What If Today…Your Gift Was Enough?

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” ~Malcolm S. Forbes

 “They’re bringing in Hospice to be with your dad,” he said.

“You aren’t doing enough,” is what I heard.

I raced to the nursing home the night before my father passed, leaned up against the wall outside his room, and called my best friend as I sobbed.

“Hospice is there for you and your dad, Bets. They’ll sit with him when you can’t be there.”

The guilt was overwhelming. I wanted to be there for him all the time. And I didn’t want to share my time with him with a stranger in the room.

So many swirling emotions and thoughts came crashing down as I cried into the phone. I guess I was feeling regrets.

I regretted letting months pass between visits. That was it. It didn’t matter that there were years that I lived out of state or that were filled with caring for my growing family; he was my father and I felt like I hadn’t done enough.

Sunday night, two days later, in another hospital waiting room for a different loved one, trying to rest on a very hard and cold couch, I had time to reflect in the quiet darkness.

What was the truth?

I reviewed my whole life with my dad. As I searched for and sifted through memories I found a gem that cleared away all doubt.

No matter what, he’d always thanked me for what I’d given him or done for him.

We both knew I could have done more. But he never said so. He was grateful, thankful, appreciative,and sensitive to my circumstances. In fact, I’d never heard him complain about a lack of visits or help from family and friends.

I’m not sure that I can adequately share with you the peace that thought gives me- that in the face of self-doubt and feelings of failure, I was accepted and always had been.

I’d shared an imperfect life with my dad, neither of us doing enough for the other, we both believed.

But I’d never felt a lack from him, and in the end I knew he’d never felt a lack from me.

What a gift.

I was enough.

And that, my friends, is precious to me. If you knew my dad and were able to see how some of the choices he’d made effected the quality and course of his life, you might see a myriad of possibilities of greatness dashed to pieces.

But this one trinket that I found started to shine when the lights went out. It had been gathering strength as it wove itself in and out of the life that we shared, waiting for the perfectly important moment to be unveiled.

It turns out it was his greatest gift to me…

…because it was the one that I needed.

What If Today…You Knew?

Identical view from my dad’s nursing home window on Friday morning.

“Bets?”

I’d just crawled back under the blankets in the bed a few feet from him after calming him down the best I could, both of us waiting for the last dose of morphine to kick in.

“Yeah, Dad?”

“Where’s Lauren’s pig?” Now there’s a question! We had a lot of animals growing up, and I’d always wanted a pig. But I never got one. Why did Lauren get to have one in his hallucinations?

“Her pig?”

“Yeah. Where’d her pig go?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Where do you think it went?”

“I guess somebody ate it.”

Is it okay to giggle when your dad is dying?

Turns out that would be the last of his ramblings. It was 3 am. He’d worn himself out the night before as my best friend and I sat and marveled at how much energy he had. The stories were pouring out of him. He couldn’t help himself. He had all three of us – me, my friend, and Bo, the Hospice nurse, shaking our heads and laughing.

As I lay there, wondering if he was ever going to settle down I was reminded of all my babies and how I’d watch them to make sure they were breathing. I’d jump up at the first sign of discomfort or need. Oh my goodness, I thought. This is what it would be like if babies could talk!

“Help me. Please somebody help me!” over and over and over again. He just needed to say it. It had become his calming mantra. There was nothing I could do. So I kept massaging his head – he’d say, “Thanks, Bets. That feels so good. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” every once in a while.

I prayed for him to go. I knew I had no power to make that happen. But I asked because Bo had said that his last days would be scary and hard on him. And I wasn’t sure that I had the physical strength to last much longer. But I was resigned. I was at the mercy of heaven’s will being done. I was at peace with the course we’d be traveling together.

A couple of hours later I woke up and watched the sunrise. One of his favorite nurses brought me some breakfast and I flashed back to the love and attention I got when I was recovering from childbirth. I laughed to myself. Maybe that’s why I kept having babies??

I wasn’t hungry, so I got cleaned up and dressed, made my bed, and wrestled with whether I should leave my bag of stuff  for when I returned later.

I took it with me.

I caught myself a couple of times questioning why I felt the need to leave him. But I knew it was the right thing to do.

For a split second I was reminded of the song on the radio the night before:

Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon, why am I holdin’ on
We knew this day would come, we knew it all along
How did it come so fast
This is our last night, but it’s late and I’m tryin’ not to sleep
‘Cuz I know, when I wake I will have to slip away

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

Here I am starring, at your perfection in my arms; so beautiful.
The sky is getting bright, the stars are burnin’ out.
Somebody slow it down.
This is way too hard, ‘cuz I know when the sun comes up I will leave
This is my last glance that will soon be memories

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

I never wanted to stop, because I don’t want to start all over, start all over
I was afraid of the dark, but now it’s all that I want, all that I want, all that I want

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But, tonight I’m ‘gonna hold you so close
‘Cuz in the daylight, we’ll be on our own
But, tonight I need to hold you so close

“Betsy? You just left? Are you home, yet?” asked the beautiful voice on the other end of the phone.

I didn’t know who it was. How did she know my name? I started to pace. I’d walked through my front door moments earlier and had assigned my daughter the kitchen while I said I’d do the living room, bathroom and laundry. I was baffled with the serenity in my house. Two sons were somewhere and the other five were where they should be at 8 am on any given Friday morning.

“Yes. I’m home…” and I started to ramble. “Wait, is he okay? Does he need me…?”

“He passed a few minutes ago.”

I cried and laughed with my daughter as I told her some of the stories he’d told. Then, believe it or not, I finished cleaning. Once I was alone I started the phone calls. I posted  What If Today…You Had to Go? because I couldn’t imagine not sharing what was going on with my friends, but I didn’t really feel like talking.

And then I sat.

That’s when I knew.

I was in shock, and numb. And my dad knew it. I sensed him there and Kathy, too. He was happy and already having fun.

But he stopped and came to comfort me. And Kathy watched.

It was then that I knew that every time I would grieve, which has been a few times since then, that he would come. It hit me that I was okay. I’d never been better. And he was fine, too. He was happier there than here and I was good with that.

It’s a wonderful feeling knowing where he is and what he’s doing. And it’s comforting that he knows that I’ll come when it’s my time. And until then he has a lot of catching up to do. He’ll hold his baby boy, Kenneth, for the first time. He might avoid his parents for a while. There’s a lot of healing to be done. But he doesn’t have to worry about time anymore. It’ll happen when they’re ready.

I’m standing straighter for some reason because of this experience. I feel like they’re very thankful and happy to have me keep the conduit to their world open. They are very concerned about our happiness and are paying attention to things that matter to us and them. They so much want to make a difference in our lives.

But they are also busy. They’ll stop to comfort me, and I appreciate that. But they are okay with me doing my life.

So, I continued to clean, listen to music, read, and even to take the kids sledding, all the while making arrangements for his body’s ashes to make the trek cross country to the Spokane River where Butch and Sundance’s were scattered.

I’m sure they are enjoying every minute of my life and are regretful for any burden that these remaining tasks might be.

But now I know. And that has made all the difference.

What If Today…You Collected Stories?

“So every day
So every day
I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,
one of which was you.”
~ Mary Oliver

A tribute to the last days spent with my dad who passed on January 25, 2013.

Squinting against the glare bouncing off the water’s ebb and flow, she edged closer to what she believed would be her prize for the day.

“Will you come and sit for a bit? Sit and tell me a tale or two?”

“Strange, “said the star. “Most of you collect us. Why not you?”

“Well,” she said, “I need to throw you back soon. You’re no good to me all dried up, you know. And,” she hesitated with a new and unfiltered thought, “I want to remember.”

“Well,” he sighed, “I’m nearly spent. We’d better begin. I’ve been here forever, you know? I’m ready to go.” He paused and she watched his thoughts carrying him away. “What do you want to know?” he asked, suddenly back for the conversation.

“I want to know what matters to you, of course,” she whispered with a teasing grin, making him squirm in her hands.

“What matters to me?” his voice sang, betraying the feelings in his heart. “Nobody ever asked me that before.”

He filled her with tales, hopes and dreams, some realized, others left for her to contemplate as she went on among the landlubbers after he was gone

As the tide hungrily nibbled at her toes and the suns rays dipped closer to the horizon, warning lights of pink and purple tickled the bellies of gulls circling for fish, reminding them that time was short.

“I don’t know if I’m ready. Are you?”

“Is anybody ever?” came the question whose answer lay waking behind rising tears and as the last hint of day stealthily crept away.

“Goodbye,” she smiled, cautiously stepping closer to the point of departure, relishing lasts.

One last look.

One last touch.

One last moment.

Finally , and yet not so much, they let go of each other.

Making their way home they gripped  freshly told tales, tucking them into the recesses of their hearts where the things that matter live.

What If Today… Goodbye Was Imminent?

 

“Hey, Dad. Here’s your milkshake. Dad? Are you coming out?” His roommate eyed the chocolate ice cream with big eyes and admitted that he would have loved some, too.

“Maybe. If I feel like it, ” said the muffled voice from under the blanket stretched over his head. He always sleeps like that.

The mother in me uncovered his head as the doctor walked in with a need to talk. I don’t like talking over covered people. Seems the doctor didn’t mind at all. He was blunt and unemotional.

“We’re sending him home. There’s nothing more we can do for him.”

“Could you come in the hallway,” I said as tears started to well. ” You can give me a list of things to do,” I said, making something up just to get him to stop talking as if my father didn’t understand, and to give me a minute to process what he was implying but refusing to say out loud.

“What if he panics and wants to come back to the hospital? Will he come back?”

“No. They can make him comfortable in the nursing home. It’s just a matter of time.”

It’s always a matter of time. It always has been. Hasn’t it?

When my sister died suddenly in 2005, there was no warning light that switched on that called for a sprint to make a few last memories. This time is different. I have time. The question for me is how to spend it?

Later in the afternoon I stood by his bedside an hour afer he’d arrived “home” by ambulance. I’d treasured watching and listening to him as he spoke by phone to my two brothers. He was so content.

We have a routine when we’re together now. We don’t talk much. He closes his eyes and I gently trace his face and forehead with my fingers. If we talk it’s about the upcoming football game or his favorite Alaskan Adventures show.

“Thanks, Bets,”  he says a few times. They’ve become my two favorite words.

As I sat at the beach, watching the waves of the ocean, I remembered Kathy, my youngest brother, Kenny, who died when he was a few days old, and a few other people who’d been  enjoying life on the other side for years. It was then that I realized that another homecoming is being prepared.

This time it’s for him.

“Kathy, he’ll be there soon,” I said, knowing she was there, grateful that I was finally opening up.

” Make sure you bring Kenny. I miss you guys. I wish I could be there to see his face,” I cried and laughed as I was reminded that there are always two sides to a story.

I’m not sad. I’m grieving. My heartstrings are stretching to bridge two worlds, as they should.

But my grieving is their anticipation. I’m excited for my dad and for them.

For now I’ll bring milkshakes and stroke his forehead, share phone calls, and collect stories- stories that will last me for a time.

My daughter was right. “It’s time. He has suffered a lot.”

So, the waiting game begins. The doctor said two weeks or so. But it could be years. You know?

Do you?

 

 

What If Today…You Quit Refereeing?

Her heart was heavy. Tears flowed over quiet sobs. “She’s leaving and we didn’t even get to spend any time together. She promised! She cut my hair, but that’s not spending time together. I know that she doesn’t like me.”

“I tried,” said the other. “I really wanted to see my friends, too. No matter how much I do, it’s never enough! I love my family and my friends are important to me, too. Everyone thinks I don’t love them.”

Ugh! My heart broke for the two of them!

Earlier in the week  I was invited onto a rollercoaster of other people’s emotion-packed misunderstandings. This was only one example. It’s not a place I like to be, mostly because it takes willingness on the person who wants to be heard and to have things fixed, to also hear and see what they are thinking and saying that has contributed to the divisive situation or misunderstanding.

And that, I have learned, rarely happens quickly or easily, especially if I’m in the middle.

Instead, people look for agreement to validate feelings about an “attack” from somebody else, or justification for something they’ve said or done that was misinterpreted.

“But she promised!” she insisted over and over.

“She’s always complaining!” said the other, feet firmly planted on her side.

And that puts me in the position of referee.

These days even the best referees have an added advantage of watching a recorded replay to shed some light on the facts. But we don’t have that technology available to us day at home with our families or at work with our colleagues.

So, what’s a referee to do?

Quit or change tactics. That’s my suggestion.

At least we can stop the ego from puffing us up to believe that we can resolve differences better than the two involved. ‘Cause you know what? People typically do what they want. Even with the facts in plain sight, there might be an internal dialogue or a self-esteem issue that needs to be handled that no amount of coaching or refereeing can fix without awareness on the part of the “offender” first.

What about changing my job altogether? What if I held up a mirror instead of a solution?

I love this (from Luke 6:42)

“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

What if I pointed out the facts, helped to identify the emotions and feelings that are each person’s private responsibility, and encouraged solutions based on what can be done, not on how people felt?

What if I resigned as a referee in  Mote Detection,  and became a coach in IntraPersonal Beam Discovery? (PMD for short :).} I’ll bet it pays better…

I wonder, wonder, wonder. Would it help?

(P.S. I did practice the new approach in the above situation, and there was instantaneous humilty on one person’s part. It was a start.)

What do you think?

  • Are you often put in the middle of misunderstandings and / or disagreements?
  • Have you shifted from referee to coach, or is there an even better solution?

Just askin’….

 

What If Today…You Asked For Help?

“It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely help another without helping himself.”~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

But he’s eleven, I said to myself.

But you need help and there aren’t enough hands. Ask him.

“Could you help me?”

“Sure,” he said. Suddenly he was sitting straighter and paying close attention. Did he actually seem older all of a sudden?

Was his growth dependent in some way on my need?

In seconds  my innards had gone from churning to calm, and the hour with fifteen “little ones”, as I like to call them,  rolled forward seamlessly because every time I needed help I reached out to someone.

That’s the way life is for me: a need is automatically met when I open my eyes to what’s right in front of me, waiting to help me.

What if I hadn’t been aware of how everything I needed was readily available when I had my adventure last Friday (What if Today…Your Lug Nuts Fell Off?)?

I’m pretty sure that I would have started crying because I felt stranded, helpless, out of control, and angry at the Universe for messing up a plan that had no room for variations right or left.

But…

I didn’t cry.

I started walking to find a phone,

to call my mom,

and made a friend,

who needed to hear, “You’ll quit when you’re ready,”

and who wished me well when my mom arrived

to bring me home

to get help with the car

and to bring me back to the hospital

to be with my dad,

where I ran  into a friend that I missed,

who hugged me goodbye,

as I went to the store to buy a camera

with money from one of my mom’s clients

who said, ” Tell Betsy thank you

for the lift from the bus”

when my mother was stranded because of snow and ice

and I helped her out.

See? It all worked out just the way it was supposed to – the way it was planned so that all of the “right” people would be involved at the time and place that we all needed to be connected for each other.

…as long as we asked for help. 🙂

But I’ve had to work hard to be comfortable asking for help. It hasn’t come easily. When I started to feel rewarded for reaching out, something clicked.

What are the rewards that have convinced me that reaching out for help and support is vital to relationships and growth?

Honestly? Each time I ask for help I feel as though I can hear and feel a sigh of relief from and a deeper connection to a person who suddenly sees me as a fellow human being  that just might need something they have to offer. It was as if an invisible wall or barrier to that connection had come down, and behind that wall is value- in a nutshell, someone feels like showing up mattered- that they matter.

I also feel joy.

First I feel anxiety that I’ll be judged for being a source of my own problem; I don’t know enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m ….fill in the blank.

But when I ask someone to help me, and I watch as pieces of a solution start coming together, I get a thrill- a rush of adrenalin that witnesses that something magical is happening. And that makes me happy.

But the best part about asking and receiving help is the joy I feel in the other person. They stand a little taller, and usually they smile. Isn’t it the best feeling knowing that you have something to offer to someone in need, and that if you hadn’t shown up, well, who knows? Maybe your being there made all the difference?

And perhaps that was just what you needed today?

Question:

  • Why, if we love being asked to help, do we hesitate asking for help?
  • What is it about being asked that feels so good?

Do you know?