Friday, April 19, 2019

The Memory Blanket

The small afghan lay folded across my lap while I tied off the last threads of yarn. Old friend, I thought, rubbing my hand across the delicate surface, it’s been quite a journey you and I have taken together. What started as a small project meant to keep idle hands busy and a mind filled with worry at peace, was finally at an end. When I stretched it out before me, my heart sank. The rectangle was distorted, imperfect. And the colors I’d used looked hideous to me. Where was the soft, warm blanket I’d worked lovingly on for so long?

When my father passed away a little over a year ago, and caregiving for Mom’s Alzheimer’s became the new normal, I had to have something to occupy my downtime in the evenings. I found several skeins of different colored yarn in my crocheting tote bag, ones that were bought for older projects that were already completed. A lap blanket would be a good project. I could make it for my mother.

The blanket became a quest of love. Mom was always chilly. It would be perfect to tuck around her as she sat on her favorite spot on the sofa. Or perhaps she would snuggle with it in bed. I hoped she would like the fact that it was made just for her and began to work on it every chance I could. During television time with my husband at night, during the many doctor appointments my mother had each week, the tote bag filled with colorful yarns, a small pair of scissors, and my favorite crocheting hook was always by my side. Somehow it was comforting that no matter where my mind wandered, no matter how confused Mom was becoming, or worse yet, the fact that her health began failing, at least my hands felt useful when I did not. 

Then the worst of it had happened last March. My heart felt as if it splintered into tiny shards. I’d taken my mother to a high school play of Beauty and the Beast. She’d sung along and laughed. She wanted a picture with the princess after the show. How could it have been that I found myself sitting in a rehab facility one week later wondering if she would ever recover? She seemed lost as if the dark recesses of her brain had begun to close some of its doors tightly. I wondered where her speech and smile had gone. I wondered why she slept so much. I wondered about the odd little phrases she uttered; things that made no sense at all.

We’d found out that Mom had several small strokes. They had affected her ability to communicate properly. Though she had no paralysis, it appeared Mom started to give up. She couldn’t dress herself any longer or even walk. Secretly I’d wondered if she was willing herself away somehow in an attempt to be reunited with Dad. She slept most of the time as I sat by her side. Then, more than ever, I’d needed my crocheting project. While my hands worked at the yarn, my mind worked at prayer. I could look up; watch my mother sleep without missing a stitch. Unable to do anything for Mom, it seemed that as long as my hands were busy, I felt useful somehow.

My mother would awaken and watch me crocheting. I talked of everything and anything in those moments to engage her, to find a spark of the life she once had. Several times I spoke of the little blanket.

I lost my mother in July of last year. I had so wanted to have that blanket done for her. Though I hadn’t been able to give it to her while she was living, I thought about laying her to rest with my final gift. It still wasn’t finished. 

Thinking back now, I’m glad the project wasn’t completed because I was the one who needed it. It gave me a chance to reflect on my visits with Mom. With every crocheted row, a new memory would pop up. The tears would flow, but they weren’t entirely tears of sadness. I knew my mother was reunited with Dad and at peace.

 The blanket, which had been such a big part of the close, quiet times I’d spent with my mother on her final journey, would always be a reminder to me of her very good life and all the moments with her during those last precious months.

As I looked again at the distorted shape and the un-matched colors of the finished lap afghan, I realized some important lessons. Life had been like that for my family in the last several years; not perfect, but certainly workable. Sometimes our journey had been ugly and the outcome, unclear much like the pattern I’d haphazardly seemed to crochet. The mismatched yarn in each row reminded me that there had been differences in our little family, and though colorful at times, it certainly was messy at others. But much like the soft fabric, I realized that my Heavenly Father had given me a softened heart toward my aging parents. And the warmth that even an imperfect blanket provided showed me that my own imperfections could be used for something good. No longer unattractive, the blanket has become a masterpiece, one that I will treasure forever.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Eulogy For Mom

I have never shared this with anyone except those who were at the grave site on my mother's funeral day. But today I would like for everyone to know just how much she meant to me, my family, and many many others.

She was once a little girl. A daughter, a child. She knew laughter and fun. She had hopes and dreams to play piano, sing…soar. She also knew hard times, worry and fears. She was born in an old fashioned era. She’s my mother Eileen and I’d like to tell you a little about her.

She married young, at nineteen, to my father Richard, a good man, a loving man, someone who stood by her during a difficult period of health issues. She came out on the other side stronger and better for it, with a heart so filled with compassion for others, that many lives would be touched by her.

A pregnancy would come in later years after Mom lost two other babies. A doctor warned her to terminate the baby due to health concerns. But this strong woman, my mother would say words that have stuck with me all my life: “I’ll have this baby or die trying.” And nine months later, my brother was born; a true blessing in our lives.

Mom ran several antique businesses through the years, enjoying the challenges they brought. But one of her biggest accomplishments to many of us was the small mom and pop grocery store she and my dad owned in our little town of Ambridge. The Eighth Street Dairy was a quick stop for kids after their long school days.  A place to play video games in the early 80’s and purchase bags full of penny candy. Nothing was more important to her, however, than her daily talks with the people and kids that walked through her door.

Some folks came daily for a newspaper and cup of coffee. They’d share stories with Mom of their lives and problems. Like a therapist, Mom would listen and occasionally give advice. And as for the children who came through the door after school hours, Mom would have a listening ear and show by example, kindness and patience to all; qualities they may not have seen in their own homes.

Years later, many of the young people, now grown would approach Mom if they’d see her somewhere. They told her just how much she meant to them in those early years, the time she spent talking with them.  A few have told how their lives changed from knowing her.

As for me, I think back to a lady who stood by me in one of the darkest times of my life; my spinal surgery for scoliosis as a teen. I don’t know how Mom was able to keep strong watching me go through such a difficult time in Children’s Hospital. How she kept my spirits up and told me it would pass.

My brother and I have gotten our hearts from our mother; our sense of humor. We’ve gotten the love of movies, books and imagination from her; a spirit of creativity. We’ve gotten a love of animals and underdogs of the world. We learned about faith and God from Mom.

I think our mother didn’t realize just how many lives she impacted. But the world became a better place because of her.

The other day, 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. Once again Mom had taken a turn for the worst and I heard words from the doctor that I wasn’t quite prepared for. We recommend hospice care for your mother. She’s so frail now and perhaps it would be best for her to be just 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 spoken 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 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 learned that as Mom slipped further from us.

When my father was in the hospital last year, there were several odd, yet comforting things we heard from him. And a few days ago, I noticed that very thing with my mother. She appeared to be talking to people that we couldn’t see. She reached up once as if grasping someone by the hand and petted animals that weren’t there.

Our mother has gone to a better place. We are confident of this, for she visited there once before. She had felt a love surrounding her like no other during a cardiac arrest in her earlier years. 

Though our hearts are heavy, we now picture our mother 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.

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 our all to you.