I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

Broccoli Buds on my Bicuspids

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Making the choice, and the concentrated effort, to eat healthier has many obvious good effects. However, some of you may be wondering, “What are the negative consequences of eating healthier?” I am here today to enlighten you on this taboo subject, to boldly go where organic farmers fear to tread (which is a pretty short list!), in order to bring into the light these hidden dangers of being a foodie.

First of all, eating healthy is just a lot of hard work. In simple terms, you can no longer eat out of a box or bag. No more easy-fix hamburger helper or mac & cheese, and don’t even think about soup from a can! And going through a fast-food drive-thru…..pphhttt….that’s gonna require DAYS of advance, online investigation! This way of life will necessitate premeditated food selection and labor-intensive food preparation. Just deciding to eat healthier is a big step, which you will have to present to those in your life who might be affected by it. After clearing that huge hurdle, this new lifestyle requires never-ending research, and driving around town to farmer’s markets and alternative vendors’ drop-off sites to find what you need. This burden has been lessened to some extent by the local grocer’s dive into the “natural foods” market (i.e., they saw a chance to cash-in on the latest eating trends). You have to be very careful, though, with the grocery store offerings, because food producers like to put all kinds of information on their labels that make their products sound healthy. Since finding out that I have a pretty serious gluten sensitivity, I have discovered all sorts of “gluten-free” items at the grocery store. I can safely drink a six-pack of Mountain Dew, or eat an entire box of Popsicles, and I will not have any allergic reaction, because they are gluten-free foods. Well, whoopdedoo and laudeedah…thank you, food mega-companies, for being so helpfully informative in your labeling practices.

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I must admit that I never make it to Farmer’s Markets anymore, but not because I don’t want to. I used to belong to a CSA, even worked the market for a couple of summers with my organic farmers, but then I got a job which has me working on Sunday mornings, and that’s the time of the market, so there went that plan. I miss it sorely, and have finally been forced to take up gardening again, to plug up, somewhat, the gaping hole left in my local, fresh, organic produce options. I find it amazing that what is now taking me so much work to grow, or extra money to purchase, is what God had all planned out in the first place, as being the PERFECT food sources for mankind…go figure. God’s design always wins out in the end, no matter what we’re talkin’ about!

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Some of the other “negative” side effects of healthy eating include, but are not limited to:

*constantly coming up against the naysayers and devil’s advocates of this world, who choose to believe everything the government “feeds” them, and like to question the need for healthier choices in eating, and complain about the harder work and higher cost of acquiring healthy food (most often climbing on their soapbox while they are stuffing grossly-processed piles of crap into their body, with an ingredient list which is illegible to all but the most highly schooled scientists among us!).

*coming up with additional storage spaces/appliances for piles of fresh produce and fresh eggs and sides of beef and whole chickens from your garden (or fruit trees or chickens) and/or from a local, organic farmer.

*finding tasty recipes for ways to use above mentioned produce (some of which you have never heard of before in your entire life, and also some of which you might not like) and whole chickens and unusual beef cuts and chicken bones and beef bones……in other words, learning to be good and adventurous stewards of “the harvest!”

*taking up the age-old practice of canning, when above mentioned produce gets out of hand.

*starting a compost pile because above-mentioned produce creates a lot of useful compost material.

*burning off most of your daily caloric intake by chopping up tons of the above-mentioned produce for your supper!

*realizing that you are beginning to get cravings for (GASP!) salad greens, and dealing with your friends’ teasing when they find this out.

*getting into a habit of always, before venturing out in public, checking your teeth for bits and pieces of fresh greens that may have become stuck on your teeth, and/or flossing to remove tiny broccoli florets.

*running out of storage room for all your new recipes (either on the bookshelves or on your Ipad).

*expanding your organic/natural preferences to other categories, like personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, health care, hair dye, etc.

*gloating about feeling healthier and more energetic, improving your metabolism, and maintaining a healthy weight

*struggling to remain humble, all the while knowing that you are doing good things for your body (and your family), and for the earth.

I, personally, can vouch for the authenticity of each of these healthy eating “side effects,” because I have experienced every one of them. I’m still on the journey to restoring my body to the level of health I was at prior to chemotherapy treatment nine years ago, but I am definitely heading in the right direction, and I will not give up, and neither should you, because this healthy way of eating will not “lettuce” down…even if it does get stuck in our teeth! IMG_2626.JPG

Embracing a Miracle

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“Miracles are a retelling, in small letters, of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” (C.S. Lewis, 1898 –1963)

A truly miraculous event has become part of my life’s story, and I am positively giddy with joy and gratitude. I will attempt to set the scene of this glorious event for you… Imagine that your daily life is in precarious balance – a homeostasis of health, basic functioning, conscientious eating, caring for your elderly father – all of these things hang on a single thread, and one slight tip of the scales, one way or the other, brings your life to a relative standstill, filled with pain and fear and difficulty and despair. All of your usual problem-solving techniques are thrown out the window, and new ways of functioning must be discovered (through arduous trial and error). Some of the more time-consuming, painful, or inconvenient activities, like…for example, let’s say….eating and showering, are simply tossed over the side of your floundering ship of day-to-day survival. Can you imagine such a scenario? Don’t feel too bad if you can’t quite grasp the thought. I wouldn’t have been able to either, until I went to work for a client with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), and began to see how difficult “ordinary” tasks can be if your muscles aren’t working all that well, and if your bones are so frail (from years spent in a wheelchair) that a tiny bump can cause a life-changing fracture, and how all of this makes your life extremely vulnerable to chaos. That is exactly what happened to my client.

She is a very positive person, one of the most “sunny-sided” people I’ve ever met, and problem-solving is her forte. Most of the equipment she uses for her daily survival (lift system, wheelchair, bathroom chair, etc) owes at least part of its design to her. Anything else she uses, if she didn’t design it, she at least found out about it (and made adaptations to it) through her relentless research to make her life’s vocation more doable. However, difficulties do sometimes rear their ugly heads, and, for these past few months, we seem to have entered into a plague of misfortune. It climaxed (or, so we thought, at the time) with a serious case of the flu, which landed my client (and her 87 year old father) in the hospital. Just when things were beginning to settle back to normal, there was another minor issue that brought her to the emergency room, and (eight hours later), sent her home with a broken arm. This was a blow we could not have anticipated, and one for which we were totally unprepared. Everything that her caregivers/assistants had been doing for her for years, the practiced and perfected routine, was suddenly useless, and had to be reinvented. I know that I struggled tremendously with the broken routine. All of the steps of helping her up and out of bed each day were suddenly a murky mess in my brain, as my client & I tried to figure out ways to move her without causing excruciating pain. We all muddled through as best as we could, using new ideas and extra “tools” to help with moving, transferring, propping, etc. The plan was to help her navigate (as smoothly as possible) through the two weeks until she could see the orthopedic surgeon, and go from there.

Unfortunately, the tangled web was woven even more intricately than we knew. The visit to the orthopedic doc delivered the knock-out punch of devastating news – the only way the bone could be “healed” was through surgery, and the use of plates, screws, and heaven only knows what else. My client (who had been trusting that our diligent efforts to keep her arm stabilized would aid in its own natural healing efforts) was crushed by this news. The x-rays were telling, showing the two ends of the broken bone overlapping, with no chance of a healing formation taking place. Things got dark and dreary after that day. The pain became relentless, and my client’s desire to avoid the overuse of pain medication made it impossible to do anything without the grimace of pain coming to her face as we touched her. It was agonizing for her, and draining and stressful for all of her caregivers. We could not see an end to the story, and, if we tried too hard to look ahead, our thoughts led us in an unhappy direction.

It was then that the genuinely fervent prayer began. I sent out prayer requests and updates through our local Catholic homeschooling community, and kept all of my close friends informed of her condition. People assured me of their ongoing prayers, and I asked that they especially call on the intercession of Fr. Solanus Casey, who is one of my favorite, heavenly intercessors! I carried on faithfully with my client’s care, while the cloud of adversity hung heavily over us. She began the arduous task of appointments with various doctors (anesthesiologist, neurologist, etc) to determine if she was even a candidate for surgery.

Then came, for me, the pleasant surprise of hearing, while on my way to work one morning, that Fr. Casey was slated for beatification in the fall (this means that a legitimate, miraculous healing, through his intercession, had been approved, and he is now further along the path to being canonized). I was so happy with that news, since I have loved Fr. Casey for a long time, and have been praying for him to become a “Blessed” (and then, a confirmed “Saint!”). My mother was a Casey, so I figure that Fr. Casey and I MUST be related somehow! I continued my drive to work with tears in my eyes and cries of joy and congratulations on my lips, and then I said, ”Fr. Casey, how about a miracle cure for my client? If anyone could use a miracle, it’s her, so let’s show her what love and prayer support can accomplish! If it is God’s will to be powerfully manifested in her life, beg God for a miracle, Fr. Casey. I know you can make it happen!” And, can you even guess what happened?! The very next day, at her follow-up appointment with the orthopedist, the x-rays showed the two pieces of the bone in perfect alignment, with a healing callus forming around it. How do you explain that? The doc had said there was no chance of it healing on it’s own….but it DID. It is, quite simply, a beautiful and glorious and life-giving (in oh, so many ways) miracle! My client and I (and her family and the other caregivers) are not the only ones giddy with joy and happiness and astonishment. There are a lot of people being brought to tears by the news of this miraculous intervention, and I can see God’s mighty hand moving in a powerful way. I am hoping that the child-like joy never fades, and the knowledge of God’s all-consuming love stays with us forever, because I have a feeling that’s the most miraculous part of all of this. God steps in, sometimes doing what we long for, oftentimes not, but always, in every situation, in every response, he manifests his love for us, and that is, truly, the greatest miracle of all, and the only one we’ll ever need. May we all be like C. S. Lewis, and learn to read the “small letters” written in our lives every day. And, pray for all of us, Venerable (soon-to-be Blessed!) Solanus Casey!

Making Sense of it All

My job brings me into the lives of people who are carrying a cross of daily suffering. No one needs a caregiver when everything is moving along just fine. I come along when the “simple” tasks of daily living get complicated. Sometimes, the trials are minimal, sometimes almost unbearable. I serve them, and love them, as they bear their afflictions, deal with daily hardships, and, often, feel themselves languishing in loneliness and uselessness. Walking has become difficult, or dangerous, or impossible. Eating is problematic, complicated by worn out taste buds and digestive systems that aren’t functioning well. Eyesight is waning, and energy levels are low, and sometimes, the memory is unreliable, at best. Day in and day out, the tedium drags on, and the question arises – where do these souls fit into the plan of life? Should we, as a society, be willing to write them off? Let’s face it, they do seem rather useless, in the eyes of our contemporary worldview. What is their purpose; why does God allow them to continue in this earthly journey, when they, and their families, might actually wish for a peaceful end? Can there, somehow, be genuine purpose and dignity, design and beauty, in such a seemingly “useless” existence? The answers, I suddenly realized, are found in the season through which we have just passed.

Lent called on our hearts to focus on the suffering of Christ, and, in so doing, on the general suffering of this life. Suffering is a part of life, and we will all suffer, in one way or another. Some of us might shoulder a lifetime of pain & struggle, while others might seem to pass through the valley unscathed, until sudden, unbearable misery swoops down upon them. But, no matter how it comes to us, the courageous bearing of adversity and affliction is cloaked in a beautiful and tremendous mystery. Every year, without fail, Lent leads to the beauty and life-giving promise of Easter, and it is here that we can begin to grasp the meaning of our pain, grief, heartbreak, despair, tribulation, and unhappiness.

Easter tells us that we are not made for this world, but for something so much better…”beyond-our-comprehension” better! In this life, we are separated from our true selves. If we walk carefully, with a heart willing to understand and be molded and perfected by our Creator, we will come into our own – we will begin to find our authentic self. Unfortunately, this world tends to distract us (now, more than ever!) from the purpose of our passage. We are too busy and overly distracted and focused on the life and riches and “perfection” which the various outlets of modern media tell us we are all entitled to, and convince us we should aim for. Not that aiming for good things is bad, but aspiring to worldly perfection blocks our view of what perfection truly is. Worldly perfection is impossible, and the frustration of this unattainable goal wears us down. When the suffering comes, for us or a loved one, we begin to wonder why things aren’t going quite the way we had expected. For anyone who finds themselves dealing with disabilities, chronic illness, or other hurdles to a “worldview perfection,” life can seem like a hopeless effort. Realizing that we will never attain this unreachable goal can be a brutal discovery, and lives not firmly anchored will be set adrift. Anger, despair, blaming, and utter wretchedness can be the result. Why are we so lost, and how do we find our way back?!

I recently read a thought-provoking quote by Fulton J. Sheen that I would like to share with you. Perhaps it will shed some light in the darkness:

“If a pencil is made for writing, we do not wish to see it used for digging; if a bird is made for flying, we do not wish to see it change places with the mole; if a soul is made for the fullness of life, then we do not want to see it clip its wings and wallow in hatred, half-truths, and marred loveliness. We want to see it united with its perfection which is the Life and Truth and Love and Beauty of God.”

For many years, I did not understand the meaning of life, and, in particular, of my own life. My childhood had seen its share of pain and suffering, and I was ready to move on. I wanted what the world offered – laughter and pleasure and fame and power and possessions. I repeatedly (and, unknowingly) clipped my wings. I grasped frantically at all the half-truths tossed in my direction, hoping that one of them might ring true, and my real beauty was truly marred. Until God called me into the Catholic Church, where Grace and Mercy and Love (in abundance!) were able to enter in and begin the healing process. To be sure, the prescriptive protocol included large doses of emotional suffering, as I reluctantly let go of who I thought I was. There were many occasions for swallowing lots of dry and not-so-tasty humble pie. You find me now, many years later, at an age rapidly approaching 60, with wrinkles and extra pounds and graying hair, but I feel more “beautiful” than I have ever been. I have learned that life and dignity and beauty and value are not defined by what people see when they look at me, but by what I offer when I look at them. If I extend love and mercy and kindness, beauty is shining through me and reflected in them. Especially if they are disabled, or disfigured, or elderly, or bedridden, or unloved, or unable to respond. And, even if I encounter, with love, people who hate me, or scream at me, or try to hurt me, it is still the same principal. Because love begets love, and treating with respect begets dignity, and acts of mercy bring a flood of mercy raining down. And in this type of interaction, we come to understand the beauty and purpose and usefulness of all lives. Which brings us back to the season of Lent and the question of suffering. This seemingly troublesome liturgical time is given to us to bring us closer to understanding the meaning of life, of our own lives, and to call us to dive deeper into the Love of God which holds us all in existence. We reflect on the life of Christ, which ended in great suffering and pain and disgrace, and we see the great love and purpose in these afflictions. Now we understand how our daily struggles bring us closer to perfection and more able to offer unconditional love. And our Easter vision reveals to us that those who quietly bear with suffering, of any kind, are truly the most Christ-like people we will ever meet. During this Easter season (which continues for several weeks!), I challenge you to find someone like that to learn from. Visit a retirement home, volunteer for a program that serves the mentally handicapped, make a new friend with someone “discounted” in our modern society…and take a step closer to Truth and Peace…, and Perfection.

Look Like a Librarian

It’s time for more entertaining tales from the frontlines of elder care. I just can’t work a shift or two without gathering some good ones. A few weeks ago, I did a couple of emergency fill-in shifts again. Both of these people were in pretty bad shape, honestly. One was bedridden and as frail as a snowflake in my hand; the other was in the depths of dementia, a lost soul, to a point where the person “inside” was hardly ever able to get through to me.

The “snowflake” was an old man – bedridden, emaciated, and barely audible when he spoke. When I came in to take over from another caregiver, she showed me how to watch the TV with the headphones on, so I wouldn’t get bored. Forget that silliness, I thought. I am here to be with this man, and to serve him, and to know him as best I can in this short time that God has brought us together. I wandered around the house to find some books, and came across some bookshelves. I found a couple of fairly good options and took them back to the bedroom – the place where this man now lived 24/7, with a parade of caregivers and family shuffling in and out to break the monotony and provide for his basic needs. I read the titles of the books – one was a compilation of classic literary passages, the other was a pictorial biography of Mark Twain, filled with excerpts from the many letters he had written home to his family. I asked Snowflake if he would like me to read. He enthusiastically requested the book on Mark Twain, and proceeded to inform me, in barely audible, halting speech, that his middle name was Sawyer, because he had grown up in northwestern Illinois, near the Mississippi River, and his parents were big fans of Mark Twain’s stories. I read to him for a while, until he decided that he needed to rest. As I walked away from the bed to lay the book down, he called out to me, in a loud, clear, steady voice “You look like a librarian.” I turned back with a chuckle. Was this the same man I had been leaning over with my ear right by his mouth, with the hope of hearing enough words to catch his message? Suddenly, this thought had come to him, and he had belted it out. I managed to overcome my shock in order to make some sort of reply – I think I came up with something about using the library a lot when I was home schooling my children. He looked back at me with a serene smile and returned with his punch line, “My wife was a librarian.” That was it! He had snagged me and reeled me in. My heart felt the familiar pull of two lives connecting. I was so honored that he had seen something in me that brought his wife to mind. I asked him to tell me more about his wife, where she had worked, did he have any pictures of her sitting around that I could look at.

These are the moments when an elderly life shines bright. When recognition and memory come alive, and they reestablish their bearings by forming a connection with the one who has sought them out. You’re not going to be taught such skills while getting your nurse’s assistant training, and there’s no certification process for caring and compassion. That’s too bad, really, because the other stuff is just memorized caregiver tasks, and, while needed, I don’t think that they are the most necessary requirements. Asking questions, truly listening, having sympathy and understanding, realizing it could very well be you one day, on the receiving end of the care-giving relationship – these form the mindset of a genuine care-giver. This kind of person will be able to reach into the depths of the suffering soul, and ignite the heart.

When the souls seem completely lost to this world, the job becomes even more challenging. I’ve been with two such clients, whose dementia was so far advanced that they spent most of their time fretting and fidgeting, and repeating the same things over and over. They would struggle to talk, and wander around in search of they-did-not-know-what, and worry about responsibilities that were no longer theirs to undertake. I found myself wishing I could have known them years ago, before the dementia had clouded their personalities. In these cases, in addition to asking about their childhood, I tried to find other ways to distract – music, books, photo albums, etc. With one woman, I managed to entertain her with some really old Reader’s Digest magazines I found lying around. After reading a nice, sentimental story, about a grandmother and her granddaughter, my client looked at me and said, “That was beautiful. Who are you?!” I went to the head of the couch, where she was laying down, and I sat on the floor, right next to her. I told her that I was her caregiver, and gave her the name of my agency (I have the added benefit, because of my agency’s name, of telling my clients I am an “angel,” come to help them in their time of need!). She was often lost and alone, but having someone there, talking to her, telling her nice stories – that was enough to calm her for a while, and allow her to rest unworried, and loosened, temporarily, from the chains of a tormented mind. Even with these occasional successes, I always feel incompetent in these situations. How does one enter into the daily lives of our elderly population with the right amount of charity, tenderness, mercy, and concern? How do we move among their frailty with a sincere understanding of their dignity and worth?

For me, this is where faith and hope must come into play, a time when I must draw on a deep understanding of the dignity of life, at all stages, no matter what limitations I might witness. I cling, also, to the message of the value of redemptive suffering, and become more aware of the fact that we are not made for this earth, that physical decline is unpreventable, and death is truly a gift from our Creator. And, with these beliefs, and a faith held firm, my incompetence is no longer a concern, because God inspires my actions, and visits the elderly through my efforts. This is caregiving raised to its highest possible level, and becomes a great blessing to me, and, hopefully, to all of the snowflakes and lost souls I may chance to encounter.

Breaking the Age Barrier

Age never used to concern me much at all. When I was young, I was in no hurry to be a teenager, or sweet sixteen. Nor did I see any reason to rush to the magical age of twenty-one. I was always content, at any given point, with my actual age. As I left the twenties behind, I didn’t mind. Thirty? Who cares? I am still healthy and active. Forty? What’s the big deal?! I am having a great time with my family and friends! Fifty? Hey, I’m a cancer survivor, so I feel very blessed to still be around. Then, suddenly, without any warning, I hit the brick wall of fifty-five. There was an eardrum-splitting sound, similar to that of a high speed jet breaking the sound barrier, and, WHOA, I had found my age barrier, and I was totally unprepared!

In my ongoing effort to selflessly serve my fellow man, I am sharing this helpful information with you in an attempt to prepare you for this life-changing occurrence. The age barrier is not the same for everyone, so I can’t really predict when this will happen to you (although, the mid-to-late fifties is a safe bet). I have, however, compiled this invaluable list of “symptoms” (in no particular order) that you can watch for. If you start to notice any of these things happening to you, you are nearing your optimum-functioning age limit. You better strap in and get ready for an activity-altering jolt, followed by measured deceleration!

Symptom 1 – You find yourself waking up, in the middle of the night, every night, to get up and pee (even if you’ve been careful not to drink anything since noon the day before!). And, don’t even think about drinking a beer or a glass of wine before bedtime – that will go right through you!

Symptom 2 (which might be related to symptom 1) – Afternoon naps become your new hobby. I used to never be able to take an afternoon nap, and/or fall asleep in my recliner. These are two of my newly acquired skills, at which I am excelling!

Symptom 3 – In order to exit from a low-riding car, you have to roll out of the door onto the curb, and try to get to a standing position from there. (Ladies, do not wear a skirt when you anticipate dealing with this form of transport!)

Symptom 4 – One of your knees or ankles (or, any random joint) has a sudden, painful blowout that stops you in your tracks, but then returns to normal after about five minutes.

Symptom 5 – You’re switching over to all elastic waist and/or stretchy pants.

Symptom 6 – When you make your bed in the morning, it reminds you of a foothills landscape, because of all the accessory pillows you now need for comfortable sleeping (i.e., wedge, body, under-knees, etc.).

Symptom 7 – Random snot drops fall without warning from your nose, at the most inopportune times. (Watch the movie, Shadowlands, for a perfect example of this phenomenon.)

Symptom 8 – In public stairwells, other folks are always trying to figure out what that “snap, crackle, pop” sound is (coming from YOUR knees). However, you might not encounter this problem if your wheezing is loud enough to drown out the sound from your knee joints.

Symptom 9 – You finally decide that putting up with the smell and the inconvenience of coloring your hair is totally worth the small amount of satisfaction you get from at least being able to beat the gray! …Or… You don’t worry at all about the gray because you have no hair, but you do have a very impressive collection of caps!

Symptom 10 – Swallowing your pile of daily supplements helps you meet your daily intake of water.

Symptom 11 – Do I even need to address forgetfulness?! You can be sitting across the table from a close friend, having an intimate discussion with them, and suddenly you realize you cannot think of his or her name. This is a scary and embarrassing symptom which can only be addressed with daily doses of gingko biloba, Asian ginseng, fermented cod liver oil, vitamin E, a B-complex supplement, and 100 mg of phosphatidyl serine.

Symptom12 – Seeing yourself in the mirror of a public restroom, with harsh fluorescent lighting, triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 13 – Any little thing triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 14 – After several anxiety attacks and a trip to the doctor, you find yourself in a cardiac testing center waiting room with a bunch of old(er) folks, able to join in on a discussion regarding all of the above issues (with startling frankness).

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of all the possible symptoms of breaking your own, personal age barrier, but this will be a helpful start to guide you along the path to impending physical and mental breakdown. If you are able to relate to all of these age-related manifestations, you may have already passed the boundary into the land of decrepitude. If you can come up with a much longer list than this….you might want to update that life insurance policy, check into some pre-planned funeral options, and get back to church in preparation for your proximate appointment at those pearly gates, because (as a wise, old neighbor once told me), “you’re getting closer!”