The sweetest lady took care of me last night…

Those of you who have followed this blog have noticed that I have been “quiet” for a while. Every now and then you simply need a little time to “refresh” yourself, and I guess that is what I have been doing. “They” tell us that most individuals conduct a “self-analysis” of their lives every 10-12 years – to determine if we are on the “right path;” or if our accomplishments have been what we strove to attain; or simply if we are “happy.” This self-examination often coincides with those birthdays that end in a “zero.” I have always been off schedule in that my self evaluations never coincide with the BIG birthdays…So I guess that is what I have been doing for the last 9 months or so. I keep thinking that maybe people are tired of my stories and that I should stop, but then I get an annual report that indicates I have thousands of followers in 77 countries. Those numbers simply take my breath away! I am humbled, and think, that maybe, just maybe, people need to hear some of my truths…and some of my craziness. So……I am back for a while. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, please become a follower, and leave me a comment now and then. I love hearing from you guys!

Most of you know that my Mama is the main reason for this blog, that she had Alzheimer’s Disease, and that some of the stories involve our journey through that living hell. Today is such a story. We tried to keep Mother at home, as long as possible, taking care of her ourselves. My Father was the main caregiver, with help from each of the children. Each month, I would go down and stay with them for a week or two at a time.

On this particular visit, Mama certainly recognized me, and during the days, we would visit, laugh, and love on each other. Each night, I would sleep in a bed right next to hers so that I would be able to hear if she needed something, or attempted to get up by herself. On this night, she woke up around midnight, needing to go to the bathroom. We kept a potty chair at her bedside during the night to make everything easier and more comfortable for her. I got up and helped her get out of bed, and assisted her with both verbal direction and physical assistance. When your brain is atrophying, and signals are being neither sent nor received, something so simple as going to the bathroom can become a huge challenge for both the caregiver and the person needing care. It took us a while, but with patience, compassion, and simple communication, we were able to accomplish what she needed.

The next morning, Mama woke up early, all bright and cheerful. I jumped up, went over to her, gave her a kiss and said, “Good morning!” As I was helping her up for that first cup of coffee, she looked at me and said, “The sweetest lady helped me all night long! She was so nice!” I looked at her and said, “Mama, that is wonderful! I am so glad that someone sweet was there to help you.”

Now, as we know, I WAS THAT SWEET LADY! In the night, she never knew, or recognized, that it was her own daughter providing care and assistance. And for me, it just did not matter! I did not care WHO got the credit for providing the care. I was just glad that she saw me as someone who was caring, sweet, and willing to help.

This event made me wonder how we view ourselves when helping another person(s), and why we choose to help someone else. I am not referring to just health care, or physical assistance. I’m talking about ANY time we provide help, whether it is giving someone directions who is lost, holding a door open for someone out of courtesy, slipping someone a little cash to cover an unmet need, lending physical assistance when friends are moving into a new house, or just listening when someone needs to talk. It could be ANYTHING!! Do we provide help because we want recognition or credit that we “did a good deed,” or because it makes us look good to others? Is it a selfless act, wanting nothing in return? Or do we want “credit where credit is due?” I often wonder if we would be as generous in our giving, if we knew no one would ever know… A.M. Burton, grandfather to Amy Grant (a well-known gospel singer), stated the following: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” I want my giving and helping to be selfless. I don’t need the recognition or credit. I want it to be given out of caring and love. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

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My Mama and the FBI…

I don’t really know whether this is just a “Southern” thing, or not, but whenever I mention this particular “event,” most people from the South, if they were raised in a small town, readily identify with what I am about to say. It was not uncommon in the summer (or Sunday) afternoons, for my Mamaw Barber to swing by and pick up my Mama and us kids to take us riding “around town.” The ride ALWAYS ended with a drive-by, or swing-through, the local cemetery. All us kids were jammed together in the backseat (usually laughing and/or fighting – but ALWAYS having a good time…), but we would get really quiet as we rode solemnly through the grave yard. We would hear Mamaw and Mama commenting on the different people, whose names appeared on the various headstones. Comments such as, “You know his wife has remarried, don’t you?” Or, “She used to make the best apple pie around!” Or, “Do you know whatever happened to….?” It was as if they were visiting old friends. For my part; however, I was always thinking…”WE’RE IN A CEMETERY!!!”

(Now, as an aside, I have to tell you that our neighbors ran a little hamburger stand just down the street from where we lived, and my Mama, at one time, worked there. She pretty much knew everyone in town, so when someone came by that she did not know, it got her curiosity up. So, it happened one day, that a stranger, a man no one in town knew, began coming by the hamburger stand and, of course, would order a meal of some type. This began a daily event for him and my Mother.)

On this particular evening, Mamaw picked all of us up for the traditional ride around town. As we were riding around some of the neighborhoods, Mama got all excited when she recognized “the stranger” sitting out on the front porch of one of the houses we had passed by. She began sharing how this man had just started showing up everyday at the hamburger stand, and how “mysterious” it was that no one seemed to know where he came from…or what he did…We all listened with delight, but did not think too much of the situation. However, we teased Mother unmercifully about being a detective and made fun references to her “unpaid” role as an FBI agent.

After a month or so, a black sedan pulled up to the hamburger stand, and two men, in black suits and sunglasses, got out of the car. They approached the window of the hamburger stand, where my Mama was waiting, with a smile, to take their order. Her “detective” radar and energies were on high alert. One man approached the window as the other one stood to the side. He identified himself as an agent with the FBI, and wanted to ask Mother a few questions. He was asking about a specific man…a man who turned out to be Mama’s daily visitor at the hamburger stand. The FBI agent pulled out a photograph, and asked Mama if she had ever seen this man. She immediately told him that she did recognize the man in the photograph, and, even better, she could show them where he lived!! The FBI was more than gratified, took the information, and left. We never saw the mysterious stranger again, never knew what had happened to him, or why he was being hunted by the FBI.

That story has given our family more laughs than you can imagine! We lived in such a little town, and everyone just knew everyone else (and all of their business, it seemed). Whenever a new person moved into our area, we got to know them, and it usually did not take more than a day, to determine their life history. We were a “community” in every sense of the word. Neighbors knew all of the kids that should be present, and went on alert when the “normal crew” did not show up. Parents did not worry about their children being outside, or down the street, because they knew some sweet, caring neighbor was watching. It really was a “village” helping to raise the children, and protecting them.

That “neighborly” philosophy has followed me all of my life. No matter where I live, I have always gotten to know my neighbors – not in a nosey, “in their business,” sort of way, but with genuine and sincere interest. I chose my current neighborhood with purpose. I wanted that “old-fashioned” feel of community. I wanted to pass neighbors and friends each morning on my daily walks, to stop and chat and “catch up,” to watch their homes when they were out of town, to have them watch my home when I was out of town, and to just drop by for impromptu visits. I can’t begin to imagine living next door to someone I don’t know…or even attempt to know…or speak to when I pass them on the street.

It seems we have become millions of little islands to ourselves…only interacting with whoever we live with, or whoever we work with. When did this happen, and is it a good thing? I don’t think so. I think the more we invest in relationships, and genuine caring, we begin creating those wonderful neighborhoods and communities, where we love, argue, support, defend, protect and share…all for the common good. I think I will make more of an effort to love my neighbors, and leave the “investigating” to the FBI… Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“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…

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…

“You’re getting a little too pure….”

Among many other valuable lessons in life, my Father taught me how to drive a car…and a truck…He was so very patient (and BRAVE!!) We started when I was about five years old, and he would let me sit in his lap and “help” him drive to church. Yes, I KNOW, it is a wonder I am alive today!!! LOL! Just to send you into a real “tizzy,” I also used to lay up over the back seat of the car, right next to the back windshield, and gaze at the stars at night…So, yes, I am a one-woman-wonder…I survived!! So…getting back to learning how to drive…As I got older, I got to sit behind the steering wheel myself, with Daddy in the passenger seat. He never hollered at me, or shouted out in fear, he never reprimanded me. He simply, gently, taught me. Whenever I would get to going a little too fast, he would always comment, “You’re getting a little too pure…” I knew what that meant, and I would slow down a little. To his and my credit, I have had only one wreck in my life, and it was the fault of the other driver. I’m thinking his teaching methods were pretty successful!

Driving was not the only lesson and skill he taught me. My father is one of the most gentle, humble, soft-spoken spirits you will ever meet. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he is not around, words cannot describe the sense of bereftness that is felt. He worked hard all of his life to provide for his family. He was both a carpenter and a preacher. (A pretty good combination, even if I do say so myself.) As a carpenter, he taught me how to paint and build. My brother has always laughed and said, “It’s a crying shame when your sister has more tools than you do!” And I always say, “And I know how to use them…” There is no greater pride when I build something, and when I get through with the project, my first thought is…”just like Daddy.”

But the greatest lesson he taught me was how to live “Christ-like.” I have watched my Father all of my life, and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he LIVES his beliefs and faith. There were times when I wanted him to get angry at a situation, to lash out at individuals who were hurting him or our family, but he never would. He ALWAYS turned the other cheek…”70 times 70…” His faith, along with my Mother’s, has been the driving force in my life. It is the one thing that I am sure of in this life!

About halfway through my life, I realized that he and I never really verbalized our love for each other. I always told Mother I loved her, but I could not remember doing that very much with Daddy. Once I made that realization, I set about to correct it. He now hears the words “I love you” each time we talk and each time we are together. He KNOWS it!! He will turn 89 this year, and I am so thankful that I have him! He will never know how his lessons direct my path and my actions, even when I tell him. So, on this past Father’s Day, as well as all the other days, I love and appreciate him even more. What a blessing that God gave me to him and Mother!

So men, it takes more than “making a baby” to be a real Father…it’s always being there, always supporting, always providing, always teaching and guiding, always loving…and ALWAYS living an example before them…the RIGHT example. So pay attention, little ones look up to you, and want to be just like you. And no matter how old a child grows, you will always be their Daddy. Make it count! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

The Word is “Compassion”…

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know I missed another week. However, in my defense, I told all of you at the beginning of the year that I would “try” to continue with the weekly blog. Most weeks I am able to make it, but some weeks don’t have one spare moment in them. I’m sure you know what I mean…Never the less, I’m back this week!! We’ve been talking about the “powers” that lie within each of us, and this week’s blog will continue with that theme…The “power” this week is compassion.

Most of you know that my parents turned the house that we grew up in as children, into a personal care home for older adults with mental challenges. Back in the day, these individuals were called “retarded.” They KNEW that word, and no matter how many times they heard themselves being called that awful name, it still hurt each time. You could see it on their faces.

For almost thirty years my parents became a second “Mom and Dad” to a number of precious, older women. Their ages ranged from 40-65. Most had the comprehension (and actions) of an eight-year old child. My parents could not have loved them any more than if they had been their “own” children. For most of those women, living with Mother and Daddy was truly the first caring “home” they had ever experienced. Mother became “Mama Jo,” and my father was simply “Daddy” to all of them. One of their favorite pastimes was getting Mother to recount how she “picked” them from the State School to come and live with her and Daddy. My Mother would always get a big smile on her face, and really begin to tell the story of each one – what had been so special about them…why she wanted them to come and live with her. Watching their faces as she told each individual story always brought tears to my eyes…their faces holding such looks of love, amazement, and wonder…and disbelief that someone would want them enough to choose them for a family…these “retards.” Oh, how it hurt my Mother to the core when she would hear someone call them that name, or dismiss them derisively. She would always turn to me in tears and say, “They are human beings just like you and me. They just need a little more help.” I watched her on numerous occasions come to their defense, with all the outrage and anger that only a good southern “Steel Magnolia” can get away with.

One day she asked me to create a sign that she wanted to hang in the house. This is what the sign said: The word is COMPASSION. She could never understand why other people could not FEEL for these women who she loved so deeply. This “compassion” was passed on to each of us children. There’s not a one of us who can turn our heads away from someone in need. We DO feel…and our hearts are tender and sensitive to the plights of others. We HAVE to take action! We HAVE to help! We HAVE to care! You see, we don’t know any other way…

When did we get so hard on the inside? When did others not matter to us? When did we begin to close our windows and doors, and our hearts, and not get involved? Everyone has a story…you may never know all the details. You may never know the horror and sorrow they may endure every moment of their lives. What would it hurt if just a few of us actually cared, and took action? I have that power! You have that power! What don’t we use it more often? Why don’t we show more compassion? That’s what I am going to try and do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

“Sticks and stones…”

As kids, we all learned those old “comebacks” to win an argument: “Oh yeah? Well, your Mama…” “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” “I know you are, what am I?” And of course, the best one, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me!” As we grew older, we learned very quickly that words could indeed harm us. In his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum gave us a new quote regarding “sticks and stones.” He writes, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” I would like to add to that statement. Words will also break our spirit. I am sure you have guessed by now that the “power” for this week is WORDS.

At conferences, I am often asked to present a session entitled, “They’re ONLY Words…” In that presentation I tell of a little girl in the second grade. She was very tiny for her age, and had a “clubfoot.” (Also called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), a congenital deformity involving one foot or both. The affected foot appears to have been rotated internally at the ankle. Without treatment, people with club feet often appear to walk on their ankles or on the sides of their feet.) In addition to this deformity, she had a “cauliflower ear” and could not hear very well with that ear. (Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow, blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower.) I have told you the exact definition and descriptions of those two deformities because I want you to get a good visual image of this small child. This was quite a few years ago, before we had all of the latest technology to test someone’s hearing. The way they tested a child’s hearing in school went something like this: the teacher would call up one child at a time, whisper a phrase into their ear, and ask them to repeat the phrase they heard…all conducted in front of the entire class. The little girl remembered last year when this was done…how she was embarrassed and humiliated to have to go before the class, dragging her little foot, and hoping against hope that she could hear the phrase well enough to repeat it. I can just picture her…her heart pounding so loudly in that little chest that you would think it might explode…trying to remember to walk as straight as possible, not limp or drag her foot…and praying so hard that she might actually hear what the teacher would whisper in her ear. (I can never tell this story without tears springing to my eyes. I am such a visual person, and I can see this little girl in minute detail every time I recount this event. Even now, I am writing this with tears in my eyes.) So, it was time for her to walk up to the teacher. She took a little longer getting there than the rest of the children. As she was walking to the front of the class, she heard the comments: “retard,” “gimp,” “not right in the head…” Oh yes, she heard all of that!! She finally reached the teacher, turned her “good” ear to her, and tried to hide the tears already forming in her eyes. The teacher leaned down, scooped the child as closely in her arms as possible, and whispered tenderly to her, “I wish you were MY child!”  And right there, in that moment, those words made all the difference in the world to that child. Just from those few words, she discovered that she had worth and value; that someone wanted her…defects and all. Those words gave her hope!

I hear what people say to their children. I hear what people say to the people they supposedly love. I hear what people say to, and about, the people they work with. I hear what neighbors say about other neighbors. I hear what husbands and wives say to each other. I hear what children say to their parents. And my heart breaks over and over again. When did we become so cruel? When did we become so uncaring? Once a word is spoken, you can never take it back. There are no “do-overs.” You can never really correct it. Oh, you can apologize, but the memory, and that you said it in the first place, will ALWAYS be remembered. Words can absolutely destroy a person. Words can lift and encourage one’s  heart and spirit.

I always think that if this was the last time I saw a person, what words would I have left them with? Would the words be fault-finding, cruel, disrespectful, harmful, and destructive; or would the words be loving, comforting, encouraging? I want my words to be tender to the heart and soul…loving in every way. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…