Dear Georgie

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I remember Grandpa calling you that, “Georgie.” I can’t begin to tell you the countless happy memories birthed and held gently here in your room.

From the moment we drive up and park the car, my boys, your great grandsons, run up the sidewalks sneaking behind the bushes, beating me to the door. Always. They fight over who gets to push the button outside the doors to the building, then they happily argue over who gets to push the button on the outside and who gets to push the button on the inside. Oh, to possess the power to tell the elevator where to go. The coveted button pushing position. Floor Number 3? Yes, that’s your floor.

The elevator takes a little time going up, the boys hop around, bouncing all over the place until the elevator stops. When the doors open, they escape and start sprinting down the long hallway to your room. I can’t begin to keep up with them. So I just watch them excitedly chase each other. It’s a race to get to your door. I barely ever got to watch your face upon seeing one, two or the three of their faces. It always brought me such joy watching them and hearing their six feet pounding down the halls. I loved seeing the other residents smile and reach out to them. I wish every resident had as many happy, life-filled visitors as you.

“Hi, Grandma. How are you doing?” I always said, loudly, when I made it inside your door. You usually sat in your chair. “I’m doing pretty good.” You would often say. Or sometimes, “I’ve got the blues.” The boys would begin playing with toys or tell you something. I loved the time when Julian told you he lost his first tooth. The excitement you both shared melted my heart. You always told me how good my boys are, how sweet they are and how I needed to get a bigger lap. You always told me something kind about me, “you have really pretty legs.” Or “I like your hair.” Even though I have needed to get it cut for a year.

It was an honor to sleep next to you last night. I will always hold on tightly to the memories with you over the past few years. I loved our Easter egg hunt. I loved sharing a bottled coke with you on Christmas Day. I always loved hearing your stories of growing up on the farm. Your sister stories. I’m so thankful that my boys have gotten to know you, truly know who you are and how you love others. I will never forget the time that they picked you a flower and as you held it, a butterfly landed on it. The boys talk about you holding a butterfly. They have been trying to recreate that moment for years by picking flowers and holding them up in the air, in attempts to persuade a butterfly to land on them.

You have always had the magic touch.

I want you to die peacefully, knowing how enormously loved you are. As I have watched so many employees, nurses, techs, and waiters, come say goodbye to you, I have been overwhelmed with how many people have been touched by your presence, your kindness, your love, both young and old. Nobody wants you to die. But yet, everybody wants you to be free of pain. We all want you to get to Heaven.

We’ve cried, sang to you, held your hands, rubbed your hair, told you why we love you so much, sat next to you and shared stories. We’ve laughed with you, smiled with you, encouraged you, and truly cherished every last moment with you. It’s so hard to let you go. Because you’ve always been here. Before all of us. You loved us all. You loved the party. You loved the sounds of children playing, “Where are the children?” You said one day when it was too quiet.

You have shown others what a beautiful life looks like right up to your last day. You have inspired us to live beautifully. To notice and praise the tiny bit of the world happening right before our eyes. You’ve always chosen to fully engage with those right in front of your face. Thank you for humbly and happily teaching us all the most valuable lesson without even knowing it. That’s always how the greatest teachers do it. Your example of how to truly live has paved the way for all of us. We will remember you. And try our very best to honor your legacy in the ways that we love those around us.

I love you so much, Grandma.

Human Thorns

IMG_9083We have these crazy fast growing, never-stopping, always-multiplying vines in our yard. They spring up in the front and back and everystinkingwhere. They taunt the pseudo-gardener in me. They seem to snicker and stick their leafy little tongues out at me as I walk out the front door past the bushes.

Some of them are so easy to pull out of the dirt. I reach down quickly in the middle of taking the recycling out. I feel strong. Proud. Accomplished. Other vines are a bit more established and sneaky too. They strategically tangle themselves up in flowers or bushes in difficult to reach places. I want to grab them at their roots so I’m not repeating this process every week or so. But this can be an awkward task and falling-into-the-bushes hard.

Lately, I have had the most challenging time pulling these vines out of our rosebushes. It’s a tedious and painful process, especially for a woman who never wears gloves. Every time I have tried to help the rose bushes, I end up bleeding. Poke. Ouch. Stab. Stab. Ouch. Cuss. Those thorns don’t mess around. They hurt. I suppose they are fulfilling their purpose. They are the aggressive protectors of some of the most brightly colored and fragrant flowers. I investigate and interrogate the thorns but they don’t care that I’m trying to help the beautiful flowers too. Our rose bushes are getting all choked up, literally, by the sneaky vines that wrap up and around their delicate branches and stems.

I sow some of my deepest thoughts outside. While I am bleeding from the thorn attacks, it occurs to me that we, beautiful and complex humans, have our own thorns. We often overprotect ourselves from things that may hinder our growth. We want to keep moving in the direction of light but sometimes our thorns injure those who want to help. Those trying to clean up our vines or prune our branches. Thankfully, if we are lucky, we have those relentless green thumb kind of people who won’t let a little flesh wound stop the weeding.

Those loyal and faithful friend, sister, and mother gardeners don’t give up. They keep after us even while we poke them, sometimes purposely, sometimes unknowingly with our ever-present thorns. Oftentimes, these vine gardeners are the people who know us the very best and still love us the most. They possess the instinctual power to feel the vines choking us. They show up at the times when we are trying our hardest to stop growing through the pain. Or stop growing altogether. Or perhaps we momentarily surrendered to letting our prickly thorns do all the talking.

It’s not so bad to have the thorns. After all, we are each such beautiful complex creatures. But, we have to recognize the potential of our thorns. To hurt. Isolate. And create physical and emotional distance from those who wear gloves and come ready to gently untangle the vines that surround us.

Letting others help us is one of love’s most humbling and delicate tasks. The practice takes root with a wheel barrow full of patience and our willingness to surrender control. I recently read one of Brennan Manning’s books, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat. I nearly copied the entire book since I borrowed it from the library.  I highly recommend it. Among so many others, I love this excerpt,

“The child spontaneously expresses emotions; the Pharisee carefully represses them. To open yourself to another person…is a sign of the Holy Spirit. To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened, cried, got frustrated, righteously angry, and felt sorrow for people in pain.”

When I untangled the vines creeping up their fragile branches,  the roses didn’t say “thank you.”  They didn’t need to. Their beauty, their fragrance, and their mere existence is enough. Just as giving and surrendering our entire selves for each other is enough. More than enough.

Freckle Constellations

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I may not recognize the constellations in tonight’s sky but I’ve seen the Little Dipper on your cheeks. As you tell me things like, “I really want a rhino to lick my face,” I trace an imaginary line back and forth between each freckle on your nose. I can’t help but soak in the beauty of your eyelashes, your freckles, your oversized grown-up teeth, a sweet new addition to your innocent six-and-a-half year old face. You may not remember these moments forever but I will hold onto them tight enough for the both of us.

I snapped a picture when you weren’t looking. While our brightly colored toenails dried. I’m so grateful and proud to be your mom. I will attempt the monkey bars, see saw, and superman swing with you on any beautiful spring day of the week. I love you a million, bazillion, beyond Pluto and back. I will dot to dot all the stars tonight and think of how grateful I am for your sun-kissed face. Your curious brain. Your welcoming, friendly, kind and inclusive heart. Your inquisitive and complimentary soul. Your strong monkey arms and your “supa fast” legs. Oh, and today, your perfectly mismatched pink, blue and purple toenails. I love every little beautiful thing that makes you special and unique and 100% pure therapeutic grade-Colby. I loved all of today. Every single drop.

Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for dropping pine cone bases for me so I wouldn’t touch the mulch. Thank you for waiting on me. Thank you for stopping and noticing so many gifts of new people, flowers, trees and the great outdoors. Thank you for loving the simple, wild and free things in life. Thank you for going to school in the morning and unknowingly becoming one of my wisest teachers in the afternoon.

Mother, May I?

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“Everything is hard.”

I told my husband as tears rolled down my face. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the frantic and confused April birds hide seeds surrounded by a dusting of snow.

“Like what?” My husband asked.

“Like everything. Walking up the stairs, bending over, getting up, helping the boys….”

“You did just have several surgeries. You did just get back from being in the hospital for five days.” He reminded/scolded me.

I know. But somehow it doesn’t help. These are the lowly moments I remember later. These are the moments that spring me into action later. Remember when you actually physically couldn’t? I remind myself. Remember when it felt like any strength you had evaporated into the dry air of room 408? Yes. Remember when you couldn’t lift a laundry basket or one of your children? Yes. Remember when you desperately needed help and you accepted it? Yes. Remember when you couldn’t eat for days? How could I forget?

Last week, I ran. I walked strongly. I laughed. I danced in the kitchen. I watched the roller derby and drafted my future derby name. I played with my kids on the playground. I chased them around as fast as my thirty eight year old body could go.

This week is quite different. My body aches. I have new marks, scars, leftover medical tape gunk, a drain, a stint, fragile guts, and a healing kidney. All of my post-surgical hospital wounds.

Recovery sucks for an impatient patient like me. It strangely feels like I’m playing the childhood game of “Mother May I?” Two baby steps forward and then four shuffle steps backward. Side step. Wait. Mother may I take off my own socks today? No, you may not. Ask your husband for help. Mother may I stare at my boys’ eyelashes and freckled faces in the kitchen sunlight? Yes, you may. Mother may I feel a little better today? Yes, you may. Mother may I get my drain removed today? No, you may not. Please wait longer.

I use these fragile moments as future motivational fuel. I store these weakened moments in an easily accessible place. I will use them for compassionate strength down the road. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Day by day, I will get stronger physically. Mentally. Emotionally. I must promise myself to be patient, never give up, and let others help me. I must put tight reins on my pride and my ego. I will not compare myself to others. Even myself last week. I will send myself compassion. Every hour, every day. I will give thanks for all the hands I hold. I will give God all the glory because Jesus knows I could never endure this alone. I’m too weak and tired.

Father, may I cry on Easter when I’m alone and exhausted? Yes you may, my sweet child.

Easter tears will not drown out my hope.

You may cry. But you may also remember all these brightly colored flowers that sprang up this hospital week, despite the cold:

*Countless dinners and breakfasts provided by thoughtful friends and family
*Bouquets of flowers spread throughout your home
*Overflowing Easter baskets for your boys
*Hospital visits from family and friends
*Milk in the fridge, Cocoa Puffs on the counter
*Compassionate nurses who advocated for you
*A Team of doctors and surgeons who reacted quickly and worked together to help
*Cards, care packages, and texts sent to let you know you were loved
*Prayers that calmed your fears and steadied your anxious mother’s heart
*Three compassionate boys who gently nudged their way next to your good side to hold your hand or hug you or sit beside you (and also control the hospital bed)
*Your solid oak tree of a husband who sways gracefully and can be a million different people in a day
*Your ever-present mom whose instincts knew to kick in and also call her long-distance sister nurse sidekick about your deteriorating post-surgical state
*Your family who worries and cares and prays so overwhelmingly much for you
*Your kind-hearted sister who took your boys to Easter service
*Your dear friend who FaceTimed church for you and whose husband videotaped the music for you
*All the other helpful things others did out of love for you and your husband and children and dogs while you were in the hospital
*Friends who hosted play dates for your boys so you could recover

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My hospital week garden is beautiful and in full bloom. It’s overflowing with the love that we’re constantly surrounded by. Moments of grief, shuffle steps backwards, and taking the extra space to heal grant me time, perspective and gratefulness in my heart.

Mother, may I sit in this garden and have a cup of tea?

Yes you may.

 

Humor Poncho

I flung open the door and reached into the overcrowded laundry room closet of my brain. I grabbed my humor poncho and then ran out the garage door. I’m always running late. I hear it means I’m optimistic. I read that in an article on the internet: a most reliable source, so it must be true.

I thought I might need a lightweight, easy-to-carry coping mechanism for my doctor’s appointment.

Better to be safe than soggy.

I’ve cried in front of many doctors and nurses over the years. I don’t like to do it. Especially not in those awfully patterned, poorly designed oversized hospital gowns. It’s just that I’ve had so many difficult appointments. It’s awkward. Most of the doctors I’ve had don’t quite know how to handle the slow trickle of tears or a sobbing mess of a patient.

Although, one time, my favorite surgeon sat down next to me on my hospital bed. I could tell that she hurt for me by the look in her big brown sympathetic eyes. That kind of response helped ease my sadness, my pain and frustration and oh, the crying weirdness. Crying in front of medical strangers? I highly don’t recommend it. But, sometimes, you can’t prepare for how your mind, body or spirit will handle certain settings, unexpected pain or the news of a failed procedure or a delayed discharge date or another surgery.

I recently met with my new urologist. Bad news. After a $20,000 lithotripsy procedure, straining my urine for a week (so fun!) and hanging upside down two times a day, my kidney stones didn’t budge. Unphased. Because, of course, my kidneys grow what I call “strong ass kidney stones.” The kind you would want to make a wedding ring out of. If you wanted to stay married forever. I knew I needed to go to a funny place. I thought about bringing a couple of rocks from our backyard garden to my appointment. “Here, Doctor, I passed these bad boys.” But, there’s nothing like doctor’s office stage fright or the potential for an audience of one to lack a sense of humor. Or perhaps, walk in unprepared for the “comedic patient” or be afraid to laugh. The list goes on. I get it.

Humor tends to be my buffer, my go-to move. It helps me momentarily cope. It’s my fast-acting short-term ability. It acts as a cheap, easy-to-carry poncho to temporarily protect me from the harsh realities of life. It’s lightweight, easily accessible. No phone booth necessary. “Ha. Ha. Ha. You’re making truly fluorescent light of the situation.” My funny self talk. Humor: it’s typically well-received. Because people like to laugh. Laugh, don’t cry. Repeat. Just laugh, don’t cry. People like funny. Don’t bring any of that sad shit news, right? Don’t go around ruining people’s sunshiney days.

But sometimes, life rains down. Nope. It pours. Sadness. Frustration. Loss. Disappointment blows and anger and fear strike hard. A poncho can only offer brief protection. Most of us don’t want to feel the chilling hard rains of life seep into our bones. Yet, you can only ignore it for so long when you’re sopping wet.

I walk to the car or get to my house and I peel that humor poncho off. I let it dry out on the garage floor. Dare I let myself go to the ugly crying places? Dare I let myself ask, “Why?” and “Why?” and “Why?” again. I texted my husband. He helped me laugh. And process. Dry off.

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I remembered all of the ways my stubborn, strong-willed spirit and body has helped me over the years. I remembered my perseverance. I remembered my three sons and how it took two doctors to get my third boy delivered because my body was so damn strong. And stubborn. God gives me this crazy strength from time to time and I’m certain it’s contributed to who I am and what I’m capable of today. Naturally, my self-manufactured kidney stones will not be moved. They will put up a good fight. They’re not quite pearls but that doesn’t mean I can’t pretend they are when they surgically remove them.

Perhaps you could say a few prayers for my surgeon and the nurses and crew. They have a difficult job especially when it comes to a well-seasoned stubborn patient like me. You may be so kind as to include my husband and my tender-hearted boys. While you’re at it, you might as well pray for me, my kidneys, especially the right one, and my weary anesthesitized soul. Thank you for caring.

Also, be on the lookout for my Etsy shop. “Strong Ass Kidney Stone Jewelry” I may work on the name a little. Limited supply, factory closing down. They won’t be cheap so you may want to start saving your change.

In the Hall Closet

IMG_9854Don’t worry about me when I’m writing. I’m processing. I’m sharing what I’m feeling. Or what I’ve already felt. I’m reliving or retelling a moment in time. Not a perpetual state of mind. Perhaps, worry about me when I stop. When I’m silent. Apathetic. Hopeless. Without you knowing. When I’m numb. Worry about me when my feelings have gotten all clogged up in the drain of my heart or my head. When they’re packed in over time, too hard. I can’t get them out. They’re stuck. Trapped. Going nowhere.

Writing helps me. It frees me from my overthinking. Super size feeling. It breaks my pursed lips and opens my tightly crossed arms. It grabs the door handle to a closet filled with all kinds of thoughts. Life-giving kite flying thoughts and life-robbing, weighted thoughts. Pesky untrue thoughts that have the power to alienate, isolate and suffocate me. If I let them.

But I won’t.

I did for a long time. I closed my eyes. I would not peek. It was my choice to see that there was no light. I could dim or brighten my room the way that I wanted. Pretend. Escape. I built a lonely hiding spot. Nobody knew to find me.

I was afraid to open my eyes to see things the way they were. Maybe it was the kind of pitch blackness that confused me. Is it that dark or was it me, were my eyes shut so tightly? Where’s my hand? There was a thunderous sigh, a release, when I recognized that I possessed the power to open my eyes. Immediately, my perspective changed. I noticed the small crack of light from underneath the door. Then, I realized if I grabbed the handle, I could slowly open up the door and let myself out.

When another person says with their words or with their eyes that they’ve been there or felt something similar too, the light floods in. Opening up the dark hidden linen closet of his heart or her mind. It’s freeing. Like finally breathing without someone’s hands covering your mouth. Like a kite bobbing up and down on a fluffy big clouded day.

Feelings, thoughts, and worries escape. They’re not so consuming or heavy in the light. They’re less powerful, less heavy. More healing. It’s like holding your breath.
Holding your breath.
Holding your breath.
Breathe.
Exhale.
The pressure releases.

Freedom begins. The tiny yet enormous healing power to live in the way that you choose. You do have control. It’s not an illusion. You’re no magician but you fight, you learn how to escape. Those are the unpurchased gifts waiting in the cart of your mind: perseverance, hope, God’s constant presence, time and experience. After experience.

There are many hidden exits to get you out of your mind. When you discover them, remember to tromp, tromp, tromp your heavy, weary feet on your way out.

You will leave easy-to-trace tracks for yourself the next time.

You will find the door handle more quickly. You will remember to tell others you’re hiding. You will take your pen and moleskin notebook and you will write your way out.

 

Overprotective Anger

DSC01804I walked in to the dining hall and found my hospice friend sitting slumped over in her wheelchair. I kneeled down and gently touched her shoulder to say, “hello.” She barely looked up and then said, “You haven’t come.” She didn’t want to talk. She was mad at me. I tried to explain that my children had been sick and that I did not want to spread any germs to her. But she didn’t want to hear my explanation. Today was not a good day for her. I understood. I positioned her blanket more comfortably. I asked her if I could read her card to her. I got her a Kleenex and itched her nose for her. I tried my best to sneak past her frustration with me.

It didn’t work.

She rested her head down. She slept. She didn’t want to go back to her room. I began talking with her neighbor. Everyone at the table held a stack of stapled papers. I looked through the nine pages. Oh, it was a sermon to follow along with.

“It’s too long. They talk too fast,” one woman said. I agreed.

When you come preaching to the rehab and memory care unit, perhaps you should remember to keep it short and simple. Less than nine pages. Better yet, you may want to sit down and get to know those you come preaching to. Sometimes, we may want to be fixed and sometimes we want to be seen, heard and understood. Listening may be the best sermon you can give.

I suppose that not everybody understands what it feels like to lose all control. To be stuck in a place. To rely on others to move you, feed you, and get you to the bathroom. Not everybody understands what it feels like to be physically and emotionally isolated, angry, and confused. Unfortunately, not everybody has easy access to an imagination that will help them better understand.

I’ve been the one in the wheelchair. And the hospital bed. The shower with assistance. And in the bathroom with an audience of nurses, care assistants, and family. I’ve been connected to IV poles, pain pumps, drains, etc. I’ve been completely stuck. Trapped. Alone in a crowded place.

I’ve been the angry one. And so I’ve learned to not take it personally when patients express anger, frustration, or other emotions to me. I don’t expect an apology. Please, don’t. I sit. I wait. And I will leave if you would like to use a tiny bit of your dwindling supply of control over me. I will come back again.

As Shrek says, “Better out than in.” It’s a million times better that a person would feel comfortable telling me or showing me how they feel. Anger can be an overprotective big sister to sadness, loss, inadequacy, and so many other emotions and feelings. I will be much more hurt if you fake an emotion with me. I think it’s truly an honor to be a bumper, a cushion, a landing place or even a temporary target. I feel that its a privilege, the highest honor to help carry another’s emotional and physical burdens.

My husband asked me, “Do you ever just want to leave when she treats you that way?” No, well maybe, but I don’t. I know she loves me. We all have difficult days. I don’t take her anger personally.

I listened to a woman who needed to talk today. She was not the woman that I came to visit, but she may have needed a companion just as much or more than my friend. She talked and talked and counted her pills over and over again. She asked me questions and told me stories. I’ve talked with her and helped her before. But she doesn’t remember me. Or maybe she does.

Maybe she remembers that I will listen to her. And that I will answer her questions without frustration or annoyance in my tone or eyes. Maybe she remembers that she can tell me she is lost. Or confused. Maybe she knows I will laugh with her about lengthy sermons and the lunch menu. Maybe she knows that I will also help her.

The worlds of senior care and the worlds of pediatrics are not that different. Kindness, compassion, patience, love and your consistent presence will help you navigate both worlds. You should and you will most likely feel sadness, pain, helplessness and loss of control through the eyes and experiences of the patients and families in both worlds. But that doesn’t mean that you should not go back. It means that you must go back. When people stop caring, feeling, empathizing, and helping, this world will be far too dark. A hopeless place.

If you’re not hurting for the wounded, broken, helpless, confused, and isolated, perhaps you are numb. Or perhaps you have over-insulated yourself from the world. May we all find a way to push through the many layers of comfort to find the uncomfortable. Somebody needs you to see them, hear them, and sit with them.

Don’t be offended if you’re not the best thing they’ve ever met since sliced bread. Keep sticking around. Soon, you may proudly be introduced as a friend. Or mistaken for family. Soon, you will hear, “thank you for visiting with me. Can I come visit you, too?” You will walk out of the place with a heavy, yet full heart. You will discover a new kind of insulation that keeps you warm: an internal insulation provided by those you sat with, listened to, heard and understood. Those you loved and helped. And those who loved and helped you, too.

“We are all in the same damn leaky boat together.”-quote from one of my hospice friends