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.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

It's Never Too Late





Mom was never the warm and fuzzy type. Not a hugger or a kisser, but my brother and I knew we were loved and adored growing up. She showed her care in so many other ways; with the baked goods and food she prepared every single day. With a listening ear for our school bully infractions, or the betrayal of our one true love. Advice given, words of wisdom, character building ones. A tender heart toward nature and toward others. No prejudice was allowed--Mom truly cared for all of mankind. This is who I am honored to call my mother.

Yesterday the tables were turned in a very dramatic way for me. Though her once beautiful mind has been faltering for some time with dementia, and my brother and I have been caregivers through it all, I had to step up to the plate of comfort in a major way.

The nursing home had called me about two weeks ago. They mentioned placing Mom on an anti-depressant. Said she had bouts of crying and depression. Hmmm, this was not something our family had seen recently. On the contrary, we noticed her talking more and laughing more when we are there as the strokes she had have begun to heal a little.

Cute little remarks, old inside jokes and our favorite of all, the movie lines we know and love so well are all things that continue to make Mom smile. We'd do anything for that smile. And yet yesterday while visiting her in the early morning, I saw my mother break down uncontrollably for several minutes and my heart broke.

As the nurse was bathing and dressing her in bed, Mom appeared to have had enough. I think her arthritis was hurting as it always does in the early morning when rising. I think she realizes she is limited, so limited in her adult briefs and inability to dress alone or stand alone. I can't imagine what goes through her mind in times like these, but she started to sob, deep heart-wrenching cries, and I did something uncharacteristic, I hugged her around the shoulders and stroked her back gently, reciting words of love and of comfort. The nurse she had isn't the most patient, but she stood back and let me do what only a family member could. Mom cried and I soothed. I held onto her and kissed the top of her head tenderly. And then I was able to do what all of us in the dementia/Alzheimer's community know best. I was able to re-direct her by talking about a pretty bracelet she was wearing. Like a small child, her tears slowed to sniffles. She saw the bracelet and answered my questions about who gave it to her. I sat back content that a crisis had been averted, and thanked God for giving me the tenderness needed in that moment even though I had never done this before with her.

I know we all come from different types of families. There are some of us who grew up with adoring parents who snuggled with them, gave tons of kisses and showed affection. There were others who grew up with harsh words, barked orders, and slaps instead of hugs. There are some who don't even know their parents and would have given everything for even one word from them or about them. I consider myself blessed that even though affection wasn't a big part of my years, I got so much more.

Pull yourself out of your comfort zone and love a little. Even those of us who have been hurt in our upbringing. Forgive, and let go. See our precious elderly for who they are now. People just like us with human failings, with imperfections and good and bad inside. Perhaps their own childhood was hideous and they didn't know any better. Look at them in a new light. Be the light of Christ in their world. Give that hug, say those words. Never let it be too late.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

No Matter the Size





Been doing a lot of soul searching recently. When you lose a parent, and are faced with the loss of the other, life flashes before your eyes and your own health begins to matter in a way it never did before.

When we are young, we think we have forever. We do foolish things, drive way too fast, eat stuff that is really bad for us: greasy fast foods, and play Russian Roulette with the choices we make. But now, as sixty looms before me in a few years, and watching the severe health issues both parents have had to suffer, I have started to think of becoming healthier.

I hate the four letter word diet. It's an evil, awful disgusting word. It conjures up thoughts of carrot and celery sticks. It brings to mind denying the pleasures of chocolate, especially Blizzards with pieces of Butterfinger and Reese Cups. But what if we were to become healthier right where we are. No diet drinks, no joining a gym (because goodness knows, there is certainly no time for that!). If we could do the best WE could do without trying to be someone else.

I observe people around me. I see some who are content with the size they are, even if they are several or many pounds overweight. I also see those who "work out" and eat said carrot sticks and celery pieces and I've compared myself to both of these body types.

It hit me the other day. I am NOT any of those people. I am me. I weigh more than I ever have. I eat for comfort, and sometimes in secret so nobody sees the candy bars I began buying on a daily basis. If I heard more bad news about Mom's health, a quick trip to the store for some chocolate comfort would ensue. But what if I ate what God intended? What if I took the time while grocery shopping to make better choices and pick things that I do like and incorporate them into my daily eating?

About seven days ago, I wrote in my prayer journal. I wrote a prayer to the Lord that He would help me to become healthier. That I could not do this without Him. I'm too weak. I need His guidance. Then when hubby and I went to the store, I carefully purchased Honey Crisp apples, snow peas, cantaloupe and watermelon. I made a plan that ALL of my meals would be cut down in size, and I would eat to glorify God and enjoy the gifts He's given me. My chewing would be slow and deliberate. The colorful array of the new fruits and vegetables actually began to look appealing. And here, seven days later, I have found that I absolutely love the taste. I do need a slight touch of light Ranch dressing on the side, but it's a small dip instead of a huge dunk into the bowl now. My portion sizes on the plate are much smaller, but I eat slowly and enjoy every bite.

Then I asked myself: what can I do for exercise? Instead of making excuses for what I cannot do, I began to do what I can. Whether that means walking in place for about ten minutes in the morning and at night while watching t.v., or taking a small walk outdoors, it's better than sitting and eating chips and dip, (yes, I confess!) to my favorite shows.

This morning, and I praise God, I am down three pounds. Not an easy feat for a foodie, and someone with a slow metabolism. For as we age, and hormones change, it is not easy to drop weight like we used to. No, I'm not dieting. And I do have much farther to go. But this healthy new style has given me hope. It's God-given goals, not my own. It's the knowledge that we CAN do all things through Him! I cannot do anything apart from my Heavenly Father. When He blesses our desires, there is no stopping us.

So, I am not looking to be a stick-thin figure. I'm not judging anyone who can't lose even one pound, for I know only too well what food addiction is like. But for this moment in my life, I need to be a better, more healthy me. I want to be here for whatever is in our path with my mother's failing health. I want to be strong, motivated and clear. I give glory to God for help on this new journey!

P.S. I will treat myself to a Blizzard in the near future. But it will be something to look forward to only every so often instead of the comfort that only the Lord can truly give me.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Moving On






Do you know what I'm really missing most about my father right now? It's our inside jokes and all the sayings we had. It's the make believe language he made up, and the nonsense phrases he always said. It's the lines from comforting, favorite movies watched over and over. It's seeing him conduct an unseen orchestra as his beloved waltz or classical thunder music played. It's picking pine cones from under trees on walks together. It's that sweet smile, soft voice, always happy man that put everyone else before him. It's the slow, steady walk through his front and back yard admiring flowers he planted and cutting lilac and pussy willow branches. It's all these things and so much more.

Do you know what I'm missing about my mother? A listening ear, advice given better than any therapist. Laughter and silliness, secrets shared. And once again, movies, movies, movies. The comforting ones that meant something to me and her. In later years, the stories we heard over and over as dementia began robbing her of recent memories,yet playing old time ones again and again. I miss them now yet I know them all and I know them well. And I, too, will be able to tell them long after she is gone.

Soon, my brother and I will be faced with one of the hardest tasks of our lives. We will have to sift through years and years of the life of our parents. With Mom now in a care facility, the precious home we all shared together will be broken apart and items distributed to those who may want them: wooden crafts our father made; airplanes, boats and houses. Well-worn recipe cards with the smattering of batter splashed upon them, from some of Mom's best loved favorites.

I'll walk through the rooms which meant so much to me. The living room where I envision the countless Christmases. Huge, fat trees decorated with fragile, precious ornaments from when our parents first married. Mountains of presents so carefully chosen for each of us. A favorite chair, an old, worn couch. Then into the small dining room where a table filled with baked Italian goodies and laden with other fine delicacies sits empty now.

The heart of our little ranch home--the kitchen always feels the warmest. For out of this room came a fresh home cooked meal each and every night. Out of this room came gooey pecan loaves, tasty pineapple upside down cakes and homemade pizza that would put one of the best restaurant pizzerias to shame. The table where we all sat, and the conversation and laughter that echoes in the stillness now.

I walk down the hallway toward our bedrooms and see the one converted into Dad's little craft room. The walls are adorned with thousand piece puzzles so carefully glued together as artwork. Tins of small bric-a-brac and tiny pieces of wood just waiting for the crafter's hands to pick up once again.

There are albums filled with the pictures of our lives. There are cards and letters so well-preserved in drawers and it feels as if Mom saved all of them throughout the years. How can one weed through so much and not feel emotional? For I know my heart will be breaking even as I begin the task at hand.

This house, this home saved our lives. For it wasn't where I grew up. We moved there when I was eleven. It was after the roughest time that my parents had gone through. Dad had made the decision to leave the only place we'd ever known, realizing it was best for us to make a change and start fresh.

I can still see the first time my parents showed the new house to me. It sat in a quiet, wooded neighborhood, not the cement jungle I'd grown up in. There was a large back yard and another smaller one. There was a finished basement, screened back porch. There was a sense of belonging of "coming home" so to speak. Yes, this is where our little family belonged. And it would be in this house that my brother was born fourteen years after me. Our miracle.

It won't be easy to toss things away. For you see, there's still a package of cookies, the last ones Dad bought for himself sitting on a shelf like an item from a shrine. There's notes written to Mom reminding her to take her pills and how to work the television remote.

I know I need to cancel our cable, internet and phone. Yet I hang on as long as I can, for once the phone is disconnected, the number that had been ours--mine since childhood will be forever gone. It may sound crazy, but these are the thoughts that plague me. I know God will grant my brother and I the strength we need when it is time. For there is nothing that will take away what is in our hearts. Nothing will take away the parts of Mom and Dad that live inside both of us. We are products of them both. And that is something that will never be lost.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rainbows Will Return






Where to begin? A year ago, six months or perhaps only three weeks ago. This has been a life-changing, earth shattering time for our family. It was about this time last year that I noticed my father acting differently. Usually cheerful, our rock and our strength, Dad began to complain more than ever about how he was feeling, how difficult it was with Mom's worsening dementia, every bill he got in the mail, etc. Dad always had such joy talking with me about Spring and flowers and seed planting and birds. Simple morning conversations that I could live on for the rest of the day. That ended around this time in 2016. Little did we know we would lose Dad later that summer. That he was winding down, and the time had come for his well-deserved rest with Jesus.

Now our little family is going through this with Mom. Words cannot describe the feeling in my chest--of my heart splintering into tiny fragments, each one burnished with a memory good and bad alike. Only three short weeks ago we were able to take her out to eat, go for drives to her favorite stone bridge and listen to the creek. Three short weeks ago we saw a high school play and Mom sang along to the Disney tunes she knew and loved so well.

Yesterday we moved our mother into a care facility. I saw a woman before me that I barely recognized, completely devoid of emotion. Gone is the laugh that was so cute. Gone now are the stories told over and over, stories we all knew better than her, but listened patiently as they were told once more.

Her eyes hold a tiny spark of light when she sees either me, my brother or son. But I'd give anything to rejuvenate life back to her; of memories that would fill her with emotions once again.

She was wheeled into her new room and as she looked around at perhaps a few familiar items, my brother handed Mom a beautiful dolly he got her a few Christmases ago. One story our mother always told us was about a doll she received one year from a family friend. She would describe the beloved doll in great detail, and my brother tried to replicate one by searching many sites and finding one that Mom claimed looked exactly like the one she'd had.

Mom sat in her wheelchair stroking her dolly, covering her with the blanket that lay around her own shoulders. My eyes filled with tears and it was difficult to remain stoic. I stayed with her until much later in the day, watching old movies, trying to get her to eat in the dining room with new friends, seeing if talking about cooking and baking would bring her around just a little.

I left last night with the feeling of a tight band around the upper part of my stomach. The band of fear and uncertainty, for it was with me last August when my father was in the hospital. It is a hated companion this familiar tight knot of tension and worry.

I cannot find my laughter right now. I am not enjoying much. My work days are filled with stress and I don't like who I've become. I snap in anger over situations that I used to handle a little better. I'm not reading for pleasure, doing much writing, except these cathartic blogs. Most of my thoughts are of Mom and wondering how her day is going when we cannot be there with her every minute.

I've read about others who have gone through this before me. I see their smiling faces, their grandkids or trips they've gone on. I see that life does return and there will be rainbows and sunshine again. This is a season in my family's journey. The tale of two parents both so very loved and a life so very missed. My brother and I will hold on to what we have of our mother until her own story ends. And then we will make new memories and remember with fondness the old ones so lovingly tucked away in our hearts.




Friday, March 24, 2017

Keep Your Eyes on Him







Several years ago I read a book by a then unknown author. It was called "The Shack," and it had a feel to it as if I was not only reading a great story, but learning a lesson in the process. The story stayed with me as all good tales do, and I would think of it on many occasions through the years.

Nothing prepared me for the reaction I would have to the movie, however. Seeing such a heartfelt, deep story playing out before me on a huge screen would leave me with many, many emotions. I felt anger and horror along with the main character and what he was going through, yet there were many moments of  humor  and delight. I believe that I learned more about God's love than I ever thought possible while watching it. Deep thoughts and questions began to form. I knew I wanted to share this movie with loved ones who may not understand the nature of God, and I prayed for the right timing.

One of the biggest things I realized is, we all have our own "shack." As the author, Wm. Paul Young pointed out on a television special, there are deep places of hurt within all of us, our own shack, so to speak. A place where unspeakable issues may exist. Perhaps trauma from childhood, rejection, an unfair situation that occurred in our lives. Loss of loved ones too early, physical problems or situations that feel unbearable as we are going through them.

Some of the shacks in my own life were built by me; there were times I went my own way and made the stupidest mistakes, yet other shacks were thrown at me with their splintered wood and rusty nails.

We can think of one instant or several in our lives where we cried out to God for His help and mercy. We had never felt so alone or abandoned, thinking He was nowhere to be found. It was in these darkest nights of the soul that I learned more than ever to keep my eyes focused on Him.

There's a scene in the movie where Mack, the main character is on a boat. Clouds gather, the water turns murky, and the boat begins to fill with water. It was the PERFECT metaphor for what it's like to be overcome by trauma. I loved it when Jesus said, "It's not real! Look at ME, look at me, keep your eyes on ME!" It was then that the storm and the flood waters began to calm. If only we could remember to keep our eyes on Jesus in times of trouble.

Recently I felt overwhelmed by fear and I pictured laying my head against Jesus and holding His hand. I cried out for Him to give me the courage to go through the situation. Peace settled on me almost immediately, and I found the strength to go on.

In the movie, Jesus is an ordinary, likeable guy. Mack feels the closest with Him because He is human. We put Him in a "holy box" sometimes, thinking He is too far above us because He is perfect, good, righteous and holy. We forget that He came as a man for US. We are His delight. It blows my mind, but also humbles me. He calls us friend. 

What is your shack? What do you hide in the secret recesses of your heart? Do you think it's unforgivable?  Are you so ashamed of something you've done, secrets you keep, or hurts that were done to you? Let them go. Free yourself of the bondage. Forgive the person who hurt you, maybe not to their face, but in a letter you may never send. Write, write, write. It's very cathartic. Keep a journal and pray about the things you write.

There was pain in my childhood of times when I wasn't sure my mother would be restored to our family after the stigma of mental illness. There were moments of bullying so bad in middle school that I would cry every day, and retain some of the hurt for many years. There was the betrayal of a husband in my early twenties, a man that I thought the sun rose and set on, and the feeling of unworthiness attached to the fact that he chose another over me. There was a dark time in my son's teenage years that I felt my heart was breaking. 

Keep Your Eyes on Me. Jesus says.

Well if my eyes are on you, Lord, then they aren't on my problems any longer. If my eyes are on you, then I'm not seeing the past and the breaking of my heart. I'm able to let go, forgive those who hurt me and hurt my loved ones. Forgive myself for bad choices and mistakes. 

What about death? Can we keep our eyes on Jesus then? For we've all lost someone we love. There's another scene in the movie "The Shack" that fills my heart with such happiness, I feel like I could burst. I want to sing and clap my hands. I want to cry beautiful tears of joy. Mack is permitted to see his daughter Missy playing with other children in Heaven. Missy knows her father is there watching, and walks over near him and with the most incredibly joyous glee, she shows her happiness, her contentment, and her love. Her father sees her as she is, not who she was, and his own heart is filled with hope. It is then that he realizes he was not at fault for her death, and that perfect love does indeed, cast out fear.

My mother had a near death experience in the early nineteen seventies. She had a cardiac arrest and felt herself being pulled into an unexpressable love. She could barely describe the feeling of warmth, all-encompassing love as if she was the only person who mattered. When she returned, she told us that she wasn't afraid to die. I think that scene in the movie with Missy conveys that feeling of absolute joy--a joy that nothing can ever take away. Think about it. If our departed loved ones feel that rapturous joy, if their eyes are fixed on Jesus, then even death does not triumph. 

I hope if you have the chance, you will see this life-changing movie. Is it one hundred percent gospel, well, is anything except the Bible? Take from it what the author intended. A story of healing and forgiveness; a story of God's perfect love. I happen to think you, too, will come away changed and with a new sense of wonder, awe, and your eyes on the One who matters.








Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Very Good Bad Day







I'd been planning this little excursion for weeks. One of Mom's favorite Disney cartoons had been "Beauty and the Beast." She watched it over and over with her grandson, my Matt, when he was very little, and then with me just as many times. I knew she would enjoy the local play.

Sunday arrived, and with her dementia, Mom kept asking, "Now what is going on today?" I'd explain that me and Matt were taking her to a high school production of one of her favorite movies. She seemed okay. Okay, that was, until we got her out. She complained about the weather; it was way too cold. The wind was blowing, and she had to walk pretty far to get inside the school and into the auditorium. What if she had to go to the bathroom? The list went on and on. I had a really bad moment where I lashed out and said, "Fine, if you're going to be like this, let's just turn around and go home." I meant it. All my planning for a perfect day, shot down with her negativity. I couldn't remember her Alzheimer's in that moment. All I could think about was me.

When the lights finally dimmed, Mom innocently asked, "Is this "Cats?" It was a question she would repeat at least twenty-five times or more. For some reason the musical "Cats" was stuck in her head. Then when the cast broke into a song she knew from "Beauty and the Beast" Mom would sing along, out loud mind you, and she appeared as if she was enjoying herself immensely. Then all over again, she'd say, "I want to see "Cats." My stress level was through the roof. I thought about getting up and leaving with her, but something said: stay until the end. This is a day for everyone to enjoy. Don't worry if she's embarrassing you. Don't think about the people around us who were hearing her say things out loud every so often. And not that I don't care for the feelings of others, but there have been many times in my life when I've sat near special needs children or adults. Yes, I'd always been understanding of what was going on with them.

When the play was over, Mom sat crying with the story she'd loved so much. The Beast is dying, and Belle's love saves him. It was a tale she'd told me as a little girl many times. And it was in this moment, that the little girl began to emerge in my mother. As we walked out of the auditorium, we spotted many of the characters from the play talking with friends and family. The lovely Belle posed for pictures with little girls who seemed enamored of their favorite character. Mom shyly asked, "Can I have a picture with Belle?" My heart cracked into two right at that moment. That little girl again, showing up through the wrinkled skin, thinning hair, and wheeled walker. "Of course," I said, and we snapped away at a few poses. In them, I can see Mom almost puzzling out why she was standing next to this lovely princess. In her mind, she may have been eight or nine again, believing in magic, beauty and love. Who was I to take that from her?

I think back on that day right now, and feel a pang of guilt at my impatience at Mom. Yet I also glow when I see how much she enjoyed herself.

The next morning, my mom woke up and on her way to the bathroom, she fell and hasn't been the same since. After a short hospital stay, she is now in a rehab facility. She can only speak in soft, garbled phrases. They aren't sure yet if she's had a stroke, or what might have brought this on. More childlike than ever, she is smiling and sleeping a lot. She talks in hushed whispered tones and can't answer most questions posed to her. I watched her during one of her moments of slumber and noticed she was talking to herself a little. I wonder if she's chatting with my father, her own Prince Charming who passed on before her. I wonder if he's there even now near her, whispering the words of love he's always said to her. I see her smile in her sleep and can only imagine.