Making Room for Lament: SheLoves — September 2017

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In the months from April to August of this year, we have attended five funerals and sent a eulogy to be read at a sixth. These were services of worship and remembrance, held in honor of people we loved, people whose lives intersected with ours regularly, even when those lives were very short.

It began with my mom’s death on the 19th of April after a 7-year journey through dementia. At the end of May, we dealt with the shock of an accidental drowning — a 2-year-old grandson in our extended congregational family. That death was followed about five weeks later by the loss of a dear woman friend and leader in our community. She died only 7 months after an abrupt diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

The week we came back from vacation in early August, we attended an emotional farewell for a dear 8-year-old boy who was born with only half a heart, and whose life had a lasting impact on our entire city. At the end of that same week, we listened to parts of a life story we had never heard, as we said good-bye to a faithful woman in our congregation who passed away at the age of 105. In the middle of last month, I received news of the anticipated death of a former colleague and partner in ministry who had a heart attack and a brain bleed while in the physical therapist’s clinic. We traveled 100 miles south to be there for his stunned widow and adult children.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the most self-descriptive word I can come up with these days is, ‘weary.’ Although I ‘do not grieve as those who have no hope,’ I grieve nonetheless. I don’t think I have begun to fully internalize all the facets of my mom’s death, what it means to be an orphan in this world. That truth tells me that there is even less space inside to grieve well for each of the other losses which have left such huge holes in our lives.

So the words I want to amplify in this particular season are the beautiful and necessary words of lament. Those words that speak the pain in us out into the atmosphere, those words that call us to be fully human, acknowledging that it sometimes hurts to be alive when others are no longer breathing beside us. I want to make space inside — and outside — for the tears that bring healing, tears that tell stories, tears that say, “I loved them and I can no longer whisper that truth into their ears.”

So let me say this as loudly and as clearly as written space in an e-magazine will allow: lament is required when we walk through the valley. Imagine that I am using my big-girl, outdoor voice when you read those words, will you? Because this is important: there is no such thing as loss without pain and suffering. The bromides and clichés that are too often bandied about at such times are less than useless. In fact, they can be harmful. People do not want to hear about “God’s plan” when they are in shock, when they are completely exhausted and empty, when they don’t know how they are going to get through the next hour, much less the next year. . . 

Please click here to read the remainder of this reflection and to join the conversation at one of the finest magazines on the interweb.

Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

Waking Mathilda — A Book Review and A Heartfelt Recommendation

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There are lots of stories waiting to be told in this world. Some of them are interesting, good to read, mildly educational, even helpful. Others are lightweight, distracting, bring a wry smile or a loud laugh. There is room for stories like those — I read them a lot and I share about them here, from time to time.

Then there are the stories that are startling, stunning, that move you out of your complacent satisfaction with the status quo. Stories that send you to your knees in thanksgiving for your own particular patch of suffering and struggle, simply because what those stories tell is so overwhelmingly difficult.

I know a few people who live such stories, some of them quite close to me. Most of those people would never attempt to write their stories down — out of fear or exhaustion or lack of skill.

Then there is Claire Crisp.

She knows all about exhaustion, and she knows all about fear, but she is also a skilled narrator who is not afraid to tell it like it is, without flinching, without apology. And tell it she does in this beautiful book, “Waking Mathilda.”

This story was birthed in one parental decision that changed the trajectory of a family’s life forever. It was a decision made in good faith, for all the right reasons, and it was a decision that should never have had the outcome it did.

When Claire’s lovely young daughter, Mathilda, was three years old, she and her husband — on the advice of their doctor — made the decision to give her the H1N1 vaccine. She had had a bit of a rough start in life and the flu that year was predicted to be harsh and deadly. So they took the time and care to take her to the clinic near their home in England and make sure she got her shot.

And then, everything started sliding downhill.

This is a story that must be read to be believed and I strongly recommend that you order yourself a copy TODAY. It is beautifully, hauntingly written. It is rich with information that never feels in the slightest like ‘facts.’ It is a story that is hard to read at points, a story it is almost impossible to imagine living. 

Yet, live it, they did.

Mathilda is the youngest person ever to be diagnosed with narcolepsy, a difficult and debilitating neurological disorder that essentially causes the sleep center of the brain to go haywire. Reading about the long, painful process of discovering what went wrong with this active, intelligent, interesting little girl is heartbreaking to read.

It is also inspiring.

Why? Because it is a story of persistence, of courage, of commitment and of love. Claire never gives up. Never. She does research, she insists that something is wrong, very, very wrong, even when medical personnel ignore what is right in front of their eyes. She and her husband exhaust themselves trying to care  for a child who cannot sleep at night and cannot be sensible for much of the daytime. Their older two children struggle to understand what has happened to life as they knew it. Every one of them is remarkable.

This book reads like a terrifying mystery novel, except there is nothing fictional about it. Pieces of the puzzle begin to come clear, a visiting doctor really looks, really listens, and makes the correct diagnosis, a clinic in Stanford CA does research on an expensive medicine. That medicine is not available in England and a life-changing decision for everyone involves an international move, and a huge gamble. No one as young as their daughter has ever been treated with this medicine. Will it work?  

This is a story I could not put down, and neither could my husband. This particular journey will never be over for Mathilda — she will live with the effects of this disorder for the rest of her life. But she, and her parents, have found some answers. They have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve built a new community, in a new country. Claire has become an outspoken advocate for narcolepsy sufferers and those who care for them, and Mathilda is blossoming into a charming, hardworking, committed student who happens to deal with a dreadfully messed up brain. 

A remarkable read. Do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. Then get a copy for a friend, too.

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First, the Tomb — SheLoves, February 2017

The silence at this blog has been rather deafening thus far in 2017. Part of the reason for that is the event described in this essay. I wrote it for SheLoves, that special place on the internet where I am privileged to write once each month. Please start here and then follow the links over there to join in the conversation.

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The rain falls steadily, beating against the translucent plastic of the skylight across the hall from where I write. A drumbeat that reminds me that fruitfulness requires dark, wet days. Lots and lots of dark, wet days.

Life continues to teach me that there is no resurrection without the darkness of death, there is no rising without first being down. Sometimes that down-ness is imposed on us — by life, by circumstance, by some kind of struggle, which we did not deserve or earn. Other times, we trip and fall, choosing unwisely or forgetting what we know to be true. No matter what has brought us low, however, the truth of it remains: there is nowhere to go but up.

 I am watching closely as my mother winds down for the last time in her long life. We moved her this week — again. Fifteen years ago, we moved her and my dad from their lovely retirement home in Orange County CA to a smaller, 2-bedroom apartment in a senior community nearer to family. Three years later, after my dad’s death, we moved my mother to a 1-bedroom unit in the same facility. Eight years after that, we moved her across the street, into an assisted living studio. One year later, we moved her 120 miles north, to a single room with bath, inside a dementia unit, minutes from our home.

Now, four years further down this journey toward death, she is in a still smaller room, one with a hospital bed and an RN down the hall. We moved mama into skilled nursing last week, sorting through the debris of her life one more time, parsing her existence into smaller and smaller pieces.

I hoped she would be oblivious to this change. So much of her cognition is gone, so many pieces missing from the beautiful puzzle that is my mother. But she knew. And she was frightened and confused, wondering why ‘her family’ wasn’t nearby. Though she couldn’t tell you a single name, she somehow knew the residents and the caregivers in her 16-bed assisted living wing. Now she is part of a much larger space, with many more people, many more wheelchairs, longer distances to travel from bedroom to activity center to dining room. . . 

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Yes, it’s been a tough few weeks, friends. We’re at the last bend in the road. Please do come on over to SheLoves and read a bit more about this journey.

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Sixteen

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We have a small fishing industry here in Santa Barbara. I love to see their small boats sitting just off shore during the various seasons of the year — lobster, crab, salmon. halibut, even sea cucumbers!

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They look tiny against the horizon, don’t they?

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This one was checking traps last week — you can see the trap markers to the left of the picture.
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Working boats and pleasure craft share our marina space and each type brings its own unique kind of beauty to our waterfront. I love to watch a graceful sloop or a sturdy looking catamaran sail by. But it is the working boats my eye is drawn to most often. Some of those boats have been part of the story of our town for decades, holding deliciousness in their freezers and hard working men and women at their helm.

Fishing is work. Yes, it is often pleasurable. But it is work, first and foremost. And somehow the phrasing of today’s quote from St. Paul of the Cross stirs in me a deep reminder of that truth. To fish in the sea of Christ’s sorrow is work, plain and not-so-simple. It does not come naturally to us to reflect on sad things, to step into another’s suffering and see what nourishment we might find there. But oh! It is good work. And necessary work.

Once again, the key word in this quote is ‘love.’ If we can firmly hold onto that powerful truth, everything changes. Christ willingly stepped into that sea of suffering because of divine love — divine love for human persons. This is the kind of ‘atonement theory’ that resonates with me at the deepest level: for God so loved the world. This is the bedrock truth of our faith and taking time to fish in these good waters is one of the healthiest and most life-giving things we can do.

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Battle Fatigue

IMG_0459You know, it’s just lunch. Simple, right? I get in the car, I drive over to Mom’s care facility, I punch in the magic code to open the door, I gather her up, confused and beautiful as she is, I open the door so we can both go out into the sunshine.

She says, “Do you really want to bring this old thing?” pointing to her walker.

Every time, she asks me this question.

EVERY TIME.

“Yes, Mom. You can’t really walk well without it and it fits right into the back of my car.”

I settle her into the front seat, lock the seat belt around her, nudge her gently to move her feet completely inside the car. I load the walker in the back and come around to the driver’s door, belt myself in and begin to drive out of the residence area.

“What a good driver you are. What a nice car this is — so smooth!”

“Thank  you, Mom.”

I hear these two sentences EVERY SINGLE TIME WE GO OUT, which is every 3 to 4 days. But 3 to 4 days is an eternity to someone whose brain is full of holes. 3 to 4 minutes is an eternity. Somedays, 3 to 4 seconds.

“Now tell me your name again and why you came over to get me today?”

And we’re off. The litany begins.

Again.

And again.

“Do you have children?”
“Do you live nearby?”
“What do you do?”

“Where are we going?”
“Why are you being kind to me?”
“Now tell me your name, please.”
“Do you know my family?”

Round and round we go, the same set of questions, the same set of answers.

Today we went to a place we have not visited often. She is, however, convinced that she has been here, “many years ago.” Often, this is at least partially true. Not today. We’ve been here exactly twice in the last 3 3/4 years.

The sun is warm, but the restaurant, located directly on the sands of Ledbetter Beach, acts as a wind tunnel for the ocean breeze. She is immediately shivering, despite being fully covered with two layers of clothing.

So I return to the car, get my wool shawl and my wide-brimmed black hat with the droop-down brim and wrap her up as much as I can. She continues to hold down the brim of the hat or to place her hand over her ear during the entire meal, despite the fact that she is no longer in direct contact with any kind of air movement whatsoever. Once cold, always cold, I guess.

I order her a diet Coke and get a glass of water for myself. We sip quietly as we wait for our lunches to be delivered — a kid’s sized grilled cheese with fries for her, a salad with grilled salmon for me. 

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“Here, don’t you want some of this?” she asks.

And she asks.

And she asks.

AND SHE ASKS.

“No, Mom, ” I tell her each time. “That is your drink. See, I have one of my own. I don’t need yours.”

When lunch arrives, she relishes each bite. But begins immediately with the same, recurring question/statement: “Oh  my, this is delicious! I am so happy, so happy, so happy! Here, take some of this. It is really good.”

She seems to be unable to see that I am already eating from a very full plate. I tell her exactly that, every single time she invites me to eat her lunch. “No, thank you, Mom. I have my own lunch. I don’t need to eat yours. Please enjoy your meal and stop worrying about me — I am doing just fine.”

“Well,” she says timidly, “I surely do not want to ever seem to be selfish.”

“You are not being selfish, Mom. You’re enjoying your lunch, which is yours, all  yours. Please enjoy it!”

After I finish my salad — which I always do, LONG before she is halfway through her own plate — I begin to take a French fry or two from her plate. And she is ecstatic!

“Oh, here! Have some more!”

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I cannot even begin to put into words how deeply enervating I find these outings. I love that she loves to go. I love that she finds happiness in simple things. I love her. But being with her is the most exhausting thing I do these days.  

And there is no end in sight.

I heard a bit of a cough today and, God help me, I found myself wondering if this might possibly progress into something serious, something that might help her transition to that place where she will once again be able to think and remember. 

That is not likely. She is 95 years old, can’t see, can’t hear, can’t remember, can walk short distances only. But otherwise, her health is excellent. Her mother lived to be 101. Her mother’s sister to 102. So chances are, she’ll be with us physically long past the time when what remains of her mind has completely left the building.

I give thanks daily for her life. I see the beauty shining out of her face, the unceasingly cheerful spirit that is indomitable and gracious. I enjoy her occasional attempts at humor and the increasingly rare flashes of that mom-that-used-to-be insight and self-deprecating trash talk. (Today for example: “I imagine those children I hear are looking over here and wondering what strange sort of woman is sitting there under that hat!”)

But I am tired. I am tired of continually telling myself to keep my ever-present impatience at bay, to respond with kindness to the 20th version of the same comment/question, to smile, to hug, to touch, to encourage. I do it, yes, I do it. But sometimes it feels forced, even phony, and I don’t like that part. No, I don’t like it at all.

So I am weary at times. Today is one of those times. I returned her to her room a bit earlier than usual, settled her into that recliner chair in the corner, the one by the window that looks out onto the patio with bright red geraniums. I kiss her and tell her I love her and that I’ll see her next week. I find someone on the care team to tell them she is back in her room.

And I exit the building as fast as these aging legs of mine will carry me, willing myself not to cry out, “How long, O Lord!! How long?”


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Looking at the Whole Truth

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“Oh, Diana,” friends tell me, looking into my eyes with tenderness and concern. “You are so lucky to have your mom still with you!”

I offer a small smile, nod my head and reply, “Yes, I know that I am.”

And I do know that. I do. But there is also this other truth, ever-present and insistent. The hard, hard truth that the lovely old woman inhabiting my mother’s body is not at all the mother I have known for most of my life. She is beautiful to see, kind to everyone around her, breaks into old hymns multiple times an hour, and loves to visit the outside world.

But she is not my mother. At least, not in the ways that I wish she could be.

That woman, that mama, has been slip-sliding away for nearly a decade now, steadily losing pieces of herself. And as she drifts further and further from me, I feel as though there are large chunks of me fading into the ether right along with her. Huge chunks of my own history are gone forever, never to be found again. 

I miss my mother. I miss being known by her. I miss sharing history with her, I miss swapping stories, wrestling with hard truths, reading books, going to the movies, taking trips, making fudge, having her give me driving directions, watching her interact with my children and grandchildren, marveling at her insight into people and situations, laughing at her ribald jokes. 

She is here with me in physical form, and for that I give thanks. But she is not here in any of the ways that make her my mother. She is a beautiful, loving, sometimes forlorn, and very old woman. On July 6th, she will be 95, a fact that startles her every time I tell her. Last week, she turned to me and asked, “I wonder who I am?” 

I wonder who I am! 

Ah, Mom. I wonder, too.

 

As I stood under the shower’s spray this morning, I offered small prayers of thanksgiving:

     “Thank you, Lord, for hot water and plenty of it.”
     “Thank you, Lord, for my good husband and his careful attention to our finances.”
     “And thank you, Lord, for my sweet mama . . .”

And with those words, I found myself sobbing. Not gentle tears these, but hard-wrought, heart-felt, gut-wrenching sobs. “Where is this coming from?” I wondered. Most of the time, the tears are far away these days, leading me to believe that I have come to some place of peace and acceptance about the way things are. But today’s meltdown reminds me that below the surface, my own emotions about mom’s situation are deeply unsettled.

My only brother arrives today and I will be glad to see him and his wife. But we four aging children must have a difficult conversation this afternoon. We have a scheduled meeting with the finance guy at Mom’s care facility, that place where she is safe, well-cared for, loved. The cost of her care is climbing while her small investment account is diminishing, so we’re looking for answers today. How can we best manage her care? Will she be alright?

The better, and I hope bigger, part of me is not worried about this, trusting that there will be enough, that God will provide a way for this daughter, this faithful Jesus-follower, this disciple. But I found myself crying out to the God we both love this morning, asking how long? and, are you there? and, why? 

No answers appeared in the shampoo bubbles. Not one. Nothing but the strong sense that the invitation continues to be this one: trust meTrust that I see your mama, that I love her, that she is safe. Trust that your own love and care for her are enough, that you are doing the best you can, that she has not been abandoned. Trust that there will be enough.

Enough.

And so I will choose to do so. We four will be as careful, mindful and loving as we possibly can. And God will carry us through. 

In the meantime, I will call to mind that image I was given over four years ago now* — that image of my small mama, held safe within the immense sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the One who was present before the universe was breathed into existence, the One who sees each of us with eyes of love and concern, the One who is the only place of true safety any of us will ever experience.

I am trusting that that image will carry me through whatever lies ahead.

 

*I wrote a lengthy post with lots of photos about how that image was given to me here.

 

The Surprising Nature of Grief

He was in his late 50’s, I’m guessing. Salt and pepper hair and mustache, thick black shoes, Bermuda shorts and the usual bright red apron. I was at Home Depot, purchasing something or other for the work we’re doing on our new home, and I noticed him, cheerfully helping customers through the checkout process.

He was kind, with a peaceful, even happy expression on his face. I could see him from where I stood waiting in line, and I remember thinking, “That guy is one of the good ones. Yeah, the shoes with the shorts are a tad nerdy, but what a sweet man!”

I dug into my cart, laid my wares on the conveyor belt and he quickly moved to the end of the island, getting ready to put my purchases into a bag for me. I handed over my credit card, signed my name and turned to thank him as I got ready to exit the store. And that’s when I saw his name tag:

                                                               “KENNETH”

Big black letters, larger than life. And as I saw them, I was startled to hear a great gasping sob erupt from my mouth. The next minute, tears were streaming down beneath my sunglasses as I made my way back to the car.

I had been blindsided by grief, deep and wide.

Kenneth was my youngest brother’s name. The one who died in 2009. A man I’d never met called me early in the morning of October 2nd; he was the manager of Ken’s sober living residence. He’d found my number in my brother’s cell phone and told me tearfully that Ken passed away in his sleep. He was 53 years old.

Oh my, such a sweet man. Troubled, broken, sick and tired, but such a sweet man. I’ve written about him elsewhere, detailing his life of struggle and pain. But that day — that instant in the Home Depot — my thoughts were these:

This could have been my brother.

He would have been so good at a job like this.

Oh, how I miss him! Oh, how sorry I am for all the turmoil he endured! Oh, how I wish I could change it somehow.

But I cannot. I cannot go back in time, much as I might wish to do so. I cannot change one second of his life.

This much, though . . . this much, I can do:

I can acknowledge my own sadness about him.

I can make space for the grief to surprise me, again and again.

I can thank God for Ken every day.

I can pray for his sons and daughter-in-law.

I can remember the best pieces of his story.

I can pay attention to those I meet who remind me of him in some way — size, demeanor, struggle.

I can not be ashamed of the sobs, the tears, the sadness or him. Instead, I can remember him with love and gratitude, accepting him for who he was, warts and all, and rejoice that his suffering is over.

Grief comes in waves, they say. Who knew the tide would still roll after this many years? Sometimes I think I’m ‘used’ to all the death and dying we’ve experienced in our family circle. But I’m not, and — thank God — I never will be. Though it often comes disguised as blessing, especially after a long, difficult illness, death is always our last enemy, a reminder that our time in this sphere is limited and finite. Ah, Lord, I thank you that Ken’s dying was gentle, though his living was harsh.

I miss you, sweet brother of mine. I truly do. 

Missing Her, Missing Me

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Would it have been better not to try?
Outings are rare and exhausting for me these days,
but this is Mother’s Day, right?
And she is my mom,
my much-loved mom,
my disappearing mom,
losing pieces of herself from minute to minute.

I’ve been at home since the scary thing,
going out only for lab results,

a few groceries here and there.
My husband got the flu very late last week,
something neither of us needs me to deal with,
so we’re both on meds and holding our own.

Maybe I should have just called it a day
and talked to her on the phone.

But she misses me when I’m not there,
even though she has no idea how time passes,
cannot remember that I have been injured,
and doesn’t always know who I am.

She knows that she loves me. That I’m ‘wonderful,’
that I’m important to her.

So I went.
I stayed home from church to do it.
I carried a lovely big hydrangea,
a pretty new scarf.
My brother sent chocolate covered
strawberries, which we enjoyed after
the meal.

After lunch,
I scurried around her room, 

making space for the flowers,
tucking the scarf in a very confused-
looking drawer.

And then we sat down for a visit.

Oh, it was a strange one,
one that stirred deep things in me,
including anger and tears.
Both of those have been lying around,
latent, contained,
for a long while now.
But occasionally, when ignited,
they flare and wound.

Before this stage of the disease,
my mother could often wield her
tongue as a weapon,
implying things with her wry,
sarcastic humor,
startlingly able to make me feel guilty
with just a word or two.

(Why do mothers have such power?
Do I?
Oh, I hope not,
I try not.)

She is restless.
My mother has always been restless.
She would like to move somewhere else,
and who can blame her?
She wants to go back to where she was
before we brought here her,
that fine place south of here,
that place where they would
have locked her into a small unit, 
with no single rooms,
her friends unable to visit easily.

Back then, she and I decided to move her
nearer to me.
And most of the time,
that is reason enough for her.

And I should know by now.
I should know to just 
nod my head and say,
“It’s nice to dream, 
isn’t it, Mom?”

But somedays, I don’t seem to be able to do that.
I want her to understand,
to know why she’s here,
why she needs to be here,
why we’re out of options.

So I told her.
Again.
“Your brain isn’t working like it used to, Mom.
And I am so, so sorry. But this is a good place,
a place where they take care of you well,
and I am so near to you now!”

And then, out of the blue,
this line . . . 

“Well,
I’m just sorry you don’t think

I’m worthwhile.”

And I lost it.

“What?? What did I possibly
say to make you think that?”

“Oh, you didn’t say anything.
I can just tell.”

How could she possibly tell?
She can’t tell the time, the date,
the place, the people.

But this, she could tell?

And then it came,
lancing through me,
soul and sinew:

“You never invited me to your home.”

I threw back at her the myriad times
she has been in our home,
the birthday parties over the years,
the long weekends,
the train trips,
the Christmas Eve services since
she’s moved here.

But I knew.
I knew what she meant.
She meant I never invited her to live here,
to be cared for here.

The very thing she told me
over
and over
and over again that she never wanted

to do.
Ever.

Truth be told, I know myself and our relationship well
enough to know that we would not survive it.

And yet, I carry it with me.
The guilt, the wondering, the heaviness.
To hear her say it literally knocked the
wind right out of me.

Lord, have mercy.
Give me grace to release all of this,
the anger, the guilt, the wondering,
the fear.

All of it.

It does me no good,
and it surely doesn’t help her.

I want to love her without reservation,
and to know she is safe in you.
I don’t want to wallow, waffle or wonder.
I want to feel anchored,
loving, loved.

So this is what I will choose to
remember from our time together today.
Walking from the dining room to her room,
she began to hum under her breath.
‘What ya singing, Mom?” I asked.
“When we walk with the Lord. . .” 
she replied.

And so we sang.
We sang loudly as I moved around her room.
First verse and chorus of that old chestnut,
the one that sums it all up.
Do you know the one?

It’s called, “Trust and Obey.”

Yes, yes.
That is what I will choose to remember
from this Mother’s day celebration.

Please, God.

Only that.

After the Tears


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We are moving to the midpoint of Holy Week and I am feeling the loneliness of this season. The empty tomb awaits us, the glorious garden story, the triumph of Love over death.

But right now?

It’s dark in this heart of mine. Not without hope, no, never that. But dark, nonetheless. As I do every evening, I spoke with my aging mother on the phone tonight. Very briefly, as she cannot tolerate more than about 2-3 minutes without being overcome by confusion. As I said good night to her, the tears pricked.

Those tears.

I find them behind my eyes a lot these days. Watching a valiant, loved mother lose herself, piece by piece, is a painful and difficult process. There are days when it feels never-ending, when there is yet another jagged piece of reality thrust in both our faces.

I listened to an interview on the PBS Newshour tonight, a conversation with an author who tweeted his way through his mother’s death a year ago. He has now written a book about that journey and it sounds intriguing.

But as he talked, I realized that his journey was very different from the one I take with my mother. He lost his mother over a few days in the ICU, with her fully awake and cognizant until the very end. I have been losing mine for the last six years, watching her slowly unravel and as she herself put it last week, ‘losing pieces of myself’ from minute to minute.

Yes, the tears are ever-present in our journey. I find myself saying, “I am so sorry, Mom,” repeatedly. And there is a lot of repeating going on in our conversations now. In our regular 90-minute lunch together, I will tell her at least ten times that I am her daughter and she is my mother. Each time, she is delighted to say, “I never knew that.” I also recount each of the places she has lived in her long life, tell her that she was married for 63 years. “I was? I was married? Is he alive?” “No, Mom, he died ten years ago.” “Oh, no! Did I take good care of him?” “Oh, yes, Mom, you took such good care of him.” “Well, at least I did that right.”

Oh, sweet Mama — you did so many things right! So many.There is so little left, your story has become so very small.

Some days I wonder if there is any evidence of Easter in this sad story we tell together. Is there hope? Is there resurrection? 

The answer is ‘yes’ — and I find Resurrection Hope by looking in two directions: directly out at who she is right now, and forward, to what she will be once the dying has stopped.

Right now, my mother is beautiful. She smiles at everyone, she says ‘thank you,’ over and over again. She tells me I am a wonderful person and that she is so glad to be with me. She cheerily greets all who pass us on our slow progression from car to restaurant, from hallway to recliner chair. She finds delight in the beauty she can see — the sunlight on her back, the distant view of the ocean, any small child she sees on our weekly outing. These things are lovely to watch.

The pieces of my mother that remain fairly shimmer with kindness, joy, hope, light. All of her life, Mom earnestly sought the face of God. And now that Face shines out of her eyes, sparkles in her smile, and echoes in her diminishing vocabulary. These lovely things are the seeds of resurrection. Such beautiful seeds — these are what I see when I look at the now.

And when I look ahead? What I see there is restoration, relief, refreshment, reunion. She talks about it from time to time, always with wonder in her voice, and I find myself occasionally praying for her release, hoping that she will fall asleep in her cozy bed, pictures of her family lining the walls, and wake up walking the streets of heaven, hand-in-hand with my dad.

I used to feel vaguely guilty about such prayers but I no longer do. I offer them with deep thanksgiving for who she was, and yes, for who she is. Even in this terrible time of losing and failing, my mother fairly radiates Easter Hope. 

So, I’ll take her a lily on Sunday. I’ll kiss her on the cheek, give her a big bear hug and I’ll wish her a Happy Easter. And then, I’ll drive south with my husband, south to younger family, vibrant family, family she made possible, family she loved and who love her still. 

And I will carry in my body and in my spirit the seeds of resurrection that my mother has planted deep in me, seeds of promise, of beauty, of hope.

Happy Easter, Mom. I love you.

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