Blessings Bank

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 23, 2011 in Main Categories

“Work to create moments of joy.” That’s the advice I got last week from Art, while I was sitting in the kitchen of the hospice where my Dad is living out the last part of his journey. I was chatting a bit with Art, a palliative care-worker, and he started talking about the powerful, lasting effects that even a brief experience of real joy can have on a person’s overall sense of well-being. It was the day after my Dad’s 75th birthday; I was thanking them for all they’d done to make it a truly special occasion. For his birthday lunch, they’d prepared a favourite meal for Dad, and when he told them he’d really prefer to have lunch in his bedroom, they just made that happen. Wheeled in a table and set it all up for Dad and me and my brother, brought in beautiful china plates and patterned linen napkins. Set one golden flower from the garden in a crystal vase in the centre, and then they left us to privately eat and visit. But after lunch, they invaded the place! I knew only a couple of the staff that crowded into the tiny room – nine of them in all! Chocolate cake in hand, candles forming a circle around the blue icing wishing, “Happy Birthday, Ralph!”, and all of them smiling, singing loudly, looking straight into the face of my father, who they’d only met weeks before.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my Dad. He sat still and quiet on his bed, his eyes moving slowly from one to the other of these people who are complete strangers to him. Nine of them crowded into the bedroom he accepts as his own; he believes he’s in some sort of retirement home. He has a condition that has almost completely robbed him of his short term memory, so he simply does not, cannot, recognize people or environments unless he’s known them for a very long time. But in the unexpected celebration they were gifting him with, it didn’t seem to matter. His face relaxed, softened, and he took on a look which can only be described as joyful. Because he can recognize care and love, for sure. He got over the surprise and his eyes never left them, and when the singing and clapping stopped, he stared at them happily in complete silence for a few seconds more. And then he put his hand to his heart and slowly said, “I thank each and every one of you! I thank you very much, indeed.”

Art told me that there’s research showing that creating a moment of joy for a person whose mind is somehow locking out memory has the most amazing long-term benefits. Even though they are not able to remember the specific moment for any space of time, the feeling of joy, the sensation of happiness, continues long after the actual event. And therefore, for days or weeks after even a short but positive, heartfelt interaction, the mind and the body continue to experience positive energy. This also works for great memories that can be conjured up from the past. Just thinking about those really happy times floods our systems with long lasting goodness.

I’ve been reflecting on that ever since, and I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I can sit here today, back in my own home, and immediately conjure up exceptional moments of joy from my lifetime. First thing that jumps into my mind is sledding on an old wooden tobaggan, years ago with my kids on a winter night in the field in front of our Quebec country home; the only ones out playing in the cold, shrieking as we sailed down the hill and laughing together in the dark, falling off and getting tangled up in each other, covered in snow….. absolute JOY! And there are so many others. I’m going to make sure I keep filling up that bank of blessings. And, when the time comes that I am old and many days are a struggle, should I be confused and unsure of what’s real and true, someone please remind me of sledding with the children in the starlight.


Family Ties

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 11, 2011 in Main Categories

My youngest son, store home for the summer from university on the east coast, see has been planning to take some time for travelling this summer before he hits the books again. He’s been talking about Rome or London. But then, cheap about a month ago, he instead booked a train ticket to journey across the country to spend time with his older brother and sister who both live on the west coast. He doesn’t get to see them much, being years younger and especially now that they’ve both settled thousands of kilometers away from where they all grew up. I was kind of surprised when be chose BC over Europe – but quietly pleased as punch that he felt that impulse to stay connected to his family.

Family is a big theme for me this summer. For one thing, both sides of my family will have reunions of sorts this summer and many will gather just to spend a bit of time together; time where we’ll reconnect and reminisce and rejuvenate by feeling definitely not alone on the journey. Even my sister will force her young children onto an airplane for the first time so that they can be introduced to this large web of family that they’ve never met! At their age, it will be not much more than bewildering, but their presence will be a treat for the rest of us – more threads on the web, and therefore a sense of strengthening our bonds. We will miss those who can’t be there. A few weeks ago my dear Great-Aunt Zita passed away; my Father’s Aunt and Godmother, and the very last relative from my grandparents’ generation to leave us. Her passing felt like the closing of a chapter and I was struck with nostalgia for those people and moments with them that I remember over the years; the stories they told, meals we shared, songs they loved, the challenges they met as they aged and inched towards the final stage of their lives – the insights they offered on life, sometimes on my life, but usually just on life and living, and in the end, on dying. I don’t mean to over romanticize these people or times – some moments were close to perfect and lots were laced with our own brand of dysfunction. What I’m saying is I wouldn’t have missed it or them. With one entire generation now gone from our earthly lives, it has jarred the passage of time into my consciousness, as well as slipped a sense of personal grounding more deeply into my heart.

And when I, myself, just weeks after Zita’s funeral, became a first time Great-Aunt, my brother’s daughter’s daughter, well the lesson was brought home even more. These relationships are reborn; I’m learning that there can be a great sense of comforting continuity to family. Meaning. Place. I can see, all the more as I get older, that I have a place on a path that stretches far ahead of my time and which will continue far after my time. There is a timelessness to the best that is held at the core of the word ‘family’; and it feels both loving and purposeful.

When my youngest, Sebastian made his decision to take a few weeks to camp out on the sofas of his brother and sister in Vancouver and Victoria, to witness their lives, and to share some of where he’s at in his, he explained it like this. He said “Mom, you know how you’ve told me that as I get older, family would become more and more important to me? Well, you might be right.”

I know I am.


Calendar Calling

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 1, 2011 in Main Categories

“Anyone can tell how badly you really want something by what you’re doing to get it.” That line got thrown in my face today, physician July 1, view by a soup-stained, ask perpetual calendar that’s been hanging around my kitchen for the past twenty years. Shit! Called onto the carpet by a calendar! So, is it too late for New Year’s resolutions? At the halfway point in the year, I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to consider a sort of ‘act two’ version of personal goal setting for 2011. Because there’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do, and that I talk about doing all the time, and that I dream about spending part of my life doing……..but which I hardly ever do at all. And that’s writing. I’m in love with words, with books, with poems, with writers. I want to write for fun, for understanding, for connection with others, for the hell of it JUST because I know it’s an important part of me that doesn’t get out to play very much! Why don’t I just write if I want to write? No idea. Okay, I have lots of ideas around why. Just last week, my friend Jane and I were walking early one morning, talking about why there are some important things in our life that we long to do but we just DON’T. (I’ve had this same conversation with many people over the years.) It’s easy to come up with reasons; the easiest, most relied upon, knee-jerk response is we don’t have any time. But that’s such a big cop out. So then we came up with three real reasons that hide under all our moaning about time; fear, ego, laziness. Afraid a part of our truest selves will be judged to be not good enough; protective of our middle-aged egos that have worked hard to be healthy and seen as successful; and then just plain, old laziness, as in, “ I could work on that big dream of mine………or I could lie on the couch and watch TV.” A sad truth. But here’s another true thing. For as long as I can remember, way back to me as a 9 or 10 year old girl, I have always loved to write; write poetry, write stories, write letters, write a column, write a book or three. And damn that stupid calendar , but today I feel inspired to just shut up and do it! Inspired by a new month, a glorious and free July 1, exactly half way through this year, calling me to make the most of the next seasons. Inspired by Jane, my friend, who walks beside me and talks and sighs and laughs with me about feeling afraid of failure….and also of success. And truly inspired by artists like my cousin Pirkko who creates a unique drawing every week and posts it on the web for all to see – she does it for herself, but through her art she sends a weekly message to us that creating is part of living – and sharing the creative side of our lives is so deeply human. I’ve tuning up by blog and will be posting regularly now that I’ve been crazy enough to write it here out loud. I’m doing it for myself – and to honour the painter, dancer, carver, actor, musician, chef, photographer, the ARTIST that lives in each of us. See you out there.

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