Befriending My Aging

khan science & health

khan science & health

Befriending My Aging
by Joyce Rupp

Companion of Life, Guardian of Death,
more and more I resemble an old, gnarled tree,
wrinkled bark, gray boughs, thinning leaves.
The ground around my roots is weakening.
My limbs bend and no longer stretch very far.

Grant me the ability to not be afraid,
even in the face of significant physical change.
Be a source of deepening hope
during my internal and external adjustment.
Keep me trusting in the deepest part of myself
where love and vitality are stored.

Teach me about true and everlasting beauty,
to compassionate my body in its growing frailty,
to love my mind and heart even as my life wanes,
to befriend the wrinkles and accept the grayness,
to be unthreatened by the depletion of my energy
and the waning of a memory that was once keenly alert.

Ancient One,
fill my heart with joy in the little gifts of life.
Let me find sources of comfort and serenity
in the midst of my aches and loss.
Be near, ever-vigilant Beloved,
as I experience the creaks and groans of my aging process.
Show me how to embrace this transition time,
as my soul ripens for its final journey home.

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I Wasn’t Enough…

Hubble Telescope

Hubble Telescope

I wasn’t enough.

When she came for her first counseling session, everything about her screamed a hard life. You could see it in her slumped shoulders, how she shuffled her feet, the weary sigh when she collapsed in the chair, the emptiness in her eyes. Her deeply lined face with its weathered features belied her chronological age of 37. If that wasn’t enough, it was confirmed in the ankle bracelet that peeked out from the ragged cuff of her jeans.

“Tell me why you’re here today.”
“My parole officer sent me.”

“How can I help you?”
“I don’t know if you can.”

She was under house arrest, her license had been suspended, and she’d been through this before.

That’s how our therapeutic relationship started. Trust was going to be difficult. I asked for her patience while I got through an initial history, since she hadn’t been through this before with me. Polite but distant, she waited for whatever was to come. She’d get through it; she’d been through a lot worse.

Family history is important; we are the sum of our experiences. A therapeutic tool known as a genogram is something I perform with every client/patient – it is a family tree that shows marriages, divorces, step-children, siblings, relationships, suicides, substance abuse, imprisonment, mental illness – all important ways to know where the person is coming from, in order to determine where they need to go, and how to get there.

Hers was a very common story for the general population our county mental health clinic served – never knew her father, had an alcoholic mother and several half-siblings, had been sexually abused by an uncle and physically abused by a stepfather, dropped out of high school, had her own child when she was 15, battled alcohol and prescription drugs off and on for the past 20 + years, and was married to an alcoholic. She had several arrests for DUI and shoplifting. Her teen-aged daughter was pregnant and living with an abusive boyfriend.

Oh – and she always wanted to be an artist.

She was depressed. No surprise there. Whether she got depressed when her life fell apart, or her life fell apart causing her depression…her use of alcohol and other drugs only complicated matters. It’s hard to know which came first, but depression and addiction go hand in hand far too often. And they were tough to beat…

Textbook – depressed mood, hopeless, helpless, emotional withdrawal, difficulty falling asleep, but sleeping excessively, weight gain, trouble concentrating, not interested in any social activities. The fact that she had been clean and sober for almost a month was wonderful, but terrible at the same time – these feelings were raw and painful; unwanted and unfamiliar; after all, for most of her life, her feelings had been numb from the drugs.

“I’d like to make a deal with you,” I said to the eyes that grew more wary. “How about if I hold onto your hope until you find it again yourself?”

“Okay,” came out softly, along with a slight sense that perhaps I was the one who needed help, rather than her.

Her parole officer wanted her to talk with someone about how to deal with her husband, who wouldn’t stop drinking with his buddies at their house several nights a week. It was too much of a temptation for her; she craved the alcohol even though her husband put a combination lock on their keg; she desperately wanted the Oxycontins and Vicodins and Percosets that her daughter offered her, but still found the strength to refuse. But she was losing ground…

Where to even start? Here, it was one day at a time, one hour at a time. By the end of the fourth session, she had managed to get her husband’s beer nights moved out to the garage, along with the keg, and to tell her daughter to not bring any of the meds when she came to visit. They were giving her some grief about it, but she stood firm.

Baby steps? No. In actuality, they were huge. She took control of those two things in her environment, and her sense of empowerment brought a smile to her face and a slight squaring of her shoulders.

“I’m so proud of you!!!”

She covered her face with her hands, sobbing. “No one ever said that to me before.”

“Well, they should have. You are a strong, courageous woman; a survivor. Right now, as is, you are enough…”

Her blue eyes, glistening with tears but clearer without the effects of the drugs, met my gaze with something different, something lost that was slowing being found.

With hope.

For an instant, I saw the beautiful young girl she would have been had all of the terrible things not dragged her down and worn her out and bruised her soul. Innocent, expectant, full of hope for the future. It was staggering. It was humbling.

Sacred ground. She felt it too.

Palette of Memories Josephine Wall

Palette of Memories
Josephine Wall

She missed her next appointment, but when I called to reschedule, I could tell she was excited about something. She had just gotten off the phone with her parole officer; he arranged an interview for her at a local family run convenience store that took part in a county program for ex-offenders. It was part-time, but a start. Plus, it was in walking distance from her house. The interview was next week.

Hope. There it was again, tinged with a girlish excitement.

We spoke briefly about what she might expect from the interview, and what she planned to wear. I congratulated her again, wished her luck, and assured her she would be fine. She signed off with a breathy, “See you next week.”

And that was the last time I ever heard her voice.

When I came in to work on Monday, my supervisor showed me her obituary in the local newspaper. Dead, at 37 years old.

Why? What happened? I was in shock as I relayed our last conversation in full.

I called her husband, looking to offer my condolences, and hopefully, for some answers.

They had some friends over for a party to celebrate her job interview. She cooked lots of food and seemed happy and excited. He remembered drinking too much and falling asleep on the couch. His daughter woke him up and asked if he’d seen her mother; she was nowhere in the house, and the keys to the truck were gone. At first, he didn’t understand.

When they found her, she was already dead. By her own hand.

A. Successful. Suicide.

I couldn’t speak.

He mentioned how much his wife had liked coming to her appointments at the counseling center, and that she seemed to be doing better.

I asked him if I could help in any way; he said no, but thanked me for calling, and for helping her.

I hung up. Helping Her? Hardly.

Suicide meant that at that moment, for a reason that we would probably neither know nor understand, she had been in such emotional pain that she just wanted to stop hurting; she just needed to escape. She hadn’t been thinking clearly enough to realize that the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness would pass; that they were only temporary; that she would get through it and survive, just as she always had.

Survive and thrive. Clean and sober. Perhaps at a new job. Or so we had hoped… Or so I had hoped…

The tenents of good practice dictate that involved staff and supervisors hold a “psychological autopsy” for any patients who suicide. We sat around a conference table on speaker phone with administration at our other office. I presented her history, from start to finish, along with treatment plan, progress, appointment schedule, recommendations, contact with her parole officer and family, patient compliance. Every detail.

Why? What happened? What could we have done differently?

Nothing. But she committed suicide. Everything? No, I knew that wasn’t true. Delayed it, perhaps. But change takes time, and there hadn’t been enough of it…

After about 25 minutes of this, I started to cry. In front of 2 supervisors, and over the speaker phone “in front of” the CEO of the county mental health offices and two attending psychiatrists.

“She has a name; she’s not just a case.” I struggled on. “And for just a brief time in her 37 years, she felt good about herself. It wasn’t long, and it obviously wasn’t enough, but it was something.” Silence in two rooms filled with people. “And she was important…”

I couldn’t sit there with it being so impersonal. We health care professionals do that so often by necessity; we need to retain distance and objectivity in order to do our job well. It’s not about us, but rather always about the patient.

But I had to remind them, and myself, that she lived and loved and hoped and dreamed and fought as long and as hard as possible. And I admired her for that. And I loved her for that. And I would remember her for that.

Be well, lovely lady. You touched my heart. I know that you are free of any of the torment that weighed so heavily upon you, and that your eyes and thoughts are clear. And that you have hope again…

Paint with bright colors, with abandon, with your heart…and paint outside the lines, without limits or restraint.

My time with you was too short, but it was my privilege.

And remember – right now, as is….you are, and always will be, enough.

Eternal rest, grant her, O Lord, and perpetual light shine upon her.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

spotonlists

spotonlists

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Thursday Re-View — “She Who Hears the Cries of the World”

Occasionally, I will post “Thursday Re-View,” a post from when I first started my blog that you may have missed. Enjoy!

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SHE WHO HEARS THE CRIES OF THE WORLD

Kuan Yin

She occupies a space on my mantle, so that every time I sit in our family room, I can be reminded of one of the ways I see myself as a counselor.

Kuan Yin. In Buddhism, the Goddess of Mercy. The Bodhisattva (Being of Enlightenment) of Compassion. She who hears the cries of the world.

Originally, as an intern at Loyola University Maryland for their Pastoral Counseling Program, I earned hours toward my Master’s Degree at a loss and bereavement center. That meant working will terminally ill people to help prepare them for death, as well as being available to their family members after the loss of their loved ones. We saw people in their homes, in an oncology center, in nursing homes and/or in our offices.

One day at lunchtime, a female chaplain noticed that I was subdued and asked what was wrong. I didn’t even realize I looked any different. I told her that going into the nursing homes was particularly difficult for me, as so many of the people housed there, although alive, appeared to have already died, their beings diminished. In fact, the nurses would tell me that some nursing home guests had not had visitors in more than 10 years (yes – you read that right – 10 years). The musty smells, their feathery moans, the pleading for help, the anguished cries, the gloomy atmosphere – all left a weighty hopelessness in me long after I ended each visit.

The chaplain, understanding in her eyes, offered this: “Theresa, when you are in the nursing home, for the residents…you are their light.” She paused to make sure I heard. “You might be the only “outside” person they’ve seen in far too long. For them, in a day that’s no different than any other, you are their light.”

I’ve never forgotten that. You Are Their Light.

I’ve learned that many of us don’t look toward the light until we’re alone in the darkness. That light brings us hope, warmth, a reason to get up and move forward. It’s a beacon, a guide, a flame, a spark, an illumination.

Then a funny thing happens. A quote I keep on my desk reminds me that with each act of giving, there is always something good in return. “You cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening your own.”

Smiling, being their light, helped me to shed light into my own dark and broken places.

Thank you, Chaplain Susan, for your wisdom and insight so long ago. I remember. In remembering, I, too am transformed.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

So I seek to bring light. To be a messenger. To be present. To be a co-journeyer. To hear their cries.

Kuan Yin. She Who Hears the Cries of the World.

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Love is Forever

Love is Forever
by Kate Strasburg

Life is good…
But sometimes…
the sun disappears behind the clouds.
The wind comes up…
and the rain comes down,
and life becomes hard,
and you become sad…
You may be afraid
of losing someone you love.
or you may have lost someone you love…
Or you may be sick yourself
and afraid.
What you need to remember,
then and always
is that love is stronger than everything:
stronger than sickness…
stronger than death…
Once you have been loved,
that love will always be with you.
You will never be alone.

Windows of the Soul

Windows of the Soul
~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox ~

Let there be many windows in your soul,
that all the glory of the universe may beautify it.
Not the narrow pane of one poor creed
can catch the radiant rays
that shine from countless sources.
Tear away the blinds of superstition.
Let the light pour through the windows,
broad as truth itself,
and high as heaven…
Tune your ear
to all the wordless music of the stars,
and to the voice of nature;
and your heart shall turn to truth and goodness
as the plant turns to the sun.
A thousand unseen hands reach down
to help you to their peace-crowned heights;
and all the forces of the firmament
shall fortify your strength.
Be not afraid to thrust aside half-truths
 and grasp the whole.

My Pilgrimage to ?????

Assisi, Italy photo: Sacred Destinations

Assisi, Italy
photo: Sacred Destinations

Right now, I should be jet-lagged from Saturday’s return flight from Italy. Unpacking, doing laundry, going through stacks of mail, picking up my cat, Freddie, from my son’s gracious cat-sitting ordeal, watering the flowers, reliving my time on Pilgrimage in Assisi… [see: “My Journey with St. Francis, the Jesuits and Pope Francis – Part I“]

But I’m not…

In a post almost 6 months ago, I wrote of my hopes for this journey, a retreat for health care professionals that promised ‘renewal, respite and reflection’ in Assisi, Italy. St. Francis’ birthplace. Up close and personal to my daily prayer of “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”

My pilgrimage that would take me to the same cobblestone streets where St. Francis walked, prayed and healed. Where I could best offer my gratitude for all blessings received (and they are many) in this life, and where I could best humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ― Allen Saunders & John Lennon

My pilgrimage turned into a different journey, to a different place, perhaps even more sacred. A pilgrimage of the ordinary times in a marriage – the unexpected trials – the uncertain, dark and lonely times.

A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphysical journey into someone’s own beliefs. ~ Wikipedia

There are significant benefits to a second marriage when you are older – no time to waste on falseness; you already know what you need in a partnership, and you don’t bother looking for what isn’t healthy or what doesn’t exist. When you get married young, in the thralls of romance and knights in shining armor and dreams through rose-colored glasses, most of us don’t think of the “…in sickness and in health from this day forward until death do us part” portion of the vow. But when you form that union middle-aged, you are clearly aware that those times will undoubtedly be coming sooner rather than later.

And so they did…

I’ve had my share of hospital stays and “GOK” Disease (named by one of my doctors: “God Only Knows” Disease), surgeries and too-quick recoveries in my adult life, but my husband was one of the few who had made it this far in life without a hospital stay.

No longer.

Ten days before we were to depart for our rest and renewal workshop, he became ill – seriously ill – and landed in the hospital.

My pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage: a journey to a place that is connected with someone of something that you admire or respect. ~ Oxford Advanced Dictionary

My journey where I so eloquently hoped to “humbly ask for guidance, strength and wisdom in providing compassionate presence to those most in need.” Little did I know that when I had those hopes – indeed, had that certainty – for my pilgrimage, it would be directed toward my husband rather than a patient, client, student, stranger, or friend in need.

This time, it was much closer to home.

Pilgrimage: any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage; a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. ~ dictionary.com

Certainly this act of devotion, of care-taking, was assumed automatically. The decision to cancel our trip in light of the circumstances was easy. Yes, it was a missed opportunity that I had so looked forward to; yes, it would be inconvenient to have to reschedule the visit (hopefully) sometime in the future. But mostly, there was the disappointment that I was so sure that I would be shown some priceless wisdom while on this retreat. After all, I would be walking and praying where St. Francis walked and prayed. A lightning bolt would strike directly in front of me and all would be revealed.

How could I not be gifted with Divine Wisdom in so sacred a place?

Pilgrimage: the course of life on earth; journey undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or to demonstrate devotion. ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer

My prayers were answered – the Divine Wisdom was there – just not as I expected it (which is usually the case with me). The sacred places were the emergency and waiting rooms, the doctor’s offices that we are still visiting, the computer screen that listed the test results, the iPhone with family texts and conversations, the empty house at night… Not the cobblestone streets of Assisi, but rather the hospital corridors and parking lots and driveways that all leave their indelible mileage on your heart.

My husband is on his way to recovery; his energy level is improving a little day by day; his stubbornness is showing signs of resurfacing (that’s not such a good thing, but in light of the past month, I’ll take it); our conversations are becoming more regular and actually concern something other than mortality and bone marrow and fevers of unknown origin and Family Medical Leave.

Scared ground. All of this – the tears, the despair, the anxiety, the complete disruption of normalcy – is sacred ground.

A pilgrimage of sorts.

About marriage, love and partnership, fear and uncertainty, anger and decisions, devotion and things said or unsaid.

And hope. Always hope.

Hope that things that were once taken for granted and perhaps annoying would actually return (who knew?); that normalcy would once again be a part of our lives. Those ordinary things.

Ordinary, every day, ‘boring’ things that were, and are, in actuality, extraordinary.

This pilgrim is grateful. And humbled. Yet again, caught by surprise at how little I have control over things. Reminded that all will be well, regardless of my attempts to influence, ascertain, direct, determine, assure, limit, organize, out-maneuver whatever the future has in store.

Did I say that I was middle-aged? Chronologically perhaps, but naive none-the-less. Still learning. Still struggling. A work in progress.

A pilgrim on sacred ground.

It’s any place any one of us reaches out in love. It’s everywhere. It’s right beside us. Inside us. And it’s all about love.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive –
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

I walked with St. Francis on my pilgrimage. The wings that carried me weren’t part of an airplane…yet my feet never even touched the ground.

wings

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Life

Life

Life is an opportunity – benefit from it.
Life is beauty – admire it.
Life is bliss – taste it.
Life is a dream – realize it.
Life is a challenge – meet it.
Life is a duty – complete it.
Life is a game – play it.
Life is a promise – fulfill it.
Life is sorrow – overcome it.
Life is a song – sing it.
Life is a struggle – accept it.
Life is a tragedy – confront it.
Life is an adventure – dare it.
Life is luck – make it.
Life is too precious – do not destroy it.
Life is life – fight for it.

~ Blessed Mother Teresa ~

Desiderata

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.

You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be;
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

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Letting Go of Worry

Letting Go of Worry
~ Melody Beattie ~

What if we knew for certain that everything we’re worried about today will work out fine?

What if . . . we had a guarantee that the problem bothering us would be worked out in the most perfect way, and at the best possible time? Furthermore, what if we knew that three years from now we’d be grateful for that problem, and its solution?

What if . . . we knew that even our worst fear would work out for the best?

What if . . . we had a guarantee that everything that’s happening, and has happened, in our life was meant to be, planned just for us, and in our best interest?

What if . . . we had a guarantee that the people we love are experiencing exactly what they need in order to become who they’re intended to become? Further, what if we had a guarantee that others can be responsible for themselves, and we don’t have to control or take responsibility for them?

What if . . . we knew the future was going to be good, and we would have an abundance of resources and guidance to handle whatever comes our way?

What if . . . we knew everything was okay, and we didn’t have to worry about a thing? What would we do then?

We’d be free to let go and enjoy life.

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Today, I will know that I don’t have to worry about anything.
If I do worry, I will do it with the understanding
that I am choosing to worry,
and it is not necessary.

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