Constance Ore is a retired Teacher, Choir Director, and Organist. And a formidable cook.

June 29, 2010

Filed under: — Constance at 10:17 am on Wednesday, June 30, 2010

(sound from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

We returned late this afternoon from our long weekend “road trip” which featured the Niobrara State Park, NE., where we stayed in a cabin atop a high cliff overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. This was perhaps the quietest place I’ve been for some time; one could hear one’s own heart beat and breath in the silence. No airplanes, cars, boats, or trains’ engines sounded anywhere around the edges of stillness. Coyotes at sunset, birds throughout the day and on into the night and some movements through the grasses kept us aware of the life surrounding us. When I was in grade school, one of the reading books had a great story about the Whippoorwill and how it got its name, so after all this time, it was grand to actually hear it right after sundown, repeating its three pitched “whip poor will” call. I always think at such moments, “If no other thing happens within this day, I have had an experience new to me, and that makes it time well spent.”

It is good to find magic in unexpected places, and when these places are not far from home, and home is Nebraska, it is even better. We went across an old railroad trestle (now a walking path) which presented geometric shapes arranged in a very straight pattern across the shifting and untidy back waters. Its placement permitted us to see small flocks of American pelicans going through their morning routines, as well as cliff swallows gathering at their mud nests on the steep banks of the river. We watched bald eagles flying up and down the waterways – they are more common now than in the past, but it is still a grand sight since they are so huge.

We finished off our adventure with a stop at the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park where we walked through masses of wildflowers to the “Rhino Barn”, a large enclosure which features archeology students working on unearthing ever more fossils – this apparently is the only known site in the world where entire three-dimensional skeletons of large prehistoric animals are preserved. The volcanic ash from a volcano in what is today Idaho killed hundreds of animals, including rhinos, camels, three-toed horses, and birds, among others, and preserved their remains.

The signs spoke of “millions of years” having passed, and I considered a civilization many years in the future digging about in our present culture’s debris and carefully writing up the scope and meaning of the plastic bags, medical waste, or other deleterious materials that it finds.

We agreed upon our return that even a short time away on a trip felt like an adventure. On the last evening out, my own health moved into a new sphere with a few moments of unconsciousness as I hugged John-paul good-night; the sense of being “gone” came on so suddenly that it was startling to find myself lying on the floor with both dear ones bending over me, taking pulse, and looking anxious. Since then, I have had an unsettled feeling in my head and a great weariness in my person.

June 21, 2010

Filed under: — Constance at 9:30 pm on Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer’s first official day – hot, humid, hungry mosquitos, and the 2 1/3 inches of rain last night still has the wetland in its river manifestation, with waters covering the paths to the bridges. On these rare occasions, we walk on the somewhat shorter paths on this side of the stream, circling our neighbor’s pond and coming back past the windmill and through the hedge of lilacs that stands nearby.

Last Saturday, Heidi, Zoie, Kira and I gathered up an old white sheet, a bucket, and an extending pole (normally used to change light bulbs in our high ceilings) for a mulberry picking adventure that replicated the experience I had when a child on the farm. We trekked over to a large tree which I had previously identified as one that created very fine product and while Heidi, Kira and I held on to the sheet and placed ourselves under a branch covered with ripe berries, Zoie whacked the tree with the long pole, causing a rain of fruit. This produced a wonderful volume, and was fine fun at the same time. We moved around the tree and gathered 3/4 of a large bucketful in a very short time. I imagined my mother and grandmother watching this continuation of something no longer commonly done and I could almost see them and hear their applause.

Several gifts made last week a fine one. First, the family visit, then the suggestion to the Blog about taking a certain medication for nausea. I followed up, and for the first time in weeks, I have had some improvement in the taste of food. Then, Janna gave me a wonderful book called “Living at the End of Life” by Karen Whitley Bell. The subtitle is “A Hospice Nurse Addresses the Most Common Questions”. She uses stories about her encounters to discuss such things as “I Wish I Had More Energy” or “What Will Happen? The Physical Journey” as well as giving all sorts of examples of family and caregivers and coping. I told Charles that he truly needs to read it also. One thing became apparent – I am not nearly where I’ll be before dying unless I run into some illness that takes advantage of the lack of immunities. (I gathered from the stories, that one will/can become terribly weak, bedfast, and finally, unconscious.) The stories about “eating” confirmed to me that my system is shutting down, and my present life experiences are common (lack of energy, pain, dreams, etc.). She repeatedly gave examples of how a person who has an evident terminal illness has choices. She emphasized the need for love and for living in the moment. She also dealt with the spiritual side of the subject quite competently. This is a timely book for us, and in my opinion, most helpful.

The next gift stands on the edge of the front yard; it’s the clematis that cries out “Look at me!” every time we walk past the windows. Last fall, Charles and John-paul put up a pole wrapped in chicken wire with hopes for a tower of flowers, and the clematis is delivering. As it grew, it literally sent its vines out from the arbor to reach for the pipe, a distance of about three and a half feet.

Summer is here – I am here. I am alive to greet another season and it is the best gift of all!

June 15, 2010

Filed under: — Constance at 6:07 pm on Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In a place that is usually quite sedate, there is nothing quite so fine as the sound of nine year old girls’ voices and their light, quick footsteps as they move through the house. “Life” as adventure and classroom and discovery is displayed and all of us are having a fine time together. Alphie stays nearby because more petting and brushing are likely to occur, and he never misses such an opportunity for attention. It feels like true summer at last.

Appetite: definition – “An instinctive physical desire, especially one for food or drink. A strong wish or urge.” A lifetime lived, and it never crossed my mind that one could reach the point where appetite is gone and the need for sustenance becomes a chore rather than a fine part of living. Food has slowly evolved from tasting strange through no taste at all to a distaste for the act of eating – though the medications have helped to make some things edible, there is something that says, “I can’t do this” and it becomes impossible to eat. Imagine! My sense of smell is still quite functional, but I have read that as my disease progresses, metabolism decreases. I had a blood transfusion last Friday and its effectiveness was not as grand as was hoped. This also bears a message about the status of the cancer.

After years with AML, it appears to be growing more quickly now, intent on destruction, like the heavy vines that completely cover the wild roses and plums and take away their lives in a season’s time. The cancer cells are wrapping around immature blood cells and sending them into the bloodstream, useless and using up space. As they proliferate, less and less blood is available to sustain me. My appetite for life is also affected – there is less energy available and I can feel the color leaching out of my thoughts and behaviors. I told Charles that I hoped his memories would be taken from the times in our past when I brought more to everything, and he assured me that a great deal of that was “unforgettable”. (The fervor in his voice made me consider that not every memory will be adorned with rainbows while harmonious music sounds in the background.)

So we go on here at Sanctuary. . . living, growing, dying. It is much the same everywhere, but as we live out the days we define them by our own experiences. Otis Young’s best loved benediction calls out from its place of honor on the front of the refrigerator, “Go forth in peace – and in the strength that God supplies. Surrender your anxious cares to God and find your joy in serving others. The grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ and ministered to you by the Holy Spirit go with you.” Otis had the good fortune of a seemingly quick transition from earth to heaven, dying on a cold morning after flinging snow off his sidewalks, but his words remain to comfort those of us who continue the journey. C’est la vie.

June 8, 2010

Filed under: — Constance at 5:27 pm on Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sometimes, my life’s path seems clear and tidy where everything is kept in balance – and those are good times. In the recent weeks, my way has gotten unclear and not at all tidy. I seem to be stumbling into dark passages where there are many rocks and pitfalls. Last week, I got caught up in a drug supply confusion that meant I was given a different medication which in turn caused a side trip into a very unpleasant place where I felt like I was swimming underwater, near the surface, but unable to break through to where I might think and breathe properly. I believe that at some point in the supply chain a wrong number, or perhaps a miss-typed word combined with the anticipation and celebration of the Memorial Day weekend contrived to make the good and useful meds unavailable for a time. Now all is in order again and I have returned to somewhat better days.

Since I have been losing energy, I have not been “out and about” very much. Last Friday however, Charles had a wedding rehearsal at First Church in the early evening, and the timing seemed perfect for me to go along and have a small shopping adventure in the meantime. I needed some new bras and one department store carries the brand I prefer, so this would work out very well.

I arrived at the lingerie department, and a formidably built young woman hurried to assist me. She wore a pin with “Lingerie Consultant” printed on it. I asked where to find the brand I sought, and as she led the way, I said that I had lost some weight, and therefore needed to find a different size. She turned to me and said very eagerly, “You lost weight?? Oh, that’s sooo wonderful! I’m trying to loose some weight, too. What diet are you on?” I didn’t reply immediately and she went on, “Oh c’mon, you can tell me. . .” so I said, “I have terminal cancer. It causes weight loss.” She beamed. “Ohhh, breast cancer!! Is it breast cancer??” I looked at my watch, thinking that if I could just last a few more minutes I would make my purchases and escape. I was already certain never to return. “No, not breast cancer” I said. More delighted beaming and “Ohhhh! You’re in remission! I think that’s SO great! Now, what size bra are you? I really know my way around cup sizes!” She suddenly turned to face me and said, “Do you know, I’ve had two breast reductions? TWO!” Now she was looking at me expectantly, and I realized that I was to say something. I had unwittingly stepped onto a stage where I was playing a part for which I had never rehearsed, and I was flummoxed. When one does not have proper energy, the world is a harder place to navigate, though this incredibly clueless woman would have been a challenge for anyone. Here was an amazingly ample bosom thrust in front of me, and I finally produced the words, “You do appear to be proportioned correctly.” In the few moments for her to conclude that she had not been insulted, I spotted what I needed, grabbed it and began to hurry to the check-out desk. She called after me, “Remission!! You’re so lucky, remission from breast cancer!”

I returned to the car and just sat there, exhausted. The next day I related the story to a gathering of women friends, and in the telling, realized that this held all the elements of a perfect comedy sketch. We could bond in our common experience of our culture’s obsession with diet and body shape, and the peculiar elements contained within the encounter had all of us laughing to the point of tears. Being female at this time in history means that the constant barrage of “imperfectly shaped bodies” invades every mind and few of us can stand in front of a mirror and see an entirely pleasing image there. Talking about the clueless and potentially ghastly take on cancer and considering the responses one might have given made it a moment of high humor, and the laughter and stories that were generated more than compensated for the actual event.

June days are abundant as every growing thing responds to rains and flings out new and bigger leaves, branches, and flowers. I think about “life”. Another day with a daybreak and a set number of hours ahead in which one will experience what one has determined should take place. So many things that had a meaning to me (i.e., food, thinking about it, cooking, baking, planning with great pleasure for events of sharing meals with friends, or travel, or shopping, or lunching out with a friend, or having the energy to garden, etc.) are no longer in place and therefore, what is “life” now? I sleep a lot and tomorrow I will likely pursue a blood transfusion in the hopes of having an energy boost before next week’s visit of grandchildren. I think one can consider another day of existence as a gift, as time to pass, or as a burden. As a child of God, wife to splendid Charles and mother/grand to a gathering of special people, and a companion to Alphie who is waiting for me in delighted anticipation of his walk around Sanctuary, I have to say “gift”. Once that determination is made, then the day will follow and there will be laughter and it will be all right.

In the King James’ translation, Psalm 118 opens and ends with “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever” and within the psalm is verse 24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” So we shall, and I hope that the days are gifts of life for all of you, too.

Next Page »