I used my yoga pants and yoga mat to take…..yoga classes. Say what? I love that standing tree pose and happy baby. The end meditation nap is amazing too. Namaste.
My poor knees and I played basketball on a co-ed basketball team. I missed a lot of shots, said cuss words, but I had a lot of fun. My boys asked me if I could dunk. I told them “not in this league, it’s illegal.” That’s all they need to know about that.
Oh man. What a year of stellar concerts. U2 with my big boys and Cory. Amazing. Ani Defranco with my hubs. Diana Krall and her busy tapping stilettos with my hubs. Brandy Carlile with some dear friends.
I coached two of my sons’ basketball teams. I learned that I’m a loud fighter for injustice when a team, um, or Coach breaks the rules by running a zone. And don’t call me “sweetie.” I learned that some egotistical male coaches have a hard time shaking hands at the end of the game after losing to a female coach. Because of the beautiful, kindhearted, never-stopping fighting spirits of my players, we lost a lot of games but we won the sportsmanship award. The biggest win. I said, “chin the ball” about a million times.
I held a fish. With it’s squirming rainbow scales.
I lead a small group, met amazing women who shared their stories, months of life, and helped my family so much during surgery.
We went to Disney world! We shared so many fun memories. Holy smokes, that Avatar ride. I felt like we could all say we rode on a banshee. Except Colby, please don’t talk about it to him. He feared for his life. Rightfully so. It seemed so real.
I taught half-day momergarten which consisted of so many unforgettable moments with my youngest boy. We found deer antlers in the woods. We stalked-in a nice way- bald eagles and even saw one poop. We rode the Adams tag along bike to get lunch. I could go on and on. It was the best year!
I learned that when my body makes something, it makes it strong, difficult to reach, and indestructible. My kidney stones would not be blasted by the lithotripsy semi-truck. $20,000 later.
I learned that if there is a rare complication to be had with kidney stone surgery, my body will teach and humble the most intelligent and experienced of surgeons. I learned (again) that a mom’s instincts last long after the years that your child lives in the same home with you. My right kidney doesn’t have a big ass kidney stone living in it anymore. We’re still paying for the cost of it’s removal. I have a few more scars. I feel incredibly loved.
I touched a stingray, mainly because my boys wanted me to.
I volunteered with hospice. I prayed every time before I entered the doors. I painted nails, held hands, listened, cried, laughed, and also advocated for my patient to meet my boys before she died. So shut your face, HIPPA. If I’m in my nineties and dying, please bring all the children to me.
I accidentally yet magically made eye contact with a hummingbird. It wasn’t a stare contest because I would have won. I had just put the feeders back up and she buzzed right up to get a drink. She looked at me. I froze. Then, she took a drink. Best moment of that day.
My son and I blew up the inflatable kayak, aka “The Banana Boat.” My boys floated down the creek and I could have cried if I wasn’t so focused on making sure a snake wasn’t going to get me. They paddled and our dog swam beside them. It was a heaven on earth moment.
We went to the roller derby! I asked so many questions to a roller derby girl. It was awesome. I decided my derby name would be “ Body Bag”
The boys and I went to “Mother/Son Prom.” It involved lots of soda pop and dancing!
We had a night at The Raphael and a downtown date night. A gift for my husband for ten years of employment.
We took the train to St. Louis. We went up in the St. Loius Arch, not for those with fear of height and claustrophobic tendencies. We also spent a day at The City Museum, where we all got to be kids exploring, climbing and having so much fun!
I dressed up as a unicorn, Skittles, with the help of my mom and sons. One of my son’s was the rear end and he sprayed silly string out because I was a shy unicorn that pooped when I got nervous. Unicorns are real.
I got up on water skis. Water sports can be nerve wracking with an ileostomy. But they’re so much fun. I’m grateful to have patient and generous in-laws. My knees and back wondered what the hell I thought I was doing.
I had acupuncture done to ameliorate my kidney pain. It was a pretty awesome experience. We have the most compassionate and kind-hearted healing chiropractor. She has helped me so much.
My youngest son and I untangled a steel blue dragonfly that was trapped in a spiderweb. It looked hopeless but she sat on me for nearly ten minutes and allowed me to gently pull the sticky web off of her wings. She happily flew away when we got all of the spiderweb off of her. My son said she “peed a lot on me.” It’s not the first time I’ve been peed on.
I have made beautiful life giving, soul-expanding friends who have helped me feel less alone and more comfortable being ever-changing, ever-feeling me. They have walked with me, talked with me, laughed with me, cried with me, sat with me and cared for me in such tender ways you wouldn’t know we weren’t boood sisters.
I have cherished the time with my children and the unwrapped daily gifts they constantly give me. All of the kitchen table moments, playground moments, couch cuddling moments, basketball court moments, treehouse moments, the nighttime conversations, the hugs, the giggles, open mouth laughs, the tears. The questions. The answers. I love being their mother. Somehow as seemingly impossible as it is, I find the space to love them even more so than I did the last year.
We said goodbye to our fourteen year old Gizmo dog. He’s been through so much with our family over the years. He loved us all and entertained the boys for years. We all sat together at the vet. We made slideshows and have cried many tears for him. We planted a tree in his honor.
I got stuck in a dress (or two) in a tiny Nordstrom rack dressing room while my three boys laughed and laughed some of the greatest laughs I’ve ever heard. I ended up borrowing a dress from my mom. The problem with broad shoulders and three little boys as dress shopping mates is that you will probably not find a wedding dress.
We danced and danced at one of the most fun weddings we’ve been to. During “Shout” when I was laying down on the floor, a woman asked me if I was hurt. Nope. Just getting realllllly into the “a little but softer now…” if somebody’s not ready to call 9-1-1, are you really dancing as hard as you can? Probably not.
I read so many books this year. Oh, how I love to read. I should have written all of the titles down. I will try to do that in my 39th year. One of my favorite’s was “The Rabbi’s Heartbeat” because it spoke to my soul.
A dear friend and I accidentally summoned the police for our mom shenanigans. Unbeknownst to us, a walker had called the Overland Park police on our attempts at a “first annual glow in the dark” nighttime Easter egg hunt. Apparently, it looked like we were lighting tiny fires in the woods (as we hid the lit-up eggs) The police didn’t end up coming. Another walker called them back. And our kids loved finding the glowing eggs. The forest looked absolutely magical as the eggs flickered in the night.
We’ve had countless memorable late night dinners, goodbye dinners, birthday dinners, celebratory dinners, just because get-togethers. We have such a diverse group of fun, loving, laughing friends and family.
We survived Cory’s Doctor prescribed vocal rest. I never knew how hard it would be on all of us not being able to talk to Cory for two weeks.
We walked up and down the hill hundreds of times. Back and forth to the school, the playground, the baseball field, the creek. This quote from “UP” resonates with me. “That might sound boring but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”
I’ve looked for lost boys’ shoes countless times. I’ve held too many sticks to count (that’s what she said.) I’ve been a bar back/sous chef/LEGO assistant specializing in organizing the Legos by color. I’ve played dodge ball, dog monster, knock out, Sandlot baseball, and candy poker, of course.
- I, along with my six siblings, surprised my dad to be present for a huge award he received honoring the work and time he has devoted and volunteered for the Nonprofit business alliance. We were all so proud to sit at that table front center. We also laughed a lot. I may have made my sister wet her pantyhose. I won’t say which one.
- I feel like I should give myself credit every year for all of the pain, hardships, uncertainty of my physical health, Crohn’s disease and it’s tag-along friends. I’ve changed my ileostomy bag too many times to count. I’ve opened medical bills. So many medical bills. I’ve taken a lot of trips to the ostomy care center. It’s all I know but it’s still hard sometimes. And tricky. And never ending. Day by day. Thanks, Ben Stiller.
- I admired the Kansas sunsets and the cotton candy clouds. The double rainbows. The wild flowers. The birds of all the seasons. The deer. The slap happy butterflies. I fed a baby rabbit. I love and appreciate the complexity and mesmerizing beauty of nature more every year. It’s such a quiet constant whisper of God’s presence and love.
- Lots of pressure for my last thing. I loved those around me in the best ways I could. I tried to be present, I prayed to be more. I hoped and dreamed and tried to be grateful even in the midst of the ditchy moments. I’m thankful for those who give me room to grow and patience for all of the ways I fall short. I’m the luckiest.
“Mom, can you carry my……”
Stick. Backpack. Shoes. Water bottle. Glove. Coat. Trash. Sweatshirt. Books. Ball. Gum. Ripstick. Scooter. Skates. Hockey stick. Socks. Deer antler. Bug. Feather. Half-eaten food.
(Newly designed cardboard) robot?
Please don’t drop it. Or lose it. Or break it, ok? Just carry it all around downtown Kansas City for me. Please?
When they’re babies, we, parents, hold our kids. We carry them. They ask or demand, “Hold you, Mama?” Or “Hold-you-me?” On our hips. On our chests. On our backs. In car seats. In expensive back-saving Ergo baby carriers. But then, something changes, all of the sudden, they want to use their legs to walk. Run. Jump. Fall. They don’t need us to carry them anymore. Most of the time. But, they definitely need us to be the great carriers.
The holders of important stuff. The grown-up, living, moving trapper keepers of their kid adventures. All sorts of day-to-day things. There’s nothing too great or seemingly too unimportant for a parent to carry. Our hands are bigger. Stronger. And less preoccupied by the next activity. We are highly intelligent when it comes to knowing where trash cans are. Oh. “Right there.” We aren’t planning on using our arms to climb across monkey bars or break our wreckless falls attempting to parkour or climb a random pole.
“Mom, can you carry this? Pleeeeeease?”
Ok. Fine. Yes.
And so we do. We carry their stuff.
We also carry loads that our kids don’t see. We carry the enormous weight of being a parent. We carry our hopes, our concerns, and our worries for our children. We carry or perhaps, drag our fears. We carry our struggles, our insecurities. We carry the uncertainties of other children who don’t live in our homes. We carry the past, our own childhoods. We carry our constantly evolving parenting selves the best ways that we can.
Sometimes, we carry far too much for one worn-out body to hold. That’s when we need help. When we’re holding too much to manage on our own. We need those who walk alongside of us. We need those who see us and graciously reach out to help us clean up our messes. They recognize our hunched over backs and tired eyes. They say, “I’ve been in a hurry” or “I’ve carried too much before, too. Let me help you.”
Isn’t that what we’re all here to do: Love each other and help each other get through. Life can be heavy and lonely and overwhelming. We can make it less heavy, less lonely and maybe underwhelming if we take a second or minute or hour to stop and recognize each other’s eyes and the weights we all carry.
“Let me help you.”
And we do.
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.
“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
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.
I 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
This morning on my walk, I stumbled upon a Monarch butterfly struggling in the grass. I wondered if she, too, had just dropped her kindergartner off at school. She kept reaching out with one of her legs to find the next piece of grass but she couldn’t quite get there. I pushed the piece of grass closer to her and she moved. She flopped her wings. I looked to see if one of them was broken. I pulled my dog away from her. Perhaps, she was dying. Did you know that Monarch butterflies have hairy backs?
I decided to pick her up without touching her beautiful wings. So delicate and vibrantly patterned. As I held her on my hand, she flew away. I nearly cried. Then, I started thinking about how God is here. In everything. He sees the broken-hearted mamas and he lifts us up. He changes our perspective. He shows us that we weren’t meant to be down in the grass. We are meant to fly.
For nearly twelve years, I worked with hospitalized kids and families enduring horrible traumas, never-ending sicknesses, and unimaginable accidents. I’ve played with orphaned siblings and cried with grieving mothers. I’ve found blankets for lifeless children. I know for a fact that every single one of these families would have given anything to see their children walk into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Growth is a beautiful thing. Growth is an honor. It’s a privilege.
But growth is still hard on a mama’s heart.
Especially this mama’s.
My older sons walked their little brother into his kindergarten classroom today. He didn’t need me, his mama. On day two. I watched their three backpacked bodies walk away. Their little healthy lives flashed before me. Their giggles. Their first steps. The enthusiastic ways that they jump off of the couch onto the pillow forts they have created below. Suddenly, as I walked away, I laughed at the goofy way Patch, our dog, runs through tall grass. I smiled.
Then, I looked down and saw the struggling butterfly.
One of mine and my boys’ favorite memories of my grandma is when she held a flower from my mom’s garden and suddenly, a butterfly landed on that flower. Today, a struggling mother, me, held a struggling butterfly. It’s undeniable proof that God can use the most fragile and tiny creatures of this world to shift our perspective from the dirt to the clouds.
I have broken into the extra school supplies, especially the boxes of Kirkland kleenex. I have sat in my Grandma’s chair and cried with the dog staring awkwardly at me. Yesterday, I told my husband that I was not going to share my writings because when you’re vulnerable and raw with your emotions, some people try to proofread your feelings or predict or edit them altogether. This really hurts and can feel like someone is rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on an open wound. He said that’s not everybody and that’s not fair and that I have to keep writing. He’s right, I suppose. Thank you for those of you who say comforting things like, “I’m sitting beside my mama. The mother/child bond sure is a strong one.” I will keep sharing for those of you who do the hard work of feeling emotions deeply and as a result, sometimes feel like a paralyzed butterfly.
You’re not. You may just need to be gently lifted up. You’re beautiful and capable. You have unique and extraordinary wings and you will be flying again soon.