BIRTHDAY

Son, although tomorrow is your birthday, my heart will shamelessly celebrate the gift you have been to me.

Yes, we will all celebrate, perhaps with your favorite steak.  Candles will be lit, we will sing to you and wait with anticipation as you blow out your 14 candles.

Yet, all the while a warm rush will fill my chest.  I will do my best to remember your face, your voice and your eyes in these moments.  My heart knows all to well that time passes carelessly.  I must steal the moments and make them mine.

In the glow of the candles, I will linger at the vibrant kaleidoscope of memories, not knowing where my love ends and your life begins.

I will remember the wide eyes of the toddler that looked to me for courage.  In your face, I will see traces of the tenacious young boy who would not give up.  I will strain to hear in your voice remnants of the baby who once called for me.  As you walk, my heart will tease me; you refused to crawl face down, sitting upright and gliding across the floor with a foot extended to propel you.

I will search for traces of the chubby hands that once reached for mine. And, when I hug you…my heart will remind me of the peaceful nights I cradled you for hours. I never felt so alive (or sleep deprived).

Yes, on your birthday, we will sing and celebrate while my heart faithfully unwraps once again the gift that is you.

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Rosary

My long, dark hair was secured in a neat twist, not to distract me from my duties.  My hair has always signified the intensity of my focus, which could be razor sharp at times. This a fact that enabled me to perform well in stressful situations, composed and assured.

This focus, although it can be deemed undesirable to some, was of notable relevance this particular afternoon as I cared for my patient in her final hours. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was in the final stages of its grasp. She struggled to catch her breath, her eyes wide and scared.  I did my best to make her comfortable, methodically positioning her as her gaze met mine.  My eager and compassionate presence, I can only hope she sensed.  Even as an inexperienced nurse, I possessed this ability whether I appreciated its significance or not.

It would not be her final moments that I recall with the most detail, but the moments after her spirit left that causes me to pause now.

I discovered her still before the end of my shift.  There was no energy or activity, other than my attempts to comfort her earlier, involved in her passing.  It was peaceful I imagined as she parted her lips once last time, her breath escaping as did her spirit without unnecessary effort or pain.  It was her time, I accepted that with reverence.

As an even younger nursing assistant, I had been trained in preparing and transferring the deceased.  However, on this day, I knew her sisters would be coming to see her before she left our floor.  I had an expanding appreciation for the significance of these moments, the final farewell.  I also recognized that it was I, alone, that held this responsibility of preparing her for her sisters.

There were large windows in her private room and the sun slanted in through the partially closed blinds.  I reached for the cords and pulled them completely open, the light radiating on her bed.  I cleaned her and dressed her in her favorite sweater.  Adjusting her bed upright, I ensured her blankets were tidy, folding the top neatly under her arms.  Her hands; I focused on those in particular.  I applied lotion and folded them together in prayer.  Searching in her bedside table, gently lifting her rosary beads with conviction and weaving them strategically through her cool fingers…I was satisfied.

Her hair styled; I sprinkled baby powder under her neck and shoulders in an effort to mask the odor that my nose recognized as common in these final moments.  My focus completely on the lasting impression this visit would have on her loved ones.

By her bed, I placed her bible and a box of opened tissues.  It is noteworthy, that in all the possessions she must have possessed in her life only her bible, rosary, and a few articles of clothing remained with her. This, I would recognize time and time again.  All else, passing fancies.  Nothing more, nothing less.

As I turned to leave her room, I partially slid the privacy curtain closed.  Holding on  to the edge of the curtain, I glanced back at my surroundings.  The sun, gratefully, had not yet set.  A steady stream of light reflected off the floor, her bed within range of its rays.  She appeared peaceful, poised even,  holding her rosary beads.

At the nurse’s station, her sisters waited arm and arm.  They leaned onto each other, steadying one another physically and emotionally in their combined sorrow.  “She is ready for you now,” I spoke as I touched their intertwined arms.  As they walked away, every fiber of my being knew this to be so.  She was ready.

Although I spent the majority of my nursing career welcoming new life, it was in moments similar to these that I truly could appreciate what it meant to live life.

In your memory…

Death waits for no one; no place, no time, no sign, not even a lover’s pine.

Death waits for no one; no promise, no touch, no beseeching hush.

Death waits for no one; that is, until our last breath we must not rush. These moments we are graciously given are NOT ours to entrust.

Death waits for no one; here it is we must, love one another until all turns to dust.

The Pebble

I love the smell of coffee and 265 possibilities in the morning.  Welcoming the new year just might be my favorite holiday.

Cradling my coffee mug between my manicured fingers, steam rises to my nostrils and I breath in audibly.  “Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window…let the sun ultimate the words that you cannot find,” she sings to me as the warm liquid arouses my senses.  I regard Kaiser’s paw prints on the slider, “check”, and search for the rays of sun in the gray sky.  If you cannot find the light, be the light.

This beautiful, magnificent blank page glows before me.  My fingers lower to the cold keys waiting to be nourished.  Silence, stillness transmutes my senses; my breathing slows and I sense my heart warming in my chest to words that have yet to come.  The words will flow from here, I do not even know how.  I am unlocked and unleashed; unbridled emotions, sentiments and words is my weakness.  I vow to be at their mercy in 2019.  Writing; an unfolding, an unveiling of your innermost self.  I am grateful for what I discover most often: love, compassion and gratitude.

Goals, yes, they are on my mind. I aim to keep them simple, yet amazing in 2019.  Simple because of their authenticity.  Amazing because of the path that is continually unfolding through them, the words on a blank page.

Presence, the gift of, to others and to myself.  The blank page before me, yet in another.  Allowing, accepting and yielding space to simply be for those in my life.  I believe this to be one of the greatest gifts you can offer because it is rooted in love.  One moment of presence could change the trajectory of a life.  Multiply that by 365 days and countless encounters, the possibilities are infinite.  For myself, to be present is to be rooted in the moment, however fleeting.  Life unfolds authentically with presence and with that, your goals and visions become vivid and infused with passion and purpose.  It has been hash-tagged as “living your best life.”  I promise you, pinky promise even, it all evolves from presence.  Anything else is just a catchy hashtag.

Writing, my gift, for myself and more and more I am appreciating for others.  It has taken me decades to recognize this.  I may seem dramatic and my vulnerability is revealed by allowing “judgements” to creep into my tapping fingers.  That boulder I carried of insecurities on my shoulders has now become, thankfully, a pebble I toss in my hands.  I can manage the pebble even as I type.  That boulder though, bounded my arms and inhabited my freedom and creativity for far too long.  In 2019, I vow to finally, perhaps even ceremoniously, toss that pebble.  Imagine, that freedom!  Creating without juggling that ridiculous nuisance.

It is here that my goals align, on this keyboard at 10:30am on the first day of the new year, 2019.  In these moments, as I write, my presence is inescapable.  I am here in this moment giving myself the space to simply be with all my unearthed emotions, insecurities and vulnerabilities (my pebble).  I am giving you my unmasked presence in hopes that you, too, will have the strength and courage to do the same in your own unique way.  Let’s do this together; toss your boulders or pebbles or whatever it might be and #live your best life in 2019.  How can that not be simply amazing? 

Winter Blue

Bare and furrowed bark, scattered copper leaves; all the same to me.

Scrawny limbs sway framed by a muted, humble sky; nor do I wonder why.

Sunlight dimmed by a winter’s wind, a solitary bird graciously shares this landscape with me.

For a moment, I am oscillating amongst these trees. Arching and gliding, fluttering and darting; my wings meeting the wind.  How can it be?

It is nature’s effortless choreography beckoning the stillness cradled within, with all that can be seen.

It simply is as it is; these trees with me, rooted in the peace of the blue sky.  In gratitude, I do not even desire to ponder why.

Finding my Way to a Memoir

“Excuse me, could you tell me if there is a memoir section?”

“Oh, yes, right over there…by that pillar,” she smiled and pointed to rows of books directly across from where we stood.

Of course, right under my nose.  My sense of direction has always been terrible.  I have learned to accept it and move on so to speak.

The hundreds of books enveloped me, a literary cocoon.  I stood in the middle of the aisle, seeking inspiration from the work of hundreds of published authors. These books, their voices; I was straining to hear them despite the quiet that surrounded me. There was only the hushed voices of a father and son emitting from nearby. I may have appeared odd to them, my eyes surveying the rows of titles as I stood motionless.

After two weeks of faithfully writing my memoir, I hit a plateau.  I suspect I will hit countless. It is a challenging topic and the doubt has been insidious.  Will I be capable of doing it justice? To state it plainly, I know it is not good enough yet. But, I also know if I continue to challenge myself and to trust in this process, the message I am entrusting in it is compelling.

I select a handful of memoirs and find a wooden chair and desk by a large window to settle myself.  I review the summaries, skim some passages, check the page length (it is all about word count I am learning), and read about the authors.  It becomes evident that the memoirs that I could easily write (in quality and in style) were completed by celebrities- no fair, an automatic shoe in. The quality memoirs are written by professional columnist, journalist, and other established authors.

‘Okay, the chances of my memoir hitting these shelves can be equated to winning the lottery,’ I admit to myself as rise from my seat.

It is unfortunately revealing that I could not find one memoir on my topic, mental illness. I feel frustrated and unsettled because of this as I exit the store. Even more unnerving, as a writer solely by hobby,  am I equipped to broach this topic? There is the doubt I spoke of. ‘Mary, stop. There is no deadline.  Take the time you need. Make the effort. No woulda, coulda, shoulda’s’

I appreciate that this will be a marathon, a labor of love.  It is demanding another level of me. And, whether or not it is greeted by an audience of one or of one hundred, I can only hope to be a voice.  One voice, but a voice nonetheless. A voice seeking to dismantle the stigma of mental illness.  A voice for everyone who is affected or loves someone who is affected.  Although, the silence is often deafening and the darkness glaring, you are not alone.  There is an after. One such example, me tapping on my keyboard in the stillness of my August mornings. I am an after; recreating our family’s story because of this unquenchable desire to instill hope and peace in an oftentimes indifferent world.

 

 

Kitchen Sink

“I am not sure, but I think I need a car in order to get to my clinical sites,” I announced, rinsing off my dish in the kitchen sink and casually glancing behind me.  I finished the last sip of my milk and filled the cup with water.  We were finishing our dinner and only after requesting, “May I be excused?” did I leave the table with my plate.

It was difficult to determine if my comment had reached my mother over the camaraderie that was transpiring behind me.  For some reason, I did not want another serving of baked chicken and mashed potatoes tonight.  I was always one of the first to finish, the runt of the litter gobbling up what was in front of me before anyone else could snatch it.

My mind was preoccupied with the increased expectations of the approaching school year.  I would be entering my second year in a competitive nursing program and my main desire was to be successful.

My siblings held court at the kitchen table, laughing and teasing both each other and my parents…innocently of course.  This, to me, had become the soothing soundtrack of my life.  I could often anticipate the provocations of my siblings and it amused me to be the innocent party laughing dismissively to myself. The quiet one, yet difficult to miss in the hullabaloo. I settled contently into this role.

In my journaling, my voice was discovered and nurtured. It ushered me here, to you. I am grateful for it all.

As I reached to turn off the water,  Sean came and stood beside me.  I thought he was going to hand me his plate which was odd because he always had seconds.  He had one hand in the pocket of his cargo pants, the other he brushed through the roque strands of hair on his forehead.  It parted perfectly.  Amazing.

“You know BZ,” he said quietly,  revealing his disarming sideways grin.  He paused and secured both hands in his pockets.  “I can buy you a car if you need one.  I have money saved under my mattress.  I don’t need it.”

I felt this overwhelming desire to hung him tight around his slouched shoulders, but I knew it might startle him. Instead, my wits melted into a puddle on the floor, my hands still wet from rinsing halted in midair.

Of course, I could never.  He did need that money. He was living a fairly independent life now.  He had a roommate.  He bought his own groceries, his own clothes. He relished in purchasing and assembling models of World War II.  He had a room in his modest apartment dedicated to displaying his work. He had a gym membership.

Mental illness had ransacked his potential for earning an income. There was no way I was going to take one dollar from him.

“Oh, Sean, that is so thoughtful of you,” was all I could muster. The love I felt for him in that moment chased all the darkness, the lingering shadows even, far away.

I have yet to meet an individual as selfless and as kind as him.