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.

_____________________________________________________________

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 ~

To Those Who See…

To Those Who See
~ Gwen Frostie ~

To those who see bare branches –
and know they hold the buds of spring;

to those who see stars falling in the heavens –
and know the constellations will remain forever;

to those who see long lines of geese fade far beyond –
and know they come back again to nest;

to those who see with wonder in their hearts –
 and know what glories there can be;

to those who see miraculous sights
 and envision all of the wonders hidden from the eye…

to those who hear multitudinous sounds
and listen to the symphonies that silence brings…

To those who see…

What Have We Done Today?

What Have We Done Today?
by Nixon Waterman

We shall do much in the years to come,
But what have we done today?
We shall give our gold in a princely sum,
But what did we give today?
We shall lift the heart and dry the tear,
We shall plant a hope in the place of fear,
We shall speak the words of love and cheer,
But what did we speak today?

We shall be so kind in the after while,
But have we been today?
We shall bring to each lonely life a smile,
But what have we brought today?
We shall give to truth a grander birth,
And to steadfast faith a deeper worth,
 We shall feed the hungering souls of earth,
But whom have we fed today?

We shall reap such joys in the by and by,
But what have we sown today?
We shall build us mansions in the sky,
But what have we built today?
‘Tis sweet in the idle dreams to bask;
But here and now, do we our task?
Yes, this is the thing our souls must ask,
What have we done today?

Battle of the Wolves

A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt.

He said:

“I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart.
One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one.
The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”

The grandson asked him:

“Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?”

The grandfather answered him:

“The one I feed.”

______________________________________________

Native American Parable

The Journey (Another Point of View)

The Journey
by David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
 has to be
 enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

small, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving.

 

My friends – may you find that one line already written inside you
and that bright wedge of freedom in your heart.
 Sometimes you may not be running away from so much as running toward
something beautiful, new and exciting. ~ Theresa

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.

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.

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…

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.

________________________________________________

Today’s Quote

A LIFE WISH

May the days and years ahead of you be filled with

OPENINGS

 that you may sense clearly the path you choose to walk;

VISION

 that you may see, search, and dream without limitation;

SENSITIVITY

that you may hear and follow your inner guidance,
discern when to act on behalf of yourself and/or others,
and when to simply be and let be;

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

that you may taste the fruits of success; and,

POSSIBILITIES

that you may discover what you want and need,
know who you are, give to others of your heart’s joy,
have the courage to stand for your own convictions,
and believe in yourself no matter what.

~ Raphaella Vaisseau ~

A Few Thoughts on 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.

Gratitude

I am sending out humble gratitude and blessings to “I Have a Voice” (girlwiththepen1118) for nominating me for the above three awards.

My intention with this blog when I began it less than 2 months ago (after having read 2 books on blogging, I’m still trying to figure it out) was to share stories of people whom I’ve met in my life who have touched me in some deep, elemental way – the people you carry with you in your heart long after meeting them.  I thought a blog would be a way to honor them, as well as to perhaps inspire others to remember that no matter how small a thing they might do for another person, it might actually be something of great importance, enough to change a life.  We human beings have a great capacity to love and to reach out, most especially in the midst of darkness.

I also wanted to include quotes that hold meaning for me, that inspire me, as well as some of my travels that have helped me along in my spiritual growth.  As I’ve said in my blog, I am a work in progress…

With apologies that I may not be able to exactly follow the rules of nominating 15 other bloggers – since I’m still getting to know them as a follower on my own – I’ve listed those below to whom I am passing on the “Shine On” Award for their having given me something wonderful on any given day – whether thoughts or poems or videos or photographs.  Some of them may already have an award, but regardless, they deserve either another one, or the same one again as validation of their value.

Word Press Shine On Award

Ajaytao2012

Fun Girls Live Better

Jon Lilley

Funkari

5 Kids with Disabilities

Sophia’s Voice

The CoF

Simple. Interesting.

John Coyote

Thoughts Alone

The Positivity Blog

Finally, I believe for one of the awards, I am to tell you all 7 things about myself.  Here goes:

1) I changed careers in my late 40s and it was the best thing I ever did.

2) My favorite color is purple.

3) If I could choose my last meal, it would be some type of pasta.

4) I believe that nothing is random.

5) I’m a U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) history nut, especially on the topics of medicine and women.

6) I have visited over 15 countries (not counting islands in the Caribbean), and that’s not nearly enough.

7) I love castles – the military fortress type, not the palaces type (there goes the military history again).

Today’s Quote/Essay

I Will Not Die an Unlived Life

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible;
to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

~ Dawna Markova

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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A Blessing

A Blessing
by John O’Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

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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.