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

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.

Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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Love that is not Lost

There is a love that bears all things, the kind of love that looks you straight in the eye, into your soul, and sees everything….and still loves. The kind that allows you to be so transparent that nothing is hidden yet everything is loved. When we experience that kind of love our soul is blessed beyond all measure. The joy of holding that kind of love transcends any pain that may follow. For the greatest gift of this kind of love….from a mother, a spouse, a child, a friend, a dog….is knowing that just being in their presence is enough

I repost this blog today, Valentine’s Day, in honor of those whose love completely and unconditionally

 

Her eyes are glazed, yet a light in them still shines.

Her hearing is diminished, yet she still senses me.

She sits at my feet, as I rub her back between the shoulders.

She groans in acknowledgment, as if this happiness is too much to bear.

For a moment the panting stops.

A smile rests under her droopy eyes.

Her head turns, through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.
In days past, sixteen years of them, I would rush past her.

a quick pat on the head and I would be off

doing the things moms do, carpool, grocery shopping, logging miles on the minivan within my five mile radius

but when I returned she would be waiting

always with a wagging tail and a smile.

At times when things were not so rushed–

the groceries put away, the laundry folded–

I would put my tennis shoes on.

She would wag her, her eyes pleading expectantly.

“You wanna take a walk?” I would ask

and with that last word she would trot to the door.
We had our routine path, around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed.

  

When we turned back into the neighborhood her pace picked up a bit as she scampered up the driveway.

She knew she was home.

Years later, mom came to live with us. She was 83 years old. She partnered with us on these walks. Together the three of us would take that familiar path. Around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed. They were times to share tidbits of conversation or times of quiet reflection. Times of companionship.


When we turned back into the neighborhood, mom would exclaim every time, “Thank you, Lord, that we are home.”

Home.

A place of safety.

A place of familiarity

A place of refuge.
These walls of safety have kept out the elements. They have braved three hurricanes, a few tornado warnings, and multiple thunderstorms, even a lightning strike that hit the house and burned out our alarm system.

But these walls cannot shield us from the elements of aging, ones that grapple arthritic bones,

cataracts that dim the eyes, hearing loss that deafens a whisper

or amyloid plaques that tangle the brain.

These are elements that walls cannot keep out

so within these walls we must adapt and acclimate.

For many years I rushed in and out, hurrying on to the next thing.

Now

these elements bear down:

arthritis, aging, alzheimer’s,

causing me to slow.

Stop fighting

Stop rushing past.

Try to hold up.

Try to listen.

Try to see.

So we keep the routine.

Take the walks until the day the feet can only shuffle

Rub the back.

Hold the hand.

 

The smile still lingers, the one that rests under droopy eyes

and the sigh that says this happiness is too much to bear.

The head turns, the light in the eyes still shines

and through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.

A few months ago, the time came to put Cindy down. She was 16 years old. In her way, she let me know it was time.

She was lying down on a pink blanket.  I put my face next to hers.  She lifted her head slightly and looked straight into my eyes. With those eyes she said to me:

It’s OK. I love you. And I know that you love me and have loved me well. It’s OK to say good-bye. Let me go.

I love you.

 
 http://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/

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

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a cross from Jerusalem

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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”…

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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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