Bloom And Grow

How is it that I am so unprepared for death?

Sitting in the straight-backed hospital chair, I feel the silence of the moment compressing my chest like a two thousand pound weight.  No less stunned than the rest of my family to hear the doctor pronounce that grandpa is dying.  No one moving.  The floor fascinating to me, even as dad intensely studies a speck on the far wall and mom analyzes a crack in the ceiling.

Grandma seems unable to look away from the empty hospital bed; sheets pulled back, the imprint of a frail man’s body still evident on the mattress.  I can read her mind; wondering how on earth she’ll tell her husband of fifty-two years what she knows when he returns from his walk.

Off in the distance, someone coughs.  Machines are beeping all around us; some operating respirators, others signaling an IV bag has run low, and others still monitoring heartbeats.  It’s the strange music of a hospital.

And all I can think, over and over again, is I shouldn’t be surprised.

He’s eighty-four years old.  He has cancer.  He’s human.  And humans are mortal beings.  This is natural.  This is the way of things.  The progression.  The circle of life…

…isn’t it?

I guess that’s what I’m supposed to think.

In reality, all my brain seems able to do is short-circuit on the thought: “I’m not ready…I’m not ready…I’m not ready…” Though what exactly I’m not ready for, I’m hard pressed to describe.  Maybe it’s the reality twhite-rose-meghann-andreassenhat death has never before touched me; not like this.  And I’m not ready to face it.  Because to face it means facing my own mortality in ways I’ve been ignoring all my life.

The doctor clears his throat, and we all return to reality.  I tear my eyes away from the recently waxed floor, and look to dad.  Dad always has the answers.  Except he says nothing, hands shoved into pockets as he rocks back on his heels in a gesture I know means he’s uncomfortable.

I turn to mom…and just as quickly turn away because there are tears in her eyes.  This is a father she is losing.

Again I look to dad, this time in a different light.  A terrifying truth in my head: Some day I’ll lose him too.

Some day I’ll talk of him the way he talks of his father.  Pointing to photographs of his smiling face while describing to my grandchildren what he’d been like.  How his eyes crinkled when he smiled.  How the Boston Red Socks were his favorite baseball team, ‘The Quiet Man’ his favorite movie, and Steve McQueen one of his favorite actors.  I’ll try to fill in the gaps a picture will leave, but it won’t ever be the same.  Some day he’ll just be gone.

Hell, while my brain is on the subject, I realize that some day I too will be nothing more than some dated photograph on a mantle.  Some footnote on a family tree for people to study and wonder over.  Meghann, daughter of David and Nenice…sister of Keith…wife of…mother of…grandmother of…and so on, until I am long forgotten.

I think of the family tree we have in a dusty leather-bound book back home.  All those names.  All people.  All come and gone.

Finally, unable to stand the silence a moment longer, I unfold myself from the chair.  Moving to put a hand on grandma’s shoulder, for the first time I notice just how frail she is.  I can feel the bones just beneath her skin.

How is it up to this moment she seemed so invincible?  Why is it that now she doesn’t?  How can a few words from one doctor so thoroughly change my life and my perception of the world?

“He’s been through some pretty rough times,” I hear myself saying.  “So maybe he’ll pull through again.”  Grandma nods; I think it’s just out of habit.  I don’t think anyone really believes that.  Not this time.  This time, the bank account is overdrawn.  Nothing left to take.

We’ve done three rounds of chemotherapy.  Four surgeries.  Two experimental treatments.  Studies at the medical school.  And endless trips to the Veteran’s Hospital to beg for cheaper prices on prescriptions so he can afford his medications…so very many medications…meghann andreassen, girl with rose

Testosterone depravation to fight the prostate cancer…estrogen replacement to fight the hot flashes brought on by too little hormones…nausea medication to treat the effects of too much Estrogen…pain medication for the cancer in his bones…laxatives to fight the constipation brought on by the pain medications…steroids to help improve kidney function, as the kidneys are stressed from the daily laxatives…diuretics to help with the fluid retention, caused by too many steroids…

…and so the list goes on.

Running through it in my head, it certainly sounds like I’m describing a man who’s been through hell.  A man who has lived well into his eighties.  A ripe old age by most standards.  Who has fought and survived through two wars, the Great Depression, and lived with his cancer at least five years longer than people had originally expected.

So why does death surprise me?

Eventually it all has to end, doesn’t it?  Eventually it all will end.  And the only difference between grandpa and the rest of us is he now has his ticket to the other side, while we’re still waiting in line to get ours.

I hear grandpa’s voice out in the hall, and panic seizes me by the throat.  I can’t face him.  Not right now.  And so I cowardly duck out of the room so fast no one has a chance to even ask me where I’m going.

On automatic pilot, I move down the familiar halls of Tuality Hospital; the hospital where I was born.  Where dad has worked as an Obstetrician and Gynecologist for thirty-five years.  The hospital where I’ve known so much joy; tagging along at dad’s heels as a child, his self-proclaimed ‘assistant’ as he would round on patients or check on newborns in the nursery.

But that’s all on the second floor.  The Labor and Delivery department.  A happier place.  I’m currently on the fifth floor, which is reserved for more long-term care.

I just want to get away.  Get out of here.  But where can I go?

Without really thinking, I step into the elevator and punch the button for the eighth floor.  Feeling butterflies as the elevator lifts me up to the top of the hospital.  Stepping out into a mess of construction (they’re remodeling) and gingerly moving around the plastic and the sawhorses to the door leading into the outdoor garden on the roof.

The fresh air hits me with a shock; it’s spring, but here in Oregon that doesn’t mean it’s warm.  At least it isn’t raining.

Moving to a bench, I sit down and stare straight ahead.  Hands helplessly splayed open in my lap.  Empty.  Unable to do a damn thing to fix this problem we now face, because it’s a problem no one can fix.  Not even the most skilled of physicians.


As mortal beings with a ticking clock from the very first moment that proverbial sperm connects with the egg, you’d think we could do a little better job of preparing for the inevitable.  At least pack a hypothetical suitcase and leave it in the corner for when our time comes.  But we don’t.  Those commercials on television urging us to plan for the sake of our loved ones always fall on deaf ears.  There’s always a tomorrow to see a lawyer about a will.  And we’re always too busy with life to see a priest until the very last instant, yanking the poor man out meghann andreassenof bed and demanding he absolve us of our sins just before we step off the boat and into eternity.

No, usually death sneaks up from behind, and we’re left sitting on the roof of the hospital contemplating the meaning of it all while our grandfather is being told three floors down that he’s not long for this world.

I feel tears threatening the corners of my eyes, but furiously push them back, knowing once the tears start I’ll never get them to stop.  Instead I force myself to sit in silence.

The door behind me opens, and I hear a foot land on gravel.  I hear the sound a second time, and a third, and realize with a little jolt that I know who it is even before he speaks.  Dad has a very distinctive walk.  A little hitch (some might call it a limp) in his step from a long-ago knee injury sustained during an intramural softball game.

“Are they wanting me back downstairs?” I ask after he stands behind me for several minutes, sharing the space.

“No…I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

A smile forms at the corner of my mouth.  Dad can always do so much while saying very little.  He hasn’t even touched me; put a hand on my arm or pulled me into a hug.  Yet hearing his voice and knowing he’s behind me offers a level of comfort I rarely find anywhere else.

He is my safe harbor.  My sanctuary.  He always has been.

My earlier thoughts attack my mind viciously, and I’m forced to fight back tears all over again.  What will I do when he’s gone?  Who will I turn to?

When you get old, are you even allowed to have safe harbors any more?  Or are you just supposed to support everyone else?  Is it a luxury only the young get to have, kind of like believing in Santa Claus and never having to worry about paying the bills?

Again the questions flood my mind, and again I force my brain to go numb and quiet.  Looking around for a distraction.  Finding it in the shape of a beautiful little rose bush, a perfect white rose starting to bloom.  Three small buds just beneath, ready to follow suit.

Looking around the garden, I see many budding leaves and flowers.  It’s only a matter of time before the garden will become what it is during the summer months: a place of loveliness.  I’ve never been much of a gardener myself, but I can appreciate a garden’s beauty when I see it.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Dad’s voice interrupts my study of the white rose.

Crossing my arms over my chest in a universally protective gesture, as though by sheer force of will I’ll ward off all negative thoughts and depressinmeghann andreassen, nenika marieg feelings, I stand up a little straighter.  “It seems wrong that grandpa’s going to die in the springtime.”

Dad doesn’t respond at first to that; although since I’m not facing him, I can’t tell if it’s because my remark surprised him or if it’s because he’s trying to come up with a suitable response.  When he does finally speak, I decide it must have been a little of both.  “Why exactly do you say that?”

I shrug.  “Spring is a time for life.  Even you notice how many more babies you deliver in the spring than in the fall or the winter.  It just seems…wrong somehow to die in the spring.”

“Better to die in the winter?”

I bite my lip.  Bite it before I say something really stupid and childish.  Something along the lines of how he shouldn’t have to die at all.

Dad puts his hand on my shoulder.  “There’s no good time to lose the people we love, sweetheart.”  His fingers curl a little into the muscles of my neck before beginning to massage the tension away.  “And who knows?  He could still live a long time yet.  With prostate cancer it’s hard to say for sure.  All Dr. Stone is saying is there’s nothing left to treat him with.  Nothing left medically to fight the cancer.”

“I know.”  And I do.  Chemotherapy would kill him if he does it again.  The steroids he’s been taking are ripping his insides to shreds.  And even if they weren’t, the diuretics to help with the steroids are giving him chronic urinary tract infections.  I know it boils down to this: can’t treat a body if the body can no longer respond to the treatments.   Which is the point grandpa has reached.  Nothing working right any more.  And any new medication to treat one failing system would inevitably put too much stress on another.  “He’s dying.”  I don’t know why I feel the need to say it.  But I do.

Dad’s fingers stop massaging briefly, and then start again.  “Yes.  Yes he is.”

“How long do you think it will be?”  Dad is always my sounding board.  The one I look to for answers.

He sighs.  “I’m not an oncologist, Meghann…”

“But what’s your best guess?”

“I think he’ll still be with us for the rest of the year, at least.  He’s declining…but declining slowly.”

My eyes return to the rose bush.  “One more year.”  What would I do if I only had one more year?  What would I want people to do for me?

meghann andreassenI wouldn’t want to miss a single moment.

Glancing again at that perfect white rose, I’m seized with sudden inspiration as I get to my feet and move forward, grasping the little stem in one hand and snapping it with the other.  Feeling the soft petals on my palm as I walk past dad in silence.  Heading back to the elevator, cradling the rose in my hand with all the tenderness of something infinitely precious.

Some day soon, my grandfather will die.  I will drive over to the condo he shares with my grandmother and see only an empty chair.  Life will change forever.

Death is suddenly very real, and I am mortal just like him.  Seeing the wheel of time starting to leave him behind.  Knowing some day it will leave me behind too.  Roses blooming that I will no longer see or smell.

But not yet.  I am still here.  Here to love him.  And this thought comforts me.

Grandpa can’t walk up to the garden any more, but I can at least bring a piece of the garden back to him.  So I do; and the tears that well up in his eyes when I give him that little piece of spring mirror the tears in my own.  Crying together over a single white rose, and knowing it’s a good day to be alive.

meghann andreassen

Caterpillars & Cocoons

We all know the story of the caterpillar that evolves into the beautiful butterfly.  It’s the story used the world over for proof that transformation is possible with patience, hard work, and a little bit of time to grow and evolve.

But I never understood the caterpillar and his cocoon as much as I do now.

Most of my life, I was in a hurry to become the butterfly.  And really, who isn’t?  We want to feel like we’ve arrived in life.  Like we’ve made it.  Spreading our beautiful wings and showing off our own uniquely dazzling colors as we take flight.  And because of this attitude, I’d often look at my time as the caterpillar with impatience and frustration…until now.

Ever since I ended my relationship with Randall, I’ve had a better understanding of the power and strength of a cocoon.  An incubator.  A nest.

In the quiet and the stillness that followed the chaos of such a tempestuous, loud, dramatically abusive relationshipbutterfly-transformation, I found that all I really wanted to do was curl up on a soft mountain of pillows and just BE for a little while.  Focus on breathing in and breathing out.  Return to the basics, and recalibrate my compass back to my personal True North.

I’ve always been someone who loved to travel and explore.  To visit new places, meet new people, and try new things.  And I’m still that person, in the sense that I still imagine the trips I’m going to take some day…make lists of the places I want to go and things I want to experience.  But right now, for the first time ever, I am happiest safely tucked away behind the four walls of my home.

The idea of going out can literally give me anxiety at times; something I’ve learned through therapy is partly due to the fact that I’m subconsciously trying desperately to avoid encountering any PTSD triggers.  Our minds are incredible, and they will do whatever necessary to protect us.  At home I know I’m safe; but out in the rest of the world, at any moment I could see, hear, smell, or sense something that could trigger a slew of negative, traumatic memories and all the emotions that go along with it.

I’m told that all of this is considered a normal response in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events.  And while of course it can’t go on forever, it’s okay to just sit in my cocoon for a little while.

And one of the unexpected benefits of doing this is I’m actually taking care of myself for the first time in years.  Listening to what my inner voice is telling me, heeding my emotions, processing everything happening around me so that it doesn’t stay piled up in my mind or in my heart as something that will weigh me down later…and to me that is the power and beauty of the caterpillar in its’ cocoon.

For the first time in years, I’m watching what I’m eating and making time to exercise.  My body is healthier than it’s been in a long time as a result.  One month ago, I even made the first purely luxury purchase for myself in at least two years when I bought a body scrub and a body butter from Clinique so I could start taking care of my skin again.meghann andreassen

It’s crazy to me now as I think about it, that I literally had not bought myself anything for self-care and self-love in that long.  I’d bought things for other people, of course; for Randall, and his sister, and others he convinced me were important to take care of.  Always looking out for everyone else, and giving away my hard earned money and my care, consideration, and love to all around me…while never saving anything to then give to myself.

But now, in my cocoon, I’ve been remembering to love myself first.  And there is so much power in that.  Strength.  And healing.

This time is necessary for me to then be able to move on to the next phase of my life.  And it’s also why I encourage anyone around me – friends, family, clients – to embrace their own cocoon moments.  Too often we forget to care for ourselves; I know that’s a huge problem for me.  Had I done a better job of caring for and looking out for myself and my own needs, I might have seen sooner just what the abuse with Randall was doing to me.  But instead I was numb to it, and putting everyone else’s needs, wants, and desires ahead of my own.

That isn’t healthy.  It isn’t a good way for anyone to live.  We have to put ourselves first.  We have to operate under the same motto as the flight attendants preparing for takeoff: “Secure your own mask before assisting others.” After all, you’re no good to others if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen because you didn’t get your mask on properly first.

So instead of being embarrassed about this time in my life, I’m actually learning to embrace it and even be proud of it.  Because I can see the changes.  I feel like I’m literally blossoming under the love, care, and attention I’m giving myself, and that is what will enable me to eventually emerge as the beautiful butterfly I ultimately want to be.

meghann andreassen

A Genesis Story

In the beginning, there was a woman caught in an abusive relationship dreaming of a happier life.

Except I found myself often dreaming not of my future, but instead of my past. Of happier
times, when I was still smiling and laughing, and wasn’t heartbroken or anxious on a daily basis. Of people, places, and things that had appreciated me for who I was, and didn’t leave me feeling worthless, useless, or incompetent, but instead encouraged me to be the best I could be.

My past seemed like a safe place to live when I needed to protect my heart; because my past was filled with love and positivity.

Trouble is the past is already over and done with. Gone. A part of me…of my story…but no more accessible to me now than my now-deceased and much-beloved grandfather. No more than a memory. Not a viable place to live.

Once I came to that realization, and determined that change would only come when I left the abuse in my rearview mirror so I could start over, I was met with a problem I had not expected or foreseen: threats of blackmail. As he sensed me withdrawing, my now-ex began to assert control. Vowing to ruin me. To “expose” me.meghann andreassen

The thought frightened me, particularly as he and others in his circle seemed to start doing just that. Initially, the threats worked; I backed off and yet again went back to the age-old “I need to try and make this work” mindset. Attempting to reengage even as he would seesaw between nice and nightmarish every five minutes, leaving me mentally and emotionally exhausted.

But this post isn’t about him…there’ll be time for that later.

This post is about how he, ironically enough, is the reason I finally decided to take the plunge and start writing this blog as part of this website. Something I’d been dreaming about in my mind for many years.

How? By forcing me to not just imagine, but more importantly yearn for a world where I had no skeletons in my closet. Where I was open and transparent about my thoughts, my feelings, and the good, bad, and ugly of my life. A world where someone like him could vow to ruin me, and I could just sit back, smile, and say “Do your worst…you will not succeed”.

And as I pondered this world of openness and freedom, where I embraced myself precisely as I was, I also wondered if I could help others find that same freedom. I looked at the media, which these days is so focused on dividing society, and wondered what would happen if we as people rebelled against that and instead focused on understanding and accepting one another.

I’m not naive; I don’t envision a world where everyone gets along all the time. We will always have those who rub us the wrong way. There will always be differences of opinion, culture clashes, and disputes about faith and morality. There will be those who don’t agree with things I say here, or what others who collaborate with me will say, and that’s okay. But what if at the very least we could reach a place where discussion and acceptance was the goal, instead of pursuing dramatic, divisive headlines while engaging in twitter feuds?

What if instead of ‘digging up dirt’ on our rivals, we instead fertilized that same dirt and encouraged one another to grow?

77562_794567243826_586691_oI hope to stretch my own limits in this space, as I hope to also stretch yours. My dream come true will be to feature people from all walks of life, with all different opinions and perspectives; to have contributors who I don’t always agree with, and who don’t always agree with me, share insights and opinions in an effort to better understand one another. To reach moments of clarity, where we all sit back and say: “I’d never thought of it like that before.”

I firmly believe if you can understand the perspective of the opposition, it’s also a lot easier to reach a place of tolerance.

I’m genuinely excited about this journey. Terrified too, of course; worried that as I strip myself bare and stand naked before the judgment of the world, I’ll be found lacking and thus will be rejected.

But it’s a risk worth taking. I would rather be rejected for who I am, naked and transparent, than ever again feel trapped in a situation or a life where I am subject to the abuse, negativity, and cruelty of others merely due to the knowledge they possess about my life.

I won’t live in fear any longer. And I hope to inspire others to cast aside their fears too.

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time, I believed a hero would rescue me from life’s dragons. Then after a dragon burned me beyond recognition, I was forced to acknowledge there were no heroes. No Lancelots. No Galahads.

And that’s when the most amazing thing happened…I came to understand I was my own hero. I had the power to slay the dragons, and rescue myself. I didn’t need Sir Galahad.

Once I had that awakening, there was no going back.

This site, and this blog, 10435637_10101463040217586_7269425618821725344_nare intended to be the raw, realistic reflection of my story. My life. My journey. The chance to gather all of my personal and professional projects in one place. Compile my thoughts and reflections.  And ultimately connect with all of you: current and future clients, readers, contributors, colleagues, and friends.

There are so many things I’m fortunate enough to e a part of…and every single thing is near and dear to my heart. Part of me. All of it helps me learn more about myself; reflecting different aspects of my personality, and giving me the opportunity to live my life to the fullest.

I’m excited to share it all! The good, the bad, and the ugly.

This is me. And I intend to live happily ever after.