Many of you have asked how my mother is fairing? Let me tell you a story...
Years ago when I had cancer I took my chemotherapy treatments on the weekends. After the treatment we would go back to our apartment. I would go to bed while French Husband bundled up our children taking them to the park to play.
French Husband made sure I had everything I needed before he left. I looked forward to resting in quiet. Though one day soon after he left I started to feel terribly sick. Dog sick. I thought I would die! I couldn't even make it to the bathroom and was vomiting off the side of my bed. I didn't know what to do- except to pick up the phone on my bed and call my mother in California.
When my mother answered I could barely talk, I told her I needed help, that I was alone, that I was scared. In her quick-thinking-focused-get-the-job-done-self, she knew that telling me to dial 18 (the French 911) wasn't what I needed considering I could barely talk English at that moment let alone French.
She said without blabbering emotion, "Corey roll out of bed...okay are you there? Okay crawl, come on you can do it, crawl to the front door, throw the phone ahead of you.... Hello? Corey are you there? Okay do it again crawl, throw the phone ahead of you.... Okay, open the front door...come on you can do it...good, good, now crawl to your neighbor's door, and when they answer pass them the phone."
My mother is the rock rose in the family.
You see my mother knows how to cope under pressure, she knows how to get the job done, she has what it takes to do what one has to do... and does it. My mother has been by my father's side everyday for the last two months...and if I didn't stay here in the evenings, she would literally camp alongside of his bed too.
My mother's first name is Tough. Her middle name is Firecracker. Her last name is Faithful.
My father prayed his rosary. As the beads went around his hand I drifted back to a time when I was five years old-
I am in bed with my Ava (grandmother in Portuguese,) she is saying the rosary the steady cadence of her voice mixed with the silence of the night is soothing. I fall asleep.
Last night my father's eyes were heavy as he said his rosary. It has been a few weeks since he was able to thread the beads between his fingers. His strength regains. His breathing was labored. His chest rose and fell steadily as he prayed. After the last decade of the rosary, the last bead, he slowly tried to make the sign of the cross but fell asleep.
My Aunt Ann (my father's older sister) told me that when my father and her were children, that she would go into his bedroom, climbed into his bed early in the morning, and the two of them would pray side by side. "I wonder who initiated prayer George or I?" She asked me to ask my father if he could remember.
Later when my father woke up I asked him. In his eyes I saw a spark as he recalled the memory... he replied, "The angels."
Angels are you listening?
Praying without words, praying in the middle of the night, praying after witnessing death upon death, praying while holding your hand and hearing you cry out, "Help me."
Praying through fear-
Praying for an easy off button-
Praying as I wipe your mouth, your eyes, and as we wipe your sore bottom-
Praying I wasn't standing here alone with you. Praying thanksgiving that I am standing here alone with you-
Remaining calm when I see nothing short of terror that is in your eyes. Listening when I want to beg- No, no, no!
In the middle of your suffering I find myself walking even though I want to run and hide. In the darkness I feel the breeze pour through the hospital's window like a soothing hand upon my face. While standing by your bed I hear the oxygen bottle and suddenly it becomes a babbling creek.
Typing as my father sleeps after a rough night I glance over at his bed stuffed with pillows - suddenly it becomes a white fluffy cloud.....and I dream of crawling into it, where I can hold him and whisper, "Fly away, fly away, fly away..."
He held my gaze as his eyes became hands taking me into another world.
From a bottomless well his love poured softly soaking me. Barely could I hold on!
Have you ever looked into someone's eyes and seen the universe? Where the sun, the moon, and the stars seem like sand under your feet as you catch a glimpse of the other side.
Holding his hand we flew touching a distant shore. How could I doubt heaven after this?
Those one word answers like- Yes or No- often sound cold or too direct. I prefer the word "maybe" as it is open ended and walks in the middle, actually it skips on both sides of "yes and no." The word "maybe," is very non committed. Often misunderstood and leaves room for imagination.
It also causes problems when a decision needs to be made.
When my children, Chelsea and Sacha were younger we use to play a game that went like this.... I would ask them simple "yes or no" questions like, "Can you drive a car?" or " Do you have brown eyes?" or "Are frogs green?" The object of the game was to respond truthfully without using the words "yes or no."
At the start of the game we would sing, "You can't say "yes" you can't say "no" what are you going to say....I don't know?"
I still don't know.
There doesn't seem to be any easy answers these days... especially regarding love, life and... well if you are someone like me, just about any question these days.
Do you think I will feel more at ease when life starts ending in periods and not question marks?
Like a gentle grace the sound of someone singing came sipping in from the room next door. What peace it brought. I smiled softly, while tears formed like raindrops splashing on the puddle called myself. Music can be such a healing power can't it?
The man next door (to my father's hospital room,) is dieing. His family pours into his room like a steady stream. As they sing their voices surround him with tenderness. I kept wondering if I am hearing angels?
Ah I tell you their voices sound like loving arms carrying their father to the next part of his journey. A gentle surrendering, shared compassion, a tender farewell, as they carry him to the threshold singing in harmony, “Fear not!”
The songs they are singing heal and caress these wounds and fill the halls with a serenity. A medicine I recommend in strong doses.
Photo: An angel statue from a church next to my home in France.
Note: Threshold Choirs honor the ancient tradition of singing at the bedsides of people who are struggling: some with living, some with dying. The voice, as the original human instrument, is a true and gracious vehicle for compassion and comfort. The choirs provide opportunities for women to share the sacred gifts of their voices at life's thresholds. Thank you Deirdre for sharing this link with me.
Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris captivates the imagination. It takes you to a place deep within. Where stone statues, engraved words, and unlocked iron gates whisper names of people of the past.
It is a place where bouquets of flowers are left behind holding the thoughts of someone who has loved someone. Ah those fragrant petals that eventually dry and fall, soften the pathway for the next one who comes along.
A larger than life stone statue stands with her eyes closed recalling memories that will lead her home.
Layers of time past and present, a broken stained glass window renders a glimpse of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. Though the images of their faces are no longer apparent a pure light continues to shine through caressing those who walk by.
Every night around seven my family gathers around the table at the hospital's cafeteria. A place where we have been sharing dinner together for the last 5O days. Some-days my four brothers, my sister in law's and nieces and nephews join my mother and I. Sometimes it is a mixture of the same group but a smaller number. Sometimes it is just two or three of us.
As the days march on we realize the range of our emotions are as multiple as the food in the cafeteria; where a variety of hot and cold is served. We go through the cafeteria line, talk about the selection, take a salad or soup or maybe the entree, there is something for everyone even for me the vegetarian. We sit without fanfare, eat, drink, talk and nurture our needs by being together. It is the finest comfort food. It is the sweetest dessert. It is a blessing to be together--How long has it been since we have been altogether like this and for this amount of time we ask? But before anyone can answer the question the memories stir up, the stories inter-lap and the laughter and tears pour steadily like red wine into our waiting glasses.
Last night the stories circled around the last time we were with my father before he entered the hospital. It wasn't like we asked each other, "Hey tell me about the last time you were with dad before this happened?" Instead the stories flowed spontaneously moving from one to another... I envied that their "moments" were nearer at hand (my last moment was last summer, a good-bye before I returned to France.) Regardless of my envy hearing their "moments" made me feel like I was by his side too.
As you know this hasn't been an easy time for my family. But it doesn't mean that it isn't dotted with love and affection, sweetness and devotion. Like a flicker of light in a dark tunnel- I find myself treasuring the simple meals we share together each night. Where we nourish ourselves with each other's company. There is a miracle in each moment, even when it is the darkest hour... and gladly I soak these moments up letting them soothe my wound.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and... a time to embrace..."
Ecclesiastes 3. 1-5
When the star passed by my open window,
the light poured in opening my eyes,
illuminating the darkness.
Everything became crystal clear,
and remains a soothing grace.
Where do you receive communion with love and holiness?
Where does your soul cry amen?
When I was younger I thought about how lucky I was to be born into a family that was large and loving. My Mother reminded me that our happiness would measure sorrow. She told me that a large loving family has a price tag, when you love someone you will carry their sorrow too.
When I started a blog I had no idea that I would meet others and feel a genuine kindness and affection from it. I have been amazed time and time again how much I receive from your words and outpouring of friendship. How fortunate I have been to know you, to receive your guidance and support. Your friendship has been a strong arm to lean upon.
The community gathered here is beyond measure... so many helpful thoughts, comments, prayers, advice, a steadfast sisterhood (with a few brothers!) It is a place were I am certain to find courage and grace. Thank you for being an active part of this blog as well as being like family to me.
Reading through the comments I see that I am not alone. Many of you like my large loving family, have experienced the same journey that I am on. You have walked this path before. Sharing your experience, your wisdom has been a light leading me, making the steps easier to take. Knowing that you have passed this way before brings compassion, lends a trust that I too can walk this journey and survive.
Thank you for being part of my world.
A few days ago, a nurse blocked my family from going into my father's hospital room. Telling us he thought best for my father and us to have some rest.
Unfortunately, my father nor my family saw it that way. As we were not allowed back into his room he was alone and did not understand why his family had just disappeared from his bedside after having us by his side for 44 days. Since he didn't understand he rang the nurse's station every other minute, and since he doesn't have a voice they couldn't understand him. The nurse gave him medication, one shot after another to calm him or keep him quiet. Putting him in a stupor of sleep and confusion.
Finally after what seemed an eternity of waiting... we were allowed into his room... Though at this point he barely recognized us. When we looked into his eyes they seemed lost. We were devastated.
These last few days my father has slowly come back to us...but he is not the same.
Who is to say if this would have happened if we had remained by his side? But this I can say is true, I would have rather stayed by his side than have this feeling of not knowing.
"Mom, you won't believe what we have been eating since you aren't here cooking!" The tone in Sacha's voice sounded far too thrilled for me to be concerned. Nevertheless I responded with a doubtful voice, "I cannot imagine it to be anything spectacular given that you two knuckleheads don't cook. What are you eating these days?"
"Dad and I are on a white diet you might say."
With that I knew in a heartbeat that French cooking has been reduced to: Pasta, eggs, milk, baguettes, cheese, plain yogurt, garlic, rice, crepes, oatmeal....
Oh and don't forget peeled apples.
photo: 18th century French engraving.
Four sides to each cube represent four different puzzles in one. Each depicting a season in a moment of daily life.
Considering its age (1900s) and how many times in has been dumped out to be re-played, the images of each are in good shape, and amazingly there aren't any missing pieces.
...At times like these every little thing reminds me, or connects me to the eternal question that has been asked for generation after generation, the endless search for... "what is life all about?"
Yesterday I stepped out of my father's room to visit a cousin who had come by the hospital to say hello. After visiting with her I turned around to go back into my father's room only to be told by the nurse that he thought my father needed rest and no visitors were allowed until the end of the day.
He could have stabbed me in the heart it would have felt the same.
My Mother and I decided to drive back home, something we haven't done in weeks. The drive along the river, with the orchards in bloom, glistening in the falling rain, and seeing the familiar roads brought us a guilty peacefulness. Was this a silver lining?
As we stand by my father's bedside and wait, I have realized a few things.
1. We have little control over how life will unfold.
We can plan or create, directing our desires and dreams into a hopeful reality. But in the end it is life's current that take us down the stream. It brings new meaning to the children's song "...row row row your boat gently down the stream...)
2. Love is graceful, enduring, and tough.
This evening when I came to the hospital to spend time at my father's bedside my father seemed out of sorts, a bit sad, downright blue understandably so...
(You see my father has been unable to move without help, not able to get out of bed at all. His body has gone through many changes...he hasn't been able to talk, yet remains alert (a hellish crime of life to be trapped alive!) We communicate with him through a menagerie of codes, sign language, lip reading and watching the slight subtlies of his weak body.
3. My cousin's husband Chris said to me the other day..."Death is not the worse thing that can happen in life." Though my father doesn't believe this (with all his faith and belief in after-life) he strives towards living and getting well against the odds.) But suffering, like violence, seems worse than death to me.
When I came into my father's room to take the night shift, he asked for my Mother, which he does a million times throughout the night. Typically he mouths the word "Mom?" I explain each time to him that Mom is at Marty's (my brother's.) sleeping. That she needs to rest. But tonight he asked for her with a silent voice that was not like all the other nights. He seemed to need her, want her, not just asking about her. I called my Mother and she came back! 24 hours non stop she stayed...
4. Love comes at a price and can make you bleed.
My Mother asleep in a chair by my father's bedside. My father sleeps easier.
As I stand here in a daze I witness their love profoundly and cry.
Why is it that when something bad is happening everything around looks so incredibly beautiful? Why does life appear fuller and deeper? It is as if the "bad thing" slaps the taste buds into appreciating the smallest distinctions. Ah life's subtle variations are easy to swallow, and made whole by hints of complex flavors.
Photo: A glass of red wine in France last autumn.
Ah guess what?! Remember "The Matchmaking of Matthieu and Eva?"
Well, they are meeting up in France next week!
I am pea green envious... I wish I could be there to spy on their romance.
To think that they are going to see each other, nibble baguettes, sip wine, dance in the moonlight...etc. etc. and it is the etc. that gives this matchmaker's mind and imagination something "happy" to smile about! (I bet you are going to miss the installments too?)
Can any of you go to France and spy on them for me?
Eva...are you reading...SEND PHOTOS!
The low rumble of the Harley Davidson-
Fresh toiled fields looking towards planting-
Lee jeans worn blue and a baseball cap.
The morning sun, and the sea breeze from Ferndale-
A faithful pick-up truck-
The boys in the shop on a Friday night-
A cup of hot coffee with a steady stream of sugar poured amongst friends at the Black Bear.
Hand selected tools for the 9O ride-
A few peanut butter sandwiches, honey-do-s and Mom's kisses.
Gathered around home,
delivered straight into your veins,
I hold you in my arms every moment.
I love you,
My friend Cecile took the photo up above. Since I hadn't seen it French Husband added a note and sent it to me today. Ah a breath of fresh air!
Note: Many of you have asked me how I can keep up my blog during this difficult moment. Blogging feels like one of the only things that hasn't changed in my life. Whereas everything around me is different.... My blog offers some normality to me at this point. It helps me chart the unknown turf and walk steadily along the path.
Thank you for listening to my tale.
Late at night when the hospital room grows dark and the sounds that can be heard are mechanical beeps, humming, and alarms-- unfamiliar sounds that do not allow peace of mind. Where the noisy chatter which promises healing sounds anything but that, I search for a path to lead me away.
It is at that moment that I look at my father's eyes, his tenderness, and I see his hands moving in prayer. Oh the gift, oh the courage which opens his heart creating a room in which we can enter. The space within, the solace it brings the only place where I can stay sane. I run and take shelter in his faith wondering if I will ever learn to be brave?
…ah the dark night of the soul which seeks the light held from the other side…
Mary Poppins sang, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way." The song was sung to motivate the children she came to care for to do the task at hand. With the words, "a spoonful of sugar" she was saying that something sweet or nice helps with dealing with something unpleasant.
(The spoon in this photo is empty because at the time I took this photo (a year ago) I wasn't thinking about medicine when I saw spoons...)
A spoonful of sugar. Every time a nurse or a doctor comes into my father's room their words and gestures are either a spoonful of sugar or a dose of bitterness. Their words and actions can have power to heal the heart, mind and body.
The smallest of gestures can hold promise.
A spoonful is very little, and very little is more than enough.
Unattached pieces which are often unnoticed that bind familiar fragments, of un-monumental minutes together.
One by one- the aroma of morning coffee, the worn true shoes on the creaky floor, the splash of cold water on one's face. the daily paper, the dog's bark...
Gathered softly with little thought, the stories underneath unfold.
One by one, sometimes intertwined, mostly in whispers,
The silent film unwinds.
The familiarity of the day, that is healing in itself. What little things thread familiarity to your day?
Life isn't fair. It is not always easy. Life continues, it doesn't wait. It doesn't ask you if you are happy, or is it good for you. It offers mountains to climb, valleys to visit, and a sky that is endless. One step at a time or running through it...one thing is certain our path is right under foot and the directions are endless.
Because I come from a very large family (26 aunts and uncles, over 80 first cousins, and nearly three hundred second cousins who mainly live in the same rural area.) I have bear-ed witness to many occasions that life has to offer. It isn't unusual with such a large family to have a wedding, a birth, a baptism, and a funeral each month. My family has a steady cycle of happiness and sorrow, coping and rejoicing, being and becoming... the gifts, the lessons, the examples are plentiful.
...and you dear reader, like my dear family extends a hand, shows me the way, leads me through the steps... I take comfort hearing your stories, reading your experiences, gathering that this too shall pass no matter how bruising it is to my heart. Your faith brings me to a fertile ground where love does not die but is absorbed, transformed, and beckons me to focus that life is unending- no matter what side of the token it is showing me this moment.
How many days has it been since my father entered the hospital? I have lost count....though it has been more than a month of days that much is certain.
The roller coaster ride continues. The climb to the unknown top is taken inch by inch, as fast as a slow crawl, barely noticeable to the naked eye. Then once on top (Oh the glory! Oh the thrill!) it is shortly lived, a slippery slide down hill, one that takes our breath away, causing our knuckles to turn white and scream, "No more!"
But the ride does not stop. It seems we cling to false vistas and unsteady dreams as we climb up, up, up and then look at each other and wonder why? where? what? How is this possible as we moan silently with hope and fear.
The one way ticket ends when it wants to... there is nothing one can do but to hold on and let go all at the same time.
My family takes turns sitting by my father's bedside. My ticket offers a ride on the roller coaster at night, between 8pm until 8am. At night the secrets are softer and the dark deeper. I want the ride to end... isn't that a bad thing to say? I don't care where it ends just that it does one way or another. The agony of going up the roller coaster... is like a nosedive and holding on to a thread called a safety belt.
The roller coaster offers my memory to plunge and pull up past experieces. So as the ride takes my heart and soul, it also dives deep and surfaces things I have rarely recalled. Last night it offered me this:
As I am standing by his bedside, I am crying I cannot get ahold of myself, tears drop heavily on his bed... my father is his medicated state reaches out to me... then in an instant as fast as a roller coaster can dip my thoughts roll back-
I am three years old my father and I are walking out to the barn. As we walk along I reach up for his hand. His hand is so large (!) he laughs and puts out his finger for me to hold on to. I reach up and grab it and smile back. I feel safe.
Instantly I am three years old and fifty years old all at the same time...
At the end of the day the only thing that matters is-
Did you live your life lovingly?
The source of joy or pain is in that response.
The room was empty except for some lonely chairs. Quietly, I sat in one next to the window where the light was the most inviting guest.