To be Remembered

“To be Remembered”

Today was flower day.
I took my client, who is just a couple of short months away from being 100, out to the two cemeteries where her family resides.

Like always, it was errand day, where we were out and about getting groceries and other needed items. I had a car full of groceries and cemetery day is usually a two or three hour process. I squelched my sigh as best as I could, trying not to think of the food that was rapidly thawing in the surprisingly muggy weather.

I took her to a local store where I could get the car close to where the flowers were kept. Peering through the chain link fence, she asked me to look at the pretty red Daisies that had caught her attention.

“They have to be in bloom. I don’t see any geraniums, do you? They last longer.” She looked anxiously through the fence.

As I parked the car, I assured her I’d take a good look around and make sure to choose the nicest ones.

She had mentioned only getting a flower for her husband’s grave so I double checked, “Just one? Or do you want to do your parents?”

“I want to do my sister’s. Then there is my son’s…”

“Want me to get 10 then? Like usual?” At her nod, I left the car with her laughter following me as I shouted, “Don’t let anyone steal you!”

I took time to look through all the flowers, making sure to pick the nicest, fullest, brightest plants.

As we went to the cemeteries, I was reminded that she’s nearing 100. 100 years of love and death. She pointed at homes along the roads we were on, family members who lived in those homes are now in the cemeteries we visited. 100 years of family and friends. A 100 years of joy and sorrow.

So as I placed the chosen flowers on her family’s graves, I took the time to clean the dead leaves and cut grass off of the stones. I pruned the flowers that we had put on the stones at Easter that were still blooming and made sure to collect any trash.

And I stood in for my client.

I cared for her family in her stead. As she stifled her tears of being the last of her family, I became her feet. I represented her love as I became her hands.

I could have rushed through putting the flowers out, but it was a moment to remind my client that she is known and she is loved.

We all want to be remembered.
We all want to know that we will be missed.
We all want to be known.
We want someone to care.
And ultimately, we want someone to miss us when we are gone.

In our care of our cemeteries, we are telling each other how we will remember our loved ones. And sadly, we don’t necessarily do it very well. Hundreds, if not thousands, of local cemeteries are disappearing as nature reclaims the land. Loved ones of ages past are disappearing from sight and memories.

So, I will be my client’s feet, as she expresses her love to her family. I will take the time to show respect to people I have never met. Because I want to be remembered as well.

I could have rushed through the day, but it was more important to care for my client and her heart. Groceries can wait.

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Grief Illiterate

I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”

It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.

Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.

As if he was doing it for the PR.

I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.

Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.

I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.

We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.

We forget grief is fluid.

We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.

There is no timetable for grief.

God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.

Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.

Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.

So many ways to express grief.

Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.

Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.

Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.

He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.

Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.

As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.

Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.

We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.

Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.

We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!

Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.

So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler 

The Art of Losing (Memories)

I finally got the opportunity to watch the recently released film “Still Alice.” I highly recommend this film, as it may give you the ability to understand some of the sheer terror that people face when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

As a caregiver, I have worked with clients in various stages of this horrid disease. It was remarkably well displayed in “Still Alice.” The film follows a renowned linguistics professor as she discovers that she has Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease at just the age of 50. Alice is a very intelligent, hardworking woman whose very life is defined by words, but she slowly starts to lose the ability to speak her beloved words. It follows Alice and her family for a year, and you can see the quick progression of the disease to the point where she can barely talk.

What I love about this film is not only the amazing portrayal that Julianne Moore does, but how they show the range of emotions that the family members have regarding the ‘loss’ of their mother and wife. You have the denial in the husband as well as distancing, the fixer in the son, one daughter wants to remember for her, while the other daughter accepts it and learns to live in it. There is so much emotion displayed in this film; the fear, the acceptance, the fight for a life that is familiar.

At the beginning, when the diagnoses is given, Alice says something to the effect that she wished she had cancer. Cancer is acceptable, people will put on ribbons, run in marathons, and do fundraisers for you. You become a vision of inspiration. But, Alzheimer’s? It’s shameful, something to be hidden. No one wants to discuss it and friends start to fade away.

We fear mortality. We fear the loss of self. And in our fear, we distance ourselves from those who are in the midst of something we dread. Think about it. You know someone with a loved one who is becoming forgetful, they are worried about the outcome of tests and meetings with caretakers. In their stress, they stop contacting you, or whenever you do talk to them, it’s all about the struggles they are going through. You start dreading the phone call. You don’t want to hear about it.

Your grandma starts forgetting the stories she has told you, just 30 minutes ago. You start to ‘correct’ her, but it makes her worried. She stops talking. Because you always say, “You’ve already told me that.”

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are diseases that erase self. They make you forget who you were, who you are now, and who you could have been in the future. It makes you forget the ones you love, and the very ability to make your body work. Some people call it the “Second Childhood.” You become dependent on others for the very things that you once took care of for your children.

Your children take care of your intimate needs as your mind forgets the ability to do certain movements. Your spouse who looked forward to an exciting retirement with you instead has to keep track of your wanderings and pills. You become the dreaded burden you always feared.

Alzheimer’s is a demeaning disease. It’s full of angst and fear. As well as intimate demands.

But.

Alzheimer’s can also be an awakening for your family. Personalities can be changed because of this disease. One of my clients whom numerous people attested to be a very hard woman, became extremely sweet in the midst of the disease. Family members were able to connect to her in a way that they were never able to before. Forgiveness was found as untold stories came to the light.

There can be a beauty in the midst of losing.

“Still Alice” uses a quote from the poet Elizabeth Bishop who said: “The Art of Losing isn’t hard to master: so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost, that their loss is no disaster.” I encourage you to live in the losing with your loved one. Do not put upon them the fear of remembering, by correcting them thirty times a day about the things they forget. Many of them already know they are forgetting. Reminding them does no good. 

Follow the meandering stories the best you can. It won’t be easy, but remember, what you are going through is nothing compared to the labyrinth in their minds.

Don’t hide them away as if they are a shameful secret. There will be times that too much stimulation will be hard for them, but hold their hand, read them stories. Engage them in life. Life may look differently for them, but they are still a part of it. Don’t remove them from the time they have among your family.

See things anew through their eyes. Sometimes the simplistic beauty of a flower becomes enrapturing. Looking at each individual petal can take all day, enter into that discovery with them. Maybe this is the time God has given you both to smell the roses they were too busy to see before.

Remember, if you meet one person with Alzheimer’s, you have only met one person with Alzheimer’s. The disease reacts differently to every brain it inhabits. Learn what is best for each person differently. Remember, that they are not the disease, they are people who still dream and hope, acknowledge that desire in them.

I have worked in private homes, adult foster homes, as well as retirement centers. No matter where I go, I see a person who deserves my respect and their dignity. It’s easy to get caught in the ‘doing’ stage and think they are moving too slow, that you have things to do. So you start shoving them into clothes, quickly scrubbing them in the shower, making them eat quicker, etc… When there is a lot to do, it’s easy to see a person as an object and move them where they need to be, rather than see them for a scared nervous man or woman who is uncertain of the next step.

I always think, how would I want to be taken care of? Like no matter what is wrong with me, I’m still someone of worth. I am still me. My self-hood is not contingent on my ability to remember your name or how to put on my pants. If I breathe and my heart still beats, I am still me. Treat me as human and worthy of your respect.

 On my good days, I can, you know, almost pass for a normal person. But on my bad days, I feel like I can’t find myself.-Dr. Alice Howland

There will be bad days. But, there will be sweet moments as well. As the disease runs it’s course, and the memories it eats run dry, there will be come a time, a week or a few days before their eyes close for good, that clarity is found. For a few hours, you will have your loved one back. The one you remember from years past. Cherish that time. It is the final goodbye.

Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s is a hard job. It’s even harder when that person is someone you know and love. It will make you weep and make you scream. But, if you allow love to guide you through it, it can be very rewarding as well. Find support groups, make your family get involved, and take moments in the day to remember who you are. Take a walk outside, or read a book. Take a breather. You will love them better when you take care of yourself.

I highly recommend the movie “Still Alice.” I just got the book, but I’m sure I will be recommending it as well.

Prayers in the midst of horror

I’m sure everyone or just about everyone has heard inklings about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado by now, this post is from a lady who was in the midst of it and still found a way to praise God. Please be praying for all involved in such a horrible trauma.

A MINIATURE CLAY POT

July 22 – a note of explanation

I’ve tried to leave this post just as it was originally written because it was a heartfelt response after a very traumatic experience.  But I’m sometimes clumsy with words and even when I think I am writing clearly, there is always the reader who doesn’t know my heart or doesn’t hear the words the way they were intended.

I feel as though a few people have taken what I said and twisted it. When I wrote my post on Friday, I had a grand total of eleven blog  followers. Yes, eleven. I generally post on facebook and have had a loyal little group of readers that numbered thirty or so. That is who I generally write for.  People who know me  know that I dislike talking on the telephone. I’d pretty much rather clean a toilet than spend time on the phone. I…

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Eyes on Heaven

Have you cried yet?
Are you sad?
Why aren’t you processing it?
How do you feel?

These are but a few of the questions that various people have asked me since the unexpected death of a good friend on April 12th. Friends who they themselves are struggling with their own loss. Admittedly, we all grieve in our own ways, but because I am not exuberant in showing my sorrow, I know some are uncomfortable with what appears to be my apathy towards the loss of a dear sister in Christ.
I am not apathetic.
My heart weeps for the sorrow my friends carry. My heart weeps for the husband who lost his soul mate at such a young age. My heart weeps for the life long friend whose future children will miss out on the fun that Auntie JHK would have created for them. For the children she would have taught, for the children she and her husband would have had. I weep for the parents and sister who lost a key piece to their family puzzle. I weep for those who could have been shown the love of Christ because of JHK’s willingness to reach out.
Believe me, I grieve.                                                                                                                             In many ways I have not stopped grieving since I had to say goodbye to six other sweet brothers and sisters in Christ since November. Loosing so many people who I interacted with personally in such a small window of time, leaves me needing quite a bit of time to process it.                                                                                                                Admittedly, I do not process verbally like many of my friends do. Which is fine, because it leaves me the ability and desire to allow them to process verbally to me, allowing me to listen with a willing heart and compassionate ears. But, as what I am doing right now can prove, I process things better when I write.                                                                                    One thing that has continually struck me since November, when many friends have worriedly asked me how I was handling all this loss, is that I would rather go to a thousand more memorial services for believers in Christ than just one more funeral for a non-believer. Believe me when I say that I grieve and mourn passionately after those sorrow filled services. For goodness-sakes! I am nearly driven to tears just imagining attending my grandparents’, uncles’, and aunts’, funerals who do not know Christ.  Can you imagine what it will be like for me being there?                                                                                                                         If you are not someone who has had experience with the death of someone close to you, you might not know what I mean. I understand that. I’ve had quite a few deaths since I was a little kid, of family members and friends. Experiencing the difference between services for a Christian and a non-believer are stark and remarkable.                                                   And these verses keep coming to mind as I sit at another service–(specifically the bold verses)                                                                                                                                             1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ~We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.  For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.    

So that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope- Paul’s not saying that we shouldn’t cry for those that have died. But, he is saying that we should not grieve as if we would never see them again. If we are Christian and the one who died is known to be Christian, we should be rejoicing for them even as we mourn having to say goodbye – for an allotted amount of time.                                                                                                           My grief,while very real, is temporary. A Christian’s grief is temporary. Because we don’t truly think about Heaven and what it like, we don’t truly take comfort in the idea of our loved ones being there. We as Christians have such a skewed vision of what it will be like. We’ve built up these ideas of what it is like mostly due to comical cartoons of our age; Saint Peter will judge us due to the coin in our purse, the size of our houses will depend on the severity of our sins, or we’ll be floating around on clouds in the shape of little fat naked babies who know how to play the harp. These ideas are not from the Bible! But what is?
I recommend that we should truly study what Heaven is like, what being in the presence God the Father would be like, what having Jesus Christ the Son before you. If we don’t know what we are going TO why would we WANT to leave? Randy Alcorn does a fascinating study on this concept in his book Heaven, which I am in the process of studying with my Ladies Sunday School class. (When I’m finished I’ll probably write more about it.)                                                                                                                                     My dear friends who have died, who are brothers and sisters in Christ, are not gone. And I will not grieve over the loss of them as if I will never see them again. I will mourn the loss of contact with them, the loss of being able to share stories with them and living life with them. But, the truth of the matter is, I am envious of them for the fact that they get to stand in the presence of God right now, and I have to wait until the time He calls me home to stand beside them. Though my grief is not like those who have no hope, I do still have sorrow.
One thing I take to heart through all of this is this: you never know when God is going to call you home. So spend your time wisely: love each other deeply, store up those special moments so that you won’t have regrets, don’t put off of those things you want to do with your loved ones, do what you are being prompted to do, live for God and do his work while you have time to do so.                                                                                                              Heaven is waiting and so are my beloved friends, and this sorrow I feel is temporary to the grief I would have if I didn’t believe in the God who can give us eternal life. I will keep my eyes on Heaven, because that is where I want to be celebrating eternal life rather than here on Earth wasting away while I grieve because of eternal death.
How do you grieve? Have you taken time to think about it?

Related posts:

The Saint who quotes Disney

Please, meet me in heaven!

Do I believe what I profess?

The Waiting Game (when a friend is in crisis)

What do you do when you have a friend who is in the midst of constant crisis? Do you quietly back away? Or do you stand firm as the tears fall? The harshness of life can drain you dry and when it isn’t you whose personally going through the crisis, it’s easier to laugh and believe it isn’t happening. It’s not evil to live. It’s not horrible to want to forget. But, what about your friend? They don’t have the ability to walk away from their crisis.

God calls us to ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).’ How can we do that unless we stay beside them even in the midst of the waiting game? The waiting game is the worse part of the crisis. No one knows what will happen or when it will happen.

So, I wait. I pray. I hope. I will hold your hand and your faith for you during this time of upheaval. I will be your shoulder when the tears fall and your voice when you can no longer speak. I won’t leave you no matter how much time will pass. I will call you out of the blue, and ask how you are. I will take you out to lunch so that you can have a moment of unfettered breath. I won’t force you to be strong for me, because I want you to lean on me.

You are not alone. My tears will fall for you, and when you need that moment of laughter, I won’t judge you harshly, but rather join in, because those rare moments will get you through the next bit of crisis.

In this waiting game, when days grow into weeks and weeks into months, I won’t tell you to move on, but I will be standing beside you offering you prayer and encouragement. Lean on me. I’m not going anywhere.

Ps 147:3 ~~He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

The Pain of Anger

Aside

I hate conflict. I try to stay away from it as much as possible. But, sometimes it gets into your face and makes you deal with it. I really hate conflict.                                                                     
I am extremely loyal to those that I care for, so when there is conflict, I feel as if I am betraying them. In the depths of my heart I am a people-pleaser. I don’t like making waves, I try not to have arguments for argument’s sake. Also, when I’m angry, I try to not to speak because lets admit it- I’m one of those people who thinks of what I should have said thirty minutes after I leave the person who made me mad. I don’t think well on my feet.  But, there is also the quote by Ambrose Bierce to think about–‎”Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”                                                                           
This is so true! How many times have you actually said something in the heat of anger that you can’t believe came out of your mouth when you pause to think about it? I’ve done it more than once. I am now trying to keep from doing that. You know that old saying, “If you’ve got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”? The problem is, is that too many people speak rashly and hurtfully during the pain of the moment. They don’t attack the issue that made them mad, but rather the person that rubbed them wrong. They call each other names, tear each other down, attacking the essence of the person. When you tear each other down, it makes it even harder to fix the issue.                              
Getting more people involved in the issue doesn’t help either. Having a trusted friend to talk to is ok, but the more you add to the issue, the harder it is to contain the anger and the hurt. Another thing to remember- the more people who know, the more who will attack the other person. After the pain has leaked out onto other people, they are stacked up against person A, accusing them and finding fault. It will become a matter of stopping a flood after the dam has always burst. There is no way to stop all the damage the ripples can cause. Friendships will be lost and the original relationship will be in tatters and trust will be destroyed.                                                          
As it is been said, “Left unresolved, anger creates an intense desire to destroy something.” So, as someone who has dealt with this yet again, remember, even in the midst of the hurt –you can’t take back the words that you throw at each other. Take care of each other even during the pain of anger, because we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. The truth of the matter is, that most of the anger? It stems from hurt. Fix it before it turns into anger, then you can skip the whole struggle of trying to repair the relationship in the first place.

Proverbs 15:18– A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.                                                                                                                     Ecclesiastes 7:9– Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.                                                                                                                                 James 1:19,20– Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.