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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What if? Are these questions answered later?

I just reread my friend Kira’s blog "What If…"
Hope you don’t mind, Kira, but you inspired me to think…and you know as well as anyone how dangerous that can be. I’ve decided to list your remarks about “what if’s” along with the comment I posted on your blog. And after that, I’m going elaborate on my comment and about the explosion of “what if’s” my brain experienced after you made me think about them.

Kira says the word “if” is the most cruel word in the language to her, and “what if” the scariest question. She remarked, “Maybe “what if” is a scary question because it’s one of the only truly unanswerable questions left to us once we grow up.”

This is the comment I left on Kira’s blog.
“I can honestly say I don't have "what if" thoughts of the past. I've always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And I quit trying to figure out the "whys" of the "what ifs" awhile back.

My "what ifs" have been more of a day-by-day trial trying to solve problems before they arise and those things I cannot change turn out to be a lesson for the future.

I've found out from brute experience that worrying about the outcome of anything/everything is worthless. It gives a person nothing but stress and you become you're worst enemy. (Hides under her words...because she still worries about everything, everyday. ;))”

Now, some of you may think I’m blowing smoke by saying I believe there is a reason for everything, and that I concern myself with daily “why’s” rather than “what if’s.” I also believe that everything I've been through is a lesson for something in the future. Not that I need to explain, but bear with me. Let me start with a few “what if” questions I never asked more than 30 years ago.

What if I hadn’t survived the stomach cancer I had when I was 20-years-old?
This answer is pretty obvious. I wouldn’t be alive. Now, let me get to the point. I said I dealt daily with the why’s and the problem solving.
Why did I have stomach cancer at age 20? I don’t know.
Why did I live? I’d like to say because I was determined not to die. Maybe I was allowed to continue life for a future purpose.

What I do know is: I made my doctors promise not to tell anyone about my illness, including my parents. I had a friend help me move into an apartment the week after I was released from the hospital. My doctors promised to keep my secret and I never told anyone what I was going through. I went through the entire ordeal, radiation, loss of hair, wearing wigs, (hiding the facts and truth), being sick…by myself. Why? Because I couldn’t bear the thought of my parents looking at me daily and wondering and worrying if and when I might die. I thought the worry would kill them before the cancer would kill me.

What if I had told my parents? I don’t know how the stress of that would have affected them. In my heart, I knew it would be better for them to let them believe that I’d made a mistake, or bad decision that could be changed, than to have them worry about me not living. You see, at the same time I was dealing with cancer, I was dealing with an abusive husband. I knew I couldn’t survive if I had to deal with both. So I chose to fight to live.

No one knew the truth, or that the story I told was a cover-up story to hide the truth of my health. No one! I won’t get into the details of what my story had been. I’ll simply say I left an abusive man (my parents did know about this) and let everyone believe or “assume” I left for a different reason. That was not the case. So, because I made that choice, to keep the truth of my illness to myself, a few people formed their own opinions of me, judged me, made insultive, and rude remarks to me. I bit my tongue, kept my mouth shut, and continued to keep quiet about the real truth.

Those few still continue to judge me to this day for many decisions I’ve made in my life, and decisions I continue to make. They didn’t live my life, didn’t experience what I've experienced, so I can’t expect them to understand or comprehend. They don’t know me. And never will.

There is a saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
What has not killed me has made me strong.

Maybe, I lived to learn perseverance. Maybe, I lived to help others have hope. Maybe, I lived to give others encouragement. Maybe, I lived to be a caregiver nearly 20 years ago for my now ex-husband’s mother who didn’t survive stomach cancer.

My mom found out about my cancer ordeal in 1990, nearly twenty years later, when she read my book “Time Goes On.” When she asked, “How much of this is true?” I answered, “Enough that I now need to rewrite it as fiction.” Then, Mom’s “why” question came. “Why didn’t you tell us? We could have helped.” My answer was the same as I explained above, “I couldn’t bear the thought of you looking at me each day wondering when I might die. Yes, you would have supported me, shown concern, but you couldn’t have changed the course of what was to be. I saw no sense in worrying everyone to death, and I’m glad I made that decision. In my heart, I knew I had saved you years of worry. I wouldn’t have changed my decision, even if I could.”

The family doctor and two surgeons told me I would die within a year. All three died of cancer and I’m still here. The oncologist who treated me 33 years ago is still alive and he still thinks I’m a walking miracle. He said so when he was doing a blood workup in May 2004.

Here’s another what if.

What if I hadn’t had a stroke when I was 38? Again, here’s where my belief that “everything happens for a reason” comes into play. I didn’t ask myself “why” I had a stroke. I believe every experience I’ve had has been a lesson for the future. The reason “why” never seems to become clear until later, and, for me, the reason is always defined.

Dad had a stroke some time after I’d rehabilitated from mine. His stroke was much worse and more debilitating than mine. Maybe, my “reason” or "why" I had a stroke had been answered. Maybe, I experienced a stroke to allow me to help my dad through his. Maybe, he trusted my advice because he knew I’d been through it. Maybe, I lived to help my mom take care of Dad as dementia took over his brain. My dad died in 1998. Maybe, I lived to experience his dementia with him to be able to help my mom with hers, now.

More what if’s…

What if I hadn’t remarried? Maybe, I wouldn’t have the two wonderful daughters I treasure.

What if I hadn’t changed my course in life so many times and hadn’t hid truths that should have been spoken? Maybe, just maybe, those who made, and still make, rude, demeaning remarks, would be eating their words. But…I doubt it.

What are your what if’s in life? If you feel compelled, please feel free to tag yourself and use the tag below.


Make me smile. Leave a comment...

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Blogger Dawno said...

What a moving post, you get right to the heart of what really matters about our decisions - that we choose and then we get on with life and not let others choose our paths for us.

Lots to think about. Thank you!

1/21/2006 11:32 PM  
Blogger Ray Wong said...

Jo, I have lived a rather calm life so far, especially compared to yours. I do ask what if questions, but I tend not to regret the past. Like you, I know there's a reason for everything -- and the biggest reason of all is that I'm here to experience life. Good, bad or ugly, I'm here for that purpose. It makes the bad things more bearable for me. And it makes it easily for me to not "regret" anything. But of course I do; I'm simply human. My "what ifs" though are usually about "alternative outcomes" instead of regrets. I don't ask "what if I hadn't come to the US?" or "what if I hadn't hit my head and gone into a coma?" Or "what if I hadn't done this or that? Or what if this or that didn't happen to me?"

My questions are more like "what if I had gotten married in my 20s like many of my friends did, and I had a nice family..." or "what if I went into writing or the arts in college?" Then I have to stop myself. I am taking the path I am taking because it's the path I am supposed to take.

And I've learned so much.

1/22/2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger Unique said...

What if, Joanne.

What if I hadn't found your story, 'Perservence'? I don't even remember *where* I found it or what I was looking for. But the finding has made a big difference in my life.

Yes, I think your survival is for your mom, but I can't help but think a little bit of it was for me as well. I would not be who I am *this instant* if I hadn't met you. Thank you for being my friend.

1/22/2006 9:44 AM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Thank you, Dawno. Your comment reminded me of the Absolute Write Idol contest and the first week “Crossroads” prompt. I believe I wrote about paths in life and choices we make. My story was titled, Life: A Smorgasbord of Crossroads. In fact, my story spoke about one of these same subjects. I said the same thing in that writing as I did in this post. I believe everything happens for a reason.

1/22/2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

It’s nice to know that others think about the big picture of life as I do. Each time we reach a crossroad in life we must make a choice which direction to take. We never know if we’ve chosen the correct path at the time. Those who don’t question the choice or direction we take are those who are able to accept the paths we’ve chosen are those that were supposed to be.
I guess that’s the reason I have never regretted any choice I’ve made or asked myself what if?
The “alternative outcomes” may have been different, I don’t know. But the lesson I learned and the choices I’ve made have always enabled me to help others. And that’s a good enough reason for me.

1/22/2006 1:34 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

I still have the email you sent me dated 3/25/2005 after reading my story “Perseverance.” Your words touched me then as your post touches me now. Thank you for taking time to send that email nearly a year ago, and for posting your feelings now. Thank you, too, for going out of your way to stop and visit with me during one of your journeys. I’m not sure how I’ve affected your life, but whatever it is that has made our paths cross, we’ve become friends, and I’m thankful for that. The pleasure has been all mine.

1/22/2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger Kira said...

I just found this. I'm so glad I posted mine--I never would have gotten to read this if I hadn't. Thanks, Joanne, for letting a little light in.

How lucky you are to have seen some of the "why's" behind the "what if's" of the past. May you find more every day.

3/07/2006 12:28 AM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Thank you, Kira! It was your blog post that encouraged me to write this one. I think I do find more and more "whys" to the "what if's" everyday. So far, they all support my belief that everything happens for a reason. I'm learning to accept the reasons much more easily as well. :)

3/20/2006 10:03 PM