Archive for February, 2010

26
Feb
10

there is now

My days have a quality of completeness…each one complete in itself. This is a very curious thing to me. I’ve always been a person connected to tomorrow, next week, next month…always looking ahead with lists and plans. Now my lists are contained and geared to completing each day without something important being forgotten. I am a care-giver for adopted daughter and I do this whole-heartedly, because our relationship no longer has tomorrows and next years in it. It is now…today…this minute, this hour. There will be no retirement for the three of us…no peace van  with satellite dish on top to roam the country like a traveling road show. There is now and I am thankful for that.

AD calls me mama all the time now and I respond naturally. I am old enough to be her mama. We met shortly after her mother’s untimely death. Her mother and I were close to the same age at the time. I wonder if I could have been a good mother to one as talented, smart and…dare I say it… headstrong as AD? I doubt it. In those days I was barely able to keep house and home together. I have grown through the years. No going back.

Today I am more than I was a year ago. There is a part of me that has blossomed because of our friendship. In the last couple of weeks we have come to call ourselves “a good team” and that is true. We are a good team for progressive change—making things happen. I am the emotional-intuitive. She is the intuitive-analytical. Together we make a good team and we continue to be that until she slips off into the last days and hours. And maybe even then, I might find it continues. She says she will be hovering and I will know. It has been my experience that persons important to me lie deep in my heart after they pass away—become part of me.

This is AD’s favorite picture of herself…

24
Feb
10

forgiveness = grace

This afternoon, Graceful Spirit, the young pastor of our church came to visit adopted daughter. It was a total delight to spend this time together…a blessing. Once again I see God’s answer to my prayers coming not as I expect but creatively and constructively…all in a pattern for growth and nourishment.

I learned something that I didn’t know when I wrote my last posting, Forgiveness 70 x 7. In talking with Graceful Spirit, AD explained the reason for the visit she had made on Sunday to our former church…the visit I said I did not fully understand. I still don’t understand the personal underpinnings, but I now understand that AD’s purpose was to show the congregation, in a simple act of confession, that forgiveness was the doorway to freedom. She wanted folks to see that being sorry for hurting others was not so hard to do. She was modeling it, living it.  Seen in this light, she was God’s voice…a vessel of love: Grace

24
Feb
10

forgiveness 70 x 7

Last Sunday, we all went back to our former church to support adopted daughter in her desire to address the congregation on the importance of maintaining loving relationships above disagreement. We brought her in a wheel chair with portable oxygen and still the effort was physically considerable for her. I don’t completely  know where this desire has its genesis in her own 48 years. I don’t completely know because AD is a very private person. She does not talk extensively about her feelings in connection with her life growing up in an extended family of wealthy immigrants. I have heard stories, and I know the recent past, but there is not a lot of connection along the emotional road from there to here. And curiously enough…I am a confidante.

So I don’t know all that went in to this effort to speak to the congregation and I don’t understand her request for forgiveness, but it seemed to resonate with some of the people there. The pastor responded by asking forgiveness in behalf of the congregation. I have no way of knowing how the congregation felt about that, but it was an important step for the pastor to take. It was a very dramatic and meaningful time. Ad is now quite exhausted by the effort and I am wandering along the path, not quite with it and not quite without. While 99% were glad to see and receive AD, not everyone was glad to see Big Dawg and me—probably most, but certainly not everyone.

We knew that would be the case going in, and were especially aware when sitting directly across from us was person X,  whose dark and grim demeanor was much the same as it had been a year ago, on Pentecost Sunday, 2009. That was the day the congregation exploded, giving us a clear and painful message that we were not to be included into membership. Not only was X’s demeanor the same, but  X was sitting in just about the same proximity to us as last year! It was eerie and unsettling, but we persevered. Just before AD was wheeled up to the front of the church to speak, person X got up and left the sanctuary. I found this action abruptly rude, careless, egoistic at best and a slap in the face of the Body of Christ at worst.

I did not think about this incident until late in the day when I could put aside my public persona and be at home. The incident began to haunt me as memories of the past year flooded my heart and mind, giving free rise to my autonomic nervous system’s response to remembered pain and agony. We had become scapegoats at that church for nine months. Although I’d come closer to God through that suffering, it was at times extremely painful, bringing up childhood experiences of rejection as well as a string of adult experiences. The forgiveness I’d come to in the past several months was being tested and I was teetering on the brink of despair and self-loathing for about  36 hours—teetering and nearly falling from acceptance of God’s love. I could only breathe YHWH and let the Spirit intercede (Romans 8). By Tuesday, I was climbing back up the ladder and leaving goats behind. Today I find this passage in Richard Rohr’s meditation  (February 24) and it helps me put persons like X, as well as goats, in perspective:

We have always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil by some means—and it was invariably some practice other than forgiveness or healing. We usually dealt with human anxiety and evil by sacrificial systems of some sort, and that has largely continued to this day. (Exclusion, torture, war, segregation, class division, prejudice, and racism would be its common forms.)

Historically, we moved from human sacrifice, to animal sacrifice, to various modes of seeming self-sacrifice. But even in self-sacrifice, it was not usually the ego self that we sacrificed, but most often the material self as its vicarious substitute. The physical body became our usual scapegoat instead of the real problem which was the ego—a rather clever game of smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile the ego has remained “scot free” and off the hook for most of Christian history, even at the highest levels of church.

Whether you agree with Rohr’s analysis wholly, in part, or not at all is not my concern. What is important to me today is that …the rivers did not overwhelm me and I was not burned.

19
Feb
10

long ago and yesterday

Today is Friday and I am waiting for the hospice nurse to come visit AD. I look forward to her visits because they are informative and stabilizing for me as a (novice) care-giver. While I wait I think about my friend, adopted daughter, cancer buddy and teammate. This latter description is one we came to recently as we realized the synchronicity of the dance we are doing together. I am learning so much from standing back and standing by, trusting my intuition while ready to give it up when I am off course. This is a truly sacred space we are occupying together. I don’t think about the end, although I know it is not terribly far off and I am somewhat familiar with what it looks like. I think about now and sometimes I think about a few of the yesterdays, but if I do too much of the latter I get weepy and that is not helpful except when I am alone and private.

AD was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two months after my own diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A month prior to my diagnosis I had fallen down the basement stairs and fractured my right foot. By September, just after my first chemo session, and before her diagnosis, she took me in a wheel chair to buy a few items of clothing that I needed. I was very weak and still short of breath. It was tiring and we weren’t out very long, but the memory comes to me now that the roles are reversing. I want to share photographs with you that in my heart, speak of the relationship we have together. These are from October,  2006, after her surgery and first chemo session.

So long ago and just yesterday…..

17
Feb
10

through glass bottom boats

Long before I had intimate knowledge of death and dying, I came across this poem by Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. I was struck then, and remain impressed by its impactful imagery. I find it curiously comforting, with it’s twist of humor, the way I see God smiling lovingly on our small selves sometimes. God is always looking at us…at me, but I am not always looking back. I am not always willing to go where I would not choose to go. But always, and faithfully, God finds ways to speak to me as a mama might speak reassuringly to her frightened child. I come around and am back in the rhythm of life’s giving and taking, finding and losing.

And Frank is one of those, looking down in his glass bottom boat…

Waiting Game, 1994, Naomi M. Pridjian

16
Feb
10

home again

It has been nearly two weeks since I returned from the Mennonite Arts Weekend in Cincinnati (MAW). I wanted  to write about this  earlier,  but I couldn’t seem to find enough interior space to organize the experience into words and sentences. This was our last trip together, Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter and I. We would not get to retirement at 50. We would not head out together to roam the country, visiting churches in an RV with a big PEACE sign on its side. This trip to Cincinnati would be all of it and none of it. She wanted to come along. We rented a very big van with room for her to lay down all the way and still plenty of room for all the equipment and artwork I had to bring along. A dear old friend (DOF) flew in to go along with us. The trip was a sober reality, not the devil-may-care trip we’d dreamed about.

We arrived early, set up our hotel suite and headed into the weekend’s business on the following day.  AD slept all of that next day. The trip was more tiring for her than she’d expected. We three, BG, DOF and I went on to set up my installation and panel display in  the gallery and the projection equipment in the chapel for my presentation the next day. The hosts of the event were very gracious and helpful, but there were snafus and unexpected problems to be solved, so set-up took a very long time. Anxiety was not completely absent. I had spent two years thinking about my theme of suffering as Sacred Spaces/Common Ground, and six months in actual preparation. All the while working at liturgical installations at our church, keeping house, keeping the blog, maintaining activity in an online Mennonite listserve, mentoring a young woman friend, and then since January, taking on the responsibilities of primary care-giver for AD. I was exhausted and sad…running on empty. This was not what I had expected the MAW weekend to look like. It was to be a celebration, but I did not feel celebratory. Four friends and Darling Daughter came to support and celebrate with us. I could not manage a light heart.

At 9:00 on Saturday morning, I began my presentation:

I chose suffering as my contribution to our theme for this weekend—The Art of Place: Sacred Spaces and Common Ground. Before I plunge into my talk, I want to say that it is a great privilege to take part in this festival of the arts and to be here with you tonight, sharing some of the experiences that have transformed my life. I’d like to thank Hal Hess, Anne Hevener and the committee for inviting me to share my journey with you this weekend.

I concluded with a PowerPoint presentation of a cross-section of my work. It went very well despite the hang-over I felt from too much insomnia sedation  the night before. I see this as God’s grace and myself as messenger. During this past year I seem to have miraculously acquired a skill in reading a prepared text in an intimate, conversational fashion and I cannot account for this. I had hoped to make contacts for my liturgical art, but that didn’t happen. I had lots of positive feedback from lots of people, but it was all centered on my Dying to Live installation…my cancer story.

The rest of the day was a bit of a fog for me as I hadn’t had much sleep and was running on fumes. By afternoon I was a ghost and spent a couple of hours asleep on one of the back, padded pews of the church, while the assembled faithful blended their voices in Mennonite singing. If I haven’t ever mentioned Mennonite singing before, let me do so now: every Mennonite grows up singing and reading and/or playing music. Even the poorest congregation sings beautifully. They are not so up to speed in the liturgical art and dance as worship category, but music is exemplary, so I must have slept very well. I don’t remember ever waking up during those two hours, and when I did wake up, I wished I hadn’t had to do so.

My memory of the event is hazy. I know there were fun times with friends and wonderful events, but I can’t seem to recall them very well. It is as though a veil covers my memory. I felt relief once we arrived home on Monday. My buddy OM came to help us put the seats back in the van and stayed for dinner. Empress Bird joined us at table as well and that was good. Afterward, Ad rested while BD, OM, EB and DOF all played Scrabble. They had a hilarious time and it was good to feel joy and light around me.

The next day AD slept a lot and wasn’t feeling all that well. I found her mood and affect markedly different and didn’t know what to think. As novice care-giver I was concerned. The following day the new strange behavior continued. When the hospice nurse came, she took all the necessary readings and suggested it was time to start oxygen and increase the morphine. So, the oxygen machine arrived and the meds increased, and  AD began to feel better.

Before DOF, who is a former dancer and interplay leader,  left for the airport, she and AD did some hand-dancing together. It was lovely to see Ad’s face light up like a child seeing a robin’s nest of hatchlings for the first time. Small pleasures count big sometimes. After DOF left, we began slowing putting the pieces of our life back together…post Cincinnati… looking toward the next phase of living and loving together. The oxygen machine is a noisy presence, hissing and phewing its life-sustaining presence. We named it Darth Vader! It’s hard to ignore and hard to accept. Morphine is strangely helpful, both for the sufferer and the care-givers. I watch her take it and feel relief as though it were a healthful potion rather than the addictive opiate that it is.

I am waiting for the hospice nurse to arrive. I need to know that stats. My AD doesn’t say much about how she is feeling…doesn’t often know…I rely on the stats and the experienced nurse to tell me. When we’ve reached a new plateau in the dying process it is always a shock to my system, so this time I’m prepared. No more flying around in my head. I know there is a process underway here. The cancer will take over and the morphine will increase and eventually the two will shake hands and my dear friend, AD will go home.

But right now, we still have work to do and lives to live. We are busy…she with dying well and I with helping her to do that as best I can. It is not time for grieving yet. I am so busy keeping lots of balls in the air and picking them up when they bounce to the floor. Sometimes have to dust them off before tossing them back into my small universe. Dear God, don’t let go of us.

Our nearly twenty old cat, Frank had begun sleeping most of each day with AD. They were a great comfort to each other. This morning at 5:20 a.m. he  was in a lot of pain. We knew it was time and woke AD to say goodbye. We took him to the Emergency Vet Clinic straight-away. She says he will be waiting for her.

The nurse left. Oxygen has increased from 2 to 2.5; morphine increased by 2.5 ml. Ad is sleeping now and I have to get on with my list for today. I’m glad I had a chance to talk with you.

03
Feb
10

thought for the day

Just a thought for the day before I leave for Cincinnati:

Reconciliation

An act of reconciling or the state of being reconciled.

The process of making consistent or compatible.

Reconciling

To bring into agreement or harmony; make compatible or consistent

To reconsecrate

To restore




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