Friday, October 20, 2017

A Dog's Day

My mother had a good day. She was active and alert and very talkative. When I arrived, she was eating slices of pizza and eating a blueberry muffin. She then wanted a glazed donut and a couple of chocolate drops. She took one and saved it so that she could feed a dog later in the day.

We talked about her health, Halloween, the food, and dogs. She talke a lot about dogs today, and then a large dog named Dunkin made its rounds. It was a large dog with soft fur that does not shed and it is half poodle. He went around looking for people who would pet him and he also cleaned up the floor from the crumbs that people dropped. She tried to give the dog a piece of chocolate and his owner tried to explain that chocolate is not good for dogs.

Then a stroller came by and two small dogs were in it. All the residents got excited. My mother tried to get up so she could feed them some chocolate bits. She likes to be generous. She is always offering her food to others. When we explained that it was not in the best interest of the dogs to eat chocolate, she seemed resigned and said, "O well. I wanted to eat it anyways," and she popped it into her mouth.

I offered her another and she declined, but as I picked up the bag, a few spilled out. I started to place them back into the bag, but she eyed the one that was left over and she asked, "Is that for me? I'd like to have it." You certainly may. Then she finished her donut and coffee.

Then she said, "These people, these women, they really get around. They are always going somewhere. They travel a lot. I see them wherever I go. I guess that means I travel a lot too."  - Yes, you are always busy about many things.

So, it came time for communion. She said, "Wait. Let everyone know. They have to come. Aren't you going to tell them you are having church?" Well, these women over at that desk have other activities for them. I'd like to invite them.  "Well, we should let them know so they can come."

I read from Thessalonians and we prayed the Our Father. After asking what she would like to pray for, she said some of the usual things - that we each have happiness, that her family is healthy, and then she said, "I think the rest of the family would like to come to communion. Will you offer it to them?" Yes, of course. "OK. I'll talk with them about it."

"Well, they will make their adult decisions and they have to come to this on their own."

I think they really want to come.

When the time comes, everything will be ready for them.

Just then, a staff assistant came by and asked if my mother would like to go outside in the warm weather. "Yes. I can go outside?" "Absolutely. The fresh air will do you some good." "OK. Then."

I said my goodbyes and she happily went on her way.

I'm very grateful for the attentive care she receives from the nursing home. It reminds me of Thessalonians, "I thank God whenever I think of you."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pumpkin Brownies, Kisses, and Wedding Cake Fudge

I could not make my usual Thursday afternoon visits to the nursing home, but Friday afternoon worked out well, especially with the traffic. I saw my sister, the head chef at the nursing home, and she needed a little respite from her work in the kitchen.

My sister and her husband have done terrific jobs at losing weight and maintaining their desired levels, but as today was a bit edgy, she was easily tempted to try the vanilla wedding cake fudge I brought for my mother to taste. She said, "It is Friday the 13th in October, I'm off work all next week, and I should have just stayed home today. I'll splurge because I'll be good all next week." She liked the fudge, but then she enjoyed even more the square of pumpkin brownie covered with chocolate ganache. She seemed more cheerful afterwards. Myself, I love pumpkin flavors, and these brownies by our Jesuit community cook were just terrific.

As you can tell, I have a food ministry. The Italian side of me likes to offer food, and that is good because then I do not have to eat it.

I brought a plant for the caretakers of the residents of the nursing home, just to brighten up the day. Some of the staff tried the wedding cake fudge. (My art class last night enjoyed the pumpkin pie fudge.) Then I saw my friend Gordon, who has just come from a funeral. He was visiting his wife and we chatted a bit, and then I introduced him to my sister. Through our conversation he found out she was the boss cook.

My mother was in bed and we woke her up for the visit. My sister went back to work and we chatted for a bit about her legs and that she likes to sleep. Her sleep seems to be increasing lately. She had a piece of fudge and then some Hershey kisses. She had four, but she said she should not have more than two. Then she said, "But I like to eat chocolate."

It came time for communion and I asked, "would you like me to read Scripture?" "If you think so." "Only if you want." "Yes, please." I read from Matthew's Gospel where it said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you." She made comforting sounds as certain phrases were read and then she said, "That is nice, but I don't understand it all."

I told her that God wants each person to be in friendship with him and that God will give us more than we think we deserve, and God will always say yes to us. "Even me?" "Yes, especially you."

Is there something for which you would like to ask God? "I want to be pure and good. I want everyone to be happy and for there to be peace." Anything else? "I want my kids to know that I did my best for them, that I gave them equal time, that I loved them equally."

"Would you like to know God better?" "Yes, but...   does God want to know me?" "Yes, of course."

Did I do enough? Am I a good person? "A very good person, and God want you to be his friend. God wants to thank you." "Really?" "Absolutely. I know it."

So, let's pray then, "Our Father,...."

She trailed off to sleep after her prayers. She would awake to say something about her children. She talked about tasks she had to do from decades ago, and then would gently pass into sleep. I waited for a bit and let her rest comfortably.

I left the room and my sister came back. We talked with Gordon, and my sister left for the day - and for her week's vacation. I gave away the remaining kisses.

I went to the monastery for some prayer and conversation with my monk friend before returning to Boston for plans to see a theology classmate from Brazil.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Play Ball

The trip to Whitinsville began in a surreal way. As I drove along the road, I looked for a convenience store or pharmacy that might sell my mother's favorite candies, but I did not see them. I was almost at her place when I decided to take a detour to the place I lived when I was nine years old. I thought there might be a small market where there was one in the 1960's, but it was a liquor store, so I thought of one more place - a tiny market near our old house. It was quite strange for me to be in this area that I haven't visited since 1970 when we were burned out of our tenement house. I went to house number 139 and it was amazing the number of memories that returned. I stopped in to the small market and it has not changed in half a century. How odd that the search for my mother's chocolates would bring me to this place. It is as if life has come full circle.

Before I visited my mother, I stopped to see a man named Gordon who was visiting his wife. We enthusiastically greeted one another and chatted for a bit. "So, at first I did not know you were a priest. We as Christians, we can pray together." "Yes, we can my friend. We are all on the same journey."

When I arrived to see my mother, I found her in a circle with other residents. The stereo was playing music of the 50's and the activities director was throwing a ball to each resident. My mother was semi-asleep. Her head was bouncing to the music but her eyes were soundly closed. I lifted her arms and swayed back and forth and she started dancing - never to open her eyes.

Then, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" came on and I started singing - alternating between the bass and tenor. She became even more animated and she she swayed in rhythm and all her friends started commenting on the sleeping dancer. Then she awoke when she heard my voice and she said to her friends, "My son, the priest." All the women applauded. Then my mother wanted some chocolate. I obliged. I shared some with Gordon as well.

I picked up the beach ball they were throwing to one another and for twenty-five minutes I played ball with them. They caught the ball and threw it back to me or to another person. They laughed and tried to play along and they sang to music. We danced and kept the circle going. Then, it was time for dinner.

Before dinner was served I asked my mother if she would like to see the new cards I made. "Yes. Yes." I showed each one to her and she started crying. "Why did you let this be hidden for so many year?" "I don't know." "I wish I encouraged it earlier. I wish I knew. I wondered why you did not do it growing up. You kept saying there is only room for one artist in the family. I knew you had this talent."

"What matters is I'm doing something with it now, and I'm very happy with it. Being happy is the whole point of life."

Would you like communion before dinner? Of course!

I read from some of Matthew's Gospel and then from Paul's Letter to the Romans. She oohed and aahed at first and because weepy in consolation, then when I read, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God," she broke down. We prayed the Lord's Prayer and several other women joined us. Each made the sign of the cross.

I asked my mother, "For what would you like to pray?" All the women started chiming in with their prayers: I want everyone to be treated with respect. Let's pray for the old and the sick. We pray that everyone loves each other. We pray for you, too, Father. We pray for peace and happiness, and so forth.

Then we received communion and everyone fell silent.

So, I said to each woman, "I want you to repeat after me: God, show me your special love for me." They all repeated it, except my mother said, "God, show me your special love for you." No, I'd like you to pray it for yourself. Replace "you" for "me." God, show me your special love for me. God, show me your special love for me. God, show me your special love for me.

I want you to keep saying it all night love. God loves you and wants to tell you how much he loves you. Let him tell you.

I like that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Very Good Day

Since I have friends from out of town visiting on Thursday, I saw my mother today. The day itself was lovely with temperatures in the mid-80's on a near-cloudless day. I made sure I had my mother's Hershey Drops so she could get her chocolate fix.

When I saw my mother, she was folding a towel and folding her extra tissues. She saw me and gently started weeping, "You are so young and beautiful and I am so old." "Yes, you are old, and you are beautiful." "I can't stop crying. When I see you, I just become so happy."

We talked for a while and a staff member brought her some apple juice. After tasting it, she grimaced. "Too tart for you?" "Yes, but I'll drink it so I don't offend them." "Would you like a Hershey Drop? "Ugh, I'm full, but just one." I opened the package and realized I needed a plate and a spoon because those drops became Hershey Soup. So, I got her a spoonful and her eyes lit up, and she said, "That's enough. I'm full."

She said, "I just finished making spaghetti with Ma and Pa, and Betty helped."
"Did you make it from scratch?"
"Of course. We always do. We just ate a lot of it. I can barely move."
"And did you make sauce as well?"
"No. Nancy did that. And she made roast beef and potatoes and lots of vegetables. She started it but we all helped out and then we ate."

"Did you talk with Ma?," she asked?
"I did. She liked it when the family eats together. She was very happy. So was Pa. And Dawn Mari just ate and ate (making a shoveling motion.)
"I wish Betty would come. Have you seen her lately?"
"I did. I saw her the other day. She was asking about you."
"She was? She's not mad at me? Maybe she might like me again?"
"O, she likes you. She was telling me some fun stories about your time with her. She said she will stop by soon."
"O, that is good."

We talked about food a lot. "I never ate," she said, "because I didn't want people to get mad at me. I would cook a meal and someone would get upset if I ate some of their food. I never felt comfortable eating."

Finally, I asked if she would like to receive communion. "Yes, Of course. Is Rich coming? Has he even received communion?"
"He is not here today to receive communion."
"I want him to. He is shy but he will come."
"He'll come when he is ready."
"And Sharon?"
"When she is ready."
"And my other children? What about these people here in the church? I thought I was alone. Are they all receiving?"
"Yes, they are receiving."
"I thought I was alone. I have always felt alone in life but there are people who feel the same way I do. I'm really not alone."
"You've never been alone."
"And all these people in church. They need the same thing too."
"Yes, that is why they are here. There's lots of people in the same boat."
"I'm learning I am not alone. I like that. I always felt like I did not belong, but I know I do."
"Yes, you do. And you always belonged."

I read to her a section of Matthew's Gospel, "The first commandment is to love one another, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. The moment I gave her communion, she fell asleep. I first tried to coax the sacred host into her mouth, but that didn't work, so I tried to pull it out, but that didn't work, so I let her nap for a few minutes.

When she awoke, she wanted a tissue to blow her nose. She took the host out of her mouth and held onto it. She dabbed her nose and with one hand folded the tissue, holding onto the host with the other hand. She then started talking and I encouraged her to consume the host. She wiped her eye with it, and held it in her left hand. After adjusting herself in her seat, I finally convinced her to put the host in her mouth and to swallow it.

After consuming the host and closing her eyes in prayer, she said:

"I am all set now. I wasn't always ready, but now I am. I used to think I was a terrible person, but I don't believe that anymore. I am a nice person, and I brought up a nice family, and I had nice parents and sisters. I'm very happy about that. I now know that I am a good person."

"Of course, you are, and you are loved."
"I know that. And I love my family and all the people around me. And I'm a good person. I have come to know that."

Just then, an activities director came over to collect people for exercising. I asked, "Would you like to exercise with your friends?"
"I don't see why not. Is it OK if I do it?
"Yes, I want you to exercise."
"OK. You won't be mad if I leave you?"
"Not at all. Look everyone is waiting for you. Everyone wants you because they love you."
"OK" "I love you to."

As I left, I looked back in the direction of my mother. She and another resident were holding hands as they comforted one another. They both smiled at each other and held hands.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Just Another Day

It is Thursday and I visited my mother once again in the memory care unit. She was awake but slumped over in a chair, but she seemed alert. She saw me and perked up, but remained curled up in the oversized barker lounge.

Before I visited with her, I stopped by the nursing station to drop off some baked goods. These were pumpkin and apple cake pops. They were curious little things - coated seasonal cakes on popsicle sticks, but the staff loved them. I'm always surprised that the staff are so appreciative when I drop off these little treats, but it really does perk them up - the same way my mother perks up. They call me by name - Jack and are always very kind and gentle.

I stopped to see my mother and asked, "Would you like me to straighten you out?" "No. I'm comfortable." "O.K. You don't look comfortable." "Yes, I have to keep my feet up." "O.K. Let me know if you want to be moved." "OK."

She eyed the Hershey Drops in my bag and asked, "To whom do those belong?" "To you. Would you like one?" "Slurp. Just one." "O.K. Here you go." "What about a pizzelle?" Her eyes widened and rolled in agreement. "Those are really thick." "Would you like a coffee to go with it?" "Yes, please. I'll wait." It took me about 30 seconds to make the coffee and when I returned the pizzelle was all gone. So, she had a coffee and another pizzelle.

As her legs were elevated, I asked if I could massage her legs. "Yes, please." "O my. Your legs are very cold." "Why is that?" "Well, you do not get up to walk around, so your legs get cold." So, with her permission, I gently touched her legs. "Ow. That hurts. Keep going. Now it feels good." So, I tapped her leg, right under her knee to get her reflexes, and she laughed. It always causes her to laugh. "You know just how to make me laugh."

I touched the back of her leg and she oohed and aahed. "That feels good. It feels kind of funny, but keep doing it." So, I massaged and she eventually straightened her legs and said she felt better.

"Would you like to receive communion?" "Always." "Would you like me to read Scripture?" "Sure." I read the Calling of Matthew and the meal with the tax collectors and she weeped at the part where Jesus said, 'Those who are well do not need a physician but the sick do... I desire mercy not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." She teared up, and we continued with our prayers. Near the close, I asked again, 'For what would you like to pray?'

She replied, "For my family, of course. It is always about family. I pray that we all stay together." "Do you still love us after everything?" "Yes, I do. Why do you ask this question?" "I've just made mistakes and I don't know that I did everything right." "Well, it doesn't matter if you did it right; the only thing that matters is that you tried your best? Do you try your best?" "Yes." "Well, then you should rest easily and be at peace. That is all Jesus wants - that we try. I know you tried. You are still trying - and he is happy with that. In the readings, Jesus tells us that all he wants is mercy. That is the way he looks at us. So, we can just find comfort that he will do the best for us." "I like your words. Your words are always kind."

She then stretched and I asked, "Would you like me to make you feel a little more comfortable?" "Yes." So I lifted her up and sat her up straight. "O my God. I feel much better now." She became so alert and attentive to everything that was going on around her. After a while, an activities person asked her if she would like to play a game of trivia. She asked, "What is it like?" "Well, I'll ask questions and you give answers. You might like to play. You won at Bingo last night and you win lots of games." "I do?" "Yes, you win often." "OK. I'll play."

"OK, then, I'll go visit my sister and I'll see you later. I'd like you to play the game with your friends." "OK. See you later. Bye. I love you." "I love you too."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Alert and Chatty

When I opened the door to the Memory Care unit and spotted my mother, I noticed she was smiling at a woman and chatting in a very friendly tone. She sat on the edge of her chair, leaned in, and kept engaged with the other woman. Then, she saw me and yelled out, "Jack." She then introduced me to all of the people around her and said, "This is my son. This is my son." We embraced and greeted one another and started to catch up.

I then felt a tap on my shoulders. A man whose wife is in the Memory Care unit wanted to speak with me. He is a building contractor in the Blackstone Valley and we knew of each other when I lived in Douglas. We have been corresponding about faith, which has helped him be patient with his wife's illness. We thanked each other and had a nice time talking about his life and his current situation. I'm very edified by the continual patient care he gives his wife. I'm filled with admiration.

After we parted, I returned to my mother and I showed her some pizzelles, an Italian cookie made with anise flavoring. These are her favorite cookies and we grew up eating them. Grandma always used to make them. She told me that sometimes she would stop by her mother's house and grandma would make a stack of pizzelles for the family, but my mother said, "I would eat them on the way home. I knew I should have saved some for the family, but I couldn't bring just a few back for so many children."

Afterwards, I brought out the Hershey Drops. "If you leave them in front of me, I won't be able to stop eating them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I scream out, 'Does anyone have any chocolate?'"

(The attached photo shows both pizzelles and Hershey Drops - wearing my hat.)

We prayed and shared communion. As we concluded the prayers, I asked, "And what would you like to pray for?"

I pray for the health and happiness of the family, that we can all be happy together.
I pray that we can be even happier.
I pray that I could have done a better job by doing things for all of you.
I pray that my legs don't hurt anymore.
I pray that everyone here has better health.

As we concluded our prayers, I asked about her legs and she said, "I need them massaged. They hurt so much." So I held them but it was too painful for her to raise them even four inches off the ground. Massaging them gently, she would say, "That feels good. Now it hurts. Now it feels good.  Oooh. Aaah." She said, "I think my sister Betty also had pain in her legs. I think she broke her leg a while ago."

We talked about her Ma and Pa. She said, "Pa died years ago. Did you know him?" "I did not know him. I think he died in 1961 or so." "Yes, that is right." "He would look at me with sad eyes because I was not as happy at Betty or Nancy, but I was OK and he knew it. He knew I looked after Doris and Johnny and made them feel better when they were teased. We were all kind of the same. We didn't fit in, but we took care of one another. I just had to do it my own way."

We spoke about Rich, whose birthday was yesterday, and Dawn Mari, whose birthday is coming up. If she were alive, she would be 61 this year. "I miss her so much and we had a hard life, but it made me happy. I wouldn't have had it any other way. We share much love together and she taught us a lot."

We talked death. She said she's not ready, but I think about it sometime. I replied, "That's OK. It is natural and it is positive to think about it. It helps prepare us for when we decide to go. You think about it as much as you need.

Then she said, "You must have to go to work." I said, "I do." "You be on your way then. I know you'll come back soon." Then in mid-sentence, she immediately began to nap. I gently woke her to let her know I would go to work; she gave me a hug and a kiss goodbye, and then rested her eyes in a comfortable nap.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Are you Grumpy today?

I brought garden-fresh tomatoes, some new clothing, and a large crucifix to the nursing home where my mother lives. The staff are so appreciative when you remember them. When I arrived, all the residents were sitting quietly in a circle. No one made a sound until my mother gasped, "Jack."

We started our conversation after she customarily accepted her Hershey drops. I offered some to the nursing staff and they liked the concept of the drops. All in all, my mother had 12 to 14 drops, which gave her plenty of sugar energy.

She made faces at people and said some grumpy things. I asked, "Are you grumpy today?" "Yes, I'm just so sad. I'm sad all the time. I wish things were different. I wish they were like the old days." "What makes you sad?" "All I have is time and I do the same things each day. I'm just so sad."

After talking for awhile, I asked, "Would you like communion?" "Badly," she answered. "Badly?" "Yes, badly. I need to receive communion. I need it." OK. Let' pray then. We spent some time in prayer and she settled down.

After the prayer ended, I said, "I have some homework for you. Will you do it?" "I'll try." "Whenever you feel sad, I want to you say "Thank you" for something good in your life. Gratitude removes your sadness. OK. Can you do that?" "Yes." "You have to choose to be happy. You choose your happiness each day. You can't let the small things bother you; you have to let the small things make you feel good, and we do that when we say thanks." Can we try it now? "I give thanks for that man because he seems like he is praying." "Yes, that is the way to do it. How do you feel now?" "Better." "Every time you feel sad, say "I'm grateful."

"OK. I really like your hat. Can I see it?" "Fifty-nine? Is your head really that big? It can't be." "That is the European scale." "O, (as she puts it on her own head), it fits me well." "Can I take a photo?" "Yes." "Are you going to smile?" "I'm doing it." "I can't see it. Can you say, "I'm thankful for the hat?" "Yes." "OK. There's the smile I want to see."