Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sometimes strength feels like brokenness

Yesterday was a mixed feeling type of day while visiting my mother at her house. I felt wonderful that it went so well; that Mom and I bonded in the kitchen with a little cooking project. She peeled potatoes while I fixed pork tenderloin. She laughed so much, and shared some sweet stories. And yet at other times, she broke apart while talking about my dad.

I walked through the rooms of the house I had lived in from the early nineteen seventies. My old bedroom became my brother's room, and then later our father's little workshop. Many of Dad's projects are in that room--boat models, thousand piece puzzles he'd glued together and hung as pictures on the walls. A huge dollhouse, completed, sits on a built-in dresser--the tiny furniture askew in the many rooms--now forgotten. And everywhere--Dad. . . His little notebooks filled with writing; organizing the many bills he paid and doctor visits he kept in order. A few of his favorite DVD's still lay scattered about the room, as we haven't had the heart to move them just yet.

 My parent's room still had dad's shirts folded over and old blanket rack. I picked one up and became lost in the scent of my father, and memories which threatened to start me sobbing uncontrollably. I looked at the furniture in the room, an old bedroom set my parents had since I was a little girl. Many nights I used to wander into the room, frightened from a bad dream to make sure my parents were there. And Dad would wake to take me back to bed.

Mom began nodding off after our beautiful dinner yesterday. And the innocence of her dementia hit me hard. Once the strongest woman I'd known, she now talks like a little girl at times--memories of the past more clear than those that just happened. I thought about her life and the time she had with my father. They'd been married over sixty years. They'd shared a love like no other I'd seen, for they remained with one another through good times and bad. Moments of plenty and moments of lack. Sickness and health. Yes, they'd taken their wedding vows quite seriously. And my heart broke into tiny shards watching Mom sleep, and knowing she'd awaken alone once again without the love of her life there beside her.

We talked yesterday of death, replaying the moments Dad had been in the hospital and the events which led to his passing. When my mother seemed to spiral downward, when depression threatened at its ugliest, I reminded her that she knew better than anyone. The near death experience she'd gone through in the early seventies were proof of the Love we will know and the Place we are headed. Dad is waiting for her there, and she will spend eternity with him. In her cute childlike way, she said, "Oh, I'd forgotten about that."

We are broken right now--my family. And in our time of grief, there have been moments that we showed a strength I didn't think we'd possess.

 I chatted with a friend this morning who'd lost her beloved husband some months back. We spoke of our loved ones and how much we miss them. We reminisced about better times and happy memories. And she said something to me that really made me think. She said, "Sometimes strength feels like brokenness." It didn't take me long to realize just how true that is.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Moment Like No Other

 Some moments define us; others mold us or change us forever. The death of a loved one hits us hard, crippling us, taking us down into spiraling depression or a sadness so all-encompassing we feel as if we are suffocating in its wake.

Yet there are other times, we rise to the highest heights--a feeling of elation so overwhelming we almost cannot contain our joy. A moment that we know there are no coincidences and that God Himself, could only have orchestrated.

I lost my earthly father in September this year after a brief illness and hospital stay. My mother has dementia. I have been stuck in gloom and despair; I have pictured life without Dad and the long journey with Mom. I've felt at times that I couldn't take another step. I know that God has been there, for I've felt His presence greatly. But activities that gave me pleasure took a back seat--my writing for instance. And I could not find my smile; thoughts of unease have been my constant companions.

While driving to work this past Thursday, I had the radio tuned to our local classical music station. I heard the announcer talking about an upcoming play on the weekend: "To Kill a Mockingbird." My curiosity got the better of me, and I turned up the volume to listen. That book and movie has been balm many times to my aching soul. The character of Scout Finch is so beloved to me that I've wanted to become her more than once throughout my life. She was always tough, confident, and very brave. She fought for what she believed in and lived her young childhood on her terms. I'd been ladylike and frightened in my own youth, and my mother babied me with constant worry and concern. If I could only be like Scout, I would think to myself.

I contented myself with this blog, naming it The Finch's Nest in honor of my beloved Scout. My email holds her name, and I own soundtrack music and several versions of the movie and book. I re-read or re-watch "To Kill a Mockingbird" at least every couple years. And I always come away with a sense of awe and wonder. The book has been an inspiration for some of my own writing; Harper Lee, the best teacher.

As I listened to the announcer speaking about the play, he mentioned that Mary Badham, the actress who had played Scout in the movie would be in town and having a special meet and greet. My goodness! Are you serious?? Scout. . . THE Jean Louise Finch will be here? I drove to work with a tiny ray of hope that somehow I'd be able to attend this event, and miracle of miracles actually meet the woman who'd once been the little girl that had inspired me so much.

After clicking on websites and a phone call or three, my son agreed that if tickets were still available, he would take me to this event. My son . . . one of the best people I know. A young man who would do anything to see his mother happy.

Last night, Matt and I walked through the doors of The New Hazlett Theatre Center for the Performing Arts--a lovely, old stone structure on the North Side of Pittsburgh. My heart beat wildly, my palms sweat despite the cold in the air, and my level of excitement peaked through the roof. In just forty-five short minutes I would see her! My idol, my namesake. I'd met other actors before; some of whom I'd been elated to meet. But Mary Badham! This would be a perfect moment. I'd rehearsed what I would say if given the chance to actually talk with her. I pictured the questions I would ask if there was time. I daydreamed about shaking her hand or giving my little Scout a real hug. Who knew how this event would play out?

Pictures from the movie and the play adorned the walls of this wonderfully renovated building. My son and I sat near the table that we were told Mary would be signing autographs. My eyes scanned perfectly set tables filled with delectable canapes throughout the room. Fancy lighting glittered above us. The air was filled with a sort of expectation. I felt tears in my eyes, palpitations in my chest, and then: There she was!  Older and lovely, but it was Scout. She arrived with her husband and son, and people quickly flanked her and fawned over her. I stood shyly back, actually giving way to my tears. I could tell my son was touched by my emotions by the look on his face and how kindly he spoke to me. He knew what this moment meant to me.

When it came time to stand before her with my copy of the book she would sign, she looked up into my eyes and I began to blubber again. "This is such an honor. You have no idea what your performance meant to me. I always wanted to be Scout. My email and blog is named after your character." I shook her hand as she made pleasant chit chat, signed my book and thanked me for my love of the story. I walked away feeling as if I were a foot off the ground, floating perhaps above everyone else.

A question and answer session would follow, and Mary spoke of her love of the story as well, and her relationship with the other stars and author. She spoke of literacy, being a huge advocate for children to help guide them toward a love of reading and writing. She encouraged those of us in the audience to write our stories for future generations. It was then I realized the little "gift" I'd been carrying in my tote bag would be given to her after all. I had a copy of my own book "Reflections From My Mother's Kitchen." I'd chosen this particular one because of the memoir-type of writing and heartfelt story. Also because I had a chapter with a particular nod to my favorite book of all time: "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I was a woman on a mission. I walked back into the room where Mary had gone to sign autographs once again. I got in line, not caring if I sounded stupid or what she would think of me. As I stood before her for the second time, I jokingly said, "No, I'm not going to cry all over you this time. I actually have a gift for you. I, too, believe in literacy and the love of reading. So much that I have written several books and want to present you with one as my gift to you. This book is actually a fictionalized memoir of stories that my mother and I shared through the years." My hands trembled as I gave her the book. Mary's eyes lit up and she said, "Oh, that's wonderful! Thank you. Thank you so much. I look so forward to reading it," and she got up and actually reached over and hugged me across the table.

I had envisioned this moment--this time that I never could have pictured in my wildest dreams. I shook hands with the "famous" before, but never had the personal experience that this beautiful moment gave me.

Yes, God has known my recent suffering. He longs to comfort and give us good things. I believe that this evening was His gift to me. His grace is perfect and wonderful. And He knows what we need and love, or what will bless us and bring us happiness.

I sat with my son watching the play late into the night with my favorite actress seated only several rows behind us. I listened to the lines I'd known and loved so well. A sigh of contentment escaped me. I reveled in the feeling, this wonderful time with my amazing son and gave thanks to my Heavenly Father for a moment like no other.

After all, what were the chances that I would have heard about this event at the last minute and still be able to get tickets?