Category Archives: friendship

A Place For Me

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Faith formation, hospitality and being included

Last weekend I was blessed to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Through a series of music and church connections, I “wrangled” an invitation to sing in the Diocesan choir for the Dedication Mass of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Ground was broken for this space 3 years ago, the Cathedral for the Diocese of Knoxville, a diocese which was established in May, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

I am not Roman Catholic, but I think I understand the momentous nature of an occasion like this, which makes me doubly grateful for the privilege of participating.  Glenn, the director of the music, not only allowed me to sing, but welcomed me.  His welcome took me back to my childhood when I was so often welcomed by other people of the Catholic faith.

About halfway down Ford Street lived Beth Sedgwick and her daughter, Mary Lim.  These sweet ladies were devout Catholics, wonderful neighbors who welcomed me in to visit whenever I popped by after school, or earlier in the day if it was summertime, always unannounced.  Usually with a dog in tow, I’d knock on their massive front door, and Mary Lim, long ago paralyzed in a car crash, would usually roll to the door in her wheelchair and let us in, laughing as the dog jumped up to give her kisses.  I began visiting them with my brother Reed at first, then later on after he got busy and I got a little bigger, I would go and visit them on my own…except when a dog accompanied me, of course.

They would usually be sitting at their dining room table, with the newspaper, needlework, decks of cards and crossword puzzles, and there was always a place open for me.  These women taught me about praying the rosary when I asked what “those pretty beads” were, although I have long since forgotten how to do it.  There was lovely religious artwork throughout their home, and anytime I asked about a picture or a crucifix, they patiently explained its meaning to me, knowing that I and my parents were Christian, but not Roman Catholic, and there were elements in their artwork that I didn’t understand.  Mostly, though, they taught me about their faith—-and about my own—- simply by welcoming me in.

Flash forward nearly 4 decades, after our little neighborhood was replaced by the South Knoxville bridge, the Sedgwicks had long since passed away and much life had happened for the rest of us.  I found myself surrounded by the glorious space of this new Cathedral, many unfamiliar faces, and a small group of friends from both Knoxville Choral Society and Ebenezer United Methodist Church who helped make it possible for me to witness this dedication and participate in it.  Enveloped by music, warmth and the fragrance of incense, I felt Mrs. Sedgwick and Mary Lim with me, swelling with the solemn joy they would have felt to see this new space dedicated and the Diocese united in both humility and celebration.

I am not Roman Catholic…but because I sing, there was, once again, a place for me.

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Lines

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Keeping them open…

I am not a seasoned traveler by any means.  But the week after Christmas I traveled, on a plane, by myself, to visit with my friend, chosen family and #firsteverworkhusband Martin.  My local airport is not enormous and checking my big bag and passing through security went smoothly enough, as the lines were fairly short and moved quickly.  Then I went on to my gate and eventually to board the plane, where I waited in another line.  I have a sweet and understanding husband who graciously allowed me to take this trip, and escorted me as far as he could before kissing me goodbye and probably experiencing some stress about me proceeding on my own.

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Airports are poignant places as I look around at the other travelers.  I wonder what their stories are, who or what they are traveling to see, if their trips are carefree vacations, happy reunions or sad goodbyes.  It’s the storyteller in me, I suppose, that craves to know these details, the storylines of the people around me.

After a quick and smooth flight I landed at my destination, a much larger airport than the one I had left behind less than two hours before.  Text messages from Martin told me that he was waiting to meet me at baggage claim.  After almost 5 months since seeing each other in person, his warm smile greeting me made all the angst and craziness melt away, as it always does when we see each other.  Hugs exchanged and my suitcase retrieved, we got into his car and merged into the lines of traffic headed back to his apartment.

We laughed and talked nonstop the entire time I was there, never once encountering an awkward pause or running out of things to say.  Friendships like this are priceless indeed, the connection of soulful, goofball kindred spirits who understand each other well.  Conversations started forever ago and new ones begun, like lines in an ongoing play or novel.

Part of our time was spent at the clinic where Martin undergoes hemodialysis three days per week.  As an ESRD (end stage renal disease) patient, he must dialyze regularly in order to survive until he can receive a kidney transplant.  As much illness as I have seen among my family and friends, I have had little experience with kidney failure or dialysis until now, and Martin kindly arranged with his clinic for me to be able to sit with him during his treatments.  Usually visitors are discouraged but since our visit allowed us limited time together, I was permitted to be there.

Because of possible blood contamination, biohazard and liability concerns, I was not present when he was connected to, or disconnected from, the dialysis machine, and I  was required to gown up while I sat with him.  I joked about how flattering my “prom dress” was, which got laughs.  I was able to observe him and the other patients, his clinic family, as they sat through treatment.  On Friday, the man in the chair next to us had an episode of chest pain resulting in a bit of quick, efficient scrambling by the team in order to stabilize him and get him feeling better.  Sunday’s treatment brought Martin the news that one of his fellow travelers on the dialysis path had passed away, the first time he has lost a member of his clinic family, a woman only a few years his senior.  The ride from the clinic was a little quieter, and a little bit somber as we both tried to wrap our heads around the news.  Had he learned of her death in time he would have attended her memorial service, but it had already taken place.

For several hours after treatment, the possibility of bleeding is a concern so he has to stay bandaged up.

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Among the other painful aspects of treatment, pulling the tape off a hairy arm sometimes smarts!  After he removed the tape and gauze, he let me photograph his arm…it bears the marks of several years’ worth of puncture wounds and the scar from where his fistula was created.  His access is apparently a bit tricky; the arterial line is near the surface and not usually a problem for the technician to find, but the venous line goes deeper and has a turn, so it sometimes makes for a difficult “stick”.

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Once connected, he rests (or attempts to rest)  in a reclining chair for approximately 4 hours, during which every drop of blood is removed, scrubbed free of toxins and then the clean blood fed back into the body.  It’s really remarkable technology…but it is a punishing process.  Martin’s minimum removed fluid since we have reconnected has been 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) and he has had as much as 5 kilos taken off, which is 11 pounds and change.  In four hours.

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I sat silent for a few moments and frown lines must have shadowed my face, because Martin said, “Don’t look at my access with sadness; it is my lifeline until I can get a kidney transplant.”  Still, I remember him telling me about times when his access has been blown out when one of the needles infiltrated, leaving its assigned spot and forcing treatment to be halted…bruising, swelling and pain in the arm, and the itching that sometimes aggravates him after treatment.

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Storylines…waiting in lines…lifelines…my holiday got me thinking about the lines of our lives in a whole new way.  Five days of nonstop talking with Martin reminded me that the most important lines are those of communication between us and our loved ones.  Life is short.  Talk to the people you care about.  Keep the lines open and clear.

 

Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Decision Points

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That moment when…

Recently my friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin and I were discussing our respective artistic disciplines, mine music and his acting/directing.  In the course of that conversation he began talking about how Hamlet has a couple of moments in the play when his course of action is set, or “decision points”.  I’ve been ruminating about this concept off and on since the initial conversation, and recently I messaged him again to elaborate on the idea from the actor/director perspective.

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I LOVE that!  “The get off your a$$” moment.  We went on to discuss how art imitates life and how sometimes the decision point is actually the result of a lengthy process of evolution.  As I am prone to do, I applied this to life in general, my life in particular.

In another conversation recently, I remarked that I feel like, in some ways, I’ve spent the last year or so in The Twilight Zone.  There has been, in my internal world, change, stress, upheaval, as well as love and great joy.  I have had decision points—moments of clarity that came after a process of evolution, in my feelings, thoughts and expectations.

Reaching that “get off your a$$ moment” can be painful.  But eventually, the decision has to be made.  Anything can prompt “that moment when…”

You get the answer to an important question…

or that question goes without a response.

After feeling ill for months, you finally get a diagnosis.

You realize a person, relationship, habit, job, whatEVER, is unhealthy for you and a change has to happen.

Or you discover love in the most unexpected of places.

The Decision Point is the result of a process.  However long the process takes, the moment of decision is just that—a MOMENT.  One that can alter the trajectory of the rest of your life.

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