Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Meaning in Life

A blog reader from Canada and I have been corresponding for just over a year. When she found my blog, both of our Mom's had cancer and we were both getting ready to do IVF. Her Mom is still undergoing treatment and doing well, and her daughter is now a few months older than Autumn. When it felt like no one knew what I was going through back then, she did. I consider her more of a friend and hope that one day we can meet. On my last entry, she commented:

Lindi  Another beautiful post, as always.heart emoticon PS whenever I see that you've written a new blog post I make myself a cup of tea and sit down to enjoy reading it, as opposed to the usual skim reading I do online wink emoticon
Megan That is really touching Lindi. Some of them aren't that great though! I worried I was reading too much into this experience or trying too hard to make meaning out of it....but it's really how I felt. I like the tea part. Know who else did that daily? Mom, of course. Xo
Lindi Cee I don't think you're trying too hard to make meaning. I'll PM you why wink emoticon

When I published my last posting about the St. Regis and my experience there, first with Mom and then with Autumn, I wondered if I was trying too hard to make meaning out of it. When I read my original post to my husband, who is great about giving me feedback and helping, he said it was too fact-based. We went here. We saw this. He helped me bring out and articulate the deeper meaning that I was having trouble expressing. But I was left wondering: Was it silly? A little too much? I don't normally second-guess my postings, but the "old" me, the one wanting proof and concrete evidence for everything was doubting that all this meaning was "real."

Lindi's email came at just the right time, as a reminder that I was definitely on the right path.

Hey Megan So here are my thoughts, which may or may not be coherent... Still battling major sleep deprivation here wink emoticon
You may already know all of this given your profession, so glaze over if I'm "preaching to the choir" but anyway, here goes.
I don't think you're trying to hard to find meaning. I think finding meaning in one's life/events in one's life is a valuable coping mechanism. In my pre-occupational therapy life I ran a psychology research lab. Our work looked at people who face difficult/extreme circumstances and factors that lead to salutogenic (health-enhancing) and pathogenic (illness-inducing) outcomes. This was in 2000, just before the positive psychology movement became well known. We were looking at, among other groups, survivors of genocide. My work happened to focus on Holocaust survivors, but the findings held true in many other situations. I had over 60 survivors answer (lengthy) questionnaires about coping mechanisms, their psychological well-being, and experiences in talking/writing about their experiences. One of the measures we used was looking at something called sense of coherence. It looks at how manageable, comprehensible and meaningful people feel their life is. The survivors who were able to find meaning in their experiences had much lower levels of PTSD and higher levels of positive outcomes (ie happy marriages, satisfactory careers etc). Viktor Frankel wrote a whole book on the topic (Man's Search for Meaning) and his entire method of psychotherapy is based on this premise (ie I don't claim to have 'discovered' this at all!!). Aaron Antonovsky, the psychologist behind the sense of coherence theory has also written extensively on the subject and studies have found higher SOC linked with increased health in all kinds of populations...from astronauts on long duration space flights to families raising kids with complex disabilities, higher meaningfulness is linked to better outcomes. Our drive to find meaning is innate it's a valuable coping strategy and it in turn, improves our health.
The other thing which you probably know is the value of recounting/writing about difficult experiences as a way of coping. James Pennebaker did a ton of work in this area. He published a book "Writing to Heal" around the same time I published some of my findings. It's great if you haven't already seen it. Anyway, he explains how/why writing about emotional experiences is healing much more eloquently than I could!! Interestingly in my study, the majority of Holocaust survivors I interviewed had not started taking/writing about their experiences until 1991 - the year the film Schindler's List came out. They all reported being initially reluctant to discuss their experiences, fearing people's reactions. But once they did start talking, they all noted increased sense of meaningfulness and an improvement in overall well-being. I don't remember specific quotes but I remember being struck but how powerful they found it not only to speak about their experiences, but to hear others responses and how healing it was. In a way, I think your blog has a bit of that. I think it's a beautiful tribute to your mom, and now Autumn, but I think It's also healing for you to write, and to get feedback from others. At least I hope it is.
So that's my very long winded way of saying nope... You're not trying too hard at all. Keep on doing it it's good for you and I enjoy reading smile emoticon

The day before Lindi emailed me, I was going to take Autumn four miles in her BOB. It was the first time that we had taken it for a run in the morning, and I wanted a small blanket to cover her legs to protect them from the sun. In a rush, I opened her closet drawers and saw the gender-neutral one my Mom crocheted for her, before I was pregnant. I put it over Autumn's legs and she idly explored the basket-weave pattern and new texture with her fingers as we set off through the front door.

At a stop light half a mile in, I ran into two other Moms with two kids in a stroller. We exchanged pleasantries and then the toddler-aged girl looked at Autumn's blanket and said "Mommy, I'm cold." Knowing it wasn't really cold out, I had the fleeting thought that the blanket was made with so much love, this little girl could sense it, and that's what she wanted. Don't be silly, I thought. My thoughts turned to all Autumn is missing because my Mom isn't here. Then, I asked myself which would be better: for Autumn to "only" have this blanket made with love from the most loving Nana one could dream up, or a real Nana who is here, but disinterested in her life? Without a doubt, the former.

My Mom's love is seen in all these things she did for Autumn, not even knowing her and how she loved me, giving me the tools to be the best Mom to her. I shouldn't look at what Autumn looses by not having her here, but what she gains because she was that high of a caliber. Bringing this blanket out also meant that Mom was very much present on my mind.

We were going to go home and get ready for swim lessons when I saw signs for an estate sale the street over. Famous for trying to squeeze in too much and often running late, I had been planning to go home and get ready for swim. We didn't have a lot of time and are short on money right now, so going to the sale wasn't practical but I very much had the feeling that we should go, because it was something Mom would love and want us to do. The fleeting thought: Maybe there is something there for me, from Mom came and went as we turned down the street. Autumn and I had been to an estate sale a few weeks before, and I did not wonder this.

We walked through the door of a dated home filled with mid-century furniture. There was a card table set up in the living room with with dishes and china piled on top of it. Most of them were grouped together in sets, but one cup and saucer was by itself. It had pink roses on it and read Mother. My heart skipped a beat. Turning it over, I saw it was made in England.

At first, I had a pang of sadness because it was something I would pick out for her. Then my thoughts skipped back to, and settled on, the feeling that there was something in this house from her, to me. I picked it up and wandered through the rest of the house, thinking of the woman who owned it who I now had gathered was in a wheelchair before she died, like Mom was. Only with Mom, it wasn't due to old age. I thought about this woman's child, likely older than me now, who bought this cup for her and how they too must be missing their Mom.



But if they're lucky, like Mom, this lady gave them enough love to last a lifetime and beyond. I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it was quality not quantity. Some adults still grapple with a deficit of love from a childhood overshadowed by it's absence, real or perceived. Their Mom may have been too busy, self-absorbed or just repeating the pattern of how she was raised. Though their Mom may still be alive, the uncertainty of where they stand in her love can cause a whole host of problems. There are many adults out there who still feel unloved, unwanted or in competition with others due to their insecurities, all stemming from lack of love from their Mom. I have to remember how blessed I am that this was never the case with Mom. She loved my brother and I, and my father too, with every fiber of her being and there was never any doubt how much she loved us. She loved us with a pure, non-judgmental love, and gave us enough love to last a lifetime. A love that we would never question and that no one can take away. A love so powerful and fierce, not even death could stop it. A love I still feel.

If it were not for Lindi's email and encouragement, I would have chalked the cup up to coincidence. No sooner was it in my hand than I was dismissing the potential meaning as me reading too much into it again. But what else could be more important than finding meaning in life, even if sometimes finding it is a stretch?

Either Mom had nothing to do with that cup being there, or she had something to do with it. If bringing the idea into focus that she could have played a role is comforting to me, then why not believe that? But what if it's not true? What if it's silly? My old self would ask. Does it matter, if being open to the possibility makes it more valuable? Not at all. That cup and saucer is worth a whole lot more to me than the $3 I paid for it. Really, it becomes invaluable in this light.

Do I really think Mom put the cup there? Not really. But why work so hard to shut down the possibility that it could be a sort of sign "from" her, like how we ended up in her hometown of Reading, England instead of Italy where we thought we were headed on our babymoon? After-all, her love was certainly powerful enough. She said she would give me a sign if she could, and any overt ones would either land me on TV or in the hospital, so maybe this is the most she can do, for now. And if I'm open to it, maybe there will more small reminders of her love in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Our Stay at the St. Regis

On Saturday September 26th, Autumn turned four months old and we stayed at the St. Regis, Monarch Beach in Dana Point. This posting was to document a weekend of firsts for Autumn: first night in a hotel, first five-star resort, first beach, first pool and first time being picked on. But a few weeks after our visit, when I sat down to record it, I realized there was a bit more meaning behind our stay and our link to the St. Regis. Often times when we are in moments, we can't see the larger patterns or recognize how life has ways of bringing us back to moments, thoughts or feelings. Sometimes, there is a greater plan at work that we do not see until later.

Autumn's first trip was just meant to be a fun weekend away and to prepare her (and us) for larger trips. It was to be a new chapter, a chapter we were beginning as a family. But in hindsight, it was a continuation of a chapter already written; a chapter started by my Mom and I.

Our connection to the St. Regis first started in 2013 after Mom was newly diagnosed with brain cancer. A time when we knew of the things to come and they scared the heck out of us. Cancer was on our mind 100% of the time, and all the fear that even the word evokes, including fear of the unknown. But it was before cancer had the opportunity to rob my mom of her energy, joy and life. She had not yet started to experience all of the awful effects of chemotherapy. It had not yet taken her vision, her taste or her energy.
Our Spa Day, October 26th, 2013
Due to the kindness of a stranger, Mom and I were able to be pampered for a day at the spa. Right up until that day, it had been a whirlwind of appointments leaving us with more questions than answers. Important treatment options (whole brain radiation or gamma knife, what type of chemotherapy) were to be considered and weighed heavily on us. We had just raised money to move Mom, Dad and Glen from Yucaipa close to us in Tustin and hardly had any down time.

We did not have a lot of discretionary income because it was less than one month before our wedding. Even if we had, it would be impractical to spend it on a place as nice as the St. Regis.

That day meant so much to us both. After valeting the car and walking into Spa Gaucin, we both, without verbalizing it, left cancer at the door. It was a day to slow down and just enjoy the company and presence of each other, knowing without speaking it, that the time was now limited. We each has massages in separate rooms with a fireplace and candles, and were treated to champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.  When we left, the cancer seemed a little less present.

I thought that would be the end of the story and that day at the St. Regis and the experience there was a one-time event. But like so many things in life, larger patterns are at work and experiences that you think won't happen again come around in altered variations.

Once again, due to the kindness of a stranger, who now had become a friend, we were able to make another visit. The charges for the weekend, $1,300, were reversed once I completed my 80 page Forbes Five-Star Audit. The second visit could not include my mom of course, but included her grandchild Autumn. Knowing about my previous trip, Nathan asked "It won't be too upsetting for you, will it?" Thinking it could be, but not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, I assuredly responded with a "Nah."

I have never stayed at such a nice hotel in the United States. I say US because it cannot really compare to our pool villa in Thailand, where we were able to get 4 nights for the price of this. But, that is a place where your dollar goes much, much farther, and where I could get hour-long massages for $10, including tip. The design, grounds, restaurant and pools of the St. Regis were all very plush and of a higher quality than I am used to. But to me, the main difference was the level of service. Everyone called us by our last name and when we asked someone for directions to the elevator, for example, they walked us there instead of telling us or pointing. 


When we arrived, we took the tram to their private beach. While they have a service that will set up lounges chairs and an umbrella for you, we didn't stay long. Autumn is still too young for sunscreen, so I brought my umbrella to shade her, only casting it aside when we took pictures. This is the first time Autumn had seen the ocean, and it was thrilling for us to watch her look out at the waves. I'm not sure she knew what to make of the feel of the sand and the tide on her toes. As a reaction, she did her best starfish impression, putting each extremity in a different direction, which we found adorable.

She was much more receptive to the pool, and to lounging (like her Dad!). As soon as we entered the side that had the kids pool, the staff set up our towels for us (shade for me, sun for Nathan) and brought us over a pack-n-play.

I thought she might cry when I first put her in the water, but she didn't. That was until a little boy, 3 or 4 years old who was "playing" with her and talking to me, took her squirting fish toy and used it to squirt water directly into her face.

She was caught off guard, as was I, and started bawling. 
He came back later with an apology that seemed very sincere. Not wanting to be "that" parent, I laughed it off and responded with "It's okay, she's in a pool. It happens." But in reality, I felt terrible for awhile afterwards because I didn't see it coming. I was holding her in my arms, but still couldn't stop it. And it made me think about all the future hurt she will endure that, just like this, I will not be able to shield her from. How she will feel when she looses me, like I lost my Mom. Thankfully, I quickly realized I was spending too much time worrying about the future and factors beyond my control. Mom always said Why worry over things you can't change?, and she's right: there is no purpose to it, and it only robs you of the joy of the present moment. Autumn will be hurt in the future, and that I can't control. What I can control is how, together, we handle the aftereffects which in this case, include forgiveness.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when we took a bath together. The tub was giant, of course, and she was so relaxed and content She floated in my arms enjoying her bottle with her hands crossed on her chest, almost in a praying position and making continual eye contact. 

Afterwards, Nathan snapped this picture of us, as she responded to her name and smiled at him.

That's when it hit me.

This photo very much reminds me of the picture of Mom and I, also taken at the St. Regis, one month shy of two years ago. We did not set out to re-create it, and it was not even on my mind at the time. Yet here I was, slowing down and enjoying the moment with my daughter just like I had with Mom.

Remembering my time with Mom there and wishing she could be a part of Autumn's life, I started thinking about all the future memories to be created between Autumn and I. If we're lucky, a whole lifetime of them, just like Mom and I had. I sincerely hope that our relationship will be just as close, and will try to emulate all of the amazing parenting she did so that is the case. 

For example, I spoke to Mom more than once every day of my adult life, and never out of obligation. It was because I wanted to, and doing so always brightened my day. She never judged, complained or offered advice, and was always so interested in me and my life. If I can do half as good of a job at parenting as Mom did, I am confident that we will be very close.


Later that evening, we had dinner at Stonehill Tavern, their nicest restaurant, and I noticed some people gave us the look when we rolled in there with our stroller. I could sense what they were thinking: We didn't come here to pay 100 dollars a plate and hear a baby scream. And I can't say I blame them...no one wants to be next to a crying baby at a nice meal, not even people with babies!

Our reservation was for 7:30 pm, earlier than Autumn usually goes to sleep, yet she fell asleep on the short walk there, and slept the entire time. Even when a gaggle of tipsy middle-aged women were seated right next to us, with their volume turned up a bit too high. She opened her eyes just a few times, looked around, and went back sleep. They commented on how amazing she was, and we joked about giving her benedryl. How else to you explain such a remarkable baby? 

Dinner and our conversation were amazing. You know those older couples you see eating their entire meal in silence? We were the opposite of that. Not to say that won't be us someday, but this night was one of the best conversations. It's funny how just when you think you cannot love someone more, you do. I realized that my husband and I had passed a huge milestone by becoming parents. And along with that milestone, we have developed a deeper love. 

Nathan talked about Autumn and how much she means to him, our new role as parents and how he loves seeing me be such a good mother to her. It is still strange for me to view myself a Mom. He talked about family lineage, and those that have gone before us and those that will go after us. We have transformed from being the end link in a family chain to one of many links in the middle. Somehow, no longer being the end link brings us both comfort. 

Before having Autumn, we were the end and the focus was on us. All the hard work and sacrifices by our parents was for us, to provide us with a better life than they had. Every parent wants that for their child. But now, all those wishes and desires have transferred to her. Our world is no longer just about us, it is about Autumn and all that we can do to provide her with a better future and more opportunities than we had. For example, it fills me with a great sense of pride to know that while I was not on a plane until I was 18, and didn't leave the country until I was 26, Autumn is already booked for three weeks in Vienna, Prague and Budapest. 

We both recognize that the focus is no longer on ourselves and we love it. I would lay down my life for this little girl without giving it a second thought and somehow that is so comforting. My own mortality is no longer so terrifying because she means more to me. Because of her, everything we do has many more layers of meaning. We both talked, as we often do, about Autumn's future and what we hope to leave her, both tangible (jewelry, property) and intangible (values, experiences, memories). And, the imprint we hope to make on this wold through her.

I have been missing my Mom tremendously since she has been gone, and this trip did not change that. But just like checking into the spa helped us temporarily escape the worry, the time away allowed me to reflect and helped me realize that there are things I do with Autumn that will bring me back to Mom in a way. I am experiencing all of the same joys and eventually, trials, that she encountered being my mother. And that one day, Autumn will also encounter, should she choose to be a Mom. I still miss my Mom and I always will, but somehow this weekend helped me feel closer to her in our connection in motherhood. She is with me in everything I do, and every time that I love Autumn or make her smile. Moments like we had this weekend allow me to relive moments that I had with my Mom, and reaffirms the multi-generational connection that will always be there.