That Out of Body Feeling

out of body

It was December and we were looking forward to a wonderful holiday. My daughter Catherine who was living in Chicago had delivered twins in October and we were excitedly anticipating her visit with the babies on Christmas Eve. It had been a glorious year during which my nephew had married a wonderful young woman and we had all celebrated at his wedding. Then without warning things began to unravel terribly.

I was at school when my principal called me into his office to deliver the grim news that my mother-in-law was at the hospital. She had apparently had a stroke. I only half listened to his attempts to support me. My mind was racing a million miles away. I vaguely recall laughing off his concerns and telling him that my mother-in-law was a tough women who would most assuredly be fine. I almost laughed when he asked if I needed to have someone drive me to the hospital. I was tough. I had weathered many family tragedies. It seemed silly to think that I would require some sort of assistance.

I called each of my daughters to tell them what had happened and talked with my husband who was on a business trip at the time. We all remained calm in the belief that our beloved “Granny” would survive her latest ordeal. We knew she was a very strong woman even though she stood only five feet tall. She was the rock of the family who wasn’t supposed to live past her teen years. Somehow she had persisted and proven one doctor after another wrong. We believed that she would ultimately be just fine.

I picked up my daughter who lived nearby and together we made the trip to the hospital where the news was more dire than we had expected. My mother-in-law had gone into a coma. The doctor told me to call my husband and urge him to get on the first plane home. He explained that there was nothing more the doctors might do. Suddenly I felt the full gravity of the situation and I began calling family members to tell them what had happened. It was a grim task.

We began a death watch, sitting in my mother-in-law’s hospital room seeing her breathe as though she was in a deep sleep. She looked so peaceful and beautiful that it was impossible to believe that she was nearing death. A ray of hope stayed alive in my soul because I knew that she had proven the medical community wrong so many times before. I could not imagine our family surviving without her. She was our glue, the person who brought us together and provided us with wisdom and strength.

I suppose that I was hoping for some incredible miracle without ever thinking of how her entire life had been a miracle. As the hours and then the days passed we rarely left the confines of the hospital as a parade of friends and family came to express their love. When we did allow ourselves to leave for brief moments it felt as though we were trapped in a never ending out of body experience. The lights and decorations of Christmas seemed somehow out of place. The smiling faces of people celebrating the holiday season seemed our of sync. I recall feeling quite alone in my grief, a sadly all too familiar state of mind that had visited me upon my father’s sudden death and during the many times when my mother’s bipolar disorder took her away from us.

My mother-in-law’s passing was peaceful but that feeling of being at odds with the entire universe followed me throughout the rest of the season. Somehow we stumbled through her funeral and found a way to gather together on Christmas day. I remember thinking that the whole world was rejoicing at the very moments when we were the most bereft. It was an incredibly lonely feeling. At the time it seemed as though we had suddenly lost our way as a family and that nothing would ever feel right again.

It’s been sixteen years since my mother-in-law left this earth and we did indeed survive. I still think of her often and miss her sage advice and calming presence. I sometimes wonder how she might advise me when I am faced with a difficult situation. Somehow I still hear her voice whispering to me and telling me what I need to know. Her presence is not nearly as far away as I had imagined it would be.

I have become more aware of those who are suffering around me. I see them even when my own life is bursting with joy. I realize that at any given moment in time there are others who are wondering how it is possible for everyone to be so happy when they are bearing great burdens. I try not to ignore them simply because I am busy. I realize how difficult it is to be living in the midst of tragedy when everyone else appears to be so happy.

After my mother-in-law died it was in the gestures of people who took the time to show that they cared that I found the strength to soldier forward. I realized that their acts of kindness meant the world to me. They had stopped their Christmas revelries just long enough to let me know that they understood my sorrow. I have never forgotten them.

Regardless of the time of year when tragedy knocks on our door we often feel alone in the hell of our circumstances. The people who rally to show their loving concern are our lifelines. Even the tiniest efforts are never forgotten. We find our way back when we realize that we are not alone. Look around. Someone needs you right now. Take the time to comfort them. Your efforts will mean more than you might ever know.

Strong

helping hand with the sky sunset background

Childhood is a kind of bubble of naiveté that protects us while we are learning about ourselves and the world around us. Some children like myself experience tragedy early in their lives and such events become cautionary tales for them. Hurt and loss changes little ones in varying ways. I suppose that in spite of the fears that lie at the bedrock of my personality I was somehow able to develop somewhat normally into a healthy adult who is perhaps a bit less adventurous than I might other wise have been. The shock of losing my father after a long journey to and then back from California left me quietly confused and desirous of clinging to any form of security that I might find.

I blanketed myself in the luxury of routine and a certain level of isolation from the realities of the world. I spent the remainder of my growing up years in relative ignorance of hurt and intrigue. I became resilient and once again confident by living a quiet and somewhat uneventful life inside the little neighborhood from which my family and I rarely needed to venture save to visit with my grandparents and my aunts, uncles and cousins.

I cared little about world affairs or intrigue of any sort. It was not until I was fifteen and in high school that I once again faced death when my beloved grandmother developed cancer and died. That was about the same time that President Kennedy was assassinated while he was visiting Dallas. I went into the same state of shock and grief that I had felt when my father died. I wanted to look away, to somehow pretend that such events were not really part of our human experience. I buried the fears that I inside my heart and pretended that I was stronger than I actually felt.

Like so many of us so often do I ignored my feelings and stoically moved forward, avoiding contact with negative thoughts or people or situations. I tried to make life a fairytale forgetting that the theme of all such stories revolves around triumph over hardship. It was not until I was twenty years old and I saw mental illness take hold of my mother that I realized there was no running away from the tragedies that each of us must face. I had to become fearless without warning or practice and it was painful.

For some time I hid my reality as though it were some ugly thing that defined me and my family. I did not share with others. Instead I dealt with the situation hoping that my mother would be cured and I would be able to move forward as though nothing had ever happened. Of course her chronic illness kept jerking me back into a dark world that was confusing and painful beyond measure. It was only when I freed myself from the constraints that I had placed on my willingness to face the truth that I began to see the world around me in all of its good and bad iterations.

By becoming honest with myself and with the people that I knew I developed more and more trust even in the face of seemingly hopeless situations. I saw that there is always someone willing to help if only I had the courage to ask. I found friendships and relationships that made me a better person each time that I reached out for understanding and assistance. By facing the toughness of life I actually began to see its true beauty more clearly.

There are patterns among human beings that repeat themselves over and over again through the centuries. How we deal with our longings and our sorrows may change ever so slightly as we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors but the basic feelings are in total harmony with every man and woman who has ever walked on this earth. We strive for happiness while enduring the inevitable sorrows. None of us will make it through life without scars, but if we are very lucky and willing to embrace those situations with wisdom and determination we will surely learn from them.

I know so many who are suffering at this very moment. It hurts me to see their pain and to know that in some cases there is so little that I might do to help them. I offer small bits of encouragement knowing that theirs is a season of sorrow through which they must walk. In other cases there are tangible things that I am able to do because of the resources that I am blessed to have. Mostly I simply demonstrate how much I care because I have learned that even the tiniest bit of generosity has the power of bringing joy to a broken or frightened heart.

We should never underestimate our power to say or do exactly what someone needs in a dark moment. Thoughtfulness and openness are like healing salves when administered at just the right moment. From my own experiences I know for certain that small gestures of love are never forgotten. It may be a neighbor lighting the pilot light of a heater on a cold winter’s day who brings hope or a pot of soup delivered by a friend that begins the process of healing.

I see the faces of those who took the time to comfort me when my father died and then my mother. I know exactly who extricated me from the darkest times of my life. I have never forgotten how impactful their kindnesses were. They remind me even when I am feeling low that I am not as alone as I might sometimes believe. I may stumble and skin my knees in this grand adventure called life but I will always find a hand reaching out to save me. I have learned time and again that there are very good people just waiting to be at my side and in that knowledge I have become very strong.

Longevity

OldAgeNE-Post

The leaders of Naples, Florida have embarked on a program designed to help its citizens live longer, happier healthier lives. To that end they studied five places around the globe where the average life span is above those of other cities and countries. Their research has revealed that there are indeed some things that we can do that appear to help individuals find better ways of living longer. Since embarking on this program the money spent on medical care has gone done and the life span of the populations has dramatically increased in Naples. So what are the simple ideas that seem to be doing wonders there?

Everyone is encouraged to eat healthier by particularly including more plant based menus in diets. Stores feature products and options that are known to produce longevity, and restaurants are vying to offer entrees that use healthy ingredients. The populace is responding positively by choosing healthier foods and exercising more. In fact, many employers are providing time during the work day for physical activity and offering attractive incentives and bonuses for those who participate. People are walking, biking and making exercise part of their daily routines. Schools are even opening early each morning so that children will have time to play outdoors or in gyms before settling down to academic routines.

The studies all demonstrated that having one glass of red wine each day also does wonders for the health and well being of adults. It’s becoming commonplace for the locals to pause for a glass of wine and fellowship each afternoon or evening. Whether it’s the wine or the time spent with others that is making the biggest impact isn’t certain but results are happening.

Those who have some type of religious beliefs or philosophies also appear to live happier and longer lives. Religion seems to lessen stress and provide people with a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Those who have a purpose in life also do better, and so many religious activities encourage service to the community where everyone wins.

City planners are deliberately changing the environment of the city so that the locals almost naturally begin to adopt lifestyles that lead to better mental and physical health. There is an emphasis on being outdoors, gathering together, and eliminating stress when possible. Even the landscaping and building of roads is designed in the hopes of slowing down and enjoying the moment. Pleasant walkways have been added all over town and old roads have been reconfigured. There are cycle lanes that make it possible to get to work and run errands without ever needing a car.

The increased level of participation in the various programs has been almost exponential. As one person gets healthier others are encouraged to see what happens if they also change their ways. Everyone begins to benefit. The city’s longevity age has gone up to 83.1 years while that of the rest of the country is declining. People are enthusiastically embracing the lifestyle movement, even attending discovery classes that provide them with ideas as to how to feel more productive and part of the fabric of  society.

The hope is that the people of Naples will live longer without chronic illnesses or pain and that when it is time to die the end will be quick. In many parts of the world this is already happening, and aside from genetics, the places where this occur share the kinds of lifestyles that Naples is trying to implement for its citizens.

I suppose that I would not mind living to one hundred or beyond like some of my relatives have done. My only concern is that I might become a burden to my family and spend my final years in a reclusive state of pain or dementia. If I were able to enjoy my days as my grandfather did until the last few months of his one hundred eight years I would be eager to hang around for a very long time. Sadly I have too often seen the exact opposite of this where elderly individuals are confined to beds and wheelchairs with little stimulation or purpose day after day for years. They grow weary of waking up to yet another morning of slowly watching the hours tick by. Their children grow old themselves and become less and less able to care for their parents. Often the ancient ones end up all alone and at the mercy of care givers who may or may not be dedicated to making them comfortable and happy. It is one of the big secrets of our society that we tend to avoid because the thought of it is so unpleasant.

My doctor tells me that medicine is making great strides with hundreds of diseases that used to greatly restrict the lives of the elderly. He is confident that even within the next ten years people will be free of illnesses and conditions that now plague us. If that is so then we will need to plan for more and more old people living longer and longer. Hopefully those added years will be good ones.

They Were Victims Too

Dayton shooter

I saw a news story along with comments from readers that really bothered me, but not for the reasons that most people would imagine. It was a piece about the parents of the Dayton shooter. They had posted obituaries for both their son, the young man who killed nine people, and their daughter, who was one of the victims. Each obituary was rather commonplace in the ways in which they described the lives of the two individuals. What riled those who read them was that the one for the murderer told his story as though he were some beautiful son that the parents had lost all too soon. People were so upset that the local newspaper pulled the obituary for the shooter and the mother felt compelled to explain herself and apologize.

Most of the comments regarding the obituary were quite vile with little or no respect for the grieving parents. It made me shudder to read them and to realize how vindictive people actually are. Of course there is much anger over what happened, but only one person was compassionate enough to point out that the parents of the perpetrator of the tragedy were suffering a great loss as well. They are wondering how things could have gone so terribly wrong in their son’s thinking. They are remembering the person they thought he was and trying to understand how he became so vile. It must be indeed quite horrific for them, and acknowledging their own grief in no way underscores the tragedy.

As a mom I loved my daughters from the first moments that I felt the changes in my body telling me that I was carrying them in my womb. Over the months I delighted in their kicks and the movements that they made to tell me that they were alive and well. When I first saw their faces after their births I literally cried with joy. I counted their fingers and their toes and felt the creases in their skin. Over the years my heart swelled as I watched them grow into fine young women. Neither of them matured without making mistakes, but we got past them because I loved them always. So it is with almost every mother on earth, even when children disappoint beyond measure.

I once had a student who went haywire in a classroom, cursing and assaulting a teacher. Before he calmed down he threatened several other faculty members and an assistant principal. Eventually he lost steam and sat forlornly in a conference room waiting for his mother to take him home after being expelled. He was one of my favorite students so I was heartbroken over what had happened. I went to talk with him and he immediately began to cry, proclaiming that he knew that I now hated him. I insisted that I would always love him but also hate what he had done. I could forgive him, but not his act of violence. He understood exactly what I meant.

When Jesus was condemned to die on the cross the people who had once celebrated him taunted and jeered with venom. They turned on him completely, and even his apostles hid with shame and fear of having been associated with him. His mother, however, never wavered from loving him. She stood by him until the very end of his life. This is what mothers do.

I am also reminded of a story that my dear sweet Uncle William told me. Here in Houston decades ago there was an horrific story of mass murder. A crazed man enlisted two young teens to bring victims to him. They brought unsuspecting males to a house in Pasadena where they were sexually abused, tortured and then killed. They helped the man dispose of the bodies along the beaches of Galveston and in a storage facility in southwest Houston. The accounts made the national news because they were so horrific.

One of the teens who worked with the murderer was Elmer Wayne Henley. He lived on my Uncle William’s postal route. My uncle regularly saw him and was shocked by developments because Elmer Wayne had always appeared to be such a good boy. He took care of his aging mom and provided her with the extra income that she needed as a single parent. My uncle spoke of how proud Elmer Wayne’s mother had always been of him. Even after the news of his part in the horror became fodder for gossip, Elmer Wayne’s mom spoke of the wonderful son that she knew. Until her death she did not turn away from him. It’s what mothers do.

I wish that we as a society might be able to separate the sins of a son or daughter from the love of a parent.  Perhaps if we were more inclined for compassion in such situations we might have less anger, hate and violence in our society. One of the most touching stories I have ever heard came when Amish school children were killed by a crazed man who had a family of his own. There were threats being made on his wife and children as the anger over what he had done raged. Members of the Amish community made it known that they felt as much compassion for his family as they did for their own. They embraced the woman who was as shocked as they were over what her husband had done. They extended a hand of love and sympathy. They truly understood that there was much grief to go around.

I weep for the victims of the Dayton shooting, but I also cry for the parents of the man who committed the crime. I don’t know how much they ultimately had to do with how their son turned out, but I am certain that they too lost so much on that day. It does not hurt us to allow them a bit of dignity as they grapple with the confusion and sorrow that must surely be relentlessly stalking them. If their comments about their son seemed inappropriate it is most likely because they really don’t know what to think or how to act. Their shock is a great and maybe even greater than ours. It’s time we all begin to choose kindness over revenge when dealing with the families of killers unless it is proven that they were accessories to such crimes. They are victims too.

We Must Not Forget

I went to church and there was a table filled with little white cards on which names were printed in a lovely black font. I had no idea why they sat quietly in the entryway, but they caught my attention enough to wonder about them until the commencement of the mass shifted my thoughts back to the reason why I was there. It was not until the service had almost ended that I learned the secret of those lovely little name plates. All of them represented someone who had died in the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton and we were asked to take one name and then pray for that person.

I randomly chose both a female and a male without really knowing who they were other than someone whose life had ended in tragedy. I carefully placed the cards inside my purse and went about my very busy day until I found a moment to remember them. That’s when I Googled each name hoping to find out a bit more about the persons that I had promised to recall in my conversations with God.

One of my souls was Logan Turner who had been killed in Dayton, Ohio. According to his mom he had turned thirty only days before his death and was out celebrating with friends. His grieving mother spoke of her boy with high regard insisting that he was indeed “the world’s best son.” She noted that he was both sweet and smart, the kind of person who worked hard and lived life well. He had earned a degree in engineering and had a good job and a promising future but for fatefully encountering a madman on the Saturday night which was supposed to just be fun times. Now his mother has been robbed of her pride and joy, and his wonderful life has been cut short.

Without knowing Logan I somehow felt that I understood the kind of person that he was. I have known young men like Logan in my career as a teacher. They are kind and bright and full of dreams. They love their friends and their moms. They work hard but like to have fun. I felt Logan’s spirit moving inside my soul, and I knew that I would indeed think of him and pray for him and those who lost him in the coming days. I felt a great sadness that he was taken from our world all too soon. I promised not to forget him even though we had never met.

The other card that I had chosen bore the name of Teresa Sanchez who I learned was an eighty two year woman who lived with one of her sisters. She and two family members were innocently shopping in the Walmart when the shooter began his assault.  I have found very little information about her or her life. Only one source that I found had a photo that I was unable to copy. It was a black and white print that showed her lined face with a serious expression. As I gazed at her countenance I imagined that she was perhaps someone’s grandmother, a feisty woman who still maintained her independence. I thought of her routinely visiting the Walmart to accomplish her errands which reminded me of my own mother.

I remembered what joy my Mama found when we were shopping together on so many Saturdays. One of her favorite things to do with me was to spend literally hours perusing the aisles in the Walmart near her home. It never occurred to either of us that we might be in danger simply by pursuing a rather commonplace experience. As I recalled my own sweet mother I felt a wave of grief thinking that what should have been a fun time for Teresa and her sisters had turned into such a tragic loss. There were no doubt people waiting for her return who would never get to see her alive again. 

We each go about our daily lives with little thought that the unthinkable might happen. We follow our routines or take little vacations or sojourns from our work. It is so incongruous that we might be struck down without warning in the midst of doing something that is supposed to be fun. There is a double kind of insult when such things happen without warning. There is no time to say goodbye or to remind our family and our friends how much we love them. Instead those who knew Logan and Teresa are left forever with a sense that there is something unfinished in their lives.

I have been praying for Logan and Teresa just as I promised that I would. I find them coming into my thoughts in different moments of the day. They have somehow burrowed into my heart. I see them as martyrs cut down by ignorance and hate and I believe that they are now resting peacefully with God, but we should not be complacent about what has happened to them. They have left behind people who knew them and loved them and will never again be quite the same. I feel compelled to offer prayers for them as well. I want them to somehow find a semblance of comfort amid all of the rancorous debates that somehow miss the humanity of the loss that they feel. While we argue about guns and immigration and who is right and who is wrong, they are suffering and a part of them always will regardless of how we as a society finally decide how to address the issues that have brought them so much grief. 

I pray for you, Logan and Teresa. I pray for those whom you loved. I pray that we will have the fortitude to set things right in our country. I pray that we might still the voices of anger and hate. I pray that we will not forget you or the hurt that your loved ones feel. May we all learn and grow and take positive measures to better insure the safety of anyone who leaves home to have an enjoyable time. May you rest in peace with the angels and may we work hard in your name to stop the kind of terror that you had to endure.