I'm so excited to say that my joy is back!!!
First, thank you for entrusting your prayers to me. I am truly honored to be able to deliver them to Lourdes and to pray them with you. Before I deposited them in their spot, I prayed them. (If you gave me something on paper, I didn't open it but prayed for your prayers in general.) Afterwards, I said rosaries for them, and lit candles. I even did the first Station of the Cross on my knees for them. At this point, I started to feel like I was becoming an old Italian woman, which, all things considered, would not be a bad thing.
Seriously, though, doing that was such a gift to me, and I have confidence that your prayers are heard and will be answered.
The town of Lourdes is located in southwest France, in the Pyrenees mountains. The geography itself is beautiful, but for a city girl, there are no restaurants to write home about, and the hotels are basic. Winding our way through the crowds, from our hotel to the Sanctuary, we passed shops bursting with candles, rosaries, statues, holy medals and other religious chachkas. Our ears were filled with religious music blaring from speakers.
Upon entering the Sanctuary, the noise of the shops faded, replaced with the melody of Ave Maria floating through the air, the cadence of prayers, the murmur of rosaries. Or sometimes, louder than a murmur. I loved listening to the Italians - it was like poetry to me:
il Signore è con te.
You can envision the Sanctuary like a college campus, but replace the academic buildings with churches, cathedrals, crosses and Stations of the Cross. The grounds expand to provide a feeling of spaciousness, while at the same time, enveloping everyone in the warmth of over a century of prayers. Except for a small bookstore and donation boxes for candles or for bottles to hold water, there is no commerce. Very few people talk on cellphones or text as they walk around or sit and rest.
Last year, when I went to Lourdes, I focused on myself and my own healing. This year, I had a strong feeling that I was to go but not for myself. Unsure what that exactly meant, I decided to focus on your prayers and direct all my own prayers and actions toward everyone but me.
You know what - that was harder than I thought! It is difficult to be in a place of healing, in a place where almost 70 healing miracles have been documented by non-Catholic doctors and scientists, and to NOT ask for healing on my own behalf! But it was a good learning, a good discipline and good practice. There is something to be said for focusing outside myself. And I have a new respect for nuns, who basically do this as a career.
Plus, there is so much inspiration there, in the lives of Mary, Jesus, and St. Bernadette. That helped.
When I left Boston for Lourdes, I was pretty down and had lost my will to live. This is not simply because chemo was so rough; it was as though a switch had flipped inside me somewhere, and it was too dark to find it again and switch it back.
During my time at Lourdes, there was no earthshattering event. Returning home, though, I felt that something significantly shifted inside myself during my time there, and I am grateful for that. It literally feels like I have been touched by the grace of God.
I mostly feel like myself again. I even feel like a calmer version of myself, which is so nice.
Like anything that causes a shift inside you - traveling to a different culture, an encounter with a soulmate, meeting your new baby - words are inadequate to describe the feeling.
But I want to you know, I am in such a great place, I love that this is possible. For whatever you are handling that might bring you down in any way, even if you can't pull yourself up in the moment, even if you feel like you are supposed to be down in this moment, please know that you never know what tomorrow or even the next moment will bring. I'll admit, that could go either way, but at least hope is back.
While I was having my crappy chemo week, before I left for Lourdes, the nurse called and convinced me to meet with Palliative Care. This has been suggested, off and on, for the past year and a half. Palliative Care is when you are aiming for quality of life rather than for cure. For a long time, I thought it meant giving up. And, last week, when I agreed to meet with them, I had, indeed, given up.
After I returned from Lourdes, I decided to take my decisions one moment at a time, and trust that, rather than have a plan, I would be guided toward the right thing to do at the time. So, I went to my appointments, but wasn't sure if I would be doing chemo.
I walked in feeling stronger, in a very different way then ever before. Strong in my center, as though everything would be fine, and I wasn't in this alone.
When the Palliative Care doctors arrived, I assumed they would offer me more drugs: "Depressed? Try this anit-depressent. Stomach hurts? Try more Zofran." Like that. I hate that approach and wasn't sure how I would react. I decided not to worry about it and wait and see.
AND, they weren't like that at all. They listened carefully to my story and heard who I am. The lead doctor said that she could offer a menu of drugs, but that clearly wasn't the answer for me. She suggested two places to start:
1. Learn to accept and maybe even embrace chemo, because my attitude toward it is not helping me.
2. Try to replicate whatever it was at Lourdes that has moved me to this place.
Both of these are difficult for me. The first one has been suggested by many friends, several times over. It is like telling your kids that broccoli is good. They have to come to that on their own. Not sure if I can do this yet!
The second one - well, think about when you return from an awesome trip, one that has changed you in ways you could not predict or even describe. How do you keep from slowly returning to who you were before you left? You can't replicate pieces of what did it - it is the whole package together, some parts of which you may not even be consciously aware.
I do know that I need to nurture and grow whatever seed was planted in me while I was in Lourdes, and hopefully it will spread whatever blessings I got while I was there. That is my job now. Thank you for helping me get to this. And I hope you can personally feel God's blessings in this very moment as well.