Dignity and joy. . .

Dignity and joy. Remember those words. I always will.

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I have one of those lifetime friends. You know, the kind that may be distant but yet always in your heart. The kind that, no matter how long it’s been since you were face to face, the conversation picks up just where it left off. I am especially blessed, because my forever friend is very, very wise. She is caring for her elderly father-in-law (who is in his 90’s) in her home, and we are caring for my failing 94-year-old mother in ours. One day she described to me how she was trying everyday to give her dear one moments of DIGNITY and JOY.

I’ve thought of those two words a lot since she shared the thought with me. One day she described using an egg carton to start some seeds with “Granddad.” She was anticipating his joy at watching the seedlings sprout and then enjoying the blossoms as they matured and bloomed. She often spoke of having him accompany her on short walks and short errands, just to get out and break up the day.

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We enjoyed much of the same when Mom first moved in with us. Thanksgiving and Christmas were productions, with her first “adult” Christmas stocking hanging on the mantel. She pondered the gifts she would give. The girls all got pearls–not the real kind, but pretty nonetheless. She gave treasured coin collections to the grandsons. She made sure to have some winter gloves and a ski mask for my hunter husband. There was joy.

In the spring we drove to Wye Mountain here in Arkansas to enjoy the fields of daffodils. She loves blooming plants and the variety of daffodils amazed her. Even as we took a wrong turn down a dirt road and traveled through a somewhat questionable area on the wrong side of the mountain, there was joy.

Then things changed. Her mind began to slip ever more quickly. And her frail, stooped, crooked back caused ever more pain. We still try for some joy. She has a tiny flower garden with potted plants just outside the bedroom window that she looks out for much of her day. There’s a Gerbera daisy with bright yellow blooms and a fancy begonia with frilly pink blossoms. And her bird feeder–through which an inordinate amount of birdseed flows, for both the birds and the squirrels. She loves the “red birds” and says she never knew there were so many little wrens.

Now it seems it is time to focus on dignity. She only allows me to help her with her shower, and I guess that’s an example of “turn about-fair play.” After all, she bathed me all those years. She eats her breakfast and lunch in her bed. She says her back is so much more comfortable propped there. But she comes to the table for family dinner. And very slowly and carefully helps clear the table and carefully wipes the table and wants to help dry anything that has to be handwashed. We used to gently protest but I’ve decided that helping clear the meal is a way to allow her dignity. It’s how she cared for her family all those years.

And dignity, of course involves physical comfort, freedom from pain and anxiety and the night terrors she used to have. Hospice is helping with that and doing a fine job. Today after I showered her and trimmed toenails and fingernails she lay on her bed and said, “Oh, that feels so good.” I straightened the room and left her to nap. And I felt good, too.

Dignity and joy. Remember those words. I always will.

Hear my heart. . .

Yesterday I heard a song (while I was driving my grandson’s truck to be serviced—can you believe I would do that?) that really spoke to my heart. Because it reminded me that it’s ok to just be quiet before God. Especially when we’re hurting. And that’s where I was yesterday morning. Trying to go through the motions of “quiet time” that sometimes becomes “busy time.” “Get it done and check it off the list” time. C’mon, you’ve been there once or twice. And I was just hurting and empty and confused.

You see, my mama is ready to die. She tells me she prays everyday that she will be freed from this physical body and its pain. She’s even been angry with God because “He’s not answering my prayers anymore.” And I, in my nurse self, am trying to figure out what to do.

The idea that I should just be quiet so God can hear my heart is Biblical. Because one of my favorite passages in Romans, chapter eight, includes verse 26. It says that the “groanings” of my spirit are made intelligible to God by his Holy Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 ESV

The song goes on to say that even when we are singing praises to God in worship, no matter how fervently and passionately and sincerely we sing, that we should be asking God to, once again, hear our hearts. Because our mere words can never do justice to Him.

I usually write my prayers. But yesterday morning the written part was of the “help me, help me; thank you, thank you” variety. But, as always, in God’s awesome omnipresence, He was there, listening to my heart. And in His wisdom and mercy, He has provided an answer.

And I will praise Him for that, with my heart instead of my words.

Reflecting………

World War II ration books

My beautiful 93-year-old mother came to live with us this past October. She is getting frailer and has some problems with memory. She fills her days with putting photographs in albums and collecting items to donate to the Cleburne County historical society. When I asked about her apparent compulsion to get this done now if not sooner, she said she wanted to do these things before she couldn’t remember. Therefore, these remnants of WWII ration books have come to light. They made me keenly aware of the advantages I have had in this lifetime as contrasted with her life through the Great Depression and WWII.

Her books have several full pages of these blue stamps. She says she thinks they must have been fuel rations because her family did not have a vehicle and didn’t need to buy gasoline. I have Googled as much as I care to and can’t locate a clear description of exactly what the various “stamps” represented.

I think these are food ration stamps.

I have learned that there were stamps for various food items and stamps for various rationing periods. The ration week ran Saturday to Saturday. Mom couldn’t remember what the numbers and letters represented because “Daddy and Momma took care of all that since I was just a teenager.” From reading novels set in WWII I have learned that meat, cheese, butter, and sugar were rationed. Can we even comprehend what it was like to have these items not available any time we want them?

Mom’s family on the “home front”: dad Woodie, mom Eliza, my mother Jessie, her sister Georgia

The oldest sibling, J. B. “Jake” Harmon, was serving with a tank battalion in Europe at this time. I’ll have more about his service later.

All of this made me wonder how the people of our nation would deal with rationing now. It seems that many of us have the perspective that life, this nation, and the government owe us something. Disasters strike and the response is never quick enough or complete enough. We view the privilege of being free and prosperous as ours alone, something we definitely don’t want to share with people from other countries who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their children. The sense of patriotism that was part of day to day life in the 1940s seems to be a thing of the past. Hats off and standing for the national anthem are frequently omitted in various settings.

I have the feeling that today’s population would complain with bitter insistence that we are entitled to better things if faced with the same realities that my mother’s generation accepted as their lot in life. I fear I might be one of those people. Tom Brokaw (in his book The Greatest Generation) said that the men and women of my mother’s generation had values of “personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith” that made them able to defeat Hitler and leave us with the economic affluence, scientific progress, and vision that has made America great. Have we lost touch with those values? Have we lost a sense of appreciation for how far this nation has come? Have we lost the ability to value simple things like truth, right and wrong, and living for some higher calling than our own pleasure?

So, my set of New Year’s resolutions: To start each day with a prayer of gratitude that I have it so good, to live each day trying to be a better person than the day before, and to end each day thanking God that His grace has seen me through the day, no matter the challenges.

What about you? I’d love to read your responses.

What’s in a name-part 2

My sweet mother on her 90th birthday

I didn’t quite finish my musings about names. Because a lot of my thoughts about names and the roles associated with them relate to family. I am blessed to still have my mother with us. She will soon be 93 and, as I observe the decline in her health as she ages, I am reminded that soon I will be the matriarch of this family. But for now my role as daughter is a big part of my life. She is a loving, worrying, steel magnolia of a woman who recognizes that she is failing in both mind and body. And I, as daughter, am there to see her through each minor crisis that arises. My name as daughter is Kathy (when she calls me with the current problem). She speaks it with a tiny upswing in tone at the end of my name, as though it is followed by a tiny question mark. It’s almost as though she wonders if I’m really still here. Perhaps she’s afraid of losing me, losing the anchor that holds her to her role as Mother.

My next name is Nana-girl. That’s what my husband often calls me. Nana because that’s what the grandchildren (3, all grown) call me. I don’t know where the girl comes from. Those days for me are long past. Perhaps in his eyes I am still the younger woman he fell in love with.

Of course, before being Nana I had to be Mommy, Momma, Mom and, sometimes, Mother (with that tone of barely disguised disgust at whatever I was demanding of them.) The choice of motherly name varied with the ages of my children and the situation. I found that during the teenage years the tone of voice often said more than the name I was called. My two living children now treat me with the utmost love and respect. Thank you, Ronnie and Cindy! And I would give anything to hear Daniel once again challenge me not to use my “Nancy-Nurse” voice with him.

,Then came the grandchildren, all grown now, two with children of their own. They made me Nana and I love to hear them call me that, especially when it’s accompanied by a hug and kiss and a murmured “I love you.” They make me proud and make me feel important as a kind of glue holding this family together. That’s where the matriarch concept came to mind.

I, however, created a bit of a conundrum when the first great-grand came along. Multiple generations of grandparents and great-grandparents still living had me convinced that surely there were other Nana’s. So I chose Gigi or G-G (great-grandma). My great-granddaughter and her mom latched on to it, and I feel her little brother will too. But my third great-grand is experiencing name confusion, because his dad calls me Nana while his mom tries to stick with Gigi. And I was ready to go with Nana the day we thought the name was uttered from his 10-month-old lips. I guess they’ll all just have to figure out what to call me as the years progress.

The last name I have is grateful. For all of the above–my mom, my husband, my children, my grands and great-grands. Life would be very empty without them. And this is my message to them–You make me very happy and make my life worth living. Thank you for being the wonderful family you are!

So, what about you, Reader? Have you thought about your names? Professional? Personal? Family? I’d love to know your stories. Because we all have a story, don’t we?