Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekends With Dad

I get dressed in the early Sunday morning darkness, the memory of Saturday with dad still sticking in my throat. It was a tough one. Full of dad's confusion and frustration, and of my attempts to explain and console. So, I wake early, with worries on my heart. I chose a white sweater with the word "Peace" in shimmering silver letters. It's my prayer, and a sort of benediction I say over myself, and over my dad as I prepare to spend another hospital morning keeping his company.

In my years of working with the elderly, I've seen it all before. I'm not unfamiliar with the forgetfulness, the insistence that things are different than they appear, the frustration, even the anger that the elderly and confused can exhibit.

But its never been my dad before.

And so, of course it feels different. And even though I know its not personal, it hurts me on a personal level and leaves me feeling vulnerable and sad. This is my dad we're talking about: that strong leader type guy who people looked up to and respected. And now, he appears to be just another old guy in a hospital gown, convinced he can walk home, and that we, his family are standing in his way. Making trouble for him.

When we were kids in Sunday School, why my dad was still strong and served as Deacon, we used to sing a song that went like this:

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life;

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life.

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,

And I shall feast at the table spread for me;

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life."

My sister heard it this way: "Shirley, Goodness, And Mercy shall follow me", and she wondered aloud to our mother- "What sort of dress did Mercy wear?"

It's a good question, even now. When you're feeling sad and vulnerable, how can you recognize mercy if you're not sure what dress to look for? What will she look like?

Time spent with people in their days of fading light can be painful.

Sometimes impossibly boring.



Anxiety provoking.

At times it reduces me to big giant baby status, and I'm clamouring again for validation and approval. Begging for scraps as though I am not already enough.

Sometimes, the people you show up to sit with and love are a bit angry, and because their thinkers are kind of tanked, they're sort of peevish and quite insistent that you're making life difficult for them. Even though you know you just want to ease their pain. And then it all begins to feel a bit intense and a lot impossible, so you find yourself in the corridor with a few tears splashing down.

Weirdly and most unexpected- Mercy shows up wearing second hand sweatpants and a yellow hospital gown. Her eyes meet yours and within them, you see just enough kindness and goodness. She says she understands, she knows it hurts and she gives a big generous hug. She is well disguised as you hadn't quite envisioned Mercy as a home-schooling, unemployed mother of five doing her best with nowhere near enough funds.

But she too has a dad who she loves. Who yells at her for losing his walker, when the truth is she has secured it so that he won't fall, thinking of himself as well and able bodied. She brings all her children to the hospital with her, they wait at the end of the hall while she cuts his meat and spoon feeds him pineapple tidbits and chocolate pudding from a tray. He yells at her, and she tells him that she loves him. That she will keep showing up and sitting with him for eight hours at a time, feeding him meals and keeping him safe because she doesn't want him suffering with a broken hip or a broken leg, or the broken heart of being left alone.

I sit just behind the curtain and let the tears fall. There's no privacy here for family dynamics. I've heard her dad slam his fist and raise his voice in frustration. She has heard my dad insist that its time to go home, ask me if I've milked the cow, call me stubborn.

Sometimes, through the thin curtain, we stifle giggles and sighs, listening in on each other's joys and agonies whether we want to, intend to, or not.

Later in the evening when the daughter has left with her family, more guests arrive for her father. I sit quietly on our side of the tiny room, grateful for the rest that has finally come over my dad's mind and body. It's the man's relatives this time, or maybe the elders from his church. They speak to him in hushed tones and offer to pray for him, asking for strength to return to his bones. He tells them how his daughter makes him suffer and I want to defend her through my curtain, ask them to know her heart as well. The couple ask him- would you like a song? And they sing to him of "Hertzen" and "schmertzen". I can't help but laugh a little, even as I swab my eyes and cheeks- In German, even the words "I love you" sound terrifying in their throaty, spitty, hacking "ICH LIEBE DICH!" Silent no longer, I hear myself say- "What does "schmertzen" mean?"

Pain, the man says, and peeks at me from his side of the partition.

We want to pray for your dad, too, the man says. We will pray for him at home, if you like.


Peace, I say. Please pray for peace.

Goodness and Mercy.

They show up in outfits I really hadn't expected. Dresses that I would have dismissed as inadequate, inferior, dare I say- beneath me. But still they come to me wearing ugly hats and dirty jackets, stringy hair, and bad teeth. Practical shoes, head coverings, tired churchy words.

And I recognize that Mercy's dress is nothing at all what I had expected and that

It is enough.

It is more than enough.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Weird- only 37 days until we get to go somewhere hot, humid, and beautiful. A land flowing with guacamole and cervesa.

Last year when we were counting down, I felt like I was literally dying in the winter of 2014.

It was a terrible winter. Colder than any human should endure. Plus bronchitis, an unending cough, and a house full of the most obnoxious preschoolers I've ever endured.

We were totally stuck indoors- hacking, crying, and throwing endless tantrums.

It was the worst of times.

And soooo the best time ever for Brian to win a free trip. I clung to the thought of flying out of Winnipeg like Kate Winslet clung to her bit of Titanic debris. Dresses and bikinis came out of the closet weeks in advance, and I soothed myself through painful afternoons by reading endless reviews on trip advisor.

And when the countdown was finally over, we boarded that early morning flight to Cancun and embarked on seven of the most glorious days and nights of our lives.

Straight up bliss. Hair thick with salt water. Books by the stack. No cooking, cleaning, scheduling, or alarms. Flowers, green grass, trees and iguanas.

I stretched out and tried to fill every pore in my body with that sun.

In 37 sleeps, we get to do that all over again. It feels different this year- partly I imagine because we have done it before. Last year was the first time ever that Brian and I have done something so gloriously relaxing and inclusive. So, this year I know what to expect. I remember the pools, the hot concrete, the way the humidity beads your water glass. The orange juice and champagne at breakfast, the cats that wander by begging for scraps, the birds that swoop in to help clear the plates. I remember how light the ocean water makes you feel, the crinkle of salt on my skin and hair, the sounds of the birds in the early morning light.

And so when I let myself- I get excited. But this winter has been different- sure, the toddlers have shown more mercy, the worst offenders have replaced their tantrumming ways with words much of the time and the temperatures have been more tolerable. But the big difference is that now my dad lives in the hospital.

So this winter has been spent taking shifts to be with him, and there have been worrying times. Lately though, it seems that a "new normal" has taken shape, and we are cautiously easing into life with dad on new terms. So in ways, I'm not in any hurry for time to pass quickly.

But time will continue to pass. Mexico will approach, with her sun and greenery.

Countdowns of different kinds.


Monday, February 09, 2015

Retreat 2015

Retreat. Re-Treat.

Treats to relish, over and over again: beginning in the days and weeks leading up to retreat day, as I review and rediscover all the goodies in my sewing room and begin to choose what to pack up to share. To reuse.

Retreat has given me justification for purchasing gorgeous old thrifted sewing machines. What an honor! To think of the woman (I'll go ahead and make that assumption) who held this before me, and to wonder at what she created with it. So lovingly cared for Pfaffy, as she is now affectionately known, is a gem, complete with accessory box, original manual, and brilliantly designed carrying case.

And with just a few whiny panic texts to my brother in law (Master of All Things Sewing Machine), I got her all oiled up and massaged away all her tension.

I carefully took old Singer Featherweight from her box and ran my fingers across her beautiful lines, reaquainting ourselves on her intricacies. Whenever she and I spend time together, I can't help but be flooded with gratitude and astonishment, as this piece was a gift. Straight up. Someone trusted me with their grandmother's treasure, and treasure her I do.

My trusty berninas, Singer, Royal Red and Pfaffy all passed inspection.

And I'm fairly certain they received a special blessing from Floey the Praying Cat. A sort of "God speed! Travelling mercies! I'll be here awaiting your return and tales of reuse and retreat!"

Our day at Bonnie's begins with hot strong fairtrade coffee and cinnamon buns so ridiculous that I coughed and lied and ponied up for seconds. Then we meet in the cabin for poetry, contemplative thinking, quiet meditation. Something always gets said that makes me think- "I thought I was the only bear to have thunk such thinky thoughts." Which just gets me thinking the more.

Then its time for workshops, and I can share my loves.

And while we are creating and recreating, smells begin to climb the circular staircase and lure us away from Pfaffy, and Ruby Red, fibers, weaves, lacy bits and crochet flowers.

And that's how we travel through our day, meeting and dispersing, talking and stitching, laughing, crying, talking, reflecting.

Why do I love retreat?

It's a place where raw edges come together. A place for women to meet, tell their truths, listen to one another. A place to challenge the mind and the fingers with new perspectives and new skills. It's a safe place for the homeschool mom, the grandmother, the daughters, the educators, the students, the hippies and the professionals. We hear each other and nod at our commonalities, our mutual desires to live well, to care for the earth and its occupants, to take the edges of someone's pain and match it up against our own raw edge and find something lovely there.

A sort of redemption. As we reuse, rethink, reflect and



Monday, February 02, 2015


A little over two weeks ago I sat at my parents' kitchen island and shared in their breakfast rituals. First mom and dad took turns with the Bible reading and the Daily Bread. Then they dug into their raisin bran and homemade yogurt as only an 88 and 92 year old can. Dad struggling to make the spoon meet his mouth and mom pouring milk from the same rose pitcher we used when I was a child.

Later that day, my brother and I drove our dad to the hospital. He'd had a rough week, and we suspected an infection. He wasn't moving well, he wasn't remembering well, and nobody was sleeping well at all.

Now dad lives in room One-Ten.

On Sunday mornings I take the foil off his plastic carton of milk.

And together, we read the Daily Bread.