Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dark Memories

Memories surface, unbidden, at the most inopportune times. Most often we are not even attempting to remember, but a smell, an image, a voice, will bring on a memory as if a flood gate has been opened. We cannot stop it. It rolls over us, sweeping us up into the emotion of an event that may have happened years ago. Yet here we are – older and wiser – succumbing to its influence.

Two nights ago, it was a dream that brought back unbidden memories that I wish had stayed buried. The dream was simple – I was being restrained by someone I could not see. My arms were being held down by my side and this person’s heavy, strong arms were around my waist, holding me fast, unable to move. I could not see the face; I could only see the arm that wrapped around the front of me and feel the pressure around my rib cage. The inability to move my arms, to free myself, caused a rise of uncontrollable panic.

I know – it was only a dream. But the images were so vivid that I was struggling in my sleep to release myself from this hold. I woke myself up, struggling to break free of the bonds of sleep, trying to call out to someone to help me. My garbled, muted voice woke me to a darkened room where I was free to move without restraint and peace washed over me with blessed relief.

Immediately my mind asked: where have you experienced this before? The answers rolled through my mind, images from the past, the ugliest rising to the surface like motor oil, slimy and blue/green, rising to the surface of the road as it begins to rain. Life is like that road, taking us to our destination - sometimes smoothly, sometimes not - and always there are those oily segments that aim to distract us, yank us, from our journey with their ugliness. We can continue forward, or we can stop – too long – to examine their depths and drown in them.

By putting these thoughts to paper, I hope to purge them from my soul and bury this dream where it belongs – in the past.

Monday, February 23, 2009


The “official” definition states:

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin, poenitentia
Date: 14th century

1: An act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin;
2: A sacramental rite that is practiced in Roman, Eastern, and some Anglican churches and that consists of private confession, absolution, and a penance directed by the confessor;
3: Something (as a hardship or penalty) resembling an act of penance (as in compensating for an offense).

Personally, I do not believe that penance can or should be inflicted by one person upon another. As stated above, penance is either SELF imposed or a plan of action entered into by the “sinner” and a member of the church (i.e., a priest) for the absolution of sins.

Penance is about confession and absolution. Relationships are about forgiveness. “Making amends” is a method of atonement available to individuals in relationships who hurt and forgive one another.

Penance is about sins that can be deemed to be “marks” against a person’s soul, standing in the church, or standing in society. Between individuals, unless the “crime” is one punishable by law, “making amends” is again, something that should be originated by the person who has hurt/harmed another, not imposed upon someone by another.

I know individuals in relationships who believe they have the right to demand penance from another. I have to wonder how they would react if someone attempted to demand penance from them. How can one demand repentance, penance or forgiveness? Each must be freely given in order to have any true meaning.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Choice of Dying

If I asked how many of you had ever considered initiaing your own death, most of you would deny it. However, the facts are that most of do contemplate the choice between living and dying at some point in our lives. We may not call it "thoughts of suicide", but we do at least consider what life would be like for our loved ones if we were no longer living and/or we consider the pain and problems with which we would no longer have to deal.

I would venture to say that contemplating the choice between life and death is actually a sign of sanity. Those who have not considered the possibilities are either not grounded in reality, thus never getting depressed or frustrated by the trials of life, or are gluttons for punishment. Life, for the most part, is good. Corny, I know - but true nonetheless. But it has its moments of despair that many think will not end or that they will not survive. The strong persist, but is it becuase they are strong or is it because they are afraid?

Depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts, is a treatable disease. Knwoing that should be the hope that pushes that person forward into life - but often that hope is not strong enough to perservere or the person refuses the treatment that could change their lives. Terminal diseases, on the other hand, offer little hope but for a downward spiral into pain and difficulty. Yet, as a society, we feel pity and sorrow for those who commit suicide and declare those who choose euthanasia (or assist it) as criminals. Twisted logic, in my way of thinking.

The issue of choice between life and death will continue to exist for as long as people are of different minds. Who truly has the right to say which is "right"?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is Death Darkness?

The theme remains death. Recently an aunt passed away. She has been "ill" for as long as I can remember - poor circulation in the legs that led to pain and eventually to an almost crippling state of being. Strokes. Progressive physical deterioration. A little over 2 years ago, her doctors told her family that she has 12-14 months to live. She lived double that time. I smile because doctors often believe they know everything and this just proves that they know relatively little in the whole scheme of life and death.

The quality of life, however, in those last years was very poor. I say that because while the body was weak and failing, the mind appeared to be strong. During the last few months, she could little communicate due to the failing body. But the light remained strong in her eyes. What is this quality of life? I imagine a certain amount of fear connected to an alert mind trapped in a body that is betraying one's very existence. To be unable to communicate with those around - about little things, about important things, about nothing - is frightening.

In such a case, is death darkness - or is it amazingly beautiful light? Is living the darkness of the tunnel and death the light at the end? I cannot say. Quality of life is truly up to the individual; however, when the individual can no longer communicate, how can we know whether the quality is sufficient for them? How can we tell when the fear of dying succumbs to the fear of living?

It is a fine line that we walk. Each day we begin anew, never suspecting the moment that could be our last. Is it harder to live or it is harder to die?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Both Sides of Death

Death is unavoidable. From the time we enter this world, we progress towards death.

For some, death holds fear and uncertainty. For others, it is a new beginning. For some, it symbolizes agony; for others, blessed peace.

In my experiences, I have always found the death of others to be painful. I have felt the pain of my own loss, the pain at the process of their dying and their concern of what lies beyond this life, and I have felt the loss of those who loved them.

Today I lost a friend. That is not completely true. While we were not related by blood, she was my family. Twelve years ago I met the neighbors two doors down through their tiny granddaughter. That small child brought us all together in a way that grew to a love for each other and the ability to trust each other as family. It has been a wonderful journey and I cherish these relationships.

However, a little over a year ago, the grandmother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. There was surgery, chemo, radiation...and then another mass was found in the abdomen...then one in the chest. Chemo and radiation waged war against the cancer, but it also attacked her immune system, her mind, the healthy parts of her body. She fought so very hard.

Almost two months ago, the doctors told her there was nothing more that they could do. Her family brought her home to care of her. I have never seen such love. Her daugher moved home to be with her mother while her father was at work. Her husband would come home from work at night and carefully, gently, rub her arms and face with lotion...the gentlest facial massage I had ever witnessed. The love and care that they showered upon her was amazing, touching, heart-warming.

Her decline was rapid and it was only three days ago that she was moved into a hospice center. This afternoon, she died. Her family - her husband, daughter, granddaughter, sisters - had all been with her, laughing and talking, trying to keep an air of normalcy to the family love that filled the room. She was unable to respond. It was not 15 minutes after they left that she passed from this life. Her daughter says that she was simply waiting for them to leave, enjoying her last moments with them.

I entered her room only a few moments after she was gone and sat with her until her husband could return. When I close my eyes, I can see her face as it used to be - full, white smile, sparkling eyes, glowing skin, full of personality instead of pain. I know that she is at peace and I also feel that she is filled with joy.

The next days will be painful because we all will grieve her loss and the pain of each of us will overflow, drenching us all in not only our grief, but that of the rest. Through this pain, we will all heal. For the first time, my pain is not tied to the pain of the deceased. I continue to see her smiling face and know that she is well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Homeless at the Laundromat

Recently I began doing my laundry at the local laundromat because of a problem with the pipes in my house. I must admit that the public laundromat is a learning experience. There is a wide variety of people who use the Laundromat for a wide variety of reasons. This statement was never truer than this past Saturday morning.

My daughter and I got to the laundromat early in order to beat the crowd. Our clothes were 2/3 of the way through the wash cycle when a homeless man in a wheelchair wheeled himself through the doors. He had a small bag of clothes in his lap. Being the only people in the laundromat, he approached us and asked to borrow enough laundry detergent to do one load of clothes. He had an empty Pepsi bottle in his hand and I poured it half full, to which he quickly and happily told me he would be able to do his laundry several times with this amount.

He wheeled himself to a corner and began talking to himself. I paid little attention until I caught two sentences: “I am wearing the only clothes I own. I am going to wash everything I own.” He wheeled himself to the bathroom and I glanced at my daughter. She confirmed that she had heard the same thing.

In about five minutes, he exited the bathroom, using the wheelchair as a walker, all of his clothing in a pile on the seat. He was “dressed” in a red, sheer, rain poncho and the wheelchair was strategically placed in front of his body. He continued to talk to himself: “Be careful how you move. Watch how you sit. Watch how you turn. Don’t want to show anyone anything.” He loaded his clothes into the washer with the chair at his side to block him from the view of others. Once his clothes were in the washer, he sat on one of the chair with his legs crossed and his arms crossed over his lap, his wheelchair in front of him.

His careful attempts to avoid displaying himself and his daunting chatter continued throughout the process of washing his clothes. Once he had added his laundry detergent into the machine, he returned to the bathroom to “take a bath. Wish I had a private bath to use, but this will do.”

In the meantime, other people had entered the laundromat and while they were aware of the situation, they tried their best to ignore it. One young father came in with his very young son. When he realized what was going on, he volunteered to stay with the laundry and sent his wife and son back home.

When I told a good friend about the incident, she wanted to know why I had not called the police. A better question would be, “Why would I?” The man was obviously not in his right mind and was definitely more than a little down on his luck. All he wanted was clean clothes, and he had no other way to obtain them. He was very careful not to expose himself and was very conscious of the repercussions of such exposure. He left everyone alone and – while his actions were definitely inappropriate – he caused as little disturbance as possible. The truth is, the man needed medical/mental attention, not the police. The only thing the police would have done would be take him to jail. That would have solved nothing. Instead, we all gave him the only things we could – a little laundry detergent, a look in the opposite direction, and the refusal to humiliate him further.

I have to admit that I was not comfortable with the situation. I wasn’t. In fact, I am not sure I would have stayed to dry my laundry if other patrons had not begun to fill the laundromat. The old axiom, “Safety in numbers”, eased my mind a bit.

What filled me most, however, was sadness. We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we have people who live in the “land of opportunity” who sleep in their wheelchairs in an alley or out-of-the-way doorway in the middle of winter and have to get naked in a laundromat in order to have clean clothes. There has to be something more we can do to right these wrongs.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Balance of Motherhood

Both of my daughters were home for Christmas and I cannot begin to tell you how much happiness flooded my heart while there were here. The oldest lives 600 miles away and the youngest attends college approximately 200 miles away. I have not seen the oldest since her sister’s high school graduation this past June and I was longing to see her face and hold her close.

As it turned out, my oldest brought a surprise along with her in the form of a fiancĂ©e. She is very excited about this new phase of her life and she seems to be very happy. They are planning on getting married in October 2009. I am happy for her and I would like to be ecstatically happy for her; however, there is a part of me, deep within my heart, that remembers some of the losers that have made their way into her life in the past. If they didn’t hurt her physically, they damaged her spirit and her self-confidence. There was more than one to whom I wished great evil! There is nothing about this new man that makes me think he is the same way. But I have only spent two days with him and we all know that the true nature of a person cannot be revealed in such a short time span. They live so far away that the possibility of me spending any extended amount of time with them before the wedding is slim. So I have to trust that she will tell me if she is unhappy or if there is a problem. I pray that she will know that she can trust me with such intimate thoughts.

My youngest is working on her college degree and has no time for matters of love. Or so she says. I have known for over a year now that she is “in love” with a young man that she calls a friend and for whom she quickly denies any other feelings. Yet the mention of his name makes her smile and she loves it when he holds her hand. She has been denying him a kiss for some time now and he is a very patient young man when it comes to my youngest. Tenacious, too. He finally won out this past weekend when she was home from college and got his kiss. Just admitting to the kiss made her blush! He says that he is going to make the trip to see her at college on her birthday and the excitement in her voice is genuine. I do believe that my sweet girl is going to have to admit that she, too, has emotions.

It is hard on a mother to watch her children from a distance as they explore life. Part of being a mother is about protecting your children – and as they grow older, they either do not need or do not want our protection. Our hearts remain vulnerable to their pain and yet there is no longer anything we can do to stop it from happening. All we can do is hold them in our arms and help them to learn from their mistakes when the pain comes.

There is a bright spot to this, also!! We, as their mothers, also get to experience, albeit vicariously, the joy of their explorations of life, the exhilaration of new “finds”, and the adventure of new experiences. I am blessed because my daughters do share their lives with me – the good and the bad – and we are able to laugh and cry as appropriate together. My heart soars over their new achievements and their new discoveries. This is the reward for the pain. This is the triumph for the sacrifice.

I am so happy to be a mother. I am truly blessed with two wonderful young women with whom I can share this amazing life!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Darkness of Senseless Death

Nothing good ever comes from the phone ringing after midnight.

The week before Christmas, our phone rang and dread filled my veins. The near hysterical voice on the other end of the line informed me that a friend’s son had been killed in a motorcycle accident. To make matters worse, this was her only son, her only child, with whom she was very close. We are also friends with other members of the family and their suffering has been very difficult. I have struggled with feelings of helplessness as I watch and can do nothing to ease their pain. Additionally, his best friend killed in the accident.

Could it get worse than this? Never ask that question.

It seems there were quite a few witnesses to the accident, since the two were riding with a group. The investigation into the accident is not complete; however, it looks as if it may not have been quite so much an accident as poor judgment made with malicious intent. Apparently there was a verbal altercation which ended in a high speed chase and the decision to put a very large obstacle in the path of these two young men, making it impossible for them to stop in time to avoid the collision.

I cannot imagine the pain that our friends feel. I have children and when I think of losing either of them, my heart leaps with panic. I push the thoughts swiftly from my mind in order to avoid a deeper, consuming fear. To deal with those emotions in reality – the loss, the pain, the raw emptiness – I can only imagine would be unbearable.

Yet, every one of them gets up each morning and pushes on. The mother has managed to push through each day since her loss with dignity. Her heart continues to break, I am sure, yet she has not given up. She understands how much her son loved life and to give up would be an insult to his memory. I admire her strength and her tenacity. I pray that she has a strong support system for the times when she feels weak and wishes to withdraw. I hope that she has close relationships with those who will be willing to smile with her and even laugh when others might find it “inappropriate.” My heart goes out to her with a wish that she be able to find peace of mind, joy in the celebration of her son’s life, and the ability to recover the beauty of her own existence.