Monday, June 20, 2016

Arch of roses

A few springs ago, after a long winter of devouring library books on Victorian and cottage style gardens, I went off to my favourite greenhouse (the Canadian Tire nursery).  After walking up and down and yonder through the aisles looking at more rose varieties than I knew existed, I carefully selected two little rose bushes. Planting them beside our side door, my heart was full with visions of the beautiful  arch of roses I hoped would grow.

What I didn't consider,  however, were the harsh conditions the poor little bushes would endure,  from the terrible cold of a Canadian prairie winter to how the door would  continuously hit them as it opened, to how years later I would often snag one as I awkwardly attempted to clamber on the power wheelchair I now park by the door.

One bush died rather rapidly; the other hung on and  struggled through the hardships. However, unlike in fairy tales, the bush that hung on was not rewarded for its commendable efforts with size and plenty: it remains small and rather scraggly to this day.

There is no sign of the beautiful arch of roses I once so proudly envisioned.

Nonetheless, a few nights ago, I discovered that the little bush  has produced one perfect, stunning rose blossom. One bloom so beautiful it takes my breath away.  I could not describe a more perfect rose.
The bush has also produced a few more small buds that will soon be blooms ....they carry the story of hope in their petals.  Staring at them the other night  I could think of no greater form of natural beauty in all the earth.

It got me thinking.  Lately I have felt like the rose bush that hung on.  I have weathered harsh storms from within  my own body.  I've held on through years of endless pain and progressive  physical losses. The result of all that effort of hanging on has not been grand worldly success:  physically I  have become frail before my time.  The many dreams I once had are (for now at least) neatly folded away  like clothing on a shelf.

I ache daily over those lost  dreams. Big dreams, like of resuming the career I loved, or of adopting a house full of kids, or of traveling the world.  Smaller dreams, like being able to walk across the grass in my backyard to plant a pumpkin in my garden, or to drive again, or to have the stamina to throw a party for my closest friends, and laugh the night away.

Right now my energy is saved for only the most important of things. Loving my family.  Loving God.  Loving the earth around me. Trying to regain ground with my health and strength.  There is no arch of roses to be found.

And then..... I open my eyes and heart and I truly see what is before me.  Like the little rose bush who hung on and now is graced with one exquisite bloom (and the promise of a few more) so too have flowers grown in my life.  Perhaps because the flowers haven't exploded into an arch of roses, I cherish each small rose all the more.

I see flowers in the dreams that matter most of all, in the beauty of my daughter's smile, in knowing she is loved and safe and growing. I feel it when hugging my husband and in the friends whose love surrounds us.  I deliberately write little here about my family because they deserve their privacy, but they are my everything.  In the beat of my heart, they are my soul's metronome.

More dreams are realized each morning when the nurse helps me hobble out to my little chair on our back deck. It is then that I breath in sun and flowers and squirrels and the little sparrows that hop across the deck. I  lift my arms as if to hug the sky- and am amazed when the Earth hugs me back.

These are the flowers of my life. It's not the giant arch I dreamed of.  But it is beauty undeniably.  And my heart stops crying over lost arches and instead bends to say thank you for what I've been bestowed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A meeting in the night

Heavy dark bruises marred her face, yet there was a stateliness to her bearing, an elegance even, that  belied her pain, belied the shakiness of her 85 year old step.  Silvery moonlight streaming through hospital window back lit her strength as she cautiously pushed her walker across the room.

Seeing me silently motion to her as she glided past my bed, she drew near. Even in the exhaustion of a dark hospital night after a life long lived, I could sense the gentle beauty of her spirit.

Her voice hushed so as to not wake the other patients sleeping near us, she grasped my hand in hers. Her hands secreted a story in their soft wrinkles, a tale written by a life of strength and pain and loss and love.

She knew of my pain and I knew of hers....there's little privacy in the tiny walls of a four person shared hospital room. But in that moment as our spirits met on a dark night,  it was not of pain but of strength and sincerity and beauty.

Discovering our shared faith, she began to pray.  It was an unusual prayer.  Trust me, when you've been ill for many years with a disorder that causes severe pain as mine does, you get a lot of people praying for healing.  I cannot count the times people have prayed for me over the years, and I am grateful for their care.  Many have been kind as they prayed,  but it's a rare person who has been truly gentle.

Most often has come the gentle disappointment or sincere bafflement of someone who truly thought if only they could be the one to pray healing prayers over me, anoint me with oil, or lay hands on me then I'd be made well. At worst have been the reactions of anger and accusation: I've  lost friends and relationships over the years when I or they couldn't convince God to make me well or when my pain worsened through the fatigue of hours long strenuous  prayer sessions instead of improved.

But the gentleness of this frail elderly woman bespoke only of love.  Holding my hand in hers she prayed to God, lifting up our lives and struggles and our pain.  There was no expectation of a miracle healing that brought credit to her name.   It was the prayer of an old, hurting woman talking to her Father as she had evidently done many times before over many years.

Her two minute prayer  was one of the most loving experiences of my life, as she quietly conversed with her Friend, asking for not just healing for us both but for strength and mercy and comfort in our pain and time of need.  It was the prayer of an aged, frail saint disguised in a thin hospital gown and bruises.  Her quiet words contrasted against the suffering  of the young patient in the bed next to us as she fought the effects of severe alcohol withdrawal and against the all night long hollering of another patient far down the hall. It was a prayer of love.

Prayer done, it was time for her to shakily return to bed.  Before she left me, my hand still in hers, she tried to encourage me with a Bible verse.  But the exertion of the middle of the night trip across the room was taking its toll.

"God is our strength...." she began, sharing a Bible verse engraved upon her heart many years earlier.  Then her voice wavered: dismayed, her time-worn mind could not recall the rest of the verse.

"God is our great strength!" she said again, louder with emphasis, lifting our hands up toward the ceiling, almost as if in victory.

Then, patting my leg gently,
she left me to try patch together sleep.  I'll never forget her or the gift she gave my life in that long, dark night during a difficult hospital stay.  Some friends last a lifetime.  Some touch your life for minutes, but their impact carries on, long after you say goodbye.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Green, the colour of new life

Last night Eric helped me outside,  bundled me in the wheelchair and wheeled me about 4 houses down the block.   Other than little trips to sit in our front bench or back deck,  this was my first foray into the  outside world in 7 days. So you can imagine it was glorious. 

The world of Evening Spring grabbed us in a bear hug.  The embrace of reunited loved ones.

It's rained a lot the past few days: the street smelled like Spring's Perfume. It turned the trees hanging above us a brilliant beautiful emerald, a green that evokes long ago memories of my Catholic school teachers telling my child self that green is the colour of new life on God's earth.  

It all comes back to me so clearly now, on these days I spend much time hunched, withering  in  bed, willing Pain away.  To leave me. I stare darkness in the face, want to scream it down.   I want my life back. 

The darkness recedes, memories push through.

I am back in my second grade Catholic school classroom.  Sunlight floats in through the hard metallic window. Endless sunlight.  No pain.  Only hope and promise. 

My stubby 7 year old fingers push a hard wrinkled brownish bean into a 
dirt-filled Styrofoam cup. I wait on the promise of a small green bean plant.  If it grows, I'll have a gift to give on Mother's Day. I learn hope as I wait for the moment when the first small green shoot leaps out of mere dirt toward the sun, like a prima ballerina born for the stage  

Ahhh memories.  These days as I've slid, as if down a playground's slide, through pain and disability,  the memories are more precious than I knew memories could be.  How is it that in a time of physical loss I learn just how precious life is?  That what a gift there is in the lives we live?  That ordinary life is nothing short of spectacularly miraculous?

It makes me kick my heels into the slide. Makes me pull myself with all I am back up,  against the down pull.  Against the darkness.   Back up toward the light.

Birds chirp their springtime concerto.  The sun warms my face, even as evening wanes. I love that  in this part of Canada at this time of year it's still bright so late in the day.

 Our walk /ride ends. the green trees dip down, wave good bye.  Grasps my spirit in a "see you soon" hug.    Eric returns me and the wheelchair  back home.

We pass the little wheelchair accessible garden I began planting a few weeks ago.  I was feeling pretty good just a few weeks ago.  It is a beacon to where I hope to return.

Delightedly I point out to Eric: a small, tiniest of tiny little green plant has poked up through the soil!!!  This is sheer delight- whether in a second grade classroom or to a life aged, pain-stricken mama.  

"No," Eric says. "Look again."  He lifts the pot close up so I can see.  And I do see...soo clearly.

All over the pot are tiny little green points.  They are minuscule, some barely bigger than a pinhead.  Too small to be called seedlings.   Or shoots.  Barely plants, experiencing their first ever taste of sunshine and spring air.  Their first taste of life.

And my heart discovers. Sometimes life is hard.  Hope seems faint.  Pain and darkness seem to win.  But those little shoots, tiny as they are, are victory embodied over darkness.  They Fight pain and herald life.

New life.  Green life.  LIFE LIFE LIFE LIFE LIFE.  The greatest gift of all.

And my heart says thank you

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

flowers in the pain

Hard days.  Hanging on by my fingernails.   Painful hours.  Darkness.   Excruciating agonizing pain.  Immobility.   Trapped.  Broken.  Vulnerable.   Hanging on. Hanging on.  Hanging on.

 Some days are worse than others with my health issues.   The past weeks have been very rough, and I haven't been up to writing much of anything.  Shipwrecked, it's all I can do to ride the waves of pain, searching with all I am for the island in the distance of relief.   Even if it's a mirage, I'll take it for the hope it offers.

Tonight Eric wheeled me to the back deck.   For about 20 minutes m
y world of pain was replaced with intense sunshine. Then, sunshine  flowers.  My neighbour Anna handed over the fence clippings of Lily of the Valley flowers.  Tiny.  Miniscule.  Beacons of beauty.

I'm  back now in bed, roiling in pain.  Hanging on.  Writing this on my phone while lying sideways.  Trying not to cry.  Tears falling anyways.   Pain.  Brutal pain.

I cannot hide the pain tonight.  Cannot fight it.   But I have these photographs I snapped in the minutes I was outside.   Proof....the world exists, isn't a figment of my imagination.

Hold on Jenna.  A beautiful world is just outside.  Waiting.  Hanging on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Remembering love

Remembering Willem Jacobus,  Eric's father....

Baby Eric and his dad
He died 10 years ago this morning. Eric and I were newlyweds, not yet married a year when out of nowhere Eric's dad was diagnosed with cancer.  By the time he checked into the Royal Alex Hospital,  the cancer had so metastasized that he had just 10 days on earth left.

His death came after a difficult night where we hovered around his hospital bed, fearful, sad, wondering how to ease his transition from this world to the next.   There's no sugar coating it, even 10 years on.  It was what can only be described as a difficult death, capping off a life that likewise was not easy, a life whose final years were especially tough.

 But he loved and he was loved- so deeply, oh so deeply.  And isn't that really what life is about, love? He sure loved his three sons. He was so proud of his boys. If 10 years on after my death what my child Samantha most remembers about me is that I loved her deeply- I will have considered my life well lived.

 I agonized this week how to remember this man who doesn't even have a gravestone to cry at.  Should we buy a memorial bench in his honour? Donate in his name?   Take out a memorial notice in the local paper?

We didn't do any of that. Instead, Eric and I went on a walk (him) and roll (me) to our local corner store.  We bought popsicles and sat in the quiet evening while he shared a few stories of his dad.
To remember Willem in simplicity seemed to be the way he would have wanted to be remembered.  He wasn't flashy but he was kind hearted and genuine.

He was very private, and the morning he died- after a terrible night of hanging on, one I hope to never ever see another loved one experience- he and I shared one final moment, one I'll never forget.

The nurses told us that it would be okay to quickly run to the hospital cafeteria for a very fast breakfast, that there was time to take a quick 10 minute break after an all night spent sitting around his bed, that he had a few more hours.  However once we reached the elevator, I realized that I'd forgotten my purse in his room.  Everyone went on ahead to the cafeteria, while I ran back.  On entering his room, I was shocked to be told by a nurse he'd just passed, moments after we'd all stepped from the room.  His final gift to his sons was to spare them the pain of witnessing his final breaths.

I immediately texted them all to return, but it took a few minutes for them to catch the elevator back up and race through the halls to the room, and it was in this time that I experienced something I've never before or since experienced.

The nurse left the room, and for about 5 minutes, it was just he and me together. His body had stopped living seconds earlier, but the oddest sensation came over me- my spirit could still sense the presence of his.  I've heard it can take a while for the spirit to leave the body, and in those quiet moments I found that true.  I have no words to adequately describe the experience, other than in those moments my spirit recognized his.

Gently holding his hand, I whispered to him ( I could still talk back then) that it was all okay.  That he was okay. I ran my hand on his chin, and told him he was deeply loved by his family and sons. That it was okay to go.  It was then that I felt him leave, move from this life to eternity.  It was a sacred, quiet, gentle moment. It was a small parting of the here and now from forever- and for just a sliver of a second I was privileged with a glimpse of Eternity.

Now here we are 10 years on.... it's hard to believe so much time has passed. So much has changed in all our lives. Back then, he had a 6 year old granddaughter- he just didn't know it (Sam wouldn't join our family for another 4 years). How he would have adored Samantha and being a Grandpa to her.  I hope somewhere he's looking down and smiling, that he's found peace.

Rest in Peace Willem, and know that we all still love you very much.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A new voice

Something exciting happened today that is going to change for the better the way I communicate!! After a 19 month wait list, today was my first appointment at the ICAN centre at the Glenrose rehabilitation hospital .  They specialise in augmentative electronic voice communication.  The past few years since spoken communication has become so tough for me, I've  patched together my own alternative communication methods (ie writing on a notepad, using an app on my phone with an electronic voice etc), but going to the experts is so much better.

  Today they've loaned me this fancy communication device to trial.  If it works out as well as I think it will, I can maybe get one to keep.   It has an electronic voice that can adjust on volume and speed, as well as has word prediction and saved conversations that will help me communicate faster.  It can also access the Internet and do a bunch of other neat stuff that will help  me both with verbal communication and even writing stories.

Isn't it wonderful to live in this day and age of technology?   My life would have been truly different if it was just 20 years ago and I was facing this.  For so many thousands of years,  people with speaking disabilities were silent. How many through the ages have sat quietly in homes the world over as their lives passed by in silence because the barriers to communication were just too high?    How many great ideas and wonderful connections have been locked inside the minds of those who could not verbally communicate?

It makes me want to tell the stories I tell in their honour- my silenced  brothers and sisters who've lived and gone before me. To those who did not have the incredible gifts of communication I've received.

  To have an electronic voice when my own physical one is not an option is a gift I won't ever take lightly.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Song of the cherry blossom

On a neighbourhood ride yesterday  morning on Sophie  (my power wheelchair) I came upon an early blooming choke cherry tree with stunning, ethereal blossoms.

One of the best things about being an amateur,  bumbling  artist is stumbling across the true beauty and immensity of design in art created by a True Master Artist.   The Master's  art doesn't just delight- it story tells. It spirit touches.

I can say nothing less about these blossoms,  simple as they may be.  In the true gift of the beauty in the ordinary, these blossoms breath perfumed  beauty into a world pain- wracked. For a moment too brief it is a right for an earth too often wronged.

It tells a story that if only we listen could take us down a path to the Artist Herself.

Who is this Artist?  Some may him God, others call her Spirit.  To some the Artist is Life itself, while others see not a being but process.

 Whatever the name, the art speaks for itself.  My own mortal spirit can do nothing but pause before it, wonder -bowed. My soul shouts: Hosanna!  Echoing the song bursting forth from blossom to Artist- Creator.