A Hallelujah Chorus

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The conductor stately walks down the corridor towards us. 

The tails of his tuxedo are perfectly pressed, the pleats of his starched white shirt under the lapels perfectly parallel, and his endless toothy smile reaches from cheek to cheek when he sees me and my mama.  Once he was the kind of unruly boy my mom used to teach.  Now he has harnessed his boundless energy into bringing out the power of music into young people.

He bends over to kiss mom on the head. “Hello, Mama,” he says as she looks up to him from her wheelchair.  A smile of recognition lights up her face even though it has been eight years since she has last seen him, when he was her conductor in a Christmas choir.

“Hello,” she smiles endlessly back, squeezing his hand.

“I am so glad to see you, I was meant to see you today,” he said as he pats her shoulder.

After a hug he turns and marches toward the stage entrance.

I have watched my friend Dr. Jeffery Redding conduct award winning high school choirs beneath the lights of Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, in the ancient colosseum of Verona, in the courtyard of San Marco Plaza in Venice, but tonight I watch his elegant tails march toward the stage of the American Gardens Theatre at EPCOT in Disney World to lead the time honored tradition of the Candlelight Processional, a Christmas Tradition that Walt Disney himself began at Disneyland more than 50 years ago.

Tonight my friend takes the honored position behind the podium to conduct the 50 piece orchestra and 300 voices of the Disney Voices of Liberty, Cast Member Choir, and auditioned high school choirs. Though I have watched him conduct many times, there was something special about this assembly of voices from all walks, all age groups, all levels on this stage to share a Christmas message.

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The tradition of story and song together this holiday season seems to bring comfort and joy to a world full of randomness. Guests have lined up for hours waiting outside the theatre to enter, and when capacity was reached, watched from the courtyard across the stage. Many are drawn to the comfort of this familiar message, this familiar music, these familiar words we have heard over and over in our heads for years.

These words spoken and sung tonight bring tears to my eyes as I watch my 91-year-old mama, sitting next to me in her wheelchair, her Alzheimer’s riddled mind brought clear this night through the power of music, song and story. I see her face radiate with joy. I watch her hands moving gracefully to the music, mimicking the elegant movements of Jeff’s on stage. She turns to me and smiles.

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“He is such a good conductor,” she states. This mama of mine, who one month ago was in ICU, suffered a mild stroke and infection and rounds of tests and antibiotics, is now a completely different person next to me, her whole body swaying and clapping and singing to the familiar songs of Joy to the World, Silent Night, and her favorite:

“Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices.

Oh night Divine, Oh night, when Christ was born.

Oh night, O Holy Night,

Oh night Divine.”

And tonight is a divine night, as I see my mama transform through the power of music, transform as she watches my friend bring to life and draw out from these voices and these instruments the power and glory of the words and the notes so often heard but not truly experienced.

I am one of the first to stand as I hear the strings start up the familiar introduction to Handel’s Messiah.

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”

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Mama also tries to stand, but her legs are so weak. I grab her hand and together we wave our clasped fingers to the powerful chorus and the strings and brass and percussion of the orchestra.

Mama’s words are very few lately.  But these words tonight are crisp and clear and proclaimed with all her heart.

“King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he shall reign forever and ever. Forever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Words crisp and clear and brief.

Words that need no explanation.

Words that are made more powerful in the repetition that accompanies Alzheimer’s are glorious tonight.

Timeless words and timeless melody that my mama revels in, heart and soul.

In this present moment, when all for her is crystallized in time, in place, in right now, this beauty is all that matters.

I may not have many moments with her like this.  But this one Hallelujah Chorus will be eternal in my heart.

Even the guest narrator, Emmy award winning Joe Morton, acknowledges the power of song this night.  He says, “Tonight, even for one night, this tradition, no matter what you believe, reminds us that Love wins out, that Love is the reality in this magical place, to bring Peace and Unity in this world.”

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The performance is over. I don’t want this time to end, but I turn up the walkway to push Mama’s wheelchair up the aisle.

I hear his familiar voice near the stage bellow out…..”Don’t leave!”

Mama and I wheel back towards the stage. In the midst of all those around him, clamoring for his attention, Jeff hustles over for a quick moment.

“You were my inspiration tonight,” he leans over and whispers to Mama. “I was nervous when I first saw your earlier, but seeing you reminded me why I do this, to touch lives and inspire others. Thank you for reminding me.”

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Her eyes twinkle, her smile stretches across her entire face as he turns under the lights and walks away, grasping hands, touching lives, touching others, even after the baton is laid down.

#tellhisstory

A gift



My hands fumble on the keys of the piano, stumbling out a few notes in attempts to learn a new song, one I have not played before.  My right hand picks out the notes of the melody, trying to play out the irregular beats of the notes.  She is sitting on the couch beside me, looking out the window, listening.  As a few notes tumble onto the keyboard, mom looks up at me and asks,  “Is that La Paloma?”


I stare at her in disbelief.  I had only played a few notes of the song, and not played them very well, and she knew exactly which song it was!  She began to sing the melody, so I tried to follow along, playing out the melody to accompany her soft singing.  As she sang, the melody became more familiar, and I was able to recall the old Spanish folk song that I had heard somewhere, in a movie perhaps, and together, in her crackly rich voice and my broken chords that she coaches with, “Come on, come on!”, we perform a lovely rendition of the old classic, newly discovered, La Paloma……


After a week of many forgotten things, her own 91st birthday, my sister’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday, this recollection of an entire song is astounding. Days before, we had multiple celebrations of her birthday, and each time, she would say, “Oh, is it my birthday?”  Even minutes before, she was asking my son if she could return to the Philippines to take care of her mother, that she was concerned about who was there for her, and that she wanted to be the one to go home and care for her.   My son didn’t have the heart to tell her she was already gone, and has been for the past 45 years.  He just left it alone, let her be in her reality.


More and more these days, that is what we have to do, just let her be in her world.  Her world is present, in the moment.  And some days I think, she has much to teach me.  For in her world of Alzheimer’s there are no worries, only present moments of love and gratefulness.  She is always seeking a hug, and always thanking God that she is still alive at 91 years old.  Sometimes the tension between her world and mine is too much, as I worry and fret about what’s next, or the next problem in front of me or the kids or the…………..the list goes on and on.


But here, in this moment, we carry out together the tune of the old folk song, La Paloma, “the dove”.  A song that in the 1800’s became a classic folk song in Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, mom’s home country.   As I read over the background of this song, I see this: “Over time the soul of the song is able to express the tension between separation with loneliness, even death, and love.”


This separation, the one that slowly grieves me over time as mom gradually fades farther and farther away,  is bridged for a glorious moment in a song played out for the first time to the gentle urgings of her voice.  The tension is released for a moment, the tension that builds over time from the burden of caregiving.


And I remember the other meaning of “La Paloma, the Dove”


Peace.


Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.    John 14:27


After a week of searching of what I could give to her, she gives this back to me.  A message through a song etched deep in the recesses of her memory.  A gift of love.  A gift of peace.

   
 

Bloom

It was a season of irritation,
the kind where everything gets under your skin:

the way your husband leaves his dirty socks wadded up by the side of the bed
or your daughter leaves her shoes exactly where she took them off under the kitchen counter
or you hear the dog’s paws padding in exactly at 430 am every morning to be let out.

I don’t know if it was triggered by a new year
or menopause
or a let down after the holidays where it took two weeks into January to unload the Christmas tree and the nutcrackers and village houses and all the other stuff that goes with it.

Even though all the decorations are down they are still piled up in plastic bins in a three car garage where there is only room for one car at the moment.

And the slow resolution to declutter that is always procrastinated initiated that day and finished on the back porch.
My favorite spot in the house.
My alone place to think and write and drink my coffee and look out on the still waters of the small lake behind my house.

But that day on the back porch I only saw the mildew (I live in Florida) and the dirt on the pillows and the brick pavers and all the stuff and the flower pots with half alive plants that I resolved to just give up on and toss into the dark green garbage bags which my uncluttered friends tell me is the only receptacle to throw things into if you are truly serious about decluttering your home. Throw it in. Tie it up. Take it to the curb or to Goodwill. (Unfortunately, I get stuck at this step, hence the full 3 car garage)

It’s a good thing I got distracted on this last purging binge.

For this morning

unfurling out of the flower pots that were almost relegated to the dark green garbage bags

is a beautiful branch of orchids.

A lovely shade of purple.

Actually, the orchid color you see on a crayon or a paint chip.

The branch hovers beautifully over the mildewed pillows on my porch sofa.
Beside it another pot holds out another curl of blooms full of promise.

To think I would have missed out on this something beautiful on my back porch
if I had trashed them

as I am so inclined to do these days when clutter overwhelms me,
the little things, the endless things you think will change but they do not…
the doctors appointments, mom’s Alzheimer medications, the dog to the vet, the kids’ needs to prepare for or be in college, the garage still full of plastic bins……..

They say the trick to tending to orchids is to leave them alone, care for them gently with
only a little bit of watering and a lot of patience to wait for it to blossom.

I hope these blooms last for a spell, a symbol of grace and simplicity and hope
when everything that piles up seems destined to disorder.

For nestled underneath the cracked pot and dirt and rubble of my life is a part of me just waiting, anticipating a bloom.

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Old Faithful

 

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She sleeps at my feet, her paws splayed in front of her greying nose. Her breathing is labored, yet comforting and familiar as she always has been. She came into our lives over fourteen years ago, a friendly one year old puppy on her way to the pound. Her owners couldn’t keep her any more. The look on her sweet face captured my son’s heart, leading to the look on his then ten year old face that pleaded, “Mom, we have to keep her!”

So we did. She joined our already topsy turvy household of four children including a toddler that chased poor Cindy Lou around the family room couch. Dear Cindy spent many hours being chased. I remember one birthday party where she took humor in the chase. We had hidden a clue to the scavenger hunt in her signature red collar. She knew she had something important and played along in the game, not letting anyone get her. She smiled and teased that sunny afternoon, taunting, “You can’t catch me!” In the end, she gave up the clue with a roll over on her back and a rub on the tummy.

Unlike the rest of us in the house, Cindy is very scheduled. She knows when it’s time for our walk. We logged many miles together on our walks, comfortable in each other’s silent presence and an occasional chase after a squirrel. I miss those walks with her now. It is all she can do to get up on her paws and waddle down the driveway, doing her thing along the way, then turning around to waddle back. She still remains scheduled, as I hear her pad into my room at 4 am every morning to let me know its time to go out. I see it now as my nightly star gazing ritual. I take her out at look into the sky to find the few constellations I know I or look at the moon. When its time to go in I clap my hands loudly. She can’t hear me call her name anymore. She turns her head and wags her tail and waddles back in, waits for her scratch on the head, and we both settle in for a few hours before another day begins.

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“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Why is there so much clarity in those silent places with our most loyal friend. Freedom in the quiet. Calm in mere presence. And an exchange of mutual love even in the wee hours of the night.

Yesterday I rub her back as we sit in the veterinarians’ office when suddenly all those years of her faithful companionship overwhelm me. I break into tears out of nowhere. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s the truth that all around me everyone is aging. My dog. My mom. My children. My friends.

That same morning my friend and I simultaneously laughed about and anguished over wrinkles and age spots. What do we do about it? Do we give in and fix them or age gracefully, wrinkles and all.

Why is it so hard to accept the wrinkles of aging, those folds in life that reflect the pain and the worries of our journey. We want to smooth them out, but it is those wrinkles that define us and reflect the strength we have carried and the grace we have sustained to endure the bumps along the way.

This week those bumps loom even larger as I face daily the effects of time. Time that ticks away for my mom as she progresses slowly in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, yet robs my dear friend’s father so quickly. Time that ticks away for my children that now, one by one leave the nest, leaving me alone, with more time to discover or uncover nuggets of truths that have been nestled under all the busyness of caring for others.

And today in the vet’s office this truth hits hard: in all these moments Old Faithful has been there beside me. One who knows me better than I know myself. One who senses my moods, who knows when I need comfort. Who looks at me and through me with loyal eyes and complete acceptance. One who is with me when I walk under sun kissed skies and in the middle of the darkest night.

She is tired. She has age spots. She has trouble breathing. But her tail still wags when she sees me. She still smiles through clouded eyes.

I am grateful for what this companion has taught me about unconditional love. And she continues to teach me, as all of us age, there is much power in a good back rub, in being present in silences, that wrinkles and grey hair are outshone by loving eyes, and that an occasional groan is okay. And at times it’s hard to get up, but sometimes you just do, move forward, and get a treat. And companionship, the kind that has worn a hole in the pavement beside you, rain or shine, is the best treat of all.

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Missing You

Mom rides in the car beside me, on the way home from daycare. This is part of our weekly routine. Routine is essential in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. There is not much to say, only, did you have a good day?

“Yes,” she always says, “what else can you do?”

Sometimes this same answer frustrates me when I pick her up.

But today, when the weather has finally cooled, and the afternoon sun catches her cheek on the drive home

and we drive by the brand new memory care center I think of admitting her to every time we pass by

it doesn’t bother me as much.

 

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I know the ladies at the day care center have had a wonderful day with her. One showed me a picture on the phone. She played the piano today at the center. Of all the things she couldn’t remember, that she did recall, sitting at the piano.

Today they also played the African drums I got for them at the music festival last week. I convinced the man from Senegal to give me these beautiful handmade drums at a good price so I could donate them to the center. The day care ladies raved how the group loved beating out rhythms on the drums today. How it brought smiles to their faces.

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But mom doesn’t remember the drums either. As I ask her the more questions about her day, halfway home she blurts out, “I think I need to go home to daddy. I need to check on him and see how he is doing.”

I pause. “Mom,” I tell her, “he’s already gone.” Beneath her little grey head and small pale eyes a look of shock registers

“He is? How long has he been gone.”

“Sixteen years. Since Lauren was a baby. You have been living with me for seven years.”

Her face, empty of any recognition, falls. “How come I don’t remember.”

I say nothing.

We make the turn at the corner, past the cemetery blocks from my home.

“Who is at home with Daddy?” she asks.

I repeat the same answer I gave a few minutes earlier.

I get the same empty look, a sense of grasping for recollection.

She hadn’t missed him.

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Then this morning I see this video of Glen Campbell. I remember watching him on the Ed Sullivan show in the living room where my parents lived for 40 years. I remember the album cover by my dad’s old stereo.

And now, I grasp the meaning of his song, “I’m not Gonna Miss You”.

For the beauty of Alzheimer’s in a soul like my mother’s is that there is no pain. Only recollections she holds onto momentarily like tears or raindrops that melt away.

And once she lets go of the tear it is gone. Wiped away.

The only pain is mine.

But if that tear can grace her cheek then melt into oblivion then I must let my own do the same.

I already miss her. The her that would ask about my day, or chat over coffee with me.

But she doesn’t miss me. Her eyes still light up when me or my kids walk into the room. She still reaches and argues for a kiss “that I can feel” in the evening when I say goodnight.

And when I struggle over what is the right thing to do I remember. She feels no pain. She only lives in the moment. So her momentary tears and frustrations are easily dissolved and forgotten

while mine linger in my heart and burn a hole in my soul,
especially as I hear the words that Glen Campbell sings in that familiar voice:

I won’t be missing you
I don’t know the pain you feel
Or the things you do and say each day
I only know you are the last one I say good bye to
And I’m not going to miss you

 

Rhythms of Grace


Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (The Message)

I sit in a room full of grace.

People of grace. For they are caregivers, ones whose daily rhythms include tending to the needs of their loved ones who are terminally ill or struggling with dementia. These rhythms are forced into routine, the routine of medications, of bathing, of dressing, of feeding, of exercising, of resting, then starting over again.

These daily rhythms become wearing and confining. But in the midst of these routines they have gathered for a caregivers retreat, to find respite for a couple of days from caring for a spouse, a parent, an aunt, a grandparent.

In this room, in this circle, a drum in front of each seat, in a session that promises “Rhythm for Relief”, they have assembled, these caregivers of every age, shape and size, with unknown, but similar stories being the common ground.

It is common ground that makes a circle of drums so powerful. For even in remote areas of Africa, in Ghana, where these drums are made, the routines of daily life are communicated through the rhythm of drums. This primal beat, a sound that reflects the first sound we ever hear, the heartbeat of our mother in the womb, is a beat that reflects life before we even have awareness. Because these beats are the core of our being, there are messages sent through the rhythms of the drum that transcend words. Jason, our instructor from “Drum Magic”, has observed it in the bush of Africa. He has observed it as he holds seminars in corporate groups of America. And he has witnessed it in the classroom and in senior centers.

Here, in this circle, he begins. He tells us about the drums, each handmade with wood and goat skin by craftsmen in a tribe in Ghana. He shares from his own experience that there is nothing like the energy shared by a group united through the beating of the drums.

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We sit in a large circle, all of us. We are not aware of one another’s name, yet we find a common thread as we gather in this drum circle. As it is in Africa, where villages communicate to each other the messages of daily life, we follow Jason’s lead and begin a simple beat with our fingers and palm on the hand pulled goatskins of these drums, a Welcome rhythm that he sings in a native tongue:

We are together.
Give thanks.
Kick your boots.
Dance
look look look
Let’s all get together and dance

The beat of the drums increase, the rhythms begin to vary. We follow. We turn and smile at each other. He begins to beat faster, changing up the rhythms. We begin to laugh and smile as we try to keep up with him. Some even begin to get up and dance.

He tells us this:

Tell your story on the rhythm of the drum.
Make up something that describes your day today. Tell about it on the drum.

When your make up a rhythm, you put yourself out there with out worrying about the words that your use. Just play out a thought, you feel free enough to do this on a drum.

A caregiver is normally guarded and private. But here in this circle that wall of protection is briefly broken as each caregiver expresses himself on a drum. Those who spend months and years caring for the needs of another are momentarily set free expressing themselves through an unspoken story: a drumbeat.

The group beats a steady background rhythm as each one in the circle shares, some by gentle tapping, some by pounding and banging and slapping. It is magical how this happens, for each one is somehow understood.

The cry to be understood, to be heard, is an echo of the heart. Every caregiver longs to be heard. To find community. To know they are not alone in their weariness, frustration, or grief. Even momentarily, burdens are lifted. Because somehow, through the message of a drumbeat, we experience the unforced rhythms of grace.

So we return to our homes, our rhythms, our routines of caregiving. And I hope we continue to find those unforced rhythms of grace in our days. In those days we are breathless, may we become aware of the rise and fall of our breath. In those days when tears flow, may we find comfort in the patter of the rain on the roof. In those days when we feel we cannot take another step, may we find strength in the cadence of our footsteps along the beach. And as we listen to the rhythm of the waves beating against the shore, may the rhythm of our own heartbeat bear us up to continue to care for the heart of another.

mom’s gift

Rites of passage.  This weekend was full of them.

My third son off to his senior prom.

My baby, my daughter gets her driver’s license.

My second son skypes for a while to take a break from studying for finals at college.

And my oldest gives me this gift, a gift that makes every heartache, every tear, every sleepless night worth the cost of being a mom.

This gift, this video that records moments of motherhood, is meant to honor my mother, his grandmother.

But this gift honors every mom I know…every mom who wonders if her little acts of love are noticed.   They are.

Please enjoy this gift, moms, and remember every little act of love are treasures  not only to us, but to our children, even when they are grown.

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Things made new

20140425-172656.jpg Birth days.

Days to celebrate life.

Life that gives hope and promise and new beginnings.

Life born out of pain and received in joy and love

Three birth days celebrated in past weeks– my daughter’s sixteenth, my joy, my heart,

born sixteen years ago out of intense labor pain

the same pain my mother bore for me.

My mother’s 90th birthday celebrated days later

and a few days after that,

the most joyous of days to celebrate new birth born out of pain… Easter.

On Easter morning we sing this song ,a song that embraces the beauty born out of pain:

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of us

-Beautiful Things by Gungor

Life

In its hard barren things that we come across

buried under daily happenings

grief, sorrow, isolation, loneliness,

somehow out of these broken things

in this dust a garden arises

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strength

hope

gratefulness

perspective

joy

Out of chaos life is being found in you….

After a week of creative chaos

celebratory chaos–

Two milestone birthdays and Easter–

all reasons to celebrate life…

life at the beach celebrating sixteen year old wonders… IMG_2595 life around balloons and birthday cake celebrating the wonder of turning 90… 20140425-165251.jpg life around the table celebrating the wonder of eternal life on resurrection Sunday

… the chain of worry, of planning, controlling, perfecting is broken by the cross on Easter.

The joy of life replaces darkness.

The light of love shatters all, breaks the hold that daily worries and fears have over me. photo (7) Symbols of new life were placed around the house–

flowers

balloons

bread broken on Holy Thursday

thorns

a cross from Jerusalem

a painting of an olive tree in Gethsemane 20140425-165314.jpg Do these symbols that take a place in my home take place in my heart?

When I share the broken bread with each of my children, I remember the broken places in my heart–

the places that watch my mom diminish from Alzheimer’s

the places of her failing life chipping away at mine

the places that slowly ebb away at my life that could render me drowning in sorrow

until I choose to remember that out of pain comes something new.

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all 20140425-172754.jpg Mom’s memories are becoming lost. At times she struggles to remember our names. She could not comprehend it was her birthday. She did not know she was 90. Yet the things that are lost are replaced with a joy in the moment. In beauty in each moment. In complete and wondrous joy in the bouquet of flowers I brought to her on her birthday. In the the joy of hearing the sentiments of loved ones I read to her from Facebook wishing her a happy birthday. In singing “Happy Birthday to Me” as she blew candles from a cake as her caregivers and family friends gathered around her.

Mom loves gardens. She loves flowers. In her brief walks around the neighborhood she loves to study the different flowers and comment how beautiful they are. Though much is lost, much is found in the beauty in each moment that she chooses to see. In the color of the flowers. In the sound of music played on piano keys. In the faces of her grandchildren. 20140428-105247.jpg And on Easter, when we sing this song of new life, of things being made new, made beautiful out of dust

its words are a balm to my parched soul, weary of this journey.

For all of us are being made new in these lessons of caregiving of walking daily with someone who lives only in the present and only sees the good, the beautiful in each moment.

Life in the middle–

now the mother of a sixteen year old daughter

and the daughter of a ninety year old mother

in the midst of adolescent giggles and ninety year old stubbornness

there is beauty and things are being made new.

Places we are marked are the places that allow us to touch others. Pain carves deep etchings into our soul places marked by loss, hurt, places we did not expect to be.

I did not expect this this place of mothering my mother at the same time mothering my daughter, this place where I savor the quiet moments of sharing secrets once shared with my own mother

secrets about love, about being loved, about being comfortable in your own skin about loving yourself fully so that you can love others fully

secrets my mother may have never communicated verbally but demonstrated daily.

Hope is springing up from this old ground…

You make me new, You are making me new

You make me new, You are making me new 20140425-165215.jpg I don’t comprehend all the things I am learning from this journey

Each day I am weary from the length and its constant presence. But along this old ground, this path I’ve trod for years

I look for places where hope springs up…

A sweet smile, a tender hug, a “thank you for taking care of me”…

and I am made new.   20140425-172634.jpg

A Matter of the Heart

My mom is approaching her 90th birthday, a greatly anticipated event. But two weeks short of becoming a nonagenarian,  she wakes up weak, disoriented, barely able to walk. The sun rises over the trees as I back out of the driveway to take her to the ER. As I look at the sky it dawns on me that I may have to make some very hard decisions today. Be strong. Be prepared. 20140422-203936.jpg Over the past seven years of having mom in my home this route to the ER is not unfamiliar. Instinct is now trusted, not questioned, for I drive her directly to the hospital and not to her primary doctor. Here they will be able to do the bloodwork and tests that will probably tell me it is a UTI (urinary tract infection) that is causing her weakness.

This time it is different. This time there are more tests. An EKG, an echocardiogram. More blood tests. An chest X-ray. A CT scan. This time it is her heart.

Her heart.

For 53 years, this woman has been my heart. The center of my world. My cheerleader, encourager. The one who loves me completely. The one who knows my heart. And today they tell me something may be wrong with her heart.

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And my heart breaks. Completely and physically. Thankfully my friend is on duty as an ER nurse today. Another nurse witnesses my breakdown and tells her, “You better go see your friend.” She comes to me, and I crumble in her arms sobbing to her, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.”

After seven years of caring for mom and learning more about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, hypertension, I take in loads of information and try to process all the scenarios. Knowing what to do is a priority. In my head I know all these diseases are progressive. Our goal is palliative care and quality of life. But when the actual moment comes when a decision has to be made about the condition of her heart, I am lost. I am undone.

The decision ahead is: do we do a heart catheter to look for blockage. Do we put in a stint. Do we choose relatively simple procedure? Is it worth the risk?

Head spinning, I walk outside. Again I break down in tears, pacing the pavement in front of the ER doors I walked in hours ago, so distraught that the attendant that helped me wheel her in now walks over to me silently with a box of tissues. Driving here I had a feeling I would have to make a hard decision, but not this one: do I make the choice to give her a simple procedure? She has a living will and a DNR, decisions she made herself years ago.

The weight of this decision is to heavy for me, and I gasp for breath in between sobs, taking in air, anything to clear my head to help me think. I can’t think for myself, so I call others to help me think. Information, I need information, so I call trusted physicians, my cousin, my friends who dearly love my mom, to help me confront this dilemma: how do you choose what is right spiritually, medically? How do you choose what is right for mom’s heart?

Mom has been the heart of my family, my extended family, my friends’ families, for as long as I can remember. Even with clouded memory, her heart and spirit shine from her frail body. The chaplain is called to pray with mom, to pray with me as I am completely distraught. He comments on her beautiful spirit. He reminds me her spirit is strong, her spirit is eternal, and any decision we make today will not affect her place in eternity. 20140422-202818.jpgHis prayer moves me to call my dear pastor friend, one I know has walked this hospital floor many times. Although he is far away my friend sings Amazing Grace over the phone to Mom as he has many times for her at the piano in my home. He reminds me that God will make it clear what is the right choice through the people around me. He encourages me to let go of the burden of carrying this decision.

Through God’s amazing grace I look back on the course of the day. On words spoken through those placed around me to remind me of his grace.

…a nurse,  the friend I watched pour through textbooks, studying to get her RN now encouraging me, God knows her days, He has them numbered, and it does not look like it will be today. She tells me if I made it here today just to tell you this, then it was worth it.

…a neighbor, a friend who for the past five years walked next to me and with me through the valleys and crags of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. She reminds me to do what is best for Lola, what would make her the most comfortable….

…a physician, a friend who stood with us during my father’s battle with cancer, reminds me mom’s days are not determined by the decision we make now. Her heart loves God completely and her days are not determined by the physical condition of her heart which may not withstand a procedure…

….and Mom telling me, looking me straight in the eye, telling me, she is ready to go. To go to heaven. Even as she lies in the hospital bed, she reminds me, God is so good to me, He will take care of me.

And He does.

He makes it clear.

Choose Life.

John 10:10 says I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

For 89 years mom has lived an abundant life. Loving abundantly. Serving abundantly. Giving abundantly. Teaching abundantly.

Her life is abundantly full of people she has loved, touched, changed, believed in. Her life is not determined by a frantic choice in an emergency room. hospital w michaelAnd by God’s grace, I do not have to make the choice. Hours after reviewing all the tests, her cardiologist makes the choice for us. Her body, her kidneys, may not be strong enough to withstand a procedure.

Without intervention, her heart will function. It would be better to let things be, than to try find a blockage and remove it. It would be better to keep things as they are than to try to fix it and possibly cause other complications.

Even after the mild heart attack, the echocardiogram shows her heart is strong, the squeeze of her heart still pumping life strongly through her veins.

At her beside the cardiologist reports despite what has happened her heart is quite strong for a woman of her age. Remarkably strong actually.

I smile and squeeze her hand.

Of course it is.

It always has been.20140422-202503.jpg Continue Reading

Essence

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I took a Chinese painting class last week, a completely new learning experience. Everything about it was new, the types of paints, the brushes, how you hold the brush, the type of paper, how you load the brush with paint. A new way to paint. A new way to look at things.

Many times the teacher said, “In Chinese painting, don’t worry about detail. You want to capture the essence. If you make mistake, let it happen. See where it goes. Don’t try to fix it.”

His Chinese paintings were so beautiful and simple. I asked him to paint a peony for me. In a few brushstrokes, he captured the essence of this flower I love so much. So beautiful, so simple. In such few strokes, such few colors, he created something that moved me to tears.

Why did something so simple move me to tears? With a few strokes of a brush, this artist connected to my soul. He laughed at my tears, saying, “You make more tears, I make more beautiful flower.”

So here it is, a peony by artist Lian Quan Zhen.

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Simple strokes, use of pure colors, light touch. Suggestion. Not all details.

Mixed in with painting lessons, life lessons.

Don’t force things. Let them be as they are.

Many things in your life you don’t understand. You do it first, then you understand.

Sometimes you give up things to get things.

After years of raising four children, my mind is not wired to think this way. There are many years of attempted control and order to reverse. Yet in this changing season of letting go, relinquishing control, I see the beauty of giving up things to get things. The peace of not forcing things and letting them happen. The joy of letting my grown children be as they are and blossom in their gifts.

The gift of living with someone with Alzheimer’s also teaches, for she sees things in the present, life in the small things. Through her I learn to see beauty in the shell, in the external that capsules what is hidden inside.

To see the essence, the purity of heart and soul now masked my amalagous plaques tangling the brain rendering captive the expression, the language, the emotions that once captured and endeared this person to the hearts of many.

The essence. Look at the essence.

The true beauty of this being.
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Through my art I hope to see clearly the things I love. The flowers familiar, landscapes and seascapes that heal my soul. Look deeply into them unmasked.

And in turn trust that the things I see are true.

Then, lightly, I will touch the paper with brush and ink, not force what I see, not try to control it.

Instead let it happen,

And capture only essence.

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