Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Kindness is more important than wisdom, and understanding that is the beginning of wisdom."


                                                                                 --Theodore Isaac Rubin
                       

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Mary Month of May

I grew up in a Protestant family. My brothers and I went to Sunday school, got confirmed, and later married in the same Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside. Overall, it was a good experience. But I always envied Catholic girls, especially in May.


Our working class neighborhood was a mixture of Protestant and Catholic families. Kids were divided by schools: Spring Hill Public or Saint Ambrose Catholic. But it was a close neighborhood and we all played together after school. 

We were in and out of each others houses often, and one mother could stand in for another when it came to discipline or first aid. The differences were few but the Catholic girls seemed to have something special.

It was in second grade that my feelings of envy emerged. My Catholic friends were having their First Holy Communion. My friends got to wear poofy white dresses and headbands with flowers and little veils. They were given medals with pictures of saints, rosaries and most intriguing, scapulars.

A scapular is two small patches of cloth with holy pictures on them, connected by a loop of string.  My girl friends told me that it protected them from evil and all manner of bad things, and it was a sin, they told me, to take it off.  The idea of a passionate commitment to something, even a string with holy pictures, was very appealing.

Catholicism offered my friends other comforts. As a kid I would have liked a patron saint or a guardian angel, but the Methodist church didn’t offer any of those. Instead we were counseled, in an ecumenically respectful way, that all that stuff was Catholic and kind of magical. Now, this was at the same age that I was fascinated with writing in code, creating invisible ink, becoming a blood sister, playing with the Ouija board and making up secret societies. I was made myth and magic out of anything I could get my hands and mind around.

The best thing, though, that Catholic girls got was Mary. She was presented as motherhood and sweetness, but Catholic girls got a very clear message that there was a woman in heaven, that somebody understood the female side of things.

For Protestant girls, Mary shows up once a year-- at Christmas --to give birth. She might get dragged out again on Good Friday—but only in the background. No role model, no intercessor, no friend. My Catholic pals had statues of Mary. Some had the plastic glow-in-the-dark kind, and the older girls had painted plaster Marys, dressed in blue robes with big doe eyes like my Barbie. And Mary was always standing on a snake. I certainly did not understand the symbolism, but I knew at ten that this 12 inch woman had some power you could not buy for Barbie. 

Best of all, my friends had May altars. A May altar was basically a table with an old lace tablecloth thrown over it. They put their Mary statues on it with flowers and candles that they were allowed to light when they said their prayers.  It still strikes me how feminine those altars were. The Catholic girls had total permission to identify with the feminine in spiritual matters. But no one gave little Protestant girls such romantic, mysterious things to do or own.

This carried over into all of a Catholic girl’s life. Mary got prayers, devotions, pilgrimages and even architectural consideration: there is a Marian shrine in every Catholic Church. Talk about having a room of one’s own. Mary’s presence meant that the Catholic Church included at least one woman at a high level. In her assumption into heaven, Mary had broken Christianity’s glass ceiling.

We pretty much get the shape of our beliefs early on, and what Catholic girls got was a She and a Her, someone like them, to pray to. And they got all those accessories: medals, scapulars, rosaries, ruffled altar skirts and little white prayer books. Protestant girls got black leatherette New Testaments, Jesus stories, but nothing that said, “We’re glad you’re a girl.” 

Of course, later, Catholic girls ran into, the birth control problem and the brick wall that said, “You can’t be a priest”. But what I saw my Catholic friends get was faith in their girlhood and an image of feminine power. That’s not such a bad way to start out.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Easter Brothers

 I consider the following to be quite telling about my own personality: I never believed in Santa Claus. I never, even as a little kid, imagined or believed that a man would go house to house in a red suit and bring toys and stockings to boys and girls.

I did, however, believe, until I was ten or maybe even older, in the Easter Bunny.  In my own defense I have to explain that we lived near the woods and I saw all kinds of rabbits, little baby bunnies and distance-covering jack rabbits, all the time. But I also had two older brothers who, as only big brothers can, facilitated, my belief. Sig and Larry would talk just slightly out of my earshot about The Bunny. “Don’t let her see him”, and “Did you see the basket he left next door?” They also, to make it more convincing, put bite marks on the
handles of our Easter baskets.

My brothers died when they were 42 and 48. Now I’m the oldest. At Easter I miss them. I miss having an Easter basket from Lar who –even as an adult—made me one that included the bunny’s teeth marks to remind me just how naïve I had been. And I miss our sibling tradition of finding the family “King Egg”.  As Easter approached we would each decorate our own hard-boiled egg, fortifying them with dye and crayon and competed (Sig and Lar were both went on to become engineers) by ramming our colored eggs together to see whose broke first. 

I also miss dressing up for Easter services, complete with new dress and corsage. The three of us continued to go to church on Easter even when we had walked away from organized religion. We kept this holiday because we all liked the uplifting Easter hymns like “Up From the Grave He Arose”. 

I kept going to church on Easter even as, and after, Sig and Larry were dying because those Easter hymns gave me a weird hope.  It was not a hope of miraculous recovery for  either brother,  or necessarily for a reunion in the “Great Beyond”, but  hope for  my  own  “arose” from the heartache of losing my  brothers,  my playmates,  co-conspirators and occasional torturers.

One of my final conversations with Sig was about my car. I was 40 years old but still easily defeated by my car worries.  Larry, who was then sick, was caring for Sig who was dying, and I called their house in tears to report the impending death of my car. Larry, who was on the phone with me, relayed the mechanic’s opinion to Sig who was lying in what would soon be his deathbed. 

Lar said to me, “Sig wants to talk to you”. I was surprised because Sig’s speech had become painful and very difficult for him. I waited until Larry positioned the phone for Sig to talk. 

“Here’s what you tell them….”, he began, and he proceeded to dictate a set of car repair instructions to convince any mechanic that I knew a nut from a bolt, and that this girl had a brother who would not see his sister taken for a ride.

At Easter I have the best memories of a girl with brothers—of a basket-carrying rabbit who was “just here a second ago” and of making faces to spoil the, “Come on; Say cheese” Brownie snapshots that Dad took of our Easter outfits.

Apart from any theology, Easter lets me believe in the resurrection of my family, of my all too gullible girlhood self, and in a life that rises, falls, rises and dies over and over as we each cycle through our layers of loss and gain.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Other Side of Impossible

This week I had the opportunity to read a new and very inspiring book that will be of interest to folks like us in CancerLand.

“The Other Side of Impossible” by Susannah Meadows—is (the subtitle) about: “Ordinary people who faced daunting medical challenges and refused to give up.”

The seven primary stories in her memoir/manual/guide are about individuals and families confronted with truly daunting medical challenges—confusing diagnosis, nearly impossible treatments, horrific journeys thru complicated medical mazes. 

Here in CancerLand—for the most part—we deal with more or less clear cut diagnoses: colon cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma etc. But still daunting. And we especially understand the grief, confusion and the head banging about whether to use complementary medicine, New Age treatments or good old chemo and radiation—or most likely a self-created combo of the above and more.

Here are stories of parents, partners, individuals and friends. Choices, mysteries, decisions and prayers.

If you are trying something that makes your doctors eyes roll, or if you have chosen a doctor that makes your friends eyes roll—or if you want to borrow some courage and fortitude and faith—check out Meadows book.

“The Other Side of Impossible” will be in stores on May 2nd and you can place an order now at Amazon.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing With, Through and About Cancer

If you are in the Albany, New York or Greater Capital Region area--please join me for a Writing Workshop at The ACS Hope Club.

The Hope Club in Latham, New York is a service center for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, family members and friends. It's a place to get info and coaching, find support groups, take classes or just hang out with folks who deeply understand your cancer journey.

I'll be presenting a Writing Workshop called:

Writing With, Through and About Cancer
Monday April 3rd
6 to 7:30 pm
Dinner is included.
class and dinner are free…but you must register.

The class is open to everyone--writers, non-writers, new writers and (I secretly want to writer)ers. :)



We'll make it easy to write, and we'll laugh, play and put words on paper for your cancer story--as patient, survivor, caregiver, family member or friend.

To Register please call 518-220-6060

I hope you can join us at The American Cancer Society Hope Club.





Diane Cameron--

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Triangles & Caregivers

It’s always a dance, this caregiving thing.

This week three words jump-started some crucial role shifting for me: Karpman Drama Triangle. I learned about that psychosocial theory, developed by Stephen Karpman, years ago in my first Psychology 101 class. Then it popped up again in a Family Systems Theory class, and then, much later, in a class called “Literature and the Novel”. 

It’s a valuable tool for assessing most relationships: families, family stories (hence, novels) and even workplaces.

It is absolutely a safe (though maybe uncomfortable) way of looking at your self in a caregiving situation.

Karpman describes his cycle-- or triangle –as a way to understand where individuals find
their comfort in a group and how we move from rescuer or persecutor to victim—and shows how easy it is to cycle to victim, victim, victim.

Take a look at the triangle diagram here and see if the words help you find your favorite spot. (You may need to think about ways that people (family) have described you. Are you the bossy one, always in control (you wish) or sure you are right? 

Are you the one who claims to have no ego, just trying to help, make life easier, “Oh let me do it”, but secretly you enjoy some pride and moral superiority?

Or maybe no one understands you, always blames you, “Its not my fault.” It just doesn’t make sense, does it,  that you are always the victim?

But Karpman’s theory is that these three “characters” (siblings/coworkers/friends) need each other to keep the dysfunction in stasis. And the only way to grow as an individual or change your life is to step out of your corner—regardless of what the others do.

That can feel really scary and chaotic—but that way growth lies.

Karpman’s characters: Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor show up in hospitals, waiting rooms, nursing homes and family care meetings. It takes a lot of staying conscious and listening to your own inner refrain, to “out” yourself. And note: the only way out is to say, (to yourself) “I’m playing Victim again” or “I need to stop being a Rescuer.” You get no points, no personal growth and no benefit from pointing out that someone else is a Persecutor or a Victim. 

I know, I know...that does seem to take away some of the self-righteous fun. But you want to grow. I know you want to grow

Cancer care is loaded with victims, rescuers and persecutors all vying for top billing: Who can be the biggest victim. We even say “cancer victim”. (Stop saying that.) It’s so easy to say, “Take care of yourself first”--but in real life, and real caregiving, theory is honored in the breach. 

Maybe the Karpman Triangle should be taught to caregiving teams. Maybe we can give out little triangle pins as a reminder. 

Maybe I need to get a little triangle tattooed on my right hand. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

There is No Good Card for This

You have been there--on the giving end or the receiving end…

It's either "What should I say..?"

OR

"I can't believe they said that!"


Kelsey Crowe wrote a book to capture those moments and to help the rest of us not put foot in mouth…
no platitudes, alternatives to lasagna, and ways to be supportive with out reaching for bizarre mixed metaphors and saccharine sayings.

Here's the link t the interview on NPR last week. When you hear this you'll want her book, and you'll want to start making your own honest greeting cards.

Take a listen:
http://www.npr.org/2017/02/13/514164179/there-is-no-good-card-for-this-what-to-say-when-condolences-isnt-enough

The book is called: There's No Good Card for This.