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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dad’s parents lived well up until their last few years and they lived long—both until 92. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have grandparents who were active and independent—even into my late 20s—before old age finally caught up with them. Before that they made annual car trips halfway across the country to visit their relatives while also being able to drive themselves to watch our sporting events or to come stay with us. Granddad didn’t retire for the final (his third) time until he was in his mid-80s.

Although their own family was small—just my dad and our family—they had a large circle of extended family members and old friends who they always made sure to see. Their best times in old age were spent visiting with these people—something I thought was B-O-R-I-N-G. What I didn’t see then was how they got together with those in their circle, even during hard times. They loved to see new babies or talk about good times, but where they shone was visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes and attending funerals.

I have never been one of those people who walks into a nursing home at ease—though it breaks my heart that so many people are living in bodies and minds that are failing them, I am also afraid of approaching and interacting with them—as if somehow it’s all about me and my discomfort and not theirs. This despite the fact my grandparents brought me to visit in a nursing home often in my younger years because one of their (our) relatives lived there much of her long life after an early head injury. Thanks to them I at least understood that old age didn’t always look like the independence Granddad and Grandma maintained—and I witnessed what faithful commitment to loved ones through hard times looked like.

When my grandmother finally ended up in such a place in the final two years of her life, it was hard for me to see her that way in that space. I didn’t have to face my discomfort too often because I lived far away busy raising toddler twins, but in those years while my grandma declined, my father kept up the good visiting example set before him by his parents.

Later as my own mom descended deep into Alzheimer’s, I moved her into memory care. I had to learn to override my discomfort in order to visit her most days, but I did. And when you visit someone in memory care, you visit many other people beside your own loved one. I wouldn’t say I grew relaxed, but I could reach out to the other (mostly) women who I met there—people who I could see as individuals hanging onto who they were by a slim thread and people who needed to know they were not alone in whatever scary lack of understanding their own minds exhibited. Like my grandparents and father before me, I held hands and talked.

Now, four years since my mom has been gone, we are back to visiting my husband’s mother. A fracture of the femur and subsequent hip surgery sent her to a physical rehabilitation center, but it is an inability of her mind to absorb all the instructions that has finally sent her into a skilled nursing center—aka nursing home—to see if she can recover enough to walk back into her home. Once again we are confronting the frightening realities of people whose bodies and/or minds do not work as they should—including hers. But, still, we hold hands and talk.

My grandparents taught me how to do this—I don’t know if they were ever afraid or sad or tired of going when they went to see people, but they just went and visited. That’s what they did. I had no idea how brave they were to do so year after year for so many people and to keep visiting until they visited one last time for the final goodbye.

Visiting someone in a care facility is hard for me but I have to remind myself how much harder it has to be to be a person at the mercy of failing bodily systems away from my home and those whom I love. God bless the workers who care for our loved ones in our absence, but may we never forget how much power there is in spending our own time with those loved ones who long for who and how they once were and how we can give them a connection to the lives they have led outside their confinement.

I used to think my grandparents’ use of the word visiting spelled B-O-R-I-N-G, but now I know it spelled L-O-V-E. Now, that was living well.

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(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Though I have the occasional nightmare, what I have more frequently are what I call stress dreams—dreams that are more like nighttime anxieties on daytime themes. Mostly I dream of not getting to places on time or of misplacing important items or not being able to find where I’m supposed to go—you know, things like missing flights or not being able to find my classroom or misplacing whatever it is I need to do what comes next. I’ve always made my flights and found my classrooms, and even though I have misplaced things from time to time, still my days are not nearly as stressful as these dreams. I’ve never thought of these dreams as anything more than an over amplification of my desires to be responsible—until today.

Last night’s dream was slightly different because it involved experiencing these sorts of anxieties while visiting a dementia care center. As I shared the dream with my friend Lenny who, like me, lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, and who, unlike me, is also guiding a father with dementia, she said, “Oh my gosh—you just got an insight into what people with dementia must be thinking and feeling.”

Talk about raising the stress level on my lifelong stress dreams. But really, with that insight, no wonder I found last night’s dream particularly upsetting—and it wasn’t even about my having dementia.

What the dream did do was bring me back to those days when my mother was trapped in her increasingly unreliable mind—and essentially trapped in her care facility. Now mind you, this was the place where the well-designed purpose-built setting and the wonderful caregivers helped her to relax into where she was and make it her home. She loved being around the people who provided her care and, unlike so many, did not need to be coaxed into eating the well-cooked meals. Though I can’t speak for how she felt about the betrayal of her own mind, I can say that she seemed much calmer and lost much of her agitation in that safe space. This, however, was not true of everyone.

When you visit your loved ones in those settings, you begin to know and reach out to the other residents. Often you thank God that it isn’t your mother who knows her name but who has no idea how to find her room—every time you visit. Or that it isn’t your mother who worries out loud about “being naughty” and who begs for forgiveness in one breath and then tells you you are going to hell in the next. Thank goodness there are others who have more good moments than bad.

When your mother’s music is silenced, you sing hymns with someone else’s mother. You listen to another woman describe how the Vienna of her youth is the only place where you can find the best schnitzel. You know to be thankful when the woman who has not been very nice to your mother all of a sudden relaxes and smiles—because your teenaged son has such nice hair. You do your best to meet these people in their realities—unless, of course, that involves agreeing that there can be no redemption for you or the other residents.

The amazing thing is that after awhile you start to lose much of your fear of visiting your mother in this condition in that place where everyone is lost or has lost something. You are in awe of the love and kindness shown by those who work with the lost day in and day out. And, if your mother only sleeps while you hold her hand, you chat with the other residents and the staff who also have social needs.

So my dream didn’t exactly start out stressful. I talked to residents and provided help, if needed. Staff members came out and said, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Then my mom found me—she was wearing that pink shirt of hers—not that pink was her color, but no doubt she had bought it because it was on sale. We sat together, me with my arms around her, as if she were a child, and rested into one another. Then she left to take dinner with the other residents.

That’s when the stress began. Where was the bathroom? Did they change the colors on each residential section or had they also remodeled them? I had to leave, but first needed to put away all the supplies I had pulled out. Plus, where did they all belong? And then where was the bag I brought with me? Where did I leave it and did one of the “shoppers” (what people with dementia are called when they tend to take off with things that don’t belong to them) find it? And if I didn’t find the bag, how was I going to get to where I was supposed to be? With so much to worry about, I just couldn’t find my way to the door even though it was way past time to leave.

Oh, Lenny was right—those must be the sorts of thoughts that run through the minds of those with dementia. What a nightmare for them.

Thank goodness I was only dreaming—let this be a wake-up call to live well now and to quit stressing out over minor details.

My mother's hands, circa 1950s.

My mother’s hands, circa 1950s.

Back to the word choosing the blogger—I really had other plans for “Y” but yesterday another word insisted I change those plans. No, this time my back isn’t out (“B”) and I’m not ill (“I”), thank goodness. While in church enjoying the musical celebration for the retirement of our choir director (18 years at our church and 50 years as a director), I suddenly found myself yearning for the retirement celebration my mother never got.

See that’s the thing when people start falling into dementia—there’s no good way formally to celebrate what people have done and who they have been without pointing out that they are not that anymore.

The choir director and his wife were part of the senior class listed in my deceased father’s college yearbook (from his second degree, post-Korea) so they are not young. But they are still doing very well—no doubt they have decided to enjoy life while they can by giving themselves more freedom and control over their own time.

I remember suggesting to Mom that she give up the organ bench once or twice a month so that she could enjoy her music as well as the other activities she wanted to pursue in her life. However, until forced to do so by getting pretty sick with shingles, she did not do so. Although her downhill slide began around that time, she continued singing in her choir and participating in the musical life of her church for a couple more years until after she had an accident while visiting us which lead to her staying with us to recuperate.

A little later she decided she was done living away from us, which meant the day she had come to visit us turned out to be the day she left behind her own church and her former life.

Oh, the music didn’t quite leave her hands right away—she managed to play organ for her new retirement community weekly until a hospital stay ended her formal participation in service. But within a couple months she was just lost, so much so that she needed to go into secure 24-hour care.

Ever since she turned twelve she’d been playing in church on and off. One day she just disappeared from the bench where she had sat—in one church, school, community group, or another—for 67 years. Her hands silenced, the hymnals closed, and the music set aside, who was she without her music?

I still yearn for her to have lost her abilities gradually—that she could have chosen when to leave and could have been toasted and roasted while she still sat on the bench.

How delighted she would have been to hear music made in her honor. I have to believe that somehow she was able to listen to the musical goodbyes at her memorial service, but yesterday I was reminded again just how much I wish she had heard that joyful noise on this earth.

And, yet, the music she taught me and that she gave me over the years prepared me to be part of yesterday’s musical goodbyes—for someone who is still here to delight in the songs. Thanks to her, how can I keep from singing?

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

There are no guarantees when raising children, no matter how hard you try to do the “right” things for them—for some families, getting those children to adulthood leaves behind plenty of scar tissue for all involved. For the most part you try to move forward despite the scars. Then something is said or happens that is like a spark to the tinder that is your buried emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and whatever else connects you to the pain.

From personal experience, I understand my children are not easy to help, so I do have some empathy for those educators and mental health professionals who worked with them. However, I’d have appreciated receiving empathy back from more of them. It’s hard enough to deal with challenging situations with your kids without encountering people whose presumptions get in the way of resolution—when the people in the helping professions turn the problems back at parents based on what they assume is true, we parents feel very alone and begin to lose trust in finding answers from professionals.

For example, just because one of the big problems facing educators today is uninvolved families or families who do not support those in authority does not mean that every student having difficulty fitting into a school system has that problem.

Two of the closest friends I met through PTA and school accountability committees also raised boys every bit as beat up by their school days as my boy is. Again those families had two parents in the home, regular family dinner times, attendance at church, expectations that they would respect authority, and parents who volunteered with the schools and participated in the community activities. In our own ways, we were the Ward and June Cleavers of our generation. We were the families whose kids should have fit like gloves into the schools, but did not. And when our families turned to the schools for help, we were rebuffed. Of course, we also looked to outside help—paying for counselors and tutors—but first received few answers from the schools and little empathy. Each (now) young man and his family continue their educational struggles to this day.

Our son’s troubles began in grade school while our family was dealing with his grandfather’s terminal cancer. Those troubles never went away, but we did keep searching for solutions. High school found him older, but us not much wiser about dealing with his difficulties or how to work in partnership with the school.

Despite having read the 27-page educational analysis report our son had received after costly consultation with a trusted local university, the special education director at our son’s high school asked him questions such as, “Do you want to be here? Don’t you think you should do your work?” Nothing the report said or that his experienced tutors said in 504 accommodation meetings ever changed the school’s willingness to follow the university’s suggestions.

And for us, “Do you check the school’s online system often to see if he’s turned in his work?” Of course, she knew the answer—the system recorded logins. We had stopped checking frequently because the data was updated too infrequently for us to base consequence decisions on what we saw. Besides, why did she think we spent money out of our pocket to have his abilities/difficulties assessed? Partly because we wanted to see if some knowledge could help him to keep up with his work better.

Meanwhile, while our family life had become more and more disruptive due to the homework battles waged with our son as we tried to be responsible parents who supported the school, our daughter was falling apart. She did her work—and worried about her twin brother. She tried just as hard not to cause any more trouble in our family. Add in one grandmother on her way to becoming lost to Alzheimer’s and our girl became one sad kid. Did the family conflict and her grandmother’s illness cause her depression or did her biology exacerbate the problems?

What I do know is that when she was finally hospitalized for those problems it was hard to find mental health professionals who really attempted to recognize the role of biology within her difficulties. So much focus from them fell on the family. My kid didn’t do chemicals or sneak out of the house, but was treated as if her depression were a form of rebellion and we were treated as if we were just too stupid to see that she was lying to us—just as all the other kids did. We tried so hard to complete the prescribed family counseling (20 weeks or so) but finally stopped when we realized it was making things worse for everyone. I could have understood if they taught us and her to work with her biology but the program acted as if biology had little to do with her problems.

What did I learn from these experiences with schools and mental health treatment? First of all, that too many professionals believe that a one-size-fits-all approach works for all. And, secondly, that if it doesn’t then the problems stem from the family.

So, we muddle on on our own. Thankfully, we have met helpful educators, disability coordinators, tutors, student services advisors, and counselors along the way—I thank them with all my heart.

But to those who questioned our devotion, just know that if we could have made our kids fit better into the world just by trying, it would have happened. Please stop blaming the families who seem to have been dealt more challenging cards than others—so many of us are trying so much harder than you’ll ever know. Somehow the systems also need to try harder to figure out how to help those who don’t fit the molds.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I have this friend who lost her mom to Alzheimer’s just after Thanksgiving. Because she feels emotionally fragile these days, she doesn’t talk about her loss with many people. She chooses those with whom she shares her loss very carefully.

Since she watched me walk through my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she let me in on her news right away. I hope she sees me as a safe person who understands something of what she is going through. I don’t question her when I see tears in her eyes but let her decide if she wants to explain them.

Last night at church I ran into a woman I met in a grief support group last May. We know each other only because of our losses. She asked me if I had reached my mother’s anniversary date and then I asked about her anniversary, which is coming soon. The truth is I can only understand but a portion of her loss because she did not lose an elderly parent, but a son close in age to me.

Still, there is something about having walked through grief that opens our eyes to others’ pain—sometimes giving us insight into how others’ pain can be even greater than ours—which is something we so often doubt in the early hours of our own dark nights.

These days my bible study group is reading and thinking about the Beatitudes, through James C. Howell’s study, The Beatitudes For Today. This week we are studying “Blessed are those who mourn.” We wrestle with whether or not those words are about mourning deaths in our personal circles or if the mourning Jesus mentions is about grieving our sins or the harshness we see in this world or, who knows what else?

But the part of this lesson that speaks to me at this point in my life is that because I have suffered losses that I still mourn, I am able to see others’ losses. Might I be just another person my friend avoids in her time of loss if I hadn’t already taken the walk to the tomb?

It’s tough to feel blessed when in mourning, but then I look around at all the support I have received on this earth from other people and I know God has not forgotten me. Perhaps it is in my brokenness that I am learning to listen to other people’s stories instead of just telling my own.

I’m not so saintly that I’ll say I’m glad for my losses. However, I am grateful that at least they have grown me into a person who watches out for those who are also blessed in this way they never sought. I was blind, but now I see.

And that is a blessing in itself.

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange

Dear Mom,

What a year it has been since I last sat by your bed, listening for the subtle changes as your breath weakened, holding your hand when you struggled and all the while knowing you were on your way back to yourself. In that room where our time together both slowed and sped up, I prayed that your final labors would soon lead you to fall asleep to pain and loss and wake to joy, renewal, and reunion.

Somehow I thought that because you were ready and we were ready—and because we had lost you so many years before—that our healing afterwards would go smoothly.

Not so true because it has been such a fight to forget those last years. Try as I can to remember you, round-faced and full-bodied with that smile that lit so many days in my life, I see you angular and receding, all but for your brown eyes that continued to speak when you could not.

That we all decline is no secret, but the extreme changes you and so many others—human and canine—experienced in these last few years—Marge, Uncle Carrell, Dick, and our pups Fordham and Abel—make me want to rage against time.

Yet, perhaps it is just that grief/anger that brought about my own physical decline—my body could not escape the pain in my heart that I would have liked to deny. If I would not sit into my grief, then my grief would sit me down.

And, so I sat.

It is only in these last few weeks in the midst of deepest winter that indeed I can stand again easily and begin, step by step, to run and dance once more. Perhaps, the timing is no coincidence.

Yesterday I saw a black hearse leading a long line of cars on an unseasonably balmy day—someone was going home with all the ceremony that helps us to understand our loss. Yet, we did not say “goodbye” to you in that time-honored way.

I insisted we wait—until the weather might allow a more joyful home-going. After all, so much of you had left so long before your final day—those black hearses had been taking parts of you home for too long. The long goodbye of Alzheimer’s meant I needed to remember you more than remember your physical presence. So I’m glad we had all the brightly-colored clothes, the music, and the orange balloons on a windy, prairie day full of the hope of spring.

Because it’s that hope of spring that gets me through missing you and reminds me that my mother will never again have to be less than she was created to be.

Forever loving you, I return to the dance of life.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

You know my messy table isn’t really the problem—it’s just an obvious sign that deep down all is not well with my soul.

This is one of those years when I can’t talk myself into seeing the happy endings—or at least the unhappy endings that lead to deeper understanding and long-term happier endings. No matter what I said about wanting to be done with talking about unhappy topics, I am not. I can’t will myself to come up with the neat and happy moral of the story that will tie up a less-than-hope-filled post.

Although I’m feeling a bit like George Bailey on the bridge, I’m not looking to jump into the river. No, I just want to take that suitcase I bought with happy travels in mind—and run—anywhere that isn’t where I’ve been.

You see, I know God is hearing my prayers, but I’m having a hard time saying them. The good thing about God is He hears the prayers that have sunk so deep within us that we can’t even use our voices to speak them—they become so much a part of us that they rise from our very pores.

If nothing else, perhaps He’ll send me a bumbling Clarence to show me a better path than the one I am on.

Sometimes no amount of research or any continued pursuit for new solutions can fix a problem. And you especially can’t make someone else choose to see the hope in their situation if they prefer to see only loss.

You’re probably thinking I must be talking about myself, right? See, that’s the irony, isn’t it? So easy to see how to solve someone else’s problem, but then you look in the mirror and realize that maybe you’re so busy trying to solve someone else’s problem because it makes it easy not to be responsible for solving your own problems.

The years of trying to help others with celiac disease, dementia, depression, and ADD have taken their toll on me. I’m fresh out of perky solutions that are always met with a big “but”—because after all I have no idea how bad it is for someone else.

Well, the truth is they don’t know how bad it has been for me to watch them suffer. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and remove the problem. Would be much better than searching for other possible solutions that will never be good enough because the only solution the person really wants is to wake up completely healed.

They also don’t know how much I’ve suffered watching them refuse to consider anything but Plan A when I would fight to find them Plan B through Plan Infinity to aid in their movements forward. This week I realize I’m done being the pep squad. All that energy spent helping those who at this point won’t help themselves is making me feel like a failure. I know I am not—I tried, as God is my witness, I tried. Maybe I tried so hard that they didn’t think they needed to do so. But in the end all any of us really can do is help ourselves.

And during all those times of caregiving, I did not help myself. In some ways it’s just not possible to take care of yourself in the midst of others’ crises, but in other ways you have to be careful not to see any results as the only proof that what you did mattered. Some problems can’t be fixed despite anyone’s best efforts.

And so, I need a Clarence to come show me how I helped even if I could not beat back the demons of the diseases. I need to know that without me this place would have become a Potterville. Maybe I have a bit of a savior complex, but, by God, I’d like to know that sacrificing my potential trips around the world made some difference to others.

But short of that, the only thing I can control is the direction of my own footsteps in the future. A future where I stop trying to find solutions for everyone else and start looking for my own regardless of who is coming along with me on the trip.

Clarence, are you ready to earn your wings? Then help me climb down from this bridge so I can pack my suitcase for the trip of my lifetime.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Warning: this is not a happy little holiday post; in fact, it’s not even a happy little everyday post. No, it’s the post that should I get it out of my head might yet lead me to be able to sleep tonight.

However, this is not about sleeping tonight. No, I keep thinking that if I can just get the dining room table cleared during the daylight hours tomorrow, somehow I’ll find a way to salvage what’s left of 2011 and get myself ready to shed this year for the possibility of 2012. If you’re like me and have ADD and you’ve been through a lot of recent loss, you might understand how something as mundane as a bunch of random items on a table or any similar space can grow to appear as a physical manifestation of the condition of your heart and mind.

Yes, a year ago today began my mother’s last month on this earth. I can’t even tell you that was a bad thing because of the Alzheimer’s that had ravaged her mind as well as her body. But it was a very hard thing to watch her go in that way, to know that her brain kept everything—from her thoughts to her vocal cords to her feet—from working as they were used to doing. And to know that as inadequate as I felt, it was my job to hold her hand on that final journey.

I understood that the start of the new year would bring the end for my mother, which was really a kindness to both her and anyone who knew her previously. That part I accepted, as much as anyone really can. One day, after three years of daily concern for her—whether or not other capable hands cared for her—she was gone.

The thing is the losses kept mounting. My uncle died six weeks later and a few days later we lost our dog whose cancer had appeared as my mother was leaving. Sherman and I have been to too many funerals for friends’ parents over the last sixteen months, none more agonizing for me than those for people who were destroyed in the same way my mother had been. Even though our other dog’s life ended at a somewhat expected time, the timing in the midst of this year was hard to accept.

Of all the things I did to soothe my soul, exercise and maintaining my body’s strength brought me the most moments of calm and peacefulness. I had no idea that the other great joy—welcoming a puppy (and another dog) into our home—would negate much of what exercise could do for me. If I had known that that fateful long road trip to bring home our pup would take away so much of my strength for so long, I would have found another way to get him here.

That I am regaining some of my former energy does not make up for the months without it. I am so discovering that I crave using my energy for more exciting activities than the “have-to’s” of this past year, including the huge task of going through the mess left behind by my parents’ lifelong possessions—especially since I did not have enough of me to go around just to get through my regular daily commitments.

In fact, just seeing the table as it is tells me how ready I am to skip catching up. If there is any way to forgo another month of mourning, sign me up. I want to be a person who can converse without feeling compelled to talk about anything negative happening in my life, including in this blog. Oh, to regain the sparkle in my eyes and the spring in my step. Next time I have a hard time falling asleep, I hope it is not because my hips hurt or because my heart aches, but because I have too much I want to do.

There’s no catching up only starting anew. I can pat myself on the back for all I have cleared off that table, but in the end I am so over all the crap that has been so much a part of this year. I’m tired of it tripping me up and reminding me of what is past—I just want it gone. On the days when it doesn’t irritate me enough, I know I have become too complacent in this boring yet painful state. If I can’t bring back to wholeness what has been lost, then it’s time to rage, rage against the dark night that is this year of loss.

This is the next-to-longest night of 2011—just one more night until light once more begins its cycle of growth.

So now that these words have eased from me enough to let me rest for the remainder of this dark night, mark my words: today’s light shall shine yet on a freshly cleaned tabletop, open with possibility for what comes next.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

There are many good reasons the Church and the ancients before them picked late October/early November for remembering the departed. As days shorten and nights lengthen at the same time the sun’s rays grow weaker, many of us turn inward. Just a few short thoughts can lead to thinking of those we have lost, as well as our own mortality.

Our family used to own a medical supply business and we always noticed that deaths began to increase around Halloween and continued at a higher level through sometime in the spring, even among clients who appeared relatively stable and healthy. Despite living in relatively comfortable times, it’s just harder to live in the colder months. Maybe the light matters more than we know and not just to those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

This year on All Saints’ Sunday, I listened as my mother’s name was read and a bell tolled in honor of her joining the saints eternal. In my brightest moments I see her conducting one of the heavenly choirs or playing along from the piano or with some percussion instrument. I was glad our choir was singing a spiritual, “Keep Your Lamps,” accompanied by nothing other than a drum’s beat—my mother would have loved the music selected for the year her life was honored.

And yet, she was not sitting in our pews to hear us sing.

I’ll tell you over and again that I didn’t just lose my mother this past January—no, Alzheimer’s took her from us years before she closed her weary eyes. So, in a way, I’ve already grieved who she was, but that doesn’t mean certain milestones don’t remind me of her final walk in her last year. In fact, sometimes I’m shocked to realize I am missing some of the simple things we could do together even when she was no longer “my” mother.

November’s arrival reminds me of the real beginning of the end for her: she started receiving hospice care a week before Thanksgiving. What’s true is that I am still grieving many pieces of that journey—or I wouldn’t still be so angry about how her hospice care did not provide the kind of support for her, us, and her care facility staff that is such a godsend to so many others.

I do my best to turn my memories to the little things that did work and how we learned as we went. After an unsettling Thanksgiving celebration within her larger community, we pulled back for a private celebration during the community’s Christmas dinner and experienced much greater peace and joy for her and for us. Sherman and I learned to enjoy feeding her, hungry as she was to partake of sustenance long after her own hands could not keep up with her appetite. When Intern Jess and I sang to her in German the carols of her childhood, we all had tears in our eyes.

The other images—the uncomfortable and/or painful ones—I try not to dwell on, but their presence tells me that part of letting her go must involve letting go of what happened, good and bad.

I was not the only one whose eyes teared up on All Saints’ Sunday—for some it is missing someone, pure and simple, and for others, there are the added losses that come with witnessing or walking someone towards a hard death.

As much as many of us would prefer to keep our mourning private and maybe even unstirred, it is good to have a day to remember corporally those whom we have loved—and to know that there are others who walk in similar shoes. Together we can walk in light—and through the dark.

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