Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on Love, Loss, and Appreciation of the Present

I'm going to go ahead and warn you that this will be a long one.  So if you skim or skip entirely, I don't blame you.

Today I read a really moving post written by the lovely Danielle of Sometimes Sweet, one of my favorite blogs. I realize that I quote/reference her quite a bit, but she’s awesome so I feel that this is acceptable.

The crux of the post, “What are you Waiting For?” is essentially that we too often get so caught up in the day-to-day happenings of life that we forget to tell our loved ones and friends just how much they mean to us. As Danielle so eloquently posits, life has absolutely no guarantees that any of us will be here tomorrow, and thus many of the thoughts, feelings and words that are often relegated to the deep recesses of our mind should be shared with those we love while we are here, in this present moment.

This post really resonated with me for a lot of reasons. I have had a pretty amazing life free of completely hopeless challenges; I have encountered loss, confrontations with my own mortality and moments of life-affirming happiness. All of these events have given me a strong perspective on living for today while simultaneously planning for tomorrow.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few of these events and the impact they’ve had on me in this respect.

When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, a kidney tumor most commonly found in young children. By the time they found the tumor it was approximately 16 centimeters around (more or less the size of my head). Thankfully it had not spread, and after a total nephrectomy and 6 months of chemotherapy I was completely cured and have had no problems since. While I have few real memories of this period, I often marvel at the fact that I’ve made it this far with absolutely no complications. Wilm's Tumor has a high cure rate, so my chances were excellent especially given the high quality medical care I received, but regardless I look at the experience as an opportunity to reaffirm how awesome it is to be alive.

When I was seven, I became best friends with a boy in our class, Ernie. We had such an unusually tight bond for children our age that his parents (as recently as 3 or so years ago) told me that they had always expected that one day we’d be married. When we were eight, his leukemia relapsed and he passed 3 days before his 9th birthday. I find it heartbreaking that I can’t remember the sound of his voice, but can hear the voice of my guidance counselor as she told me that he had passed away the night before. And though I only knew him for a few years, and though I haven’t seen him or talked to him in close to twenty years, he is someone that I think about extremely frequently and someone who I feel has had a huge impact on my life.

Ernie is the little boy all the way to the left in the back row...I'm fourth from left in the back row. Cute, eh?

I’m sure some of you have read my and Rob’s story, but to give a quick summary, Rob left for Basic Training after we’d been together for a year and a half, and was stationed in Alaska for another few years before deploying to Iraq in 2006. He was deployed to the  most dangerous area of Iraq (the Triangle of Death) during the most dangerous time of the war (2006-2007). He was shot (luckily received only a wee bit of lead in his arm as a souvenir) and was involved in multiple explosions and near-fatal incidents. My frequent readers know the effect this had on me and continues to have on me to this day.

Finally I’d like to talk about my sister-in-law, Jessi. Jessi is one of my favorite people in the world because she is genuine, sweet, and strong. Following years of various health issues Jessi was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24, just two weeks shy of her wedding (which was two years ago today, Happy Anniversary, Jess!). Jessi took the diagnosis in stride, encountering bumps along the way but coming out on the other side with her health. Doctors were baffled by the fact that she had developed cancer at such a young age with no genetic history, but Jessi has beaten cancer at every turn with a smile almost always on her face and for that, I am so very proud of her.

These events, in my mind, have helped to shape who I am as a person and how I look at the world. Perhaps ironically, my obsessive planning and focus on what’s next has helped me to gain an understanding of how little we know about the future and how "prepared" we should be for the unknown.

When Rob was gone, even prior to deployment, I would say “I love you” every single chance I got. Even before I hung up on him in a fit of anger (which happened with embarrassing frequency), I’d say “I love you” first because I knew both the fragility of our situation as well as the fragility of life in general. Now that he’s home and I have learned the full extent of his experience, I tell him at least 20 times daily what he means to me, either while cuddling in bed and gazing into his eyes or through letters that I write him throughout my day. Sometimes I hold him tightly and breathe in everything about him, so that I have a moment in time to return to should I, heaven forbid, ever lose him. If something happens to me tomorrow, I want no question to be raised in his mind that I truly loved him and that he meant the world to me.

The same holds true for my amazing family and friends. After watching my paternal grandparents pass away in 2009 and 2010, it became clear to me how relatively little time I have left to spend with either of my parents, and, for all I know, my sisters and my niece. As a result I will take time out of my day every so often to let them know that I’m thinking about them, that I love and appreciate them. They all do the same thing which warms my heart to no end.

I find that I even let Cypress know how much I appreciate her. Sometimes when we’re alone on a walk or hanging out on the couch I will say out loud, “I love you Cypress, and I will miss you when you’re gone.” I know that I have a woefully short amount of time with her and though she can’t understand my words, I like to think that she understands my sentiment.

I appreciate your sentiment!

But though I do take time out of my day every now and then to let those around me know what I’m thinking and feeling, like all people, I know I could do this more. Danielle’s post served as a small reminder to me about the fragility of life and how important it is for each of us to live in the present moment and not forget that which is most important in our lives.

I certainly hope that this post doesn’t come across as negative; I feel quite the opposite after writing it. Though death and loss are never easy to deal with, they can also have the sometimes unintended effect of allowing us to truly celebrate life and those around us. The best any of us can hope for is to live a life free of regrets and missed words.

And check out Danielle’s blog if you haven’t; she said this much more simply, yet more eloquently, than I did.


  1. Her post resonated with me as well and I love this follow up one! Through all those hardships you have become the woman you are today, and pretty cool one at that.

  2. Oh Caitlin you made me cry with this beautiful post. I love your blog, and I am so touched that you found something inspiring on mine. I thought you wrote all of this so well, and your story is incredibly inspiring.

    So much love my friend.

  3. Wow, I have some homework to do, to catch up on your life! I am always sure to say to Ryan I love him every single day. Before any of us go to bed or leave the house. Or sometimes I say "you're handsome".

  4. This post didn't strike me as negative at all. I think it was a very true expression of your gratitude for all the people (and dogs) in your life. Beautiful!

  5. you are very fortunate to have realized this at such a young age. most of the time people realize this when it's too late. you reminded me too, thank you :)

  6. Caitlin!
    I love this post. I have pretty vivid memories of you when you were young (so darn cute!) and I remember when you were diagnosed with cancer. Though - to me at the time I just understood it as, 'Caitlin is sick and that's why she has that big lump on her'...but, somehow - I knew that it was very serious and I worried for you and your family a lot.
    This post is so awesome because it's straight from the heart.
    I love you!

  7. While I always try to be the one who loves wildly and goes that extra two miles to be with, be there for and be present to the people that I love - I could ALWAYS do it a little bit more. Thank you for the reminder!

  8. I love this post! And I totally agree.

    I've been through some rough patches recently and yesterday, made up my mind to drive down to NM and surprise my dad for Father's Day : ) Who knows how much longer I'll be able to do things like that, you know?

    Thank you for a beautiful reminder.



  9. Oh this was wonderful and I love the message! I too get caught up in the little things and need to enjoy it and tell others how I feel more often! And you are a really good writer....! :) Have a great day!

  10. I loved this post!

    It reminded me of a friend I too had when I was little...
    My best friend was a year older than me, his little brother was in-between me and my sister so we were all close to the same age...

    Sadly his younger brother died of a brain tumor around the time I turned 9 and he turned 10..... It was heart breaking and even though I didn't know him as well as some he'll always hold a special place in my heart to remind me not to take those I love for granted

    Thanks for the reminder!!

  11. danielle's post also got me thinking, and hit home hard. it made me think of a friend i lost to cancer a few years back. the last time i saw him i was visiting him in the hospital. i assumed i would see him the next day, and left barely saying good bye. he died that night and i never got the closure i needed.
    the same thing happened with my grandfather a couple years later. i postponed a trip to visit him because of scheduling conflicts; he got sick the next week, and unexpectedly died. i never got to say good bye, or i love you one last time.

    i think both danielle and your post should teach us all a lesson about how sudden life can change. i too tell my boyfriend i love him all the time.

  12. That was a really fantastic post! Danielle at Sometimes Sweet linked you on her blog which is how I came across it :)

    Everyone's answers to the 'What Are You Waiting' for blog are inspiring me to do the same. I think it's important to take the events (like the ones you wrote about) and see what they bring to your life positively, rather than just seeing them as horrible things that have happened. Luckily for you, most of your stories turned out successful, but regardless, good for you for learning to enjoy life even more because of it!


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