2020 Seniors, You Can Do This

IMG_0817[1]


I’ve enjoyed looking at everyone’s senior photos from back in the day trending on social media. I also understand that although the intent is to encourage the Class of 2020 amidst the coronavirus quarantine, with a laugh at our expense, it could end up hurting as well as helping. In an effort to help, I’m adding my senior photo to the worldwide yearbook to offer hope for today’s graduating seniors.

Seniors, you can do this. You can graduate (however that looks) and go on to live a full and productive life reaching your goals and realizing your dreams.

Looking at myself in the photo, I don’t even remember my senior year — or 10th or 11th grade. I never attended one high school dance, including prom, due to crippling social anxiety. Pep rallies, extra-curricular activities, field trips, and basically anything outside of structured class time sent my anxiety into a tailspin.

Bucking tradition, I did not attend my high school graduation. Rather, I walked into the school office that summer and picked it up from the secretary who found it tucked away in a file cabinet.

Why did I skip it? I could not emotionally handle hearing classmates’ family and friends clap for them as they walked the stage; or seeing everyone take photos afterwards and enjoy parties for themselves and their friends knowing I didn’t have an audience for me. I was merely trying to find the strength to get out of bed and take a shower every day.

My mom was dying of breast cancer my entire junior year. I spent as much time at the hospital as I did in class. She passed away the summer before senior year, and twice divorced, there was no father in my life.

My grandparents and sister were grieving the loss of my mom as much as I was in their own ways. Frankly, I spent any extra energy apart from daily survival on trying not to fail math.

Years later, I found a letter from the principal congratulating me on my academic success of my senior year. I have zero memory of those days, so seeing I made honor roll was a shock. The letter was addressed and written to “The parents of…”

I was one of those students who fell through the cracks. The school evidently did not realize I had no parents and that my grandparents signed on as legal guardians to keep me out of foster care my senior year since I didn’t turn 18 until August after graduation.

My boyfriend broke up with me to date my best friend during my mom’s illness. Within a week of her death, life began to free fall and all I could do was watch frozen in horror.

As a minor, I had to legally vacate my childhood home and our belongings had to be sold in an estate sale to pay off family debt. I was forced to put down my 13 year-old dog (my 4th birthday present and BFF) because the stress of everything caused her to starve herself. She was emaciated beyond help and having to end her suffering was one of the worst moments of my life. My cat ran away, and the only mentor I had in the whole world announced they were moving out-of-state for a new job. Friends told me my life was a trainwreck and they didn’t know what to do with me.

I totaled my ’74 car (which had been my grandmother’s, then my mom’s, then mine), which meant losing my driver’s license and gaining a probation officer with community service hours to work off — the night before my mom’s funeral.

All of this happened the summer before senior year. I had nothing and no one except Christ, my sister’s hand-me-downs, and ironically, an empty hope chest.

I was devastatingly lonely, had no college fund to rely on, and began to struggle with an eating disorder as a result my mom’s death — with which I still wrestle.

There is always a story behind the smile.


I read a Facebook post regarding ancient senior photos floating around the world wide web which said today’s seniors don’t want to see others’ senior years in tact. *In tact* is a huge assumption.

No life is perfect. Every life has a story. It’s what we do with our story that paves our journey forward.


2020 Seniors, your grief is real. Your feelings are valid. Do not deny yourself working through the loss of your senior year. In your grieving, I encourage you to stay there only as long as necessary to heal.

Use grieving to help you take the next step forward. 

From someone who spent more time wanting to die than live because of trauma upon trauma, with no coping skills or outside help, I can tell you that you get to choose what you do with this senior season.

You can let it destroy you, or you can tap into strength you did not know you have and lean on God in ways you did not think possible.
Not only can you make it through this, but you can emerge stronger, more determined and more focused than you ever imagined on what you want for your next chapter.

Want to know what I chose to do instead of attending my graduation? I got on an airplane with my (then) boyfriend and flew from Florida to New York to meet his family. Four years my senior, he served in the Air Force and his mandated leave time overlapped with my graduation.

I had a choice. I could either attend graduation, which highlighted what I didn’t have while unresolved grief & social anxiety swallowed me alive walking across a silent stage, or forego tradition and take a leap into my future to meet a family who I already knew would be my future family.

He and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month. My decision then was absolutely the right call and I would make the same decision a million times again. They welcomed me into their family when I was 17 and I married at 19.

We worked hard. He worked day, swing, and midshifts full-time with full class loads and I worked two jobs and took day and night classes. We put ourselves through college debt-free with every cent we had plus scholarships and grants we earned. I completed my B.A. four years later. He completed his B.S. the year after.

We bought our first home when I was 21. A tiny foreclosure on a cul-de-sac, our nicotine-drenched, ripped wallpaper, nasty bathrooms, abandoned house needed a lot of love. It was our little nest, and we slowly remodeled it room-by-room while working and going to school.

If someone had told me only four years earlier at 17, when I didn’t know what home address to put on my high school contact card, that I would own my own home — I wouldn’t have believed it.

If someone had told me when I skipped my high school graduation that I would go on to earn my bachelor’s degree and graduate on time — I couldn’t have believed it.

What I knew that night, donning a black silky robe and balancing a mortar board on my head, as I waited to take my turn to walk the university stage with my husband, grandparents, sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) and our best friends cheering for me in the stands, is that God can most certainly redeem what was lost.

The loss may be irreplaceable — as nothing could bring back my mom or replace everyone and everything ripped from my life — but if we stay in a posture of being willing to receive the gifts God has planned for us, and we continue to take a new step forward each day, then our hearts and lives can be genuinely full to overflowing with good things. Soul-filling, goal-accomplishing, dream-realizing things. Things beyond what we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

An awesome, fulfilling and rewarding life is possible after traumatic loss. 

During my junior year of college, someone I highly respected flat out told me that I would never graduate. They genuinely did not believe in me and it broke my heart in ways that silently hemorrhaged for years. I chose to extend forgiveness toward that person, and felt a personal cathartic release proving them wrong, as I shook hands with faculty on the stage that night.

Moving my tassel from right to left was a symbol that I did it. God gave me the strength and work ethic and I used all of it to run through that finish line.

I skipped my high school graduation because I was embarrassed and overwhelmed that I didn’t have a traditional posse cheering for me. One thing I’ve since learned is me cheering for me was enough. Accomplishing a goal is personal. And when I walked the stage to receive my college diploma, I was eternally grateful for those who came to cheer me on, but most of all I looked to heaven and gave thanks to God that he completed a work in me and we did it together. (Phil. 1:6)

Everyone’s journeys looks different. My husband and I were blessed to rear three kids who have grown into amazing adult children whom I highly admire. They have my heart.

One out-of-state move, three houses, multiple jobs, and being blessed to live out our heartbeat for international missions and relief work, I never could have dreamed that God would raise up beauty from ashes in the brokenness of my life. All glory goes to him.

He is absolutely the God of the impossible and only asks we trust him and take the next step that he puts in front of us.


2020 Seniors, I know inconsolable grief. Overwhelming loss. Desperate disappointment. Uncertain futures. Gripping fear. Unquenchable loneliness. Paralyzing hopelessness. Catastrophic helplessness.

I also know that you have the choice to allow how much this surreal season affects your present and future. I know there is purpose for you. I know there is an entire world waiting for you. A world who needs you to do what you were born to do. And I know that you have the power to choose whether this season breaks or benefits you.

If you’re quarantining in your home with those you call family; food in your pantry; an education to continue online or otherwise; and you have one friend who misses you; and a sport, club, volunteering or work that you miss, then you already have everything you need to graduate abundantly blessed.

Embrace what you have. Trust God that he can work for your good if you give it all to him, including your grief. Choose to let this season make you better, not bitter.

Keep looking ahead. Keep stepping forward. Take Bruce Lee’s advice and “Be water, my friend.” You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Phil. 4:13) And keep smiling, knowing the best is yet to come.

Easter during a pandemic – WWJD

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 203

When decorating for Easter, we usually focus on the cross, the crown of thorns, the empty tomb…with some cute spring and bunny motif thrown in.
This year, while quarantining through the Easter season, I felt a nudge to accentuate a different moment in Jesus’ final days before crucifixion.

In John 13:1-17, Jesus washed his disciples feet. The humility in his posture toward those he loved. The grace he gave those he loved. The servant-heart he showed those he loved.

To follow the example of our Savior, I forewent the “prettier” Easter decor and set out a bowl filled with tap water and an ordinary dish towel as the centerpiece for our kitchen table.

It is a reminder to keep a servant’s heart, a me-second attitude, and a grace-filled posture toward our family who we’re now spending 24/7 with in a confined space.

God gave us a little devotion about it – to stay in the attitude of “How can I wash your feet today?” Maybe it’s praying for each other. Maybe it’s unloading the dishwasher or helping with yard work or turning down the tv when someone is trying to work.
Maybe it’s an encouraging word or hug. Or sharing a laugh or a joke to lighten the day.

However, in these stressful times of isolating from a world-wide crisis while juggling work, sick family, fears of the future, and the million things that keep us up at night, perhaps “washing each others’ feet” is NOT saying the irrational, negative, angst-filled words in the moment; NOT taking the stress and fear out on each other; maybe it’s what we DON’T say and do – the hurtful and not helpful – that best demonstrates Jesus’ point in these extraordinary times.

The bowl, water and dish towel sit in full view all day long. Every day. It’s a great visual of what Jesus did, KNOWING he was going to suffer and die, and is a reminder of how we can follow his example as we wait and wonder IF we will suffer and die.

Jesus’ life gave us all the tools we need to navigate this crazy world. Pandemic or otherwise. I might just leave this centerpiece out indefinitely so we never forget to love, serve and give grace to those nearest, our neighbors and the nations. 
______________________________________________________________________

John 13:12-17 “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Lessons from Nana…Stay grateful

Today (March 8th) is Nana’s birthday. It’s the first birthday that she is celebrating in heaven. It’s fitting that today is the first time I’ve written since she passed away.
Wrapping up a life is a process I’m happy to do and honored to get to do it. I cleaned out her apartment in a total of four days. Whew! Sorting it all is another story, lol. So much of what she had will be a tremendous blessing to others as the family agreed to donate most of it.

I had the distinct honor of receiving her ashes. The funeral home director was kind and soft-spoken and showed genuine compassion and empathy. It was a tender moment I will never forget. The last time I was at the funeral home I had to confirm her identification. It was surreal and obviously hard because of the nature of the task. But she looked so peaceful; just like she was sleeping. And after being with her in her last days, it was a gift to see her not suffering and struggling anymore. I choose to look at it that way. I stroked her arm and said, “We love you, Mom.” It was an odd moment because, as a believer, I know she is no longer in her body. Still, it seemed fitting to pay my respects.

When the director gently handed me the small box of ashes meticulously wrapped in brown paper, I thanked him and tried to hide that for a moment it felt hard to breathe. I thought about all the times she and I drove in my JEEP to her doctors’ appointments; to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; to our home for surgery recoveries, holidays and celebrations or just to hang out; to Walmart, the grocery store, and just to get an ice cream cone, her favorite.

This would be our last drive together. Instead of sitting next to me coloring her lips with lipstick or checking her hair in the mirror, recalling a fond memory, talking politics or writing her shopping list, this drive would be silent. I shook the man’s hand, said a final goodbye and walked outside. The cold, grey sky was blanketed in huge dark clouds and made the sky feel low enough I could touch heaven.

I tucked Nana’s ashes safely in the back seat and ran my hand over the smooth, brown paper. I touched her name on the label and whispered, “Let’s go home, Mom.”
Arriving home, I carried Nana’s ashes upstairs where my father-in-law’s (a.k.a. Bompa) were and sat them next to each other. The world seemed strangely balanced once more. They will be laid to rest together this summer in New York. Their ashes are together, as I know today, they are worshiping the Lord together alive and well in heaven. Both truths comfort my soul.

The following weeks have been filled with phone calls, closing accounts, sorting through photos and paperwork and making plans. It has been busy indeed.

In moments of laughing at good memories and tears of missing Nana, I am reflecting on everyone who helped walk Nana to heaven. So much of those last months are an emotional blur, as I knew they would be. We think we won’t forget faces and names, but like a flooded river, there is too much emotion, too many decisions and too little sleep to retain it all.

In preparation for what was coming, I asked some of these special folks if they would take a selfie with Nana, or I take a photo of them, and grant me permission to post it publicly in an effort to say thank you and so we will never forget those who impacted Nana all of us.

On her birthday today, I count these photos as a celebration of life and love. Nana was never shy to shout, “Praise the Lord!” and gave God the credit for his many blessings. In the spirit of her grateful heart, and for the thousands of times I heard her sing, “God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, he’s so good to me!” This is my grateful post. Grateful for those who helped Nana in countless ways and showed the love of Jesus with authenticity and joy. Our family is eternally grateful for each of you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

89504028_10223386506117234_2298921759610503168_o

Dr. Shehadeh, you will receive a letter of thanks soon, but for now I want you to know Nana and our family owes you a debt we can never repay. As her oncologist, you helped us wade the deep waters of cancer with compassion and sensitivity. You treated her with dignity and respect. You listened. You made eye contact. You hugged her. You held her hand. She was not just another patient. I don’t believe you have any “just another patients.” Your kind-hearted nature and sharp intellect helped us understand the Goliath she faced and how to deal with it. You kept us calm. You answered my millions of questions. You addressed her terminal illness with tenderness and reason. You are the best doctor I’ve ever worked with, and you were a big reason why we got an extra year with Nana. Thank you, thank you.

To RNs Demetrius and Melissa at Agape Hospice. You showed up every day. You cared for Nana in every way. You were our eyes and ears, hands and feet to do the hard tasks. We would have been lost without you. Because of you, Nana had the very best care, and your help allowed me to get some much-needed sleep so I could be there for Nana in other ways. We are indebted to you.

89386744_10223386508477293_2776562761906257920_o

To Dr. Grattan and your staff, thank you for being so attentive to Nana’s medical needs. Your P.A. who saw us in a last minute appointment caught the angiosarcoma in 2018 and her quick diagnosis was the reason she could have surgery and add another year onto her life. We are so grateful that you guys caught what the radiologist missed!! Without your expert insight, we would have lost Nana much sooner. Thank you for the gift of time. There are no words that can fully express how much we will awlays be thankful for you all.

89603322_10223386544238187_6425489701536268288_o

To Matt, Nana’s deacon from church. For two years you took Nana under your deacon wing and served her with love and compassion. Thank you for all your visits and phone calls. She loved your company and the chocolate milkshakes with which you surprised her. We appreciate you so much and “Thank You” seems inadequate for all your time, energy and attention you gave; as well as to your wife and children who shared you with Nana.

To Med-Techs Melissa, Tamica and Jessica, thank you for giving your time, talent and love to Nana. You are the best at what you do! You were never too busy to help. You were always kind and caring. No task was too small, no question too insignificant. You helped Nana feel at home in the apartment she loved.

Melissa, the night we moved Nana in you changed my life. It was a long day of moving and settling her in and we were exhausted. I remember coming to end of my emotional and physical strength. Melissa, you popped in to introduce yourself. I said to you, “Thank for your help. I am doing all I can and often it seems not enough.” You replied, “We’re happy to help! Don’t worry, we’ll take it from here.” I broke down into tears. I knew Nana would be safe and cared for in ways she needed, and a wave of utter relief washed over me, largely because of you. Thank you.

Tamica, one of my favorite moments with you was when we needed an extra hand on the third floor, and you had just started your lunch break on the first floor. Without hesitation, and without the slightest attitude of being inconvenienced, you put the sandwich down, that you almost took your first bite from, and rushed right up. You don’t know this, but I saw when, after helping us get Nana into bed, you leaned in close – nose to nose – smiled and softly stroked Nana’s cheek to comfort her. It was the kind of caring family does for each other. I was beautiful to see. Thank you.

Teisha with Agape Hospice, you are incredible. Thank you for helping Nana with her personal hygiene. She was fiercely strong and independent and didn’t want your help. Still, you waited patiently nearby in case of an emergency. Stopping to chat with me in the hallway just days after her death, you took the time to share your memories of your time with Silly Salli. Thank you for asking questions about her life; showing Nana meant so much more to you than as just another client. You really wanted to know more, and your caring is precious to me. Learning about all the sweet moments you shared means the world to me. You sat with her and laughed at her stories. You danced with her while she sang her own music. Sometimes you were the first face she saw in the morning and I am so glad it was you. You told me about the day Nana accepted your help at last, and how you knew that was an indicator it was close to her time when she no longer struggled against your efforts. All of this helps heal our broken hearts.

89602498_10223386466676248_1767718155741822976_o

Thank you, Marie. We got to know each other well while rendezvousing in parking lots all over the city as you helped provide transportation to her appointments via her assisted living. Your heart is priceless! Not only did you help with the driving, but you did so with a joyful heart. You were always patient, courteous, kind and funny! Nana loved your sense of humor. Thank you for making the long drives from South Carolina to Charlotte fun and an adventure for Nana. You were a huge help to me as we tag-teamed literally all over the city to get Nana where she needed to be. Your help was invaluable to me. Your caring heart is a treasure to us both.

89624486_10223386492396891_2701248105189212160_o

To Stephanie who works in the dining room at Nana’s assisted living. Thank you for bringing light and smiles and joy to every meal. Thank you for knowing the residents by name as well as their preferences and allergies. Thank you for treating them like family. Your energy and positivity are contagious. Keep doing what you do. You are a bright blessing!

To the lovely young lady who took care of Nana’s laundry, and others we do not have a photo of, but are forever imprinted on our hearts – thank you. You loved Nana well. Your kindness is seen by God and I ask that he richly blesses you in return, in ways so personal you will know without a doubt that it is an extension of our gratitude for a job well done that went far beyond work. Thank you that Nana mattered to you as a person and you showed it in so many ways.

Thank you, Father John, for coming to see her one more time. You always bring a funny story, a joke and a smile. Your visit was a highlight to her, and we appreciate you coming by to hug and love on Nana. Your friendship dates back 50 years when you sold cars with Bompa in upstate New York. Who knew that Nana and you would reconnect as the presiding Father over the church she attended in New York many years later, only to wind up living right down the road from each other in South Carolina. It’s a small, small world, and you colored her world with laughter and joy for decades. Thank you for praying over Nana. Circling up to give her again to the Lord is a memory we will forever hold in our hearts.

To all my friends who loved on Nana, thank you! Thank you, Yvonne, Tonya and Gayle for keeping her company when we were out of town. Jean-Paul, Kim, Lisa, Frances and Ann, thank you for celebrating her 80th birthday last year with us! Thank you to all my wonderful friends who didn’t mind me texting all hours of the day or night requesting prayer for Nana. Every prayer, every text, every call, every visit, every act of kindness is deeply, deeply appreciated. I love you all.

On Nana’s birthday today, what can be a hard, hard day, is covered in what feels like a big hug of hearts and smiles of those who loved her well. We will continue to sing, “God is so good, he’s so good to me,” and we will indulge in ice cream and raise a cup of coffee (her favorite pleasures) in her honor knowing she is fully alive, fully healed and rejoicing in the presence of the One who made her and allowed us to share so many birthdays with her. Nana’s life on earth may be over, but in heaven, the party is just getting started. Happy birthday, Nana! We love you. Save a piece of cake for us.

Lessons from Nana…Lean in

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 199

I’ve been thinking about the last couple of months we had with Nana and am grateful that the Lord led us through those extremely emotional weeks, days and moments. I’ve grieved loved ones before, too many, and didn’t handle it well after they passed. I was a wreck after each one then and still feel the hemorrhaging in my heart over certain tender memories.

So why is this time different? Why do I still feel emotionally intact in a time of loss? Even with dealing with the stress of coronavirus all over the world (so far we are healthy, thank the Lord), I truly believe the peace and strength I have has a lot to do with preparing for her loss even before she died.

There are five stages of grieving in a time of loss be it a person, a job, a pet, a relationship, our health, a season of life, a sense of normalcy amidst our current coronavirus pandemic, or anything we value.

Loss = grieving. These are the five general stages of grief:
1. Shock and denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Yet, if only life looked so ordered. The reality is that in grieving these five stages we work through in our loss, they don’t necessarily follow this order. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions can bounce around; we may feel more than one of these stages at the same time; we can get stuck in one stage and perhaps never move through it. But these are five stages commonly known to people when living through loss.

However, I’d like to take it a bit farther. I believe there is the option for pre-loss grieving…if we take hold of it. In order to pre-loss grieve, we must be open to it. We must face our own limits and be willing to push ourselves past them to see the larger picture of what is happening even while the storm is still on the horizon.

This is easier said than done. For most of us, stage one – shock and denial – sinks our head and hearts like emotional quicksand. We simply cannot accept the reality of what is happening. “This can’t be happening!” are familiar words to us all. However, I challenge us to begin to consider the fact that it is, in fact, happening. If we let our minds and hearts be open to the notion “it” is happening, then we can start to process the remaining stages of grief.

Why would we want to grieve something before it’s even happened? Why not hold on to life as we knew it for as long as possible before it’s ripped from our hands? Why not put off the inevitable? Because if we can acknowledge what is really going on, that the storm does exist no matter how hard we wish it away, then we can maximize the moments in preparation for what’s coming.

We can do this over a loss of job, home, relationships, friends, our health, etc. I am writing in the context of pre-grieving Nana’s death. I’d like to offer some steps I intentionally took to help me pre-grieve her loss and that can be applied to any type of loss.

1. Shock & Denial – This stage is very important for a huge purpose: It buffers our heart and minds from the full weight and measure of reality that is slamming into our lives like a fiery asteroid. We’re left with an enormous crater in our souls and we have no idea how to begin to process what just happened. Shock and denial run interference between us and the situation. God built this first line of defense in us so we can continue to breathe while we’re stunned by this gaping, smoldering hole (the reality of impending loss) in our hearts, minds and lives as we prepare for the loss itself.

One way to work through shock and denial is to ask questions – Everyone is different and we have different thresholds of what we can endure and when. For me, it was very valuable to attend her doctor’s appointments. I asked a million questions and being able to talk to the doctors helped me process the nature of her health. It forced me to see her new reality and acknowledge its existence. It led me to wrap my head around the shocking prognosis that her cancer had returned and it was going to take her life.

Even still, aftershocks remained as the months passed. Moments of, “I can’t believe we’re at this point,” still broadsided me when I least expected it as her illness progressed. I allowed myself to have that moment but wouldn’t let my thoughts stay here. Forcing myself to have eyes wide open to what was happening opened the other doors of my heart and head to pre-loss grieving which greatly helped me take care of her.

There may be moments when we block out what’s happening altogether (which is okay unless you are responsible for the safety or medical help of yourself or someone else). Do what you need to do to have as few regrets later as possible; but do everything within reason.

If you’re having debilitating difficulty recognizing what’s happening, get help. Staying stuck in shock and denial robs you of the opportunity to prepare for the impending loss. It also robs you of moments that could otherwise be made to maximize time left to make memories, mend hearts, make things right and find peace with what we never wanted.

2. Anger – Anger is perfectly natural. It gives us adrenalin to energize us for the task of accepting what we do not want to accept. It helps us channel the physical and emotional responses to loss. Picture a frying pan on the stove heating on high. Without adding something to the pan, the heat would eventually harm the pan or worse burn the house down. Now picture adding butter, oil or water to the pan. Instantly the pan channels the energy from the heat to the element added to it. Anger over loss is the same. It’s our water, oil or butter. Releasing anger in healthy, productive ways diffuses the thoughts, emotions and physical responses to not only accept the loss that is coming, but also the loss that is already in play.

When my mom was dying of cancer when I was 16, we moved into my grandparents’ home so they could take care of her. I felt angry that she was getting so much attention. Did I mention I was 16? Most teenagers are extremely myopic on a good day, and factor in I couldn’t begin to accept that I was going to lose my only parent, yeah, I was a hot mess. One morning I opened the refrigerator to get something to drink. I reached for the carton of orange juice when a family member said to me, “Don’t drink that. That’s your mom’s.” I replied with sarcasm in an effort for much-needed attention, “Of course it is, everything is hers.” My words and attitude didn’t go over well at all and were sharply chastised. Looking back, I see two people who both weren’t handling her illness well and took it out on each other.

This time with Nana, I allowed myself to feel angry. Anger towards the disease; anger for the loss over moments we weren’t going to enjoy; anger about ways I felt her illness cheated us out of time and experiences; anger that she had to endure this horrific, awful type of cancer; anger at watching my husband’s (her son) heart break for her; anger at the constant needs cancer demands to have met.

Be real. Be honest. Be raw. Acknowledge the anger. If not, your pan will only keep heating up until it either melts, busts into two, or catches everything around it on fire. Be responsible in your anger. My husband and I agreed in the beginning of this journey that we may not always have patience or tolerance for life or each other. We acknowledged we were going to need grace for each other. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin…” If you do, make it right. We’re not perfect, but we do have to own our actions and words.

Some ways to release anger:

A. Vent – There were times I had to get words out of my heart and head. I needed freedom to express all kinds of thoughts – empathetic and selfish – to a few trusted sources. Tell them first that you’re venting. Say, “I just need to say this. I don’t want you to fix anything or offer advice. I don’t need you to encourage me or tell me it’s going to be okay; I just need you to listen.” That helps them understand their role. They aren’t the fixer; they are the listener. Trust me, it will save you countless arguments. If you don’t have anyone you can vomit your thoughts and feelings to, look for a grief support group in your community or online that deals with your type of loss.

B. Journal – Need to say some thoughts that you don’t want anyone else to hear? Write them down then throw them away. Ripping them up gives even more satisfaction. Or keep them in a private place to revisit as you move through the stages of grief.

C. Physical exercise – is a great stress and anger reliver. Not only does it channel all that penned up energy, but it also releases endorphins that help boost our mood. Outdoor exercise is even better as fresh air and sunshine truly does a mind and body good.

D. Play music – Granted I may have given myself slight hearing loss over the course of her illness because I played my music a bit loud to drown out my thoughts, the music hit notes, kept the beat and offered a rhythm that struck a chord with my heart and head. It can be our voice in expressing emotions for which we have no words or energy to express them.

E. Know your limits – Need a minute? Take one…or two. Responsibly take more if needed. We all need an escape hatch for momentarily solitude, a time to collect our thoughts, clear our minds, and re-center ourselves. It is not selfish to take time alone. It’s necessary to maintain your mental and emotional health. Think of time alone as gas for the car. When you feel your tank is empty, you need to put some alone time in it or eventually the car won’t move until you do.

F. Pray – Last, but most important, pray. Yes, pray when you’re angry. There’s no one who understands what you’re saying better than the One who created you and understands you even better than you understand yourself. Praying when I’m angry isn’t pretty. It’s a word scramble of disjointed thoughts, opinions and feelings. It’s emotional. It can be downright ugly. My fits can rival that of a nuclear two-year old. But the best part about praying through anger with God is there is zero judgment.

Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” God wants to help us. He’s not looking for moments to strike us with lightning, but he does help keep us from going too far. When we give it ALL to him, the Holy Spirit acts as our guard rails to keep us from driving our mental car right over our emotional cliff.
Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one (Jesus) who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

3. Bargaining – This is when we try to make deals with life, God, ourselves, others, and even the situation to try to change the circumstance or outcome. Again, God built this into us to help buffer the weight of the reality that has broadsided our lives. It’s a coping skill for when we are trapped between shock & anger and depression & acceptance of what is happening. It’s the halfway point, if you will, of grieving. It is natural. It is normal. It is our mind’s defense mechanism to keep hope alive that there is another outcome other than the loss that is coming which in turn keeps us alive, literally. It keeps us fighting for the future, keeps us eating, sleeping and doing the next thing. Bargaining keeps us looking forward, and we need that when reality is screaming at us that there is no future or forward anywhere to be seen.

In this pre-loss grieving stage, we may scour the internet for medicinal and homeopathic cures and 100th opinions. We may seek other professional opinions in person. We talk to as many people as possible until they share a story that has the outcome we want for our own lives. “If it’s possible for them, it can be possible for my situation, too!” We may be willing to try anything on earth to stop or delay the inevitable outcome.
I asked for more than one conference call with our oncologist and family spread across multiple states so we could hear his input to help understand the options, or lack thereof, that Nana had in fighting her cancer.

We may cling to a “good day,” gains on Wall Street, new data to support our hope, or other positive markers that tempts us to believe things are on the upswing at the moment. That is normal. But so is the emotional crash afterwards when we realize it was only that, a moment. Bargaining can play with our emotions and put our thoughts into a tailspin. It almost seems cruel. But, this is the way we are, knowingly or not, working out the avalanche of loss that is just beginning to rumble. Go with it. Let yourself feel the emotions that come with bargaining. Embrace the ups and downs of the process. If your heart’s equilibrium becomes too imbalanced to cope in a healthy way, get help. Talk to someone. You’ll need to get right-side up again before the loss hits so you can begin the grieving process all over again, this time post-loss.

4. Depression – Now it’s getting raw. This stage of pre-loss can cast a trajectory on where the rest of our journey of pre-loss and post-loss grieving take us. Picture the ocean. You’re on a boat and your impending loss throws you overboard. That’s bad enough and it takes all the strength we can muster to keep our heads above water while waves of emotion and a million thoughts crash over us. Depression can feel like weights tied to our arms and legs as we struggle to breathe. Suddenly, we’re sinking to the bottom of the sea and have no way to resurface.

Depression is a beast. It has a unique way of simultaneously sinking us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically – sometimes at the same time! It’s ruthless and unfair. Nonetheless, it’s a very important part of pre-loss grieving.
• It makes us pull our head out of the sands of shock and denial and look at reality.
• It makes us acknowledge where this road of loss leading.
• It drains the energy from being angry.
• It quiets the bargaining voice in our heads.
• It is, in fact, the preparation we need to accept that loss is indeed coming.

Depression can look like many different things. We can withdraw or overcompensate with out loud behavior. We may cry, or not. We may seem angry, moody or temperamental, or not. We may pick up unhealthy habits and behaviors to try to escape feeling depressed. Watch out for this!

We may feel more tired and sleepy which is very normal as our bodies shut down extra physical energy it doesn’t need to conserve it for the emotional energy we need, and will continue to need, in the days, weeks and months to come.
Depression can trigger anxiety and the two together are the perfect storm. They can spin us into a vicious cycle and many people, like being stuck in a house of mirrors, never find their way out.

Again, if you feel depression is interrupting your daily life and responsibilities, or makes you think about harming yourself or others, or causes your quality of life to suffer to a crippling extent, or you hear worried voices of friends, coworkers and family and see the worry on their faces concerning you, get help. Sometimes we can’t see the forest through the trees.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (free & confidential) @ 800-273-8255.

Call Focus on the Family Crisis line for free 8am-10pm EST @ 877-233-4455.

Call your home church. Call your insurance company to find an in-network counselor. Call the counselor. Call a friend. Call family. Call someone you trust. Call a support group or local ministry that deals with your type of loss. Just don’t buy into the lie that you must go through this alone. You don’t.

Here is some practical advice for dealing with depression on a daily basis:

* Get enough rest – at least 7 hours a day. But if you’re sleeping more hours than you’re awake, that’s a problem. Rest = repair. When we go to sleep, our bodies go to work to repair the wear and tear from the day. You need this to happen to have the strength to face impending loss. You need to be at your strongest, or at least not run down. Sleep = repair. Give your body time to repair every single night.

* Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin B complex for more energy, better brain function (including mood lifter) and promoting healthy cell growth. My favorite is “Country Life Coenzyme B-Complex Caps.” Brain fog can be a sign of depression. If you are in a high-stress season of preparing for loss, vitamin B (preferably complex which covers multiple B’s) can be an awesome natural way to help you mentally function and maintain quality of life. It is water soluble and does not store up in the body.

* Talk to your doctor about having your vitamin D level tested. Don’t just start taking vitamin D as it is fat soluble and too much can hurt you if it accumulates in the body. But a simple finger stick blood sample can reveal whether you’re low, and 98% of Americans are low because we spend most of our time indoors and use sunscreen when we’re outdoors. Your doctor will recommend an amount that’s right for you.

Are there mental and emotional benefits of vitamin D? Among it being necessary for many key physical components, “Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms.” (Healthline.com)

* Hydrate! Drink lots and lots of water. Even a 1-2% reduction in total body water can make us think less clearly. It can flush out viruses, increases our digestive functions, and keeps our energy up. Our bodies are mostly made up of water, and seriously, if you don’t drink enough water in this stage of pre-loss grieving your mind and body will tell you. Try for 8, 8oz glasses per day.

* Exercise – See a pattern with some of these reoccurring options? Exercise is a mood lifter. It helps us purge excess nervous energy. It gives us something to focus on for a break from the stress we are enduring in a season of loss. It makes us stronger and healthier which helps us feel stronger to face the loss that is ahead. Exercise is like creating a savings account for your body. Treat your body well and when your loss happens, you can draw on your savings account, a healthy body, to give you strength to endure. Talk to your doctor about exercise that’s right for you.

* Reduce sugar – Sugar is the staple ingredient in many comfort foods, but it provides no real comfort itself. However, it can give heart palpitations, emotionally instability with euphoric highs and awful lows, as well as lead to weight gain which helps almost no one for all obvious reasons. Stress already plagues us with these symptoms, so why add more reasons to feel bad?

* Increase protein – Most American diets are high carb and low protein. Protein reduces appetite and hunger levels; increases muscle mass and strength; is a bone-builder for better skeletal health; reduces cravings and desires for late-night snacking; boosts metabolism and reduces blood pressure; helps maintain weight loss; and helps your body repair itself after injury (Healthline.com). All of these are beneficial in keeping depression from spiraling out of control.

* Find joy every day/Enjoy healthy vices – play with your pet, take a walk, practice a hobby, sign up for an online joke-of-the-day, watch a funny movie or tv show, laugh, think positive, humorous, silly, creative thoughts. Dream! Never stop dreaming. Play with your kids. Go to nature. Count your blessings. Put thankful and positive sticky notes around your house. Pray for peace and strength. My favorite Scripture for this is Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” I have it written on an index card by my keyboard, so it is in my peripheral every moment I’m at my computer.

* Allow yourself to feel depressed (Isn’t that what sad songs and movies are for?) as it’s a natural human emotion but be able to see red flags if they pop up, and take action. Depression can take us to dark places. Learn its potholes on your path so you can process feeling depressed in a healthy way (as a vehicle to take you to acceptance), without falling into the bottomless pit of depression. You’ll need to stay on your path of pre-loss grieving, without being stuck in depression, for when your loss comes and you begin the second leg of this race, post-loss grieving.

* Acknowledge your depressing thoughts. Be honest with yourself. Journal if that helps. Sit and stare at the sky. Allow empty space in your head and heart. If we’re always thinking, feeling and doing, we’ll never have time to just be. Create moments of quiet. It’s only then our bodies and minds can leach out the pain we’re holding in.

Almost every time in yoga, at the end of practice during savasana, tears stream down my face. Sometimes I know why and sometimes I don’t. But what I do know is that pain was stored in my body and giving myself time to be quiet and still, not thinking about anything, eyes closed, emotions I may not even be aware of rise to the surface of my heart and streams out in tears. I’ve talked to instructors about this and they say it’s normal and expected. The same is true with simply sitting with the Lord. Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know I that am God.” Try it today. Just be still knowing he is God. Start with 5 minutes.

* Help someone else – Sometimes the best thing to do to cheer ourselves up is to help someone else. It gets us out of our own heads. It reminds us there is someone else going through hard times, too. It helps us feel useful even when we can’t change our own circumstances. Whenever I’m feeling low, the first thing I think is, “How can I help someone?”

Helping brings optimism and positivity to the day, as well as literally helping someone’s else world be a little easier, brighter and cheerful. One of the best things we can do to recalibrate our thoughts is to realize that although OUR world may be crashing down around us, the rest of the world isn’t. Widen your lens to regain perspective and find hope for the future.

* Let others help you – We don’t always need to be the superhero in our story. Let someone else save the day. If they’re offering to help, let them. People care and everyone needs to feel cared for sometimes.

5. Acceptance – “This stage is about accepting the fact that a new reality cannot be changed. It is about seeing how the new reality will impact life and relationships.” (econdolence.com) Like we said in the beginning, stages of grief can bounce around, blur together and seem to feel utterly random. Although acceptance is the final stage, there are parts of our story we accept at different times.

Like pieces of a puzzle, we might find peace with one issue and how it fits into our lives while the whole puzzle may be far from completed. That’s okay because that is progress. And with pre-loss grieving, we are only accepting the point of the journey to which we have come. We haven’t even begun to digest the entire happening of the loss as it has yet to come. We’re only getting ourselves in position to be able to healthfully cope and grieve the loss when it does occur. Accepting our grief thus far. Accepting the pieces of loss thus far. Accepting our dealing with it, or not, thus far.

Pre-loss grieving through the lens of acceptance is a great heart checkup.

Ask ourselves questions like, “How am I doing so far?” “What can’t I let go of at this point?” “Do I need to seek the help of others?” “Am I coping in healthy ways?” “Do I feel red flags rising in my heart or head?” “What part of this journey has been the hardest for me so far?” “Knowing I am about to grieve the loss I’m anticipating; do I have the tools in my emotional toolbelt for this?” “If not, where can I find healthy resources to have at the ready when I need them?” “How is my world? My family? My coworkers? How are those who are going to incur this loss as I will doing?” “How can I help them?” “What are my biggest strengths and weaknesses in dealing with this loss?”

Accepting the reality of unwanted change, however it’s packaged, is sobering. Humbling. It makes us feel small and it all-powerful.

But acceptance can also make us feel strong! We can be encouraged that we’ve made it this far and can finish this journey to the end. We find we’ve discovered strengths we didn’t know we had. We’ve worked through issues and forgiven and asked for forgiveness. We’ve learned to let go of what wasn’t worth our energy and reconciled what we cannot fix thus far. We’ve made peace with ourselves and the fact that the looming loss will happen. We’ve learned God isn’t the bad guy; he’s actually good all the time despite the bad stuff happening. We’ve discovered our limits and how to respect them. We’ve picked up healthy habits through grieving.

All of these things give us the momentum we need to push forward and keep running our race when the loss descends on our lives and ravages our world. It may plunder everything around us, but we’ve come too far and worked too hard through grieving pre-loss and feel the tenacity burn within us to never give up; to keep pushing; to keep striving for a healthy new normal, no matter how long it takes.

Through acceptance, we allow new things about us and our relationships to bloom new buds. Yes, they may look different, but they are no less beautiful. I’ll never forget seeing a photo of Australia after the raging, devastating and all-consuming fires they suffered. It was a heartbreaking photo of a blackened and charred forest with absolutely no life left standing. It looked like hell had come to earth and breathed its curse on a once vibrant, active and gorgeous land.

However, in the middle of photo was the most spectacular, neon-green new plant that you’ve ever seen. It looked almost like a light was shining on it, it was so brilliantly colored. A dayglow green plant standing tall and healthy among the backdrop of charred death. It was magnificent. This photo is acceptance visualized.

We take all of the bad, the dead, the charred and the once-was and allow it to feed and fertilize the roots of something new and beautiful. We allow our landscape to change, knowing it will never look the same. But, because the new growth that blooms in our hearts and lives is fed by what was, and its sacrifice now nourishes the what-is, a new forest grows. A forest stronger and healthier than before. A forest where life will bud and bloom and seed and sprout, fed by the forest of what-was.

Accepting doesn’t mean we have to forget what once-was; erasing it like it never happened. It means we allow the root of the new buds to be forever fed by the what-was. Two timelines, two landscapes, working in tandem together so lovely only God could create such beauty from ashes.

Accepting isn’t forsaking what was, it is understanding how God can work it, and we can allow him work it, for the good of our lives going forward. The less we fight him on this, the quicker new buds can take root and we can make peace with, and even enjoy, the new landscape.

After all these things come to pass, the loss indeed happens. Like a game of Chutes & Ladders, we find ourselves at start all over again. Maybe the loss didn’t happen the way we expected. Maybe it was less horrible than we anticipated, maybe it was more.

Nonetheless, we shake off our running shoes, brush off our bruised knees and tighten our laces. Looking ahead, we rally a deep breath and take the first step in working the five stages of grief, post-loss this time. Godspeed in your journey, friend. May it be well with your soul.

Lessons from Nana…Have the conversation

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 188

I was looking forward all week to seeing Nana. When she saw me, she burst into tears, happy tears. She hugged me tight and would not let go. We stood in the middle of a busy dining room full of residents and staff, and Nana gripped me as though she hadn’t seen me in a long time. She didn’t remember it had only been four days.

I led her to a quiet table in the corner. As we sat, her cold, fragile hand held mine. It was just the two of us and my heart was so happy.

It’s been a struggle to keep her caloric intake up, and it was clear the more I distracted her with conversation the more she ate. So I kept talking and she kept eating. She spoke a few times about the pain from her cancer. Then she followed up with, “But it’s okay, I’m a tough old broad.”

Gulping down my awkwardness I asked, “What helps you stay a tough old broad, even under these circumstances? I really want to know.”

She smiled, got a little teary, and replied as she squeezed my hand, “Family and God. After all, he’s in charge.”

The sun slowly set over her shoulder. Every now and then my gaze wandered from her to the fiery colors of fuchsia and orange bursting from behind the clouds, fading to hues of purples and blues, eventually extinguishing to black.

One-by-one, residents finished their meals and left the dining room. The staff cleaned up around us but allowed us to linger.

Searching for a lighthearted topic, I asked her if she’s still enjoying her favorite television shows. “No. I don’t watch TV,” Nana scoffed. “Nothing matters anymore,” she continued. “Family matters. God matters. But nothing else.” She stared off into the distance, and continued, “It’s like I don’t care about anything anymore. But I don’t mean that to sound bad. It’s just what used to be important isn’t anymore. What I used to spend my time and energy on, it all really doesn’t matter.”

I quietly sat at the table and drank in her facial and body expressions, trying to sear them into memory for the day our conversations end. Nana was allowing me priceless insight into the perspective of someone with an aging body and ailing mind. I applaud her honest candor.

Listening with full attention, I saw a woman who is letting go.

Finding words for her sentences is like searching for seashells on a shore cluttered with incomprehension and nonsensical thoughts. Yet, with enough time and patience, her feelings, thoughts and opinions eventually reveal themselves through the sands of confusion.

These days, the TV sits silent in her apartment. Mail is tucked away. Her phone stays unplugged and she often doesn’t know where it is or even that she has one. The daily word searches delivered by the staff that she has so enjoyed over the past year lie untouched. Even ordering food from the daily menu is a struggle as a task that she couldn’t care about in the least.

There is a stark correlation to her recent decline. Rewind to last September. As best we could, we delivered the news to Nana that doctors gave her about six months to live. That is a post for another day. Her response to the news was, “I want to live as normal as possible for as long as possible.” This meant no more treatment of any kind. We respect her decision and asked, “So how do you want to spend your time? What is on your bucket list? Whatever we can give you, we want to. Want to go to the beach again? Go to New York one more time? You name it and we’ll try our best to make it happen.”

She sat with a quizzical stare. Between Alzheimer’s, angiosarcoma and aging, her mind is losing its footing. I, on the other hand, had fabulous aspirations of us going on amazing adventures. I could already see the selfies snapping in my mind’s eye. I saw us stepping barefoot into the coastal tide with water and sand tickling our toes. I envisioned a trip to the mountains where we open the sunroof and let the wind toss our hair as we spend the afternoon at apple orchards, which reminds her so much of home, and picking apples at the local fruit stands. I fancied the ideas of expensive restaurants, pondered playing with puppies in animal shelters, and even going to Disney World if that would delight her heart. Yet, the profound simplicity of her answer surprised me.

“I just want to see my kids one more time.”

Nana is a mother of four grown children with their own families; only one family lives locally. Her family is spread across three states from Texas to New York and over the following months they came to see her. Everyone tried to make it as fun as possible despite the bittersweet taste of the trips’ purpose – to say goodbye to Nana.

How does one say goodbye? Are there truly enough words that justify putting a period at the end of a relationship separated by death?

For my husband, her son, he wrestles with this every time he sees her. “It’s so hard knowing that every time I’m with her, I leave knowing it could be the last time.”

Saying goodbye over and over and over wears on a soul. Our rides home together are often spent with reflective contemplation inwardly while processing together outwardly.

And for our family out of town, they came with the somber realization that they were going to have one last hug, one last kiss, one last eye-to-eye, “I love you.” The finality of a final goodbye is unbearable.

But enter our tough old broad. Nana knows where she is going and she knows who is waiting for her. She’s told us for years that as much as she loves her kids and grandkids, she’s got a lot more people waiting for her in heaven than she does on earth. It’s a little twingey to hear, but I understand her point.

When her youngest son drove her home one last time on his trip to say goodbye last month, Nana looked at him and said, “So I guess the next I see you will be in heaven.” “Yes, I guess it will, Mom.”

I have not stopped thinking about their conversation. How raw. How real. How rare.

Most people cannot even talk about death, much less the direct impact it has on loved ones even while the person is still living. Yet here are mother and son, openly talking about this last face-to-face time they’ll see each other on this celestial orb of water and clay. What a gift of closure for them both. It was a lifetime of relationshipping wrapped up in two sentences and a mutual I love you. How remarkable!

Nana is certainly a tough old broad. She’s sat through endless doctors’ appointments talking about surgeries, recoveries, physical therapy, home therapy, and even hospice. Now she is speaking about the last chapter of her life and the only things that remain important – God and family.

Her daughter and grandson came to say goodbye. Again, how can a lifetime together be summed up in one word, seven letters – goodbye. But this is a blessing that many don’t get to experience. Those who lose loved ones quickly or unexpectedly would give anything in the world to have one last conversation; one more “I love you;” an “I’m sorry;” an “I forgive you.”

My mom died I when was 16 years old. My family, out of love for me, wanted to protect me from the pain of her dying. However, by not including me in conversations about Mom’s grim prognosis, they weren’t protecting me, rather they were preventing me from grieving her illness and death.

If I had known that doctors had not given her hope of surviving her last night, I never ever would have gone out with friends that night. I wouldn’t have had a friend spend the night for goodness sakes! I never ever would have left her side. But I didn’t know, and the guilt of leaving her in her last hours is something that a 16 year old then, a 49 year old now, has carried ever since.

To have had that night to apologize for my hormonal, bratty teenage years and the aloof dissing as an insecure middle-schooler would’ve been a blessing beyond measure for us both. To reminisce about the good and let go of the bad would have brought immeasurable healing and peace. Just to be with her in her last hours…after all, she once told me in the throws of brutal chemo and radiation, “I’m only going through all of this for you girls. <my sister and me> Ya’ll are the reason I’m living.” My place was by her bedside that last night. I owed her that much, but I didn’t know.

On the contrary, I sat with my biological father as he laid dying in the hospital. I first met him when I was 12 years old. We didn’t reconcile until I was 33 year old. We were given eight great years until he died of cancer. Our relationship was unique and unlikely, but with God as our witness we gave our relationship to him and he blessed it. When I got the call to come to Atlanta to say goodbye, my husband and I were in the middle of a home remodel. I tossed the keys to the contractor and our family of five piled into the minivan and we hit the road. I wasn’t going to miss (again) my last chance to say goodbye to my only living parent.

Sitting at his bedside, I asked if everyone clustered in the crowded, tiny hospital room wouldn’t mind leaving. My husband, children and my dad’s wife left the room and it was just my dad and me. Lung cancer held his words and breath hostage. I had never seen him weak and watching him lie there with oxygen tubes and IVs was overwhelming. I knew I had one chance to say it. Three words I could never bring myself to say in our eight short years, nor in my entire life. I knew I needed to say them as much as he needed to hear them.

I needed to say them in hopes to overwrite one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever said to another human being. Years before, he stood in my home (to which he traveled hours to see my family and me) and I said to him straight to his face, “You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.” A hurt little girl deep inside still longed to feel like a daughter. I had been in counseling off and on for years, but still had so much unresolved anger, hurt and resentment which is too complicated to pen here. The thing is, I meant those words at the time– but I didn’t mean to say them to him.

Fast-forward several years, more counseling, and much heart change, maturity and personal growth later, I was a different person. I desperately wanted to take those words back knowing how much they hurt him. I did my best to show it to him that I didn’t mean those words anymore and that I did want him in my life, not just in my children’s lives. We made great memories together until cancer came calling. The photo album would have a hard stop in its timeline. But I wondered if I said three words, that they would perhaps elude time and distance, sickness and health. So much had not been said in our lifetime, could three words possibly bear the weight of it all? Could three words erase the negative and amplify the positive conversations and shared moments between us for three decades? Are three words that powerful?

Kicking aside the scattered stones of pride and human emotion that were leftover from a very thick and high wall that guarded my heart, I left myself wide open and vulnerable in a moment in an Atlanta hospital room. My palms were soaked with sweat, the back of my neck stung with prickly anxious heat, and my pounding heart welled up in my throat. Taking a deep breath, and deciding not to overthink it any longer, I gently took his hand, looked him in the eye and softly said, “I’m sorry I can’t fix this. I’m sorry I can’t make you better.” He looked at me, unable to move, but I felt the hug of his heart.

Then I said in one breath, and without blinking, “I love you.”

A wave of relief and freedom washed over me. It was my first, and last, I love you, to my dad. He died not 24 hours later.

Some may find my openness and lack of filter about such personal and painful topics audacious, off-putting, uncomfortable, and even offensive. I totally get it and don’t blame them at all. But I’ve lived both scenarios – saying goodbye and not saying goodbye. Not saying goodbye is far harder to live with than momentarily swallowing pride, overcoming awkwardness, leaning into the opportunity, and saying what needs to be said.

Likewise, Nana and I have had lots of positive conversations about dying over these last months. Having Christ as Savior changes the entire perspective on living and dying. We talk about the certainty of Jesus’ promise in John 14:2-3, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” There is so much for Christians to look forward to!

Christina Rossetti wrote the poem, “Let Me Go,” with its words, “…For this is a journey we all must take, and each must go alone. It’s all part of the master plan, a step on the road to home…” Although its words are comforting, they are conventional.

Nana and I are going about her journey in an unconventional way. And in many ways, I feel like we’ve grown closer in the past year than in the 33 years we’ve known each other; largely due to our continuing conversations.

I want to walk Nana as close to heaven as I can get to minimize her aloneness in the journey as the poem wrote. My hope is to hand her to heaven when the Lord calls her home so there is not one moment spent unaccompanied between her last breath on earth and her first glimpse of eternity.

So we’ve escorted the elephants out of the room and talk about “it.” It being whatever the day brings – an emotion, a decision, a thought, a memory. She knows she can tell me anything. She also knows this is the time to say it.

This is Nana’s epilogue. Her moment to reflect and respond to the 80 years she has lived. When I think of all she has seen, lived through and overcome I’m amazed at her perseverance, strength and how she has kept her sense of humor through it all.

From stuffing newspapers in her shoes as a child to replace insoles long worn out; how as a 12-year-old girl home alone, she bravely brandished a shotgun to scare off two drunk men who came looking for trouble; she walked the college stage to receive her degree very married and very pregnant, even holding up the ceremonial line for her extra restroom trip (oh the joys of pregnancy!); she marveled at snowfalls as high as their roof; she enjoyed summer camping on Maine beaches and ice fishing on the lake; she hosted countless birthday parties and lived through too many world wars; from spirited poker nights to scary bomb shelters; dogs running amuck all over the house; a house always needing repairs; all-you-can-eat Friday fish fries at the local HoJo and 4th of July fireworks at Lake George; Martha’s ice cream and Dirty John’s hot dogs; Studebakers and station wagons; dancing into the night and nights spent sitting up with sick babies; giving up smoking and giving her life to Christ; cooking with Julia Child’s and crying with Billy Graham on tv; raising four active children and sending them off into the world as adults; all of her countless prayers and answers to prayers; owning her own store and working as an elementary school teacher, Nana never sat down unless it was to knit or read an Agatha Christie mystery. She walked her husband home to heaven and spent years serving the church, and now the church is serving her through its widow ministry, and it is our family’s turn to walk her to heaven. As Nana rounds the corner of life, in her home stretch she reflects on the big, releases the small, and reminiscences about the millions of life’s moments and lessons in the middle.

These stories deserve to be told and retold. So we spark her memory with a story-starter and then sit back and let her talk. This is her epilogue, worthy of hearing, recording, remembering.

I know she is letting go because she tells me even without admitting it. Because with every conversation, she talks to me regarding “us” in past tense. “I’m so glad I got the chance to love you like a daughter.” “I’m so glad God brought you into our family.” “I’m so glad I got to know you.”

I swallow hard but freeze my smile, so she won’t notice. In some ways it feels like I’m talking to a ghost. In other ways it feels like I’m talking to someone who has never been so alive as a lifetime lived on this earth, bound by time and space, waits patiently to escape this world and enter eternity. Where in heaven, the stories of old once again are retold, this time with all the actors alive, well and immortal. A gathering of life and love that will never end.

We, the family who will be left behind for now, will gather her stories and hold them close to our hearts. We will retell them to our children and grandchildren in countless conversations so they know their roots; an intangible legacy of life and love binding us together now and in the eternal.

None of this is possible without one thing – a conversation. Have the conversation. Say what needs to be said, in love. Bring peace where possible. Embrace closure. Give grace to all…including yourself. Escort the elephants out. Invite the Holy Spirit in. Laugh together. Cry together. Hold hands. Hug. Reminisce. Dream. Talk about life goals and final wishes. Sit in silence, but be together. Bless and pray for each other. Mend wounds. Heal hurts. Share joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments. Admit wrongdoings. Say I’m sorry and accept apologies. Agree to disagree when needed. Celebrate successes. Focus on what we have in common. Love one another. Savor the moments we have together now as tomorrow is not promised for any of us.

It all starts with a conversation.

Lessons from Nana…Accept help

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 187

Thanksgiving 2019

Why women believe we must bear the weight of the world on our shoulders I’ll never understand; and I’m guilty as charged. We carry the world’s burdens in our hearts, careful not to drop a single one, feeling immensely responsible for their outcome whether we truly are or not.

There’s a visual image seared into my mind that haunts and follows me when I am alone. I’m walking on a road, swimming in the ocean, or climbing a mountain and I have the person or problem literally strapped to my back. The more people and problems, the more piled on and on and on until I’m falling on bloody knees, drowning under the waves, or hanging on the side of the cliff with nails dug deep into the dirt wall that presses against my sweaty face.

Even still, I won’t stop. I just keep going…and going…and going reluctant to ask for help. I smile anyway. “I’m fine,” anyway. “It’s all good,” anyway. It’s not good and I’m not fine. So I retreat, slipping into the shadows of life to avoid the fronting, fake smiles I wear like a pro. I go deep into my hiding place until I’ve slept, regained train of thought, cried, journaled, or whatever it takes to breathe again. Only then I step back into the daylight, return texts, messages, phone calls and resume whatever normal looks like…until the people and problems heap on my back again and I break under the pressure, again.

Not so with Nana. She has always been very vocal about her needs. There’s no ambiguity of where she’s at in life and her outspokenness is kind of a family joke (in an endearing way).

However, stating a need and asking for help are two different things.

Nana is one of the most strong and strong-willed women I know. For 32 years I’ve called her MacGyver and watched her sew torn luggage with dental floss in the middle of the airport; foster over 60 dogs with her husband; and throw together a dinner for twenty in less time than it takes most of us to drive to the grocery store.

When she moved to our city, I committed to helping her move in, get settled, and do life with her. We found great deals for nesting her apartment at consignment stores – her happy place other than garage sales. Two weeks in, she fell. For these past two years it has literally been one health crisis after the next starting with this fall and maybe a month thrown in here or there to come up for air.

I know it’s been hard on her. Relocating to a new city, joining a new church, leaving old friends while remaining open to making new ones, learning new roads, finding new stores, it’s a lot for anyone at any age, and she was 79 at the time. She met the challenge with a strong spirit and determination to conquer the city. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Needless to say, her health issues have been a total surprise; with each one more serious than the last. This isn’t the retirement she had planned; certainly not a terminal diagnosis within six months of moving here.

I call her my Naomi and I’m her Ruth. I told her we’d get through all of this. ER trips, surgical boots, physical therapy, fourteen doctors with just as many medications, surgery upon surgery, MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, pre-op, post-op, a broken ankle, a fractured vertebra, sinus infections, cancer, a mastectomy, bridge work, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more doctor appointments than I can count just to name a few.

She’s been such a trooper with each episode. Whether it was days when she was up and ready to go, or days I arrived and she had forgotten and was still in her jammies, she rose to the occasion and simply trusted me to care for her. If I filled a new prescription, she took it. If I gave her the walker, she used it. We waded waters of medical decisions, dental decisions, orthopedic decisions, neurology decisions, split decisions, decisions made with family; so many decisions I can’t recount them all. I sat with her through every single doctor’s appointment for two years. She recovered from both surgeries in our home.

I’ve watched her defer to us for help of all kinds. Her “tough ‘ol broad” self-proclamation became softer as her mind became fuzzier, and she began to lean on us more for direction and decisions. Treating her no different than I would have treated my own mother if she was still alive, and how my sister and I cared for my grandmother, I’ve helped Nana as if we were bound by blood, not marriage.

Perhaps I got a little too close. Her life and mine became so intertwined I’m not sure where she stopped and I started. My family saw this. They encouraged me to have boundaries and take time for self-care.

But there’s this advocate in me that won’t be quiet. I’m a fierce fighter who will stand in front of whatever moving train is threatening someone in my care. The voiceless, the helpless, the vulnerable – we are called to help them and I take it to heart. And when those are family, we are called to help them all the more. And as for widows, God specifically mentions our duty to care for them several times throughout the Bible. Another box checked on the life list for my Naomi.

An attitude of, “I’ll fix this. I’ll handle this. I’ll take care of this. I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you. You’re safe with me,” is the advocate in me that won’t stop or rest or back down for those who need it. Not ever.

I’ve watched Nana have to accept more help the more serious her physical and neurological needs progressed. The worst was having to take her car away after she put herself in a dangerous position and didn’t realize it. She was mad at me, and the family, for four months. I’m not sure she ever fully forgave us. But with every other decision, she’s been amazingly compliant because she has always known we are working in her very best interest. The way we’d want to be treated. They way her husband, my favorite father-in-law, would’ve treated her if he were still alive. The way I will stand before God one day and be held accountable for caring for his daughter, a widow, elderly, lacking memory to advocate for herself, and lacking physical health to provide for herself.

I’ve taken this task extremely seriously which is perhaps why I often cry all the way home on the long drives during every season and in every kind of weather until near hyperventilation.

As she has let me help more as her needs grow, I watch her fight herself for freedom. Two moves: the first one was to relocate down here and gain independence, and the second one to forfeit that new independence exactly a year later to an assisted living facility, with no other option for her safety. She has desperately wanted to stay independent in her desire to make one more meal for herself; pay her own bills and balance her own checkbook; power-walking up and down the halls of her apartment just to prove she still could; moving very heavy furniture by herself to demonstrate her strength (which led to the fractured vertebrae); working crossword puzzles and word searches to stay mentally sharp; answering the neurologist’s memory questions honestly, as I turned my face away to avoid her seeing me weep at the six answers she got wrong compared to the one answer she got right.

We locked arms and boldly marched on with every appointment. Most times she didn’t know which doctor we were seeing or why, but I had her back. I peeked over her shoulder as she stepped on the scale so I could monitor her weight. I held candid discussions with the doctors and her when she didn’t want to admit she had lost more physical or mental ground. Sometimes I felt like a tattletale, but as her advocate doctors needed honesty to treat her properly.

She fights to hard to stay independent, yet she has a keen sense of knowing when to accept help when she needs it. I look back on the past two years, which feel like a lot more in some ways with all the physical and mental battles she’s fought and me at her side fighting for her, and it’s sobering to see where we are now.

I’ve had her strapped on my back for two years without ceasing. Without ceasing. It has been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also some of the most rewarding.

So on December 18th, exactly a week before Christmas, I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot barely able to breathe. Choking back tears, I walked in, not knowing what the person looked like whom I was meeting.

Not one, but two women greeted me; both with the same first name. They were with Hospice. This meeting about killed me. It was supposed to last about an hour. We were there 2.5 hours with my never-ending questions. They were incredibly patient, kind, and gentle. They assured me the decision was totally up to the family and that they were there to answer questions and help if we so chose.

Our family knew this meeting was happening and I had their blessing. Still, signing the paperwork as her HCPOA, the weight of responsibility nearly broke my heart in two. Despite the emotional fit I was having on the inside, I hid it pretty well on the outside…until…

They explained that Hospice would now be her PCP, oncologist, etc. I know their help is a good and necessary thing, but a wave of grief overtook me in one tsunami tidal crash I didn’t expect and couldn’t control. The women saw my countenance drop and asked if I was okay. I replied, “I need a second,” and looked away. Turning back toward them, with tears welling up, I asked, “So the last time we went to the oncologist was the last time we would see him?” Short answer, “Yes.”

Grief grabbed me and choked the lump in my throat. “It’s just that, well, he was the best doctor we’ve ever had, and I didn’t get to tell him. We didn’t get to say goodbye.” There was a chasm in my heart, a gaping hole void of closure between me and this decision to sign on Hospice.

Suddenly, the past two years flashed before me like a movie reel in fast-forward. Memories we made together came flooding to mind such as the many trips to various doctors and surgeons; trips through the drive-thru after a hard appointment, as my grandmother did for me when I was a child to make things better; our hundreds of car conversations; wringing my nervous hands in elevators; endless waiting in waiting rooms; dashing to fetch the car for her in pelting rain; heating the car for her in the dismal, frigid winter; finding every handicap parking space at nearly every medical facility in our city; wearing face masks and gloves in the ER; falling asleep sitting straight up in stiff, hard doctor office chairs in the middle of the night; watching other patients wait with us who were just as sick as Nana was, or sicker, as they moaned and groaned and threw up and passed out all around us in the hospital; checking voicemails and texts in the bathroom so she wouldn’t feel overlooked; half-reading half-interesting, outdated magazine articles in doctors’ offices; meeting up with the sweet driver at her assisted living facility when she could help drive her to appointments – we must’ve rendezvoused in every parking lot in a twenty-mile radius in our city; more of her favorite hamburgers and milkshakes; more waiting at the pharmacies; watching her struggle to find one of the five lipsticks in her purse she swore was not in there; assuring her that she looked pretty as her appearance has always been important to her; triaging her symptoms-of-the-day to discern whether or not it required a call to the doctor; sitting with endless doctors and making endless decisions with her and for her…it was all over. In one conversation and a few signatures, it was all over.

I suddenly wanted so badly to drive her to one more appointment, shoot the breeze in one more waiting room, fix her a cup of complimentary coffee, listen to her muse about the world around us, shake hands with one more doctor, and check one more doctor’s visit off the list.

What felt so dreadfully hard on some days, I silently begged to have back now sitting with Hospice and realizing this lap of her race is over. I didn’t know what to do with this new reality. The adrenaline that fuels the advocate in me was still pumping in my veins to do, to act, to help Nana. I wasn’t ready to hand this baton to anyone else and trust them to run on her behalf.

I understand Nana is no less Nana in Hospice’s care. She is no less our responsibility as family. Hospice is help. They are the very best at what they do and surely, they answer a calling 99% of the population could not handle for one minute. I am convinced there is a special place in heaven for Hospice staff. Their crowns will shine like the sun. But the protector in me struggles to let go.

I looked at the two ladies eye-to-eye and said without blinking, “Please don’t be offended, but it’s hard for me to entrust her to you. I’ve done my Hospice homework, but don’t truly know you. We’ve just met, and although so far so good, I’ve had some other medical companies ditch us and neglect her care. I’m worried.”

They sat with me for 2.5 hours until I was satisfied this was the best thing for Nana even though I knew in my heart and head it was time. Nana’s physical needs outgrew what I could provide. No number of doctor appointments could keep pace with the progression of Angiosarcoma and Alzheimer’s.

I often woke up in paralyzing fear in the middle of the night worried about her. If I wasn’t with her, I worried whether or not she was okay. Did she not answer the phone because she forgot she had a phone, accidentally turned the sound off, forgot to recharge it, forgot how to use it, lost it (which all of the aforementioned have happened), or was she lying on the floor unconscious from another fall? Rational and irrational thoughts warred in, and wore on, my mind and soul.

Hospice has been the very best thing for Nana. Her needs are tended to every single day in the comfort of her own space. They are a godsend and I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. It gives us enormous peace of mind and comfort as they happily accommodate my request for daily updates on who was there, what they did, and how she is doing. And in their words just today, “She’s doing as well as can be expected as the cancer grows.”

I’m so appreciative for their updates, but still I am not okay. The fighter in me feels like a failure. The advocate sits in awkward silence. The warrior stands weaponless on the battlefield. The protector feels the powerless weight of empty arms that are used to holding Nana, figuratively and literally.

I’m trying to follow Nana’s example of accepting help. I’m thankful, I really am. But in one morning meeting the dynamics of “us” completely changed forever, and that is something I wasn’t emotionally prepared for, even though it’s a good thing.

After hours of conversation and signing the paperwork, one of the ladies had to leave for another meeting as the other one sat across from me with tears in her eyes. She told me her story of going through a similar situation in her own family and that she understood my feelings.

I looked at her, and with a shaky voice muttered, “For the past two years I’ve been 90% caregiver and 10% daughter-in-law. Who am I now? What is my role…now?”

She tenderly answered with a quivering chin and merciful smile, “Now you’re 90% daughter-in-law.” We both sat in silence as she gave me time to process.

I broke the long silence between us with an, “Okay,” said under my breath, slowly nodding my head in peaceful acceptance, trying to hold it together in a bustling Starbucks full of young moms busy with their babies, business men in expensive suits with important places to be, and hipster millennials with earbuds in and eyes fixed on their laptops. “Okay,” I said again agreeably.

In that moment I understood a little of what Nana felt when she conceded to help with big steps like allowing the family to help with her finances, handing me her keys to the car she loved, and once again packing up her apartment and the independent life she loved after only a year.

Knowing decisions are right, and are even for the best, doesn’t make them any less difficult to live out.

Fast forward one month later. I’m huddled in my heavy robe scrolling texts and toggling between Hospice nurses and family. I texted the Hospice chaplain to see if she could visit Nana again as her health declines and the calendar continues to turn. To my surprise, the chaplain responded by calling me back. I didn’t want to talk and would’ve rather had a one-dimensional conversation through text as I struggle to find my way out of my emotional hiding place from all of this.

She said, “I can be at her place in 20 minutes.” “Whoa,” I thought to myself. I was shocked she could get there so quickly! Borrowing some of Nana’s willingness to accept help, I sheepishly asked, “I don’t want to burden you, but, um, how often do you think you could visit her? The doctors have given her a couple of months at best, and I think the more visits from friendly faces the better, but I don’t want to take too much of your time.”

The chaplain replied, “I can come as often as you’d like.” “Oh wow. Um, would once a week work for you?” I asked. She replied, “Baby, listen to me…” Her comforting words and soothing, motherly tone made me feel emotionally safe in our conversation. “Kristi, Baby, listen to me. I am here for Miss Salli. But I’m also here for your family. And I’m here…for you, too.”

Bundled up in my robe, hiding from life, tears streamed down my face I sat speechless. She touched a soft spot in my soul. It’s like she knew it was difficult for me to ask for help without me admitting it. The confidence with which she spoke allowed me to let down my guard and accept her support because she can be someone to Nana that I cannot be; just like the nurses; just like so many people who have joined us on our journey these past two years. Her words and voice convinced me she really meant it. She really wants to be there for Nana. My heart quietly raised its white flag of surrender, yielding to the truth that there is safety in numbers. Not even my husband and I together can do this. Nor can rest of the family spread out across three states. This is bigger than all of us.

“Are you still there, Kristi?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m here,” I spoke in a faint whisper.

“Okay, then I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she assured me.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I pleaded.

“It’s what I do and I’m happy to do it. And if I can make a difference in Miss Salli’s life, and help your family at the same time, then my life won’t be in vain,” she said.

How does one respond to such authentic compassion and genuine empathy?

We hung up and I laid the phone in my lap. Staring into the dark, for the first time in a long time I felt the strength of a helping hand pulling me out of the pit.

So many wonderful people have been available to Nana 24/7 and it has been a blessing beyond measure. She’s accepted their help with graciousness and gratitude.

For me, on the other hand, I’ve still wanted to be a part of things. Not controlling or in the way, but I deeply care how she is doing on the days I am not able to see her. In part, because I love her and my heart aches knowing she’s fighting the battle for her life. Also, in part, is the humbleness of admitting that everyone needs help, including me.

Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – has taught me one of the greatest lessons she could teach: Accept help. Know when we need it. Know when to ask for it. Be willing to accept it. And say thank you, which she has said no less than a million times.

Truly, her wisdom regarding when to fight and when to relinquish is something that will be part of her greatest legacy to me. Man, she knows how to fight for what she wants! Her persistence on lesser matters has caused me much anxiety. But she also knows when to say enough, end the arm wrestle, and trust someone else with the decision.

She’s spending a lot more time in bed these days. The cancer pain has been a challenge to keep under control. She is accepting everyone’s help: the nurses in their daily visits; the chaplain who prays and sings hymns with her (or to her depending on the day); the med techs who are amazingly awesome and shower Nana with love and care; and all of the folks, medical or not, who have walked a mile or more with Nana, sojourning on the road leading her to heaven.

It has been, and will continue to be, a privilege to serve her in this way as caregiver these past two years in the good times and in the hard. As much as she has allowed my help, and as I’ve watched her let others in and trust them with her care, I believe the best way for me to pay tribute to her legacy in this is to learn to do the same in my life…another passing of the baton, if you will.

In her example, I lay down my pride and stubbornness, my clinging to in the name of love and worry, and my heart will smile and accept help in honor of Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – who taught me we don’t have to fight our battles alone.

Garbanzo Bean Soup

Food pics edited for FB copy 3 - Page 434

Some meals satisfy our appetites. Others fill our souls. This is one of those soul-filling meals for me because of the backstory.

Growing up, eating out was a rarity. These days restaurants – fast food, sit downs, food trucks, etc  – are a way of life; a food group of its own, if you will. But not so 20 and 30 years ago.

So on the very rare day my mom said, “Let’s go out!” I was so excited. One restaurant was very special to me because it was special to my mom.

Enter Cafe Pepe’s in Tampa, Florida.

I was fortunate to grow up in a melting pot city with so many diverse flavors – Southern, Coastal, Latino, Asian, and Soul food to name a few. An authentic Cuban sandwich is still my favorite sandwich in the entire world (no mayo or hoagie rolls allowed!).

Cafe Pepe’s is where my mom went when she needed a pick-me-up. She hardly ever did anything for herself, so if we were going there then it was because it met not just a physical need for food, but an emotional need for comfort. Watching her do this for her selfless self meant the world to me and I wasn’t going to miss it!

Funny thing about this restaurant…I never knew they had menus. Seriously! When we went, we got the same thing every single time. Complimentary dark bread (like a pumpernickel), garbanzo bean soup, and flan (her favorite dessert, and even that was a splurge).

It wasn’t until I was dating my then husband and offered up Cafe Pepe’s for a walk down memory lane, and on a dinner date did I see my first menu with paella and all kinds of yummy dishes.

Visiting Tampa years later, I was so excited to take my kids to this favorite spot, only to find it gone. No! Right then, I promised myself I would recreate their garbanzo bean soup so even though the restaurant may not be there, I can enjoy this comfort food anytime, as well as keep its legacy alive for my mom’s legacy, the grandchildren she sadly never got to meet.

Cafe Pepe’s may be gone, but its memory lives on. I’m not sure what I miss most about this magical restaurant; the incredible food, the dimly lit atmosphere illuminated only by glowing candles, or that this place will always remind me to take time for a little self-care that my mom modeled for us.

After much tweaking, this recipe replicates the taste exactly how I remember it. I tell my kids, “If you want a taste of my childhood, this soup is on point.”

I hope this soup warms your heart and stomachs as much as it does ours.

INGREDIENTS:

6 cans                Unsalted chickpeas/garbanzo beans

1 ½  large          White or sweet onion; diced, I used frozen

4                        Mixed fresh peppers (red, orange, green & yellow); diced

2 pkgs                Polish Kielbasa or smoked sausage links, fully cooked; sliced into bite-sized pieces (I use skinless, no MSG) * Turkey sausage does not work well in this recipe. Use beef, pork or a combination of both.

2, 32oz boxes     Reduced sodium chicken broth

1, 32oz box        Reduced sodium beef broth

1T                      Parsley

4 cloves             Garlic; minced

1t                      Salt, to taste

1/2t                   Pepper

1/4t                  Cayenne pepper (a.k.a. crushed red pepper)

1t                     Herbs de Provence

DIRECTIONS:

Crockpot –

  1. Drain & rinse beans.
  2. Add everything to crock pot and cook for 5 hours on low then 2 hours on high or until peppers are soft.

Stovetop –

Add everything to large stock pot on stove and heat until boiling and peppers are soft. Simmer until ready to serve..

Freezes great!

Lessons from Nana…Enjoy the moment

Food pics edited for FB copy 3 - Page 433

There are days when Alzheimer’s and Angiosarcoma have the upper hand. Those are really hard days. We think to ourselves, “She didn’t know who we were today. We want to be here, but she didn’t know…”

The thing is, even if she is confused about what’s happening, we come anyway. Nana is still Nana even if she’s confused; even when she is too weak to get out of bed.

We brought our dog with us because Nana loves dogs more than anything in the world; maybe more than her own family, lol. We thought this could cheer her up. And if that didn’t work, maybe the mint chocolate chip milkshake from Cook Out would do the trick. And if that still didn’t help, perhaps the Agatha Christie books (her favorite) we found on eBay.

Was it one of our best visits? No. Not even close. She is suffering in so many ways. It hurts us deeply to see her go through this and not be able to fix anything – just treat symptoms.

But I’m learning, even on the hard days, to enjoy the moment. Nana taught me decades ago that we can handle anything. She often used to say, “I can do anything for ____ amount of time.” If that meant a 3-hour car ride, she’d say, “I can do anything for 3 hours.”

I find myself saying that now in this season with her. Despite the health obstacles she is facing, I catch myself saying her words, “I can do this for this season.” It’s not easy. Making difficult decisions about her future with the family, arranging for help, and the hundreds of details of life that encompass her final lap in life, I lean on the person I know is still in there – Nana the fearless, the strong and strong-willed.

When I’ve cried my eyes out, or have been frustrated with things beyond my control, or disheartened by the terminal illnesses that plague her body, I still hear her in my mind, clear as a bell, saying with confidence, “I can do anything for now!”

If Nana can endure this, then so can we. And part of making this season easier is to lean in to the hard and enjoy the moment. Watching her enjoy a sip of the milkshake; the look of surprise on her face with the books; or the many kisses she gave our dog, these moments – which are so small you’d miss them if you blinked – are priceless beyond measure.

Food pics edited for FB copy 3 - Page 432

This photo of her smiling was the only smile she could muster this day through the pain and symptoms of the diseases. I’m so thankful to have captured it because her smile shows her strength, tenacity and determination for life and living.

It makes me wonder what fleeting moments I’m missing in everyday life because I’m distracted – or simply not looking for them. Her smile makes me want to not blink, not miss, not turn my head for a second from life’s hidden treasures.

Her smile was the best part of our visit. We left with hearts broken but hang on to the truth that God’s got her, and she trusts him with her life…so I can trust him, too. We can smile through the hard and enjoy the moment of being together. Simply being together.

I am going to be more intentional looking for the moments in life that make it worth living. A shared smile, a gentle hug, a kiss on the cheek – connections that cannot be stolen by illness and time.

Times when hearts connect, and we are made stronger by leaning on each other’s strength.

Watching Nana love on our dog, I see her true spirit, the person she still is even when her personality is overshadowed by circumstance. She’s still Nana. I’m going to enjoy every moment I can with her until the Lord calls her home. My prayer is for more moments with her, strung together over time like pearls on a necklace, and that I never forget the pricelessness of them – mundane or monumental – they’re all important…because she is.

Lessons from Nana – Keep looking forward…and forward to…

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, table, child and indoor

Our girl gave Nana such a thoughtful Christmas present this year. Shopping for her was a challenge. What do you give someone who knows they are dying? Someone who only has months to live and has come to terms with it?

My SIL shopped for pajama sets, a great idea! I got fuzzy socks to go with the pajamas, her favorite body lotion, and her favorite snacks since some days Nana doesn’t feel up to going downstairs to the dining hall for her meals. These are all useful and she was happy to receive them.

But our daughter did something uniquely different for Nana. Knowing she struggles with Alzheimer’s, so she made her a photo album with the thought that seeing family faces would be comforting to Nana. Awesome idea!

Needless to say, Nana cried when she opened the album. With lots of photos from past and recent, and it was fun to go through them naming faces and places. It was a wonderful walk down memory lane.

However, every time she came to a photo of her late husband, the best FIL anyone could ask for, she said the same thing each time. She gently placed her hand on his photo and said with a smile, “I have a feeling it’s not going to be long before I see him again.”

I replied, “He’s cuing up the band and lacing his shoes. He’s got a dance ready for you.”

I’ve never seen a couple who love to dance more than them. For decades, I watched them jitterbug and slow dance every chance they got. It’s one of my favorite memories of them together. Dancing. Twirling. Hand-in-hand their bodies moved together as if they were one person…and after 40+ years of marriage, they indeed were one.

They finished each other’s sentences, knew each other’s thoughts, understood their strengths and weakness, and always found a reason to laugh together.

From enjoying nightly ice cream while wearing shorts in upstate New York when it was negative degrees outside; to soaking up hours of sun on Florida beaches; to attending church and being involved in numerous ministries together; to never missing a family event at which my FIL always said with tear-filled eyes, “Thanks for including us,” these two were each other’s lives.

She’s felt his absence for the past 15 years. A piece of her died when he did. Her heart packed its bags on the day he drew his last breath and she has been ready to join him ever since.

But she’s said something so interesting to me over the past 15 years regarding his passing. She says that her prayer has always been to not let her feel the full weight of his loss.
And God has granted that request.
She tells us that she only remembers the good times they had and recalls very little about his illness, the ICU, his suffering and his death.
She credits God for granting her request to block that part of their life out so she only remembers the good.

Beautiful.

However, even more beautiful is that she is looking forward to seeing him again in heaven. She knows that she knows he and her family & friends are waiting for her.
I encourage her with Jesus’ words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14: 1-3)

Since they are both believers, my FIL is indeed waiting for her. He’s been saving a dance for her for 15 years. I can only imagine how they will glide across Heaven’s streets of gold to the rhythm of angel voices.

It is great fun, and so good, to look back on photos of wonderful memories and remanence over stories told a thousand times.

Nana, and all believers, also have a whole lot to look forward to.

Only God knows the day he will call her home. She believes it won’t be long. The doctors agree.
With her time left on this earth we’ll keep sharing photos and memories. We will continue to bond over stories past and present.
And we will, with great anticipation, follow Nana’s lead and look forward – and look forward to – all that is to come.
The eternal party is just getting started…

Lessons from Nana…Sojourn

No photo description available.

I tidied up while Bruce assisted Nana with her cell phone at Nana’s apartment the other day. She’s not only battling angiosarcoma but Alzheimer’s as well, and some days working the phone can be a challenge.

He played her voicemails on speaker while Nana sat quietly in her bedroom holding the phone in her hand as she stared into the distance listening to friends’ messages.

One of the messages captured my heart and spirit. I stopped what I was doing and just listened. Nana’s friend left a warm and loving message. She told Nana how much she and her friends miss her in NY and that she’s never far from thought or prayer. But then…

Then her friend did THE sweetest thing.

She said, “I know this is just a message, but I want to leave you with this.” She began to sing Amazing Grace. Nana’s friend sang Amazing Grace in the voicemail. A huge lump welled up in my throat. It felt like her friend was right here in the apartment, sitting with Nana, encouraging her spirit through song.

What happened next caused me to sit down in full attention to the moment.

Nana started to sing along to the message.

These two ladies, who have seen so much throughout their many decades, who have been married, had children, buried loved ones, lived through wars and presidents and social change, sat together virtually and sang Amazing Grace.

There are no words. It was one of the most precious moments in our entire Christmas season. Nana didn’t realize, or if she did she didn’t care, that Bruce and I could hear. She simply sat on the side of her bed and sang a favorite hymn with her dear friend.

I know there will come a day when Nana will join the choirs of heaven, leaving only the echo of her voice behind. Her friend knows it, too. And that is what is so tender. Her friend is helping Nana finish her race.

In that last mile, when runners are exhausted, their legs cramp, and with dry mouths they push through the fiery burn in their lungs and know its now or never to commit to finishing the race. It’s also known that most runners quit in the last leg with the finish line nearly in sight.

Nana’s friend knows this, and in the most beautiful way, she showed up to run with her. Through her words and song, she reminded Nana of who she is and whose she is.
She encouraged Nana to keep running when the body desperately wants to quit, and with Amazing Grace she strengthened Nana’s spirit so it will direct her body to keep running.

I’ve told my kids their whole lives that if they have just a couple of friends, those who are there for the long haul, those they wholeheartedly trust and can lean on no matter what, then they are rich beyond measure. It’s better to have a few close forever friends than many fair-weathered friends.

Nana has this relationship with her friend. A woman who fought the awkwardness of calling; overcame the discomfort of not knowing what to say; and mustered the courage to sing in a voicemail and to be there for a friend she dearly loves.

Nana’s friend touched all of us that day. Her call challenged me to be that kind of friend. It challenged me to let others be that kind of friend to me despite my insecurities.

Friends sojourn. They cheer, challenge and choose to show up no matter what. “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).

I will never forget the example Nana’s friend set, unaware that anyone besides Nana would ever hear her message. Truly, God’s amazing grace is with Nana and is meeting her needs right where she is, right when she needs it.

Whose journey can we encourage today? Which friend needs a glass of water through kind words, a hug through prayer, or companionship to simply feel loved and remembered?
Let’s lace up our running shoes and get sojourning. There are races we are called to help run.