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.

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.

 

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

Paralyzed Butterfly

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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.

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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.

Homemade King Cake

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Due to a bit of a scheduling glitch, or a general lack of a sense of meaningful or important dates, I’m getting scoped the day after Mardi Gras. Which means I’m on clear liquids today, Fat Tuesday. Dangit. It’s really not too big of a deal. I’ve learned to go without food on many occasions but it’s kind of a bummer. I told my husband yesterday that I was going to make a homemade king cake. He asked me if I wanted him to go ahead and pick one up at the grocery store too. Just in case. He was being a funny and thoughtful punk because he knows me. Pretty well. I laughed and was determined to make a better cake than the grocery store could.

I’m a strong believer that rarely will we be able to avoid the difficult, painful or even, sad times in life. I have learned its best to lament a bit, to feel the weight of it all, and then figure out how these times can strengthen us in some obvious or hidden way as opposed to weakening us. I’m no expert. Sometimes I’m just downright pissed and moody and I want to go to a “used body” shop and trade mine in for something better. Not flashier, but less problematic. One that will require less specialists’ care. Maybe I could even just swap out a few parts. Since this is not really an option, I’ve had to figure out how to be grateful for the body that I have. It’s all about choices. Even though I sometimes feel like I have none. I will always possess the choice of my attitude. Be it pissy, grateful, optimistic, realistic, pessimistic, narcissistic, or any combination of these and so many more.

When I walked my boys home from school yesterday, the cold, bullying Kansas winds blew right down to the bone seemingly freezing our faces off. My boys’ cheeks looked pink and chapped from the five minutes they stood outside of school waiting for me. And they were a little mad at me for not picking them up in the warm car. They complained and complained and near-cried as we trudged along up the hill.

I requested for them to stop for a brief talk, well, more like a mom lecture. I got down on my knees. I talked to them about how they have a winter coat. How they have a short walk, not a long walk. How they have a warm house to go home to with a bed. And food. Then, I talked to them about the people, especially kids, who don’t have any of these things. I told them that they will always have a choice in their attitude. They will always have an opportunity to complain or be grateful for what they have. I realize that they are just seven years old. But, I think they got it. They stopped complaining and picked up their paces to keep up with mine.

As I told my husband this morning that I can’t eat Mardi Gras food, I realized that I knew all too well that I have a few choices today. There was a lecture that was recently opened, still at the top of my inbox. I realized that I have access to doctors who can help me. I have the privilege of knowing countless inspiring, loving, and amazing people. I have pretty decent health. I should be grateful. I have the helpful and constant distraction of a loving family and thoughtful friends.

For today, I have clean, clear liquids.

I’ve also got a king cake to make. For the first time ever. And bonus, I won’t even have to eat it if it’s disgusting. Happy Mardi Gras!

5 AM Birds

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Don’t get me wrong, I do love the birds, but just not at five in the morning. What are they doing jabbering away so much this early? It’s still dark outside. They’re persistent little pip squeaks. Maybe they’re begging for the sun to come out so they can eat their breakfast with the light on. They’re only bothering me because they highlight the fact that I can’t sleep. My guts hurt. And I can’t do much, but think and think because everyone’s asleep in my house.

I can’t stop worrying about how I need to get so many things done. Just in case I have to go to the hospital. Then, I start crying in the bed. Lying on my side to help with the cramping. Shhh. My quiet left-sided tears travel over the bridge of my nose and join up to make a puddle in my right eye. I don’t want to go to the hospital. There’s never a good time.

My four year old just woke up saying,

“Mama…..Maaaaaaaamaaaaa……..mama?”

So, I tip-toed into his room to snuggle him back to bed. I can’t do this when I’m in the hospital.

Yesterday, my bigger boys and sweet niece begged me to play “Monster” outside, a game where I chase them around the yard. I did it even though I was hurting and my mom told me to stop playing. Because I knew I would be bummed if I said no and then ended up in the hospital, stuck in a drab room, unable to chase them around in the grass. I also jumped into the freezing cold pool. That’s what this disease does to me. It makes me overthink things sometimes. It makes me not want to miss out on or regret an opportunity gently tapping or banging on my door. I hate it sometimes. But I guess it makes me different. In a good way.

I watched a video of our Florida trip tonight. My husband put it together using photos and video clips of our boys. It’s beautiful. My boys. The ocean. Breathtakingly gorgeous. Truly. I couldn’t believe how much my sweet beach loving boys have grown in a few short years. Time constantly moves on, whether we acknowledge or accept it or not.

I will make it through this phase of my disease acting up. I know it. God always carries me though. I’m not strong enough on my own to make it through the pain, all of the unknowns, and let-downs, that’s for sure. He also gives me people that love me in crazy, feel-good-despite-the-yuck ways and he steadily holds my head to focus in their direction to help me see them.

I’m impatient, I just want to feel better. Now. Right now. And I want to make sure and remind my future healthy self to remember this unprompted five am wake up call.

“Dear Future Amelia,

Be grateful of your sleeping, your eating, your dish loading (meh) and your playing. Be grateful for each day, especially those awesome moments, because they’re all a gift, even if it was a crappy day in the grand scheme of days. You got one more. Embrace the love and the life that surrounds you, even if it’s those hyper morning birds. They can’t help it if they don’t like eating in the dark…

love,

Presently Flared up Amelia”

Homemade Banana Cake

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Sometimes I bake when I’m sad. Or overwhelmed. It beats vacuuming or unloading the dishwasher. I really can’t stand to watch bananas turn all speckled and brown. Fruit injustice. My rotten bananas commanded me to make homemade banana cake with cream cheese frosting, in memory of Grandma Fritz. She always made some pretty amazing banana bread. Midway through cake making, I realized I didn’t have enough flour so my husband borrowed some from a neighbor. Because I wasn’t giving up easy on this sympathy cake. After I baked it, it cooled only slightly. Then, I slapped the frosting on it in the least pretty way. My youngest taste-tested the frosting. Then, we all fancied up our banana (cup)cake by adding a candle or two because you just don’t get to make enough wishes in life or blow out the candles either. It made it special. Like a celebration.

In lieu of visiting my grandma, every week since she died I have done something meaningful in her memory, something that would make her smile. And me too.

Tonight, before making the cake, I sat on the bench, tired and hurting as I stared out the kitchen window hoping to see the yellow finch. Or maybe a hummingbird swinging by for some dessert. Or maybe I just wanted to hear my grandma’s voice telling me everything is going to be alright. Instead, my sweet son came up and sat next to me. He saw my tears and asked me why I was sad. Ahhh. It was complicated. For me and a seven year old. I told him that I missed Grandma Fritz. He sat for a moment next to me and then asked, “what was your favorite pie that she made again?” I paused and wondered. I held back tears as I talked about her blackberry cobbler and her strawberry rhubarb pie. How can a seven year old be so sensitive and intuitive and say something so healing? He helped me talk about her. I told a few stories. And then he helped me realize she wouldn’t want me to be sitting around staring out the window, waiting on birds and crying when life is happening all around me. So, that’s what prompted us to celebrate by eating banana cake with candles, that my boys blew out several times. We sat outside with the birds chatting and the trees swaying and the mosquitoes bugging too as the late night summer sun set. It was a hidden sunset but the purple, orange and pink clouds ran together beautifully like watercolors do. My grandma would have loved all the colors.

I don’t want my boys to fear someone crying. I want them to reach out to others. Tonight, I am not happy I was missing my grandma but my son’s response stopped my grieving heart in its tracks. I learned that it helps in the most powerful way when a tender sweet soul stops and sits with you. Sees you. Feels your hurt and then asks a simple yet beautiful question. Then waits and listens. My boy unknowingly nudged me to get up off of the bench and love on those in front of my face. Just like my grandma would do. Over some banana cake.