9.28.2016

The Question I Was Asked


In my prior post, I shared that there had been a question that I had been wrestling with for over a year that I finally got an answer to, and that is what led to being able to go to confession and truly resolve to sin no more.

I remember it clearly, sitting in Fr. D's office, newly pregnant, trying to figure out the mess that was my life and he asked me "What must Sugarbeet sacrifice?" as we were talking about my and R's living situation and Fr. D was asking if we could not live together. And in good spiritual direction, the questions are posed to the directee, Church Teaching is offered, but the decision is left to the directee...it is not, nor should it be, a 'you must do this' type of relationship. Free will is respected.

I left Fr. D's office so angry that day. Angry that he was suggesting that the best thing for Sugarbeet was for R and I to not live together, and angry that he was suggesting that Sugarbeet had to sacrifice anything. Already my mommabear claws were up in wanting to protect my child from any sort of harm or struggle in life. And also open to considering the question, because any other time I had left his office angry with him, the results had been so fruitful. I trusted that this too, would be fruitful, I just couldn't imagine how.

Every fiber of my being screamed to me that Sugarbeet growing up with his or her parents not living in the same household was NOT the answer. I had grown up that way, I would NOT pass on that kind of struggle to my child. Nope. Many suggested that it would be a virtuous and heroic thing to sacrifice this; that it would help R and I to discern our relationship, from their perspective, more fully; and many other reasons why we should not live under the same roof.

While my head could acknowledge there was some truth to each point, even it (my head) could not agree that it was the right thing to do. Our Church clearly teaches that children should be raised with both parents when at all possible; social sciences again and again show the importance of a mother and father in the home, raising children together; my own educational background in early childhood development and education was steeped in the importance of both parents being active daily in the raising of the children.

As time went on, my instincts were reinforced in the daily living of life, and parenting our unborn child. As R felt random moves and kicks, and we argued over baby names, and he made sure I ate well, etc. etc., it was clear that this time of pregnancy was equally important for him to bond with Sugarbeet as it was for me.

Yet, the question I didn't want to answer remained. "What must Sugarbeet sacrifice?"

And so, too, did my own weaknesses and sin.

After she was born, and my cycles returned at 3 months postpartum (I didn't know that if your baby sleeps well, despite exclusive breastfeeding, your cycles will likely return - stupid AF), I realized there was even more to it. That the words I'd said so many times of "this is never about one baby, but babies, a family of many" and all of the emotions of infertility came flooding back, and the worries if there would be more and would it be difficult.

It was then, that I started to realize my own resistance to living in continence (abstinence) was partly centered on a desire for more children. As I heard my biological clock still ticking, frightened that infertility is still a part of me (as every test ever underwent and both surgeries showed, it is my body that was infertile), and desiring so much for siblings for Sugarbeet.

But the devil is not stupid. In fact, he is very smart. And as failed cycle after failed cycle happened, he was screaming in my head "you're not conceiving because God is punishing you for your sin"; "you're not conceiving because you do not deserve more children because of your sin" and more. Each cycle, getting progressively worse and worse until one afternoon in late spring when I found myself pouring over Familiaris Consortio by Pope St. John Paul II, seeking in the words a way that R and I could still remain under the same roof and somehow also be able to receive absolution in Confession and return to the Eucharist, because I knew that I could not battle the attacks of the devil on my own, that I needed the fullness of sacramental grace to help me. And as much as I knew that, I also knew that separating Sugarbeat from her father was also not the answer.

And then I found the answer, or rather the answer found me. Words that I had read so many times before professionally; had applied to others relationships, but not been able to apply to my own, seemed to come off the page at me (emphasis mine).
Reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is by abstinence from the acts 'proper to married couples'" ~Familiaris Consortio, #84
And as I read those words, words I've read over and over again for many different reasons, the asnwer to Fr. D's question also became clear:

"What must Sugarbeat sacrifice?"

Siblings.

Biological siblings.

For now.

And as I let those words settle on my heart, the tears of the bittersweetness that is the et et, both/and, of life and of the Catholic faith, the tears I've come to recognize as so clearly God's word and hand in my life, became clarity on what had to come next.

And I scheduled my next appointment with Fr. D for later that week. And on May 13, Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and my baptismal anniversary, I was able to return to the Sacrament of Confession. And on Sunday, May 15, Pentecost, the Sacrament of Eucharist.

The longing that I had felt, the constant calling me home, despite my sin, and the confidence that my journey in my own spiritual life to where instead of feeling punished by the cross placed upon me, to where I was able to embrace it and accept it made coming home, once again, the Father welcoming home His prodigal daughter, all helped to prepare me to be able to accept the mercy being offered to me. I was able to accept my new cross, of living in continence and not pursuing a sibling for Sugarbeat, with tears of gratitude for His mercy as I received Eucharist.

9.12.2016

Dad

Four years ago this Wednesday, I first asked this community to pray for my Dad.

I come to you again, to ask for prayers for the repose of his soul.

I have dreaded writing this post because as with so many things, there is something about putting them here in this place that makes it 'real'.

Dad died on Aug. 18, 2016. I was holding his hand and Sugarbeet was standing with me. It was one of the most peaceful, hope-filled, and saddest moments of my life.

It was peaceful and hope-filled because my Dad and I had made peace, and he and R had made peace. I had prepared myself almost 2 years ago that my Dad might never speak to me again, but I promised myself that I would not be the one to close to the door. That I would not let hurt and anger allow me to shut him out if he wanted back in. And when he wanted back in, I was able to meet him where he was and make peace. He met and knew Sugarbeet. She was so good for him. He would smile and say 'she's the best medicine' when we would visit, and he and I talked and chatted and were father and daughter, with all of our brokenness and messiness, but seeking that relationship that meant so much to both of us for so long. Those months of peace, weeks in the case of Dad and R, are a gift I will treasure.

Long ago, I shared the song "Blessings" by Laura Story, and it has always been one that has spoken to me. Losing my Dad was no different. So many tears were shed these last years over our broken relationship, feeling rejected and hurt and fighting so hard to not let myself become bitter and angry. When Dad would reach out, I had to fight my instinct to throw up walls and protect myself or to insist that he do things on my terms. Instead, the lessons of so many years of infertility and seeking God and learning what it means to trust God, let me be vulnerable and open. I was able to meet my Dad where he was and have a relationship with him, so that at the end, I was by his side and nothing was left unsaid. I was able to truly cherish the moments I had with him, realizing and knowing what a gift they were and not see them as just another day.


Yes, there is so much left undone - are we ever done with this life, truly? And in the days and years ahead, Dad will be missed. There is a Dad-sized hole that will never be filled. Sugarbeet will only know of her Pap in pictures and stories, but she will know him. When she rides in the front car of a roller coaster with her hands up, she will know him. When she learns the rules to a football game, and corrects biased fans around her when the referees made the right call that went against their team, she will know him. When she dances to the Beach Boys, she will know him. And when she roots for Duquesne, she will know him.

As for me? Five years ago, before we knew the cancer had come back, I decided that I was no longer buying my Dad 'stuff' for holidays, rather I was going to give us 'time together' and I started buying him tickets to sporting events and concerts. And we had time together. And those days spent, traveling together, enjoying one another, and having fun are seared precious memories that despite all the tears of these past few weeks, only bring joy to my heart. "Time together" given, not as a reaction to a cancer diagnosis, but because I loved my Dad and wanted to spend time with him. Truly a priceless gift. I miss him.

Beach Boys Concert

Duquesne Basketball Game
For those interested in the 'technical' details:

When I asked you to pray 4 years ago, Dad had been in for his 6-month PET Scan (he'd had a melanoma mole removed 4 years prior, with clear margins, and was on his last 6 month scan, if it had been clear, he'd have moved to annual scans) and they found melanoma in his lungs.

That fall, he had 2 lung surgeries, the first to do a biopsy/removal of a smaller spot on his right lung to determine that it was indeed melanoma and not lung cancer (melanoma is treated by removing it, lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy) and the second, upon confirmation of the melanoma to do a 1/3 lobectomy on the left lung.

He came through both surgeries very well and much to the surprise of his doctors, remained cancer free for a year. The next fall (2013), they found more melanoma in a couple of places, but remained optimistic. He was placed on a chemotherapy drug (pill) and once again, exceeded all expectations and responded to the treatment for 21 months (the longest prior was 8 months). He had minimal side effects, with the most severe being extreme sensitivity to sun - he wore long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen and never complained.

Last summer, he quit responding to the pill chemotherapy and was switched to an infusion type of drug. At Christmas, he was not doing well with side effects and was extremely weak, he was also not responding to the new drug. Early this year, he switched drugs again, back to a pill option. The side effects lessened, but the cancer kept growing. He went through a round of radiation on his pelvis that worked well.

Then, in May, he was having pain in his back and neck. A scan showed tumors on his spine in 3 places - near his neck, middle back, and lower back. He immediately started radiation, but the cancer was growing too fast and pushed on his middle back making him unable to walk. He had surgery to remove the tumors and fuse vertebrae. He had setbacks with complications and drug interactions, but by early July there was talk of getting him strong enough to go home in a wheelchair. We were all so hopeful.

But, his neck was still hurting and they had to investigate why. The MRI showed the cancer had broken bones in his neck and he would need a second surgery to fuse the vertebrae together, with possibly having to fuse it to his skull because of the small amount of bone present. Fortunately, fusing to his spine was not necessary.

Through all this, we all knew that the cancer wasn't being treated...he was not strong enough for chemotherapy or radiation because of the risk of side effects. But he kept fighting. In late July he lost his appetite. My little brother had a chat with him and he started trying to eat, but he just wasn't hungry. He was tired a lot of the time, and mostly happy in a nursing home rehab unit but still struggling with pain. He then started to struggle with swallowing and was admitted back to the hospital on Aug. 12. Finally, they were able to get his pain under control, and inserted a feeding tube for nutrition - he was comfortable for the first time in months.

I visited him on Aug. 13 and on the evening of Aug. 14 I said to R: "I'm not ready for my dad to die, but if my Dad said he didn't want anymore treatment, I would support him. I would also support him if he wanted to keep fighting." And in my heart I started to prepare myself for him to die soon.

On Aug. 16, there was a meeting with the doctors, they had run some tests the day before and were concerned with Dad worsening, seemingly quickly. The tests showed the cancer was spreading, rapidly. Faster than any treatment could keep up with it, if he were strong enough to withstand the treatment. And we heard the words from an oncologist no family ever wants to hear: "If it were my father, I would stop treatments and keep him comfortable."

And suddenly, we were in a conference room seeing pictures of his scans, seeing the lesions and his lungs full of malignant fluid, and making arrangements to take Dad home with hospice care. The doctors said he could live 10 - 14 days, but I suspected once he was home it would be much less than that. We went back to his hospital room and asked him if he wanted to go home, with hospice care - he was pretty out of it, but we were all confident he understood what we were asking when he nodded his head 'yes.' Later that afternoon he was more awake and was able to be asked again, and again, he said 'yes.'

And so, that evening, at about 6:00, my Dad went home. He was so happy to be there, he smiled and said so. It was so good to see him so happy. When I kissed him goodnight that night, I said "welcome home. I love you" and he said "it's good to be here. I love you too" and those were the last words I heard my Dad say. The next two days were spent visiting, allowing friends and family to visit, and say goodbye. On Wednesday, I laid my head on his shoulder, as I wanted to do, just one more time, and I said all the things I needed to say. I did not want to leave anything left unsaid. While he didn't talk back, I know he heard me, as his facial expression changed and he moved and responded. The hospice nurse told us that Dad was starting to show signs of imminent death and that he would probably die within 24 - 48 hours.

The next day, on August 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm, in the hour of mercy, my Dad died. I was sitting on the floor beside his bed, holding his hand, praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Sugarbeet, his only grandchild, was standing with me. Just moments before he died, she reached out and held his hand. She was so still and so quiet. She knew what was happening, and watching her respond just affirmed my feelings that babies and those who are close to death share a connection to God the rest of us can but dream of.

I was not ready for my Dad to die. I am so grateful I was able to be with him.

Sugarbeet holding my Dad's hand, just moments before he died.

6.30.2016

Revisiting Mercy and Grace

I suppose I could/should start with something along the lines of how it's been more than 3 months since I last blogged and how life has been busy.

So, there you have it. I started there. :-)

And life has been busy - in so many different ways. So many times I've sat down to write and been either pulled away or the words just wouldn't come or I've felt stuck between whether or not to write here publicly or to start a private portion of this blog.

For now, I think I will continue the story here, with the ever constant reminder I think we all need that what goes on the internet is but a snapshot of life, a selecting of things to share and not share.

I need to revisit mercy and grace, perhaps I should just start titling every post as such, as that's what we all do daily, minute by minute even, isn't it? We lean hard into mercy and grace and trust in His promises as we stumble and trip and fall on this journey of life towards Home.

Many of the comments on my initial post of mercy and grace chastised me for speaking of the two when still in a state of mortal sin. A common thread was also that one who is in mortal sin is cut off from all grace. Along with them came pleas to stop sinning and return to Confession and Eucharist, without offer of friendship along the way.

I have stated many times (and will point you to the Disclaimer Post if you've not read it) that I do not in any way uphold any wrongs I have done/sins I have committed as the right way to do things. I made choices, and life changed as a result of those choices, and so now I walk this path, still seeking God and Truth.

One thing that I could not find the right words to respond to was the assertion that because there was sin of grave matter in my life, I was cut off from grace, all grace. I knew that to not be true, but beyond saying that I couldn't quite explain it. I was living it, though. Daily as I went to Mass, I felt His Grace, His ever trustworthy voice reminding me that He loves me, and yes, calling me Home and out of sin. As I stayed in my pew when it came time from Eucharist, I knew it was the right thing to do, as I was not in a state of grace to receive, and that knowledge is grace. It was a grace that I didn't walk away from the Church, that I knew She is a place for sinners and not saints. While yes, the sanctifying grace of the sacraments was withheld, by respecting what the Church upholds of them, I was actually staying closer to them by abstaining from them than I would have been if receiving them unworthily. Imperfect? Yes. Isolated and cut off? No. This video explains it better than I ever could.

So many people wanted to just say 'stop sinning, now' and have that be the end of it. Rarely wanting to really converse, to really dig in and walk this messy dirty path. It left me with simple, defensive replies to the clanging gong of the law being shouted at me in the name of love.

I knew in both my head and my heart there is no gradualness in the law, and I was not seeking any. I was not looking for an exception or loophole. I was desperately trying to align my heart and will to the law and it was not as easy as 'do this' or 'don't do that'. It took months of prayers, spiritual direction, reading Church documents over and over, and asking God "Can we please talk about something else? I'm so tired of this topic. I need a break." Only to hear His answer loud and clear "No, we will keep talking about this as long as is needed."

During these months, there were others who walked with me, let me process and be honest about my struggles, the very human 'whys' of explanation (or excuse, if you prefer) for my sin. I knew there was sin, but needed to work through the human messiness that is the path to holiness. We were able to acknowledge the law and my failings, and then dig deeper to the whys of my failings, to my fears, to my idols. Those conversations kept my heart from hardening and kept me returning to my conversations with God.

While I realize there is great beauty in blind obedience to Authority (authentic authority, such as the Catholic Church), for me, blind obedience feels like a sentence of bitterness and resentment. I need to understand and fully accept the sufferings that may come with obedience. It is how I'm wired. Just telling me the stove is hot isn't enough, I need to understand not only that I will burn myself, but how that burn will impact my daily life. I do not want to resent the Church, I love her and her teachings, and so I must do the hard work of digging in and understanding and integrating them into my life before I am able to act. My faith is deep and it is my faith that drives me to this. I trust the Church and it's not a situation of 'prove it', but rather one of 'help me to understand and live'.

And it was in an article about Lady Gaga, of all places, that what I had been trying to explain, and what I had been experiencing was the graduality of the spiritual life. Here is the specific paragraph that had me wanting to should "THIS THIS THIS":
I wrote about this to help illustrate the value of graduality in the spiritual life. Not graduality of the law, but graduality in the comprehension of the law. This is a reality in all of our lives. We do not come to an understanding of God’s law simply by reading the sounds of the black and white text. It takes a whole lifetime for us to comprehend spiritual things in a way that goes beyond intellectual comprehension and really sinks deep into our hearts.
Some of you may say "but Rebecca, you understand God's law", you worked in marriage and family life ministry, studied Theology of the Body, how could you not comprehend the law??? And the best response I have is from an email that I received from a dear friend (not exact quote, but close, I think): Just because we know and study things like Theology of the Body, it does not exempt us from failing to live up to it.

When the messiness of this life gets very messy, and the temptations rage (I do not minimize the role of Satan in any of this, He won a battle in my life, but He will not win the war for my soul), sometimes what we know in our heads isn't enough. Sometimes the wounds of our lives are ripped open anew, in ways we never could have expected, and we fail. And all we can do is learn from those failings, with the help of His grace, and move forward one step, one inch at a time. The graduality of the spiritual life.

And so for many months, more than a year, I struggled with this graduality of the spiritual life. Of knowing the law and of not being able to live up to it and of needing to understand why I was struggling to do so. And then, one afternoon, when I was engaging my head again, with 3 papal documents around me, everything changed. Light bulbs went off, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I heard clearly an answer to a question I had been wrestling with for over a year, struggling with, avoiding at times, and I knew it was time. (And what that question was, and the answer to it is for another post, but I will share, as it is important.) I now understood how the burn would impact my daily life, and I was willing to accept it. This willingness to accept it is so important. God will never force Himself upon His. He will call us to Him, He will court us, but we must say 'yes'. We must consent and we must freely choose Him, which means accepting the cross as well. We must give our fiat, again and again, to His will in our lives.

I shared my afternoon with R when he got home. He agreed. Time.

And within a couple of weeks, we'd both been to Confession and then, on Pentecost, with dear friends at our sides and tears streaming down both of our faces, we returned to the Altar of the Lord, returned to the Body of Christ.

And I want to be very clear. It was mercy and grace, presented to me when sin of grave matter was present in my life, that made it possible. God's continual seeking of me, His calling out, His insistence that we could not table the topic for even a month, His beckoning me Home. His mercy. his grace. (Again, I will link to this video, that a friend shared at a time that can only be described as His timing that explains this much better than I ever could.)

I realize many prayed from a distance, and I do not doubt those prayers were part of this, those who I thought were friends who only wanted to restate what I already knew and not actually engage nor be willing to say "I'm here, even in your messiness, I'm here," caused much damage. I never wanted anyone to give me permission for sin, never. But I did need to be loved despite my sin - and not just in word, but in action. In tangible, human action, because I am, as we all are, after all, human. Though, even a grace came from those who walked away, in that I am now a little less in need of human acceptance. It is one of the wounds I've had to come face to face with, and in His insistence that we would keep having the same conversation, God showed me, once again, that He is trustworthy and that His acceptance is the only true acceptance.

However, to those who have not only prayed for me, but who have stayed close and walked this messy walk with me. You in a very real way were God's hands and feet keeping me close to Christ and His Church. You were the human face (and arms, and shoulders to cry on, and ears to listen) of unconditional love and acceptance that comes from God and God alone. I thank you for that.

3.25.2016

Lent and Holy Week

It's mid afternoon on Good Friday. The weather is fitting, as it always seems to be - overcast with the threat of rain. The house is quiet. Sugarbeet is napping and R is at the Good Friday service at our parish.

I'm going to pray the Stations of the Cross when I'm finished here.

This Lent and Holy Week have not felt very "Lent-y" or "Holy Week-y". In reflecting on Lent earlier this week, I do think it was more fruitful than I initially thought. And Holy Week will be too, I think.

I had intended to return to reading The Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas for my Lenten practice. As much as I complained about it during my graduate classes, I miss it. While it stretches and challenges my brain, the way it nourished and deepened my faith - both the head and heart aspects of it - is something I missed. I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to have the 'ah-ha' moment of being able to read The Summa because I wanted to and not because I was in a class requiring it.

I have The Summa downloaded onto my Kindle, but due to a recent move, said Kindle was not located until last week. Add that in with sheer exhaustion -- mentally and physically -- from the schedule of moving and caring for my Nan and it just didn't happen.

What did happen though were weekly Wednesday nights and Thursdays spent with my Nan and twice a month weekends. Times when I was stretched outside of myself. When what *I* wanted to do was the last thing that could or should happen.

Instead, I learned (a little, I hope) what it means to see Christ in another when that other is being less than kind to you; what it means to be Christ to another with no expectation of anything in return. I learned to die to myself as I knew the only things she would truly remember and share with others were my failings. The things I did right would go most often unacknowledged and nearly always unremembered.

I spent hours in the car with tears streaming down my cheeks as I reflected on how I failed her, and daily praying for the strength and knowledge and self-control to think before I spoke or acted.

I do not think it is any coincidence that she moved to her new apartment on Tuesday of Holy Week.

And then, goodness, someday maybe I will learn to check my pride, she was moved in and I thought to myself "oh good, now I can really enter into the Triduum and reflect upon the Paschal mystery."

We made our schedule - Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper followed up with 4 stops at other parishes for prayer at Altars of Repose; Good Friday service in the afternoon and Tenebrae in the evening; Saturday Evening Vigil Mass; and Mass on Easter Sunday.

For a moment I considered Sugarbeet and thought to myself 'she is starting to be more active and vocal at Mass, is this a good idea?' But I thought, oh, she usually nurses and falls asleep, and the services around bedtime will be perfect for that.

And so last night, we headed off. She chattered during the songs, made friends with all the people around us, and settled in to nurse during the homily as is her routine. I thought 'oh good, she'll fall asleep and won't wake up until we put her in her PJs at home'. And then, her eyes popped open and she sat up, smiled at me from ear to ear and I knew there would be no sleeping. We stayed in our pew until just before Communion. Then, I knew with the transfer of the Eucharist to the Altar of Repose a sacred silence would be requested, and silence in leaving, and so we headed to the back where we could watch through the glass doors. We made it until the procession went past us and then headed outside to avoid any accidental squeals during the time of silence.

And that was when the tears started and I realized how selfish I had been. *I* wanted to make up for what I'd perceived as a failed Lent with a 'perfect' Triduum. And for 2 adults, it was a perfect schedule. Heck, for Sugarbeet's 'usual' it was a perfect schedule. But it did not take into consideration that she is no longer 3 months old and sleeps through anything; that she is becoming more and more social and alert and interested in everything around her. And I knew to my very bones that we should have stayed home.

Yes, children belong at church. Yes, for weekly Sunday Mass, the squeals and giggles that happen are part of what it means to belong to a Parish Community. But, in my opinion and for my family, the Sacred Silence that is part of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil should be respected by all present. And so, this afternoon, Sugarbeet and I are home.

If she took a bottle (that's another post), she would be home with a sitter.

(And just in case anyone is wondering, if you decide differently and have a crying or giggling baby at Mass this week, please know I support you in that decision as well. I think absolutes as it relates to children at Mass are dangerous and only serve to discourage families from coming and participating and I do not intend that. This is just what we decided is best for us.)

And so, Lent and Holy Week have looked and will look very different this year. Yet, one thing will be the same - the story doesn't change. We know the ending and that is where I find my peace and comfort this year. In allowing myself to rest in the knowledge that we know death has no victory and on Sunday morning, the tomb will be empty, the bells will ring, and Sugarbeet can squeal and giggle and jabber all she wants as we celebrate Christ's victory over death.

For now, the silence of my home. Stations of the Cross prayed in private. And the knowledge of the full story will be enough for me to enter into this most sacred of days.

A Blessed Triduum to you, friends.

3.04.2016

Nan and Sugarbeet

There have been many drastic changes in my life in the past 18 months. I have been stretched and pulled in ways I couldn't have imagined before in all ways - spiritually, relationally, physically, and emotionally. One of those ways is in caring for my Nan.

I have written about her in this space before, and many of you have prayed for her over the years. One of my greatest sorrows of infertility was perhaps never taking a photo of 4 generations of women again - growing up, that was one of my favorite things, as the great-granddaughter, to take 4 generation photos with me, my mom, my Nan, and my Big Grandma. I looked forward to doing so with a daughter of my own, even in the times when I didn't think I wanted children, I thought that would be nice. It was something not 2 years ago, I found myself mourning.

Then, Sugarbeet came along, and with her, many 4 generation photos.

Then, in December, just after Christmas, Nan fell. Again. That made 4 falls in less than 6 months. This, on top of memory issues that cannot be ignored combined with a text from my mom saying 'it's time' and I packed up and moved in with Nan until a better solution could be arranged. By some miracle, we visited a retirement community with an assisted living-type of wing and Nan loved it. She put her deposit down and is on the waiting list moving in at the end of the month.

In the meantime, every Wednesday night and every other weekend are spent with Nan. The other times, she has caregivers from an agency with her.

And I'm failing her. I'm failing my Nan each and every time I'm with her. Memory loss and aging (we are still awaiting a formal diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer's) are no joke. Nor is being the caregiver for one struggling. Kat recently wrote about caring for her mother-in-law and the similarities between care-giving and motherhood, and it was right at the start of my increased time with my Nan before her fall, and I've wanted to write this post ever since. If only to say, no to shout, YES YES YES!

In fact, for me, caregiving has given more experience with the challenges I thought would come with motherhood than actual motherhood has. Waking up in the middle of the night to feed Sugarbeet? Sure, and I'm actually happy to do it. (Which if you know me and my need for sleep is something miraculous.) Having to wait to shower or rework my meals to accommodate someone else's needs? No problem! Giving up "my" time to care for another? Sign me up! I worried so much about my ability to be a good mother, and don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect by any means, but the struggles I anticipated are not the ones I'm facing.

Except that I am, in caring for my Nan.

My head knows that dementia and memory loss are out of her control. That her outbursts are not something she wants to do, nor can control. That no matter how many times I say 'remember...', she will not. And that this is NOT a helpful caregiving strategy. My head knows that I need to hear the same story over and over. That I need to remind, give memory tools, and remind again.

And yet, I fail. I lose my patience. I yell (not so much anymore, but there was one awful night where I really yelled). I cry. I roll my eyes. I take over and do it myself. I forget to appreciate the little things that she does remember (like stocking her fridge with the yogurt I like, or putting tea bags and splenda on the table for dinner). I forget to just enjoy my time with her; to be her granddaughter and let her by my Nan.

I try to learn from each mistake. From each tear, from each rant of frustration. And yet, I find myself just making new mistakes. I give myself a pep talk each drive to her home, reminding myself to see Christ in her, and to be Christ to her. And I fail. And my heart hurts with each failing.

The saving grace is Sugarbeet. She forces me to remember that Nan is still Nan. Sugarbeet loves Nan so sweetly. I often reflect that they 'get' one another because they are both so close to God - Sugarbeet so fresh from Him, and Nan on her way back to Him. And I am gifted with watching them play - a gift I do not deserve because of my failings. A gift I know I will treasure long after Nan has gone Home to Him. And I see the beauty in that. I relish their playing. I relish their shared laughter. In fact for the longest time, Nan was the only one who could make Sugarbeet laugh.

I have faced the struggles of my relationship with my Nan that have occurred over the years. In caring for her, our disagreements have all come rushing back to my memory. We are too much alike, it is true. I see her stubborn and double it. I see her independence and raise it. And so we battle. All I can do is hope that through our battles, she knows I love her and that I want to protect her from harm the same way I want to protect Sugarbeet from harm. Not allowing her to stay alone for long periods of time is much the same as not allowing Sugarbeet to reach out and touch a hot stove - with the only difference being that someday, Sugarbeet will earn the stove is hot and stop reaching out to touch it. For Nan, she will not learn at this point. She may remember some things, some of the time, but she will no longer gain new knowledge and be able to be fully trusted with it.

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I started writing this when I had no end in sight; when the time I'd be responsible for her care was open-ended. But now I do have an end. I have 2 more Wednesdays and 2 more weekends with her at her house. At the house I played in growing up, spent a week at each summer. Where so many holiday memories are contained.

At the end of March, we will move Nan to her new home. It is 6 minutes door to door from my home. She will be cared for. She will have 3 meals a day prepared for her. She will have Bridge games, and crafts, and make new friends. Someone will look out for her. She will still have some independence - not being forced to get up for 8am breakfast (she loves to sleep in - another similarity) and being able to have a coffee pot, refrigerator, and microwave in her apartment.

And maybe, just maybe, I will once again be able to go visit my Nan and just fully be her granddaughter. I will not have to keep her on schedule; fix her checkbook; remind her of what's coming up tomorrow, and this afternoon, and 5 minutes from now. I will be able to visit and enjoy her, just as Sugarbeet does.

And in these remaining 2 weeks of caregiving, I will continue to try to be patient. To not yell. To see her as God sees her, and to be Christ to her. I am sure I will fail. But now, I see light at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps I will not fail quite so badly. Perhaps the knowledge that someday "Nan's house" won't be "Nan's house" anymore will remind me to enjoy these last visits, just as I enjoyed them so much growing up.

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In all of my failings, there is one thing I think I might have done right. I had the idea to capture the time of Nan and Sugarbeet together with a special photo session. The photographer who took Sugarbeet's maternity and newborn photos agreed to come and spend a morning with us, photographing Nan and her great-granddaughter at play.

This morning, just 2 months ago. These photos. Perhaps they are proof that I am not failing as completely as it feels like at the end of long day.

(The link to the photos is a blog post written by the wonderful photographer who has become like family as she has documented my pregnancy with Sugarbeet and her first days of life on the outside.)

And so many candid shots that I've taken. To remind me that this woman, my Nan, loves deeply and bears the burden of her aging more than I could ever bear it for her. Photos taken, that someday will heal a sad heart that says goodbye and will remind me of good moments among these days when I am tempted to only remember the details of my failings.

Our most recent 4 Generations Picture - please ignore my cheesy smile, Sugarbeet's face, and Nan's lack of camera-looking. It's hard to get everyone to cooperate these days :). At least my mom looks good, as it was her birthday.
With Nan and Nan's sister, my (Rebecca's) godmother.
Helping Nan read the paper.
Out to lunch!
People watching at Starbucks.
Playing together at home.