People who make a plan and work that plan amaze me. I make plans, and life blows up in my face making those plans unworkable. A couple months ago, I planned that I would end my employment on December 15. That would give the company plenty of time to find a replacement and to get product out for the Christmas rush. I was trying to be thoughtful of my coworkers and to be intentional about transitioning into the next chapter of my life. Good plan.
At least, I thought it was a good plan. Shortly after I gave notice, I was down for a couple weeks with diverticulitis, but took good care of myself and was up and running again. Bonus - I started losing weight and am back on track with my health. A little behind in all that we had planned for the holidays and with the book, but I felt confident I could catch up.
What I didn’t factor in was the virus from hell that was going to take me out the last week of work and beyond. Instead of celebrating with my coworkers, or going to Christmas and Hanukkah parties, I was in bed hacking my lungs out with gunk oozing out of every orifice. It wasn’t and isn’t pretty. I ended my run with a whimper, not a bang.
This was to be my week of new beginnings. Getting Christmas goodies baked, purchased, wrapped and delivered. Formatting slides into digital format for the publisher to consider. Connecting with people and getting the studio up and running. Instead of connecting, I’m in isolation and feeling quite sorry for myself.
But a dear friend made chicken soup for me and delivered it just now. When she saw me, she did her best to hide her dismay but it was clear that I look as sick as I feel. She offered to do some shopping for me and I decided to be clear about what my real needs are. We have plenty in our pantry, and Mike is still healthy. What I really need is human connection. So I asked her to email me every day with something newsy so I don’t feel so isolated. That’s my new plan - to stay connected no matter what.
It made me think back on when I was caring for my mother. As her care overtook my life, friends dropped out of my life. Not intentionally. Everyone has life issues they have to take care of and when I was occupied elsewhere, the spaces I left were filled with other people and other things. Many wanted to help out, but really didn’t know what to do. Some came along side me and actually helped with mom’s care. Visiting her, taking her out, taking her to church, and giving Mike and me a break. But that’s not everyone’s strength or ability and some just drifted away feeling helpless. Supporting someone doesn’t have to be a herculean effort - it can be as small as a weekly card or email to let them know they haven’t been forgotten.
If you know a caregiver, send them a small encouragement. It can be a lifeline. If you are a caregiver, let your friends know that you are in need of connection. Make a plan to keep your community strong.
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. - Mother Teresa
My earliest memory is one of being alone...of course. I never really thought much about it, but a friend once shared with me her earliest memory of being a toddler. She was approaching a swimming pool and she was unafraid because she knew her mother and grandmother were behind her and wouldn't let anything happen to her.
When she shared this with me, my first memory hit me in the face like a cold, wet and somewhat dirty sock. I was also a toddler. My mother had brought me to the farm. She wanted to visit her mother to unburden her heart. Marriage and motherhood weren't living up to her expectations. She and Grandma wanted time to be together and I was in the way. The way I remember it was that Mom was not prepared for the cold snap and I didn't have anything to wear that was suitable for outside. Grandma had something from another child that had visited and left it behind, so I was dressed in a hand-me-down snowsuit to go outside to play. The snowsuit was a shiny fabric that was reddish purple and quilted...funny how those kind of details can stick in your memory.
I was told to go to the barnyard. The ground was frozen and rock hard. Ice was skimming the top of puddles. For some reason, I was given a balloon that was tied to my wrist. It was not filled with helium, so it just dragged along the ground behind me as I stomped out to the barnyard to see if Grandpa was there. I hadn't gone very far when a sharp rock introduced itself to my balloon and there was a loud 'pop' behind me. I turned and stared at the colorful shreds of rubber at the end of my string. I wanted to cry but then I remembered that no one would comfort me. As a two-year-old, I made a conscious decision to not seek solace. I knew – I already knew as a toddler – that I was utterly alone. I turned and continued to trudge to the barnyard.
Internalizing that moment at such a tender age has deeply affected me in ways that even more than 50 years later I can't completely comprehend. Believing that I'm not cared for means that I often just do things on my own because I don't think I can find anyone who cares enough to help. I confess that sometimes, I conclude that's why my husband appreciates me so much – I'm very low maintenance. There have been times I have asked for help or fellowship from friends or family and none has been forthcoming, which only reinforces the feeling that I am truly alone.
But apparently, that is not the face I present to the world. When sharing with an artist friend one time that I often felt lonely, she laughed in disbelief and said that I was a one person party. Her view of me was of a good time girl, because in the circle that we were in (artists that joined together weekly to paint from a model) I was confident and amusing. Confidence in a craft or having a sense of humor, though, does not mean a person does not have deeper feelings of pain. That particular interaction made me feel that, once again, I was truly on my own.
So how does one break that sort of emotional bondage? I can only answer that question from a base of faith. I really don't know how someone who doesn't know the love of a very personal God heals from that. It has been through the context of faith that I have found healing. Emotional, spiritual and physical healing. That is the context that I operate out of and that I can speak from. It starts with a prayer. And here's the thing...it doesn't have to be a prayer of faith. It starts with just calling out to the One Who can help. It can be an angry prayer, a doubtful prayer, a passionate prayer or a quiet prayer. It doesn't have to be long, it doesn't have to follow a formula. It can simply be one word. Help. But it's enough to start the journey into wholeness.
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.