Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking Ahead

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thank God Jesus Was Born

WARNING: This is one of those migraine blogs. You know, maybe not my best work. Proceed with caution, I don't tend to do much editing.

I've had a particularly difficult time of it since I last posted. That sounds funny when I hear myself say it in my head because my life has been nothing but difficult for some time now but the last few days have been nothing short of horrendous. I do not write to garner sympathy and I abhor pity but I am personally wondering when this pain fest will let up. Each year, it seems, I have a new insight into the "true meaning of Christmas" and the events of the last months and days have provided me with yet another fresh perspective.

My very old dog Nero may be familiar to you from my posts or from having been around our family. He has been with me for over 17 years and was partially responsible for introducing me to Phil. I was playing ultimate frisbee with mutual friends at Duke (though we didn't know it at the time) and Nero and my Viszla, Sweet Pea ran over to Phil to say hi. Sweet Pea was a very high energy, beautiful and nutty dog and she got his attention immediately. The rest as they say is history. Nero hiked with us all over North Carolina and was a great running partner for Phil. He stuck by my side through 8 miscarriages, the miracle birth of Bennett after 8 weeks of bed rest, the adoption of Olivia from Taiwan, numerous moves, and Phil's devastating illness and death. He never licked, jumped up or ran away. He was "the Bud" to quote Phil. When Phil died Bennett just couldn't believe that a 17 (or 119 depending on your math) year old dog could outlive his dad. No kidding. I used to joke that'd I'd had Nero longer than Phil. Not funny anymore.

Anyway, I had to put Nero down yesterday. It is a long story and one that I am too wiped out emotionally and physically to go into but let's suffice it to say that it involved several weeks of medical interventions, lots of hand wringing and heartbreak. My kids were petitioning for him to remain with us like it was a death row pardon. For the first time since Phil died Bennett spoke about his feelings and frankly said, "Mom, I just can't handle any more death." What a gut punch. None of us wanted to see Nero go but I couldn't take the situation any longer ~ I was as far gone over the edge as I've ever been and I had to be the parent and do the right, hard thing. It sucked. Every minute of it. So yesterday I drove the Bud to the vet and kissed him goodbye. It was a veritable flashback to hospice with Phil and grievously painful.

And then there's today's misery. Woke up with a migraine, nausea and vomiting ~ again. [For those of you wondering, I am on two prophylactic meds including Botox and have had difficult to treat migraines for a long time.] I sent out a quick S.O.S. to my dad and we were soon off to the Urgent Care. They were very kind to me and I was treated fairly quickly. Unfortunately I was stuck 4 times for an I.V. because I was so dehydrated. I am blessed beyond with such caring parents who came and took care of me all day then took my kids for an overnight at their place so I could conk out. A bright spot amid the ruins!

Well, I said I'd been thinking about the "true meaning of Christmas" but to be honest, I think it's more that I have come to see the true NEED for Christmas. Like Bennett, I can't handle any more death either. Or migraines, or hassles, or brokenness in our world. Let me up I've had enough. But there is no end to it is there? My 7 year old daughter wants her dad back and doesn't have the brain power yet to really understand why he can't come back. She can't fathom why God wouldn't want to send him back here to make us all happy again. And my son would rather I stop crying altogether so he won't have to come anywhere near his own grief.

When you think about it, our world is full of days like today and yesterday for people everywhere and I am not anyone special. I just blog about it. There are stories much worse than mine. Mine hurts because it's mine but we all hurt and we all needed Jesus to be born.

From Amy Grant

We believe in God
And we all need Jesus
'Cause life is hard
And it might not get easier
But don't be afraid
To know who you are
Don't be afraid to show it
If you believe in God
If you say you need Jesus
He'll be where you are
And he never will leave you
Sing to me now words that are true
So all in this place can know it...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I've been in bed more or less for the last 48 hours. Migraines have a way of doing that for me. They exercise control over all my best laid plans and take over my body, mind and even try to move in on soul territory. Fortunately, to use good old scary fundamentalist language "I've been washed in the blood of the lamb" and Satan's minions won't be able to touch me there with their fire pokers from hell (migrainous shocks of searing pain).

On Friday morning, the last day of school before Christmas break, I woke up with a killer headache and nausea and the distinct knowledge that I would not be operating any heavy machinery i.e. a car. When I told the kids of my predicament between waves of nausea, and asked if they wanted someone else to take them to school or if they would rather sleep in with me and miss their Christmas parties, they were in solidarity about staying home to care for me. Never have you heard such sweet children. "Oh Mom, we'll do whatever you need us to." "We won't fight. Promise." "I don't really care about parties anyway, Mom". And just like that, we were all back asleep until 9:30 a.m.

Once the kids got up they pretty much ran things around here. By that I mean there were no fights, no one got hurt and they ate ~ a little bit at least. When I finally stumbled out of my rack a few hours later they were both happily playing on their computer games and had eaten sourdough toast, 2 pears and a bowl of God-awful sugary cereal that I once swore I'd never buy. So much for that oath. The house was stone cold because I hadn't been up to make the fire but they'd improvised with layers, hoodies and blankets and none was the worse off for it. I was immediately thankful. I threw some real food at them and went back to bed to suffer some more in private. Despite a plethora of meds (AND sending a man to the moon) I still can't get rid of my migraines in less than two days.

That evening and next morning were a lot the same until I pulled out of the fog. Now, I gotta stop for a sec and pray you don't think you need to be calling CPS or anything because of my benign neglect here. It wasn't as bad as I've made it out to be. But I think it is high time I give you a slice of the reality you've been asking for and that I've been needing to provide so you don't think me so superhuman. Why yes, I, Sally Conrad, can be a crappy parent (wha? Shock! Awe!) and at times can barely make it through the day - migraine or not. For you see, today is day 3 and I'm finding it hard to break this cycle of being in bed all day and not doing anything. It was easy when the kids were in school, they had no idea. Now they are accomplices with me. I keep checking with them to see if they are OK and they assure me they are. They are each happy playing their DS or on the computer or reading or being by themselves. We are all just hanging out, separately. Part of me thinks we should all be together, "doing our grief" and the other part is loving the quiet solitude of "mischief managed". But at its roots it doesn't feel healthy and I know I have to be careful here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I've been struggling mentally to write a blog for over a week.  I deeply desire to keep in touch with all of you and yet it's taken me days and days to figure out what I want to write.  I literally have three or four drafts of this post started.  That's because each time I sit down to write it I'm in a different place emotionally and have an ever-changing point of view.  It makes writing a focused post kinda challenging.  Consider the fact that I haven't been sleeping well at all and you've got a recipe for blog disaster.

Early in the week I seemed to be doing quite well.  I decorated my mantle on the weekend and put my Christmas tree up in the living room.  My home now looks and feels festive and our Advent calendars are up to date. The kids are managing their schoolwork and Bennett earned 100% on a math benchmark test the day after returning to school.  The early week was busily spent managing the details of widowhood. I gathered together the various paperwork necessary to begin the task of managing my financial affairs and planning for my future.  An entire morning was spent in the local branch of the Social Security office and lots and lots of phone calls and letters have been made and written.    

My nights this week have been busy too.  I've had dinner with the neighbors and other friends and it's been nice to have the company and playmates for Bennett and Olivia.  However, time spent with people means there is inevitable conversation about Phil and although I thought I was doing well, I'm clearly not.  Too many tearful nights and not enough rest are a bad combination it turns out.  The first chinks in the armor showed up mid week when I started feeling spread thin and canceled appointments that had previously seemed very important.  Overnight I began to crave my quiet time and the social engagements that had kept me company and staved off loneliness didn't appeal to me at all.  And then this morning, the bottom dropped out.  The kids both woke up in "a mood".  Olivia burst into tears and needed cuddles and Bennett begged for more sleep after struggling all night to get his fair share and calling on me to help him get it.  We were, as a unit, blitzed.  And I was, as a woman and mother, feeling disorganized and totally tapped out.  It was inevitable that I would get to this point but I really didn't see it coming.   Duh. 

I knew that Phil was going to die a long time before he let himself realize it.  My role as wife and caregiver required me to tolerate hearing the hard truth of what Dr. Kossman was spelling out for us at each and every cusp along Phil's arduous road when he could not. Most certainly it was God's grace that allowed me to begin my grieving process for Phil over a year ago.  Because he was sick for such a long time and I grieved so much during the illness I had time to prepare for his death.  But I could do nothing ahead of time to prepare for what I feel now - his absence.  I feel what I do now in each unique moment and before I could only imagine the potential of his absence.  And my imagination fell far short of the reality that is life without Phil.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

PHILIP CONRAD Obituary: View PHILIP CONRAD's Obituary by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For those of you who haven't seen this elsewhere ~ beautifully written by Phil's older brother Jamie.

PHILIP CONRAD Obituary: View PHILIP CONRAD's Obituary by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Died November 15, 2011, in San Diego, after 15 months of an unrelenting battle against lymphoma and its complications. He was two months shy of 50. Philip's life work was as an orthopedic physician assistant, a calling he practiced in the Puget Sound area for 15 years before moving with his family to San Diego in early 2010. Before graduating from PA school at Duke University, he lived for most of a decade in Park City, Utah. But he is fondly remembered by many in Edgewood, where he grew up, and in the Calvary Camp community. He was an enormous influence on those for whom he served as a mentor, particularly new physician assistants, and kids who he coached on the Edgewood Club swim team or who were in his cabin at camp. He is survived by his remarkable wife, Sally; his kids, Bennett and Olivia; his mother, Margaret, and his brothers, Jamie and David (and honorary brother Jeff Breland). A memorial service was held in Jamul, CA on November 21, and a celebratory gathering will be held in Pittsburgh in early 2012 - watch www .conradfamilychronicles for details. Contributions for Bennett and Olivia's 529 college savings plan may be sent to Anita Sorenson, 1204 New York Drive, Altadena, CA 91001.
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Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 3, 2011