Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Very Good Day

Since I have friends from out of town visiting on Thursday, I saw my mother today. The day itself was lovely with temperatures in the mid-80's on a near-cloudless day. I made sure I had my mother's Hershey Drops so she could get her chocolate fix.

When I saw my mother, she was folding a towel and folding her extra tissues. She saw me and gently started weeping, "You are so young and beautiful and I am so old." "Yes, you are old, and you are beautiful." "I can't stop crying. When I see you, I just become so happy."

We talked for a while and a staff member brought her some apple juice. After tasting it, she grimaced. "Too tart for you?" "Yes, but I'll drink it so I don't offend them." "Would you like a Hershey Drop? "Ugh, I'm full, but just one." I opened the package and realized I needed a plate and a spoon because those drops became Hershey Soup. So, I got her a spoonful and her eyes lit up, and she said, "That's enough. I'm full."

She said, "I just finished making spaghetti with Ma and Pa, and Betty helped."
"Did you make it from scratch?"
"Of course. We always do. We just ate a lot of it. I can barely move."
"And did you make sauce as well?"
"No. Nancy did that. And she made roast beef and potatoes and lots of vegetables. She started it but we all helped out and then we ate."

"Did you talk with Ma?," she asked?
"I did. She liked it when the family eats together. She was very happy. So was Pa. And Dawn Mari just ate and ate (making a shoveling motion.)
"I wish Betty would come. Have you seen her lately?"
"I did. I saw her the other day. She was asking about you."
"She was? She's not mad at me? Maybe she might like me again?"
"O, she likes you. She was telling me some fun stories about your time with her. She said she will stop by soon."
"O, that is good."

We talked about food a lot. "I never ate," she said, "because I didn't want people to get mad at me. I would cook a meal and someone would get upset if I ate some of their food. I never felt comfortable eating."

Finally, I asked if she would like to receive communion. "Yes, Of course. Is Rich coming? Has he even received communion?"
"He is not here today to receive communion."
"I want him to. He is shy but he will come."
"He'll come when he is ready."
"And Sharon?"
"When she is ready."
"And my other children? What about these people here in the church? I thought I was alone. Are they all receiving?"
"Yes, they are receiving."
"I thought I was alone. I have always felt alone in life but there are people who feel the same way I do. I'm really not alone."
"You've never been alone."
"And all these people in church. They need the same thing too."
"Yes, that is why they are here. There's lots of people in the same boat."
"I'm learning I am not alone. I like that. I always felt like I did not belong, but I know I do."
"Yes, you do. And you always belonged."

I read to her a section of Matthew's Gospel, "The first commandment is to love one another, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. The moment I gave her communion, she fell asleep. I first tried to coax the sacred host into her mouth, but that didn't work, so I tried to pull it out, but that didn't work, so I let her nap for a few minutes.

When she awoke, she wanted a tissue to blow her nose. She took the host out of her mouth and held onto it. She dabbed her nose and with one hand folded the tissue, holding onto the host with the other hand. She then started talking and I encouraged her to consume the host. She wiped her eye with it, and held it in her left hand. After adjusting herself in her seat, I finally convinced her to put the host in her mouth and to swallow it.

After consuming the host and closing her eyes in prayer, she said:

"I am all set now. I wasn't always ready, but now I am. I used to think I was a terrible person, but I don't believe that anymore. I am a nice person, and I brought up a nice family, and I had nice parents and sisters. I'm very happy about that. I now know that I am a good person."

"Of course, you are, and you are loved."
"I know that. And I love my family and all the people around me. And I'm a good person. I have come to know that."

Just then, an activities director came over to collect people for exercising. I asked, "Would you like to exercise with your friends?"
"I don't see why not. Is it OK if I do it?
"Yes, I want you to exercise."
"OK. You won't be mad if I leave you?"
"Not at all. Look everyone is waiting for you. Everyone wants you because they love you."
"OK" "I love you to."

As I left, I looked back in the direction of my mother. She and another resident were holding hands as they comforted one another. They both smiled at each other and held hands.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Just Another Day

It is Thursday and I visited my mother once again in the memory care unit. She was awake but slumped over in a chair, but she seemed alert. She saw me and perked up, but remained curled up in the oversized barker lounge.

Before I visited with her, I stopped by the nursing station to drop off some baked goods. These were pumpkin and apple cake pops. They were curious little things - coated seasonal cakes on popsicle sticks, but the staff loved them. I'm always surprised that the staff are so appreciative when I drop off these little treats, but it really does perk them up - the same way my mother perks up. They call me by name - Jack and are always very kind and gentle.

I stopped to see my mother and asked, "Would you like me to straighten you out?" "No. I'm comfortable." "O.K. You don't look comfortable." "Yes, I have to keep my feet up." "O.K. Let me know if you want to be moved." "OK."

She eyed the Hershey Drops in my bag and asked, "To whom do those belong?" "To you. Would you like one?" "Slurp. Just one." "O.K. Here you go." "What about a pizzelle?" Her eyes widened and rolled in agreement. "Those are really thick." "Would you like a coffee to go with it?" "Yes, please. I'll wait." It took me about 30 seconds to make the coffee and when I returned the pizzelle was all gone. So, she had a coffee and another pizzelle.

As her legs were elevated, I asked if I could massage her legs. "Yes, please." "O my. Your legs are very cold." "Why is that?" "Well, you do not get up to walk around, so your legs get cold." So, with her permission, I gently touched her legs. "Ow. That hurts. Keep going. Now it feels good." So, I tapped her leg, right under her knee to get her reflexes, and she laughed. It always causes her to laugh. "You know just how to make me laugh."

I touched the back of her leg and she oohed and aahed. "That feels good. It feels kind of funny, but keep doing it." So, I massaged and she eventually straightened her legs and said she felt better.

"Would you like to receive communion?" "Always." "Would you like me to read Scripture?" "Sure." I read the Calling of Matthew and the meal with the tax collectors and she weeped at the part where Jesus said, 'Those who are well do not need a physician but the sick do... I desire mercy not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." She teared up, and we continued with our prayers. Near the close, I asked again, 'For what would you like to pray?'

She replied, "For my family, of course. It is always about family. I pray that we all stay together." "Do you still love us after everything?" "Yes, I do. Why do you ask this question?" "I've just made mistakes and I don't know that I did everything right." "Well, it doesn't matter if you did it right; the only thing that matters is that you tried your best? Do you try your best?" "Yes." "Well, then you should rest easily and be at peace. That is all Jesus wants - that we try. I know you tried. You are still trying - and he is happy with that. In the readings, Jesus tells us that all he wants is mercy. That is the way he looks at us. So, we can just find comfort that he will do the best for us." "I like your words. Your words are always kind."

She then stretched and I asked, "Would you like me to make you feel a little more comfortable?" "Yes." So I lifted her up and sat her up straight. "O my God. I feel much better now." She became so alert and attentive to everything that was going on around her. After a while, an activities person asked her if she would like to play a game of trivia. She asked, "What is it like?" "Well, I'll ask questions and you give answers. You might like to play. You won at Bingo last night and you win lots of games." "I do?" "Yes, you win often." "OK. I'll play."

"OK, then, I'll go visit my sister and I'll see you later. I'd like you to play the game with your friends." "OK. See you later. Bye. I love you." "I love you too."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Alert and Chatty

When I opened the door to the Memory Care unit and spotted my mother, I noticed she was smiling at a woman and chatting in a very friendly tone. She sat on the edge of her chair, leaned in, and kept engaged with the other woman. Then, she saw me and yelled out, "Jack." She then introduced me to all of the people around her and said, "This is my son. This is my son." We embraced and greeted one another and started to catch up.

I then felt a tap on my shoulders. A man whose wife is in the Memory Care unit wanted to speak with me. He is a building contractor in the Blackstone Valley and we knew of each other when I lived in Douglas. We have been corresponding about faith, which has helped him be patient with his wife's illness. We thanked each other and had a nice time talking about his life and his current situation. I'm very edified by the continual patient care he gives his wife. I'm filled with admiration.

After we parted, I returned to my mother and I showed her some pizzelles, an Italian cookie made with anise flavoring. These are her favorite cookies and we grew up eating them. Grandma always used to make them. She told me that sometimes she would stop by her mother's house and grandma would make a stack of pizzelles for the family, but my mother said, "I would eat them on the way home. I knew I should have saved some for the family, but I couldn't bring just a few back for so many children."

Afterwards, I brought out the Hershey Drops. "If you leave them in front of me, I won't be able to stop eating them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I scream out, 'Does anyone have any chocolate?'"

(The attached photo shows both pizzelles and Hershey Drops - wearing my hat.)

We prayed and shared communion. As we concluded the prayers, I asked, "And what would you like to pray for?"

I pray for the health and happiness of the family, that we can all be happy together.
I pray that we can be even happier.
I pray that I could have done a better job by doing things for all of you.
I pray that my legs don't hurt anymore.
I pray that everyone here has better health.

As we concluded our prayers, I asked about her legs and she said, "I need them massaged. They hurt so much." So I held them but it was too painful for her to raise them even four inches off the ground. Massaging them gently, she would say, "That feels good. Now it hurts. Now it feels good.  Oooh. Aaah." She said, "I think my sister Betty also had pain in her legs. I think she broke her leg a while ago."

We talked about her Ma and Pa. She said, "Pa died years ago. Did you know him?" "I did not know him. I think he died in 1961 or so." "Yes, that is right." "He would look at me with sad eyes because I was not as happy at Betty or Nancy, but I was OK and he knew it. He knew I looked after Doris and Johnny and made them feel better when they were teased. We were all kind of the same. We didn't fit in, but we took care of one another. I just had to do it my own way."

We spoke about Rich, whose birthday was yesterday, and Dawn Mari, whose birthday is coming up. If she were alive, she would be 61 this year. "I miss her so much and we had a hard life, but it made me happy. I wouldn't have had it any other way. We share much love together and she taught us a lot."

We talked death. She said she's not ready, but I think about it sometime. I replied, "That's OK. It is natural and it is positive to think about it. It helps prepare us for when we decide to go. You think about it as much as you need.

Then she said, "You must have to go to work." I said, "I do." "You be on your way then. I know you'll come back soon." Then in mid-sentence, she immediately began to nap. I gently woke her to let her know I would go to work; she gave me a hug and a kiss goodbye, and then rested her eyes in a comfortable nap.



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Are you Grumpy today?

I brought garden-fresh tomatoes, some new clothing, and a large crucifix to the nursing home where my mother lives. The staff are so appreciative when you remember them. When I arrived, all the residents were sitting quietly in a circle. No one made a sound until my mother gasped, "Jack."

We started our conversation after she customarily accepted her Hershey drops. I offered some to the nursing staff and they liked the concept of the drops. All in all, my mother had 12 to 14 drops, which gave her plenty of sugar energy.

She made faces at people and said some grumpy things. I asked, "Are you grumpy today?" "Yes, I'm just so sad. I'm sad all the time. I wish things were different. I wish they were like the old days." "What makes you sad?" "All I have is time and I do the same things each day. I'm just so sad."

After talking for awhile, I asked, "Would you like communion?" "Badly," she answered. "Badly?" "Yes, badly. I need to receive communion. I need it." OK. Let' pray then. We spent some time in prayer and she settled down.

After the prayer ended, I said, "I have some homework for you. Will you do it?" "I'll try." "Whenever you feel sad, I want to you say "Thank you" for something good in your life. Gratitude removes your sadness. OK. Can you do that?" "Yes." "You have to choose to be happy. You choose your happiness each day. You can't let the small things bother you; you have to let the small things make you feel good, and we do that when we say thanks." Can we try it now? "I give thanks for that man because he seems like he is praying." "Yes, that is the way to do it. How do you feel now?" "Better." "Every time you feel sad, say "I'm grateful."

"OK. I really like your hat. Can I see it?" "Fifty-nine? Is your head really that big? It can't be." "That is the European scale." "O, (as she puts it on her own head), it fits me well." "Can I take a photo?" "Yes." "Are you going to smile?" "I'm doing it." "I can't see it. Can you say, "I'm thankful for the hat?" "Yes." "OK. There's the smile I want to see."


Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Rainy Sunday

How to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon of a long weekend - to finally get around to paint or to visit the brethren at Campion Center.

I began the day by saying the Spanish Mass in Dorchester and I was very glad to be back with the people, but it took a great deal of energy out of me. By the end of the homily, my mouth was so tired because I haven't spoken the language for three months. However, I got through it fine. I napped for 1.5 hours.

So, I took out my paintbrush and I remembered my homily. I decided to visit the older and infirm Jesuits at Campion Center, our healthcare facility. I saw some men who used to live in my same community and I was glad to see them.

I visited with one Jesuit who is in his last days. We visited for 40 minutes or so, and he needed to nap. It was so edifying to be with him. He said, "You know. Dying gives us opportunities. The best opportunity is that we can be with the Lord. After all, that is what our lives are about. We never get there in this life, but there's always more."

I saw several other Jesuits who were doing well. We talked about old times and we talked about their current state of their spirits. It was a lovely time and a time well spent.

And this evening, I still have time to paint.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mother Update: She is still sleeping

I visited my mother this morning after she sleepily completed her physical rehabilitation. She was sounds asleep in bed and I gently woke her up and she cried, "I haven't seen you for so long." I said, "I've visited you and you are doing a good job sleeping. You must be tired." "It is good to see you again. I said, "I brought several friends to visit with you and the said hello." She smiled and said, "That is nice."

We talked about her day and she said she was so sad and bored. We chatted about it a bit. I asked, "Would you like a Hershey Drop?" "You know how to make me happy. You know all the things I like. You've always known I like sweets."

I asked about her Ma, and she said, "I really like her. We had good times together, but I gave her a hard time." I asked about Dawn Mari, and she asked, "Where is she? I miss her so much." "She is just in the other room. She is watching over you as you sleep." My mother increased the amount of time she slept.

"Would you like communion?" "Of course." So, we prayed and she cried. She cried some more and then she cried even more. The words of Scripture consoled her. I asked, "You are sleeping a lot. Do you think about death?" "I don't want to die. I'm scared. Not now at least." "Well, O.K. You go whenever you need to go. We will miss you, and we will always keep you alive to us. You'll never be far from us."

"I don't want to go until I make up for the ways I didn't love you all enough." "O, you've loved us plenty, and I thank you for that, but this is the time that we want you to accept our love and thanks. Can you let us love you?" "I have to give more. I did not do enough." "You've done plenty. We want you to rest peacefully and to be content with what you have done for us. Thank you. You've done your very best, and we are all O.K."

"I'm not very happy. I'm bored." "Do you do activities each night with the community?" "No." "What about playing BINGO?" "I hate that game. I've never liked it. It is not fun." "I agree. I don't like it either."

"What about watching movies or having someone read a book to you?" "I do like movies, and I like reading." Would you like us to watch movies with you and to read with you?" "Yes, please."

How are you legs feeling? "They hurt. They tingle." ""Would you like to me massage them." "You tickle me, and it makes me laugh, and I never laugh anymore. I'm too serious." "Well, this is your time to laugh. The time for crying is way in the past. Now is just the time to enjoy life and to laugh. There are so many good people around you and they want to see you smile. Would you like to smile more?" "Yes, we let's do that then. How about a Hershey's drop?" "They make me smile." "And I'll tickle your feet." giggle. giggle. giggle.  Time passes.

"Can you choose to be happy each day? It makes a big difference." "I'm so sad and unhappy, but I'll try." "I'll try with you. You deserve to be happy - especially after all you have given to us. This is your time of happiness."

She said, "I should get on with the day. I have to go to the bathroom.What time is it? "Five past noon.""Would you like me to get a nurse?" "Yes, but don't leave." Just then the nurse arrived and asked if she was ready to get up for the day. She said, "No." I said, "You just told me you were ready to get dressed for the day and to go to the toilet." She said, "I am. I always say No at first." OK. Well, let's get going.

I slowly rose from my crouched position and realized it has been two weeks since my surgery. She doesn't even know that I had it. In prior days, I would have told her that I was having surgery, but it is of no consequence now, but I realized part of my interpersonal loss is that I do not have a parent to update about my health situation and personal life. I do have my Jesuit community, which has always been enormously supportive, but there is loss when you do not have a parent with whom you can share your big information.

However, my job is to make them as comfortable as possible. I want to show them my care as I can and help them prepare to their next stage of life.

Now, I hope I can soon give plasma and platelets for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.