Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Year of Love

Affirmation: I am fully open to love, human and divine.  Love surrounds me and permeates every aspect of my existence.

When I went to visit Paul I noticed the wedding pictures on his wall.  He was one of the few men in the Alzheimer's unit and he was a flirt.  He was good looking, tall and lean and always had on a baseball cap.  He was in the beginning stages and I could easily have a conversation with him.  Then I also noticed the memorial card with what I guessed was his wife's name.  I asked him if I were correct and if the card referred to his wife.  It did.  "Were you married a long time?" I asked.  I didn't really expect an answer.  I was just making conversation.  "Sixty-one years," he replied.  "Wow" I responded, thats a long time."  He came right back at me, "Not long enough!"  That was several years ago but even as I write this my heart aches and my eyes tear up.  "Not long enough." What a lesson!  It came at me like a speeding train and left me dazed by the side of the tracks.  Life is precious and life for many is "not long enough."

One of my dear friends recently lost her mother to Alzheimer's.  It was a long, difficult battle.  My friend lives in North Carolina but her "mum" lived I England.  She would often fly over to visit and to care for her mother.  When her mother was finally admitted to a care facility, my friend would get up every morning she was there, take the bus and spend the entire day visiting and helping with the other residents.  The facility eventually offered her a job.  Her mother stopped recognizing her daughter but one day she told my friend, "I don't know who you are but I know you love me very much."

"I know you love me very much."  "Not long enough."  Words spoken emanating from a place deep within, nothing trite or superficial.  The murmurings of the heart, not just of the mind.  If I were to look at my life today, search my soul, what heart murmurs would I hear?  And if I lost my mind would the messages be about love?  I've dedicated this, my 68th year, as The Year of Love.

My church, the Catholic Church, dedicates each year to some worthy theme: The Year of Faith or The Year of the Eucharist, etc.  Why not let it be an example for me and dedicate a year of my life to some worthy concept?  The Year of Love!  It's my ultimate goal, to love deeply, unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.  It's the work of a lifetime.  It seems worthwhile and appropriate to take at least a year and to focus on love.

One more Alzheimer story.  In the video for the song "Raymond" by Bret Eldridge an elderly woman has the mistaken idea that the maintenance man is her deceased son, Raymond.  The video shows that Raymond died in the Vietnam War but Kathryn, the lady in the video, has no memory of that.  Her memory only goes back to 1943.  She's a blessed woman.  She appears comfortable in her surroundings and the cleaning man is kind and gracious.  "I bring her morning coffee every day," he sings.  "Sometimes I find myself wishing I'd been there."  He seems to love her, this woman who believes he is her son.  He knows she loves him.  It's such a small act of kindness but it's such a grand act of love. The video reflects love in its purest form.  It seems to seep from the page out into the room.  I never fail to weep when I watch it. 

What is more important than creating a life filled with love?  Once we can learn to accept love, we can more generously give love.  We may not like everyone, that's a given but it is possible to still love them or at least to hold them in a space of love.  You can pray for your worst enemy and I don't mean for evil to invade their lives.  It is possible to find a place in our hearts to ask for the best for everyone in the world, both those we find easy to love and those who challenge us.  Remember, you can't make your world any brighter by blowing out someone else's light.  The heart is a muscle.  If we want it to become strong and healthy, we have to exercise it just like any other muscle. 

If I lose my mind, which I must confess seems more threatening some days than others, I want to know that my heart is still full of love and my body, my spirit is filled with the blessings of a life filled with love.  I want to live a life where I can say "not long enough."  A life where one day someone will look at me and say, "I know you love me."  Hopefully, they will also know who I am and I will know who they are.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blessing Adversity

Affirmation:  What doesn't kill me makes me stronger and being stronger makes life easier and richer.  

"What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, stronger" so goes the saying and the now popular song by Kelly Clarkson.  I wonder would I want to be tested to the point of dying to become stronger?  I have been tested by breast cancer.  I wouldn't have chosen it but it has made me stronger.  It seems like a given that most people believe becoming stronger is a good thing.

I do work at being physically strong.  I fully recognize the advantages of having a strong body.  Besides practicing Yoga regularly, twice a week I participate in a class called Rep-Reebok.  It’s weight lifting to music and since I began it, I do feel I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle.  I’m not so concerned about how it affects my shape but I know the stronger I  am, the less likely I am to injure myself.  Having physical strength makes my daily activities easier.  I also work at having mental and spiritual fortitude. It makes my whole existence easier.

Sherri Shepherd recently released a book entitled Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes.  Presently she's one of the talk show hostesses on The View.  She's very funny and she's always been a very large lady, actually the word is obese.  She was interviewed by Doctor Oz this week and shared the diabetic history of her family.  She said they called it "the sugar" and no one took any steps to deal with it, regardless of how much the disease had progressed.  She too was guilty of the same behavior.  Denial is the term for the way some people deal with situations they don't want to face.  She was in denial until someone asked her in so many words if she was ready to die one amputation at a time.  She changed her life.  She took charge.  She changed her diet and began exercising.  She changed a lIfe threatening situation into a life enhancing practice.  She shared some of her new healthy eating techniques and said she now works out at a gym and has turned her home into a gym, not a fancy room with all the bells and whistles. The stairs are her "stair-master."  Her kitchen sink is her "ballet bare" and she never rests her bottom on the toilette.  That's her opportunity to do squats!  Diabetes changed her life, for the better.   

The conversation I had with a woman I had recently met revolved around her brother's recovery from drug abuse.  He too had a devastating disease.  He too had taken steps to become healthy.  When speaking about his life, she shared that he had become a wonderful father.  He was raising his son by himself.  The mother was also an addict and had given up her son.  He had shared with his sister that the challenge of being a single parent was his greatest blessing.  His life was as good as it was because his son needed him and helped him rise to the challenge of creating a healthy, loving life.  

It's an old saying, "We can choose to make lemons into lemonade."  Life is full of adversity, all different levels.  Diseases of the mind, body and spirit are faced by all of us at sometime or another.  Where do we find the resources to lift ourselves from the darkness back into the light?  For many, it's their faith but not everyone has that gift.  It is a gift to believe in a loving, beneficent God or at least to believe that our pain is serving some higher purpose. We all have pain. Others must find another way to rise above their adversity.  For most help comes in the form of others: family, friends and community.  

This second of week of May, 2013 the media has been full of news about Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.  It's not an unusual story.  It's a decision thousands of women have faced and many of whom have chosen the same path.  Angelia's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when her mother was in her forties.  She died at 55.  She decided to undergo the gene test to see if it was indeed a hereditary condition and it came back positive.  She had an 87% chance of dying of breast cancer.   She chose not to wait for fate to decide her future.  She chose to take radical steps to insure that she would not have the words "breast cancer" on her death certificate.  Her popularity, perhaps we could even say notoriety, propelled her decision to the front of the news.  I personally commend her for making her decision public.  It opens the avenue for important discussions.  It's similar to when Betty Ford stepped forward as First Lady and shared she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  We sometimes need celebrities to she'd light on issues that might otherwise go unexamined.  

How can one see a prophylactic double mastectomy as a blessing?  How easy it would be to perceive oneself as a victim.  How easy it would be to wallow in self pity.  Brad Pitt, Angelina's fiancĂ© told the media they didn't view her surgery as a loss.  They viewed it as a gain; they had gained years of life. They believed his wife and the mother of their children would now be a part of their lives for many years to come.

When we are in the middle of some challenge, it’s almost impossible to see it as beneficial.  I believe we need to move away and outside of it before we can begin to see ways it may and can bless our lives.  It's all about the whole package, all of life's lessons are valuable.  We are all going to be faced with adversity.  Most of us will come through it; there's no going around it.  How we perceive our experience will be determined by how we view our lives.  Do we wake each morning and see the blessings the day may bestow upon us or do we rise in fear and dread? What are we focusing on?   How do you view the glass, half empty or half full?  I'm not talking about not recognizing your sadness and fear.  We must acknowledge all our emotions but once we've done that and walked through the "valley of death" do we want to continue to suffer (maybe some do.)  I, however, would prefer to let the experience teach me whatever lesson I needed to know and then take that knowledge and use it to make me "stronger! stronger! stand a little taller!" as Kelly sings and to enjoy a tall cool glass of that lemonade.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation:  Being a mother is my greatest joy.
As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings.  The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer.  Behind us was another walker and her dog.  The mother goose didn't hesitate.  She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies.  

I've been a mother for over 40 years now.  Now, I'm also a grandmother.  My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings.  I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children.  I have an even stronger reaction when I see them holding out their arms for the child to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I'm nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I'm simply an appreciative observer.  

One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out.  She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship.  The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.  Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents.  The research reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage.  I don't remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses.  It's pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects that on which we consider to be the important and I'd rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.

Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it's a "short long journey."  I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it.  Motherhood is work.  It's painful and it's challenging.  It's demanding and it's tiring.  It's frustrating and it's confusing.  It's also an amazing journey.  

As a young mother I was never around family.  Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three.  I never had a support system.  Every time we moved, I was completely on my own.  I didn't have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it truly was.  Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system.  It was easier sometimes than others.  It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely.  Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 26 years go.  We began again.  Now, I live close to most of my family.   

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away.  My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close.  My mom lives nearby and I'm blessed to still have my husband of 45 years in my life.  My youngest is in London but I'm optimistic about her future.

My years of motherhood are not over.  Once a mother, always a mother but this stage, being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing.  While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment.  I can relax in their company.  When I was doing my MSW I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother.  Truly, this has been my life's work.  I wondered how they felt I did.  When I look back I remember each of their births.  I remember all the times they were sick and needed care.  I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes.  I remembered making dinner almost every night.  I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible.  I remember helping with homework and visiting schools.  I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies.  I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses.  I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way.  I hadn't had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn't had any family around to guide me but it appeared I'd done alright.  What did they think?  I was curious and I was brave.  

Yes, it's been a "long short journey."  If I could do it again what would I change?  I wouldn't change much.  If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently.  I'd not clean the house so often.  Occasionally I'd have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening.  I'd read even more stories, hold hands even more often.  I'd sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something.  I'd know this moment will soon be gone and I'd treasure it for the gift it was.  

They were kind to me when they answered my question.  That response alone was an answer in itself.  I'd done OK.  I must have done OK.  They're still hanging out with me.  In fact as I write this today, Mother's Day the family is on their way over.  All except Ellen.  She'll be here next week.  We'll celebrate then.  Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn't change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people.  I've been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Golf & Lessons Learned

Affirmation:  Every life experience leads to wisdom and knowledge.

On June 19th, 2011 Rory McIlroy won the US Open in golf.  I am married to a golfer and my adult son, Joey, has given up sky diving and taken up golf.  (Thank You, Lord!)  Considering Sandy and I have been married for almost 45 years, I have learned a lot about the sport.  I have never considered myself a golfer but I have played golf for over forty years, ever since I married.  Sandy is an amazing golfer.  Truly, his game is superb and it’s such fun to watch him play.     

I use to resent his dedication to this past time. When I had three young children, the time away from the family required by golf and desired by my husband was onerous for me.  But, now with the children grown and on their own, I can see the sport in a different light.  Actually, over the last few summers, I might even occasionally refer to myself as a “golfer.” 

Many years ago I read James Dobson’s, Final Rounds.  It completely changed the way I saw the sport.  It truly was a life changing read.  It helped too that my children were older and I had a little more free time.  But, when I read the memories that he and his dad had collected together, I better understood the appeal of the game.  Golf wasn’t just “a good walk spoiled” as Mark Twain said; it was about so much more.  It was about relationships and adventures and shared experiences.  I took it to heart and started focusing on those aspects and not how many times I was hitting (or swinging) at that little ball.  Yes, something changed. I started having more fun and truly valuing the time I spent with Sandy and now with my son.  Sometimes my daughter-in-law, Belen, joins us on the course as Joey’s chauffeur.  It can be a delightful day and I really have learned to value the experience.

Part of our shared interest lies in occasionally watching the major tournaments with my family.  The US Open is one of them.  The 2011 US Open was especially exciting.  Rory McIlroy (22 years) won. He’s from Northern Island.  Not only did he win but he broke all sorts of records.  He shot 65-66-68-68.  He was as much as 17 under par at one point.  He went into the tournament winning by 8 strokes.  These are unheard of accomplishments. 

That’s all wonderful and exciting but for me it was the story behind his win that touched my heart.  His father was there; it was his Father’s Day present.  The story that emerged was of a family of very hard working people.  His dad had worked as a janitor and when his son showed an interest in golf, he became the bar tender at the golf club so that they could afford his lessons.  When he accepted his award, he didn’t’ leave out his “mum” either.  He said it was because of their hard work and sacrifice that he was there today. 

The media spent a great deal of time talking about this young man’s loss at the 2010 Masters in Augusta.  They kept talking about how he was winning by 4 strokes when the final round began, and then he “fell apart.”  Everyone was amazed that he had pulled himself together so quickly and was doing so well.  Some thought he might never recover from such a devastating loss.  It was one of the questions presented to him several minutes after accepting the US Open trophy.  The announcer asked him to speak about losing the Masters and what that had been like.  Ready?  “The Masters was a very valuable experience for me.  I learned a few things about myself and my game.” 

One day I went to play golf with the “big girls.”  These are the ladies who play golf often and for the most part, quite well.  I was way outside of my comfort zone.

Golf, yoga, and tennis are the three main physical activities in which I’ve participated.  I think there’s so much to learn about myself and sometimes others from watching the behavior that is exhibited during the event, the match.  Concentration, perseverance, balance, forgiveness, humor, humility and graciousness are required of the civil player and many times, more than one aspect at a time is required.
The psychology of 18 holes of golf is again a microcosm of our lives.  How do we interact with others?  Are we kind, considerate, deferential, polite, encouraging?  And, how do we treat ourselves?  Do we berate ourselves when we hit a bad shot?  Are we annoyed when someone else does better?  Can we focus regardless of what else is going on?  What are we thinking about; is it lunch or dinner, or are we present to the experience?  Do we notice not only the condition of the course but the topography, the fresh air and the beautiful vistas?

Whatever we are doing on the golf course, we are repeating in our daily lives.  Our behavior both towards others, ourselves and the experience reflects our behavior through our lives.
Yes, it’s the same in many sports.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see all your faults surface but keep watching, be aware and you’ll be able to notice your strengths too.  Perhaps, it will be as simple as being able to share time with your loved ones, your buddies, a kind partner and when asked how you played, even if the game didn’t go as you had hoped, even though you didn’t feel you played your best game, you answer, “Wow!  I had a great time!” 
Rory McIlroy was much wiser than his 22 years.  It takes some of us a lifetime to discover that every life experience leads to wisdom and knowledge.  It’s all up to us how we perceive it and whether or not we value every single one of them, both the accomplishments and the disappointments.  Like Rory, it can lead us to championship skills, the skills of leading a rewarding, fulfilling life. 

And, just in case you’re curious, I played ok on that outing with the “big girls.”  I would even say, on that day, I was really and truly a “golfer.”