Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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I wonder if they’ll know…

I wonder if they’ll know…

That they are the reason people call me brave. Without them, I would not have gotten out of bed sometimes. Getting them ready for school meant getting up and moving when I’d rather stay in bed. Taking care of them while at my lowest, meant living.

That finding people to help with them has brought me closer to certain friends and has given me the gift of watching others love on my kids. Hearing people offer to help take them places has meant seeing light shine brightly from others.

That everytime someone has sent them a gift or a card it has made my heart fuller than gifts for myself. The first cards that came in the mail for them, from other siblings whose mom had been through cancer, remain two of the most cherished pieces of paper in our home.

That watching them sleep brings a sense of peace that is indescribable- it has been that way since they were babies.

How their giggles strike a chord deep inside of me- more beautiful than all the music I could ever listen to. Hearing them laugh with each other brings its own special peace in my soul- as I know they’re growing a special bond as sisters that no one else in the world will be able to relate to. And they’ll have each other long after Rob and I aren’t here.

That my biggest fear has not been for me leaving them. It’s that they would have to go through the grief of losing their mom.

That I worry more about how they are getting through this than how I am.

That I’m beyond proud of their resilience and sweet souls as we navigate these waters without guidance. What to say? How much to share? How to calm their worries. What is normal now? Should I tell them I’m scared? Should I let them see my scars? What does this mean for their futures? What if? What if not? My worries for them go far beyond anything for myself.

That caring for them, raising them, has been such a beautiful gift- given to us and wholly appreciated- now more than ever. We’ve been graciously given the task of raising these two beautiful, sweet, hilarious, emotional, loving souls. But they are not ours… they are His. Our Creator who made us, who knows them, who holds them through me. I am so thankful that they were created in my womb. The most miraculous feelings this body has ever known was growing those two inside of it. Though my body feels like it’s failing me now, it certainly didn’t then. The breasts that have recently caused such sorrow did their job to feed those two. These hormones that “fed” cancer also did their part to create life a decade ago. And I can be nothing but grateful for that.  

You know, chemo didn’t just make me feel bad- it made me feel like a different person. My best identity change was when I became a mother to my girls. It was planned, welcomed, expected. This year my identity changed- unplanned, unwelcomed, unexpected- so much that I couldn’t recognize myself. I was no longer strong, healthy, happy, easy going. Physical changes forced me to be ok with a body I couldn’t control. Emotional changes forced me to feel differently than ever before. That was an intentional “ly”. My emotional responses and interactions with others were so unlike anything I was used to. And one of the most noticeable struggles was how hard it was to laugh. It’s just so hard to do when your body is not well. But you know the two people who could make me laugh no matter what- those two beauties I have the privilege of calling my daughters. They are precious souls who show love just as often as they fight with each other. Thank you to everyone holding space with me who have loved on them. And to those of you who haven’t met them yet- you’re missing out. I think they’re a couple of the best humans I know. Watch for them to change your world…. just like they’ve changed mine.

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Meet At the Mountain Top

Rob posted some pictures on Facebook after our first day in Lake Tahoe. Well, my cousins who live a few hours away noticed the post and without hesitation said they were coming to meet us out there. They heard we were within driving distance so the only question was where we would meet them. I love that about my family… always there… always. We met them at South Tahoe and did a gondola ride that goes 2 miles high to see a perfect view of the lake. It was reminiscent of our customary Caldwell rides on the Pittsburgh incline during city excursions… but super-sized. I was so completely happy to see them and spend the afternoon catching up with them. We laughed and tried not to cry. These family ties are made strong by our tightly woven memories from childhood. We made more memories to add to that mosaic- creating quite a beautiful patchwork quilt in my soul. Grandma would love it!
Toya is the oldest “wise” one whose fear of heights is as sweet as it is funny. But she rode a gondola 2 miles high just to be with us for the afternoon. (She’s the one I’ve mentioned before who encourages me to write. I’m sure she also chuckled as she read that I called her “wise”). Tamica is just as free-spirited as ever, with a heart as beautiful as her smile. The two of them make an opinionated, stubborn (“Johnny Bull”) hysterical combination of love. I’m so proud to be related to them.
Toya’s words said it well: “We will always meet you on the mountain top! You made it cousin. Can’t wait to see what’s on the other side for you!!” I’m so thankful to be at the top of this mountain now. I’m not over it, but from up here I can see more clearly where I’m headed. And being at the top, surrounded by loved ones, is a pretty good place to be.


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Thankful

When I got home from my last chemo treatment on Thursday, I was surprised to see my dad, my sister’s kids, and my 3 closest friends from PA all waiting in the front yard for me- with balloons and signs and arms waiting for hugs. We spent the evening hanging out- reminiscing, catching up, looking at old yearbooks. It was the kind of evening where you wish time would stop so the night would never end. It was lovely and unforgettable. Thankful for such amazing love and support!


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Surprise Visit!

As I got home from chemo yesterday, an unfamiliar minivan pulled in behind me- and out came the Hopwoods!!!! My dear cousin, Jenn Javor-Hopwood, made a surprise visit with her 4 kids (2 of which I hadn’t even met yet). Spending time with loved ones like this- walking, biking, or just sitting around, is joyful. We used to hang out regularly at our grandma’s house when we were growing up. So just being in their presence takes me back to that and brings such a sense of comfort and peace. Now there’s just a lot more little people around us who need fed and helped on their bikes/scooters. I’ve said it before- sweet days like yesterday are very bright spots in this otherwise dim experience. And the light lasts a long longer!


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Sister

That may look like it’s just my sister playing with our girls. But that woman right there is so much more than that. She’s my identical twin, which means when she comes to Ohio to visit there’s literally another one of me here. Another human who does things pretty much the same way I do. I’ve been too tired to really play with my girls the way I want to… but she does! I’m just a little too down lately to belt out random songs in a key that’s nowhere near accurate…. but she does! And I don’t have the energy (or referee patience) to stand and play 4-square with the girls… but she can. Today I watched her play 4-square as I sat half-asleep in a nearby chair, remembering what seemed like the hours we played with our brother and cousin, Amy, at the Cool Valley playground every summer. Such a simple game, so many hours of fun. Another moment now that reminds me of my cousin and my childhood. I wish you all could’ve known Amy- she was my example of courage. I think she’d get a kick out of watching our children playing this together. And I love when those kinds of memories come to mind. As much as I wish I wasn’t going through this, I can appreciate the fact that it’s triggering sweet memories…. or maybe it’s just slowing me down enough to recognize and appreciate the memories when they sneak in.

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Special Visitors!

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Special visitors today! Aunt Dolly and Uncle Bruce drove from PA this afternoon- bringing pot pies, applesauce, a lesson in Oreo dessert making, and some Strawpump love. She gave me her t-shirt and pinwheel from the Pgh Komen breast cancer walk that she did (you can see in the pics). Bonus that Trisha and her girls were visiting at the same time. Some days feel extra special… this is one of them.

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Lucky Girl

 

Today I feel like a lucky girl… and that’s not easily said in the middle of a cancer fight. I spent the morning at Olivia’s dance competition (she did great, by the way.) I came home to beautiful flowers planted by even more beautiful friends. Had a visit from my Aunt Pat and cousins. Then had a quiet evening with just Liana at home as Olivia stayed at her friend’s house. And you know what happened in the middle of it all- I ate a sandwich! A gourmet grilled cheese with artichokes from Lockview. For out-of-towners, Lockview is known for their amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. This is the best Saturday I’ve had in a while. I’ve had good moments on Saturdays, but this whole day felt good. I’m exhausted. But tonight, when I lay down for bed, I will close my eyes with a smile on my face.
“Inhale courage, exhale fear.” (Julie Nawrocky Reis)