Cold Violas

We are a musical family. My husband is a song-writer and teacher. My kids are each learning at least two instruments. I dabble in a few.

I’ve dusted off my acoustic guitar, and have been practising it recently, trying to toughen up the soft calluses on my left hand in preparation for playing at church this Sunday. “You actually sound pretty good,” said one of my surprised kids. My husband is the band leader, and I tend to play whichever instrument best suits that particular occasion. I like variety, I’m flexible, and I’m not a perfectionist (at least about this!): I enjoy this kind of role. But I digress …

Lately I’ve been driving our two younger kids to their viola lessons. It’s a bit of a challenge for me because it’s a crazy choreography with tight deadlines, multiple pick-up’s and drop-off’s in several locations, and a lot of driving (which I don’t particularly enjoy) in a neighbourhood where I regularly get lost. I used to get lost even before the chemo. Now with chemo brain the challenge is multiplied.

Yesterday I was en route to take 8yo to viola, and pick up 11yo from viola so I could deliver him back to school for volleyball practice. My 8yo was telling me about her miserable experience during recess, and all of the sudden I realized we were approaching 11yo’s school rather than viola lessons. Oops! To make a long story shorter, eventually everyone got where they were meant to go, and 8yo was only two mins. late for her lesson so no big deal!

I try to have a sense of humour about little mistakes like this. Like, for example, a few weeks ago when I picked up 11yo for his viola lesson and realized I’d forgotten the violas. We rushed back home and over to the lesson and it all worked out fine in the end. I try to not be too frustrated with the brain glitches. I have come up with a variety of strategies which I employ to help overcome these annoying deficiencies. Often they work well … especially when I remember to use them!

I know to never leave my guitar out in the cold for any length of time. I asked my kids’ teacher how long I could leave their violas in the car on a cold day. She thought an hour or so should be OK. So when I went (straight from viola lessons) to watch the end of a volleyball tournament a week or two ago, I brought the instruments in with me. Yesterday, however, we just watched the last 15 mins. of my 11yo’s volleyball practice, so I left the violas in the car. Did I mention my son is pretty good at volleyball? This is his first year playing on his school’s team, and I’m amazed at how much they all have improved in only a few weeks! Yesterday my son had some amazing moves at the net. But I digress…

This morning my 8yo couldn’t find her hat and realized that she’d left it in the car. We popped open the back of the car, and I saw the viola music bag in there. Strange, I thought, why would I take the violas into the house but leave the music in the car? Then it hit me: I’d forgotten the violas in the car overnight! Eighteen hours in well-below-freezing weather! I prayed. I tried not to cry.

Often people tell me I look really good, and no one would ever guess I was undergoing chemotherapy. My hair is growing thicker and longer. My muscles stronger. My balance is returning. My colouring looks pretty normal. But we never know what people are going through when we don’t actually know what they’re going through. Everyone has something … I’m often reminding my kids to extend grace.

This chemo brain thing I’m going through can be so frustrating and so sad. The violas this morning were just one more reminder that no matter how hard I try, I’m not the same person that I was. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thankful for the chemo. It’s this amazing and ridiculously expensive new gene-targeted therapy and it’s working well and I’m doing pretty well with it. I’m so thankful. I’m thankful for the IV chemo that I went through last Winter-Spring. I still suffer from side-effects from it (hearing loss, nerve damage in my feet, etc.), but it destroyed a lot of cancer and I’m grateful. The chemo brain is a small price to pay for being alive, and it feels petty to say it, but it’s so hard to deal with sometimes.

It’s hard for me, but it also takes its toll on my family, friends, and others around me. I grieve that because I want to be so much more for them. I want to know my limits. I want to be able to trace the lines of my strengths and weaknesses. But too many times I’ve been blind-sided and I don’t know when I can trust myself. I want to be able to keep my word and not forget or get confused. I want to know when I’m pushing my body too far, and not suddenly fall and scare my kids. I want it to be simple and straightforward, or at the least consistent. It’s not.

I brought the violas in this morning, but I didn’t open them right away. I thought letting them slowly acclimatise to room temperature in their cases might be a better option. I phoned the viola teacher and asked if she had any wisdom for this situation. She said waiting sounded like a good plan.

I waited.

I reflected. This cold viola thing resonated with me in ways I hadn’t expected. It’s Lent, and that also shaped my reflection. I waited, wondering if they’ll be OK, grieving my lapse of memory. I thought about all the people who have encouraged me that I’m doing fine, that everyone does things like this. Lots of people have left their violas in cars overnight in winter and it’s often OK. It’s common to forget things. It usually works out OK.

We wait. We don’t know what the future holds, nor what might blind-side us. We let others down. We let ourselves down. The landscape of our lives can shift suddenly. Tectonically. We don’t know what our future holds.

How do we live faithfully in times like these? I’m working on figuring that out and doing it. I’ve been working on it for decades, and I didn’t have it all figured out before the diagnosis. My world had shaken before. It shook in a new way 14 months ago. Everyone’s world shakes in various ways from time to time. We feel the aftershocks. The Living God is faithful. The sun rises. The sun sets. The seasons change. Great is Thy Faithfulness.