Tag Archives: illness

Feeling blessed

I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.

Looking out the window onto the lake.

All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.

At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.

I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.

Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.

Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.


And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.

After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.

God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.

I am on the case

Last week, I went to Lewes, Delaware, to help a friend settle into her new condo; she had moved from Newport News, Virginia, two weeks earlier.

“I’m on the case,” I said when she could not find her house keys.

I love solving mysteries. Where were her keys? She knew they were in the house but where could they be?


We retraced her steps, with no luck. We searched the garage and kitchen. She searched her bedroom. I asked if I could go through her coat closet, and she said yes. And there, inside the pocket of her white coat, were the keys. She hadn’t remembered that she had worn that coat earlier in the day. Mystery solved.

We had several other mysteries during my time with her—mostly moving related (“where did I put…?” “which box has…?”).

My younger brother also loves to solve mysteries, like tracking down the guys who broke into his garage and stole some equipment—he followed Craig’s List until he saw his equipment listed and then called the police, who set up a sting.

He attributes our doggedness in solving mysteries to the fact our dad was a cop; I attribute it to our mother’s insistence that we never give up when we were searching for something.

I remember a friend in college marveling at my persistence when she could not find something, and I was unwilling to let go until the mystery had been solved. She had been raised to let go and replace.

I love most everything associated with mysteries—novels, plays, movies and television shows.

The funny thing is, though, that despite the fact that I love to follow the clues and solve the mysteries in my everyday life, there are many other mysteries with which I am completely comfortable.

For example, mysteries of faith and miracles I can accept with complete confidence. Somehow, I can trust that there are some things we cannot solve or unravel; acceptance is the only solution.

In that way, I think I am contrary to most people—those who can let go when something is lost (and rush to replace it) and yet question faith and distrust miracles.

I think my comfort with mysteries of faith helps me be able to sit with people who are suffering and dying. I don’t ask why someone is ill or why there is suffering. I accept that suffering, illness and death happen. They are part of life. I appreciate that there is nothing to be done, no answers to be found and no clues to follow.

At times of sorrow and grief, I believe that acceptance is more helpful than questioning. Finding meaning in loss is more about being grateful for what has been and gathering the gems of good memories to cherish.

I am grateful for my approach to different kinds of mysteries because solvable mysteries, while they may take a great deal of time in the process, are solvable. Mysteries of faith are just that—mysteries.


Separating daffodils in fall

Baking pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies this morning, and planning to dig daffodil bulbs in the afternoon.

I want to break up the clumps of flowers that bloom in spring.

Every year, I feel sorry for them, all bunched together underground with no room to grow.

It would be a kindness to separate them.

But every fall, I forget or run out of time.

The phone rings. My friend is coming home from hospital to hospice.

I think of her as I dig and pull apart the bulbs whose roots are entwined. They have no space, no room to breathe.

How can I think about next spring and anticipate my daffodils happily blooming while my friend thinks about her illness and anticipates her death?

She, too, has no space, no room to breathe.

I will take her some cookies tomorrow, and next spring, when my daffodils bloom, I will think of her.

Caring for an aging parent

My mother likes to quote her mother. Almost every conversation includes at least one, “As my mother used to say…” followed by some pithy comment from my grandmother.

These comments are all in Polish, the language my grandmother spoke, and my mother quotes her mother in Polish and then translates them into English. She gets great joy from repeating her mother’s words.

My grandmother was a farmer and her sayings are usually quite earthy.


Although my grandmother lived in two countries (Poland and the U.S.), in each place, her life was fairly limited. She lived in small, rural communities in both countries, and her life was ordered by the seasons. She seemed quite content with the boundaries of her life in northern Michigan.

I knew my grandmother, having spent time every summer with her on the farm. She was always kind to me, and I felt safe with her. I was fortunate to be present when she died at age ninety-six.

My mother is now ninety-three. I moved home six years ago, in large part, to be near her, and I check on her several times a week. She loves to play cards and we usually get in a few games every week.

My mother is fiercely independent. She also has unrealistic expectations of herself and her capabilities.

She still drives, even though her eye doctor, primary care physician and physical therapist have all told her to stop. She denies that her reflexes are diminished in any way—or her hearing or her eyesight. She becomes very defensive when someone suggests otherwise.


On the one hand, my mother wants to be left alone, to do as she pleases. But when she has a health scare, she wants help…until she is better. Then she denies she ever needed help. She was fine and we should have just left her alone.

It is a vicious circle.

When my father had a major stroke, my mother did not call 911. My father had been very clear that he did not want to go to the hospital nor be resuscitated. “If you walk in and think I am dead,” he used to say, “go out for another hour and then come back.” He dreaded hospitals and the thought of being kept alive by machines.

I have come to realize the great strength it took my mother to honor my father’s wishes. I am not that strong. When my mother is in distress, disoriented, or displaying other signs of serious illness, I cannot leave her, even though I know that is what she says she wants.

My aunt made the health care decisions for my grandmother, so my mother was spared the responsibility and the guilt. My grandmother died in hospital connected to machines. It is not what my mother wants, nor do I want it for her.

As anyone caring for an aging parent can probably appreciate, it is difficult to walk the fine line between supporting independence and ensuring safety.

I pray for wisdom.


Practicing Gratitude

I tend to agree with Job’s outlook on life—that we cannot only accept the good things that come our way; we must also accept the bad (Job 2:10).

Living in gratitude is my sign that I am accepting whatever life brings me—good or bad. When I am feeling grateful, I know that I am focused on the good in whatever is happening in my life and investing my energy in what is positive and hopeful. Those difficulties that inevitably happen in life don’t go away, but, when acknowledged, get transformed into invitations to accept and let go.

When my friend Jim was sick, we practiced gratitude every day. We would talk about all of our blessings—the people who were helping us, the great medical care he was getting, all the prayers and cards—the very fact that we were still alive.

On the 8th of each month, the anniversary of the day he had a seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer, I would retell the story of that day. We would talk about how fortunate we were that I found him, that he lived near an excellent hospital and that he was able to get the care he needed.

In the midst of this horrible diagnosis—very aggressive and incurable brain cancer—we were able to find so much to appreciate.

At one point during Jim’s illness, I thought about starting a blog and inviting people whose lives had been affected by cancer or some other tragedy to write about the generosity and kindness they received; I was certain others must have felt as blessed as we did.

With the blog in mind, while talking with a woman whose husband is a cancer survivor, I asked her if she remembered people’s kindnesses while her husband was sick. Without hesitation, she told me this story: her husband was diagnosed in late November and she was in shock and not thinking of decorating for the holidays. One day, a neighbor hung a Christmas wreath on their front door. She was touched by his thoughtfulness because decorating was far from her mind and the wreath made her happy and grateful every time she walked through the door.

Her story reminded me of the night I came home from the hospital to find someone had done some weeding for me. I never found out who did it; some generous person who saw a way to help and acted. I was so touched by their good deed, and so grateful.

Such simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference.

Practicing gratitude helps me be more aware of the generosity of others. Bad things are part of life; I accept that, and I chose to focus more energy on being grateful for the good that life brings me.