Saying thank you for Sandra Wilgus


sandra and joan

Sandra Wilgus, pictured a couple of years ago with her son David, daughter-in-law and my sister Jeanne; her grandson Sam and his soon-to-be wife Katy.

I confess to having a bit of a crush on Sandra Wilgus. She is my sister Jeanne’s mother-in-law — known for being kinda feisty, rather funny, very strong, filled with faith and, above all, for being a prayer warrior. When my son Charlie was in the neonatal intensive care unit 25  years ago after somehow being born with just two-thirds of his blood volume, Sandra went into action. In her matter-of-fact way, she told Jeanne she was focusing her prayers on Charlie’s brain.

A quarter-century later, Charlie’s brain is more than fine, as is the rest of him. And say what you will about what might have been the outcome anyway, I will always believe Sandra’s prayers helped get Charlie to the healthy state where he is today.

As I write this, feeling that familiar wave of gratitude, Sandra is in hospice care. She’s at the point in the transition process where her spirit is arm-wrestling her earthly body, jockeying for position in that alternately awkward, alternately graceful dance where the outcome is inevitable.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Sandra would be the first to tell you that, and to remind you that she’s ready and that she isn’t afraid. Her beloved husband died almost exactly three years ago, and while she’d have happily followed shorty thereafter, she’s  certainly not one for getting stuck in sorrow. She’s had plenty to find fulfilling: books to read, church to attend, friends to with whom to laugh and eat lunch and, above all,  family to cherish. She’s been healthy, upbeat, grateful — always willing to help anyone.

wilgus family

That’s Sandra in the middle on the couch, surrounded by — well, lots and lots and lots of family.

On New Year’s Eve, Sandra tripped while walking on the sidewalk and fell. Two passersby called her daughter Carol and then an ambulance. She seemed to be recovering without surgery, but then needed it. Afterward, doctors told the family nothing more could be done, and Sandra was moved to a hospice facility.

jeanne and sandra

My sister Jeanne helps her mother-in-law, Sandra Wilgus, celebrate another birthday.

Her immediate family — three children and spouses, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren — has taken turns being with Sandra in the bright and airy room that overlooks a pond.  On Tuesday afternoon, Jeanne asked our sister Susan and me — we’ve both felt such a calling to see Sandra — if we’d like to come up.

We positioned ourselves on either side of her bed. Susan rubbed one of Sandra’s arms and I held her other hand. She woke up periodically, fully aware we were there. She smiled; she had her familiar glimmer in her eye. When Susan told her we were praying for her, this prayer warrior whispered a thank you and you could all but sense a wink as she added, “I need all the prayers I can get!”

After we left Sandra’s room, my sisters and I stood in the little waiting area next to the coffee maker. We talked about Sandra, wondering and marveling about the transition her body and soul were undergoing. We remembered the days leading up to our own dad’s death almost seven years ago. And we felt comforted — by each other, by Sandra, by faith.

So for life, for death; for all that comes before, after and in-between — and of course for Sandra Wilgus — The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for the smooth breath of relief

sunrise for blog post

When you work out regularly and try to eat right (mostly successfully, save for a daily serving of pita chips and a few spoon forays into the peanut-butter jar); when you try to focus on what’s good in the world (and usually succeed); when you regularly practice inhaling positives like courage and peace and exhaling negatives like stress and worry,  you kind of like to count on being healthy.

Or mostly.

Because, truth be told, there are no guarantees. You know that. I know that. And I especially know that after unexpected numbers showed up in a yearly blood test,  thus necessitating two similarly unexpected diagnostic tests two days after Christmas.

As I left the center following the second test, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in years. We talked; she comforted and told me she would pray for me. When she texted me the next day and I shared my good news, she said she’d felt a peace about the outcome all along.

As for me, I alternated between wondering whether I should buy green bananas and feeling buoyed by a blanket of optimism and prayers from my sisters, their families, my son. I didn’t lose sleep; I did, though, wonder  were the news not good, how long before I’d start feeling bad (which I haven’t felt in the slightest). And, quite honestly, if my son would be able to get a refund for the fancy activity watch he gave me for Christmas.

Christmas watch 2018

My son Charlie gave me this nifty watch for Christmas

Those hours of uncertainty reminded me how life can change in an instant. How one phone call, one pivot, one touch of a doctor’s finger on a page of numbers that make no sense to us non-medical types, can jostle, if not totally alter, your world forever.

My doctor wants me to have a follow-up blood test in a couple of weeks to see if the wayward number has dropped. As tempting as it is to fret about that, I’m instead focusing on trust; replaying in my head her reassuring voice on the phone the morning after my tests. I’m also taking particular solace in the radiologist’s conviction everything was so fine that he didn’t suggest repeating the test to make absolutely certain.

The results revealed nothing; they could just as easily shown something serious. I realize that — just like I know (or know of) healthy people whose lives are sideswiped by a scary medical diagnosis. And thus I am, in the most humble, knees-on-the-floor sense of the word, awash in gratitude.

So for sunrises that have taken on new layers of awe, for pita chips and peanut butter that taste head-shakingly scrumptious, for stalwart sisters and for outcomes that allow my breath to flow normally again…The Grateful Runner says thank you.