Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Five Yellow Roses

These are the 5 roses we gave to our mother before we put her body in the ground.

This morning at 6:55 a.m., my mother, Bertha Mae Sollenberger Heisey went home to be with Jesus.

Tomorrow we will lay her body in the ground.

Tonight I sit on my bed, under my warm blanket with my kitty at my feet and a candle burning on my dresser.  I haven't wanted to write anything, anywhere for the past six days.  Until now.

I feel a huge sense of closure about to take place that I never saw coming until we came home from the funeral home this afternoon and realized a significant event is taking place tomorrow.  It's suddenly not just about burying my mother but it's also about saying goodbye to the woman tied to decades of memories about two brothers who have been gone for over 40 years but are very much present in our memories and family stories.  Nathan was only 2 when he drowned and Doug was 26 when he was killed in a tractor accident.

I was hit with a wall of tears tonight after returning from the funeral home this afternoon where we ordered five yellow roses for the private burial tomorrow.  She loved yellow flowers.

You see, tomorrow at her graveside at 1:00 p.m., we will arrive and receive the five yellow roses. One for each child she bore. No large spread of flowers on a fancy casket, just a very plain wooden one made of pine and five long-stemmed roses.  At first we ordered three. One for my brother, my sister and myself to place on this special box that holds my mother who once held us.  Almost simultaneously we all realized that we needed five.  Doug and Nathan are as much a part of us as they ever were, especially at this time.  As soon as we lost our mother, they gained one back.

I have detached myself from everything since arriving home from a motorcycle trip that we cut short when she had an emergency surgery a week ago so that I could sit by her side until she departed and I am so glad I did.  This morning when I got the text from my sister that she had passed, the tears ran freely but the peace I had deep inside far surpassed the tears.  We have prayed for this day for so long that I felt a refreshing sense of peace and relief that she finally got her wish.

Day after day I have arrived in the morning (my siblings taking the night watch) and just sat with her most of the day.  It was as if I was able to just 'be'.  The next few days are going to be very busy and I knew they would be.  Until she was actually gone, I wanted to spend these last few days just soaking in what it feels like to be present with her even when she seemed to lose consciousness.

I was not with her when she actually passed, but I was at peace with that, knowing it might happen that way.  My sister got that special privilege and I was so glad.

I didn't know how significant the decision to get 5 yellow roses would impact me until we got home from the funeral home and I burst into tears.  I was too young to remember any of the funerals and burials of my two brothers but their loss has had a huge impact on my soul over the years as I would listen to the stories of their deaths over and over and over....and over.  It's as if I wasn't able to experience something that has had such an impact on my mother's life and mine, but from a distance.

I suddenly realized as I spoke it all out loud to my siblings that somehow I feel like this is a very significant passing.  My mother, the one who told the stories is now gone.  With her go the details and potent feelings.  Though I have plenty of my own feelings about it all, they were always attached to her.  It feels like such a closing of a chapter.  A book. One that I now realize I have needed.

Tomorrow I will get to see five yellow roses offered to my mother who gave birth and life to five of us and had to let go of two of us much earlier than any mother ever should.  It's one of the reasons she has wanted to die.  She has walked through much pain here on earth and was ready to be released from it all.  I don't blame her.  She is now free.  Doug's wife and one of his daughters will be present to place the rose in his memory.  I don't know yet how we will release Nathan's rose but I'm so glad we decided on five, not three.

There are two boys that I know must be really glad to see you Mother and three children left who will really miss you.  Thus, the five yellow roses.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The power of washing feet.

Mother and I in our old farm kitchen...1970's??
Mother and I July of 2014

In many ways my mother and I are about as different as night and day. I'm thankful for these later years together because it has given me a chance to discover many similarities I didn't know we had.

The pictures make a good visual of how our lives have changed over the years.  Here are just a few of our differences:

She had five children.  I have none.
She loved being a mother.  I'll never know what that feels like biologically.
She loved to cook.  I don't like to cook, but I do because she showed me by example.
I have chosen a career in music.  She doesn't relate to that kind of life at all.
I ride a motorcycle.  She doesn't like that so much but tries to smile about it.
She still wears a prayer covering.  I don't...but I still pray.

And the list goes on.  But you get the idea.

To be completely honest, through the years this has created some tension.  And that's putting it mildly. Learning how to be a good daughter when there are so many differences created its challenges.

There's an old tradition we used to practice in the church background I come from.  It's called 'foot-washing'.  I remember when we would sit very reverently in the church pews, men in one room and women in another.  It was a very sacred event and one that I treasure.

With white towel-like aprons, tubs of bleach and hot water...well, semi-hot water, you would kneel in front of the person next to you, take one foot in your hand and gently scoop the water up over it. Then the other foot.  Next you would hold one foot in your hand on your lap and dry it with your towel. When you were finished both parties would stand and embrace as a sign of unity.

It wasn't so much about getting feet clean as it was letting them know that you cared about them. You humbled yourself in front of them to honor them.  It was hard to do this with someone you were angry with but that was kind of the point.  The room was filled with the smell of bleach and the sound of beautiful harmonies as we sang familiar songs together without any instruments.

I have often compared these last few years with my mother to those early years of childhood when I learned to wash the feet of other sisters.  It's not that I sit and wash my mother's feet, though I have certainly helped her shower, etc.  I trim her nails, tuck her in bed, comb her hair, hold her hand.

But it's more about the position she has been forced into by losing her sense of independence and my willingness to set aside our differences and serve her. It's not easy for these precious elders to let go of all that they know and become so dependent on others.  I cry often for them.  For her.

But what seems to happen in the process, at least in my case, is a gentle breaking down of walls between us.  Just these physical acts alone seem to bring about a deeper love and respect toward each other.

So many times on facebook when I post something I've done with my mother, people comment as to what a wonderful daughter I am.  I sigh and shake my head. I don't feel like one.  I just want you to know that it has not been perfect for us.  I hope this helps other daughters who have struggled in the past with their mothers.  Hang in there.  You might not need to 'wash her feet' per se, but welcome any kind of act you can do toward her to embrace humility and extend honor.  You'll be surprised what can happen in your own heart.

We don't practice foot-washing anymore in most communities of faith and I feel sad that we don't. But I get to practice humility and gentle acts of love every week for my mother and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Grape Pie

One day after announcing on facebook that I was making a grape pie, I was shocked by how many people had never heard of grape pie and wondered what it was. I smirkishly told them that it was made of grapes.  (hee hee).

My mother was a fabulous pie maker.  My favorite pie of her's was lemon meringue - with more lemon than meringue.

But when she decided to make a grape pie not too many years ago, I was intrigued to try this 'grape' pie she raved about.  Made with concord grapes, it turned out she was right and it has become my favorite fruit pie.

However, I was not prepared for the high price of concord grapes that appeared in our little hometown grocery store around September only.  I realized that this pie was not only amazing, but very costly.

Being the frugal, homegrown farm girl that I am, I decided to plant my own concord grapes so that someday I could have my own grapes for lots of pies.  I had no idea how many years it would take before I had enough grapes to feed a mouse, let alone make a pie.   My husband has tended the vine carefully for years and some years we complained that it wasn't producing and concluded that it was a waste to plant the crazy thing.

Today I harvested not only enough grapes to make 1 pie, but 2 pies and some homemade grape juice.

When I was first married, I was determined to become a good pie maker because my groom really likes fruit pies.  No problem, right?  How hard could it be to make a pie?  My mother did it all the time.

Let's just say that Tom soon learned to stay out of the kitchen when I was making a pie.  Such a gift of love I was working on - complete with thoughts of 'doing him in' with the rolling pin if he didn't leave me alone.  It's not the filling that's hard, it's the flaky pie crust that melts in your mouth that's difficult and that's what I was after.

I would get so angry at the pie dough, the board, the rolling pin and anything else in the room when the dough would stick to the pin, or the board, or worse yet, not be big enough to fit the pie plate.  Did I mention that Tom would pop into the kitchen right in the midst of this tsunami-like flood of emotions and ask a simple "why are you doing it THAT way?".   That's when he learned to stay out of the kitchen.

These days I have a much easier time making the pie because I found a great crust recipe so it's not really an issue anymore.  Of course, the fresh 'hand-picked grape' pie that's in the oven right now gave me a fit as I was rolling out the dough. (I think it knew I was cooking up a blog about it).  You'll see in the pic below that I had to improvise with the top of the crust because there wasn't quite enough dough......proof that the pie knew what I was up to and decided to rebel.  I'll eat it anyway!

I took pictures so you can see that this is not an easy process. But boy oh boy, is it ever worth all this work when I sit down and bite into the sweet-tart taste of the grapes and the pie crust that melts in my mouth. Hallelujah!!!

It will be extra special because they are my own grapes that we've worked hard to nurture all these years.

It will be extra special because I made the pie from the cookbook that my mother gave me at Christmas time in 1984.  On the inside of the book, she wrote:

                                                       Christmas 1984
To Frances
     From Mother

It will be extra special because I will never make or eat a grape pie again without thinking of my mother who nurtured me so tenderly for many years without seemingly much fruit.  I remember the story of the day she "turned me over to the Lord" because she no longer knew what to do with my habit of back-talking her.

Recently, I learned that the nursing center where she lives feels that she is steadily declining and told me we need to make some end of life decisions.  I realize that time is short and I don't know how long I'll have to be with her. To remind her of the pies she used to make and so many other special things she did for us.  I have observed this decline every time I'm with her so it wasn't news to me and I am preparing my heart.

This grape pie was a lot of work, not just today but over the years.  It's been years in process, but it will be worth the effort.

Anything in life THIS good is not without a lot of effort.

What a nice reward to have Tom walk in the kitchen just now and see my fresh pie and say
"wow - look at THAT pie - now that's a pie worth taking a picture of".  
He has redeemed himself.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Time Has Come!

A celebration gift from my friend.

I'm sitting in the hotel in Nashville waiting for my first meeting of the day.  I have two friends with me who have been such supporters of my vision and journey.  Last night when we settled into the hotel, Ellen presented me with a little elephant in celebration of making it this far.  She has followed my blog and given me unique gifts along the way.  I treasure them (the gifts and the friends)!

It was a great reminder that over a year ago I began to share my dream of doing not only a CD, but a big Christmas concert too.  All of it has come about "one bite at a time".  That was the theme of last year's blog - "The Elephant Diet" - accomplishing your dreams and goals one bite at a time, amidst all the hurdles and setbacks.

Ellen and her mother know all about dreams and what it takes to see them through.  She is a ballet dancer and applies herself with serious discipline.  She's not even 16 yet, but she gets this.  And thanks to her mom, Lisa, and the dedication to her daughter, she is able to pursue her dreams.

Tonight I get to rehearse with the orchestra and conductor and put feet to this dream.  It is now in motion in full force and it was nice to have the little elephant gift last night to remind me that anything is possible!

The first blog where I mention my idea of a christmas show.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Hope Room

"The Hope Room" can be just about any room, any place or any person.  It can be accessed any time of the day or night. The common thread is a gentle pulse of hope that begins to pump light into the dark corners of your mind and soul.

This idea of "The Hope Room" came to me when I walked into physical therapy one day feeling very down about the lack of progress in my ankle.  It had been over 3 1/2 weeks since I started therapy with little change. But, surrounded by others who are dealing with injuries and working with professionals trained to help us get better, I found myself starting to feel better by the end of my session.  A renewed sense of hope.

It's good to be here, I thought.

The Hope Room can be a sanctuary, a theatre, a piece of music filling the air waves as you drive, a coffee shop, a written or spoken word and even your kitchen table.

I found it in the conference room at the retirement community where my mother lives.  There are 104 residents in the skilled nursing care facility but there were only 14 family members represented who sat around the table.  I wondered why there weren't more.  It became a room of hope for me as I realized that I am not alone in this journey.  Many expressed the same exact sentiments that I have.

We met around a large table to discuss how to make our loved one's experience better there.  I'm pretty sure I was the youngest one there.  My mother was 43 when I was born so many of my friends have grandmothers the age of my mother.  I am sometimes asked if I'm her granddaughter.  But regardless of the age differences, we were all in the same room for the same reason.  We wanted a sense of hope.

Monday I had lunch with a new friend.  She lives in North Carolina but is visiting PA.  We met when we shared a stage together months ago at a local women's conference, leading worship.  We hit it off immediately.  Now we were sitting at a little cafe in Harrisburg and she began to tell me her journey with her mother who died a few years ago from cancer.

There it was again.  There were no physical walls surrounding us in the outdoor cafe, but I felt loved and embraced by the hope that filled my heart as we compared notes as if it was a room for just two.

It was "The Hope Room".

It keeps popping up everywhere I go.

Look for it.  You will enter it as you keep your heart and eyes open for it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Unsigned List

When someone lives in skilled nursing care, you must sign them out when you take them outside or off the premises.  I was heart broken when I signed my mother out for the 3rd time in three weeks and no one else had been signed out on the chart. 

Recently, I took her out for a stroll.  We sat by the pond and enjoyed the water fountain, the turtles who popped their heads up once in a while and the frog who plopped himself near us, just to entertain, it seemed.

I have this growing compassion in my heart for the elderly and some days my tears are not just for my mother. It’s for many who sit there day after day just watching time move on.  Because my mother is in that stage of life right now I see a lot of things when I visit her.  But to see an empty, unsigned list of residents who don't get to go out and enjoy the sunshine with their family grieves me in the depths of my soul.  Just going for a root beer float or a pecan roll and hot chocolate at Panera Bread does a person a lot of good.  I realize there are probably many factors that contribute to the unsigned list, but I hope it's not because people aren't visiting their loved ones.

Years ago when I had to move my mother from her cottage to an inside apartment, a grounds keeper came by and shared his observations with me.  He has witnessed a lot since he's worked there many years. "Families only tend to come around when the older person is moving, as if to take what they want and leave", he said.  I've never forgotten that conversation.

If you have a loved one in a facility somewhere, please do all you can to visit them and give them some sort of experience that keeps them in touch with the outside world.  A phone call, a card or a letter can do so much good if you don’t live close. In fact, in these days of technology, a hand written letter is really special.

Even now as I'm writing this, I realize that I need to do better with my father-in-law. He lives in Michigan and we rarely go see him, but I can at least write him letters.  In fact, I just sent him a card last week because of writing this blog.  I get so wrapped up in caring for my mother that I forget he needs to hear from us too.  Fortunately, my husband calls him weekly.

We all have very busy lives, but don't forget your loved one who sits day after day waiting for someone to be a friend and keep them connected to the outside world.  Don't let the list go unsigned too long.  bv

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Apple Juice

She lifted the glass of apple juice with her shaky, skeleton-like fingers, barely able to hold the glass and said "thank you, Lord, for this apple juice".   I choked back the tears.  My heart whispered in agreement.  It's the small things these days that my mother needs on this wilderness path of aging.

She doesn't have much of an appetite lately, but my hopes were raised for a short moment when she suggested a menu that she might enjoy. We were going to have steak on the grill, baked mac and cheese (like she would have made it) and fresh corn on the cob.  But in the end, even with my offer to make a home-cooked meal, she was too tired to stay at my house and eat.  So I took her back and tucked her into bed.

Today when I visited her over the lunch hour, she mentioned that once again she was not hungry.  I suddenly remembered that she loves apple juice.  In her old room they had learned that about her and would give her apple juice at every meal.  She doesn't remember to ask anymore and I forgot this small detail in the process of all the changes that nursing care brings.  I'm trying to find things that appeal to her and it's not easy.  I was glad to remember this and bring it to their attention.

I told the nurse that she would like to have it at every meal. I didn't expect that they'd get the message in time for lunch but when her tray arrived with apple juice on it, I was so grateful.

Apparently she was too and for one moment, all was peaceful as she sipped her apple juice.