Adulting, elder care, family, Gangrene Gables, grief and loss

Harbinger of Doom

 

Me: I just spoke with the lung doctor – I have a prognosis.
Sharon: Guess we all will be chatting later today then?
Me: Want the blunt version or wait for me to call tonight
Sharon: I’m all for blunt.
Me: Eric?
Eric: Whichever is fine. My prognosis is 2-5 hours if she keeps this attitude.
Sharon: Lol
Me: 6 months – year
Eric: Wow. That changes things a bit.
Me: I cried. Now I feel better and feel like we need to make plans. The lung doctor will see her this week and give her a prognosis
Eric: Good that it’ll be coming from him.
Sharon: I agree. This changes everything.
Me: Alright I need to go back to class and be grown up

As a pastor, Mom helped walk quite a few people from this life into the next. She had been there when a mother told her young son that his father had died, she had helped people share with their loved ones that they didn’t have much time left on this side of eternity, and she had cared for countless families in their grief, and had always taken time with them so she could write a eulogy that was extremely personal. Some of those times were sweet and meaningful; occasionally they were not. Mom recounted a tale of a family watching Baywatch while their loved one was lying in the bed next to them in the last hours of life. We joking asked her, “Well what do you want us watching when we tell you that you’re dying.” Mom’s response was Young Frankenstein, her favorite movie. Don’t judge! Mom wasn’t always a pastor. From that day on, long before Mom even got sick, we would joke that we were going to regularly put Young Frankenstein on and then call mom into the room to tell her, “We need to talk.”

In addition to Power of Attorney for all underwear related things, I gained a new title, Harbinger of Doom. I had been the one tasked with the responsibility of gathering my siblings and heading home the night my Dad passed away, although at the time the call came all we knew was that Dad had been in an accident. I spent hours on the phone that Easter weekend calling straight through our phonebook trying to reach friends and family. I was the one that sat down just over a year ago and explained to Mom that while we didn’t have a prognosis for her illness, the more generic prognosis via the internet was 3-5 years with a range of less than a year to 13 years. I was the one that finally forced the doctor’s hand into giving us a prognosis for Mom, so I would be the one to tell Mom what he said.

I called the lung specialist while on lunch break, hoping to catch him. He returned my call after I had returned to class, but fortunately I was assisting another teacher at that moment and was able to step out and take the call. I stood there in the entrance to my school, between the two sets of doors where I would have privacy, cell signal, and protection from the elements. He explained that no one really knows when these things will happen and how quickly or slowly the disease will progress. I told him we weren’t going to hold him to it, but we didn’t know how to plan without some idea. I told him that Mom recalled the other specialist talking about her lungs being a miracle, and being convinced she had at least ten years. I said we needed to be thinking about nursing care, assisted living, etc. and two years or ten years made a big difference. That’s when he said, “Six months to a year.” I thanked him, went to the staff room and cried. Another teacher comforted me as I gave in to the grief that had been growing for over a year since the diagnosis came through. The people I work with have always been incredibly supportive. When I did return to class, the teacher who had been teaching my class at that time asked me if I was okay. All I could do was shake my head no. I sat down and sent him an email explaining. Before he even got the email he had offered to come back during his prep period in an hour and cover my class for me. I declined but with much gratitude. Teaching has always been a comfort to me. I can shut out most of the struggles of my outside life, and it offers me a respite from the trials.

Harbinger of Doom            That evening my siblings and I would gather at the rehab and give Mom the news. It would be hard. It felt a little like role reversal, telling your parent about their life and helping them to navigate this road. How many times had my parents nursed me to health, helped me walk through break ups, or advised me on the best paths to take for my future. Here we were returning that favor to Mom. We were gentle, but blunt. I delivered the basic news and offered to further explain what the doctor has said, which wasn’t much. Mom cried. We cried. We were sorry we hadn’t brought Young Frankenstein.

Eric: Barb, if you are coming tonight, we should meet in the lobby and all go in together, I think.
Me: Almost there
Eric: I am at the intersection outside of the center. I will be there in 30 seconds.
Me: Overachiever. Did you bring Young Frankenstein?
Eric: I forgot.

 

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Christian, gifts from God, marriage

Marriage: Having Each Other’s Back

I wish I could say that I have total faith in God and His strength to carry me through any difficult circumstance that comes my way. The truth, however, is that I rely far too often on the flesh and blood people around me when times get tough. I have an amazing support system of family and friends, which I thank God for. Truth be told, I feel like I could handle almost anything with God and Jay. The struggles we have seen are not for the faint of heart. The strength of our marriage is in part due to the sheer need to cleave to one another as we pass from hardship to hardship. It is something we have done well these past 20 years (though far from perfectly). When I look back on the last few years, the hardest and most terrible moments had less to do with the circumstances we were going through and more with the state of our marriage in the midst. I have grieved many things in the past 20 years, from both of my parents to one of our children, and from my  dreams to my sense of self. I have confronted many trials and worked through many hurts, but there has yet to be a pain that cannot in some way be softened once wrapped in the arms of Jay. There is something about knowing that there is someone whose primary role in life, before any other earthly job, is to have your back. I suspect that it is this mutual goal that makes our marriage strong. It isn’t about seeing eye to eye (though that’s always a nice treat) or everything around us being perfect (it never will be). It isn’t about evenly dividing the chores (though that helps ease some burdens) or trying to meet each other’s every need (we can’t). It’s about “where two or more are gathered,” and one person lifting up the other who has fallen. It is a three-strand marriage, and it is very good.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him- a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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ministry, prayer, social justice

Living Passionately With Boundaries

In Father of The Bride (1991), George Banks (played by Steve Martin) is talking with his daughter’s ex-fiancé following a dramatic break-up scene. George is trying to smooth things over when he says, “Annie’s a very passionate person. And passionate people tend to overreact at times.” He is using the word “passionate” as a nice way of saying she is a little crazy at times. After seeing this movie, my husband started using the term to describe me. He uses the word a lot.

While my passion is selective, it is impossible for me to only partially commit. This applies to a project I am working on, but not to cleaning my house; which at times can be problematic.

“You need help with summer camp, sure I can help and of course I will plan the activities for my station and buy goat to roast over the open fire. “

easter eggs

“Why yes, my mouth is all bruised and swollen. I was blowing out 2 dozen eggs for my 1st graders to hand paint as a lesson on Russia. “

“We’re taking a trip to New Orleans (from New Jersey), so I planned a few other stops not too far out of the way like, say, Austin, Texas.”

“You know, these lesson plans had a great idea for making food from ancient Egypt, I bet I could do that with every place and time we study. I just need a map and I can check off the countries as I cook.”

 

My husband has just gotten used to these crazy ideas, God bless his soul. Our house is filled with crazy things like a miniature steam engine, wood burning tools, painted backdrops of volcanoes and jungles, and quill pens all because, “I might need them for a lesson some day.” (and I DO!) Our kids eat whatever is put on the table and have simply requested I not tell them where it’s from. Our road trips are EPIC!

The problem comes when I get passionate about something, but I can’t do anything about it. I become conflicted. I mull it over in my mind ad infinitum. That was the case for me with issues of justice in the world that I was seeing: slavery, poverty, violence, inner-city education, oppression of women, and the list goes on and on. Before I could even wrap my head around one problem I would learn about another problem. These are all vast issues with many facets, often deeply entrenched in culture and religion. Sometimes the depravity of what I was seeing would haunt my thoughts day and night.

I felt helpless, conflicted, and at times almost paralyzed or apathetic, because how could things change?

How does one live passionately with tasks so overwhelming? How does a passionate person not burnout when confronting immeasurable injustice and oppression around the world? How?

 

I’ve found myself at times caught in a downward spiral of anguish over some injustice. I’d get stuck in learning about some horror and I couldn’t let go.  I needed boundaries. 

Boundaries I have found helpful:

  1. Everything in life must be centered on Christ. This is both a reminder to myself and the crux of my being. I can only fight injustice when I understand the Creator of justice, when my mind is renewed by Him DAILY, and when I am strengthened by the Holy Spirit who resides within me. I forget this truth often and must be reminded of it regularly.
  2. I don’t watch/read the news. Not that I don’t keep up with world events and politics, but I limit my consumption. I don’t need to read every news report on every child molester. Nor do I need to hear every survivor’s tragic tale to be informed. I don’t need to see everything for myself. You just can’t un-see something. Sometimes less really is more.
  3. “Look for the helpers,” just like Mr. Rogers said. I read of rescuers, of survivors, and of hope as much as possible so I can envision the change I am working towards.
  4. “When I was a boy and I would see scaryI surround myself with supportive, faithful Christians who lift me in prayer, teach me the Word, and hold me accountable. A safety net is a must.

 

If you’re going to join in the fight for justice you need to set up some boundaries. You aren’t any good to the fight if you are worn down and feel defeated. Your boundaries might be different from mine. You might need to steer clear of some particular injustice. Don’t feel bad. You aren’t alone. Someone else will take up where you aren’t called to be. Take the time to set up boundaries now before you get too entrenched in this battle.

 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.-1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook-2

 

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