Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holidays and Hope

Holidays are hard where I work.

Because holidays revolve around families, children, traditions. A lot of residents are gone for the day ~ picked up by their children or grandchildren and whisked away for the afternoon or day. But many are not. Many spend the day with us, the staff, while we do our best to create a cheery atmosphere. One that endeavors to mask the loneliness, the glaring lack of family.

That was today. 

Holidays have been tough for me in general since I moved to Missouri. Tough for the very reason that holidays revolve around families. Where holidays back home used to be full of the chaos of nieces and nephews, and noise and food and laughter and the comforting knowledge that crazy as they may be, there is the solidarity of family that will always be there, no matter what. 

I tried to create that here in the years that I’ve been in St. Louis. Tried to build community that felt like family. And for a long time it was that. The chaos of kids, the noise and food and laughter, and solidarity of people who would be there no matter what.

But today was the first holiday where it wasn’t. Today was my first holiday truly alone in many ways. My first holiday not in my long term relationship. My first holiday without my community.

Breakups are terribly hard on everyone involved. And while people may try to not ‘choose sides,’ there is fall out. One side is inevitably invited, the other is not, for sheer virtue of no one wanting the awkwardness that would happen with both parties in the same room. The chips fall where they do, and one party ends up being speculative conversation fodder for awhile, and eventually a memory. One party ends up drowning in an ocean of loneliness.

I passed by the dining room at work this morning, in a hurry, and heard a resident call my name. This particular man lost his wife of 60 plus years a few months ago. I called to him that I would be right back, and continued walking, but immediately felt a gut check to turn around. I went to the table and saw that he had tears in his eyes.
“What’s going on, Tom?” I asked him.
He pointed to a string of plastic easter eggs we had hung by the fireplace. 
“Can you give me 3 of those?” He asked.
“I can try to find some.” I answered. “What do you need them for?”
“I’m going to see my grandkids. I don't drive anymore, I couldn’t go to the store to get them anything.” He shook his head. “I know its nothing, but I can’t go empty handed. It probably won’t mean anything to them, but I can’t….its the first Easter since my wife….” 
And he couldn’t go on.
I told him I would be right back. I found some extra plastic eggs, some candy and brought them to his table and set them in front of him.
He looked up at me, tears falling as his eyes met mine. 
“My heart is broken.” He said, his mouth shaking around the words. “My heart…its just…broken.”
“Yeah, I know.” I said. “I know.”
And we cried together, both sitting amidst the pieces of our hearts, both of us knowing there was absolutely nothing we could do to put them back together. 

There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in places of unbelievable emotional suffering. And in those places and times, it can become almost impossible to keep any sort of grasp on hope. That has been my week. Where the pain takes a shape of its own, and the darkness creeps up like a tide coming in, lapping at your feet. An entire day passes and you realize you forgot to eat because the grief has filled so much of the inside. And you know that despite all the pain you feel, you have absolutely no choice but to get up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. And in those times, the desire to isolate can be overwhelming. To curl up into yourself and just exist. 

Not everyone will face suffering to that extent. But a lot of us will. And its frightening to realize that, for those of us who do face it, its inescapable. There is no way around it, or over it. There is no pill to numb it, or magic thing to take it away. It simply must be endured.

I left work and went to my friend’s house, where she was recovering from a hysterectomy. Our other friend met us there. Then a girl who lives there and her friend joined as well. The 5 of us sat there like war refugees, outside of the bombing, but still feeling all the aftershocks. We didn’t fix anything. But we were there, saying with words and not words, that we were in the suffering together. And finding we could actually still laugh through the tears, and know that even if we don’t feel it now, and even if we don’t know how, we will be okay one day.

That is where the tiny threads of hope are found. In remembering all we have endured thus far, and how we have survived. In sitting on a deck telling each other how we will make next Easter absolutely wonderful. Or silently stuffing candy into plastic eggs, while tears flow; knowing that while nothing can fix the pain, it doesn't have to be suffered alone.

And in the knowing that despite all the hurt and pain and utter mess….we can still love. In the putting one foot in front of the other, we can still give the gift of kindness and love every single day. Maybe even more so and to greater depth than we ever did before. Because pain allows us to identify with others like nothing else can. And therin lies purpose. In coming alongside each other and being there through it all.

But most of all, its found in the knowing that God’s promises are true. And there is nothing that can ever take them away. 

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I thought a lot about love today. ALOT.

I work at an assisted living facility for my grown up job now. I started last week.

After some years of working with children, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum. Which, honestly, there are a lot of similarities between the two age groups, so the transition doesn't feel quite so startling. But there are definite adjustments.

My supervisor and I were walking down a hallway this afternoon, and saw through an open doorway, an elderly woman, one of the tiniest women I have ever seen in my life, sitting on her bed, with no top on. A little startling, always.
"Jean," my supervisor said, going into the room, "Where is your shirt sweetie?"
"Well, I'm trying to put my pajamas on for bed." Jean replied, though the clock on the wall said 3pm.
"Oh Jean, its not bedtime yet. We still need to have dinner." My supervisor brightly informed her.
Confusion. "Oh. Well alright. Let me get my blouse on."
Then, as we tried to clothe her, she clouded again. "Why are we getting dressed? Its bedtime?"
The conversation went around a few times, until we gently dressed her in a pink top and fur vest, and guided her to her walker.
She grabbed my supervisor's arm, and with a clear, pained expression said, "I'm alone. I am SO VERY alone. I don't have any friends here, I don't know where my family is. No one talks to me. Please don't go. I'm alone. I don't have anyone."
My supervisor hugged her and looked straight into her eyes. "You have me. I will ALWAYS be your friend."
Jean then turned to me. "Will you be my friend too? Please?"
I hugged her and told her I would be honored.
Then let them walk away so I could gain control over the tears, as I looked at the small, nearly empty room that she lived in every day. Because although she has dementia, it didn't make her feelings any less real, or the pain she felt any easier. 
And I was feeling it for her.
And I thought to myself, "I CANNOT do this job. I'm quitting tomorrow."

Of course I won't, but its definitely not what I thought it would be. I thought I would be more occupying them, entertaining them, etc. I didn't realize that for 8 hours a day, I would be living with them. Not detached, but rather doing everything together. The fear, the unknown, the oftentimes frightening-ness of dementia, we do it together. We drink coffee together, play bingo together, watch movies together and talk about life together.
And as one touched my arm at dinner and said, "I missed you so much over the weekend. I'm SO glad to see you here today, will you sing for me again?"
I felt an awful, awful feeling of panic.
Because I couldn't help but love all the 98 year old sweetness of her. She was genuinely glad to see me. She missed me and liked me.
And I knew right then and there. 


I'm going to love you, and my heart is going to get very involved. And you will most likely be gone in the not too distant future.

I'm going to love you deeply, and then grieve your loss. THIS is what I'm signing up for.

But maybe thats what love, real love is. Or at least a taste of it. 
Maybe real love is hurting with someone. Not from a distance, but right alongside it, feeling it, shouldering it, to whatever degree you can. And maybe, somehow, that feeling it along with them makes the hurt a little easier to bear. Knowing that how terrifying something is, they are not bearing it alone. 

And then honoring them and the life that they lived by tremendous sorrow when they leave this earth. And allowing the pain to be a testament that their life mattered. That they mattered.

And making the deliberate choice to do all of that for someone who likely may not remember you tomorrow. Or 3 months from now. Giving and loving for the sake of giving and loving. Expecting absolutely nothing in return.

Maybe every time we love like that, we expand our capacity as a person to feel and love and give and be. 

And understand the love of God a little more.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017, Day One

I’m pretty introspective. Pretty annoyingly introspective. I think and feel and think. And think. 

A lot. So people like me really get into New Year’s, and resolutions, and all that stuff. Its our Pinterest actually. 

I live in St. Louis, and though we have some rainy days in the winter, we have a lot of sunny days too. Today was one, where the sun was shining so bright, I went outside for a run, sans hoodie or gloves because from my window, it looked like a balmy 60 degrees instead of the actual 35 that it was. As I ran, I thought back on the past year, and the goals I set 365 days ago:

  • Lose 20 pounds. Well, I lost 18, which is pretty damn close.
  • Do 20 hikes. Checked the last one off a couple weeks ago.
  • Start a different career. That, surprisingly, actually happened, thank God.

But then I thought about the internal stuff. The things that comprise who we are, not necessarily what we do. And I wondered. Did I learn or grow or change for the better. At all?

Part of me says yes, maybe I healed from some stuff, maybe not. But part of me wanted to sit down on the dirty sidewalk and give up. Because it felt like I hadn’t learned a damn thing.

Maybe that’s how it is as adults. Traffic moves along, then we’re at a standstill, stuck in a jam. Then we move forward again. Maybe as adults we gradually get better over time, like a line on a graph that goes up and down, but the overall is a steady, slow up. Maybe we become more deliberate about choosing healthy and staying away from things that we know will do nothing but hurt us in the end. Experience makes us cautious, and we develop our own set of road signs and string our own caution tape and in all of that gain wisdom and understanding. But sometimes we find ourselves in situations that make us want to shake our heads and think that in all that experience, we’ve clearly learned nothing at all, because we’re in that place. Again.

But I’m convinced that we do learn. In all the ups and downs and falling and defeats and victories. We learn. In all the bull shit and pain and regret. Even when we do the same stupid things time and again, we learn. In the wounds we give and receive, we learn.

And here is what I learned this year:

  1. I learned that life is one giant f-ing unknown. The ground you’re standing on can shift in a second and you can find yourself on the ground wondering what the heck happened. And its what you do in THOSE moments that are the defining ones.
  2. Change and personal growth is painfully slow at time. Like weight loss, like changing habits, like getting over something or someone. But every step forward, every choice towards life, no matter how small, is progress and a GIFT.
  3. Its ok to not agree, not like, and to f-ing say NO.
  4. Its ok to be you. Just you. Not the you contrived to keep everyone happy. 
  5. At some point, sooner or later, you HAVE to get in the drivers seat of your own life. YOU are the one who will be 80 one day looking back. You are the one who has to work your job every day, and have/not have the friends that you do, have the health and stamina that you do or don’t have. You are the one who has to physically and mentally process the stress. Not someone else. No one is going to save you or do the hard, character building, life changing things for you. Don’t toss those keys to anyone.
  6. I’m going to be ok. Whether I’m completely alone or have 1000 people in my corner. Because I can get up. And do what I need to do. And I can give and love. Especially that. 

Maybe resolutions should be less about the number of workouts we’re going to do, or pounds we’re going to lose, but rather the start of the new year be about developing a vision of the kind of people we want to be. I want to be a person of kindness, therefore I will behave how a kind person does. I want to be healthy, therefore the choices - physically and relationally that I make, need to reflect that. 

You learned. I learned. And we will continue to. Let’s take the lessons into 2017 and live thoughtfully, purposefully, passionately. And with as much love as we can muster.