“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on…”
I love that song. It’s one of my all-time favorites. And it totally sums up my life this past year.
The holidays always make me (and you, I’m sure) a little introspective. Especially when you’re walking through challenging times, or even happy times, everything just seems more vivid this time of year, don’t you think? Well I do, and there sure was a lot to be thankful for this year when Thanksgiving rolled around.
When your neutrophils are under 500, you’re considered neutropenic and basically need to be living in a bubble. That’s where Corey was when he was admitted to the UW Med Center a couple weeks after his transplant. His neutrophils were at 0 when we arrived and just above 500 when they released him, 8 days later. You’re considered immune suppressed when your neutrophils are between 500-1,000. You get to live in a slightly larger bubble, where you’re allowed limited human contact, but it’s a bubble nonetheless. Above 1,000 you’re allowed to break the bubble, but only if you promise to keep the bubble pump close by, in case you dip below and have to jump back in.
We’d been doing the IV fluid infusions for several days when we saw our team for labs and our daily checkin the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Corey was determined to be home for Thanksgiving, whether we got their OK or not, so I was really, really hoping he’d be over 1,000 so I wouldn’t have to carry a bubble pump around all day.
Thankfully, his neutrophils came back just north of 1,000 and we were given the all-clear to go home for Thanksgiving. Corey’s brother Perry and his family live in the Seattle area too and are hosting the holidays for the immediate family at their house this year. That way we can be there if his numbers are good, and, if not, they can at least have our kids there with the rest of the family (including my parents). Thankfully we did get to be there with our families for Thanksgiving – and it was a pretty great day. I meant to take pictures, but I didn’t want to break away from the conversations and happiness, so I didn’t.
So while I don’t have anything on film that captured the togetherness of the day, let me give you a rundown of the super vivid things rolling through my heart on Thanksgiving this year.
Corey’s brother, Perry, and sister-in-law, Kathy, who I’ve known longer than I’ve known Corey, have been so supportive and helpful. They’ve watched the kids, shuttled them to practice and church, come to their games, gone to back-to-school nights, gotten them to the bus in the mornings, taken them for ice cream and outings and have been a tremendous support for both Corey and me. I couldn’t possibly quantify their support or generosity.
My dad flew in from California the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to join us for the holiday. My mom had been here at that point for nearly two months. November 11th marked the 47th anniversary of the day they met. They got engaged 15 days after they met and the time that my mom spent here is the longest they’ve ever been apart – including the time my dad served in the Marine Corps during Viet Nam. She has been amazing and there is no possible way I could’ve been able to support and care for Corey without her being here to bring a sense of normalcy and consistency to the kids. My dad arrived with work clothes and a determination to check anything he possibly could off my list, in between soaking up time with his two youngest grandkids. To say I’m thankful would be an understatement.
Corey’s parents came over from Coeur d’Alene twice during the transplant process to stay with him at the apartment downtown, allowing me to come home and be with the kids (and my mom) for a few days at a time. They got him to all his appointments and watched him walk through some hard times during those stays. I can’t imagine being a parent and watching your child, no matter their age, go through what Corey’s going through. I am grateful to them for (always) being there when we need them.
My best friend (from the time we were 4 years old) flew up for a whole week and told me, “I’m coming to help and if I get there and there isn’t a list of things for me to do, my feelings will be hurt!” She brought laughter, sunshine and her work clothes. She came to watch the kids but it worked out that she was here while my in-laws were with Corey for a few days so, as a bonus, I got to spend some time with her too. She brought her son (who is like another sibling to my kids) and I can neither confirm nor deny that we skipped school one beautifully sunny day to go to the beach. Another decades-old friend came up while she was here and brought loads of Thai food and tons of laughter. We haven’t all been together in years and it was such a gift to spend that time together in the midst of all of this. I can tell you that my heart was lighter and my garden was in far better shape when she left than when she arrived.
The whole time my mom was here, meals were delivered 4 times a week from the amazing people at our church and Corey’s work. Dozens of people, some I know well and love dearly and some I’ve met only once or twice, spent their time and money and provided for us in ways that have humbled me beyond words. They would show up, consistently, with warm meals, treats for the kids, fresh flowers for the house and an encouraging word, card or hug. Neighbors mowed my lawn, replaced porch lights, shuttled Abbie to every single volleyball practice the whole season and took my kids to church on Wednesday nights. They brought my kids treats and checked in on them and treated my mom like family.
Friends visited us in Seattle and brought coffee. They came to the clinic and prayed with Corey and brought fake flowers because they knew I couldn’t have real ones at the apartment there. They sent grocery gift cards and offered to shop and act as a delivery service. His aunt sent his favorite cookies all the way from Montana and his cousin met us on a street corner in Seattle to hand deliver them.
My sister organized an army of friends and family from out of town who showed their support in ways that left me speechless. Even now, I find it hard to find the words to convey my gratitude for every card, gift, text, phone call, prayer and note under my front porch mat. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve opened the mail or come to my door to find gifts, cards, notes, flowers and countless other items, including a brand new Gonzaga sweatshirt, just in time for college basketball season.
The weekend after Thanksgiving we were still home and were having coffee in the living room when I heard a ruckus out front. I went to the door and there was a group of people from our church, with a big ol’ work trailer, measuring our roofline and playing Christmas music on a loud speaker. They were there to put Christmas lights on our house.
I mean, seriously, who does that? I ugly-cry just about every time I pull up and see those lights.
That same day, I put something out on a local buy-sell-trade site I belong to on Facebook to see if anyone had an artificial tree they wanted to get rid of for a reasonable price. I’m a fresh tree kind of girl, but Corey can’t be around fresh cut trees or flowers or any kind of live plant for a year after his transplant so I needed an artificial tree for this year (I didn’t want to go out and buy a brand new one because after this year we’ll just use it at his office). To tell you the truth, I was going to skip the big, family tree this year and just put our other Christmas decorations up. The kids each have mini Christmas trees for their own rooms that they can decorate however they want and I was thinking that would suffice for this year – but they looked at me like I’d lost my ever-loving mind when I suggested it.
Well a girl from church in-boxed me and said her parents had just bought a new one and wanted to give us their 7.5-foot lighted tree. So thanks to this awesome family, we now have a beautifully decorated family Christmas tree, complete with my favorite little vignette front and center: the nativity ornament (which was my grandmother’s), along with the star and the angel sounding the trumpet, proclaiming the arrival of greatest gift this world will ever know.
And that right there is what this whole season is about. There are signs everywhere, especially this time of year, that say, “Let our lives be full of both thanks and giving.” My life isn’t full of very much giving right now, but it is full to overflowing with thanks for every single gift we’ve been given throughout this past year.
I could never possibly repay every kindness shown to us during this whole ordeal. I couldn’t begin to quantify the gifts given, the time, the prayers, the messages, the support. I can just promise that…
“If there is a load that you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me…”
Again with the ugly crying.