Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Post...

Last night we went to church.  We got dressed up and took pictures in front of the tree all dressed up.  

We got to church and found our usual seats.  The place was full.  It was full of folks that come to church every Sunday and of folks that want to come to church on Christmas Eve.  I love going to church on Christmas Eve because I see a bunch of folks that I don't normally see at church.  Not that I really care, but I love to see the crowd and feel the energy of church.

As the crowd quieted down and the service started, I looked around.   To my left was the usual Sunday morning crew...they sit the same place every Sunday and so do we.  

I looked farther down the row and I saw a young woman wiping tears.  She was a beautiful girl and I didn't recognize her but it looked as if she was alone and she was hurting.  The service went on and I tried not to stare but I couldn't take my eyes off of her. The tears were being held in, and as they snuck out of the corner of her eyes,  wiped as fast as they were coming out...she was in pain and it was hard not to see.

Christmas eve is a festive time for most folks and to see someone in pain is difficult and to say the least, uncomfortable.  For some reason, I could not take my eyes off of her.  As the service went on, I thought about why such a pretty girl could hurt so much...why she was alone and what could possible be so sad.  I sang the songs, recited the prayers, and watched her.  She continued to cry through the service and I continued to watch her.

All at once, during the collection, she jumped up and headed out of the church.  I handed my son my bulletin and followed her.  I couldn't let her leave my church...my place where I go to worship God without connecting with a hurting person.  What kind of person would I be if I didn't offer a kind word and a human connection?  I thought about how I would feel if my daughter was the one in the church crying and no one stopped to give her comfort...

She had gone to the bathroom to wipe her tears and gather herself.  I opened the door and stared at her for a few seconds.  Finally, I got the courage to say something..."I've been watching you and you are so sad"...before I could say anymore, I gathered her in my arms and told her that I was glad she was with us and did she want to come home with us. She just sobbed for a few seconds, gathered herself, told me she was so glad she was here too.  I told her I was usually at church on Sundays and she should come back.  She hugged me again and  walked back in to church.

Made me think of a Christmas even in 1992, when I was 7 months pregnant with my first child.  This story was the Christmas eve sermon.  I hope you enjoy it...

The Story of the Christmas Guest by Helen Steiner Rice
It happened one day at December's endSome neighbors called on an old-time friend.
And they found his shop so meager and mean,
Made gay with a thousand boughs of green.
And old Conrad was sitting with face ashine.
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched the twine.
And he said "My friends at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me.
And He said, 'I'm coming your guest to be"
So I've been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined.
And now I'll wait for my Lord to appear;
And listen closely so I will hear,
His steps as he nears my humble place.
And I'll open the door and I'll look on his face."
Then his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since his family had passed away.
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start,
And looked for the Lord to be at his door.
Like the vision that he had had a few hours before.
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn.
And all his clothes were ragged and worn.
But old Conrad was touched and he went to the door
And he said, "Your feet must be cold and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you.
And I have a coat to keep you warmer, too."
So with grateful heart the man went away.
But Conrad notice the time of day
And he wondered what made the dear Lord so late,
And how much longer he'd have to wait.
Then he heard another knock, and he ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more.
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
And a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
But she asked only for a place to rest,
a place that was reserved, for Conrad's great guest.
But her voice seemed to plead, "Don't send me away,
Let me rest for awhile this Christmas Day."
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
After she had left, he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away
The Lord had not come as He said He would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry.
"Please help, me and tell me - Where am I?"
So again he opened his friendly door.
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was a child who had wandered away,
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.
Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he could make this little girl glad.
So he called her in and he wiped her tears,
And he quieted all her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more.
Then as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today,
For the hours of Christmas, had all passed away.
So he went to his room, and he knelt down to pray.
He said, "Lord, why did you delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
I wanted so much Your face to see."
Then softly, in the silence, a voice he heard.
"Lift up your head - I have kept My word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor.
Three times I came to your lowly door.
I was the beggar with bruised cold feet;
I was the woman you gave something to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best.
I was honored to be your Christmas guest.

I didn't see her again after the service.  I was busy wishing all my friends Merry christmas and enjoying lovely energy of the night.  But I thought of her and her blue eyes filled with tears as I went to bed last night.  I also thought of how uncomfortable I was when I stopped her and how she clung to me and laid her head on my shoulder. It may not have been an answer to her problems but I hope it was a human connection, a feeling that one person  on earth noticed that she was hurting and that they care.  

Because we all do...I know we care about each other and sometimes it's just too uncomfortable to stop, look someone in the eye and let them know it.  I can say that I was shaking in my ballet shoes...but, I continued to hear that little voice that told me to go and I'm so glad I did.

So tonight, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy holidays and a happy New Year.  I also wish you strength to care for the hurting, strength to accept the love of someone caring for you...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Days in the life or life in the days...

The holiday season is around us and in us and whether we want to participate or not...it is screaming up on us.  Kind of a funny place to be when you are thinking that these are your last days...

Every year around this time, the hospitals empty out and the oncologists office call our agency because folks want to be at home. They want a break from the treatment, they want to look deeply into the eyes of their loved ones and imprint the memory, they want to say what they meant to say for the last year but just haven't done it and now, with the holidays approaching, it is time.

Therefore, if you are a hospice nurse, you are busy and I am.  I have a bunch of folks that have made the decision to put as much life in the days instead of days in the life.  

I admitted a man who was told that while there is no more curative treatment, they could try different things to "buy" him more time. About a month ago, my social worker and friend made the trek to his house to explain what hospice care is and answer all of his questions.  We left the house understanding that he was still deciding but knowing that he would probably be calling us in the future.  Well, as I said, he called and it was when he was in a crisis and his family was afraid.  After two visits and a shuffling of his medications to address his symptoms, his wife called me to thank me. She said he was doing better than he had done in the last 3 weeks and they even got a chance to "cuddle" and enjoy time with each other for the first time in a long time without pain and symptoms.  I hung up the phone and gave myself a "high-five". That is what hospice care is...

I have another gentleman that has ALS.  He is losing his muscles in his chest and is breathing very shallow.  He is also having trouble swallowing.  But, to watch him with his family, you wouldn't know there is a thing wrong.  He is hunting, going to wine tastings, and parties for the holidays.  Sure he gets tired and he sometimes needs the wheelchair to get to the party, but he is there, spending every minute with his family and his kids.  He is not some guy with ALS, who is not gonna make it...he is a husband and father and he is living every moment he can to the best of his ability.  I like to think that we are helping him with that by visiting, giving him strategies for swallowing, conserving energy and enjoying life as it is.  He also knows that I will be there when he can no longer do those things and I will help him and his family through that too.  That's also what hospice care is...

I am so inspired by these folks...they make the most of what time they have.  They get up in the morning, knowing that they have a terminal disease...then they put one foot in front of the other and live the day. Do they have bad days?  Sure...but don't we all? Maybe we aren't dying or maybe we are...

Life in our days or days in our lives...a thought provoking statement,  isn't it?  These days, I am keenly aware when I am just going through the days of my life. Running from thing to thing, not really listening to what is said to me, and trying to get things done.

Then, I show up to take care of  the folks that make the most of the life in the days...slowing down, maybe because they can or because they have to, but stopping and really feeling the moment and again and again I am humbled.

You see, I didn't stop to feel the hug that I got from my spouse or the feel of his mustache on my lips when he kisses me before I walk out the door... not really stopping and thinking about what that feels like.    Then I realize that if I were in their shoes,  I would be trying to do that now and wishing I had stopped more and felt the feelings more and I am sure I would wish I had more time to do those things.

So as the holidays approach and family comes to town...instead of running crazy to make things perfect, slow down and think about if this was the last time you got to spend Christmas with them...make sure you notice the little things, the memories, the time well spent just listening.  We never really know what is in store for us and as one of my special widows told me..."We don't get do overs even if we wish we did."  

Here's to life in the days instead of days in the life!
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thoughts on cheeky babies, acceptance and dying in your love's arms...

We flew from Denver on Sunday before Thanksgiving and on Monday, we set out to work. We met the family that we were building for on paper but not face to face.  On Monday, when Lilian and baby Carlos showed up at the work site, our group stopped and met our new friend.  She was very quiet and smiley...and I could tell she felt uncomfortable with us.

The next thing I noticed was how baby Carlos was in a sling of sorts, close to his mothers heart at all times.  He was kind of a shy little guy it seemed and to be with her, almost always skin to skin made him more comfortable...even happy.  I thought about my kids, now 21, 19 and 17 on the trip with me and what a pleasure it was to carry them around when they were little...to have them close to my heart.  Lilian was no different than me when I was a young mother...but of course, she was.

She and her husband and baby didn't have a house.  They lived in a shack of sorts, and slept on the floor.  I asked her, through a translator, where she and baby Carlos slept and she pointed to the floor and when I pressed her, she said Carlos slept in the sling on her.  Again, sleeping with his momma and close to her heart. 

While I can't say if that is the most comfortable for her, I can say that I envy that closeness.  My three went into a crib across the hall in a warm house that kept out the elements. 

The building, the people and the acceptance and love that we received from the Guatemalan families was wonderful.  A perfect way to spend a thanksgiving week.

When we arrived home to the US on Saturday, I couldn't stop thinking about the good and the bad of the trip.  The water isn't drinkable really, and the plumbing is not good enough to flush toilet paper...the families, a lot of them, live in makeshift shacks and food is scarce most of the time.  There is no getting around it...they are very poor. 

But, I also think they are very rich.  It is obvious that the families adore each other, they seem to accept lives with little and they smile and laugh harder than I have seen in a long time.  The kids run the streets in dirty clothes with runny noses...and are squealing with delight.  Silly games are the best, like an old lady chasing them or sneaking up on them or just throwing them in the air. Momma's nurse their babies when they are hungry and don't have to hide or go into a bathroom to do it.  It is evident that there is a joy in living simply and living in acceptance.

Interesting thought really...acceptance.  To live your life as it is...not to wish it was different or look at other folks and wish you had their lives.  I don't think it's giving up on wanting things to be different...but when you know that the life you have is the life you have...you live it the best way you can...

I admitted a lady on Tuesday that was battling breast cancer since 2002.  It had come back and she was not going to battle it this time. She was going to accept the diagnosis and go on.  We talked for a long time about her battle and her decision and what she was to do now...live as she wants, eat what she wants, take as much medication for comfort as she needs all with the knowing that she is not going to be here with us very long.  Her husband, on the other hand, had some trouble with acceptance.  He wanted her to try another round of chemo, of radiation, or whatever she could do to stay alive and fight...to stay here a little longer.  It was a poignant few minutes when she explained that she was not willing to endure the side effects of the chemo and radiation to put off what eventually is.  With tears in his eyes, and his hand on her knee, he told her how much she meant to him and how he really didn't want her to leave him alone but...it was her decision and he supported her.  It was his time for acceptance.

He called me Thursday morning saying he thought she was gone.  I arrived and confirmed his worst fear.  She was gone.  She had decided she was done, told him before bed night before that she loved him and always would, and went to sleep.  When she woke in the morning, she sat up and died in his arms.  She died in the arms of the man she loved for 35 years and the man who didn't want to let her go.  The sadness and grief of this man was overwhelming.

As we sat and drank coffee in their living room, he and I talked about acceptance...about as much as we wish things to be different, it is the way it is.  He talked about his girl and how he knew she was done...how she had decided that Monday that enough was enough. He recounted how she told the doctor as much when she named a few more treatments she could try.  She was done and as sad as she was to leave him,  he took comfort in the fact that she died in his arms and that he could love her so faithfully until the end.  I took comfort in that too.

Life is never easy...really.  You plan things and they fall through, you get that phone call that changes everything...you sit in a doctor's office faced with the choice of treatment or not.   Those are things that everyone will experience in their lifetime and the things that bring you to your knees.

I guess it's all in the expectations.  If you think that you will have a life without suffering or pain...you probably will be disappointed, even humbled.  But, if you understand that this life comes with pain, sadness and suffering and figure that you can accept that, do the best you can...you can get through it. We are all going to have things that bring us to our knees, be it a terminal disease, being poor and sleeping on the floor, or getting the pain and honor of having the love of your life die in your arms whether you are ready or not...

There is no question that life will be rich with emotion...sadness, joy...probably both.  But to ride that emotion, accept it, and try to slog through the sadness, cherish the joy...that's what makes it a life and for the strength to do that, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy those special times with your gang...the joy and even the sadness.  Cherish those opportunities to love them through it all...
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,