Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bliss

"If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else." ~ Joseph Campbell



This was the quote of the day from Gratefulness.org. It seemed to strike a chord with me. Yet, to be honest, I'm not sure what "bliss" is exactly. The dictionary says it is "supreme happiness, utter joy or contentment, the joy of heaven." I think, however, it's become kind of a new age catch-all term like "paradigm shift." What, may I ask is a paradigm?

So I ask what is my bliss? How do I find out? And then how do I follow it? From what Campbell says, I think it must be something that starts in my gut and radiates out. I can usually tell if something is right or wrong for me by trusting my gut. When it feels like it's grabbing me from the inside out, I've learned I should pay attention, although I don't always do it.

Before I moved home 15 years ago, I had a "feeling" that I was heading in the right direction. I used my head for the logistics of the move, but I didn't spend a lot of time judging the pros and cons of the move. I'd like to believe that even though there was money involved it wasn't the primary concern. "Taking care of my parents" had a kind of angelic, good-girl appeal to it. But it was also more than that. When I first got here I wasn't the caregiver I've become. I was just another person in the house to help out. While I felt (and still do) that my return home was Divinely orchestrated, I'm not sure I'd call it bliss.

Is bliss the same as love? I love my Sweetie with all my heart. I was okay with the way things were going for most of our relationship. When the whole marriage thing came up last Spring, I knew in my gut, mind and heart that it was important to make our union "official." I was/am very happy. Is marriage the bliss that will "open doors for me?"

In my uncertainty, I'm left with two things that may or may not be my bliss. Should I point my bliss GPS in their direction? The Guild of the Christ Child ministry that I started continues to touch me in a way I can't quite explain, even when I can't do what I want to make it bigger and better. It sits on a back burner of my life and I've had to learn that that is okay for now. The other thing is writing. Does following my bliss mean making a concerted effort to write seriously? What does that look like? Is writing a blog serious enough? What doors might open for me if I set my intentions to write a book - a real book? Does it follow that once my "bliss" is named that my fears will disappear?

As this year draws to an end, I see a different future looming before me. While I don't know when my Dad will pass away, I can be pretty sure that it will be sooner rather than later. Of course, I thought that last year too. I don't want to spend the next 365 days waiting for life to come to me. I want to reach out and grab it. I think it's about time to find and begin pursue this thing called bliss. Got any suggestions?

Wishing for you days of utter joy,
Merry ME

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December Flowers


Happy are those who sing with all their heart,

from the bottoms of their hearts.

To find joy in the sky, the trees, the flowers.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

Henri Matisse



Some people on the north side of town saw a few snow flakes falling a couple days ago. All I've seen are the sad and droopy, i.e. frozen, bushes in our yard. I shouldn't complain because lots of people know the real meaning of cold when all I no is the wimpy, whiny version. When I look at trains and planes and automobiles stuck in snowbanks I've got to admit the seat between Dad's bed and his fake fireplace heater is something I don't dare complain about.


There is something pristine, almost sacred, about newly fallen snow. It gives a kind of glistening luster to most everything it touches. In my book, however, the icy beauty diminishes proportionately as the snow banks grow higher.


Like the time we lived in Patuxent River, MD. My then husband was attached to a training squadron that deployed to the Bahamas for mock drills of a military nature. Personally I have always believed the drills were all too coincidentally set according to predictions of snow in the Maryland area. I can't prove this theory but it did occur with surprising regularity that the planes were out of town by the time the first snow flakes fell.


My kitchen window faced out to our backyard where a rather barren looking clothesline stood like a sentinel guarding the bleak winter landscape. On the morning when my husband was preparing to deploy, I was looking out the window, undoubtedly fuming. In came hubby who tried to make light-it's-not-going-to-be-so-bad-I'll-be-home-before-you-know-it chit chat. I wasn't buying it and my shoulder might have been as frigid as the clothes pole. "Look," says the man who was leaving me yet again but forgot to put his smile in his pocket until he left. "It's a snowbird."


"What the hell is a snowbird," I questioned not really expecting my husband to know one bird from another.

"It's kind of a precursor to snow," he said with authority. "When you see one, you can usually count on snow."

"Yeh, right," I thought to myself. "And when I see a leprechaun I can expect to find a pot of gold."


With the benefit of hindsight I realize I did not always send my helo flying husband off to do his duty with the kind goodbye that I should have. And I sure as hell never lapped a window's walk waiting for him to get home. I had two kids to care for which, when he was gone, felt to me like 20. On the other hand I was always glad to welcome him home, even if it was to hand him a tool so he could fix whatever inevitably broke when he was gone.


Off he goes to the Bahamas. Down the snow begins to fall. And fall. And fall. That damned bird was nowhere in sight. I dare say it had probably flown south along with the helos.


One of the mistakes my husband made when he was gone, was to call home. We both knew he was damned if he didn't and damned if he did.


He often started the phone conversations with something about the weather. It was warm, or sunny, or beautiful. Then he'd follow that up with a report of the activities he had engaged in. He'd played tennis, laid on the beach, gone drinking with the boys, been duty free shopping. Somewhere in there he'd mention a sortee or two. Maybe I just had a bad attitude, but it always seemed like he played harder than he worked.


On this particular trip, when he called to tell me about how his new tennis racket had perfected his game, I mentioned in passing that his prized possession, a sporty little red Fiat, was under a blanket of snow. As in you can't see it because it is completely covered. In my mind's eye I can still see that big snow pile with nothing but an antennae sticking out of it and kind of smile at the way Mother Nature has with paybacks.


Geez, I don't know where that came from. What I had intended to say was about the quote I read on Jon Katz's blog which, of course, is full of snow pictures. It made me think of several of my blog friends who are able "to find joy in the sky, the trees, the flowers." They are the kind of people who even though their lives are not pain (or snow) free, they choose to look for flowers.


I haven't been outside much lately. My field of vision is the room where my father lies waiting to die. Some days I don't see anything but the bedside commode, or the stack of dirty laundry. Today, I had a kind of calm about me and saw, not the old man whose words can cut like a knife but a man who is weakening and losing his fight. I approached him with a different attitude (not sure where it came from) and let the time pass rather quietly. His final days are the flowers I see in our relationship. I also saw, on one of many trips to and from the kitchen, my Sweetie who, like the lonely clothes pole, stands guard over the parts of the house I haven't seen in days. His smile is the flower I see when I walk by. And when I read emails,blogs, and Christmas cards from people I've never met or talk on the phone with sisters/friends who share my journey, I can almost smell the heavenly scent of lavender roses. Bless you all.


Wishing for you a bright bokay of flowers to fill your snowy day with joy,

Merry ME

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Donkeys


I'm dealing with some really heavy stuff. Dad is declining but not dying as fast as he'd like or as gently as I'd like. He has been agitated and mean, repentant and hostile. Not just to me but to my Sweetie, my sister and any representative of Hospice that dares to step into his room.

I would like to be writing about it. Mainly I'm just too tired living it. I'll probably forget the details yet I wonder if I'll ever forget the pain. I've thought of starting a whole new blog to record the events. Two blog feels redundant!

So anyway, I traveled around Blog World today, reading and looking at pictures. I found the picture above over at Bedlam Farm. Jon Katz takes really cool pictures. If you haven't seen them go visit his blog and take a look. I don't know much about donkeys but I love the gentleness that shines in their eyes. I guess there is a big difference between donkey's and jack asses. There is a certain someone for whom I care who is showing his JA side. The good news is that even in the midst of all his assiness, (I made that word up, can you tell?) I have found I am surrounded by a lot of gentleness.

To all you donkeys in my life thank you.

Merry ME

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Moments

[In front of the Gingerbread Pirate Ship in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton]


"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.
"No," said Pooh, humbly, " there isn't.
But there was going to be when I began it.
It's just that something happened to it along the way."


The train of my life is on the fast track and I have lost all control. There is a little bit of this done, and a little of that, but nothing feels very festive, let alone holy. In years past, I've been depressed at this time of year; one of many, I'm sure. This year I just feel discombobulated, unable to prioritize any of the many tasks. Well, that's not exactly true, of course my father is the #1 priority. He goes up and down physically, stays down emotionally.
Last night I was so mad at him for things he was saying that seemed just downright mean, that I was ready to throw in the proverbial towel. An hour or so later, he was shivering so badly he could barely stand with me on one side and my sister on the other. My anger melted away as I donned my FLorence Nightingale hat and did my best to comfort him. It was a long night but my sister took the first shift so I could sleep. We changed places at break of dawn. His fever seems to be gone, but he's still weak. My point is this, I KNOW there is only so much I can do. I KNOW my expectations for a Norman Rockwell Christmas are out of place and unattainable. I KNOW attitude is a state of mind. I'm just not doing a very good job of letting my knowledge rule me. I feel like one of those joy stealers Terri wrote about in her blog this week. Qn Dani would probably put me in "the naughty chair" before serving me a mocha latte if I don't begin to squelch my negative attitude. I haven't even stopped to think about the Christ Child we are celebrating in two days.

So right here and now, I'm going to try an experiment. I'm going to go back over the last few days and see if I can pick out the "pony" moments instead of the "poop".

  • Lunch at the Ritz Carlton
  • The Comcast lady who helped me program the CD player so Dad could listen to his favorite music five at a time
  • The mothers bringing communion
  • Tim Stiles fixing Dad's trapeze
  • Jo extending her helping hands
  • Apples from Washington St.
  • A friendly voice on the Hospice triage phone line
  • Time away with my Sweetie
  • An unexpected nap on the airbed
  • Belly laughs caused by Jib Jab cards
  • Weneki's 2010lists
  • The dryer repairman
  • A surprise flower bokay
  • Black cat hugs even when I'm not in the mood
  • Apple technical service
  • Golden Retrievers and Santa
  • Hearing my sister read my luminary story
  • Remembering my mother's birthday
  • Dad's bath girl calling him Sugar and holding his hand instead of giving him a bath
  • My Sweetie laying his hand on my back as I fall asleep
  • Our tiny Christmas tree that almost didn't get put up
  • A new dryer
  • Dan Seals & Don Williams CD
  • Hearing Sweetie read The Night Before Christmas and doing sound effects
  • Having Johnson here
With the exception of the new dryer which will make keeping up with the laundry easier, none of these little moments actually lightened my load, but they sure lightened my heart.

Wishing for you a magical moments,
Merry ME

Friday, December 17, 2010

Welcome to the World Little One

"A new baby is like the beginning of all things -

Wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities."

"Edna J. Le Shan"




Robert Warner "Bobby"Estrada
Born: December 16th at 11:28pm, 8 lbs, 10 oz... Early and perfect!
Proud Parents: My cousin Melanie and her husband, Bob
Proud Grammy: My Aunt Letty


Welcome, Bobby, may your world be full of love, joy, wonder and peace.
May the Creator of all things watch over you and keep you safe.

Smiling a big ol' smile,
Merry ME

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Diary of a Mad Caregiver

(WARNING: This could take awhile!)

5:00 am
Dad calls. I am startled from a deep sleep. Go to his bedside. He's sitting on the pot.
"I need a pain pill."
Ok.
What's going on?
I'm sleeping.
Okay, go back to bed. But at 10:00 I want breakfast - crispy bacon, two fried eggs, English muffin, juice and coffee.
Ok.

6:00 am.
Dad calls.
What's going on?
I'm sleeping.
I want breakfast at 10 am.

10:04 am.
I am dreaming that my father has fallen off the toilet and everything in the room is on top of him.
Dad calls.
What's going on?
I'm sleeping.
Didn't I ask for breakfast?
Yes.
Are we going to see the gingerbread houses today?
Yes.
Well let's get moving.
Enough said. My sister and I swing into action. She starts the bacon. I help Dad get dressed.
The man who called his family to sit around his bed yesterday to watch him die is alive and well today. He is dressed, shaved and raring to go in 23 minutes.

Noonish.
Dad is still eating breakfast.
Hey, Dad are we going to go?
As soon as I finish my coffee.

12:30ish
Hey Dad, if we're going to go, shouldn't you use the bathroom first.
Good idea. I'll go when I finish my coffee.

Without giving way more information than anyone needs, I've decided my Dad is close to winning a Guinness Book of World Records Award for toilet sitting. In any contest, I feel sure he'd win. I've learned he does not like to be rushed. He gets a little nasty if asked more than 10 times why he's still sitting there. He'll get up when he's ready. My job is to stand by. I've learned to use the time to do just about anything but stand by and wait.

1:30ish
We pile into the car.
I get out of the car and get Dad's money.
I get in the car and get my seatbelt on.
I get out of the car to get Dad a pain pill.
I get in the car, slam the door a little harder than might be necessary.
First stop, MacDonalds for 2 cold cokes and 1 hot coffee. We pull into a parking place so Dad can take the pills.

1:47
We pull into the church parking lot. I check to make sure we are in the right place.
I go back to the car and get Dad's money.
I go into the church and buy our tickets.
I go back to the car where Dad is enjoying his coffee. He would like to sit there and enjoy our company and talk some.
We sit. Jo checks clears her phone of old calls. Dad drinks his coffee and remarks what a pretty day it is. I begin to get antsy.
I get out of the car and take some pictures.
I get back in the car and look at the pictures. Jo looks at her pictures. Dad drinks coffee.
Are you ready to go inside?
Not yet. Be patient with me.

After 2:00
Let's go see those gingerbread houses.
We walk in what used to be one of the oldest Episcopal Churches in Jax. It was deconsecrated in 1957. The smell of gingerbread permeates the air. Dad wants to maneuver his own wheelchair which makes me very nervous. Gingerbread houses are quite fragile. It would only take a slight hit of a wheelchair against a table leg to cause a mini-disaster.

What's 8 inches got to do with anything?
It's not 8 inches. It's the 8th annual gingerbread contest.
Oh.

A few houses later:
Tell me again what the 8in. has to do with anything.
It's not 8 inches. It's the 8th annual gingerbread contest.
Oh.

We go around the room. Dad is very impressed. Jo is taking pictures. I'm still worried about knocking over the prize winning gingerbread house that undoubtedly took several woman hours to create.
We discover an exhibit sponsored by ReynoldsSmith&Hills Engineering firm. The company where Dad worked after he retired from the Navy. It was called the Santa Shuttle. It depicted a space shuttle rocket on the SaturnLaunchingUmbilicalTower (SLUT) that Dad built, two gingerbread astronauts, Santa on a gingerbread shuttle being drawn by 8 tiny reindeer. We ask someone to take out picture. Dad's wheelchair gets perilously close to the table edge. I hold my breath as the SLUT begins to wobble as if the number 2 engines have begun to burn.


Eventually we have had our fill of gingerbread. We decide we're hungry. We head for someplace to eat a late 3:30ish lunch. Where else but Panera's?

After putting our soup on the table and getting dad situated I head for the ladies room.
Dad decides he has to go too. In all the time I've cared for Dad this problem has not come up. Do I take him into the men's room or does he accompany into the lady's room? I opt for getting him into the handicap stall in the lady's room. I help him to the toilet, then step outside the stall and wait.
And wait.
And wait.
How you doing in there?
Ok.
Do you need help.
No.
I wait some more.
My sister comes in, does her business, washes her hands and leaves.
Another lady comes in to wash her hands.
Another lady comes in to use the bathroom.
I stand guard at the door like the Marine Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I try to make the most of a strange situation. I concentrate on the Christmas music playing over the loudspeaker. It's not a song I recognize.
How ya doing?
I'm fine.
The first lady comes back in to wash her hands. I'm beginning to lose patience. It's only a matter of time before I wet my pants or blow my top or both.
Is there any paper in here?
Oh God.
I need some help getting up. Don't pull me. Move the chair.
As soon as he's out of the way, I take my turn on the toilet which he has nicely warmed for me.

Several long minutes later we sit in front of our cold soup. I eat ravenously. Dad has trouble swallowing the french bread. He sucks the life out of it to make it soft enough to go down. He barely touches the soup. Like eating with a toddler, the meal drags on long after I am through eating. I get more bread for my sister and I.

Eventually he has eaten all he can.
Did you get an oatmeal cookie?
No, I forgot.
Well, get two.
To take with us?
No, I want to eat it here.
I break off a piece of the cookie and crawl back into the booth wondering if I could take a little nap.

At long last, we make it home. Dad gets into his recliner and falls into a deep sleep.

The rest of the night is not uneventful, but too long to narrate. Let me just say this. I discovered my favorite Christmas movie on TV - White Christmas - and got most of the way through several Bing Crosby songs and much corny Danny Kaye acting before Dad finished his nighttime toilette.

Before closing his eyes, Dad asks in all seriousness, where are we going tomorrow?
Oh, God, I mumble selfishly under my breath.

I'm one tired and not so merry,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A VIsit with Reindeer Girl

Every time I come to the blogosphere, I stare at the Reindeer Girl who graces my blog. She looks so darn innocent. I just want to put my arms around her and hug her. I'm torn between telling her to "run, baby, run and don't look back" and "hang on, for the ride of your life."

I know where the picture was taken, but I don't remember much of that girl's life back then. Her little sister was due to be born - her world about to change! No longer the baby, she was going to have to give up the title and pass it on down the line. She was going to have to fight for attention with three sisters, not 2. She was never much of a fighter, so she is going to have to kick up her cuteness a notch or two!

When I look at that Christmas tree I see several of the ornaments that used to make me say, "ahh" when the tattered, Kleenex they were wrapped in came off. There was glittery snow on them that sparkled in the light. Those ornaments, like so much of the past, is nothing but a memory. My mother gave me one after I got engaged. I wrapped it up and placed it in my hope chest. But when the cedar chest was delivered to my new "married" home, the ornament was in tiny glass pieces. An omen of what was to come? Or just the way of things - sometimes they break and can't be put back together.

I also see that someone, probably my mother, painstakingly strung popcorn to lace around the tree. I wonder if that is the first and only time it was done. I seriously don't remember ever having popcorn on our family tree, until I was the one doing the stringing.

On the radio the other day, Carol asked me what I wanted to say to my father. I wonder if I could, what would I say to Reindeer Girl. I think I'd tell her that she's strong even if she doesn't feel like it. She's beautiful even if she doesn't believe it. That she is loved beyond measure, even when she makes mistakes, feels unlovable, or feels sad. I'd tell her that, like the Christmas baby, she was born for a reason - to shine light in a dark world.

Keep shining Reindeer Girl, I'm proud of you, of who you've become and who you are yet to be. You are not alone. You matter.

Wishing for you a moment's reflection with your inner child,
Merry ME

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Quiltmas

"The children were nestled all snug in their beds ".....
Under a pile of warm handmade quilts.

It's been pretty darn cold here in the sunny south. They weren't kidding when they said an Arctic air mass was heading our way. The last two mornings the temps have been in the teens. My son, Jacksonville Johnny, who recently got a roofing job, heads out while it's still dark and spends the day on ice covered roofs with his hands in clogged and dirty gutters. The man is my new idol. There's nothing I like better than waking up, getting a sneak peak of the outside weather then crawling back under the covers and pulling them up to nose.

Cold weather makes me think of quilts. Old quilts or new quilts. Handmade quilts or store bought quilts. Heirloom quilts or Made in China quilts. Pieced quilts or scrappy quilts. Quilts just make me happy.

Here are a couple of quilts I made recently.

Sophia's Quilt
is made out of pillow cases she received while at the Children's Hospital. Because she was so sick and there so long, she got to pick several. I cut them up into squares and alternated them with her favorite color purple. I cried a lot while made it. And I think maybe her mom and dad are going to cry a lot while they sit on the couch wrapped up in the quilt and their memories. I have enough squares left over to make another one.

John's Star Quilt

doesn't show up so good in this picture. Johnson just turned 37 and lamented the fact that I had never made him a quilt. Which, in all honesty, is true but, in my defense, I thought he still slept with the afghan my mom made him when he was about 4 and carried around with him like an amulet for all these years. This quilt was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The directions were probably straight forward for someone who can read directions. I had to sew and re-sew several strips before getting the order correct. All in all, I think it turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

Wishing for you the warm and cozy delights of this season,
Merry ME








Saturday, December 11, 2010

Goooooood Moooorrrrning Jack...son...ville!


Guess who was on the radio this morning?


My writing coach/friend Carol O'Dell was filling in for her friend as host a local show on caregiving. She asked if she could interview me. ME??????

I think being on the radio is probably one of those things one can't say no to. Well, you can, but probably shouldn't. How many times do you get to be heard, and don't have to worry about a TV camera adding pounds to your already pound covered body. Perhaps if anyone else had asked I might have hesitated. But I really, really trust Carol. I trust that she wouldn't ask me to say anything I didn't want to say. She leads with a very gentle nudge that makes it feel like what you're about to do isn't new at all, but something you've been doing your whole life.

So there I was this morning on WBOB radio! Carol asked questions about being a caregiver and had me read portions of a new essay I've written. The hour was split up with commercial segments so the time went pretty fast. I didn't really have time to think about what I was going to say, so I just let it rip!

Carol is going to send me a taped copy of the show. If I can figure out how to pass it on I will.

I really stepped out of my comfort zone, which crazy as it seems is about the size of the inside of my house. I guess it's like having Stockholm syndrome. On one hand I feel like I'm being held captive by circumstances beyond my control. On the other, I feel scared if I venture too far from home. I really feel brave today. How's that for a different kind of feeling!

Wishing for you a chance to push past your self-appointed limits,
Merry ME

Friday, December 10, 2010

Yesterdays


I'm feeling anything but Merry today. My eyes, like the overcast sky, are beginning to leak.
Why so sad? It's hard to put into words.

I got a message today, via caringbridge.org a friend from the "good old days" has died. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just four short months ago. Along with looking for the best course of treatment he signed on to caring bridge which is way of journaling and getting notes from people. Reading his guestbook was like being transported back in time twenty years.

I won't say that those were the best of times, but with the benefit of hindsight I realize they were also not the worst. Sure there were long deployments, overflowing toilets, and divorces. There was also a camaraderie born out of shared joys and trials.

The helicopter band of brothers were a formidable group who played as hard as they worked. They were Naval Aviators which was, in their minds at least, only a few steps down the chain of command from God - there wasn't much they couldn't do or wouldn't try. At the time, that kind of thinking kind of drove me nuts. I see now how important it was for them to be able to do their job. With very few exceptions, everyone I knew came home from work alive.

Mort's death puts a whole new spin on things. I'm forced to realize that each of those daring fliers is no longer invincible. In recent weeks several people I know have passed away. I live with the hint of dying every day. But hearing that Mort's name has been added to the heavenly roster, brings the reality of life and death one step closer to home. Suddenly it is someone in my age group whose obituary I will read, not a stranger from another time. I feel more vulnerable.

I'm sure that in living rooms all over the country people are laughing and crying as they reminisce and tell stories about Mort. What I remember most clearly is the night, he for some reason known only to him, clamped a small, stuffed koala bear on his fly and wanted people to pat it. It's sounds as horrible now as it had to have been then. What I remember most, however, is the smile on his face, the delight that twinkled in his eye no matter how many women he offended. I guess maybe you had to be there.

Mort McCarthy
Rest in Peace

Yeh, I'm feeling kind of sad tonight.

Wishing for you time spent with friends making memories,
Merry ME

FYI: http://www.caringbridge.org/
CaringBridge provides free websites that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends, making each health journey easier.

Monday, December 6, 2010




I'd be the first one to say that TV and print journalists use the negative rather than the positive to grab you and pull you in, thus increasing their following. I don't know why we as a society have bought into that thinking but apparently we have. The the nastier, the better. Basically, the only reason I still look at the paper is for the coupons and crossword puzzle. I seem to have taken up where my father left off where puzzles are concerned.

That said, I just scanned the Jacksonville on-line headlines and read something that hit my heart hard. It would be awful to hear any time of year, but at the holidays it feels like a triple axel gone seriously wrong in my gut.

In a nutshell, a family was traveling home from NC. It was late at night. A tire blew. Five people were killed and 4 children injured. Now here's the kicker - "Only two of the nine occupants were wearing seat belts and several victims were ejected."

I remember when cars didn't have seat belts. When driving from Chicago to Florida in a station wagon packed so full of kids, suitcases, a dog, a cat, and a bird in a cage that it took awhile for us to get untangled when Dad would finally agreed to a potty stop.
I remember when cars had seat belts but they were an inconvenience to buckle and unbuckle.
I remember being so pregnant a lap belt wouldn't go around my tummy.
I remember sitting in the driveway tapping my thumbs on the steering wheel, determined to wait my kids out - we didn't move until the seat belts were fastened.

But all that is history. Everybody and his brother knows wearing a seat belt will not only save your life, it will save you a bundle of money if you get stopped by a cop and you're strapped in tight.

So why? why? why? do people drive, especially with children in the car, without them? It makes no sense to me. It makes me crazy.

While the holidays are full of festive parties and family gatherings, they are also full of needless injuries and deaths. Please consider this a public service announcement before you start your engine:

Arrive Alive - Don't Drink and Drive
and don't forget to
Buckle Up!

Wishing for you and yours a safe holiday season,
Merry ME

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Halleluia!


Music produces a kind of pleasure that human nature cannot do without.”

Confucius



Christmas came early for Sweetie and I in the form of two tickets to see/hear the symphony again. This time the music was Handel's Messiah and I must say it was quite delightful. Many thanks to one of the ladies in my writing group who just happens to sing in the choir and just happened to have two tickets she wasn't going to use.

The music was great. Being in the company of my Sweetie even greater. But I think the best part of the night was being away from home for 3 hours and not once thinking about what was happening in my absence. Once I sat down in my seat (where, by the way, it felt like we could reach out and play a few notes on the kettle drum) and turned off my phone I also turned off my caregiver mode. It really is great to get away from the madding crowd and let my body, mind and spirit relax. It's also good for Dad to spend time with his other daughters. It was definitely a win-win situation anyway you look at it.

While I'm on the subject of music, I rifled through cd's this afternoon and pulled out all the Christmas music. I have a pretty eclectic collection, from John Denver and the Muppets, to the Irish Tenors, to Raffi, to Nicholas Gunn. It might have something to do with my jangled nerves, but I find I really only want to listen to quiet, instrumental melodies.

What about you? What's your favorite holiday song?

Tonight I wish for you music that soothes your soul,
Merry ME

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hurry Up or Wait?

Dawn Eggenberger*

Over at Dani's blog this morning she asked the question, would we even notice the mother of the Christ Child if we crossed paths with her today? Piggybacking on that, I can't help but wonder would our heart's "inn" be too full of commercialized merriment to recognize a purple haired girl, covered in tattoos, and perhaps wearing a nose ring, as the Madonna?

In addition to trying to get ready for Christmas, I'm also planning for our church's 5th baby shower to collect gifts for needy moms and babies. The idea was born after thinking about that 14 year old girl who was chosen by the Divine One to give birth to the Savior of all mankind. Unlike Princess Diana who was hand picked to be the mother of the future King of England and followed from day one by a montage of photo-crazed papparazzi, Mary and Joseph journeyed alone to a place far from home and family to deliver their baby in a stable. Sure they was surrounded, as the story goes, by angels and shepherds, but there is no mention of womenfolk to hold Mary's hand, wipe her brow and help her labor. Good golly, that had to have been scary.

Sadly, 2 thousand and 10 years later there are still teenagers all over the world giving birth in scary situations. Babies are being born in Native American hogans without running water; in African huts to mothers with Aids; in war zones. Babies are being born and thrown in dumpsters or never given a chance to be born at all. Yet each mother a Madonna and each child carrying the same breath of life as the one born in Bethlehem.

To paraphrase Mtr. Theresa, "if you can't clothe the whole world, clothe just one." This is the humble goal of the Guild of the Christ Child's ministry. We will collect clothes, food and blankets for needy babies right here in Jacksonville. Last year we gave away almost 100 layettes. And every single time I handed an expectant mother a gift wrapped box I imagined myself standing in line waiting to present my humble gift to the holy babe in the manger.

I wonder what would this season of waiting be like if, instead of hustling and bustling from one store to another, each of us took the slow road, like Mary and Joseph, to the stable where love was born? By slowing down, would we then be able to see the face of God in harried store clerks, haggard mailmen or raggedy strangers with no bed to sleep in?

What if we stopped to breathe in deeply the pine scent of a Christmas fir before covering up its simple beauty with lights and ornaments. What if we stopped to share personal holiday greetings with one another instead of waiting in line at the Post Office behind a stack of boxes grumbling because the line is so long? What if we turned off the TV and listened instead to tunes like Silent Night? What if we gazed up at the night sky and picked just bright star to wish upon. What would your wish be?

As you go about your busy-ness in the weeks ahead, please think about those who are less fortunate. Won't you consider donating a small blanket, knit cap, or box of diapers to a shelter near you? It won't seem like much, but you just might be saving a baby whose life is destined for greatness.

Wishing for you a slower pace and the blessings of the Holy Comforter,
Merry ME

This picture came from: http://www.ecva.org/exhibition/venite_adoremus/artists/eggenberger_1.htm

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dad's New Suit

This doesn't have anything to do with a countdown to Christmas, but could be filed under the waiting category.

In the last few days, my father has gotten visibly weaker. His legs don't hold him up. Even his voice sounds tired. However, to his great dismay, the hospice nurse says he has not yet made it to the actual "dying" process. I guess that means that his body is not working at peak performance, but it still gets the job done. Philosophical discussions about holding on or letting go are not met with much interest or enthusiasm. Basically it comes down to God's timing. Until that comes we all have to wait.

Around 5 am Dad called me into his room. He needed to be cleaned up, the sheets changed, etc. Once that was done he asked me not to leave him. He felt "tight" and didn't want to be alone. I crawled up on the bed with him, keeping my hand on his chest so I could feel it moving. I didn't know what "tight" meant. It wasn't going away so I called Hospice triage. After several questions it was determined that maybe he was feeling anxious and an extra dose of medication might calm him down. Gradually we both went to sleep.

Tonight he told our priest that he had a new understanding of things. That what he experienced last night felt like angels were fitting him with his heavenly suit. He was ready to put it on but it didn't fit. Whoever did the measuring was way off - thus the tight feeling. We all kind of chuckled and Fr. Miguel said there was a passage in Revelation that talks of the same thing. Some people tell of seeing a tunnel or bright light during a pre-death experience . It makes perfect sense to me that my father, the engineer, whose motto has always been measure twice, cut one, would wrestle with an angel whose measurements were off a bit.

At both the beginning and end of life we are at the mercy and grace of the Divine timekeeper. Our free will neither starts nor stops until the Creator's plan for us is set in motion. At this time of year there is a heightened expectancy to our waiting. Our senses are magnified so that holiday smells and sounds increase our anticipation of the magic that is to come. We eat and drink too much causing our dressy clothes to feel tight. Is that what it's like to cross over from this world to the next? As the time draws near does a subconscious awareness of something far greater than we can imagine cause our waiting to seem interminable? Does shedding this body for a heavenly suit made by measuring-challenged angels feel like kicking high-heeled shoes off swollen feet when the last of the Christmas parties is over?

I know I'm asking questions no one can answer. I guess I'll just have to wait to find out for myself. I'm getting pretty good at waiting.

Tonight my wish for you is a peaceful sleep under the watchful eye of a company of angels,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wishing and Waiting

I remember when I was a little kid and the Sears Wish Book would arrive filled with just about everything I could desire in a lifetime, let alone one holiday season. For me, that catalog ushered in the season of waiting in a more defined but less holy way than any Advent wreath or calendar.

In my family there were five of us plus my mother, aka Santa's helper, who cried dibs on the Wish Book. I was the third or fourth in line before I could even get my hands on it. Oh, but after the wait, the page turning and the dreaming was that much more exciting. I skipped right over the underwear and tool sections, and went straight to the baby dolls, Easy Bake ovens and velvet holiday dresses. I savored each page so I wouldn't miss anything. After the page turning and list making the real waiting began. Counting the days til Christmas was an exercise in patience in a world that hadn't yet invented the terms instant gratification or no payments til July. Today, with prize-filled Happy Meals and ATM's that spit out money with just the push of a few buttons, I wonder if kids can actually grasp the concept waiting. I admit that it's true for me too, a grown up kid who goes slightly berzerk in a slow moving drive through line.

Who can blame them? If Black Friday is an example, it would seem most adults have grown accustomed to jostling and fighting method of shopping. I didn't step foot out of my house on the day after Thanksgiving, but I felt a kind of fight or flight rush of adrenaline just watching the shopping frenzy on TV. I feel like the holiday season has turned into a 30 day shopping, wrapping, baking, mailing, decorating and ho-ho-hoing marathon. I've hit the wall and it's only the first of December.

It's not that I don't want to be merry, it's just that I don't have the energy to do all the holiday stuff and be a caregiver too. If I had a Sears catalog in front of me tonight here's what I think I'd wish for.

1. To be a kid again.
2. My Dad to string twinkling lights and hang the Patty star on a pine-scented Frazier fir
3. To eat Christmas cookies someone else baked and drink hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows.
4. To hold my sister's hand and sneak down the hall to peek at the surprises Santa left.
5. To go to midnight mass, sit beside my mother and listen to her sing Silent Night.
6. A day where the feeling of dread does not hang over me like a pall.

In lieu of all that I think I'll settle for a quiet, easy Christmas (is that an oxymoron?) with my Sweetie by my side, the voice of an angel singing O Holy Night and world peace.

Wishing for you, this Christmas season, time for wishing,
Merry ME

Monday, November 29, 2010

Objectivity

Objective? Who am I kidding.

The problem of saying goodbye to someone you love is that a gaping hole is left where that one used to reside. Not just in your heart, but in every room in your house, in the car, in the back yard. I've heard that amputees can still feel their missing limb. It's been eight years since my mother passed away and there are still times I feel her presence every bit as real as if she were sitting on the stool across the room from me watching The Price is Right.

Today there was no need to get up and open the back door. No need to mess with the dog food. No one standing at my feet hoping for a morsel of turkey as I clean the bones for soup. No collar rattling. No dog to trip over in the dark hallway. No poo on the rug. (Well, okay, this is probably not something I'm going to miss.)

I don't know much about physics. Who am I kidding? I know nothing about physics. But isn't it some Newtonian law that a space will fill itself up - that a vacuum doesn't like being a vacuum, it would rather be a crystal vase full of sweet smelling roses? I know that in the weeks ahead, the places in my life that feel so hollow now, will fill up with new chores and/or pleasantries. Today, their is void that only an old black dog can fill.

Dad has always had a theory that the way to get over losing one pet is to go right out and get another. That's pretty typical of how he deals with life - don't deal, move on to what's next. At the end of a long day, with a large amount of narcotics in his system he went on and on about what kind of dog we should get next and, how if we didn't want one, he'd get his own, etc. My Sweetie who took Beauty's loss as hard as any of us even though he hadn't been with her from the start, came very close to losing his Sweetness and kabonging Dad over the head with the giant box of Milkbones my sister got us on Saturday. I think the day may come when we're ready for another dog - I've never been dogless for very long in my life. But now is not the time.

Now is I the time to let the emptiness sink in, to be in the moment and feel it, and to be grateful for the 15 years we shared with Beauty. I think by embracing the goodbye as heartily as we did the hello, we will have loved as best we could.

Wishing for you permission to feel everything,
Merry ME

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sad Sunday



"Grieving is a very necessary process."
Andrew, Touched by an Angel

I'm beginning to feel a bit like the Angel of Death. Not a dark and scary angel. More like Andrew from the TV show Touched by an Angel. You always knew someone was getting close to dying when Andrew appeared in the scene wearing his all white suit. Even though you knew the goodbye was going to happen and you'd probably need a couple of tissues, there was something comforting about watching Andrew lead the dying one across to the great unknown.

At one point in my life, because I'd never experienced the actual death of a loved one - you know, actually seeing the lifeless body - I was really scared of being in the room when it happened. In the way (S)He does, God put me in the right place at the right time so that I'd have practice before I was called on to sit by my mother's death bed. Each and every time has been anything but scary.

In the last few years I've also been present when some beloved cats went to play with the great ball of yarn in the sky. This morning, I sat on the floor with our sweet Black Beauty. I knew the time was coming. Cataracts covered her eyes. She was deaf, confused, partially incontinent, and suffered more and more from arthritis in her back and hips. So when her back legs wouldn't hold up this morning I pretty much figured it was not going to be a good day. She rallied enough to go outside and I believed maybe we'd been given a reprieve from making the hard decision today. But as she ate her breakfast her legs just slid out from under her and she looked at each of us, Dad, Jack and I, as if to say please help me.

With strength I didn't know I had I picked her up and carried her to the car. I was worried about going to the VetER because I didn't know how they'd be under the circumstances. I shouldn't have worried because both Beauty and I received gentle, compassionate treatment. After weighing the pros and cons, I made the decision that is so hard for pet owners to make. I tried to think of what Jon Katz would advise. I didn't want to keep Beauty here, just because I was a weenie. I sat on the floor with her and held her head in my lap. Like Andrew, I stayed with her as she headed to doggy heaven. I scratched her head and whispered thank yous for her devoted friendship to each of us. I imagined Mother waiting just on the other side, calling Beauty and the dog who couldn't walk, ran like she was a puppy to say hello.


Photo: Mom and Beauty and I on the top of Buck Bald in Tennessee. That day will forever be one of the best in my memory.

I don't have any idea what heaven is like. Or if there even is a heaven. I do, however, have a strong belief that those who leave this world go home to their Creator and that just has to be good. How can it not be?

Sweetie called me brave this morning. I think I just did what had to be done. I pray for the courage to be as objective when the time comes to sit with Dad as he heads to his heavenly home. I'm pretty sure I won't be dressed in white, but if I can be as comforting as Andrew I think I will have completed my job.


Wishing for you something warm and furry with a wet nose to love,
Merry Me

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pink Saturday


I really shouldn't be sitting here. Dad seems to be sleeping soundly so I should be doing stuff like laundry, putting away the good dishes and whatever else needs to be done. But I just don't feel like it.

I'm feeling a little depressed. We're barely past a day which was set aside for giving thanks and counting our blessings and Christmas is still a month away (I know that 30 days will travel at the speed of light, but still it's not tomorrow) yet there seems to be a collective frenzy going on to get things to put under a fake tree that smells more like pine sol than fresh evergreen.

I have to admit, the idea of getting up early and joining in the craziness appeals to me on a level I don't even understand. I don't get sleeping on the sidewalk for days just for a piece of electronic equipment. Yet every year, as we sit around the T-day dinner, feeling more stuffed than the bird that fed us, I kind of want to see what the madness is all about. As if I don't live with madness on a daily basis.

As I crawled into bed and put my tired-after-cooking-all-day feet under the covers, I asked Sweetie how we'd get along if we boycotted Walmart. I don't like the take-over-all-the-small-businesses-in-town concept of the Walmart virus that spread across the country at lightening speed. But I do like the low prices and the convenience of all-in-one shopping. My principles are often compromised when convenience is involved and a MacDonald's medium coke is available upon entering and exiting the store. I picked Walmart to boycott because I've already boycotted Best Buy and a new place called Sports Academy ??? (what? do you learn stuff as you walk through the mega store?). Mainly I was upset that Walmart stayed open till 11pm on Thanksgiving, let their employees go home and then ordered them back at 3 or 4or 5 in the morning. Why couldn't they embrace one day of gratitude by giving employees something to be thankful for? Grrrrr.

Even though I'm the first one to enjoy a good bargain, the whole concept of Black Friday just rankles me, In my book it has nothing to do with buying Christmas presents. It's all about some sordid need to compete, to be #1 in line, king of the flat screen TV hill. No matter that people and the whole spirit of the holidays get trampled as soon as the doors are unlocked. Grrrr!

Getting to my point. I have declared, in my own little corner of the world, today to be Pink Saturday. My choice of pink was based on nothing more than I like the color. And who can be grumpy when filled with pinkalicious merriment. (Okay, so I fussed at a certain man who didn't like the way I attempted to clean his nails, when I knew he could do it way better than I could so why did he even ask, I'm still feeling pink - sort of). I don't know if the idea will catch on, but I'd love to walk out and see people dressed in pink waving and shouting holiday greetings across crowded parking lots while over-worked retail workers and customers smile at each other as the cash register ca-chings in jingle bell fashion. I wonder, could a little pink put the Ho!Ho!Ho! back in the "Holy Crap! Look at that line in front of Santa! Stop whining! Don't mess up your pretty dress! If you don't behave yourself I'm going to tell Santa to give your presents to the poor people! Don't touch that! " I don't know, but it's worth a try. And maybe it will help me show a little more compassion to the man who counts on my cheery countenance to make it through the day.

Wishing for you a little something pink in your world ... peppermint flavored candy, fresh roses, Barely There nail polish ...
Merry ME

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting

"There are moments when I feel like giving up or giving in,

but I soon rally again and do my duty as I see it:

to keep the spark of life inside me ablaze."

Etty Hillesum


"The sky is falling!" cried Chicken Little. "The sky is falling!"


Most every day the first email I read is from "gratefulness.org". The daily quotes are always uplifting and thought provoking. When I read the Hillesum quote above, my mind went to a woman Terri has blogged about who is struggling with her own personal darkness. Since Terri has had some experience with the aftermath of one extinquishing her own flame, not to mention her big ol' compassionate heart, I sent the quote on to her. My mind was on people I don't even know who are suffering in a place I've been.


It didn't really occur to me to think about my father, until I came back to check on him. He's had a few pain-filled days. New pain medication seems to be zapping him of the little bit of strength he had. This morning I found him lying in bed, eyes half-closed. I'm just waiting, he said. I could feel his struggle.


Up to now Dad has vocalized being ready to go, but I felt it was more talk than walk. It seemed like he said what was expected of him ... I have cancer, therefore I'm ready to go. I think the change has been slow coming and subtle. Pain, I imagine, can do that. As can medication. I can feel my inner chicken little fluffing up her feathers, preparing to spread the news. Dad is dying. Dad is dying. But instead I sit by the bed and hold his hand, help him to the pot, re-arrange his covers, listen to Montavoni and Henry Mancini play on the easy listening channel. Preparations for tomorrows dinner will have to wait.


I’m reminded today of the spark of light that is ignited in each of us by the Divine One at the moment of our creation in the womb. The light remains with us throughout a lifetime of joys and sorrows, blessings and disasters. The same light that at the end of our days begins to dim. Only the one who created the light knows when it will shine no more. Until then all we can do is wait. Perhaps faith is nothing more than releasing the fear of the dark and relying on the Creator to light our way.


Holy Mother/Father God, thank you for the gift of your light which you loaned to us for our earthly journey. Help us be a mirror which reflects Your light to others whose light flickers and begins to dim. Be with us at the end when we begin to take our final walk home, back to You. As we wait give us patience to accept Your perfect timing, for in You, there is no pain, no fear,no darkness.


Today my wish for you is a quiet prayer of Thanksgiving,

Merry ME