Everything is Grace

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Mom went home to Heaven, on March 25, 2017 at 7:40 pm. She had just turned 74 years old. She was surrounded by all of us who dearly loved her, and passed away very peacefully.

Mom had a stroke a few days prior, and lost her ability to speak. A true gift was that she was able to clearly say three words, “I love you”, until the day before she died. We said it often and in many ways, telling her how proud we were of her and how much we treasured her.

A treasured memory for me, was at one point after I said, “I love you, mom” she responded, “I love you…so so so so so”, struggling to get it all out. I interrupted and asked, “You love me so much?” And without missing a beat, she replied, “YA”.

I was lying with her, my head next to hers, stroking her beautiful face, telling her to let go and take her angel’s hand, when she quietly slipped away into eternity.

She blessed us all with her brilliant, beautiful smile until that last day, which was another treasured gift. There were so many grace filled moments throughout her dying, that were a deep comfort for us all.

During this past week, the music of Christian artist, Matt Maher (specifically the album, Saints and Sinners) has been a great comfort for me. I was particularly drawn to his song, “Everything is Grace”. As I listened to it over and over, it dawned on me that this was something that St. Therese of Lisieux had written about in her diary. Sure enough, when I looked it up, Matt had written this song while inspired by the life of St Therese.

Here is what Matt said on his blog about writing this song:

“One of my favorite saints was St. Therese of Lisieux, ‘The Little Flower.’ She was born in France and entered the convent at a very young age and died of tuberculosis in her early 20s. Years after her death, they found her diary. In Catholicism, she’s considered a spiritual giant; a heavyweight. She had a spiritual practice called ‘The Little Way,’ and everything she did, she did it with the utmost level of intentionality, whether it was sweeping floors or washing dishes or making beds or cleaning bed pans. She offered a great quote that said, ‘Everything is grace. Everything is a direct result of the Father’s love for us. So no matter the difficulties you face, however trivial or serious, they’re basically all an opportunity.’ You reach a point in your journey where all of a sudden things start going wrong in life and it’s OK. Everything is grace. Everything is an opportunity. Eleven years ago, I wrote ‘ Your Grace Is Enough,’ and 11 years later, it’s still the case.”

I started this blog seven years ago (2010) with a post about St. Therese of Lisieux. It was her feast day, and at the time I was reading her diary, Story of a Soul. St. Therese and her story, is one of the reasons why I named this blog, Caregiving with Grace.

St. Therese had a profoundly deep and persevering faith. She suffered a great deal in her life, yet always tried to maintain such a joy and grace about her. That strength stemmed directly from her intense love for her Lord, and trust in all of his ways.

Here is an excerpt from her Story of a Soul:

“Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events – to the heart that loves, all is well.”

What I wanted to convey through this blog, more than ANYTHING is this:

That throughout all of the darkness AND light of our lives, God’s grace is always present and available to us.

Mom’s journey was filled with much difficulty and suffering. Yet, throughout it all, God was always calling for us to search Him out and rely on His mercy, Grace, and peace. She and I didn’t always listen or respond (right away, anyway), but we always tried to have faith and hope.

For over 25 years, mom suffered with various debilitating illnesses. I, along with my family, suffered along with her, as we struggled with knowing how to best help her. Her illnesses separated her from us, as they slowly robbed her of her physical abilities, her ability to reason, and her memories.

For 31 years, I have felt a pervasive loneliness at being separated from my mom in one respect or another, either physically or mentally. We were very close friends, and our love for one another was always deep, yet I always struggled with desiring for her to live her best life. I received therapy and medical intervention to help me cope, but what consistently got me through was living an active prayer life.

Those deep valleys taught me and tested my faith (and hers), more than anything else ever could. We gained countless lessons in humility and compassion. We learned what unconditional love and mercy looks and feels like. We learned how to persevere in great pain and adversity, and how to get up again and again against all odds. We learned that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and in fact, our sufferings can become opportunities to develop a closer relationship with Him.

As a Catholic, I believe whole heartedly in the concept of Redemptive Suffering. We believe that Christ came into the world as the redeemer, the One who willingly suffered and died (and rose again) in reparation of the sins of mankind.

We are ALSO called to believe that we humans have the power to share in his Redemptive suffering. By the sufferings in His human nature during the passion, by which mankind was redeemed, Christ gave to all suffering experienced in the member of his mystical body, a redeeming power when accepted and offered up in union with his passion.

Many scripture passages support this idea, Romans 8: 18, 28, 38, being a personal favorite:

“What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared to all with the glory that is going to be revealed in us…We know that all things work for good for those who love God…For I am convinced that neither life nor death…nor future things, nor powers nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”

Some others are: “Whoever follows me must take up his cross (Mt 10:38)

“Therefore we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal wight of glory beyond all comparison.” (II Cor 4:16)

“With Christ, I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:19-20)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col:24)

And another favorite from Romans 5:1-5:

“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in our sufferings, knowing the suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

I have prayed for most of these 30 plus years for our sufferings to be united to the sufferings of Christ, and it gives me a profound comfort and peace knowing that no prayer is ever wasted. The answers to our prayers do not always look the same as the answers God wills for us, but that is what we learn when our faith is tested over time.

As I matured in my prayer life, I found that my desperate pleas for healing became transformed into desires for the acceptance of God’s will. Many times we went through very tough challenges and it was only afterwards that we saw that God had worked things out in His own unique way.

Those times help to build up trust for the times when things just can’t seem to make any earthly sense to us. Prayer helps us to stay connected to that trust and to not lose sight of the bigger pictures of love and redemption.

This won’t be my last post, but I will only write a few more. I plan on pursuing the next stages of my life in the areas of teaching kids and deepening my religious studies. I may possibly go into spiritual direction, pastoral ministry, or teaching religion. I’ve been praying for a LONG time for God to help me decide. I have even thought about hospice work. Prayers are appreciated to help me narrow it down! Whatever I do, I trust God will use me in the best ways that He sees fit.

And I have no doubt that I will have my mama’s spirit right along side me helping me along the way.

Matt Maher’s song “Everything is Grace”:

https://youtu.be/0YGS5l3J4jA

“The Waiting”

The evening tide is falling fast

My feet are weary

But I’m free at last

So meet me in the tomb my Lord

Come roll away

Roll away the stone

And this is the mystery

Death bows to

The King of Kings

He has overcome the grave

For the sinners and the saints

 

Matt Maher’s song “The Waiting/Because He lives”:

https://youtu.be/IKT0xTBWM8Q

Broken, together 

The following song speaks of the beauty in suffering and the redemptive power in embracing and accepting our trials and painful life circumstances. It speaks of a marriage relationship, but for me, it speaks of my relationship with my mom. 

Many times throughout this journey I have spent my time trying to out maneuver and escape my mom’s and my own suffering. I have made excuses of why I can’t visit her that week, or attend to a phone call needing to be made. I have justified why my many reasons are valid and good. I say I need to protect my mental health. At times, frequent visits can causes deep depressions, so limiting visits to once every week or two can help. But, the problem with excuses is, the more I make them, the easier they are to except. And consequently, the more I seem to make them. Two weeks can easily become three or four. 

The realily is that after those visits, I am mostly left feeling grateful. I am grateful for how God intervened 7 years ago, and helped us transition mom to a nursing home, which ultimately got her sober and clean. Yes, it’s true, that alcohol and pills partly caused her early decline into dementia and kidney disease. But, if mom had not entered into the care center at that time, I have no doubts that she would’ve died very soon. 

I am so much closer to truly accepting and embracing mom for who she is, was, and will become. As the song says, we were never meant to be complete (this side of heaven anyway), but we can be broken together. And that is OK, and yes, even good. We can bring our true, loving selves, and offer one another what we have to give. Our pride is stripped down, when continually faced with confusion and vulnerability. We have become more open to give and receive love and gratitude. 

I have so much more of my true mom now, then I did when she was abusing chemicals. She isn’t obsessed with getting her next fix. Instead, she is present in the moment, or as much as she can be. She isn’t always sure of where she is, but she is spirited, joyful and loving. And very expressive. My children have the gift of sharing love with their grandma throughout their formative and early teen years. They have gained a greater sense of compassion and sensitivity to those with illness and vulnerabilities. 

Recently, I’ve taken her to the dermatologist, who diagnosed her with multiple spots of skin cancer (not deadly melanoma), some of which will probably need to be dug out, because otherwise they won’t ever fully heal. She has bravely dealt with the pain of all those biopsies taken, and now she will need to endure more. I pray for the courage and strength to help her in her brokenness, as I try my best to keep my brokenness together. 

And I pray for the grace to be grateful to God for allowing us to be Broken, together. 

What do you think about when you look at me? I know we’re not the fairytale you dreamed we’d be. You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand. And we dove into a mystery.

How I wish we could go back to simpler times, Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light.
Now on this hallowed ground, we’ve drawn the battle lines. Will we make it through the night?

It’s going to take much more than promises this time. Only God can change our minds.

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete.

Could we just be broken together? If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine.

Could healing still be spoken and save us?

The only way we’ll last forever is broken together

How it must have been so lonely by my side. We were building kingdoms and chasing dreams and left love behind.

I’m praying God will help our broken hearts align and we won’t give up the fight.

Infinitesimal

 

I feel so infinitesimal

gazing up at these infinite cosmos

Stars are light years away, Their glimmer lagging far behind

  Trailing strands of almost forgotten brilliance

Stars don’t shine, they scintillate

Light retracting through moving pockets of warm and cool air

Shifting through the turbulent atmosphere

Much like our shaky & unpredictable lives, 

Shaped by moments of intensity

Sharp, deep, landscapes of gut wrenching sorrows

  And sweet, sweet succulent joys

Depression: A Catholic Perspective

I have suffered with bouts of serious depression since my early childhood, and so I am particularly aware of and interested in this issue. It is a pervasive problem in our society, and one that needs increased attention and education in order for positive change to occur.

Depression runs in my family. Evidence has shown that there is a strong biological link to clinical depression, and so, a number of years ago I turned to medication as a last resort to combatting the debilitating symptoms of depression (and anxiety).

I found great relief from finding the right medication (it can take awhile) and combined with psychotherapy, I have been able to get to a stable and healthy place in my life.

Another thing that has greatly helped me is maintaining an active faith life. Prayer and meditation have helped to combat pervasive feelings of hopelessness and despair, as well as attending church services and being involved in a church community of believers.

I have also been greatly enriched and healed by practicing the Sacraments of the Catholic faith, particularly Eucharist and Reconciliation. I’m not perfect (my husband can attest to this 🙂 so I “fall of the wagon” at times with regards to being consistent in my practices, but my faith will always remain important no matter how many times I may briefly fall away.

I came across this great book and podcast today featuring the author (psychiatrist and professor at UC Irvine ) speaking on this important issue. I really appreciate the multifaceted approach he takes and how he talks of the compassionate stance the Catholic Church takes regarding depression, suicide, and mental illness in general. I am looking forward to reading it and I highly recommend listening to the podcast!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933184760/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=7005841480&hvqmt=b&hvbmt=bb&hvdev=m&ref=pd_sl_5xm6c1417x_b

A Closer Look – Apr 28, 2015

Forgiveness

Not just
A single moment
In time

Or a long awaited
Olive branch
Extended

But, a lifetime
Of moments

Expertly etched
by Grace

Glimmering facets
Made more brilliant

Depending
on the angle
Of the sun

Shining within

Painful memories
Blended &
Reconciled
With the truth

Of our Universal Human
Brokenness

A song here
A sermon there

All offering
Truth, love,
And mercy

Healing gifts
And salves
Mending
Our injured, bleeding
Hearts

Setting us free….

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When I Leave the Room

Caregiving with Grace

My mom’s home now for the last six years has been a little room that consists of a bed, chair, two dressers and a bedside table. The world of a person with dementia becomes smaller and smaller as the disease progresses. Memory falls away for the places and people that he or she were once attached to or dearly treasured.

At first it bothered me when mom lost her memory of her beloved lake home, where she lived prior to moving to the care center. She remembers her childhood home well, which is often the case with dementia.

It took me a long while to adjust to her new cramped physical space and call it “home” (she does not, as she frequently tells me “please take me home”.) I went through all the regular grieving stages of loss (still do) of denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, & depression as each new…

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“Still Alice” speech

I recently finished reading the book, “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. It is also now a nominated film, which is currently playing in theaters. It is a moving story, and is told through Alice’s voice, which gives one a very interesting perspective on what it may feel like to be living with dementia.

The following excerpt is my favorite part of the book. It is a speech that Alice gives at a dementia care conference. It is real, raw and powerful and relates how above all, those who live with dementia have a soul and spirit that transcends the ravage effects of this horrible disease.

“Good morning. My name is Dr. Alice Howland. I am not a neurologist or general practice physician, however. My doctorate is in psychology. I was a professor at Harvard University for 25 years. I taught courses in cognitive psychology, I did research in the field on linguistics, and I lectured all over the world. I am not here today, however, to talk to you as an expert in psychology or language. I’m here today to talk to you as an expert in Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t treat patients; run clinical trials, study mutations in DNA, or counsel patients and their families. I am an expert in this subject because, just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m honored to have this opportunity to talk with you today, to hopefully lend some insight into what it’s like to live with dementia. Soon, although I’ll still know what it is like, I’ll be unable to express it to you. And too soon after that, I’ll no longer know I have dementia. So what I have to say today is timely.

We, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are not utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended periods of lucidity. Yet we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our former lives. I no longer work at Harvard. I no longer read and write research articles or books. My reality is completely different from what it was not long ago. And it is distorted. The neural pathways I use to try to understand what you are saying, what I am thinking, and what is happening around me are gummed up with amyloid. I struggle to find the words I want to say and often hear myself saying the wrong ones. I can’t confidently judge spatial distances, which means I drop things and fall down a lot and can get lost two blocks from my home. And my short term memory is hanging on by a couple of frayed threads. I’m losing my yesterdays. If you ask me what I did yesterday, what I saw, and felt and heard, I’d be hard pressed to give you details. I’d guess a few things correctly. But I don’t really know. I don’t remember yesterday or the yesterday before that.

I have no control over which yesterdays I keep and which ones get deleted. This disease will not be bargained with. I often fear tomorrow. What if I wake up and I don’t know who my husband is? What if I don’t know where I am or recognize myself in the mirror? When will I no longer be me? Is the part of my brain that’s responsible for my unique ‘meness’ vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins, and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer’s? I believe it is.

Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is like being branded with a Scarlet A. This is now who I am, someone with dementia. This was how I would, for a time; define myself and how others continue to define me. But I am not what I say or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that. I am a wife, mother, and friend. I still feel, understand, and am worthy of the love and joy in those relationships. I am still an active participant in society. My brain no longer works well, but I use my ears for unconditional listening, my shoulders for crying on, and my arms for hugging others with dementia.
Through an early-stage support group, through the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International, by talking to you today, I am helping others with dementia live better with dementia. I am not someone dying. I am someone living with Alzheimer’s. I want to do that as well as I can possibly do.

Please don’t look at our Scarlet A’s and write us off. Look us in the eye, talk directly to us. Don’t panic or take it personally if we make mistakes, because we will. We will repeat ourselves, we will misplace things and we will get lost. We will forget your name and what you said two minutes ago. We will also try our hardest to compensate for and overcome our cognitive losses. I encourage you to empower us, not limit us. If someone has a spinal cord injury, if someone has lost a limb or has a functional disability from a stroke, families and professionals work hard to rehabilitate that person, to find ways to cope and manage despite these losses. Work with us. Help us develop tools to function around our losses in memory, language and cognition. Encourage involvement in support groups.

My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow, doesn’t mean that I did not live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today did not matter.

I am no longer asked to lecture about language at universities and psychology conferences all over the world. But here I am before you today, giving what I hope is the most influential talk of my life. And I have Alzheimer’s disease. Thank you” – Alice Howland

This is a beautiful song written for those with dementia…