Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Walk in the Snow

One day last week, it started snowing when I was at home, and I took a walk in it.

Big fluffy flakes filled up the neighborhood. All I could hear was my own feet crunching steps on the fallen snow, the occasional scrape of shovel on driveway, and in the distance the faint hum of a snow blower.

The whole world around me turned white, the sidewalk ahead covered, with only the faintest impression of previous footprints visible.

I got covered ins snow, head to toe, and I learned again what I already know: walking in snow makes me happy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pick of the Week - January 21

These stamps caught my eye one day when I was browsing at Paper Source for some presents. I looked up and saw a card that was stamped with these delightful flower images in two different sizes.

Oh, the possibilities! I had to have them. Both.

So far, I have used the smaller one once on a card I made for my pocket scrapbooking album, but I know they are going to get a lot of use in the weeks to come, especially as I am starting to think about spring and the beautiful blooms that will surround us as winter departs.

Both sizes are available online here and here if you aren't fortunate enough to have a brick and mortar Paper Source locally.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Word for 2015

Oh, 2014 was an incredible year in so many ways.

ME was my word for the year (I wrote about that here), and I had no idea the impact that one little choice would have on my life. Seriously. There was an exercise I did in November, part of the prompt for Ali Edwards' One Little Word class, which invited us to write about what we thought we would learn and what we actually learned.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

"I was honestly skeptical that {choosing the word ME} would be successful in any way. I thought I would learn that no amount of intention, no amount of focus on myself, could or would have any effect on the both ancient and recent damage to my inner self. I thought I would learn that I was doomed to exist with self-hate and put myself last for the rest of my life. I thought I would learn that the work I would do with this word this year would be a phenomenal waste of time and energy, and I would be left with defeat and disappointment."

I was wrong. Really, really, I was so wrong.

Part of the reason that I thought I would fail with this word was that I'd had little success with choosing a word for three years in a row, largely because my energies and attentions were needed elsewhere, and there simply wasn't enough of the required resources remaining for the level of success I wanted with any of those words.

For example, I started out 2011 emotionally worn out from long-distance caregiving of my mother who lived in Texas at the time. I chose the word SOLACE because I felt that's what I needed so desperately in my life. In March of that year, my mother had a minor stroke that rendered her unable to live alone anymore, and I moved her up to Michigan to live with me and my husband. It was hard. Really, really hard. I didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I'm so lucky to have a wonderful husband sharing my life, my burdens, because without him, I could not have done it. But it was just him and me. No help, no respite at all until October of that year when my nephew came to live with us. Although I did all the prompts for One Little Word for that year, solace simply couldn't be part of the equation. There was no room in my busy, stress-laden life for it.

In 2012, I chose the word TIME, hoping that focusing on that word, working with it, would help me manage my time better and create more time. Because of our circumstances, that didn't happen. My time didn't belong to me, and while I realize there were ways I could have created time for myself, I wasn't at that place yet.

In 2013, I chose a word that I wanted desperately to manifest in my life: WRITING. I've been a writer since I can remember, and since my early 20's, I've wanted to be a published writer. Like with TIME, I thought if I made WRITING my focus for the year, I would be able to make it more a part of my life. Well, that happened, but not in the way I imagined because in March of 2013--yeah, what is it with March and major things happening in my life?--my nephew was diagnosed with leukemia. He no longer lived with us, but he lived in the area, and we are his nearest family. His parents live in Texas, and he is estranged from them for a variety of good reasons. They would not be involved in his healing journey; that would be my role, with support from my husband.

Throughout 2013, my time and energy was dedicated to taking care of my nephew, as well as my mother, and aside from my husband's love and support, the only thing that kept me sane was writing. I spent a LOT of time at the hospital, and I took my iPad with me, writing in a journal file as things in my nephew's cancer journey developed. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and writing saved me. So, while I didn't write novels or stories or poems in 2013, writing was a major part of my life.

Which brings us to 2014 and my experience with the word ME. At first, I felt uncomfortable with that word, but I followed my intuition and kept it. What happened was not anything like I expected. I experienced more success with my 2014 word than any other word I've selected previously. I am not sure exactly why, other than I was finally able and willing to put myself and what was best for me in my list of priorities. Sometimes at the top of the list, sometimes lower, but always ON the list.

That has never happened before, not consistently.

The process taught me. A lot.

But here's the most important thing I learned. Choice is power, and practice brings that choice to fruition.

That is something that I can take with me into 2015 and beyond.

Throughout 2014, as I fought for myself in the face of my ancient programming of putting everyone else first at all costs, I also endured a great deal of sorrow. While my nephew recovered from leukemia, in part because of a bone marrow transplant in October of 2013, from which he continues to recover, my mother is not recovering. She will not get better. Her dementia worsens, and it will eventually take her life.

Last February, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and put my Mom in a nursing home. I did that for her safety and for my survival, and it was the right thing to do. But it has been devastatingly difficult. We are fortunate that the place we found for her is close by, five minutes by car, and the people there, most of them, are amazing in their dedication to her, their care of her, their compassion for her and for me. I feel lucky and thankful and humbled by these women and men who do a very difficult job and don't get paid nearly enough.

At first, Mom did very well there. She could be a little more independent because there are no stairs in the facility, like there are in my house, and she made friends with people her own age in much the same circumstances as she is. She was able to walk with her walker and participate in activities. I saw her every day most weeks, unless I was sick or something else kept me, and one day she said to me with a big smile on her face, "I just love it here." Surprised and delighted, that was me that day.

Then, in June, she got sick. A virus, then a urinary tract infection, and the staff couldn't get her to eat. They were worried it was the beginning of the end, and they tried to prepare me by talking with me about the eventual need for hospice if Mom didn't bounce back. Eventually, she did get well, but she lost most of her ability to walk, and in the ensuing months, dementia began to worsen at a more rapid rate.

The course of this affliction ebbs and flows. There are good days, good moments, and very, very horrid ones. I am still there six days most weeks, and it remains awful to watch this woman that gave birth to me and nurtured me, a woman who has been one of my closest friends for decades lose her mind. What I've had to do is cling to the moments that she is most herself. We laugh together. We connect over her old photos. We hug often. She remembers me. She calls me "Mom," but while that was a little startling at first, I am okay with it now. I do play a motherly role in her life, which I learned from her, and as long as she knows me, I don't need to get hung up on monikers.

Still...there is so much sorrow in this process of grieving the loss of her in pieces. And there is more loss to come because she will eventually die, and I know it will hurt so much to let her go.

As I've been enduring this sorrow that feels like it will never, ever end, I started thinking about 2015 and what I wanted to cultivate in my life as I switched gears from one year to the next. The word that came to my mind was HAPPY.

Immediately, I thought it a bit cliched, but at the same time, I wanted to approach the word differently than others might. I see HAPPY not as an overall state of mind, although that certainly is a desired outcome. But I want to teach myself to be happy even in the midst of the misery of my mother's slow decline and how deeply it affects me. I want an antidote to all of the sorrow piling up in my heart. I want pieces of happiness to cling to so that the grief doesn't drag me under.

In 2003, before I knew about choosing words for the year, I lost my sweet, wonderful father to complications of kidney disease, and that loss never quite fades, though I've learned to live with it. A few months before he died, on the day I pledged forever to my husband, my father said to me, "I wish you all the happiness in the world."

He was a happy man, even in the face of dialysis and all the cruelties of kidney failure, even as his life began to decline toward the eventuality we all face. He chose to be happy, and he wished me happiness, and I want to honor his legacy in every way I can.

So...HAPPY. My word for 2015.