laura packardEditor’s Note: This piece was first published in Coastal Illustrated in March of 2012.

When it rains, it pours. 

         This expression has turned out to be an almost weekly, if not daily, forecast for my life since last November. I keep sitting around waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, and not just drop by the way, but land on my head, knocking me out for the count.

         Recent events have not boded well for my psyche.  See, I am a worrier of Olympic proportions, a gold medalist, if you will; a champion like no other. If worrying was a contact sport like football, I’d be wearing the Super Bowl ring.

         I know it’s not good for me, but I can’t help it.  I worry if the oven is on and coffee pot is off.  I worry that a suspension cord will snap off the bridge as I drive across it, sending me into the water before I’ve had a chance to order that window smasher thingamajig I saw on late night TV.

         I worry that reincarnation does exist, and it’s John Candy, not my dog, that is staring at me with a sheepish grin because I am standing there dripping wet without a towel.

         I worry about wearing leather, weather, traffic, micro-waving plastic, being too sarcastic and artificial sweeteners.

         So, yes.  I admit it.  I am a card carrying, certified sweater of life’s smaller stuff.

               But ever since November, I’d take the small stuff over the big any day.  I’d like to sit down and tell you everything, I would, but I don’t have enough room, or time, or emotional fortitude.  I can share one story with you because it is one that had a happy ending.  What happened in the beginning and the middle though, made me miss the small stuff; kind of like how a little kid at camp on the first night misses his mom during a thunderstorm followed by hail.

               It all started on a Friday. My cell phone started to ring that evening and since my “only call here with good news, please” voice mail message seems to be ignored as of late, I asked my husband to answer it.  It was my dad.

               As he told me the bad news, I didn’t have time to retreat into a younger, innocent, naive version of me, curled in a ball, wanting her mommy, waiting out a storm.  This time it was my mom who needed me. Her doctor had recommended a biopsy after her last mammogram. The labs had come back a few minutes before the call. It was cancer. And, yes, of course . . . I’d come home.

               It’s funny how, even though you have an idea of where your life is supposed to go and you’ve clung on to all the wagers you made along the way to get there, there remains this feeling that, sure enough, a road block is coming up around the bend that will derail you from your well thought out but precarious plan.  How can you forge ahead when there seems to be no way around?

               “I want to see my granddaughters get married.”

               “I know Mom, I want that, too.”

               Now, normally if I am leaving town, as a warrior worrier, I’d have dotted every

“i” and crossed every “t,” but I didn’t have time to even worry about how the girls, and my hubby, and the dog and the three cats would get through the week without me.  Honestly, I didn’t have time to run to the store, wash their uniforms for school that week, let alone write their schedules down in a newsy style word document, then paste it on the fridge, my husband’s dash board, and over the bathroom sink. I had to let it all go. Like life . . . real life . . . we were all going to have to just wing it.

               That week in Augusta, with my mom and brother and Aunt Shirley, is still kind of a blur of tests, MRIs, chest x-rays and consultations.  Though now, we know where every bathroom is located in University Hospital.

               “Where are we again?” I’d ask.

               “Out Patient,” Aunt Shirley would say.

               “So I take a left next to the nurses’ station, a right at the waiting room, and go straight towards the soda machines, then a u-turn by the big clock and I’ll find the bathroom?”

               “No, that’s Inpatient. Take three rights, jog down the hall, and look behind the elevator,” she says. “I think you might get there in time if you leave now. Good luck and Godspeed. You’ll know where to find us when you’re done.”

               We did have one day off from the hospital, which was Wednesday. We had lunch and did some shopping . . . anything to keep Mom’s mind off her upcoming surgery on Friday. Mom had fun picking out a few outfits for my oldest to take with her to Camp Ebenezer, her first overnight school trip. Aunt Shirley even found a new bathing suit, the first she ever bought that she “could fit a leg in and not displace the pool water” with.  She also bought Mom an inspirational book of short stories.

               In the intro, the author recommended the reader should lighten his or her load on their respective ship of life. It would make for smoother sailing. We all smiled at the advice, but I couldn’t help be a doubter, maybe that’s the worrier in me.  That’s all well and good, but if we’re talking in clichés, we might as well run with it. The truth is it doesn’t matter how light you pack your ship, because you’ll never be able to predict bad weather.

               Mom was so incredibly lucky. Sure, the week was hell, but she just put one foot in front of the other, and with humor and grace, made it through her surgery.  She had a lumpectomy and they took out the sentinel node for testing.  It, THANKFULLY, came back negative so her tumor never spread. Six weeks of radiation and this will be behind her, but the tumor made a permanent mark. It proved we don’t know how to give up, no matter what gets thrown at us.

               My husband, by the way, did a pretty good job sweating all the small stuff back here while I was gone. He went shoe shopping and bought the wrong girl a new pair of shoes, the one who already owns five. But he did find the missing tennis shoes of the girl who desperately needed them. Who would have thought they would be, not under, but in the bed? He also put them in the only clean school uniforms they had to play golf on Sunday, so he stayed up late doing laundry and forgot to pack their lunch that first day. But they made it through and had a lot of laughs in the process.

               Me, I missed it, the normalcy of the everyday chaos. I think that’s part of what life is all about.  I don’t think it’s wrong to sweat the small stuff because in the end, I am just happy to be here to sweat it out all the same.

               We might not know how to predict the weather, but we sure as heck know how to open up an umbrella and bail the water out of a sinking ship.          

            We are stronger than we think even in the roughest of storms. 

            We are, quite simply, survivors.