A Grace Filled Eve

Tonight I will gather with little folks (and a few big) whom I love right here in my living room, and we’ll debate about staying up to see the New Year in.  We may or may not watch some form of something dropping to beckon in 2018, and then the laughter will turn into sighs and we’ll gather up the remnants and used cups and crumpled napkins of 2017 and go to bed.

This is as good as I can do.  I don’t have big plans and schemes for this New Year.  If I start thinking of tomorrow as a day THAT ALL BIG THINGS MUST BEGIN, I kind of sort of start breathing a little funny and want to go crawl in Miss Sophie’s crate with her and wait for spring and for this “all great ideas and good intentions” phase to pass.

Because, see, my feet are cold, and most days I have to take it one day at a time.

My Mama said that is okay.

She said do your best, that’s all your Daddy and I ask of you.

And that I can try to do.  Moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, and sometimes day by day.

But a whole year?  In one big gulp?

I’m happy for folks who are excited about the newness of tomorrow and the 364 days to follow.  But for many of us, 2017 and 2015 and 2013 and 2011 were really really hard, and we’re still learning a new way to breathe because of what happened when the clock turned over to November 13 and 17 and December 18 and February 10 and September 26 and May 12 and January 11 and all of the other days of the year when we had hard things happen.  For some of us, each day is a new challenge, filled with moments of learning new ways to live.

Grace.

If you are of the mind of taking on new ways of living and find tomorrow a good day to start, maybe grace could be a good one to add to the list.  Most of all, be kind to yourself.  And others.  When days are hard–for you or someone you know and those you don’t, offer grace and kindness.  Grace that it’s okay to say it’s hard and stay in bed for the day, literally or figuratively, and kindness in the midst of the struggles.  A smile, a listening ear, a hand to hold, patience, empathy.

Tomorrow we will have the traditional greens, peas, cornbread, and such.  I’ll try not to do anything I don’t want to be doing the rest of the year (though I’ve found reframing certain things has helped me in this old tradition), and I won’t be doing any laundry out of respect for the ones who’ve gone before me.  We will spend time sharing stories and laughing and remembering.

And I will do my best to rejoice and be glad in the day, as my Mama reminded me I am called to do everyday.

But for now, I just can’t take on the chunk of a year all at once.  If you are struggling with another day of celebrating and being surrounded by festive spirits, know you are not alone. We are all doing the best we can and walking each other home, as Ram Dass wrote.  Come sit with me, Miss Sophie will make room, and we’ll warm our toes by the fire and sit quietly and we will be okay.  And if tomorrow is a day of new beginnings for you, I wish you all the best. Some of us will be celebrating the dawning of a New Year and some will be thankful for making it another day and some folks will be somewhere in between.  AND ALL OF THAT IS OKAY.

Grace.

Wishing you all a good night’s rest, the energy to get up tomorrow, and the still quiet of peace settled in your heart today and in all the days to come.

Love to all.

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May we all take the words to my much loved and missed friend Denise to heart today and every day–“What people in our community need the most is for us to slow down and love each other.”

Be the Kicker

Sunday morning Cooter came into our room, bouncing on the bed.  It being a day of rest, the Fella and I were trying to stretch it out as long as possible.  Cooter is a morning person, me–not as much.

He was excited about the upcoming Falcons game, and he and his partner in all things football talked about the games from the night before.  I may have zoned out a tad during this bit.  Eventually the conversation caught my attention again–when I heard the Fella say, “Yeah, I don’t know if I’d want to be the kicker.  You have to be on standby, ready to be called in at any time.”

The conversation lost my attention again at that point, as I thought about the kicker.  I used to imagine stress as like being the catcher in a baseball game–ready for a ball to come from any direction.  But a kicker, sitting on the sidelines, not knowing for sure when he will be called in…..and expected to help the team out in a big way when he is?  Bless.

Because that’s the thing about football–there’s never a time when you tell the kicker, “Eh, just whatever, man.  It won’t matter.”

Anything and everything that kicker does matters.

That night I was in my think tank (some folks call it a shower), and I started pondering on who the kickers are in my life.  Those folks who are there, on my team, ready to step in whenever, wherever I need them.

Like Mess Cat making the time to come out after dark to pick up our Princess because I was with our drama king, Cooter, at his dress rehearsal.  (Coming out after dark is a whole ‘nother level of showing up, y’all.)  Or my Aunt who picks up the phone and listens and shares laughter and wisdom and “poor baby’s.”  Or my Cousin who answers my SOS texts when I’ve sliced my finger open, cutting up the cabbage for supper.  Or Aub who hangs out with her siblings so I can go do what needs doing.  Or the Fella who takes time from work when things go awry.  Or my brother who listens so well or my neighborfriend who picks up oyster crackers for my sick one or steps up in so many other ways…..my friends…..family…..And so many more–all these wonderful kickers, who are there, waiting, willing to be called into “the game” (and chaos) of my life.  Present, interruptible, loving, wonderful people.

I think we are called to be kickers in this life.  Doing our own thing, sure, but never forgetting we are a part of a Team, sharing the same goal, same dreams.  Helping each other out whenever need be.

Kick on, my friends.

Love to all.

Listening to Hear

So speaking of listening, I wanted to tell you about a young man who has made a great impression on me and mine.

Yesterday in the midst of our out and abouts, the littles and I found ourselves next door to the GW Boutique on the other side of town.  Lest you think I was shirking my duty in hunting down bargains, the spot next door (where they had the GW BOOtique last September and October) is now the Last Chance GW.  Only open on Tuesday-Thursday and filled with racks of well-organized clothes, every piece of clothing is 99 cents on Tuesdays and the price goes down from there.

Awesome.

I mean name brand jeans for 99 cents?  Shirts, shorts for littles who are going to wear them out anyway?

That’s something I can get excited about.

After we perused the racks (not as long as I would have liked–the littles were saddened that it was only clothes), we popped in next door at the Boutique.  We poked around for a few minutes and I found a couple of things for next winter.  (Yes, I know, this one isn’t over yet, but I’m trying to think positively.)  I said no to things we already have too much of, and we headed to the checkout.

A young man who has waited on me there at least once before was at the register.  I don’t know his name–no name tag, and I regret not asking.  He is so friendly, and you can tell he really loves his job.  Because of that, I love my experience there.  He listens and he comments and he’s just one of those people who lifts your spirits with his general outlook on the world.

As we talked about my purchases, he commented on my necklace–the one I wear every day.  How much he liked it.  I thanked him and smiled.  I’m about 95% sure he told me he liked it last time I was there and we talked.  He’s a noticer.

He might notice things a little more than most because he has a hearing impairment.  Or maybe that’s not why.  Still he pays close attention.  I’ve noticed that I need to make sure he can see my mouth when I’m speaking, and we carry on great conversations.  It’s because he pays close attention to more than just necklaces and purchase items; he pays attention to people.  He looks at you when he is speaking, and that is so HUGE in this day and age of carrying on conversations with heads bowed over keyboards and phones.  And he doesn’t just listen to reply–he listens to hear.

I really enjoy being around his kind spirit.  Yesterday as we were talking, he pointed to the flowerpot at the end of the checkout counter.  “Yeah.  Someone hurt my plant.”

All I could see were little twig like bits sticking up no more than an inch and a half above the soil.

“It was growing so good, but someone just broke it off.” Our eyes met.  “I don’t know who or why.”

Oh my heart.  “I am so sorry that someone would do that to you–to your plant.  I’m sorry.”

A shadow seemed to lift, and he smiled.  “Oh it will be okay.  I always kill plants–can’t make them grow.  But that one…..anyway, I will make a trip over to Wal-Mart and I’ll try it again.”  He paused and then gestured toward the end of the counter behind him.  “That one down there is doing really well.  It was donated.  So now it’s the Goodwill plant.”

The Goodwill plant was lovely and a vibrant green.  “Wow.  That is awesome.”

“Yeah, when they first brought  it in, it wasn’t doing so good, but look at it.  They took it outside for a bit today too.  I think it liked it.”

I nodded.  “I’m sure it did.  Obviously Goodwill has been good for that plant.”

And it hit me as I was walking out, explaining to my girl why we had to make sure our friend could see our lips moving when we spoke to him, that a little (or a lot) of goodwill is pretty much good for all living things, isn’t it?

Tonight I’m thankful for the kind folks whose paths cross with mine and for how they lift my spirits.  I’m thankful for this young man who is kind and a noticer, for those are the folks who make each person they meet feel important and special.  And I’m thankful for his love of the things that grow, and the lesson he taught me in those few moments about listening, really listening.

May we all learn to listen to hear and to notice the little things.  And the big ones.  And all those in between.

Love to all.

On the Road Past Devastation

Yesterday I drove on roads that serve as the backdrop for both my childhood and my previous life.  As I drove by the long road that leads to my Granny’s house I heard the echoes of voices from the past–my cousins, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my folks.  As the car whizzed by, I saw landmarks of times that were less than happy, and that brought back a whole different set of memories.

And then I turned onto another back road and saw this:

pic of devastation on HM Road

This is across the road from the house where one of my sweet friends lived when we were growing up.  I think her folks still live there now.  I spent many a happy day at their home–it was my first experience with a two-story house.   But this, this across the road, up until recently was woods.  Covered with trees like the ones you see in the background.  The picture just does not do justice to what it really feels like looking at this cleared area.

Devastation.

I was driving home yesterday when I saw this, and it suited where my heart was at the moment.  And it occurred to me that this is what it feels like when you are devastated.

Like when someone you’ve trusted with your heart, your life, your everything, hurts you with lies, abuse, lack of respect…..and just walks away seemingly unscathed.  Or when you hear the diagnosis of someone you love most in the world and you know that each tick of the clock has become your enemy and time is the most precious thing you have.  Or when Plan B falls apart, and even though there are 26 letters of the alphabet, you just don’t have any plans beyond the first two.  There just are no words for this.  Except maybe–

Devastation.

The land across from my friend’s house has been ravaged.  I’m not sure by what, but whether by storm, tornado, or manmade machinery, the results are the same.  Loss of life, of beauty, of soul.  Much like our own souls when we have been ravaged by grief, loss, disappointments, fear, infidelity, betrayal.  Such devastation can make us almost lifeless and ugly, filled with internal scars that others can’t see, but they eventually come to the surface as anger, sadness, confusion, passivity, and all kinds of other physical and mental symptoms.

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I’ve seen this quote a lot.  It’s made its rounds throughout social media.  But the truth is this is truth.  That Plato knew what he was talking about.  Not everyone’s scars make their story obvious like Harry Potter’s.  Because of his lightning bolt scar on his forehead, people instantly knew who he was and his story as well.  But for us it’s not that easy.  Some of the worst things one can go through leave no visible scars; but the pain and loss, they are still there.  It’s important to remember that, as we judge others like we tend to do and jump to incorrect and unkind conclusions.

As for the ravaged land, it can come back, depending what the plans are for it.  Hope and little bitty roots waiting to grow again spring eternal just under the surface.  With kindness and attention to the life that still remains, it can become green and vibrant again.

And that’s the thing–if we can always be kind, if we can stop judging and condemning and thinking everyone else is so different and we are so much better, then and ONLY THEN can we stop the ravaging of souls.  Right now.  It’s the death of a spirit, which doesn’t get reported as often as you might think.  That spirit with the right loving people around CAN get better and grow strong again.

And if, when the wind blows really hard and the rain beats down, those little tendrils of new growth shake and are weighed down by all that is around them, that’s okay.  We all have those moments (some longer than others) that weigh us down.  That’s where the rest of us come in.  IF we are kind, and if we can love as we truly should, and we sit with folks through these storms, they can get through it, and continue on down the road, past the devastation.

And in the midst of the brokenness and pain of this world, that’s a hope to hang on to.

A Thank You to Our Nurses With Love

pic of nurses' weekThis is Nurses’ Week.  It is my pleasure to send out a big hug and many thanks and a virtual cup of coffee with a fresh Krispy Kreme to each and every nurse who has touched our lives.  We have been blessed by your kindness, your skills, and your dedication to what you do.  Thank you.

My first eye-opening experience with those of this profession was when I started work with our local Hospice in the Fall of 2000.  For over two years, I worked as a team with these beautiful people who made the journey from this life to the next one a lot more peaceful and a little less frightening.  When Mama and Daddy made the decision to call Hospice for Daddy in September of 2011, I was so hoping for just the right person to come in.  And she did.  A sweet spirit, calming and loving.  She was just the perfect person for Mama and Daddy.  And when Daddy was gone, she still cared for Mama.  Because of her, Mama found a whole community of people who loved and supported her through the next fifteen months.  And when Mama left this earth–our wonderful nurse was there, loving us and Mama, and holding Mama’s hand.  Just as she did a week later when our cousin Miss Betty took her last breath.  I know that calling her an “angel on earth” seems rather trite and cliche’, but I don’t know how else to decribe her.  Without being intrusive she became a part of our family.  To this day.  I love her with all my heart because of what she did, but even more because of who she is.  It takes someone special to be a nurse.

When Mama went for the second HospitalStay in January, we felt like we were old hands at this in some respects.  This was, however, my first experience with ICU nurses.  PHENOMENAL.  These men and women do so many tasks that are delegated to others on other floors.  I’ve watched them do things that I won’t describe here, but let me tell you–hearts of gold, stomachs of steel.  Enough said.

I won’t be able to mention each one, but most of them were pretty doggone great.  The joke amongst the family became that I got into in-depth conversations with the people who took care of Mama, while my baby sister felt like she was interrogating them by comparison.  (She would say, “Tara asks, ‘So where did you go to school?  Oh that’s great,’ while I say (in clipped sharp tones) ‘So.  Where did YOU go to SCHOOL?!  OH, that is just great.” )  I just shrugged at her version of it, and said, “I’m looking for my new BFF for-evuh!  I’m convinced I’m going to find her during the HospitalStay.”   And I tried.  We met some interesting people.

Tony who-smelled-good was our first nurse that night when Mama was moved unexpectedly to the ICU.  He was on again when she was rushed to surgery the next night.  He cared for her after the surgery.  He is precious to me because he is one of the few who remembered her awake and alert, how she smiled and made conversation through the pain.  He comforted her in her anxiety as she headed down to surgery.  He was the one to whom she bragged about her soon-to-be-born grandson.  He smiled and listened.  Listening.  That is huge.

Andrea was another beautiful soul from the beginning of our stay.  She had Mama several times before we were moved to the STICU.  She and Miss Betty, the patient care tech, made a great team–comforting us in our concerns, answering our questions, and oh, the healing laughter.  They laughed and filled that room with joy.  They told Mama, who was still sedated, funny stories and made up nicknames for each one of them.  Andrea left us a note on the obituary on-line.  That connection.  Thank you.  She let us know Mama was more than just another patient.  She was also one who let us stay even though visiting hours were over.  She knew the situation and decided accordingly.  That was such a gift.  We didn’t really know it at the time.  I will always remember this beautiful woman who was a surprise to her own Mama–she was a twin born to a woman expecting only one.  What a precious surprise she was.

Janel, and I may not be spelling her name right, took the time to teach us how to take care of Mama.  Mama ran fever a lot, and for several reasons, they couldn’t give her medication to bring it down.  Janel was the one who said “Let’s mini-skirt her and wipe her down.”  She would tuck the gown up a bit, and then she used a wet washcloth and wiped Mama’s arms, face, hands, and legs.  She asked if we’d like to do that.  Thank you, Janel.  Because of her, I wasn’t afraid to move around the wires and cables and touch Mama, love on her.  Though Janel was only with us one day, we started asking other nurses if we could do that, and by the time Mama was moved to the STICU we just started asking for washcloths and telling them what we were doing. Janel believed in the family being a part of care.  She even said, “If she were my Mama, I’d be crawling in the bed with her.”  She got it, and for that I give thanks.

There were so many other great nurses and patient care techs who touched our lives with love and a tender touch.  I am thankful for each and every one, even the ones who kept “ma’am”ing me.  (Boy was that hard to hear!)  I would have taken any of them as my new BFF for-evuh.  Loved.  Them.

When our cousin Miss Betty was admitted into the hospital in Warner Robins two weeks after Mama, our family decided it was best if Miss Betty didn’t know about Mama being in the hospital.  She would not have understood.  Mama was her guardian, and it only would have frightened her.  We hoped it would not be necessary.  And it wasn’t.  Just not in the way we anticipated.

So each time we spoke with a new nurse at the hospital there, we explained two things–that Mama was in the hospital so we couldn’t be there as much as we would like, and that Miss Betty wasn’t to know about Mama.  The team of nurses on the ICU and step-down unit were so incredible during this really hard time.  They became Miss Betty’s new BFF’s.  It was precious the night that I was visiting with her, and the night nurse Miss Cece came on, walked by and waved.  Miss Betty waved back, and said, “That’s my friend.”  I never worried once about Miss Betty’s care.  To this day I give thanks for that great group of nurses.   From the first day with Amber who took Miss Betty and my sister under her wing, to our last night with Mary, who was there to mother me as much as to care for Miss Betty, we were blessed with caring, compassionate people–among them Willa, Brett, Brandi, Cece, Mary, and so many others.  If we saw one in the hall, even when she wasn’t Miss Betty’s nurse that day, each one would ask how things were going.  They remembered and cared.  One I owe a great deal of sanity to is Aimee.  On the way to see Mama during one of the very strict visiting times at the hospital in Macon, I had hoped to have time to swing by the hospital in town to see Miss Betty first.  The skies looked ominous, traffic was awful near the Base, and I knew that if I did drive to Miss Betty’s hospital, I would probably only have 1/2 hour out of the two hours allotted to visit Mama by the time I could get there.  With no other options, I called and asked for Miss Betty’s nurse.  Aimee.  I told her my situation and asked that if I got there a few minutes after visiting time was over, could I please still see Miss Betty before I needed to head home?

This sweet and compassionate woman gave me the gift of grace.  “You go see your Mama.  Take your time, drive safely, and when you get here, no matter when, you can come on back.”  I cried right then and there.  Later that evening when I finally arrived to see Miss Betty, Aimee was there, ready to change shifts.  She stayed to ask how things were going in Macon with Mama.  She listened and she laughed with me and let me just be.  What a gift of love.  Tonight I am particularly thankful to Aimee for my being able to have that visit with peace in my heart, as it was only three days later that I had to tell Mama goodbye.

Dear nurses, you have a thankless job.  I know.  I saw and heard things during our HospitalStay that broke my heart for you.  But please hear me say this, I owe you all a debt I can never repay.  You took the time to make sure my Mama and Miss Betty were safe and comfortable and had the greatest of care, just as you do for each one of your patients.  And you took the time to talk to us, to answer our questions, to listen to our stories, and to just let us be.  You are loved and treasured.  Thank you all, those whom I have met and those whom I have not.  Please don’t ever doubt that what you are doing is making a difference.   You are healers of body and spirit.  With your gentle hands and your full hearts.  Thank you.

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