Faith in Those Little Things

Whispers in the silent night
Tender touches by starlight

Words unsaid in angry voice
Actions fulfilled by free choice

Love’s strong arms held open wide
Know that God walks stride by stride

Watches like a parent proud
Mistakes expected: allowed

Understanding, patient, kind
Always there for us to find

Calls our names in winters wild
In spring, He gifts breezes mild

Summer’s heat sends us outside
God’s gifts in flowers abide

Rains remind of deep pain felt
Tragic death, deftly dealt

All these things, of faith speak
Comfort to all those who seek

God’s good grace, offered free
Sin’s release, for you and me

Faith defined in little things
Given by the King of kings

A True Friend

A true friend is a gift from God.
No more, no less.

Ears, eyes, heart
finely tuned
to every thought

A friend seeks balance,
craving only that which
is offered
and not one drop more

Giving, sharing
even the smallest things.
A warm hug,

A friend knows when
to step up
and when to step down.
Never pushing
or demanding

Reaching fingers
with open palm.
Electric energy
across the gap,
two strangers
into one compact unit.

A friend asks for nothing,
but is grateful
when something
drips into the heart,
warming the soul’s

Prayers offered
and heard.
Thanks given
for the smallest
of gestures

A friend is all
and more.

A Miserable Life

Marissa always thought something was terribly wrong with her. At least going back as far as she could remember. She was not a happy child and wasn’t childhood supposed to be the best time in one’s life? She can’t remember laughing much. Sometimes there’d be a moment when she’d smile, but most of the time she was miserable. A sulking, sad little girl.

When she began going to school, she hated it. Kindergarten was an awful place. Every day she was told to do things that she didn’t know how to do. Like identify colors and shapes. Hold a pencil. Write her name. And playtime was lonely-time. She liked the sandbox the best, where she could move the sand around to make roads and drive toy cars over the lumps and bumps. Once a week ladies would bring in things that kids could buy, but Marissa never had any money. So she never owned any of the pretty, shiny ribbons. Never got a pretzel. Never got her school pictures. When all her classmates ran up to buy things, Marissa cried.

Elementary school wasn’t much better. Lonely on the playground, lost in the class. She couldn’t read as well as the others. Couldn’t do the math or write the answers that the teacher expected. Where she really failed was in Art, and then when she got older, in French. And still, no friends. But who would want to spend time with a gloomy girl? No one.

At home, she never felt like she belonged. Marissa often dreamt that she was adopted. That someone had made a terrible mistake and dumped her off in the streets somewhere and then she ended up in this family. That someday the mistake would be discovered and she would be returned to her rightful family. And she would smile.

It was confusing living with these people, especially once she became a teenager. She was expected to get perfect grades on every assignment, in every class. But she wasn’t given time to study. She had to clean house, from top to bottom, every day. Do laundry. Polish the leaves of the plants. And learn how to cook. But she had no interest in cooking. What Marissa loved was reading books. Books about horses and faraway places and happy people in happy families.

When she read, she was calm. And nurtured. Something about the feel of the book, the texture of the pages, the comfort of the words, carried her away and into worlds that were kind and gentle and patient and interesting.

She dreamed of escape. She thought about running away, but was too frightened of the unknown. Of where she would sleep and bathe and get food, and so she stayed put. It was in high school that Marissa discovered a way to leave. College. She go to a college somewhere, far enough away that she no longer had to stay in that house. And so she studied harder than she ever had before. Even when her counselor told her that she would never succeed in college, that she wasn’t smart enough to pass classes. Marissa just worked harder than ever, often staying up until late at night, going over and over the lessons. It wasn’t easy, but she understood that her ways out of the house were limited.

It would be comforting to think that Marissa had happy birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases. That there were vacations and laughter and good times. Maybe there were some moments here and there when things weren’t so bad. Maybe a time when she could relax her guard and just be. But when?

Most kids grow up thinking of the gifts they would receive. The parties when friends would come over. The sleepovers and trips and places to be seen. They imagine Santa and the reindeer. Put out cookies before they go to bed. Wake up in the morning to find gifts under the tree. Marissa had some of that.

When she was in middle school she met her first friend, a pretty girl in her class. For some reason, they bonded. The girl saw through Marissa’s unhappiness and so invited her to spend the night. Marissa was used to tense dinners in her own house, when no one spoke for fear of getting lectured. In her friend’s house, dinner was a time of laughter and talking about the day. In Marissa’s house there was no watching of the television, but in this house the family sat around the set and enjoyed one show after another. This family played board games. This family had desert. This family gave each other hugs when it was bedtime. Marissa wanted to stay there forever, she was so happy.

There were vacations, always to one relative’s house or another. Even when there were children living there, though, Marissa was not allowed to play. She was told to sit on the couch and not move. Not even to go to the bathroom without asking permission first. It was hard to watch her cousins running around and having fun. To hear them laughing and teasing and playing. She wanted to live with them. But no, it was not to be. She always had to get in the car for the silent ride home. If she was lucky. If not, then there was yelling and screaming and hateful words.

When Marissa was accepted to a college far away from home, she rejoiced. Here was her escape. Her chance to find friends and happiness. She lived in the dormitory. Her first roommate was a spoiled rich girl. Not a very nice person. She made fun of Marissa’s homemade clothes and old-fashioned hairdo. She smoked and left her ashes on Marissa’s bed. So Marissa found things to do away from her room. She met people in the cafeteria. Nice people. Kind people. People who made her feel happy and loved. Things began looking up.

But not everything worked out as in Hollywood. There were assignments that she had to redo. Parties that involved too much alcohol. Marijuana. Hands all over her body that would not stop even when she begged. Men who offered marriage and taking her away to foreign lands where women had no rights. One disaster after another.

And so Marissa understood that there was something wrong with her. Something that could not be fixed. She was broken.

She had some choices. Continue to be miserable or seek happiness in those things that she did well. Marissa had plenty of experience being miserable, so that meant that happiness would be her choice. And so she worked at it. She smiled at strangers. She laughed when others did, even when she didn’t get the joke. She stood straighter. She got a job. She raised her voice to a normal speaking level. She changed everything about her that could be changed. And life improved. In many ways.

Some Things I’ve Recently Learned Through Experience

You cannot take anything for granted. That’s not an original thought, yes, I know. Yet how often do we assume that things will go smoothly and then get frustrated when they do not.

So what do we need to do to try to minimize any disputes that might arise?

In terms of what happens to your “stuff” after you die, you must prepare. You cannot assume that paperwork will be found, or that everything is in order, or that all the beneficiaries have that same understanding of what is supposed to happen. Do not believe that documents are on file in the county courthouse for anyone to find. Do not trust that your estate lawyer has filed and recorded all important deeds unless you have copies that prove that this has been done.

You’ve got to get your files in order now, while you still have the mental capacity to do so.

So here is my list of advice:

1. Make sure that all beneficiaries have copies of your will/trust. We will be doing this over the next two months, giving copies to each of our children the next time we see them.

2. Make sure that all beneficiaries know where you keep important documents such as the title to the house, income tax forms, passwords, accounts, titles to cars and any other piece of property that will need to be dealt with after your death. This includes retirement income, stocks and bonds, military benefits, Social Secutiry.

3. Make sure that the executor knows what your wishes are in terms of disposition of property. In our case, we have not yet made this clear, but will be doing so. Even if you think no one will want your “stuff”, provide for it in your will/trust. But do not sweat the small stuff, such as lamps, electronics and furniture that will be old by that time, as well as decorations, knickknacks and other goodies that you have sitting in cabinets, on shelves and hidden in bedrooms. and so on.

4. Make sure that documents are readily available for any contracts that you have ongoing, such as cable, Internet, phone, so that they can be cancelled at your death.

5. Make sure that beneficiaries understand how “stuff” will be distributed after your death. For example, will they sell everything of value, such as the house and cars and equally divide the proceeds? Makes sense. But what about all the rest of the things in your house? No one will want our clothes, so It can be donated wherever. But what if two people want the china and silver? Who gets first pick? We did stipulate this in our will, but recently discovered that our will is about 15 years old. It needs to be rewritten as it is no longer valid.

6. Make sure that your medical directives are on file with your insurer, in our case Kaiser, and tape a “cheat sheet” to a wall in the house so that medical personnel arriving in an emergency can find it and follow your wishes. For example, I do not want a tracheotomy that will permanently take away my voice and my ability to eat and drink. I do not want to be attached to a ventilator for any extended period of time. But where is this information in my home? Right now, nowhere.

7. Understand that no matter how clear you think things are, that there will be misunderstandings, confusion, and even possible bickering after your death. No one will want my Red Hat Society hats, right? But what about my Yosemite hat, jacket and sweatshirt? What about my husband’s A’s jacket and his Boy Scout memorabilia? Sounds like junk to me, but it might become a point of contention. So it might be good to ask beneficiaries to read over your documents and see if anything needs to be clarified now, before you die and things get nasty.

8. Begin the conversation about your wishes/hopes when you can no longer live safely in your home. This is a tough one. I do not want to be a burden to my children, so what happens if one of them invites me to move in? Especially if I am suffering from dementia and will be an emotional and physical burden? I would say no, if I had the ability to do so. Put me in a home, preferably away from the SF Bay Area where things are too expensive, and let me live out the rest of my days there. We have yet to have this discussion with our children, but as we are both getting older, we need to do it soon.

I hope this has been helpful to you and saves your beneficiaries heartache and despair.

A Dream of Peace

I dreamt that I traversed the sands of time
to a place mysterious and sublime.
Where gigantic trees with branches stout,
safely nestled all feathered friends about,

providing shelter from many foe,
yet allowing freedom to come and go.
Silky soft leaves whose gentle caress
becalms restless souls, soothes with fine finesse

young and old alike; no bias here
where all live in peace for many a year.
Through the sands a winding river ran
giving sustenance to both beast and man.

Surprisingly blue with not a trace
of sinister longings upon its face.
It speaks of a sweet love; it calls to me,
“Step right in,” it says, “ and I’ll set you free

from all that ails; as well sin and pain.
You have nothing to lose, but much to gain.”
With tremulous step I slowly crept
into her warm, comforting arms. I slept.

Or thought I did, for there soon appeared
hosts of angels. I panicked, a feared
of my demise. But to my surprise
they lifted me on high with joyous cries.

The night did end. My dream soon left.
The suffering world found me quite bereft
and yearning for that heavenly place
whose welcoming arms did me quick embrace.

One thing alone I brought home with me:
knowledge that all men could soar high and free
seeking truth, wisdom, righteousness, and grace.
making earth a truly heavenly place.

A Tale of the Heart

“What else can I tell you?” Sharon asked her mother. Her mother who stared at the ceiling without blinking, it seemed. Without showing any emotion. Tucked into a hospital bed, tubes snaking everywhere. But nobody home.

Sharon checked the numbers monitoring her mother’s blood pressure, heartbeat, and oxygen level. It was an exercise in futility, she knew, but what else could she do? She couldn’t shake her mother back into consciousness. There was no amount of coaxing or pleading that would work miracles that medicine could not.

“Did I mention that Pete planted the corn and tomatoes this week? Or that Steve might come for a visit in July?” Sharon gently patted her mother’s hand. She stroked her withered fingers, hoping there would be some kind of reaction. There was not.

Her mother was losing her battle. Slowly. Steadily. Most recently her mother had lost the ability to swallow, so no food or water for her. She couldn’t breathe on her own, either. The doctors said there was no hope for recovery, that her m other was too far gone to come back. But her dad had refused to let her mother go gracefully, and so the medical staff complied by keeping the ventilator, monitors, and feeding tubes in place. It was a sad way to go.

Sharon stepped out into the hallway, just in time to see her mother’s doctor arrive at the central desk. She quietly moved to his side, and asked, “Dr. Nguyen, is there any change?”

“No, Mrs. Chalmers, there is not.”

“Have you spoken to my father recently?”

“Yesterday. Still no change in his feelings, however,” Dr. Nguyen replied as he replaced the chart on the rack. “Let’s see how your mother is doing today.” He held the chart loosely in his hands as he took the steps to her mother’s room.

Sharon hesitantly followed, not wanting to witness the daily poking and prodding performed on her helpless mother, yet at the same time feeling a need to be there to witness any reaction that might signal some small degree of improvement.

“Hello, Mrs. Holmes,” Dr. Nguyen cheerfully said as he touched Sharon’s mother on the forehead. “How are you feeling today?” Getting no response, Dr. Nguyen began his examination anyway. Sharon stepped out into the hall to give her mother some privacy and sat in a chair just outside the door.

Over the past few months, Sharon had spent many hours of each day sitting and waiting with her father while one of many different specialists tried to bring her mother back to life. Over and over, she tried to discuss the effects of dementia with her father, explaining how the illness takes the mind first, then slowly the functioning of the body. He didn’t want to hear the truth, always believing that there was a pill or procedure that would revitalize the woman he loved.

While Sharon respected his eternal optimism, she didn’t share his feelings. There was no way to reconnect the pieces of the brain that were gone, no way to restore the bodily functions damaged. Optimism has its place, but only where there is hope. There was none here.

Sharon wanted her mother to die in peace. To live the rest of her days with some degree of dignity. Her father wanted full recovery and so they were at odds. This was not an unexpected state. She had grown up feeling like a pawn in her parent’s never ending war.

Her father was a strict taskmaster who saw in Sharon someone whose only goal should be the running of house and family. Her mother saw her as a house maid, someone to take care of laundry and cleaning. Someone who should learn how to cook for a husband.

This made for a difficult situation, as Susan dreamed of escape. Of college and job and independence.

As a young girl, Sharon feared her parent’s wrath, her father with his explosive, irrational temper and her mother with a jealous streak that she deployed whenever she wanted to control loyalties. Things only worsened as both of them aged, for they become more and more demanding of Sharon’s time. To the point that her parents believed that Friday nights were to be spent with them, in their home. No options allowed.

Sharon quietly rebelled. Calls were infrequent and visits occurred only when Sharon felt she couldn’t get out of it.

But when her mother fell ill, her father called on her more and more as an equal. He needed Sharon’s calmness that he had never before respected. Someone to help him pass through the difficult days of watching his wife disappear. Someone to share the burden of sitting by the bedside, talking and holding hands as if there was someone still actively alive in there, and that Sharon could do.

When Dr. Nguyen left the room, shaking his head to indicate no change, Sharon settled into the chair next to her mother’s bed. The ventilator continued its rhythmic hiss, forcing air into her mother’s lungs. Her mother’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell, never changing in rhythm.

While Sharon did not come every day, she came as often as she could. She read books aloud or articles from the newspaper. She talked about her son and daughter-in-law, what they were doing and places they had gone. It was tiring, always trying to think of something new to say, knowing that there would never be a response.

There were questions that plagued Sharon, that had plagued her for many years. Like why her mother never loved her, why she never had a kind word to say, why there was never a hug or a kiss on the cheek. She wanted to know why her mother never whispered a word of thanks for all the gifts, and lunches, and time spent together over the years. Why nothing Sharon did pleased her mother. All the things Sharon never had the strength to ask when there was still a mother to ask.

Later this afternoon the respiratory therapist was going to remove the ventilator to see if her mother could resume breathing on her own. It had been tried twice before, and failed both times. Sharon’s father had agreed to one more attempt, and then he claimed that he would allow her mother to pass away in peace.

That’s why Sharon was here this day. That this was to be her mother’s last day on earth. Sharon’s feelings rocketed from one extreme to another. Guilt for hoping that the end would come. Relief for being freed from the chore of sitting by the bedside. Worry about how her father will react. Sadness at the loss of the mother she wanted but never had. Knowing that there were only hours left, and that the relationship could never be repaired, tears flowed down her cheeks.

“Well, Mother,” Sharon whispered, “I guess this is it. This is the last chance we have to be together,” she said. “I guess you could say that we loved each other, in our own way. Even if it wasn’t enough for me, it seemed to have been enough for you.”

Sharon pushed her large body out of the chair to look out the window. Behind her the whoosh of the ventilator continued its easy rhythm and the clicking of the monitors never skipped a beat. She watched a young family of four walk toward the hospital doors, hand in hand, followed by an elderly couple shuffling at snail’s pace pushing an oxygen tank between them. A gust of wind blew some loose papers out of the gutter and across the parking lot, lodging under the tires of a small blue car. Wispy clouds dotted the sky, and off in the distance, a lone hawk circled around and around as if searching for a lost loved one.

Her reverie was broken by a series of loud alarms erupting behind her. When she turned, she saw that the monitors showed straight red lines. She watched dispassionately as the medical team rushed in and attempted to resuscitate her mother by adjusting this machine and that and even using the defibrillation paddles to restart her mother’s heart.

Nothing worked. The dementia had taken its final steps, shutting down one more organ, the most vital for life. Her mother’s heart. The one thing Sharon had yearned to touch was gone forever. She walked out of the room, out of the hospital, out into the brisk afternoon, and watched the hawk circle alone.