Thursday Re-View — Kaleidoscope

colors

You of magnificent beauty.

You soar, you leap, you create.

You allow molten tears to scald my heart,
to carve deep channels of pain and loss.

Yet those random channels follow a course as old as time…
No — older — pulled in a direction already known.

And so the tears flow, scarring my heart.
They sear into my soul,
then collect into a reservoir
carpeted in the velvet of midnight.

No movement. Into the abyss of despair.

Then a glimmer…faint.

No — silence; all is still.

Then, a swirl — a spiral —
of blues and turquoise, of teal and purple —
spearing the darkness with light.
Dancing, sparkling, shooting upward.

You glimmer and spark and shimmer
as you bounce across the heavens.
Moving toward the darkest of broken places,
leaving brilliant cascades of shimmering light
in Your wake.

Until each of those bursts of shimmering light
coalescence into a kaleidoscope of magnificent beauty.

I am struck. I gasp. I kneel, only to collapse.

My tears immerse me in baptism
until my heart explodes in a whirlwind of color,
and the love pours over me, through me.

Its wings envelop me,
and I soar toward that which is
almost painful to gaze upon.

I cannot look, but I must see.

Racing, longing, streaming toward the place of my creation —
of all creation — of oneness. Whole.

I left, only to return.

I wept, only to gasp.

I burned, only to temper.

The vibration. The fire.

I dissolve. I merge. I end.

I begin. I am home.

I am. Yours.

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Thursday Re-View — Heart Song

If I were a song…

If I were a song, what would I sound like?

At birth, luminous angels must trumpet the Hallelujah Chorus for each and every soul in celebration of their birth, their innocence, their precious light.

As an infant, I must have sounded like wind chimes…softly stirring, different refrains, yet always in harmony. Tripping like water over pebbles in a winding brook, exploring different paths, yet always pulled forward.

But there were deeper tones – starts and stops, hesitation, background noise – too quiet – almost imagined.

Then – regimented, in step with military precision (what happened to the wind chimes? the babbling brook?), with a cadence never out of step.

Oh, no – never out of step.

Ominous darkness with undertones of rhythmic despair; on and on, building to a crescendo. A cacophony of discordant sound – keening wails, shrieks, cries, moans… Until cymbals crash and everything stops.

Then silence…echoes of silence…

But wait –

There it was –

Faint at first –

The wind chimes, the sparkling notes of laughter and joy, of innocence and love, of life and hope and play… Bright colored, shimmering golds and purples, a glittering rainbow of dance…

Free style dance.

Theresa’s dance.

It sang with spirit and direction and confidence in itself, this song. This heart song…

It never stopped, never left.

Eternal.

It was always there, lighting my way, dancing in the darkness, spilling its notes through the channels of my heart carved by tears.

My heart song.

Always there in celebration, always my own; song of Your heart, song of my own.

Thursday Re-View — Echoes of Memory

He lumbered.

He was tall, rangy, with huge hands, a well-tended beard, piercing blue eyes, with lips that could smirk on a moment’s notice. And he lumbered from side to side when he walked, dropping his feet purposely with each step. His white habit and black wool scapular, tied with a leather cincture, swayed back and forth like a pendulum released.

Trappist

He was a monk. A Trappist monk. He was Brother Steven. And I miss him, even though he’s still alive.

I met him long ago while on retreat in Virginia, a time of emotional upheaval as I went through my divorce. The first divorce in my family. It was a true retreat from the world, and a time of respite for mind, body and spirit. Each day was silent, a time of prayer, reflection, discernment, and attending their hours of Divine Office. Meals were provided, attended to in silence, but help was encouraged in the clean up after each night’s dinner.

Each monk’s day was spent in Divine Office, private prayer, manual labor, and study or reading, with idle talk strongly discouraged.

So of course, each night when I helped with the dishes, Brother Steven didn’t stop talking, and whenever I could jump in, neither did I.

He was a maverick of sorts, and chose to live in the retreat house as Guest Master because he didn’t always get along with the other monks in their residence. He believed in the importance of hospitality to travelers, and reveled in his position.

Trappists I

I heard so many stories…

Like the younger Brother Steven, who when he first arrived at the farm that became the monastery, would climb all the way up the side of the grain silo each morning to sit and wait for the sunrise above the Shenandoah River.

Like the middle-aged Brother Steven, who when they buried one of their brothers in a linen shroud, stopped the burial so that he might take the man’s polished leather shoes. After all, he could put them to good use.

Practical. A maverick of sorts…

A man who fit the stereotype of the older woman who lived alone with 30 cats, Brother Steven only had about ten of them. Much to the chagrin of his brothers, he allowed them to live in the closed entryway at the front of the retreat house, for all who crossed the threshold to meet, allergies or no.

This same man with the acerbic wit and leveling gaze told me once of his favorite elderly cat, Mabel, and how he weaned her from a little kitten, watched her grow up and catch mice and become a good mother, all the while living off kitchen scraps lovingly placed outside each night, regardless of the weather. And how she slowed down and stayed away more often and ate less and less, until one day, Brother Steven knew. When she slowly came up to him to be held one last time, then slowly walked across the field and into the trees that lined the near-by river, he knew that she had come to say good-bye to her faithful keeper. With tears in his eyes, he told me he never saw Mabel again.

And I knew a part of him died with Mabel.

And when he heard about my divorce and saw my own tears, he held me in his arms and let me cry, the scratchy wool a comfort as it softened with my tears. His sarcasm gone, this giant of a man was gentle as a father would be with his daughter. When at last I was spent, he squeezed my arms and let me go, never to speak of it again.

Sacred ground. One soul reaching out to another with compassion and understanding.

Through the years, whenever I returned on retreat, I would know I was home as soon as I saw Brother Steven, and we would catch up on my problems, along with the world’s, each night when we did clean up. Until one year, I saw that he was different. He was often preoccupied, searching for words, more confused. He no longer read to us at dinner time, and when we cleaned up, he concentrated on his work, rather than talking.

That’s when I knew I was losing my friend, and that this time would likely be the real good-bye.

And it was. When I returned, there was a new Guest Master, and a lay person doing the clean up. Brother Steven was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.

Now the young man who climbed a silo each morning to watch the sunrise sat tied in a wheelchair, looking out a window at a landscape that only he could see. He failed to recognize anyone, his body frail. The strong shoulders that I had leaned on so very long ago were now stooped with age. I looked at his worn shoes and smiled, wondering if they were the ones he so conveniently “borrowed” from his brother who no longer needed them. Brother Steven’s hand rested on the house cat curled comfortably in his lap, and I hoped he was thinking of Mabel and their love for each other.

wheelchair I

I choked back tears as I leaned down to give him a hug, then a kiss on the top of his head. The head whose brain possessed a wit unmatched when in its prime, now atrophied and unrecognizable. Brother Steven was gone, buried some place deep within, with another Brother Steven in his place.

Then he looked up at me, and just for a moment – a very brief moment – I thought I saw a spark of recognition flare in his eyes, and we were back at the monastery, both of us younger, both of us friends. Then it disappeared. And I was reminded that the soul never fades away, that it lives within, a shining light that no one, or no thing, can extinguish.

Be well, Brother Steven. I will remember for you. God bless you. And thank you for the treasure that is you…

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Thursday Re-View — Let’s Hear It For First Responders

Let’s hear it for first responders in the United States of America.

Whether you’re being airlifted from rising flood waters, getting rescued from a burning building, being rushed to the hospital with excruciating chest pain, slowly being extricated from your mangled car with the Jaws of Life, being rushed to safety from a hostage situation, shielded from a shooter – you are relieved and grateful to hear the welcome police sirens, fire truck horns, helicopter blades or racing footsteps.

Thank goodness – they’re here – everything will be all right – I’m safe.

These are the selfless individuals who go toward danger rather than away from it, who save lives while risking their own.

We’ve come to expect them to arrive in force, like the Calvary – in the nick of time, never afraid or tired or sick or hung over; never preoccupied or moving slow or sleeping in or ignoring the call.

Indeed, some disasters can be identified simply by an iconic photo of first responders:

We expect them to be there and to work tirelessly until the job is done, whether one hour, one day, one month or one year. In wildfires, firefighters might work to save our homes while theirs might be burning down. After a tornado, they might be searching for survivors through the debris while their own home has been demolished. We get back to our own broken lives while they work until their duty is finished.

When they finally have time to breathe, and to return to their families for hugs, food and sleep, that’s when the crushingly difficult part begins. Their sympathetic nervous system, having been hypervigilent for so long, is overly stressed, unable to relax.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is not only suffered by victims of traumatic events. Feelings of guilt or failure, insomnia, intrusive images, recurrent nightmares, irritability, hyperarousal, stomach-aches, headaches, difficulty concentrating, emotional withdrawal, flashbacks – all these, and more, could plague the first responders for months or even years.

What was it like for the police, EMTs and fire department personnel to view the carnage upon entering the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? Or for the physicians and related health care personnel at the hospital to wait for the injured children who never came? Or for the coroner to perform autopsies on 20 innocent first graders?

You can replace Newtown with Oklahoma City, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Sandy, 9/11 (WTC, the Pentagon, Shanksville), any war, the Boston Marathon…

Their souls must be bruised.

Perhaps haunted by these experiences, these images, they will run into the chaos and destruction anyway. For you, for me, for anyone in need.

They give tirelessly of themselves, day in, day out, with little recognition, because “they’re only doing their jobs.” Those jobs are demanding, draining, debilitating. But they do them, regardless.

So who cares for the caregivers?

In honoring them here, by recognizing their tremendous worth, I hope to do my part in helping each soul to heal. Perhaps you might find your own way to do the same.

Light in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of despair. Love in the midst of hate.

My blessings. My respect. My gratitude.

Once again – Holiness – Sacred Ground – Circles of Compassionate Grace.

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Thursday Re-View — That Well of Depression

That well of depression…

That place of complete and utter darkness;
that place where no one hears your cries;

that cylinder in the earth that was your prison,
struggling to get out

until your fingernails were bleeding…

That core of the earth…that plug…

Exhausted, you slipped along its slimy walls to the bottom,
where you collapsed, covered in sweat and blood and grime,
unable to move,
blinded by tears of frustration and abandonment…

But what if…

That well of depression was actually a birth canal…a tunnel…
a waystation…an airlock from here to there…
a bridge…

What if…

That well of depression became a wellspring,
a place of healing waters,
a baptism of graces,
a flowing giver of life…

“There is a river.”

What if…

That well of depression that became a birth canal
that became a wellspring
brought forth a beacon of light –
a way through the fog,
a welcome for the lost,
a respite for the lonely,
a shelter for the homeless,
a place to break bread for the hungry?

What if…

That well of depression that became a birth canal
that became a wellspring
that brought forth a beacon of light
duplicated its length
from the ground below to that above
and became a lighthouse?

You are their Light.

As the water bubbles up from the wellspring –
the core – the Source –
it is transformed into light;
particles of gold that pierce the heavens
in a terrible beauty.

Bringing light to the furthest reaches of darkness;
a light so strong that you cannot look upon it,
yet so gentle as to diffuse itself
into soft folds of protection (wings?).

Light that heals as it bathes its molten fluid
of serenity and peace and love.

You are back to where you started…
at a beginning rather than an end.

You are running toward
rather than running from.

You are Home.

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Thursday Re-View — “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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Thursday Re-View — The Broken Places

Day in, day out, how much can a person deal with before being broken?

layoutsparks.com

layoutsparks.com

Don’t be afraid of the broken places (see: Strength”).

Some days are easier than others, true. But other days, what we’ve lost in our lives seems much greater than what we’ve found, especially as we get older.

Something that’s easy to forget is that loss does not only pertain to the physical death of a person. It actually runs deep through our lives, like an underground current.

It can’t be seen, only felt. You’re not aware of it, only aware of something.

The pink slip,

…hospitalization
…miscarriage
…divorce
…missing out on that promotion
…not being in the career you pictured for yourself
…breaking off an engagement
…moving away from family and friends
…putting down a pet
…receiving a cancer diagnosis
…being sexually abused
…fighting an addiction
…having your home foreclosed
…giving up on the dream of a house with a white picket fence on a tree-lined street
…questioning your faith
…dropping out of college
…having your retirement fund emptied
…wrecking your car
…witnessing a shooting
…disappointing your parents
…cancelling a vacation
…conceding the school board election
…failing an entrance exam
…losing a valued friendship

– those are just a few of the losses we experience.

The ones we don’t tend to classify as “losses.” The ones we don’t give ourselves a chance to mourn.

But we keep on, keeping on. Then one day, some unexpected event triggers something deep inside us, and we wonder what hit us.

Hopelessness. Loneliness. Bitterness. Helplessness. Anger. Emptiness. Longing. We’re numb. We break down and wonder why we can’t stop crying.

Our souls are bruised, and we don’t know why it hurts so much.

We can’t stop crying because those losses are cumulative – they build and build – and we deal and we deal – and we bury them, until we can’t bury them anymore.

Don’t be afraid of the broken places.

If we didn’t break apart, the light wouldn’t be able to get in. Now, where there was only darkness, there is light.

So we sit with them awhile, those scary emotions we’ve tried so many creative ways to ignore. Don’t fight it.

You’ve heard the term, “When God closes a door, He opens a window?” I believe that.

Standout Cottage Designs

Standout Cottage Designs

Picture yourself alone, walking into an old one-room cottage, curious to see what’s inside. The door slams shut behind you. No problem. Probably the wind; you’ll get out. You turn the doorknob, only to find the door still closed. Maybe it’s jammed or stuck. This place is old, after all. You yank on the door, angry that it won’t open. Then panic sets in and you bang on the door until your hand hurts, yelling for someone until your voice is hoarse. You keep on for hours, trapped.

Until you have nothing left and you slide against the wall to the floor, exhausted, fearful, bereft. You curl into a fetal position and rock back and forth, taking yourself to a safe place in your mind.

Then, something…

At first, you think it’s your imagination. A brush of something against your cheek. Then you feel it again, only stronger, this time accompanied by the delicate scent of an unnamed flower. The breeze refreshes you, and you realize that a sunbeam has fallen across your face, drying the tears. You sit up and slowly open your eyes to find its source.

There, to the side of you, is an open window, sunlight streaming onto your face, the breeze billowing sheer curtains into the room. The window was always there…you just didn’t see it; you didn’t notice it. While railing against the darkness, you couldn’t see the light.

Stacey A. Bates

Stacey A. Bates

With a smile and a look of wonder on your face, you walk to the window. You lift your legs over the window sill and step barefoot onto the green, fragrant grass. It feels good. It feels right. It feels like home.

You turn for one last look at the tiny cottage, grateful to be outside. Then you turn your back and walk toward the warmth of the sun. Toward life and all its challenges.

But always toward the light.

With a sense of purpose and direction, with a strength that was born of the darkness, with a renewed sense of hope that this was all a part of the journey.

Your journey.

Don’t be afraid of the broken places.

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Thursday Re-View — You Are My Sunshine

empty wheelchair

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I arrived at the nursing home too late.

My position with hospice was in Loss & Bereavement; that is, to help terminally ill patients prepare for their death and to be available to the families before, during and after the loss of their loved one.

When anyone would ask what type of work I did, and I would answer “hospice,” the reaction was almost always the same – “Oh – I don’t know how you do it – I would never be able to…” With that, they would look down, words trailing off, sometimes physically stepping away from me. I understood.

But for me, being with someone approaching death is sacred ground. No filter, no mask, no falseness. Just that person stripped of everything the world deems important, yet at that moment, more genuine. More authentic. Unpretentious. Beautiful.

When I met Walt, he was a resident in a nursing home. Patti, his aid, brought me to his private room to introduce me. He was in his mid-70s, thin gray hair in wisps around his almost bald head, eyes rimmed with dark circles, face sunken and pale. His wheelchair, placed close to a window, bathed him in sunshine. The photograph on his bureau showed a strikingly handsome man, tall and thin, with blonde hair, casually holding a golf club, looking off to the horizon, smiling.

Now, his body was bent and misshapen, knees drawn up, fingers curled into fists held tight against his chest. His head was angled toward his right shoulder, his whole body ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. He showed no awareness when Patti introduced me and his eyes – a clear, bright blue that belied his age – never left a picture on the far wall.

“That’s his wife. She died a long time ago. They never had children.”

She was quite pretty, dressed in a uniform that a flight attendant might wear in the early years of commercial flying – perhaps Pan Am or TWA. The only other item on the wall was a handwritten 8×10 sheet with words to the song “You Are My Sunshine” written on it.

sunshine III

“That was their favorite song. They used to sing it to each other,” Patti explained. “He can’t speak because of his stroke, but if he gets agitated, we sing it to him; it seems to calm him down.”

So began my relationship with Walt. I would visit him twice a week – him in his red cardigan sweater, slumped in his wheelchair parked in the sunshine, me seated next to him. I would read to him, talk to him, sometimes just sit with him, while he would look at his wife’s picture. Once, when I hummed “You Are My Sunshine” and gently held his hand, I thought I saw the briefest of smiles, but then it vanished. It was probably just wishful thinking on my part. There never seemed to be any change in Walt’s disposition.

One week, our hospice team was particularly busy with new patient admissions and I was unable to make my Tuesday visit with Walt. On Thursday afternoon, I stopped at the nurse’s station to sign in. As I rounded the corner and headed to Walt’s room, I saw Patti coming toward me, her face drawn and tired.

“Walt took a turn for the worse this morning,” she said softly. “He died, not more than five minutes ago.” She stepped aside so I could enter the room.

I stopped. Walt’s wheelchair was by the window, empty. I’d never seen him anywhere but in his wheelchair. I looked around, searching for something – anything – familiar. My eyes finally found Walt, lying on his twin bed, facing the wall.

I stood at the foot of his bed and said a prayer, but it didn’t feel like enough. I moved the foot of the bed away from the wall and knelt where I could see Walt’s face. His eyes were closed, his wrinkles smoothed out; he looked like he was peacefully at sleep. I reached out and clasped his hand, my fingers gently intertwined in his.

My eyes were drawn to the photo of Walt on the golf course and the one of his lovely wife when she was a flight attendant. I closed my eyes. As if watching a movie, I saw Walt – young, handsome, smiling – get up easily from the bed and walk towards a beautiful young woman dressed in blue. They stood facing each other, holding hands. Staring at each other. Smiling at each other. Loving each other.

With carefree laughter and beaming smiles, they turned and walked away, hand in hand, bathed in golden light. They were together again, as one.

As I looked down at our hands and smiled through my tears, I began to sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Good-bye, Walt. Thank you for the privilege of spending time with you. Go, now – happy, whole, healthy – and rest in peace.

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Thursday Re-View — Thoughts for My Son

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.

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Thursday Re-View — I Wasn’t Enough

Hubble Telescope

Hubble Telescope

I wasn’t enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh – and she always wanted to be an artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m so proud of you!!!”

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

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

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

With hope.

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

Sacred ground. She felt it too.

Palette of Memories Josephine Wall

Palette of Memories
Josephine Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Successful. Suicide.

I couldn’t speak.

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

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

I hung up. Helping Her? Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spotonlists

spotonlists

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Thursday Re-View — Voyage on a Deep Blue Sea

boat MM

Once upon a time, I was beautiful.

I was shaped by the rough-hewn hands of a carpenter, molded, planed, loved.
My grains ran through the wood, like blood vessels under skin,
and I smelled of trees deep in the forest, reaching up to the sunshine.

I was braced with metal fittings, bolted and stretched taut,
then had crevasses sealed with thick pitch.
Weather-proofed, water-proofed against the elements of a sea-faring life.

I was painted at last a soft green to match a sea of tranquility,
and I braved the ocean day to day, clear and stormy alike,
to feed the hungry my fresh catch.

I grew older and stronger through the years in my daily routine
until my owner sold me to another sailor,
who painted me a new color to match my mood and the deep blue sea.

My skin was gashed and pushed to its limits by this energetic man,
but I carried my catch none-the-less,
until I slowed down in my waning years and needed more attention.

boat I

Sold again to another poor fisherman who painted me the red of poppies,
who saw in me a new-found resilience and strength
that could only be had by years bargaining with the sea.

Until finally he moved onto a boat with lines smooth and true
that smelled like a fresh forest in the morn,
and I was left behind on a deserted stretch of beach, to question my purpose.

I was weathered and worn down by my life on the sea,
my paint faded and chipped and peeling,
my metal fittings rusted, my boards bleached, my skin scarred.

Now I brave the storms from my land-locked port
and am covered with seaweed and lichen,
kissed by the sea when the tides come in, the taste of salty tears.

I sit waiting and hoping for a visit from someone who loves the sea as much as I,
until one day I hear the shouts of children
and feel their feet bouncing upon my creaking boards.

In my mind I take them out upon the ocean,
a swash-buckling pirate roaming free upon the deep blue sea,
while in their imagination I am at once young and proof against nature.

Once again, I am beautiful.

boat II
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Photo Credit: John Grant at Meticulous Mick

With my gratitude and blessings… ~ Theresa

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Thursday Re-View — What These Stones Have Seen

           Living Wall

Living Wall

This wall lives and breathes.

Its age shows in striking beauty, memories of the old man’s callused hands – artist’s hands – that shaped the stones with such love. No mortar for him, but only careful picking and choosing, a mosaic of gray stone laid one upon the other. Joining together stronger than alone, climbing higher.

Stop! Look at me. You may walk beside, but do not cross. I have purpose. I stand firm.

Norsemen cleaved the stone with battle axe a many, their angry cries bludgeoned into the rough surfaces. Blood soaked the stones. The breeze brings a whiff of sweat and fear from bygone centuries.

Rough edges smoothed by storms unleashing their fury, when the heavens opened to wash away the blood. Lightning strikes scar the stone with black, their fingerprints embedded deep.

             Just Green

Just Green

Stones reverberate with echoes of a horse whinnying as it leaps across the wall, the tinkling bells of sheep as they herd past the barrier, the jagged groans of a farmer tilling the rocky fields, the whispered promises of lovers lost in a clandestine embrace, the mournful dirge of a funeral procession on its way to a final good-bye.

Sounds seared into the heart of the wall, trapped for time eternal.

The wall has survived the seasons again and again. Spring, cradling a robin’s nest and its blue eggs in a small hole eroded through the years. Summer heralds laughing children and barking dogs running along its path, weaving and bobbing and balancing through the turns. Fall brings showers of leaves, dressing the stones in a cloak of bright scarlet, shiny gold, vivid copper. Winter shoulders snow piled high and ice that sparkles like diamonds in the sun. Then it starts all over again, a new.

Time marches on, we humans come and go, but the stones – the stones stand firm while they ache with our secrets. In the stillness, the wall waits.

This wall – this wall lives and breathes.

           Green Wall          Copper Carpet

Green Wall
Copper Carpet

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This work is inspired by John Grant’s stunning photos at Meticulous Mick.
I am so very grateful for his allowing me to use his photos to share this story.

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Thursday Re-View — 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 — Midwife of Meaning

O Midwife of Meaning,
tend me with Your loving presence,
Your gentle heart, Your capable hands.

I am pregnant with possibilities as I enter the autumn of my life
with the hope that I might experience the crisp leaves of scarlet and bronze,
of orange and gold, at least once more before the seasons change.

I am pregnant with the faith that I shall be given warmth and shelter in the coming winter,
along with a peaceful understanding of what this time of life brings.

I am pregnant with a seed, a thought, a whisper, a promise,
that I shall become more real as I become more worn;
that I shall become more true as I become more real.

The contractions of my womb produce an authentic me,
my soul shining bright amid the ravages of age.

O Midwife of Meaning, I am pregnant with Divinity.
Allow me to birth Love,
allow me to birth Hope,
allow me to birth Self.
Imago Dei.

O Midwife of Meaning,
tend me with Your loving presence,
Your gentle heart, Your capable hands.

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Thursday Re-View — Chrysalis

My soul sighs as it waits in the darkness.
No light, no sound. Simply being.

What is this waiting?

I inched along, plodding through my life,
minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain,
hope and despair, darkness and light.

Then, I chose the darkness
as I spun my cocoon, my chrysalis, my womb.

What is this waiting?

It’s the in-between time, between where I was
and where I will be, between my past and my future.

My soul sighs as I trust in the darkness, in the patient hope
that I will emerge from this cocoon stronger, smarter, better.

That I will no longer plod along minute by minute,
hour by hour, day by day, but that I will fly.

That I will soar toward the heavens each moment I take a breath,
toward my destiny that was written before I was born.

I will see more clearly, live more authentically, love more fruitfully.

I lived, I died, and I will become again.
I will not pass through this transformation unaware.

I will touch and love and hope and be present,
and alight upon the shoulders of giants.

I will look to those brief rainbow moments that shine
when the sun comes out after the rain.

I will live, and be mindful of all that is.
I choose to be born anew, and I relish this freedom.

What is this waiting?

It is a gestation, a creating, a longing,
a whispered promise.

My soul sighs as it waits in the darkness.

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Thursday Re-View — I’m Wearing Down to the Real

[Quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams]

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Some days, getting older is a real drag (literally and figuratively)…the graying hair, the middle-aged spread, the skin spots, the forgetfulness, the sense of being either in the way or invisible to the younger generations…

…and on other days, getting older is tempered by the Velveteen Rabbit.

velveteen rabbit I

Let’s face it — I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you..
When a child loves you for a long, long time,
not just to play with, but REALLY loves you,
then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once.
You become. It takes a long time.”

It has taken a long time, but sometimes it feels like overnight. Wasn’t it just a short time ago that I graduated from college, then optometry school? Set up my practice, got married, became a mother? In fact, when did I become my mother when I look in a mirror? (See: When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?)

I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Generally, by the time you are Real,
most of you hair has been loved off,
and your eyes drop out
and you get loose in the joints
and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all,
because once you are Real,
you can’t be ugly except to people
who don’t understand.”

My hair is getting gray at the roots, my eyes haven’t dropped out but night-time driving in the rain is risky, and there’s a certain delayed reaction with certain joints — I get up but my body lags behind my head. If my joints aren’t cracking, they’re stiff.

But I’m wearing down to the Real.

Only authentic goods here.

My heart is bigger, my insight deeper, my tolerance wider, my amusement heartier, as I get worn down to a well-loved vehicle. And I hate to admit it, but I even have some shabby – or is it flabby – matronly moments, too.

“When you are Real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.”

But it’s taken me a long time to get to the Real Theresa…the reason-for-being, meaning and purpose in life, I can die and will have made a small positive difference Theresa who is comfortable in her own wearing out skin.

And that’s a good thing, because in wearing down to the Real,

“Once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

I’m wearing down to the Real.

I’m steeped in readiness.

And I am blessed, indeed.

velveteen rabbit

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Thursday Re-View — Endings

There seem to be more endings than new beginnings as I get older. And one starts to wonder just how many endings can continue until there’s nothing left.

This train of thought started with a Facebook post by my ex-husband, notifying his world that our house was finally sold. Finally. Good news about not having to carry two mortgages anymore in today’s difficult economy.

But this was the house that we built 27 years ago, after years of scouring house plans for just the right one. The custom-built house that we watched become a home from the ground up…the footers being poured, the walls being erected, the sheet rock hung, the roof laid, the rooms painted. We went there every night after work to check on the progress, showing Alex, at one and a half, his future home.

Everything happened there – a marriage, raising a son, bringing in 2 cats (Peanut and Freddie) and a dog (Misty), birthday parties, Easter celebrations, Christmas dinners. Alex’s Communion and Confirmation, his driver’s license, his high school and college graduations. And our divorce.

So many memories, so many years, so much laughter and so many tears. The house breathes them. Inhale peace, exhale hostility. Inhale love, exhale animosity. Inhale hope, exhale despair.

I hope that a family bought the house, and that their dreams are fulfilled within its sanctuary. I hope the walls ring with their joy and laughter, and that the years bring them all that they deserve, and more.

For it is a good house, with good bones, with a heart that has known love. Just blow the dust of the years away and bring in the fresh air of hope and new beginnings.

For this is sacred ground. A family lived here, loved here, lost here.

And may a new family be found here.

How many endings until there’s nothing left?

I hope only for the balance of a new beginning.
house

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Thursday Re-View — Of Storms Within

S shuffled into my office at the Cancer Center carrying a worn Bible in her left hand. A middle-aged large-boned woman who had never married, she had short gray hair, men’s jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. With her tired eyes and slumped shoulders, she looked like she hadn’t smiled in years, at least.

S referred herself for issues regarding her role as primary caregiver to a brother who was dying from cancer. For the past 30 years, she had taken care of five different relatives through their cancer illness and death: her mother, brother, sister, aunt, and grandmother.

Thirty years ago, on her deathbed, S’s mother grabbed the collar of S’s blouse and made her daughter swear to “take care of” her brothers and sisters. S still felt her mother’s grip on her throat and on her life.

S fulfilled her promise to the point that she even nursed her aunt through her cancer: the same aunt who, whenever there was a thunderstorm when S was a little girl, made her niece get under the covers of her bed so that she could pray over the “bad girl” that God was punishing with his rage; the same aunt whose son raped and abused S for several years as a pre-teen; the same aunt who, when she found her son sexually abusing 7-year old S, forced the terrified little girl to sit in a washtub while she poured scalding hot water on S, calling her “a filthy whore.”

washtub

S, the “bad girl,” felt guilty that she was tired of giving up her life to ungrateful relatives; that she was mad at God for his continued punishment of her; and that she was now seeking counseling help when all of her “Christian friends” [note: her emphasis] told her that it was a sin against God to do so.

S’s spiritual assessment revealed that her paternal grandfather was Native American. When S spoke of him, her voice lowered, her face softened, and her body visibly relaxed. Having died years earlier, S described her grandfather as the only person who had ever shown her love, and the only person whom she could ever trust. He had lived on a farm, and when she visited him as a child, they would walk the fields together, hand in hand. He taught S to respect nature; that she was one with mother earth and all her creatures. The gentleness of her beloved grandfather’s Native American spirit world was distinctly at odds with the punitive God of her mother’s teachings.

A myriad of experiences with my Lakota friend Sonny seeped into my consciousness as I listened to S’s memories (see Mitakuye Oyasin). After several weeks with S, I carefully broached the topic of the dichotomy between what S had learned from her mother and aunt about the “burning pit of fire” that was hell, and S’s quiet certainty that her grandfather lived on peacefully in the spirit world. At times, she even felt his presence around her. S’s eyes widened as she struggled to reconcile the vast differences between those two beliefs. That being enough, we left the discussion for a later time.

The next week, S returned, but without the Bible that her friends had given her. However, she began the session with more accounts of the pressure she continued to receive from her friends about the counseling they viewed to be the “devil’s work.” At her pronouncement, a tiny part of me shuddered, certain that S was going to discontinue therapy. Instead, S went on to say that she put the question of counseling before her grandfather. At home, she had performed her usual ritual of sitting on the floor with his picture, and lighting a candle. She gave him my name and asked what he saw in my heart.

candle

He showed S a majestic, snow-covered mountain with a crystal clear stream running zigzagged down its side. Her grandfather told S that my heart was as pure and deep as the mountain stream, and to trust that I would help her. He promised her that through me, S would come to know God.

The eyes of the heart, used yet another time, in yet another way. In that moment, I heard the echo of Sonny’s voice, raised in a sacred Lakota healing chant. Once again, God enacted His circles of grace.

S stayed with her brother through his death, all the while working on promises kept vs. those that were unreasonable; on justified guilt vs. unjustified; on the completely foreign thought of taking care of herself for once, rather than taking care of everyone else. And of returning to nature, where lightning was simply a weather phenomenon and nothing more. Where once nature had terrified her, now it gave her peace.

After her last session, I noticed that S had left a small grocery bag beneath her chair. I grabbed it and ran after her, only to find that she had disappeared. I asked my secretary to call S and tell her about the package she accidentally left. When I came back from lunch, the package was on my desk, with a note written in my secretary’s handwriting saying that this was for me. I opened it to find a color picture of a river strewn with rocks, the trees up to its edge splashed in fall colors of reds and oranges and golds. S described such a place as a favorite of her and her grandfather’s when they used to take walks together when she was a little girl.

river

There was a note typed in the corner:

I KNOW

When I see the wind blow gently through the trees,
I know you’re there.
When I stop to see life’s reflections in the rivers and streams,
I know you’re there.
When the scent of the flowers fill the air with their aroma,
I know you’re there.
How do I know you care?
I know you’re there.

Godspeed, S. Be well as you finally begin your own journey. Wherever it takes you, know that He loves you and that He will always be there.

Thank you for the privilege of sitting with you in the darkness. Walk on now, bathed in light, and in peace.

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Thursday Re-View — From a Boy Into a Man

child

He was a nice-looking young man, married, with warm brown eyes that always looked down, as if afraid meeting someone’s gaze would let them in to a place where he didn’t want to go.

His needs were simple – to explore grief-related issues regarding the recent death of his father-in-law. But in therapy, as in most things in life, those simple things can become complex fairly quickly, whether we want them to or not.

Almost 2 months into our sessions together, J had a major disagreement with his wife, during which he revealed to her that someone had sexually abused him as a child for almost 8 years.

Though this rape by his stepbrother occurred nightly, no one in the house was aware of it. If they were, it was neither acknowledged nor stopped.

While J described his rape at the hands of his abuser, I was bereft of words. The details were horrific. The most heart-wrenching part for me was to see the little boy J in the adult J’s eyes; to see the anguish, pain, bewilderment and betrayal that cried out from those many years ago. In my presence, for the first time in his life, J shared the details of that loss of innocence. He bared his soul. The little boy’s eyes beseeched me to understand, and to not betray or judge him. The hurt in his eyes mirrored what I felt he must see in my own.

Suddenly, I felt a single tear trace its way slowly down my cheek as I listened to J’s story. With that, my soul embraced his and wept. J told me later that my single tear meant more to him than anything I could have said at that moment. It validated him as worthwhile, and it told him, without words, that I walked with him in his pain.

tear

Inside the grown man who had to sleep with the lights on and the bedroom door open, who could barely touch his wife without remembering another kind of touch from his stepbrother, who felt safer in downtown Baltimore than inside his own home, was the little boy who wanted desperately to love and trust and be loved, but felt compelled to withhold himself to be safe.

As a wife and mother, I saw J as a little boy who was ashamed and embarrassed by what had happened to him, who felt responsible for allowing the abuse, and who still struggled with the fact that no one had protected him.

In listening to J’s story, I heard about the desecration of one person’s dignity; yet, I was also witness to the strength, resilience and courage of a little boy. J’s spirit could not be broken. His soul, the very essence of who he was, thrived. I was determined to fan the flickering flame of J’s spirit until it was a bonfire.

As a psychotherapist, I saw that the abuse and its secrecy brought with it shame, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, depression, guilt, and PTSD. Where to begin with a man who was stuck developmentally at about 8 years old?

After working with several behavioral modification techniques and guided imagery, I asked J if he had any neighbors or relatives who were about 8 years old. With a picture of a nephew in J’s mind, I asked him to compare the little boy to J’s abuser in size (the perpetrator had been large for his age). I quietly asked if a boy the size of his nephew could have overpowered J’s abuser. Awareness dawned in J’s eyes; it had not been a fair fight,, and there was nothing that any little boy could have done to overpower his attacker. In that moment, J began to forgive himself for not stopping the abuse.

Further into J’s therapy, I suggested that he write a letter to his mother, who had never acknowledged the abuse. J continually struggled with their relationship, and whether or not to have his mother as an influence in his daughter’s life. The relationship was adversarial at best, with only limited communication. The letter writing was for healing, rather than toward the eventual mailing of the letter.

letter

It took several weeks, but at the end of a session, as he made to leave, J put a few handwritten pages face down on the desk. When I read it privately, I cried. J told his mother exactly what happened for all those years; how all he ever wanted was her love and protection. He explained how he realized that he wasn’t responsible for the abuse, and that he was not a bad person. Instead, he was a human being with value who deserved to be loved. J pledged that he would spend the rest of his life protecting his daughter from harm, and becoming a better man. What happened to him would never, ever happen to her.

J’s story does not end here; his recovery would be a complex process. He never mailed the letter, but eventually told his mother all about the abuse during a heated phone call. She responded by denying such a thing happened, and called him a liar. While J hoped that his revelation would finally give him a loving, compassionate mother, he was not surprised by her reaction.

The breakthrough, however, was in J.

The little boy’s voice had finally been heard, and in the release of his secret, his heart was opened to healing. J’s journey was long, with more work and more struggles as he integrated this new J into his marriage. Yet it now included hope for the future. The man could finally forgive, love, and accept the little boy.

The shadows in dark rooms no longer held a threat; J’s eyes saw them flooded with brightness.

My heart saw a little boy at last grown into a man.

Seeing with the eyes of the heart…

man on beach

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Thursday Re-View — In Memory of Peanut

Peanut & Freddie

Peanut & Freddie

In Memory of Peanut
1998 – 2012

[ aka Peanster, Peanutter-Butter,
Pretty Pug-nosed Princess Peanutter-Butter ]

I was not prepared for the pain of losing you.

My son Alex will remind me in no uncertain terms that I never wanted any cats as pets. We already had Misty (a black lab), and I thought she was enough. When I came home one day from work and went to use our front hall bathroom, Alex and his Dad told me I couldn’t use it. So naturally, I asked why the door was closed, then opened it. Inside – two small kittens, a brother and sister from the same litter. One black and white with huge eyes (Freddie) and one tiny with orange/beige fur (Peanut).

I was upset. The only two things in the world that make me wheeze and have trouble breathing are cigar/cigarette smoke and cat hair. They couldn’t stay in the house.

It was them or me.

When things calmed down a little (when I calmed down a little), we all reached a compromise: the kittens could stay on our screened in porch and sleep on the padded hot tub cover. Padded pillows from our lawn chairs were arranged on top, along with food and water bowls and a litter box. They slept together, all curled up in a circle, like yin and yang.

Each night, after we came in from the hot tub, before bed, they came inside for a while to play on the carpeted floor of the den. Each night, the time inside got longer – 10 minutes, a half hour, two hours… They were so cute and so much fun, and the wheezing seemed to be getting less frequent the more I was exposed to their fur.

One night, I relented. Let them in for good. That’s when the two fur balls took over our house, and our hearts. Even Misty seemed to accept them. Peanut was Alex’s and Freddie, with his big eyes, was mine (after all, wouldn’t an optometrist choose the one with big eyes???). Our family had just expanded.

Peanut was always frail; in the first year of her life, we often had her at the vet, trying to find out why she was so tiny. Some breathing problems, lots of blood work and tests, but nothing ever too definite. She would always stay “petite” (like me) with a delicate appetite (unlike me).

When Alex’s Dad and I got divorced, and I moved out, we decided to leave the cats with Alex and his Dad, to keep things as stable as possible for Alex. I actually had my attorney put a stipulation in the divorce agreement to make certain that I could “cat-sit” several times a year.

Wasn’t I the one who gave my family the ultimatum – it’s them or me? Ummm – I guess that was me – so long, long ago.

Then, Alex went away to college, and ultimately, about 2 years ago, Peanut and Freddie came to live with me for good.

I was not prepared for the pain of losing you, Peanut.

You purred the loudest of any cat I had ever known and you looked upon everything that didn’t interest you (which was most things) with a certain disdain. Hence, “Princess.” But you also wrapped your self around my neck when I walked around the house, and stretched out on my legs or chest like a Sphinx when I was watching TV. You were light as a feather – a fur ball – and I loved you.

Each night, you and Freddie slept at the bottom of the bed, all curled up. Sometimes, you slept all night on my husband’s shoulder, paws stretched straight out. If he happened to move the slightest bit over night, you were highly affronted, glaring at him in no uncertain terms until he stopped moving and you could return to your beauty sleep.

You were a treasure. A beauty. A princess.

During the day, you held court on the couch, ensconced on my most comfortable pillow. No one dared disturb you. If I was at my computer, you would hop onto my desk and lay across my keyboard, causing all kinds of gibberish to appear on the screen. I would lift you off, trying to avoid your icy stare. We compromised and I put your cat bed on the edge of my desk, so we could be together while I worked. Cans of compressed dust remover littered my desk; that soft, long fur got into all the cracks and crevices of my computer and printer.

Then, your daily routine started to change.

You lost weight, getting recurrent upper respiratory infections. We kept taking you to the vet and you seemed to improve with the steroid shots and the appetite enhancer. You ate better, but developed an allergy to the meds and scratched your chin to an open sore, so we stopped the medicine. We had another follow-up visit at the vet in another week.

One night, after getting up to go to the bathroom, I got back into bed and put you back on my shoulder where you had slept. I remember that your breathing was so loud – labored – that I moved you to the foot of the bed to get more sleep.

But your breathing was too labored and irregular…

I woke up my husband (who sleeps through anything) and told him something was terribly wrong. We hurriedly got dressed, then I wrapped you in your favorite soft blanket as we drove the half hour to the 24-hour emergency vet hospital. It was early, early morning, and snowing.

I can still feel your tiny claws digging into my leg on the way there. But your breathing calmed a bit.

Once there, when I mentioned “respiratory distress” to the receptionist, the vet flew out from the back and hurried you into an exam room while I had to sign a paper saying whether I wanted extraordinary measures taken if anything serious would occur while at the hospital.

Ridiculous – but I signed it; all you needed was some oxygen and another steroid shot and you’d be good to go. We could work at my desk tomorrow and you could wrap yourself around my neck, purring so loud in my ear that it soothed any stress I might have.

The vet came back into the room where we waited. At first, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand her. Something about tests and blood work and oxygen… I thought we had explained all of that, and we agreed on going ahead with getting you better.

Still, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand her.

Your condition deteriorated rapidly. Your organs were shutting down – it sounded like congestive heart failure. You were dying in the other room.

Should we prolong your life (your suffering) or consider your comfort? I was used to this from working with Hospice; it was an easy choice – no suffering, please. (Easy? Who am I kidding? It was torture.) The vet was compassionate, saying you had coughed up a lot of blood and things were moving fast.

Could I say good-bye? Yes, but I had to be ready to see that you were on oxygen.

When I entered the hospital area, you were in a small glassed off “cage” or bed on the bottom level where oxygen was being pumped in. There was a small opening big enough for my hands for when I wanted to pet you. You were lying on your favorite soft plaid blanket, your fur wet and matted where you coughed up blood, showing how thin you really were.

I stifled a cry and dropped to my knees on the linoleum floor so that I could see you and talk to you. When you heard me, you actually dragged yourself around toward my voice, then lay back down, spent. It must have taken all of the little energy you had left, but now you were facing me, and I could pet you.

My Peanutter-Butter. My Princess.

I told you I loved you and I thanked you for your years of love, and said that it was okay for you to go toward the light. I told you that Mimi (my Mom) would be there, but realized that you never met her; she died before you were born. So I told you instead that our beloved Misty would be there to greet you. I reminded you how much Freddie loved you and how much he would miss you, but that someday, we would all be together again.

Your eyes were already fixed ahead, directed toward me but not seeing me – looking beyond me at a place where I couldn’t follow. You were already leaving, but waited just long enough to say good-bye.

It was enough – it was too much; I had to go. You were already well on your way, eyes unseeing, breathing labored. So fragile yet so beautiful. Let the doctor help to end your pain. I couldn’t see for my tears.

In the time it took me to sign papers for your cremation, you were gone. Forever lost to me, to Alex, to Freddie.

When we drove home, the snow had stopped and it was daybreak. I couldn’t go into work, I hurt so much. When you didn’t come home with us, Freddie went to the dining room window where you both sometimes shared a bed. When he didn’t find you there, he never went into the dining room again until more than a year had passed. He looked for you for a few days, then settled into an uneasy loneliness. He’s more anxious, as if a part of him is gone (it is). Sometimes he fixes his gaze at a spot above my head, or into a darkened room, and stares, listens at attention. As if you’re there, looking back.

Perhaps you are…

Peanster – your ashes are in a carved wooden box on the mantle, with your name on it. But when I opened the card that came with your cremains and saw the bits of fur they had included, just like a lock of a loved one’s hair, I cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t – and still haven’t – touched it. I also don’t want to let Freddie near it; I’m not sure what he would do if he caught your scent. That we be too cruel a thing to do to your brother.

I miss you. I thank you for coming to me in a dream not so long ago after I mentioned to my husband (yet again) how much I missed you. Be healthy and happy, Peanster. I thank you for the gift of your life. If you can, please let Freddie know you’re okay somehow. I explained to him what happened to you, but for any of us, that clinical information is not always enough.

I love you, Pretty, Pug-nosed Princess Peanutter-Butter. Someday, I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge.

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The Rainbow Bridge

When a beloved pet dies, it goes to the Rainbow Bridge. It makes friends with other animals and frolics over rolling hills and peaceful, lush meadows of green.

Our pets do not thirst or hunger. The old and sick are made young once more; the maimed and the ill become healed and strong. They are as healthy and playful as we remember them in days gone by.

Though happy and content, they still miss someone very special, someone they had to leave behind.

Together, the animals chase and play, but the day comes when a pet will suddenly stop and look into the distance…bright eyes intent, eager body quivering. Suddenly recognizing you, your pet bounds quickly across the green fields and into your embrace. You celebrate in joyous reunion. You will never again separate. Happy tears and kisses are warm and plenty; your hands caress the face you missed. You look once more into the loving eyes of your pet and you know you never really parted. You realize that though out of sight, your love had been remembered.

And now, you cross the Rainbow Bridge together…

~ Author Unknown ~

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