Remembrance II

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June 29, 2012: Remembrance of Dad

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.

The same hand that had once changed my diapers, given me a bottle, taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car, that fed me my first (and last) piece of liver, that cut my hair into a pixie, that held onto me when I crossed a road, that gave me away in marriage, that slipped me money at the beginning of every month, that signed the checks for oh-so-many years of education, that taught me the importance of giving…

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell. In disbelief.

That Friday morning, ready to leave for work, the phone rang. Dad probably couldn’t wait until my Bluetooth call while I was on my way to work; he must have had something important to tell me that happened on this date, from the calendar he kept with all family events (big and little) catalogued.

Something very important. My sister’s voice – hysterical, sobbing – “Dad’s dead.”

I calmly called Michael, who told me to wait until he got home from the office; he didn’t trust me to drive. On our way there – on our way “home” – I knew it would take at least an hour – I prayed that you would still be there when I got to the house.

How could I have prayed for what I saw when I arrived? The State Trooper was just leaving as I flew out of the passenger seat and ran across the lawn – the same lawn that you mowed on your John Deere, a special handle screwed into its casing so you could drive your grandsons around with you 30 years ago – to the figure half-hidden by the hedge, covered with a thin white blanket.

I heard someone wail in anguish and didn’t know it was me – your baby of 58 years.

Where was the dignity in this? Dad – my father – a World War II veteran – lying in his driveway, in the sunshine. (Thank goodness for your being covered; lupus doesn’t like sunshine, remember?)

I held your hand in the driveway.

It was right where I had seen Mom standing at your side, oh-so-many years ago after she died, as Steve, Alex and I pulled out of your driveway; by the flowering tree Mom loved that nestled the bird feeders you kept filled for the songbirds and squirrels.

The diamonds in Mom’s ring sparkled in the sunshine as my fingers entwined with yours, your strong hands, nails neatly trimmed, relaxed…at peace. My tears fell onto our hands, a baptism, a cleansing of our relationship, joined with Mom in a bond not unlike diamonds that would only strengthen with the weight of time passed.

There was a dignity in this, of a sort…a communion, a joining, rather than a separation… A quietness…a birth…an arrival upon the heels of a departure.

You were already being greeted by the God whom you so loved, along with Grammie and Grandpop, who sang the words of Matthew 3:17: “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

A trembling voice echoed off the walls of my broken heart: “This is my Father, in Whom I am well pleased.”

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Related Post: Remembrance

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Echoes of Darkness Sheathed in the Light

In Memoriam – Mom
April 25, 1928 – February 29, 1988

[written March 1, 2009]

I thought it had passed.

Just yesterday, I remarked to my sister – “This is the first February in 21 years that hasn’t been brutal.”

Then this morning, just the mention of the phone call in the early morning darkness, when Dad told me you had died and I said, “Good” – (Good for who – me? You? The echo of guilt lingers still…) – brings back the grief like a wave crashing into rock, and I am pulled under in an instant, drowning.

The well of grief swallows me, the darkness returns, and I ache with loss – the emptiness – the missing of you – the longing for your closeness – (Me? The one who hated hugs? The one who now hugs all those in need, desperate for their/my/your touch?).

My right hand trembles, my teeth chatter, and I rock…I ache…I mourn.

My tears flood the emptiness with despair, until the well is filled to overflowing, and just when there can be no more left, the flood gates open with a rush of white-hot tears – searing, scalding, scarring – as they traverse the channels carved in my soul.

I escape then, but to where? A place of quiet, of gray, of nothing, where no one or no thing exists…where no one or no thing can hurt.

I am numb.

I cease to feel, to breathe, to mourn…quiet, waiting, collecting, remembering, forgetting. I want to stay in this nothing, where the past and present blend, simply waiting. I could spend eternity here, neither warm nor cold, neither black nor white – nothing.

But then a soft white light burns through the fog – slowly, steadily, purposefully – coming toward me. And when I turn from it, it envelops me with warmth, an embrace, a distant memory, a familiar voice, a whisper. It seeks, it flows, it permeates, it dissolves, it heals – slowly, completely. It restores breath into my lungs, it touches my hand and the trembling ceases.

The crying stops and I return. Depleted, yet complete, filled with the sense that love hurts and heals, devours and regenerates, erases then re-creates, takes away only to be made whole.

If I love, I risk.

cala liliesl

My losses seem legion, but my blessings lift me to a place I would not have seen had I not been buried. The tears that drowned me in their ending are transformed into the healing waters of a baptism, a beginning, a grace.

I hesitate – these wings have weight – do I want what they hold? A familiar stirring inside me – a blossoming – a peace – a knowing that this is right and good. The weight will be lifted when I surrender.

And I hear the whispered promise – “I will be with you, always.” – and I feel Your embrace lift me up, then release me. I soar back into life, toward the light and Your promise, and I know I am who I am because of You, because of Your love.

Of whom do I speak? Of my Mother? Of God? Of His Mother? It matters not; only that I return. Only that I remember Your voice as I reach out to those in need. That I am present in their pain – that I quiet their tears – that I wait in their darkness – that I am their light and their hope as You were/are/will always be to me.

Lift me up, so that I might lift them.
Love me, so that I might love them.
Give me hope, so that I might bring hope to them.
Guide me, so that I might guide them.
Give me Your words, so that I might speak them.
Give me Your hearing, so that I might listen to them.
Heal me, so that I might heal them.

Remember me, as I remember You.

I am who I am, because of You.

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Related Post: Remembrance

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Thursday Re-View — “The Last Good-Bye”

Ira Byock, M.D., a nationally recognized authority in end-of-life care, says there are only four things left to say that matter most at life’s end (indeed, while living as well):

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

These words have the power to transform relationships, whether to heal connections at the end of life, or during day-to-day living.

As you know from several of my earlier posts (Dancing with Chopin, You are My Sunshine), my past work in Hospice was a profoundly moving part of my life journey, a vocation to which I hope to return.

I was called to a nursing home to be with with Mary and her family as she entered the final stage of life known as “active dying.” It was only a matter of a few days. Cancer had ravaged her middle-aged body to the point that she looked much older than her years. Mary was kept sedated most of the time because of the constant pain, only occasionally coming out of it to become partially aware of her surroundings.

Mary was a widow with two children, both in their mid-thirties – a daughter who lived in North Carolina and a son who lived at home to care for his surviving parent. Mother and daughter had a falling out some years ago, and their relationship was strained at best. Mother and son were close, and Tom was always at his mother’s bedside. The most time away was perhaps 5 minutes for a bathroom and coffee break. Without a family of his own, Tom was devoted to his mother. The staff told me that for the past 6 weeks, he had never missed an 18 hour day at his mother’s bedside; they often had to force him to go home for some rest.

As hours stretched into days, Mary’s coma deepened and her body temperature rose, her moments of lucidity few and far between. The attending physician noted that Mary’s core temperature was 108 degrees; he had never seen a person live with a temperature that high. For days, I watched Tom talk to his mother, telling her how much he loved her and how he knew she could beat this cancer. Mary’s doctors had explained to Tom that her organs were shutting down – her death was imminent; his head understood the facts, but his heart could not – would not – accept them. She was suffering and I found myself wondering why she was hanging on to life when she was in so much pain.

wrongfully injured

wrongfully injured

I gestured for Tom to join me in the hall.

“You need to tell your mother that it is alright for her to go,” I counseled gently. “That you’ll be okay here without her…”

He pulled back, shocked and a little angry. I was asking him to give his mother permission to die; the person he loved more than anyone in the world, the person he needed more than anyone in the world. It went against every feeling of normalcy, safety and love that coursed through him. He couldn’t find words.

“Your mother is suffering. I know you want her to be with you forever, but her body just can’t do it anymore. She needs to hear that you’ll be okay after she’s gone.” I paused. “Does your sister know just how sick your mother is?”

Tom explained that he had called her 2 weeks ago, but heard nothing since. She wasn’t even planning to come to see their mother one last time.

So that was the reason Mary struggled to stay; she needed to hear from her children – both of them – that they would be okay. Only then could she drift away, finally at peace.

“Tom – please give me your sister’s phone number. It’s essential that your mother hear her daughter’s voice. Would you like me to call her?”

He nodded his head, eyes filled with tears, then turned to go back into his mother’s room. Changing his mind, he instead went through the door marked “exit” and ran out of the building.

While I stood looking at the door, hoping to see Tom, one of Mary’s nurses came by. I told her what happened. She was as surprised as I; Tom was never absent from his mother’s side, let alone in her last few hours. She left to get the daughter’s phone number.

Anna, Mary’s daughter in North Carolina, answered on the second ring. I introduced myself, told her I was at the nursing home with Mary and advised her of the doctor’s prognosis. If Anna wanted to say good-bye, it had to be now. Her answer was crying on the other end of the line, and in her tears, I could hear regret, shock, fear. And love…I could hear love.

I explained that Anna didn’t have time to get here from North Carolina, but that I would hold the phone to Mary’s ear so that her mother could hear her voice. Even in a coma, hearing is the last sense to leave, so I felt certain that whatever Anna wanted to say to her mother, it would be heard and accepted. I told her Mary was suffering and needed Anna’s permission to die.

As I held the phone to Mary’s ear, I could hear Anna’s voice cloaked in tears. As Anna continued, Mary’s eyes remained closed, but her body visibly relaxed. At one point, I saw her lips turn up the tiniest bit, and I knew Anna had been understood. After a few minutes, I softly told Mary that I was taking away the phone. Then I spoke to Anna and described what I had seen, telling her that she had given her mother a wonderful gift and blessing. I thanked her and promised that Tom would call her in a while.

Out in the hallway, there was no sign of Tom. I went to the nurse’s station for his phone number. No answer, so I left a voice mail. Fifteen minutes later, another voice mail, asking that he please return to the nursing home. I went to sit with Mary and noticed that her right hand kept grasping the sheet into a tight knot. As I held her other hand, I explained that Tom had to leave but that he would be back.

Please, I prayed silently, please bring Tom back. In my heart, I begged Tom to return because this time, his mother needed him.

After a half hour passed, I looked up to see Tom in the doorway. He looked exhausted but determined as he entered the room. He leaned over Mary and whispered in her ear, tears streaming down his face as he clutched her hands to his heart. Her agitation disappeared as he continued, his words known only to mother and son. Finally, totally spent, Tom laid his head on their joined hands and closed his eyes.

I leaned against the wall in a shadowed corner of the room, listening to Mary’s breathing grow more labored. The intervals between breaths grew longer, until after one long exhalation, the room stilled, the only sound Tom’s choking sobs. It was over.

As the physician pronounced Mary’s time of death, I reached out to touch Tom’s shoulder in communion with his grief.

An ending and a beginning. Sacred Ground. Holy Words.

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

I offer these words up to my friends and relatives; indeed, to humankind.

But most especially to Mom and Dad, to whom I should have said all of these things while they were alive.

Please do the same, today.

Honor the Circles of Grace all around us.

hug

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When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?

When I glanced at myself in a mirror the other day, I thought I saw my mother.

That’s pretty hard to do when she passed away more than 25 years ago. But really – I thought I saw my mother. Or at least someone who looked an awfully lot like her.

That someone was me.

Wow. What an eye-opener…

When did I get so old? When did my jowls start to sag and my hair start to show some gray? What about those lines in my face or that strange growth underneath my neck? The swollen ankles? The beginnings of an apple shape when I used to only be a pear?

body type

Like I said, when did I start to look like my mother? When I looked in the mirror and a stranger looked back, it was me. That’s sobering.

Remember when your parents used to warn you about how “time flies” when you get older? I think time must have flown on the wings of a supersonic bird for this transformation to have taken place. Maybe even a pterodactyl…

It’s time for a reality check. Let’s survey this venerable temple of mine to see its history.

That knot of muscle sticking out of my left shoulder? That formed the day my son got his tonsils out in 1st grade. I hadn’t met the surgeon ahead of time, and the thought of having my only child go under the knife with a stranger had me at the Emergency Room the night after his successful surgery, in pain. That knot gets worked on every two weeks by my faithful massage therapist, 20 + years later. A badge of honor…

That crevice line on my forehead, just between and above my eyes? That’s from hearing hour after hour of tragic situations from my patients/clients/students over the years – the loss, abuse, addiction, mental illness, shame, suicidal thoughts… It takes its toll.

That vertical abdominal scar that no amount of vitamin E could make disappear? That’s the Caesarean section (almost) 28 years ago for the birth of my son. I can still remember the feeling of the two surgeons’ hands inside my body (yes, you do feel pressure, but no pain with an epidural). Or else it’s from the hysterectomy that was recommended I have 2 years later because of my cancer history.

That cough that turns up when I laugh too much? That’s from 7th grade, when my teacher used to actually take points away from all my tests (I almost always got 100’s because I studied all the time), explaining to my parents and me, “Theresa doesn’t need all those As; other students in the class need them more.” It was weeks until our family doctor determined that my cough was stress-related; after all, it wasn’t fair that the As I worked so hard for were taken away from me, was it? What a fine example of a teacher…

Those cracked caps on my back teeth? Those came from when I fainted in the bathroom while recovering from “GOK (God Only Knows) Disease” and clenched my teeth when I hit the floor. After which my brain couldn’t put together thoughts, let alone sentences for almost 2 months… The only way this wordsmith could survive that frustrating period was to figure out that maybe God wanted me to be quiet and listen.
teeth

That tiny scar in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen? That’s the emergency gall bladder surgery, where my gall bladder went from 100% to zero percent functioning in what seemed like the space of a day. I never really liked fried foods that much anyway…

Those skin indentations on my face that look like scars every morning? That’s from the face mask that I have to wear because I stop breathing 11 times every hour while asleep – that’s with the C-pap machine. The good news is that the impressions disappear about an hour after I start the day.

That shadow of sadness that lurks deep within my eyes? That goes along with the crevice line on my forehead (see above) along with struggles with depression. You know – that “melancholy” that fueled Abraham Lincoln’s greatness and made him the perfect leader during our Civil War; that illness that Winston Churchill called his “black dog” and helped win World War II.

The graying hair that I put a rinse on now and again to make me look less “frumpy?” [An aside here – why is it that gray hair in a woman is often considered “frumpy” while gray hair in a man is often considered “distinguished?”] I think the most recent contributor was my husband being sick with his own GOK Disease, in the hospital for a week and unable to work for almost a month (see: “My Pilgrimage to ???“). That, along with the fact that there is yet to be a diagnosis…  Oh, and let’s not forget my own hospital visit last fall and the mini-stroke that brought about my stepping aside from my job.

The occasional swollen ankles? I don’t use salt, I drink plenty of fluids and I’m not going into congestive heart failure. I think my legs are just tired of carrying me around for so long. Plus, they outran wildlife on the Serengeti Plain – that’s no small feat!

The addition of a telltale apple shape on top of the always present pear shape? This one, I must say, is from the release of gallons of Cortisol caused by stress, which is directly related to belly fat distribution in women. Why it hasn’t disappeared since I took time off from working is a mystery to me. But, I just ordered an abs wheel and exercise mat on-line, so I’m going to get back to just a pear shape in the next few months. And I must say – I never thought I’d be glad to return to “just” a pear shape…

The road map of lines that cover my face? Let’s see – almost 12 years of higher education after high school, marriage, divorce, setting up my own practice, building a house and an office, moving, changing careers, death of both parents, multiple surgeries, responsibility-laden jobs, death of 3 cats in the past 14 months (see: “In Memory of Peanut“), my husband’s hospitalization, being a mother and wife… I’m stopping before I get too depressed; those transitions can do a person in! (see: “The In-Between Time“)

modernantiaging.com

modernantiaging.com

Last, but not least, what’s with the loose pouch of skin fat under my chin? The one that my Mom thought for sure was a tumor growing when she first noticed hers. The one that makes me look like I’m related to a turkey. This one is another mystery, but I know it must be related to the gravitational pull that influences ocean tides and sunspots.

But this seasoned body – so flawed, scarred, exhausted, sagging – is also the body that is still standing. It’s weathered a lot of storms, and by doing so, forged my own unique path that has gifted me with the privilege of being present with others while they examine their own scars – the kind that we don’t actually see.

And perhaps most sacred of all, 28 years ago, this maturing body delivered the miracle of my son, who I count as my greatest blessing.

So, I’ll ask again: when did I start to look like my mother?

I’m thinking that with everything she went through in her life (see: “Remembrance“), that’s not a bad way to look. Even in the last month of her life, battling breast cancer at 59 in the hospital, head shaved, feverish, swollen – she was beautiful.

She never complained, she knew the life stories of the nurses who brought her special foods and drinks to tempt her appetite, and she faced her cancer with courage for as long as she was physically able.

Like I said, Mom was beautiful. The essence of who she was – her spirit – the part of her that could not be diminished regardless of what was destroying her body – shone forth.

Now that I think of it, I’m honored to look like my mother.

slowjams.com

slowjams.com

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Thursday Re-View — Of Hospitals, Loss & Love

When I worked in the Pastoral Care Department of a hospital that was designated a Level I Trauma Center (See: “We Are Not a Number” & “Wounded Hearts“), my duties were varied – praying with a patient right before their surgery, comforting a family waiting in the ER for their family member, rushing to any room that was involved in a Code, contacting family members for any patient who was brought in by Medevac Helicopter, or even sitting with anyone alone in the ER, looking scared and in pain. That last description was just about everyone.

In the rare event that I had a chance to try for some rest in the on-call room, I would prop my feet up and close my eyes until the beeping of my pager broke into my reverie. Either that, or the whirring sound of the helicopter blades as the Medevac neared its landing pad on the roof. Then it would be off the bed, out the door, racing to the trauma bays. “ETA – 10 minutes.” Just enough time to arrive at the ER, get suited up, ready for whomever was brought in.

Sometimes it was a motor vehicle accident or an ATV rider without a helmet vs. a tree, a drunk driver crashing into a building, a lineman electrocuted by live wires, a lonely person who jumped from a bridge or took too many pills, someone rescued from a burning house or a factory explosion. All sorts of traumas passed through the doors.

Staff included ER doctors, nurses, chaplains, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, security guards, physician’s assistants – all standing in their appointed spot in the small area that included two fully equipped trauma bays, waiting for the flight nurses or EMTs to arrive with their patient. I never saw anyone or anything that was unprofessional; the focus was always on each arriving patient and doing whatever possible to save their lives. The staff moved as a team with quiet precision.

desertspringshospital

desertspringshospital

On a particularly busy night, our latest arrivals were a young mother and her child from a motor vehicle accident; her husband and their second child were taken to another hospital near-by. Thankfully, the child escaped with minor abrasions and a concussion, and was already in a bed in pediatrics. The mother took more time to stabilize with some broken ribs, a fractured wrist, abrasions and contusions. Following our treatment, she was whisked off for a C-T scan.

Business as usual followed each patient – housekeeping cleaned the area, doctors signed off on computers, security locked up valuables and technicians moved aside their portable x-ray machines.

Suddenly the double doors from inside the ER swung open and the young mother was brought back in. Puzzled, we looked to the tech who wheeled her past us into the surgical suite adjacent to the bays. This operating room was normally used for those patients with injuries severe enough that there wasn’t enough time to make it to a regular OR.

Knowing she didn’t need surgery, someone asked what was wrong.

“This seems to be the only private area available. The other hospital notified us that the husband will be okay, but we need to tell her that her other child died.”

The double doors to the OR shut with a quiet whoosh. Through the window I could see the doctor take the mother’s hand as he leaned closer. Two nurses stood at the other side of the bed. With that terrible news delivered in the gentlest and kindest of ways – the kind of news from which you never recover – we heard a cry released from the depths of her being, the OR suite unable to contain the sounds of her grief.

It pierced our ears and our hearts. Then, total silence. Not one sound came from any of us – and there were at least 20 staff present – as we froze in place. For us, nothing else existed but the mother’s agonized cry. It tore into us, demanding our respect and mindful attention.

In that terrible moment, it seemed as if the cries of all parents who ever lost a child (the worst loss) echoed through time…through generations…and reverberated off the walls of this very place.

mourner

mourner

A doctor stood in his scrubs, head thrown back with eyes closed, fists at his sides. Two nurses held each other in a tight embrace; the woman from housekeeping held her mop in mid stride; a resident’s hand stood motionless above a keyboard, typing stopped in mid-sentence; a security guard turned toward the wall.

My eyes met the doctor’s, whose mirrored the pain. In a single movement, my back slid down the wall and I held my knees in my arms, the tableau frozen with her raw grief.

After what seemed like forever, but could only have been a minute, a voice overhead announcing the ETA of another trauma snapped us out of our absorption. The area became a buzz of activity as we picked up where we had left off, grateful for the respite offered by much-needed focus, occupied with our assigned tasks.

We could push all of this aside, but the mother could not. We could hug our own children that night, or call to remind them of our love, but the mother could only do that with one child, rather than two.

Once again, as medical professionals we were reminded that regardless of our technology or expertise or willingness to switch places in order to keep children from harm, all stories do not have happy endings. Once again, there was no good answer for the question on everyone’s lips – “Why?” It was beyond our human understanding. And it hurt. It hurt terribly.

But for a brief moment, in that hospital, there were no differences in skin color or language, in gender or faith tradition, in economic status or profession, in looks or bank account. We were joined through threads of pain and compassion, of despair and hope…and of love.

We were together. Interconnected.

Although no one moved, you could almost feel our arms reaching out to the young mother in her grief, comforting her, reassuring her. And if you looked closely enough, you could almost see the faint outline of a little girl kissing her mother’s cheek good-bye…

fanpop

fanpop

Be well, my child. Play and laugh and sing. Your family loves you and will always remember you. And even though we never met you, all of us with your mother that night love you and remember you as well. In the too-short time you lived, you mattered to so very many of us.

From deep in our hearts, we send you our eternal blessings.

Circles of Grace and Compassion. A Circle of Love.

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Thursday Re-View —- “Wounded Hearts”

estherdaniel

estherdaniel

The young father walked down the hall, each of his daughters holding one of his hands. He looked to be in his thirties and his daughters, perhaps 3 and 5 years old. They were dressed like little princesses – dresses with skirts that puffed out, patent leather shoes and white socks with embroidered flowers and ruffles. Their mood matched their father’s – quiet, determined, serious. It was almost as if his energy flowed into theirs and they became one. You could barely hear their footfalls in the long hallway, the lowered lighting bathing them in softness from behind.

Late at night, a special visitation, they were on the Trauma-Neuro floor of the hospital where I worked. They were on their way to see their wife and mother.

In her thirties, she was in her prime – physically fit from the bicycling that was her passion. Each year, she bicycled several times a year for different charities that were close to her heart. Today’s was for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where they provide care and find cures for sick children at no cost.

Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way for a visit.

Earlier that day, as everyone was packing up and leaving the successful Bike-a-Thon fund-raising event, the young mother was struck by a small panel truck that barreled through an intersection without brakes. Med Evac flew her to our trauma center. But it was too late… In spite of all that modern medicine had to offer, massive head injuries left this young wife and mother brain dead. Her family was here to say good-bye before she was removed from life support.

When gathering her things together before her family arrived, I looked at her driver’s license, seeing her smiling eyes and the words “Organ Donor” stamped on its front. She would still be giving of herself after death, and several of her organs were already designated to people across the country.

Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way to say good-bye.

As I watched the small family enter her room, I couldn’t help but think of all that she would miss of her daughters’ lives – kindergarten and grammar school, getting their driver’s license and experiencing their first kiss, senior prom, graduation, college and another graduation, their weddings, the births of their own children – gone forever in an instant. A tragedy unfolding in the privacy of her hospital room…

Trauma-Neuro was always quiet at night; those with severe head trauma were often kept in a medically-induced coma while their brain swelling was monitored. I walked toward the only other person near-by – a young resident who had been looking at the wall of monitors behind the nurse’s station. He stood still, staring off into nothingness. Tears welled in his eyes.

I placed my hand over his clenched fist that rested on the counter.

“I shouldn’t be like this,” he ground out without even looking at me, wiping a stray tear from his cheek with his free hand.

“How can you not be?” I offered quietly. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor this family needs right now.” I hesitated. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor medicine needs.”

As he dropped his chin to his chest, I felt his fist relax, as we stood together, both hearts weeping.

I heard a muffled “thank you” and looked up to see the young family standing just past the nurse’s station. The man’s eyes filled with tears, he slowly turned and walked away, his back stiff as he held his girls’ hands. As they walked down the hallway, passing through the shadows, a soft light bathed them in a familiar shape – wings??? – before they exited through the door.

Angel wings VI

Sacred ground.

Time stopped. A mother who bicycled for charity, breathing with life support until her family said good-bye and her organs were harvested; two little girls in ruffles and bows, their lips quivering with an unnamed fear; a young husband and father walking toward an unthinkable future in agonized disbelief; and, a physician who now understood that not all stories have a happy ending and that sometimes the simple one word question – “Why?” – is so terribly vast and complex that any acceptable answer defies human comprehension.

At that moment, I heard the soft strains of Brahms’ Lullaby echoing from the hospital’s public address system to announce the birth of a new child in the maternity wing.

As one life ends, another begins in the eternal cycle. An ending to be mourned and a beginning to be celebrated. Second chances made possible by the gift of life from a selfless woman.

I celebrate all of you for coming into my life – the mother and father, their daughters, the doctor…and yes, even the new baby. I keep you in my heart awash with blessings.

Interconnected. Circles of Compassion. Circles of Grace.

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Of Ladybugs and Dragonflies…and Love

There are signs.

Signs of our departed loved ones telling us all will be well and that there is life after death, if we only have the faith and willingness to believe.

For Mom, it’s a ladybug. ladybug

When she died 25 years ago from breast cancer at the age of 59, (see “Remembrance”), Mom left behind a husband, 2 daughters and 3 grandsons. Speaking for myself, her “baby,” I was in total shock, having spent the entire month of February driving to the hospital after work and watching her suffer. After her death, I was totally drained physically, emotionally and spiritually.

One of the first things we did as a family without Mom was to drive 8 hours to my best friend’s wedding in North Carolina, the wedding that Mom promised to bake her delicious Italian cookies for (what is a wedding without countless trays laden with homemade cookies made from recipes handed down through the generations?). Needless to say, my family was happy for my friend who called my Mom and Dad her “adopted parents,” but the absence of Mom was a raw ache, an emptiness, a longing that went unfulfilled.

During a rest stop, Dad, my sister and I stood stretching our legs before getting back into the car for the long ride home. As we spoke about how much we missed Mom, a ladybug landed on Dad’s shoulder.

Mom had always loved ladybugs; if one was inside the house, she would bring it outside and place it gently on a flower. If one landed on her, she would simply let it stay put until it flew away. Mom knew that ladybugs were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and had been called the “Beetle of Our Lady,” its name linking itself to spiritual ideals and mothers. To her, that sent a powerful message of devotion and love.

A ladybug on Dad’s shoulder…while we were talking about Mom…at our first outing as a family without her. Each of us looked at the ladybug, looked at each other, and without saying a word, started to cry. Somehow Mom found a way to let us know that she was with us.

Ever since then, in the past 25 years, ladybugs have visited my Dad, sister and me when we most needed the comfort. Dad would call us up on Mom’s birthday and mention that a ladybug was on his morning newspaper, or in the bathroom during the Christmas holidays – Mom’s favorite time of year – when he most missed her, or on the passenger seat of his car when he had a doctor’s appointment. If my sister was going through a difficult time, even though it might be the dead of winter, she would call me up and say, “Guess what I’m looking at right now, on my windowsill?” and I would answer, without missing a beat, “A ladybug.” Mom came through again and again.

After Dad died and I was particularly sad, having to make some big decisions without having either parent to ask for advice, I found myself driving to work and saying out loud, “I really need a lady bug sighting.” I thought of my ladybug collection at home that reminded me of Mom – pins, coffee mugs, journals, bracelets, note cards – but they just weren’t enough. I really, really needed her. As I slowed for one of the three stop lights in my town that foggy morning, I noticed something strange about the car in front of me. I blinked, then got a better look as I came to a top. It was a Volkswagen Beetle automobile. I’d gotten my driver’s license in one when I was 17 years old. But that wasn’t why I smiled. The Volkswagen Beetle was a red one with huge black spots painted on it. A car painted to look like a ladybug idling at the stop light. The ladybug sighting that I just asked for out loud – big enough just in case Theresa missed it.

I looked down and shook my head. Why was I not surprised??? [Note: I never saw that car again.]

For Dad, it’s a dragonfly.

flora goddess of flowers and spring

flora goddess of flowers and spring

Following Dad’s funeral Mass last year, we all proceeded to the mausoleum where Mom was buried. As my sister and I, our immediate family, and the rest of those who had come to pay final respects to Dad entered the marble building, for some reason, my sister turned around and looked at the wall of windows that covered its front. Just then, a beautiful dragonfly flew in and landed on the framework of the door. Quite large, it was a beautiful, iridescent blue (Dad’s favorite color, as well as the color of his eyes). It simply rested there, motionless. A cousin of mine turned to my sister and asked in a voice tinged with wonder, “Did you see that?” as they looked at the visitor. My sister nodded, unable to speak. When she told me about this later, I had no doubt that we had just received our first message from Dad.

In choosing the dragonfly for his sign, Dad chose a symbol of light, one of a select few creatures that are supposed to carry a deceased person’s energy to their loved ones, often seen as a harbinger of change.

This week, the final chapter in the managing of Dad’s estate took place when we had the closing for the sale of his house. My sister and I hoped that we would find a young family to bring the house alive, to transform it once again into a place of brightness and love and happiness. We got our wish when we met the couple who bought it, along with their young daughter. The conference room was filled with people – attorneys, realtors, secretaries, the buyers (the family) and the sellers (my sister and me). It was bittersweet – a relief, after a year, to have this last task completed, yet also very sad, to have this last task completed (see “Who Will Remember?”).

As we sat across the table from the family, my sister addressed the harried and exhausted looking mother, who had just finished telling us that they closed on the sale of their own house late the night before. “Your sweater – are those dragonflies on your sweater?” The woman stretched the front of the garment out so that we could see its print. Multiple dragonflies fluttered across it in bluish-purple beauty.

Dragonflies.

My sister and I both started to cry. As we brokenly explained what/who the dragonflies represented, the woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, I guess we know this was meant to be,” she softly commented, pulling her sweater more closely around her, almost like a hug.

She was correct. Dad was here to say that his house was being passed on to the right people, and that he was with us always. I would like to say a ladybug landed on the desk at the same time, but that didn’t happen. The dragonfly was enough.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for sending your love. Continuing bonds can never be broken.

There are signs. Our loved ones never leave us. We must simply open our eyes and our hearts will be filled.

__________________________________________________________________

This is How I Will Remember Dad

Dad as a little boy

Dad as a little boy

He was baptized by monks.

When you spoke with my Dad, that was one of the things he was most proud of in his life. Oh, he was proud of his wife and 2 daughters (his “girls”), his three grandsons, his four great-grandchildren, too. But he always returned to the monks…

Both his Hungarian parents entered the United Sates (separately – they had not yet met) through Ellis Island in the first decade of the 20th century. His Mother came here all by herself when she was 16 years old, with $28 in her possession. His father had even less. His parents – my grandparents – eventually met, married, and had 4 children. My Dad was the youngest, born almost 10 years after his oldest sibling. And yes, where he grew up in Union, New Jersey, he was baptized by monks.

He grew up on a farm of almost 90 acres, where my grandmother had a beautiful garden, a spring where we used a pail to fetch clean water, cows that Dad used to milk and manage to have fun at the same time by squirting near-by cats, and an outhouse that had rhubarb growing at the back. Things were a lot simpler then.

Dad played high school football when they wore leather helmets and decided differing opinions mid-field. In his senior year, World War II raging, he joined the Navy on September 16, 1943, a day before his 18th birthday. His school gave him his diploma even though he only finished 2 weeks of his senior year. He was an A student, anyway.

Basic training was in Great Lakes, Michigan, which must have been interesting for a farm boy who had always walked to school and had never been away from home. In addition, he joined the Navy not knowing how to swim. But there was a war on, and that was unimportant in the bigger scheme of things. After Basic, Dad was one of three sailors out of 500 chosen to go on to Texas A & M for training in what would become the nuclear submarine program, but he refused. Why refuse what was such a golden opportunity? Because this 18 year old man has recently met the 15 year old girl who was to become his wife.

Before leaving for the war, this sailor in his dress blues went to a small park in Pennsylvania with a friend, where he saw a pretty young girl with black hair and dark eyes across the gazebo. When he asked his friend who the girl was and said he was going to marry her, his friend laughed and told him he’d never get past her mother – the protective, unsmiling woman beside her.

We know how that turned out. Dad did get introduced, the now 16 year old girl wrote to him during the war, and they got married (Mom was 18, Dad was 21) when he returned home after the war was over. They were married in a beautiful church ceremony with money Dad had saved by selling his cigarette consignments while in the Navy, at a reception with beer, root beer, and sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Dad promised Mom he would buy her a new dress every week. Romantic – yes. Did he manage to keep his promise? No – which Mom never let him forget, but he did give her so much more.

Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad

Dad apprenticed as a furrier, then worked at a company that manufactured tools such as scissors, tweezers and nail cutters. Then, this young couple decided to venture out on their own by opening their own business. First, they bought an old house in a small town that didn’t like outsiders. In fact, they had to retain an outside attorney (this was almost 60 years ago) to close the sale because my parents’ ethnic background and religion weren’t easily accepted (sound familiar?). After the purchase, they found white sheets and hoods in the attic, which they hurriedly threw out. You get the picture…

They knocked on doors in the garment district in New York City until, after mocking laughter and countless doors slammed in their faces, one Jewish jobber (Bless him…) took a chance on them and offered to send them work. Their business – manufacturing women’s’ and children’s’ blouses, had begun. With a stranger and a handshake. No contract, just their word. In a business relationship that lasted for more than 2 decades.

We lived in a small apartment over the blouse mill. My parents employed almost 30 women and one man for 23 years. Many were single mothers who needed to put food on the table; others were disabled in some way (epileptic, partially sighted, learning disabled). The hardest workers made enough money that some of the men in their lives came to “have a talk with” my father, angrily asking why Dad allowed them to make more money than the man of the house. Dad simply explained that their women earned it. Enough said!

Earlier than most men, Dad treated women as his equal and respected anyone’s hard work and desire to get ahead. By the time my older sister and I were born, Dad was surrounded by women at work and home, so it’s a good thing he could survive in the midst of those hormone shifts!

Memories of Mom and Dad getting up by 6 am and Dad still being downstairs at midnight, doing book work… He made smart investments and saved money, but we still managed to drive almost an hour away once or twice a month to try out the hamburgers at some new type of restaurant known as McDonald’s. When he’d fill up the station wagon’s tank with gas, sometimes we’d get a few ice cream squares, cut them in half, then share them between the four of us. Plus, Dad found that he could save a lot of money by repairing all of the machines in our factory by himself, so the smell of soldering and polishing wafting upstairs was common.

As things settled down and he knew the factory was going to “make it,” Dad started to take us on actual family vacations to Atlantic City, New Jersey and Williamsburg, Virginia. Wow – that was the height of luxury to stay at a motel near-by. And to actually eat out every day??? Heaven. By the time my parents retired from their business, their travel had evolved into Spain, Italy and Greece. They always taught us that we needed to broaden our horizons and meet other people to better understand the world.

They weren’t perfect parents – I’ve never met a perfect human being – but they were very good parents. Mom taught us that “ladies don’t drink, smoke or swear,” (those childhood messages stick with you, don’t they?) and to always wear clean underwear in case we were in a car accident. My sister and I couldn’t date until the magic age of 17, and I worried that no one would ask me out. (A few brave souls did). We were taught that if God gave us more (of anything – intelligence, money, opportunity, etc.), then we were obligated to give more back (to society) in return. Dad had a temper (yelling, never physical) and could be stubborn, while Mom had a tough time forgetting if someone did her or anyone in her family wrong. But they were smart, hard-working, compassionate, generous people who believed in God and their country.

The blouse factory was a family business, one that saw my sister and me working every summer, as well as in the evenings after we did our homework. We were a family unit, and my parents always gave good advice, with no agenda other than our best interests. I asked my parents’ advice until the day each of them died. They never led me astray.

Family

Family

They would also throw high school graduation parties for nieces or nephews if relatives didn’t have the money, buy someone a washer and dryer to make that person’s life easier, or loan money to those in need. Education was very important to both of them; they always said that education was something that no one could take away from you.

My sister went to beauty school and obtained her real estate license; I went to undergrad, optometry school, then grad school (wow – that’s almost 12 years of higher education; one could question my sanity!). All 3 of their grandsons graduated from college. Their 4 great-grandchildren (another one is almost here) already have college funds started.

The American Dream.

From grandparents who came through Ellis Island (Moms’ parents also came through Ellis Island, from Italy) to a man who quit his senior year in high school to fight in WW II and a woman who had to drop out of high school after her sophomore year in order to earn money for her parents and siblings during the war…

What a wonderful legacy Mom and Dad left behind… And I miss them terribly. Next week, another family will take possession of Mom and Dad’s house, another chapter closed.

But I was able to give one last gift to Dad, after I held his hand in the driveway where he fell (see “Remembrance II”).

One of the priests at the college where I worked – a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross – traveled almost 2 hours to say his funeral Mass. He never met Dad, but he knew him from almost 4 years of working with me, and he had the entire church crying about how important Dad’s wife, “girls,” grandsons and great-children were to him. And he allowed my sister and me to dress Dad’s casket with the pall and bless it with holy water as well. Three times – Dad’s favorite number, representing the Trinity.

So for this man of faith who was so honored to have been baptized by monks – add to that a funeral mass celebrated by an ordered priest. A fitting validation of a good and decent man…

By the time the veterans played Taps at the cemetery and we were given the flag, our time together was done. He was finally with Mom…their bodies together in the mausoleum, their spirits together in another plane, at long last.

Rest well. You did good. The world is a better place for having had you in it. And at the end of life, that’s all we can hope for.

Thank you for all of the sacrifices, the guidance and the love. I hope to make you and Mom proud.

____________________________________________________________________

TAPS
Daniel Butterfield – music
Horace Lorenzo Trim – lyrics

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

______________________________________________________________

Who Will Remember?

Memories IV

“Memories” by
Adrian Art

Who will remember us after we are gone?

Really – who will remember each one of us, past perhaps our grandchildren? Or, if we started a family young enough (I didn’t), perhaps our great-grandchildren? If we have not achieved the notoriety that a Lincoln or a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa has, then who will remember us?

These thoughts came about during the past year when my sister and I were charged with cleaning out our Dad’s house after he died (see Remembrance II). This is the house that he purchased for Mom in the town where she was born – her “homecoming,” so-to-speak. She loved it, even though she died after only a few years of living there.

After Mom died, it took Dad 24 more years to die (at least physically; emotionally, I believe he died when Mom did). And in that 24 years of living alone and missing Mom, Dad accumulated three 30-yard dumpsters full of “stuff” that we threw out, and that didn’t include lots of furniture, food, clothing, etc., that we donated.

That’s a lot of stuff. More than a third of a lifetime of stuff.

What my sister and I sorted through over the course of months (yes – months) meant something to Mom and Dad. Sometimes we understood why it meant so much, and it meant a lot to each of us as well. Did those things mean something to his grandchildren? Only a few, markedly recognizable things. To his great-grandchildren? No – they only remembered that Poppy used to bring them a treat whenever he came to visit.

Some things we found:

– Mom’s old eyeglasses
– Thousands of rubber bands
– Hundreds of plastic bags (wrapped inside of paper bags, wrapped inside of…)
– Piles of empty boxes
– Coins
– A compilation (at least 10 years worth) of mpg for Dad’s Saturn
– Laminated, hand-written, detailed instructions on how to correctly pull the handles on slot machines in Atlantic City in order to win money (we’re talking coins here)
– Black lab calendars for at least the past 10 years (Dad loved our black lab, Misty) with important dates and events listed
– Christmas gifts that Dad had specifically asked for, opened in front of us, then placed in piles, never to be taken out of the boxes
– Packages of white tube socks, unopened
– Bottles of rubbing alcohol
– Thousands of band-aids and cotton balls
– Hundreds of clipped coupons
– Thousands of personalized mailing labels from every charity imaginable (Dad always was a soft touch for sending in donations)
– Hundreds of comic strips clipped from newspapers, held together with rubber bands or paper clips
– Trousers in Dad’s size from Haband, still with tags on
– Several boxes of new sneakers in Dad’s size
– Boxes of tissues and toilet bowl cleaner from the days when Mom & Dad had their own business (they retired in 1981)
– About 15 digital wrist watches in their original boxes, never opened
– Packages of sugar and artificial sweeteners from fast-food restaurants
– Styrofoam coffee cups from McDonald’s (used but washed clean)

The list goes on and on…

But please don’t get the wrong opinion about my Dad… He was not a “hoarder,” as showcased by the reality show of the same name. He was simply a man for whom time stopped when Mom died, and who couldn’t bear to part with anything that reminded him of their 41 years together in marriage. Being born in 1925, he was also a child of the depression, where doing without was “normal;” where he ate what his mother grew in her garden on the farm, and he drank what he milked from the cows (that is, whatever was left after he finished squirting all the cats who lived on the farm) and had breakfast each morning with the fresh eggs he grabbed from the chicken coop.

You never knew when you might need something, so you’d better not throw it out…

Every available resource was used, then reused. Clothes were patched and handed down, foods canned and “put up” in the basement, vegetables stored in root cellars. You were poor, and in order to survive, you kept just about everything.

Old habits die hard.

But we also found:

– a bank envelope with 5s, 10s, 20s and 1s laying on the top rack of the dishwasher
– two paper clippings (one for each of his daughters) with the name and number for a business that specializes in estate junk removal with a comment in Dad’s handwriting: “for after…”
– detailed instructions on the location of life insurance policies, bank accounts, keys, important papers
– a note from the parish priest who married my parents authorizing their double room reservation in a NYC hotel for their honeymoon (my, how times have changed!)
– The NYC train schedule that Mom & Dad used when they first started their business – when they walked through the garment district, door-to-door (and having many of the doors slammed in their faces) – trying to find work
– three copies of a prayer for those living alone
– Dad’s rosary
– Dad’s American Legion membership cards all the way back to 1945, when he was honorably discharged from the Navy
– All of the sympathy cards sent to Dad when Mom died 25 years ago
– laminated copies of years of the “In Memorium” notice Dad put in the local newspaper each year on the date Mom died

And so on and so on and so on…

How much stuff do you throw out until you no longer have anything tangible to touch, to hold onto, from your loved one?

I remember when I traded in my car a few years after Mom died; before leaving it at the dealership, I ran my hand along the worn leather of the passenger seat, knowing that Mom had once sat there when we went shopping together. I cried while I was shredding Dad’s old tax returns and cancelled checks, running the tips of my fingers over his handwriting, always heavily indented into the paper. And when I drove Dad’s 20+ year-old car to the salvage yard to have it scrapped for parts, I could barely see for the tears, knowing my hand was touching the steering wheel with his DNA still on it, interspersed with laughter at the sound of its jet-engine whine. Not to mention the sound of the muffler that a teen-ager would do almost anything to own…

Now I know I’m the author of Soul Gatherings, with daily quotations that touch upon the importance of relationship and interconnectedness, rather than the material. And I truly believe all of that. I know that my parents live on in my memory, in me, in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But I’m human, and it takes a lot longer for our heart to catch up with our head where strong feelings are concerned. And throwing out so much of the “stuff” of my Dad’s life was exhausting, liberating and draining, along with a deep sadness accompanied by a profound sense of loss.

Who will remember us after we are gone?

Tell me – who will remember???

______________________________________________________

“En ma Fin gît mon Commencement…
In my End is my Beginning…”
~ Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) ~

____________________________________________________________

The Shoulders of Giants (Once Again…)

On this, the first anniversary of  Dad’s death, I chose to repost something from almost 3 months ago. My feelings stand.

img206

I’ve said it before – at times, my naiveté astounds me.

  • Licensed Professional Counselor – check.
  • Loss & Bereavement Specialty – check.
  • Survived Mom’s death 25 years ago, when she was only 59 years old – check.
  • Working through the grief process (and it is a process) for Dad, who died not quite a year ago at the age of almost 87 years old – check.
  • Prepared for the grief involved in no longer having a parent alive – not even close.

Everyone grieves differently. It depends on your relationship with that person; if you’ve lost someone before; whether their death was far too quick, with no time to say good-by or agonizingly slow, with unbearable suffering; expected or unexpected; natural or by suicide; your age; and, whether you’re male (like to take action) or female (want someone to listen). The list goes on… There’s no set “process,” per se – no time frame or stages that must be followed in the correct order. Some people act like nothing has happened, while others are prostrate with grief. Shock, denial, bargaining, depression, anger with lots of people (including God), until hopefully – finally – some measure of acceptance.

My patients often ask when they will have “closure,” and I answer honestly there is no such thing as closure, only survival. They will survive.

My head knows this. My heart struggles to keep pace.

Mom’s death was 6 months after her breast cancer diagnosis, after having suffered through a modified radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, surgery, and a 29-day hospital stay. The fact that she was only 59 years old and my close friend made her torment agonizing to watch; so much so, that I actually asked her physician if I could end her suffering (and mine) by just letting her drift away with extra morphine. He shot that option down quickly.

Dad’s death at almost 87 years old was sudden. Two weeks before he died, on Father’s Day, we noticed he was slurring his words. We took him to the doctor, got him a bright red 3-wheel walker and made plans to either move him downstairs in his home (one floor, no steps) or to have him move in with my sister. That was all underway when I got the call that Dad passed away. He was walking down his driveway to get his newspaper, a morning ritual, when he collapsed. The neighbor called 911 when she saw him lying there, but he died “instantly.” (Do doctors tell that to everyone to ease their suffering? Just wondering…)

The shock of Mom’s death shook me to my core. Admittedly, after 25 years, I still light a candle every day in her memory. I don’t know how long Dad’s death will sit so fresh and raw; it’s been less than a year.

But this I do know – I was totally unprepared for the separate grief that comes with no longer having a “parental unit.” It’s unique – it’s different – it’s terrible – it’s lonely – it’s frightening.

I feel abandoned, lost, adrift, disoriented, incomplete. There’s no one to watch my back or to be my cheering section or to give me a safe place to fall.

Where is my anchor? Who will advise me, guide me, forgive me, support me, challenge me, love me unconditionally? Who will comfort the little girl in me, the lost child, as only my parents could?

I once told Dad when he was really missing Mom (which was for the entire 25 years) that he and Mom had given me everything I needed to be a success, that I had “stood on the shoulders of giants.” They were my giants.

“If I have seen further…it is by
standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

~ Sir Isaac Newton

He liked the thought of that and remembered with gratitude all those who helped him along the way.

I shared with him something I felt while at the Baccalaureate service the night before my grad school Commencement. While I sat immersed in the joyous music that filled the cathedral, I could almost sense two lines of ancestors standing behind me. They were in pairs, from my shoulders, back and up, until I lost sight of them. Without turning around, I could visualize them. Somehow I knew that one line included Mom, my maternal grandparents and the rest of her family, while the other line was my paternal grandparents…on and on and on. They were all shapes and sizes and colors, all dressed in different clothing that gave a clue to their work, some younger than others, some faces lined while others were smooth. They were all smiling. Generation after generation after generation.

I have been schooled well.

The best psychotherapists are those who have been through pain. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author (1932 – 1996), reminds us that “in our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.”

Who better to sit with you in the darkness than a wounded healer?

I have sat with people who have lost their child (the worst loss), spouse, parent, sibling, friend, grandparent, married lover, colleague – but never someone who was grieving the loss of both parents as a “unit.” How is that possible?

But now, as is always the case, I will be able to sit with someone who no longer has parents – as one person said to me, “Welcome to the Orphan’s Club” – and empathize with their longing for wholeness.

But a broken heart empties us of all that we might hang on to, often too long, so that it might be filled up with something greater and more wondrous that we could ever imagine or think ourselves deserving of. When I am tired enough of struggling, I will once again accept Your glorious grace. I will once again accept the plans You have for me. I know You understand.

Help me to be Your Counselor, Defender, Teacher, Listener, Instrument, Vessel, Comforter, Starfish Thrower (thank you, Diana), Harvester, Secret Keeper (bless you, T), Heartsong, Wellspring.

“Much is expected from those to whom much has been given.”
~ Luke 12:49

Dad’s favorite saying, as well as the way he always signed off on a letter or in a card – “Keep the Faith.” I’m doing my best, Dad, but I still miss both of you more than I ever thought possible.

Like I said, I have stood on the shoulders of giants – Mom and Dad the biggest and most important of all. They lifted me up so I could soar.

Your Circles of Grace – those Circles of Compassion – widen.

My thanks.

One Year Ago…

June 29, 2012: Remembrance of Dad

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.

The same hand that had once changed my diapers, given me a bottle, taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car, that fed me my first (and last) piece of liver, that cut my hair into a pixie, that held onto me when I crossed a road, that gave me away in marriage, that slipped me money at the beginning of every month, that signed the checks for oh-so-many years of education, that taught me the importance of giving…

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.  In disbelief.

That Friday morning, ready to leave for work, the phone rang.  Dad probably couldn’t wait until my Bluetooth call while I was on my way to work; he must have had something important to tell me that happened on this date, from the calendar he kept with all family events (big and little) catalogued.

Something very important.  My sister’s voice – hysterical, sobbing – “Dad’s dead.”

I calmly called Michael, who told me to wait until he got home from the office; he didn’t trust me to drive.  On our way there – on our way “home” – I knew it would take at least an hour – I prayed that you would still be there when I got to the house.

How could I have prayed for what I saw when I arrived?  The State Trooper was just leaving as I flew out of the passenger seat and ran across the lawn – the same lawn that you mowed on your John Deere, a special handle screwed into its casing so you could drive your grandsons around with you 30 years ago – to the figure half-hidden by the hedge, covered with a thin white blanket.

I heard someone wail in anguish and didn’t know it was me – your baby of 58 years.

Where was the dignity in this?  Dad – my father – a World War II veteran – lying in his driveway, in the sunshine.  (Thank goodness for your being covered; lupus doesn’t like sunshine, remember?)

I held your hand in the driveway.

It was right where I had seen Mom standing at your side, oh-so-many years ago after she died, as Steve, Alex and I pulled out of your driveway; by the flowering tree Mom loved that nestled the bird feeders you kept filled for the songbirds and squirrels.

The diamonds in Mom’s ring sparkled in the sunshine as my fingers entwined with yours, your strong hands, nails neatly trimmed, relaxed…at peace.  My tears fell onto our hands, a baptism, a cleansing of our relationship, joined with Mom in a bond not unlike diamonds that would only strengthen with the weight of time passed.

There was a dignity in this, of a sort…a communion, a joining, rather than a separation…  A quietness…a birth…an arrival upon the heels of a departure.

You were already being greeted by the God whom you so loved, along with Grammie and Grandpop, who sang the words of Matthew 3:17: “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

A trembling voice echoed off the walls of my broken heart: “This is my Father, in Whom I am well pleased.”

A Father’s Prayer

macarthur

A Father’s Prayer
~ General Douglas MacArthur ~

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid;
one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be;
a son who will know thee and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort,
but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge.
Here let him learn to stand up in the storm;
here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high;
a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men;
one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep;
one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor,
so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.
 Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true
greatness,
the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

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Douglas MacArthur, an Army General and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II, was father to one son, Arthur IV.

Thoughts for My Son on Mother’s Day

Call Mom.
Pick your battles.
Be kind.
Thoughts matter.
Breathe.
Count to five before you speak.
Look beyond what you see.
Don’t judge.
Rescue an animal.
Keep your word.
Give back.
 Be present.
Apologize.
Give thanks.
Choose your words with care.
Dance to your own music.
Character matters.
Listen with your heart.
Honor your family.
Respect your elders.
Share.
Play fair.
Be honest.
Remember where you came from.
Root for the underdog.
Volunteer.
Be charitable.
Keep the faith.
Look people in the eye.
Mean what you say.
Follow through.
Be a good example.
Listen.
Color outside the lines.
Smile.
Purple glitter makes everything better.
Feed the birds.
Remember that squirrels like birdseed, too.
Be compassionate.
Enjoy thunderstorms.
Talk to animals.
Pray.
Be true to yourself.
Visit other countries.
Try your best.
Put in an honest day’s work.
Forgive.
Hold fast to your beliefs.
Patience really is a virtue.
Nothing is random.
Follow your moral compass.
Never give up.
Ask for advice.
Reach out to others.
We’re all in this together.
Admit when you’re wrong.
Offer a firm handshake.
Laugh with gusto.
All things in moderation.
Good will always triumph over evil.
Life isn’t fair, but that’s okay.
Give good hugs.
Don’t lose hope.
Be passionate.
Seek the truth.
Look within.
There is meaning in suffering.
Listen to the birds each morning.
Don’t forget the sunsets.
Go sailing.
Smile.
Surround yourself with color.
Hunt the Northern Lights.
Water your flowers.
Plant a tree.
It will be okay.
Every ending is another beginning.
Write real thank you notes.
Cuddle.
It’s okay to say no.
Sing to babies.
Remember those who have gone before you.
Take your hat off inside.
Offer your help.
Say thank you.
Don’t take it personally.
There are many levels of love.
Don’t hold grudges.
Be a gentleman and a gentle man.
Avoid toxic people.
Tip well.
Look to the stars.
Lose yourself in the clouds.
Stop for all rainbows.
Take the road less travelled.
Be well.
Remember that Mom loves you.

You are my greatest blessing.

Remembrance II

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June 29, 2012: Remembrance of Dad

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.

The same hand that had once changed my diapers, given me a bottle, taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car, that fed me my first (and last) piece of liver, that cut my hair into a pixie, that held onto me when I crossed a road, that gave me away in marriage, that slipped me money at the beginning of every month, that signed the checks for oh-so-many years of education, that taught me the importance of giving…

I held your hand in the driveway, right where you fell.  In disbelief.

That Friday morning, ready to leave for work, the phone rang.  Dad probably couldn’t wait until my Bluetooth call while I was on my way to work; he must have had something important to tell me that happened on this date, from the calendar he kept with all family events (big and little) catalogued.

Something very important.  My sister’s voice – hysterical, sobbing – “Dad’s dead.”

I calmly called Michael, who told me to wait until he got home from the office; he didn’t trust me to drive.  On our way there – on our way “home” – I knew it would take at least an hour – I prayed that you would still be there when I got to the house.

How could I have prayed for what I saw when I arrived?  The State Trooper was just leaving as I flew out of the passenger seat and ran across the lawn – the same lawn that you mowed on your John Deere, a special handle screwed into its casing so you could drive your grandsons around with you 30 years ago – to the figure half-hidden by the hedge, covered with a thin white blanket.

I heard someone wail in anguish and didn’t know it was me – your baby of 58 years.

Where was the dignity in this?  Dad – my father – a World War II veteran – lying in his driveway, in the sunshine.  (Thank goodness for your being covered; lupus doesn’t like sunshine, remember?)

I held your hand in the driveway.

It was right where I had seen Mom standing at your side, oh-so-many years ago after she died, as Steve, Alex and I pulled out of your driveway; by the flowering tree Mom loved that nestled the bird feeders you kept filled for the songbirds and squirrels.

The diamonds in Mom’s ring sparkled in the sunshine as my fingers entwined with yours, your strong hands, nails neatly trimmed, relaxed…at peace.  My tears fell onto our hands, a baptism, a cleansing of our relationship, joined with Mom in a bond not unlike diamonds that would only strengthen with the weight of time passed.

There was a dignity in this, of a sort…a communion, a joining, rather than a separation…  A quietness…a birth…an arrival upon the heels of a departure.

You were already being greeted by the God whom you so loved, along with Grammie and Grandpop, who sang the words of Matthew 3:17: “This is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

A trembling voice echoed off the walls of my broken heart: “This is my Father, in Whom I am well pleased.”

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Remembrance (1989)

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Remembrance

February 29, 1988. An oddity, Leap Year. It comes every four years, then departs without a trace. Not for me. The pain of that day is seared in my memory. That’s the day that cancer took my Mom, when she was 59 years old. That’s the day that I lost a part of me forever.

The obituary page…so impersonal. Facts: names, dates, places, times. Nothing, yet supposedly everything. How can Mom be a statistic in black and white to them, her whole life listed in capsule form? Yet they know nothing of her, nothing at all.

Mom. Quitting school at 16 in order to bring home money for the family. Falling in love with a sailor in his dress blues, marrying him at 18, and working at 41 years of life together. Two daughters, a business, long days. Always saving for a rainy day, postponing trips “until we are retired.”

Memories. A cool hand on my forehead whenever I had a fever (it comes full circle, Mom; I did the same for you at the end). My favorite meal. Unending words of encouragement and support. Holding my hand tightly whenever I crossed the road on my way to school. Sitting together on a swing under the tree, having morning coffee together. (I didn’t even like coffee, but I liked the time with you.) Going shopping and having lunch together. A blinding smile that lit up the Academy of Music: “My daughter, the Doctor.” Waking up in the hospital after all four of my surgeries, and seeing you at the bottom of the bed, waiting. Trips to Europe, and cruises with my own cabin. Christmas Eve, filled with Italian dinners and hours of opening presents.

Alex. The child against the odds, as I had been for you. My Alex, your third grandson, who you greeted every morning for 16 months as if he were a king. You showered him with the same love you had given me. Now, he asks who you are in family pictures. His beloved Mimi. He was barely 2 ½ when you left. How can I be a Mother to him, as you were to me, when you’re not here to guide me?

June, 1987. Cancer. Dr. Friedman’s office: lumpectomy or mastectomy? Point-blank: “Theresa, what would you do?” As if any of us can outsmart cancer. But I know better. I know how poor a woman’s chances really are. 1-800-4-CANCER. Very supportive, very optimistic, very wrong.

Chemotherapy. Six long months of pills and injections; you were node-positive. The cancer cells will die (so will you). Doesn’t chemotherapy kill the healthy cells, too? You told me losing your hair hurt more than the nausea and vomiting, and I believed you. The wig was rejected, a turban grudgingly accepted.

Change. You’re different, Mom. You’re giving up. You talk less, you care less, you take longer to heal. You’re too sick to tell jokes or have a beer or yell at Dad or give advice. I don’t know you, and I’m impatient because I want the real you back. I’m selfish, and I feel guilty for thinking you should be better.

Super Bowl Sunday, January, 1988. I am depressed. You’re too sick to come to the annual party (you started this tradition, Mom; you have to be here!). The doorbell rings, and you’re at my front door in a long, navy blue bathrobe, turban on your head, bedroom slippers, and your stomach swollen like when I was 9 months pregnant. But you’re here, and my smile lights up the foyer (you always said I was pretty when I smiled). Later, I realized that my house was the last place you would visit before your final trip to the hospital.

February 1, 1988. The first day of the last month of your life. First, removal of several liters of fluid from your stomach, then surgery to implant a porta-cath, followed shortly by exploratory surgery. “Did it turn out all right, Theresa?” “Yes, Mom, it’s okay.” Really? No. Half of your liver is gone, the cancer is strangling your intestines, spreading throughout your body cavity. Six months of chemotherapy. For what? To make the time you had left more miserable?

Roller coaster. The doctors have elected me as the family spokesperson, the person to hear the news and disseminate it to the rest. I cringe every time I turn the corner in the hallway of the hospital, and hear the latest test results. Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter Theresa says. Mom’s spirit will beat this. But Dr. Theresa knows there’s no chance of recovery. A constant battle; which person do I believe?

Warren Hospital. Your window on the 2nd floor…it’s easy to find from outside. It’s the one with hundreds of cards taped to the window and walls. Doris, the nurse’s aide who helps you sip iced tea, says she’s never seen this many cards for a patient. It’s the room with 29 days of non-stop flower arrangements, brightening those dreary February days, helping to mask the ever-present smell of cancer.

Flowers

Hospital furniture. Adjustable bed and wheelchair. IV tubes, blood transfusions, catheter, oxygen, stomach tube, intestinal feeding tube. A water mattress to cool your body temperature, a fan blowing on your elevated legs (blood clots, remember?). A washcloth on your forehead, Depend undergarments (full circle), hospital robes, blood pressure cuffs, electronic IVs. Beep, beep, beeping…STOP! I want to rip them all out, this is barbaric. I want to end your suffering (or is it mine?) with an overdose of morphine. I ask Dr. Friedman for extra morphine. “Theresa, you don’t know what you’re saying.” Or do you?

Doctor’s words of wisdom: your mother will not leave the hospital…I almost cried when I opened her up and saw the extent of her cancer…if only we could get back some of her spirit, she might have a fighting chance…it would be merciful if a blood clot loosened; it would be quick…should we write a “Do Not Resuscitate” order?…you may have to make the decision to stop feeding her (starve her???)…give her as much morphine as she wants…there are good ways and bad ways to die, and your mother has shown more courage and dignity in her death than I’ve ever seen…I’m sorry, I wish there was more that I could do.

You knew, didn’t you, Mom? You told the nurses you didn’t want this to take too long, that your family was suffering too much. At your request, a priest administered Last Rites…we had no idea. “Are you mad at me, Theresa, for refusing more chemo?” “No, Mom, (choke) I’d do the same thing.” You told us where all of your jewelry was, and what clothes to have Dad wear at your viewing and funeral. You wanted to be in a pink or blue nightgown. Pink? I never saw you in pink. We got you blue, Mom, and the saleslady at Sigal’s offered her deepest sympathies.

Saturday, February 27th. It snowed, so Steve drove Alex and me. You were delirious, but you were coherent enough to want to see Alex. Yes. “Dee dee (your pet name for him).” Alex was afraid of you and the tubes, but your frightened look makes me keep him there awhile longer. You fought the morphine to stay awake, and wanted us all by the bed. Peach schnapps? Okay, Mom, we’ll make sure everyone is offered it at the house. You waited until we left to close your eyes, taking one last long look at your family. You slept peacefully, and Dad didn’t even try to wake you to say good-bye.

Sunday, February 28th. The hospital called us…were we coming? Of course; Dad hadn’t missed a day. The hospital bed was lowered (don’t the blood clots matter any more?) and someone had placed your rosary in your hand. Your breathing was ragged, the machines pumping and beeping, the flowers the only bright spot in the room. June, your favorite nurse, cried in my arms in the hall. She told me that this was how it ended. This is how it ends? All those years of joy and sorrow, hopes and dreams…they just stop? (Is this really happening? I’ll wake up from this nightmare soon, and everything will be all right.) They said hearing is the last sense to go, so I held your lavender rose close and said good-bye, thanking you, loving you, telling you it was all right for you to go. The nurses came at the end of their shift to say good-bye, forming a circle of love around your bed. You continued to touch people, Mom, even at your worst. If only they had known you at your best!

Monday morning, 3am. The phone call. Good. It is done. No more suffering. So many details and decisions, so many people with so many kind words and so much food. Steve makes the trip to the hospital to take down all of the cards. Your room was empty when he got there. The bed was stripped of you, as was my life.tear

Tuesday, the viewing. Wednesday, the funeral. Numbness. Would you believe we’re trying to comfort others in their grief? A woman kneeled with her head in my lap, her tears soaking my dress. (Or were they my tears? No matter.) It’s not really you in that casket, Mom. You’re in a far better place. We got you slippers because your feet were always cold, and I put on your glasses so you could see. The funeral director is amazed at the number of floral tributes; they circled the room many times. Soon, they would grace the rooms of those back in the hospital, and the nurse’s station as well. By Wednesday evening, all is over. My new life without you has just begun.

March, 1989. A year has passed one day at a time. My frequent bouts of grief have given way to less frequent bouts, but when they come, they are just as deep and painful. The thing I miss most is talking to you every day at lunch time (how long will it be before I no longer catch myself reaching for the phone to tell you something important?). This is all so unbelievable; you’re just away on vacation and you’ll be back again, soon. I still get angry when I see older couples holding hands, and I put up a Christmas tree even though I didn’t have the heart for it. I did it for Alex, and for you. I am his mother, as you were mine. That’s what mothers do. I couldn’t go into a Hallmark store at Mother’s Day; maybe someday I’ll be able to pass the cards without crying.

I miss you, Mom, as a mother, and as a friend. Everyone tells me that I’ve been elected to take your place. Silly people…no one can do that. But your memory lives on in my heart, and those parts of you I passed on to Alex will live on in his children, his children’s children, and beyond. Every time I make seafood on Christmas Eve, read a book you would have enjoyed, give Alex a hug, make potato pancakes for Dad, help someone in need, keep watch over the family, say a prayer of thanksgiving for you…at each of these times, I will celebrate the memory of your being.

I miss you, Mom. But if I look around, you are everywhere, in all things. And most of all, in me. You will be with me always, and I know from a deep, abiding faith that someday, we will be together again. Until then, I will remember you, and keep you alive in my heart. I will live as you would have wanted me to, and I will do my best to remember to treat people with dignity, honor, and truth, as you taught me.

Thank you, Mom, for my life.

Thank You, God, for my mother.

May You grant her everlasting peace.

cala liliesl

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At Times My Naivete Astounds Me

At times, my naiveté astounds me.

At some point in my adult life, I actually believed (note the past tense) the following:

1) That I had to be perfect.

– When I finally realized that no one was perfect and that I set myself up for failure, the feeling was liberating.

2) That the word “ambulance” was spelled left to right, just like every other word in the English language.

– I was home from college, watching a 4th of July Parade with Mom, when I first noticed that “ambulance” was spelled backwards on its front.
– Incidentally, Mom had to explain why it was like that to me.

3) That I would lose the 35 pounds I gained while pregnant with my son as soon as I left the delivery/recovery room.

– The first tip-off was when I put my legs over the side of the bed and noticed that my ankles were still swollen like balloons.

4) That having a child would not disrupt the lives of 2 working parents; things would go on, as usual.

– Really! I thought – how hard can this be? It’ll just be something else to be added on to a busy day.
– The first year of my son’s life is hard to remember; it was almost like I was in a fog (or shock).

5) That the “terrible 2’s” would disappear on my son’s 3rd birthday.

– My sister’s answer to my shock that they kept going – no parent who’d already been through this had the heart to mention it to a new parent.

6) That men and women, on the exact same diet, will lose the same amount of weight in the same amount of time.

– Ladies, unite! This is so not fair.

7) Life is fair.

– See 6) above.
– Life is not fair. Period. So move on.

8) That everyone in this country graduates from high school.

– It wasn’t until I entered community mental health that I met generations of families who never graduated from high school.

9) That there was very little poverty in the USA.

– It wasn’t until my second Red Cross deployment after Katrina, when I was in western Louisiana, that I saw unbelievable poverty, which was present before the hurricane’s damage.

10) That all men are created equal.

– After all, if it’s in our Declaration of Independence, it must be true, right?
– Forget the all men part – we don’t even have gender equality!

11) That all politicians tell the truth.

– I’ve never heard anyone actually answer a question that was asked of them.

12) That someone with a reasonable IQ would be able to figure out how to use the iPhone 5.

– I wish my trusty “Teach Yourself Visually the iPhone 5” book came in an abbreviated pocket edition.
– A banner day: when a few of my freshmen guys were trying to show me how to use it, and all of a sudden, some words and numbers came up on the screen – I asked them what that was, and they responded, “It’s a phone call – answer it.”

13) That I would never consider such a thing as plastic surgery.

– When I walked past a mirror and thought I was my mother (no offense, Mom), the thought of a face lift made perfect sense.
– Can’t I achieve the same result with plain old tape?

14) That in my lifetime, I would be able to figure out which line has the shortest check out in a grocery, department or any type store.

– Suggestions welcome; I still can’t seem to get it right.

15) That someday I would actually fit in my old clothes that are 2 sizes smaller.

– Really? How about donating them to a Dress for Success Program, where they’ll be put to good use.

16) That there is no such thing as Age Discrimination.

– False. They forget about the work ethic, life experience, work even when you’re sick and a “past its expiration date” uterus in some of us.

17) That all parents of toddlers flying on an airplane know to keep their child from kicking the back of my seat for 9 hours straight.

– It’s a good thing weapons are not allowed on airplanes, because road rage is no longer the only type out there.
– Remember Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who quit over the intercom, grabbed 2 beers and exited the plane via sliding down a deployed evacuation slide? Everybody can get testy when confined to an airplane!

18) That the term “hook up” refers to getting your camper attached to your truck before you head out to the lake for a relaxing weekend.

– My college students (teaching me once again; see 12) above) helped me to understand they may head to the lake with a friend, but a trailer has nothing to do with it.

19) That everyone politely says “excuse me” when they accidentally bump into you.

– Have you ever been to NYC? And, it’s not always accidental.

20) That every man from the ages of 15 – 95 knows the Etiquette of Wearing a Hat.

– When did people forget or stop teaching hat etiquette for men???
– According to Emily Post and my parents, hats (including baseball caps) come OFF when a man is in someone’s house, at a table for a meal, in church (unless required), at a movie or an indoor performance, in public buildings such as a library, school or courthouse, during the National Anthem and when the Flag of the USA passes by, as in a parade.

Like I said, at times, my naiveté astounds me.

An Adolescent’s Christmas with the Infant of Prague

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Working with college students is great.

Before anyone gets into that type of work, however, it would be wise to warn you about the college student brain. Studies have shown that “late adolescence” may actually extend until 25 years old. The scientist in me wants to explain that until then, the neural networks that regulate behavior don’t reach full maturity, making the person subject to sensation-seeking and increased risk-taking, as well as more vulnerable to impulses, emotions, and the effects of alcohol and other drugs.

Still want to work with college students??? (You should. It’s energizing!)

When I explain that to the students themselves, in trying to help them understand the developmental changes during their college years, their reactions – after the shock – divide into two different camps. The first group sits up straighter, usually with an affronted look on their face – “Hey, just one minute! We’re adults, not adolescents!” The other group slouches a bit, eyes glazed, wheels turning, and you can hear them thinking, “Sweet! When I get drunk tomorrow night, I’ll have a great excuse. I couldn’t help it; my brain made me do it…”

My point being that it’s hard to transition from high school to college, and a common problem is the “emotional disconnect” that so many young people seem to have with their parents. Communication is not their strong point (one only has to look at the texts and twitter feeds to see that; while I’m on that topic – Rule #1: Never break up by texting or on Facebook! Man-up or woman-up and do it in person.).

Which brings me to Kristy… Together, she and I worked through a nasty break-up with her boyfriend, a charge of plagiarism by a professor, changing her major, feeling left out as a commuter, drinking too much on weekends, and the struggle with going to college and working a part-time job at the same time. All in an average day in the life of an adolescent. (One good thing – students who commute are spared the drama of roommate issues that flare up with alarming frequency).

But – and there’s always a but – no matter how hard she tried, no matter how much role-playing we did together, Kristy could not seem to reach an uneasy peace – or even a truce – with her mother. There was no father in the picture; only Kristy and her Mom. Finances were, of course, a huge issue, and Kristy’s only ticket to a better life was to keep her grades up in order to keep her scholarships and find some middle ground with her mother. Most times, they didn’t even speak to/with each other.

One day right before Christmas break, Kristy came in with shoulders slumped, looking dejected. (Uh oh – probably another incident with Mom.) I asked her what was wrong. Kristy grabbed a tissue (uh oh, uh oh – Kristy never cries) and started to explain what happened the night before.

She and her Mom were in a particularly tight spot with money, and were behind on rent and other bills. It was bleak enough that they couldn’t even afford to put up a Christmas tree. Last week, we had already discussed that not having money for a gift for her Mom didn’t matter; we Moms love a hug or a hand-made card – nothing else needed. But Kristy felt strongly that if she could only get her Mom something wonderful, their relationship, in this season of joy, would suddenly be terrific – wonderful – like everyone else’s (if Kristy only knew…). So what happened, with a child wanting nothing more than to please her hard-working, single mother?

Kristy had noticed in the past that her Mom cherished a statue she kept all alone on a coffee table in their apartment. Kristy wasn’t supposed to touch it, in case it broke. Sometimes, after coming home from her 2nd job, Kristy would see her Mom take off her sneakers, put her feet up and just stare at the statue, lost in thought.

“That has to be so very special to your Mom; what/who is the statue?”

Kristy struggled with this. “Well, it’s a small boy – looks kind of weird with something like a crown on his head, and his hand is held up like he’s agreeing with Mom – stay away.” She sighed. “Oh, and sometimes she dresses it up in clothes that she made herself, when she still had her sewing machine; you know, kind of like I used to do with my Barbie.”

Okay. The picture in my head is taking shape.

“The statue – was there something like a globe in the little boy’s left hand?”

“Yeah – how did you know?”

“My Mom had the same statue. But what happened?”

Kristy explained that the 2 things her Mom loved most were costume jewelry and this statue. So, thinking of surprising her Mom with something even better than an expensive Christmas tree, Kristy got some of Mom’s favorite, chunky jewelry out of her bedroom and draped the statue with it, Mardi-Gras style. “Lots of bling, you know?” When the statue looked blinged out enough, Kristy draped a string of lights around the statue, too, so it blinked in color and blinged at the same time. “I thought it looked good.”

Now I am trying to keep my “listening intently” look, and not show my concern about where this might lead. “What did your Mom do when she saw it?”

Kristy looked down for a long moment. “She didn’t say a word. She just kept looking at the statue, then at me, then the statue…and she started to cry. So I just went up to my room. Why didn’t she like it?”

Okay. So – how to explain. “Well, I know you meant well, and I’m proud of you for wanting to make your Mom happy with her 2 special things, but that statue… that’s the Infant of Prague – the Child Jesus – and the hand He holds up, like He wants you to stay away so you won’t break Him – that’s the Child Jesus blessing you.”

Kristy’s eyes had that “deer in the headlight” look, horrified and scared at the same time.

“Some might think what you did was sacri – (no – skip that word) disrespectful.”

Her eyes got even bigger. But then she got a twinkle in her eye and covered her mouth with her hands. Remember the high emotion and mood swings in the adolescent make-up? We were there. For only the second time in my work as a therapist, I lost it (for the only other time, see my post “The Welcome Angel.”).

Kristy started to laugh, then I started to laugh. She choked out, “I put bling on Jesus? And Christmas lights???” She alternated between being horrified at what she had done and being proud of herself for rendering her Mom speechless. I laughed right along with her, as I pictured the Infant of Prague decked out for the 21st century.

I tried to explain when I quieted. “You know how you don’t know how to feel right now – upset, but a bit of you thinks it’s funny? That’s probably what happened with your Mom; she was upset with having something other than “proper” clothing on the statue, but happy that you tried so very hard to give her something that would mean so much to her, and maybe even put a smile on her face. It’s okay, Kristy; it will all be okay. Your heart was in the right place.”

What do you think? Was the new appearance appropriate? It sure was! Was the Child Jesus angry with Kristy? Absolutely not. In fact, I think He must have smiled while He watched her face, so intent on dressing Him in something special for her Mom; so intent on pleasing her, so intent on trying to show her that deep down, there was love.

Kristy’s intention was pure; her adolescent love – fickle but piercing in its strength – was on display, her heart vulnerable. And what better time than at Christmas, with the birth of Jesus and a Mother’s love. Who knew that something so innocent could be so wondrous?

You did good, Kristy. You saw with the eyes of your heart, and Jesus smiled with love and understanding; He offered His blessings to you and your Mom.

Indeed – you are a blessing to me as well.

There’s a lot to be said for that adolescent brain, isn’t there? And the heart – don’t forget the heart.