My family members and I are always looking for rays of light in the photos we take. Sometimes the light rays are streaking and peaking through branches of trees; at other times they are luminous emanations splayed from clouds. We like to imagine that the light beams are visitations from our loved ones, angels and/or the Grand Architect – all of the above. Call us crazy or eccentric, but it’s part of our spirituality.
Recently family members sent me three different photos that were taken on the same evening in different places. They had snapped photos of the evening sky as the sun began to set. Each captured an enrapturing, captivating light-filled sky and each photo seemed to radiate peace, hope, beauty, serenity and the feeling that “all is well and all will be well.“
I need all the inspiration and light that can flow my way. While in the midst of a crisis I describe below, I came across some wisdom that had to do with opportunities to grow and learn from *every situation*. Such an attitude can help us gain spiritual riches from pain we are experiencing. This wisdom is from a book titled, “In All Our Affairs: Making Crises Work for You“. The book is used in Alanon groups all over the world and the wisdom and import of the aforementioned words really strike home right now. We are lumps of plain clay that need to be placed into the fire kiln in order for our beauty, shape, magnificence and uniqueness to emerge. But it takes an immersion into the fire pit for this to occur.
For those readers not familiar with Alanon, it is a 12 Step program geared towards folks who have been adversely affected by someone else’s drinking. Just as the addict gets better by conscientiously applying and working the 12 Steps, so can his/her family member, loved one or friend find peace and healing by living a life guided by the 12 Steps.
Messages of light and hope and gaining spiritual riches through painful tests were things that my sisters and I and our Mother needed recently. We were scrambling to assist our 87 year old widowed Mother who had a fractured hip and we were in and out of the hospital for 11 days navigating the before and afters of a full hip replacement.
My RN sister called an ambulance after Mom suffered a sudden inability to lift herself from her chair, saying that her hip hurt horribly. Once in the ambulance, my sister said that Mom screamed over every bump on the road that the vehicle clumsily bounced over. Her blood pressure soared to serious levels; she screamed each time someone tried to move her. Her sodium levels were too low for surgery so she laid in a hospital bed in great discomfort for 36 hours.
We were promised that we would be notified when surgery was scheduled, and that notification never came. We were all calling the nurse’s desk early one Sunday morning, as instructed by hospital staff, to check the surgery schedule. Call back was the only answer we received. I then called my Mother who desperately asked about surgery, and all I could say was soon, hang in there, this nightmare will soon cease.
Although no one ever called with surgery date/time, the silver lining was that Mom got wheeled into the operating room on Sunday morning when she was at her wit’s end and her spunky spirit had fizzled. I have a feeling that she got quickly squeezed into the surgeon’s busy and tight schedule, and as a result, things like calling the family fell through the cracks.
We made sure that one of us was in the hospital daily and our off time was spent scurrying here and there to pull together resources, medical and home equipment, after care, follow up. It was a full time job and I would arrive home each evening emotionally and physically drained. Of course, it was nothing compared to what Mom was suffering; yet, I too had to focus on taking care of myself and get the rest I needed. I found myself collapsing into bed each evening. I just needed to lay down and do nothing but breathe and listen to soothing music. It was my own brand of medicine and self care. I called it being a slug!
Sometimes I debated with myself whether I should go exercise at the end of a long day or go sit on the couch. A friend said I would feel better if I exercised; but I voted, without regret, for the couch! 🙂 Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I am in the gym often, and if I am not in the gym, I am either walking, hiking, swimming, golfing or taking a yoga class. So, if once in awhile I choose to lay down and do nothing in order to recharge my batteries, I give myself a pass.
The story I have related is not unique; it is repeated millions of times all over the world and my sisters and I are not alone. Taking care of an aging parent is almost a given for many of us boomers. Our Mother has been healthy so the fractured hip was a blow to her sense of independence and resilience. I reminded her that recovery comes one minute, one day at a time and patience is our job as patient! Am I speaking to myself at the same time? Yes I am. I am learning to be gentle with my own recovery and make crises work for me. Sometimes I want to scream and tear my hair out, but this current experience creates an opportunity to practice patience and also define boundaries whenever I feel stretched too thin or asked to do unreasonable tasks.
In recounting my experiences over the phone to my son regarding my Mother’s recovery and care, he pointedly but politely asked: “Who’s the one experiencing anxiety, Grandma or YOU?” Ha ha, he caught me – I may have been too zealous or dramatic in the blow by blow recitation. Perhaps I was venting (just a bit) and maybe a little animated (only a trifle) – no harm, no foul. But, I still took his observation as an opportunity to explore my own feelings, emotions and reactions surrounding events of late. I am not Superwoman and I don’t pretend to be.
I felt I had moments of really rising to the occasion. An example of where breath and patience were helpful tools is illustrated in the following dialogue. It was the second night after my Mom had come home after surgery and rehab. The first evening at home had gone smoothly, but things started to unravel a bit on the following night (maybe it was the meds kicking in):
Mom: “I’m so scared! I’m so lonely!”
Me: “It’s okay Mom, I’m standing right here.”
Mom: “What am I going to do? I can’t make any decisions! I’m so scared, I’m so scared.”
Me: “It’s okay Mom. It’s all going to be okay. We will help with decisions.”
Mom: “I’ve always been a scared little girl.”
Me: “No, Mom. You have been a strong Iowa farm girl.”
I keep taking deep breaths. I give myself a time out and ask for what I need. I told my Mom: “I just need 15 minutes in the spare bedroom” and then I sequester myself and engage in a mindful and invigorating yoga sequence that revives me. I emerge refreshed. I’m the eldest daughter with a bundle of responsibilities and I consider it service, family duty, and an act of love to help my Mother the best I can. I also have the feeling that through working on improving skills of patience and listening more, I can atone for past instances where I may have been more rash, irritated, or impatient. What a wonderful thing! Each day I am given a chance to become a better person, and what better time or opportunity than having a crisis act as a barometer of where I stand in my journey towards emotional maturity.
Of course, we don’t actively seek or create crises, but they are inevitable on the path of life and we can make them work for us. We are given an opportunity to shine forth our better selves and all we can do is our best to the best of our ability. We are not asking ourselves to be superhuman; we are simply calling upon and appealing to our worthier qualities and assets. I know for me, being able to end the day without logging too many checks under the “regrets or amends column” is a sign of progress. Did I choose to walk away when someone wanted to pick a fight? Did I choose to not have the last word? Did I bite my tongue, do less talking and more listening? If I say yes, then it’s a good day. In fact, it’s a great day!
A friend who knew what my family was going through sent me a text suggesting that I read the August 16th entry in the Alanon book, Courage to Change:
“In times of crisis, we need to be at our best. By making an extra effort to get nutritious food, sleep, support, relaxation, and quiet time with our Higher Power, we strengthen ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, this can make a difficult situation a little easier. I am the only one who can make my well being my top priority. I owe it to myself to pay attention to the needs of my body, mind and spirit.”
Words of wisdom indeed! Alanon to the rescue once again.
So, back to the photos – I cherish the photos gathered over the years where rays of light figure so prominently. Sometimes the rays of light descend from heaven down into the top of a skull of a loved one who’s suffering and needs an extra tender and loving touch and the reaction to the photographic memory is of one of deep reverence. The splendorous images bequeath hope, inspiration, support and produce an overwhelming feeling that there exists a great mystery, an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent force. I feel a clearing expand within and I am reminded to keep trusting and to take it one day at a time. I focus on the idea that I am guided and I will continue to be guided. In the darkest and scariest of moments, rays of light break through to remind me who’s boss, and it’s not me! I let go, and let God.
While writing this blog entry, a memory sprung forth while referencing photographic displays of light descending into the top of loved ones’ heads. This experience wasn’t memorialized in a photo but happened as if I were in a dream; yet, I was wide awake. On Valentine’s Day, 2017, I sat in quiet as usual in the morning in my big easy chair holding a cup of coffee. My intention was to connect with higher wisdom, the God of my understanding, and all of a sudden shafts of light started pouring into the top of my head. There was so much light that it was spilling about and splashing all around. I mentally made an effort to catch the escaping droplets and absorb as much as I could. What this means I can’t say, but I like to think of it as a blessing that came unexpectedly as grace! We take what we can get, when we get it. If I could get more of that light just by asserting my will, I would, but grace and blessings don’t work like that; so, I savor the precious Valentine Day’s vision and hope for more to come.
Today my beloved late Father would have been 89. One year ago today I wrote a tribute to him. I often imagine his presence riding on one of those light beams and I sense his serene smile and hear inwardly these encouraging words: “I am so proud of your Mother. I am so proud of you and your two sisters for being there for your Mother. I love you all and I’m with you.”
In closing I would like to extend a big thank you and a humongous hug to my two sisters — Linda and Marilyn, who are loyal, giving, patient and loving. I don’t know what I would do without them.
And to my readers and everyone else, may your days be filled with rays of light and may you always find the silver lining.
Below are the photos taken in early August by 1) my daughter-in-law and 2) and 3) taken by my sisters.
Pacific Ocean, California:
Marin County, California:
San Mateo County, California: