Grace & Grief – Part One

33, 34, 35, 36…
It is my thirty-third day walking through these doors at the nursing home. The weather is quite warm and I’m desperate for cool, but there is little relief inside.

Read the introduction to this non-linear series here:  Grace & Grief Series

33, 34, 35, 36…

It is my thirty-third day walking through these doors at the nursing home.  The weather is quite warm and I’m desperate for cool, but there is little relief inside.  My elderly father is napping when I reach his room.  With his pallid complexion he is almost completely lost against the thin white sheet that covers him.  He shivers in his sleep.  I pull the heavier blanket over him and tuck it around his shoulders.  Then I go straight into my afternoon routine of setting his half-eaten lunch tray aside for pick up; sorting through the papers that litter his bedside table, tossing notices of extracurricular activities and keeping the trivia questions for later; finding the cart in the hallway for a pitcher of fresh water and ice;  and checking his closet to make sure the three shirts I bought him for his stay here have made it back from the laundry this time.  Then I sit down in the wheelchair beside his bed –  I learned weeks ago that it’s ten times more comfortable than the stiff visitor chairs – and I pull out my book and begin to read.

A few minutes later a nurse comes in for her routine and tries to remove his blanket and wants to open the windows to create a breeze. I reply firmly: “No, he is cold,” and wipe beads of sweat off my own forehead.  She leaves in a huff of impatience. I don’t care.  I have fought with someone on the staff – nurses, CNAs, physical therapists, social service reps – every. single. day over issues ranging from missing laundry to wrong medications to unattended catheters.  We have come to an uneasy respect for each other.

I reach over to Dad and push back the snowy lock of hair that falls across his forehead.  I remember when his hair was jet black; when his frame was lean, tall, strong, not almost skeletal and huddled in a hospital bed.  I remember how he would come home from work in the evening and before he even took off his jacket, he would swoop me up to piggyback and we would gallop out to the backyard toward his beloved pigeon coop.  As we neared it, he would let loose his unique five-note whistle, and the birds would dive and glide back to their home from housetops, trees, and telephone wires.  Dad would release me to the ground and turn his attention to the scruffling of gray-blue feathers that followed him into the coop for the feed he would scoop into the trough on the floor.  I would stand at the doorway watching but unwilling to enter.  As they nibbled, he would close and lock the pen doors so the birds could rest for the night safe from the reach of predators. Then he and I would walk side by side back to the house.

I am shaken back to the present by Dad’s weak voice, “Hi there.”

“Hello,” I respond, “Do you know who I am?”

It completely shook me the first time he didn’t recognize me. But now I am used to it and have come to expect anything from “No” to a reprimanding “Of course I do, why wouldn’t I know my own daughter?”

Tonight it is a quiet, sort of insecure, “Yes.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“The hospital I think.”

“Yes, you’re in a convalescent and rehabilitation center.”

“I am?”

“Yes, you are recovering from breaking your hip.”

“How long have I been here?”

“33 days.  You do physical therapy every day and you’re doing very well.  Nothing to be worried about, you’ll remember everything tomorrow.”

He asks me if I am going to stay overnight with him.  I explain I am going to have dinner with him and then stay until he falls asleep.  He begs me to stay until morning.  I decline, but assure him that I’ve been here every day and I promise I’ll be back again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until he is out of here.

He looks out the window and comments on how pretty it is, and that he feels a little cold.  I grab another thin blanket, unfold it, and with a huge flourish throw the ends up in the air and guide it as it floats down over him. He watches in fascination.  I smooth it down all around him and ask, “How’s that?”  Instead of answering, he brings his hand out and grabs hold of mine and smiles at me.  I sit down beside him and smile into his crinkly blue eyes.

When dinner is delivered, it’s time for the evening routine. He sits up on the edge of the mattress. I pull up a chair to share the over-the-bed table with him.  We eat and chat.  He tells me what he can remember about his morning and I tell him the latest world news.   A nursing assistant comes in to help him into the wheelchair for a spin down the halls.  (“It’s warm in here,” she says.  “He has no fat on his body,” I reply.) When we return it’s time for pajamas, settling in for the night, and solving the saved trivia questions.  Finally he reclines back and falls asleep. I tuck him in, kiss his head, close the curtains, tape a note to the temperature controls – “DON’T TURN DOWN. HE IS COLD,” gather my things, and leave.

As I walk to my car, I think about tomorrow, day 34, and day 35, and day 36… and wonder how much longer the chain will grow before things start to improve.  A trace of guilt about wanting change for my own sake tries to wedge into me along with the impatience and frustration towards the circumstances that are already there.

I lift my eyes up to the clear sky and say aloud, “God, please, let things change.”

A cool breeze stirs and a flurry of pigeons bursts into flight across the parking lot.

Dad, in 1970, holding one of his birds in front of the pigeon coop he built.

Introduction to a New Series – Grace & Grief

It’s been six months since my parents both died, eleven days apart. Sometimes it feels like six years, sometimes it feels like six days. Several friends have contacted me this week to see how I am doing. Maybe they made on a note on their calendar about it, but I doubt it because their check-ins didn’t even have to do with them knowing it was an anniversary (and I didn’t even mention it to most of them). I think God just tapped them on the shoulder and said, “Why don’t you check on Pam?” They are all the kind of people who listen and respond to God – even when they don’t know it’s Him – and so they did. Someone suggested I write about my experience. When I hesitated they said, “You never know who you might help.” Since I also try to be the kind of person who listens and responds to God, and to help people, I am going to write about it. 

On September 11, 2018, my dad’s life came to its conclusion.  He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for a few years.  But while we knew it was coming sooner rather than later, his death felt abrupt.  On September 22, 2018, just eleven days later my mother, at age 83, suddenly and unexpectedly slipped away as well.

There.  That’s the story in its barest essentials.   The details leading up to their deaths, the emotions and experiences during that difficult time and its aftermath have been a labyrinth for me.  Since my heart still can’t handle the story as a whole, I will share it in pieces.  My intention is to share it in a way that emphasizes God’s faithfulness. 

I’m not sure how this will match with my blog’s mission of “discover, equip, pursue your purpose” but I think it’s an important journey to share.  

Thanks everyone.  

A Whale of a Reminder

Honored to have this blog post selected a Top 3 finalist in the 2019 OCW Cascade Writing Contest.

This is an article I wrote which originally appeared in April 2018 on The Restore Movement website (http://www.therestoremovement.com/)

I press the accelerator and pull away from the shallow water, leaving the shore and all that is on it behind me. The cool, salty air rushes against my face and pulls at my hair. I take in deep relaxing breaths. I see other jet skis in the distance doing giant circles and spraying high pillars of water, but all I want to do is glide over the undulating water and head straight towards the horizon. Escape.

If I go slow, I slide smoothly through the swells. With some speed, I bounce over them – the rate of speed determining how out of control the feeling is. I choose fast. There is an island not too far off in the distance. I’ve never ridden all the way out to it before and decide that today is the day. Usually the open water brings a slight, underlying sense of fear in me, but I easily shake off the thought of the deepness and darkness of the sea beneath me and break away into adventure, leaving the worries of the day behind me.

As I go, a prayer wells up inside me unbidden, “Oh God…” but I stop it abruptly because I am afraid of what His response might reveal. Life is in a rough patch at the moment and I don’t want to think about it. I want to hide in the great openness of my surroundings. But it still comes to me. Against my wishes I begin to think about what I do not have: a place to live, a job to pay the bills, someone to understand the complexities of my fears, and how I have lost the passion to follow my dreams. I also think about what I do have and can be thankful for: a car, a friend’s couch, a small amount of savings that covers my minimum needs. As for my dreams, there is a very small, very slim, very vague sense of hope. But it’s nothing that I want to disturb. I’m afraid that if I try to even touch it, it will disappear in a puff of smoke. My need weighs too heavily, I can’t think of losing more.

Prayer wells up inside me again, “Oh God…” comes to my lips. The great aloneness that surrounds me causes the great aloneness inside me to open up. “Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water…” Psalm 63 burns up and out of me. I’m saying it out loud, fairly shouting it over the sound of the engine and the spray of the water and the rushing wind. I finish with a personal postscript, yelling “Oh God, my hope is almost gone and I am about to perish!”

At that moment, less than fifty yards away and running parallel with me, I see a large, dark mass rise out of the water. Someone had mentioned earlier that there were some humpback whales that had been seen in the vicinity. The massive creature breaches silently, smoothly, glowing in the wet. I freeze for a moment staring at her majestic beauty. I think, “How absolutely amazing. Oh, please please please, don’t come any closer.” She does three more dips and then disappears, leaving no evidence of her presence behind.

I continue on my circuit around the island thinking about the huge creature now hidden beneath the water. My body flexes in remembrance. A thought bursts into my mind: she is like my big, overarching dream that God has given me. It runs down deep beneath the surface – living, moving, growing out of sight and not revealed except for rare moments that spark awe and wonder. I think about all that God has for my life and the moments I am allowed to see the big picture, so overwhelming it almost makes me want to run. My spirit flexes in remembrance. I also realize that my humpback is most certainly not alone. Others of her pod are near. They too are below the surface, unseen and unknown, along with a great quantity of smaller sea life like the seals, dolphins, and fish. They all lurk there too – like smaller, more easily understood and handled dreams and goals. I am gliding along heading for the island, a clear destination I can see. They are gliding below me in deep, smooth currents as well as in rough waters. They are always there, just not always seen. Then a phrase I have often used to encourage others comes to me: “God is always hard at work behind the scenes on our behalf, even when we can’t see it or sense it.”

I don’t know when I will see a whale emerge from the depths again, but the seals and fish I do see remind me she is out there. I don’t know when I’ll see my big dream again, but I see small things that remind me of it. And just like that island in the distance I’ll keep heading in the direction God has me going and trust that He is always at work behind the scenes – and beneath the surface. His purpose will rise in my life.