Friday, February 27, 2015

Thinking about my mother

I'm on my way to Seattle to daughter E's this afternoon. I haven't been down to her place in ages, so it's a welcome change from these few walls of my own castle (which I love, don't get me wrong!). We're meeting my sister, RE, and her daughters for a bit of a girls-day-out before RE's younger daughter, L, is home-bound herself for a while. Homebound with new life, I should say. Those are busy, exhausting, wonderful days, but she's looking forward to not being accountable for anyone but herself for a couple of days.

Thinking of seeing these particular women (and we WILL MISS YOU, SK!!!) makes me think of my mother. Of course. She loved such things as this. Sadly, most of the time, she wasn't actually comfortable when she was experiencing such weekends, and, in part, this is what I was thinking about. Mom loved planning events. She loved anticipating them. But the actual events never lived up to her expectations. I think this is because she herself never lived up to her expectations. That's really what it was. She had a giant hole inside herself that she wanted all of us to fill and we couldn't do it, no matter what we did. You wouldn't know it to look at her, but my mother was the least confident person I've ever met. She looked like she was as strong and tough and confident as anyone. She had a loud voice and a hard demeanor that she put to good use. Last December when I saw an old friend, he told SK that he remembers being a third grader in the school where she taught and being scared to death of Mrs. Crain. She did that on purpose so that on the first day of school the next year (and from then on) her new class of fourth-graders wouldn't be any trouble. Then she could begin to have fun with them. And, he told SK, she became the best teacher he ever had.

I remember that about my mom, too. She could be fun. She was a lot of fun and she loved to laugh. When we were kids, she laughed a lot. She stopped laughing so much as we got older. First, I think it was because she was always more comfortable with children. But later (though I didn't realize it at the time), her decreased inability to laugh at herself or at life came with her dementia.

A lot of things about her came as a result of Alzheimer's. That's one of the things I've been thinking about this morning. See, I extended a HUGE amount of grace very early on to Grampie when I recognized the signs of dementia, because Mom had already gone through it. I knew what was going on. Every day something else seemed different about him that might have bugged the heck out of me...except that it had already bugged the heck out of me when it was Mom.

That's the blunt fact of the matter.
Long before I made my peace with Mom, all the ways she was losing it bugged me. It was just plain hard. When she over-reacted to every little thing, I didn't say, "It's the disease," I said, "MOM, what's your problem?" When she got lost, over and over, I didn't say, "It's the disease, let's figure this out together." I said, "MOM, get it together!" When she came to my sisters and me in a panic and said, "I have a BIG problem!!!" and that problem was that she couldn't find an outlet to plug in something, I might have shown kindness on the outside, but I mimicked her afterwards.

In some ways, all the love I showed Grampie I was doing, in part, for my mother. Giving to her. I know that. I didn't always love her as I should have. I didn't get it. And the troubling thing is that she was the last person on this planet I should have treated so. Not merely because she's my mother but because she was so deeply insecure.

It's okay to feel badly about it. It's okay to let God show me how I might have been different with her. And to repent of how I was. My actions hurt an already-hurting woman.
Because He also showed me this:
Mom never thought she was good enough for heaven, for God, for salvation itself. That's true. She absolutely believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One, that He came to save the lost. She even believed she was chief among sinners. Her hiccup, and it's a giant one, is that she NEVER felt worthy. She taught Bible studies (for decades), Sunday school, read her Bible front to back and back again, she researched and studied and prayed and prayed A LOT! And when all that began to fail she simply copied verse after verse into her notebooks. But somehow, she didn't ever feel good enough. THAT'S how deep her insecurity was, her lack of self-worth. I don't know why (though I can make a very strong, educated guess!) exactly where this came from, but I know this: my mother IS in heaven. Despite her fears and insecurities, despite her lack of faith about herself, her faith about God was deep. She believed so much about what He could and would do for others. About who He is.

And so this is what I wish for today, that I could see my mother TODAY. I wish I could see her as she is right now. In the throne room, I know she's whole and healthy and the person she was always meant to be. I can't imagine that person, but I really can't wait to meet her. I think I'll really like her. No, I think I'll love her.

One day she said to me, "I think I'm going to forget God." And I told her, "It's okay, Mom. God won't forget you!" That's the bottom line, isn't it? That, not only is it more important what God think of us than what we think of Him (as CS Lewis says),  it's immensely more important what God thinks about us than what we think about ourselves.

Monday, February 23, 2015

In his shadow

It's been a rollercoaster of a week here.
That's how such weeks go.
There's a hole in our house, an empty room, a chair, two wheelchairs, a Hoyer lift, and a hospital bed all vacant. Unused. Waiting to be posted on Craigslist. A closet full of clothes has been whittled down to what might be used by Beve and what should be given away. We've gone through myriad boxes of papers, including old pictures from Grampie's playing days at Oregon. The most famous picture (which I've posted here before) we found on the front page of the Sports section of the New York Times just before the game Oregon played at Madison Square Garden. Grampie (8) got quite a bit of press in 1947-8 when he was finally back from the war and a junior,  and playing great ball. His size was controversial back then, when some coaches in the collegiate level really advocated for the game to be 'given back to the little boys.' At 6'8" Beve's dad was the tallest player on any team in the Northern Pacific Division Conference by 2 inches.
The shadow he casts over his teammates is the kind of shadow his life casts over ours these days. We find him behind so much of what we do. We keep wanting to open that bedroom door to check on him, or to make sure he has enough to drink down in his recliner. It's so odd to think he's not there.

And we have piles of his things to sort. Papers you can't believe. Considering he hasn't done a single bit of writing in the last three years, it's remarkable how much paper he accumulated. Or copied. How many paper copies of tiny pictures does one man need, any way?

You might be thinking we could have done this long since, three years ago when he moved into the skilled nursing facility, for example. You have a good point. We tried to do it while he was still somewhat upright behind his own walker with Thyrza beside him in the assisted living complex. But they weren't having any of that. It was their papers, so we just put it all in boxes to be sorted another day. Then we got too tired, too busy living, perhaps. You should have seen the way those boxes cluttered up Beve's study, the way they (still) pile up in the storage unit Beve rented to house them. It's more than a day's work to go through a life's work.

That's as it should be, I think.
He lived a long life and has a whole lot to show for it. He left it all of us to sort and that's also the way of things. We all know (though it's easy to forget in the dailiness of living) that when our last breath leaves our body, we turn tail and run for heaven with nothing of this earth, not rings or papers or clothes or anything. Not even our earthly bodies. As large a shadow as Grampie cast on everyone around him while he lived, his heavenly body will be completely new. And God alone knows what shape it will be. Still larger than life? Larger than this life, anyway. 

That's true for each of us.
We have a whole lot of papers to sort through of the years my beloved father-in-law lived on this earth. Already we've filled three recycling bins. We've kept all the REAL pictures, but those paper copies? Time to become something else. And all that email he printed out so that he could actually read it in the last few years (including spam)--it filled boxes marked: IMPORTANT! so we hadn't touched it (mea culpa for not having realized anything from STAPLES would have been deemed important to Grampie).

The important thing isn't what we throw out but what we discover as we're doing it. We get to discover more about him each day. This won't last forever, I know. I've learned that before. But right now, it's like we can still hear him in the newspaper clippings from his rather brilliant athletic career, from the words people wrote about him when he retired, from his own letters to family and friends (copied and kept for his records, of course!). It's almost like, if we lean in, we can still hear him saying one of those inimitable expressions, "Holy Mackerel, Andy!" "Gosh All-Friday," "gadfrey!"

That's enough to make me smile!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When the dust settles

The dust has settled a little here.
As I write that, what I think of is what happens when I blow on a surface covered with dust. It lifts and dances and clouds into my eyes and nose until I'm sneezing. And then it settles. But it's still there--the dust, I mean. Nothing changes when a person simply blows the dust to move it.

And so it is in our lives in these last few days, these first Grampie-less days. We blow and blow and blow on our lives but nothing changes the true tenor of what we face now. After Beve's brother and sister-in-law left Saturday, we looked at each other and, in a collective gasp, decided to herd up our adult kids, dogs and more food than we needed, and head to our little lodge in the mountains to simply be together for a night.

It seemed right. A long time ago--up until Thursday evening--we'd intended President's weekend to be what is called respite for those in the position we've been in of caring for an elderly parent in our home. We'd made arrangements for Grampie to go back to the skilled nursing facility where he lived before moving in with us. But that changed on a dime when his dying became a reality rather than an abstract idea. We were glad to change our plans.  I think I wrote about telling the hospice nurse, "We'd rather change our plans and he live eight more days than go and he die Saturday morning while we're gone." It turns out what I barely meant, was actually true. He DID die Saturday morning, and thank God we were there to be with him. Last September 30, I wrote that my hope was that the line beyond which we could care for him would be his last breaths. That is, our wish was that he lived the rest of his days with us. And God honored that. Hallelujah!

But after making many huge decisions, and running all kinds of related errands, Beve came home Sunday morning and said, "I'm ready to be irresponsible." So that cabin-plan which had been so easily jettisoned seemed the perfect place to escape. And it felt like Grampie himself helped orchestrate it. I wouldn't put it past him. He never did like his beloveds to miss out at his expense.

So we were off the grid for a little over twenty-four hours, just long enough to put the lodge in order, sleep in newly put together beds, and spend a whole lot of time talking about Grampie. Favorite stories, favorite moments, favorite expressions, favorite everything. We talked until we were dropping from sleepiness, teary and laughing in turn. It was the hard work of grieving and life-giving at once. Beve told me as we went to sleep that night that it was exactly what he needed, just his own three kids and me, to help give voice to all he can't say on his own.

Now we're back in the world, with doorbells, and emails, and messages galore. Decisions to be made and obituaries to write (Yikes, I've got to get that finished!). We have photo albums spread across our living room floor, culling the best of him from them. SK told me today that it's hard to look for photos with tears threatening every second. But we're in this together, each doing our part. It's the hard work of mourning we do.

Someone reminded me tonight Beve and I will have a rough go when the dust settles because we've been responsible for Grampie's care--for his life--for the last five years. I don't know what life will feel like next week, when SK is gone and Beve's back at work and I'm alone in the mornings. Sad, I think. Very sad.

But there's this: when our children remember Grampie, not one of them think of him as he's been in those last five years. They think of Grampie tall and straight, strong, witty and intelligent--the way he was in their childhoods. And I know that whatever was robbed from him through the dementia has been given back to him completely now. The man my children remember, the man Beve remembers, is the man who lives now. Yes, lives now in the rarified air of heaven itself.

I just can't be sad about that. When the dust that is 'ashes to ashes and dust to dust' settles, what was lost (his mind) is now found. Given back, I suppose I should say. God has given Grampie back himself. Yes, I thank God for that.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A giant in the throne room

"It is finished," Jesus said as He pulled in His last oxygen to speak from the cross.
It is finished, I whispered as Grampie shuddered out one long gasp, his lower lip quivering before it stilled for good.
My sister-in-law and I had sat with him through the first watches of the post-midnight hours, letting our not-night-owl husbands sleep. It was not an easy shift for us. The medicine pump kept beeping so shrilly, I made FOUR phone calls to the hospice nurse who finally decided she'd come switch it for a different one.  By 3:30, we were punch drunk with sleepiness and our husbands were both up. I crawled into my bed about twenty minutes later, closed my eyes and...five minutes later Beve gently touched my shoulder.
"The hospice nurse says it's close now."

We gathered around his bed, and, at his feet, I whispered, more to God than the company, "It is finished." Then said, "We should pray." So we did, thanking God for the life of this larger-than-life man, this dad who grew his kids tall with hearts big enough to fit their frames, this grandpa whose adoration of his nine grandchildren was as gigantic as everything else about him. The absolute blessing that he lived, loved and was our Grampie...that's as big as the man himself.
And now he's gone home.

I think of what heaven's gained today, and I have to smile. There's a new giant in the Throne-room, and he's singing bass in the back row of the choir!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Our present vigil

Just a quick post today:
We're in the last days here, the vigil of waiting and watching and listening while Grampie takes and catches breaths, with long gaps between. We can fill the silences between his breaths with words and memories and and catch ourselves sucking in our own chests while we wait. "The veil is thin now," a hospice volunteer told me last night when she saw him. I could see it myself.
So while we hold our vigil, we are together with those in the room and those around the world who would be with us if they could.
The end of a man's life is as important as the beginning.
God is present, sitting in this room with us.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Two sides of the coin

It's the first week of the month and that means it's Random Journal Link-up out in the blogisphere. I look forward to these days when I can reach into the tomes I have up on my shelf and discover something about my history. If I wrote an entry a week, I wouldn't ever finish combing the bowels of those blue notebooks. But it's fun to dive in. After reading mine (first, of course), head over to Dawn's place to check out what else is in the pool. You can find the interesting, powerful story of Jeannie Pallet's history with journal's featured there, too. The link's right here.

For years I was privileged to be part of a group of women who met in a small room in our church each week to pray. It wasn't a coffee clutch, we didn't bring our knitting and no food was ever served. We simply got up early (at least early for me!)  once a week, stumbled into our places in a small ante room off the women's bathroom and after a bit of conversation, began to pray. We didn't go around the room sharing prayer concerns first, we learned early on that they would come out organically as we prayed, and that if we took the time to talk about them, we'd use up our praying time.

This journal entry I've found has me musing about prayer (it's July 2003):

I was telling K yesterday that there's a significant difference in the way women pray in our group. Some I've noticed primarily seek God on behalf of themselves and their own families and their own needs. They are supplicants, They give more information than God needs and sometimes leave me with the impression that our time together are their primary hour of prayer. Others are intercessors: they pray for others--locally, corporately, cosmically. There is an expansiveness to their praying that, even when specific, included all. It's almost like they're simply including us in an ongoing conversation. "Come join me as I talk to Father God with you."
That's what I want--for my life to be an ongoing conversation, by word and action, with Father God. I am a subject to the King and have daily, immediate access to Him in His Throne room. Isn't that an amazing idea? No, that's not even it? Not a subject, but His own beloved child who can come flying across that Throne room and climb up into His lap. That's who I am. And that's how I should pray. 
Or maybe both at once. With reverence because He's I AM THAT I AM, and immediacy because He's Abba Father: yes, these are the two sides of the coin of how I converse with my God.

"The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives--altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure...we do not have to be bright or pure or filled with faith or anything . That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. AND we pray by it."                                                                                      Richard Foster, Prayer, 8.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sea Change

Sea changes.
That's what I'm thinking about today. I went to bed thinking about it, and woke up still contemplating how the wind can blow and change the direction of our lives, sometimes without too much warning.

We met with Hospice last Thursday morning. Grampie's been 'qualified' for their services now. This only confirmed what we've known for the last couple of weeks. At one point early in our interview, the nurse asked many hours of a 24-hour period Grampie's asleep. "Twelve?" She asked.
"Twelve! No, more like 18 at least," I answered. "Probably it's really closer to 22."
When Beve walked in and heard the question, he said, "20-22."
That day and the next, and, today as well, it's been more like 23.5.
He just sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.
And barely eats or drinks.

Yep, it didn't really take a nurse to tell us what we've known.

Still,with her telling us, we're not in this alone. And that's the sea change we needed.
We're in a community of people who are paying attention to his care. And that's a pretty nice feeling. I love bouncing questions of the nurse, having help with various issues of his care, having resources for extra aides, if we need them, and just knowing we have people to call if we need them. That's what we're glad to have in this journey.

They're all, "Whoa, you really re-modeled your home for him," and "You're really a great daughter-in-law to care for him so much," and "I'm so proud of how present you are with him." And the next thing I know the social worker is tearing up and I'm comforting her, talking to her about the gifts of being with Grampie in his last days--about being with ANYONE (he is our last parent whose death we've shared). It's just such a privilege, I tell her. She wipes a few more tears from her face and wants to give me a hug.

After the social worker left this afternoon, I was telling son J about it and we got to talking about it. I realize that sometimes ministry comes in unexpected places. She's a very earnest, tender sort, that social worker. It makes her good at her Hospice work, gentle with those who need gentle care. There are many who haven't the experience with the dying we have, nor the faith to see it as a part of life that is worth embracing and enjoying, even. So she came into my home ready to give out of a cup she's used to giving from. I don't know where she gets that cup filled but maybe visiting me today filled that cup a little bit today. Maybe that was exactly what she needed.  So while I sat dry-eyed, talking about my beloved Grampie's life and death, she needed to cry, and while I was arching my back away from her hug (okay, not really, except in my head), she needed human comfort.

I was very busy thinking she was there for me, you see. I forgot that no matter what is going on, God might have something else in mind. And I need to be ready for that sea change.

 These people have come into our lives now. A nurse, a social worker, a bath aide, the care-givers. And yes, they are here to help us in this slope toward Grampie's home-going. But however long they're here, and whatever else they're doing, we are also here to serve His Kingdom in our home, to be His disciples. That is, to love and minister to--any way we can--whoever walks through our door.

When you come right down to it, that's no sea change at all.