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.

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

Clean Bathroom Rug

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I laid my head down on the rug of my bathroom floor. Only because I had just washed it. It had not gotten all smushed down from repeated post-shower use. Yet. It was still fluffy and clean. And that worked out well because I was exhausted. Sad. Confused. Emotional. Beyond repair. Boggled thoughts. Unable to articulate what exact thought or event had triggered my current “distant” and sensitive state.

“What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

I emotionally scanned myself. It’s always difficult to determine what may be the exact reason for a sudden onset of the blues. Parenting exhaustion. Disease fatigue. A wave of grief. The grumps. A negative outlook. A sour face to go along with a curdled disposition.

My husband knows me well. It’s as if he immediately saw my thoughts escape somewhere else, away from the rowdy dinner table. I couldn’t tell another boy to sit down and eat. So I sat there apathetically. I knew that a glass of milk would soon surely spill but I was prepared to not react. My husband asked what was wrong.

“It’s complicated,” is what I thought.

So, I said nothing. One of my boys waved his hand across my eyes because I stared out the window. Apparently, I had not blinked or changed my facial expression in long enough for him to notice.

Occasionally, I get a bit overwhelmed. Maybe we all do. By life, in general. Or every little and big thing from the laundry to a busy next week to aching kidneys. And all the changes. The big adjustments. And the little ones, too. The future. The unknowns.

I can overthink. Overfeel. I can beat myself up but that doesn’t ever help. There are so many days. Juggling life’s moments scattered with a lot of relationships can be tricky, especially if you’re not so graceful like me. Balls drop. I sometimes bend over to pick them up quickly. Quick! Nobody saw that! Other times, I can’t get to them before my little people hand them to me. Then nights like tonight, I just plop myself down on the ground. I take a break from all of the juggling because I’m tired. And sad. It feels like one of them nailed me smack dab on my face, right on that sensitive part of my nose. Ouch.

Shhh. Be very quiet.

There is a hidden great grandma introvert rocking away inside of me. There are times when my extroverted self needs a break. I need to retreat to a serene, distraction-free place. All by myself. It doesn’t matter the place. A bathroom floor or a secluded overly full closet will do. I just want to curl up like a baby or a tired long-legged child. I don’t want to answer any questions. I don’t want to be touched. I don’t want to worry about the present or the future. I need to release a swarm of tears. Alone. I don’t want anyone to worry about me because I will be okay. I really will.

I promise.

I will get up off of the clean rug. I will say goodnight to my big boys and cuddle my six and a half year old baby boy. I will wake up to a new day full of life, hope and endless possibilities. I know that the same three energetic boys who hugged me as tight as they possibly could when they said “goodnight” will wake me, tickle me, wrestle me and laugh me out of bed when the sun rises again.

Tonight, I told myself that it’s okay to be sad, grieving the past and overwhelmed at the future from time to time. Here you go self, sadness permission granted. I think I do a pretty damn good job of being genuinely happy and grateful most of the days. Some moments or days are just harder for whatever reason. However big or small.

I’m not giving up, just taking a moment to recover. I try my hardest to cherish most of the days, even the challenging ones. I typically push myself to find the good. The sparks of light or the gigantic sunset in front of my face. I try to recognize and embrace the fleeting moments.

But there are some moments that come at me like a fall off the monkey bars. They knock the breath out of me. They arrive quickly and unexpectedly. Wind escapes and it’s just so hard to breathe. I try not to panic, or overreact, so I can just get through them. Wait. Don’t try to breathe yet. Oh, dear Lord, see me, hear me and help me. All the time but especially during these hard overwhelming moments. And help others like me.

Slowly. Gently.

Breathe in, and breathe out.

There. I did it.

I step out of the bathroom and think,

“Goodnight, tonight. Welcome, tomorrow. It will be so nice to see you.”

 

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

-Psalm 147:3

 

Dragonflies

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I wanted to say that I am sorry. But I didn’t want to become a sobbing mess. I wanted to tell you that I am sorry for a thousand different things. I’m pretty sure its the mother in me.

I am sorry that your mother never got to proudly walk you into school and be there waiting and smiling for you at the end of the day. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to grow up with her sitting next to you on the couch. Or that you didn’t get to watch her make a mess in the kitchen. I’m sorry if you ever were scared during thunderstorms and needed the comfort of your mom.

I’m sorry if the tooth fairy never came. Or Santa. Or the Easter bunny.

I’m sorry if you wore dirty clothes or needed someone to braid your hair. I’m sorry that your mom couldn’t be there for your birthdays, graduations and your wedding. I’m sorry that you couldn’t call her or just show up at home when you didn’t feel right, when you needed the reassurance of her presence.

I’m sorry for the far too many times that life was harder for you. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m sorry for the hundreds of responses you’ve buffered when people found out that your mom died. I’m sorry that you never got to sing her a “Happy Birthday” song or make her homemade cards or cake. I’m sorry that “Mother’s Day” is so damn hard.

I’m sorry that you had to search and search to grow up and be like your mother. I’m sorry for all of the insensitive comments you’ve endured as others complain about their mothers.

It’s not fair.

Life can be cruel and uncertain and unfair. But you know that.

You learned that lesson.

You’ve lived that lesson.

It doesn’t change her death. It changes the way you live. Her life runs through yours. She lives in you. The same way that you lived in her. You are forever her daughter.

And she will be forever your mom. And she will be proud of you forever. And always.
I will always remember that you love dragonflies.

You may truly never comprehend the gift that you gave me when you shared your story with me. You may never understand how beautifully weighted your words are to me. You gave me one of the most amazing gifts when you compared me to your mother. You unknowingly gave me strength and hope to push through the grueling moments of life. Thank you. I will forever be grateful for you.

I hope to do something as courageous as you one day.

 

 

Shattered. The healing place.

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I will meet you at the place. The place where it hurts.

I will meet you in your pain. I will hold you through your grief.

I will meet you in the place where your dreams shattered off the wall.

I will join you in your tears. I will drop my hand gently on your back when you’re sobbing. When you’re curled up into a ball with your back turned away from the world.

I get it. I understand. The rest of the world should be crying too.

I will journey to that place with you.

The hurting place.

That place where I have been before.

I know the way.

I don’t need a map.

I see you. Your eyes. I hear you. The words you don’t have to say. I feel you. Your pain. The after shock.

I recognize your broken eyes. I can sense your empty, crowded brain.

I can help you take a breath.

I can tightly hold your hand.

I can hug your shaking body.

I can sit up against the wall with you.

If you only will let me in.

I’ve been to the hurting place many times before.

I know it can be an awful, lonely and scary place especially if no one ever comes to knock on the door.

Let me help you. Hold you. Hear you.

Let me in.

When you’re ready, I will lift you up. We can take one step and then another. Or we can stop and take a break.

I will be with you. You don’t have to look up. Yet. You will know that I’m there. We can journey to the healing place.

I’ve been there before too.

I will show you the different paths that I have tried.

Maybe you will see a different way. We can journey together.

Next to each other.

We will make it to the healing place.

Thanksgiving Day Birds

imageMy rational thinking mind knows that it’s pretty selfish to assume that God sent hundreds of different kinds of birds to my backyard this morning. It felt like a beautiful gift. Just for me. Perhaps, He sent them to bring me hope or joy or to peck away at my grief or sorrows, my heartaches and hopelessness.

Despite my disbelieving mind, my spirit-filled heart completely trusts and believes in a God that hears my cries and hates for me to feel the heavy burden of grief, loss and heartache. I believe that He hates for me to be trapped in my feelings. Isolated. All alone. I believe He lifts my chin and helps me see the beauty, the freedom outside my window.

So, as I sat staring out my kitchen window in amazement and wonder at the sudden appearance of all of the Thanksgiving Day birds, my soul surrendered to the simplicity, the beauty, and the ease at which His tiny creatures fly from branch to feeder to fence post. I made eye contact with one of my favorites, the yellow finch, “my Grandma bird,” whose feathers have transformed to accommodate the next dreary season. No longer the striking, bright yellow summer feathers. I sat close enough, only a few feet way, separated by glass. I could barely see the pale yellow neck feathers hidden beneath the new tree trunk-brown winter feathers.

In moments like these, I feel my Grandma and I miss her in an indescribable way. I want to be in her presence. I want to hear her voice. I want to feel like everything is going to be okay. I don’t know that she understood the secret gentle power she possessed. The ability to heal my aching heart.

She had this instinctual ability to relate to me on a level that few can. I miss her honesty. I miss her openness with her feelings, the joyful and sad, painful-to-hear ones and all of the complicated ones in between. I miss the little things, like sitting next to her and filling her cup up with fresh iced water. I miss watching my boys run down the hall to swing open her door and surprise her. I miss her sweet voice telling me some powerfully encouraging words. I miss hugging her and telling her, “I love you, Grandma.” I miss her habitual response, “I know you do. I love you, too.”

Holidays are typically supposed to be happy times but they can be so hard when you’re missing a person. They can serve as a painful reminder that someone who was always around is not here anymore. Just gone. The robins, blue jays, yellow finch, doves, cardinals, and all the other birds flying around today reminded me of my Grandma. I like to think of her as strong and totally freed from pain. I like to think of her. I’m grateful that the zipping crowds of birds outside my window helped remind me of her and her never ending love.

Heart Holes

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It’s impossible for me to suppress feelings of grief or loss. Even if the losses seem irrational, unreal or invisible. I don’t believe that it’s a healthy habit to smooth over or pretend hurt doesn’t exist. Can you grieve the loss of something that you crave so desperately but that you’ve never actually had?

Well I do and I’m certain that I’m not the only one. It can be a complicated and isolating type of grief. Most people typically don’t dive head first into the deep end of life’s sad realities. When your grandmother dies, and you’re grieving, it’s perfectly acceptable and understood that those around you will outwardly express their sympathy with hugs, cards, tears, and conversations. However, when some life event or experience sparks the brush pile of your invisible loss, the hidden flames of sadness often have the fuel to grow pretty quickly.

Only those who know you in the most vulnerable way may ever recognize the flames. Perhaps nobody will ever know.

Sometimes specific settings or conversations or experiences can shake you up. It can feel like you’re driving over a giant pot hole. You can prepare yourself beforehand, but you know that it will inevitably jar your spirit and temporarily hurt. Always. Just like a familiar pothole on that street that you have to drive through. The feeling of bracing yourself for the broken road doesn’t go away. Maybe ever.

In humans, like me, it feels more like a heart hole.

On some bright and sunny days, you can maybe handle one of the heart holes. You might swerve around it to avoid it. Maybe leave the room at the perfect time or don’t ever walk into the room where that routine casual conversation is not so casual for you. Because it hurts. Because you have an open wound that’s tender, and perhaps it won’t ever heal. You can try and plug up heart holes, but it’s only a temporary fix. They always come back.

Grief hurts. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Hurt slowly burns. Then, it can leave your eyes dry and your heart and body all sore and achey. When my husband opens his arms and holds me and let’s me cry the tears, my real tears, mean a loss is a loss. His presence tells me that it’s okay to feel the invisible weight of hidden or invisible losses. I don’t have to justify them to anyone to know that my pain is real. Validated. Visible. Even if I have never received sympathy cards. And most likely, never will.

I don’t want to take my pain or losses out on anybody else. That’s one of the reasons I write and how I experience the unfathomable joy of this world along with the deep pains too.

I can sit with my son as he draws a “ginormous smile” on himself in his picture. The green marker smile goes off of his stick boy drawing and around and around the scene because “he’s that happy.” And so am I sitting next to him. Then as suddenly as a car shifts into second gear, I can drop him off at preschool and then switch gears and cry until I reach my husband’s embrace. There’s something so healing in these kind of tears. I can cry some more because he understands my grief. Because of how deeply he cares for me, my struggles become his struggles too. He rides over the broken parts of the road, sitting right next to me. And this makes me cry all over again. Grateful tears for his endless love for me.

I am aware that I am not the only one who grieves the losses that nobody ever saw. I know this. So, I share to let another know that it’s okay to hurt. And it’s okay to cry. And it’s okay to be upset and grateful and joyful. We are beautiful, complicated beings. Why would our emotions and feelings not be overlapping, entertwining, connecting and complicated in the same way as our physical bodies?

Ready or not, here I come. It’s a bit like hide and seek grief. You may unexpectedly stumble upon one of your losses hidden away in the closet or the cabinet up high. Or perhaps somebody else will unintentionally reveal one of your hopes, dreams unfulfilled or losses. I hope you will give yourself permission to grieve. And I hope you will let another share the extraordinarily heavy weight of your invisible loss so that it may become more bearable.