Pinkie Patti and the Piano Man

Mom piano hands“Do you want to try playing Ms Patti?” Eric the Piano Man questions, gentle yet intent.

“I don’t think I can. I don’t know how,” Mom replies.

She adores singing, knows the words to hundreds of songs, still remembers them mostly. But she never learned to read music or play an instrument.

Now she’s 85 and in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Her language skills are beginning to evaporate – she rarely completes a sentence anymore. It seems unlikely she should be able to play the piano at this stage, even as she’s coming ’round the mountain.

Eric is undeterred.

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She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pajamas

Mom hair Sandy Jan 2014A shaft of light settles just so on her white hair. Her eyes are unusually clear and bright: the right one reflects the sun as it shines through the window; the left is hidden in shadow.

“You look like an angel Mom,” I say, caught in the beauty of now.

Sandy wraps a stray wisp around the curling iron, rolls it close (but not too close) to Mom’s scalp, and waits for it to set.

“I will be one soon.” Mom replies.

My eyes meet Sandy’s.

It’s one of those moments of profound knowing that caregivers, hospice workers and those whom they serve share unexpectedly – one of those times in which there is no denying the depth of our connection with the divine.

Mom knows. And she’s letting us know she knows. While her brain and body struggle in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, her heart, soul and spirit are ready to be set free.

She rarely strings words together to form a sentence anymore other than when she sings (see below), or when there’s a break in the clouds as there has been with her reply. Mostly her speech is disjointed and random, a pick-up-sticks game of subjects, verbs and objects with no real meaning, except when the occasional tear in the increasingly thin veil between here and there allows something astonishing to slip through.

I’m not a religious person, not at all. But I recognize divinity when it touches down.

As Sandy curls Mom’s hair on a Friday afternoon in January, 2014, I imagine an invisible-to-us angel singing in her ear:

“We’ll all come out to meet you when you come. We’ll all come out to meet you when you come. With a hug and kiss we’ll greet you, yes, we’ll all come out to meet you when you come…”

My mother knows she is in the final stages of her journey. Maybe in some ways she’s lucky. Some of us are taken suddenly, snatched without warning from this world we think belongs to us but clearly doesn’t.

Death by ambush? Or a long drawn out siege? Either way, living fully is our duty, discovering joy is our privilege and life breaks our hearts  whichever path we choose. Life is meant to be lived after all, joys and sorrows notwithstanding.

Mom still lives with gusto like this, this, this, and this. Maybe that’s why she’s not quite ready to go around the mountain. But she’s getting closer to being ready. When the time is right a whole host of angels will be there to “greet her when she comes.”

I’ll bet she’ll be wearing pink pajamas.

Heavens!

Special thanks to earthbound angels Sandy Card and Eric Manolson.

Related links:

Loving Words at Sunset

I See You and Me. And Love.

85 And Feistier Than Ever

An endless prayer

Oh Mom! (A mother/daughter moment remembered)

15 Empowering Things to Tell Your Kids (and Yourself)

10 Things Our Daughters Could Learn From Whitney Houston

6 Powerful Ways to Make Your Life More Beautiful

Life Breaks My Heart

Fight the Good Fight. Your Way.

Journalist, author, motivational speaker and world-record-holding marathon swimmer Diana Nyad made five attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

She first tried at age 28 in 1975.

She failed.

She made four subsequent attempts in August 1978, August 2011, September 2011, and August 2012. She finally succeeded in making the historic crossing “sans” shark cage in August 2013 at age 64.

“Find a way,” she says in the TED talk below. “You have a dream and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do. None of us ever get through this life without heartache, without turmoil, and if you believe and you have faith and you can get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way.”

I too am tenacious. Determined. Doggedly so. Perhaps stupidly so.

One thing is certain: once I’ve got my eyes on the prize I’m not likely to give up, and my stick-with-it-ness has helped me achieve cool things (like becoming a triathlete at age 50), and taken me places (from the Great Wall of China to the Arctic Circle) I never would have dreamed possible.

In my experience, the hardest decisions in life are those that force us to choose between giving up or trying harder, washing our hands or taking responsibility, doing the “right thing’ or doing the easy thing.

These are tough choices. At first glance, giving up, washing our hands and doing the easy thing may appear more attractive. Clearly these choices are less troublesome and burdensome. But they are invariably less satisfying, less honourable, and less enriching as well.

Even in adversarial situations when the prospects of failing far outweigh those of success, my pit-bullish unwillingness to surrender serves me well – albeit not always bloodlessly!

“There’s always a chance,” I remind myself.

There’s a chance – slim though it may be when you’re outnumbered, outgunned, and outsmarted – that you will emerge victorious. Sheer determination sometimes carries the day. Not often. But enough to make the struggle worthwhile.

This is truth, not some hallucination like those Nyad experiences during her long distance swims.

God knows I’ve lost many times. And I’ve been lost many times. But I’ve also won. And I’ve also  been found.

AWR better to lick woundsI learn from my failures (much more than from my successes); I get up, dust myself off, shed some tears, heal my hurts, and keep going. I’d rather lick my wounds and be battle-scarred than kiss ass and compromise my values.

I don’t hold any world records. I’m not internationally renowned like Diana Nyad. And I don’t have a big expert team to support me. Mostly I just have myself and a merry band of international misfits, rabblerousers and amazing women to cheer me on.

But like Nyad, I’m unwilling (maybe even unable) to give up.

According to Wikipedia, Nyad describes marathon swimming (in her 1978 autobiography) as a battle for survival against a brutal foe—the sea—and the only victory possible is to “touch the other shore.”

You don’t have to be a marathon swimmer or famous or special to be courageous in life. You don’t have to be shot at to be brave.

We all fight our own daily battles (big and small) against our own brutal foes. The only victory possible is to find a way–our own way–to persevere, prevail and live another day.

Fight the good fight. Whichever way is your way.

Catherine never complained

Catherine I am luckyMy cousin Catherine was born with a heart defect.

She began having (then-experimental) surgeries to correct it at the age of two. She had many such surgeries and spent countless days, weeks, sometimes even months in hospital. The number of times she might have died are too numerous to mention.

She never complained. She amazed everyone with her will to live.

In addition to the surgeries and hospital stays, she took all kinds of prescription drugs and faced multiple challenges throughout her childhood and early adolescence: attention deficits, learning issues, and limits on what she could and could not do.

She never complained. She made the most of life.

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I See You and Me. And Love.

This is a second short video for the What I See project.

The first one, “What We See,” was made in collaboration with 21 friends from around the world.

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85 And Feistier Than Ever

AWR celebrate life“Pretty good for the old girl,” is Mom’s standard response to “How are you Patti?”

And yeah, she it pretty damn good for 85, which she turned today.

She’s an amazing woman who inspires me every day with her courage, determination, and ability to prevail.

(She also drives me crazy on occasion!)

Until recently, I wished she could see me more clearly. But I’ve come to terms with her incapacity to do so, and, as a result, discovered unconditional love. What a priceless gift.

I’m grateful to her for being such an inspiring role model, I couldn’t have asked for better. Continue reading