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.

Ambushed. . .

ambush2

Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.