3.25.2016

Lent and Holy Week

It's mid afternoon on Good Friday. The weather is fitting, as it always seems to be - overcast with the threat of rain. The house is quiet. Sugarbeet is napping and R is at the Good Friday service at our parish.

I'm going to pray the Stations of the Cross when I'm finished here.

This Lent and Holy Week have not felt very "Lent-y" or "Holy Week-y". In reflecting on Lent earlier this week, I do think it was more fruitful than I initially thought. And Holy Week will be too, I think.

I had intended to return to reading The Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas for my Lenten practice. As much as I complained about it during my graduate classes, I miss it. While it stretches and challenges my brain, the way it nourished and deepened my faith - both the head and heart aspects of it - is something I missed. I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to have the 'ah-ha' moment of being able to read The Summa because I wanted to and not because I was in a class requiring it.

I have The Summa downloaded onto my Kindle, but due to a recent move, said Kindle was not located until last week. Add that in with sheer exhaustion -- mentally and physically -- from the schedule of moving and caring for my Nan and it just didn't happen.

What did happen though were weekly Wednesday nights and Thursdays spent with my Nan and twice a month weekends. Times when I was stretched outside of myself. When what *I* wanted to do was the last thing that could or should happen.

Instead, I learned (a little, I hope) what it means to see Christ in another when that other is being less than kind to you; what it means to be Christ to another with no expectation of anything in return. I learned to die to myself as I knew the only things she would truly remember and share with others were my failings. The things I did right would go most often unacknowledged and nearly always unremembered.

I spent hours in the car with tears streaming down my cheeks as I reflected on how I failed her, and daily praying for the strength and knowledge and self-control to think before I spoke or acted.

I do not think it is any coincidence that she moved to her new apartment on Tuesday of Holy Week.

And then, goodness, someday maybe I will learn to check my pride, she was moved in and I thought to myself "oh good, now I can really enter into the Triduum and reflect upon the Paschal mystery."

We made our schedule - Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper followed up with 4 stops at other parishes for prayer at Altars of Repose; Good Friday service in the afternoon and Tenebrae in the evening; Saturday Evening Vigil Mass; and Mass on Easter Sunday.

For a moment I considered Sugarbeet and thought to myself 'she is starting to be more active and vocal at Mass, is this a good idea?' But I thought, oh, she usually nurses and falls asleep, and the services around bedtime will be perfect for that.

And so last night, we headed off. She chattered during the songs, made friends with all the people around us, and settled in to nurse during the homily as is her routine. I thought 'oh good, she'll fall asleep and won't wake up until we put her in her PJs at home'. And then, her eyes popped open and she sat up, smiled at me from ear to ear and I knew there would be no sleeping. We stayed in our pew until just before Communion. Then, I knew with the transfer of the Eucharist to the Altar of Repose a sacred silence would be requested, and silence in leaving, and so we headed to the back where we could watch through the glass doors. We made it until the procession went past us and then headed outside to avoid any accidental squeals during the time of silence.

And that was when the tears started and I realized how selfish I had been. *I* wanted to make up for what I'd perceived as a failed Lent with a 'perfect' Triduum. And for 2 adults, it was a perfect schedule. Heck, for Sugarbeet's 'usual' it was a perfect schedule. But it did not take into consideration that she is no longer 3 months old and sleeps through anything; that she is becoming more and more social and alert and interested in everything around her. And I knew to my very bones that we should have stayed home.

Yes, children belong at church. Yes, for weekly Sunday Mass, the squeals and giggles that happen are part of what it means to belong to a Parish Community. But, in my opinion and for my family, the Sacred Silence that is part of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil should be respected by all present. And so, this afternoon, Sugarbeet and I are home.

If she took a bottle (that's another post), she would be home with a sitter.

(And just in case anyone is wondering, if you decide differently and have a crying or giggling baby at Mass this week, please know I support you in that decision as well. I think absolutes as it relates to children at Mass are dangerous and only serve to discourage families from coming and participating and I do not intend that. This is just what we decided is best for us.)

And so, Lent and Holy Week have looked and will look very different this year. Yet, one thing will be the same - the story doesn't change. We know the ending and that is where I find my peace and comfort this year. In allowing myself to rest in the knowledge that we know death has no victory and on Sunday morning, the tomb will be empty, the bells will ring, and Sugarbeet can squeal and giggle and jabber all she wants as we celebrate Christ's victory over death.

For now, the silence of my home. Stations of the Cross prayed in private. And the knowledge of the full story will be enough for me to enter into this most sacred of days.

A Blessed Triduum to you, friends.

3.04.2016

Nan and Sugarbeet

There have been many drastic changes in my life in the past 18 months. I have been stretched and pulled in ways I couldn't have imagined before in all ways - spiritually, relationally, physically, and emotionally. One of those ways is in caring for my Nan.

I have written about her in this space before, and many of you have prayed for her over the years. One of my greatest sorrows of infertility was perhaps never taking a photo of 4 generations of women again - growing up, that was one of my favorite things, as the great-granddaughter, to take 4 generation photos with me, my mom, my Nan, and my Big Grandma. I looked forward to doing so with a daughter of my own, even in the times when I didn't think I wanted children, I thought that would be nice. It was something not 2 years ago, I found myself mourning.

Then, Sugarbeet came along, and with her, many 4 generation photos.

Then, in December, just after Christmas, Nan fell. Again. That made 4 falls in less than 6 months. This, on top of memory issues that cannot be ignored combined with a text from my mom saying 'it's time' and I packed up and moved in with Nan until a better solution could be arranged. By some miracle, we visited a retirement community with an assisted living-type of wing and Nan loved it. She put her deposit down and is on the waiting list moving in at the end of the month.

In the meantime, every Wednesday night and every other weekend are spent with Nan. The other times, she has caregivers from an agency with her.

And I'm failing her. I'm failing my Nan each and every time I'm with her. Memory loss and aging (we are still awaiting a formal diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer's) are no joke. Nor is being the caregiver for one struggling. Kat recently wrote about caring for her mother-in-law and the similarities between care-giving and motherhood, and it was right at the start of my increased time with my Nan before her fall, and I've wanted to write this post ever since. If only to say, no to shout, YES YES YES!

In fact, for me, caregiving has given more experience with the challenges I thought would come with motherhood than actual motherhood has. Waking up in the middle of the night to feed Sugarbeet? Sure, and I'm actually happy to do it. (Which if you know me and my need for sleep is something miraculous.) Having to wait to shower or rework my meals to accommodate someone else's needs? No problem! Giving up "my" time to care for another? Sign me up! I worried so much about my ability to be a good mother, and don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect by any means, but the struggles I anticipated are not the ones I'm facing.

Except that I am, in caring for my Nan.

My head knows that dementia and memory loss are out of her control. That her outbursts are not something she wants to do, nor can control. That no matter how many times I say 'remember...', she will not. And that this is NOT a helpful caregiving strategy. My head knows that I need to hear the same story over and over. That I need to remind, give memory tools, and remind again.

And yet, I fail. I lose my patience. I yell (not so much anymore, but there was one awful night where I really yelled). I cry. I roll my eyes. I take over and do it myself. I forget to appreciate the little things that she does remember (like stocking her fridge with the yogurt I like, or putting tea bags and splenda on the table for dinner). I forget to just enjoy my time with her; to be her granddaughter and let her by my Nan.

I try to learn from each mistake. From each tear, from each rant of frustration. And yet, I find myself just making new mistakes. I give myself a pep talk each drive to her home, reminding myself to see Christ in her, and to be Christ to her. And I fail. And my heart hurts with each failing.

The saving grace is Sugarbeet. She forces me to remember that Nan is still Nan. Sugarbeet loves Nan so sweetly. I often reflect that they 'get' one another because they are both so close to God - Sugarbeet so fresh from Him, and Nan on her way back to Him. And I am gifted with watching them play - a gift I do not deserve because of my failings. A gift I know I will treasure long after Nan has gone Home to Him. And I see the beauty in that. I relish their playing. I relish their shared laughter. In fact for the longest time, Nan was the only one who could make Sugarbeet laugh.

I have faced the struggles of my relationship with my Nan that have occurred over the years. In caring for her, our disagreements have all come rushing back to my memory. We are too much alike, it is true. I see her stubborn and double it. I see her independence and raise it. And so we battle. All I can do is hope that through our battles, she knows I love her and that I want to protect her from harm the same way I want to protect Sugarbeet from harm. Not allowing her to stay alone for long periods of time is much the same as not allowing Sugarbeet to reach out and touch a hot stove - with the only difference being that someday, Sugarbeet will earn the stove is hot and stop reaching out to touch it. For Nan, she will not learn at this point. She may remember some things, some of the time, but she will no longer gain new knowledge and be able to be fully trusted with it.

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I started writing this when I had no end in sight; when the time I'd be responsible for her care was open-ended. But now I do have an end. I have 2 more Wednesdays and 2 more weekends with her at her house. At the house I played in growing up, spent a week at each summer. Where so many holiday memories are contained.

At the end of March, we will move Nan to her new home. It is 6 minutes door to door from my home. She will be cared for. She will have 3 meals a day prepared for her. She will have Bridge games, and crafts, and make new friends. Someone will look out for her. She will still have some independence - not being forced to get up for 8am breakfast (she loves to sleep in - another similarity) and being able to have a coffee pot, refrigerator, and microwave in her apartment.

And maybe, just maybe, I will once again be able to go visit my Nan and just fully be her granddaughter. I will not have to keep her on schedule; fix her checkbook; remind her of what's coming up tomorrow, and this afternoon, and 5 minutes from now. I will be able to visit and enjoy her, just as Sugarbeet does.

And in these remaining 2 weeks of caregiving, I will continue to try to be patient. To not yell. To see her as God sees her, and to be Christ to her. I am sure I will fail. But now, I see light at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps I will not fail quite so badly. Perhaps the knowledge that someday "Nan's house" won't be "Nan's house" anymore will remind me to enjoy these last visits, just as I enjoyed them so much growing up.

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In all of my failings, there is one thing I think I might have done right. I had the idea to capture the time of Nan and Sugarbeet together with a special photo session. The photographer who took Sugarbeet's maternity and newborn photos agreed to come and spend a morning with us, photographing Nan and her great-granddaughter at play.

This morning, just 2 months ago. These photos. Perhaps they are proof that I am not failing as completely as it feels like at the end of long day.

(The link to the photos is a blog post written by the wonderful photographer who has become like family as she has documented my pregnancy with Sugarbeet and her first days of life on the outside.)

And so many candid shots that I've taken. To remind me that this woman, my Nan, loves deeply and bears the burden of her aging more than I could ever bear it for her. Photos taken, that someday will heal a sad heart that says goodbye and will remind me of good moments among these days when I am tempted to only remember the details of my failings.

Our most recent 4 Generations Picture - please ignore my cheesy smile, Sugarbeet's face, and Nan's lack of camera-looking. It's hard to get everyone to cooperate these days :). At least my mom looks good, as it was her birthday.
With Nan and Nan's sister, my (Rebecca's) godmother.
Helping Nan read the paper.
Out to lunch!
People watching at Starbucks.
Playing together at home.