Learning to Embrace Change

change-is-goodChange is something I’ve always resisted. From the time I was 13- years old and my dad announced we were moving from my small Midwestern hometown to a quaint “village” in Pennsylvania, to all the current changes, including retiring from my day job. Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. Even a positive change, such as retirement, can be challenging.

Twenty-one years ago, Randy and I decided to move from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Winthrop, Washington. I remember the combination of excitement and stark fear as we took on this new adventure. I also recall how hard it was to put the “for sale” sign outside our familiar home, the one where our sons had grown up. It was tough loading up all our belongings into that Ryder truck on a late November day. Then we drove across the mountains to an unfamiliar place where the only person we knew was a real estate agent. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve never regretted that decision. I had to let go of what was familiar in order to embrace what was new and ultimately best for us.

The perspective of hindsight is so interesting–and encourages me to welcome future changes. What I see as I look back through many years, is that most changes I’ve faced have impacted my life in a positive way.

It’s often hard to see at the time, though. At 13, I thought my world had come to an end when I left my dearest childhood friends. My dad had tried to point out the positive aspects of this move which I stubbornly refused to consider. In retrospect, Dad was right. Even though I loved Iowa, moving across the country gave me more vision for what might be out there in this big world.

When I married Randy and we began moving around the country–and the world–with the Air Force, Dad never lamented that he’d miss us and his grandchildren. He was always a cheerleader, saying how great it would be for us to explore the Far East and the other stateside places where we were stationed. “Now we have another new place to come visit,” he’d say with so much optimism I almost believed him.

Of course, there are changes that are anything but positive. Illnesses, job losses, and the loss of loved ones are beyond difficult. In the past decade, Randy and I have lost both his parents and my dad. And we’re all too aware of my mom’s aging–and ours as well!

I’m finally learning to accept that change is inevitable. Since that’s the case, why not embrace change instead of fighting it? I learned a long time ago  in Al-Anon that acceptance is the answer to most of my problems–especially those situations I can’t control.

So what does embracing change look like?

  • Look back, but don’t stare. Instead of wringing our hands about those “coulda/shoulda/woulda” experiences, we can consider what we would do differently, what we can learn from those situations. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move forward.
  • Be intentional about treasuring moments with loved ones. Losing someone we love will always be difficult. Instead of fearing what is inevitable with aging parents or other loved ones, by being intentional with our time, we will have an abundance of memories and gratitude for the ways this person has impacted our lives. A beloved physician who practiced in our town for several years, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 62. A friend wrote on her online memorial/tribute page how she had told Cynthia how sad she was to be losing her. Cynthia reassured her, “Yes, but just think of how lucky we were to have had this much time together.”  What an amazing perspective–and one I want to remember!
  • Remind yourself that change can be good! Sometimes when an unexpected change comes and knocks us off our feet, there’s ultimately something positive that can come from this experience. A job loss can lead to an unexpected opportunity, one you wouldn’t have considered before, or an injury that sidelines you for a while can give you perspective on the direction you’re headed with your life.

I’m all too aware as we embark on a new year, change can be expected and even welcomed. I’m telling myself, Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t get so settled into your comfortable routine that you miss new opportunities.

So when the trapeze of change swings in your direction, have courage to grab hold and then let go. It might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!

What changes are you facing right now that seem scary?  Let me know…it will be a privilege to pray for you!

 

 

 

Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?

 

 

Change can be Good

We’ve come to the end of another Thanksgiving weekend–the first Thanksgiving in many years that we’ve stayed home for the holiday. Usually we travel over the mountains, through the woods, and on the ferry to my parents’ home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

This year, Mom wasn’t feeling up to having company. Understandable. She’s still recovering from a mastectomy in August on top of the ongoing demands of caring for my dad who has dementia. I left the decision about Thanksgiving to Mom. We didn’t want to add an iota to her already overloaded plate of responsibilities…even though I would’ve loved to cook up all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings for her and Dad.

One night after I talked with Mom, I woke up with that unsettled feeling that I’ve experienced more frequently. I recognize what it is–anxiety about my parents and how I can support them. Almost immediately, a phrase popped into my sleep-clouded thoughts: Change can be good. I remembered Patsy Clairmont at Women of Faith speaking about change and the positive outcomes it can bring. 
 
Sometimes we get tunnel vision and we only see the bleakness of a situation. Dad and Mom alone on Thanksgiving…would Mom even want to cook? What if they had to resort to frozen dinners? That’s when I realized I don’t always consider the God- factor…how might He use this for good? How will the situation change when He shows up? What if the change I’ve been dreading or feeling sad about is the change that is most needed?

It all comes back to trusting God…no matter what is happening around me. I must believe He will always be there. He knows all the ins and outs of every circumstance. My abilities and resources are limited. His are boundless.

When I called Mom on Thanksgiving, I asked her if she was cooking.  No…she didn’t have to do any cooking. Her neighbors were bringing Thanksgiving dinner. “They insisted,” Mom added.

Wow! The Lord had taken care of Dad and Mom without me making any arrangements. Changing our Thanksgiving plans had given Mom a much-needed rest–and the ability to be blessed by her neighbors. I breathed a sigh of relief and made a mental note to remember–yes, change can be good!

Is there some change in your life you’re dreading? How does considering the God-factor help you face uncertainty? 

Blessed are Those who Mourn

I’ve heard it said there’s a point in time when we become a parent to our parents. I know this in my head. My heart doesn’t want to accept this role reversal. I’m only too aware that we’re all aging. Years have passed by in a blink. I’m resisting. I want to be the child, not the responsible grown-up.

My parents are in their mid-80’s and both are facing health issues. My father was diagnosed with Pick’s Syndrome(a form of dementia) about six years ago. The disease has progressed slowly, but steadily, without compromise. My self-assured Dad whom I’ve loved and always counted on is slipping away. I came across a letter he wrote me before dementia took its toll. Dad, I miss you!

My mom has been his primary caregiver and she’s understandably exhausted. Taking care of dad has been grueling. Once there was a season to focus on marriage, children, careers, social events, being part of a church family. Then one day you wake up to a parade of doctors appointments, pill-taking, cleaning up incontinence messes and washing soiled linens and clothing. It’s painful to watch your parents struggling. We’ve asked the typical questions: What should we do? How can we help? Is it time for Dad to be in a nursing facility? Lord, please give us wisdom, strength, courage.

My friend Sarah lost both her parents during the past two years. She has been a source of comfort and strength. Last weekend, we enjoyed an oasis of rest and refreshment. A new friend I met in May at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal invited me to come visit and bring a friend. So I did. Little did I know how Divinely appointed our weekend would be.

Sarah asked if I minded visiting her parents’ grave with her. The cemetery was located in a nearby town. First we stopped at Joanne Fabrics to pick out silk flowers. We found the perfect bouquet of pink azaleas–60% off. Sarah

commented on how her parents always liked a good bargain. It felt good to laugh.

We stood together looking at the simple headstone with two names carved in granite. A photo of a young obviously-in-love couple made me smile and cry at the same time. I cried for myself, pre-grieving the loss of my parents. But feeling more strength to step into the caring role God has for me in this season of life.

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:13