We've had an interesting year+ in the Schmidt House. Those who've followed our a story on Paul's Caring Bridge site are accustomed to my gallows humor and irreverence in the face of some pretty serious things. This approach to life and it's challenges has been honed by my partnership with my husband, Paul, who shares my twisted strategy for survival in a harsh and unpredictable world.Now we are on the other side of sixteen months of cancer diagnosis and treatment for Paul. There have been confounding complications and equally astonishing treatments and outcomes. We've met people that I've wanted to strangle, which is a common reaction of mine when things don't go according to my plans. Paul simply ignores or tolerates these people and their words while I snort and twist and start digging another hole in the woods behind our house. More often we have been surrounded by people who are immeasurably kind, skilled, and blessed with perfect timing. I'll never be able to thank them enough.
For a chronicle of Paul's illness and the adventures we've had, please visit our Caring Bridge site here.
Gratitude feels good
This is not something I knew before. I think I believed that being grateful implied I was indebted in some way. I was certain that it was more comfortable to be on the giving side of the equation. As a Christian, I'm surprised to discover how uncomfortable I am with receiving grace. It means accepting that I can't manage it all on my own, that I need someone outside myself. It means practicing humility. Not my strong suit.
I needed to learn to be simply grateful. I know that it's a lesson for the rest of my life, learned slowly, forgotten and relearned over and over until I surrender the notion that I can do it all on my own.
One of our more remarkable experiences in the last year was Paul's five week stay at Hope Lodge in Rochester, MN while he was receiving daily radiation treatments at TWFMC (The World Famous Mayo Clinic). Hope Lodge is the American Cancer Society's version of Ronald McDonald House. It is a home away from home, a place to live free of charge, for cancer patients and their caregivers.
At first, Paul was able to be there alone, with occasional visits from his sisters. Mary, Bette and Laurie all became familiar with Paul's favorite Rochester restaurant, The Canadian Honker. Later, as the treatments zapped his energy and ability to eat, I joined Paul and stayed for the remainder of his course.
From the moment I got there, I knew that Hope Lodge was a remarkable place, that I'd eventually have a lot to say about our time there. Caregivers have a very different experience from patients, which sounds so obvious now, but wasn't plain to me at the time.
The rooms are set up like basic hotel rooms and are intentionally kept completely separate from the cooking/eating and public areas. Imagine how sick some of these people are and how cooking odors and germs from visitors might affect them. Of course this means that Paul's room had no mini-bar, but I was the only one bothered by that.
So! The main floor public areas are populated largely by caregivers, volunteers and cancer patients that either feel pretty good or are so gregarious that they need their people fix no matter how crummy they feel. It's a rarified environment.
Because everyone living there is fighting the same battle in one way or another, the subject of cancer suddenly becomes comfortable. It's almost as though it were a normal topic of conversation. I cannot tell you how nice it was to talk about this stuff without the preambles and sad looks. It's as though we were all in a lifeboat together. No need to say, "Hey, I'm in a lifeboat here, in case you didn't know."
Hope Lodge is run by a combination of staff and volunteers that create a warm and open environment. Without exception they know what's at stake and they know how to make the place a home away from home. I will never forget the little bright shining moments that happened here. As dark as those days were, every day had them.
Giving back to Hope Lodge and how I reconcile that with the idea of being "simply grateful".