“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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Is that punch SPIKED???

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Sunday was Father’s Day!  I am so thankful that I still have a wonderful “Daddy” to honor and celebrate. He will be 90 in the fall of this year, and is doing well. We are going to have a HUGE party to celebrate this monumental occasion. He is already excited, telling everyone within listening distance that he is going to be 90!!! “90,” he says with wonder…he cannot believe it!  Most of you know that he was a Minister (preacher) for all of my life, which does make me a preacher’s kid…and I don’t want to hear any grief about that…lol! He pastored small country churches. I am certain that much of my love, respect, and passion for elders was developed in those little churches, because small country churches are FILLED with older adults (who sing really, really loud…). This week’s story is about an event that happened in one of those churches…

Just like in larger, metropolitan churches, babies are born, couples get married/divorced, and people die. As a result of those life events, my Father conducted numerous ceremonies for his church members. As the pastor’s family, we were not expected to attend the funerals; however, if it was a “joyous” occasion, like a wedding, we put on our “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, and got to attend. My Mama always made sure that we behaved and conducted ourselves in a manner befitting a “preacher’s family.” Although we had to put on those socks (with lace), patent leather shoes (that always hurt your toes) and wear the scratchy, “stand-out” petticoats (to look like a little lady), we always looked forward to going because of ALL THAT FOOD!!!

On this particular occasion, we had made it through the ceremony and had gotten to the reception without any incidents. Mama got us each a plate, filled with wedding cake and ice cream, a few peanuts, and a few of those wonderful “wedding mints.” She got us all together in one place, told us to stay put, and she went off to get our punch. Daddy, of course, was across the room talking and visiting with his members and the bride/groom’s family. Mama finally returned with the punch, sat down, and took a sip of the punch. She looked at me with horror on her face, and said, “The punch is spiked!” She then said, “Get over to your Daddy and tell him NOT to drink the punch!!” I ran over to get him, but he had already had THREE cups of punch, saying how good it was! Once we explained the situation, he immediately stopped drinking the punch and sought a way to remove himself (and us) from the vicinity. We could hardly stop laughing, trying to get to the car. (Daddy did NOT drive home that day!!) My Daddy had never tasted ANY alcohol, so he really was an innocent.

In today’s world, there’s not many grown children who can say that their Father never smoked, drank, cursed, or abused them in some way, whether physical or emotional…but I can! My Father set a true example for his children to follow. He never said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” He continually said, “Do as I do!” By living that sweet, pure life before us, he gave us the most wonderful example to follow. My Father took this responsibility to heart. He and Mother wanted (and planned for) all four children. He taught us wrong from right. He lived his life the way he wanted us to live ours…and we heard (and saw) that message loud and clear. We live fuller, more complete lives because of the lessons he taught us. I can’t think of any other person who truly emulates the word, “Christlike.” And no matter how old I get, he will ALWAYS be my “Daddy.” Let’s celebrate those Fathers every day – not on just one day out of the year. And stay away from that punch…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I just want to sharpen my pencil…”

pencil-sharpener

I’m wondering how many of you remember the item in the picture? Did you use this kind of pencil sharpener at school when you were little? Some will readily recognize the item, while others will simply not have a clue. But what you need to know is this little object had a lot to do with shaping me as a person. Here’s this week’s story…

As a child, I was very, very small; not “bigger than a minute.” In fact, I pretty much stayed that way until I reached young adulthood. In college, I would eat a Whopper hamburger each night and wash it down with a pint of half and half, just to break 100 pounds! I could hold the weight for only a few days, and then I would drop back down to under 100. And oh my, would it not be nice to have that “problem” now…

Each year, on the first day of school, the maintenance man would choose the shortest, smallest child and take a measurement as to where the pencil sharpeners for each room should be mounted. Each year, up until the fourth grade, I was that child! I would go up to that pencil sharpener, in front of the entire class, hold my little arms up as if I were sharpening a pencil, and they would take the measurement. After the first time, I caught on and realized that I was being singled out as the smallest child, and it would make me so upset. You see, to me, my height, or small frame, did not matter. I always thought that I was as big an anyone else, and that I could do anything that they could do. So it came as quite a shock that anyone considered me “little,” or “small.” In my head, it meant that I was “less” than the other children, that “less” was expected of me, or worse, that I “could not do” things as well.  I DID NOT LIKE THAT!! And you see, I had been taught, loved and supported by my family for those first five years of my life to believe that I could do anything….that I was no better or worse than anyone else, and no one was better or worse than me. I kept thinking, I will just show them…I worked hard to excel in everything!! No one was ever going to “out do” me! I even tried to eat more so that I could be bigger each year (not that it worked…). And so it began…all A’s…fastest runner on the playground…biggest, fastest talker (I’m sure all of you who know me are getting a real chuckle out of that one!)…best singer in the music shows…best actress in the school play…”must” win at games…most “popular” in school…it went on and on…Most of my school life was spent accepting “challenges,” and proving people wrong…all because of that dad-blasted pencil sharpener…

My senior Chemistry class was taught by the football coach, and my particular class was filled with the entire football team. There were only three of us ladies in the class. If we won the game on Friday night, we had a party in class on Monday. If we lost the game, we had a pop quiz. Early on, the coach began “picking on” me. For the first time ever, I failed a test…and received a big, old fat “F!” In front of the class, he held the test just out of my reach, giggled with delight, and told me that I was going to fail his class. I was humiliated!! I went home and all of those old “pencil sharpener” feelings bubbled up. It had been years since I had experienced anything like that! It made me angry, and the anger prompted action. I decided that I would never give the coach the satisfaction of failing me for chemistry! I decided that he would eat his words, and that I would prove him wrong. It was a very long year, with him pushing me and making fun of me in front of the class. I aced the class, and was exempt from even taking the final exam. I had come through once again, all because of that goofy pencil sharpener…

In today’s world, the coach would have been called a bully, and certainly, rightfully so! However, because of my experience as a child, with that pencil sharpener, I was equipped to face the challenges that were thrown at me. I know it probably sounds so silly, but most of us are “shaped” by “defining moments” in life, and our response to them. I could have let the “measuring” experience defeat me, but I just could not accept an image in my head, being smaller and “less” than anyone. It just would not compute!!

I don’t think that I could have ever been a parent. Actions, words, habits…you never know which “one little thing” is going to impact a child’s world negatively (or positively), and shape their future. The experience with the pencil sharpener could have defeated me, but my parents had already laid the foundation. They had already made me strong, no matter what my physical size might have been. I don’t think adults think hard enough about the effect they have on children’s lives. A spirit can be broken, or nurtured/cultivated, so easily. We need to think! How we face current challenges, disappointments, and failures is usually determined by how we were taught to face them when we were little. I’m going to continue to “prove them wrong” every time, and I intend to always be aware of my teaching “opportunities” with children and young adults. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

After all, she IS “the” Mary Higgins Clark!!!

I will be honest…”Hollywood” and lifestyles of the “rich and famous” have never been a huge attraction for me. Oh yes, I have favorite singers, actors, authors, etc., but that is all they are to me… “favorites” – individuals whose art, skills, or craft give me immense pleasure. I don’t get “giddy” with excitement when I hear of them in the news, or dream about meeting them in person. However, this past week, I will admit…I have been totally, unabashedly, STARSTRUCK!!! Here’s the story…

I am an avid reader! I love that a book or story can take you places that you might never visit, place you in situations that you might never experience, and prompt emotions that you might otherwise never feel. I like all types of books…espionage, biography, romance, legal, and mystery thrillers. For many, many years, I have read the books of Mary Higgins Clark. She is the only author who can make me actually look over my shoulder with unease while reading her thrillers. She makes me want to leave all the lights on in the house at night. So, yes, she is very much a “favorite” of mine!

About two weeks ago I was privileged to be the Opening Keynote Speaker at a conference in New Jersey. They had asked me to give a presentation on this blog, Just for this week… In that particular presentation, I share quite a few of the stories that I have shared with all of you. As you know, some stories are really, really funny, and some will bring tears to your eyes. After the presentation, a very nice woman came up to talk with me. She was extremely complimentary of the presentation (something I just hate hearing…lol) and remarked how much of an inspiration I was (something I also hate hearing…lol). As we were talking, she mentioned that her stepmother was Mary Higgins Clark. I about swallowed my tongue, and said something like, “No way!” I don’t think she said, “Yes, way!” – but she did confirm that I had heard correctly. I immediately began telling her that Mary Higgins Clark was my all time favorite mystery thriller author, and I’m pretty sure I shared the “looking over the shoulder while reading syndrome” with her. I asked her to please share with Ms. Clark the amount of pleasure (and unease…) she had given me through her books. 

IMG_1530A week later, after returning from the conference, I went to the post office to pick up my mail.   In the bundle of mail there was a big manila envelope from a person and address in New Jersey that I did not recognize. I opened the envelope and found a signed copy (with a most special inscription) of Mary Higgins Clark’s latest book, along with a letter from Michelle, Ms. Clark’s stepdaughter ( the nice lady that I had met at the conference). The envelope also included a photo of Ms. Clark signing my book. That would have been enough for me, but the enclosed letter was even better! In the letter, Michelle shared that after the conference, she had attended a family gathering where she felt inclined to tell them about me, and she told one of my stories, “I Can’t Feel My Toes…” She said that her stepmother had been delighted with the story, laughed at my humor, and wanted to send me her latest book. Oh yeah, STARSTRUCK!!!

When I read the letter, I did not know whether to be thrilled or mortified that I had been the topic of conversation in a group that included THE Mary Higgins Clark!! Of course, I chose to be thrilled that she got a “great kick out of” my story… And then I read these words from her stepdaughter’s letter: “The roles have reversed: Now she is a fan of yours!” Be still my heart…

You hear so many terrible things in the media about famous people and celebrities. It almost seems that one has to exhibit degrading and horrible behavior to be “famous!” HOWEVER, it does not have to be that way. I did not go to Ms. Clark and ask for anything. I simply passed along a compliment. She heard someone talking about me as a speaker, and then listened to one of my goofy, “here we go again,” stories, and found it all amusing. So much so, that she sent a signed book to me along with some very special comments. She sent encouragement. She sent validation. She took time out of her busy schedule to have a picture sent of the actual signing. She will never know what that says to me about Mary Higgins Clark as a person. She has fans all over the entire world, and yet, she made time…That’s a celebrity…that’s a real “star!”

All of us have the capacity to be a “star.” We can listen when people are sharing personal stories. We can give friends, family, coworkers encouragement in what they do. We can help celebrate their accomplishments and success. We can be an “example,” knowing that others are watching. We can be more complimentary. We can exhibit graciousness and dignity. And we can stop supporting all of these “celebrities” who exhibit and practice horrific behavior. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to try and be a little more like Mary Higgins Clark. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….