In June of 2018, I was fortunate to be able to facilitate our annual Prairie Lands Writing Project Writing Retreat again. This year we had a great group of writers, and we were able to write in the conference room, in the cemetery across the road, and in the abbey’s beautiful basilica.
This year was my first time writing in this cemetery after having been at the retreat each year for the last five. Cemeteries always stun me with their ability to provoke deep thinking, to plant seeds of deep writing that grow in the days to come. This was also my first year attending Compline (evening prayers) at the Abbey, thanks to the guidance and encouragement of our fantastic Abbey guide, Diane. It was a magical moment to watch so many robed monks gather around the statue of Mary behind the alter and pray, asking her to watch over them that night and to watch over the world.
I think this experience provided significant inspiration for the longer piece I wrote at the retreat and read at the read-around, one that had been sitting patiently in my heart since the springtime. I called it “You Have To Hold Hands,” and it is about one of the treatment phases for my niece who is fighting leukemia. Here are a couple of marathon bits that made it into the final essay:
9:47 a.m.: Abbey Cemetery
We sat in the tiny procedure room, Renae in the comfy chair, Sandi by her side, Julie and I on the bed. Her head lay against the arm of the chair, a flowered headband partial crowning her not-quite bald head.
Beside her, a nurse held a tiny bag aloft. Tiny. Not even one tenth the size of a standard IV bag. Filled with milky fluid: precious t-cells extracted through a horrible huge tube in her neck from her chemo-swollen body, just three weeks prior.
10:23 a.m. Abbey Basilica
We prayed in the little procedure room, all in our own way. Julie and I wore bright Hawaiian leis and tropical sunglasses. We were the T-cell Cheerleaders, we told Renae’s lead doctor.
“Do you have a cheer?” he asked.
We did. Once the infusion began, we started it up: “Let’s go, T-cells! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). Let’s go, T-cells! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). “
When the doctor told us that we didn’t want the T-cells to become too excited and to trigger serious side effects, we toned the cheer down to a whisper with golf claps:
“Let’s go, T-cells! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). Not too loud, though…(clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).”
I’m grateful to my fellow writers for being such excellent writing companions for the weekend and for supporting me in my teary-eyed reading of that very personal piece. I ended up sharing it with my family, one of the most important audiences in the world.