her desire to make a difference.  Adding her "one" to our life was exponentially profound, and having that "one" subtracted made a much bigger impact than the amount of interaction or her tiny little frame would suggest in her absence.  We mourn her passing from the exponentially profound impact she had on our family .... which is to say we mourn deeply this great woman who made a sweet and significant difference in our world.  Adding her made a significant difference, so subtracting her did too.  When I heard that she had passed away, I wept .... 

But, like her other friends and family who were touched by her life, I felt happy for her ... and celebrate that she is free of the limitations of her physical body.  And, I can't help but think of the reality that she has many friends who waited to greet her, like my Lauren -- who was likely reunited with a 'forever' friend that she has known for much longer than any of us can imagine.  And, while most life-circumstances bore no similarity, I couldn't help cry just a little (or better said: a lot) that through the promised healing of the Savior, each of these angels has shed crutches they will never need again.

In loving tribute to our sweet friend Betty and to any others who are like her or aspire to be like her ... to reach out even to perfect strangers in a manner of sharing a burden, to be Christ-like and charitable, to mourn with those that mourn ... we give thanks that our lives crossed her path and we were able to see a little more of heaven (and the CEO thereof) through her and the difference she made in our lives.

Dance in peace and joy.  (Psalms 30:11)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1, 8 years ago

July 1, 2006:

The day the battle ensued.

One of those things every parent dreads and hopes won't happen in their lifetime ... a 'private meeting' with the head doctor of the Emergency Room of a local Children's hospital in a conference room where you are given the terrible news ... "your child has a tumor."  Our world turned upside down in that fateful moment.  We would never again be quite the same.

We had been anxious and growing frantic as Lauren's condition had worsened, but no tests were giving an 'answer' to her pain, declining health, and dramatic weight loss she was exhibiting.  We had been in and out of doctors offices for weeks, but until that CT scan showed the vicious beast growing inside of her we couldn't have imagined the deep and real fear that we would now become intimately familiar with.  We simply didn't have any idea it could happen to us.  And, as we would learn over the next years as we struggled, won, recurred, won again, recurred, etc., there was never a 'reason' why it would happen to her.  No logic, no common sense, no fathomable notion would have suggested how something so vial found its way into something (or someone) so perfect and less likely to suffer from cancer.

But, cancer was ours, whether it made sense or not.  It crept into our lives like a thief in the night and it left a heartache that will not heal, for it cut her life short way before we were ready to let go.  We know we never would have been ready to let go, no matter how long we had to fight for her life.  She was just worth every bit of anything we were required to give to the battle.

Fighting was a privilege, for Lauren was (and is) a privilege beyond our comprehension.  She still fills our life with smiles and laughter we could not know without her, while her absence also fills our life with tears that do not run out or dry up and emptiness that can't possibly be filled.  I laugh and cry most every day, but no day seems to inspire the same sorrow as the day the cancer was diagnosed and there was no 'rewind' button to prevent the tragedy.  July 1 will always be a challenge for me as I contemplate all of the regrets, the fatigue, the bitterness, the difficulties, the sadness, and the heartache of seeing her have to endure the illness, the treatments, the side-effects, the loneliness, winning only to lose again, and to have the cancer finally one day stop her heart from beating.  I hated what she had to go through and I do not like the memories that accompany this day, but through the tears, I will always give thanks that her 15 mortal years were ours and her eternity will be too.

The beauty of a 'forever family' is all the more deep, more profound, and more significant when someone such an enormous part of everything you are is already in heaven ahead of you.

I will also give thanks for the friends it brought into our lives.  I still give thanks to a loving Heavenly Father for Dr. Lemons, Diane, Stephanie, Tiffany, Michelle, Kelli, Carrie, Amy, Mindy, Dr. Lenny Wexler, and many others who stood by her side and helped give her reasons to fight, to be brave, and most importantly for her, to laugh.

If I could bypass cancer, I would.  If I could erase July 1, 2006 from my life and hers, I would.  But, I would sign up for any of it again for the privilege of Lauren and her siblings and father .  .  .  . loving this deeply is truly worth all the heartache and sorrow that comes with it.

God please bless those who suffer, those who fight, those who win through life or win through death, those who care for, those who research, those who fund, those who study, those who serve, those who care for, and those who have to watch so helplessly from the sidelines.  God please bless a date to be the day of the 'cure', instead of the day the battle ensued.  And, may it be soon.

In loving honor and memory.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Memorial Day"

In Memory ....

Another Memorial Day is upon us.  (The 24th I've trudged up this hill -- my dad's 1989 grave is nearby.) 

Another reminder of those who have gone before us .... those who have made sacrifices that not only molded and shaped their own lives, but ours as well.

Each of the cemeteries I drive by or stop at with flowers of my own to place on graves of loved ones is a sea of flags, flowers, and families gathered.  It's a beautiful sight of honor, of respect, of love, and even of loss.  Loss itself, while painful, is a privilege for it means we had something to lose in the first place.

And sometimes the gift we were given is so monumental, that the hole of loss in their absence is staggering, excruciating, and encompasses much of the life we must press forward in, regardless of our fatigue or our strength.

Yet, loss will be a part of every life ... timely or untimely.  And each of those losses deserves our honor, our respect, and our love.  Lives are lost to war, to accident, to disease, to choice.  Lives are lost to life, ... for on this earth as all are born, all will die and return to our God who gave these lives as a precious opportunity, but finite experience.  And, all, regardless of how they lived or died are welcomed into the infinite portion of existence with the open arms of the One who will trade our corruption for his incorruption and our mortality for his immortality.

And while we still dwell here on a beautiful earth (although small in comparison to what awaits us), we are susceptible, even required (if we love) to the loneliness and grief we feel for a parent, a sibling, a child .... gone before we were 'ready to let go', before we could say goodbye, before and in spite of our capability to 'live without them.'  It is the great human experience to love and be loved.  Therefore, it is also the great human experience to grieve and mourn with those who mourn.

In honor ...

And, in gratitude for the privilege that is mine in my grief.  For I grieve over goodly, loving parents; a kindly, caring brother; and an angelic, inspiring daughter who claims to love me more than I love her.  I honor a rich heritage of family who impacted my story while they lived here and continue to from beyond their graves.  I "drink from wells I did not dig" in profound and constant supply.  I live free on the shoulders of those who did not.  I make choices at the hands of those who had no choice.  And, I worship God (while I still can) openly, as a result of those who could only worship Him silently in their hearts.

Each life is a part of our own.  And, each life is worth our remembering, honoring, and experiencing the profound, painful, privileged emotion of grief.

In love ...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

In celebration of her birthday ....

May 3, 1994 -- Happily Ever After
'Lauren's ride' ...

Never a day goes by that I don't feel to cry, to laugh, to rejoice, to weep, to say "I love you, goodnight", to pray in gratitude and in grief, to simply smile -- all because I was given the privilege of being this girl's mom.

She lived her life to the fullest - - from her first mortal days through her last. There was never a dull moment or a time when there wasn't some reason she could find for us to laugh, to smile, or to just cherish the moment to be alive, to be together, or simply to be precisely where we were at that given time. We even found ourselves laughing as chemotherapy was humorously identified as "che-MOO-therapy" just to lessen OUR pain. It's who she was and who I am confident she remains to this day in a realm we don't see, but look forward to in joyful anticipation.

I love this picture - - taken from the screen when a home movie was playing and had momentarily been put on pause. It speaks volumes about her and how she viewed her life .... stained shirt, too big of a helmet, on a relatively difficult bike ride and the moment was glorious .... and she was truly happy.

Her siblings had everything to do with her humor, and her perspective that her life was worth fighting for. In fact, she credited them with why she believed that even though she had been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, that she could still smile, still laugh, and still find reasons to be grateful. I'm privileged beyond words.

This sweet person left a legacy .... a legacy that happiness isn't in what you own or what you buy or what you accumulate - - it's in your family, your faith, and your friends, but mostly it is in a relationship with Deity. I don't understand why something so vial as Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma could find it's way into my precious and perfect daughter 4 hideous and excruciating times, but I know how fortunate I am that her precious earth time was ours as a family and that families are forever, which means our eternal relationship is unbreakable. For that, there are no sufficient words of adoration and gratitude for the One who makes that not only a possibility, but a reality.

Beauty for ashes, joy for mourning . . . . it will be as he said.

There are hosts of good causes to donate a little of your time and/or energy to .... and more needs than can even be enumerated. In honor of the 20th birthday of a young woman who died at 15 1/2, reach out to one of them - - - if everyone reaches out to ONE, think of how many will be aided in struggles too heavy to bear alone. If it isn't cancer research, it could be suicide prevention, hospital bills for accident victims, grief counseling centers, or being a best buddy. Living Lauren's Legacy foundation was established to do just that (as our daughter lived her life) .... support causes too important to pass by.  

And, we'll be supporting this one:

Lauren's cousin is busily preparing to raise money to support all types of cancer research at the Dana Farber Institute in Boston Massachusetts. This is where money is needed most - - - on ALL types of cancer (there are over 200 different breeds) for all ages, genders, social status, and financial need. May I encourage you to support "his ride" which he does with Lauren's name on his back, and her memory in his heart. 100% of donations reach research and 100% of us can be grateful it will. Cancer needs a cure. Reach out and make a difference. Here is a link to his fundraising page.

There are many other ways to be a support or to champion the cause, whatever your heart feels to go a little deeper in offering a hand, but as you do so, please feel the gratitude of this particular family and our angel daughter whose life was meant to make a difference.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Privilege of Pain

Always a part of us!
December 29, 2013

"There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve-even in pain-the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain."
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Thank you, Denise Walker!)

We've been told "time heals all wounds" or that we would experience less pain if we just exercised more faith.  With all due respect to anyone who has experienced deep loss and felt 'better' as time rolled on, or anyone who hasn't experienced loss and just means well with the phrases they offer in good intention, but without understanding, .... this has not been our experience.  Four years later, the hole of Lauren's absence has not dwindled, but rather has increased in intensity, in size, and in impact.  It remains very painful to be without her, and I anticipate no other future scenario.  Our lives have continued, but in our experience, there is no such thing as "getting over it."  We. Miss. Her.  And, that is such a gross understatement, it almost seems nonsensical to say it.  Our lives are forever different ... and our perspective is too.

It isn't that we don't experience joy or good things in this beautiful world we remain in ... I would be a complete fool to not experience the joy that is inherently a part of continued life with my husband, our loving son, our (three) beautiful angel daughters, and our remarkable daughter-in-law and grandson.  (Ahhh!  The inexpressible joy of being a grandparent!!)  It would be most ungrateful to not appreciate the beauty of a sunset, a rainbow, twinkling stars, or a breathtaking waterfall.  What a shame it would be to miss the beauty of family, of friendship, of laughter!!  We acknowledge and enjoy comforts, privileges, honors, and peace that we are blessed with in abundance.  

But, for anyone to assume / expect that we should be "healed" from the horrific ordeal of experiencing Lauren's illness, the treatments and accompanying side-effects, the 3 1/2 year battle for her life, and the debilitating sting and sorrow of her death simply because "sufficient time has passed" or we've been blessed as "people of great faith", is not only wrong, but can at times be unkind or even cruel.  It is requiring the impossible, and something we would never ask Heavenly Father to do.  You see, asking Him to heal us of hurting for her would be asking Him to heal us of loving her.  Praise God that He won't be removing our love for her and thus denying us the Privilege of this Pain.

No one in their right mind seeks after true physical and emotional pain, and most of us go well out of our way to avoid it.  No one asks for experiences that hurt, but rather pray for deliverance from them.  I hate (the word simply cannot describe the least little bit of what I feel) pain and cancer and life without my daughter happily pursuing her dreams . . . I wouldn't have asked for any of this torture and only God Himself knows how frantically, anxiously, and desperately I plead otherwise.   If I had been able or allowed, I would have removed all of the pain she endured and that which still lingers for her dad and siblings.  I wouldn't give the hell (the word simply cannot describe the least little bit of what I feel) of a child suffering with cancer to my worst enemy; yet I also wouldn't trade a moment of the blessings that are mine specifically because these particular warriors call me mom (or wife).  I love (the word simply cannot describe the least little bit of what I feel) these people, who suffer alongside me, with all of my heart, in the most significant, eternal ways.  I've simply come to realize (through the experience of having a child with cancer) that in loving deeply, you are simply more vulnerable to pain.  And, the deeper you love, the deeper the pain is going to be.  They are capable of being equivalent and there is no other way around it.  In other words, one couldn't know the pain if one didn't know the love.

Therefore, this particular kind of pain becomes a privilege ... a privilege we CANNOT anticipate deliverance from, and WOULD NOT want to be denied, no matter how genuinely we each miss her.

We choose the love, and therefore, inevitably, choose the pain that comes along with it.

So today on the 4th anniversary of Lauren departing this earth existence for eternal existence with the God who gave her life, know that we are not "healed" of the pain, "over" the sorrow that she is not here, nor anticipating an earth time when we are "through" the trial.  But know that we, in gratitude and Thanksgiving, give thanks to our Maker that we experience a love so deep, exquisite, sweet, and profound as to make pain a privilege.

Friday, December 21, 2012

12:21 on 12/21/12

(Claire G, Taylor, and Lauren on vacation in Canada 2007.)
Today is a pretty interesting day in history too ... it's a festive number (12/21/12) and the projected "end of the world" based on the Mayan calendar.  Funny that it was simply the end of a calendar cycle for the Mayans, not the projected end of the world.  I wouldn't have put it past the Mayan's to know it, however.  They're pretty brilliant.
For our family, it isn't the end of the world, or even a more important day because of the numbers (although we find both of them interesting.)  It is important to us because it is another birthday -- and since Lauren would have made a big celebratory deal out of the numbers and the birthday boy, I figured I would help her out.  (I loved to help her with her creations to "one up" her big brother in the "I love you MOST" game and thought I would seize the opportunity to update their competition.  She liked to win.)
So, Happy Birthday, big brother!!! ... In honor of your special day, 12 gifts of $21 dollars each in Christmas DOUGH were donated to Oncology families at PCMC in need of a little extra help this holiday season.  It's Lauren's way of saying ... I LOVE YOU MOST!!

(A special thanks to Juanita W. and Karen L. who donated the cash sufficient for Lauren's Foundation to give the last half of those gifts.)

A Happy 12/21/12, Happy Birthday, and a Merry, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the 
Living Lauren's Legacy Foundation!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wishing on recurring numbers!!

Living Lauren's Legacy
Hope you all had a great 12/12/12!!!
(This is a watercolor painting of Lauren playing in the ocean when she was 8 years old.  This painting and another pastel of the same image were donated to PCMC and Huntsman today as a completion of the 12 months of projects for Lauren's foundation and in celebration of Lauren's habit of making wishes on recurring numbers.)
The book about Lauren's wish (Happily Ever After: The Power of Perspective) is still available if you are interested in reading and/or purchasing it.  It has been intentionally removed from the website, but if you would like more information, please contact me.
May all of your wishes come true!