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An Extraordinary Letter

Remember Debbie and Gladys, from the story titled “Every Day, A Gift“?

Blog Photo - Tea time

It’s about a daughter’s efforts to bring joy to every remaining day of her 90-year old mother’s life and it touched the hearts of many of you from around the world.  Late last night, I got an extraordinary letter from Debbie.  I asked and got her permission to share it with you.  It’s simply titled:

MOM

There is a Holy bathroom here at the hospice.

You go in to use the toilet ( please forgive the graphics here), after days of not being on a normal routine, when – suddenly – you find yourself shouting out to God that what Mom is going through is not fair!  That you are mad  — at God!

And then you get an answer.

You’re told that you have been on a journey and now it is ending.  You cannot micro manage any of this like you have been…. appointments, drug refills, nursing care, then hospice care, micro managing the nurses here, mom’s injections … the when and the how and the what kind of everything!

You’re  told that YOU ARE DONE!

It is out of your hands.  She is about to start HER personal journey with God WITHOUT ME.

Gladys creates one of her last paintings
Gladys creates one of her last paintings

I have done my job….a job well done….but a job that has finished.  I cannot, no matter what I do, change the when or the how.  I have to let it all go.

I have said my goodbyes each time  in the past day that we thought mom was dying .   I know she loves me and she knows that I love her.  We had the opportunity to say all the important things. And yet I have said them over and over again.

When I flushed my troubles down that toilet, with the realization that I am NOT IN CONTROL, and that it is totally in God’s hands, I felt a huge relief wash over me… a letting go… a handing of a precious package in to His care.  I left that washroom feeling tremendous relief and with a smile on my face that has not been there for a long time.

Back in her room, I wished Mom a wonderful journey.  I told her to have fun.

I told her as my guardian angel that I was going to keep her busy and see some of the world that she didn’t see.   I told her to do the same.

“What the heck …  take a spin around the world in the arms of the angels and have them show you the mountains and oceans, fly over the jungles , spin around the Eiffel Tour, buzz over Europe …see it all.  Have the angels soar through the heavens….have a blast.”

She told me to look for her in the first dandelion that I see.   I will wonder at that gift.

Often Mom and I would think of something at the same time and say it at the same time.  I would joke with her as to who really had the first thought.  Before Mom and Dad moved in with us,  quite often I would pick up the phone to call Mom and find that she was on the line.  The phone didn’t even have the chance to ring.  We had timed it at the same instant.

So maybe when I’ll be doing something and think of Mom, maybe at that very instant mom is up in heaven thinking of me.

She is very peaceful now as she has been put into a medically-induced coma.  She won’t feel the anxiety as her body fails her.

So my friends, grab a glass and fill it with something like a fine wine and raise your glass in a toast to my Mom.  Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.  Here’s to all the love she gave and received back tenfold.

May we all be as blessed.

Deb.

Thank you, Debbie, for sharing this loving letter with us.  I am asking everyone who’s read your letter to raise a glass to Gladys. “Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.”

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A House With Potential

One of my favorite TV shows was a series called “Build a New Life in the Country”.

Every episode focused on a couple who decided to leave the big city and move to the country, where property was much cheaper, especially if the place needed work.

Via Channel 5
Channel 5 UK

And they all did. Some were derelict houses, even abandoned barns.

Stone walls falling down? Check. Money running out halfway through the job? Check.  Crumbling roof, ceiling and floors?  Check, check, check.  But these brave souls were determined.

 What made each story gripping was the risk of failure.  Some of these homeowners couldn’t build their way out of a paper bag. Yet, they’d taken on the challenge, dreaming of that better life in the country. Some hired skilled workers, but other couples tried to do the work themselves.

At a critical point in the project, the host,  architect George, would appear on site and utter a dire prediction: “It will take a miracle for this work to be completed….”

Via channel 5
Channel 5, UK

And there I’d be in my living room, cheering on these intrepid builders, hoping they’d get their miracle (they usually did). But at the end of each episode, I’d wonder: What makes a sane person look at an old house and say “I think I’ll just buy this pile of bricks and bring it back to life”?

These questions came to mind recently when I came across a photo of a quaint old house near to both charming Roseneath and artsy Warkworth, two villages in the rolling hills of Northumberland, about ninety minutes’ drive from Toronto.  It was listed at a mind-bogglingly low price compared to houses in the Greater Toronto Area:  just $259,000.

mls.ca
Realtor.ca

The house sits on nearly 4 acres of land, and has, the listing says, “fantastic views”.  It has some nice original features: 2 staircases from the main level to upstairs (a great feature found in some old houses), wide-plank floors, a beautiful front verandah and a circular driveway. It also has some recent improvements, such as updated furnace, some new wiring and a drilled well.

mls.ca

But the interior photos tell a sobering story:  this house needs significant updating. New plastering, some new windows, maybe a new roof, new kitchen, etc., etc, etc. In other words, money and work. So who’d buy it?

Blog Photo - Red Brick House 1 staircase

http://beta.realtor.ca/propertyDetails.aspx?PropertyId=13876645

“Well”, says my husband, peering over my shoulder at the computer screen, “$259,000 is a low starting point; could be great if someone had the money to update it.”

mls.ca
Realtor.ca

“Sure”, I think, daydreaming  of buying that house and installing my dream kitchen.

Farmhouse ktichen
“Dream kitchen” via myhomeideas.com

Then the  thought of all that work, all that money — and all that renovation dust in my nose, eyes and mouth –  wakes me up immediately.

But my friend John, who bought a century-old house east of Toronto and is lovingly restoring and updating it, thinks the Northumberland house has potential.  It could be a wonderful project for the right buyer.

“Some things obviously have been done but definitely not all and that is really the key.  I would purchase this house over one that’s completely updated, as by doing the work and exploring the house you really get to know it and make it what you want and then it is your home!

“And if you do most of the work yourself and only contract out the (really skilled stuff like) electrical and roofing and not get too carried away with your renovations, $150,000 should cover everything!”

So here’s my pie-in-the-sky question: if you had a choice, would you buy a nicely renovated house that’s move-in ready? Or would you buy the house that needs a lot of work but could yield a significant financial return?

 

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Every Day, A Gift

A couple hours north of Toronto, the winter has been harsh. For days on end, my friend Deb and her family were snowed in.

Blog Photo - Snowed IN

“This week it was minus 36 degrees celsius,” she wrote, “not counting the wind chill! It was so cold that the trees sounded like they were exploding; like shotguns firing nonstop.”

But something sacred is taking place inside this home.

Deb’s mother Gladys, who lives with her, is declining in health. Week by week, something else fails. Two weeks ago, her feet swelled to the point where her shoes couldn’t go on. Gladys is getting weaker.

“Every day is a gift”, Deb wrote recently.

I know what this means. When time is limited, when every day is a gift, one uses time differently.

Every day, mother and daughter try to create – or simply appreciate – moments that bring joy.

Joy comes in many forms.

It comes from listening to music that Gladys enjoys. “We try to fill the house with her favorite songs from opera to Frank Sinatra.”  She particularly enjoys  Maria Callas and Andrea Bocelli.

Blog Photo - Gladys Painting 2

Doing things together brings a special kind of joy. Gladys, an accomplished artist, still loves to paint.  “Sometimes,” Deb says, ” Mom has enough energy to sketch with me or show me how to paint a picture. Sometimes it means just sitting quietly together in front of the fire and reading.”

Blog Photo - Gladys paints

Joy comes from simple things like deciding what to cook. “I pore over the recipes and ask her opinion. Then I try to tempt her to have a little, though her appetite has waned.

“I still offer her a glass of wine or a hot chocolate spiced with something special.  And Mom still enjoys her peanut brittle, though she has to suck on the pieces rather than bite them (90 year old teeth)!!!!”

Blog Photo - House overlooking Lake

They take joy in nature. Gladys often sits in a comfortable chair beside a large window. On the other side of that window is a bird-feeder and beyond that, acres of woods and a snow-covered lake.

Blog Photo - Bird at Feeder

“We watch for the many different birds that come to the feeder right by her chair,” says Deb. “We watch the snow swirl around the house and whistle through the trees. We are amazed at the snow sculptures — also known as snow drifts!”

There’s also joy in laughter. The two women watch funny movies together.  Like “The Heat”, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They laughed so hard, they cried.

When friends drop in, they enjoy tea, cookies  – and laughter.

Blog Photo - Tea time

And then there’s the kindness of others. “The nurses that come every second day have been so kind and are gentle in spirit.”

Gladys faces each day with a mixture of hope and acceptance. She points out that the doctors are experimenting with a new injection that seems to be helping to give her some strength back. And she also says: “My bags are packed and I am still waiting for a clearance on the runway of life…… That is what snow blindness can do to you.  Illusions??? Think positively! Spring is coming!”

Indeed, there are signs of rebirth in the air. Just days ago, a new baby was born – Gladys’ third great-grandchild.  It’s a joyful occasion, and Gladys looks forward to meeting the newborn soon.

There’s much sweetness in this time. And sadness. And wonder.

Deb notices that, whatever they’re doing, Bailey, the family’s pet retriever, “spends a lot of time at Mom’s feet as if he knows something.”

Blog Photo - Bailey in Snow

As her mother nears the end of her life, Deb finds herself reflecting. “I take Bailey out for a walk every day to breathe….to catch my breath, and pray. To find solace in nature….. to marvel at the snow. I spy two moose in the forest, a mink sliding across the driveway. I tell myself that all I can do is my best. The rest is up to God…the when – and the how –  of how this will come to an end.”

Blog Photo - Moose in Snow

She says Gladys is “calm and brave”, her sense of humour and memory still sharp.  She surprised Deb recently by reciting a quote from a book she received on her tenth birthday, 80 years ago:

“Deem it not an idle thing

A pleasant word to speak

The words you use, the thoughts you bring

A heart can heal or break”.

It’s moments like this that bring tears to Deb’s eyes.  Some days, all it takes is “a word, a song, a story Mom tells.”

But there’s a lovely sense of grace in this home, perhaps reinforced by the words from a prayer by St. Francis which Deb frequently recites: “Make me a channel of Your peace”.

Dedicated to Gladys and Deb, and to all those who’ve had a similar experience.

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RETURN OF THE EXILE

Home now to that place of your youth

The beautiful land whose  brutal truth

You fled.

Memory – that minefield – would not rest

But love and fame were in the West

You thrived.

Blog Photo - Pink Peony

The news came on and you grew  still

The anger bubbled; it made you ill

So silent.

But now to homeland you’ve returned

I pray you’ll cope, and that you’ve learned

To forgive.

Bloodroot Flower
Bloodroot Flower

I wish you peace, and even joy

In that place where you were that boy

Long ago.

Permit yourself to laugh and play

To tuck the anger back away

For now.

Crocus in Spring
Crocus in Spring

Permit yourself to have some hope

Allow yourself the needed scope

To dream.

That land you love may come to be

A place you would have loved to see

Take shape

Mature Shrubs in Bloom
Mature Shrubs in Bloom

And though that seems so far away

So distant from this present day

Take heart

Now feel the sun upon your face

The rhythm, light, and sense of place

Once home.

Forget-Me-Not in Bloom
Forget-Me-Not in Bloom

Dedicated to my friend “Chad”.

All photos by H. Grange.