My Secret Weapon

This morning as I was preparing for a contested court hearing, I couldn’t help but miss my mom.  Mom was my “secret weapon.”  She was proud when I became a lawyer.  She always asked about my work.  I didn’t give her much detail, but I told her about the kinds of cases I was working on.  “I represent a mom in a nasty divorce,” or “I’m a guardian ad litem for 3 kids who love both of their parents.”  Sometimes it was “I have a bankruptcy hearing and my client is really scared,” or even, “the attorney on the other side yells a lot and it makes me anxious.”  Mom never asked for more details.  She just said, “that sounds like hard work, but it’s important and I know you’re making a difference.”

The night before my very first contested hearing, I called Mom and told her that I was nervous.  I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  I was afraid of looking unprepared and making a fool out of myself as well as doing a bad job for my client.

Mom asked me what time my hearing was.  She told me she was going to pray that my hearing would go smoothly.  My hearing didn’t go perfectly, but it did go smoothly.  I didn’t feel anxious or nervous.  I asked the right questions.  All-in-all it was a great success.   My client ended up with a good result, and I gained confidence.

I called mom that night to tell her that the hearing had gone well.  She answered, “I knew it would.  I prayed.”  We have had many of those “night before a hearing” conversations over the past seven years.  She said a lot of prayers for people she didn’t know, and I had a lot of hearings that went smoothly, where I didn’t feel nervous and didn’t make a complete fool of myself.

I’m not claiming to have had divine intervention in my cases – but I can’t recall ever having a hearing go badly when my mom was praying.  Mom’s prayers were my “secret weapon.”  Mom believed in me, and knowing that she believed that I was “making a difference” gave me confidence.    I want to be the kind of lawyer that my mom believed I am.  Sometimes prayer changes things from the inside.

 

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Color the Sky

Many years ago, I entered a coloring contest.  I carefully outlined each space before meticulously filling in the area with the selected color. I stayed within the lines.  I colored the whole page.  Not an inch of uncolored page remained.  I was as proud of the result as any 8-year-old could be.  It was my masterpiece.

I lost the contest.

This was no ordinary coloring contest –  one of my older cousins had organized it to keep the younger cousins busy during meal preparation for some celebration.   As I recall there was a panel of older-cousin judges, but I might be wrong on that aspect.  It was, after all, more than 40 years ago…

I lost the contest.  The winner colored outside the lines.  I remember asking the “head judge” why I didn’t win.  My picture was better.  My coloring was spot on.

His response?

“You colored the sky.  You’re not supposed to color the sky.”

For years and years, I left the skies in my coloring books a boring white.  The skies in Never Never Land and Cinderella’s Kingdom were always an overcast, unhealthy beige without a hint of blue. Occasionally I would get brave and draw a sliver of sun in the uppermost corner, but never again did I dare to color the sky.

I looked out my bathroom window this morning and saw the brightest blue sky.  My iPhone camera simply didn’t do it justice.   The sight brought the memories of my blank white coloring page skies back to me.

Life is short.  Less than 3 months before Mom died, she told me that she planned to live to see age 90.  Before she died, she wanted to go to the beach.  She wanted to sit on my back deck and look at the flowers.  I looked forward to days together where we might look up and watch the clouds together.  The skies in my daydreams about what might have been are always blue, with a puffy cloud or two and a sliver of golden sunshine.

There are rules in place to keep us safe, like “you must stop at stop signs.”  Other rules  were just someone’s idea that caught on.  We follow those rules because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Don’t eat dessert before dinner.  Follow the pattern as it is written.  Don’t wear white after Labor Day.  Cover the gray in your hair if you don’t want to look old.  Don’t put the good china in the dishwasher.  You get the idea.

I’ve spent more than 40 years believing you shouldn’t color the sky.  What a dumb rule.  Always color the sky.

Day 9 – Out with the Old, In with the New

My mom wasn’t much of a housekeeper. Truth be told, I struggle with keeping a clean house myself. My brother and I didn’t have many chores growing up. I had to load and unload the dishwasher, and I vacuumed and dusted for a few pennies, but I always liked dusting. I still love the actual act of dusting and polishing wooden furniture (not that you would know it from the current condition of my home).

I was in my 20s the first time I ever saw someone wipe down the inside of their sink after washing the dishes. Sure, we cleaned the sinks in our house, but it was part of a weekly “heavy duty” cleaning – not something we did every time we used the sink!

My mom and dad were both pack rats. There were parts of the house that could have been featured on an episode of Hoarders. Both grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression, and neither threw away something that they might need or that “might be worth some money someday.”

I searched Mom’s apartment for some important documents while she was in the nursing home. I never found what I was looking for, but I found drawer after drawer stuffed with the gifts that I had purchased or made for her in the past decade, many with tags still attached. She was “saving them for a special occasion,” I am sure.

I haven’t cleaned out Mom’s apartment yet. I’m dreading the task. I think the long Thanksgiving weekend is probably the time to dive in and get it done. First, I’ve had to learn to let go. Mom and Dad had an auction sale when they sold the family home more than a decade ago. They moved from a 3-4 bedroom house (depending on how you counted) with a full basement, garage and two sheds to a 2-bedroom apartment. Every nook and cranny was filled. I ended up with at least a truckload of furnishings during that move.

They moved into an even smaller place a few years later and I again was elected (by default) to take possession of the “family heirlooms” – mostly broken furniture and wedding presents that Mom had never used because she was “saving them for something special.” I never used them either, for the most part.

I’m enrolled in a program with a life coach, and serendipitously, October was all about organizing. I learned to winnow the mounds of stuff that I have accumulated over 30+ years of adulthood by asking 1) does it serve me, 2) do I love it, and 3) is it outdated or broken? I was shocked by the realization of how much “stuff” I was holding onto because it was important to someone else. The local Goodwill store was the recipient of multiple loads of bric-a-brac, furniture and books.

My mom crocheted hundreds of doilies. I have them all over my house and I still had boxes and boxes of them left when she died. At her funeral we laid them out in stacks on a table and invited guests to take them to remember her. I felt a catch in my throat “What if it makes me sad that I don’t have these anymore?” Then, I remembered that these doilies had been occupying a corner of my closet for several years in boxes – just like the things that Mom never, ever used.  It gave me joy to watch friends and relatives sorting through the piles, smiling and admiring Mom’s handiwork.

My coach reminded us that the blanket that Grandma made isn’t Grandma. If it’s worn out and stained and you’re ashamed to have it on display, perhaps it’s time to take a photo and let it go. There are a few things that I will keep from Mom’s house. There are things that I have always found beautiful. They would bring me joy to have, and I would USE them. Those will come home with me. The rest will find new homes. Those things that hold special memories but would never be used will be photographed. I don’t need to fill my home with physical objects to fill it with beautiful memories.

Along with the old “stuff,” I am letting go of old ideas, old resentments and old grudges. Out with the old. Bring in the new. New life, new ideas. I’m never going to love cleaning. Perhaps one of those “new ideas” is that hiring a cleaning service would be a good investment – it will give me more time to blog.

Day 1 in the life of a motherless mother. Seek Beauty.

We buried my mother yesterday. She died on a Friday and we buried her on the following Monday. There was no real time for grief between death and burial. As the oldest child – the only child living in the U.S. – the responsibility to make arrangements fell squarely on my shoulders.

There was shopping for suitable clothing for burial to be done, clergy to be found, scriptures to be selected. Although Mom had “pre-planned” the service, there was still a 2 hour appointment at the funeral home.

there were phone calls to be made and announcements to be written. Worst of all were the fires that needed to be put out and the ruffled feathers that needed to be soothed.

Death brings out the worst in some of us.

I spent Sunday night doing difficult work – consciously working through anger and resentments and letting them go. I learned that forgiveness TRULY is for the forgiver and not for the perceived transgressor. I entered the funeral home on Monday with only love and sadness in my heart.

I didn’t arrange a meal, but my cousin surprised us all with a trip to Denny’s, where we enjoyed fellowship and more than a laugh or two.

Today, though, it is my first day back to “normal” without my mom. Tuesday is always my “day off.” That doesn’t stop me from fielding a handful of phone calls and responding to emails, and today is no exception.

As with most days, I had a to-do-list. Mine was pretty simple: run, cry and get a massage. I managed two out of three. I decided that calling to make a massage appointment would take too many spoons, so I let myself off the hook on that one.

Grief is a funny thing. I can be laughing one moment and then something that Mom would say or do hits me in the gut. Something will happen and I think, “I should call Mom.” I think of all of the days when I forgot to call her, or when I was tired and thought to myself, “I’ll call in the morning.”

I remind myself that forgiving myself is possibly more important than forgiving others.

I ticked “cry” off of my list early and often. “Run” was harder. I donned my cold-weather running gear quite early in the day, but I found other tasks to put off the run. I revised my monthly Amazon subscriptions (twice), I rearranged some flowers that I brought home from the funeral. I made tea, ate a snack and played with the dogs.

finally, I kicked myself out the door. I wore a heavy fleece jacket over my long-sleeved technical shirt and a baby-alpaca cap on my head. I drove to the park where my favorite trail “lives” and I checked Facebook and Instagram for “likes” while willing myself to get out of the car and run.

I took a deep breath and opened the car door. I shed the cap and the sweater, knowing I would be too warm after a mile or so. I queued up my playlist and started my GPS watch. I think I made it 200 or 300 yards before the cold wind cut through and chilled me to the bone. Teeth chattering, I turned tail to call it quits. On the (short) trip back to the car a small voice spoke. “You have a jacket and a cap. Use them.” I did just that.

I paused the GPS and I pulled on the warmer clothing. Returning to the trail, I set off at a slow, steady pace. I paid attention to my breath and to the path. Fallen leaves covered hidden roots and rocks. Running safely became an exercise in being present. I did look around me and saw the brilliant hues of autumn. As I emerged from the first loop to the second (of three), I saw bluest skies in the clearing. As I ran through the meadow I skipped over puddles from the previous days’ downpours.

I stopped time and again to take photos to attempt to capture the moments of sheer awe at the world I have the privilege to run through on my two feet. I exited the second loop to make my way to the third loop and found what is normally a trail to be a six-inch deep pond / stream. I decided “let’s not get crazy now,” and decided that multiple loops around the “middle” loop would do.

I looped the “middle” loop three times, all in the same direction. Each trip round the loop I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. On the first trip it was the view of the fields and trees across the clearing. On the second trip it was the low-hanging branch that I could reach up and touch. On the third trip, it was the prints of an unknown creature in the mud beside my own footprint.

Although I did, indeed, become quite warm in my cap and jacket, I made it 3.5 miles. I got to check “run” off of my mental list. As I guided my car through the twists and the turns of the parking lot to return home, I saw a brilliant crimson tree with the sunlight shining through its leaves. It was so beautiful that it took my breath away. I stopped the car to snap a photo which, of course, didn’t do it justice.

I returned home and inhaled the heady fragrance of a yellow rose the size of a peach. I sought out color and fragrance and sound that gave me glimpses of joy, and that joy brought me comfort. #Comfortandjoy was the hashtag I adopted for an abandoned attempt at building a MLM empire. It’s become my new theme for living through grief.

Today’s lesson was evident – seek beauty. It is everywhere. Enjoy it with every breath. Seek out beauty and find joy. In them, find comfort.

They call it the present because today is a gift.

I love it already!

There is a story about an old woman, recently widowed, who is moved to a nursing home.  The woman is blind and cannot live independently.  She waits, without family, in the lobby as her paperwork is completed and her room made ready.  A staff member describes the room in great detail to her as she waits.  “I love it already!” the old woman exclaims.

The nursing home staff member asks her, “How do you know you love it?  You haven’t been inside it yet.”

The old woman, blind but wise, says, “The actual room and its furnishings has nothing to do with it.  I’ve already decided that I love it.  Happiness is a decision you make on purpose.”

I’m paraphrasing the story.  I saw it originally on Facebook, and a google search showed that a similar story, but not quite the one that I remember was written by Joyce Meyer in “The Mind Connection:  How the Thoughts You Choose Affect your Mood, Behavior and Decision.

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog post.  To be honest, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself.  We discovered at the beginning of August that my 88 year old mother’s cancer had caused pathological fractures in her spine and right hip.  She elected to have 10 radiation treatments to “beat it back” to alleviate the pain. Although I begged her to come stay with me for the duration of the treatments, she steadfastly refused to leave her home.

The treatments were harder than she expected.  Due to the area that was being treated, there was a lot of irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.  She was frequently nauseated and vomiting, and there was nothing that I could do about it.  Once the treatment started at the cancer center near her home, it couldn’t be transferred to the sister center near mine because of differences in equipment and dosages.

The day after her last treatment we received a call that she was gravely ill, and that management at her independent living community had determined that she was no longer independent enough to stay in her home.  She was a danger to herself and potentially others.   She had to leave, and I needed to be there when they broke the news to her.

I finished up some urgent matters at my office and drove south to Mom’s home.  I packed up a handful of things in case I needed to stay overnight.  When I arrived, Mom was sitting in her chair.  Although we hadn’t spoken, she acted like she was expecting me.  “I’ve decided to take you up on your offer to come stay with you. It will be a little vacation at your house – let’s see how it goes.  I need some help.”

I was delighted that she had made the decision on her own.  I knew that once she arrived at my home, she was unlikely to return to hr own, but we didn’t talk about that.  I tried to get her to just get into the car so that I could help her (and so that my family could help me…)  She refused.  She needed to “clean the house,” and she couldn’t miss her doctor appointment in two days.  I decided to stay with her for those two days.

To make a very long story very short, the doctor appointment never happened.  Instead, my very sick mother slipped into a rapid decline and ended up spending the next two weeks in a series of moves that included two emergency rooms, three hospital rooms, two nursing home rooms and a bunch of procedure rooms.

I was with her night and day for more than a week that seemed like an eternity.  Somewhere around day 4, my mom started to disappear.  She changed from my loving mother to a scared, angry woman who told me that I was evil.  She went from praising the staff to believing that they were possessed by Satan.

She was treated for electrolyte imbalances and a urinary tract infection. Each time they discovered a deficiency, I grasped onto hope that correcting it would bring my mother back.  It didn’t.

She finally settled into a nursing home for rehabilitation.  She was unable to do even the most basic self-care chores for herself.

I really, really wish that I could tell you that she is like the old woman in the beginning of this post and that she was determined to like her room before she even saw it.  Instead, each time I would visit her in the nursing home, she would berate me.  She would accuse me of tricking her into agreeing to stay with her so that I could put her into a nursing home where they torture her, make her fly on trapezes, tie her to the bed, punch her in the stomach, and leave her alone in the dining room for hours and hours without help.  Gradually, I came to accept that the person that I love as my mother has rather suddenly disappeared.

One trip she told me that I am not her daughter anymore.  Another time she told me that there are two of me.  One is evil and one is her daughter, and she is not sure which one I am.  She tells me that she wants to go home – but now she thinks that home is in Kidron, where we lived for many years, but she hasn’t lived there in a decade.  Every visit, she asks me how her mom is – my grandma – who died when I was a little girl.  Every visit, she tells me that she wishes that she had just died.

For two weeks at least, it seemed that everything made me cry.  I stopped doing the things that I love to do.  I stopped doing the things that help me to function – to stave off anxiety and depression.  Instead, I cried.  Sometimes I raged – I would scream in the car driving down the road when nobody could hear me.  I have often told other caregivers “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” but when faced with the same sort of scenario in my own life, I poured and poured and poured until there was nothing left to give, and it still was not enough.

I would start projects  – writing projects, crochet projects, cleaning projects -and then I would abandon them.  My living room became filled with half-done afghans, dish cloths and hats.

One day a few weeks ago when I didn’t have court or client scheduled, I didn’t get out of bed until past 10:00 a.m.  I’m an early riser.  I get up, make coffee and then journal, meditate, and study.  My husband knew then that something was very wrong.

We were blessed with a beautiful weekend in late September.  My husband suggested a boat trip to an island.  Reluctantly I agreed to leave – immediately.  Instead of packing a large cooler full of food to prepare, we left with just our clothing and toiletries, a couple of packs of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, a bag of trail mix and another of potato chips, and elected to treat ourselves to a whole weekend of restaurants.

Although I used to run many miles each month, I had stopped doing that, too, over the course of the summer.  There was a charity run scheduled for Saturday that weekend on the island, and I decided to register and do my best.  I joined several hundred runners at the start line.   There were several times that I had a hard time seeing the road because the tears were flowing so hard.  I wasn’t in physical pain -it was a mental and spiritual battle. I crossed the finish line with tears streaming down my face.  I started something, and I finished it.  The 5k run didn’t become another unfinished project.

I wish that I could say that I snapped out of my funk and began living life again immediately after that 5k, but the truth is that it took another week of slowly beginning again to use the tools that helped me to function after the last crisis in our family.

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook or in my blogs for any period of time knows that I tend to post the happy things.  My life is spent cultivating joy whenever possible.  It’s easy to find joy in a flower when life is smooth sailing.  Applying the tools is much more difficult when the waves are crashing and it seems that the world is burning down around you.

I’m learning that people can’t hurt our feelings.  It’s our own thoughts about events that hurt us.  It’s our own thoughts about life that bring us joy.

For those weeks in September, I spent all of my energy trying to find a solution for Mom’s mental decline.  I spent hours combing my memory trying to find signs that the dementia was there all along and I just missed it.  I spent hours trying to convince her that she’s in a place for help and that she still has a life to live if she just tries.  that “project” took all of the time and attention from all of the other “projects” in my life.  I finally realized that making myself miserable and allowing depression and anxiety creep back into my life – forgoing joy and happiness won’t bring my mother joy.  It won’t bring her peace.  It won’t make her want to live.

I choose life.  Mom will be 89 in a few weeks.  Whether or not she emerges from this event, her life is nearing its natural end.   My visits always upset her.  I no longer see her every day.  It’s not good for her, and it’s really horrible for me.  If she tells my kids that she wants something, I send it.  I’ve stopped worrying so much about what other people think about the matter.

I’ve finished crocheting two cowls and I’m almost done with a poncho that I started at the beginning of summer.  I ran again this week.  I am back into my morning routine.  I go to sleep giving thanks and I wake up anticipating a great day.

I am here to love my life, no matter what may come.  It’s the only life I have, and I’m not about to waste it.  This weekend I am setting up my office in a different room in the same building.  I don’t know exactly what furnishing will fit or how they will look, but I love it already.  I’m going to learn to knit on Thursday.  I don’t know what I will make, but I love it already.

I don’t know what may come, but I’m certain that I can find beauty and comfort in it.  I love it already!

This one’s for you 

There was a time not so many years ago when I would write for the joy of writing. I would write stories and poems.  I wrote term papers and articles.  I enjoyed writing.  I enjoyed sharing my writing.  One day it came back to me through the grapevine that someone felt that my writing was “passive aggressive.”  They felt that it was directed at I them.  Maybe it was. I can’t tell you what was in my head at the time.  

Writing was an outlet for my feelings.  Feelings are not always right or wrong.  Brooke Castillo (check out her podcast) says that the thoughts that we have about a circumstance cause our feelings.  If that is correct, then we can change our feelings by changing our thoughts. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. 

I get anxiety. I won’t say that I suffer from it (although I sometimes do), but the fact is that I experience anxiety is truth.  I am feeling anxiety right now. I am anxious that this blog post isn’t eloquent or polished.  I get anxious that people will think there’s something inferior about me because I admit that I have anxiety. 

Anxiety has a physical quality. My tummy feels a little funny and it feels like someone is squeezing my voice box. Sometimes it feels like my heart is beating in my throat. Sometimes anxiety has an identifiable source. Other times, it’s just there. 

My anxiety has a host of symptoms that accompany it. Sometimes I worry. I play a scenario out in my head and invent a dozen potential outcomes – some of them catastrophic. It’s rather like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Sometimes there aren’t conscious thoughts – just a feeling of impending doom. 

I used to love to add to this blog. I allowed anxiety to take it away from me. I worried about what other people might think of me as a person or as a professional. I stopped writing. 

Like other things in life, anxiety ebbs and flows. When anxiety reaches its high tide mark, I stop creating. It takes too much energy. There is nothing left for music or writing. I can get through the things that I have to do, but there isn’t energy left to create.  

When my anxiety is high, I hope for an invitation to spend time with someone then make myself sick being anxious about it. If I can push through the anxiety, I nearly always have a great time. It’s getting there that is the problem. 

I know some remarkable people who have anxiety.  Over time, we learn ways of coping with it, or even harnessing it. I’m no expert on treating anxiety- or even coping with anxiety, but I have survived anxiety for at least 35 years, which qualifies me to say it can be done. 

I’m constantly seeking and evaluating new approaches to dealing with anxiety. Some work better than others. My anxiety toolbox includes exercise, meditation and essential oils.  Sometimes it has included medication and therapy. 

May is mental health awareness month. Perhaps this post would have been more appropriate last month, but the truth is that admitting you have anxiety causes…(you guessed it…) more anxiety!

My hope is that there is someone out there who reads this who will say, “I am not alone.”  I’m putting this blog out in the world unedited, flaws and all, to prove to myself that it’s okay to do C+ work once in a while.  If you think this is for you, it probably is. Tell me what you think.  We can talk about it. It would make me anxious…but I think I’d like it.  

Special Delivery

When you begin listening for the voice of God in your life, he speaks in many ways.  Sometimes, it is that “still, small voice” in my head during a meditation.  Other times it is looking up to see a sunbeam playing across the floor bringing just a little light into a dark moment.

When I pay attention to “living, instead of existing,” God manifests.  Perhaps you will say that these moments are simply coincidences.  I choose to view them as the breadcrumbs left behind to show me that I am still on the right path.

God sent two messages to me last week via “special delivery.”

I adopted “comfort and joy” as a little personal theme, brand or motto a year or so ago.  I post photos of teacups or flowers, bright colored yarn or even close-ups of my dogs. If it brings me comfort or joy, it’s a likely candidate for my instagram hashtag, #comfortandjoy.

I have an eye condition that makes it difficult to read sometimes.  I do as much of my reading on a screen as I can because I can tweak the contrast and the font size to make it easier to see.  As a result, I rarely look at “real” books anywhere anymore.

Last weekend I went on a little shopping expedition to two of my favorite thrift stores.  At the first, where I have never even glanced at the used book rack, I was forced to stop a moment by the shelves because a couple of people were admiring objects in a curio and blocking my way.  I turned to the bookshelves to pass the time, and my eyes lit immediately on a daily devotional about “Simple Abundance” with “Comfort and Joy” in the title.  I picked it up and paid for it.

At the next stop, I was waiting for my son to try on some clothing.  I had already checked out the dishware and found no teacups that called to me, so I walked to the book shelves.  Just the day before, I had reviewed my Amazon “Wish List.”  On it was Regina Brett’s book, “God Never Blinks.”  I’ve enjoyed reading Regina’s newspaper columns for years.  She has inspired me on many occasions.  I “follow” her on Facebook, and although I frequently have considered buying her book, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Just as at the previous shop, the first book that I saw “called out” to me.  Its bright orange cover drew my eye, and into the cart it went.

Those books sat on my coffee table for several days, untouched.  I opened the cover of “God Never Blinks” and saw an inscription from a daughter to her mother on Mother’s Day 2012.  It made me a little sad to know that a carefully chosen gift had made its way to the Salvation Army store.

I turned the page, and saw that the author had autographed the book, and my amazement that this little book had found its way into my hands was magnified.  I turned to the Introduction section, and as I read the words, I knew that I had discovered a soul sister.  Tears streamed down my face.

I’ve been reading from these two books for a week now, with no hint of discomfort – no visual distortion.   Now, I read a lesson each day.  I want to keep turning the pages and consume the entire book in a single sitting, but it would be over too quickly.  Instead, like a box of expensive chocolates, I will savor just one each day, letting the words sink in slowly.

God didn’t just send me a message.  He sent me an autographed copy.  Thank you for your words, Regina, and thank you to unnamed “favorite daughter” who bought her mom and autographed book in 2012 that would be delivered into the hands of another mother nearly 5 years later.