Monday, April 25, 2011

Yellow


A bit of Easter whimsy …

Yellow made a sunny splash yesterday. Though pink and aqua finery flitted about our church lobby,  yellows fluttered their feathers in much greater numbers. Not pale Easter-chick-yellow either. Bright yellow finch-yellow. Ruffly, flouncy, daffodil-yellow. Not a few buttercream-yellow rose petals dabbled into a multicolored flowered dress. Solid neon-dandelion-yellow skirts shouted, “Get lost, Winter; new life has arrived!”

Among folks dining at an Easter brunch, I noticed the same flaming-sun fashion theme, right down to the egg-yolk-colored bubble gum popped by a young girl goofily jerking toward the dessert table on the heels of her black-patent-leather-mary-janes. Between church and brunch, I saw only one Easter bonnet. A slim sophisticate balanced a stunning black, wide-brimmed, veiled hat as she regally fingered a chocolate-covered strawberry. This would-be Aurora apparently didn’t get the memo: Yellow is the new black.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sock Drawer


Apparently, my six dresser drawers sound different when sliding in and out. Who knew? My dog Charlie. How do I know? Because I can open and shut five of those drawers 17 times each and Charlie doesn’t even cock an ear or an eyelid in interest. But if I open the sock drawer, no matter where in the house he is, Charlie comes running, tail wagging. Smart little Spaniel—he knows when Mommy puts on socks, he’s about to get a walk outside in the big wide world of who knows what. Could be squirrel scents, worm-hunting robins, or fellow doggies.

My dog craves security in his little routines and my husband’s and my presence. Yet he gets pretty doggone excited about these twice-daily forays into the unknown. It occurs to me he must trust the leash holder. It also occurs to me I might not trust God, my leash holder when I face forays into life’s unknowns. When God opens His sock drawer, I am more likely to climb under the cushion of my doggie bed than to come running. 

What does God’s sock drawer sound like to me? It’s the thrashing of wind chimes against the house when winds seem to come from all directions and I feel powerless to stand, to act, to even hope in Him. It’s the whooshing of two inches of snow onto my delicate daffodil head when I feel crushed and cold and afraid to say the truth God calls me to speak in love to the snow dumper. It’s the choking sound of self-indulgence when God puts someone else’s needs before me. 

What would show God I'm eager to walk with Him through these unknowns? To reach up and calmly still the wind chimes because I know God has power to carry me through howling storms and insurmountable odds; to shake icy snow off the back of my neck because I know God will warm my heart and hopefully the snow dumper’s heart, too; to swallow my selfishness because God shows me generosity of spirit—these would be bounding, tail wagging, toward my heavenly Father, who stands next to His sock drawer with my faith-adventure leash dangling from His holy hand.

Who is this man? Even the winds and the waves obey him! Mark 4:41
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. Mark 9:24


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ephemera

ephemera. (1) something of no lasting significance (2) paper items that were originally intended to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

Do you collect ephemera? I still have a folk music program with signatures of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. I used to follow the Blackhawks and have kept a program with players’ signatures. Though these represent nice memories for me, I hardly ever look at them. But I especially enjoy looking at postcards my grandparents, parents, and aunt sent me over five decades. Not only do I vicariously enjoy their adventures and penned personalities, but I also smile warmly at their thoughtfulness—while they were away from home, they thought of me.

Lately I’ve pondered ephemeral acts. Some people have asked me why I drive more than an hour to drop in on my dad in the Alzheimer’s unit of the nursing home when he won’t remember my visit, my words, my touch, and sometimes, not even my name. His face still lights up when he sees my face, but I know that won’t be the case much longer. And who knows how much he truly enjoys my reading jokes, prattling about my dog’s antics and family members’ travels, and mentioning little things I appreciate about him? Does his not remembering my visit negate its value? Certainly time spent with my dad has value for me. But what about my visit’s contribution to his life? Do 30 or 60 minutes matter?

My mother’s 30- and 60-minute meal prep times during my childhood laid the foundation for my quality of life 50 years later. Though I do not recall a single specific meal, I do remember feeling family warmth around the table. My grandmother’s 30-minute tea-and-cookie chats sent cozy and clear messages: I love spending time with you. Teachers—whose names I do not remember—who spent 10 seconds scrawling “excellent work” on my paper made a difference in my life. These few examples of positive influences encourage me to continue exchanging smiles—no matter how short-lived—with my father. His brain wires may be crossed, but his heartstrings are straight and true. That he might feel loved for 30 minutes that day is motivation enough.

Of what value is ephemera? The picture I get when I hear the word is of a child blowing on a dandelion seed head. White, feathery filaments fly away, never to be seen again. Or are they? Each filament is in fact a parachute transporting a seed that will produce another yellow flower. (For my metaphor to work, you have to think of a dandelion not as a despised weed, but as a bright, pretty flower. Maybe picturing a child surprising his mom with a dandelion bouquet might help.) Although we lose sight of the seed floating on the wind, we can be confident it will land, planted.

Visiting someone with Alzheimer’s fits both Webster’s definitions of ephemera. It may seem to have no lasting significance. For the visitee, fleeting significance may have to do. And for the visitor, each visit to the visitee becomes a precious collectible, an experiential postcard reminder of a loving connection.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

God's mercies are new every morning

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fences

Yesterday, 4-4-11, both logical routes to my folks’ house were closed for construction, so I went a longer way. I was glad for the country-drive detour—anything to delay the task at hand. Well, I wanted to be on time. But I didn’t want to go. Yesterday, 4-4-11, was to be the day my dad, my dear, sweet dad, would begin new life as a nursing home Alzheimer’s unit resident. In the 24 hours since I’d learned of Mom’s decision, I had barely been able to breathe.

New life was hardly my mindset. Despite unanimous medical professionals’ recommendations for nursing care now, this move felt more like it might be Dad’s anguishing death by loneliness. To be separated from his wife of 63 years, whom he deeply loved and depended completely on for his care, and not understanding why—not even capable of understanding why … I could hardly bear the thought of doing this to him. Actually, neither could Mom. That is why we arranged to be at the nursing home shortly after he’d been admitted and taken to his new room, the 10-by-10 walls that would define his new life.

I’m surprised my anxiety-narrowed eyes saw anything on my country drive. When my eye rested on an albino tree trunk shorn by lightning, I thought about Dad’s white-stubbled skin and dementia-stricken brain. A reddish flaking river birch trunk reminded me of odd-colored scales on Dad’s sun-spotted arms. I should remember to take lotion with me to the nursing home, I thought. Rolling horse pastures bordered by low, wide-posted, white fences did not affect me emotionally, but when I passed one farm with a small area, maybe 10-by-20, surrounded by a tall white fence with slats really close together, I could just feel my Dad suffocating after 89 years of having free run of a spacious home.

Round gray clouds sat heavily above me like herds of brooding elephants. Praise music on my car CD player comforted me, though I struggled to concentrate. One plaintive lyric, “You are my Father,” jarred me, because all I could think about was my earthly dad. But it was the reminder I needed at that time to reconnect with my heavenly Dad.

My parents’ house sat eerily silent and empty. I couldn’t see Mom, though she was there, but Dad was in the hospital, never to return here. Dad’s empty easy chair napped without him. The TV slept. His CD player and stacks of jewel cases were just shadowy shapes on a table. I wished I’d entered a toy store whose toys would come to life if I but flipped a light switch. Near the front door was the gym bag my mom and sister had packed up for Dad. It contained pajamas, toiletries, and a few things like M&Ms and a section of the Sunday paper for him to enjoy. Mom didn’t want to take personal, homey, d├ęcor  items his first day there, because she didn’t want to tell him yet that he’s not coming home, he’s staying home—there. No tennis trophies, no vacation photos, no model classic cars, no joke books or jigsaw puzzles—yet.  I had to trust her judgment about how much truth he could handle in a routine-change, but I still felt complicit in some sort of trickery. Plus, I dreaded seeing Dad’s puzzled expressions, or saying too much. Mom’s words and timing would have to be the gentle bridge Dad would cross to adapt to his new surroundings.

As Mom and I puttered in different parts of the house, we heard something clatter to the floor. I poked around various rooms looking for what might have fallen, but didn’t see anything. As we were about to leave for the nursing home, I spotted the fallen item. It was one of the leaded-glass sun-catchers hanging from suction cups on the window next to the door. Why couldn’t it have been the blue bird with the red berry? Why couldn’t it have been the brown and black and white raccoon? Why did it have to be the red and yellow classic car—the only sun-catcher that would remind me of my father? 

Our nursing home visit was tense. Crammed into a tiny nurses’ office, Mom answered questions and signed forms with the memorable, dreaded date 4-4-11. If his heart stops, do we want him resuscitated? Yes. Can they put bed rails up at night? Yes. Right outside the nurses’ station sat my bright-eyed dad in a wheelchair. I didn’t remember ever seeing him in a wheelchair. He was surrounded by other residents in wheelchairs. His face broadened into a big smile to see us. I heard him ask someone what was going on and when would he see his wife. I popped out to hold his hand, caress his crew-cut, and assure him Mom would be out in a few minutes. During our visit in his new confines, every time he asked Mom, “Yes, but when can I go home?” his slow, ongoing death by diminishment clutched at my heart. At 4:30 I wheeled my brave dad into the dining room to dine with strangers and drove Mom to her empty home.

I couldn’t wait to get home. My home was all I wanted. But it was an oxymoron of a slow rush hour and I was agitated. Scrolling through the day, my brain’s cursor eventually fell on the fallen sun-catcher, and I lost control of any calm or pseudo-calm I had had.  I called to tell my sister about the sun-catcher; together we cried at the tear-triggering symbolism. When I got home, I discovered walking the dog to be a healthy release of pent-up anxiety and profound grief. The thought that my sweet father might in any way feel abandoned brought gut-wrenching and wailing sobs that I hope none of my neighbors witnessed. But I needn’t have worried about my neighbors thinking me a lunatic, because today it was neighbors who consoled me and persuaded me—from their personal, similar experiences—to focus on the comfort of knowing how safe my dad now is. His tall fence with closely spaced slats protects him in ways his two-story rambling rooms can no longer. This perspective gives me hope that my dad can enjoy his last days and that I can put 4-4’s fence fears behind me to enjoy and comfort him again.

4-4-11 grief isn’t over by 4-5-11; I will no doubt sob again as I lose more and more of my dad. But I’m grateful to friends for guiding me by the elbow into a new room where a ray of sunlight glints yellow on a fallen sun-catcher. Dad will be safe and well cared for.