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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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

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”…

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the faces of caregiving

FACE:
 1face noun, often attributive \ˈfās\
 : the front part of the head that has the eyes, nose, and mouth on it
 : a facial expression
 : the way something appears when it is first seen or thought about

When it is dark, and early in the morning, first impressions may not always be accurate. That was true the morning I boarded a bus at 5 a.m. for a four-hour journey to Tallahassee, the state capitol, with 20 strangers, all caregivers like myself, to lobby for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative, a bill to assist full-time caregivers with respite care. Caregiving takes its toll, and as I glanced at each face boarding that early morning, I wondered what story brought each one on the bus that day.

As light broke that morning, so did conversation begin to break among strangers, and I began to speak with the woman behind me, Miss Margaret, a soft spoken woman with a warm smile. I asked her who she cared for, and she told me her husband, Mr. Willie. The lilt of her voice and demeanor reflected the love and loyalty she felt for Mr. Willie, but the tears forming after a few words revealed the weariness of her burden. After his stroke last summer she has been caring for him full time, as well as pastoring a church near Daytona Beach. His recovery from his stroke has been slow; often he is tired, and it is difficult for him to get around. Still he comes with her to the church. When he tires, he just lays down on the pew and takes a rest. The congregation understands; it’s just Mr Willie.

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Rest. Rest is something Miss Margaret herself needed. But sometimes it is too much of a burden to get that rest. To be able to go on this day trip, Miss Margaret had to make arrangements at a local respite care home, get Mr. Willie up at 3 am to bring him there for the day. She fretted about getting home late that night to pick up Mr. Willie then bring him home at midnight. I suggested to her to just let him sleep there for the evening so she could get a good night’s sleep. With her sweet smile she replied, no, I’ll worry to much that he will be restless. I’ll just bring him home.

Rest. A caregiver who provides 24/7 care for their loved one rarely gets rest. Without rest or respite from their loved one, more than half of caregivers will die before their loved one who has dementia dies. Many caregivers experience high levels of stress and negative effects on their health, employment, income, and financial security. Caregivers experience loneliness, isolation, and grief over extended periods of time.

Yet they carry on each day, many with a smile on their face that hides their pain.

Tony is one on the bus with a big smile on his face. His eyes even smile beneath his white brow and hair. I ask him, does your loved one have Alzheimer’s. With a big, crooked smile and a twinkle in his eye he answers with utmost sincerity: From the tip of the hairs on her head to the tips of her toes she had everything wrong with her. She suffered with diabetes, had breast cancer, had open heart surgery, and in the end suffered with dementia. Plainly, he says, she was dealt a bad card. As he looks me straight in the eye, with that same twinkling smile, he tells me he cared for her with his whole heart, and if he had to do it again, he would. They were married almost 50 years, and for 12 of them she was critically ill. Even though she passed, he has come to Tallahassee to advocate for funding for caregivers for the past four years.

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Miss Mae tells me with a small tear that her mother passed last November, yet she continues to care for her two aunts as she has for all three of them the past several years. She shares a photo of her mother on her phone. The warm smile on her mother’s face tells me she must have had a great laugh. Miss Mae smiles and tells me they miss her at the home, for she was the one who made everyone laugh. Miss Mae says that her mother had Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s did not have her.

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This resolve of the mother permeates the life of the daughter.  This resolve permeates the lives of those who now care for the ones that once cared for them.

I had watched a smartly dressed woman wheel her grandmother to the bus. Hunched over from osteoporosis, the grandmother gingerly took each step up the bus as the young woman assisted. At lunch I sit next to them, and find out that the young woman, Sherri, has been caring for her 94-year-old grandmother for the past 10 years, after her grandmother helped Sherri care for her mother. Since she was 20, Sheri’s mother had suffered with MS, but it was colon cancer that took her life 10 years ago. Sherri was her mother’s miracle. Her memories of her mother include her fight and resolve against MS then cancer. Sherri reflects her mother’s passion as she now cares for her grandmother, even now, living with her two weeks after her honeymoon with “the one that got away”…the high school sweetheart she married 20 years later.

These are the faces of caregivers, the ones who care for those who loved them. The ones who take their loved ones into their homes. They are retired. They are working. They have new lives. They are selfless and giving. They are tired.

Their weariness does not prevent them from the four hour bus ride to Tallahassee or the six hour walk through various offices of the capitol to show their support for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative, ADI, a $4.2 million proposal by Florida Governor Rick Scott to assist caregivers in respite care. The proposal will help caregivers on a sliding scale with needed respite care so they continue their jobs or even have a break to complete necessary tasks while caring for their loved one.

Our band of 20, dressed in t-shirts that say “Who Cares?….We do!” have appointments scheduled to meet with legislators to ask for their support for this bill. As we move through different office and meet the legislators, we surprisingly find this truth: that many have their own brushes with Alzheimer’s in their own families, their own stories to tell.

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The face of Alzheimer’s is increasingly prevalent in this society, as the incidence of Alzheimer’s occurs in 5.3 million lives today. The need for support in its many facets: respite, counseling, funding, supplies, daycare……continues to grow. Behind these numbers are the faces of the ones who care, the ones who get lost behind the research and the funding and the cures opposed to the day to day living with this disease.

It is the faces that need to be remembered, as Representative Mark Pafford reminded us last fall at a Caregivers Forum.

“We as legislators lobby for these funds for respite care. But your presence here puts a face to the funds we lobby for. Your faces here make this real and personal.”

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The faces of caregivers. They are real. They are resolved. And they each tell a story that someday may be your own.

stuck in the middle with you

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.

Last night this song is playing at Uno’s while I eat pizza with my kids. I tell them this is a song that talks about my life right now…stuck in the middle with you. They roll their eyes and keep eating their pizza.

It’s homecoming week at the house, a time when the kids both want me around and push me away.  When they want my opinion, then silently warn me with their eyes to back off.   A time when the purse strings are wide open for all the stuff… jewelry, shoes,makeup, costumes…when the car is rolling for errands, rides to the float parade…

It is also a week with a lot of doctor appointments and follow ups for my mom, first to the primary, then arrangements for home health to draw bloodwork, then to the cardiologist for an echocardiogram for a new murmur they hear.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am.  Stuck in the middle with you.

A mirror, a two way mirror.

I see my daughter, choosing what she will share, averting conversations, hugs, kisses on the forehead, gradually taking a few steps back, and me doing the same to my mother, avoiding painful, quiet conversations, needy hugs, a kiss on the cheek, taking a few steps back.

for my daughter, it is independence

for me, it is sorrow

The sorrow of not having the relationship the way I do now with my daughter on the good days–the days out to lunch, or perusing the racks at Marshalls, or grabbing a Starbucks together–the days I used to have with my mom.

I need to let down my guard and have the silent hugs, and take the kisses on the cheek, and take the hand that wants to be held

for that is what a mother needs from her daughter,

and what a daughter needs from her mother

at 15, or 52, or 89

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Fathers, be good to your daughters

Daughters will love like you do

Girls become lovers who turn into mothers

So mothers, be good to your daughters too

–John Mayer

My mother was so good to me.

Am I a daughter who loves like she did?

Selflessly, putting others first?

I have such a hard time right now, putting her first.

She is so kind and gentle

while I fight for myself and what I want

and see that in my daughter too

fighting for who she is

to carve her own way, not mine

even though I may try to direct it.

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It is so hard to see her, my daughter, mirroring the fight I have myself…

wanting independence,

to be free of this constant care and worry for my mom.

Mom tells me she’s ready to go.

I ask her why.

She tells me she doesn’t want me worrying about her so much. Isn’t that what we do as mothers–worry about everything being right?..hair, makeup, the right outfit, friends, relationships, the right fit?

I’ve done that since my daughter was a toddler. I do it now

I do it for my mother at 89, she does it for me.

I walk in the door, dressed up to go to dinner. She motions me towards her, she adjusts my skirt,

“That’s so pretty,” she says, turning her hand in a circle.

“Turn around.”

I sigh, turn grudgingly around.

“Fix your hair,” she says, pointing at my wild mane.

“OK mom,” I say, turn on my heel and walk away.

The next day I do the same to my daughter as she readies herself for homecoming. She’s frantically curling her hair with a wand into little ringlets.

“Aren’t you going to fluff those out,” I ask

“No, mom,” she says. “I like them that way.”

“What about your makeup, aren’t you putting on your makeup?”

“Yes, mom.”

“Pull your skirt down.”

I pause.

I am my mother

My daughter is me.

The lines are blurred in these moments of female-hood

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Three generations under my roof

Three fights for independence

one, wanting to be free to be herself,

one, wanting to be free of her physical limitations

one, wanting to be free of the worries of both

for here I am,

stuck in the middle with you