Smokescreen

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Our waters are surrounded by a smokescreen.

For weeks and days our waters on the Puget Sound are shrouded by a smoky fog, the result of fires burning out of control to the north of us in Canada and the south of us in Oregon.

Just now I hear a ship’s foghorn bellowing a warning of its approach.

For in these waters we cannot see what is ahead of us, but must move forward.

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Last week my sister and I sat together at the table with a social worker from hospice.

Our mother had been admitted two weeks ago, and we meet to talk about mom’s situation.

We have just discussed our mother’s end of life plan over a form we must fill out that checks off which measures we will take or not take to extend her life.

CPR. No.

Feeding tube. No.

Ventilator. No.

Antibiotics…….this is a grey area difficult to define.  Will we administer antibiotics to prolong life?  Or for comfort measures only.

For now, we check the box….to prolong life.

She was admitted to hospice after being diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. Her breathing was labored and shallow. She was weak, and tired. Yet a smile still lights up her face when we walk into the room.

Her pneumonia cleared up after a round of antibiotics. But with her swallowing reflex diminishing, she is at risk of aspirating again.

Over the phone in a twenty minute conversation, the hospice doctor patiently walked through the steps of the hospice decision with me after doing an assessment on my mother.

“When we come to this stage in the Alzheimer’s disease, we need to prepare ourselves that it is not the Alzheimer’s that will kill her, but another ailment. An infection such as pneumonia can be the cause of her demise. At some point we must assess, are we prolonging the inevitable at the cost of the quality of her life? This is a point for you and your family to decide.”

We review the living will she filled out ten years ago, before this Alzheimer’s fog arrested her brain.

At that time she stated, “I wish no extensive measures to prolong my life, as long as quality of life is not compromised.”

How do we measure the quality of a life?  Who helps us decide that?

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There was one point out on the water on my paddleboard this morning I become suddenly afraid, gripped by fear of the darkness below me.

The view that at first was calming and beautiful out on the still, clear water, drew me slowly over the dark and ominous, deeper cold waters of the Puget Sound.

Fear drove me to push myself closer to shore. Paddling over shallower waters I could see the beauty of the bulbous kelp’s long ribbons floating below, tiny red crabs holding on for a free ride. The pouf of a grand Lion’s Mane jellyfish appeared underneath. I watch the pulse of its feathery red tendrils.

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(Photo by Dan Hershmanhttps://www.flickr.com/)

From above an osprey plunges into the cold waters, clenching life from the sea into its talons to take life into the air, towards the sky.

Below the surface life abounds, just beyond the eye’s first glimpse. 

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I step into my mother’s room for just a few moments, on the way to meet my husband for our 36th anniversary dinner.  He has walked this path of caregiving with me for one-fourth of our married life. He first met my mother when he was 17 years old, my high school sweetheart. He was been first hand witness to my mother’s decline.

Today when I walk into her room her eyes light up with recognition.

I sit next to her wheelchair, kiss her cheek, and hold her hand.  Her sweet smile shows me this is enough, to be next to her, rubbing the folds of her soft hand in mine, though the rest of her mind is lost in the darkness of Alzheimer’s. I read to her a story I wrote about her, one called “Messy Edges”, a story that shares how she has taught me to see beauty in difficult places through her disease, Alzheimer’s. She continues to hold my hand as I read to her out loud.

For many years she read to me at my bedside, aloud. She was the one who taught me to love words. She was the one who taught many others to love words and stories in her role as a third grade teacher.

Her words are few now. Yet her smile expresses all that is unsaid.

Today she is able to listen intently at the words I have written, my first in print. I end the story. I tighten my grip on her hand. 

“Mom, you always told me I was a writer,” I tell her.

She looks up at me and smiles, her angelic smile from heaven.

She nods.

“You are.”

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To read a copy of the essay, “Messy Edges” and many other beautiful essays on the grace of aging, follow the link to The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on  Faith, Beauty and Strength , an anthology edited by Leslie Leyland Fields

https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

https://alzauthors.com/2018/08/29/meet-vina-mogg-alzheimers-blogger-at-seaglasslife-com/

I am an AlzAuthor

A tribute to my father……

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I am grateful to share my father’s and my family’s story as a guest blogger on granndparentslink.com

I am even more grateful for the legacy my parents have left to our family and our children.

Please join the link https://www.grandparentslink.com/experts-corner/a-fathers-day-tribute/

Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

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(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Ina: Generations of Mothers


She raised a generation of daughters. And they in turn are raising another generation of daughters and sons.

The concentric circle extends even father outward, as she was the “Tita”, the aunt to an extended generation of daughters, her nieces, whom she raised as her own and even more significantly, brought them here to the United States. She continues to be the matriarch and mother figure for decades of lifetimes beyond their own, to their children’ children, even as she lies in her hospital bed, the place where her nieces and sister gather around her now. 

The strength of my mother’s love reaches past borders and generation, touching lives even as she lies still, her left side paralyzed, her heart still as full and loving now, smile filling her entire face.

During this gathering of my cousins and aunt we shared a weekend of tears, hugs, laughter, and our favorite Filipino food, Kare Kare (oxtail soup), my aunt’s specialty. When my mother was admitted to hospice several weeks ago I had asked them to come to see her. Her Alzheimers was taking its toll on her memory and she was losing weight rapidly.

“Please come see my mother,” I asked them.

And they did. They travelled from the other coast to be here.  My mother’s only surviving sister of nine siblings, at 87, came to be at her side. My cousins, two the daughters of this sister, and one, the daughter of my mother’s younger beloved sister who passed away two Mother’s Day ago, with Alzheimer’s.

Together we leafed through old black and white photographs. Since they were raised in the Philippines and I was born here, my cousins knew so many details of the family’s life that I did not. Our bedside visit became a story telling session of our family’s past.

We pick up a photo of our grandmother. She is dressed in her best Filipino embroidered gown, a “terno”. Her waistlength grey hair is wrapped in her signature bun on top of her head. On the back of the photo in her very best writing, she writes this:

 Dear Bing and Jessie

 This picture was taken in inside the house with my appliances.

 Your loving mother,

 Filomena C. Bermudez




My cousin Carina explains to me that our grandmother was the queen of the province where she lived in the remote farmland of the Philippines. She was the only one with electricity, with appliances- an electric fan, a refrigerator, a radio, a television. Carina remembers the neighbors peeking into the window of the concrete block house, the biggest one on the street, to get a glimpse of the television working, a novelty back in the 1970’s.

My father would send his mother money to purchase these appliances from his meager salary as a food service worker at the Veteran’s Hospital. He was a veteran himself, 24 years in the US Army, a retired sergeant who had risked his life as Philippine Scout to escape from the Bataan Death March in World War II. My father, an enlisted man who fought on the front lines of the Korean War, would be so proud to know that Carinas’ sons now serve as officers in the US Army and Air Force, one as a major and one as a lieutenant as well as other cousin’s son, one who bears his name, Bermudez, a major in the Army.

These sons of Carina were taught by my mother how to read. They had just come to this country, and I remember my mother, a former third grade teacher, sitting on the couch reading our favorite children’s books, Where the Wild things Are and Curious George to these sons who are now officers serving our country.
Carina leans over the bed to my mother. She whispers, “Thank you, Tita Bing, thank you for teaching my sons to read. Thank you for all you have done for us to have a good life in this country.”


Carina’s sister, Marlene, turns to me. “I don’t like seeing your mom like this,” she cries. “She is the strong one, she is the one who did everything for us. She is the one who would make our favorite food and we would all eat at her house. Her house was the gathering place for us.”

Her mother sits quietly by mom’s beside.  There are no words between them, only a smile and grasping of hands

 
We pick up a photo of our mother’s mother. Veiled and stoic, hosting the same eyes and my mother, she is receiving an award from their priest at their parish.  I know this now because my cousin reads out loud the back of the photograph written in Tagalog in my grandmother’s handwriting.  At the end of the paragraph she signs in script, “Ina”.  


“What does that mean?” I ask Carina.

“Mother.”

Yesterday, the day we celebrate mothers, the great granddaughter of these grandmothers who lived in provinces in a country  10,000 miles away hosted a Mother’s Day Filipino Brunch in honor of these mothers.  She prepared food native to our country in a city, Seattle, known for its foodies. Her heritage menu  was promoted in a local magazine as one of the Nine Best Mother’s Day 2017 Brunches in Seattle.
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As the circle of mothers and daughters extend further out so does the gathering around the table, not only including family, extending to guests.  The tradition of welcoming and gathering with food and laughter ripples out  through the generations.


The center of this outward circle is not forgotten

My cousin Grace leans over to say good bye with tears and words of gratefulness for all my mother has done. 

“Thank you Tita, for bringing my family here, for taking care of us, for giving us the chance fo a new life here.  We love you Tita Bing.”

The cousins gather around her to sing a song, a Filipino love song that was the favorite of my mother and father.  Although the names of my cousins are barely recalled, the words of this beloved song are not forgotten.

“Dahil Sayo”.

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Nais kong mabuhay (I want to live)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Hanggan mamatay (for the rest of my life)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Ako’y lumigaya (I’ve become happy)

Ang lahat sa buhay ko’y (Everything in my life is)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you)

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A Bloom from dark places

We are in the midst of a drought here in Florida, all grass and flowers withering and crumbling here.
I see my friend’s peonies blooming in rich North Carolina soil, these blooms, full and beautiful, for a brief but lovely season.

And on this May Day, where we celebrate bloom

I celebrate this blossom, a dance choreographed by my daughter

Who during her young pre-teen and teen years observed the slow withering of life as her grandmother, my mother, lived with us and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

She named this piece “Help”.
Out of the years of watching her beloved grandmother decline, and our family’s growth in caring for her, and out of her co-choreographer’s mission trip to an orphanage in India this piece was born.

How lovely this bloom flowers from parched and dark places.
“Help”   Choreographer:  Lauren Mogg

Baylor Dance Company 


 

God knows what is hiding in this world of little consequence 

Behind the tears, inside the lies

A thousand slowly dying sunsets

God knows what is hiding in those weak and drunken hearts 

I guess the loneliness came knocking

No one needs to be alone, oh save me


People help the people

and if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it

People help the people 

Nothing will drag you down

Oh and if I had a brain, Oh and if I had a brain

I’d be as cold as stone and rich as the fool

That turned, all those good hearts away


Birdy

Songwriter: Simon Aldred

People Help the People Lyrics 

Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Flowers by Bev Walker,  A Loose Leaf Life 

Message in the Sky


I rise above on metal wings.

Rise above this broken earth
Fractured and shattered. 
The craft moves upward

Away from anger, pain and protest 

Grief, and forgetting, my mother’s disease.
Pulled into the greys of heaven

clouds and mist and vapor.
Behind it trails the dawn

The beginning of a new day

The gradual warming of earth’s tent

From greys to pinks to orange.
We soar along horizon’s line

Away from dawn, westward

from here the daunting now appears 

Insignificant, small.

        

Land recedes, gives way to gulf waters

The blue of waters reflect the blue of skies above

A layer of mist hovering between 
Above the blue

As if a heavenly artist took one stroke

One brush of his hand 

A message

half a heart

In vapor, in white on a blue canvas sea.


What message does this half a heart bear?

Unfinished?

Incomplete?

Or is the remnant of a broken heart? Half empty from grief and pain and sorrow?
The half heart remains floating above the gulf waters.  A message in the sky.

The remaining journey attempts to answer that question.

Half hearted?

Or broken hearted?

He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God.  Issac Newton


On this journey across the country I see the remnants, the attempts for us to be like God, constructing our own universe, power, the windmills the towns laid out in perfect grids, the farmland, from the sky, perfect circles. The network of connection of roads and highways sometimes singular across a vast nothing, sometimes a puzzle of roadways. All connectors. All looking for connection. The towers reaching to the sky to send signals. The skyscrapers stair stepping upward.  


Beyond the cities and towns, a single peak, snow capped, tapping heaven, then sloping down into a valley that breaks out into a river, then a canyon, then a desert. This vastness that is this land. The land our forefathers traversed at first by foot or horseback centuries ago. The land our forefathers traversed in search of a new life and new horizon. This country of promise.

My father came to this country, decades ago, standing on the deck of a freighter. He earned his entrance into America fighting on foreign soil, a soldier in the Philippine Scouts during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March. He survived the Korean War.
As he approached the port of entry spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge, he spoke to his young daughter, my sister, of the promise of this land, of the promise of America. “We will have a good life here in America,” he said to her as they crossed underneath the great orange arches.
My plane lands a few hours south of where my father first entered this country, Monterey Bay, where a Filipino taxi driver takes me to my hotel. He is from the same area in the Philippines as my father. He speaks his language. He has been in this country 17 years. He speaks proudly of his daughter, who is going to college. He has my father’s dream, that his children get a degree. He has my father’s name. Jessie.
I see my father’s face in the ones of those who work here at the hotel. My father, who was a laborer after his 24 years of service as a sergeant in the US Army. My father who could could only dream of staying at a seaside resort. My father who labored so his children could dream.
Over the waters the next morning, perhaps one hundred miles south of the port my father first entered this country over sixty years ago a rainbow reaches from end to end. Not just one, but two. A double rainbow over the grey blue pacific waters.

Promise. The rainbow.
These days it can mean so many things

But originally the bow

Was set in the clouds as a promise

That God would never flood the earth again

Despite our turning away.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come.  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Genesis 9:13 

A sign of promise.
A sign of hope.

My father crossed the sea to enter this land just miles from the span of this rainbow.  He came here to hope.  He came here to fulfill promise.
My promise now to him is to care for his widow

The woman he brought here years ago torn from her homeland and mother and family

To start a new life in the land of promise.

I will care for her

And the memories she can no longer recall

Of a life, a home, a car, a family started here in this country.
I will care for my father’s grandchildren
The ones who now live the life he only dreamed of

Who carry degrees from universities and live in cities and towers from coast to coast.

Who  pursue education and the hope of helping others in a world that greatly needs help.

And as my mother fades she too will join him.

And they will live in the legacy of their children and grandchildren

Who live out the promise they began 

Perhaps broken

But not half hearted.

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Measured by the moon.

The moon hangs like an orb, suspended in the sky. Weightless. Floating. Full.

As if it does not carry the weight of measuring time and days as it brightens the dark sky on its descent into a new day.

This day it drops into is my birthday. Another measure of time, in years. A span of 365 risings and falling of the moon, marking 56 times today.

But the one who gave birth to me that day 56 years ago does not remember.

For her time is still, only measured in present. No before or after moments. Only now.

At times it is a gift, this only present moments. There is no sorrow about the past. No worries about the future. Alzheimer’s has taken away time consciousness. Perhaps it is not thievery. Perhaps it is freedom.

Time is suspended as I sit beside her bedside now, stroking the soft, thin folds of her hand in mine. I move for her this hand and arm, the one she cannot move, rendered still from a stroke months ago. She moves the other gracefully to the beat of an old Filipino song, O Ilaw:

Oh light, in the dark night

You’re like a star in the sky

Oh light in the quiet night 

Your picture, dear, makes one hurt. 


O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim

Wag is mo’y bitiun sa langit.

O, tanglaw, sa gabing tahimik

Larawan mo, Neneng,  nagbigay pasakit.
I read the translation to this song we have listened repeatedly over the past months.  Today it strikes me how true these words are.  How is hurts to see her bedridden, to see her bones so frail, her arm still, her head and neck so weak.  But her smile and the light behind her pale eyes still shine so brightly, the way they always have.

Those eyes close now, yet her hand continues to move to the beat of the music

Her voice is barely a whisper as her mouth forms the words.

Only months ago we would sing this together aloud as I took her for a walk outside, to take her out to feel the sun on her skin and see the flowers she loves bloom.  Those days now are few as her lack of mobility makes it difficult to put her in the wheelchair.

She no longer marks the days. Yesterday I told her, “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
She raised  her eyebrows with a familiar smile.
“Oh it is? I did not remember,” she says. “What month is it?”
“January,” I tell her.
“January,” she repeats.

“Do you know the day?” I ask.
She shakes her head no
“My birthday is January 13,” I tell her.
“Oh,” she mouths quietly, then whispers, “What do you want for your birthday?”
“A new dress,” I tell her.
She smiles. “Ok.You get one.”
“Ok, I do you want to go shopping with me?” We used to spend hours shopping together.
She shakes her head no.
She whispers again, “What do you want?”
I think of the time we spent only months ago, when I could push her outside and we could sing her favorite song together,

I tell her, “I want you to sing, sing really loud mommy, so I can hear you.”

Together we sing in Tagalog words that have become familiar these past months, translated:

Awake and arise from slumber, from your sleep so deep. Open your window and look out to me, so that you may understand my true lament

I read the translation to this song, this day before my birthday. This day I have scheduled hospice to come to do an evaluation of mom’s condition. Her strength has declined markedly since her stroke last August. My lament over her condition has rendered me sleepless and worried.

This day before I start a new year, I need to know. I need someone to help me measure the amount of my mom’s decline, need to know where she was at in her stages of Alzheimer’s. And the hospice coordinator comes to the door shortly after we finish our song.

“Hello,” she greets my mother, “How are you. Who are you? Can you tell me your name?”

“Bing,” she answers with a smile.

“I want to know if she has a awareness of who she is,” the coordinator had told me earlier in a brief interview.
“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Does she have a sense of who she is,” she answered. “Can she answer the question, ‘Who are you?'”
On this  birthday of mine I ask myself, Do I have a sense of who I am? Can I answer this question: “Who are you?”

In the past years it has been entangled between caregiver and mother.And lately I have fallen exhausted into both. But that is not the woman my mother raised me to be.

She would want me to answer that question, as she still can: “Who are you”

Me separate from my mother, from my children

Me the one who is shaped by caring for others but not defined by it

Me, searching for to be fully the one I was created to be

The day my mother brought me into this world 56 years ago
If the measure of our days here on earth is to have a sense of self, let me be the one my mother led by example for me to be.

Loving others, caring for their needs, listening, laughing alongside.

As she has for years

And has she does now

In each moment

Suspended still in the air

Like the moon, full.