Daycare Dilemma

woman  Sneaky Pete is on the warpath again. At least, I think that’s the source of my mother’s tears this afternoon when she came home from daycare.  “They took a vote,” she said plaintively. “They told me I drool too much to stay there, and they voted 100% that I had to go.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that one of the other clients had said something nasty. Eldercare, I’ve found, can be a lot like going back to middle school: there are rich kids and drones, physically fit and couch potatoes. Above all, there are mean girls whose sense of social propriety has gone the way of nighttime continence.

“Who was it that said these things to you?” her afternoon aide inquired gently. “If we know who it is, we can do something about it.” Mom shook her head stubbornly. She did not want us to fight her battles. She just wanted a safe place to cry.

After a hearty dinner and a soothing bath, it was time for our nightly tuck in. Tonight’s psalm in Jesus Calling was especially sweet: “In peace will I lie down and fall asleep. For you, O Lord, make me secure” (Psalm 4:8).

Growing old is not for the faint of heart. It must be tough, losing control of functions that you once took for granted … even the ability to eat a bit of food or sing without drooling. Or have a clear sense of self, without being tormented by the never-ending accusations of Sneaky Pete. Lord, help me to remember this when I am tempted to lose patience. Help me to show love, to give her reassurance, so that she might find the strength to endure.

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When Mothers Arise

IMG_4465Each year on this day Catholics all over the world remember the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day she was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. In years past, some families feasted on raspberry shortcake and adorn their statues with rose garlands. Others decorated balloons with images of the Blessed Mother, and launched them heavenward.

Sadly, this isn’t a year for such celebrations. The most recent news reports outlining the depravity of some very bad men at the highest level of the Church has traumatized the Catholic community. The outraged responses are wholly understandable and natural. Sadly, all the outrage in the world is not going to fix this problem.

Last night I attended the vigil Mass at Queen of Peace, delighted to see both my children singing in the choir — something they had reluctantly agreed to after I told them it was the only birthday present I wanted this year. Even so, they grumbled … but they went. As I watched them that night, I was reminded again of the great influence women hold in the lives of their families to inspire goodness in their children.

I also thought about the redemptive power of a mother’s love to make wrongs right, and to guide her children to repentance. While we were in Rwanda, attending an open-air Mass, during communion the religious sisters in front of us left their seats to distribute the consecrated hosts. During that time, a man came and swiped this sister’s purse (pictured above) and tried to make off with it … and was promptly taken into custody by vigilant security. At first he glared about him, defiant. Then, when the sister returned and learned what had happened, she said not a word. She just turned and looked at the man full in the face. He crumbled into a chair and covered his face. Then she sat beside him and began speaking gently to him. (I don’t know what was said — she was speaking in Kinyarwanda). As he was being led away, I thought about the way her mother’s heart had touched him and inspired him to recognize and regret the wrong he had done.

I don’t know exactly how this applies to our current crisis, except to say that a mother’s heart is a powerful force for change. Frankly, I don’t know if it is even possible to exact true justice through the judicial system we have today … I sincerely doubt it, based on our own experiences with the juvenile justice system (ironically, in Pennsylvania). What I do know is that true repentance and conversion is possible only in hearts that are open and unguarded, who love God more than they love themselves. Men who love their Mother enough to be willing to endure any trial in service to her. If there is going to be true change in the hearts of those who lead our Church, it will come only as they are drawn once more to fall in love with God, and with their Blessed Mother. That is where they will find the strength to do what must be done … and to stay the course.

My friends, as we continue to pray for God’s will in this ongoing battle for the souls of both perpetrators and their victims, on this day of the Assumption I will be praying that the love of Our Blessed Mother will arise and blanket the earth afresh, and that we will all find the courage and humility to seek not simply justice, but true healing and reconciliation. Our Lord promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church. We must remember that those gates swing both ways — and that the forces of destruction can come from without as well as from within. Lord willing, so will the forces of healing and reconciliation.

Our Lady of the Assumption, Arise! Spread your mantle of love over us, and pray for us, that we will soon be able to proclaim the Good News with pure and loving hearts. Amen.

Making Time for What Matters

night driveMom has been visiting with my sister in New Hampshire for the past two weeks, and yesterday was the day Sarah and I drove to Toledo (which Kathy insisted was the most convenient meeting place … it involved twelve hours of driving for her, two and a half for me, but … well, okay.)

While we waited for my sister to arrive, Sarah and I hit the movies and took in Mama Mia 2: Here We Go Again. In this movie, the mother (played by Meryl Streep) has died and the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) is about to have a grand re-opening party for the hotel that she has remodeled as a memorial. The movie itself is a series of flashbacks and forwards, showing how the daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps all along the way (except for the crazy gal pals, I guess). Each generation in turn sets a goal, makes a plan, and rallies those near and dear to help pull it off with single-minded ferocity.

And everything is beautifully color coordinated in Elysian Blue.

Late last night, my sister and I talked for a long time about our respective lives, how things have changed since mom has joined us (and they have). Their two weeks were replete with quilt shops, swimming holes, and homemade sweet potato pie. By contrast, mine is full of laundry, getting kids to do their chores, and pill counting. At the end of the day I collapse and either heat or ice my shoulder in an effort to get the ache to go away long enough for the Tylenol PM to kick in so I can sleep.

No twinkly lights. No spontaneous bursts of song. Unless you count the fifteen minutes I spent forcing my daughter to go over her choir music. Although she has an amazing voice, she doesn’t like people to look at her, and so getting her to sing in the new youth choir required a minor miracle. I told her I didn’t want a birthday present if she would just sing for one performance. Mama Mia, here we go again…

Then, unexpectedly, my mom wandered into the room and sat in her recliner, fixed her gaze on Sarah, and smiled. And if by magic, Sarah started to sing Panis Angelicus. A little breathy at first, then with greater confidence. I tried to reinforce the Latin pronunciations and got the stink eye … but as long as Mammy was watching, all was well.

So glad you made it home, Mama Mia.

Seeing Beyond the Gate

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Last week I guest posted over at “Women in the New Evangelization” (WINE) about the mother of the sons of Zebedee in a post called “Can You Drink the Cup?” That particular Gospel narrative is one I need to hear frequently — about a mother who tried to guarantee a rosy future for her sons, and a Savior wise enough not to give her what she asked.

Two weeks ago I started another blog series over at Father Ubald’s blog, writing weekly posts about this summer’s writing expedition to Rwanda, where I helped Fr. Ubald put the finishing touches on his upcoming book with Ave Maria Press, Forgiveness Makes You Free (April 2019). His testimony of survival and healing is a powerful reminder to place every part of our lives — past, present, and future — into the hands of the God who created time itself.

The image above has particular significance in Fr. Ubald’s story — it is the gate of his former parish, destroyed in the genocide, where he was driven out by his own parishioners so that they might slaughter the 5000+ Christians inside who had come to the church for sanctuary. “For ten years I had been their pastor, and attended to their needs. And suddenly, I was out. It was a great burden for me, knowing that despite all I had done there, so many lives were lost.” The blue gate was the last sight he had of the parish — as he walked through those doors, the Hutu militia were walking in to do their dirty work.

Each time I see this image, I am reminded of another gate — the gates of Auschwitz, which I saw in 1992 during my summer in Poland. “Arbeit macht frei” the message read. “Work makes freedom.” It was an ignoble lie, of course — the only work going on behind those gates, with rare exceptions, were works of evil. And in that moment back in 1994, it must have seemed the same to Fr. Ubald — for a brief moment, the gates of hell had seemed to prevail.

But just as he entrusted his people to God in that moment, back in 1994, Fr. Ubald continued to trust his own life into the hands of Divine Mercy. And in sparing Fr. Ubald’s life, God set him up to do tremendous works of healing and mercy that would have been unimaginable while he was running for his life.

“I am the gate,” Jesus declared to his followers (John 10:28). “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

God knows we are weak and frail. He knows that we can handle only so much knowledge about what the future holds. What is he asking you to entrust to him today?

 

When Love Falls: The Dementia Chronicles

close up of splashing water

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was barely awake, my eyes still closed, when I heard her crying. At first I thought it was a dream, but as I became more and more alert I recognized my mother’s voice, her sobs loud enough to reach the baby monitor across from her bed.

Quickly I got up and went downstairs, and found her lying face-down on the floor, bleeding profusely from the nose. She had managed to get herself completely dressed, including shoes, so there is no telling how long she’d been up. Or down, as the case may be. “Hold on, Mom. I need to get help.” I called the case manager, who told me to call 9-1-1. Then I yelled for Craig. Somehow we managed to get Mom into a chair. “Have someone put away any animals, get her list of meds, and wait out front for the ambulance” the operator told me. And get dressed, I added to my mental list.

As I scurried about, Craig kindly asked her how it happened. “I just didn’t want to be a burden any more. You already do too much,” she protested.

“But Mom,” I chided, as gently as I could. “You are family, and we’re glad you’re here. We want to keep you safe!”

At the hospital, they took x-rays and found that she had a “small break” in her nose, but that no serious damage had occurred. So we took her home and let her rest, and I wondered what more I needed to be doing that I wasn’t already doing.

It’s funny, and yet it’s not, that this is a question very similar to those I’ve asked myself in the past about the kids: What more should we be doing? How could I have let this happen? And my personal favorite: If I just love enough, shouldn’t everything be okay?

It’s a hard pill to swallow, that even the best and most loving caregivers won’t get it right 100% of the time. There are going to be times when … well, when it feels like love falls down on the job. Why? For the simple reason that loving someone is not the same as controlling him or her. We can choose our actions, but not the consequences.

I can wrap my loved one (young or old) in bubble wrap and bed restraints. But that is not love, though it is the only way to ensure their safety 100%. But love? Love is a lot harder. Love is what makes you stand with them after the fall, and help them find their footing again.

It’s probably the hardest lesson in caretaking, figuring out where my will should end, and theirs begin. Giving Mom room to stay as useful and self-reliant as she can, even if it means that sometimes we fall together. And to teach my children the same, so they don’t look to me to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.

Today I was reminded that, even at its best, sometimes love will fall.

Help! Snail Crossing Ahead

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If you’ve ever been an adult caregiver, you know that finding and keeping reliable, personable at-home workers (especially CNAs) is one of the most challenging parts of coordinating care. While I know many caregivers go without home health care aides, I simply cannot manage the all the lifting and bending my mother needs, and even though I work from home I need to have someone keep an eye on her when I’m working in my office downstairs, to keep her alert and active as possible.

Care.com has been helpful — we found our best worker there. But the payroll service that is affiliated with them was tough for my elderly father to figure out, and so when our second home healthcare worker emailed me today to let me know that she was not going to be able to continue to work with us (she recently passed her boards and was making more money at the other job), I panicked. Mom’s Medicaid is supposed to go through in the next couple of weeks, and she’ll start a new program that handles morning routines and pick up/delivery. But how am I going to hire someone for just a couple of weeks?

The truth is, I can’t. We’re just going to have to hunker down and get through it. This will mean getting up earlier, starting the day sooner, and managing one more person’s daily routine at a snail’s pace. Then again, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Tonight’s reading, from Jesus Calling, seemed particularly apt. “Don’t rush about, or think too far ahead of what your next task will be,” I read. “Just focus on the task in front of you, and allow your will to conform with mine.”

Indeed. Isn’t that just the antidote to all worry and stress? To slow down, and stay in the present moment. Lord, thank you for the chance to practice this spiritual discipline again.