Going Home

I spent the morning at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago yesterday.  Many folks think kid’s hospitals are sad, sad places.  I don’t.  To me, they feel like home.  I feel comfortable in them, even ones I haven’t been in before.  Maybe its because I worked in health care for a lot of years.  Maybe it’s because doctors don’t scare me and the smell of antiseptic cleaners doesn’t nauseate me.  Maybe it’s because they remind me of Donna.

I went as a volunteer for a charity that does monthly parties for kids being treated for cancer.  Within minutes of being on the outpatient unit, I gave and received hugs from no less that six folks who helped care for Donna.  And honestly, for me and Mary Tyler Dad, too.  When Children’s Memorial Hospital closed last June, the anticipation of that closure gutted me for a bit.  It was another connection to Donna gone, gone, gone.

In my last visit to the old hospital, where another round of hugs were exchanged, I heard from almost every staff member I visited with, “We’ll be taking Donna with us.”  I heard those words, but in the moment they felt unintentionally hollow.  These folks meant well, but you know, they still made me sad.  In my first few visits to the new hospital, aside from being awed from the sheer impressiveness of the structure, it was simply good to see their faces again.  Those faces — so many beautiful faces — are, I now realize, another connection to Donna.

While Donna walked in hallways and cried and laughed in rooms that will never be accessible to me again, she also made an impression on an awful lot of folks that watched her grow up along with me and her Dad.  And when I see those faces now, even more than three years later, when they look at me, they are thinking of Donna.  And they say her name.  And for a few moments, I get to feel close to my girl again.

Donna getting a chemo infusion in Day Hospital at Children's Memorial Hospital, Fall 2008.
Donna getting a chemo infusion in Day Hospital at Children’s Memorial Hospital, Fall 2008.

What a gift.  I wrote on Facebook, “Any day that I get to hug Donna’s oncologist is a good day. So I guess today is a good day.”  And it was.

As I write this, sitting in my dining room, son tucked away in bed, husband out with friends, the tears are flowing freely.  They fall for Donna, but they also fall for the kids and families I met today.  Some had hair, some did not.  Some had IV poles, some did not.  Some had smiles, some did not.  All, I know, have fear.  Deep, troubling fear that sinks into the bones it is so potent.  And that fear is justified.

There is kinship in knowing the sadness of another.

I think that is why being at Lurie Children’s feels, in a way, like going home.  It is all familiar to me, even though it is brand new.  It doesn’t matter that yesterday was the first day I had the courage to go up to the oncology units.  Metaphorically, I’ve never left.  My husband used to call me the Mayor of 4 West, the old oncology unit, cause every time I left Donna’s room, I would stop and chat with folks in the halls or at the desk.  It would take me 45 minutes to run and get a soda.  Chat, chat, chat.  Today was the same way.

So today I send love and gratitude to all my friends at Lurie Children’s, another of my homes.  It was so good to see and hug and chat with Stew and Sandy and Heidi and Purvie and Willow and Julie and Barb and Beth and Althea and Katherine and Lana.  I am so glad that you are some of the good folks who know my sadness and my joy and my Donna.

It was good to be home.

Best of 2012: Happy Birthday, Mary Tyler Mom!

Two Januarys ago I started Mary Tyler Mom.  I had just returned to work after four years of being at home after moving to Cancerville.  I was adamant that I would not be writing about cancer or grief with Mary Tyler Mom.  My vision, if you will (as all good blogs start with a vision that gets quickly tossed aside, right?), was to write a blog about working and mothering.  Ha! Two years later, I quit my job, am in the middle of the adoption process, and somewhat gainfully employed as a writer.  That is simply crazy to me and nothing that I would have imagined two years ago.

This here blog is one of my greatest successes in life, unexpected as it is.  I write my words and people read them.  For criminy’s sake, SheKnows.com named me one of the Top 10 Inspirational Bloggers.  I mean, SheKnows knows, you know?  And you readers voted me as one of the Top 25 Family Blogs by Moms (No. 2, yo) through Circle of Moms.  What a dream.  Seriously.  I feel lucky, lucky, lucky for that.

That said, anniversaries and birthdays always make me want to take stock.  I am one that likes to look backwards before I look forwards.  Mary Tyler Mom is evolving and I am still not quite certain what my blog wants to be when it grows up.  A book?  A newspaper column?  A Bravo reality series?

I don’t know, and that is pretty damn exciting.

In the spirit of looking backwards before I look forwards, here is a collection of my twelve favorite posts of 2012 — one from each calender month.  Turns out, I write a lot about emotions.  Pfffft.  Go figure.  For someone who didn’t want to write about cancer or grief, well, five of my top twelve posts are about cancer and grief.  They say to write what you know, so I guess I’m following that piece of advice.  And a reader turned friend once told me that my best writing comes when I have a bee in my bonnet.  There are no less than four bees that made this list, buzzing around those bonnets.

Without further delay (cue drum roll, please), I give you my own Best of 2012 list.  If you’re new to me, check them out.  If you’ve been around a while and feel taken for granted, this list is for you, too, as great blog posts are the gift that keep on giving.

January:  Barbie v. Cancer – the post that resulted in strangers saying I should be shot dead just for suggesting kids with cancer needed research more than they needed a bald doll.  Not to mention the American Cancer Society exploiting my words as justification for why they so shamelessly ignore pediatric cancer.  And I’d show you that post, but they deleted it.  Bastards.

February:  Toddler Ten Commandments – just a fun piece of humor about how raising a toddler is infuriating.  And exhausting.  And for the birds.  And one of the sweetest privileges I’ve ever had.

March:  Live Organ Donation:  A Tale of Two Kidneys – when my friend Andy opted to donate his kidney, he asked me to write about it.  That was pretty cool.  I learned a lot about kidneys with this post.  And what it means to be a decent human being.

April:  Easter for Heathens:  Religious Holidays When You’re Not Religious – I am so damn proud of this post.  I broke the rules and wrote about religion here, or more specifically, my lack of religion.  That took guts.  I remain really proud of the results.

May:  The Good Enough Mother – Ha!  This is a more thoughtful post than it seems about how my parenting and most everything in my adult life has been influenced by a mid-century psychoanalytic theorist.  Winnicott rules.  It’s also the very first thing I published under my own name on The Huffington Post, which made me feel like a real rock star.

June:  RIP Children’s Memorial Hospital, 1882-2012 – potentially one of the most meaningful and important things I have ever written.  I started the post with a bit of an axe to grind, as I was truly sad about the closing of Donna’s hospital.  In the end, it was cathartic and almost universally praised and featured in both The Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune (online edition).  I still hear from doctors, nurses, and fellow families from Children’s Memorial about how meaningful it was to them.

July:  Yin, Meet Yang – This might morph into an annual tradition, posting on the eve of Donna’s would be/should be birthdays.  It helps to get the sadness out, to grieve what should have been, but never will be.

August:  Adoption 101:  The Visit Ends – Sigh.  This was tough to write and tough to read, even five months later.  And while most folks who read this short series that chronicles our first visit with a potential birth family were supportive, some weren’t, including close family.  It still stings to read the raw power of so much sadness.

September:  Donna’s Cancer Story:  One Year Later – I am so glad I thought to write this exploration of what it was like to write about something so wrenching and emotional.  It still puts things in perspective for me.

October:  A Walk in the Woods:  Finding the Teachable Moment – I am still learning how to do this whole mothering thing.  Ain’t no way I have it figured out.  This post is about doing just that — learning in the moment so that our kids can learn from us.  I also just adore the photography in this post and hope to include more of that in 2013.

November:  Mommy Bloggers and Douchebags – well, I just love the headline and it goes from there.

December:  It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) – written at the request of my dear friend, Nikki, from Moms Who Drink and Swear, who gave me my first big break in this here blogosphere.  A thoughtful post about a bottle cap and a life’s philosophy.

Thank you for keeping me company, reading my words, sharing my words, and sticking with me through the Terrible Twos.  Can I get a collective WOO to the HOO for 2013?

Ummm, cake.  Nom, nom, nom,
Ummm, cake. Nom, nom, nom.

Radiothon: Being THAT Family

radiothon

For years I have listened to Eric and Kathy’s annual 36 hour Radiothon to raise much needed funds for Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.  I am ashamed to say that I never once made a donation.  I would listen to the stories of the children treated at Children’s Memorial Hospital, now Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and I would shed some tears, and then I would turn the radio off, thinking to myself, “Wow.”

Then I would go on about my day.

A lot changes when you move to Cancerville.  Everything, really.  In 2007, during the Radiothon, I walked through the hospital lobby to get to Donna’s inpatient room.  There was a little thrill that I could actually see Eric and Kathy, morning drive personalities, as they interviewed a family.  Click. Connection made.  Oh, this was that Radiothon.  The funds raised go directly to this world class institution where we have entrusted Donna’s care. Oh. That ‘click’ was loud.  LOUD.

I remember driving home later that afternoon and being introduced to some of the children treated before Donna.  Kids with names like Ollie and Mark and Gus.  None of them had made it.  I turned the radio off, sobbing.  Too close, too close, too close.  Too damn close.

In twelve years of hosting the Radiothon, Eric and Kathy have raised over twenty million dollars for Children’s Memorial.  $20,000,000.00, for freaks sake.  That is an astounding number of zeroes.  Chicagoans open up their wallets every year, moved by the stories they hear.  Tomorrow, for the first time, they will hear Donna’s story.

A few months ago we got a call or an email from the hospital foundation, I honestly can’t remember which, wondering if we might be interested in participating.  Without knowing what all was involved, without consulting Mary Tyler Dad, I heard myself say, “Yes, of course.”  We feel completely full of love and gratitude toward Lurie Children’s Hospital.  Anything we can do, anything, to help that institution, we will.  This is a given in our home.  It is understood that we owe a tremendous amount, the length and quality of Donna’s too brief life, to the fine folks inside those walls.

So tomorrow morning, bright and early for the 7AM kick-off hour, me and Mary Tyler Dad and Son will drive down to share Donna’s story with all of Chicagoland.  We will be the first family to sit in the nest of the new Crown Sky Garden Lobby on the 11th floor of the hospital now dedicated to the fine efforts of Eric and Kathy, and share our Donna’s story.  We will see, for the first time, her “story song,” a video made of photos of Donna and snippets of an interview we did in studio a couple of months ago.

There will be tears, Lordy, I know there will be tears.  And pride, too, and gratitude.  Probably a little laughter.

Most remarkable to me about Eric and Kathy and about the staff at Lurie’s that scouts the families to tell their stories, is that they are not afraid of the dead children.  The children who have died, the Marks and Ollies and Guses and Donnas and Bennys and Mayas, are not forgotten, not banished from hope.  They, too, are worthy of having their story told.  Their death is as much a testament to the wonderful care provided at Lurie Children’s as the glorious survivors who are saved.  As the mom of a daughter who is buried, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.

So tomorrow, we become THAT family.  We will tell Donna’s story, our story, and maybe you will listen.  You might be sitting in your car, your kids in the backseat, on your way to school.  Or in your kitchen, packing those lunches.  Or in bed, bleary eyed and tired, waking for the day.

And maybe, just maybe, you will be better than I was all those years, and you will make that donation, supporting the work of a place I hope you never need.

The Radiothon can be watched live here.  You can donate here.  And you can listen to the 36 Hour Radiothon at 101.9 FM, The Mix in Chicago, or streamed online.