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Two Words in a Card with Little Birds on The Front

SOMEONE ELSE’S LOVE STORY is one of AMAZON’S BEST BOOKS OF THE MONTH, Beloveds, and it launches in one week plus one day. That means you have seven days left to come and have Virtual Book Tour with us.

(The VBT is explained here if you do not know what that is—Plus you can see all the FUN PRIZE DRAWING LOOTS for participants!)

Let me tell you, if you read this blog but never open and read the comments, the entry below is the one where you want to read the comments. They are just so perfect and terrible and glorious and human. I read them all week and they made me feel so sad and so happy and so in love with all of you. Some broke my heart. Some mended it. Some did both at once. All of them made me so in love with people, so in love with the frail brave beautiful mortal us.

I’ve had kind of a hard week. I spent it in Alabama, mostly at the hospital waiting for my SLOW SLOW SLOW phone to load my site every hour just to check comments. You have been a bright spot in my life, even though you were talking about how hard and slippery and scary life is, because YES. Because, YES IT IS and somehow you knowing and me knowing and us all marching into it together anyway, because we have no choice, is very beautiful.

I haven’t been talking about my dad’s adventures in medicine because he is a very private person. You know, as my kids get older, and to an extent, as my parents get older, there is less and less I can blog about. Let’s just say it’s been a hard year. A hard fraught year with all flavors or terror, uncertainty, and this week we skipped all that crap and went into downright despair and horror.

We have to pause here and I have to say, if we are going to talk about this, we have to make a pact, and the pact is this: We can talk about it HERE in this blog entry and the comments. I will talk about it later when it must be talked about. In the pauses, even if the pauses are long, You must NEVER NEVER NEVER ask me how my dad is. Ever.

Should our paths cross—on tour—in life—whenever, where ever— this is a topic which MUST NOT BE brought up by you.

You MUST NOT even look at me with warm, moist, loving eyes, as if you KNOW or UNDERSTAND and there is unspoken KINDNESS between us. I cannot stand kindness on my skin right now. Your kindness will actually be a mean thing, because it will make me want to peel my skin off and run away, red and wet and gibbering. The kindest thing you can do is pray for healing and peace and patience (my dad is not a patient healer) and never even tell me you are praying.

THAT is what grace looks like in this case.

How Is Your Dad Doing is a monster sentence. It looms over me. The monster has been around for eleven months now, so it is not a fresh monster. It is an ONGOING monster. I have grabbed the monster and folded it and spindled it and mutilated it and shoved and twisted at it until I have it jammed into a tiny, tiny, tiny box, and then I slammed the lid.

On top of the box, I have piled an elephant and a big house and the continent of Europe and a super-dense black hole and when I ran out of heavy things to pile on top of it, I started piling kittens and feathers and bits of straw and fluff and it takes ALL THOSE THINGS, every ounce, every nano-ounce, to hold the box closed so I can function.

Beloveds, I have kids and a job I love and friends I want to keep and dogs who need fresh water in their bowls. SO I can’t sit and look at the monster right now.

Back before I knew how this was going to play out so SLOWLY, I didn’t tell people not to ask me, and EVERY PLACE I WENT people asked me, so I stopped going anyplace and pretty much went to bed, because I had to look at the monster all the time.

Believe that I am dealing with it in little bites and slices, in my own time, in my own way, with my own bizarre freak support system. But I need you to NOT knock a feather off the box. I will talk when I can talk. When I cannot, please let me be silent and send me, as an act of love, funny cat videos.

We can talk HERE, on this SINGLE ENTRY, but beyind that You must NEVER NEVER NEVER ask me how my dad is.

If you ask, you may pull one feather off the box, and it will open and I will to go to bed FOR DAYS AND DAYS and watch season after season of old Joss Whedon shows and eat pounds of sugar and my dogs may DIE of dehydration, and that will be on you. You will have KILLED DOGS. So.

That was a long and emphatic hyper-defensive preface. Sorry. But it is IMPORTANT. SO, I had to say it enough that you knew I really meant it. To reiterate: I meant it.

Here is the short version. Open Heart didn’t solve dad’s rather unique problem—he didn’t have it for the reasons most people do, and it is complicated to explain, so just trust me. It was bad. 10 months of patch and repair with a surgery nearly every month. Dad sick of it. Mom stressed. Me unable to help this man who has always, always, always helped me, no matter what.

Then, a ray of hope: He was accepted into an experimental program involving radiation in DC. He went in October. He had the procedure. We all held our breath. A few happy weeks of genuine recovery and healing and goodness and light at the end of a very bleak tunnel.

Forward to NOW. Last week went like this:

DAY 1: Dad is in the hospital, we aren’t sure what the problem is, but maybe you should go to Alabama.

DAY 2: OH NO! The experimental procedure failed, and doom is upon us.

DAY 3: Wait, Oops! KIDDING! It didn’t and it isn’t. Your dad just overdid it. Silly dad. He felt too good and hurt himself. He can go home tomorrow.


DAY 5: Oh, wait. No, no, that test was sensing something else. He is fine actually. Overdid it. Never mind. You can all go home now.

SO that was a long five days of being jerked back and forth on terrible leashes.

Now he is home and I am home and things look good. Monster? Back in box. Continent of Europe? Firmly situated on top of box.

But I tell you all this mostly so I can say —thank you, thank you thank you for telling your stories while I sat with my mom in a hospital room. Inadequate words. Thank you. It meant so much. Thank you. So inadequate to express how human and in community and UN-ALONE I felt, hearing the human chorus of your sorrows while I sat stewing in my own. I traced your paths out with joy and hope, praying for you who have not found those paths yet. I say these inadequate words three times more, hoping the repetition will show you a sliver or a shadow of the huge and fervent gratitude I hold for you: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

29 comments to Two Words in a Card with Little Birds on The Front

  • Brigitte

    Don’t you hate when people look at you all sad and ask how you’re holding up? You immediately lose whatever was holding you up and melt into a pile of mush.

    My friend lost her father last year, I pretty much just sat back and let her use me as her sounding board and non-judgy venting wall.

    So, vent when you please, and kitty videos otherwise!

  • YES!!! YES I DO.

    But some people do. That is why it is so hard. Because some people feel alone and so RUINED if no one asks and some people find asking ruinatious. You just have to figure out which kind the person is, and do that. We are the same kind. Brigitte, I will NEVER ask you how you are holding up. HERE, here is the BEST MOVIE POSTER EVER—-

    A Chinese theater accidentally displayed a homoerotic fanpic image instead of the real poster!


  • Elizabeth

    Congrats on the Amazon promo– nice weather in Georgia today?

    I went back and re-read, and made sure I have permission to mention your father’s condition in the comments.

    The fact that you prayed for us in your own hour of trial has me teary-eyed. Sometimes we fragile humans get to SEE that we are held together with tape and spit, and not duct tape, either. The rest of the time? We blunder around full of ourselves, completely unaware of what I believe is God’s kindness, bonding our molecules, keeping our delicate psyches in equilibrium, giving us souls and the ability to connect with each other and grow through pain. We are unspeakably frail and yet beloved beyond all knowing.

    Prayers for your father’s patience and healing– and for the rest of your family. May the experimental treatment be a resounding success for him and open the door to everyone with his condition. May your children cope well. May Scott love you well. And God grant you each peace that passes understanding. And dark chocolate, hot yoga, and wine.

  • DebR

    One very hard thing is if you’re BOTH kinds of people all at once. During the worst of my mom’s illness and for a while after she died, there was simply no winning with me because if someone asked how she was (or how I was doing, after) it felt like they were clawing at my heart and guts but if they didn’t ask, I was crushed then too thinking, “do they not know? do they not CARE??” So….no way to get it right with me for a while there. (FWIW, I knew I was in the crazy place and I HOPE I never made anyone feel bad either way. If I did, I’m sorry.)

    Today is the 12th anniversary of my mom’s last day on earth. She died in the very early morning hours of Nov. 12, 2001. I remember so much of her last day with unusual-for-me clarity but I remember almost nothing that happened for about 2 weeks after that – flashes, a few moments here and there, but not much. I’m told I handled it very well. That’s because the real Deb was gibbering and sobbing in a dark, dark corner of my brain and someone else took over for a while. Someday I’d like to ask her what happened during those couple of weeks but then again maybe I don’t even want to know. That time is my biggest sad and I couldn’t talk about it at all when you asked us all but (weirdly!) I get calmer about the memories on The Day than I am during the week or so leading up to it.

    I’m sending lots and lots of Good Thoughts toward your awesome dad and I promise to never ask how he is as long as you promise to know that I care how he is and how you are when I don’t ask.

  • Thank you, Elizabeth. And Amen. DebR I hereby Pinkie Swear *solemn.*

  • I lost my dad 2 years ago after a long decline. It absolutely sucked, and I admire and respect your box. (Wait, that sounds dirty.)

    Sending good thoughts and whatever else might help.

  • I lost my dad 29 days ago. I SO understand your box. So many around me couldn’t understand, and I’m sure I hurt more than a few feelings with my response of “don’t ask, I’m fine, now get the hell away from me!”

    My best friend lost her dad two weeks after I lost mine. I never once asked her how she was (I already knew) I told her I was here and would drop everything at a moments notice to be where she needed me.

    So, You do you, and screw everyone else! They don’t have to understand, they just have to deal with it! Take care of you, and the world will still be there when you aren’t so raw. Enjoy your cat videos!!

  • Kindness and sympathy are harder to face than anger at times. Totally get that. Much love to you and yours, now and always.

    I shall plant my fat ass on that box, and I swear nothing will move it until you ask me to so you can let slivers out to face them. But ignore some of the rumbling. I’ve been drinking soda and I have a gas problem… 🙂

    In all seriousness, know that you are loved, your family is loved, and we get it. I was where DebR was when my mom died (Don’t ask! But don’t you even care? Total nutjob.)And thinking about other things, finding reasons to laugh, ways to cry that didn’t involve actually Thinking About It helped immeasurably. You’ll find your own path through.

    Off topic, kinda, I have a copy of MY OWN MIRACULOUS sitting on my desk at work. I haven’t read it, but I reach up and pet it periodically. It makes me smile, knowing there’s a snippet waiting for me to visit. Thank you for making sure that those of us who are paper-book lovers get to indulge too!

    Big hugs, my friend, big hugs. And did I mention your hair looks LOVELY today? *pet pet pet*

  • Jill W.

    I understand, and I am so sorry you and your family are going through this. I solemnly swear not to mention it after this post.

    My dad was diagnosed with a rare and fatal lung disease shortly after the birth of my daughter almost nine years ago. There was a lot of back and forth to Houston (we live in southwestern Louisiana) and lots of scary and confusing medical tests. They started him on oxygen and then we went down the road of transplant evaluation. He’s a candidate. No he’s not because of this one thing. Oh wait, yes he is, etc. He was lucky enough to get the transplant 7 years ago and it saved his life, but he had complications and a very difficult time with the recovery, and it changed who he is in many ways. Then his partner of 15 years left him and that changed him even more. And in the ensuing years it has been one thing after another, including multiple hospital visits where the doctor told my sister and I to say goodbye, because this is the end. Fortunately he is still with us, and actually doing the best he has done in a while. But he is so far diminished from the strong emotional rock that was my dad that it has fundamentally changed our relationship. I have had to take over his finances and a lot of the details of his life. The repeated traumatic events have made me feel like I have lost him over and over again. And I feel horrible about saying that, but that is how it feels. And he and I were so close and the whole thing has been so traumatic and prolonged, that I, like you, had to lock things up in a box just so I could deal with the day to day realities and necessities of the situation and continue to be a wife and a mom for my family. Unfortunately, I have never learned how to deal with the stuff in the box, so it is messing up all of my other feels and causing me to have all sorts of feels that I don’t know how to deal with or where to direct them. So I often end up either rage-y, or just blank. And it effects my other relationships, which is unacceptable, but I don’t know how to fix it. All of which is a long way to say, I have an idea of what you are going through, and beware of putting too much in the box or leaving the box closed for too long.

    I will be praying for you, although I will never tell you that, I promise.

    Enough of that. This is not a cat video, but for my money it is one of the funniest things on the whole entire interwebs:


  • Martha

    I think it’s fair to say that we will all sit on the box for you until you shove us off.

    Prayers and doggie kisses to you! (Sorry, I’m not a cat person – not that there’s anything WRONG with cat people.)

  • Hi there, of course this article is actually pleasant and I have learned lot of things from it about blogging.

  • Jill W.

    What wonderful words of understanding from that bot. *sniff* ; P

  • Kimberly

    I wish more people could understand and respect the private aspect of mourning. When we lost my sister ten years ago at the age of 21, all of these people came out of the wood work and acted as though they were suppose to be sitting there, staring at us as we waited for the moment to come. Mourning is a very private act. Sometimes you need your close friends, your family, but sometimes, you just need to be in the dark, alone. You NEVER need second, third or fourth removed acquaintances hovering in that creepy, voyeuristic manner.

    I truly hope you receive the privacy and support you need.

  • Jessica (the celt)

    I’m very much like you. I hold it together just fine, sometimes with my my own body pressed down on that tiny box if necessary, until someone asks me how I am doing or how my loved one is doing or (God forbid) says they are sorry I’m dealing with what I’m dealing with. I can carry that dense, but massive box around with me all over the place … until someone is kind, and then it’s just too heavy to hold anymore.

    I’m doing that thing that I’m not mentioning that I’m doing for healing and peace and patience.

    Oh, and here are all of the Simon’s Cat videos, one after the other for you to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0ffwDYo00Q&list=PLagyxbJHFyL11iTef4c6ALIDsD–nXkel

  • Linda J


    The box is NOTthe big sad…They are two way separate uglies. There is the monster you so perfectly describe. Then the big sad comes and wraps itself around your very being. The big sad is a very physical, very real thing. You can be completely smothered within the big sad while looking at Europe on the box. Eventually the box will loose that glow that radiates from its edges. It will look like it has shrunk and God willing become a dust covered memory that you not to mess with. My box sits quietly off to the side and I know I will have it with me forever for it is part of who I am.

  • Chris of the Woodwork

    Oh my. I so very feel big big hugs for you right now.

    Mom was lost five years ago this month, and the HUGE SAD of ALL SADS came over me. I wanted to die for almost six months…no joke. Time made it better, but the horrible thing was I had to live THROUGH time for it to get to that point.

    Indeed, my fat ass will be planted on the box as well, with NO MENTION of what’s in it until you deem it OK to do so.

    Praying for your dad, your family, and YOU.

  • Ranger

    I fear to say anything lest it be taken wrongly . . . but:

    The evening after my father died, my seventeen year old self went outside to be away from the drama and control inside the house. A little time, a little time was all. My uncle came and intruded until his very presence drove me back inside.

    Some people will NEVER get it.

  • Not to dis Jesus because I’m just crazy about him, but this is the big weakness of the Golden Rule — if you treat others the way you’d like to be treated, you may be missing the fact that those others have quite different needs than you do. So the fact that I want my privacy respected and don’t want people to pry, may lead me to (well, let’s be honest, HAS led me to) appear like a heartless bitch when I respect someone else’s privacy and don’t ask how they’re doing, when meanwhile they’re just dying for someone to reach out and ask.

    All that to say, I really admire you for putting it out there which kind of person you are and telling us what you need. Not that I’ll be lucky enough to meet you in person, but for those that do, it’s so much better if you just KNOW how people want to be treated, rather than having to guess. Assertive communication rules!!

  • Andrea

    Exactly. When there are bad things do not show concern or consideration or even kindness to me. I have to stomp around Real Purposeful Like and do many fervent cleanings and sortings and act like it is the chaos of this ridiculous, messy house that is the only bad thing, and I will conquer it with all of my stompings! Later, my armor inevitably becomes chinked by some kind person’s kindness, and I wail and am angry at them for being kind. Stupid kind people! Anyway, I hear you. And after all of that, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbBlYfTbA44
    You can forward to about 1:15 if you’re impatient. (of course you’re not!) Hope it makes you cackle like it did me.

  • Anna

    My Dad died from Alzheimer’s disease. But first he lived with Alzheimer’s disease. He lasted least a decade before he died, maybe a few years longer. And that was a long, drawn-out Sad, complete with denial, avoidance, terror, dull depression and periods of sobbing grief. Looking back there are so many things I wish I had done differently. I did not know how to “be” with a dying parent. So mostly, I removed myself (emotionally) from the situation. I mean, I had to WORK every day, right? So I TOTALLy get the box lid thing! Also agree exactly about the terrible scary beauty of life (and thank you for saying it so beautifully). Just want to say thank you for your honesty and thanks to all your readers for theirs. Love your books, love your blog, love this crazy thing called the Internet that lets all these minds and hearts come together.

  • You are awesome. Your box now has me atop it as well–silently DARING anyone to even glance askance at the lock or mention that Europe looks like it might be tipping. And I don’t even REALLY know you, so I can imagine your actual, For Real Posse is already encamped around you. I am a patter of arms and shoulders–I have been told by many that my pats are heart warming and wonderful. I’ve been told by others that if I pat them again, I will draw back a nub. I take notes along the way. . .so should you manage to come to the Texas Gulf Coast, I will NOT pat you. I so totally promise for realz. I will just tell you how fetching you look in that teal scarf that I saw on you in one of your newest author head shots. 🙂

    Every one of us has a story. I didn’t write about my big sad, because it’s still a little too soon for me. Know this. I have found on my very own that a certain type of sadness is so overwhelmingly huge–like a big, pulsating blob of sadness blocking out the horizon–that you can only touch the very edge of it every so often. With, like, the tip of your index finger. This goes on for a while–then you get brave enough to put your entire hand on it, and it feels like you will explode with the massiveness of it. But you don’t. You take your hand away again. You water your dogs and your children and yourself (although maybe NOT your azaleas–especially with the hornets yours tend to attract), and you weep at times so unrealistic that you sometimes laugh at your crying. The good news about the blob is that all those who love you most and best are on the same side that you are on. Life and The Future are on the other side, but the blob moves forward with time and shrinks with time as well until one day you see that you can step over the blob and see the horizon and all that is still there.

    God has made us of strong, strong stuff. I know that for absolute fact. For real and for true. Prayers your way.

  • I know exactly the feeling of “cannot stand kindness on my skin right now.” That’s I feel with my sad, sad things.

    The comments on the post before this one are closed so I wasn’t able to share my sad years story. I hope it’s ok that I’m going to share it here.

    My first sad year is 2006. I was 22 newly married and graduated from college. I followed my husband with googoo eyes to Italy because that’s where the Army told him he had to live. Everyone told me how romantic it was and how lucky I was. But all i could see was leaving my family to follow this boy who as soon as we moved in LEFT ME for 6 weeks for training in a country where I didn’t know a soul and couldn’t speak the language. I went deep, deep, deep inside myself and was worried I wouldn’t climb out. For months. With the help of my mother kicking me in the pants over the phone and the Gilmore Girls and Jesus I climbed out of there.

    Fast forward to last year. This husband who I loved with my whole self and who I gave up everything for to follow around the world was cheating on me. Cheating on me hard and destroying us lie by lie until there was nothing, nothing left. We were living in Germany at the time and he put me in a similar situation to Italy: left me alone with no family or friends to cheat on me with a woman 20 years older than us. I’m home now, getting loved on by my family and my new shiny church that I love. But it’s been a dark year full of retreating and crying and I can’t even watch Gilmore Girls because my DVD sets are in Germany with my husband. Now I’m mostly healed and starting to say out loud that I’m getting a divorce. But then I see people with their moist kind pity eyes and my skin crawls with their kindness. I understand the kindness skin crawl. And when I drive down from Richmond to Raleigh to meet you on your book tour I promise not to mention your dad as I know you won’t mention my naked left ring finger. It makes me love you more.

  • Margaret

    I promise not to ask. I promise not to even tell you I’m not asking. But if you think you’re not getting a hug, think again.

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    “THAT is what grace looks like in this case.”
    Wow. Yes. You are exactly right. Grace does not look the same for everyone. Grace is not always cheerful hugs and heartfelt questions. I did not ever stop to think before you wrote this that it might be okay to have grace be different for you (and thus by extension for me). Thank you for spelling out for us exactly what grace is for you right now.

    I do NOT know what you are going through. My Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly one evening 13 yrs. ago. He had not been sick, he had recently had a check-up. It was something that had not been detected by routine physicals. I never had the push – pull, back and forth, unbearable WORRY that you are going through.

    Your Dad is here, with you, and being looked after and treated by doctors for every little symptom. This SHOULD be a good thing — the fact that you can pick up the phone and talk to him whenever you want, the fact that he has doctors tuned in to his condition — but I can see now from what you have shared that this, too, is just as, if not MORE terrifying and paralyzing. You have a box now, that you need to sit on, and before all of this you didn’t have a box — you probably hadn’t even thought about needing a box. It isn’t the first time that I have considered the fact that I was lucky not to have endured a long illness with my Dad, but this is the first time that I have really seen the GRACE in that.

    I promise prayers for peace of mind for you and for your family and I promise prayers of healing for your Dad. I also promise never to mention those prayers again. I will be seeing you in Lansing, and if I stumble over my words, know that it is NOT because of this blog post, but rather my general over-explaining-when-I-am-nervous chatter. Just like the first time I met you and I spent the entire time I had to chat with you explaining why my name badge said “Michelle” but I wanted you to sign the book to “Shelley” because that is what everyone calls me…. I really REALLY hope I don’t do that again.

  • Oh, man. The thought of you sitting there praying for us while you were so worried about your dad… that right there is what comes out in your books, and why I love them so. I SUPER EXTRA PROMISE not to ask about it or mention it again unless you specifically say that you want to be asked. But let me just say — I love reading about your dad and I am and will be sending all of the heartfelt prayers and good wishes in the world. Know that they are there, because I will never mention them ever ever again.

    DebR! I so know what you mean. After my husband died, I was at both ends of the spectrum at once. People asked and I broke down. People didn’t ask and I got mad. I am now… where am I? No idea. It depends on the day, truly. There are days when it’s fine, and then there are days when the stupid Red Sox win the World Series and I have a complete breakdown because my husband would have been so happy and why couldn’t he have stuck around to see it?

    Roxanne, I love what you said about the Big Blob. That is so exactly it! My husband died almost 11 months ago and I am just now at the point where I realize that putting my whole hand on it for more than a couple of minutes will not actually kill me. (Maybe not an accident that when I first typed this I typed “hole hand.”)

    I am currently having a sad over the fact that you, Joshilyn o favorite author, are not coming to Washington or Oregon. I have now resigned myself to that fact and will go VBT yet again. It really would be great to get to go to a signing in person. You’re a NYT best-selling author! Can’t they send you West?

  • Kelly H

    It’s so hard to be human sometimes. And it helps to know we’re all struggling with how to do so with grace.

  • Jess

    First of all, congratulations on your books’ success – I just got my shipping confirmation for My Own Miraculous and I am watching the mailbox ALREADY, just bring it NOW, Please.

    Secondly, I know that these situations are THE SUCK. When my Grandmother fell and broke her hip, and they found she had congestive heart failure and all these other scary sounding things, I could not speak with my family on the phone without becoming a bawling, sobbing WRECK. It was normal life that kept me any kind of sane. So I will not ask, nor will I tell you that I am sending all sorts of prayers and good vibes and wordy magic your and your family’s way. Ok, I told you today, but I will never again.

    I will just tell you how nobody else’s fiction keeps me in a fever the way yours does, and please keep writing and taking European vacations and sharing your magic with us.

  • Tanya Brown

    I’m one of those “strong” people that seem to handle everything that comes along with equanimity but when my son sustained a severe brain injury in a car wreck 6 years ago (swiftly followed by drunk driver hitting my car, husband losing job, bankruptcy and foreclosure) all while son lingered in a coma, my “strength” was sorely tested. As my son slowly emerged and we judged good days by his ability to blink a response, and bad days by the sad fact that he couldn’t point to the dollar bill when it was side by side with a piece of Kleenex, I began to HATE (and there aren’t big enough caplocks to convey my hate) when people asked how he/we were doing.

    I recognized it was irrational and rude and all those other things, but I just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “HE CAN’T TALK. HE CAN’T EAT. HE CAN’T WALK. HE WILL NEVER BE MY BLUE-EYED BABY BOY THAT I REMEMBER EVER AGAIN. How do you THINK we’re doing.” But I didn’t. Mostly I would just well up with tears and make everyone feel terrible. It was especially embarrassing at the checkout line when lovely well-meaning Southerners would casually say, “How you doin’ today, sweetheart? and then I was off again. God bless each and every one of them for ignoring the crazy lady. So I hear you. But you won’t hear me asking you how it’s going. The good news? Only took about two years before I could handle the inquiries and laugh about exploding feeding tubes and short term memory loss. Silent prayers for you.