Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dementia: Moments of Grace

For those in my age category of slightly over 60, losing your parents is something you’re probably familiar with. My family just passed our second Christmas without my folks.

Shortly after my mom died of cancer last year just before the holidays, my father, a frail but otherwise healthy eighty-five year old, simply came undone. He couldn’t tie his shoes. He didn’t remember if he’d eaten lunch that day or not. He’d spend long moments in silent conversation with his brother who had died years prior.

It was my siblings’ and my job to find whatever version of reality in which he currently existed and join him there. Phone calls and visits would often end in tears (ours) and placid detachment (his).

There were moments of tiny miracles, periods of grace, a lifting of the fog:

“Hello, Dad? It’s Jody.”

“Oh? Well, how are you?”

I pause, not falling for the new trick. Anyone else might be suckered into continuing the conversation. He used to compensate for his hearing loss by nodding and smiling. People actually thought he had heard and agreed with them.

“Dad, do know who this is?”

“Uh, I believe you said…”

“It’s your eldest, Jody, your daughter, in California,” I reel off the qualifiers that might jog what’s left of his precarious memory. Swiss cheese, his doctor explained. Some things fall right on through; some things stick. I’ve fallen through this time. My heart hurts though I’ve learned not to take it personally.

“My daughter?” the holes reduce to colander size.

“Yep. Jody.”

“Oh, well Jody, how are you sweetie? What are you up to today?”

There he is; there’s my Dad. I breathe fully for the first time in minutes. Tears puddle behind my eyes. If I were there, we’d both be crying now, he in frustration with the fathomless fog that separates him from his family, and me in the sweet agony of capturing fleeting moments of my father.

We talk a while about family, work, those things of the moment. Then I refer back to the past where the fluidity of his mind is more able to find a rock on which to anchor. I remind him of a time when I was eight years old and I won a game chest for writing the best essay in the ‘My Pops Is Tops’ category of a contest sponsored by a local magazine. My Dad has always been my hero. I remind him of this and hear his soft chuckle.

“If there’s a bright side to all this,” he said as we were winding up the conversation, “it’s that I get to discover over and over again that I have a daughter who loves me.” A tear slid down my cheek. “It’s like unwrapping the best Christmas present, without having to wait until—when is it that we have Christmas?”

“December, Dad,” I smile.

“I knew that. I was just testing you. Love you, honey. Call again soon. Ten, fifteen minutes should do,” he chuckled.

“Love you, Dad. Bye.”

This memory is in honor of my Dad who died just short of his 86th birthday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On Mirrors and Metaphors

In a recent Sunday talk at the Center for Spiritual Living where I recharge my spiritual battery every week, Rev. Edward Viljoen retold a story from Robert Fulghum that used the metaphor of the mirror to explore life’s purpose. Ever watchful for stories that will fit under my umbrella of creativity, my eye is always snagged by a good metaphor. I couldn’t find a little round hand mirror, so the picture above is the mirrored coat tree in my living room. You get the idea—it reflects light into dark places. May your light shine.

A Greek philosopher and teacher ended a lecture asking, “Are there any questions? In the audience was Robert Fulghum who asked, “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”

Fulghum relates: “The usual laughter followed, and people started to go. Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious and seeing from my eyes that I was. ‘I will answer your question,’ he said. Then taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into it and brought out a very small, round mirror, about the size of a quarter. Then he said, ‘When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and e lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found several broken pieces of a mirror from a wrecked German motorcycle. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would not shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept this little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.’

‘I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the black places in the hearts of men – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.’ “And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my hands folded on the desk.” Robert Fulghum’s Official Website

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Tin Man

My sister Sus, who lives in Connecticut, meets the most remarkable people. In childhood, as her older sister, I taught her to share; so I benefit from her being out there in the world. Let me introduce you to Charlie Lucas, otherwise known as the Tin Man.

Charlie is known in the Outsider Art world. He takes little bits of not very much that he finds here and there and creates amazing works of art that reflect his heritage and his unique perspective on life. He’s a soft-spoken southern sweetheart with an unassuming manner that belies his brilliance. Please take a moment to check out his website (don’t forget the video tours). It will make you smile.

If you like the website, sister Sus designed it. She can be reached at

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Garlic Press and a Book of Stamps

Who knew that a phone conversation with my daughter regarding Christmas plans would result in a moment of clarity about the importance of the little things in life? It goes like this:

“So, Mom, is there anything special I can get you for Christmas this year?” Her voice has that here we go again edge to it.

“You know, I’d love a garlic press and a book of stamps,” I answer, without a moment’s hesitation.

“Oh, Mother! A garlic press isn’t something you ask for for Christmas. And stamps you buy every week.”

“But, honey, I want a garlic press. I want that more than anything!” I try in vain. “And I’m tired of having to buy stamps every week--that would be a great gift!”

She sighs. “Look,” she says as reasonably as her frustration allows, “suppose, just hypothetically, I could buy you a house. Would you still want a garlic press more than anything?”

“What kind of a house?” I ask. “I wouldn’t want just any old house, just any old where,” I add.

“You’re kidding, right? You could sell it if you didn’t like it.”

“Why would I want it if I was just going to sell it? That’s too much trouble.” I hear a low groan on the other end of the phone.

“Forget the house. What if I could buy you a car? Would you want a garlic press more than a car?” she continues to try and make her point.

“What kind of a car?” I ask.

“Mom! It doesn’t matter what kind of a car—a car is a car is a car.”

“There are some cars I wouldn’t drive—too big, you know?”

The conversation continues with my daughter’s voice becoming more strained by the minute.

“Honey, just send a card. Really, a card would be lovely.”

On Christmas morning, I retrieve a small package from under the tree with a tag on it that reads, ‘To Mom with love. Merry Christmas’. It rattles in its box. There is hope. I unwrap it slowly and savor the possibility.

I find a lovely box of assorted incense, and a beautifully wrapped bar of imported lavender soap, my favorite.

I call my daughter and thank her profusely for the wonderful Christmas gifts. She knows I have a penchant for incense and soap.

Then, I open my Day Planner and make a note on Saturday’s page. Errands: post office/stamps; grocery/garlic press.