The Notebook

Sometimes I still cry.

While we were cleaning out the ‘we don’t know where to put it so we’ll just put it in this extra room’ room that needs to become the ‘sparish’ room, I came upon a couple of notebooks.

The first one had some journaling, some grocery lists, some C doodling.  I tore out a few pages to keep.  The rest went to the recycle pile.

The second one took my breath away.

The first page began with a list of meds in my Mom’s handwriting.  Underneath that, a new and separate thought, were the words, “rapidly fatal.”  On another page there were the words “adenocarcinoma,” and “lymph nodes.”  There were words like, “Insurance Company,” and “MRI.”

In handwriting that goes back and forth between my mother’s and my father’s–often on the same page–I found the book that accompanied them to appointments.  That asked their questions.  That voiced their fears.  The book they carried with them after Mom was diagnosed with Lung Cancer.

There are test names and drug names and bold-faced facts that standing alone would elicit no emotion. 

And then there are the words that show me chinks in the armor that I rarely saw.  That maybe I was too scared to even look hard on. 

It was the fear.

“How do I manage the pain which is so bad now? (already….  at diagnosis)”

“Will I be paralyzed from this?”

“What can I expect?”

There are stark scribblings like “9-24 months.”  (We had 8 almost to the day when all was said and done). 

I wonder how alone my Mom felt in those fears.  I know I was just trying to be ‘the bearer of hope,’ and say only things my Mom could grab onto and hold with all her might.  But sometimes when you do that you deny a person their need to speak the truth about their feelings.  About their fears.  Which are real from the start.  I hope Mom didn’t feel too alone in her darkness as I stood desperately hoping to shine some light.  I hope that she knew she wasn’t alone in her fears.  I hope I did a better job than I remember of listening.

But what killed me in this notebook–what brought the tears pricking and overflowing and bewildering my husband who was sorting a few feet away–was what I read two pages later.

In Dad’s handwriting:  “Carolyn Helen, 8 lb. 1 oz.  20 1/2 in,” and the name of the hospital in which she was born and the number of days we’d be staying.  It was an empty page all by itself surrounded by all of this fear and pain and starkness.  It WAS the hope that I DID provide for them to hang onto.  It was the joy in the starkness.  Remembering that superimposed joy and starkness was overwhelming.  Remembering that year of newness and joy and pain and loss and the hugeness of it all, took my breath away.

The notebook also has the notes I scribbled after I called the Red Cross to let Husband know that Hospice thought she had two or three days at best.   Those notes were a lifeline of hope that I held onto.  They represented precious time I took away from being at my Mom’s side to tell my husband what was going on and to shoot a flare that might bring him home.  It did.  Mom held on, waited, lingered until Husband was by my side.  He came in late a day later.  She heard me say, “I love you Mom, Goodnight” and him say, “See you tomorrow Carol,” and a few hours later she was gone.   Such few words in that little notebook bookmarking moments and hours that I’ll never forget.

Further on, the notebook has notes of homes for rent that I scouted out that spring after staying with Dad during deployment when C and I went back to Washington for Husband’s coming home. 

It has scribblings I left for a babysitter during those six months as I tried to regain my footing. 

It has a years worth of experience and emotion and pain and joy all within a few pages of one another. 

And I cried.  And I held the notebook like it was something alive and real.  Like it was a link to those days and a way to hold my Mom’s hand again.

I thought about that year and the hugeness of all we lived through.  I didn’t minimize it or rush it away.  I sat there with it for a moment and remembered what it was like to have a baby.  Nurse my Mom.  Lose my  Mom.  Say goodbye to Husband as he left on deployment.  And live through the subsequent months of grief and aloneness while trying to piece back together the life I’d return to in another state.

It made me remember when I learned to take things a day at a time and to look only at “what is” and “what’s next.”

It made me miss my Mom and relive those days.

Sometimes I still cry.



One of the words that keeps coming at me over and again in this current season for me is “Extravagance.”  I feel absolutely surrounded by glorious extravagance.  Like I’m swimming in it.  We’re starting to settle into our new home.  I keep thinking there is no reason in the world that we should be in a house like this.  This house is special.  We couldn’t afford a home like this in a place like this in a million years.  This simply must be grace.



But it goes further than that.  Soon after we moved in here I started trying to get back into my walking/jogging routine.  I discovered that just up the road from  us is ‘the country’–the kind of country that reminds me of home.  Farms, and trees, and flowering plants, hills and fields.  It smells so good in those spots:  like dirt and flowers and baby leaves. 

Then I set out one day to see how close I could get to the water.  We could see it from our house….  But how close was it really?  And if there was access to it was it all in restricted ‘military base’ places? 

Imagine my surprise when I found 1/4 mile from our home, a ‘backroad’ beaten with potholes, that takes you to the beach.  So we’ve spent some time exploring there…  We took a ridiculously long beach walk two weekends ago, and while doing so we crossed paths with three otters.  We’ve lived here almost five years.  I’ve wanted to see a sea otter for five years…  Husband said he saw one the first week he was up here.  I’d stopped believing they really were here.  And then we saw three.  They played in the water, and then came up on the beach right in front of us, sunned themselves, played, noticed us and headed back out to sea where they continued to give us a show of playing and peeking back at us for at least 25 minutes.  Since then I’ve seen another otter in a completely different spot, and seen our family of three again while walking along ‘our beach’  another day.  Sea otters are my thing.  I’ve loved them since I first saw them in a trip to Alaska with my parents.  In my mind there is no other explanation for being inundated with sea otters lately except that God is, for whatever reason, saying I love you…  wooing me witih gifts he knows I find better than jewels…  showing me his extravagantly good heart.


I could go on and on about a park that I discovered in the town C goes to preschool in with sweeping views of the islands; about the 13 deer that I saw there  yesterday just milling about as I walked by with a stroller; about the way the sun has played on the mountains; about the storms blowing over the water, swirling around and then giving way to blue sky and sunshine.  I can go on and on, but it can all be summed up in one word:


Maybe two: 

Extravagant grace. 

Or another two:

Extravagant love.



There is no reason I should be so blessed.  I could sing deyenus (It would have been enoughs) for all time for the blessings we’ve been given besides any of these…  This kind of extravagance makes me nervous, makes me wonder if a downturn is coming…  If this is a season of beauty because I will need to store it up for a season of pain.  I have never done well with extravagance.  I feel awkward and unworthy and nervous around it.  But I am trying to remember that right now is what is most important.  That bad things WILL happen at some point, because it’s a simple fact that ‘in this world we will have trouble.’   I try to be mindful that worrying about them steals the joy of this extravagance.  I want to stay present.  I want to soak it in.  I want to breathe it all in, and store it up and cherish it.