Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Little Mum

(This post was originally a piece I wrote just for myself the week I went home to help my dad move my little mum into the Greenwood Center in May of 2004. Mom had been in declining health for several years as a result of dementia. She was a sweet little thing and a really good mom. She died one year ago today. Thank you for reading. I know it's a wee bit long. I wish I had more of the pictures scanned so I could include them.

I’ve heard it said that when a person is drowning, their entire life flashes before their eyes in a matter of seconds. I don’t think it takes drowning to do it. Sometimes, it just takes watching an 83 year-old woman to do it, too.

After days and days of rain, the sun now shines from behind white clouds in a blue sky. It is my mother’s second day in a nursing home just a mile or two down the road from her home. I watch her as she sleeps. She’s a tiny thing. She seems tinier still as she lies in this bed. She is not aware of her left hand as it finds its way to the usual comfortable spot on her cheek, her pinky finger seemingly separate from the others as it rests across her lips. It’s a position I’ve watched absently for many years, but have only come to realize is “Mom’s” in recent months. Each time I notice it now, I see photographs snap by in my mind as I picture her in this same position, only in my memory she is sitting in a rocker, not laying in a bed.

In my mental photo album, she sits in her rocker holding babies, rocking them to sleep to the familiar humming of a tune of which she’s never known the title. I’ve often contemplated ways to determine its origin, yet I hesitate, wondering if knowing will take away the sweet mystery of it. It’s a melody Mom has hummed while holding her babies, grandbabies, and my own two bundles. It’s the melody she used to soothe them all.

I turn a page of memories. There she is, learning to ride a bike for the first time. I’m about thirteen, my younger sister five or six. Mom must be 49 or 50. It’s my sister’s bike, a lavender one with one of those silly banana seats and elongated handlebars. Somehow, Mom doesn’t seem out of place with her gray hair rustling in the wind and her bony knees jutting as her muscles push hard against the pedals. We laugh. My sister claps in excitement. Mom did it! She really did it! We would experience this same excitement several years later when Mom finally got her driver’s license. “Grandma D” would be her choice of license plate until she felt like a marked woman by the local police department, more her imagination than anything else. That plate would later be changed to something non-descript, easing her mind a bit. My guess would be the Sanford PD still knew when she was on the road. Mom was never comfortable behind the wheel of a car. She drove only a few years, finally giving up after the side of her silver Buick Skylark showed the bump, bump, bump of intimate contact with a telephone pole after turning a corner on her way home from church.

I steal another glance at her sleeping form, my eyes resting on her once-silver hair, now much closer to white. I travel back to the day in 5th grade when Mom came to Notre Dame School to be a lunchtime monitor. Inside a brown paper bag was the lunch she brought me--a tuna sandwich, slightly warm, the lettuce a bit wilted. Had she brought a gourmet meal I could not have eaten, my stomach in knots wondering what my friends would say about this gray-haired lady, such silly imaginings of the paranoid running through my brain. “Is that your grandmother?” “Why is your mother so old?” “Why is her hair that color?” It is funny how the subject of such paranoia—my mother’s gray hair—would turn into such a source of pride. I wear my silver inheritance proudly, giving credit where credit is due—“I got it from my mom!” my mantra. I've loved my silver hair since the first strand visited when I was 18.

Quickly, pictures change to my wedding day. It’s a perfect Maine day in late August. Mom and I are in the basement of the church waiting for the moment we are to move upstairs to the sanctuary. She looks at me, studying my face for a long moment. “It’s not too late to change your mind, you know,” she says to me with all seriousness. I look back at her, realizing that she is speaking it to me, but wishing she’d known to say it to my sister, Suzanne, as well. I love her so much in this moment, knowing she is saying the same to me without so many words. “I’m okay, Mom,” I say as we climb the stairs to where my Dad is waiting. Mom links her arm in mine, Dad takes my hand and the three of us walk together down the aisle.

More quickly now, the pages turn. I remember…the day when I was ten and mom had a big feast for my brother’s friends. Candlelight, spaghetti, and laughter abounded. Mom hurries into the kitchen to find what she smells burning. A glance in the mirror above the sink proves it is her own hair, smoldering with the telltale sign of having bent just a little too closely to the candles on the dining room table. Another feast, Thanksgiving, I think, and I hear my brother Ernie yell once, twice, three times, “Would somebody pleeeezze pass the mashed potatoes?” only to find that this much beloved favorite somehow never made it to the stove top. A temporary pause of disbelief by those at the table is met by the laughing voice of my mother as she roars, “Oh! I forgot to cook them!”

The pictures running through my mind surprise me, that it is these memories which flash by in an instant. So many other memories I think might come instead: the tender moments spent encouraging an insecure teenager; the regard felt as she warmly opened her home to anyone brought there; the familiarity experienced within moments of walking through her doorway; the tears she shed over the unrealized slight of a child or the harsh word of a relative; the agony of watching her child close to death. Her voice comes to me. “Offer it up to God, Jan!” “Oh, it must be mental telepathy! I was just thinking of you!” “Has anyone seen my purse?” These thoughts also come, not in a flash, but in moments lost in thought traveling back over the years.

One more memory comes. It is a picture of my mom sitting on her bed, her Bible on her knees. I want to touch the picture with my finger for the image is so vivid. The Bible she holds is one of those massive Catholic Bibles frequently given as wedding presents in her day. It swallows up her lap. Her fingers slowly skim the page. She is seeking comfort. She is seeking peace, the agony she feels etched in the lines of her face. I know this intuitively as an eight year old. Little children have big ears. We know more than is realized.

The images and memories pause. I sit in the chair beside her bed, brought back by sounds in the hallway, the quiet hustle and bustle of caregivers going about their business. Once more, I look at her face, her eyes closed, sleep undisturbed. A nursing assistant stops in briefly to check on her. She leaves and once more I’m drawn into thought, but this time the memories come more slowly. My heart brims with love for this frail being lying in bed. I see that I am slowly losing her to this nasty disease called dementia. I’m sad, but oh, so grateful. She has been a good mom and such a faithful servant: to her family, to friends, to God. It is from her I received the foundation of a faith deeply rooted. It is from her I learned about God. It is from her I learned to lean on a power greater than myself. It is that gift from her that allows me to release her into the hands of Jesus. It is because of this that I can “offer her up to God”.

Love you, Mom.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Woo-oo-whee, we're having a cold spell! I came home from work on Friday to find that we had no power. Jim had been sick in bed all day. He stayed in bed, fully clothed, under layers of blankets. I went to church to help deliver our annual Christmas Food Boxes to those in need. Came home praying for power. Um, no. At about 8:30 pm there was nothing to do but sleep. So I slept--on the couch, mind you, because me no want to catch whatever Jim had. Such a good and caring wifey, eh? I woke up at 2:30 am a bit nippy and supremely parched. No prob, I thought, I'll go make some tea. Um, no. No power, no water pump, no water. An ice storm had hit on Thursday and Friday and a layer of ice blanketed the trees, the rooftops, everything. Argh. No choice but to get dressed and go to the church to fetch a pail of water (only our strip of houses was without power at the time). Brrr, it was cold. Got to church, got the water, got online to check NIPSCO's schedule for restoration of power. Come to find out, we were just one of 58,000 homes without power and restoration time could not be determined. Hmm. Got home, put water on for tea and pan-toasted some bread for a little middle of the night snack of peanut butter toast. Gotta love a gas stove in times like these. Watched one hour of a movie on my laptop until the battery ran out. Back to sleep. Brief waking moment around 6 am to hear the sound of the furnace kicking on. I whispered, "Thank you, God. Thank you, NIPSCO," and rolled over to go back to sleep. Slept in 'til 9:00. It was nice.

Spent the day running errands, then headed to church for Worship Team practice. Had a solo---"Mary, Did You Know?" one of the annual must-sing requests. I was horribly scratchy at rehearsal. I'm always afraid I won't be able to get that one note. After many runs through the song, I almost had it. This always makes me incredibly crazy-nervous. By the grace of God, the actual rendition went off without a hitch. Halleluiah! It felt really good. To top it off, worship team member, Leigh, sang "Oh, Holy Night". She's awesome and singing backup to her on this song always fills me with incredible emotion. Powerful stuff.

Scooted home quickly to prepare for company. We were hosting the annual viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. What a blast. It was a bit snugly because we had to set up a mock living room in the basement (renovation woes). We ordered Mama Rina's pizza, which was scrumpdillyicious. We had brownies with ice cream and chocolate syrup for dessert as well as other Christmas snacks. As was expected, Jim would speak the lines along with the movie or give us warning of favorite quotes coming up. Come to think of it, Jim kinda reminds me of Cousin Eddie. Snort. :) Must be that black dickie under the white sweater. At least Jim promised Leigh that he wouldn't pause the movie and rewind to repeat his favorite scenes over and over. That's kind of my favorite part of watching the movie. Oh, well. Great fun was had by all and most were out the door by 10-ish. As soon as the movie ended, Todd rolled over in his cushy spot on the quilt-laden floor and fell asleep. Soundly. He woke up about 45 minutes later, quite dumbfounded. I just laughed. He got his shoes on and I sent him out the door with some leftover brownies and a few other goodies. (btw--if you click on the Todd link, you'll see pics from his rendition of Bill Nye the Science guy. It was part of the "roast" of Jim he created for the 10th anniversary of Horizon Ministries. It was all about the 10 top reasons for being pastor of Horizon).

I went to bed all warm and snugly. I made sure to set the alarm so I could wake up in time to bring Clella, our 81 y.o. adopted grandma, to the airport for a flight to spend time with her daughter in Maine. About 4 am, I awoke to vicious winds a-blowing outside and total darkness. Yup, power was out again. At six, I called Clella to say that I could not get out of the garage (manual mechanism would not work and could not get that puppy up). Called Amy, as she was the backup chauffeur. Guess what? Her power was out, too. On to Plan C---Todd didn't know he was Plan C until 6:15 am. Always a good sport and a Clella fan, he was good to go. Read about Plan C here.When they got to the airport, her flight out had been delayed and her connection in Detroit was canceled. After much juggling, the desk attendant got her re-routed through Charlotte, NC. Todd left her to await her flight. I called Clella's daughter, Patty, to tell her of the change in plans. More trouble. Maine was about to be hit with a predicted 2 feet of snow. We know that Clella would have ended up being stranded in Charlotte and that would not be good. So, I called Todd, told him to turn around and head back to the airport to pick the girl up. They stood in line a while, but finally got her ticket canceled and a full refund. Her original flight had been scheduled for Friday and that got postponed until today. She decided she's just gonna hang it up and hang with us for the holidays. We'll see. Patty really wants her mom home for Christmas.

This time, it wasn't just our strip of houses. The whole town of Bremen was without power. With the strong winds, our house just got colder and colder. We ended up at Steve and Amy's, where they had a toasty house because they were smart enough to have a generator. We had a grand day with a crowded house--Steve and Amy with their two dogs, Clella and Todd, Jim and I. Besides rescuing us from our house, Steve had gone on another rescue mission earlier in the morning to collect, Charlotte, another of our elderly women from church, as well as her two dogs, Molly and Ginger. I brought the fixings for taco soup and cheese biscuits. I also brought the leftover brownies and ice cream. I loved the adventure and the food was good, too!

The power went back on around 4 pm, but continued to flicker off and on for the next few hours until now. I'm sitting here, all toasty, the TV on in the background, internet working. I just pray we keep power for the night. That wind is fierce and there is a Winter Weather Advisory posted. Southern Michigan has a blizzard warning. I want to get our reno project under way a.s.a.p. Gotta get those gas fireplaces in soon. Gotta get ready for the next power outage. I want to host the next blackout party!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Finding Christmas

It's a hard year for finding the joy in Christmas. So much stress and strife everywhere that the joy is being pushed aside, covered up, diminished. Maybe we're just looking in the wrong places. Maybe our hearts are so heavy that hope is having difficulty floating to the top. Maybe we are letting too much distract us.

I've not one decoration out yet. Not one, not even our tree. How can we be so busy that we can't prepare for Christmas? Oh, I know it's not about decorations. It's about the heart.

I've been struggling lately. A combination of things have contributed to this and I find I've been so distracted by my wallowing that I've forgotten to look for Christmas. But I found it. I'm still finding it.

I found Christmas through Liz at Mabel's House as she wrote about a good friend who is dying. There is Christmas in the bond of their relationship and the hope that there is a rhyme and a reason in this circumstance, not yet understood.

I found Christmas in the face of a child. Just months old, his beautiful smile melts my heart. In his eyes, I spy the awesomeness of generations past, whose love through the ages make his life possible. I look into his eyes again and I see the hope of the future and it's good. It's all good. Not necessarily easy, but good nonetheless.

Christmas showed itself in the kindness of colleagues offered to me in a time of stress. A simple gesture offered, really, but huge in its message. I found comfort. I found Christmas.

Christmas was left on my desk this morning. I left for a meeting and upon my return, found a home-made French Silk pie and a heart-warming note. Just what was needed at the beginning of a day designed to be difficult. My stomach was in a knot, but my heart was warmed.

And there was Christmas again today as I helped lead a group of people through a difficult day of conflict resolution. It was agony to watch as individuals struggled to move outside their comfort zones, sometimes passively, sometimes aggressively. I believe there just may be claw marks under the table as some clung so tightly to held beliefs, trying so hard not to give, trying hard to be right despite facts to the contrary. It was painful to watch good people behave badly. I did not see total resolution, but I saw movement. I'll take movement. And I saw Christmas in the hearts of those with the most to lose, those who had good reason to withdraw, to self-protect, to lash back because they didn't. They took great risk, they took a chance, and they grew. What a gift to watch.

And in a room full of children with challenges, I saw Christmas. Their faces aglow as they nodded and clapped without a lick of rhythm as a young teacher shared and played his dulcimer. And, oh, there was Christmas in his face, filled with such tenderness, and in his demeanor, greatly patient, as he answered their questions---"no," he didn't know the theme to Six Flags amusement park, and "yes," they could touch the instrument, and "sorry," he will learn Rudolph for next year. And Christmas was there again in the face of a young girl, so thrilled to be invited to sing Jingle Bells with her teacher as they led her classmates through the song.

Christmas is coming and I'm preparing. I may not be preparing my house, but I'm preparing my heart. I am now seeking Christmas and I am finding it.

(thank you, Dave, for the prompt.)