Archive for January, 2013

Now Sings My Soul

Ingram Publishing

Ingram Publishing

I wasn’t planning to publish another post this week, but I just returned from a funeral service for a 52 year old member of my church, a father of two who died of leukemia after a few months of attempted treatments leading to cardiac complications.

I remember with a shudder that I once, in my rebellious younger years, would have sat at such a Christian service with my mind slammed shut, harboring a cold heart and refusing to participate in hymn-singing or prayer recitations.  Turning away, in other words, from the very sustenance that my angry, hungry soul was starved of.  And how I hated weddings back then, with their ritual and scripture readings and rosy expectations.  If I couldn’t avoid one, I would sit in the pew in recoiled posture, like a vampiress confronted with a bouquet of garlic, hawthorne, and wild rose.

When funerals or weddings take place in our humble sanctuary these days, I can’t help but glance around at the faces of the crowd and wonder how many of them are not participating because the words are unfamiliar, and how many are hunched behind a wall of resistance.  My prayer, always, is that the legacy of the departed believer’s faith will soften stony hearts and open narrowed minds to the full peace and comfort to be gained by accepting the balm of God’s Word.

The opening hymn for today’s service says it better than I could ever hope to.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Text: Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886
Music: Charles C. Converse, 1832-1918

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful

who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,

cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge;

take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

thou wilt find a solace there.

January 18, 2013 at 7:28 pm 2 comments

Breaking Through the Winter Fog

DIt seems to be taking me forever to get back into the writing groove this New Year.  Not sure exactly why.  It could be the grey skies overhead or the prediction of below-zero temps again by next Monday.  Or maybe it’s the treacherously icy conditions underfoot that make every step a heart-racing adventure.  Might even be the crushingly burdensome weight of national debt being loaded onto our shoulders daily by our elected officials or the whole Post-Campaign Season Stress Syndrome thing.  That’ll put a slump in anybody’s posture.  Dunno for sure, but I do know that inertia feeds inertia, as far as the little grey cells are concerned.

At the suggestion of a friend, I am easing back into regular blog postings by asking for your input on a short introduction to the memoir I’m working on.  I’ve copied the single page below, and invite you to give candid feedback about whether this sounds like a story you’d be interested in reading.

Questions are welcome, too, as well as suggestions and brutal criticism.  On the other hand, don’t be too brutal.  I need to remain un-bruised enough to limp back to the keyboard when all is said and done, and pound out the remaining chapters.

Thanks for the look-over.  And do let me know what your first impressions are.

Prologue

It’s late October 2004.  My husband Jack and I meet after work outside my father and stepmother’s townhouse.  B and Z’s; Dad and Zelda’s; Pa and Ma’s place.  We are here to walk their two dogs, as we’ve been doing since July’s startling announcement that they no longer feel sufficient to the task.

At 84, my father suffers from breathing and circulatory problems; at 81, my stepmother shows early signs of dementia – with some Parkinson’s-like tremors erupting, just to keep things interesting.  I am adamant that they not be forced by these circumstances to give up their pets.

Dad greets us at the door with another shocker: “We’re going to have to go into assisted living.”  No, “Hello”, no, “How ya’ doin’?”  Just that stark declaration.  Yes, they are in their 80s, but these two have always been young outside their years in every aspect.  My father had continued his career as a consulting psychologist well into his 70s, and the woman he married in 1972 had been a warm, delightfully quirky individual, full of surprises and quick with a witty retort.  Each enjoyed absorbing hobbies, and they had eagerly traveled the globe together for most of their 32-year marriage.

As we herd the pups today, mulling over the prospect of a radical change in lifestyle for my beloved Bill and Zelda, I hatch a plan:  leave my dreary clerical position and devote myself to lightening their load, helping them maintain independence, and injecting some sparkle back into their lives.  I’ll carve out an entirely new weekday vocation as companion/housekeeper/secretary/social director/exercise coach/dog-walker/assistant cook.

~~~~~

Over the next year-and-a half, Zelda will suffer incremental losses of mental acuity, while quietly, in the background, my father’s health slowly cranks toward a dramatic climax that none of us anticipate.  At least not so soon.  His history of staunch self-sufficiency, dating back to a childhood of shattered family life, propels him through his own physical deterioration for many months; Zelda and I spend most of our time together, stretching to access enough fingers to plug the ever-multiplying holes in the home-front dike.

Meanwhile Z – former organizer of Fourth of July Kitchen Band marches who had once met my more inhibited father at the airport wearing a fright wig and carrying a rubber chicken – is fading away into confusion.  To be at her side through the slow and painful loss of who she is becomes the most agonizingly moving experience of my life.

~~~~~

The journal I kept while caring for Bill and Zelda overflows with dramatic contrasts:  moments of high humor and wrenching despair; snapshots of the struggle for dignity within a downward spiral of mental and physical decline; arcs of mood between fear and optimism, gratitude and resentment.

This enterprise had much to teach me.  About life and death, love and commitment, resilience and human limitations, faith and endurance.  Here, I share those incidental lessons, as a generation of baby boomers and society at large confront the challenges – and the delights – of caring for those who have so long cared for us.

January 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm 3 comments


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