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Archive for April, 2010

Last  Sunday was a tough one to get through as I was thinking about Dad during many parts of Mass. There are at least three places where we recall the dead.  I haven’t gotten through a Mass without tears since he died now almost 5 months ago. One of my Notre Dame classmates tells me that this is part of the healing process. I hope so.

Father Jim had some great comments especially regarding the Gospel reading where Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him and forgives him for denying him 3 times the night before He was crucified.

That is a very extreme example of forgiveness but it is a reminder that we get huge relief and energy from forgiving others, and then we’re in a great position to let God’s love really shine within us and to share it with others.

This is where I thought of my dad. He must have been so forgiving since the love he held for all of us, including total strangers, was so evident in how he spoke, and in his soft, sparkling blue eyes. He said, “Ah… he is a one hell of a nice guy,” with such warmth and passion so often. Even while he was failing and had to be in the hospital and rehab, he was telling every nurse or aid that she or he was his favorite. “You’re the best,” and “I love you,” were common statements from dad. They all wanted to help dad however they could. And he always said “Thank-you,” even for the most trivial things. If there was an excuse to be grateful, he shared it.

Yet aren’t there times in our lives where we just don’t know which way to go? That’s a good time to ask God for some direction, but so often I find myself feeling anxious and hyper, and then I’m not much good to anyone.  Father Jim reminded us that at these times, it’s just good to ask God, “What’s next? I’m waiting for Your word.”

I am a little lost without my dad as he had such a deep influence on who I am. He was there for me ever since I can remember, even up to about 2 days before he died. He was bedridden at this point, an old man hardly in charge of his physical abilities. He wasn’t eating, yet he was still telling us he loved us. I know he was scared, and some of those last mornings he would waver between marveling that he was still with us, almost in disbelief that he was, since he knew he was very sick–even though he lived with the confusion that comes with dementia.

He had frequent choking fits from a combination of dryness and his inability to swallow. We would take turns helping him out, and as much as he suffered, he always thanked us. I wondered how he even had the energy to thank us, but somehow he did. He was a kind man right up to his death.

Yet I now see more glimpses of him as the man who pulled me out of the pool when I won swimming races, and even when I didn’t. This is the man who taught me to believe in myself and that anything was possible with God’s help. He instilled the “can do” attitude that I have on most days!

I had another wonderful gift this week: it was from Mom. I was telling her how I had no regrets about all the traveling I did when I was abroad in college for a year. She told me she had no regrets about the wonderful 62 years she shared with my Dad. She is so grateful for the rich life they shared, how much he loved her and how much they traveled and experienced the world! This message came right at the end of our phone call and I could hear a sense of peace in her tone of voice. This is part of her grieving and I wonder how long she had been waiting to share?

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We’re half way through April already! April is a month of birthdays in my life. Just yesterday my mother-in-law turned 88 and my husband’s godfather turned the big “90”! He is in good shape both physically and mentally, with a sense of humor and wit that keeps me on my toes and laughing. My mother-in-law is very tiny and her mind is deteriorating from dementia, but she is still very much with us.

I remember when my father turned 90. He was in a rehabilitation center working on building his strength up so he could move back home and walk again, albeit with the help of a walker. I made apple pies for everyone and we brought in sparkling apple cider to be more festive with something bubbly. He had a really great time, but was worn out at the end of the celebration, and wasn’t quite sure who the celebration was for. The presents and celebration in his honor just didn’t seem to make him realize it was for him.

But the good news is he did come home from rehab and I am grateful that we had him in our lives for another 18 months. He celebrated his 91st birthday last year, and was even more confused about whose birthday it was. I recall my brother and his wife had given him a birthday balloon as part of the festivities, which we put by his bed since he spent so much of his time there. As we put him to bed that night, he looked up at the birthday balloon and asked whose birthday it was.

On April 30 this year, dad would have turned 92, but he isn’t here to celebrate. I’m already dreading how I’m going to feel that day. Ever since I can remember, over 50 years, I have been celebrating a happy occasion that day. Death is so final.

I have decided to do something positive and possibly cathartic in his honor. I am going to write a book on grieving that is stories, and not full of theory, but just practical stories around death, love and grieving. If you would like to share yours, please let me know at ellen at thebisource dot com.

BTW look at what I almost stepped on while we were hiking in the Colorado mountains recently. It was the only floral beauty up in this area. We decided to take a snack break and went off the trail! It’s amazing what you find in nature, and it gives me such comfort to see spring this year!

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I recently celebrated a birthday and it was in a beautiful snowy spot in the mountains and woods of Colorado.  I particularly love this picture of the Spruce trees surrounded by the Aspens.

In a cooperative and loving spirit, I want to share a poem that a dear friend handwrote to me for my birthday in 2009 written by John O’Donohue. The theme behind this message is that you are loved, and makes me grateful for friends, my many blessings and what I continue to learn through my mistakes and disappointments.

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
with no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world’s waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart
know the stillness of serenity
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

In an odd way this poem evokes life and death as I think about praising my mom and dad who loved me before I was…and trusted to call me here with no idea of who I would be.  The miracle of life is so incredible, and in a similar vein the pain we feel when we lose our parents evokes such feelings of grief.

I think this is a contemplative poem to recall once a year, and I imagine depending on my life’s events, different sections will speak to me.

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“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Khalil Gibran

A few days ago when I read this on Robert White’s Extraordinary Minute blog, I skeptically thought, “yah, right”.

Well yesterday I awoke to a new experience of my dad since his death. I awoke with the vision of my dad, albeit just a quick mental glimpse, as a younger, middle-aged man! Wow, it was a warm feeling that drifted through my body. I could feel the energy of his younger body and spirit as I peered into his face and his soul, almost disbelievingly.

You see up until now, I only dreamt of my dad as a dying man, and often had flashbacks about what he looked like in death. That experience was just too much out of the ordinary and somehow got sketched and implanted deep into my visionary and emotional memory. While intellectually I am certain that this must be a normal, human experience, I know it is up to me to move past it, while not denying it. I was blessed to be with my dad and our family as he crept towards death and died in our midst, surrounded by love and care.

Just last week I had received an email from a dear cousin who had lost her dad a few years ago. She said when she suddenly thought about her dad, she still cried for him.  However, she now remembers him as a younger, more vibrant man, also without Alzheimer’s, the disease he and my dad shared in their later years.

I wanted to share this since dad had been dead for 4 months and 10 days before I had this gift of life, of who he was most of his life! As this was my first emotional glimpse, my feelings aren’t that well developed. I just saw a happy man which my Father was! This is a good start and I am grateful that my grieving process is progressing and I got to feel and see dad as the more vibrant, happy and intelligent man that he was for most of his life! After all isn’t it better to remember someone you love—more as you saw and felt them—before they became so weak, old and memory poor?

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