Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Song of Love for Rhonda Lundquist and Joe Spado

All of us have experienced some sort of loss--the loss of a person, the loss of a pet, the loss of one's vision. All of them are equally significant; one is not more or less important than another. The ache we feel is, at least in part, due to the change in our lives. Life is different without that presence. We miss that spirit once it journeys on to its next purpose. For me, that transitions spurs an intensive period of reflection: what this person means to me, the teachings s/he has shared, and the responsibility s/he has left me to fulfill to honor his or her legacy.

Rhonda Lundquist, Andy Lundquist, and Ann DeGroot

Joe Spado
Within the past two months, two top-notch people have left our world to move on to the next: Rhonda Lundquist and Joe Spado. You may know both of them; you may know neither. Although I wish you had the opportunity to know them, Rhonda and Joe's transition from the chrysalis of this lifetime to a spirit of the wind is beautiful, although painful in its grace.

I remember seeing my brother Ric, my only sibling, during this transition. Despite heavy sedation for pain, he held onto his life in this world to wait for our mother to arrive at the hospital to say goodbye. When she arrived and held his hand and spoke to him, he began to breathe more shallowly and less frequently. Not needing to fight to hold on any longer, he completely relaxed. Ric was not conscious when he passed--he just stopped breathing. With that last breath, I witnessed one of the most remarkable sights I have ever seen: Ric's spirit leaving his body to join the air. His last breath was my first as the sole caretaker of my mother. I have embraced this responsibility and done my best to do my best for her; he didn't need to ask me to do this. I knew it was what I needed to do to honor the life he lived and to honor the life she has given me.

Me, Mom, Cindy (Ric's wife), and Ric

From both Rhonda and Joe, I have been reminded to write, which is partially why I'm doing this now. I met Rhonda when we were in a MFA program in Los Angeles; from there, she hired me as a grantwriter for her business. In addition to being a kind-hearted and uproariously hilarious woman, Rhonda was also gifted poet, and she gave me the confidence and support to try my hand at writing poetry. Rhonda introduced me to Four Directions Charter School, where I worked for about 5 years. Thus began my introduction to another way to live life in a mindful, compassionate way with a healthy dose of laughing medicine. I also met a couple of good friends, Tracy and Toni, at Four Directions; they taught me to find my way out of dark caves by sounding laughter against the stone walls. 

Tracy Wilson

Through Tracy, I met Joe; I don't remember exactly when I met Joe or how we became friends. We just hit it off, and he became a person whom I felt as though I had known a long time. In addition to sharing a passion for Triumph motorcycles, Joe and I both loved writing and stories. Joe was a superb storyteller. Joe introduced me to blogging, as he'd been at it for years. Passively, he encouraged me to try it out--to send my own ideas out into the world for mass consumption. At first, I was hesitant--and I still am. What do I have to share with others that can make a difference in their lives? I still don't know the answer to that question, but now that's not the point. The point is to write regularly for a purpose, even if that purpose is simply sharing a story with someone. One never truly knows the butterfly effect that sharing one's ideas can have. It could change someone's life, and thus change the world.

Both Joe and Rhonda were fabulous storytellers and people who lived their lives for the experiences they could share with others to improve this life and this world for everyone. Their visions of peace and understanding, and the stories they shared and we lived, will be a part of me for the rest of my life. Although I miss both of their presences in my life, I am encouraged, too. They have left me with a responsibility to honor their lives through laughter, love, understanding, and stories. I proudly accept this responsibility and will strive to honor it with my life.

And here but for the Creator's grace go I. 

Thank you for reading this.  

Click to hear Neil Young's song, "Distant Camera", dedicated
to those who have journeyed to another existence

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Moments of Profound Being

Some people believe dreams to be no more than one's mind "defragmenting" or cleaning up--filing experiences garnered during the course of one's day into some repository in a person's mind. I believed that to be true, too, and--in some instances--I still do. I think those dreams we don't remember--other than we dreamt something--justify that description.

However, dreams that repeat or contain similar subjects or ideas fall into a different realm. I don't know what to call those vivid dreams, but I do believe they have an important significance, a message meant for no one but she or he who dreamt it.

When my mom first became ill and was in the hospital, I had a dream in which I was in an elevator at the hospital. Also in the elevator was a woman, an elevator operator dressed in uniform, and I was telling this woman about my mom. The elevator operator told me that my mom was dying.
This was the uniform, except the operator was a black woman.
I awoke, understanding this to be true. This message was meant to help me prepare myself and my mom for the inevitable end of life. Her life. My mom is the woman who gave me the life and skills to do what I'm doing at this moment: writing a blog entry. She also has taught, and continues to teach, me a lot about life and living it well.

A couple of weeks ago, my mom told me that my father had crawled into bed with her when she was sleeping--she prefaced this statement with the introduction, "I know this is going to sound weird...." She said that she didn't know how they would both fit into the small twin hospital bed in which she sleeps at the nursing home, but that they managed. She seemed to reassured by this visitation: her husband, my father, was around. I, too, was glad that Dad was sticking close to her. She misses him so much.

Earlier this week, I had another elevator dream, but this one involved my father helping me to find a place for my mom to live (she's been saying that she wants to move for the past two weeks.) We were in this tram-like elevator, and I was asking my dad something about the floors--how we would know what floor we were on and where we were at in the building--and he said that there were no floors, only levels, as in areas. As Dad and I were talking, the elevator was taking right and left turns.

Last night, I had a dream that my mom's roommate at the care center had passed--this would mean that my mom could have a room with a window view, which is what we've requested when one comes available. I was searching for my mom at the nursing home to be able to tell her this, but I couldn't find her.

Am I sad at the prospect of not having my mom in this life? Yes, of course I'm sad. I'm scared, too: my mom's passing, whenever it happens, will result in a lot of changes. I will miss her, and I will be the only surviving member of my immediate family. I will feel lonely, but I know I will not be alone.

As I was remembering last night's dream, I was also feeling really happy: I'd just finished reading students' self-reflection/evaluations of their writing development, and several of them stated how much they'd grown as writers. Because of their support and the sincerity of their written voices, I believe this to be true. I was feeling gratitude that I was able to help these students; in my own way, it seemed I had helped young people to make this world a better place for future generations. This idea made me feel very, very blessed.

At that moment, when I was feeling this deep, heartfelt gratitude, I saw a large shadow of a big bird flying over my house.
When I could see the bird, it was a crane--a white crane. Those of you familiar with the Anishinaabe doodem, cranes are those who negotiate--the communicators who strive to facilitate peace and understanding between people.

I was awake for this vision, and its message was clear to me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Visit From the Muse

Lately, I wish there were more time and space available to me to write. I need a quiet environment, free of distractions. Inspiration. A song in my heart. All of these options were available to me the last couple of days with state-mandated testing. Oh, I know, I should be walking up and down rows throughout the testing...but I didn't. I should be staring at students as they work...but I wasn't. So sue me.

Instead, I found myself writing a poem today, the first one in a long, long time. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. It sings to me. When I finished it, I teared up; it was a moment of catharsis.

Here it is: any and all feedback is welcome and appreciated, however technical or non-technical you want to get. Or just read it and enjoy the poem. Or not. 

But here it is.

Look Homeward, Angel
A Lullaby for My Mother
a hapless midge ferried by eddys
of names, dates, and places,
my mother floats through today,
 a day similar to yesterdays
when someone who looks like me
and speaks my words brought gifts
to ebb the rising tides of fluids
building in her body, a swollen river
dammed by Ace wraps and Depends
doldrums compounded by weak winds.

this meandering river bears my mother
towards the sea of memory where
refrigerators await with open doors
and maws of stoves call for pizza
and rangetops illuminate the horizon,
her path home.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Daughter to Mother

I am essentially an only child, though I do have a brother 18 years older than I am who passed away a three years ago. So now, all decisions regarding my mother's care fall upon me, the living immediate family member. In a sense, this is a blessing, as I am not caught up in squabbles with anyone else regarding my mom's needs; my auntie (my mom's only and older sister) and my cousins support me and trust that I am acting in my mother's best interests for her care, and I am very, very grateful. My friends and boyfriend, too, listen and empathize--this, too, I cherish.

My brother, Ric, me and Mom at her surprise 80th birthday party, December 2007

However, this empathy and support does not make the decision to keep my mom in a skilled care facility (a.k.a., nursing home)--and all the self-doubt, denial, and sorrow that accompanies this move--much easier.

Until four months ago, at the end of December 2012, my mom was an independent woman with moderate to severe COPD. With a little housekeeping and errand-running help from me, she was able to maintain her own apartment, manage her own health care needs and finances, and drive. When she became ill, her short-term memory and problem-solving/processing information was affected. Due to her now-severe COPD, Mom is on oxygen 24/7. She is tired a lot, which can be most likely attributed to congestive heart failure. She becomes winded when performing daily tasks like transferring from her wheelchair to the toilet, dressing/undressing, and standing for a few minutes in the shower. The edema that pools in her lower legs requires her legs to be wrapped by a nurse every day in the morning. She doesn't remember what day it is nor what she did that day, and it usually takes some thought to remember what she ate for the previous meal. She doesn't remember some of the names of people she's known for a long time, nor can she remember the names of people with whom she's shared her transitional care room or the nurses and aides who care for her on a daily basis. Sometimes, what she doesn't remember, she'll make up.

I don't know if she would remember how to set up her medications and take them at the correct time each day. I don't  know if she would know how to contact someone if I were not available and she had an emergency--as it is, she calls me when she needs help, even when she could be helped by an aide or nurse. I don't know if she would remember how to drive to her doctor and hairdresser's salon, nor do I want her to take the risk to find out. I don't know if she would remember to pay her bills. Many daily living activities that Mom was able to perform on her own a year ago she cannot do now. She is generally cognizant of these changes, but I do not know to what extent she is aware of what the changes are, how they affect her, or what implications result from these changes.

It's heartbreaking to witness these changes and be essentially powerless to do anything to change or stop them from occurring. 

I'm doing my best to not only advocate for my mom, but also keep her dignity and pride intact. It's a difficult balance, trying to keep her life enjoyable and level. The sacrifice is my own time and life, with which--up until now--I've been able to be somewhat selfish.

In essence, this daughter has become her mother's mother. When I get angry with this situation in my life, I remember that 43 years ago, my mom and dad gave me life to help others. They gave me two hands, feet, lungs, eyes, and ears, and one mouth, mind, and heart. With these gifts and others, and all everything they support, I will continue to help my mom live the rest of her time with us as comfortably, happily, and safely as I know how to do. My friends, and all the gifts and support they share with me, also give me the strength and fortitude to make this possible. They help me have faith, strength, and courage to do this difficult work. 

Thank you. I hope you all know who you are.

My bestie, Tammy, and me painted up with flour and baking, June 2012 

Sunday, January 13, 2013



This image may not have anything to do with this blog, but I thought it was beyond amazing--
it looks like a phoenix or thunderbird to me.

As many of you reading this know, my mom has been in the hospital this past week since Wednesday. She has severe COPD, and when she gets a cold, she cannot breathe. For a couple of days, she was really confused, talking about friends who have passed on being nurses and roommates, thinking she was going to move up from the 6th floor where she was staying to the 5th floor, thinking when I left I would take her home (and getting really petulant when I said she had to stay), talking about "morons" waking her up at 6 to go to the deer stand (and being upset about their activities because "you can't hunt on hospital grounds"), and so forth. I've never seen her like that, and it scared me; the woman I'd brought to the hospital on Wednesday was gone, replaced by a petulant, confused person.

Thank god she was very lucid yesterday with only a little bit of confusion as to how she'd arrived at the hospital.

Her doctor calls this cold's effects a "setback". A friend says that her friends are visiting because she's getting ready to pass. Another friend says this isn't her time. Me, I don't know what to believe, other than things are going to change...I feel that. They'll have to change, at least: Mom will need more support to stay in her apartment, and my family will need to visit and call more often.

Part of the difficulty is she's lonely because she's essentially homebound. She doesn't drive much. She can't shop (and is too proud to cruise around in the carts some store provide for that purpose). I'm the only regular weekly visitor. She doesn't drop by others' apartments (never has), so their visits to hers aren't very frequent. It's sad, and it sometimes makes me angry. Never at her, though.

Today or tomorrow, I will take her to a transitional care facility, where she will recover with supervision and support for two to three weeks. Then she will go home. I'm grateful for the support I've had, and I hope that continues, because it's very scary going through this on one's own. Just writing about it has given me hives, so I'm going to leave on that note and go scratch my itches. Thank you.