a rainbow at Mercy House

On Wednesday evening, I drove to Mercy House, the hospice residence where my mother lives, during a sun-shower after a heavy downpour. Given the time of day and the moisture in the air, I started to look for a rainbow. When I turned east, a full rainbow appeared before me, one end of it resting on Mercy House.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Phatar, a twelve-year-old who was also in residence at Mercy House, had become unresponsive and would pass away the following day, surrounded by the love of family, friends, and caregivers.

On Friday morning, the door to Phatar’s room was open, his bed made with the quilt pulled up. Near his pillow was a little memorial with a flower, the United States flag that had been on his door, a little poem that had been posted in his room, and his handprint in green paint on white canvas.

This morning at church, Father Clarence told Phatar’s story during the homily, about his cancer diagnosis, about his final months at Mercy House, about his desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and his baptism, and the comfort that brought him in his final weeks. There were smiles and tears as we listened.

Our mix of emotions in reacting to death is always complex, but I think most people have a particularly strong sense of sadness at the death of a child. It has also been sad watching Phatar’s mom these last months, suffering through every parent’s nightmare of the illness and death of their child. Still, I am grateful to have met Phatar and to know that he is now at peace.

The next time I see a rainbow, I will think of him.

Advertisements

SoCS: organ

While I have been delinquent/busy/overwhelmed and a few other adjectives lately, I have mostly been skipping out on Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which I once did diligently, but when I saw that this week’s prompt was “organ,” I knew I had to write.

In my younger years, I played the organ. After several years of childhood piano lessons, the priest in our tiny Catholic church asked me if I would learn to play the organ so that I could take over when our current high-school-aged organist went away to college in three years.

So, I learned.

I was lucky that my first organ teacher was very good, so I developed good technique. It was also good that he played in a larger church in North Adams which had a pipe organ, so I got to learn on a decent instrument, even though I was practicing on a not-great electronic at my own church.

I played at my church, first substituting and then becoming our organist my sophomore year in high school. I earned $5 for playing two masses every weekend and $3 when I played for weeknight masses a couple of times a week. I played a few weddings and funerals, too. I admit that playing funerals as a teen was really hard.

My original organ teacher had moved away and I was back to studying piano as I was looking for a college to attend, but my teacher used her connections to get a list of nearby colleges that had good organ/music programs. Smith was on the list and I fell in love with it on a campus visit, applied early decision, and was accepted. I wound up being the only organist in my year and played often at Catholic mass and played preludes and postludes for ecumenical services and at some college events. I used to joke that I had the biggest practice rooms on campus, as I played the three-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ at the chapel and the four-manual Austin in the 2,000-seat John M. Greene Hall.

After college, I spent a couple of years in an assistantship at an Episcopal church and after my daughters were old enough, I went back to playing, mostly on a volunteer basis.

Unfortunately, there was a problem. Even as a teen, I had pain in my right arm. It would come and go, but I sometimes had longer bouts of pain, especially if I played the piano a lot. (I will spare you the discussion of how piano and organ technique differ.) As time went on, I had more and more problems which led to doctor visits, physical therapy, various diagnoses including what is usually called “golfer’s elbow” and eventual surgery. We had hoped that would finally solve the problem, but I developed calcifications which have made the problems permanent.

I have shifted some things that I would ordinarily do right-handed to my left hand to help protect my right hand from over-use and pain. Obviously, this strategy does not work with playing the organ which takes both hand and both feet. If I had been one of those people who was a fantastic sight-reader and improviser, I might have been able to continue playing because I wouldn’t need very much practice time; alas, I am someone who needs lots of practice to play well.

For a few years, I was able to continue some accompanying with the youth choirs at our church, swapping over to conducting as needed to protect my arm. When that parish fractured and we had to leave, I no longer had a reason to continue playing or access to an organ and I stopped playing totally.

Sometimes, it’s still hard. Sometimes, it seems like another lifetime. Most times, I don’t think about it – and then, something happens to remind me, like hearing organ played on public radio or getting ready for Christmas or a prompt from Linda, and I miss it…
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “organ.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2018/07/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-21-18/

 

 

Monday night dinner, not rehearsal

This past Monday should have been the first University Chorus rehearsal of the semester.

It wasn’t.

As I have written about previously, a change in the choral program at Binghamton has resulted in the University Chorus being re-cast as an adjunct to the program, with community members being called in only when there is a large work programmed that needs supplemental singers.

It’s sad.

On Monday, instead of being at rehearsal, I and three other long-time members met for dinner to commiserate.  One of us does still have a group with which to sing for the winter/spring, but I and the other two are without a regular choral group for the first time in decades. This was my 36th year with University Chorus and the other two, who met and married as UC members, had sung with the group even longer.

We talked about current events and politics, our families and health challenges, and, of course, music and choral singing.

We can’t do anything about not having Monday night rehearsals together, but we will try to stay in contact over these months until University Chorus (we hope) re-convenes for the fall semester.

And maybe schedule a few more Monday night dinners…
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/26/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-26th-2018/

 

Merry? Christmas

The usual Christmas greeting in the United States is “Merry Christmas!” Merry meaning cheerful, jolly, festive.

I am not any of those.

As I have been writing about in several recent posts, I offloaded many of my usual Christmas preparation tasks to other adults in the house, concentrating on the few that really needed my attention. To be honest, some, like decorating, I just could not bring myself to do; they are too evocative. We have many ornaments that came to us from B’s mom; this is our second Christmas without her. With my mom under the care of hospice and my dad, at 92, not getting around as well as he used to, this is the first Christmas in many years that neither my parents nor my sisters will see our decorated tree.

Much about this Christmas has been bittersweet. My daughters E and T were invited by the music director that they sang and rang handbells with as children and teens to sing with the adult choir at her current church for Advent and Christmas. It was lovely to have them sing at the late evening mass on Christmas Eve, two young women among a group that is composed largely of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents. It is wonderful for them to have a chance to sing together as they did for so many years, but we all know that it is likely the last time they will be living here together, as E and baby ABC will likely join L in London when E’s spousal visa comes through in mid-2018.

Father Clarence began the homily by recounting early memories of celebrating Christmas and how the family gathering changed and diminished over time through death and moves and other obligations. It reminded me that I have a lot of company in the bittersweet department.

It also caused me to reflect on something that has been difficult for me in this part year. People keep advising me to enjoy the time with my daughters and granddaughter and parents, setting aside any thoughts of what we know the future will/might hold.

I can’t.

While I know some people can concentrate on only the present moment, it is not a skill I have mastered. It’s not even a skill that I can convince myself I want to master.

One of the sweet moments today was watching ABC eat the filling from pumpkin pie with whipped cream for the first time. It matters to me that the recipe we use is the same one that my mom made for us for many years until we took over the holiday pie-baking duties. It matters that my mom was sitting on the other end of the couch, watching her great-granddaughter grabbing the spoon of filling and cream and enjoying the new food – after the first few bites when she was adjusting to the new taste and texture. It matters that B’s mom, who was always telling us stories about her friends’ great-grandchildren, passed away before ABC was conceived. It matters that next year, ABC may be in London for Christmas and none of us know which other faces will be missing from our holiday celebration.

While it might be nice to be “merry,” I know that I can’t give up my connections with the past and my realistic projections of the future to create a merry present. Today, I have learned that it is possible to be feel simultaneously bittersweet and content.

Wishing Christmas blessings to those celebrating and the gifts of peace and loving-kindness to all!

SoCS: High/low

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. When I saw Linda’s prompt for this week, I knew I had to take a few moments to post.

My life has been all about highs and lows lately.

There is this post, “High/low“.

And this post, “Low/high“.

And life is continuing in that vein. Baby ABC is thriving, as Nana becomes more tired and weaker. Nana does have some times that are higher energy than others, though, and it is a huge blessing for all of us to be able to visit often. Of course, ABC steals the show whenever she is there!

Everyone needs a high and spending time with a precious new life is one of the best highs there can be.

It makes the lows more bearable.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is high/low. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/08/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-517/ 

 

finding hope in impossible times

I had hoped that my next post would be about ABC’s baptism and the family visits around that, but I haven’t been able to get organized to write it.

There has been a lot going on and a lot swirling in my head, so maybe this post will help…

My parents raised me to always do my best. I was fortunate that my best generally also stood me in good stead in school and in life experiences, as I juggled my various roles and tried to do good in the world.

When my children were young, there was a book about being a “good enough” parent. I remember bristling at the concept, because I was geared to be a “best I could be” parent – and daughter, spouse, sister, friend, citizen, Catholic, volunteer, committee member, musician, person.

The current roster of roles now includes grandparent, blogger, and poet.

And it doesn’t feel as though my best, even when I am able to muster it, is good enough.

Not even close.

With my mom in hospice care and granddaughter ABC in residence, there has been massive re-prioritizing, which is necessary and good and understandable. Some things in which I was accustomed to being very active, such as public policy and social justice advocacy, have been sharply curtailed, unfortunately at a time when my country is coming apart at the seams. I am keeping some of my poetry and blogging activities going, but in a scattershot way as I have time/brainpower available.

(It is not especially helpful to have Facebook reminding me how many days it has been since I posted to the Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page.)

I think, though, that the root of the problem is that nothing I do, whether it is my best or not, can change the fact of the mounting losses. Illness and decline and death and people moving away and rejection and running out of time and all manner of losses, anticipated or unforeseen, will keep happening, no matter what I or any of us do, think, or philosophize over.

And, yes, I know circle of life and faith and recommendations to take care of myself notwithstanding, some days are just difficult to get through without tears.

Sometimes, those days with tears string together.

I am blessed, though, with people who bring me as much support and comfort as they can when I am struggling. B to talk with and give me hugs. The warmth of ABC snuggling in my arms. E and L to step in and make dinner when I can’t wrap my head around the concept of eating, much less shopping and cooking. My sisters with calls, notes, and visits. Friends who are sending thoughts and prayers and who understand my sporadic contact.

Earlier this week, I was looking for a bell for Nana to use to call her nighttime aide. Unsure where to look, I went to a dollar store near the pharmacy where I was picking up one of Nana’s prescriptions. I don’t often go to dollar stores, so it was a bit difficult to figure out where to look. I had started to check out some possible aisles when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bell. I followed it to find a girl carrying a little bell toward the checkout where her grandmother was waiting for her.  I waited until they had finished their transactions and asked where they had found it. (The grandmother told me that the bell said “Ring for Beer” on it and that they were getting it for a beer-loving dad.) The girl cheerfully led me through the store to the shelf in the gifts aisle that held the bells. I thanked her. I chose a bell that said “Ring for Service” on it, paid $1.08, and brought it up to my mom’s, who was surprised that I had been able to find a bell so quickly.

(Feel free to insert your favorite It’s a Wonderful Life, serendipity, answer to prayer, etc. thoughts here.)

For me in that moment, it was a reminder that hope and help can appear unexpectedly in the midst of sadness and confusion and uncertainty.

I just have to listen and allow myself to be led.

 

 

Three Mother’s Days

Last year, Mother’s Day was subdued. Neither of my daughters was at home. B’s mom had died only a few weeks before. I was blessed to be able to have brunch with my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, although Nana was already dealing with the congestive heart failure which is still a feature of life taking considerable time and energy.

While Nana’s health is still a feature for Mother’s Day today and we will again be joining Nana and Paco for brunch at their senior living community, we have new and exciting happenings this year. Daughter E is in residence and expecting her first child in a few weeks. Baby will be our first grandchild and Nana and Paco’s first great-grandchild. Daughter T has already sent cards to all three generations from her present home in Missouri. Later in the day, my older sister and her husband will arrive for a few days’ visit and, tomorrow, E’s spouse L arrives for three months and my younger sister arrives to get ready for Nana’s birthday on Tuesday.

Next year, what will Mother’s Day bring? I hope that B and I will again be brunching with Nana and Paco.  It is likely E, L, and Baby will be living in London. T’s position in Missouri is supposed to end in December, but it is possible that she will stay a second year or move on to another position who-knows-where. If my sisters visit again from Nana’s birthday, it wouldn’t be in close proximity to Mother’s Day, which is as late a date as it can be this year.

Whatever happens in the next year, I know that next Mother’s Day will be marked by intergenerational love, no matter what circumstances separate us physically.