Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Remembering Mom

My beloved mother passed away two weeks ago.

I wrote an essay once about my mom with the alarmist title “I’m Turning into My Mother,” and it chronicled some silly and scary things that I got from her.  But the truth is more complex, because I also got a lot of really fine qualities from this woman.

I got an instinct to rescue abandoned baby birds and dogs wandering on the side of the road, to listen to young people who were having trouble with their parents or other parts of their lives, to offer shelter to friends and strangers.

I got a strong sense of social justice, too: my mom always stood up for what was right.  She was one of the champions right here in Rockville of a project to bring access to the town’s center to residents of a predominantly black neighborhood on the “wrong side of the tracks.”

I got a pretty good sense of humor—we were neither of us ones for telling jokes but we did enjoy them, and we both tried to appreciate the ones life played on us.  When something set us off no one could reduce me to tears of laughter the way Mom could.

I got an excellent grounding in how to be a good friend by watching my mom be one as I grew up.  And I’m a better mother for having been parented by her. Mom always strove to do the best for her children, even as we became older adults, and she loved Jeff and me ferociously.

I got an artistic sensibility though not as much as Mom had. We were all surprised and thrilled when while doing her Associate’s degree at Montgomery College she turned out to be a talented painter.  And she had her hand in all kinds of handiwork and other artistic endeavors with her church crafter’s group.

I got a penchant for sociability and sharing other people’s stories from Mom, too.  Turns out she was quite the writer, as she proved in the writing group she attended here at the church. And her sociability was evidenced in things like her zipping around her beloved Fresh Market on her scooter (a gift from her cousin Annetta) talking to all the department managers about their respective days.

I got a sense of civic responsibility from her from the time I was in elementary school stuffing envelopes for political campaigns and hanging out the back of our station wagon stumping for candidates.  Mom ran many political campaigns back in Holliston, Massachusetts where Jeff and I grew up, and was highly respected in political circles there. 

I got a lot of strength and resilience from Mom, who weathered many a storm.

These are just a few things I got from my mother.  I also got imperfections and foibles, and a tendency to anxiety I could do without. But in balance I wouldn’t have wanted to be anyone else’s daughter other than Suzanne Marie Kullgren’s.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them” 

                                                               (Charles West)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Coming Out as a Caregiver

Sorry my blogging has been less than prolific in recent months.  Since my mother’s second stroke late last October, my responsibilities as dutiful daughter have increased manifold and my creative juices have not flowed. 

After her second stroke last autumn, Mom had a hellish stay in rehab punctuated by daily calls to me begging me to intervene to get the aides and nurses to respond to her often-urgent needs.  She emerged from that stint in rehab more traumatized than when she went in.  The benefits of the speech and physical and occupational therapy she was receiving were diminished by how rattled she was multiple times a day fighting for attention and her dignity while trying to meet needs as simple as going to the bathroom. 

She also emerged a changed woman, still competent but sometimes struggling to find the words to express herself and sometimes confused in that effort and in absorbing information.  She had two falls this spring, one on the scooter that is her lifeline as she no longer can walk.  Mom has been to the emergency room more than four times in the past six months for various problems—once for a third small stroke.  It seemed like every week I could count on a call from her alarm monitoring service telling me they’d dispatched paramedics.

Twice in the ER they found she had urinary tract infections.  I found out that in the elderly, UTIs can cause confusion or a delirium-like state (that can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s or dementia) and agitation and that certainly was the case with my mom.  This has confused efforts to understand what her current baseline state of mind is, though she’s definitely improved since her last infection.

I used to call my mom once every two days, then every day, but now because of her heightened agitation she calls me sometimes several times a day and I have to talk her down from whatever whammy life has thrown at her: like the transit van not returning her keys when she came home from the hospital last time and then apparently losing them, like having to deal with a repair phone call to and visit from Comcast, like her shower aide not being able to come, like a doctor trying to explain to her how he is going to change her medication. Between this and the midnight calls from the alarm monitoring service it’s gotten so I go into fight or flight mode every time the phone rings, my stomach clenching and the adrenaline pumping.

One nice thing that’s come out of this is increased communications between my brother, who lives in New England, and I.  He has really stepped up this year, taking over some of my mom’s doctor’s communications and calling my mom every day. He’s making spreadsheets like crazy to try and get a handle on her care. 

For now, Mom is able to live independently.  She can still manage her medications, attend to her personal needs, prepare meals for herself and so on.  She still scoots over to the shopping plaza near her to get her hair cut or to go to her favorite market.  She still goes downstairs in her building to chat with neighbors.  I admire her courage and her spirit.  And I pray for my own as I help her navigate this journey through aging through which I will follow in the coming decades.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“We are each of us angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing each other.”       

                                                                                              Lucian de Crescenzo 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

                                                            ( Howard Thurman, theologian)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.  I would like to see you living in better conditions.”  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Spiritual Practices for Dealing with Trump

I belong to a spiritual friends group, and at our last meeting one of our members posed the question, “How do we develop spiritual practices to deal with all the hate coming from the Trump administration?”

One thing is that while it’s important to stay informed and be part of forums for discussion on current events, it’s also important not to drown in the barrage of bad news, so put some realistic limits on your exposure.  I know I’ve had to take myself off social media some days as I sank into despair in the constant news of yet another outrage from our new administration and righteous anger from my Facebook friends.

Our group talked about how meditation worked for some people as a coping practice, but not all of us.  For some, meditative practices take the form of yoga or playing the piano, for example, or spiritual reading.

We agreed that as part of our spiritual practice we needed to somehow push back, to feel we were making a difference. Sometimes this will mean taking to the streets again in protest, as some of our members did for the recent Women’s March.  But small but insistent incursions on our communities’ woes, like volunteering for a good cause, while not solving all the country’s problems, do carve out a sphere of good in a sea of bad.

Another way to push back is by donating to a cause that benefits one targeted by Trump, like the Human Rights Campaign for LGBT advocacy and Planned Parenthood for women’s rights. Even a small donation can make a difference when it’s multiplied by many people.

Perhaps most important of all is the purest way to deal with hate, and that is with love.  All of us in the group knew intellectually that this was right, but in all our imperfect, Buddhist-learning good intentionedness would find it challenging to put into practice.  So we will put our love out there maybe not for the source of the hate, but for those under fire from it.

The trick is to be able to cultivate hope in the midst of an environment that can so easily create hopelessness, not only for those directly affected by new executive orders, for example, but also for all of us who worry for the present and future of our country and our world.  Me, remembering the admonition that there are no atheists in foxholes, I’ve added prayer to my arsenal of spiritual practices.