Goodbye, Sweet Wylie

Wylie. Rest in peace, sweet boy.  Dec 2005 - Feb 2017. 

Wylie. Rest in peace, sweet boy.  Dec 2005 - Feb 2017. 

Exactly one month ago I said goodbye to my beloved boy, Wylie. 

What a roller coaster it's been since that day in June when he went into heart failure. In some ways, it feels like lifetimes ago. And it also feels like it was just yesterday.

Let me tell you a little about Wylie. I met him when he was just a wee three months old at an adoption event. For months and months I stalked all of the dogs on Petfinder. My first choice was actually a cute little black lab pup, but luckily, we got our second choice instead. (We never told him he was our second choice because we didn't want him to have self-esteem issues.) 

Wylie was originally named Ponderosa. That was such a mouthful we had to change it. He had no name for the first week. Then one day, his little pointy ears told us that he needed to be called Wylie, as in Wylie Coyote. 

Wylie with his stick.

Wylie with his stick.

Wylie was a little rascal from day one. He really seemed like he was part wild coyote, a role he played his entire life. When he hiked in the golden hills of California, he blended right in, like he was in his natural habitat. 

He loved to run and chase and play hide-and-go-seek. When he was just a pup, he picked up a baby chick in his mouth, and when I screamed "LEAVE IT" loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear one Saturday morning, (a command he had just learned days before) he gently set the chick on the ground and it scurried off unharmed. (Don't ask why there were random chickens in our backyard. They weren't ours.) As wily as he was, he wouldn't hurt a fly.

Wylie loved his yellow lab cousin Max. So much so that he would eat his poops. We tried dousing them in hot sauce (something I read on the internet), but that seemed to just make them more flavorful and enticing to him. It took him a few years to grow out of that.

Wylie and Max.

Wylie and Max.

It also took him a few years to stop chewing sprinkler wires in the backyard. (Sorry, Doug!)

Puppy-hood lasted a good four years with this dog. Or even maybe his whole life. His very last weekend on this earth he managed to play a little hide-and-go-seek and chase the rats in the backyard. (Yes, we have rats. The whole neighborhood does. We've learned to embrace them as a functioning member of the outdoor society.)

A month after Wylie was diagnosed with heart failure, he had his first run-in with a skunk. At three o' clock in the morning. I have never smelled anything more putrid. Poor Wylie's head stunk for weeks. But, the majority of the spray hit my hair and the inside of the house. Thanks to the wisdom of Facebook, I learned that bowls of vinegar are the best remedy to soak up the smell. Let's hope I don't have to do that again. I had just bought Wylie a new color. That went right into the trash. I joked that getting sprayed by a skunk was on his bucket list.

Wylie was constantly on alert. He let our neighbors know when the mail was here, and could detect a UPS truck from several blocks away. He went crazy when the doorbell rang, even if I was the one standing in the open door ringing it. Perhaps that was the shepherd in him. Or maybe the coyote.

Wylie's favorite hiking spot.

Wylie's favorite hiking spot.

He wasn't a particulary cuddly dog. He liked his space. But when he was ready for me to get off the phone or computer to take him for a walk, he would let me know. He nosed everything to get my attention. Sometimes he would literally rearrange the furniture because he nosed so hard. If he wanted something, he let me know.

Wylie was always up for a hike or a walk. He loved being out in nature. He would hike for miles and miles. He also loved going to the beach. But he wasn't a huge swimmer. He liked running on the sand more than anything. And he could be a big bugger. He usually got so wound up that he would start barking and running towards humans and dogs, scaring the crap out of people who weren't particularly dog-friendly. This was frustrating at times. He was far from an easy-going pup. Let's just say he lost his off-leash privileges many times during these outings.

Wylie. Half Moon Bay.

Wylie. Half Moon Bay.

But Wylie could be quite patient, too. When he was younger, he had a girlfriend at the neighborhood park. Her name was Trixie, and she was just about the sweetest beagle girl I've ever met. Everytime we saw her, she would jump up, put her paws around his neck, and lick his lips and snout. He would just stand there and move his head from side to side, letting her give him kisses. 

In fact, everywhere we went, Wylie got plenty of attention. He really did look like a coyote. Or a wolf. Or a dingo. People would comment on his unique beauty. He really was handsome. Then "Is he friendly?" To which I wanted to reply, "Are you?" But instead I explained that he would run away if he wasn't interested in saying hi or being pet. He always ran away. Unless it was Trixie.

Wylie with his buddy Beaver Bud Gnawood.

Wylie with his buddy Beaver Bud Gnawood.

When Wylie got sick, my heart broke. And as I sit here writing, I can't help but cry again. I don't want to go into too many details because that would make this post waaaaay too long, but basically he went into heart failure over Memorial Day Weekend in 2016. He started coughing first, which I didn't recognize as coughing right away. Then he was panting. He was having trouble hiking, and also didn't want to eat. By the time we got him to the vet, he was in bad shape. An x-ray showed a severely enlarged left atrium and a tremendous amount of fluid in his chest. He would have died pretty soon if we hadn't brought him in when we did. And, as it was, I wish we had brought him to the vet sooner. 

Wylie's heart disease was terminal. Nothing any pet parent wants to hear. Eventually, through medication and the dedication and expertise of the right care team, Wylie was able to get to a pretty good place health-wise. There were a handful of teary episodes when I thought for sure he was a goner, only to have him bounce back to life after an adjustment in medication. He had a really good life for the next six or so months. He really was our little miracle dog for a long time, even continuing his three mile hikes for the first few months.

Wylie. Hiking. August 2016

Wylie. Hiking. August 2016

But then in December, around Christmas, he started to get really sick again. I knew in my heart that this was the beginning of the end. He became less of his spirited self. We adjusted his medications again, but we were at the end of the road with treatment options. It was really just a (short) matter of time before his final decline would come. There was nothing more we could do. The cardiologist told us, if he were a human he would be getting a heart transplant.  Unfortunately, that was not an option for my little guy. So we just tried to enjoy every day with him and hoped for the best.

In the beginning of February, Wylie started coughing again. I tried not to worry too much, but I knew we didn't have much more time. He went in for a vet appointment, and had to have an emergency IV of lasix (diuretic) to remove the fluid from his lungs. This was just enough to buy us a little time before we would have to put him down. That was a sad, sad day.

The next day, the day before my birthday, we were able to take a trip out the beach. Wylie was tired but had the best time, with a smile on his face all day. We walked slowly on the sand, I picked up beach glass and marveled at the beautiful sky. Wylie didn't bark at a single soul.

Wylie. Stinson Beach. February 4, 2017.

Wylie. Stinson Beach. February 4, 2017.

The next day we made art from his paw prints.

Wylie art. February 5, 2017.

Wylie art. February 5, 2017.

He hung in there for the next week while we figured out how to go about saying goodbye to this precious soul. He ate a little, went on a few walks, and seemed pretty content for the week. But by Friday, one week after the emergency IV at the vet, he was not doing well. He didn't want to eat and was starting to slip away. His eyes changed and he wasn't fully present in this world anymore. That day we made an appointment for what we called his Big Nappy.

We originally scheduled his Big Nappy for Tuesday (such a strange thing to set up an appointment for), but on Monday morning, we knew he needed to visit the Rainbow Bridge sooner. Saturday he was carried up the hill for his last hike.

Wylie's last hike. February 11, 2017.

Wylie's last hike. February 11, 2017.

And Sunday he went for a car ride where he was greeted by a real coyote, who seemed to be guiding him home.

Wylie's spirit guide. February 12, 2017.

Wylie's spirit guide. February 12, 2017.

Then on Monday, he was gone.

I had been wondering and stressing about how his life would end. What would it look like? How would I know when it was time? How does someone know it's the right decision? How can I possibly play God like that? Or would he just die in his sleep? Would his heart stop during the night and that would be that?

Wylie, the special soul that he was - that he is - told me when it was time. Yes, he stopped eating for a few days prior, and that was certainly a sign, but on Sunday he really told me. After taking all of his medications like a champ for over eight months, he basically said to me "No. I don't want to take these anymore." This dog had been so great at taking all of his pills (he was on about 8 medications and supplements) and finally just said enough. He clamped his jaw shut on that Sunday and stared into my eyes and told he he was done. 

And when the amazing man (because he truly was amazing) came to help Wylie take his Big Nappy, he didn't bark or stress out or anything. That was unheard of for this dog. It's like he knew exactly why this man was here, and he gave him permission. And, as sad a day as Monday, February 13, 2017 was, it was also an absolutely beautiful transition. The sun was out, the birds were singing, and Wylie got to lay on his comfy bed in his favorite spot in the yard. 

That afternoon, I packed up a little pouch of Wylie things and brought it on his favorite hike. We buried it under the big rock that he liked to climb on. And, like magic, there was the form of a big leaping Wylie in the clouds that day. I kid you not. He was there. 

Goodbye, Wylie. February 13, 2017.

Goodbye, Wylie. February 13, 2017.

It was all so surreal. Not only that day, but the entire experience of taking care of a dog with terminal heart disease. I think about him every single day. And I cry about him often. He was such a big soul. I thank him for teaching me how to live each day in the present. His disease taught me to not let fear stop me from living each day. If I had let fear guide me, we wouldn't have had all the adventures we had in the last eight months of his life. He had heart disease. He was going to die. Well, guess what? We're all going to die. That's how it works. But instead of worrying about it, I learned to get more comfortable with it. To go on a hike even though he could drop dead at any moment. (Yes - this is what I thought about and had to get comfortable with when I took him out and about!) But at least if he died on the trail, he'd die doing what he loved more than anything. I wasn't going to let my fear stop him from living a full life.

And five days later, we did something that was also very fearless. We brought home a new little girl. Her name is Rosie.

Rosie. 8 weeks. February 2017.

Rosie. 8 weeks. February 2017.

Because another thing that Wylie taught me, was that I have lots of love to give. He opened my heart in a way I didn't know existed. And how could I let that all that love go to waste? 

Thank you, dear Wylie. You were the wisest soul I've ever known. Miss Rosie has some big shoes to fill. 

Wylie. San Diego. 2016.

Wylie. San Diego. 2016.

Holiday Wishes

Sending my blessings and love-filled wishes for all of you this holiday season. I hope your days are filled with whatever they need to be filled with. Joy, quiet, sadness, reflection, excitement - whatever you need to feel. But most of all, I hope your days are filled with love. Love for yourselves, love for others and love for what is. ❤︎

(Oh, and Shiny Brites!! Cuz those are the best!)

75 Things I Learned From My Dad's Cancer and Death

My dad died on Saturday, February 20. He battled esophageal cancer for three years. The past few days, weeks, months and years have been... how do I even say it? Challenging, painful, loving, terrifying, and profound. Time has not felt like the time I used to know. And I am no longer the person I used to know. Cancer changes you. Death changes you. 

I've been thinking a lot about how I want to honor my dad.  My brain, body and heart have been trying to make sense of everything and my thoughts are like a thousand little tornadoes. I knew I wanted to write something, but I wasn't quite sure how to coherently organize everything I've been thinking and feeling. A few days ago it became clear that I needed to write what I've learned from all of this. So, Dad, this is in honor of you. And in honor of everyone else who has a head full of tornadoes. Why a list of 75? My dad's 75th birthday was on Valentine's Day, just a week before he died. If he could make it to 75, so can I.

1) Talk about cancer.

It's not easy. But it's what's happening. You can't pretend it doesn't exist. It does. Talking about it is healthy. 

2) Talk about death and dying.

This is definitely not easy. But, again, it's what's happening. It's very real and it's much more frightening if you don't have a conversation about it. Drag it out from the shadows and talk about it. 

3) Everything will be ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end.

I read this quote a couple of months ago. It's commonly attributed to John Lennon, but is actually from Paulo Coehlo. It's a little morbid, but there's such truth to it. A few days before my dad died he told my mom that everything was working out perfectly. He had shared his wants and needs with his loved ones, including very clear instructions on how to pick up where he left off with his woodworking projects - most specifically, the cabinets he was in the process of building for my kitchen. He found a place of peace in his final days. It was ok because it was the end. The end of a long, long fight against cancer.

4) People will surprise you.

There will be loving hugs from those you barely know and silence from those you've known your entire life. There will be those who step up in ways you didn't see coming, and there will be those who slink away in the face of illness. Be ready to be surprised by it all.

5) You will surprise yourself.

You will find yourself doing things you never thought you'd be able to do. My dad needed a lot of help with the smallest things before he died. Things I never thought I could do, I was doing. You'll find something deep inside of you that you never knew existed. 

6) Be present.

This. This is so meaningful. Just be there. Be there in mind, body and spirit. 

7) Be there for the illness, not just after death.

It's difficult, yes. But showing up only after someone dies is like showing up at the movie theater as the final credits are rolling. You kind of miss the whole point. 

8) Replace "What can I do?" with doing.

Asking "what can I do?" comes with good intentions. But this is such a difficult question to answer when you are grieving. When you're grieving you don't even know what you need. So just do. The day after my dad died an old neighbor of my parents dropped off food, flowers and a card at the house. She never asked what she could do, she just did.  If you aren't sure what to do, then make a few suggestions such as grocery shopping, filling the gas tank or vacuuming the house. Direct yourself, don't wait for direction.

9) Quiet is ok.

This has been a big one for me. You run out of things to say sitting in a hospital room day in and day out. And you get so tired you just don't want to talk anymore. There's no need to fill the space with sound. Sometimes we need to just be in the quiet.

10) There's nothing to wait for.

Don't wait. For anything. Death is a poignant reminder that we don't have much time. 

11) Make friends with grief. 

It's not going anywhere anytime soon, so there's no sense in fighting it. You might as well invite it in for a cup of tea. 

12) Say what you need to say.

My dad had a lot to say a few days before he died. A lot. He had many beautiful words for us. And lots of instructions, too. I'm so glad he said what he needed to say. And I'm so glad I said what I needed to say. In the end, your words mean so much. 

13) Hold their hand.

When you've said what you need to say, just hold their hand. I spent hours holding my dad's hand in the hospital bed, and up until that last day, he held mine, too. We'd never held hands so much in my life. But that was all we needed to say "I love you" and "I am here for you." 

14) Send flowers.

Flowers are always welcome. Both during the cancer and after death. I received a beautiful bouquet from a friend of mine this week and it was such a joy to come home to on an otherwise dark day. My dad enjoyed getting flowers, too. When he was home and at the hospital. It brightened his day and it brightened the space. And it made him feel loved. 

15) Choose greeting cards wisely.

There are very few cards out there that are appropriate for someone with a terminal illness. It's probably best not to send a card that says "Feel Better Soon" or "Sorry You're Sick".  Because they aren't going to feel better soon. And they don't need you to remind them of that. A simple card that says "Thinking of You" speaks volumes. 

16) Be mindful of your words.

There is no better time to think before you speak. Your words mean something. Each and every word. 

17) Stand in the face of it. 

Cancer is scary shit. And so is death. But it does no good to run away from the fear. So set your feet firmly on the ground and stand in the face of it.  I promise, you have the courage. Share that courage with your loved ones. 

18) Create space. 

You have the power to create emotional and spiritual space for yourself and for others. Resist the urge to constrict and shrink that space. Make room for love, and openness and light. 

19) Grief can create connection.

Your personal experience with death and cancer is unique. But it is also shared. I have connected more deeply with a few people in my life because of this experience. Know that you are not alone. 

20) Take care of yourself.

This is so important. It won't be easy, and you might feel guilty doing it, but it is imperative. You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. If you don't, then others will have to take care of you even more. For me, this means going hiking, writing, taking vitamins, going to therapy, eating right and getting enough sleep. I've also started meditating. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself as spiritually, physically and emotionally balanced as possible.

21) Be thankful for what you do have. 

Some days it can feel like you have nothing. Like you are all alone in this. But I promise, you have something. Be thankful for your own health. Be thankful for memories. Be thankful for the blue sky. 

22) Ask for help.

If you need help, ask for it. You are not weak and you are not burdening anyone. If ever there was a time to ask for help, it's now. 

23) Being "strong" is overrated. 

People will praise you for being strong. But what does that even mean? It implies that you aren't "weak". But having people tell you that you're strong can make you feel like a fraud. Because when no one's around, you are the very opposite of what they are praising you for. Forget about being strong. Just be real. 

24) Optimism can feel dismissive.

When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, someone told me "It'll get better." I thought, what the hell do you know? Instead of asking me how I felt and talking with me about my dad's cancer, she completely dismissed the severity of both my feelings and the illness. Being optimistic might come from a good place, but it's important to make room for the very real outcome of the illness.

25) There is beauty in dying.

We will all die. It is an unavoidable part of the cycle of life. Sharing this transition with another human being is an honor. The cancer may be ugly, but the experience of dying creates some beautiful moments that would otherwise not exist.

26) Hug like you mean it.

Go in big, with your whole self. Hold on a little longer and a little tighter. Hug your loved ones and let your loved ones hug you. Hugs wrap you in love. You're going to need a lot of them, and your'e going to want to give a lot of them. If you aren't a "hugger", now's the time to become one. 

27) Make time.

We're all busy. During the cancer and death you just make time. That's it. It's a choice. Make the choice to spend time with your loved ones and to support those who are grieving. You will never regret spending too much time with someone who's dying. Ever. But you might regret not spending enough time. 

28) Own your feelings.

If you are sad, be sad. If you are angry, be angry. If you have guilt, feel guilt. Own all of your feelings. No one else is responsible for your emotions. They are created within you.  Honor them for they are very, very real. And not a single feeling you have is "wrong." 

29) It hurts. 

At times the pain is so deep you think you will most certainly die of a broken heart. There is no other way to explain this type of grief. Feel it fully. It will pass. And yes, it will probably come back again. This pain means your human and it shows just how much love you have in your heart. 

30) Grieving begins long before death.

I remember the day my dad was diagnosed like it was yesterday. April 16, 2013. I got the call. It was brief. It was cancer. My heart dropped into my stomach and I couldn't breath. I went into shock. Then I cried. The past three years have been filled will grief. Esophageal cancer was what my dad would eventually die from. We all knew this, and it has been a long process of grieving since day one. Now, we are in a new phase of grieving. The one that people expect you to be in. But the truth is, the grieving process began long ago.

31) Ask "How are you today"? 

I remember reading a blog post by Sheryl Sandberg after her husband died. In it, she brought up the importance of asking "How are you today" as opposed to "How are you?" It may seem insignificant, but that one word "today" gives room for someone's feelings in the moment.  When you're grieving, your feelings are all over the place all day long. "How are you" can be difficult to answer because you don't know what to compare it to. "How are you today" allows room for someone to feel differently than they did yesterday. 

32) Time gets really jacked up.

Yesterday feels like six days ago. The entire month of February is a blur. You don't know what day it is and you can't remember when you talked to so-and-so and what you had for dinner last night. If you even ate. Yet you will remember quite clearly what time and day your loved one died. At the end of life, the days drag on forever. Yet, for my dad, there was the realization that he didn't have much time at all. Time becomes sort of meaningless and meaningful at the same time.

33) Appreciate them while they're here.

It can be difficult to settle in on this simple thing amidst the chaos of cancer and dying. When your loved one is dying, remember, they are still here. Appreciate the moments when you can still hold their hand, touch their face and breathe together. 

34) Some people just won't get it. 

Cancer and death brings out the best in some. And others, not so much. You will be disappointed by someone. That's pretty much a given. You may even be disappointed by a whole bunch of someones. And you may be disappointed by the very people you thought were closest to you. Choose to forgive them or release them. Or both.

35) You will find love in unexpected places.

I have experienced love from people I don't even know. When my dad was in the hospital in December, I received the most loving hug from a woman in the medical records department. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged me, and I was overwhelmed by her empathy and ability to share love with me - a person she had never met before. Yesterday, I was in the waiting room in the doctor's office and another woman I'd never met before was suddenly sharing my grief with me. My clients have sent lovely emails to me when I've had to cancel meetings. The love is always there. Keep your eyes and heart open and you will find it. 

36) You will feel overwhelmed.

Cancer is overwhelming. Death is overwhelming. It's ok to feel overwhelmed. This is a very normal response to a very intense experience. Try not to take on too much at once. Lessen your expectations of yourself. 

37) Breathe.

Sometimes you forget to breathe. It is the simplest yet hardest thing to do. When you are feeling overwhelmed, close your eyes and take three to five deep breaths. Don't be surprised if your breathing brings tears. It's just creating an opening for your real feelings. And breathe with your loved ones, too. My therapist recommended that when I was sitting with my dad in the hospital room I could just breathe with him and that would be a comfort to both of us. It was. Even as he struggled with his breath, it was always something to focus on. It was calming and it kept me present, with him, in the moment.

38) You are only alone if you choose to be.

It's easy to feel alone in all of this. Alone with your feelings of sadness, anger and overwhelm. Grief can be difficult to share, and you may want to be selective about who you share it with. But you are only alone if you choose to be. Because even though it feels like you are the only one on earth feeling what you are feeling, experiencing what you are experiencing, you are not. You are never alone, as death happens to all of us. 

39) Being alone is ok.

It really is. Sometimes you just need to be alone to process your own feelings without being present for anyone else's. Take this time. As much as you need. And make it all about you. 

40) Communicate clearly. 

It's so important to have clear communication during cancer and death. Secrets are toxic. And miscommunication can cause a lot of hurt. Be clear, be open, be honest. 

41) If you don't know what to say, say just that.

Word can escape us. Especially when we are trying to comfort someone while they are sick and dying. You don't have to know exactly what to say all the time. No one expects the perfect words. Just speak from the heart and you will be fine. 

42) Peace and calm are yours to give.

Visiting someone with cancer takes a lot of focus.  I found it tremendously helpful to think about the energy I wanted to bring with me each time I saw my dad. Each time I visited, I would take a few breaths and focus on being peace and calm. No one needs a frazzled mess around them while they're dying. If you have trouble focusing, try a mediation or breathwork recording. (My therapist provided one for me that was extremely helpful, and that I continue to use.)

43) Appreciate the moment.

About a month before my dad died, we spent time a Sunday afternoon and evening at my parents' house. He was quite sick at that time having just spent a month in the hospital, but felt well enough to play cards. We listened to his favorite jazz record, and we looked at old photos of his life in Wisconsin. I didn't know then that would be the very last time we would play cards, but I treated it like it was. Appreciate the moment because it might be your last. 

44) You might not cry when you think you should.

I haven't cried very much since Saturday. I'm more numb than anything. Apparently, this is still the "in shock" phase of grief. I thought for sure I'd be bawling all week. I know the tears will come, but I don't know when. There's nothing wrong with not crying, but it sure wasn't what I expected. 

45) There is relief when it's over.

When you're on the cancer journey you find yourself holding on so tightly every single day. It's exhausting. When my dad finally succumbed to the cancer, there was a huge sense of relief. Not a relief that he was gone, of course, but a relief that we didn't have to hold onto the cancer anymore. A relief that there would be no more waiting for what's next. A relief that he didn't have to be in pain anymore. It's like you finally get to exhale after holding your breath for a really long time. 

46) There's room for all of your feelings.

Oh, the feelings. There are so many. You might not even be able to name everything you're feeling. Some days you're really sad. Other days you are angry beyond words. Some moments you'll feel tremendously grateful. You might experience all of these feelings within the span of five minutes. Let them flow without judgement. 

47) There's room for everyone else's feelings.

Your feelings may be exactly the same as everyone else's. Or they may be the exact opposite. Allow room for everyone to feel what they feel when they feel it. 

48) Learn about the disease.

When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, educate yourself on that disease. Not all cancers are the same. For instance, esophageal cancer makes it terribly difficult to swallow. My dad, a man who loved food his entire life, could no longer eat easily. When you educate yourself on the disease it is easier to support your loved one. 

49) If you don't know, ask.

It's perfectly normal not to know what's going on with the cancer. Symptoms can change from day to day from the cancer itself as well as the treatments. No one expects you to understand everything about the disease and there is no way you can possibly understand exactly how your loved one is feeling, both physically and emotionally unless you have experienced the same exact illness yourself. So ask. And if you are uncomfortable asking, then ask if it's ok for you to ask. Most likely, your loved one will be open to talking about it. And if they aren't, at least you showed that you cared enough to ask. The worst thing you can do is assume. 

50) Listen.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just listen. Let your loved one talk. Let them say everything they need to say without interruption. Especially at the end. It wasn't easy for my dad to speak in his last few days, but he had a lot to say. So we listened to his every word. And that helped him find his way to peace.

51) Just check in.

A simple "hello" text.  A quick stop by the hospital room. An email of support. Just checking in with someone means so much. It doesn't take much time, but it means the world to those who are sick and grieving. If you can't be physically present, send a text, a card, an email or leave a voicemail. You may not hear back, but your love is felt. Be persistent in your support. Cancer and grief are emotionally and physically exhausting and all those check-ins provide little boosts of energy to help your loved ones get through each day. 

52) There is opportunity for growth.

As painful as all of this is, you will grow from this experience. Cancer and death forces change upon you. Take this as an opportunity to become a better version of yourself. 

53) It's not weak to feel pain.

Feeling pain, both physically or emotionally is not a sign of weakness. It means you are human. 

54) Vulnerability is a gift.

When we are vulnerable, we are able to connect on a very deep level. In my dad's most vulnerable moments, during his last few days of life, I felt more love from him and for him than I have my entire life. It was a beautiful gift that we shared with each other. 

55) It's ok to not know how to be.

No one really knows how to be around cancer and death. You do your best. You show up. You open your heart. That's it. There's no perfect way to be, so forget trying to be perfect. 

56) The spirit is far more powerful than the physical self.

I wasn't aware of the magnitude of my dad's spirit until his last day of life. I sat with him all day, knowing that I was no longer sitting with him. His body was there, struggling to breath and swallow, but he was no longer present. It was only in the absence of his spirit that I realized what a powerful presence he really was. I missed him already, even as I was sitting with him. When I left him that evening, for the final time, I knew he was already gone. I take comfort in his powerful spirit now, as I know he will always be present. 

57) Expect the unexpected.

Cancer throws a bunch of curve balls.  We didn't expect my dad to have cardiac tamponade two years ago and almost die. And then we didn't expect him to recover so quickly. We didn't expect him to lose hearing in one ear from the chemo. And his oncologist didn't expect him to take his chemo treatments so well. Just when you think everything is going pretty good, something awful will happen. And just when you think something awful is going to happen, something amazing happens. That's cancer versus the human spirit.

58) Don't be so polite.

Be kind, yes. But forget about being polite. There's nothing polite about cancer. It doesn't ask permission and tip-toe around your life. There's no Emily Post advice that's going to help you get through this, so show polite the door. It's not strong enough for cancer. 

59) Trust your intuition.

There were a number of times during my dad's illness that I knew something was seriously wrong. I would feel it in my bones. When that intuitive hit strikes, act on it. Make a phone call. Go to the doctor. Do something - do anything but ignore it. It's very real and is usually right on. 

60) You are more resilient than you can imagine.

You have no idea. Every time you think "I can't do this anymore", you find the strength to keep on going. I have felt like a rubber band these past three years, stretched until I thought for sure I'd break. And I did break a few times. But somehow, you find that you have this ability to come back again and again. When you trust that you will be able to heal tomorrow, somehow that makes today's pain much more bearable.

61) Grief can be isolating.

There are days when you will feel completely alone. Really, really alone. Even in the presence of others. Or especially in the presence of others. There is something quite isolating about grief. Trust that others somewhere know your pain. Trust that this is just today, jut this hour, just this minute and that tomorrow you may feel a little less alone.

62) You don't have to be "ok".

When someone asks how you are, it's easy to get into the habit of saying "ok" because you really don't know how else to answer that question. But that word starts to become completely meaningless - even dishonest - in the face of grief.  If you feel crappy, say you feel crappy. If you feel depressed, say you're depressed. No one expects you to be "ok." Feel what you feel and tell people what you feel. Chances are they are feeling like you are and you can bet what they're feeling is anything but "ok". 

63) You matter. 

You. As in YOU.  You have something to give, you have something to share. This is not the time to feel insecure about yourself and your relationship with your loved one. This is the time to know that you matter and that you can make a difference. Your love can has the power to change the experience of cancer and the experience of dying.

64) Share memories.

My dad had the most amazing memory. When he was in the hospital he shared lots of stories - some I'd never heard before. He talked about being stationed in Germany when he was in the Army. We pulled up photos on our phones of all the old cars he used to drive. We talked about playing cribbage, my wedding, and his favorite jazz artists. The memories were like little mental vacations for all of us. For that time, we were somewhere else. Somewhere other than the hospital room. Somewhere where cancer didn't exist. 

65) Share yourself.

We all have ourselves to share. When you are left wondering what more you could possibly do or offer, just share yourself. When I held my dad's hand in the last few days I actually felt like I was sharing my life force with him. My heart was beating, my blood moving through my veins, and my breath strong. I could feel a transfer of energy. So even on the days when you think you have nothing to share, remember that you have a beating heart and breath in your lungs. You have life to share. 

66) You can never give too much love.

Never. It's absolutely impossible. 

67) Appreciate the little things.

When the big things are too daunting, shift your focus to small things that you can appreciate. It may be the sun shining or a kind nurse. Maybe you can appreciate that your loved one has pain medication. Or that they still can smile. Look for something small and you will find it. 

68) Know when to surrender.

Cancer feels like an uphill battle. You fight and fight and fight. But at a certain point, the fight has to end to make room for peace. Know when to surrender for your loved one. It will make the transition easier for everyone.

69) Be gentle with yourself and others.

You are not perfect. None of us are. You will make mistakes during this journey. You may say hurtful words to someone you love. You may let cancer and grief get the best of you at times. Forgive yourself and forgive others during this process. Be gentle with your own heart and with the hearts of others. There has never been a more tender time. 

70) There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Grief comes in many forms. It can sneak up on you and make you irritable. It can drown you in tears. It can come in a huge wave or little pin pricks. It might go into hiding. It might make you restless. It might make you infuriated. There's no one single emotion you should or shouldn't feel, and there's no particular order to it. Recognize that grieving is a process, and it's very personal to you. Also recognize that you may not understand another's grief, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong. 

71) The person is not the disease.

Your loved one is not the cancer. They are not a "cancer patient." They are who they are. Who you've always know them to be. Their spirit, their essence, is exactly the same as it's always been. Treat them with the same love and dignity you always have. If you have trouble seeing past their changed physical appearance, close your eyes and feel their energy. You are with the person, not the disease.

72) There will be good days and really hard days.

A good day may mean a successful surgery. A hard day might be finding out the cancer has metastasized. Over the past three years there were many good days, and many hard days. If I have one regret, it's that I didn't celebrate the good days with my dad enough. Good, as in "normal" days. At the time, you just think normal is normal. As the disease progresses, you wish you could have more "normal" days because those were actually the good days. Try not to take those good days for granted. 

73) Cancer really does suck.

It just does. There are no redeeming qualities to cancer. It's a crappy disease and we need to find a cure. 

74) Cancer and death can be a catalyst for healing.

You may find that the cancer helps heal. That the death helps heal. I had some beautiful conversations with my brothers in the last couple days of my dad's life and after he died. Healing happened. My dad's cancer brought emotions to the surface and opened up a channel for expression. Take advantage of that opportunity. It's a true gift. 

75) Celebrate life until there is death. 

My dad died the week after Valentine's Day, which was also his birthday. It was nearly impossible to figure out what to do for him. He couldn't eat, so birthday cake was out of the question. He couldn't read anymore, so no books. His wardrobe consisted of a hospital gown, so no new flannel shirts.  I decided on a huge, silly, pink monkey stuffed animal. He hated it. It was perfect. He nicknamed it Obnoxious Ollie. My brother also got my dad a gift. He bought us all a beautiful set of wind chimes and told my dad that when the chimes blew, we would all think of him. Needless to say, we were all crying our eyes out with that sentiment. It was perfect, too. We knew gifts didn't matter, but then again, they did. If we didn't bring him something, we would be acting as if he was already gone. And he wasn't. It's important to focus on life until death. And then after death, to celebrate life again. 

Light in the Darkness

The winter solstice is almost here. Officially at 8:49 pm in California, the North Pole will tilt to its furthest distance from the Sun, thus creating the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern Hemisphere. This is not usually something I look forward to. And, ironically, these past couple of days have felt like the longest days ever.

While many families are in full merry, holiday swing, our family has been spending the last couple of weeks in the hospital. Not so merry. My dad, who has been fighting cancer for two and half years, has been really sick. It's an eerie sensory reminder of two years ago when we had a huge scare with his health, which I wrote about here. It's also an eerie reminder of my own health issues last year when I found myself in the ER the day after Christmas and getting surgery just a week later.

It is extremely difficult trying to process the overwhelming emotions that accompany this very real - very frightening - life situation. There are so many ups and downs. Sometimes I cry and sometimes I am angry. And sometimes I am just numb.

I am struck by the kindness of so many people, especially those who are going through their own difficult times. I am also struck by the absence of kindness in many others. But all are teachers, whether they offer kindness or not. It's easy to be drawn into a cycle of anger and hurt. I've been there and it isn't pretty. It's not what my family needs more of. And it's certainly not what the world needs more of. I know now that just a tiny droplet of kindness can be so healing. We are all very powerful spiritual beings, and when we truly believe that about ourselves the world can be a beautiful place. 

We often say we should live life to the fullest. We should live in the moment. We should hold our loved ones close. These are great words, and good advice. But what does it mean? Now, during the holidays, does it mean buying presents and baking cookies? Does it mean cuddling up on the couch with a hot cup of tea? Does it mean sitting by your dad in the hospital bed doing crossword puzzles? 

The truth is, it means all of these things. It can be anything you want, because it's not really about what we do, it's about how we do it. If we do everything with love and kindness in our hearts, that is all that matters. 

It might seem weird that I'm not writing about all the Christmas-y things I'm doing. I'm a designer, after all. Shouldn't I be blogging about parties and cookies and holiday styling tips? Yes, I could, but that's not happening right now. Let's be real - all this holiday hoopla can be exhausting. And when you're running on emotional fumes, sometimes you just have to make the decision to skip it all. Even when it's what you do for a living. I'm here to tell you that if it's too much for you, too, it's ok. You are not a bad person. And it does not mean that you are a big Grinch. It means you're human. The holidays are not a happy time for everyone. There is no need to stress yourself. Light a couple of candles and call it a day. Remember, it's about being kind - not what color ornaments you have on your tree or how your mantle is styled. 

I also struggled with buying presents - it seemed so silly - but ultimately buying presents for my family seemed like the best way to be normal. And it felt kind. Because yes, this is not a "normal" holiday season (what does that even mean, anyway?) but we can still have joy. We can still give, and share and love. Exchanging gifts, in this moment anyway, feels right. It's a way to let everyone close to me know they are special. And that is important.

The Earth and the Sun will turn again. That is for certain. But we don't know what tomorrow will hold. Really, none of us do. Our tomorrow on this Earth is not a given.  But we do have right now. And in the now we have the amazing ability to love. We can share joy. We can share hope. We can choose to be a light in others' lives. 

May there be much light in all of your lives this holiday season. If your season feels dark, know that kindness exists. It might just be hiding where you aren't looking. And remember that you are also powerful enough to create it. It exists in each of us. Even on the shortest, darkest days of the year. 

Why It's Time to Retire This Whole Color of the Year Thing

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It's that time of year again. No, I'm not referring to the season when cheesy holiday tunes start prematurely blasting through TJ Maxx (although I did experience that just a couple of days ago.) I am referring to that time of year when the ubiquitous Color of The Year is announced. Again and again. And again. 

This is not a conversation I generally participate in, ironic as that may be. The Color of The Year happens and I nod or shake my head, depending on the particular chosen hues, but continue going about my business. Because, honestly, it doesn't really matter. 

Yep. I said it. It doesn't matter. Not to me, not to you. Unless you are a color forecaster whose job it is to select these hues or are part of the marketing team of a major paint company. Then it matters. It gives you something to hang your hat on. And it has the potential to make lots of money. Let's face it - the Color of The Year is a big marketing gimmick. 

And why is that a problem?

It's not really. It just doesn't have much of a point. And it doesn't really help anyone with anything. I struggle to find a purpose to it all.

I'm not saying the Color of The Year is a bad idea. I think it's actually rather ingenious. It creates a lot PR buzz that lasts year-long...and then can start up all over again the next year. And the year after that....and the year after that...and the year after that. It can really go on forever because there are an infinite amount of colors that can be featured. (I think this is true. I might need a color scientist to step in here and correct me if I'm wrong.) But infinite, as far as you and I are concerned, especially if we're introducing just one color a year. This could pretty much go on forever.

So why does it need to be retired? A little strategic marketing never hurt anyone, right?

It's not that it hurts anyone. In fact, the crowning of a particular hue as the Color Of The Year can be validating. This year, with two whites (yes, I'm calling them whites because that's what they are), is EXTREMELY validating for gazillions of us. White has been making the decorating world go round for at least the past five years and arguably since the dawn of man. Or at least the dawn of paint.

And it may make some people very happy. "Yay! White! I love white. Now it's The Color of The Year! That makes me happy." And I'm happy for you. And I was happy when "your" color was chosen last year. And the year before that...and the year before that. And I was right there with you that year it wasn't your color, and you were very upset. I was upset, too. Then I had to ask myself why. I was upset because I didn't like it. And because I didn't think I would be able to use it. I was upset because I felt left out of the color party. Because the Color of The Year can be very ostracizing if you happen to be one of those people that just doesn't "get it." (You've been there, right? Hello, Marsala! For me, anyway. )

Before I am deemed a color forecast hater, I should clarify that I think color forecasting has a very useful place in this world. Color forecasters track the pulse of color trends over time and it's important information from a historical, cultural and sociological perspective. So I'm totally on board with general color forecasting. 

But the Color of The Year? Again, I struggle to find a purpose. Because what are we supposed to do with it? If a paint company calls out a single color as their favored hue for the entire year, what are they saying about all the other colors in their paint deck? And what if we just don't like this year's Color of The Year? Do we have to wait an entire year to see if we'll like the next Color of The Year before we paint our homes or buy a new sofa? Does this mean we'll be seeing more white, for example, in 2016? I'm not sure how that would even be possible. 

So maybe we can just do away with this whole Color of The Year thing and celebrate all colors, every year. Or at least you can celebrate the colors you love. Because when it comes down to it, it just doesn't matter. Let's have a color party every day that everyone's invited to. And Simply White, you can totally come, too. You can even bring your friend Alabaster.