Monday, December 2, 2013

Breakfast With My Grandma

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled back to Seneca, Pennsylvania with my parents to visit family. After a harrowing drive in the snow "over the river and through the woods", we arrived on Tuesday evening to my aunt's house where my aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother live. By Thanksgiving morning, there was 34 inches of snow nestled there in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains.

On Wednesday, I offered to sit and have breakfast with my grandma while my aunt went upstairs to get ready for the day. You see, grandma has Alzheimer's. My job was to make sure that she finished her breakfast and took her pills. As we sat there looking out at the snow, my grandma would drift off and say "I'm so lost". I would gently remind her that she was home and suggested that maybe she felt a little lost since she had just recently spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. She would nod and say that maybe I was right and then once again, she'd say "I'm so lost".

I kept prodding her to finish her Raisin Bran so that she could take her pills. We sat at the table together, looking out the bay window in the kitchen at the beautiful snow outside. She asked me when I had arrived and what day it was, and I told her that it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I told her that I had come with my parents from Indiana to visit and spend the holiday with her. We repeated that conversation about a dozen times over a ten minute period. Occasionally grandma would remark that her memory was not as good as it used to be. And then she said it. She reached out and put her hand on mine and said "Sometimes I just close my eyes and say 'Bring Audine back'". I placed my right hand on top of hers and felt tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I turned toward the window and thought "Me too." In that moment, I realized that my grandma has some awareness, albeit limited, that she is not the same as she used to be. Her memory continues to slip away. Grandma may feel lost. But people do not consist of memory alone. She cannot follow directions very well anymore. She cannot sit and play cards with us, as she always loved to do. But she is still my grandma. Her smile still warms my heart. Her hugs still embrace me with love. She still remembers my name. She could still recognize the beauty of a doe emerging from the woods, looking for a bite to eat on a cold, wintry morning. I can't "bring Audine back". But I can meet her where she is with open arms and loving acceptance, and help to keep her memory alive with her help, hand in hand.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

At a Loss for Words

This past week has been very difficult for my family. My sister-in-law's mother died unexpectedly on July 1, after just being diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks ago. I found myself at a loss for words to convey how I was feeling when I heard the news. Almost immediately, I began to worry that I would say the "wrong" thing, that I would not be able to express myself in a way that would show compassion in the midst of  my sister-in-law's loss. I knew that I could not imagine what she was going through. I am blessed to have both of my parents healthy and still living.

I have always been better able to deal with facts than with feelings. I'd much rather stick to intellectual  knowledge, logic, proof, anything concrete that I can touch, see and hear. I am much more equipped to deal with physical pain rather than emotional pain. That viewpoint was at times helpful when I was still working in the health care field, but I have since learned that that viewpoint does not serve me well when it comes to my day to day interactions with others.

Now, I can see that my ability to identify my feelings, and to allow myself to experience my emotions without trying to run away from them, has changed. I am learning to sit within the silence and stillness, in God's presence, even if it feels uncomfortable. After the family viewing time passed, I went out into the lobby of the funeral home and watched people as they came in to pay their respects. I was still trying to figure out what I should say to "make it all better" because that is what I tend to want to do. I wanted to fix something that cannot be fixed and I felt helpless as I sat with my two nephews, ages 5 and 7,  trying my best to answer their questions in a way they might be able to understand. It broke me heart to see them crying, knowing that they will not have Grammy here to laugh and play with them anymore. As the visitation period was ending and I took my seat in the funeral parlor for the service, I was still racking my brain for what to say. I sat there, listening and praying for God's guidance and about halfway through the service it came to me. In my mind, I could hear my good friends gently reminding me to "keep it simple" and "put it in God's hands". The service came to a close and as I went up to the casket one last time to pay my final respects, I looked over at my sister-in-law, my brother and my two nephews, I wrapped my arms around them and simply said "I love you". I don't believe that any big, fancy words could have expressed my emotions or the compassion that I felt for them any better than uttering those three simple words, words which came from my heart rather than from my mind. If I continue to seek out God's guidance in whatever I am facing, I will not find myself at a loss for words.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God is ready to listen. Am I?

I met with a friend the other day for a cup of coffee and some conversation and an interesting topic came up. We were wondering why we seem to wait until we are in great pain before seeking out God's guidance in life circumstances rather than turning to God before we reach the breaking point. I know that I've thought about that before. I have even made "pledges" with God that I will do better, be more faithful and trusting, and spend more time listening for His guidance rather than telling Him what I think I need or want to be done in a particular circumstance. I have discovered that my ways never seem to work. And yet I keep practicing the same old behavior, expecting different results each and every time I turn to God. Knowing that in my head did not lead me to understanding that in my heart, even though on those rare occasions in which I did turn to God first, I got some peace of mind that allowed me to deal with my life circumstances.

It has only been within the last six months or so that I have made some changes in the way I put my faith into practice. I have developed the habit of spending some time alone with God in prayer and meditation in the morning before I leave for the day. I share with God whatever is on my mind. I ask for Him to guide my thoughts and actions throughout the day and to show me how to be compassionate and helpful to others. And then I do something that is not usually in my general nature - I take time to listen for God's voice. I slow down my mind and open my heart and simply sit in God's presence. I have discovered that when I make the time to do this, my days are happier. I enjoy being in the company of others. My problems do not weigh me down and render me immobile or leave me paralyzed by fear. I see and take advantage of opportunities to help others. I feel a sense of contentment and peace within myself. I take better care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. It makes me a better person. At the end of the day I take the time to thank God for the gift of another day and for all of the blessings in my life. I keep a handwritten gratitude journal to record the many things that bring me a sense of joy because I find that having tangible evidence in front of me allows me to look back and see all that I have been given, and it reminds me that life is indeed good, even on those days where I can hardly think of a single thing to write down.

Do I do this perfectly? Do I do this every single day? No, I don't. There are mornings where I oversleep and have to go running out the door for an appointment. There are days where I am sick and barely have the energy to get up and go to the bathroom. There are days where I am simply being stubborn and do not take the time to be with God. There are days that I am angry or sad or afraid that God will see something in me that I do not want Him to see. That being said, I have found that with just a little bit of effort on my part, I can and do have time for God, and each time I sit down in quiet prayer and meditation, I feel a sense of  inner strength that allows me to continue to learn and grow in faith. For me, it is a matter of priority - spending 15 minutes of quiet time or laying in bed for an extra 15 minutes? I think I'll stick with what helps me along my spiritual path rather than skipping out on God and waiting until my pain is so great that I am grasping at straws and looking for anything and everything to bring me some sort of immediate relief, regardless if that is helpful or harmful to me. I believe that God is there to help me in my times of need. I also believe that He wants to share in my times of joy. He is always there to listen. Am I willing to let Him?