Thursday, 29 March 2012

The small miracle of influence

In the twelve plus years I have worked with the elderly, I have been touched by amazing people. My heart is filled with their stories, both funny and touching, and the ways they have influenced my life. Like having a hundred grandparents, I am rich with the gifts each of them has given me.

In all the people, and all the experiences, there was none so precious as Miss S. I said good-bye to her last August, and I miss her every day. I wish I could kneel by her wheelchair and tell her about the joy in my life. Her mouth would form an "Ohhhh", her eyes would sparkle and she would give me her brilliant smile. We would hug, and she would want to know every detail.

I remember the day I first met Miss S. And even the week before she died, she remembered it, too.

       It was during my first year at Christie Gardens, just before Easter. I was working in our dementia unit, and ran out of some essential ingredient for hot cross buns. With a room full of residents waiting for me, I didn’t have time to run to the grocery store, so flew to the tiny store in the building. Miss S. was shopping, and in her typical friendly, interested-in-everyone manner, she asked me what I was doing. That led to a discussion of hot cross bun making methods, and eventually, an exchange of recipes. It also led to a special friendship that lasts until today.
       Within the next year, she suffered a major stroke that took her to hospital and rehab, and eventually back to our first floor care sections. Miss S. was a fighter, and this loss of independence was difficult for her. I visited with her during admission, and she expressed her frustration at not being able to dress herself or take care of her most basic needs. Like many stroke victims, she cried easily, especially during those first days. She fought hard to walk again, and to be as independent as possible. Again and again, her spirit rose to the top, even when her body was dragging behind.
       Miss S. was a great cook, and when she could no longer actively participate, she loved to be a part of cooking and baking activities. She would advise us, and if we were doing it wrong, she would inform us in no uncertain terms. She hated that I sometimes wouldn’t measure ingredients precisely, and would give me “THE LOOK”. The look was a piercing, we-are-not-amused stare that could be intimidating. When Miss S. didn’t like what you were doing, she made it clear. Sometimes, I would tease her about it, and then she would break into the most beautiful grin. Miss S.’s grin lit up a room like nothing else could. And if what I said tickled her, she would start to laugh, and then she would snort. There were many times when a disapproving look ended in a laugh and a snort.
       Miss S. loved hugs, which was handy, because I loved to give them to her. Often when I came to work in the morning, she would be sitting by the desk, and we would have a hug before I even punched in. I don’t know about her, but it made my day. There’s an empty spot by the desk now.
       The day I came back from work after my husband died, Miss S. was waiting at the desk for me. I knew that was going to be a hard day, and when she saw me, she burst into tears. I of course, joined her, and knelt by her chair while we let the storm pass. After a few minutes, I leaned back and looked at her and said, “Well, you’re not helping!” At that point, she grinned and snorted, and we both had a great laugh. The rest of that difficult day was better because of my time with Miss S.
       She loved my granddaughter. Nothing could bring a smile to her face and an excited “Oooooh!” than to hear Hannah was coming to visit. She would dote on her, and the feeling was mutual. “She’s a pet!” she would exclaim to me for days after.
       There were many times when Miss S. became ill, and I wondered if this was the end. Each time left her a little weaker, but she fought back. I always knew that when the last day came, it would be a difficult one for me. I always dreaded it.
       During her last illness, I went in to visit a few times, and she didn’t know me. I wondered if I would be able to say good-bye, or if she would just drift away. In the last week of her life, I received a special gift.
       I went into her room, and said her name, and this time she opened her eyes. I said, “It’s Ann.” and her face lit up with recognition. She gave her brilliant smile.
       I gave her a hug, and told her, “I came in to tell you I love you.”
       She held my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “I love you.”
       Because it was Miss S., and we were like that with each other, I let the tears fall as we talked. “Do you remember the hot cross buns?” She chuckled. There wasn’t enough energy for a snort this time, but she was amused. We talked for a few more minutes, and then I told her that I had a program to run. In typical Miss S. fashion, she flapped her hand at me, as if to say, “Go!”
       “I smoothed back her beautiful hair, and said, “I’ll come and see you again.” Then I paused. I didn’t know that for sure. I added, “But if I don’t, I’ll see you in heaven.” Again, she looked in my eyes and said, “Yes.”
       That was the last time I saw Miss S. But she will be with me always. Every time I eat a fresh “to-mah-to” (which must never be put in the fridge) or put an ingredient in a recipe without measuring...or eat a hot cross bun...I will be thankful for the influence she had on my life. 

Although I wish I could kneel by her wheelchair and tell her of my joy, I know  she is where no wheelchairs are needed. She is walking freely, smiling hugely, laughing  and snorting.

 And...she knows. 

Has there been someone in your life whose influence has been a small miracle?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The small miracle of best buddies

UPDATE: Thanks to 2 heart medications and a diuretic, Cinnamon is stable at the moment, with his stamina slowly increasing. We are thankful!

My little buddy is not well, and at this point, I don’t know if he will get better. Today I was reflecting on the gift he has been to me. All gifts are for a season, and although I am sad, I will accept if his season is over. But today I want to remember the gift he has been to me.

There had been two dogs in my life as a kid. Fritzie was a brown and black dachshund, and I was about five when we had him. I remember him more by reputation than actual memories. A photograph of my parents and I on the front porch, dressed for church, shows Fritzie jumping in front of us. Apparently, he used to walk to the stop sign at the end of the street and wait for my Dad to come home from work. Neighbourhood kids loved him. One day he went exploring and found some poisoned meat. The next day, he was vomiting, and the next, he died.

The gift Fritzie gave me was a love for dogs. I nagged and begged for years, and the day after my older sister married, I got Caesar, a black poodle. He walked with me through my teenage years, and licked my salty tears as I poured my heart out to him over one boyfriend or another. I’m sure he thought my face was a salt lick. I was a weepy teenager.

After I was married, Caesar stayed with my parents, as we lived in a “no pets” apartment. In the first year of our marriage, he died.

When we moved into a house, I started a daycare, and a dog wasn’t good for business. The gift given to me by Fritzie all those years ago remained. I wanted a dog. Fifteen years, a career change, and the desire resurfaced. My husband wasn’t a dog lover, and money was tight, so for years, I waited. Then I prayed. One day, God sent me Cinnamon.

He is a white and cinnamon coloured peek-a-pom (Pekinese/Pomeranian mix.) His cute little face and curly tail won my heart the first day we met. Over the years, I have been stopped on walks by people who say, “You’re so cute!” I preen and give them a brilliant smile, but they are talking about my dog.

Cinnamon was owned by a doctor’s family with teenaged children. I’ve often wondered what they were thinking when they bought him. Did they not realize that children, like puppies, grow up? When their children went to university, they put Cinnamon outside, hoping he would run away. Confused and frightened, he huddled by the house. Another family took him in, but couldn’t afford to keep him. They fed him table scraps laced with curry, which wrought havoc on his digestive system.   At this time, he entered Diane’s radar. Diane’s hobby was saving pets just like Cinnamon, and placing them in loving homes. Like a marriage made in heaven, this abused three year old dog that nobody wanted came to our home, and into the arms of someone who had waited for him for years. 

It took some time for his bowels to recover, and even longer for his spirit to relax. The day came, though, when he was our dog, and he has remained to this day. As the other members of the family left through death, or marriage or further schooling, Cinnamon was always at the door with a cheerful greeting when I came home. At night, he cuddled with me. We took long walks together, and he, too, licked the tears off my face.

Now, my little buddy is tired, as his heart struggles. We are trying medication to see if we can stabilize him. Maybe there are a few more happy years. Or maybe not.

That’s how it is with small miracles, and all God’s gifts.  The sameness of daily routine makes us forget that there is no sameness. Nothing is forever. Today, I gather my little buddy in my arms, and take him up the stairs that are too difficult for him to climb. I nuzzle his face, and tenderly rub his ears. Today, I am thankful.

Have you been blessed with an animal that has been a small miracle in your life?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Miracle of His Presence

Today, I sat with a man whose life on earth is waning. When I entered the room, he was groaning a little. I don't think he was in pain, but breathing was hard work, and he was tired. I rubbed his arm and spoke to him, but the groaning continued. I kept rubbing his arm, and began to softly pray, asking God to wrap His arms of comfort around him, to help Him feel the love of the Father, and to take away any fears he might have. Like a warm blanket, His presence spread over that room, and the groaning faded. My friend fell asleep. During the hour I was there, he woke a few times, but he never groaned again.

The presence of God.

Over and over in scripture, God assures us of His presence. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." Deut. 31:6 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Heb. 13:5 "No on will be able to stand against you, all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you: I will never leave you nor forsake you." Josh. 1:5. Like a little child who has turned down the bend in the road, and lost sight of our Father, we are constantly needing assurance of the presence of God. Are You still there, Lord? What about in this situation- are You there, now? Our Father lovingly says, "Yes, I'm still here. I will never leave. Never."

When the sun is shining, and the path is straight, we need to practice His presence. Talk to Him. Listen. Read His word. Study and grow. Because in all our lives, the path will twist, and it may be harder to feel His presence. Those are the times when we especially need to hear His whisper, "I'm still here, Right here,"

Today, take a moment to sit quietly. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Welcome God's presence into your day and your life experiences. Ask Him to show you, today, the small miracle of His presence.

How has God revealed His presence to you today?

Friday, 2 March 2012

The small miracle of friends

Today, I took an elderly woman to her room, sat down with her, and told her that her best friend had just died.

It broke my heart.

God made us to be connected. We need each other. Each of us has an area of our heart that longs to be understood, to be heard. There are times when we need to talk, times for laughter and fun, times for tears. Times to sit quietly, holding a hand and saying with every part of my body, "I am here for you."

When my mother died suddenly in a car accident, I phoned my friend. She drove across the city to be with me.I spent most of that evening on the phone with others, but she was there for me when I needed her.

When my daughter was getting married, I catered the reception at my house. It was my friend who helped decorate, hauled her china to my house and stayed to keep the food warm while the rest of us were at City Hall.

When I was lonely after the death of my husband, my friend used knitting as an excuse for us to get together and chat.

A friend is the one who will tell you to drop that guy--he's not good for you. Try a different jacket--that one doesn't suit you. A friend will laugh with you till the tears flow.

My friend keeps me focused when I need to shop, which is a task I hate. My friends cheer my successes and look the other way when I fail. When I want to go for a pedicure, I call a friend. Some things are just better shared.

Friends support each other, worry about each other, laugh with each other. And sometimes, like today, they have to say good-bye.

Do you have a friend you need to tell how special they are to you? Do it today.