Sunday, September 9, 2012

Steel Nation

My Sunday Best

It's quite easy for people to find our house when coming over for the first time.  We're the one's with a Steelers banner hanging in the front yard.  We understandably stirred up some interest with our neighbors when we put it up and it's definitely been a conversation piece.  Although The Chargers aren't remotely on par with The Steelers we still have some die-hard fans here.  My parents for one have been season ticket holders for over 45 years.  They even flew to Miami for that joke of a Super Bowl.  My brother Stephen drives down from Redlands (a couple of hours away) to enjoy the season tickets next to my parents which he bought from their best friends when they became available.    

Until we put up the banner we hadn't heard much from our neighbors.  The street is wide and quiet and though folks had waved and smiled as they drove by no one had actually introduced themselves yet.  Something about hanging that banner tipped the scales and one by one they started making their way over to say something.  Comments ranged from "what's with the banner?", to "that's my son's favorite team", to my personal favorite from my next door neighbor's father-in-law, "the Steelers made me a lot of money in the 70's!"  

Inevitably Bennett or I would explain why we had the banner up in the first place.  Our Daddio was from Pittsburgh, he had died in November, and we all bleed black and gold.  Anyone who had even the slightest problem with it would have quieted down after that I'm thinking.  I married in to this passion for the Steelers and it's a great legacy from Phil that I share with my Pittsburgh friends.  It's hard to explain to people who haven't experienced it - being a part of Steel Nation.  But it is everywhere.  The kids and I see Steelers bumper stickers, license plate holders, T shirts, paraphernalia of every kind down here.  

To be fair, tomorrow I'll be wearing my #14 Dan Fouts jersey when The Chargers take on The Raiders (boo hiss), having been raised watching the Titans Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson in the era of Air Coryell.  However, when the Chargers have six Super Bowl rings that's when I'll hang their banner in front of my house.

Game Changer

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


After writing the last post I went back and read the blog I posted at this time last year.  It was very instructional and surprising at the same time.  It reminded me to consider perspective yet again.  As I well know but often forget, things can change very quickly, in a matter of minutes.  Other times they change imperceptibly, particularly when we are marking time and hoping for a specific outcome.

This time last year Phil had a normal bone marrow biopsy and a PET scan showing that his lymphoma had regressed and he was responding well to his chemotherapy.  There was a small area in his chest which appeared to be residual scar tissue but otherwise he was looking fairly good.  We were referred to UCSD for a bone marrow transplant consultation where we set those wheels in motion.  We were cautiously optimistic even though the lymphoma continued to plague Phil with effusions.

And it was around this time last year that Phil went to Atlanta for a buddies trip - to see his high school friends whom he'd been getting together with for years.  It was a calculated risk, that trip.  He had developed new swollen lymph nodes prior to his departure which we weren't certain about.  By the time he came home from that trip he was drastically altered.  He came home with another pleural effusion and over the course of the next 2 1/2 months he'd deteriorate quickly despite an incredible will to live.  

Two and a half months.  I don't recall things changing so quickly or declining so rapidly.  Each day was crammed with so many things to attend to, appointments to keep, endless emotional ups and downs.  It was all so surreal and time took on the quality of suspended animation.  It's no surprise to me that I lost sense of time.  As my counselor so aptly put it this week, "don't be surprised by your capacity for storage.  You had to put a lot of stuff away for later because of the chaotic nature of your life at that time."  Well, I've been doing a good deal of unpacking lately.  All of the sudden there seem to be a lot of packages showing up on my front door. 

I don't think it's any coincidence that it is happening as I am rounding the bend into the anniversary of Phil's death.  The routine of school, the approaching holidays, the heat and humidity - everything conjures up memories of those last days.  As I lit a candle the other day the scent of it instantly took me back to our rental house on Lomita.  I saw Phil in repose on our red couch, his feet swollen and propped up on pillows, in his hand the cup of "juice-water" he continually drank in those last days.   I felt the bond of the circle of friends and family gathered there with us, surrounding him with immeasurable love and care.  Those last days were time multiplied.  

Now, as I go through the stuff that's showing up for me (my storage unit so to speak) I'm increasingly anxious to get through this year of firsts.  To get it over with and start into the next year, the year after Phil died.  Yet when I pause to reflect I realize I don't want to miss one moment of the next 2 1/2 months this time around.  At this point last year I was inconsistently available for my children's needs emotionally.  Thankfully there were other wonderful adults who stood in the gap.  Now it's just us, Sally, Bennett, and Olivia day in and day out.  

In these last weeks something subtle and sweet has been slowly developing between us a midst the anguish and anger we feel ~ feelings we too quickly take out on one another.  We are all quite tired.  We are collectively ready for a change.  For our little threesome a crucial part of moving forward in change will require that I consistently be there for them as the painful and sad moments ahead intensify.  "Life is change, growth is optional."  I want to continue to show them the way through to growth and healing.  May it be so.