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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Mother's Prayers

My mother used to tell me that for years she prayed for a piano player.  God apparently answered her prayer because I play the piano and I LOVE to do it!

There's another prayer she used to pray often.  She would ask God to heal my feet.  I have absolutely no arches and two large-sized bunions.  It's not the foot of a model, that's for sure!

I had a flashback to childhood when I was at my first appointment with the physical therapist a few weeks ago.  He looked at my feet and I could tell he was a bit taken back.  When he saw the big calluses I have on the bottom of my feet, he asked if I ever rub them.  That's when I remembered the days when I was a little girl and my mother would offer to rub my feet.  She would use 'bag balm' that she swears by (if she were a swearing woman, which she's not) into my feet and pray that God would heal them.

So here I sit in the physical therapist's office needing healing in my foot.  Apparently my foot structure did not tolerate the ice skating venture.  There has been no specific injury, but a gradual intolerance of all that I was asking of my foot, based on my poor structure.  The orthopedic doctor said he doubted I'd ever be able to skate because of it, but the physical therapist believes they can construct a support system for my ice skate that will allow me to skate in the future. I choose to believe the P. therapist.

It's been a terribly long journey of healing and it's not over yet, but this morning I was told that I can take a 15 minute medium-paced walk and see how it goes.  From there I can begin to increase the amount of time, though not the speed.  I have renewed hope.

I'm sure I will have a much stronger ankle and overall body when I go back to skating because I am faithfully doing all the exercises they are giving me and doing them on both feet so that both ankles will be strong.

I'm so glad God answered my mother's prayer for a piano player and that He chose me as the recipient of that gift.  I use it with joy.   I wish that God would answer her prayer for my feet and that I would have arches and no bunions.  He hasn't answered that one....yet. But I'm learning a lot about developing my feet in preparation for going back to skating and it will pay off in the end.

There is one big prayer that my mother prays regularly and I have joined her in the prayer.  She wants to go home to heaven.  I want her to be able to go, since that's what she prefers.  She's tired.  She's lived a long, full life.  She's lost two sons and two husbands and she's a tad weary of life here on earth.

I don't understand why God doesn't answer this prayer of hers, but I think somehow in the long, drawn out process of aging, there is some therapy that is strengthening her, and I, until the day He does answer that prayer.  She and I would prefer the 'quick fix' but that's apparently not the road we will be granted.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do You Know Where We Are?

We were only a minute from my mother's little box of a room when she asked me this question.  She had put her root beer float down on the floor of the van because she was full.  She thought the idea of a root beer float was a great invention.  I guess it's the dementia that keeps her from knowing they were her specialty not too long ago.

When she suddenly said to me, "do you know where we are?" I had two answers. One was in my head.

1)  Yes.  We are on Scotland Avenue, in Chambersburg, PA, near your room.

It's the room we are trying to embrace as your new home.  We've driven this way a million times.  But it feels foreign right now.  I asked her the same question in return.  "Yes", she replied with confidence.

The other answer was in my heart.

2) No.  I have no idea where we are, mother.

In fact, right now I feel very lost.  One minute you are your normal self and the next minute you say things that don't make sense. I used to laugh and sometimes still do, but mostly, I feel very sad.  Sunday you were shopping for birds.  When I asked the nurse just to be sure, she shook her head in slow motion.  "No - no one went shopping today".  She confirmed what I feared.  It wasn't true.

I know that I'm your daughter and that you still know who I am.

I know that I am struggling with what is the best thing for this stage of your life.  You wanted to move here to this retirement community and loved it up until the past year or so.  It's probably not the Home's fault. It's just that you like to do things that are impossible for you now.  Gardening, cooking, reading....things that are basically a personal retreat. You're not interested in card games, movies you don't understand and can't hear and services that just don't appeal to you.

Now my heart breaks when I leave you each time.  You sit in your chair like a lost child or a stray animal looking for a home. Worst part of it is, there are so many like you in this position.

I know that I feel completely helpless, but I'm doing all I can to find the right situation for you.  Today a contractor comes to look at our house and give us an estimate on building a room for you here.  I'm afraid of so many things.  Can I really properly care for you?  Will agencies that say they will help, really help us?

I'm looking into another facility 5 minutes from me, but they don't have a bed right now.  That would be handy and I could bring you home and fix you good meals and take you with me to church and let you be part of a faith community again.  I will also be checking out another facility that is not as close, but has many of your high school classmates there whom I know would shower you with love.

No mother,  I guess I would have to say I don't know where we are right now.  But we'll find our way on this road together.

Peace.  Much peace to you.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Not Just A Cup Of Tea

This morning there is steam rising from my cup and tears flowing down my face.  I can't seem to stop the bouts of tears these days once they've started.

For months I've tried to be strong while moving my mother to a new room, hobble on crutches and plan a Christmas show. I have had to forfeit exercise and motorcycling - both things I love and that help keep me sane.

Saturday the dam broke.  I found my mother with wet hair, sitting in her wheelchair wearing mismatched clothes and her shoes on the wrong feet.  I was horrified.  I took the necessary steps to notify whomever was in charge and let them know this was unacceptable.

You think a mama bear is nasty when her cubs are in danger......have you met a baby bear who's mama is in danger????  Just as scary, let me tell you, but this baby bear feels helpless to defend her mama.  Of course, those in charge were very apologetic but my heart took a severe blow that I am still recovering from.  It feels like Big Foot is stepping on my chest and I can't breathe.  I felt this way when my father died.  It's the familiar feeling of grief.

Tears poke a hole and let some air in so you can start to breathe again.  The tears just keep falling.

But this morning, on the other side of Saturday, things are looking more positive as I look into changing her care, whether it be bringing her home to live with me or moving her closer to a facility where I can get there in 5 minutes, bring her home for dinner and take her with me on jaunts...just to have some kind of normalcy again.

I am about ready to have a cup of hot tea.  The mint garden leaves are brewing now and their smell takes me back to the farm where we grew our own tea.  Mother would serve it in a yellow teapot that has a cracked lid, which none of us want to part with.

It's more than just tea.  A dear friend grew it in her garden and a few weeks ago I went to get some from her to grow in my own garden.  I took my mother along so she could get out and see a garden again.  That was one of her favorite things to do and she was good at it.  We all stood and talked about life and soil. My mother soaked it all in as she sat there with us.

When I drink this tea this morning, it will remind me of that morning with my friends, my mother and my home growing up.  The hot tea is like a warm blanket in my soul as I grasp the cup with my hands. My heart seems to need a lot of comfort these days as I walk through this aging process with my mother.

It's not just a cup of tea anymore.

My lips will sip and my heart will drink.