Picking Up the Pieces

A great windstorm arose…and beat against the house, causing one of the old crank open attic windows to break off and crash on the cement driveway below.

 

Then He arose and rebuked the wind and said, “Peace, be still.” And the wind ceased and there was great calm over the house.


Todd was busy fixing the screen on the back door–such it is with a 125 year old house. Charlie and Lauren were already there with a big brown paper bag picking up the glass when I got there. “Be careful, don’t cut yourself,” I said putting on my big rubber gardening gloves that hindered more than helped.

 

“It’s thick,” Charlie said. And together we picked up the pieces as we have so many times in life.

 

Within an hour the sun is back out, reflecting its transparent beauty through the deep green of the old oak’s leaves.

 

You may be passing through a storm but He is with you and says, Peace, be still, to quiet both the wind and your soul.

 

Mark 4:37-39

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A Cat and a Career

Tomorrow morning I’ll sit in the chair looking out over the trees on the street below my bedroom window and think how I used to balance my books on its arms as I read and wrote because our cat would lay in my lap—stretched out, paws crossed, eyes closed and purring to the quiet sound of my prayers.

Rose is a stinker, feisty and free, able to outsmart the den of foxes that used to live next door. Undaunted by them, she’d lie sleekly across the sidewalk, flaunting her bravery. Bunnies, birds and mice her prey, without front claws she’d scale a tree if necessary.

But she didn’t come home this week. She may have been outsmarted.  I’m sure she put up a fight and if she went down it was on her own terms—free to roam, to explore, experience life’s beauty. It’s interesting that she chose this week to depart—the same time of year as my mom and brother. I’m conscious of my heart, its size, its weight. Our pets come in and go out like our accomplishments—a gift so present one day and suddenly gone the next.

Love your pets. Enjoy your accomplishments when they’re there. I’m working hard to replace the hole in my heart.  We’ll be looking at a couple cats this week that need a home.

I know this doesn’t sound related but stay with me. I’ve spent a couple years trying to preserve and document Dad’s life and accomplishments as a way to hold on to him if the time came when he, like Rose, would not be knocking, (or mewing) at the back door. And just when I thought we’d finished those stories, we were outsmarted, so to speak.

We were on Washington Island together recently when he told me this:

“Well, after fifty-five years as an architect, I’ve done some reflection.  When I graduated from college I thought I would design worship spaces that would help bring people to Jesus.  St. Edmund’s congregation has moved on and the building is for sale.  The Chrystal Cathedral in California, perhaps the grandest scale of church architecture stands empty and is also for sale.  Whereas, there are church ministries worshiping in remodeled warehouses all over, and are very effective. The conclusion I’ve reached therefore is, it’s not about architecture.  So what does that mean?  My life as a church architect was a waste?

“My journey as an architect taught me a lot and gave me many opportunities to witness for the Lord.  But did the spaces I create accomplish this?  No.  I believe the answer is no because that which I pursued could never be attained.  And yet perhaps, there were aspects of that journey that were beneficial to the purpose I pursued.  In the end, I realized that it can never be architecture that draws people to Jesus, it’s only the Word.”

I was moved.  I thought that was the end of the story. Then I got a call from Scott Sprout. He oversees missions at Crimson Way which is the new church, he said, inside the old St. Edmond’s which was just recently sold.  Scott didn’t know the architect was still living but found out he was when he came across Sundays with Dad. It looks like St. Edmond’s will once again be filled with music, and children and worship and, most importantly, the Word. You can imagine Dad’s joy when he heard.

They invited Dad to come and share the story of his design at the service tomorrow.  If you’re free, stop by at 10:30, 14625 Watertown Plank Road, Elm Grove. We’d love to see you.

So, just when I thought it was the end, I discovered it was only another new beginning.

God bless you Rosie.

Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.

20131216_210931_resized

Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001

Oh no, it’s a Lump

Many of us have been touched by cancer. Each of our stories is unique. My mom was a beautiful woman. A good woman with strong faith. She lived a healthy life but for some reason she got cancer. Not once but three times.The first two times, we all believed in our hearts it would be cured. I can’t speak for others but I never stopped believing she would overcome it and Dad never stopped praying, “Lord if it be your will, please heal Dolores.”

I remember the first time. It was October, 1996. I was in Chapel Hill, NC—a single Mom, living in a little house on Glendale Drive with Charlie….

Mom discovered the breast lump on a Saturday evening after spending the evening with Dad, getting the sailboat tucked away for the winter. A day later, she called her doctor and went in for an appointment the next morning. The doctor tried three times to aspirate the tumor then sent her to a surgeon who said he wanted to do a biopsy at the end of the week. He did a needle biopsy on the 3.5 cm tumor and she and Dad went to get the lab results together several days later. It was cancer. After listening to the advise of mastectomy vs. lumpectomy and hearing that the latter was done the majority of the time with the same results as mastectomy, they decided to go with a lumpectomy. Her surgery was two days after that on October 25, at Columbia Hospital. Her oncologist visited her beforehand and recommended chemo and radiation. That was new information because her doctor had said only radiation. There were a few tears but she trusted the oncologist’s decision.

She and Dad had a beautiful time together before surgery. She told him in case she was full of cancer, she wanted him to get on with a joyful life. She told him how deeply she loved him–also their children and grandchildren. Thankfully, the surgery went well and she was sent home.

Joanie and I both arrived and stayed for the week, cooking, going to doctor’s appointments and doing what we could to help. She got a good report–the tissue around the tumor was clear as were 17 lymph nodes. “Hallelujah! The answer to the prayers of many,” was Mom’s response. Not long after, she noticed redness and heat in her left breast. They put her on Augmentin and started her on arm exercises. Her good neighbor and dear friend Joyce Gudeman, who had a daughter dealing with breast cancer as well, took her to her chemo sessions. On November 21, her white count was going down but she was told it was okay.

Then the day before Thanksgiving I got an unexpected call. Dad told me they had given her an overdose and she was back at Columbia Hospital. I listened to the update then asked if he could put Mom on the phone. “Oh Debs.” her voice was weak. “John brought me some peanut M & Ms. I thought I ate too many because I got terrible pains in my stomach. But I found out the pains were because they had given me too much chemo.They killed too many of my white blood cells…..and my hair is falling out, Debbie.”

“Mom, I’ll catch a flight out as soon as I can. We’ll get you a sassy short haircut. I’m on my way, Mom.” I’ll never find a plane on Thanksgiving weekend, I thought.

But I did, and Mom was back in surgery when I arrived late afternoon the next day. The sun was going down when Dad and I went to the cafeteria to eat Thanksgiving dinner together.They brought Mom back to her room that evening. She looked fragile and pale. When I was a little girl, I used to worry someone would come and take her away. I would make myself cry thinking about it. Now I was faced with the reality of losing my Mom.

As I walked home to Shepard Avenue late that night, it started to snow. I decided to stop at a little café on Downer called Don Quixote. There was a long counter against a floor-length, wall-sized window with candles set across it–flickering light like fireflies against the glass. I sat down in the corner, ordered a glass of red wine and opened my book as the snow swirled around the street lamps outside. It wasn’t long before a group of jolly people entered through the door, ringing the hanging bells and filling up the seats at the counter to my right. They ordered a round of some sort of festive looking drink that was filled with lots of crushed lemons and spritzer. I asked what it was they were drinking and they ordered me one. I don’t have any recollection as to what the interesting concoction actually was but I told them about Mom and before long we were all telling stories and laughing together as the snow grew heavy outside. They warmed my heart and when I fell into bed that night, I slept soundly and peacefully.

The next day, Mom was showing improvement and we were hopeful all would be well once again.

At times of crisis in our family, we have a way of pulling together to make it a special time. We love being together and it seems sometimes that it takes a crisis to make that happen. Mom, Dad and I had a lively conversation in her hospital room the next morning because we were all so relieved she had pulled through the overdose. Then an idea came to me–knowing that Mom had always wanted Dad to design her a cabin on Washington Island, I thought it was the opportune time to ask if he would do it. I remember saying, “If you don’t think you can afford it, we can charge it to your credit card.”

And the plans for the Washington Island cabin were shortly underway.

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Island loveliness–Mom liked this flower which grew and grew. Daniel would always mow around it. I think it was Sam who eventually knocked it down.

Guilty

Guilty

It seemed fitting that my devotion referenced Psalm 139 this morning. It was a special scripture to Mom. She memorized the entire Psalm years ago, along with many other scriptures and could call upon them for comfort and guidance at a moment’s notice in sickness or health, in stress or at peace.

Psalm 139: 7-12

Psalm 139: 7-12

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12

Oh, do find the time to read the entire Psalm. It’s beautiful. I promised myself I would memorize it and I can still hear my mom’s voice reciting the words…

No One Wants to Say Goodbye

I remember the day hospice came to call. It’s that day we keep at bay for as long as possible. Our caseworker was supposed to arrive at 1:00 pm. Mom had asked me to be there for the meeting. It didn’t help that at 2:00 pm she still hadn’t arrived. It might have been better to have tried to reschedule but we all waited—feeling like sitting ducks. I had carelessly kicked my boots off, was lying on the bed beside Mom, trying to be patient and began to feel an ache throughout my muscles. It was hard to be a cheerleader for hospice. This was not what I wanted–what any of us wanted. We only wanted the cancer gone, out of Mom’s body for good. Dad never stopped praying the words at every meal, “…and Lord, if it be your will, we ask that you heal Dolores.”  But Mom had suffered enough and was really preparing for it to be over.

When the doorbell finally sounded, Dad buzzed our guest in and joined Mom as she made her way carefully to the dining room table. I greeted the caseworker, all hostess-like, at the door asking if she’d like something to drink but she declined. I probably didn’t fool her or anyone else that I was really pissed off from having to wait for over an hour and that that frustration was further compounded by my deeper resentment that we were in this situation of needing hospice at all. I would never stop trying to understand how any of this was even possible.

My sense was that we were not off to a good start but I led the caseworker into the dining area where Mom and Dad were doing their best to be hospitable.

“We don’t need to check your blood or liver levels today,” Ms. Caseworker said as she settled into a chair next to Mom.

She was talking too fast. Her phone rang and she took the call. Mom, Dad and I sat there waiting for her to finish the call, tension building. I could tell Mom was not doing well. Get off the phone lady!  I wanted to scream. What are you doing?!  She finally hung up her phone.

“Are you taking any pain meds?” the caseworker asked Mom.

Oh come on. You’ve got to be kidding. What kind of question is that? My mom has fourth stage metastasized cancer. They had tried final rounds of radiation to help with the pain, but it didnt. They ended her chemo because it wasnt working and this woman is asking her if she has pain meds?  Arent they briefed? I sneezed. Oh no, I thought and sneezed again. I’m allergic to the caseworker.

Then the woman’s phone rang again. She answered it. I sneezed again. I’m grabbing that flippin phone and smashing it. Take cover Mom and Dad, Ive got this under control.

“Tell me everything you’re taking.”  Ms. Caseworker said as she closed her phone once again.

What? Can’t you get that from her doctor? Dont make her expound unnecessarily. Save her strength.

“Can’t you get that information from her doctor?”  I asked innocently enough but was ignored.

The caseworker kept asking questions in a low mumble so that Mom couldn’t hear her and had to keep asking, “Excuse me, what was that?  

Speak up Nurse Ratchit! I wanted to shout, giving her the name of the nurse she reminded me of from the Jack Nicholson film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Mom explained that the tumor in her skull made things sound like she was in a tunnel and politely asked if the caseworker could please speak up. Then she asked,

“What about my vitamins? Should I keep taking those?”

“No, you can stop taking those.”

I winced. What’s wrong with a few vitamins?

“Eat what you want. Are you eating? Do you have an appetite?”  The caseworker next asked.

Not anymore!  I wanted to say standing from the top of the table but the look on Mom’s face stopped me from moving. We sat there, Mom, Dad and me, sort of paralyzed by the situation.

Then Mom started going through all her medications for the caseworker, patiently, one by one. I sneezed again and everyone looked at me. Mom continued with the list and schedule of her pills. A debate soon ensued about the Docusate and Perdium she took to ward off any dreaded irregularity caused by the onslaught of all these meds. Mom made it very clear she wanted to take one of each and Miralax at bedtime. It wasn’t something she wanted to change. The caseworker insisted she take two of each and skip the Miralax.

”Let’s keep it simple,” she demanded after a back and forth until Mom finally conceded.

I was trying to like this woman. There was a faint resemblance to a childhood friend there. I was really trying to work with that and trust that this woman who was sent to be a nurse to my mother knew what was best for her and would help her “live” with cancer.

“What are in these two boxes?” I asked with forced sweetness, trying to change my approach as I reached for the two mysterious looking boxes she had ignored throughout the meeting. I shuffled through the pack of cards that sat on top of each box. The cards listed the names of the enclosed medications.

“You won’t understand. You don’t need to worry about those.” The caseworker said, preparing to leave. “Keep them in the refrigerator so you’ll know where they are.”

“So, we won’t have to administer any of them?” I asked, hopeful that we wouldn’t.

“Oh no. You will.” She clipped.

“Well then…I’d really like to know what they are for. If there’s an emergency, I might panic. That won’t be the best time for me to decipher what’s what.”  I was beginning to feel competent in my approach with this woman. No one was going to push us around. I felt a rush of blood in my cheeks.

“We have given you an entire pack of papers regarding the contents of each of these boxes—they are complete with every side effect known to man,” she said.

I only wanted a little translation of each Latin word–I never took Latin. For example, this one is for nausea and that one is for anxiety or whatever they are for. This woman was really taking me on. Was this a competition?

The caseworker’s voice rose as she proceeded into a lengthy monologue about the various levels of seizures that might lie ahead.

Seizures! No one wanted to hear about seizures.

I couldn’t stop her in time. Mom let out a shudder and then lowered her head to stifle her tears.

The caseworker turned to Mom, “Are you all right?”

“I’m just….It’s just…” then finally, the tears she’d been struggling to hold back since this woman told her she could stop taking her vitamins, flowed.

The caseworker turned to me and said, “See? That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

My eyes stung and I too lowered my head feeling responsible for my mom’s tears.

Luckily for Nurse Ratchet, Dad had remained quiet. Not because he was being kind or tolerant of her lack of bedside manner but because Nurse Ratchet had succeeded in confusing and confounding the wits out of him—out of all of us—with her terse instructions. He, as much as any wise soul knows, it’s best to keep quiet when you’re not sure of your position.

I, on the other hand, clearly hadn’t learned this yet.

Mom's favorite flowers grow back every year

Mom’s favorite flowers grow back every year