Friday, December 29, 2017

Off to London

My sister and I stopped in to see my mother this afternoon and she was so glad to see us. She called over one of the staff members and said, "See, my brother and mother are here." We immediately checked her oxygen levels, but it was full.

She was having a hard time in London. They would not let her eat and even took away her grilled cheese sandwich. They wouldn't give her any coffee or anything to drink and she was threatening to call the police and turn them in, but even the police were not kind to her. My sister went off to speak with a staff member and I listened to her experience of her trip. She was dissatisfied with the way most people were treating her, and she wanted people to know of her discontent. She decided she would not go back to London for a long time.

We talked about visitors she had and she was pleased to see her sister and niece on Christmas Day. She saw other family members.

Just then, a mute woman who constantly darts back and forth in her wheelchair and annoys most residents approached us, smiled, and said, "Merry Christmas." My mother smiled at her and warmed her hands.

Another woman who always dresses impeccably approached my mother. I noticed they had the same color fingernail polish and I commented on how beautiful they looked. She blushed and my mother grabbed her hands and they just held each other's fingers and smiled at one another.

Then an agitated woman who constantly murmurs wheeled close by, and my mother shouted, "Mister, shut up. Can't you be quiet?" Then she turned to me, "That man. I can never understand him."

My sister came to get me and we talked with the nurse practitioner who oversees my mother's care. We talked the medication regimen, her pain levels, and her daily activities. Most concerning is her weight loss. She weighs 76 pounds, which is a decrease of 5 to 6 pounds within the last month and a half. Her appetite has decreased and her physical stamina is low. We recognize that a body's resistance is precarious at her weight and it is likely that she is surviving on her reserves. They will continue to monitor her closely and keep in close contact.

We then went back to visit my mother and my sister gave her some Hershey drops to eat. She played around with a stuffed dog and sang Christmas tunes by barking. She tried on my hat and we talked about a number of other fun things. Then we could tell she was getting tired. We wheeled her over to other residents and she started napping. She had a good day, but an afternoon nap was in store for her.

Two thousand seventeen is coming to an end. What a year it has been for her.

Watch the video

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Breathe Deeply and Trust

I gently wheeled my sleeping mother three feet away from clogged traffic to a nearby table where I could greet her when she awoke, but the slight movement startled her. "Jack, I think I'm dying."

"Yes. You are right."
"I didn't think I would ever see you again." "Why do you think that?" "Because I'm dying."
"I am here. It is OK."

Silence. "I'm gettin ready, but I'm not ready yet."
"That is O.K. You go when you are ready. You can tell God when you are ready to go."
"I can?" "Yes, you can. You just let God know and he'll take care of you."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"I like how you speak. Your words make me comfortable."
"OK. I'm not ready yet. I don't want to leave anyone yet."

"What is it like to be dying?"
"I feel funny inside. Sometimes it is dark inside and it is growing, but sometimes it feels good."
"How you are feeling is O.K."

"I just don't want to forget any of you kids."
"O, no, you won't forget any of us. In fact, you'll remember more. You'll be closer to us than ever."
"Yes, of course. God is going to show you all the important stuff of our day every day. You'll be alive to God in a new way where you can see everything new."
"Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm good enough for God. I've had a pretty good life, mostly. I raised a good family, but sometimes I'm not sure."

"I think you need to trust God a little more."
"My sister always scared me. She made it so that I didn't want to close my eyes and fall asleep. She would scare me but I would always say, "I believe in you.'"

"Your sister is with God now, and she is on your side. She is probably telling God right now how much she loves you."
"I hope so."

"Would you like communion now?"
"Of course."


"So what are you thinking?"
"I hope God accepts me. What do I have to do?"
"Just love people as much as possible. It is all about love, you know."
"Well, I'll try my best."

"Your love is important, but God's love goes beyond everything. God's love is very strong."
"He knows I've loved you kids."
"God's love will keep you connected to your family and loved ones. Do you know God's love doesn't end when one dies? It keeps going. Death is not an obstacle to God. Do you know that?"
"I like what you say. How can I trust more?"
"Just believe in God. It is all up to God. God's love can do amazing things. Just trust it. God keeps people connected through death. All you have to do is trust and breathe deeply."
"That's it?"
"Yes. That is it. It is kind of easy. God takes care of everything. With God, we have no worries. Just breathe in gently."

Three deep breaths later, my mother was sound asleep.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Getting Stronger by the Day

Over a month ago, one of the nurse aids said to me about my mother, "She is getting weaker and is frequently tired." She had a knowing look in her eyes. Today, on Thanksgiving, and earlier this week, visits to my mother show she is getting stronger.

The other day, my mother had a host of visitors: my sister from Maine, my brother from Southern California, and my local sister's family. We played Christmas songs for her and she sang along. She hooted and shouted and spoke loudly. She was quite animated and she wore all her emotions on her sleeve.

This afternoon I showed up in my clerical attire so I could attend a wake later in the day. It made a difference to my mother and the other residents. She complained a bit about a number of things, and then yelled, "I want to be Catholic, and then she looked embarrassed and said, "I don't know why I said that."

I played some Christmas songs for her on my phone and she sang along. Because she was low on oxygen because her tank needed replacement, she could not recall the names of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby.

I asked how her legs felt and she said, "Much better." I noticed she was sitting on a wheelchair pillow with armrests. I believe a sibling purchased that for her. It makes her seat much more comfortable. She said her legs hurt less.

I asked if she would like communion and she replied, "Of course." I said, "OK. Let's pray. How would you like to begin prayer?" She said, "I don't know how to. How do I begin?"

"Let's make the sign of the cross. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

"What comes next?" I don't know!

"How would you address God?" Dear God.

"Excellent. So tell God what you would like?" Right now? "Yes." I can do that? "Yes." I don't know the words. "Just tell God what you want."

She says, "I want peace for myself and for everyone I know, my friends, and my family." I said, "That's good. You did well. Would you like to pray the Lord's Prayer?"

Our Father...

"This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

And here is communion. "It was good. I prayed and then he just floated away. I want more peace."

Did you want another piece? 'I said I want more peace, peace for myself and my friends. How do I get it?"

You take another piece of communion. "That's it?" Yes. " I give her another section of the host. "He floated away again. What happens now?" Well, now you are prepared to go to heaven. God will make a happy house for you and your loved ones.  "That's what I want. I'll get it?" Yes, you will. Very much so.

A woman comes over with two dolls and begins to talk about their noses. My mother is distracted naturally so we end the conversation. Interspersed throughout a wide range of topics, she keeps returning to her prayer and being Catholic and getting others to go to church.

I let her know that I have to go to a wake because someone dear has died. With a concerned look, she said, "That makes me sad." I get ready to go and the kitchen staff comes over to set the table and to put a bib cloth around my mother. She just finished an ice cream, but asked, "What's for dinner?" Either shepherd's pie or turkey cranberry croissant sandwiches.

She rolled her eyes with delight and swirled her tongue in expectation. It was a good time to leave her with the kitchen staff. Bon appetit.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Exhausting Day

My mother was in a deep sleep when I visited the nursing home. Her head rested on her right arm, and she was unresponsive to my voice, my touch, or the visit of the nursing staff. For fifteen minutes, she slumped over exhausted. Finally, her head started bobbing when I sang songs from the "Jersey Boys" and massaged her cold hands.

I went to her room to get a couple of blankets to throw over her. She came too when she felt warm enough and I was able to snap this photo of her. She liked my hat and her blanket.

She needed to be adjusted in her chair because she was sore and she asked me to massage her legs. They were hurting her badly.

She then said, "I was sleeping," so I asked, "What do you dream about?" A big smile came over her. "The kids when they were so young."

I said, "You were happy then." "Yes."

"Are you happy now?" "O, yes. Mostly. Yes, I'm happy."

Then she fell back to sleep.

After eating some of the chocolates I brought for her, I went to see Gordon, whose wife is actively dying. He was happy to see me. He introduced me to his family and I went in to pray with him and his wife and to help her along the way. We chatted more and it was time for him to spend some last moments with his beloved bridge. It was sad, and at the same time, very touching.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Winter Reimagined

To see photos of Tower Hill's Winter Reimagined, click on the link below:

2. TH #2            

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Resources

General Advent Website
A wonderful website full of all kinds of Advent materials from Creighton University. It will take some time to look through it to find things you want. 

“Arts & Faith: Advent.” A series of videos linking works of art to the Sunday readings. Scroll down and click on each week of Advent and on Christmas, choosing Cycle B for 2017. Approximately three minutes each. Suitable for adults and teenagers. From Loyola Press.

Advent in Two Minutes. Fast-paced, informative, and entertaining video on Advent from Busted Halo. Older children and young adults might especially appreciate this one. You have to be able to read the words as they fly across the screen, so it's not for children.
Advent: Waiting for Jesus. An Advent music video (slide show to music of Mumford & Sons) from the Dublin Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Again, you need to be able to read.
The Christmas Poem. This video for young children is based on a booklet published by the Bible Society (England and Wales) in 2015. What makes this retelling different is that it starts with creation, shows humankind’s need for a Savior, and ends with references to the adult Jesus, so that the nativity story is told in the context of salvation history.

Advent Calendars
One-page printable Advent calendar with suggestions of things to do and Bible verses to look up. Can be used by families and also by individual adults. Each year this calendar is published it includes a poem; look here for the poems on all the previous calendars
Several templates for blank Advent calendars so that adults or children can color or doodle thoughts on each day of Advent. From Praying in Color, the website of an author who encourages drawing as prayer.

Jesse Trees

This Jesse tree project includes not just printable Jesse tree ornaments but also printable reflections to go with each day. The reflections and the number of ornaments are specifically for Advent 2017, beginning on 3 December. From the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Erie, Pennsylvania.
You can use this as a sort of “virtual” Jesse tree. For each day of Advent you can look at a picture, read a short reflection, and look up the Bible story or stories listed. The days are given as Monday in the first week of Advent, etc., so it can be used any year. The last week is a full seven days, however, so if you want to finish it on time you will need to double up on the third week. From the Loyola Press website.

Advent Prayers, Advent Wreaths, Advent Devotions
A family Advent prayer, an Advent wreath blessing, and a prayer for each week of Advent, from Loyola Press.  The printer-friendly versions have extremely small print, so printing directly from the website may be better.
One-page printable sheet (pdf) with instructions for making an Advent wreath and prayers to use with the wreath. From the website of a Disciples of Christ pastor.
Celebrating Advent in the Home. From the website of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia: “This 8-page brochureis designed for families to use in celebrating the season of Advent. It may be reproduced free of charge as long as the copyright notice is included. The .PDF file contains four 8.5 x 11 pages to create the 8-page booklet. Pages one and two create a service booklet for use with the Advent wreath. Pages three and four create a booklet with additional Advent information and suggestions. This information is also available in web page form [with colored pictures].” (Best suited for families whose children are above a very young age.)
Make a paper Advent wreath for children. Read the instructions, scrolling down past the photos to find the printable pages. From the website of a Catholic school teacher.
Scroll down to find two thoughtful Advent prayers, printable either as one-page colored posters or as small cards (four to a page). From at Xavier University. Nice for giving away. (You may also like some other prayers available for printing here!)

Four Gifts for You This Advent. Weekly Advent devotional readings from Loyola Press. You can read them online or print them.
Weekly devotions from the American Bible Society, based on the Gospel of Mark. Suggested craft activities are included.

Advent Music
It’s hard to find listening music specifically for Advent, not Christmas. Listen here to 90 minutes of choral music for Advent, much of it based on hymns. Great to play while doing Christmas preparations such as baking, wrapping presents, or decorating. From Concordia Publishing House.
Great O Antiphons
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A video for each one of the Great O Antiphons, made by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Episcopal monks) in Cambridge. Each video is about ten minutes, except for the short introduction on Dec. 16. For adults and young people.

Printable Nativity Scenes

Simple line drawings of figures that can be colored, cut out, and glued around toilet-paper rolls (or cut-up paper towel rolls) to stand up. For very young children this is probably the best one I have found. From Catholic Icing, a website maintained by an individual Roman Catholic mother.
Stable and figures to cut out. A bit sturdier if printed on stiff paper but will work fine on regular paper and will look good even without coloring. For all ages. From Made by Joel, a paper craft website maintained by Joel Henriques.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Leaving the Holy Land," by Mary Lou Ashur

Leaving the Holy Land.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving behind sneakers dusted with white earth.
And waffled footprints on the hill of Salome's spite.
Whose fiery sunset is framed
In centurion olive trees.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving zaatar’s bite and rose water’s kiss.
And the clamor of Sepulchure's pilgrims
Beneath smoked stained ceilings.
Cacophonous chants in tongues
And ardent cries of hope for children’s children

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving time set aside to to know that place of Jesus,
And walk on arid soil made sacred by His footsteps
Confirming life amidst in ruins and walls -
Silent witnesses to revolution.

I am leaving the Holy Land
Leaving the well where a Samaritan drew kind water.
And Lazarus inner tomb - empty and still.
And the Bethlehem’s hill of shepherds' awakening -
Palestine's walled off places - that lack intrinsic peace.

I am leaving holy land
Sunglasses sunk in the Sea of Galilee,
No respect, no mourning follows me
Only my exhale remains, mingled with prayers
And a tear.

I go to holy land,
Expecting the promises made on black rock hills -
Blessings to poor and peacemakers
The place of prayers and ancestors
Still alone, less afraid.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Messiah concert: Satisfaction

We concluded our slate of Messiah concerts this weekend. As a chorister, it was remarkable to look out into the audience to see faces of satisfaction. Some faces were smiling; others were serene; some were prayerful; some had looks of astonishment upon the. It is truly a gift to delight so many people with beautiful notes.

The soloists were superb and we were fortunate to have them sing with us: Erin Smith, Soprano; Ray Bauwens, Tenor; and Thomas Jones, Baritone. Our conductor, Sonja Dahlgren Pryor, is outstanding in her artistry, especially as she celebrated her 86th birthday a week ago.

While the chorus sang very well, everyone's attention was riveted upon the faces and voices of the Honors Youth Choir, ages 10-18, because of the purity of their sound and for the hope they provide for the future. Parents, grandparents, family, and friends beamed when the children sang.

Customarily, audience members withhold their applause until the end of the sections of the performance. One family was enthusiastic and applauded every piece at the start of the concert, but they found they were lone clappers. At the end of the concert, one woman from this family thanked the soprano soloist and said, "This is my first time at a concert. My heart was exploding as I heard the pieces and I just wanted to clap to every note, but I realized I was not supposed to do so. I had to clap in my heart and I'm just so excited for my first concert. Thank you. Thank you."

It is quite a joy though to gaze upon the faces of the audience. It is like waking up on Christmas morning to see children find a Christmas tree overflowing with brightly decorated gifts. Well, those smiles and expressions are gifts to us. We are glad we gave you a gift to cherish. Merry Christmas.