I absolutely loved the questions that Nancy Stordahl recently posed to her Nancy’s Point blog readers:
“Do you associate certain things with certain events in your life? Is there something that always takes you back to that time or place – a piece of clothing, an item of food, a scent or smell, a vehicle or even a piece of furniture? What is a trigger that reminds you of your diagnosis, treatment, or ‘that time’?”
Nancy went on to tell a touching story of getting rid of her much-loved blue leather sofa and matching chair, and the association of those items with her breast cancer diagnosis and recuperation, among many other important family events, both happy and awful, over many years. Inspired by her nostalgic recall of such associations, I answered her questions by describing a piece of furniture in my own home that still reminds me of what it was like when I first became a patient.
My lovely butter-leather “Riley” La-Z-Boy recliner doesn’t look like a recliner at all. It is a smaller 2007 RED version of the big overstuffed La-Z-Boy chair of my childhood. That was the well-worn recliner my Dad snoozed on while watching post-suppertime TV at the end of a hard day working the farm.
It was love at first sight when I spotted the red chair, and it was the very first piece of furniture purchased before downsizing into a condo. Except for my bed, I’d sold almost all of my old stuff before moving in, planning a fresh clean slate. After renovating the condo top to bottom, I moved into a lovely empty space with just one solitary piece of furniture: a red chair in the middle of the living room.
Eventually, of course, more furniture followed, one by one, but that original red Riley chair was what my scientist ex-hubby would call the “rate-determining step” of chemical kinetics, loosely meaning that every additional purchase had to pass the “How would this look with the red chair?” sniff test.
It was almost exactly one year later, on the day I was discharged home from the CCU (the cardiac intensive care unit), that I walked in the door, literally sank into my red chair – and basically lived there for the next few months. See also: The New Country Called Heart Disease
I napped in that chair, I ate there, I had my first cup of coffee every morning there, I visited with friends there, I talked on the phone to far-away family there, I curled up with my laptop and madly Googled “heart attack misdiagnosis in women” there, and I cried – A LOT!- in my early post-diagnosis days and weeks there.
I’m typing this right now from that red chair.
It’s still impossible for me to sit here without remembering “that time” as if it had happened yesterday. Despite the alarming reason for “that time”, all of my associations with this particular chair speak of profound comfort during such scary and overwhelming moments.
Sadly, my late cat Lily loved the red chair as much as I did – but only as a scratching post (and really, is there anything that will propel you out of bed like a rocket faster than the distinctive sound of cat claws on red leather in the wee dark hours of morning?) We bought Lily all kinds of beautiful scratching posts, but hey! – why bother with those when you have a perfectly good red leather chair to scratch?!?
I can’t even fathom the idea of ever getting rid of my Riley chair. It’s now essentially un-sellable (thanks, Lily!), but if I ever give it away, where would I have my afternoon naps? Where would I read my ‘Globe and Mail’ on Saturday mornings? Where would I relax, feet up and snuggled under my late Mum’s plaid quilt during family visits with the kids? Where would I sit and read stories to our darling Everly Rose?
Some day, I may (or may not!) decide otherwise, but for now, cat scratches and all (cleverly disguised with red magic marker!), my red chair remains my very favourite piece of furniture ever, not just because it’s comfortable seating, but because, as Nancy Stordahl described her much-loved blue sofa and chair, it has felt like “the centre of my life”. She also added:
“It’s the place where I rest, sleep, read, reflect, cry, plan, journal, feel sorry for myself, make calls, send texts, worry, imagine worst-case scenarios, imagine best-case scenarios, sip on water from my hospital mug, think and do nothing at all…
“These things had been worn into that leather too.”
Q: As Nancy asks, “Is there something that always takes you back to that time or place?” What’s that ‘something’ for you?
♥ Red chair or not, heart patients or not, Chapter 4 in my book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017) covers a number of specific themes related to adjusting to those early post-diagnosis and homecoming days and weeks: