The Next Couple of Days

And so it’s time for the pages on the calendar that carry me away to a paradoxical place for a couple of days.

The days that are so full of emotion and good and hard things that it’s difficult to reconcile them all together in my one heart and mind.

February 10, 2007  My baby, my third and last baby–first son, was born.

February 9, 2013 I took my oldest, Aub, to my alma mater for Scholarship Day.  The beginning of her college life.

February 9, 2013 My Mama’s 24th day in the hospital and the date of her third emergency surgery.

February 10, 2013 I celebrated my baby boy’s 6th birthday with him for about thirty minutes.  The rest of the day I was at the hospital.  That night I signed the papers to let my Mama go.  And sometime after 10:30 p.m. she left this earth and headed on up to the House.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The precious church and cemetery out at Little Union.

The paradox of welcoming (my baby) and letting go (my first born).

The paradox of life (my baby boy) and of death (my sweet Mama).

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in.

On the day that my baby boy came into this world, as they wheeled the two of us to our own room they stopped my bed.  There was a button on the wall that the nurse asked me to push.  When I did, a beautiful little tune played all over the hospital.  I remember hearing that same tune many times while staying with Mama at that very same hospital.  Though she wasn’t conscious, I still smiled and told her, “Mama, a new baby!”  I know she was smiling in her heart too.  Babies and little ones were her very favorite people in the world.

There was no button on the wall to press when Mama took her last breath.  Only more papers to sign.  And tears to shed.

On the same day six years apart, these hands of mine stroked the face of one so loved–first my little guy and then my Mama.  One hello, one goodbye.

I wondered if the Universe had a lesson for me when my Daddy’s battle with his Giant ended the day after our Princess’ seventh birthday in 2011.  To go from joy to sorrow so quickly as we remember and celebrate and honor is hard–but it’s something we do.   Every year.

And then this–to lose and gain all on the same day, years apart.

Oh, my heart.

And though it seems paradoxical and hard, it is actually also very beautiful in its brokenness.  This is my fragile time of year.  I am beginning to give myself grace and not set any expectations on what I should do or feel or think.  I just do.  Am.  Be.  And really, these days of love and loss and laughter and tears are the epitome of what Life is–joy and sorrow, life and death, tears and laughter.  And hugs.  Hugs of joy and hugs of sympathy.

And oh my, all of the stories.

As the ones who loved Mama so very much gathered around her bed that night, stories were shared.  Laughter was heard, and tears were shed. But most of all, the love in the room was palpable–so much so that if there had been an instrument to measure it, I am certain it would have set off all kinds of alarms.  Nurses would have come running, and oh, what they would have seen!  Love like that, the reflection of the love Mama gave to each one of us, doesn’t come along very often.

Earlier today I read this, part of today’s sermon given by Hugh Hollowell at Love Wins:

“It isn’t the man’s actions or even his faith that bring him healing – it is the actions and faith of the man’s friends. We don’t even know if the man has any faith of his own. We don’t know if the guy is even conscious. Was he a good man? A bad man? We don’t know. All we know is he has friends with faith, and that that is enough. And it is there that I find hope in the story.” – From today’s sermon on Mark 2

This story and Hugh’s thoughts have stayed with me today.  There have been times on this journey of letting my parents go that the ONLY thing that has kept me going, the ONLY healing thing in my life, has been the faith of my family and my friends.  They have carried me and given me hope, and for that I offer my gratitude.  My faith has waxed and waned over the past few years, even more so in the past two.  That my babies have lost the people who loved them so much–that breaks my heart.  Each time I think on it.  That there is a gravestone in the cemetery with my child’s birthday on it–there are days I just.  can’t.  even.

But there are those who love me who can.  And who have.  And that’s how I’ve kept going.

Tonight I’m thankful for all of it.  Every single “feel” I had then.  And every single one I’m having now.  I’m just as comfortable with the weeping as I am with the laughter. And I think that’s okay.  I miss my Mama and my Daddy every single day.  I look around me at those who know the story and still listen as I tell it over and over as many times, in as many different ways, as I need to–and I am thankful beyond measure.

And so tonight I’ve told it one more time.  One more way.  The story of saying hello and saying goodbye and the years between them that were way too few.  And I thank you for reading and hearing it.  Tonight I had to write this, because I need to let it all out–the wracking sobs and the heartache.  Because on Tuesday, I will make it all about my baby boy. Who isn’t so much of a baby anymore.

Because I know if I don’t, I will be disappointing my Mama.  My Mama, who never would have chosen to leave when she did, and who adored that little guy like he was the best thing since sliced bread.  Or chocolate milk.  She loved all of her grandchildren that way, and I’ve felt her pushing me the past few days to go on and get this out.  So that we can party on Tuesday–and all the rest of the month.  Because that’s how she celebrated the day that those she loved came into the world–long and hard.  When she loved, she loved fiercely and with a love that was (and still is) unsurpassed.

Tonight I leave you with a song that my sisterfriend shared with me about a month ago.  This song is my heart right now.  I hope that Mama, Daddy, and all the others who have gone before us are dancing in the sky…..

that brings me comfort and makes me smile.

Because my Mama sure did love to dance.

Love to all.

 

Breathe, Shirley

It’s been over a year and a half since my dearfriend had her out-patient procedure.  The one that gave us the words that we go back to and use with each other so much.

Breathe, Shirley.

She went in to have the procedure and was put under anesthesia.  She doesn’t remember a thing until she started waking up.  She was in some sort of recovery room and hadn’t come fully to yet.  The nurse was doing things to take care of her and encouraging a person named Shirley at the same time.  As the nurse took vitals and made notes, she continued to say aloud, “Breathe, Shirley.  You can do it.  Breathe.”

My dearfriend, in her semi-conscious state, felt awful for this other lady in the room who was having a very difficult time in recovery.  After all, Shirley wasn’t even breathing.

And then, as she came to even more, it hit her.  The nurse was talking to her.

Only her name isn’t Shirley.

*sigh*

The story is a lot funnier when she tells it. (Especially the way she says, “So then I asked the nurse, ‘Are you talking to ME?'”) But most things are.  She can take those everyday mundane and even hard things and have us both laughing over them by the end of the story.

I love having folks like that in my posse.  Don’t you?

We have laughed and laughed over that one.  There she was feeling bad for poor Shirley who wasn’t breathing well enough on her own, and turns out it was her.

Oh me.  Y’all hang on, I gotta wipe my eyes from laughing so hard.

I told my Mama this story shortly after my friend shared it.  We had a good chuckle over it ourselves.

And then came Mama’s HospitalStay, the one where she was on a vent and many of our days consisted with them attempting to take her off the machine that was helping her breathe.  I found myself saying on more than one occasion, “Breathe Shirley.  Breathe.”

That’s not my Mama’s name either, but I was hoping deep inside, beneath where she was resting so peacefully, that maybe it would stir a giggle and she’d remember and be able to breathe on her own again.

And maybe, just maybe, like my dearfriend, I was the one who needed to be reminded to breathe.  Sometimes in the midst of hard times and stress and anxiety-filled days and nights, we tend to forget to do just that, don’t we?  And we need to be reminded.  To stop.  And take a deep breath.

Breathe, Shirley.

I have another sisterfriend who writes and shares stories about “finding balance and grace in the midst of life,” over at Centering Down.  I am blessed that I get to share stories both on-line and off with her.  She has a calming spirit, and she knows all about breathing.  As a matter of fact, she has published her 100th post, and it is about breathing.  Y’all take a minute and go read “Calming Anxiety with Breathing Techniques.”  It’s good stuff, and I can attest to the fact that breathing does help with anxiety and stress.  I just have to be reminded sometimes.

After all, if it’s good enough for Shirley…..well…..

Congratulations to my friend on her writing triumph.  And thanks to my dearfriend who allowed me to share her story and gives me the gift of an hour with her each week while we wait for our girls–where we laugh and remind each other to breathe.  And we call each other Shirley.

It’s become a term of affection now…..

Love to all.

And don’t forget to breathe.

Binks, Smiles, and the Joy From Within

Last week there was a little fella around here who is absolutely, slap dab adorable.  There were also two others here I love who are handsome.  But the little one–adorable.   

Because when they are under two, you can get away with calling little fellas adorable.  After that, not so much. 

My nephews.  My brother and his family were here, and I realized just how unbaby-proofed my house has become in the past four or so years since Cooter was a toddler.  I spent the first day following my eighteen month old little fella around.  Not sure what he might think of getting into (not much) or how Miss Sophie would react to someone she no kidding could knock down (she didn’t), I followed him around the counter and through the kitchen and around the table.  Over and over. He toted his graham cracker around and became Miss Sophie’s new best friend when he handed it over to her and giggled.  After that, she figured out he was the one to watch. 

When it was naptime, this little fella was allowed his pacy–bink, pacifier, soother, whatever you might call it.  He took it happily and put his head on my shoulder and cuddled close.  When he fell asleep, I didn’t even pretend to try to put him down.  Because I’m the Aunt, and I can get away with that. 

Today I saw a picture of a friend’s little guy with his “bink” in his mouth.  ADORABLE.  What is it that draws me to these little ones with their pacifiers?  I miss seeing my littles with theirs in their mouth, and it didn’t bother me to give it to them when they were little like that–it helped comfort them.  (Which is ironic because I never gave Aub a pacifier–the hospital discouraged it.  And so I became her comforter.)  They were so cute.  I can still picture their little faces. It was a hoot because our Princess was much like her little cousin–one in the mouth and one in the hand.  She often smelled hers too.  Sorry, sounds disgusting, I guess, but there it is.  As she got older she would do funny tricks and weave them together.  She also figured out where the magic drawer was that held her extras. 

As I looked at the picture of my friend’s son, it hit me.  I was focusing on his eyes.  He was smiling.  I couldn’t see his mouth to confirm this, but one look at those eyes and the joy was apparent. 

Precious. 

And that’s what it is.  I love to see joy that is so great it travels to the eyes.  So sweet. 

When Mama had her last HospitalStay, she was on a vent to help her breathe.  She wasn’t conscious for much of the 25 days, but one morning during that last week, she was.  I was sitting in the horrible STINKU (STICU) with her, and I said something inconsequential.  She looked over at me and wrinkled her nose, and from her eyes–she couldn’t move her mouth very easily with the vent–I could tell she was smiling.  That smile lit up the room and my heart.  And it all came from her beautiful eyes. My spirit lifted.  A smile with a wrinkled nose?  That meant “I love you” in no uncertain terms. 

Bless her. 

In all of that, a smile. 

Tonight I’m thankful for smiles that lift the spirit.  For smiles that come from so deep within that they bubble out and upward and light up a person’s whole countenance.  Children know how to do this without even trying.  Some adults haven’t forgotten.  I am thankful for the joy that brings on such light and beauty. 

May something bring you such happiness today that your smile can’t help but fill your whole face. 

Love to all. 

Sunday’s Coming, But It’s Different for Everyone

Saturday.

It’s been on my mind all day today, what with today being, well, you know, Saturday.  And tomorrow being Easter.  And I’m wondering what that first Saturday was like, the one after the horrors and sadness of the day before.  I usually do that every year about this time.   I think about the day and wonder about different things.

I wonder, I mean I was just thinking, did anyone walk up to those who were grieving the loss of the one they loved, the one who had been brutally and suddenly taken from them, and say, “Well, it will all be okay.”   “Don’t worry, he’s in a better place.”  “It’s all a part of the Master plan.”  I just wonder…..

It was Saturday afternoon.  I’d spent the better part of the day at my alma mater with my oldest for scholarship day, a day filled with interviews and forums and walking all over campus.  I’d been anxious and worried, as Mama had been in the hospital for three weeks and moved into a different room on a different floor just the afternoon before.  I wanted to be with my oldest, but I also wanted to be with my Mama. 

Upon arriving at the hospital, a nurse was adjusting some of Mama’s IV’s and medications, and it was apparent that things were not going well.  The nurse was trying to bring up some numbers and down some others.  She saw my face and looked at my seventeen year old, and said she was too young to be in the room.  What she didn’t say was I’d be asked to leave if I let the panic in my face be unleashed.  Mess Cat, who had been with Mama all day and the night before, took my girl and went to get a bite to eat.  I was sitting by myself, willing Mama to fight this unknown evil and soaking in the first quiet moments of the day. 

And then she walked in. 

She introduced herself as a hospital chaplain. 

Ah yes, right.  I had asked one of the patient representatives about having a chaplain come in and spend some time with Mama.  She had been so comforted by her own pastors and friends who had come in and visited.  We had been told by at least one nurse that Mama didn’t seem to be resting well at night.  I had wanted to ask the chaplain on call to check in with her during those long night hours when we hadn’t been allowed to be with her, prior to her moving to the MICU the day before. 

She sat right down next to me on the couch that would later fold out into a bed for me and Mess Cat to sleep fitfully upon.  She asked me how I was doing. 

“Okay, I guess.  I mean, well–” I gestured toward Mama in the bed a few feet away.  I started to explain what we were hoping for.  “I am glad you are here though–“

She interrupted me.  She was not there because she’d gotten the message that Mama needed visits.  I’m not sure if we were on her room list and needed to be checked off or if the nurses had asked for us to have a visit to get through this difficult time.  Whichever it was, she was not going to sit and listen to me explain about Mama.  She had her spiel, and she went into it.  About how I needed to turn to my faith and not let the darkness overcome me.  That I needed to turn to God. 

It was overwhelming to tell you the truth.  In the past forty-five minutes, I had driven across town while listening to my oldest compare the two colleges she’d visited over the past week, parked on the roof of the parking garage, where I’d changed out of my dress pants and into the jeans I’d brought, switched from dress shoes to my comfortable ones, entered the hospital, walked down to Mama’s floor, been admitted to the unit (imagine having to have permission to see your Mama!), and been hit full force by the apparent problems that were needing to be addressed for Mama.  I was having to think about changing her code status; and if that weren’t enough, this woman who didn’t know me or my Mama or what we were going through, and apparently wasn’t going to take the time to hear any of our story, tells me I need to turn to God. 

Excuse me, lady, if it’s all the same to you, you don’t know me like that. 

Before I could pick my chin up off the floor, she patted my hand.  “I tell you what, I want you to sit here,” she patted the couch, “just sit right here and think about God your Father.  Just think about Him and how much He cares for you and take all of that in, and I’ll be back in 30 minutes and we’ll talk about how you’re feeling then.” 

My chin slammed back down and hit the tile floor again.  The only thing I could think, as I held back the tears was, “My Father is gone, and I’m scared I’m losing my Mama too, and you want me to sit still?  There are things I.  Have.  To.  Take. Care.  Of.  That I Must Do.  Thank you, but NO.” 

Instead I sat and didn’t dare speak for what might come out of my mouth.  The one who had raised me better, to act like I am somebody, lay only a few feet away, and for all I knew, she could hear every word.  So I just stared blankly at this woman who called herself a chaplain, as she gathered her clipboard, handed me her card, and made her way out of the room. 

Soon after that Mess Cat and Aub came back in the room.  I shared with them what had happened.  I was livid–appalled, and they were too.  When the chaplain came back, my sister excused her and told her it wasn’t the time.  And it wasn’t.  I was signing paperwork about insurance coverage, as Mama had been in the hospital enough days that they needed additional information.  Right after that, I talked with Dr. G, who was such a great ally for us and good advocate for Mama, and I signed paperwork, changing Mama to a DNR. 

Horror.  Sadness.  Nothing like what those who loved Jesus and watched the crucifixion went through, but painful still.  As I sat there on that Saturday, waiting and wondering and talking to God, and shaking my head, hoping it was all a very, very bad dream,  someone sat next to me and said, “It will all be okay. God’s got this.” 

And all I could think of was, “Really? Because I’m not so sure. Couldn’t He have stopped this at any moment?”

I wonder if any of them–any of the disciples, Mary, Mary Magdalene, I wonder if any of them thought these same thoughts–if any of them wanted to scream and punch a wall.  I wonder if anyone, well-intentioned as they might be–said to any of them, Just sit here and think about your faith.  Trust.

I wonder what it was like fearing you had lost the One who gave you new life.  The One who made a way for you to live out your life.  The One whose example you sought to emulate.

Or maybe I don’t have to wonder about that part so much.  Because in just over twenty-four hours after the chaplain visited, my Mama was given new life of her own, healed, no more pains and heartaches–she joined my Daddy and the little ones whom she never got to hold.  The woman who gave me life, who called me out about my poor choices, set a beautiful example of how to live, and loved me through everything–she was gone.

The brokenness of Friday, the waiting and wondering and heartbreak of Saturday, and then there’s Sunday.

Tonight my heart is heavy for those for whom tomorrow does not bring joy.  Easter is more than a day, it’s a lifting of the spirit.  And not everyone is able to have that on this day.  There are friends in the hospital, friends who have just said goodbye to someone they loved most in this world, friends who are waiting on tests to come back, friends who will wake up in the cold air of morning and their day will be no different from any other, except that those who pass them by, seemingly without seeing them, are dressed a little brighter, a little fancier.

For them, Sunday comes, but Easter may not.

May our words be a comfort and not leave the ears upon which they fall filled with sadness and hurt, may we understand that not everyone is able to rejoice on this Day of days, and may we seek to listen and to love first and foremost, putting others before ourselves.  And may the quiet moments of this day sound louder than the festive ones, filling our hearts with more to ponder upon as the sun sets and a new season begins.

Love and understanding to all.

 

 

 

February 10–Frozen in Time

I write tonight so tomorrow can be all about him.  All about what happened seven years ago.  Instead of the same night one year ago.

I write tonight because it was a Sunday, a beautiful Sunday in February that my Mama went on up to The House.  To see her dear grandmother whom she never stopped missing.  Her Aunts and others she loved.  And my Daddy, whom she had spent the previous fifteen months trying to learn to breathe without.  And she did it with love and faith and a grace that was second to none.  She was amazing.

She wants tomorrow to be all about him.  I know that.  She loved my babies, and all of her grands, more than anything in this world.   That Sunday, one year ago, when I was going leave the hospital to meet my birthday boy and the family at the park for a half hour, leaving her and Mess Cat so I could wish him a happy birthday, I went over to her bed and said quietly, “Mama, the littles and Aub are coming up here.”  She immediately looked upset and shook her head no.  “No, Mama, we’re going to go to the park for a little while.  It will be fine.  They’re not coming to the room.  I’ll tell him you said Happy Birthday, okay?”  She nodded and tried to smile.  Okay.  Okay.

I left and when I came back, I knew things weren’t right.  I could tell she wasn’t doing well, and she was no longer alert.  In just that short of a time.  The tear in my heart began breaking even more.  Noooo.  It was too soon.  And yet her body had held off as long as it could. Twenty-five days in the hospital.  Twenty-four of them in the ICU.  Less than a week’s worth of being alert and awake during that time.  Twenty-four days in the same hospital where her grandson, my baby boy Cooter, was born six years before.

Six years apart.  Same building.  So much alike.

Both February 10 mornings I was awakened very early.  In 2007, I’d wakened to the contractions and the knowledge that a baby was coming soon.

In 2013, I gave up trying to sleep after a night of dozing in and out, getting up to stand by her bed and stare at the numbers on the machine, willing her blood pressure to come back up on its own following her third emergency surgery, performed just a few hours before.  I just knew if I stood vigil, it would help.  It would make her better.

One day I had my Fella by my side, grinning and excited about what was to come.

Another he asked to go see Mama while I sat in the car with the crew in the parking garage.  I don’t know if he knew he was going in to say goodbye.  I am so glad he asked, and he got to see her one more time.

Both days were filled with numbers and nurses, blood pressure checks and beeps–oh those infernal beeps that I can still hear in my sleep.  Both days we were blessed by people who were caring and attentive and concerned about the patient.  In one room, “It’s a boy!” was called out excitedly.  In another, “It’s time,” was whispered with resignation and sadness.  Both days found me greeting people who gathered in the room.  It was only in the expressions that the difference could be seen–those coming to welcome a new life, those coming to say goodbye and let go of one they so loved.

Both days I had to sign my name.

Oh dear God.  I had to sign my name.

The weight of signing one’s name to make a new life official and legal can feel momentous and very important. But the signing of one’s name to let your Mama go.  To say it’s time.  To give permission to give her peace and rest.  My hands shook, and I had to focus through the tears.  I never wanted to do that again.

Both days there were prayers said and voices raised in sharing stories and remembering.  Both days I held the hand of the one I loved.  One who would call me Mama, and the One whom I called Mama.  Both days I tried to freeze the moment, to remember what those hands looked like.  Both days I didn’t see how I could love the one I held more than I did in that moment.

Six years apart.  The joy and the sadness.  The laughter and the tears.

After Cooter was born, the nurse stopped my bed by a button on the wall, and I pressed a button.  Lovely music played all over the hospital.  The same sound I pointed out to Mama during her HospitalStay even when she wasn’t conscious.  “Mama, a new baby!  How sweet.”  After Mama passed over, there was no sound.  Nothing to mark the moment but a nod from the doctor’s assistant whom we had known most of our lives.  That nod and the tears that flowed without halting.

After Cooter was born, the nurses cleaned him and handed him over to me and the Fella.  My heart swelled with tenderness for this new little boy, my only baby boy, and I knew my life would never be the same.  After Mama passed, my heart was breaking into a million little pieces, but it still swelled with love for her.  This beautiful woman who gave me life.   And love.  So much love.  I took a washrag and wet it, and one last time, I washed her face.  Just as I had so many times during her HospitalStay, to comfort, to bring down her fever, to say “I love you.”  One last time.  And I knew my Life.  Would Never. Be.  The Same.

Tomorrow, Mama, tomorrow I will make it about celebrating this baby boy who has brought you and Daddy and all of us so much joy.  I give thanks for his life and am happy to be his Mama.  This one who loved to listen to you read but would hop up sometimes to finish playing with the cars on the floor next to you.  This one who loved your snacks and ice cream sandwiches.  This baby boy who decided very early he wanted to go with you and Daddy and his big sister, our Princess, on those Mondays after Stevi B’s lunches.  He didn’t want to miss a moment of the fun with y’all.  Tomorrow I will celebrate and take him on an adventure and fix him what he asks for to eat, and I will bake a cake or brownies or whatever he chooses to mark the occasion.  Just like you did for us.  I will cry as I remember the little baby he was and dream of the young man he will become.  I will hang on tight as I let him go.

But tonight, tonight is for you and me.  Tonight is about the tears and the heartache and the remembering a life well lived, a race well run, and a love that is stronger than death.  I know you are still with me.  I can feel your presence, and I know your love gives me strength to breathe and go on another day.  I know because I could not do this on my own.  I never could.

Not too long after Mama passed, I heard a song that I had heard many times, but it really hit me hard for the first time last year–“Over You” written by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, and sung by Miranda Lambert. They wrote it in memory of Blake’s brother who died when he was young.  The beginning lyrics:

Weatherman said it’s gonna snow
By now I should be used to the cold
Mid-February shouldn’t be so scary
It was only December
I still remember the presents, the tree, you and me

But you went away
How dare you?
I miss you
They say I’ll be OK
But I’m not going to ever get over you

Two days.  Six years apart.  Both so very precious and dear to me.  Both days about the sacred and holy and thin moments of our lives.  Both shaping who I am in this very moment.  Both days tugging on my heart with their whispered stories and memories and all who shared each journey with me.  With us.

Mama, I love you and I miss you, and I’m not ever going to get over you.

But yes ma’am, tomorrow will be about him.  And I’ll remind him how loved he is.  Just as you have all these years for us.  Thank you for that.  The love.

Always, T. Annie aka Sugar Tag

Laundry duty

I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear to my Mama’s funeral.  I couldn’t wear the black dress I’d worn to my Great Aunt’s almost three years before.  Mama HATED the color black and with good reason, so just no.  I didn’t think the denim skirt she’d asked me to wear to Daddy’s would work either.  At some point I was at the GW Boutique in the midst of all the other planning and I found a dress.  A muted brown that would go with the boots she and Daddy got me.  I thankfully purchased it and moved on to what was next to be done.

I took it home and planned to wash it and get it ready to wear on Tuesday afternoon.

Only I’d forgotten that our washer was broken.  The new one hadn’t been delivered yet.  In all of the running around, I forgot.  And then the message came from my sweet Neighborfriend:

“Stop by when you get home.  I have your dress and Princess’ too.”

Bless her.  She’d not only washed but dried and pressed our dresses and hung them on hangers.  All we had to do is get dressed when the time came.  What a gift.

I’ve been thinking about that gift this week as the date gets closer.  As I remembered the relief that the gift of her doing my laundry brought me, my mind drifted to the gift I had of doing laundry for others.  Three different times.

In 2010, when my Great Aunt died, Mama wasn’t able to go to her house very often and take care of things because Daddy was fighting his battle with the Giant.  One time when I was down there checking on things for her, I was cleaning up and putting things away.  I found my Great Aunt’s dirty clothes bin under the sink in a cabinet.  And there were her dirty clothes.  From her last few days.  I found a garbage bag to put them in and I saved the tears for the drive home.

I waited a day or two to wash them.  For whatever reason, I needed the time to prepare myself.  It felt so sacred, like I was on holy ground.  It was such an intimate thing to have her clothes that she had chosen to wear each day, laying there in a heap, waiting on her to save up a load and wash them.  It was very precious to me to be the one to do this instead.

I remember it was a quiet day around here.  Not sure why, or maybe it was just a quiet day in my heart and soul.  I put them on to wash, carefully putting each item into the machine and closing the lid.  A short time later, when the load was through, I took each item out, one by one, and placed it into the dryer.  I set the dryer to run and went back to other chores.  I went out to feed the cats in our side yard and experienced the most amazing thing.  My yard smelled like my Great Aunt.  It was beautiful.  I closed my eyes and felt the sunshine on my face. The gentle breeze that carried my Great Aunt’s essence upon it caressed my face and curled around my hands.  The dryer vent is on that side of the house, so the clothes were sharing their scent through the hole on the side of the house.  It was one of the most precious blessings.  For a few minutes, I was hugged by her.  One more time.

Last year during Mama’s HospitalStay, we moved her bag of clothes she’d worn to the hospital from the ER to her room to the next hospital and from one room to the next there.  Before she went down to surgery she asked me to take her clothes on back.  We didn’t want to leave all of that in her room.  I put them in the car and promptly forgot about them in all the events that ensued.  I don’t remember when exactly, but one day during that last week when she was in the STICU and I wasn’t allowed to visit as much, I found them and washed them.  Her outfit and coat and socks and all.  Again, holy ground.  I put them in a clean garbage bag to take back to her house.  We found the bag just a week ago in the bottom of her closet where I’d tucked them.  Clean and waiting.

A week after Mama left this earth, I sat next to our cousin in another hospital as she took her last breath.  Bless her, she’d had a rough go of it too.  The next couple of days after she passed, I had the sad task of cleaning out her room at the assisted living home where she lived.  After loading the last of the things from her room, her roommate’s sweet guardian and friend of our cousin and Mama, Miss D, called me into the bathroom.  “Sugar, I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’ve got a few things in here to take care of.”  We went through the drawers and cleared off the countertop.  She looked in a basket and clicked her tongue.  “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.  They shouldn’t have left this for you.  They should have washed these things before now.”  I shook my head and held back the tears.  More laundry.  I was thankful in a way.  I would rather be the one to do it than have the staff just throw it in with all the rest.  I found a bag, loaded the clothes and towels in, and brought them home.  Once again, I found an uncluttered afternoon and did her laundry.  As I folded the tops and pajamas and hung up her robe, I remembered and gave thanks for the one who had worn them just a few weeks before.

Tonight I’m thankful to be the one who was on laundry duty.  It was a gift to me–a time of tearful remembering and feeling close to them as I sorted and folded and stacked.  And I give thanks for my sweet Neighborfriend who made our journey a little easier with her gift of laundry and love.

That’s the key, isn’t it?  Loving through the everyday stuff.  Finding a blessing in it.  Acknowledging the holy and sacred in the piles and messes and brokenness of our day-to-day lives.  Remembering.  And giving thanks.  The gifts that can be found in the sorting and cleaning and putting away.  It doesn’t have to be glamorous to be beautiful.  It just has to be real.

Overwhelmed by Question Marks

This morning at the grocery store, I worked my way through, thankful that they have restocked the shelves since the rush on groceries earlier this week before the snow hit.  I was standing in front of the Chobani Greek yogurt cups that I get for my crew, when I realized that a quiet, elderly woman was waiting patiently for me to make my selections.

“Oh! I’m so sorry,” I said, moving my cart to one side.  “I am sorry for holding you up.”

“You didn’t,” she said, staying in the same spot.  She was holding a tub of plain Greek yogurt, seemingly mesmerized by it.  “I’m just trying to figure out if this is the right kind to get or not.”  She held it up to show me.  “I found a recipe for a smoothie that uses frozen cherries and Greek yogurt.  It’s supposed to help with pain. I don’t know.  I wish I could remember which kind they used.”

I looked at the yogurt she had.  A different brand from the tub I had just put in my cart, but how different could it really be?  Her bag of frozen cherries was starting to form those white ice crystals on its surface.  She’d been at this for more than a few minutes.

She pointed at the lid, “This one says it’s probiotic.  That’s good, right?”  I told her I thought so (but then I thought all yogurt was probiotic, and I just read that they’re not, so, ummm, maybe I shouldn’t have been standing there giving this sweet lady advice).  We compared the labels between the two tubs.  Hers had more sugars and calories, which we finally figured out was due to the difference in the milks used–hers was from whole milk and mine was made from skim milk.

She shook her head.  I could tell it was overwhelming her.  She put the yogurt back into the refrigerator case on the bottom shelf.  “I’m just going to wait and see which one is the right one.  I know it said, I just can’t remember.”

Oh bless her.  But seriously?

We have recently gotten “into” smoothies around here.  I so wanted to tell her it wouldn’t matter that much.  That she could use the one in her hands, and it would be okay.  Better than okay.  She was so overwhelmed by this one decision, it made me want to cry.  I wanted to hug her and tell her to take this yogurt, that it didn’t matter, that she should trust herself.

But I didn’t.

Who am I to question her questioning?

I haven’t made a decision without struggling over it for a long, long time.  It started a year ago.  I haven’t been able to make a clear-cut decision since I had to make the hard decision about life support for my Mama…..and then again, for our cousin one week later.

I’m not offering excuses or seeking sympathy.  It’s just that it hit me today when I was willing with all of my heart for this sweet lady to realize that it was okay to make a decision, choose a yogurt, and take her defrosting cherries home and make that healing smoothie she has so many hopes pinned on.  It hit me that I AM JUST LIKE HER.  I must look just like this to a casual observer.   The least little decisions wear me out.  It took me quite a while to decide to even go to the grocery store this morning.  Fortunately, the decision kind of made itself since we were out of so many things.  It became a necessity.

Yesterday I made simple decisions like scheduling eye appointments, checkups, and paying a bill or two.

And I was exhausted.

Some days the decision of what to feed folks around here is almost more than I can bear.  I am thankful for the one night a week that we know what we are having.  Every single week.  It takes such a weight off.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  But it is very real.  And don’t get me started on getting dressed.  This morning I actually went and found Aub so she could tell me what I was wearing looked okay, that it matched.  Some days I struggle to trust my choices, just as my new friend did this morning.

This is one of those side effects of grief that I don’t remember many folks talking about.  Or maybe they did, and I just didn’t grasp the reality of it.  Until now.

As she pushed her cart on past the yogurt, this sweet lady said, “I will just check the recipe and get the yogurt another time.  I really want to make it.  It’s supposed to help with back pain.  And I have that pretty bad.  But I’d rather try this than…..” she looked back at me, “…..a pill.”  She made a face.  “Anything rather than a pill.”

Bless her.  I understand that feeling too.  I don’t know whom she has lost, but I think it must be someone real special to her.  It’s written all over her walk and her face and the way she is thinking.  Tonight I’m holding her in my heart.  I hope she finds her recipe and that she can find the yogurt straightaway.  And more than anything, I hope the smoothie does help with her pain.

Grief is such a roller coaster of emotions, isn’t it?  Some days are like this.  Hard.  And some days are not quite so much.  But the important thing to remember as we walk through this is no matter how “off” our decision-making may seem to those around us, sometimes it’s okay to put the yogurt back in the bin and say, “Maybe another day.”  Some days that’s the best we can do.  And you know what?  It is.  It’s okay.

 

 

The Cup of Coffee

I didn’t want to write about this tonight.

Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it.  So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still).  I have other things to share.  80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?

But my heart says no.  Tomorrow those other stories will still be here.  This one has to be written.  Tonight.  So I can let it go.

And so I begin.

A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama.  There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her.  Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport.  All.  Day.  Long.  I understand, looking back at the big picture.  But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part.  They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS.  In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day.  I waved at my children from the window.  Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers.  He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually.  Physically she was still in a lot of pain.

Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon.  I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her.  I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go.  When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again.  I was told it would be okay.  (insert huge sigh of relief here)  They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out.  We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital.  The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back.  The woman sat in the back with her.  When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital.  I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment.  I heard Mama’s muffled voice.  I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay.  Anything else would have made me crazy.

Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup.  He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up.  The radio station blared music from a classic rock station.  Oh.  My.  Word.  When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating.  If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat.  LOUD.  He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.”  Umm.  Okay?  I mean, I guess he’s allowed.  I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.

We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247.  An interesting choice of route.  (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.)  When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation.  I can’t help it, it’s what I do.  (That, I got from my Mama.)

Somehow the subject of coffee came up.  I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.

“Um yeah, once,” he said.  “I don’t like all that fancy coffee.  I just like it simple.”

Okay. Strike two.

Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee.  But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?

Puh-lease.

We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time.  This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light.  Um, no I’m not kidding.

He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking.  “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”

Okay.  We’ll take it.

When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face.  She was in pain and holding it in.  We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance.  It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening.  They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?”  But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room.  Bless all those poor sick souls.  They all looked miserable.  Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes.  We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor.  A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!).  Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed.  The two EMT’s were more gentle this time.  Mama couldn’t help it.  She moaned a little.  The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused.  He looked at Mama.  “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.”  He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.

The whole thing was very surreal.  Mama was literally slipped in through the back door.  She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later.  As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was.  And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one.  (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)

All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU).  It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive.  Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff.  It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that.  A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.

And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.

It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do.  Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again.  Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report.  Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper.  We all do it, right?  Take a moment before the next thing.

Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama.  The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list.  In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert.  Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.

It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things.  I’m surprised I didn’t say them.  But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter.  He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.

As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in.  I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home.  Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before.  So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing. 

For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction.  It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed.  If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude.  As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him.  One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night.  And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was.  Especially in the hospital.  She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life.  To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.

And maybe he got it.  I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening.  Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama.  And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.

A good lesson for us all to remember, I think.  Especially me.

Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard.  Amen. 

Amen.

Because I Kept Breathing

Today the writing prompt for our Rising Bloggers group was “Something your body has taught you.”  You can find other posts on this topic here

The night that the Fella came and got me on my evening walk in August of 2009, my whole world changed in that instant.  I went from being a wife, Mama, new homeschool teacher, and mildly concerned daughter of a Daddy who had been having a few problems to a terrified little girl who could not imagine life without her Daddy.

When my husband told me that Mama did not want me to come to the hospital that night, he said instead she wanted me to call my siblings.

I called each one, and tears and plans and hopes and fears were floating in the air above us like particles of dust do in the afternoon sunlight that pours in through the living room windows.

When I called my Brother, he was quiet for a moment on the other end.  He lives several states away and coming home in a hurry was not an option for him.  “Oh Bubba,” I said through my tears.  “If something happens to Daddy, I don’t think I will be able to breathe. I just can’t.”

But there’s this.

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In the weeks before my Daddy died, I stayed up late stripping pork roasts and putting them in the freezer, baking cakes to put back as well, and simply thinking and planning and trying to stay one step ahead of What Might Could Happen.  My body was exhausted but my spirit, my mind, and my heart said it must be done.  And they were right.

And my body is, at times, stronger than my spirit. Stronger than I ever knew.  When my heart broke completely at 4:30 p.m. on 17 November 2011, my body pushed through and did the impossible.  It kept on breathing, sleeping, doing what needed to be done.  Even when all I wanted to do was give up and crawl under a blanket and find myself waking up from a bad, bad dream.  And yet I kept breathing.

It’s amazing to me the balance between body and spirit.  When one is broken or lost, it seems that the other is there to pick up the load.  During Mama’s HospitalStay we all kept so many balls in the air, I know it was nothing but sheer willpower of spirit that kept us going.  Our spirits seemed to cheer our bodies on–“You can get up early in the morning to finish that laundry, to pay those bills, to make that phone call, to read to that child, to put supper in the crockpot…..”  It was three weeks later when Mama’s fight for comfort and healing ended that the roles reversed.  When she took her last breath and the nurse we grew up knowing nodded his head from her doorway, in that instant, my body nudged my spirit and said, “You take a rest. I’ll take it from here for a while.”

And so it was my body that took over as I washed her face one more time.  It had brought her such comfort in life, and now it brought me comfort.  As if by rote, my body got me through the whirlwind of the next few days–planning and running errands and welcoming and greeting and thanking folks and saying goodbye.

20131024-215518.jpgIf one believes that, as the Good Book says, we are created in the Image of the Creator, who is three in one, isn’t it fascinating to see how these two sides of our selves work together?  We are not all body or all spirit, but both as one.  Both need food to survive and time to rejuvenate and heal.  It takes both to live this life that is so full of laughter and joy and tears and sadness.  It takes both to love with our hearts and our hands.  It takes both to defend what we believe in with our minds and our bodies.  And it takes both to say goodbye.  To touch a hand and kiss a forehead one last time, and to let them go with our hearts where they need to go.

When I asked my body what it felt like was the greatest thing it could share with me and the world, it was this:

“I don’t work alone.”

And though I can’t run a marathon or even jog around the neighborhood, I am strong, stronger than I ever knew.  I know.  Because I kept breathing.

Finding Strength in Moments of Weakness

As I sat on the hospital bed, the sun had begun to set.  The room, filled with light just a half hour before, began to darken.  How many sunsets had I sat through in this very hospital waiting for the darkness–with Daddy, with Mama, and with Miss B?  Too many.  Far too many.

Last night I went to the hospital to visit a friend I had never met.  We had a friend in common, my Writer Friend, who had led us to meet.  Lettie and I had been trying to plan a get together over the past couple of weeks. Work schedules and sick children kept delaying our plans.  She called me last Tuesday to tell me that she had today, Monday, off.  So we planned to meet.  Then I got the call on Saturday night–Lettie was in the hospital, had been since Thursday.  I told her I’d come see her on Sunday.  And so it was that we met for the first time in Room 431.  Just four doors down from where Mama was in August of last year.  For a ten days HospitalStay.

It was surreal being there, meeting this dear woman and her daughter and son-in-law from out of state.  It was an honor hearing her stories and sharing unspoken concerns through glances with her daughter as Lettie talked about her condition.  There was a lot of uncertainty, a little fear, and a whole lot of faith.  We talked about the beauty of sisterhood–the challenges and the rewards.  About how Lettie’s sister who is younger by 11 months took care of her when she had a hard time as a young girl, and how she sees it as her job to take care of her sister now.  (I completely understand that feeling.) We talked about how not even physical distance can separate sisters.  She made me laugh as she gave her honest opinion about hospital food–“You know it’s bad when even the staff says it’s not good.”  She was thankful her daughter and son-in-law had brought her some food from the house.  They left to go back home and eat.

My sweet friend took my hand and my heart and wrapped them both in warmth.

My sweet friend took my hand and my heart and wrapped them both in warmth.

I  continued to sit with Lettie as she took my hand and talked about what it’s like to have someone you love pass from this world to the next right there in front of your eyes.  With a squeeze I let her know that I understood.  It’s the most precious and holy moment in this life–being there as life comes into the world and as it goes out.

The quiet of the moment filled the room and our spirits.  She needed to get up, but she wasn’t supposed to do it without help.  The nurse came down.  One of Mama’s nurses, but of course she wouldn’t remember.  Too many people to care for between then and now.  She helped Lettie to the bathroom and took care of everything.  After we got Lettie settled back in her bed, I gave her a hug and told her I’d see her soon.  She took my hand again.  “I love you.  Thank you for coming.”

I love you too.

Oh my aching heart.

It was my honor to be there.  To hear her laughter.  Share her stories.  Have her share her worries and hopes with me.  Those very thin moments of one soul joining another along the journey.

Knowing you will never be quite the same again.

Tonight I am thankful for a new friendship that fell into place like it had always been there or was always meant to be.  My heart breaks for the uncertainty and tenuousness of her physical health.  And at the same time, it leaps with joy at the way she is facing what might come–with a smile and with faith.

She told me I could share anything about her story I wanted to.  She has an amazing story filled with pain and love and laughter and sadness, much as we all do.  But what I want most to share of her story is what I learned from her.  It’s okay to ask for help.  She has had to let her children and friends help her, and she is learning to accept that.  The other thing I learned was it’s okay to admit you are scared.  You can have faith and still be scared.  It reminds me of the line of a song by Rascal Flats, “I’m Moving On,” written by Phillip White and David Vincent Williams:

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“I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness.”

As I sat in that hospital that holds strong memories of my Daddy’s diagnosis of lymphoma four years ago–going to find him in a little room in the ER that first morning and again when he fell and broke his hip in spring of 2011, memories of Mama’s fear and faith working its way through her heart and mind and our lives over a year ago, and memories of Miss B telling me she wanted to have the surgery on her hip because she didn’t want to stay in a bed for the rest of her life.  I remember standing at Daddy’s window in the room upstairs and watching the sun go down over the town as the lights above the storefronts began twinkling.  Last year I sat in the chair next to Mama’s bed texting with my Writer Friend whose Mama was in the hospital at the same time; it breaks my heart that we’ve both since said goodbye to our sweet Mamas.  I could look out of Mama’s hospital room window and see my babies climb out of the Fella’s car as he pulled up to bring me something from home.  And last night I sat with a precious woman who gets that fear and faith can share the path and who squeezed my hand and said life is hard and smiled and filled the room with love.  It might sound crazy, but as I travelled down the elevator and to the parking lot, a trip I’ve made many, many times, I had peace in my heart.  Peace that came from a hand and from a heart and from a smile.  And a shared journey.  A peace that passes all understanding, and for that I give thanks.