Home Part 3…Unpacking

Confession: I hate unpacking. I’m not a fan of moving either.

Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite Momisms was: a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Trouble for me was I had too many things and never enough places.

Not much has changed.

But I don’t just haul boxes from state to state, town to town, and house to house. There’s this emotional baggage I cart from place to place. And those boxes can be big, and extremely heavy. I’ve been carrying some of those boxes since childhood. And my kind husband has been kind and mostly quiet about the weight and the amount.

I’ve come to understand some of this baggage in new ways over the past two years, and more recently, thanks to Noom.

One of the things in my life that has been skewed and generally out of control has been my response to food and my propensity for overeating and eating unhealthily. It’s not that I haven’t known better (and taught others to do better), but I have lacked both the understanding of why and the willpower to stay committed to eating for health. The lessons provided with my Noom program fee, helped me to see what distortions and unhealthy rules I had adopted and lived by.

And while this isn’t a post about eating rules that sabotage health, the very thought that I continue to live by rules (aka unhealthy baggage) leaves me discouraged and waffling in my hope for things to get better. Unless I decide unpack the boxes, and get rid of the stuff, the thinking, the believing, holding me back from healing and happiness.

But what does it take to unpack the boxes I carried for a lifetime?

Grace. And by this I mean absence of judging and shaming. I’m referring to a gentleness that understands how beliefs are formed, and how they often necessary for survival.

Courage. I don’t see courage as the absence of fear, but as the commitment to move ahead in spite of it. The realization that the goal is important, but so is the process of achieving it.

Support. We were created for relationship. Not a one of us needs to go this alone. I love the biblical image of how during the battle the Israelites were winning when Moses lifted up the staff. When his strength wavered, his friends and family came alongside him and held up his arms. We need to find those who will offer strength and support when feel weak and vulnerable. And we need to find those we can lend support to.

Hope. We have to have that spark that encourages us to keep trying. We have to believe things can be better. One of my favorite movie lines comes from the movie “As Good As It Gets.” The main character wants to see his therapist, but without an appointment. When the therapist holds the line, the character walks out into the waiting room and looks at the other patients and asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Because of the devastation of COVID-19 pandemic, many people are asking when things will get back to normal? When will things get easy and familiar again? When will things stop being so difficult? Why do things have to be so difficult?

Just as there is little sense in carrying around belief baggage that no longer serves, there is very little logic in trying to back in time. Life and time are always moving forward. We can choose to not go along with that, to carry unnecessary baggage with us…but why?

And therein lies my hope. Life is ever moving forward. I was made for life. I was made to move forward. That my friends is what is normal. Not reaching back. Not trying to fix today with outdated strategies from yesterday.

Here’s a terrific piece of good news! The roadmap I choose to follow, the Bible, teaches that God is making things new…every day. And for each day there is a promise: because of God’s great faithfulness, each new day is met with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23-24, author’s paraphrase).

So while I hate unpacking, I’m ready for a lighter load. And looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Home Part 2…Memories

I’m getting settled. Husband and I have worked together to make our one room (large family room) function as bedroom, living room, office, and exercise space. Cozy. Putting the bed (twin with trundle) together was actually a fun experience. Sleeping in it even better.

Today in Arizona my siblings will be scattering my mother’s ashes across the desert she loved so much. Because of limited finances (neither husband or I have jobs or income), I decided not to fly out and participate. Part of me is sad to miss out, but the practical side of me won out. I will close my eyes and see her smile as she spoke of her love of the desert, and I will be okay.

Many years ago, after my dad died, we scattered his ashes on the 18th fairway of one of his favorite golf courses. At first this seemed odd. I had served as a pastor in several states, performed many funerals, and each one ended in a cemetery. Dad wanted to be cremated: pragmatic and cost effective. No services: too emotional, not his style. So, casting his cremains where he would be happiest made sense. Enough that it then became my mother’s wish to follow suit.

Here’s what makes that extra special in my mind. Every time I pass a golf course (and I did that daily on my way to work for the year after Dad died) I would think of my dad. I would remember his smile and stories of good games and lousy outings when he got home and put away his clubs. My husband golfed with my dad and it has been a special source of memories for him, too. That’s how we remember Dad. Not e don’t have to go to a certain cemetery and stare at a rock. We see him alive and happy.

So today, Mom will become one with the desert, and that makes me smile, but it will forever be owls that will trigger my memories of Mom. Like this little guy, perching on my coffee mug. It will be endless games of Scrabble, or Words with Friends…and I’m sure she would have loved Wordle.

This morning, I’m immensely grateful for the past two years (see previous posts that explain this life change). The cost was enormous. The discomfort, loneliness, distance, and loss immeasurable. I can’t thank my husband, daughters, and grandchildren enough for supporting me and loving me through this.

Once when I was in the throes of a teenager angsty tantrum, Mom and I had words. Exasperated, I went to the garage where my dad was creating beautiful pinecone wreaths. I had barely left the steps when the angry words came tumbling from my mouth, “How do you put up with her?”

He slowly removed his work gloves, set them on the table, and turned to look at me. I swear the moment was developing in the slowest motion possible. I stepped onto the garage floor and waited for him to speak.

“She’s your mother and you will respect her.”

That’s it. That’s all he said and then he went back to work.

I thought about that scene several times over my two years caring for Mom. Her rigid schedule and OCD behaviors could make me crazy in a blink. Her quirky rituals and superstitions most times made no sense…but that’s how she was. And I learned that I not only respected her, but loved her fiercely. And I would do whatever it took to make sure she was happy and well-cared for…to the very end.

I miss daily Scrabble. I miss knowing what day it was and exactly when it would be time to eat…and what. Nine pineapple chunks for breakfast with sliced banana—12 slices and exactly the same size. How to make a half a deli ham and sliced swiss cheese sammich with just the right amount of mustard. Dinner: Monday hotdogs; Tuesday boca burger; Wednesday mashed potatoes with Lloyds bbq; Thursday Gorton’s panko fish portions; Friday pizza; and Saturday grilled cheese. Sunday was up for grabs, but her two favorites were jumbo shrimp from Culvers, or a quesadilla from Chipotle.

I miss so much, but more than things…I have memories.

Home Again…Part 1: Adjusting

Two years. So much can happen. So much can change. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to you…you lived the last years, too. If you’re reading this you survived them, too.

Two years ago I went to the best conference of my life. Connecting with other women clergy within my denomination energized me and encouraged me. I was excited to get back to my congregation. But first a quick visit to get my Scrabble fix with Mom.

Two years ago she got sick and never really bounced back. Her breathing issues were complicated by her anxiety. Or was it the other way around? The cycle was vicious. Then the natural progression of age related dementia began to show up unannounced. Another severe lung infection and we called in support from hospice. She had several infections, but they cleared up with medication…except for this last time.

The day before Christmas Eve was a typical day. Sure, her appetite was off a little. But she was scolding the officials and coaching the teams from her chair as she watched a couple bowl games. Before that we managed to get in a game of Scrabble. All in all, a pretty normal day.

Until bedtime. As she was completing her usual bedtime routine she began to have breathing issues which switched on the anxiety. A dose of morphine, holding her hand for a bit so it could kick in, and then walking her to bed and tucking her in seemed to quell the attack. But her sleep was restless, and she cried out for it all to end. More hand holding and gentle words. I called hospice and was directed to use a med that would help with the secretions. This seemed to bring a little relief and she fell asleep. And then she was gone.

My husband and I had dreamed of somehow being able to purchase Mom’s house and live out our retirement in the beauty and warmth of Arizona. Not having enough means and Nelson needing to be in Ohio for his mom brought me back to Ohio.

In one of our conversations on the long trip home, I tried to express part of what made this obvious choice so difficult for me. I’m nearly sixty-five years old, and this is the first move I’ve made, we’ve made, without knowing where or what, without having purpose or direction. Limbo. Waiting. Trusting. Wondering. I’m living an unsettled sort of peace. And I’ll confess, I’m not particularly fond or comfortable with this strange mix of circumstances.

But I’m home. And we’ll continue to work out all that means, and where that goes. Because that’s what we do.

In Rembrance…In Unity

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. I love this Sunday. I loved it when I was a pastor. I observed it in all the denominations I worked with. The thought and feeling of partaking of the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world moves me, encourages me, humbles me. Today was no exception.

Today I worshipped outdoors with a group of people I have only met with twice before. The weather was perfect. The message clear and inspiring. Two of the pastor’s points stuck out to me.

First, he described a study that was done in which people were asked what their favorite phrase in the English language were. The number one response was, “I love you.” Understandable. Don’t we all love to hear that? Also high on the list, and pertinent to the message, “Dinner’s ready!”

Time to eat. Come and get it. Come and dine. Come to the table. Do you remember how you were called to dinner as a child? I don’t have particularly fond memories of dinnertime as a child–but oh how precious those shared meals became when shared them with friends in college, and later with community in the church.

The pastor’s text was Jesus invitation to the crowd as recorded in John 6. Everybody was invited. Everyone was included. Y’all come.

Who doesn’t want to hear that? We may need a bigger table.

The second thing that hooked my heart was the concept of remembrance. Living with Mom I’m daily dealing with issues of memory: odd rememberances, distorted memories, lost memories. Hers and mine!

As I sat in the gathering on Sunday morning, one question percolated to the top: What do you want me to remember today God? It seemed like a simple question, but it brought on a whole slew of recollections. They came in waves: communion services from across the years; faces of clergy mentors and friends; different places; and different times.

Sitting alone, in a gathering where I knew no one, I drew comfort in the sense not only of God being present, but with me–speaking my name. Just as the bubbling memories spoke to the how there had been people all along in this journey of faith, the Spirit gave clear assurance that even now when I felt so incredibly alone…I was not, and would never be.

Remembering this, hearing this, feeling this prods me to wonder if you, dear reader might be feeling alone. Jesus calls you to the table. There is clearly not just space, but a space for you. As you take your seat, please remember the times and places where God has brought you into the company of others as a means of assuring you of your place in the family, and God’s great grace and provision for us all.

yes magazine.org

Y’all, come.

Lessons Learned from Mom: Letting Go, Part One

So I’ve been here, living and caring for Mom one year, two months, and eight days. But who’s counting.

Life has been interesting and frustrating. I have spent a considerable amount of time playing mindless games on my phone and ipad. I haven’t been able to concentrate enough to read or write. I haven’t finished reading a single book clear through. And my writing feels pointless and overly repetitive.

So why am I trying again?

This week we began working with hospice. The team is absolutely tremendous, compassionate, encouraging, and gentle with Mom. I don’t feel quite as alone in this process.

The one word I have always associated with hospice and end of life is intentionality. Serious conversations and light-hearted remembering. Laughter and tears. And a clear willingness not to sweep things under the carpet. Finally, naming the elephant in the room. Giving up control. Relaxing a little.

All of those things are happening. And I’m among other things, I’m going to include some of those reflections here.

This morning Mom had an appointment for her pacemaker check. We weren’t sure if we needed to keep the appointment. We did the check and we have a follow-up with the cardiologist next week. We’re going to talk to him about whether we need to keep doing this. And ask him the question our hospice nurse asked: what about shutting the pacemaker off?

After the pacemaker check we went to LabCorp for blood work. This was for the cardiologist, too. They were running behind. Several people were waiting. Mom nearly fell asleep. I’m getting better at maneuvering the chair and the portable but cumbersome O2 tank.

After lunch Mom took a long and hard nap in her chair. She always looks so uncomfortable. She woke up hard. After a trip to the bathroom, when she was settled back in her chair, I checked on her. She was troubled by how long and hard she had slept. She looked at me and asked, “Is this how it’s going to be?”

I told her I don’t know, but we’re not going to go back to how things were. We talked for a bit about how things were changing and how hard it is for her to relinquish control. Her comfort has always been in her rigid schedule. On a MBTI she bleeds J. Her calendars have been the constant proof of her adherence to schedule and routine.

Today she told me to put her calendar away, she just didn’t feel like writing in it any more. So I did.

I guess I’m in charge of the schedule now.

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