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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.

Thanksgivings past included small get-togethers with our family and my grandparents on my father’s side, with mom’s family usually celebrating with the large, crazy crew on the weekend. My grandparents’ house overflowed with kids in all stages—some of us even considered it a great privilege to eat at the kids’ table in the hall where we could keep our own kind of humor and noise without quite so much supervision from the adults. Soon we grew too big to sit in the hall, but still we kept to our own table as it moved into the living room.

There were some givens: uncles sleeping while “watching” football, the older cousins telling ghost stories in the bedroom with that light pull that swung and glowed in the dark, going down in the basement while some played pool, and often some of us would go off-site (to the house of Uncle Carrell and Aunt Dottie) where my mom would play the piano and lead many of our generation in song. For me, it was never about the food.

Of course, we cousins grew up and started our own Thanksgiving traditions, which is a big part of why my mom spearheaded the family’s reunion tradition—within the larger family, we get our Thanksgiving in the summers.

After my parents moved from Nebraska to Colorado we tweaked our family’s tradition. Often my parents and my brother’s family would come to Denver to celebrate first with Sherman’s family. And then we’d all go up to Mom and Dad’s place in Estes Park, which barely held our families. A few times Dad paid for Sherman and me to stay—kid-free!—in motels. We even slept in our slightly heated RV one time.

As with my grandparents’ celebrations, there were a few givens: James Bond marathons on the TV, shopping in Loveland and Longmont, walking to that darn cold parade downtown, watching the CU/Nebraska game, and taking a drive to see the elk in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Times change and now we are reinventing traditions again. We stay in Denver the whole weekend and celebrate Thanksgiving somewhere with the larger Lambert clan—my family members join when possible. Our own kids are home for their first Thanksgiving break from college. I am thankful that so many of us will be able to be together today.

Yet, I cannot help but miss those who are not here with us, especially my mother who is still alive, but unable to handle the confusion and noise of large family gatherings, now for the second year in a row. Sadly this year Thanksgiving week began with her being placed under hospice care. Even last night’s dessert celebration at her residence was too much for her to take in.

So forgive me if my appetite for celebration this Thanksgiving is somewhat subdued.

Instead, my heart celebrates those I have loved who will not be at the table, but who have provided me with great bounty on my life’s journey.

I especially lift a toast to my husband who has not abandoned me as we try to see my mother through her final journey home—when others have been afraid to watch the changes and stayed away, he has never wavered. He believes that when people have been a large part of your heart journey, that you hold their hands and help them as they pass through the shadowy valley.

The truth is, however, that even we stay away far too much. What I’m most grateful for this year is that there are people who make it a calling to help my mother and so many others on their own scary journeys through Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Thanks to these men and women, Mom is always in loving hands.

Today we celebrate . . . .


Shoes by Christiana Lambert, 2009

Everyone has a story—or several. Do you ever wonder how much the stories others told about us molded us into who we became? Were we really like that, or did we just start to believe in the narrative we heard?

My mom wasn’t much for out and out compliments. Instead, she talked well about me (in other words, bragged!) when I could hear her.

Of all the stories she told about me, her favorite was how I cheated death as a baby. I’m not sure if I cheated death, but maybe the medical professionals did for me. No matter how often Mom told this story, she never forgot what could have been.

I can’t say how my experience of coming close to death in pre-memory days affected me. What do I know about being four months old?

Yet how my mom talked about what happened surely did. For one, I knew she and my dad had done everything possible to keep me here, refusing to listen to doctors who said to wait. At my very core I understood I was wanted.

Scott, Dick, Mae & Trina Lange, 1962

Long story short, I had exploratory surgery which led to removing 14” of dying intestine (and my appendix too, just for good measure.)

Here’s the mythology part, though. What I heard, year after year, was how tough I was, both before and after the surgery. I can promise you that during that time period, stoicism was a highly esteemed trait in Midwestern people of German descent. Many of the family character stories centered on being tough, whether it was me or anyone else.

And whenever I encountered pain, Mom would again bring up how tough I was. Is it any wonder that when a former CPA/New Age healer wannabe told me my asthma could be related to suppressed tears, I thought he might be right? Was I born tough or did I learn to be tough? That Wild West “cowboy up” attitude might have been behind why I tried to hide my bleeding head after a merry-go-round accident on the school playground—thank goodness my friends saw through my “it’s just a flesh wound” rhetoric and told the teacher!

A couple nights ago Sherman and I attended an Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored event—if you don’t know, November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Yes, get your purple ribbons up. We watched a video and then listened to a panel comprised of a woman with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, a couple family caregivers for another woman in attendance, and a gerontology doctor. The suppressed tears in that room should have given everyone there asthma attacks—if my CPA/healer was right.

The panel discussion didn’t really deal with tears, but someone asked the woman with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis how she related to the anger mentioned in the video. She talked about how she’d come a long way toward making her peace with her disease, but then, calmly—or so it seemed—she said, “I’ve got anger in spades.”

I’m pretty sure most of us in that room also had tears in spades, but most often we’re too busy with that “flesh wound” routine to acknowledge them, even around others who understand that the response is a big, fat lie. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, we’re putting ourselves at bigger risk for both losing larger parts of ourselves and the memories of who our loved ones were when we don’t acknowledge the pain and loss.

Maria Shriver’s The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s includes essays from people affected by the disease. Patti Davis, daughter of former President Ronald Reagan, states, “We choose when and where to shed tears, usually in private and never in front of the person who has slipped away from us.”


So I’ll continue to be tough as I help my mom, but there’s more to my story than how stoic I can appear in the face of pain. Part of my story is that I had a mother who loved me enough to save my life and then do what she could to put away her tears and fears enough to let me get out and live that life.

In a lot of ways, not crying now is almost the opposite of being tough. It takes more courage to admit how much I’ve lost by losing Mom even as she still walks this earth. And so when I visit her and find her in deep sleep, I sit at her side and tell her the stories of the mother and woman she has been. Then I take my tears home and give myself permission to shed those tears that cannot be left out of my mother’s final story.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Just when you think you’re living in the here and now, sometimes you respond in a way that tells you you’re not over the past yet. At least I do.

My days are much calmer than they’ve been in years—and my nights, too. The kids are away at college and my mom’s health has been relatively stable. Sherman and I have been doing projects that have been put off since my mom fell and moved to Denver almost three years ago—and since her rapid decline into dementia became evident and required so many extra tasks—and brought on a whole lot of worry and loss.

Truth is I couldn’t really even give Mom the attention and love she deserved during much of that journey because my life was divided between concern for her and concern for helping my daughter to find a way out of depression.

For so long I lived one day at a time—and for a while there, it seemed I could only focus on more like one hour at a time.

When stuck in caregiving mode, “everyone” tells you to take care of yourself. You do what you can—I exercised and blogged as much as I could. But so much was left undone. And, as I’ve noted before, when I’m upset, I’m less efficient (thanks to those darn emotions!) than usual.

Since I’ve never really been efficient, the “to do” lists were even more overwhelming during our hard times. To retain sanity, I had to pull in and focus on caring for my loved ones and myself. The larger community of this world was going to have to wait for my time and efforts.

Even after a few months of the slower pace of the empty nest, I’m still saying “no” to many requests. I have the time on the calendar—I do—but I just feel pulled to spend time here in my home where, thanks to some of our recent work, the chaos is no longer overwhelming. It’s as if the adrenaline has not quite left my system and I have to take my pace down to a crawl to relearn that not everything requires a “fight or flight” response. I’ve had to be so flexible and reactive for so long that I find it especially hard to give up planned down time—even when people really need help. I also know that there will likely be more surprises on Mom’s final journey.

This is where the little angel and devil begin fighting over my shoulders about what I do and don’t deserve. I can’t tell if this is a moral dilemma or a health dilemma—or both. Part of me feels as if I am acting selfishly right now, but another part is not sure I am recovered enough yet from all the twists in my own journey to reach out to others very often.

As it turns out, lately, thanks to the little physical ironies of aging, I’ve found myself awake when I would prefer to be asleep. Since my usual get-to-sleep techniques don’t seem to be working, I’ve figured out I might as well spend the extra time praying. If I can’t put my hands to work doing for others, maybe I can put them together in prayer.

All my life I have been much better at giving through actions versus with contemplative offerings. My everyday actions were my prayers. I pray that, in the near future, I will have worked through the scar tissue enough to return to living more as the spontaneous, giving person I used to try to be.

In the meanwhile, just give me Jesus . . . and a little more time.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

We live in divisive times, no doubt about it. However, I believe the problem is exacerbated because, often, those with that kinder, gentler voice don’t share their words. For sure, I am guilty of this—yes, I was raised in that “run from conflict” culture so common in the Midwest. Sometimes I wonder what lessons my silence has taught my own children.

This past Sunday, those in churches that follow the lectionary heard the Beatitudes from the book of Luke (6:20-31). True, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is shorter than Matthew’s listing, not even mentioning peacemakers. But in Luke we get to the “turn the other cheek” part—we are admonished to “(l)ove (our) enemies, do good to those who hate (us), bless those who curse (us), pray for those who mistreat (us). (6:27-28, NIV) If that’s not peacemaking, I don’t know what is.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Sadly, some faith groups twist God’s words to promote hate. God doesn’t hate anyone—he hates sin. While even reasonable people often do not agree on what that sin is, I think it’s clear that God does not promote trying to separate others from sin by using hatred and name-calling.

While we were visiting the kids, we were able to attend a local church, Christ the King Lutheran Church (ELCA) to hear those beatitudes read to us. In Rev. John Knutson’s sermon “Praise God for Hard Times,” he continued the theme and talked about how God makes us seem a little crazy to the world when we care about others.

Ironically, just a couple days later, Fort Lewis College and the Durango community had an opportunity to demonstrate that craziness to the world. Only I submit that the “crazies” are the sane ones—loving others is actually more normal than spreading random hate toward people we don’t even know.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

My kids got a chance to demonstrate random love and peace in community when news arrived that the now infamous (not going to give links to promote them!) Westboro Church would be on campus to protest the showing of the movie “The Anatomy of Hate.” While it made sense the group would protest something that paints them in a dim light, so many of their protests are directed toward people not remotely connected with what they profess God hates—scary how the concept of loving your enemy (people who believe differently than you do) is missing in their words.

Meghan, (c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Organizers begged participants not to engage, but when necessary, to do that turning of the cheek mentioned in Luke’s words. Despite the information stated on the group’s website, the group did not come to campus after all. Yet their proposed visit drew together over 1,000 students and community members, including faith leaders, the mayor, and college president, to demonstrate love is stronger than hatred.

“. . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8b (RSV)

This is the kind of education I pray all our children receive.

A few months have passed since our “birdies” flew our coop. With a 6 ½ hour road trip one way, it would be easier if any of us could travel as the crow flies! Other than during their brief (34 hour!) home stay in September, we hadn’t seen our kids since we drove away from the City Market parking lot back in late August.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Jackson landed a part in Fort Lewis’ production of Almost, Maine, so it was our turn for a brief (44 hours, an extra hour thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time) visit this past weekend. Thankfully, the weather cooperated so we had dry roads as we climbed up and down all those mountain passes in between our home and their new home and back.

Oh, the places they had gone since we had unpacked what seemed like half of our house—yes, we left more than parts of our hearts in Durango! They’d been to classes, laundry rooms, dining services, ATMs, grocery stores, the health center, mountain destinations, and more. Christiana had even negotiated changing roommates and dorms, getting herself moved into the room directly underneath Jackson’s room.

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

So finding our destination was simple, but who were these kids of ours?

Jackson was busy with performances while Christiana wanted to show college life to Kelly, a friend from home who rode along with us for the visit. In between taking them separately and together out to meals, meeting their friends, bringing them to Wal-Mart and the grocery store, attending church with Christiana (even if she slept through the sermon), seeing Jackson’s performance, and viewing Christiana’s artwork, we had plenty of time to ourselves.

Which was fine with me—I don’t need to spend too much time on a campus to remember why certain experiences, such as living in the dorms, are best left to youth.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

We got to pass our morning hiking a dusty trail that took us high over the town and valley on a sunshiny picture perfect November day. The first dog we encountered—hiking in Colorado is often a dog-centric activity—belonged to the college president, Dr. Dene Thomas, a woman we recognized despite having only seen her in more formal settings. Although we met up with many more dogs and their owners, Sherman was glad to note I was more interested in puppies than in the shirtless college guys climbing beside them. (Once again, certain experiences are best left to youth!)

At one point, when Sherman stopped to take a picture of me, he discovered a direct view of the Fort Lewis campus sitting on the plateau that rises above the opposite side of town.

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

As the crow flies, we were close, but oh so far away. This was what all those flying lessons were about over the last 18 years—raising our kids to soar on their own.

Doesn’t mean there aren’t more lessons up ahead, but, oh, the places they will go—places much more exciting than laundry rooms and dining services. And when appropriate, we’ll be watching—from a distance.

Mae, ABC Drug, Kearney, NE

“You think in pictures, don’t you?” The kids’ former tutor, a man really into the effects of right-brained thinking, asked that so much that it’s become a family joke. Well, we tend to think in both patterns and pictures.

But when it comes to understanding people, pictures are definitely a short cut to knowing them and remembering them in various phases of life.

Now that Sherman and I have reached the end of our 40s, we are attending more memorial services for our friends’ parents, who we tend to know in a limited role. I love seeing those people in the pictures, full of youth and hope. I crave knowing who they were before they were somebody’s parents and seeing how they matured within their families. The picture presentations that have become more common at services tell us more stories than any 1,000 word eulogy.

And so, I’ve begun gathering photos of my mother. Why wait until Mom is gone to begin recreating her life’s story in pictures? This Alzheimer’s disease is not who she was for most of her life. The disease does not define her, but the pictures often do.

I can choose to remember her as she was in my lifetime, as well as discover who she was before me. Plus, I want to share why she has mattered.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Oh, how the film quality has varied throughout her years, so much so that certain periods of her life are virtually absent thanks to the disintegration of the images. Then there’s the little factor of poor photography skills—it appears our daughter Christiana did not get her incredible skills from my family!

But Christiana—if anyone—will make the best of the photos we do have. Her photo editing skills will bring light and focus back to a life well-lived.

As I keep exploring the many faces (glasses and hairstyles too!) of my mother, I am reminded of who she really is, even if so much of her sleeps beneath the surface these days.

Lately, I’ve been thinking in pictures.

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