Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I Know To Be True

My mother taught me about friendship. She didn't do this consciously, she did it simply by living her life and loving her friends and giving me an example of what it is to be a woman and to be a friend.

The women in this picture are the "Club Girls". The women who comprised a support group long before there was a name for it. A group of women who loved each other and supported each other through the ups and downs of life, the joys and sorrows of life, the reality of life. Those times when life was joyous and those times when life was a struggle. They loved each other through the wonders and the defeats, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. This was my example.

Tonight I was reminded of the joys of the friendship of women. The joy of the freedom of friendship with true abandon. The joy of the purity of acceptance. I have pulled back from my life as I grieved for the loss of my mother. I have removed myself from my family, my friends, my church and my work. I have purposely secluded myself from the pain that love evokes and tried to hide from life. Tonight, as I sat with people from my church, some friends, some acquaintances, I was reminded that life is for the living. Life is for the pure abandon of joy. Life is to be lived because even though we are promised eternity, what we can achieve now is connection, connection to each other and to life itself. Life is to be lived.

I am thankful for the example I have from my mother and her friends. For the women in this picture. For their example of love and kindness. Their example of love and friendship. I am thankful for the friends I have and those I sat around the table with tonight. For my lifelong friend, equal in stature to me....who meets my six feet and takes it to new heights. To my friend and Pastor who knows the depths and breadths of my joys and sorrows. To all the women who share my life and my journey, those who live and love, those who care and bear the joys and sorrows, the grief and sadness that is life. My sister and my sisters-in-law, my nieces and my daughters, my friends and my acquaintances. It is truly a privilege to share my life with you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just When You're Ready To Throw In The Towel

My absence from the blog has been purposeful, so complete is my exhaustion. My desire to withdraw, to retreat and hide has been at times overwhelming. Overwhelming to the point where bizarre dreams fill my nights (President Obama sends his regards to you all while my boss didn't have much to say, she simply watched me climb the ladder that ended at the ceiling!) and when I wake in the morning the enormity of the changes in my mother's life presses me into my pillow and I force my feet to the floor and into my day. Once I get in the shower the tasks of the day stretch before me and my day starts.

My days usually end with a visit with my mother. This evening we watched Dr. Phil. She likes Dr. Phil. She likes his Texas accent and the fact that he's a big man. She is getting quieter lately. It's subtle but that's what I watch for now, small things, little changes, changes that mean she is further from me than the day before. Some of the staff notice it, some don't.

It is these little things, these subtle changes that are the source of my weariness. The big stuff, the major things (like the fact that she has dementia in the first place) don't seem to take as much of a toll as you might think. Our power to adapt amazes me. But those small things, those subtle shifts in her bring me to my knees.

When you rest in the low spots of your life it is often the little things that raise you up, lift you off your knees and fortify you for the next step. When you are fortunate enough (as I am) to have people in your life who care for you, love you and walk with you in your joys and sorrows, it is important to turn to them and let them help. Let them supply the little things that make all the difference. A phone call, shared time, an email and even a message on a Facebook page take on more meaning when they come at these times.

And so I return. To my blog, to my email, to my phone, to my life. And as I return I am greeted by friends and family and it feels good.

The Patience of Ordinary Things
by Pat SchneiderAnother River: New and Selected Poems

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes.
How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Gift From My Mother

My mother knows me again. She smiles when I enter her room and tells me how glad she is that I've come to visit. And while that makes me feel better (a lot better!) that is about the extent of our conversation these days. Oh, she talks and I respond, but what she says is a repeat of the stories she's told so many times. Stories from her past, a past that others might consider unfortunate at times, but to her it is a past filled with love and family and friends and adventures. A past filled with what she had, not what she didn't. How fortunate for her, to have such memories to recall.

This week the memories have been of family friends, of camps rented and evenings shared. Of sons and daughters who looked forward to those evenings as much as the 'grown ups' did. She talks particularly of one friend's son, a son who died last month. She talks of him in a way that makes me realize that to her he is young, too young, too young to die when in reality he was in his sixties. Granted still young, but not the young she places on him.

It is through these conversations that I learn from her. She teaches me that our positions in life and careers are unimportant and we should instead measure ourselves and others in kinder tones. Gentler tones. Tones of friendship and good times shared. Tones of laughter and tears. Tones of shared compassion and enthusiasm for life itself.

My mother has taught me great lessons and continues to teach me. From the diminishing broadness of her life she continues to reach out to me and to the world and gladly shares the beauty of her life with others. I could not ask for a more perfect gift.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Trinkets From the Islands

I wanted to share the colors of our vacation with my mother when we returned, to tell her of the rainbows we walked through, the almost indescribable aqua of the Caribbean, the blue of the sky, the contrast of the flags of a street fair against centuries old brick, the black skin of children in crisp blue school uniforms. I memorized details of the cruise ship, its beauty, its size, its elegant pastries, the voice of its Captain, his words thick with Italy as he welcomed us aboard. Memorized them to bring them to her.

In the kiosks that line every port and wait for the exodus of shoppers from the ships, wait for sunburned arms to carry away their trinkets for just the right price, the special price, the price that sounds too good to be true at the moment but in reality, the reality of home and the clash of tropical decor against the backdrop of New England, that price is higher than it was on the island. From different corners of my suitcase I pull plastic bags covered with exotic names and filled with exotic things and sort them on my bed and am pleased once again to have found just the right thing for almost everyone. Just the right piece of the Caribbean to share.

As I walked the narrow streets of the islands, ducked into the shops and looked in the windows what I searched for wasn't there. It didn't exist in the form of a coconut shell, or stuffed iguana, a hand carved tribal mask or hand woven tablecloth. It wasn't there in a miniature bottle of sand, a cake made of rum or jars of spices ground under the ancient stones of the island. No matter how bright the smiles of the shopkeepers, how full their shops were or how the sun warmed my shoulders the piece of my vacation I sought to bring home eluded me and the bags on my bed hold no tropical gift for my mother.

In her room at the Nursing Home yesterday, after being away from her for ten days, I was not greeted with her smile or the brief but present brightness of recognition in her eyes. She didn't ask how our trip was or where we went. She didn't reach for me. She didn't say my name. She didn't know I'd been gone. She didn't know me.

We talked about her rings, she turned them around her fingers and tried to remember where she got them. She looked at mine, reached for them and turned them in the light. She struggled with her heart shaped gold ring, visibly searching for the memory of where it came from, who had given her such a gift. Unable to recall she moved to her engagement and wedding rings and asked me who gave her those. I told her they came from my father. She knew me then, at least I want to believe she did, need to believe she did.

In the airport in New York I bought her some candy. Chocolates in a jar shaped like an apple. She loves chocolate.