Wander On, Weary Soul

We have a couple of amazing neighbors named Roberto and Maria. They’ve been married around 50 years, and they’re the type of neighbors that sit out on their front porch and invite you in for tea and cookies or even wine and bbq depending on the time of day. We’ve been truly blessed to have this couple in our lives as they’ve offered us many words of wisdom.

Last week, Roberto gave me a recording of The Bluegrass Gospel Project, and I was struck by a song called “Wander On, Weary Soul” which you can listen to at the end of my post. Even if you’re not a fan of bluegrass, I think you’ll find the lyrics both beautiful and comforting. Basically, it’s about how you just have to keep going no matter how difficult your situation is or how long it may last. There’s a lot of nature imagery used such as being in a snow storm as it’s getting dark while going up a mountain. In the last line of the chorus, the singer points out, “You shall be free as neither does the river know the way down to the sea”.

This song has been a source of comfort to me, especially over the last couple of days. You see, this week is my spring break. It’s normally a time for me to recharge my batteries going into the final quarter of the school year when the kids are at their wildest and there’s so much still left to accomplish. Unfortunately, my mom is exhibiting some of the negative behaviors she displayed 3-5 years ago when she last lived with us. These are the same behaviors I witnessed growing up as well. I’m not going to go into details but I was hoping things would be different this time. It seems that I’m in a snowstorm entering a time of darkness while traversing a mountain. I don’t know how long or crooked the course is that lays before me, but I take comfort knowing that I’m not alone, that others have faced long and difficult journeys, and that there will be an end at some point.

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A Day of Rest

I was raised by an Italian Catholic mother, so guilt has always been something I’ve experienced to a great degree. I was able to decrease the amount of guilt I experienced when I left home and became protestant, but it’s something that I still struggle with from time to time. Guilt can be good in that it’s a signal from our conscience or God that we’re not doing what is good and noble, but it can also crush one’s spirit and make one feel unworthy, and I don’t think God wants that.

I’ve recently started reading a devotional book called Not Alone by Nell Noonan, a woman of great faith and strength who took care of her invalid husband for some years before his passing. I knew her personally because she attended my church, but because I wasn’t a caregiver, I never felt the need to read her book…until now. It has helped me in doing just what the title suggests…feeling “not alone”, and it has given me some strength and helped me forgive myself for the times when I feel inadequate.

Taking care of an 87-year-old can be difficult, and when you’re a caregiver for someone, you will invariably feel some guilt if you become impatient (when having to repeat yourself a lot for instance) or don’t feel you’re doing enough for that person. I’ve noticed that when I’m tired or not feeling well, I tend to be more impatient with my mother, and when I’m under fatigue and duress, that’s also when I tend to eat things that aren’t so good for me. I had a hectic week, and I faltered in my endeavor to stay gluten free, and I ended up in a big flare of my Dermatomyositis Friday and Saturday, necessitating my taking a bunch of Prednisone. Fortunately, it worked its magic so I could take my mother to the emergency room yesterday afternoon. Apparently, she has now developed cellulitis, a bacterial infection on her leg. They released her after giving her an IV antibiotic and a prescription for more of the same in capsule form, but we’ve got to keep close tabs on the situation since she’s elderly and has Diabetes.

After I waited in line at Walgreen’s for twenty minutes this morning, I went home and helped mom with a shower, determined not to feel guilty for missing church.  As mom napped in her recliner, I listened to the rain fall via my Calm app while I typed away on the first half of this blog post, avoiding practicing for a presentation that I’m giving Tuesday afternoon.

After fixing lunch, I decided that I would bake some bread, something I haven’t done in a long time. Because of my gluten sensitivity, I can’t eat it, but I can still enjoy the smell of it baking, and I know my husband and mom will enjoy eating a fresh warm slice with some butter. When I started getting out the flour, yeast, sugar, and butter, my mom wheeled her walker into the kitchen and asked if she could help, and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. There wasn’t much she could do but sit and supervise,which she did,  letting me know that she always used lard instead of butter in her recipe and warning me repeatedly not to let the butter, milk, and sugar  mix get too hot on the stove “because it will kill all the yeast”. Usually, her repeated warnings would frustrate me, but instead I found myself smiling and accepted that this is who she is and who she has always been, a perfectionist when it comes to baking.

She greased a bowl into which I could put the dough to rise. I know she missed doing the mixing and kneading, but she still seemed content with just sitting and talking about how her own mother would let the dough rise all night because she always made a large batch; she would make several loaves each Saturday. She smiled as she told me this, and I felt some of that guilt I’ve been feeling  lately slip away and a peace came over me, a peace that comes from letting go of some obligations and just enjoying the time you have with those you love, doing activities that you enjoy.

God wants us to have a day of rest, a Sabbath, each week, and today, the reason for it really hit home. God modeled having a day for rest in Genesis, not because he needed a day of rest, but because he knew that we would. We’re just better when we’ve had rest…not just physically but mentally and spiritually as well. We cannot really take care of others unless we take time to care for ourselves.

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Photo courtesy of Sean Stratton via Unsplash.com

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Home again

Today I brought my mom home from rehab. The social worker wanted to keep her another week but decided to release her sooner because of her confusion and her penchant for being “feisty”. She now has a doctor’s order for a nurse, nurse’s aide, physical therapist, and occupational therapist. The nurse is supposed to come tomorrow to evaluate her.

We got mom settled in rather quickly this afternoon, and I got to give my first insulin shot. (Yea, me!) Fortunately, she is able to stand and walk again, but she’s not walking very well and gets tired easily. I’m not sure what therapy will accomplish considering that she has congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and emphysema, as well as bad knees, but we’ll see. I wasn’t sure they would get her standing or walking on her own again at all, but they have. In my opinion, health care workers are angels in human form. Some of the things they do border on the miraculous!

So besides looking after my mom and running errands all the time (taking her to doctor’s appointments, running to Walgreen’s to pick up her medicine, helping her change and shower), what am I doing with my free time? Well, besides working 45+ hours a week, and trying not to let everyone down where my volunteer work is concerned, I’ve been asking God, “What is your will for my life and when will things start looking up?”

I guess I’ve sort of been feeling sorry for myself when really I shouldn’t. I took on the responsibility of looking after my mom after her heart attack, and my husband is able to watch her during the day since he’s not working outside of the home…not for money yet anyway. I had felt like I overextended myself, and I was looking for a way to draw back a bit; this has certainly given me reason to do so. We’ve learned to live more frugally, living solely on my public educator paycheck. I’m also not freaking out about some stuff like I used to. I guess having an extremely sick relative can help you put things into perspective. Still, I can’t help but think back to better times when we had more money and time at our disposal. I know this is a learning experience and that it will make me a better person, but I still miss the old times.

We’re told in Proverbs 3:5-6 to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct your paths.” This is much easier said than done, but I’m going to try to do it anyway. Please pray for me and my family as we go through this difficult season in our lives.

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Hospital (continued)

It’s now two days since my mom came to the hospital. I can’t say admitted because a social worker came by earlier and said she was never admitted but is just under observation. I’m not sure how that’s possible since the emergency room doctor said he was going to admit her, and they’ve been working to re-hydrate her while running a lot of tests, but I will have to talk o the doctor when he comes around.

What we do know at this point is that an increase in Bumex to get the excess fluid off her lungs dehydrated her, but now she’s rehydrated and her kidneys are functioning better. She isn’t hallucinating like she was, but she is still a bit confused, not always knowing where she is or that I’m her daughter. The MRI showed that she has microvascular ischemic changes in her brain and the doctor said he thinks she is developing dementia. After reading up on it last night, it seems like he may be correct.

I’m not sure what will happen next. I only know that I’m tired, and I  can’t bring her home if she still can’t stand or walk. This situation has been a real test of faith, but I am still going to trust that God will help us through it.

 

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Hospital

I had to call for an ambulance this morning. My mother could not move her legs due to intense physical pain. She’s been having problems standing and walking since Wednesday, but it’s gotten much worse, and now she’s hallucinating. I’m not sure if it’s her kidneys or her brain, but it it’s awful to witness. Hopefully, the medical staff can discern the problem. They gave her morphine ten minutes ago and now she’s sleeping.

I’m going to be very honest. I was pretty upset with God Friday night when she was in a lot of pain. She wouldn’t let us call for an ambulance, and I felt completely helpless. I cried a lot and begged God not to let her suffer, but for some reason, he’s decided to let her go through this. It’s so hard not having answers and not knowing what to expect. I still have faith in God, but it’s hard to fathom why he lets his people endure so much.

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Quiet, please!

I recently finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I appreciated this book in that I not only learned about key differences between extroverts and introverts, but it made me feel validated and appreciated as an introvert. Before now, I’ve often felt like a square peg trying to fit myself into a round hole. This is because I’ve been labeled as “shy”, “quiet”, or even “mousy” several times in the past. The author, Susan Cain points out, however, that 1/3 to 1/2 of people are introverts, but that our culture, our schools, and our workplaces tend to place more value on extroverts. Our culture even glorifies them. Cain discusses all the wonderful attributes of introverts such as being cautious in high risk situations. We’re less likely to end up in the hospital, drive too fast, lose a lot of money in the stock market or on bad business deals, etc. She does point out some of our disadvantages as well, though. For instance, we tend to be less efficient in doing tasks because we like to reflect on them first like spending some time studying a maze that we’re given on paper before we start trying to draw our way through it. Sometimes we’re TOO cautious. We can also lose out on opportunities due to our lack of charisma. Fortunately, many of us do come out of our shells if we’re asked to do or talk about something we’re passionate about. Maybe that’s why I enjoy being a librarian. I love reading. researching, and writing, and I like talking to kids about those things.

Anyway, my mom is doing a bit better, and her extroverted self is definitely back. The doctor increased her diuretic due to all the fluid on her lungs, and told her she’s to put her feet up more and use her oxygen concentrator during the day and not just at night. As a result, she’s not coughing nearly as much as she was, and she seems to have a bit more energy. What this means, however, is that she’s being more social and talking more. She’s always been extroverted and doesn’t like solitude. It makes her feel out of sorts. Meanwhile, I LOVE solitude and quiet, so it’s been a little bit of a challenge. I have to keep reminding myself that I should value the time that I have left with her, and let her talk about what she needs to talk about. In his book How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders, David Solie asserts that seniors need to talk as part of their legacy. They need to talk about their past and basically relive it, sharing insights they feel are important in order to find closure and feel that their memories will live on through another generation.

I’m hoping that as my mom continues to get her strength back (if she does continue to), I will be able to be the kind of caring daughter that I would like to be. My mom and I did not get along very well the last time she lived with me. I really want this time to be different. An interesting quote in the aforementioned book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was about a psychologist named Dan McAdams. Cain writes, “We all write our life stories as if we were novelists, McAdams believes, with beginnings, conflicts, turning points, and endings. And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives. Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined otherwise good things…while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise…Those who lives more fully realized lives…tend to find meaning in their obstacles” (Cain 263). This really resonated with me because I used to be one of those unhappy people who would be mired in feelings of sadness or resentment or guilt over past events, but now I’m trying to let go of those feelings and instead, learn from the past and see events as a chance at growing. Therefore, I’m choosing to see this second chance with my mom as an opportunity to be both more patient and assertive, taking advantage of the time and distance I’ve had for reflection on the lessons I’ve learned.

 

 

 

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On Forgiveness

In case you haven’t been reading my blog, or it’s been awhile, my eighty-seven-year-old mother moved in with me December 30th, one week after having a heart attack. She lived with me 3-5 years ago, and it didn’t go very well. She was still as stubborn, critical, rude and bossy as she was when I was growing up. I thought I had forgiven her for things she had said and done in my youth, but I hadn’t, and I was constantly tormented by memories of the past and resentment. When she got mad at me for refusing to take her to Olive Garden for the third time in a week and insisted on moving in with my sister in Memphis, I felt a surge of relief. Yes! I almost cried aloud. After 1 year and 11 months, I was finally going to be free. Looking back, I should not have endured such bad treatment from her. My sister certainly didn’t. My mom lasted exactly one month at my sister’s before a major fallout. After that she lived in an independent living “retirement resort” where she lived 2 1/2 years. During that time, I was able to forgive her and we had pleasant talks on the phone and visits in person. (It seems that it’s much easier to forgive someone the more physical distance there is between you.)

On December 23rd (three and a half weeks ago), she had a heart attack. The doctor at the hospital said she probably didn’t have long to live since she refused to have a stint put in, a decision she now regrets. I realized that I had to let bygones be bygones and take her in since she couldn’t live on her own anymore, and my husband agreed. I have to admit that hearing the doctor say she probably wouldn’t live long made the decision easier. I hoped she would be respectful once she moved back in with us, but I figured that if she wasn’t, at least it wouldn’t be for long.

It turns out that things are very different this time from the last. My mother is frail, and her condition seems to have humbled her quite a bit. She needs my help with doing everyday tasks such as showering and dressing.  She also says please and thank you, something she wouldn’t do last time she lived with me, no matter how much I told her I would appreciate it and it would make her seem less bossy. In fact, she would actually laugh at the idea before, but lately, she has been saying please and thank you quite a bit, and a few days ago, as I was dressing her, she said, “God bless you for helping your old mother. I really hope God does good things for you.” I was truly taken aback. This was not the woman I remembered from before!

Since then, we’ve had a couple of talks about death and dying. She told me one afternoon that she’s done some bad things like saying terrible things to her mother, and she hopes God forgives her. I asked if she truly felt sorry and if she has asked God for forgiveness, and she said that she did. I assured her that God gives his forgiveness readily to those who truly feel sorry, ask for forgiveness, and forgive others. I asked her if she held any grudges toward anyone (something she excelled at when she was younger), and she said, “No, I don’t feel any anger towards anyone anymore.” If you knew my mother, and the vendettas she used to harbor toward others, you would know what a truly remarkable transformation this is.

Yesterday, when she asked me what I thought Heaven would be like and what she will do in Heaven, I told her that when she gets there, she will probably see her mom and pop as well as her six brothers and sisters who have gone on before her as well as my dad and my brother. I told her that they’ll probably surround her and give her hugs with big smiles on their faces. Then they would all sit down at a great big table outside, and it’ll be loaded with the best Italian food you can imagine, and all she will feel is peace and joy all around her. She seemed to like that version of Heaven. I really hope that’s what it’s like, and I hope that Jesus is sitting at the table with them and feels joy at knowing my mother and her family are happily reunited.

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Mom loves it when CJ comes over to her for attention.

 

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