A couple of weeks ago, I attended a funeral of a friend who died at far too young an age. A generous writer and editor, friendship came easy to her. Her funeral was the most eloquent I’ve been to in no small part because of all the speakers were professional writers and editors. Her loss is keenly felt.
I asked the church office if there was a recording of it and for a small fee, I was sent a CD of the celebration of her life. I thought I could listen to it again without so much emotion, but the tears poured forth anew. Tears not only for the loss of this friend, but for all the friends and family I’ve lost over the past 5 years. The losses are piling up and because it’s the nature of life, they will continue. It is just the way it is, as much as I hate that fact.
There have been many times when I’ve been comforting someone who is mourning. Often they are told, “You’ll get over it.” That’s not really true. The truth I tell people engulfed in sadness, is that you’ll learn to accommodate the grief. Eventually, it won’t be quite as sharp, nor as often. You can learn to be happy again. But you will always have a piece of your heart missing.
The only solution to avoid all this sorrow would be to insulate my life from pain. Form no friendships and no attachments of any sort. Then, there would be no pain because there would be no loss. But there would be no joy, either. I have dear memories of laughter, struggle, tears, failures and triumphs shared. Oh yes, it hurts. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Recently, I joined a Facebook group called the Holy Disorder of the Dancing Monks. There will be some who will be dismayed by this fact, since it’s not what one might consider “orthodox.” Too bad, so sad. I joined it to remind myself the need of joy and beauty in my life.
This morning, someone in the group asked the question, “How will you add beauty to your day?” Since the weather is lovely, I knew the answer. After working out and visiting Mom, I was going to create a rock garden. I've been collecting rocks for some time now. Today was the day.
Once again, the theme ‘labor to enter into rest’ came to mind. Beauty gives my soul rest, but creating beauty is labor. Whether it’s dancing, painting, writing or gardening you have to put the work in for any sort of beauty to result. Oh my, did I labor. In hindsight, I shouldn't have gone to the gym this morning. It will be days before I will be able to move easily again.
But digging in the dirt feeds my soul, and the end result is good, albeit small. I have a lovely little corner garden. However, I want to do the entire bank because I’m sick of mowing the incline….and I've run out of rocks.
The key turns, the door opens and I step into the studio. How long has it been? One week? Two? More? I honestly can’t remember but the plants need watering. It’s obvious I was hopeful of returning soon when I was last here. My palette is laid out, colors mixed and all is covered with a sheet of thin plastic to keep the paint fresh for the next day. To no avail. I find the paint scraper to clean off the glass, but I don’t have the heart to put out new paint.
Instead, I study the photo of the model and analyze the drawing. In the last painting session, the values improved but I once again drifted off in measuring and have to re-draw and make adjustments. I sigh. Will I ever get these paintings done? I was so excited when I was first contacted for this project. So much so, I volunteered to do two portraits rather than one.
Another sigh. I turn my attention to the plants. I can do something about that. Finding two gallon jugs, I make the trip down the hall for the janitor’s closet. I forget to take the key with me, so it’s the restroom sink instead. Back in the studio, I see the poinsettia is blooming and I rotate the pot. I notice one of the plants is looking quite bleached out. The full light is too much for it and I need to move it. I’d moved the small palm the last time I was here and it’s much happier in its new location. I give it a drink.
The plants are not too bad off but the water soaks quickly into the dry soil and shortly the greenery perks up. When was the last time I watered my soul? I’ve been so busy dipping into my spiritual reservoir to give to others that I’ve failed to recognize it has run dry.
Sorrow upon sorrow fills my life right now. Watching my in-laws slowly losing ground, a friend entering hospice care, another friend’s husband with only a few months to live…one emotional weight after another creating a desert in my heart.
Rather than spend time trying to paint when I’ve nothing to say and no energy to say it, I decide it’s time for quiet meditation to tap into the Living Water and refill my spiritual well. I select some CDs that currently speak to my heart and just soak it in as I quietly sit in the studio. It’s a struggle to still my mind – there are so many things that need attending to. But I’m worth fighting for, so I stay with it. Hebrews 4:11 comes to mind. It is labor and diligence that helps us enter into rest. It takes about 20 or 30 minutes to finally settle my mind and get to a place of prayerful meditation. While it is time well spent, when it is over the issues of life come crowding back in. It seems the well needs more time being filled. Time I don’t have in this season of life.
But it is a start and I now recognize the need. But I am so weary.
The other evening, my husband and I were driving together. It’s rare these days to have a moment of privacy so I took the opportunity to ask him how he was doing. At first he gave me the standard, “Fine” answer but I dug deeper. With all that’s coming at us with Mom in rehab and trying to keep Dad safe on his own, work and the daily situations of life like car repair, I wanted to know what was really on his heart.
“No,” I said. “How are you really doing? How are you handling all that’s coming at you right now?”
He looked ahead and sighed. “I feel as if I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion and there’s nothing I can do to stop it,” he said.
Tears welled up in my eyes and I reached over for his hand. There was nothing I could say. It was an apt description of watching a parent succumb to Alzheimer’s.
Meanwhile, across town, a friend of mine was coming home after being at the hospital all day with her mother. She was exhausted, developing a sore throat and deeply discouraged. Her mother had driven into a tree in the parking lot of her apartment complex. She had a broken nose, the front end of the car was a mess but she had no recollection of the accident. She doesn’t understand why everyone keeps telling her her memory isn’t good, nor why they want her to stop driving.
In yet another part of town, a niece was trying to spend time recollecting with her confused uncle who had severely broken a hip after a fall and would pass away a couple days later, leaving a wife who also has dementia.
And on it goes. I could tell you about an aunt who lives in Texas and was found in Oklahoma after driving for a day and a half, forgetting where she was going, or the woman who left her apartment in Ohio on foot, trying to find her house in Chicago. She hadn’t lived there in over fifty years. Currently, there are over 5 million people in America with Alzheimer’s and each of them have a story. Their story, in turn, ripples out to touch others. Millions of people are involved with either developing this disease or caring for someone with it.
Dementia is taking a huge toll on individuals, families, communities and the nation. And yet, a chronic underinvestment in Alzheimer’s research persists. If you are interested in advocating for more funding for a disease that none of us is safe from, please consider writing your representative. You can go to https://act.alz.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1295 to fill out a form urging action.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.