The Aftermath

Dogwood 2

I was restless when I got home from work because I had eaten too much of the wrong food, like chocolate chips right out of the bag, and that cookie I got from Panda Express the other day. I had to get out, so I pedaled out into the neighborhood and made my blood pump a little faster through my veins. This bike and I, we’re old friends. It’s a sturdy Raleigh that I will never give up, it is solid like a tank. Not one of those titanium lightweight models.

On the way to the main road I saw a van emptying the house of a woman who recently passed away. Died of a massive heart attack. On the side of it was written, “Aftermath.” As if all that’s left of a life could possibly fit in that van. I hope she didn’t die alone. I pedaled on, past the van with the old bed mattresses and furniture and odds and ends stuffed inside.

The dogwoods both pink and white are blooming all over town, and the wisteria. The cherry trees too. Fruit stands will be popping up now. I meant to pedal past the little Library on Edgewood but I missed it. I got sidetracked by the lake, I hadn’t meant to go that far. The evening was so impossibly perfect I went further than I meant to.

I kept pedaling and passed by two houses I used to deliver meals to for the senior center. I envisioned each face, wondered how they were doing. I also passed by the cat lady’s house. Used to, she had a sign up in her yard asking for donations for cat food. I made a note to leave some money next time. It must have been close to feeding time, several were milling around the front porch. I said hi to them and waved to her.

I would be happy with any one of the houses I passed by. I miss having a house, planting and doing and cleaning what you have a stake in. I have a kind of sorrow for our stuff all boxed up in storage. I am okay if I don’t think about it and really I don’t miss it most of the time. I hope my bed is okay, I hope the brass isn’t tarnished, I hope the artwork is not being destroyed by the elements. I hope the teacups aren’t smashed to smithereens.

My time is filled with helping Special needs kids at school, which has been a tremendous opportunity and each day I am thankful God gave me the work. It has opened up a whole new place in me that I didn’t know existed. And I come home and it really does feel like home here in this idyllic spot of beauty by the river. Each day Elaine does her magic to make this whole thing work. Okra is coming up back behind the Motorhome and we are excited about that.

This latest chapter of my life involves helping my Mom remember things. The other night I looked out to see a crescent moon with a star shining by it. I called Mom and told her to go out and look up at that moon. I asked her if she remembered calling me in Arizona when she saw a moon like that because it reminded her of me. She said, “Did I do that? Wow, that’s amazing. Well, I’m glad you live here now.”

I said, “I am too Mom, I am too.”

A Clothesline Day

image

I am sitting here with my third cup of coffee with the sense that the day started without me. I get that sense when I don’t go outside early. It’s nine but feels like noon. The sun is high in the sky for the second day in a row and it’s almost euphoric. Yesterday I wrote about it, the sun that is. And how grateful we were for it.

I had the simple joy of hanging out some of our towels on Aunt Mayvis’s clothesline and I enjoyed seeing them flutter in the light breeze. She still has the little laundry cart like my Grandma had on Lee Street. Elaine fixed one of the wobbly wheels for her and it has a peculiar sound when it’s rolled that I remember.

I also remember when I was a kid, I would pick out all the colored clothespins from the little pouch on the side. They were bright colors like parakeets. Against a blue sky they were brilliant.

Today I have had some communion with the Saints on Facebook. Yes you can find them there. Ordinary, everyday saints like myself. Wrong more than they are right but loving God as best we can in the thick of life, which is like I told someone this morning could be like one long grieving process if not for those sparks and monumental joys that come as surely as the other moments. We just have to keep going to get to them.

I have just started to read “M Train” by Pattie Smith. I think it’s one of only a few books that I have wanted to award five stars on the 63rd page in. It is such intelligent writing that I am sure I don’t understand it all but it’s one that reads easily anyway, if that makes any sense.

Now I really have to start this day. It sunny again and I don’t want to waste it.

Blessings, Lori

 

 

When even the ocean is not big enough……..

image

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I stood at the shore and waited for that feeling……..that eraser, elixir that would make all the present circumstances melt away. But it occurred to me that sometimes even the ocean is not big enough to do that. Even if it were fresh water and we were dying of thirst, it could save us but we would still thirst again, just as Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

………but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

But nature has always had a way of making God close for me, and I relaxed and let it do that. I looked hard at everything, and we ate good food and had some wine too. I foraged for shells and saw some magnificent patterns in some sand dollars and drew them in my book. For me, the ocean is God’s way of saying, “Here you go……explain this one.” And all I can say is that He is bigger than everything, even anyone’s problems including my own.

Even when it feels like the small things you do are like dumping a cup of water into an ocean of grief, God is the multiplier. When it’s all you can do, He makes it more than enough.

I am finished with my one year commitment to LOEL center and this weekend is the start of a little break before I begin the next phase of retirement. I am still a little ways off from Social Security and so I work for at least three and a half (counting) more years.

Sometimes I close my eyes and remember how my room looked from the right, and from the left. When I felt like everything in my life was secure and I had the umbrella of a big company over me. But maybe that was an illusion. I still have God over me, over us.

And this place by the river is truly a tremendous blessing. It is feeling like home  I am learning here to take one day at a time and receive it with a grateful heart. Maybe that’s what God is trying to tell me, that I don’t have to have everything mapped out and planned. How many people can walk down to a river in the morning after all?

The four days at the beach did its magic. I will remember the boat ride through the slough and our walks and so many birds this year, more than we’ve ever seen.

For a little time we were suspended:

It’s easy to think that at 3:19 AM it’s just us here alone in this place and I want to remember the peace of this moment. The staccato seal barking on the pier, the seagull I just heard. Even though it’s chilly I always crack the window to stay in touch with the ocean so big and still out there like God. Each drop of time is precious. An engine starts nearby, a night fisherman going out or coming in. You fighting off a cold nearby, fighting for breath and Briggs purring in my ear with his paw on my shoulder. Just is just us down here God, don’t forget us. Just beyond, over the bridge is where we left some of E’s parents ashes. The ocean breathe in and out, until God says “No more.”

And when we pulled back into town we put everything back on like a heavy pack and I have to remember Jesus other words, just before He went to the cross:

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

And I think of Him on that terrible cross taking on my sin and the sin of the whole world and I know I can trust Him.

 

The Thrill of Hope

 

IMG_4958

The rain is watering the earth and I can almost feel it breathing a sigh of relief. You have just left and it’s the cat and me for a few days. There is a vacuum in the space where you used to be. Sometimes it’s those small things you take for granted that are the most keenly felt when someone you care about is no longer there.

Things, life, the world goes on even in the wake of losses great and small. All over the world and in many different situations people are waving goodbye; all kinds of faces tinged with emotions reflected in retreating tail-lights. Psychiatrists, counselors and ministers devote much of their time helping people deal with it. That monstrous thing we call loss.

It is raining harder now and the air grows colder inside my space. I see your handiwork wherever I look, traces of you and how you always make things work better. I open the pantry and see the motion light you put there, and everything is just so.

You are going back to a happy place and to see friends. Old friends, old footprints retraced. Everything will be clean and bright the way I remember and you will have sun and that makes my heart glad for you.

It was quite a life we had there and a good one. It was like a foreign land at first, that desert. But it turned into a place that folded itself around us, comforted us in the loss of both your parents and all we went through with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and the grief that went with it.

My words seemed to flow more freely there in the little shop, my first prayer closet. A blog was born there to the backdrop of doves cooing, roosting on the rooftops next door.

Almost from the time we are born, our hearts and souls are acutely aware of a sense of loss and the fear that stems from it. Life at its most painful becomes synonymous with loss. Loss of a job we loved, loss of a loved one, death of a marriage, physical loss, loss of a home. Sometimes one loss turns into another. Such as when a deep loss turns into a bad habit. Then we have to kick the bad habit and we have that loss to deal with too.

But here is the big hope rests within and through all this. Here is where the story gets happy. That at the other end of this spectrum of loss, there is gain, without which we wouldn’t know loss at all. And that little word, gain, is what God is, and has always been concerned with.

For at the cross, His loss became our gain.

When we were determined to ruin ourselves and each other, God said, “No, I won’t let the story end this way.” He didn’t just write a happy ending. He came in physical form to become our happy ending. He came to fill that, as C.S. Lewis so rightly said, “God sized vacuum” in our hearts.

Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Christmas.

Gratitude tips the scales

9685_3968186405069_834719267_n
 
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever. Psalm
107:1
 
We had our gift exchange last night, Elaine and I. It was our little window of opportunity for some Christmas quiet time and we took it.  Her Mom had gone to bed early, as she has done ever since winter has brought early darkness. It was a touch and go day yesterday, the Alzheimer’s was kicking in and she was a bit combative.  
 
At one point, Elaine peeked in the door and found that she had taken every last pair of pants out of her closet and piled them on the bed. Then she opened Elaine’s jewelry box and had the contents spread all over the bed. She said, “I don’t know where all this came from.”
 
And she has been going through other things in the house.  I guess that is common at certain stages of the disease, along with not wanting to bathe and the rocking and pacing.
 
It has been a very challenging year no doubt about it, and yet last night Christmas came there in our little island of peace by the tree. And all I kept saying over and over…”This is just too much, this is too good…..I don’t deserve it” and I was feeling it on the inside as well as the outside.
 
And it wasn’t just the gifts, it was everything that went behind the gifts. Because I know the giver. I know her heart, and I have never stopped seeing it give giving this whole year. That’s why it matters. 
 
And when you know the Giver of that most perfect gift the world has ever seen?
 
Only Endless gratitude can be the heart’s right response, no matter what the world throws your way. Gratitude tips the scales when you know God has already given you everything He has to give.
 
Today, I drove on an almost deserted freeway to put in my last day of work, but  in my heart, I am bearing treasures too many to count.
 
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

The veil has holes

My walk in the woods

Last night was a very strange night. I cried almost all the way home and didn’t know why. I had a sense of foreboding I couldn’t shake. This school shooting has weighed heavy on my soul. Just too much heartache there for one incident. Too much sorrow for one town to carry. So I thought it was maybe that.

Then I thought about Elaine’s folks. I remembered the times when they were healthier and they would go to church with us. I still remember the day we almost dropped our teeth when her Dad unfolded his wallet and put money in the plate. We have both heard them say many times that “churches are only after your money.” Her Mom was even talking Baptism.

I asked God how it is that somebody can get so close to seeing a better way of life and turning away. To stepping all the way up to the river of life and then turning back around….leaving thirsty. 

Then I remembered how many times I had done just that.

When I came through the door Elaine was teary-eyed as well. “I think Mom’s having a heart attack…..what should I do?” She has been through this with her Mom already years ago. And she knew what to do, she just needed someone else to help her carry the load.

“Nothing,” I said….we do nothing because that’s what she said she wanted.

Her Mom’s own words were: “I don’t want to be cut on anymore.” And I can see why. She has been through cancer twice, including a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, 2 heart attacks, and a triple bypass. As a nurse, she diagnosed herself with Alzheimer’s around 10 years ago.

She is done with treatments. And hospitals.

But when you are the one standing there with life and death hanging in the balance, it’s not that easy. Our first instinct is always to do something. But sometimes the right choice is to let nature and God choose. Giving someone what they have chosen is the hardest thing to do because it’s right.

The reason Elaine knew that there was really something wrong was because her Mom didn’t fight her on anything getting ready for bed, and lately that has been the norm.

She went on to tell me that both cats acted strangely all evening. As if they knew something was wrong. Briggs wouldn’t let her Mom alone, he kept following her to her room and jumping on the bed. She finally had to close the door.

So we watched TV and prayed. Elaine had asked her Mom if when the time came, that she would ask God to take her soul. Her Mom said yes. There was no need for a big theological discussion. She knows where salvation comes from, she was raised on it.

And all the while, I remembered how last Christmas was spent in the hospital with her Mom, alone…and I vowed it would never happen again.

Today when I called at lunch she said they were at Subway and her Mom was eating and felt okay, with no recollection of ever feeling bad.

And today, I am feeling how just thin that veil between life and death can be.  Any one of us could be instantly on the other side, and not necessarily who you might expect.

Alzheimer’s Diary…..A continuing lesson in love

And above all these put on <sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”>love, which <sup class="crossreference" value="(B)”>binds everything together in <sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”>perfect harmony. And let <sup class="crossreference" value="(D)”>the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called <sup class="crossreference" value="(E)”>in one body. And <sup class="crossreference" value="(F)”>be thankful. Colossians 3:14

I have probably tacked this verse onto the beginning of posts more often this year than any other. Have you put on your love today? This past year, I have had to start over time after time, day after day. As most of you know who read my blog on a regular basis, we are working on year two of Elaine’s Mom living with us.

It’s been tough, to say the least. Hygiene is an ongoing issue more and more. We are working on week 4 with no shower, again. The last time, Elaine had to physically get in the shower with her because she refused to put water on her head. And she was washing with shampoo. Incontinence is also a problem. She refuses to wear the undergarments so bedding has to be changed often….laundry done several times a day.

Because she has been increasingly combative, her dose of Anti-psych drug was doubled just this past week. We noticed the rage has been just barely contained….it’s always just under the surface. The pacing and the agitation seem to go hand in hand.

It is disheartening and sobering for Elaine to realize that right now if her Mom were not on the Seroquel she would be in a lock down unit as we speak. Her Mom still knows very well where she is, but when her Doctor tells her that if she won’t let people take care of her she has to go somewhere where they can, he is met with indifference, a shrug of her shoulders.

It has been a constant challenge for both of us to do that “putting on love” thing Paul is talking about. And I am on another trip to California to see my family on Sunday. It’s hard to be the one always left behind. For two years, she has had to watch others travel, go on weekend trips, vacations. That is what caretakers face every day…….for them life has stopped. They feel just as chained as if they were in stocks.

And how can life still feel like it’s at a standstill, when the workload never stops?

Please pray? For wisdom, and strength to bear up. To keep laughing somehow. To know when to say “when.”

Pray for strength and grace for me as well. That I can be the right kind of support. Too often I feel like the check marks on my own personal report card are screaming out a big red “fail.” But God knows my heart, thankfully.

I take comfort in the fact that He hears my prayers of forgiveness uttered after every exasperated blown out sigh……He knows we are all dust after all, nevertheless a kernel of God keeps us all preserved for eternity.

Praise God.

And more and more and more, we are craving the peace, the harmony that used to fill the house. We still have it for the most part, we just have to fight for it where before it was effortless.

Here is the magic formula that works for any and every situation:

Love + Peace = Harmony

I will need until every last breath to put it into practice.