A time for everything.

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This afternoon I checked my Facebook from a year ago. This is what I found:

It’s been a challenging 36 hours. Thursday, Richard became more weak than ever before. By evening he was exhibiting very serious new symptoms. He did not want to go to the hospital concerned he would not ever make it home again. We prayed and listened for Divine promptings. Richard had not been able to speak very well but suddenly energy poured out of him and he said God was telling him “it’s not time” and to “fight”. He then handed me the phone and said call 911. After several hours in the emergency room, the conclusion was his blood sugar dropped to a dangerous low (he has no history of blood sugar issues). He was treated and released. The ER doc found another area of great concern needing further testing not related to ALS or low blood sugar. Prayers are appreciated for proper diagnosis and wisdom regarding treatment options. He continues to gain strength and feels so much better! Being aware of the steadfast love and presence of God is truly transforming.

Our lives changed that day. The doctor asked us, “How long has that lump been under his chin?” My response was, “What lump?” As I looked over at Richard lying on the hospital bed, I could see it. His appearance changed so much over the previous year, we hadn’t noticed. His tongue had been paralyzed for months. He thought the degradation of his tongue and rapid weight loss caused the lump he noticed while shaving.

After some tests were run and the results were back, the doctor came into the room and nonchalantly announced, “The apparent squamous cell carcinoma tumor identified a year ago has grown significantly.”

Horrified, I spoke up, “What tumor? All evidence of a tumor was ruled out through biopsies last year.” The doctor replied, “The CT scan shows a large mass at the base of his tongue in the same area identified last January. You will need to see a specialist for further testing as soon as possible.”

After the doctor left us alone, Richard’s response was, “It is what it is. There must be a reason for us to find this now. Perhaps it will help someone.”

It did help many of us. It helped us realize how little time we had left with him and he with us. We were able to live life even more intentionally from that point forward.

So today, I chose to pick up my favorite leash hand woven by Richard and me, call for my walking buddy Shiloh and set out to enjoy a beautiful, sunny, 60 degree day in February. As I walked I decided to go stroll though the nature preserve  Richard and I enjoyed frequently throughout 2015. Instead of pushing a wheelchair, I held my collie close to me as I remembered those walks.

I remember Richard and I marveled at how the preserve changed during the year. We enjoyed the barrenness of the post winter thaw. We saw the first signs of spring as tender green shoots pressed through the muddy ground. Focusing on plant life cycles, we anticipated buds emerging to fill the preserve with endless shades of green and multi colored wild flowers blooming in the weeks to come. We watched for and counted deer each time we visited this sanctuary. Soon we would see fawns welcomed into their families.

We enjoyed watching the fawns grow and the spring evenings turn into warm summer nights.  Taking in the sights and and sounds of this beautiful place, we lingered with nature, God and each other talking about life, love, dying, and God. In the fall of 2015, we knew each visit to the preserve could be our last one together. He was getting weaker and more frail with each passing month.

Often during our walks as the seasons changed, Richard would sing The Byrds song:

“To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep”

We laughed everyday in 2015. He had a really great laugh. I miss hearing his laugh. I miss laughing with him.

We cried together, but not everyday.

Today on the trail, I remembered Richard’s laugh and started to cry. I remembered him singing silly songs on our walks to make me laugh, and I smiled through the tears. As my tears continued to flow, Shiloh became unsettled. I stopped for a few minutes to reassure him and take in my surroundings. Though there are no leaves or flowers yet, there was beauty in what remains. The hope of spring, a resurrection of sorts, was alive all around me.

There is a time for everything. Today, I was given another day to live. It was a day healing came through remembering and weeping over what was lost. It was a time to allow sacred memories to bring smiles through the tears. Today, I was reminded, resurrection comes only through death.

It’s a great day.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

Finding Home

The last week has been tough for me. Waves of grief have been welling up and crashing into me. Last year at this time, Richard’s physical condition dramatically deteriorated and we entered into his last few weeks of life. Lately, when I look at the date, memories of those days surface and deep sadness sets in. Friday, I realized I needed to spend some time with my Mom and Dad. Looking at the weather report, I began planning a trip to my hometown for the following day.

I woke up Saturday morning two hours before my alarm clock would have sounded its familiar chime. The excitement of spending time in St. Joe was too much to keep me in bed. As my feet touched the floor, my dogs looked up a bit perplexed at the early start. Usually they hear the snooze alarm a couple of times before I get up. With tails wagging, they raced to the patio door and ran out to the back yard with excitement. After doing their “business” and playing for a few minutes, they bolted back toward the house. They knew something special was happening.

The smell of coffee filled the kitchen as I began to prepare breakfast for all of us. The familiar travel gear was packed with provisions for the day. After we had our food, it was time to pack up the car and get on the road.

On the ride to St. Joe, I enjoyed the quiet whirring sounds of the road thinking about the day ahead and what my heart needed. Connecting with the steadfast love of my parents made me feel more capable of doing the hard work of grieving. Though I can talk to them anytime, being in my hometown allows me to enter into a different, more simple time of life.

As I drove over the bridge just outside the city, I could see my familiar destination in front of me. Entering into the quaint little town, I parked my car on one of the cobblestone streets downtown. Leaving one snoring dog on the back seat and another nervously wondering where I was going without him, I went into my favorite five and dime to look for treasures.

Throughout my life, my Mom and I spent hours in this store looking through the melange of items to be found among the cluttered aisles and overly packed shelves. The store smelled the same as decades before, a bit earthy, yet not musty. Walking along the rows of merchandise, I smiled as I felt shifting in the worn hard wood floors under my feet and heard the familiar creaking sounds announcing each step. I picked up a few trinkets along the way to take back for my office as new reminders of “home”.

It was time to look for some flowers for my Mom. I think I enjoy getting them for her more than she enjoys receiving them. Who doesn’t like to make Mom smile? I walked over to the flower aisle and looked for the right colors. I chose pink, white and yellow bringing a bit a spring into this special day. I paid for my treasures, held the bag close to me and returned to my car.

As is my tradition, I drove down by the lake and marveled at the beauty all around me; the wind blowing across the lake and over the sand, the waves crashing on the shore. I could feel my blood pressure lower and my heart rate decrease. I delighted in the moment. After being cooped up in the car for a couple of hours, the dogs needed a walk so, I drove up the hill to the bluff where I could see the lake as we strolled along a familiar path.

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After trying for 20 minutes to calmly walk the dogs, but failing (they pull me in two different directions), it was time to get back to the car and move on to our next destination. Winding my way through neighborhood streets, I drove slowly past the house I grew up in to see the changes the new owners made after they bought the place. I was hoping the owners wouldn’t see me. Didn’t want them to think I was a stalker. I just wanted to see my childhood home and remember the love we all shared in that space.

Continuing on through town, I turned in to where I would be having lunch with my parents. The overcast, 40 degree February day was a bit chilly but not anything harsh enough to ruin our visit. Leaving the dogs in the car, I parked, gathered the flowers, a waterproof tarp and my food. I walked a few steps, greeted my dearly loved parents with tears flowing down my face and placed the flowers in the ground in front of their gravestone. Clumsily, I laid out the tarp and sat down with my lunch. img_4366

For the next hour or so, I poured my heart out to my parents, with God, knowing He is with all of us. I talked about how sometimes a girl just needs her Daddy to hold her while she cries over a broken heart and her Mommy to play cards with for hours as a fun distraction. Through quiet consistently falling tears, I told them how hard it was to no longer be able to receive those expressions of love from them, yet, the memories are always with me and I am so grateful to be their daughter. They both loved me the best they could for as long as they were able.

We talked about Richard and how they now know  the “real” him. They know how hard it’s been for me to grieve through so many layers of loss. In that sacred space, I knew they loved him too and warmth filled my soul. We talked about how love keeps all of us connected even though we aren’t together physically.

After I finished my salad, cried what seemed like a bucket of tears, I sent a picture of the headstone to my sister in a text saying, “Having a late lunch with Mom and Dad.” She understands what all that means. All four of us siblings miss our parents and realize how fortunate we were to have them as long as we did.

After saying my goodbyes, I gathered up my things and headed to the car. I was greeted with wagging tails and happy faces welcoming me back to the pack. After I put my things on the front seat of the car, I opened the back door to hug my furry babies reassuring them I was ok. Their love is so pure and help fill in the cracks of my shattered heart.

As a magnet to steel, I was compelled to drive by the lake one more time to enjoy the mesmerizing energy of Lake Michigan. I parked by the beach to watch and listen to the waves. It once again provided it’s soothing effect on me. Grateful for the day, it was time to prepare for the drive back to my current home.

The dogs needed a walk, so I drove up and parked once again on the bluff. I got out of the car, leashed up the dogs and I tried to absorb my surroundings one last time. Breathing in the fresh crisp air while enjoying the natural beauty surrounding me, I was caught up in the blessing it was to grow up there.

It was now getting colder and starting to rain. It was time to say goodbye to St. Joe for now. It had been a great day. Everything I hoped it would be and more. I was able to grieve with my parents, grieve for my parents and miraculously receive comfort from the Source connecting us all.

With one dog snoring in the back seat, and another one periodically grumbling in his sleep, I drove out-of-town at dusk remembering the love I experienced in St. Joe through the years is continually with me along side of the love I experience from people in my life now.

Home is where you hold memories of love.

Love is not bound by space or time.

Love never fails.

  Change of Plans

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This afternoon, a friend and I planned on meeting for lunch, then going to Meijer Gardens together to enjoy the spring flowers. I arrived at the restaurant first, which was unusual. After waiting until a few minutes after our planned meeting time, it was time to check my messages. This friend is consistently dependable. Sure enough there was a message waiting from earlier this morning indicating a need to reschedule.

One of the downfalls of the digital age is there are several ways to contact someone. This particular path of communication was not one I monitor regularly. My friend wouldn’t know that since it was how we communicated about our plans for the day.

Being in private practice for over 25 years, changes in my schedule are common. Learning through the years, the best way to embrace the opportunity of some unexpected leisure time is to pray for ideas to make the best use of unscheduled time.

The restaurant is close to the gardens so that was still going to be part of the plan. Seeing spring flowers and checking out the other indoor gardens would be refreshing. Since it was a gloriously sunny day, a power walk was in order through the outdoor gardens. Walking around this magnificent place is a treat every season of the year. The walk outside alone was worth the trip. The next few hours were going to be great!

After parking, I began gathering the necessities for my adventure. Pulling out my driver’s license and membership card, it was time to put on my coat, bundle up with a scarf and gloves to enter into the beauty of this winter wonderland. Turning to grab my coat, reality hit; no coat. Ugh! It was bright, sunny and 20 degrees. Known for rarely wearing a coat, it was too cold even for me to walk around outside. Change of plans once again. Sigh.

Deep breath, another prayer, it was time to get out of the car, get my ticket and see what was available in the treasured walled in sanctuary. Walking briskly to the building (it was cold), I had to fight off a bit of frustration at myself for not bringing my coat. Having learned long ago to let go of things unchangeable, I took in another deep breath and entered into the comfort of knowing God was with me and always wanted to show me things. Accepting what happened and being grateful for what remained opened a pathway for peace to wash over me.

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Slowing down to simply observe my surroundings, my senses were sharpening. Taking in the mingling of fragrances from the flowers and plants, gazing deeply into the colors and shapes of spring flowers pushing through the ground offered a preview of what will be coming outside in a few weeks. Included in this display were some newly planted spring flowers clearly not surviving their new surroundings. As I looked up, I could see the snow and bare trees through the window from inside this protected paradise. Life could be observed in one glance. Things dormant, emerging, fully developed and dying were all fully present.

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After enjoying the spring installation, I was drawn to go into the tropical garden. As the automatic door slid open, I felt the sultry warm air glide across my skin. Looking around this utopia, I could feel the Creator reaching out to me through His creation. Slowly walking along the stone path, breathing in the clean air produced by these amazing living wonders, I realized this is right where I needed to be. Enjoying a change in plans.

Sitting on a bench basking in the awe of each plant, flower, bird and waterfall sound, a couple walked by me then stopped to take a selfie of the two of them by the waterfall. As I typically do when I am at the gardens, especially when I am alone, I said, “Would you like me to take a picture of the two of you by the waterfall?” The man said, “No, thanks. We’re good.” They began to walk away when the girl said to him, ” I would love to have a picture with all of us.” She turned to me saying, “Would that be ok?”  I said, “Of course!”

They went around the corner and called out to a woman. She was the girl’s mother apparently and the guy was the girl’s boyfriend. Both women took off their coats, (they were smart enough to have theirs with them) fussed with their hair, smoothed out their clothes and jewelry preparing for the picture. With gorgeous smiles of delight, the three of them huddled together looking fabulous through the iPhone lens capturing this moment for them. They walked away remarking at what a great picture it was and how happy they were to have it. They were all so grateful for such an easy gesture on my part. They were also able to enjoy my change in plans.

Grabbing my purse, I was drawn to another bench in the tropical garden. As I sat down and looked up through the flowers, trees and vines the sun’s rays flowed through the glass ceiling and covered me like a blanket. I sat soaking in the moment, thanking God for a change in plans.

Enjoying lunch and the gardens with my friend will happen another time. Today was the day for me to slow down, talk with God about the beauty of His creation, take a picture for some strangers, fill up my senses, shop at Trader Joe’s and wash my car.

May you receive every unforeseen opportunity of unscheduled time as a gift. There is a Presence working on your behalf willing to invite you into otherwise overlooked blessings. Allow pieces of your day to come together in ways seemingly impossible. It can all happen with an unexpected change in plans.

Thanks for stopping by.

Let’s make this a great year!

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

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The last week of his earthy life, Richard was in Trillium Woods hospice facility. Terminal restlessness, confusion and hallucinations made it impossible for me to continue caring for him by myself in our home. We knew the cancer was likely spreading into his brain.

Because he was confused and disconnected from what was happening, he had to be taken to the facility by ambulance in the middle of the night. When I arrived at Trillium, he was sitting up and asked if I would go get him chicken McNuggets. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. He was joking, I think. The previous 24 hours he was in and out of reality: he did however really like his McNuggets.

Aside from the ALS and cancer, he was still relatively healthy and young. He was just 59. His heart, lungs and other vital organs were still functioning. Though he was ready to die, his body needed time to shut down. This was going to be a matter of hours, days or weeks; no one but God could know.

The staff at Trillium is outstanding. I knew he would receive exceptional care. Before Richard got sick, I used to take Shiloh, our Collie, to visit patients and families while they were going through this process. Hospice workers are a rare breed. They are given the ability to love beyond the norm.

After that first night, he was no longer able to interact with us. The medical team kept him sedated to keep him safe. The first few nights, I stayed with him overnight. Periodically throughout the night, I would gently slip onto the bed, lay next to him and hold him. Telling him how proud I was of him and how much I loved him, I assured him it was ok for him to let go and he was “ending well”. That was his greatest desire, to end well.

Overcoming the life long pattern of hiding guilt and shame with drugs and alcohol, the last year with him was nothing short of miraculous. He was fully present every waking hour. He was attentive to the needs of others before his own. Every opportunity to encourage someone was embraced with love and laughter even through drooling. Richard became so “other “focused, he didn’t care if he drooled. Loving was so much more important than appearance.

The life of addiction requires blame shifting to protect the lifestyle. During his last year, he took every possible opportunity to make amends and take full responsibility for the hurt he caused. Focused on the needs of those who cared about him as well as strangers, he spoke life into us every day. He wanted to try to make up for all the years he was emotionally absent.

A couple of weeks before he went into hospice, we were having our daily, “How are you doing?” conversation.  This became our daily routine throughout that last year. An opportunity to talk about life, death, dying, transformation, love, God and anything else we needed to share, was necessary for us.  Richard, through tears, said, “I want to hang on as long as possible to give you, my kids and my mom what you need to make this transition easier on you. I spent so many years turning away from you. Now that I know how to love, I don’t want to take that away from you again.”

I was listening to his sweet, sensitive, sincere heart, as a question only the Spirit could give me flowed out. “Richard, in all the years of addict insanity, did you ever ask God to do whatever it would take to make you stop hurting the people you love?” He replied, “Thousands of times.” I said, “What you have done this last year by being present with us has brought tremendous healing. As you have told me many times, you know you were only able to do this because of getting ALS. Knowing you were dying was the final catalyst to step into the reality of living. If this is what it took, is it worth it to you?” He, without a second’s hesitation said, “Absolutely. I would give my life to heal the hurt I caused.”

All we ever wanted was Richard to be Richard. He ran away from himself and us for years. The last year of his life we had him and he was wonderful. The courage it took him to do what he did in that transforming process still amazes me. He was physically dying yet mentally and emotionally coming alive. It was a privilege to watch.

This picture is the last picture we have “together”. I took it a day or two before his heart stopped beating. The last night I stayed with him, I held his hand all night long and most of the next day. Though his body was shutting down, I could still feel warmth in his hand.  I wanted him to be free from this broken down body. The chronic pain perpetuating the addiction, the addict thought patterns he had to fight so continuously, guilt and shame from choices he made and every lie he believed about being inadequate, not good enough or a failure would be eliminated permanently.

Feeling the warmth in his hand, I soaked in the moment as tears streamed down my face. His beautiful, sparkling, bright, blue eyes which were so clear the last year were now dull and void of emotion. He was already in a better place, all that remained was a portion of him connected to his physical body. I wanted to hold on to his warmth for just awhile longer; to remember the last year and thank God for the man he became. He found freedom to be Richard, living in reality, with us. Many people would say how sad it was he couldn’t have found it sooner. We just celebrated it happened at all.