Category Archives: Healing
Loving the books my friend Tracy loaned me for getting through this isolation. The author Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says what it seems to me is crucial to experiencing the Good News. “Repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”
A year ago, a friend of mine from church dragged a homeless person to my apartment to talk to me. He knew him from years ago as kids and later when the man had his own successful contracting company. Now he was in an advanced stage of alcoholism and literally living on the streets. As we talked, it became clear that as a soldier in the war with North Vietnam he had done things that he could not forgive himself for and did not believe God would forgive. We both tried to convince him that he was already forgiven, all he needed to do was accept it, be freed to begin over by the grace of that amazing love, and let God show him how to get on with his life.
He talked some about being Catholic, so I could understand why he felt that way since I was Catholic for most of sixty years. But even when I tried to tell him that the church had changed since Vatican II and even Catholics were understanding that all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus died for our sins. If Jesus’ death didn’t redeem us, what was the point of it? The veteran couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking. And he went on self destructing and finally succeeded.
I think we all sometimes forget that we were already forgiven before we even sinned, so we carry burdens of guilt over things we can’t undo. We see God as a Judge keeping count of our sins and we struggle under a debt we feel we owe, instead of letting the grace of that love continue to heal us and free us to change.
My very kind and loving husband, Julian, felt that way and couldn’t understand the freedom and joy I had from accepting that Jesus died so that by recognizing and accepting that incredible love and forgiveness, we would be freed to grow more loving. Forgiveness is the heart of love and God’s love cannot be earned. We are his beloved children. Period. Once we experience that love, it is so glorious that we want to let it fill us, heal us, free us, direct us, and empower us to somehow share it with others. It’s a taste of heaven. When I was more or less a “second hand Christian” having been brought up in the church, I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, but I could never imagine anything I’d want to do for eternity in heaven either, not even the things that gave me pleasure or made me happy. But once I experienced that mind blowing joy of being both known and loved totally and tenderly by a God who is Love, I knew I would be fine with an eternity of the joy of that Love. My Julian was not a verbal person. He thought mostly in images and related best to logical concrete things. One day Julian was driving to work and decided to test some of the things I said. So, he prayed as he was driving, “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us if we listen. So okay, I’m listening.” As he thought these words, a flashing light and siren started behind him. And a trooper pulled him over for speeding. When the trooper went back to his car to check on Julian’s credentials and fill out the ticket, Julian was thinking sarcastically, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about how God spoke to me!!” Then the trooper came to the window again and said, “Mr. Norman, while I’ve been working on giving you this ticket, every car that went by here was speeding, most of them more than you were. So, I’m going to tear up this ticket. You be more careful now.” And he literally tore up the ticket. When Julian got to work and called me to tell me this, all I could think of was, Romans 3:23… “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a GIFT through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” What a perfect image! Thanks to Jesus, we know that God tears up our ticket.
That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.
“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.
The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.
After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”
“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”
Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,” I just opened the bible randomly and began to read.
My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”
An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story, but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.
Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we asked to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.
I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.
I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting. But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.
But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.
Easter can come in our lives at any time. This Easter is a good time to remember the hard times that stretched our faith and turned to rejoicing.
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.
When we know with both heart and mind that we are loved at our worst and unfinished at our best, our lives become adventures in grace.
Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.
The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices. End of story. The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.
What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short? What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.” And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.
Important note: Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices. But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.
What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven? More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love? In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?
Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development. I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents. Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.” By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.
We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood. The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing. Recognition is the beginning of the process. Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response. Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.
We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe. Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability. I personally am not into housekeeping. Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there. But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order. And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie. These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the root of my particular pain at that time.
I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven. Though there have been times I thought it might be hell. I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life. Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst. With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.
When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best, most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!” But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.
We are all a work in progress. Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within, overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us. We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life. When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies. But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there. Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it. I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes. We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will. Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.
All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both. Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.
“You can’t fill a cup that is already full. That means you can’t approach a new situation, relationship, or job with what you think you know will happen. When you do that, you’re not leaving room for the unexpected, the delightful, and even the miraculous. Try starting from a place of ‘Maybe I don’t know.’ It allows you to be open to something or someone being different from what you experienced in the past. When you approach life in this open way, you also allow the universe to conspire on your behalf. So be empty of expectations. The universe will always dream bigger than you will. Abundance comes when you realize that you can receive what you need-every day.” by Eden-Clark and John Germain Leto
This quote so speaks to my condition right now. One of the hardest things for me is to allow those I care about to hurt. I want to help them find joy even in times of suffering, both for themselves and partly for myself. But suffering is part of the fabric of life and brings opportunities for grace and each of us has our own way and timing for experiencing it and learning from it. And part of loving another person is allowing them to be themselves, even if we are totally convinced we know “better” ways to be. Not being able to help my husband accept the losses that come with his illness or to help him trust that death is only a doorway, not the end, is very painful. And feelings of inadequacy and failure easily become less painful when disguised as frustration and impatience. The quote at the beginning of this showed up as a memory on my face book page today reminding me that my way may not be the best way for someone else and to trust God who loves my husband more than I ever could.
I do relate this experience to Mary’s vigil at the foot of her son’s cross. She had tried to convince him to come home when she realized he was putting himself in danger. She must have struggled with anger when he wouldn’t listen, also with guilt that she had somehow failed him, and with unimaginable heartbreak as she watched him suffer.
In the quote at the beginning of this, I translate “Universe” as God. And however anyone understands salvation, I truly believe that Jesus showed us that this life is not all there is and that suffering has the potential to be redeeming.
And the most counter-intuitive truth he showed us about life was when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He showed us that forgiveness is the ultimate requirement for love, so that we too can experience forgiveness. Because forgiving others and accepting and experiencing forgiveness are inseparable.
Forgiving others frees us to forgive ourselves, particularly when we have not been able to consciously admit we need forgiveness. We all have the self-righteous belief that our way is the totally right way. And that blinds us to the harm we do. Forgiving others for their blindness both frees and heals us.
Forgiving others is at the core of the command Jesus gave us, “Love one another as I have loved you,” because forgiveness is the very essence of Good Friday.
My prayer for all of us this Holy Week is that we will find the grace to admit the limits of both our own understanding and of everyone’s human blindness, freeing us to both forgive and accept forgiveness. So then, on Easter, we can celebrate the love of God expressed in Jesus and truly rejoice and be glad in it.
One of my favorite stories is about psychologists doing a study of pessimists and optimists. They put a young pessimist in a room with every imaginable toy. At first he happily tried out each toy, but soon he sat down crying. When they asked him, didn’t he like the toys, he sniffled “Yes.” But when asked why he was crying, he said, “They are very nice, but I know they will break. Toys usually do. I don’t want to enjoy them and then lose them.”
In the meantime the young optimist was in a room with just horse manure. To their surprise he was happily digging through the pile of manure. When asked why he was so happy, he answered enthusiastically, “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I started 2017 with Lumbar Fusion Surgery followed by months of physical therapy, but still ending up in pain when bending and getting in and out of bed. All the bottom cabinets in our apartment are now pretty much unreachable for me. Since I’m short, the upper cabinets have always been out of reach, but now anything unbreakable is accessible with my new reacher. Though I’ve gotten fairly good at tilting things out with the reacher and catching them with my left hand, sometimes I start a chain reaction and all sorts of containers rain down on my head, the counter and the floor. As long as none break open, I just laugh and start over. However, the grits opening mid-air, provoked a different reaction. I’ll just leave it at that.
Shortly after surgery I awoke in the night unable to move my arms. I panicked thinking my arms were paralyzed, until I realized that the Velcro on my wrist braces for my carpal tunnel problem had locked onto the Velcro on my back brace. For a few minutes I thought I was going to have to wake Julian to help me, but I finally managed to get free. I think I did wake him with my laughter. Major blessings in the first several weeks of limited mobility and pain were Julian’s and all our family’s support and help and friends also brightening those days with tasty gifts of food. I felt very loved. And gained five pounds.
Some good news in April was that our Pulmonologist announced that my husband Julian’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had not progressed. But then, he informed us that the scans had shown a tumor in his right lung. The biopsy showed cancer cells, so surgery was scheduled. It was a very scary time. Thankfully, it only took minimally invasive surgery to get all the cancer. So far, in each three month checkup, he is still cancer free. Another blessing in this was his surgeon, who is one of the most intelligent, funny, honest, humble, caring people we have ever met. I told her once that we admired her greatly, particularly because she didn’t think she was God. She laughed and said that she had figured that out pretty early in her life.
However, at the age of eighty-one Julian was now terribly frustrated by how slow his recovery was. Just fourteen years ago he had bounced back pretty quickly from heart surgery. And just as he was finally getting back to work on several architectural jobs, his heart went out of rhythm. So, back to the hospital we went for a Cardiac Ablation. Unfortunately, though the ablation seemed successful, for unknown reasons he began to hemorrhage profusely. The two nurses with him began to take emergency measures to staunch the bleeding, but he was losing consciousness. So, while one lowered the head of the bed to get oxygen to his brain, the other nurse (a tall good looking blonde named Amy) climbed up on the bed to be able to put enough pressure on the incision in his groin to stop the bleeding until the emergency equipment got there. About that time Julian regained consciousness and asked in surprise, “Amy, are you getting in bed with me?” (Hope springs eternal…)
The pressure equipment slowed the bleeding, but a vascular surgeon was called in to do exploratory surgery to see if an artery had been perforated. None could be found even with extensive exploration. So, though the original ablation incision was small, the exploratory one was quite long. Julian now continued to bleed from both surgical sites in the groin area, with the bleeding only very slowly becoming less profuse. A one day stay in the hospital turned into eleven days and he was still leaking fluid with some blood from both sites when they sent us home. I, an eighty year old klutz, who had just had two cataract surgeries in the ten days before this, and had numb fingers and no grip because of carpal tunnel syndrome, would now be bandaging and cutting off bandages on the two adjoining surgical sites about three times a day. Purely through the grace of God, I managed not to do him any further damage and after about another ten days the two sites no longer needed bandages. Julian never admitted to trepidation, but his sigh of relief was quite audible when we finally got to stop playing doctor.
This was now late October. Once again age took its toll and recovery was even slower. Julian lost all appetite, began sleeping excessively, and being untypically sad and even somewhat surly. So, the doctor gave him “cheer up” meds. Lo and behold, he became amazingly energetic, funny and now smiling with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. We were both delighted. (I considered asking for a prescription for myself.) Unfortunately, he then didn’t shut his eyes for five days and five nights, so the doctor had to switch the meds. With physical therapy he slowly regained some strength once more and began to work again on his much overdue architecture projects.
Suddenly, his legs and feet began to swell and turn bright red. The diagnosis was cellulitis, so now he was again on antibiotics, steroids and having to try to work on his computer with his feet propped up above his heart. I took a photo of this rather hazardous acrobatic endeavor, but wasn’t quite mean enough to post it on face book or my blog. Well….not yet.
The next day he had a meeting to attend on one of his projects. By now, he couldn’t even get his well worn moccasin house shoes on, so I drove him to Walmart to buy some larger backless black house shoes. Since it was raining, he wore socks with plastic grocery bags over them. He put the new shoes on at the checkout counter, but since one foot was swollen less than the other, to keep that shoe on when he walked, he had to sort of shuffle his way out to the car. Well, at least they matched the color of his suit.
Then just as he was beginning to get back to a somewhat diminished “normal,” he developed a horrendous cough and began to have to fight to breathe. We feared the fibrosis had flared up, but it appeared to be an inflammation, possibly because of drastic weather changes and a cold. Back on steroids and antibiotics again. Exhausted by fighting to breathe, he ended up bedridden for several weeks and once more with swollen feet. An unexpected blessing was a recently bought new sofa that was perfect for sleeping with elevated feet on wedges our Steve ordered. He slept there day and night with the remote to control the TV and a view of a flock of cardinals that hang out at the birdfeeders outside the French doors.
Slowly he began once more getting some strength back. But, suddenly while working quietly in his office in our apartment, he was almost paralyzed by extreme pain in his chest that radiated up into his jaw. I got him to the hospital in four minutes. It would have taken the ambulance that long to get to us. Eventually, as they were running tests, the pain subsided and the tests looked okay, but they kept him over night for an echo cardiogram. While waiting for a room, we did our usual survival by humor routine and one of the nurses asked, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We just laughed and said, “We’ve had so many medical emergencies in the last couple of years, we’ve decided that humor is the best survival medicine.”
His heart didn’t show any damage, so he got to go home the next day, but barely in time to change clothes to attend the Developmental Services Banquet. This is our community organization for those with mental handicaps. Julian designed several of their group homes and was a very active member on their board for seven years. For about twenty years he also gave them the monthly stipend he got for being on the City Zoning Appeals Board. Last year we were invited, but he ended up in the hospital so we didn’t make it. This year they gave me a heads up that he was supposed to be given the award he’d missed last year. I think we got there two minutes before it started. So in his suit and tie, wearing his very dilapidated, but fortuitously stretched from wear, moccasin house shoes, he received an award and a lot of affirmation. Many of the award winners were clients with disabilities who work as helpers in the group homes. I was touched by the wholehearted applause and cheering of the other clients. The award presentations were interspersed with Christmas music like, O Holy Night, and the elderly client sitting behind me knew the words to all of them perfectly, but not the tunes. But the sheer joy in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I realized that this too was an answer to my Advent Prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I think Jesus is more visible in the handicapped than in the rest of us.
Our primary care doctor now scheduled Julian for an endoscopy to check for other possible causes for the pain that took us to the ER.
Meanwhile, our son Steve came from Atlanta to spend the weekend creating a wonderland with our collection of Dickens Village buildings, people in many different vignettes, animals, and trees and landmarks of London.
Julian directed this from the couch and it ended up with five levels of hills and valleys with bridges over chasms, a cave, and even a crime scene complete with crime scene tape that our son Tommy made and sneaked into the village a couple of years ago! Well after all, they had a lot of crime in Dickens day too. All the houses, churches, pubs and businesses have lights inside and the sheets of cotton snow cover the few empty patches outside. I think some zoning issues entered into the city planning also.
It really is both beautiful and interesting. And since it has grown to cover the whole end of the living room and now even continues around one corner, there’s no room inside for a Christmas tree. But outside one of the French doors, we have a small lighted one that looms large over the village. If you have to be sick, this is a lot better view than in the hospital. (Well, other than Amy the blonde nurse anyway.)
The next weekend our son Tommy and delightful Whitney with the awesomely beautiful voice brought our four granddaughters and they helped decorate the rest of the house. Then it was fun watching our talented artist granddaughters draw and getting to enjoy Whitney singing with Tommy accompanying her on the guitar. Another truly lovely Christmas experience.
Finally, Julian got to have his endoscopy which showed a pill had become lodged in his esophagus and caused an ulcer. A biopsy done to check for infection was negative. But now the challenge was to avoid the many delicious foods that irritate an ulcer.
A week before Christmas, nineteen of our family arrived for our annual Christmas gathering in a cabin at near-by Montgomery Bell State Park. Our grown children and grandchildren did most of the preparations and helped us organize and pack up our now downsized contributions. The cabin with its large stone fireplace and its wooded setting on a lake is a perfect place for a holiday gathering. The first day, Julian mostly rested, wrapped warmly in a comfortable recliner with everyone taking turns spending time with him and getting him things.
By the second day he felt well enough to be beaten at poker by both the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! It was a very happy day with even our grandson who teaches in Bolivia making it back in time. And we got to face-time our son Michael and his spouse Patrick in Cambodia, where they teach at an orphanage for children born HIV positive. I love that I have lived long enough to experience talking with and seeing our loved ones all the way across the world. In spite of all our challenges, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration.
Christmas week, Julian’s blood pressure started vacillating wildly and he began to have severe chest pain from the ulcer in spite of taking nineteen different medicines each day! Unfortunately, all our doctors were out for a week of Christmas vacation. Adding to his misery, one of his new medicines made Julian very dizzy. He was walking to the bedroom and started to fall as he was almost to the king size bed. I was behind him and began to try to help him get to the bed. He started shouting, “Where’s the bed? Where’s the bed?” Because a week before he had had a sudden drastic loss of hearing, I thought he’d now gone blind! I managed to get him safely onto the bed and asked him if he could see it now and he snapped back, “Of course!” When I asked him why he couldn’t see it a moment before, he replied, “Because I had my eyes closed.” I had a sudden strong desire to strangle him, but fortunately my hands aren’t strong enough.
Now the sparkling lights of the village and the twinkling little tree outside and the bright red cardinals flaming around the feeders were still cheerfully visible over the rather large air purifier, the humidifier, and the walker. They could even be seen between the CPAP and Blood Pressure machine and various breathing aids on the rolling cart that we pulled next to the couch with its pyramid of wedges for elevating feet above the heart. The Christmas angels and burgundy candles around the tray with Julian’s nineteen medicines looked festive on the dining room table. I tried to convince Julian that a wreath of holly would keep his head warmer and add to the Christmassy atmosphere, but he wasn’t in the mood. I was tempted to dig out the left over “happy” pills and slip just a half of one in his milk, but it being the Holy Days, for once I resisted evil.
Julian now needed to not lie flat because of the ulcer and he still needed to keep his feet above the level of his heart. I suggested getting a hammock since our middles are our heaviest body area, both head and feet would then be high. But it’s already getting difficult to walk around the apartment, so Julian solved the problem by varying which end he raises with the wedges over the day and night. The other challenge is a diet healthy for his heart, esophagus, and feet. Low salt, low fat, low fiber, no spices, no tomato products, no dairy for two hours before and after a pill he takes twice a day, no caffeine, carbonation, citrus or anything acidic or alcoholic. And the steroids are making his sugar count so high that the frequent tears in his very thin skin won’t heal. So, low sugar also. I spent about three hours grocery shopping during the busiest shopping season of the year reading the contents of everything. But it’s a saving grace to have our son Chris living nearby and willing to come stay while I have to be gone. He and Julian share many interests and it seems to not only be a bright spot in those days for Julian, but to be bringing them much closer to one another. And the many kindnesses of our family and friends have touched Julian’s heart, helping him see how loved he is.
Our newest great-grandson, Raphael, who had a difficult birth on November 15th, didn’t breathe until they resuscitated him. He stayed in the hospital for ten days on a ventilator and needing medicines for seizures. But the neurologist said he could not believe the second brain scans taken at five days old were of the same child as the ones they took the first day. The neurologist actually called it a miracle. Raphael is a beautiful baby and now at two months has a marvelous wide smile. Though we may not know the extent of possible damage for some time, he has many many people praying for him even on the other side of the world. And he is already tenderly loved by all of us. They live in North Carolina, but we get to see photos and videos of him almost daily on face book. And they drove from North Carolina to Tennessee just for four days so his grands and great- grands could get to meet him. So, as 2018 began, I got to hold him and kiss his tiny feet and see him smile and hear his laughter. What a wonderful beginning for a new year.
A beneficial side effect for me of helping Julian through all this has been my regaining stamina and managing a lot of physical activity with very little pain. And in spite of relieving some of the stress by standing at the kitchen counter in the middle of the night eating half a peach pie and another time six jelly doughnuts mysteriously disappearing in two days, I haven’t gained weight.
When someone is in pain, whether physical or emotional, they are focused on the pain, and the small things that keep relationships pleasant are no longer a priority. Through most of our marriage, I have been high maintenance and Julian has been very low maintenance. There have been rough moments for both of us in adjusting to such an extreme change in that now. He doesn’t like to need help and I have always wanted a lot of it. He’s never been comfortable expressing unpleasant feelings. And I don’t really know how to help him, because I worked hard over the years to learn how to deal with my emotions without garbage dumping them on him. So, in spite of being married over half a century, we are still awkward in areas of our relationship. Sometimes, I feel like at eighty years of age, I’m still an amateur person.
Humor has been our glue and in many ways it is still our saving grace. But in this stage of our life, the challenge is to learn how to love across our differences in ways that help us relate heart to heart.
Last week, the doctor explained that a lot of the ongoing illnesses are side effects of some of the medicines that so far are keeping him able to breathe. So Julian is beginning to deal with the reality that his life is not going to get better. In fact, it will be a constant challenge to keep it from getting worse.
It’s a scary and sad time for both of us. Sometimes when he is sleeping, I feel like my heart is breaking and when I let myself cry, I’m afraid I will never be able to stop. Our family and our friends at church have been incredibly loving and supportive. And I find grace by reliving joyful memories of our fifty-nine years together. Julian suddenly lost a lot more of his hearing around Christmas. His expensive hearing aids made his ears itch so he never wore them. But now communication is much more difficult. A friend with similar problems has found something that has helped him and he is bringing it for Julian to try, so I am hopeful that soon we will be able to enjoy reliving those memories together.
Eileen and Julian in the South West of France 2015
One of the blessings of old age is a treasury of wonderful memories.
A warped sense of humor is also a great help.