Friday, March 23, 2012


I watched “Lars and the Real Girl” tonight. (It’s one of my favorite movies ever. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, you should – it’s the most beautiful and genuine movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s just enough off-center for my taste. If I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life, it would be this one.) There’s a scene towards the end of the film when Lars’ girlfriend is really sick, and he comes downstairs to find these three older women he knows from church just sitting and knitting and cross-stitching in the living room.

They offer him food, and they tell him they’ve come to sit with him. One of the women says, “That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over and sit.”

That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over and sit.

I like that. When tragedy strikes, words of comfort mostly sound hollow, distraction can only last for so long, and there’s only so much you can do to make the situation better. But coming over, and sitting – it’s so simple, so unsophisticated, and yet it does more than words or actions really can. Just sitting and being with someone in pain, being present with that person – it’s healing. Just sitting and being, without a need to entertain or be entertained, maybe even with your own version of knitting or cross-stitch – that’s good.

That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over and sit. That’s what I want to do when tragedy strikes. I want to just come over and sit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In Memory

Two weeks ago, on Thursday, March 8, my roommate Alex’s mom died.

Her name was Susan. Or Sue.

She died of a vicious type of breast cancer that metastasized – to her brain, to her lungs. She was diagnosed about three years ago.

She tried everything – so many tests and doctors’ visits, tons of chemo. Some of it worked for a little while, but nothing worked completely.

For the past few months things had been getting bad. Thankfully she knew when things were almost at their end, and Alex was able to go home to be with her mom. To say those things that need to be said. To just sit at her bedside and be with her.

I heart breaks with Alex’s. I feel her pain. I grieve with her. I cry for her, for her mom, and for her family. Of course my grief is not the same as hers, my pain is nowhere near as strong as hers, and my tears come less often than hers do. But as much as I can, I mourn with Alex.

And that “as much as I can” is probably more now than it was before my mom’s cancer. I feel Alex’s pain more deeply now because of my own pain. I grieve with Alex more ardently now because of my own grief. I cry more for Alex and her family now because of my own tears.

For awhile I felt guilty about this – about the fact that my own experience with my mom’s cancer and coming death has so impacted my experience with Alex and her mom’s cancer and death. I didn’t want Alex to feel like her grief isn’t unique, or important - because it is. I didn’t want to just be projecting my grief onto hers – because her experience is what should matter now.

But I realized that I can’t separate my experience from Alex’s – they’re too intertwined, too mirrored, too similar, even while being unique. So instead I sit more deeply in her mourning because of my own. Instead I feel the loss of her mother more strongly because of the coming loss of mine. And I know that Alex will do the same when my mom dies.

Sue, I honor your life, your love, and the part of you I know best – being Alex’s mom. And Alex, I sit with you in your grief, and feel your pain with you, as much as I can. I love you so very much.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How's your mom doing?

I haven’t written about this for awhile. The reason? She’s kinda been the same for the past few months.

Her stroke recovery has pretty much plateaued. Her right arm still doesn’t move (and we still call it Fred). Her right leg moves a little, but she can’t feel it. She walks back and forth to the bathroom a few times a day. Her speech is the same – still slurred or mispronounced, she still often can’t find the right word to say something. She still can’t read or write. But overall we get along. We’ve gotten used to narrowing down concepts until we can guess the word she’s thinking of. (It took me about five minutes the other day to figure out she wanted ketchup with her lunch. You know, that red thing you eat.) We’re used to getting her food, taking her to the bathroom, and helping her get dressed. It feels normal now.

She’s done with radiation (and her hair is still mostly gone, though its slowly growing back). She is still doing chemo, in pill form, five days a month, every month. Her first round of monthly chemo made her ridiculously tired, so we waited an extra month between chemo rounds for her to recover.

She just finished her second round, and she’s still a little more tired than usual. We can tell because it’s harder for her to speak, and she has a harder time doing simple things, like standing up to transfer from her chair to the wheelchair. We’re hoping this round is kinder to her though, otherwise we might stop chemo all together so she can have a fuller life in whatever time she has left.

We’ve found our rhythm. It’s nice, to not see a crisis around every corner. Let’s hope things stay that way, at least for a little while longer.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Role Model

I was watching an episode of Gilmore Girls recently, the one where Rory graduates from high school. (Now that I’ve watched Gilmore Girls with my mom, the show feels like a way to be close to her when I can’t actually be with her. It was a perfect show to bring with me to Madison, WI when I went there this past week.)

This episode has always been a good one, and Rory’s speech at the ceremony has always been poignant. But as I watched it again, one line in particular had more meaning than it ever has before. As Rory is speaking about her mother, she says, “I don’t know if she ever realized that the person I most wanted to be was her.” (Wanna see a clip? It’s about two minutes in on this video.)

I don’t know if my mom realizes that the person I most want to be is her. I don’t know if I realized that the person I most want to be is my mom. But this journey with her, through her stroke and her cancer, has shown me just how much I want to be like her.

Why do I want to be like her?

My mom works through her ish. She started going to therapy when I was in college, and her progression through therapy and into emotional healing inspired mine. She has done the hard work of dealing with her past, and it shows in how she copes, even now.

My mom is a quiet servant, and loved for it. I didn’t know until her stroke how many people she had impacted through serving in a United Methodist Church retreat and ministry program called “Walk to Emmaus.” She got so many cards and gifts and visitors through Emmaus – it blew my mind to see how involved and how loved she was, without me even knowing it.

My mom is patient. In the midst of her stroke symptoms, of not being able to walk, of constantly struggling to find the right word, of being unable to care for herself, she has learned to be patient, to wait, and to have grace for us when we are slow to understand what she needs.

My mom is compassionate. Even in the midst of her own pain, she cares deeply for others – whether its family, friends, or even my friends she barely knows. Instead of wallowing in her own suffering, she sits with others in theirs.

My mom is a fighter. She was a fighter when she had breast cancer 15 years ago, she’s been a fighter with my dad’s disability, and she’s a fighter now. She chose to keep living, she chose to do physical therapy, she chose to do radiation and chemo, and she chooses every day to practice speaking, walking, doing things on her own.

My mom loves Jesus. In everything she’s been through, in all the shit life has thrown at her, she knows beyond a doubt that she is God’s beloved daughter. As she prays, or hums along to worship songs, I see that she is more sure than ever that she is loved by Jesus.

My mom is an amazing woman. And so I echo Rory in saying that the person I most want to be is her.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I called my parents home phone today, but no one was home. It went to voicemail, and so I waited to hear my dad voice say, “You’ve reached the voicemail of Jim and Susan Crawford,” or something like that.

Instead I heard my mom’s voice.

It’s the first time I’ve heard my mom’s voice, her real voice, her non-stroke voice, in six months.

It wasn’t saying much. Something along the lines of “This is the home of Susan and Jim Crawford, and also Susan Crawford’s Mary Kay business. Please leave a message. Thank you. Bye.”

But it came so unexpectedly, hearing my mom’s voice. It was a shock, a jolt from the past. Her voice now just sounds so different, and is so determined by her stroke, it’s like a whole different person.

A part of me wants to change the message, so people don’t get confused. I don’t want people to think she’s miraculously gotten better, or that she still sells Mary Kay. But a part of me wants to leave it up forever, so I can always call my parent’s phone and hear my mom’s voice, whenever I want.


Most of the time I don’t like contemporary Christian music. You know the kind I’m talking about – the upbeat, unwaveringly positive, with a beat that’s stuck in the 80’s kind of music.

I’ve especially been having a hard time with contemporary worship music since my mom’s stroke. I feel fake every time I sing along, with lyrics about the good and the beautiful and the whole – my life just doesn’t feel like that. Where are the songs about how unbalanced and broken life can be? Where are the cries to God for mercy?
“It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…. It is my judgment that this action of the church is less a defiance guided by faith and founded in the good news, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life.” 
            --- Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms, p. 26 - 27

I can’t deny or deceive myself into thinking that things are all sunshine and rainbows. I can’t pretend that my life isn’t disoriented. I need music, sermons, anything that speaks to a “life that is savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry.” (p. 26) I know I’m not the only one who feels it – just read Psalm 130.

My friend suggested I should listen to David Crowder Band’s new album, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in C [the happiest of all keys]). (Translation: a mass for the dead.) For the first time in a long time, I feel like singing along to contemporary Christian songs. Or at least I feel like playing it over and over and over again as I soak in the music.