Tag Archives: life-changing moments

Thanks to caring for my parents, I choose to see life wearing rose-coloured glasses

Chronicles of a Chronically stressed out Caregiver. Meditations and Mindfulness Changed My Life. Mindfulness, Meditation and Me.

Let’s be honest. When you are sitting with a notepad in your lap, and the only thing on the paper are titles for the eBook (instead of actual writing), you know that you are in avoidance mode.

Damn, again? At my chronically gifted age one would assume that old trait of mine (avoidance) would have been ‘fixed’ years ago, but sadly, the only thing I do better today is actually notice when I am in avoidance. Thank you, mindfulness and meditation.

While writing another eBook, I find myself enjoying longer than normal walks, hours of playing in the dirt (gardening), and sitting on my freshly painted cobalt blue Adirondack that now matches the cobalt blue bird bath, while sketching my amazing garden. (I am entitled to call my garden ‘amazing’ because this little piece of heaven gives me peace and equanimity. And peace and equanimity is amazing.)

My dilemma is what do I give up so that I can write more?

I have plenty of time to do the things I like to do, but I keep adding to my list of “things to do that give me joy, or wisdom, or fill my curiosity” – I keep trying to cram more into my days.

I am so grateful for this time – no matter the season, or the day of the week, or the time of the day – life is good.

I choose to view life with rose-coloured glasses because I can. It’s that simple.

I learned that how we perceive life and how we co-create our lives is our choice, and that lesson I learned when I closed my children’s retail shop so that I could care and support my parents: my father had a dementia (most likely Alzheimer’s) and my mother was showing signs of a dementia-related disease, also. My life spiralled from an exciting one of fun-loving staff and customers, buying trips to the clothing marts, new encounters and learning possibilities every day, to one of stress, resentment, guilt and burn-out.

Instead of embracing each day filled with hope and gratitude, I dreaded each day as I faced endless chores and responsibilities, grief, and sadness.

Chronic stress nearly felled me, but I came through the challenge eventually as a different woman. I went into the experience with blinders on, and I came out wearing rose-coloured glasses.

I say rose-coloured glasses because my experience of caring for our parents changed my life; the experience changed me.

When my father died, both my sister and I felt that his disease, his dying and his death transformed us and gave us many gifts: wisdom, forgiveness, love, compassion, honesty, and Grace.

Wisdom to realize that self-care is integral to a purpose-filled and joy-filled life – we cannot care for another when we do not care for ourselves.

Forgiveness in the many times our parents would tell us stories of their childhood (those are the stories that are often intact when someone has Alzheimer’s) that shone a spotlight on challenging traits (things that they did that pissed us off) or events that happened (that pissed us off).

My mother would throw these (illuminating) stories out to us – the stories were like candy that she lobbed at us. We would excitedly jump up and gather them to our hearts. Those stories gave us meaning and understanding to her life, to our father’s life, and to ours.

Love and compassion grew as we spent so many hours with our parents, as we truly began to understand their lives, the hardships, their sacrifices, and the reasons why all of it was important – family! Our parents do what they do – for us. That knowledge lit something in us, and warmed our hearts.

Honesty grew. In the last days of disease, dying and death, we are our most vulnerable and authentic. Truth matters.

And Grace. There are many times in life that we know that we are surrounded by Grace, but I am always humbled and awed when Grace supports us at the bedside of our loved one who is dying. It is Grace that holds us up and whispers, “lean in” because when our bodies and minds move forward (instead of away), we learn and we expand. We grow.

These lessons have left me with a passion to help and support those who care for loved ones who have a dementia-related disease, to volunteer with residents in a long-term care home, and to advocate for change.

Like the families who have loved ones with dementia, I, too, fought my circumstances so I recognize that none of them accept their reality (they are still fighting with truth), and in my humble opinion, it is this conflict that causes the stress. We are not meant to fight; we are meant to lean in.

So today (Father’s Day) I am writing this blog as a tribute to my father (and my mother) who allowed me the privilege of caring for them – it changed my life.

I get to choose how I define my life (even if I don’t get to choose the crap that happens); I get to choose to live in gratitude, honouring the simple moments – the scent of lilies in the air, the sparrows and starlings squabbling within the hidden recesses of the viburnum, and the sun’s reflections – bands of white dancing to and fro – on the ceiling of the living room.

When we choose to define our lives from the lessons that we learn, we empower ourselves; we begin to trust ourselves, and we begin to recognize that all the answers to life are within us.

All the answers to life are within us. Thank you, Dad (and Mom) for that gem.

Share the road, people

During my morning walk, I passed a sign this morning that made me pause.

Share the Road

Is not our whole life’s journey about sharing the road?

Perhaps our politicians and world leaders need to take a pause and reflect on the mantra share the road.

As part of a cycling campaign to promote road safety and well-being for everyone – cyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians alike – not only do our roads become safer, but our communities and cities evolve when we cooperate and support each other.

When we become aware of the power of these three little words – share the road – their meaning or significance to our world’s health and well-being becomes central to our actions.

We share ourselves with others every day. We share our ideas, our creations, our kindness and compassion, and our love. And we share our energy. If we exude a peaceful or balanced energy, we share a peaceful presence; if we are angry, we share our anger.

Like road rage, toxic energy hurts all of us. Toxic energy lingers and when it settles in for the long stay, real harm occurs within our bodies, and later, spills into our families: our health suffers, as well as our circle of influence. An angry co-worker taints the workplace. An angry parent damages a child.

Many of us read blogs that motivate us to do better – writers share ideas, experience and expertise that teach us, expand us, and push our boundaries. In sharing, bloggers and writers share pieces of themselves in every post, article, column or book. As faithful (and interested) readers, we accumulate and expand our knowledge, our creativity, and our perceptions as we assimilate these new, and sometimes, provoking ideas and thoughts.

A shared idea or expertise is an opportunity to transform another being – that’s a pretty powerful thought.

From my experience, every day when I tune into another how-to paint video posted on-line, I am not only grateful for these gifts, I am truly motivated to share my joy of learning how to watercolour from these talented people. (Check out videos and tutorials on YouTube – watercolour painters, Peter Sheeler, Grahame Booth, Steve Mitchell, and Grant Fuller…the list is endless.)

We  significantly impact others when we share the road.

The verb share, I believe, is an exchange of energy – giving and receiving – an energy that reflects only one part of the bigger whole. One part. Share means partnership or a connection to another part. A connection.

One part. A connection.

What if when we share, we are connecting to another part of the whole – the whole being the Oneness of the universe?

What if when we share, we are connecting to the Oneness – of you and of me? Perhaps that connection to the Oneness of life is why we feel such satisfaction and joy when we do support others?

When I share my ideas or my creativity, I can feel the expansion within; that expansion comes from my inner self which is realizing (in part) my potential. When you share something of value – your ideas, thoughts, creativity, experience, expertise – begin to notice how you feel. Does it give you a sense of well-being, a sense of purpose, or joy? If the answer is yes, you are sharing (connecting) to a greater part of the Universe – you are impacting others, and your soul is loving it which is why it is so satisfying!

For those of us who volunteer, we already are aware of our impact – we share our time with others and benefit greatly from the interactions. Volunteers will tell you that it’s about sharing; sometimes, as volunteers, we feel selfish as we receive so many benefits, more than we give! It’s an exchange of energy that is like nothing else on earth. (And if you are not feeling it, then you are probably in the wrong kind of volunteer work.)

My daughter-in-law and my son are very creative people (art and musically inclined) and they are keen on weaving their careers, their home, and their passions with the care of the earth. Every decision is based on the sustenance and well-being of the environment. They buy in bulk and store beans and legumes, rice and staples in plain, glass jars with screw-top lids. When I offered to plant their front-yard garden with perennials from my garden, they gratefully received my offerings, as long as I allowed for plenty of space for home-grown vegetables. If last year is any example, peppers (all varieties), kale, spinach, cucumbers and squash will find homes in friends, neighbours, and fellow staff members’ kitchens. Old, past their prime shrubs, are pruned, instead of dug out and discarded. Every decision is based on a careful philosophy of reduce, re-use, recycle.

Their shared philosophy of environmental awareness has spilled over to our lives. Here’s the thing: their actions have influenced my own decisions. We are constantly re-thinking purchases: Do I really need this? (Don’t I already have a set of watercolour brushes?) Can I re-use these old shutters or give them to a vintage store? Do I really need to replace my worn cloth napkins?

I no longer buy cases of water bottles or coffee filters (a reusable one is just fine); we’ve reduced our weekly trash bags to one small bag; we’ve reduced our cleaning supplies to only those that are natural or home-made; soaps and shampoos are chemical-free; and we’ve reduced water to minimal usage (alas, my hydrangea are thirsty often).

Small actions, but as I mature, my actions grow, and so does my influence. Small actions are like seeds – they sprout.

Our philosophies impact others every day. I may not embrace everything that my son and his wife do, but their actions have taught me to pause before I act or commit.

We share the road from birth to our last dying moments. Surrounded by family and loved ones when we give birth,  the circle of life continues when our loved ones join us at our final good-bye.

When I sit with a resident who is dying at the long-term care home where I volunteer (and where my mother lived for two and a half years), I share many moments with either family or friends who drop in, or other residents who want to say goodbye.  Staff, and sometimes other volunteers from the palliative volunteer team, join me during our vigil.

And always I walk away from the experience with a humble, but wondrous feeling that I have shared in a transformative moment. In those hours (or days) of sharing, I am humbled by the gifts that the staff, and others, and I share – compassion, kindness, love, generosity, wisdom, and giving. Each of us has this capacity to give and share, even when someone is dying. Perhaps because someone is dying. Even at our most vulnerable, we share.

Even at our most vulnerable, we want to connect. When we share a piece of ourselves, we expose our vulnerabilities – and that is when we are our most honest and authentic. We connect with others because they sense (sometimes at a subconscious level) that we are sharing a piece of our true selves, and their vulnerability recognizes our vulnerability.

One thing I do know: that it is in the gift of sharing this road – that the transformation occurs. It is in the sharing that we meet our greater selves.

In awareness, let us move throughout our day and take note of how much we share the road. We cannot move through our lives without it. We cannot meet our potential without it. We cannot transform without it.

Share the road. Share yourself. And you will find yourself accepting an endless supply of gifts.

If only world leaders could learn this simple act. Just share the road.

 

 

 

What happens when we cannot accept our loved one’s prognosis?

snowdrops always return in the early days of spring - a sign of hope and re-birth

snowdrops always return in the early days of spring – a sign of hope and re-birth

Your mother probably has Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease. There is nothing that we can do for her. She has broken her hip and her wrist and after her bones have healed, we suggest that she cannot live alone. You should put her name on the list for an opening at a long-term care facility. You are probably looking at a wait up to two years. In the meantime, she will stay in the hospital.

Words that sounded familiar – an echo of a similar conversation that we had when my father fell on the stairs and an ambulance took him to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. At that time, 3 years before my mother fell also, my dad lived at home and my mother, sister and I cared for him. He was not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but we knew that he had the symptoms; my mother refused to take him to the physician to be assessed. She denied that he had a dementia-related disease.

But after my father died, I knew in my heart that my mother was showing many signs of dementia, herself. My dad’s death had transformed me – love, compassion, kindness and other lessons from my journey of caring for him – and so I was able to accept my mother’s illness more readily, without the burden of guilt, resentment, anger and denial. Those were emotions that travelled with me when I cared for my father. I lived in a world of bewilderment and hurt during that journey.

When my mother had to go to a long-term care facility, we faced the difficult decision with an open heart and we accepted the reality. We did not fight it as we had when my father was ill. We accepted that we had nothing left over after his death; we had little time to refill or replenish ourselves. The well was empty. And we cannot look after someone else when we are not whole ourselves. That is a lesson that still resonates with me today.

There is nothing that hurts us or our loved one more than our non-acceptance of a diagnosis or prognosis. Nothing.

I have learned when we accept the reality of the illness (and what it means in the future) fully and completely, we open up our hearts and our minds to living today, and not wallowing in death and dying.

There is a world of difference, my friends. When we do not accept that our loved one is ill (that he has a dementia-related disease) we live in denial and that leads to a myriad of emotions, none of them loving or compassionate. Hurt, suffering, pain, sorrow, resentment, anger…all of these emotions arise (and it is natural for them to arise) but we cannot let go of them when we live in denial.

And in the process we begin to hurt our loved one. Our sorrow or hurt spills over and touches them. They will feel our energy – an energy of a stewing pot of negativity; not one of love and compassion.

Our loved one will feel ashamed and full of self-blame. He will begin to constrict and instead of being open and sharing his emotions and fears, he will do the opposite – he will keep them close; he will hide them. In our non-acceptance of the disease, and in our anger that our loved one is losing his cognitive abilities, we close the door to an open and loving connection.

When I learned to accept that my mother, too, had a dementia-related disease, I vowed that now that I knew better, I must do better (Maya Angelo) and so I let go of my fears and tried to live in the Now. I vowed to visit her often (between my sister and I we visited her daily as we rotated visits – three days one week, four days the next) but never walk into her room with negativity. I left those doubts and fears in the parked car. When I visited, I went with no expectations, no hidden agendas. Just love and compassion. Whatever greeted me as I entered her room, I accepted.

Sometimes we sat outside in the garden and listened to the birds, and other times we sat in the activity room listening to music, or attending the music therapy sessions. We sang hymns together and laughed with the other residents.

When I cared for my father, there was not a lot of laughter or singing in our home. We carried his illness around and rarely laid it aside – we were sad and I often found myself crying in the bathroom, when I found five minutes to finally be alone.

I look back on those days with regret that I did not accept his illness – all those days wasted in fear! If I only had learned to accept my reality, instead of resisting it every day.

But I have come to a peace about that time. In retrospect, I realize those days made me who I am today. The lessons (I call them gifts) from my journey have transformed me.

My compassion that grew during those days and after have allowed me to live a life of joy in living in the present moment; finding solace and comfort within at any time; living in mindfulness each day; finding my true self. I have learned compassion for others and for myself. That compassion has led to less judgment and more acceptance of others and for myself.

I have accepted that I am imperfect. I have accepted that when we look after a loved one who is ill, we will find peace when we accept the moment as it is. Sometimes that will mean sadness and grief layered upon regret that time is running out. We accept that, too.

The peace comes when we accept the truth of the Now – the reality of the present moment. We suffer when we look away or deny the reality. Or if we try to take control or manage the Now. We cannot control illness – we cannot change the prognosis. No matter how much we love someone, we cannot cure them. (Let that thought go.)

But we can change the energy that surrounds us. We can control our thoughts.

Our loved one who is ill wants only one thing from us – he wants our acceptance of him as he is right now, even ill. He wants to talk about his fears; he wants us to let him know that we will walk this journey beside him; that we have his back.

He wants to know that he still matters. When we sit beside him, when we listen, when we laugh with him, when we share the present moments (watching a sunset together, listening to a choir or a guitarist, hearing the birdsong, reading aloud, sharing a cuppa) …this is how we allow him to know that he still matters to us!

Just listen. Let him express his fears and frustrations. We are not here to cure our loved one. We are here for one reason only: to love.

Love has another name: Acceptance.

Let us not shy away from the gravity of a diagnosis or prognosis – but let us lean into it. Let us express to our loved one (in our words and in our actions), You are loved. I am here for you. I have your back. We will walk this journey together. You matter to me. You are not alone. Let’s enjoy the present moment…together.

All gifts.

 

Joy and tchotchkes

Joy, gratitude, bliss.

All are interconnected.

We live in a small house and raised twin boys in it. When it was time to move to a bigger house, we looked around our cottage in the city and announced that we were already living in our retirement home – the very same small home that we have called our cottage since our babies were born. So we stayed put.

Like many people I have surrounded myself with things that give me joy. When I walk into any room in our home, I am blissfully happy and content – just by looking at the photographs of trips we’ve taken or art bought from local street vendors, furniture that I have found at auction sales and have refinished or restored, and objects such as vintage vases that I fill weekly with the flowers that my husband buys at the local market every Saturday. (When my son got married, I gave him one piece of advice only: Buy flowers for your wife – often.)

I have learned that when I enter a room filled with items that I cherish, a calmness and tranquility comes over me and soon afterwards I feel a rush of gratitude. That gratitude leads to bliss. I feel a loving energy in every room of our home. My awareness and mindfulness of that loving energy leads to more gratitude – our home becomes a true haven for our family because that energy supports us and comforts us. But it begins with the awareness of where I am.

So when my sister told me about this life-changing book about cleaning that she had just read, I was skeptical.

We were sitting at a table in a favourite restaurant enjoying burgers and beers when she announced that her whole way of cleaning had changed her life and given her back…joy!

I raised an eyebrow. My husband burst out laughing and spilled his beer. My sister was not a clean and clutter-free kind of gal. Nope! I got that gene from my mother, not her.

“The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up (the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing) by Marie Kondo has helped me not only clean house and declutter, but it has opened my mind and my spirit,” she announced.

Well, even though I was pretty sure that I could not learn anything new about cleaning house, she got me at the “open mind” part of her statement.  But once I had thought that I was pretty sure that I couldn’t learn anything new about cleaning house, then… well, I just contradicted all of my intentions for 2015 about how an open mind can free up our creativity and potential for growth and expansion.

So I borrowed the book and opened it to peruse the chapter titles…

Really I was just fooling myself. I was not being open-minded: I was looking for evidence! Evidence that I already did all this decluttering, organizing stuff; evidence that I already cleaned house in a superior manner; evidence that I did not need this book. (Damn it, my house already gives me joy.)

The chapter entitled Komono: Keep things because you love them – not “just because” caught my eye. Synchronicity, again.

My mom died nearly one year ago and so lately it has occurred to me that I should be sorting through the boxes of tchotchkes from her home. My mom had a lot of tchotchkes around the house because unlike Marie Kondo (the author of said-mentioned book) my mother saved anything and everything that people gave her – books, key chains, greeting cards, postcards, statues from travels, salt and pepper mementos. Like many grandmothers, she had saved useless Christmas gifts that the kids had given her when they were preschool age…some school projects were now torn or dried out;  while some items were just plain hideous. (Did I help my kids buy these items? Was I high that shopping trip?) Her dressers were filled with unopened boxes of gloves, scarves, and woolen hats that she had never worn, but kept in their original packaging. And boxes…that were empty. She saved those, too. For some reason, I was now the keeper of this stuff.

Well, I am not a knickknacky type of collector. In fact, up until a couple of years ago when I deliberately made the intention that I would not judge people by the crap that they collected (Ha! A lot of judgment in that statement, huh? My meditation teacher would not be happy with my lack of growth.), I could not walk by a front garden full of gnomes and plastic flowers without cringing. Now with all my growth (ha!) I can walk by such gardens and just smile. Whatever floats your boat, right?

Well, it is time to release my mother’s tchotchkes, according to the KonMari technique (author’s name spelled backwards) and this particular chapter on mementos will tell me how to do it, joyfully (apparently).

Take everything out of the boxes and place them on the floor. Now, one at a time, pick up the items and hold them, and only if they give you joy or pleasure, return them into the box to be kept. The rest, my friends, will go to the charity shop or the trash. Well, that’s the difficult part. Who wants to give a shiny, three-inch plastic flower-pot that wiggles when you pick it up to the trash can? Did my mother like this flower-pot? Did she pick it up and laugh? Or, did someone dear to her give it to her? (My sister denies it was her.) Nevertheless, this pink plastic flower-pot is in perfect condition. Plastic just doesn’t die!

In the spirit of the KonMari technique, and because my sister nags me every day, I am going to give it a try. I am going to release the flower-pot that wiggles!

Thanks to the author, I realize now that my mother’s possessions did not give me joy – I was only storing them out of guilt. I feel such freedom. Plus, my closets are now spacious.

Decluttering or simplifying our home, according to the author, is the first step to simplifying our life. When we clear away stuff, we free ourselves. Apparently her technique works as once she teaches clients how to organize their homes, her clients continue to practice her techniques – they live clutter-free forever. More significantly, they learn to release old habits and old thoughts, as well as letting go of stuff.

To me, that sounds pretty spiritual. Letting go of things that no longer work for me; letting go of ideas and thoughts that do not serve me or support me; simplifying life so that I can pay attention to what does serve me – my family, my friends, my home, my garden, my volunteer work. A simplified life frees me to spend more time doing things that give me joy, activities that increase my creativity, that expand my awareness and support my growth.

When I catch a glimpse of the red cardinal in our cobalt blue bird bath, I feel joy.  When I have more time to just sit with a hot tea in my hands, watching the autumn leaves fall from the maple tree at the corner of our yard, I am grateful for the simplicity of my daily life. My life is simple because I have chosen this life. I choose to be mindful of what gives me joy. And letting go of chaos and clutter are life-changing choices, also.

As young people we don’t understand why our parents give away their possessions, or why our parents refuse birthday gifts or return them later. As young people we spend a lot of time collecting stuff, not refusing it or giving it away. But as we grow older, as we grow in self-awareness, it becomes unnecessary to keep collecting, to keep buying…and for those who are ill or dying, they learn very quickly that it is not stuff they want, it is precious time that they crave now: Time to spend with loved ones, time to spend doing whatever inspires joy, and time to reflect on a life well-lived.

Often I repeat something that I learned many years ago…something that I heard again when I took a palliative course two years ago: When we are dying, we never cry out that we wished we had spent more time at work or more time making money to buy more things. Because when we are dying, we are just grateful for the love that surrounds us. In the end, love is the only thing that matters.

On my window sill over the kitchen sink I have a few beloved tokens: three Buddhas with their hands stretched out in loving kindness and generosity, my mother’s ring (which I wear with love always), my gratitude stone, and a tiny porcelain teapot, pink roses on the front, and inside the teapot are two tiny mice, each holding a cup of tea. The tiny, difficult-to-read inscription says,  Mother and Daughter.

This tchotchke gives me joy. All of the other stuff, I let go.

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Why do we travel?

 

May your hands show mercy, and may your feet care for the green earth.

May your hands show mercy, and may your feet care for the green earth.

I have been on an adventure. I’ve just returned from the amazing country, China, and I am still in the midst of jet lag, wonder and awe, and gratitude.

When I put out my 2015 intentions  explore, creativity and expansiveness in January, I had no inkling that I would be visiting China. (Seriously, I thought I’d just read a few books on creativity.)

I have now returned and realized that I haven’t blogged for three weeks or longer. So now I want to process (always in my head and then in my writing) the question: Why do we travel? Why does it feel so…fulfilling?

For me, I think we travel to connect:

To open our hearts, minds and our spirits to other experiences, new sights, and to other people. We are all connected; we are all one.

We travel so that we can understand we are not the centre of the Universe and that is always a good reminder for all of us. Most of us live in our heads (thoughts are endless) and when we travel, it is the recognition that there is a world out there, and not in here (my mind).

We travel so that we can recognize that all things have an inherent beauty – even on a seemingly chaotic street in Beijing where the traffic lights are ignored, the sounds of non-stop horns is a cacophony that assaults the senses, and where cars, motorbikes, pedicabs and bicycles merge into each other with no sense of order (to our eyes), life flows. This is China.

Grid lock

We travel so that we can see the differences: one day we are on a wild, traffic grid-lock street in Shanghai or Beijing, and the next, we are observing the old man in traditional baggy garb gardening in the countryside. His straw hat protects his head from the hot sun, and large baskets sit beside him. Later, we spot him toting his baskets on a wooden pole that is strategically placed across his shoulders. It is a scene that is the epitome of rural China. Later, we visit a hutong (alleyways where families reside in low grey buildings – many are being torn down to make way for the new and brighter China…their words, not mine) where we visit a family who teach us a quick lesson in calligraphy (as if one could learn an ancient form of printing in an hour) and I cannot help but compare the hutong to the beautiful hotel where we stay, amongst other tall and grand skyscrapers. Strangely enough, I remember when I visited the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, a few years ago to see an exhibit of black and white photographs of Chinese hutongs. At the time these photos haunted me, and I now have to pinch myself when I realize that I am actually sitting in a room of an actual hutong in Beijing, China.

Gardening in the countryside

I travel so that I can meet people and to recognize that in spite of many differences, that we are all one. I kneel over to catch a glimpse of a baby; her mother smiles and nods at me when I tell her that her baby is so beautiful. She doesn’t understand my English, but she recognizes the loving energy of my intention.

Later, I am moved to tears when I watch family members carry an aging parent or grandparent up the steep, irregular steps of the many temples and pagodas. The family’s devotion and care to their elders evokes my own memories of our family carrying my mother and her wheelchair up the steps to my house on so many holiday occasions when we brought her home from the long-term care facility where she lived the last two years of her life. I am full of emotion when I remember those times. My sons and my nephews struggled under the weight of her chair, but they never complained. They did it with love. I know that the Chinese care for their aging parents with love and once again, I am assured that love is Universal – and it connects us all.

We travel to capture the moments that completely overwhelm our senses – the first time we glimpse man-made structures that are thousands of years old – so much imagination, so much creativity, so much industriousness (yes, apparently there is such a word: attention, hard work, energy, effort). Once again, I recognize that human beings are amazing creatures and have achieved such inspiring feats.

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And I travel to capture the beauty of another part of the world because it is a reminder to me that the Universe is one awesome, beautiful place (no matter where we live). In the words of Walt Whitman, “every cubic inch of space is a miracle.”

And I travel for the laughter that we share whenever I travel…with old friends or with new friends that I meet on my journey. The tiny, wizened old woman who tugged at my sleeve when I was climbing one of the many temples with steep stairs – she gestured that she wanted to have a photo taken with me. Our arms wrapped around each other, our smiles from ear to ear, her son snaps a photo of the two of us and she is so happy and full of joy that soon my group is laughing with her and before you know it, we all are swarming this tiny woman for another photo. Oh, the joy on all of our faces. What a moment. Her beautiful face, so full of joy, will stay with me forever.

The memory I have of her joyful face is the reason why I travel. That, and the memories of taking part in a 5:45 am morning Tai Chi class; those unforgettable early mornings are moments that I will savour.

We travel to explore within ourselves. To experience new things that open us up even more…we expand then. And we tap into our creative being, also. I begin to notice what is pinging within me. The bright reds and yellows adorn every pagoda and temple that we see and I love the colours. Me, who is a tried and true “blue girl” – I love, love, love the colour blue (because I love water!). And yet I am picking up all things red and yellow. (Stuff that normally I would never be drawn to.) And the calligraphy. Oh, my! I buy brushes because I am definitely going to pursue that beautiful art when I return to the land of non jet-lag.  And don’t get me started on the exquisite art in the museums – oh, how I would love to take painting lessons in that art form. But I’m fairly certain the Ming Dynasty tomb painters haven’t left us a how-to draw figures on a tomb’s wall, so I am out of luck, I think. (Wait a minute…there are lessons probably on You Tube.) And vendors everywhere sell their art in stalls, crammed with their paintings and drawings. (I’m in heaven!) Many of the vendors are artists or calligraphers, themselves, so watching them paint at a table in the stall is common practice. Some of my favourites are works drawn with black ink. (The many shades of grey and black fascinate me.)

Painter - no brush necessaryPainter uses hands and palms only, dipped in inkCalligraphy

Calligraphy prints drying out

Calligraphy prints drying out

In short, travel gives us the opportunity to explore openness; to explore our own possibilities; to explore growth.

We become bigger each time that we travel. I like to think of my spirit urging me to go and grow!

Grow! I imagine my self as a big, white aura that just expands more and more, each time that I open myself to new possibilities.

This is why I travel.

 

 

 

That’s a good bingo!

That's a good bingo!

That’s a good bingo!

On Wednesday afternoons at the long-term care facility where my mother lived, you will find me in the community hall (or according to my mother – the big mall where people sing) volunteering at bingo.

I go with an open mind and an open heart.

Every week I learn something new from my peeps at the residence. (My sister calls them my “peeps” and I like that so I use the term often.) The gifts that they give me are many and I cherish them.

If you want to meet people who are truly authentic…then visit a long-term care facility. Even those who have Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease are real and authentic. When you least expect it, the true essence of each of us shines through; the residents are no different.

My peeps inspire me, and teach me to live in the Now. Often they are so thankful and grateful for the smallest of kind gestures that I just want to weep. Whenever I am with them, I find myself laughing and full of joy.

Today at bingo, my beloved friend (who sat at my mother’s dining table and kept an eye on my mother) joined me. She is full of spirit and enthusiasm – she meticulously cares for her attire, hair, and make-up and always looks so wonderful that I sometimes have to re-check what I have on…am I appropriately dressed to visit her? She visits the chapel daily, she confides, as she is deeply spiritual. She didn’t have to tell me that – I guessed it from her loving and positive energy that she emits every time that I visit her. (I want to be just like her when I grow up!) In spite of a difficult past that I uncover in bits and bobs (as my mother would say), and because she is so strong and determined at the age of 92, I so want to hear her story and record it. But she’s skeptical and isn’t ready yet. I accept that because I have learned that she has withstood many terrible events and grief, and I am deeply aware that perhaps I, too, am not ready to hear her story. I trust that when the time is right, we will recognize that moment and she will share her story.

Another one of my peeps at the bingo table has had a full and rich life in the public eye. I know that because I recognize the people in the photos in her room when I pick her up to go to bingo. She is remarkable, in spite of her dementia. She loves music – I would call her a music aficionado – and often rates the music in the community hall. Her face tells the story – she frowns and says oh, no, that isn’t music, or  she’ll sway to the music, tap her feet, and smile at me and say, yes! When I am with her, I am reminded that each of us (no matter how old) has a rich and colourful past. We must not underestimate anyone. (And I would like to capture her story, too.)

I love the residents’ honesty! They don’t hold back. They don’t mince words. Many people don’t like that but I suspect it’s because we are all so used to such mediocrity, such blandness, such hypocrisy in conversations…that when a real and honest conversation takes place, well, we are confused.  We see that as oh, auntie is having a bad day.  In reality, auntie is just telling it how she sees it. And it isn’t always pretty.

When they are so honest, I think they are more authentic than ever. I have learned to read their faces and the emotions that sit there…words not spoken, but humour, love, distaste, disgust…all blatantly evident.

When the residents play bingo (I overstate that), most are not actually active in the game. Instead, volunteers or staff members sit beside them and help. The volunteers/staff point to the called numbers or actually cover the numbers as the numbers are called aloud.  At my table, there are only two of us to help the residents – the other person is a staff member who is a student. She is leaving tomorrow as she has graduated from her course and so this will be the last time I see her.

She is a special person. I am in awe of her. First of all, she is young, happy, full of joy and she is not afraid to express those traits with the residents. She leans in and kisses them on their hands; she often hugs them; she laughs loudly all the time. When someone yells bingo! (no one actually yells bingo!…it’s more like a whisper because the residents are often too weak or too shy to yell) she will jump out of her seat and start jumping up and down, often dancing! Oh, I just want her to stay and play bingo with us the rest of her life! Please don’t go, I tell her, which just makes her laugh more.

She has a beautiful singing voice, too. I know this because once a month there is music therapy at the residence and I volunteer. Since I am not a very good singer, I was terrified to sing alone the first time that I volunteered. But here’s the thing about music therapy at a long-term care facility – it’s the music teacher (who is a talented volunteer) and the volunteer who do most of the singing. Usually when I round up the usual suspects for music, we have only two or three residents who will join in the singing as most of the other participants are unable to sing (for various reasons). I have learned that one does not have to actually sing…to enjoy the music. I have witnessed many a toe-tapper whose eyes are closed.

My mother sang beautifully and sang often in our home when we grew up so I am pretty sure (once again) that I am drawn to music therapy for deep, psychological reasons (Ha!) and to get over my fears.

So I sing.

And I love it. (I love the fact that I choose to sing even though I cannot.) Here’s the funny thing: the residents think I have a lovely voice! (Okay, peeps – we are going to get along just fine.)

But I digress. Our student worker (the one who is leaving at the end of this week) once started singing the hymn that we were trying to sing during music therapy. She was in an adjoining resident’s room and just chimed in.

Oh, even the residents in wheelchairs who barely move or show any emotion, woke up. It was like a miracle! I practically burst out crying, with joy. And so did the woman who leads us. We looked at each other with knowing eyes and we (all of us in that small room) were connected – by the joy of listening to the student’s beautiful voice.

Oh, yes, we will miss her. Wherever she is going, lucky them.

At my bingo table the two of us are attempting to keep track of twelve cards or so, with help from a couple of residents who actually do play bingo, but are hard of hearing. Four? No, fourteen. Forty? No, fourteen. You get the picture.

Well, eventually someone whispers bingo! and then the tables all respond…we help the bingo card winner yell it out….BINGO!

When it’s my turn to check the winning card and give back the called numbers, I am always a little nervous – many of my peeps cover more numbers when I am not looking. I think they feel like they are doing something worthwhile – if I cover one number, why not ten other numbers?

So keeping my eyes on all of their cards, pointing to numbers, and ensuring that no one is “cheating/helping” takes a lot of attention on my part.

I always remind myself to just go with the flow of the afternoon.

Once it has been established that the card is good – that is, all the numbers have been correctly called and identified, the caller yells, “That’s a good bingo,” and we all cheer. As if we have really won the lottery.

Inevitably, after we do a victory dance (whether or not we win), the two of us help the residents to the smaller activity room (the room as my mother used to call it “where the whirling dervish lives,” the high-energy activity director) where the whirling dervish, oops, I mean, the activity director has prepared coffee, tea and cookies for the participants.

When we sit at the round table enjoying our coffees, I often think of my younger life as a mother, sitting with other young mothers, talking about our daily lives and keeping one eye on our kids. I’ve come full circle. Life has an unexpected symmetry, I think. Here I am with residents, keeping one eye on them as they sip their hot drinks, and talking about our daily lives. For a few moments, I know that I am in the flow.

And I think to myself... that’s a good bingo!

 

 

 

 

Red foxes

Victoria by the Sea, PEIWe have just returned from one of my favourite places – Prince Edward Island, Canada. PEI is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and separated from mainland Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces by the Northumberland Strait.

Our rental cottage was situated on the Hillsborough River, where we overlooked the harbour of Charlottetown. To say the least, the views were spectacular and ever-changing from day to day. Any cottage on the water is always my safe place – the place where I feel I am home. Rental makes no difference to me…I am home.

Sunset over Charlottetown HarbourWater is restorative. It calms me and nourishes me. I am drawn to water and often declare that I was born to live on the water which always makes my husband jokingly retort, “You do. We live in a city that is located on a river and a lake. What more do you want?” He knows that what I mean is to live on the water with a deck or a screened porch or sun room facing the water, windows (of course) with panoramic views – that is my true intent. But his point is taken as water is water and I am grateful for what I do have.

At our rental cottage we enjoyed the serenity and calm that only such a vacation spot can give.

cruise ship coming into Charlottetown harbourWe were graced each morning and early evening with a Great Blue Heron who only visited us when the tide was out. There, amongst the blue mussel shells and clam shells and strewn remains of kelp, she would land on the shore and stay for hours, always still. Her slight movements were measured and few. She would lift her legs slowly, so gracefully, and allow each to hover in the air before she placed it down. It was a show of elegance each and every time.

On most days, at any time of the day, any kind of inclement weather, we would sight double-crested cormorants – their constant diving for fish  true entertainment value. A black bird with a yellow/orange patch at the base of its bill, we could easily spot them with our binoculars.

On another occasion we were lucky enough to spy seals (harbour seals) swimming by our cottage…a whole family of them. How effortlessly they swam; no, glided by us. So close to the shore of the river that we didn’t even need binoculars to sight them. Bliss, yes? Yes!

Red Foxes in PEIAnd yet in spite of all the daily bird sightings, one of our most memorable visitors was a family of four red foxes who apparently seem to roam freely in Prince Edward Island, and especially in the area where we were located.

Our assumption that foxes were nocturnal was incorrect! They visited the lawn in front of our cottage (we watched them from the sun room, literally three to five feet away) numerous times throughout the day. Sometimes they would gambol and frolic on the grass as if putting on an afternoon matinee. (Okay, let’s be honest. How often have we wanted to use the word gambol and never had the opportunity?) And although we were fascinated by the family, we were also a little unnerved of their constant presence. (They might be fascinating, but they are also wild.)

The fox family or group is called a skulk; the male, a dog; the female, a vixen; the young, pups. A fellow cottager, a permanent resident, informed us or warned us not to feed them (no, thanks!) as some summer visitors do throw them scraps, and she feared that only emboldened them, not to mention spoiled them of their natural hunting instincts. On a couple of occasions, we did notice the father fox (the dog) prance by the cottage with a couple of hotdog wieners in his mouth; another time, a shoe.

But after a few days of entertainment, the show ended. They disappeared. Perhaps they were aware of the week-end approaching – an influx of more people.

Our vacations are often remembered by such moments. We don’t give a second thought to the flight, or the car drive, or the hotel room…unless such a moment occurs. Red foxes in PEI; a fishing history museum in Twillingate, Newfoundland; puffins in Nova Scotia; sheep bells resonating on a hillside in Portugal; the early morning fog rolling out on the Costa Del Sol in Spain; the beautiful, intricate scrolls and filigree in wrought iron gates in Savannah and Charleston – oh, the small details that, for me, are indelibly etched forever in my memory bank. Nature is a prevalent theme in my memory photo book, but creativity, art, and the kindness of people are recurring images, too.

I am drawn to creativity (because it is the best of people) – the beautiful works of wrought iron of Philip Simmons in South Carolina; a ceiling in a tiny church or a cathedral that knocks your socks off; a row of red Adirondacks that flank a cobalt blue sea – that’s a photo album that I cherish internally.

A perfect V of Canadian geese flying overhead and I am instantly remembering a kite’s ribbons, undulating in the sky – an image from last year’s vacation.

It’s these small, but significant, details that inspire me and push me to travel more.  No, not travel more – take more notice and be mindful (wherever I am).

The older I get, the more I turn inward to assess and review my authenticity. Who am I? Why am I here? What is it I am meant to do? Questions that Deepak Chopra urges us to reflect on when we meditate.

And every year that passes, my contemplation or reflections become more and more simpler.

I am. I am meant to love and be loved.

I am here to just enjoy the moment. All of the small details matter.

I am connected to all. If I am connected to all, then I strive not to judge others. And I am meant to be kind and compassionate. That is love.

I am here to see the beauty – in everything. And if I love and am loved…then I love myself, too.

I matter. You matter.

Just as we are. We do not have to do anything else – just be. And love ourselves.

The more we love ourselves, the more we can (and do) love others.

It’s really pretty simple. We are gifts.

Red foxes remind me of all that.