Sunday, October 15, 2017

Halloween Memories









 Halloween has always been one of our family's favorite holidays, for we are all big kids at heart.
Take Mom for instance. The above photo is from last October twenty-eighth. I had been visiting for the day, and my nieces were painting pumpkins. Mom wanted in on the fun, and we gave her one of the bigger pumpkins and a few paints. Though I thought the design on hers turned out a bit silly and I'd grown frustrated of hearing her repeat the same questions over and over to my nieces, I never would have said a thing to her. She glowed as if painting a masterpiece smiling her missing-tooth grin and singing crazy songs; as content as my nieces were.

Back in the day, Mom spent plenty of time and money choosing really good candy to give away for the special night though much of it would end up in her belly, and we'd have to purchase new bags by the time the day rolled around. She would also help orchestrate the spooky porch and walkway to their house; every bit the "manager" as she pointed to where the gravestones should be, and the other assorted frightful objects.

I think back to those elaborate decorations of years past; I remember countless little children who seemed too afraid to come to Mom's porch to receive their candy until my son Matt would unmask from his Michael Myers or Samara costume, to show them it wasn't real. I remember Mom sitting outside in nicer autumn weather, a bowl of candy balanced on her lap as she greeted each child with a smile and a "Happy Halloween." Creepy music played from the hidden tape recorder stashed underneath the large bush.

My parent's house was the hub for many of our friends through the years to gather since the connecting roads and houses sat pretty close and walking always felt safe in the neighborhood. There was something magical on our Halloween nights. The air seemed to smell of chimney smoke, crisp, tart apples and the warm, cooking scent of jack-o-lanterns lit with the small stubs of candles on neighbor's porches. The swish of  fallen, crunchy leaves underfoot as we ran from house to house.

I think back to the time when my own children were small, and the Halloween exchange as we called it, with their bags of booty dumped out on the floor so we parents could check it over first. Then the trading would begin; each child finding their favorites to barter with. Countless haunted houses my brother and his friends fabricated in my parent's basement--all good clean fun!

 And was it all that long ago that my father walked my little legs off when I was a child; practically pulling me along to get more, more, more candy while I sweat beneath the old plastic Cinderella mask with its stretchy elastic band, hardy able to see through the small eye holes, barely able to breathe through the tiny mouth hole?

This year, the house is silent and partially empty. No creepy masked cement deer in the front yard, or yards of fake spider web stretched all over the porch and bushes. No porch witch stirring her plastic cauldron, no Styrofoam gravestones.

We will miss Mom during this holiday for we know how much she enjoyed it. I will miss the annual phone call I placed to her each Halloween from my home an hour away so that I could hear how their own night was going--all the fun they were having. I will miss the sound of the movie "Halloween" playing loudly in the background, and my father saying "It's all over but the shouting. Shut it down," as he switched off the outdoor light barring any late stragglers from knocking at their door.

I will content myself with memories; warm, cozy memories, and in my heart I will feel the love and fun in the Halloween legacy Mom left behind.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

A New Life






This past week I lost a beautiful friend. This woman knew the true meaning of kindness, gentleness, selflessness and love. She stood for what is good and right. She had a heart for God and her fellow man. I never saw her angry. I never heard an unkind word come out of her mouth. All I heard were positive statements, encouragement and prayers. I once was the recipient of one of the strongest prayers anyone ever prayed for me or a family member from her.

One morning, as we got together to discuss our writing projects, my friend asked if we could pray out loud together before we chatted. She asked if I had anything specific on my heart. When I shared a recent hurt with her, not only did we pray about it together, but she made a point to pray as if the situation was already resolved. She thanked God for taking care of it. She spoke confidently and boldly in one of the most powerful prayers I'd ever heard.

This woman also had a generous spirit. As an author, I know only too well how difficult it is to make a small profit from writing. When we purchase our own books for events, they are costly, and we try to perhaps make a few dollars with each sale. The book she'd written was centered around women who wanted to change their lives. Each of them had issues, a group of friends who met and encouraged one another. It was a wonderful story, and lives were changed by it. My friend would attend author events and announce at the end of her talk that if anyone wasn't able to afford her book, she would gladly give them one for free. She was like that. Nothing mattered except to be a blessing.

I want that legacy. I want someone to write words about me that I lived for others. Oh, I know I have had a good heart for people from time to time. But I find myself annoyed when called upon to go above and beyond lately. I think things out, and decide on the easier option--the more comfortable one. But what if I made a huge change? What if when I went to work, I looked for more to do instead of less? If I searched out things in the office to make my co-workers lives easier. What if I made that phone call to someone lonely instead of putting it off because I didn't have enough time to myself after a busy day? What if I listened to the still, small prompting that God places on my heart every so often to go out of my way for someone else?

This morning was one example. I've been praying since my friend's death for God to use me each day. I've been praying for the desire to be a blessing to others. I got up for church, hubby had to work, so I knew I'd be going alone. But I like my alone time. The drive is quiet and pleasant. It's time for me to reflect and talk to God from my heart. And sitting by myself in church feels wonderful, because I can speak quietly to the Lord without distraction. Today was different. I learned a valuable lesson: never ask God about being a blessing to others if you aren't prepared for an immediate answer. I thought about a friend up the road who had just undergone knee surgery about a month-and-a-half ago. I knew she hadn't been back to church recently. It bothered me all morning about texting her, asking if she'd like for me to pick her up and go with me. So I listened to the voice in my heart and phoned her. She was ecstatic. She emphatically said "yes," and the extra twenty minutes or so it took out of my private little morning was well worth it.

We had great conversation. She smiled and thanked me several times. She told me I'd made her day. Yes, that was much better than my selfish little cocoon that I sometimes weave myself into. It's not easy to give up parts of who we are. Especially when moments are so limited when we work full time, or are a caregiver or wife and mother. My time is precious, for it is time to write--painting pictures with my words, inventing fictional towns and characters to inspire others. But what good am I if I don't live that sort of life--the true reaching out to others type of living that goes the extra step, leaves the zone of comfort and becomes a light to make someone else's world a little brighter?

By the way, the prayer my dear friend prayed so strongly for me that day so long ago did get answered in a major, powerful way. It wasn't overnight, but it was in God's timing; a perfect timing no less.

Here's to you, Michele, dear friend, beautiful lady, big heart, and kindhearted person. You made my world a better place. You left a legacy of such a good, good life behind. May I begin to follow in the footprints you indelibly left behind to make such a mark in the world.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Ask






We sat riveted to the television set yesterday and Facebook yesterday for Hurricane Irma updates. My husband's son, Michael, had decided to stay and ride it out with his beloved dog Ella. Though he encouraged his wife and little daughters to flee to safety, he left us with concerns and anxiety over his outcome.

Standing in church yesterday listening to the words of the songs, powerful Holy Spirit-filled lyrics brought comfort and a deep centered peace to my innermost being. It was in that moment with arms raised to my God that I gave Him my all. Trust, honor, worship, adoration. In the middle of the storm, literally and figuratively, I knew His desire was for good and He would see Michael through as well as so many others we'd been praying for.

It may seem too easy to some--this complete letting go. A trust that you have deep inside your soul that God's plans are for you and not against you. I've seen it many times, you see in my life. Too many times to deny that His mighty Hand was at work and that prayer was heard.

As a young child, my mother had severe depression and anxiety issues. It wreaked such havoc on her health that she was hospitalized many times. Though I didn't completely understand, the innocent child that I was, believed. I never envisioned life without Mom. When things looked their bleakest, when family members doubted that she might return home, I always felt a sense of everything working out. I may not have prayed as I do now, but a quiet trust became such a big part of me.

When a few years later, Mom was well, our family knew that a miracle had occurred and our lives would be better for it. Never again did I see my mother go down the path of fear or darkness. My father was a praying man too, you see. And his father, my Nonno, another who prayed.

I would learn through the years to ask God for situations that would arise, if I should continue on a certain path, or let go. When I would strike off on my own, confusion set in. But if I remained steadfast in prayer, an answer always presented itself. Maybe not the one I wanted, but in time, I would see how the outcome was for my good.

There was prayer during my year-long battle with scoliosis. Prayer for my brother, a change-of-life baby that Mom was told to terminate due to health issues.

A difficult time for my son in his late teens almost got the best of me. Fear and worry began to engulf me, threatening all that was good. The prayers of so many would carry us through this battle, and nothing harmed us.

I prayed in my forties about a man I met. I would have to move away from the town, friends, and family I loved. God's signposts pointed the way: Go. But I never knew that there was a reason even deeper than love that would bring Jim and I together.

Jim grew up with drinking as a normal every day occurrence. I hadn't been around this sort of behavior before. I didn't understand his issues with binge drinking, or the need for alcohol every day of a person's life. But I would see him begin to change during these times. With my heart breaking, I wondered if I had done right by marrying this man. I loved him, yes, but it all became too much. He changed when he drank. And I wasn't sure I would be able to withstand all that the drinking brought on.

I began in earnest to pray. Not the usual, "Lord please bless Jim, amen" type of prayers. I'm talking about honest to goodness out loud prayer. Bringing all my fears, anxiety and concern before God. I knelt with my face in my carpet with tears streaming down at times. I rebuked Satan out loud and cast him away from my husband. Yet year after year, the behavior continued. Wouldn't God answer this prayer? Would He ever show me the way?

I'm happy to report that this December will be two years that my husband is sober. Without getting into the details of how he quit, I know that it was my Lord and Savior. For even Jim had been praying too. And the powerful prayers defeated the enemy--the bottle--and the hold it had on my husband. He often says that I helped save him. I like to believe we were put together for this reason and many others.

Years ago, I remember meeting an older gentleman in the dental office I worked in at the time. He spoke freely with me about God. He told me the way to God's heart and listening ear were to ask Him. I keep a prayer journal and occasionally I look back on what that man said to me, and all the prayers that were heard through the years. The Bible says: Ask and you shall receive.

Life has not been easy or perfect. I've had many defeats and battles that were lost sometimes due to my own making, and other times, they just happened. I lost both parents within nine months of one another recently. But my prayers were different then. I was able to truly ask what was best for them. With my heart shattering, I knew it was time to let them go. My prayers changed and became some of the hardest ones to pray.

Yes, I've learned to ask. I've learned to listen. I've learned that it's not always best for me to have everything I've ever wanted. This life is meant to live and we are not meant to be perfect. That, my friends, is for our Heavenly Father. For He is perfect. Just ask.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Finding Myself





Daughter. Caregiver. Right now, I am neither of those. I can't seem to find who I am, this new person that feels isolated and alone. I miss my parents so much. They were a huge part of my life and their passing has left an awful hole in my heart. How many days and nights were filled with sadness in this last year? I cried watching my parents aging and heading toward their final days. I cried because the task at hand was so difficult. I cried when I had to let go.

I made the decision almost twelve years ago to move about an hour away from my parents. Still able to see them once a week, and always ready to go to their side when an emergency would arise, I was fortunate it wasn't farther. But in the last year, weariness would take its toll. The trips back and forth almost every few days weren't easy, but I wanted to be there with them during each of their health trials. I was so very blessed that my brother lived close. He had chosen to stay at their house every night also, giving up comfortable bed and privacy to be there for them in case of emergencies or need. He became their strength when they became weak. Yet we both had days where we felt we couldn't take another moment.

We've talked about it recently, my brother and I. There's a twinge of guilt when we admitted that it's been almost a relief not to have that constant low grade panic in our stomachs at all times. There's guilt associated with harsh words spoken when we felt we couldn't give another bit of ourselves. There's reliving their last days, the things that were said, memories we wanted to hold tightly onto. There's laughter and tears, joy and fears, emotions so raw they almost bleed.

There hadn't been much time for friends or fun. Many times I had to say "no" when asked for a get-together because I knew my parents' time on this earth was waning, and I wanted to spend every precious moment with them. My brother and I gave up so much, but gained still more. We gained the knowledge that unconditional love and care may be the most difficult thing to go through, but when you open your heart wide to give, to let go of yourself completely, you become so full of love and appreciation that you want the world to know. No longer do you care about petty things; gaining a few pounds, getting another year older. Silly arguments with co-workers or friends become something to giggle about as they lose their grip on you. Foolishness that once gave you pause and caused many a sleepless night, falls by the wayside. True beauty shines in these moments. And it isn't in the form you are used to. Grey hair, bent bodies, gnarled hands and wrinkles become glorious. Each facet of your elderly loved one is just one more thing to love and appreciate. They are God's masterpiece.

Stories become precious as they are told. Little nuances and habits become memorized for posterity. All the things you hold dear, remain with you forever to become your own story to the next generation.

So, who am I? I am first God's child, beloved and special in His sight. I may not be a caregiver right now. I may have to seek new adventures to fill the lonely void left by the loss of my parents. I've lost a little of myself surely, but I will find her, that woman God is molding me into. And when I meet her, I bet she sounds a little bit like my mother. For certainly that is what we really take from our loved ones--parts of them that will remain with us forever.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Late Summer Memories











The other day, I'd heard a droning sound from the tree in my front yard. On and on it rasped, the chirr of a cicada or whatever late summer insect leered down from its perch up in the branches above. All of a sudden, a memory hit, so powerful in its wake as it brought back sounds, scents, tastes and emotions from a time in my youth.

Late summer had always been a magical time for me as a child. My Italian grandparents didn't have only one vegetable garden in their own back yard, but they rented plots of land in back of other people's houses as well. I would accompany them for tomato picking, and the fresh green tang of the vine as it rubbed against my fingers left an indelible mark on my senses. Curly lettuce, huge Roman beans, green peppers . . .  I could imagine Nonna, later in the day, a bandana wound round her head, and an apron stained with the juices of fresh veggies splashed all over the front. I would await the crispy, dried braided garlic and onions which hung from the rafters in her cool cellar. A gathering of Mason jars, freshly boiled and ready for homemade tomato sauces, pickled peppers, mushrooms and more. Her walk-in attic always held trays of parsley and basil, drying in the dark upon the beds up there. The aroma would have put a pizza shop to shame.

It always amazed me that my grandparents were able to discern a good mushroom from a poisonous one. But that is what they hunted in deep woods as we spent long hours in Economy Park and other highly wooded areas while my parents chose to pick blackberries.

We would dress in long-sleeved clothing and long pants, though the summer days were stifling and humid. It never seemed to bother me then. Mom would say, "You don't want mosquito bites all over you." Or, "Those blackberry bushes have thorns. You have to wear long clothes." So we never questioned the importance of our garb, and off we drove in a car without air-conditioning, the windows wide open and the scents of summer flying by.

It would be early in the day as Dad parked the car. The long, dry, un-cut grass near the trails we blazed into the woods tried to tickle my clothing as I waded into it. The cicadas sang their unceasing song above in the trees, rasping out sounds only they could understand. Each of us carried a plastic pail just waiting to catch all the treasures of the woods within. Not a breath of air stirred, but the birds called out warnings to one another that their perfect world would soon be invaded.

Dad always gave me a long stick as we began our trek into the woods. "For snakes," he would say, though thankfully I never saw one. Nonna and Nonno would go off on their own for mushrooms, while me and my parents found hoards of delectable blackberries, bursting ripe and juicy. Though a few made it into my mouth during picking, most plunked into the buckets with the promise of hot pies and jellies. The slightly tart, sweet taste will always bring back my youth. These were the best times. For they were time well spent with loving family, talking and joking with one another and working side by side, though it never felt like work at the time.

When we came out of the woods hours later, Dad would always challenge Mom to a game of "hit the apple on the center of the tree." There were several wild green crab apple trees, and the rotting fruit lay at their bases, all worm holed and oozing. My parents would count how many times each of them would hit the tree with the small projectile, and it became a contest every time. I never chose sides, but cheered each of them on, enjoying their silly taunting of one another and name calling.

After a small snack of crackers, cheese and Lemon Blend from a thermos, we would pack up Dad's trunk with pails and bushels, bringing home a few of nature's tiniest bug critters with us as they clung for dear life onto the stems of our prizes. I would look up into the trees trying to locate the singing cicadas, but never quite able to view one. I waved goodbye to another year, another trek into deep woods, feeling perfectly safe, innocent and very much alive.





Sunday, August 6, 2017

I'm Not the Same







My goodness. Is it really one year almost to the day that Dad went into the hospital for a three week stay never to return home again? Has time passed that quickly as it has that sneaky way of doing?

When I think about all that has gone on in one year's time, I realize an important truth: I am not the same person I was then. I think I view every day occurrences in a much different light. Stuff that bothered me so badly either at work or during a normal home day, has lost its steely grip on me. I don't think it's important enough to harbor grudges long, or at all. I don't waste time obsessing over triviality. When you've lost loved ones, life is put into a new perspective and it's up to us to learn the important lesson.

Lesson one: I'm beginning to de-clutter my closets and find that is making me a calmer person. If I've not used it, looked at it, worn it, or cared about it in several years, I'm not about to begin to either. So another person may benefit from it, or if it's ratty enough, into the trash it goes. Oh, the feeling of purging junk, and I'm not just talking about closet stuff now. We all carry garbage inside of us. Voices from the past that accuse and belittle. What if like the closet, we choose to rid ourselves of things we no longer need, and probably never did. That hateful comment from a relative, or a snide remark from a co-worker. Or what if what we heard wasn't really intended for us all along, yet we wore the remark like a heavy, old coat that needed retired years ago.

Lesson two: People are more important than things or chores. We all have daily schedules that we need to keep. But sometimes we push ourselves on one of our off days because heaven forbid, the grass wasn't cut, or there is a layer of dust on our end table. If given the opportunity to tidy up, or play with my nieces, I'm choosing the girls every time. There is always another day for labor, but sometimes a priceless moment can be lost forever. I've found the inner child when I'm at a playground with my nieces. I've been Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and countless other make-believe people as I enter their world. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

And what is it with technology? Put the phone down. Take a moment to look at the person sitting in front of you, or beside you. Talk in the car when going on trips. Giggle in restaurants together and make conversation. That phone, I-pad, Tablet or game will always be there. Don't miss the time with a real person having real talk. Learn from them, and listen.

Lesson three: Love really is the answer. Why oh why did I hold onto anger? When I've given grace to another, and let go of longstanding drama, I find that I understand the heart of God. For isn't this what He does for us each and every day? If God chooses to love us unconditionally, then why do I place conditions on every relationship I have? I don't need to think about what my husband said two years ago during a ridiculous battle. I can let go of bitterness toward situations I have no control of, and really love with all my heart. I can forgive, forget, move on and love.

Lesson four: Faith is important. Though I've spent years in church, have read my Bible, consider myself a Christian, did I really understand what true faith was? Have I been able to let go and let God handle my life and the lives of loved ones? When dealing with illness and death, I had to relinquish total control to the Lord. In the quiet of my soul when I cried out to Him, the answer that came back was to have faith. But what if what we pray for, and have faith that moves mountains doesn't come to pass? What if we lose the loved one(s) and we are devastated beyond belief? Does that make God any less real? No. For I've felt more than ever, His Holy Spirit deep within me. I've touched the peace that passes understanding and came away calm and whole. Though I had no control when losing my parents over this last year, God's plan is not my plan. But He deepened my faith, showed me that He never left me, and gave me an outlook on life that couldn't be learned any other way.

It's true. Grief and difficult situations can build character. They don't have to sweep over us and leave us crippled with doubt and fear. They help us to see what is really important. When we look for the small moments of goodness through the pain, when we see those who touched our lives and showed us that we didn't have to walk the journey alone, we then can know we are not the same people we once were. We have been refined like precious gold, no longer tarnished by the chains that bound us.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Best Memory




When the priest asked what my best memory of my mother was recently at the blessing service for her at the funeral home, it  didn't take me long to recall one for it was recent.

What does one say to a lifetime of love and memories? How can a person choose their absolute best moment or moments with a beloved parent that they are saying goodbye to?

Like snippets of a movie, years worth of laughter, tears, joy and fears played before me. I remembered Mom standing by during my surgery for scoliosis as a teen, even though she'd been a nervous type but she remained steadfast and my rock of strength.

When divorce reared its ugly head in my early twenties, my mother was there to rescue me. When fat, ugly tears fell from my eyes and the lies kept surfacing that I wasn't good enough for him and never would be, Mom helped me feel worthy again.

Moments of giggling together like school girls, though she was my parent, surfaced and drew me in once again and I warmed from the glow. Times of celebration and holidays, the birth of my son, her first grandchild. So many wonderful memories.

But when asked the question by the priest, I almost immediately responded: "Being caregiver for my mother with her journey of dementia." Father Carr almost fell from his chair. "Really?" he asked.

Why are those the dearest memories my brother and I hold now? The answer is simple. We got to experience unconditional love given back to a woman who had once loved us the same way. This woman had given her all many times for us.

 When a parent has Alzheimer's or dementia -related issues, it is never easy. You wonder if you are the one losing your mind at first. For the questions begin--oh so many questions. Things are forgotten, appointments are missed, and everything seems upside down.

Then the anger sets in. And for all of us, it is a time of great guilt. When you find yourself snapping at your elderly parent and watch the hurt in their eyes, the words practically hanging in the air, you wish you could pull them back, place them into a locked box never to surface again. But they do. Just when you feel strong, confident and a little cocky, a challenge arises and you fail. You ask forgiveness and you fail again. The maddening cycle--the new normal. Why oh why couldn't they have kept their wits about them to the end?

But then you see them in the most innocent of ways: thinning hair, gummy, lost-tooth smiles. Skin stretched too tightly over prominent bones. You hear whispered words and the innocence of a child, and you realize in their mind, that is where they are. You see fears of showering, falling, even eating foods they once loved. It's all this and more, and you fall deeply in love with your aging parent more than you ever did before. They rely on you, they trust you, and you begin to know that you will never betray that trust.

You also see wise, knowing eyes and the laugh- lined wrinkles around them from years of laughter. You hold onto a hand that worked hard at putting food on the table. You lay your head against their frail chest and listen to the beating of their good heart--wondering just how long it will continue. . .

You look at them and see inner beauty shining. No longer a body with a soul, they are now becoming a soul with a body. True loveliness as God intended, no longer superficiality.

There are treats they love, brought to them and watching their eyes light up. Sometimes there are favorite places to drive to. There are songs to be shared--ones they once sang to you as a lullaby. It's all this and so much more. Mostly it's giving of yourself. Giving selflessly and totally, turning your emotions and your loved one totally over to God. Knowing He adores them and you, and that we are the apple of His eye. He has all of our best interest at the center of His heart. Even if He chooses to take them home, how can we question that glorious time?

Yes, this time can be our best moments, our best memories. With God it is truly possible. Forgiveness, mercy, grace. . . all ours for the taking.




Friday, July 7, 2017

Another Place




I received a phone call this morning. Your mother is being sent to the emergency room. She's throwing up blood, and it doesn't look good.

With legs that felt like iron weights, and hands that shook so bad, I had to hold them against myself, I walked into the emergency room not knowing what to expect. There I heard words from the doctor that didn't come completely as a shock. We recommend hospice care for your mother. She's so frail now, and perhaps it would be best for her just to be kept comfortable.

Every child of an aging parent asks themselves if they are doing the right thing. Are our decisions what our parents would want? Some of us are fortunate that our families have spoke freely about such things. Therefore when the time comes, we know immediately what must be done.

Others of us have spoken in deeper terms though. We've had the distinct honor to talk of things on a more spiritual level. We know that our loved ones are believers and even look forward to their next journey.

There is so much more than our eyes can see. So much more than we hear or feel. I am learning this now as my mom slips farther from us into sickness and Alzheimer's. It's not always about "crazy talk." I recently read a book that showed me that end of life and hospice produces some of the most beautiful messages from our suffering loved ones. It mentioned that we should pay close attention to what is being said as they transition from this world to the next.

When my father was in the hospital last year, there were several odd things we heard from him. And now I'm noticing that very thing with my mother. She's been talking more to someone that my brother and I don't see. Though I strain to hear her words, it's in a whisper quiet voice that perhaps I'm not meant to hear. She reached up once as if grasping someone by the hand. She has petted animals that aren't there. Today she said she saw a Bible, but when we pressed a little to see if someone was holding or reading it, she said no.

When my husband's uncle was in hospice care at his nursing home a few years ago, I remembered something powerful about that. The chaplain that was there at his side, said the most beautiful thing. He mentioned that Hubert was between this world and the next. Upon hearing that, the room almost seemed to change for me. I felt a Holy Presence surrounding us, and it was as if Jim's uncle was becoming more spirit than flesh at that time.

Also at my father's bedside on his last day, and I haven't told many people this, I sensed the presence of four strong angels surrounding him. One was at the head of the bed, one at the foot, and one on either side. There were a few of our dear friends and family members with us, but I distinctly saw with my heart and soul that Dad was surrounded by holy warriors ready to bring him home.

I don't speak about my belief freely. But during a time such as this in my family's life, more than ever, I feel the need to share things that I feel God has shown us and hoping it may also comfort anyone else who is going through this.

My mother is becoming that lovely spirit now. And I know where she is going, for she visited there once before. She'd felt a love like no other during a cardiac arrest in her earlier years. A love that surrounded her and permeated her very being. She often said she did not fear death after that.

Though my heart is heavy, and it's almost like deja vu from last summer, I feel how I did with my father--ready to let go, to picture Mom free from her suffering; dancing with Dad, feeling God's warmth and love, and reuniting with so many loved ones who have been gone for such a long time. For my mom lost so many people in her life, and I know they are there, ready and waiting with opened arms to greet her.

God, help us to see with the eyes of faith, not our limited vision. Help us to know just how wide and deep Your love really is. Help us to be able to let go and give all to You. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

As The First Year Approaches





Wow, where has one year gone? For it was this very time last year that began defining what was going to happen very shortly. Who knew when Dad asked me for suspenders because his belt felt too tight and was hurting his stomach that he really had a gall bladder issue? An issue that would ultimately take him from us.

Dad was never one to complain. When asked how he was feeling, he always responded with that wonderful trademark smile, "Fine!" But last July seemed a little different. Dad was slower, crankier, complaining about things. Not the usual sweet, simple man he'd always been.Yes, he still placed Mom's needs first, and never let on how he must have been feeling. But my brother and I suspected something--and Dad, being the rock he'd always been, wouldn't say much about himself.

Last July something wonderful happened also. I had been praying for my parents for a very long time. You see, they'd never been wealthy; never crawled from under small mountains of debt. I asked the Lord if my father could see a great blessing before he died. Would God please show my Dad a miracle? And I'd heard a still, small voice somewhere inside telling me that a great blessing was coming--something that would bring my father great joy.

With anticipation, I dreamed that it would be a large windfall of money. Perhaps one of those silly scratch-off lottery tickets would be the "big one" for them finally. But no such thing happened. What did happen though was something that brought that awesome promise of joy to my dad. I'd contacted a great group of youth from Catholic Heartcamp and about eight wonderful kids and their mentor arrived in July and began to fix things on mom and dad's house that we hadn't been able to attend to. Little by little, windows were freshly painted, gangly bushes were cut, repairs were made and a whole new shower wall was installed. Dad kept remarking on their progress, thrilled with all that took place. I could see a happiness in him--a glow. Things he couldn't do any longer got done. He could take pride in his little old home once again.

Yet I still wondered, still questioned God. Is this it Lord? I thought you promised that Dad would see your glory in a major way.

We cannot question God's gifts, His goodness, mercy and blessings. He chooses what He will. It is not for me to decide that the promise I was given in my heart did not come to pass. On the contrary, our Father may not answer us in the way we'd expected, but we gain so much more by His lessons. Who was I to question the method, the outcome? Dad, in his simple way was delighted.One million dollars couldn't have made him happier.

I will never forget that group of young people and how my father couldn't stop talking about them.

It is almost one year since my father entered the hospital, never to return home. I feel that pit in my stomach once again--the familiar feeling from last year because anniversaries do that to us. They bring the thoughts, feelings and emotions back in a major way. I knew that "firsts" this year would be rough. First Thanksgiving without Dad, first Christmas, etc. But this first year anniversary as it approaches hurts my heart once again. Tears threaten, and there's a lump in my throat that I try hard to choke back.

I miss you so much Dad. I want to make you proud. I'm trying to take care of Mom best I can. Forgive me for anything I may have done that you wouldn't have approved of. Pray for me, Dad. I love you....

Kar


Friday, June 9, 2017

A Blossoming Friendship





When I opened my side door yesterday morning, the vibrant red cardinal flew to my porch railing. It's as if, on cue, his excellent bird hearing knows precisely what this sound means. Crumbs of bread, succulent seeds are soon to be on their way for he and his little friends. He paused, looking at me in that way that birds do, with head tilted to the side. In close range, I had time to take in the stunning black mask on his face and the tufts of red feathers which poked from his tiny head. Those dark eyes, so filled with intelligence. In the voice usually reserved for my darling cats or very small children, I began speaking to him telling him what a pretty bird he was and how happy I am that he greets me each morning. I talked and talked, making clucking sounds or tsking noises, anything to hold his interest so that we could communicate he and I in any way possible.

My cats took this as a sign that I was calling to them when they heard my loving sounds, and proceeded to investigate why their mother was speaking in that special way to another.

The cardinal flew to another part of the porch, this time lighting on one of the chairs. I still spoke, and he listened, all the while the little head tilted as if trying to discern what I said. He flew up from the chair, actually hovering in the air for a moment or two, bright wings flapping as if dancing for me. To the top of my grill, then onto the wicker porch swing, Mr. bird paused, never leaving, appearing to take in the language as foreign to him as his chirping is to me.

Next, he landed on my car, and I reveled in the special moments meant only for me, not worrying that I didn't have camera or phone to record this special time, but recording it to the memory of my heart.

For I believe we have a blossoming friendship, the cardinal and I. It's been at least a year that he and the missus have lived in our backyard pine. Never straying very far, he knows my movements, when my car returns from a work day, and he is there to greet and to sing, giving me gifts that only he can.

Nature has always been such a big part of my family. My mother grew close to a female raccoon to the point she was able to hand feed her. When the raccoon had babies, she brought them to my mom as if waiting for approval, and teaching them that this human was kind; this human will not hurt you.

My parents enjoyed watching the birds around their home, and eventually hanging a hummingbird feeder for the last several years. As Dad would sit on the porch, those little darlings would hover near to his face, investigating him before whisking away in that speedy fashion they have of flying to seek more nectar.

I walked outside yesterday, and grabbed the bag of seeds to fill the bird feeder. The cardinal flew to the lowest branches of a nearby tree, waiting patiently. Though I filled my hand with seeds and called to him, inviting him to a more intimate feeding, he would not come; would not breach the gap between human and animal.

Perhaps someday, I thought. For there is a friendship growing between the two of us. A precious trust that reminds me of our Heavenly Father. God invites me to those more intimate times. Will I dare to give up control, trusting Him for friendship, for more beauty than I ever dreamed possible?

May we all appreciate nature and every good gift that comes from above.