Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I know the drill. In fact, I damned near owned the concept. Negative attracts negative and gratitude and love attract more in kind. I suppose I was using the Tom Hopkins method of “Fake it till you make it” and really had myself fooled into thinking I was there. I realize now that being ‘there’ might not be possible and the only thing matters day to day is staying on the path that leads in the direction of ‘there.’

It seems I walked into this new year blindly fooled by the notion that this year was to be in some way better than others; that somehow I had reached a place where positive thought and love would smooth the bumps in the road. The year began with a path that was riddled with pot holes.

My family, usually healthy and resilient, seemed plagued by illness; nothing insurmountable or incurable, but an unstoppable wave of viruses and infections that moved from member to member like a game of hot potato. Strep, pneumonia, fevers and colds stirred my family kettle into a spiral of germs. My dad’s illness and need for me to travel added to the unraveling of normal at home and added to the financial burden of my not taking on enough work.

I’m not sure if my lack of words were a result of stress or the fact that everyone and every thing demanded all of me, but writing ceased to happen.

I seemed void of thought.

My youngest spent the last seven days on the couch with a high fever that reached 104.4. Even with medication, she hovered at 103 and I searched desperately for a reason. My middle child was on his rebound round of strep, but that was not the cause of her illness. I felt annoyed with the pediatrician whose tests turned up nothing and helpless when the “V” word was thrown my way; a virus with no symptoms, just a fever. It was a long week.

The week ended with a clog in the plumbing. After heroic efforts on my husband’s part all day Saturday, a plumber finally arrived, only to give up at 9pm. He would send in the heavy hitter, the best of the best, sometime on Sunday but in the meanwhile, no water down the drains. No laundry. No showers. No toilets. While in the basement, my husband noticed that the oil tank in nearly empty and I worried that 'No oil' would happen in the middle of the night. “It’ll be like camping!” I tell my boys in a lame attempt to make light of an ugly weekend.

On Sunday, I trudged off to church alone, un-showered, leaving the sick ones and the well ones behind, awaiting the plumber. I felt like I had just had enough and was finding it difficult to focus on the discussions of Lent and self-reflection. The Pastor announced that our church had deemed the first Sunday of Lent as “One Sunday.” The collective church body dedicated “One Sunday” to lofty goals that seem unattainable, and yet one by one, gathered as one, we must, as Christians confront desperation in far away places. The goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to educate women, to eliminate child mortality as a result of simple lack of life necessities, to end HIV/Aids and to wipe out death in prenatal women.

Statistics about families who have no income, no food, no facilities and no medication painted a vivid picture of no hope. I got stuck on the statistic that hit close to home.

30,000 children died yesterday.

30,000 children will die today.

30,000 children will die tomorrow.

My mind took me to a village where mothers held their dying children, powerless to save them. I thought about the battery of test that had been run on my daughter this week and the medication that was wiping out my son’s strep infection; blessings.

They sleep on the floor, hard and cold with the insects crawling and feeding on their skin. I thought of my daughter on the couch where I repeatedly adjusted her pillows and blankets, attempting to maximize her comfort; blessings.

They die of malnutrition and lack of clean water to drink and I thought about the bottles of spring water she had emptied as I diligently forced her to drink fluids; blessings.

They live without adequate shelter, electricity and pluming and I thought about my warm home where the plumbing would be restored by days end; blessings.

I thought about these mothers who pray and work and love as I have wallowed in self pity over inconvenient bumps in the road.

With the crossing of every one of those bumps, there is blessing on the other side. Not only did my dad pull through his surgery, but I was able to fly across the country on little notice to be at his side. My taking off of work may have caused financial stress, but how fortunate to have the sort of job that allows me to not work when my family needs me.

Our minds are powerful tools and life’s perspective is everything.

Monday brought snow and renewed health to my daughter. Shuffling to the slider door with her hair in her face and her pink flannel jimmies still warm with sleep, her eyes widen and take in the back yard, transformed to a wonderland.

“Dad says it’s snowball snow,” I tell her.

“This is amazing and I am better. Oh it’s a snow ball day and a baking cookie day and a hot chocolate day! It’s like Christmas!” Dimple gleaming, a glow warms her cheeks as her eyes ride slowly toward the sky, “God, I’m so proud of you.”

She is filled with joy.

Joy for her health and joy for the snow and joy just to be.

I feel the path under my feet and realize I am once again heading in the direction of ‘there.’ I suppose it is OK to get lost from time to time and if we ask, God will put someone in our path to guide us back.

Last night I watched the amazing story of Oprah’s Academy for girls in Africa. “Educate the women and you can transform a continent” Nelson Mandela told Oprah. One at a time, she is working toward that goal. The girls in the academy, most of whom have endured more hardship than we will ever know, do not have to fake it; they know joy and gratitude and are icons of hope.

Perhaps ‘there’ is closer than I thought.

If you were unable to see the special last night on ABC, it will air again Saturday night.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Friend: One who entertains for another such sentiments of esteem, respect, and affection that he seeks his society and welfare; a well-wisher; an intimate associate; sometimes, an attendant.

The meaning of friendship varies and fluctuates from childhood to adulthood. A toddler views a friend as anyone who shows up to play on the playground; perfect strangers welcome. In elementary school, friends tend to be classmates and neighbors; daily playmates for better or worse. Older kids give the title of friend to those they “hang out with.” Even moving on into young adulthood, friends are the people that one shares time with, laughs with, cries with and grows with.

Most of us hold onto some of these earlier friendships like a pair of well worn jeans; they fit well and feel good, in spite of the changing shape of our lives. I suppose I have always thought of friends as those who know me intimately, those I have created a history with, the ones I’d be comfortable calling in a crisis.

Living in a small town and raising several children creates a large circle of faces that are as familiar as the street signs that lead to home. This circle of parents, connected through their children, range from casual to friendly, all I would have formerly defined as “acquaintances.”

My daughter belongs to a “girls group” that meets once a month to explore a deeper level of relating; soul sisters that go beyond the somewhat frivolous and clicky relationships found in the classroom. The theme this month is Friendship. A local musician, mom and recording artist will be visiting to sing a song that she wrote for the group, based on a collection of their individual definitions of a friend. When I asked Cadence what made a person a friend, her definition was clear and concise. “A friend is someone who stands by you and helps pick you up when you are down.” The truth in her words was very real for me recently.

The definition of friendship has broadened for me in the last couple of weeks. As I moved through the emotional ups and downs regarding my dad’s health and surgery, I decided I needed to go to be with him and time was surely of the essence. I booked by flight and 35 hours later was headed to the airport. Anyone with three children and a full time job can tell you that it takes more than a village to pull this off. I was so incredibly moved and overwhelmed by the kindness of people that I formerly titled “acquaintance” who stepped forward with offers of rides, of taking my children for the week, of caring for my pets and with prayers.

Writers from east to west, some of whom I met once and others not at all rallied with words of encouragement, support and “winged prayers.” It became so crystal clear to me that “friendship” is more than a history, more than intimate knowledge. Friendship is about stepping up to the front lines when life is hard. It is offering in kindness the tangible and intangible that makes another feel cared for. “It is someone who stands by you and helps pick you up when you are down.” I am incredibly blessed for all of my friends and thank you for standing by.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


So very cold, as I slip out into the night to maneuver my way to the airport; 4:35 am and I am behind schedule. Traveling alone usually makes me uneasy, but I am focused on this journey. Arriving in Florida and finally to the hospital, I am not sure what I will make conversation about for the afternoon. Bursting in full of a lifetime of things left unsaid is surely not the way to go. He looks tired, pale and gray from hair to lips. We chit chat about weather and mindless things and finally move into a comfortable pattern.

My children made a poster that I unveil with pride. Slogans like “BE STRONG, HANG TOUGH and KICK BUTT GRANDPA” roll between the art work. He asks to have it hung where he can see it. We talk about people we haven’t seen in a while, about the kids and what is keeping them busy; each conversation opens the cover of a memory. A discussion of teenagers driving has us laughing about my brother’s driving escapades and has me retelling the oil changing story. In between he asks his wife to call the golf course where he works to let them know how long his recovery will be so they can find temporary replacement. He speaks about “after the surgery,” not with false bravado but with certainty that there will be more to come.

Doctors slip in and out to discuss the procedure that will take place in the morning. They will carve away all of the ‘dead’ portions of the heart, reshape it, create a new door and install four new bypasses. It will be at least four hours. The last four hours have passed quickly and I know that the four to come will move at an intolerable slow crawl. I tease him about the reshaping of his heart and tell him he might come out this super romantic! The time comes to leave and we collect his belongings to take home. My dad stands up to give me a hug good-by. I look into his surprisingly brave eyes, “I love you Dad.”

“I love you, too,” he answers with an ease that makes it seem like this is our usual thing. Funny, with his cracked shell, he looks exactly the same, even with soft emotion trickling out. I head back to his home with my step mother, both of us feeling positive.

The waiting room is a contrast of comfy chairs and cold air. It has the look of a lounge in a fancy hotel lobby as families set up camp, moving discussions between light-hearted and serious. An older man sits behind a brown wooden desk, marking charts, answering phones and pointing to groups of people in chairs. Volunteers scurry between the operating rooms, the brown wooden desk, and the families anxiously awaiting progress reports. I sit with my brother, his wife and my step mother, huddled into a circle of support.

Occasionally a doctor in green scrubs with a blue hat and surgical mask will move through the doors, sometimes softly, sometimes with exuberance reminiscent of a cowboy through saloon doors in an old western. Each time, the scrubs stop at the brown wooden desk and then follow a hand gesture in the direction of an awaiting family. Each time my heart quickens, too soon for a doctor to come to us; each time I am washed with relief; not our turn.

A man in black jeans walks slowly by. He wears a navy blue warm up jacket and baseball cap, but I cannot see his face as his head is bent low. He sits just beyond our cluster of chairs, elbows on his knees, hands clasped between head hanging down over his hands. I cannot break the lock of my gaze as he appears to shrug his shoulders once, twice and then in the unmistakable repetition that accompanies sobbing. One hand goes over his eyes and wipes at the pain, the sobs now audible. My heart breaks for him. My heart fears for me. Not all of the reports are good. After a long time of attempting self composure, the man walks through the doors where the doctor had emerged.

I watch cautiously now, guarded for surgeons as our four hours is coming to a close. Each doctor has the potential to be the Angel of Mercy or the Grim Reaper and I stare at the one newly emerging. After checking in at the brown wooden desk, he pans the room for the appropriate family and I know right away that we are it. I cannot read any expression and stop breathing as he moves in our direction; Angel or Reaper? His walk is brisk; a good sign I believe and something like a smile creeps to the edge of his mouth as he comes close. “He did well and will be up in recovery in about an hour; shortly thereafter you can see him.”

I felt tension slipping off from the top of me like the skin peeling down a banana and we shared smiles, giggles and sighs of relief. I tell the others that God isn’t finished with him yet; still has rough edges to polish. We are surprised, and then not so surprised at the sheer will of this man.

Our jubilation begins to wane as one, two and then three hours creep past in the ICU waiting room. We find out then that he had been brought up, but quickly returned to the OR as his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. He had to be reopened to install a pump to assist his heart. His situation still critical and he is not yet out of the woods. The pump will be in three or four days as he heals and then they will gradually return him to his own. His wife was finally allowed back to see him briefly; a reassurance that he pulled through, but a picture that left her cold and sobbing.

Finally we retreat home, unsure of what to feel and grasping for the half full side of the cup. My hopes now sit with the thought that as he comes out of anesthesia, his mind will begin to work and everything to him is ‘mind over matter.’ Later that evening, the nurse says he is breathing beyond the ventilator and that they will be able to remove it by morning. Inside, I know what this means. He’s fighting and my dad is not a quitter.

By mid day the next day, his wife is allowed in to see him. We wait cautiously in the waiting room until the door reopens and she enters beaming. One at a time we are allowed to go back; five minutes each. It has been 20 hours since his surgery and he smiles as I enter the room. We laugh that he is worried about what his hair looks like. I tell him that his hair looks 'hot' and he says he feels good but they haven’t let him get up yet. He bubbles on talking more that I have ever seen, asking about the score of the UCONN game and wondering if we had lunch yet.

“Which one of the kids wrote ‘kick butt Grandpa’?” He asks. It was Cadence, I tell him. “Would you tell her I did?” He wants to know what time my flight home is and tells us to go have lunch. His wife struggles to kiss him, giving in to blowing a kiss, as she’s not tall enough to lean over. He calls her back to the room as she leaves, letting her know next time to come around the other sideof the bed where it is lower and she’ll be able to reach him for a real kiss. I giggle inside at the romantic new shape of his heart.

I flew home at the end of the day, reassured in so many ways. By the time my flight had landed, they had removed the heart pump and this morning, he is sitting in a chair. I ponder all of these things, making sure not to take anything for granted.

I have much to be grateful for.

The power of prayer.

The power of the human spirit.

The power of love.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Time is the one and only thing we have for certain while on this planet.

Free time, not enough time, wasting time and making time. Time can be a healer; its slow passage the only thing that lifts the chest crushing pain of loss to let the memories fill the void. Time can be a predator; ticking swiftly closer to a dreaded moment that snatches away a loved one.

This week I prayed for more time.

On Friday, my dad went in for a procedure to determine the reason for his declining health. His heart, a stark contrast to this rock of a man, is fragile. The procedure was to be followed by at attempt to correct the flaws; surgery that he would likely not sustain. Friday crept along slowly like a snake eyeing its prey. Recovering from pneumonia left me unable to eradicate the physical distance between us. My younger brother, closest of the flock to my dad, chomped at the bit to fly to Florida, but was himself grounded by a virus. I worked through my day, hearing silent clocks, now loudly ticking, waiting for the phone call.

My dad and I shared the usual hard shell banter the day before. These exchanges always full of humor and wit, facts and truth, but emotion kept always just beneath the shell. I don’t know the cause for this emotional armor. I believe the Irish are prone to it. There seem to be two varieties to these people: one stoic, steadfast and honorable, the other robust, carefree and fool hearty. My dad is surely of the former design.

Mine was not a family of ‘I love you’s” although love was ever-present. I do not remember princess-like Daddy’s little girl encounters. That was Ok with me. I knew that he loved me in his guarded way. My mom and dad were opposite; the type that repel instead of attract. They were obviously unsuited, yet partnered for more than thirty years to raise the group of offspring they brought to the world. Their relationship reached the point of apathy that goes beyond repair. There were times I blamed my mom and times I faulted my dad. In some ways, it was a relief that their time had ended.

During this period of separation, their connection didn’t fizzle out or fade away, but rotted and molded as they moved to opposite ends of the home they shared since I was two. My mom and I were good friends and talked constantly. It was at this time in my life that I began to know my dad. We would go to dinner together to talk. For the first time I felt “special” in his presence and we learned about one another as if meeting for the first time. On one of these encounters, I had to question him about why he had stopped wearing his bullet-proof vest to work; information leaked by my mother.

His answer, as always, was matter-of-fact and seemingly unemotional, but it spoke volumes to me about the man beneath the shell. He couldn’t imagine a life without my mother and couldn’t figure out how to support us and himself simultaneously. “There are organizations and funds for situations like these and you would all be taken care of.” The statement was not that of a martyr, but that of a silent and practical man who loved his family without words.
Friday moved painfully forward.
This could not happen like this.
I needed time.

Perhaps I did not need years or months or weeks, but I needed to be face to face with my father; to look into his tired green eyes and slowly but surely crack the shell. I needed to speak the words that he couldn’t say and that I needed to; even if I spoke for both of us.

The call came; no surgery took place. After the exploratory procedure, it was determined that he had an aneurism. In addition, two of the three former by-passes were completely shut down and the third blocked in several places. His kidneys were failing due to lack of oxygen. The team consulted and waited until Saturday to present their findings. “We can send you home and you can wait it out; an unknown amount of time, or we can go in and attempt to remove the aneurism and repair the by-pass; the chances of your surviving the surgery are very limited. Think about it,” they told him.

“There is nothing to think about,” my dad told them, “schedule the surgery.” His feelings were sure, his desires clear; I will either return to some kind of normal life, or I will go.

My flight is booked for 8am on Monday.

I am grateful.

Grateful that I am well enough to travel.

Grateful that we need not make decisions on his behalf.

Grateful that I have the opportunity of a lifetime.

Thank you for your prayers.

Friday, February 02, 2007


My dad's surgery is at 11:oo am today.

Prayers for strength
Prayers for healing
Prayers for time


Thursday, February 01, 2007


Zip your coat or you’ll catch pneumonia!
Eat your crust; it will make your hair curly.

Finish your dinner; there are kids starving in Europe.

As my mother’s children, we were well versed in ‘Motherspeak.’ She herself grew up understanding Motherspeak; my grandmother’s wisdom was even more colorful. In the pre-Google era of innocence, we tolerated this information with scrutiny, yet the hint of possible truth kept us erring on the side of caution. Mothering in the post Google ‘information age’ has let to the abandonment of some of these hand-me-down gems, and surely the modification of others.

Some of my mother’s expressions were clear at face value. The cause and effect was obvious: open coat equals pneumonia. Others required a decoding of sorts. “If I have to stop this car….” was always open-ended and left for interpretation. None of us really wanted to find out the end of that sentence. We did not, however, question that an end was impending. In fact, we didn’t question most of these statements and when my mother said she had eyes on the back of her head, we never dreamed of rummaging around her curly scalp to see.

As we grew older, some of this Motherspeak required sophisticated decoding. My mom had incredible non-verbal skills with ‘looks’ that carried the same weight as words. “Don’t you think you’ll be cold?” she’d ask with raised eyebrows and bulging eyes, chin lifted slightly in my direction. This translated to “That blouse is too revealing and don’t you dare walk out of the house like that.”

My mom was amazing. She was always there to take us where we needed to go, see to it that we had all of the tools for life, and made us tow the line. Oh yes, my mom was tough! Looking back now, I see that she took her job seriously and did what she was supposed to do. Still, as I rebelled through my teenage years, like every other kid my age, I thought she was ridiculous, knew nothing and didn’t understand me.

Her skills in the area of ‘mother's intuition’ meant she was all knowing, all the time. She knew when we needed help and when to let us struggle. When something was wrong, she could see through our bravado. This seemingly psychic intuition made it harder to rebel in adolescence. Although I swore as teenager I would never be a mother like her, I have become a mother exactly like her. I laugh when I hear myself saying the same things she did and realize that my kids will not ‘get it’ until they wear parent shoes of their own.

Along with being fluent in this very important language and psychically intuitive, she became a skilled medical Para professional. Raising three reckless sons determined to challenge all odds, she developed the ability to call the doctor and let him know exactly how many stitches he would need to put in their chin, elbow or other ripped body part. It was a skill that came through experience and like my mother; I know when to call the doctor and when to wait things out. I can tell a child’s temperature with my cheek to their temple within a half of a degree and can spot a fake stomachache from a real one immediately. I am proud of my ability to diagnose with 90% accuracy, but this medical wisdom, I have discovered, is a gift reserved only for my children.

Last Monday, I began to feel ill late in the day. Being an Irish female, I opted to ignore this impending illness and pushed forward. Chills by bedtime and 100 degree temperature flourishing to 102 by morning meant I was not succeeding. Having ingested a more than sufficient supply of ibuprophin, I trudged out on Tuesday to keep an appointment for an inspection. I made it home by mid day and crawled defeated to the couch.

You better call the doctor,” my mother’s voice said on the phone. “And what do you mean you went to work? You need to rest! "

“Probably Just a cold Mom, maybe the flu; no big deal,” I tell her between coughs, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll call the doctor if I’m not better.”

“Well…” her voice trails off, the non verbal translation, "Fine…don’t listen to your mother…you’re going to make it worse."

Wednesday morning I was 102.5 with an unrelenting cough, my head splitting open at the top. A fistful of ibuprophin for breakfast, I attempted to sit to type the report I was now obligated to and battled with my self about calling the doctor. I hated wasting their time and my money just to hear that I had a virus.

Just checking in,” my mother says, “You sound worse! You’d better call the doctor, it sounds like pneumonia!”

Yes and kids are starving somewhere in the world because I didn’t finish my dinner. No need to over react. Still, a twenty dollar co-pay was a small price to pay to hear the words virus, giving me the ‘See Mom, I know a few things myself’ opportunity.

Don’t make me come up there!” She says in her most serious tone from North Carolina. There was no arguing this one. I know that tone. It was the same as “If I have to stop this car…” and I did not want to find out the ramifications.

“Hi Mom, you may not say I told you so. I went to the doctor. It is pneumonia.”

Hmmm.” Was all she said; Motherspeak for "See, you should listen to your mother.” Silent lecture behind us, I could almost hear the gears shift from ‘mother lecture’ to ‘mother nurture.’ “Do you want me to come up?”

“No Mom, I’m fine,” words I later wish I could take back. Family members began to fall like dominos: intestinal bug, head cold, strep, leaving only my fifteen-year-old unscathed. It is eight degrees as he dashes for the door in hopes of catching the bus in his usual ‘I’m too cool for a coat’ attire.

Put on a coat, you’ll catch pneumonia!” I rasp behind him, feebly attempting to exercise my authority. He pauses, eyebrows raised and looks at me out of the tops of his eyes; a look translated to "You with pneumonia are going to give me health advice?” and barrels out the door.

Perhaps I haven’t quite mastered Motherspeak.