9/21: A Circle of Friends

you walk into group therapy. and it's just people. people and chairs and bottled water. a circle waylaid by loneliness with a facilitator to help draw it out like poison from a snakebite. or like a troop leader coaxing someone Else to suck poison out of a snakebite. or a bunch of snakebit little kids shouting over each other the story of how they got bit and why can't anything Please make it Stop. depends on the facilitator, really...



but anyway you walk in, and it's real people in real desperate circumstances. it's a woman taking care of her ex-husband. he's stage III. a mother caring for her son, he's stage IV. it's a man taking care of his wife. she yells at him for it. an aunt with a niece who's carrying this diagnosis. and a woman burdened by the pain she sees in the woman whose house she's been cleaning for 15 years.


and we're all sharing this cocktail of loneliness and fear, and the funny thing is, it tastes pretty good...it's like the difference between drinking at home alone and going to happy hour.


(there's Got to be a better metaphor out there...)


how's this: it's like when your lover leaves you. there's that moment where you believe that no one else could ever understand what you're going through because no one's ever been through something Like This, and there's the moment you transition into understanding that kinda everyone understands because they went through a love Like That that no one else could understand. it's the difference between getting hurt and getting healed.


it's good stuff. go, if you can go.


i go. i go once a week to "friends and family" group therapy. it's all caretakers - relations and other innocent bystanders of the innocent bystander. and basically we just go around and tell our stories. and it helps. a lot. there's no putting on a brave face here. there's no need. everybody knows, everybody gets it, you don't have to hide.


besides, they'd be able to tell.


and so we sit. i slide in late for my first group here in santa cruz. because we moved six times this spring, i've become well-versed in what happens when a new person shows up to an established group. everyone tells their story again, to bring me up to speed with their life, their struggle. to give me a glimpse of their pain. it's a beautiful thing.


every time that i'm blessed to be in that position, to be witness to the circle sharing its heart to me, i'm touched. i feel their pain, and it harmonizes with mine like the chorus of a good punk song and i cry. such a gift! having the space (literal, temporal and energetic) to cry is an amazing gift. these days it always leaves me with that it-just-rained-on-a-hot-day-and-there's-steam-on-the-meadow feeling in my inner landscape.


and every time that it comes around to me, and i tell our tale - yours & mine & our mustard seed - and i tell them about the tumors and the diagnosis and the pregnancy, there's a gasp. a gasp that feels good, like crying feels good. like a nice reminder that the thing that's continually sweeping you off your feet and either depositing you on your buttocks or swooping you up to celestial heights is something that ruffles the feathers of even seasoned cancer dancers.


...reminds me that my pain and yours and the support i've been and received and the support you've been and received and the otherwordliness of this whole experience isn't just me being dramatic ('cause i can be pretty dramatic).


last week was the first time i'd been in a group therapy space more than once in a row. and i wasn't sure what to share when it came around to me: everything's still wonderful/insane. if health was just How You're Doing, i'd say rebecca's in Excellent Health. in fact, i did just that filling out a medical intake report at the new clinic we're being seen at (for non-cancer care stuff).


first question: how is her health? "very good"

second question: anything else? "she's been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer"


those two things somehow are both true. and so that's what i talked about and the thing in group therapy is that pretty much no matter what you say, it's the right thing. it's part of your inner monologue coming into the light and a circle of kind eyes and open hearts holding you. and when they nod, it may actually be because they understand.


then the woman next to me shared. and she was talking about how her husband started off with one doctor and now has something like nine specialists and it's all she can do to shuttle him around to the various places for his appointments each week. and in a group like this, you can commiserate that cancerous tumors aren't the only things in western civilization that metastasize.


and then it's the next man's turn, but what's this? he actually is a cancer diagnosee - a primary actor on life's malignant stage. he misread the description of this group. well, he's here; he can share. he shares. he says that he initially got his diagnosis from a doctor who said that chemo could maybe give him a year. he'd just finished many rounds of chemo for something in his kidneys and then this was a new batch of tumors they'd found in his liver. and he was sick of chemo and told the doctor so, and the doctor said without it he wouldn't make it two more months.


this guy turns down the chemo, walks out of the office, and changes his diet and his lifestyle and his relationship with his son, and it's been more than two years since that doctor gave him two months. he said for the first year, he kept going to check-ups with this doctor, and another one - they'd metastasized - and they kept urging him to start chemo back up, with dire predictions if he didn't comply.


"finally," he said, "i just stopped going to the doctors. i just got so tired of being told i was going to die."


what a joyous sentence! what a beautiful thing to live to say! it was glorious. it was a gift. it was the end of the session.


that's the thing, these things are only an hour, and they really should last...i don't know, like a week. but "should" doesn't mean much to many, so we pack up and hug and leave.


and i come home, and i come home to solas and rebecca and i come home to you. emails and care packages and letters and i realize again how profound it is to be gifted with this little, growing group of people co-holding this mustard seed. thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for carrying this with me, with us. thanks for walking this faith journey, for making it yours, for making it Ours.



rebecca's next set of scans are this friday. there's a pagan practice of praying for the sun to rise on winter solstice at the end of the longest night of the year. i think that's a beautiful physically-lived practice of faith. we know this healing is coming. we know this! we can take refuge in that knowledge -- we, in fact, are called to just such refuge. and yet we pray anyway, because that miracle wants to come through us, to touch us with its grace, with its love, with its Love.


and so we pray...

may rebecca's lungs be restored to perfect health

may her body be clear of all tumors

we offer gratitude for the restoration of her eyesight

we offer gratitude for the continued health of baby solas


in the name of jesus

in the arms of mary & mary

in the mantle of brigid


in the hands of the One

may we be instruments of Your will



in faith...

-- iridaea