Matters of the Heart

imagesred ink…

Honestly, I’ve been trying to post all month and it’s been kind of hard because, well, my heart still hurts…and, it’s been a crazy time (more about that later).

I couldn’t let the month of February to pass though without acknowledging that it is Heart Heath Month.   Many of you know that Barb, our pink ink, was also a tremendous advocate for Heart Health, serving as a heart health ambassador for the American Heart Association.   Last year this time, she posted an inspirational Valentines Day message on her Pinkwellchick blog about some people in her life who had taken steps to be heart healthy.

Did you know that heart disease is the “#1 killer of women, and is more deadly that all forms of cancer?”  See https://www.goredforwomen.org.

As someone who has been “battling” hereditary high blood pressure for the past couple of years  (taking and switching medication, watching my diet, and it STILL isn’t “under control”),  I am RIGHT NOW re-committing myself to getting in front of this.   HOW ABOUT YOU?  My husband and I started the 40 day Daniel Plan, in an effort to have a more disciplined approach to our diet, exercise, and prayer life, and now I just have to stick to all parts of it.

Seriously, I shouldn’t need any additional reminders after what happened just a few weeks ago.   Fortunately, it all turned out ok.   I was rushing around town taking the kids to school,  and got an early morning call from my girlfriend who is my children’s godmother.   We often talk early in the mornings before starting our days, but it was unusual when I received a call from the hospital a few minutes later.    She had worked all night (as a nurse), and had passed out several times at work (fortunately at the hospital).   Without delay, my husband who is a doctor at the hospital and like a brother to her, rushed to the hospital, and I came shortly afterwards.   By the time I arrived, she’d had several more episodes and a decision had been made for her to have surgery and have a pacemaker installed!  We learned that she had experienced a cardiac arrest.   See https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/symptoms_of_heart_disease_in_women/cardiac-arrest-vs-heart-attack/.   She is 54, everybody, and otherwise in pretty good health.   I saw her before she went into the operating room, and she didn’t look good at all.   I said a prayer with her, watched her wheeled into surgery, and went outside and fell into my husband’s arms….I begged God not to let me lose another friend right now.  The surgery went well (Thank God) and she came out of the operating room saying “Girl, this is a mess…”   It was!  She went home the next day, and is still recovering, but grateful for the quick action.   Before this happened you could say that my girlfriend had a few pounds to lose (don’t we all!), but has been faithfully attending Weight Watchers, eating right and had just started a work out program.   She does not have high blood pressure or other conditions that would have made us suspect that this might happen, but she has been dealing with a tremendous amount of stress lately as she cares for her mother who is in the hospital and her elderly father.   I’m talking to myself and to you guys…manage your stress, people!

The best advice is to seek IMMEDIATE medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms  (see http://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/symptoms_of_heart_disease_in_women/symptoms-of-a-heart-attack/), manage stress as best you can and continue to do all you can to monitor your heart health.   DON’T DELAY…DO IT TODAY!

I can’t imagine a more loving tribute to Barb than for all of us to take better care of ourselves, and to appreciate this life that we are given.   It will do my heart good this weekend to spend some time with Blayre and my Shelby in AZ, and you can believe that we will get some exercise in!

Finally,  I hope this beautiful tribute to Barb (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70pdHA_vosA) that was done on Valentines Day and features the B’s, brings joy to your heart and reminds you of what love really looks like…Happy Heart Month…I miss you girl with all my heart!

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In your honor, I already did a long walk this morning, will follow up with another this afternoon, and will eat a heart healthy meal tonight!   XOXOXO

A Love Letter to Barbra

IMG_2154posted by pink ink’s husband, Brendon Riley 

Dear Baby,
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How do I start this letter? I could start by saying that I miss you, but that wouldn’t be enough. I could start by saying that I still can’t believe you’re gone, but that wouldn’t capture the depth of my loss. I could start by saying that my world will never be the same without you, but that’s stating the obvious.

I’ll just start by saying I love you.

I love you more than words can express. I love every part of you, and your absence hasn’t diminished that love. My love must now manifest itself differently, but it will never fade…I promise. I love you.

I miss you.

I miss your face. I miss your body. I miss your voice. I miss your laugh. I miss your…presence. I miss you deeply. Every minute of every day. I have to find a way to keep moving forward for the sake of our baby, and because you would want me to do so…but it’s really hard. I miss you.

I still can’t believe you’re gone.

I don’t sleep a lot, so late at night, I look at pictures and ask you how could you be gone. I know there’s no answer, but I ask anyway. I don’t wallow (well sometimes I do a little when I’m by myself), and I’ve never asked God why us, because that’s selfish…but I can’t help feeling sad when I catch myself waiting for you to call me at work. I miss you sitting next to me in the car barely tolerating my music selections, or talking through the best articles on NPR. I largely run my Saturday errands alone now because I’ve been able to keep Blayre busy on most weekends. I loved running errands with you.

I still can’t believe you’re gone.

My world will never be the same without you.

There’s no such thing as a second soul mate. You were my best friend. My life is forever changed without you by my side. I’ve said I love you. I’ve said that I miss you. I’ve said that I still can’t believe that you’re gone.  These add up to a life that will be forever different because you’re not there.

I’ll be ok.

I will find a pathway forward. Blayre and I will be happy again someday. I’m determined to find happiness for Blayre because she is an amazing young lady and she deserves to be happy. You’d be so proud of her.

I have developed a closer relationship with God through this process. That is a gift that I am only beginning to realize. I believe that God granted His mercy on our family on the day he decided to call you home. You suffered greatly, and He granted His peace to you so that you will never suffer again. I take comfort in that when dark moments intrude.

Even though you’re gone, I can feel you. I feel your strength surrounding me, and I know you’ll be with me for the rest of my life ­ available whenever I need you. Thank you for continuing to take care of me.

God showed his favor upon me by granting me even a moment with you and I am sincerely grateful. I love you. I miss you. I still can’t believe you’re gone. My world will never be the same without you. All of these things are true…but I’ll be ok. You’re still with me, so I’ll be ok.

Love, Brendon

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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This holiday season has been kinda tough.   Each time something happens that I’d ordinarily pick up the phone to share with my girl, I remember…Her absence also causes me to remember the other holes in my heart that just seem a bit more exposed at Christmas time.

Yet there are so many very special gifts that I cherish – my family and friends – old and new- who are keeping me afloat with their calls, emails, texts, cards, invitations, hugs and visits.   Among the gifts that I cherish most this season are those given to me by Pink Ink…everything from some of the cards that she sent, to a still unused GC for a massage, to my most awesome birthday video…but honestly the best gift that she gave me was the gift of connecting me to so many of you.  You all know how Pink Ink loved to connect folks.   Her insistence that all of her people knew each other and understood how important each piece of the puzzle was to her was a true gift.   Just when I’m thinking of her, I get an email or text from one of you, and I know we are sharing some of the same special memories…It honestly helps…

So many people have shared how much this blog has meant to them.  When Pink Ink and I started the blog, it was for the express purpose of allowing her a forum to share her story.  Sometimes, I filled in to give another perspective on the journey.   She wanted it to be so much more than about her though.   She really wanted it to be a place where we could share “real talk” about the issues (all of them) that were affecting us on our journey through this life.   She desired to reach a broader audience by using our stories to elevate the issues and causes that mattered to her and to us.

One of the most difficult things that struck us when we were looking for examples of blogs to follow was that there were so many that just stopped when one of the authors reached the end of his or her journey on this side.   Somehow, it felt wrong to just stop, when there was still so much to be shared, so much to be said…

A gift that I want to give back to my girl Pink Ink this holiday season is one that allows her important work to continue through this blog with the help of those that she connected me to while on her journey in the cancer lane.  So here’s the deal… I’m hoping to “deputize” all of you out there have even the slightest desire to be “honorary” inkwell chicks and chick-a-dudes   [You can become an official member of the club if you join me and lil B on the Inkwell this summer (late July, early August)....more later]  I’ve talked to some of you, and encouraged you to select your own color ink and to become guest authors throughout this next year.    My goal is that we will all spend some time this year together healing on a journey to wholeness that honors the important work that Pink Ink started in our own voices.

Just a few simple ground rules…

… hoping for two posts each month by the collective “guest bloggers”

…Remember our goal is to promote health and wellness by sharing our stories and encouraging each other…and one more thing…

…Real talk required! Lol!

So let’s do this “chicks” and “chick-a-dudes.”  Dust off your writing chops and think about a way to inspire wellness in the new year.   Get creative… inbox me (michele.richardson@me.com) your “ink color” (pink, red, orange, yellow and crimson are already taken) and the month that you want to post, and I’ll send you the login in information and a short tutorial about how to post pix, etc.  It’s really that simple…

You don’t have to stick to the awareness issues each month but I thought they might help you guys get started…Let’s keep Pink Ink’s “real talk” conversation going…She’d love this…Word!  :)

Schedule of Posts for 2014

January is all set…

February (Heart Health Month)

March (Multiple Sclerosis Month)

April (Autism Awareness Month/ Stress Awareness Month)

May (ALS / Stroke / High Blood Pressure / Lupus)

June (Cancer Survivors Day/ Men’s Health Week) Hunger Awareness)

July (Water safety/Fireworks safety)

August (Immunization awareness month)

September (Prostate Cancer/Menopause Awareness Month)

October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month / Depression-Mental Health)

November (Diabetes/ Epilepsy)

December (AIDS awareness)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!  Love you guys!

Grateful

red ink…

SONY DSC“Celebrating Life…” That’s what the cake said…and that’s what we did. The pink ink posse gathered for what was unimaginable – saying our collective goodbye to our sister, friend, daughter, mother, and wife. On the ride out to Phoenix my heart was as heavy as you can imagine, and my head bowed with disbelief. I’m a chick who has lost both of her parents, so honestly I know loss. I know how it feels, smells, tastes and aches. But, I’ve never imagined losing a friend – one of my best, best girls with whom I shared some of everything about this parallel life we were living until she took an unwanted detour into the cancer lane. This loss is NOT the natural order of things…This was not in my playbook. Her journey over the past two years defied my understanding and honestly, shook my faith.

Even before we arrived, the collective began sharing through a flurry of texts and emails, to hold each other up, to see where we might help or sleep, and to begin our journey on the long road to learning to lean on and support each other instead of her. Really, I knew we would do it, get through this weekend that is – those are the kinds of people that pink ink surrounded herself with. It was said several times this weekend, that pink ink expected a lot of her friends, and we were not about to disappoint her now. But I, honestly, even as the “big sister” I didn’t know how I was going to get through those few days. I reflected on the messages that I gave another dear friend when she lost her son, that you just have to put one foot in front of the other. I saw a card in the airport with a perfect quote from Winston Churchill – “When you’re going through Hell…Keep Going,” and that’s what I intended to do. I just fixed my mind on the unbelievable things that she dealt with during her journey in the cancer lane, and I strapped up those big girl pants and willed myself to be stronger for the B’s, for her parents and his parents and for all the others who might need to see me standing up.

In the midst of it all, as difficult as it was, there was unimaginable beauty and comfort was streaming in from every direction. (I feel confident that the Bs felt it too.) It was as if I was wearing a sign saying “Fragile: Handle with care.” There was the person who offered to put my bag and coat in the overhead, to the lady on the plane who asked me if I wanted her Vanity Fair magazine. Off the plane, I met up with Jemina from NYC (Barb and Brendon’s lil sis from B school and Tia Mina to lil B). After stopping by the house to let the Bs know we were there, to pick up our assignments, do whatever we could, and to face what we dreaded – the house without our girl there (come back to that later). Angels were all around me every where I looked. The hubby of one of my best girls from Chicago, was sitting in the living room talking to Big B when I arrived. Mina and I headed off in a bit of a daze to find some food. We stumbled upon a great little bistro looking for some comfort food and some wine where a wonderful compassionate waitress lead us to the menu favorites and told us we could take the rest of our wine home with us. Feeling grateful for a full stomach, a warm shower, a place to stay, and a roommate, I crashed. Our morning was spent having breakfast with more close members of the posse, Lori and Mike (from NYC… Lori and Barb share a love of pop culture among many other things), and then shopping for the “right white” for the evening ceremonies. Nobody, including Barb’s mother, wanted to be dressed incorrectly. We knew Barb was expecting us to bring out best selves there. My hubby and another one of my best girls from law school (who knew Barb and Brendon in NYC when he was in B school) arrived together the next day to hold me up on either side if I needed them to – and I did. Together we found another great spot to eat late Friday night and shared more comfort food to get us ready for Saturday. That night, I was grateful for my husband’s arms to hold me, even while we left our little chicks at home alone. (They are old enough and were o.k.) Other random acts of kindness continued all weekend and buoyed me, keeping this red ink chick afloat, all weekend. In turn, I shared that comfort with the Bs and others, some complete strangers like the mom from lil Bs school who cried in my arms yesterday.

The services were truly beautiful and just what she would have wanted. The organizational service on Friday night where we got to see all of her many groups honor the group chick that she truly was. The women dressed in white from one end of the room to another, the candles lit, song sung, and flowers placed highlighted our connections to her and to each other and gave honor to the work that she led during her, way too short, time with us. Beautiful pictures of her and of her and the Bs captured her spirit.  Looking back, I can remember that she was always “on a mission” to make one thing or another happen, usually through her many groups, to do something that mattered. I wonder if she knew somehow…

Our Saturday morning in the Secret Garden at ASU was unique and special – like Barb. As her dear friend, her “person” Iris (from Charlotte) brought a message to soothe our souls, and our dear “Mimo” (Big B’s mom, who has adopted all of us) opened her voice (…and WHAT a voice!) to the heavens and we gazed upon the simple, elegant, open to the skies, standing room only crowd of faces from all over, we knew we were honoring her right!.

A couple of us “aunties” took lil B to breakfast on Sunday and tried to feed her some more love.  I hung with her most of the day finding some quiet time to talk, hugging as much as I could, while making plans t0 text, see each other again soon, and to find our way back way to the Inkwell this summer.

On Sunday, those who were still in town, enjoyed an incredible “releasing of the doves” ceremony that was put on by the CBBC (Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer) a group that Barb helped to spearhead. We were reminded in all that her spirit is set free, her suffering is over, and that her journey while short, was full, and connected so many of us.   [They played some random song  during the release, but I was hearing Maxwell's "Pretty Wings."]

On my last night in Phoenix, I went out with a few of our Phoenix Links’ sisters, who have become like family, during this journey. I joined them for a drink and for a movie (Best Man Holiday) and we laughed and cried together like we’d known each other forever, interjecting “Barb” phrases like “word” and “really” where appropriate and soothing each other’s souls. She was right there in the movie with us!

Over the course of the weekend in Phoenix, I learned some things that gave me tremendous comfort. As I sat with Brendon’s mom, Barb’s mom, and several members of the posse out on the front porch at her house, where she loved to sit, the beautiful sun pouring down on us, and the majesty of Camelback mountain in front of us, and shared stories, I felt some small stirring of peace. I learned that she was surrounded by love at all times during her last days on this side, and that the warmth and light that she shared stayed with her until the end. She liked being touched on her legs, and as crazy as it sounds, a little dog brought her some joy from her hospital bed. Her hands were held, cards and magazines were read to her. I learned that, like all of us, even the hospice nurses who only knew her for a very short while, fell in love with her and were shedding tears as she passed from this life.

Man, I miss my girl like you can’t imagine, but I am grateful…grateful that she isn’t feeling pain anymore…grateful that in too short of a time, she left us with so much….grateful that she had the chance to connect so many of her dots…grateful for having another angel on the other side who made sure that the first college acceptance letter for my #1 son (whom she loved dearly) was waiting in the mail when I arrived home!…grateful for all of her spirit that lives in “lil B”…grateful that my unfortunate experience on this loss journey tells me that my heart (our hearts) will heal in time, and great memories will replace emptiness…grateful for pink ink’s reminders to live, to love and to touch our tatas for as many days as we are granted…

Happy Thanksgiving all…

No Words…

red ink…

inkwell chicksThanks everyone for your messages.   I so appreciate all of you and the  “family” we’ve become because of Pink Ink.   Our collective thoughts and prayers should be focused on the B’s as they take the next steps on their journey.

This is an email that I sent to Pink Ink a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not sure whether she ever read it.  We didn’t talk about it when we saw each other or when we talked last week.   It just expresses what I need to…

Hey Girl,
There are no words that can adequately express what’s in my heart but I need to try…

B called me on Friday to say what I thought I’d been preparing myself for, and it literally took the wind out of me. As he talked, I reminded myself to breathe. Just the other day I was telling Yas that I was thankful for the time that we’ve had together and that I felt like I was not in the same kind of pain that I had been in before because we really have had a chance to work through some stages together. You know better than almost anyone else how I like to (sharing this characteristic with you, all day!) be in control and make sense of things. Still, the floor came out from under me as Brendon spoke. I tried hard to concentrate on every word…I heard…”cancer spread to brain…we are moving to hospice, hopefully at home…time is short…come now if I want to, but the B’s need the weekend together to just, well, be together in the face of this.” Turns out…I’m not really ready to say goodbye.

A couple of things that I need you to know…first, I love you and will miss you like you can’t even imagine (tears streaming down my face 😭on the plane so much so that the little boy near me is asking his mommy what’s wrong with me…lol) You’re my sister as much as my blood sister. You know I hold it close so there aren’t a million of you… As I continue to love you and all that we’ve shared, I promise to share that love with your lil B for as long as I’m on this side.

Second, I need you to know that I’m grateful for the unexpected sister that you’ve been. Celebrating our sameness and our differences made me better – “because I knew you.” (Can’t you just hear Elphaba and Galinda singing now…)

We have experienced joy (watching our “babies,” especially our girls, play together at the Inkwell and become the family we so wanted them to be), laughed out loud so much, even in the midst of this (I’ll never forget the little boy on the elevator story), figured things out together (from speeches to how to put someone in check), told one another that we “could do it” when feeling a little shaky, and shared so many stories about our husbands, our children and our families and reminded each other of the joy and blessing of it all when we needed to. While we have each cried immeasurable tears about some of the things we shared, it strikes me that our time together wasn’t marked by tears…we rarely cried together. Our time has been marked by full out laughter, fun, craziness, understanding and being understood. Our time together has been marked by JOY. That what I carry in my heart, and I hope you carry in yours.

For a long time felt like I was supposed to be the one teaching – that’s how we started after all and I’m the “big” sister – but you have schooled me girl, and I have learned life lessons from you about strength, determination, unconditional love, and grace, even when it ain’t pretty. You’ve been an awesome teacher. Even red ink needs a few “corrections” every now and then. I suspect I’ll just keep asking for your guidance, so keep an open ear…please?

For my 50th birthday, you know I said I was going to get a tattoo (and you promptly called me cray…). But I was determined…no temporaries, but clear, indelible, unremovable ink…Hey girl, I think you might actually be my “tattoo”…my pink ink that has made an imprint on my heart, and will always, always, always be with me. Love you girl…

Nothing else that I have to say is that important…what do you want or need me to do? ❤️❤️❤️😘😘😘😥😥😥💔

The Gift

“…I don’t wanna forget the present is a gift; And I don’t wanna take for granted the time you may have here with me . . .”
Alicia Keys

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“The Gift” by Drew Richardson

Though I usually don’t answer calls when I’m working, I glanced down and saw that it was pink ink!   We just got off the phone, and I’m feeling grateful . . . See she’s been tied up trying to stay alive … seriously.   Since I left there on Friday, I’ve been wondering how she’s doing and what’s happening with her and her B’s.   Even though I text or call her cell almost every day, I do so not expecting a response.   Mostly, I just want her to know that I’m thinking of her.   I get that she needs all of her energy to focus on getting a little stronger especially following the excitement of last week, with the play and all of the visitors from in and out of town who wanted to lay eyes on her.

After a few minutes, she deftly turned the conversation away from her, and we talked about normal things.  We talked about lil B’s halloween costume, and about the colleges that my #1 son is applying to.   As expected, she told me that I had to at least consider letting my son spread his wings and go to the school of his choice even if it is far away from Chicago!   She wanted my honest feedback about the play, and shared her actual timeline from conception to completion (which is astounding given all that she has been through)!  When she started to sound tired, we brought it to a close.   How I miss these “sharings” . . . Today’s gift was a surprise and truly one that I don’t take for granted and will hold in my heart.   I remember those days when I was “too busy” (she had them, too), and try to remember how precious these moments are when I’m talking to my other special folks.   You should too . . . Remember to savor those moments like you would a sip of really fine wine – and think of pink ink!  Here’s hoping that you recognize and enjoy your gifts today…

Oh What A Night!

red ink…

imageArriving to a receiving line of cameras flashing, smiling faces with headsets on, pink ink had her red carpet moment. At last! Once inside the door of the theatre, a special center seat awaited her where she was surrounded by love in every seat and on every side. The place was packed. Pink ink’s play “Life in the Cancer Lane” debuted last night in Phoenix and she was there to see it all. Now let’s be clear, this was no small feat. She left the hospital yesterday morning, rested for a short while, and rallied to get herself up and ready for her big night! So many of us worried about whether it would be too much for her to make it out because she was still weak following her hospital stay, but she, as always, was determined. The night before, she basically threatened the nurse who was administering her night medications saying “you’re NOT going to stop me from going to my play!” I think the lady was a little scared honestly. Lol! Pink ink’s play has been a labor of love. She has poured her soul and her journey into writing this wonderful series of vingettes that chronicles, not only her journey, but that of many other breast cancer survivors. It’s real talk, full of insightful advice for anyone going through this themselves or with someone they love. She hit every topic imaginable from the expected “diagnosis” and “chemo” to the more sensitive like “hair,” “sex,” and “crazy-ish people say.” I laughed out loud and cried unconsolably recognizing some of our conversations in the play, all within the span of a couple of hours. For me and everyone in the room, it made us think about the effects that breast cancer has on everyone it touches. She took the task of telling this story more seriously than almost anything else I’ve ever seen her do. She was disciplined and precise about her writing process, and deliberate about soliciting and receiving feedback. I don’t know that people, including me, understood how serious she was about this at first, but her commitment made each of us get on board, one by one, so that we became as invested in her achieving her vision as she was. She inspired me and so many others (We started writing at the same time and my book still hasn’t been published BTW.) She wanted to be heard because she had something important to share – and last night all ears were open. There are a whole host of people to acknowledge – to be clear, I don’t know everyone. Just know, whoever you are, that I’m certain that pink ink is eternally grateful for everything, from the smallest thing to the most monumental, to make her dream a reality … from her girls in Phoenix who had the idea to put up the show, secured the backing for the show (Thank you Cox Communications), and laid out the beautiful reception, to those who recorded every bit of revised dialogue and stage direction to those who assisted with props to the unseen narrators, to those who traveled from near and far to fill the house, to her husband who gave her introduction in her stead, and to everyone who inspired one of the monologues. It was a beautiful night. At the end of the night, she had just enough energy to spare to spend a little bit of time at the reception to take photos with the “cast” – those in the play and the rest of us who are in her much larger “supporting cast.” Everyone wanted her to know that they were there to be a part of her vision, and by the looks on every face – we were all SO proud of her. Pink Ink you made your mark! My mother always said that she wanted to “receive her flowers while she could still smell them.” Just before leaving the reception, someone walked up to pink ink and put a single pink rose in her hands. She got into the car, exhausted, and on the way home and held that flower in her lap, and no doubt, took in the scent of sweet success. Now on the to book and the movie!

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