Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Gruesome perhaps, but necessary and worthwhile

One of the goals of our retirement community is to encourage people to continue as life-long learners. Retirement doesn’t mean turning off the brain. On the contrary, having more time opens up opportunities to explore new areas of knowledge. Curiosity gives life to old bones. And old brains.

In this retirement center, opportunities for learning abound. A resident committee dedicates itself to finding interesting speakers and workshops; this week a professor from the university across the street is speaking on “Civility in Polarized Times.” A few weeks ago, a Vietnam vet (and resident of this community) talked from personal experience on the ongoing emotional trauma war veterans face. The art committee frequently invites artists to demonstrate their craft. The community life department organizes outside excursions; in a few weeks those who want can ride the bus to the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals of the Pacific Northwest. And on and on.

And, of course, learning takes place through books. I’ve been a reader all my life, and retirement gives more time to read all kinds of books. The retirement community has its own well-used library. Belonging to a book-discussion group helps with processing what we read.

This past week I’ve been inhabiting another world, learning about a line of work I only experienced watching detective/murder movies on TV (not my favorite kind of show—and apparently full of misinformation). It’s the world of forensic investigative medicine. The world of autopsies, something I’ve not been interested in. Until now.

The book is a memoir by Judy Melinek, M.D., assisted by her husband, T.J. Mitchell. It’s called Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (2014). The author tells the story of her two-year internship (2001-2003) in New York City, working in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the office that investigates homicides, suicides, drug overdoses, and disasters. She describes her role as follows:

A forensic pathologist is a specialist in the branch of medicine who investigates sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths by visiting the scene, reviewing medical records, and performing an autopsy—all while collecting evidence that might be used in court. Like a clinical pathologist, she has to recognize what everything in the body looks like, but the forensic pathologist also has to understand how it all works…. The forensic pathologist is the medical profession’s eyewitness to death—answering all the questions, settling all the arguments, revealing al the mysteries contained in the human vessel. “One day too late,” my clinical friends like to joke.

At the beginning of the book, Melinek assures the reader that, “I’m not a ghoulish person. I’m a guileless, sunny optimist, in fact.” Part of the book is the story of how she journeyed from surgery to general pathology, finally realizing that forensic pathology challenged her and gave her the most personal satisfaction. She writes with humor that, “I didn’t start off wanting to be a forensic pathologist. You don’t say to yourself in second grade, ‘When I grow up, I want to cut up dead people.’ It’s not what you think a doctor should do.” But in the end of her professional search this very role become her calling.

Melinek’s story demonstrates a combination of objectivity and compassion. Concerning objectivity, she writes that “You have to suppress your emotional responses or you wouldn’t be able to do your job. In some ways it’s easier for me, because a dead body really is an object, no longer a person at all. More important, that dead body is not my only patient. The survivors are the ones who really matter. I work for them too.”

She demonstrates compassion through the stories of the people that death put on her operating table. The book is full of stories. The different chapters deal with deaths by poisoning, violent accidents, homicides, suicides, natural disaster, and man-made disaster. A chapter is given each, with stories of the people and details of how she went about her investigations, including details about the autopsies and how she discovered the secrets the bodies revealed.

It was disturbing reading and I had to steel myself in parts, practicing objectivity. This was possible because of Melinek’s obvious love of and respect for the human body and her fascination with its intricacies, even in a state of decomposition. That combined with compassion for the subjects of her investigations and their families helped me read my way through the book.

The longest chapter in the book is titled, “DM01.” That stands for “Disaster Manhattan 2001.” 9/ll. All cases for identification would be coded DM01-1, DM01-2, and so on. The workers at the OCME were in shock that day, as was the whole nation, and it soon became clear the dauting task ahead for the forensic pathologists. OCME headquarters became the center for the identification of remains from the disaster. Tents were set up in the street around the building, much like we witnessed during the recent pandemic. Thirty medical examiners joined the team and they worked 12-hour shifts around the clock. The work went on for 8 months, with remains being discovered even after the investigation was officially closed. Melinek estimates that she had 598 DM01 cases assigned to her. A year after the disaster, the team had issued 1,389 death certificates, the other 1,344 missing persons declared dead by judicial decree. The author noted that, “Many families expressed their gratitude that our office, and the funeral directors who acted as intermediaries, had helped them to mourn even in the absence of remains to bury.”

This gave me an entirely new perspective on 9/11, just as the whole memoir gave me a new understanding of forensic pathology.

Since 2004, Dr. Melinek has carried on her work in San Francisco where she lives with her husband and two children. Looking at her life’s work, she writes that

Every day I learn something new about the human body. I love the work, the science, the medicine. But I also love the nonmedical aspects of the job—counseling families, collaborating with detectives, testifying in court. I find I work hardest at these roles, at speaking for the dead. Every doctor has to cultivate compassion, to learn it and then practice it. To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living.

      As I wrote above, this book was like a walk through another planet. I learned something new about the world, about the value of work. I gained a stronger appreciation for people called into roles that most of us might find repulsive, but which are a necessary part of our living together in society. And I was reminded that any job can be carried out with integrity and compassion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The fragility of travel plans

 I’ve been blessed with a career that let me travel the world, at least that part of the world south of the US border. Hal and I began our relationship in Guatemala, where he was serving as a conscientious objector to war and I was there are a short-term “youth ambassador” with our denomination. After we married, we moved to Bolivia where we spent 26 years, raising our kids and learning to be at home in Latin America.

A subsequent job with a semi-virtual graduate school saw us teaching Christian leaders in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. I gave seminars for writers in Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, and the Philippines. In addition, we spent time with our daughter and son-in-law in Saipan, and made four trips to Ruanda and Kenya to be with our son and his family. (Our kids caught the travel bug from us.) And we were privileged to visit friends in Thailand, Turkey, and Russia.

It was all very exciting at the time, but just reading the list now exhausts me. As the preacher in Ecclesiastes could have said, “There is a time to travel and a time to stay home.” We’ve come to acknowledge the time we’re in now.

In fact, in the last ten years of this extensive travel schedule, we were noticing how much longer the flights seemed, how uncomfortable the seats had become, and how hard it was to hoist our hand luggage into the overhead bins. The airport stays between connecting flights became oppressive and trip-recovery time more drawn out.

Our last trip to Bolivia in 2019 was to celebrate the centennial of the Bolivia Friends Church and celebrate we did! Our two adult kids came with us so the four of us could experience their “home country,” and be with so many loved-ones again. But……Hal and I adjusted poorly to the high altitude and came down with some familiar but energy-sapping illnesses. We seemed—and were—more vulnerable. We reluctantly decided that this would be our last big trip.

And for a time, it was our last trip. The pandemic helped us stay home.

But now a wonderful opportunity has been handed to us. The graduate school we helped found and worked in up until our retirement is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s to be held in Panama City. All present and former professors and administrators, plus the 50 some graduates are invited. These are all people we came to love and consider family, so the thought of being together again delights and excites us. The organization is sponsoring our trip and we have our tickets in hand

But (again, that pesky little word) it’s been ten years since our retirement and we are not the same people. Our bodies challenge us in ways they didn’t before. The current issue is Hal’s back pain, a hazard of aging that seems common around here. Common, that is, unless it’s happening to you or your loved-one. The doctor does not recommend another back surgery.  At his age (hate that phrase!), the operation would have a 50% chance of success and recovery time would be long and “uncomfortable.” (I could tell the doctor didn’t want to do the surgery.) So we opted out, and Hal is handling his pain with physical therapy, appropriate exercise, and an ever-handy heating pad. We think we see progress.

Other times, progress seems an illusion. These past few weeks have been especially painful, in spite of him doing all the right things. And our trip is three weeks away.

We’ve been avoiding this conversation, but we’re finally admitting the possibility that he might have to cancel. If it hurts so much here in our comfortable home, what would a day-long airplane trip feel like? Would he be able to celebrate and do fun stuff with the rest of us once we arrived? Would he be alive and well at the end of the trip?

Maybe. He has more good days than bad ones. But we don’t know. If we cancel now, there’s a chance we can recover the money for the ticket. But what if we cancel and he feels great? We’ve decided that I will travel, even if he doesn’t. I would represent the two of us and he could benefit vicariously. But that’s not nearly as satisfying.

It comes down to reckoning with our limitations, something we all face. How do we balance our dreams, joys, and all the things we used to do well with the realities of growing older? How do we face our limitations yet not limit ourselves from the richness of life we suspect God want us to have even at this age? Jesus called it “abundant life” and did not put a time-limit on it.

We’re still learning the balancing act. In fact, I’m taking a balance exercise class! But it won’t help solve our present dilemma. We’ll give it one more day. If he feels tremendous tomorrow morning, the trip’s a go. If not, well, maybe one more day?

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Dust if you must

 One of the benefits of living in our apartment here in the retirement community is free housekeeping. On Monday morning, every other week, a housecleaning staff person comes in and spends an hour vacuuming our rugs, scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom floors, and giving the bathroom a thorough going-over. I haven’t cleaned a toilet in seven years! I really appreciate it.

The cleaners, however, are not allowed to dust. I think it’s because everyone here keeps little precious trinkets, statues, vases, photos, or whatever. These occupy dresser tops, bookcases, and other spare surfaces. A duster would have to take them all down, carefully, dust them, clean the surface of the dresser, and then replace them. Not only time-consuming, but risky. If some little precious thing dropped and was broken, well, some older people would get really angry. (Not me, of course.) The community might even get sued.

So the dusting is up to me. Seems like a small task, as, in fact, it is. But the funny thing is how often I notice that I could actually write a poem with my finger on my dresser top! Since retirement, I’ve become a little lax.

Recently a friend sent me a poem by Rose Milligan. I had never heard of her, so I looked her up on the Internet. An English poet, she lived in North Lancashire until her death in 2011 at age 89. I can’t find much about her as a poet and apparently she wasn’t critically acclaimed. But in 1998 she published a poem called, “Dust if You Must,” that has since been republished countless times and broadly quoted and misquoted.

The poem not only makes me laugh, it helps me be more gentle to myself concerning my current housekeeping tendencies. If you notice that it sounds a little like a Hallmark greeting card, just have patience. Read on. Here it is:

Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come, and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

Now, don’t you feel better too?

Set that broom back in the closet. Put on your sweater. Go outside and play.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Vaccinations and second childhood

Older people are said to experience a “second childhood.” The stereotype is that of a silly old man or woman acting childish, often on the verge of dementia. I resist that image, although sadly it does describe some people. Those people deserve compassion, not sarcasm.

But it is true that many childhood memories and emotional experiences are alive and active in our inner persons, maybe more so the older we get. They influence how we feel and act.

Take getting shots. Maybe this is a trivial example, but in this regard I’m still a child. I hate getting shots. My gut begins twisting and tightening as the time approaches, like when I was a little girl and my parents told me this was better than getting measles. And it was. But, still….

It’s really not as bad as it used to be. I’ve spent much of my adult life living abroad and that meant typhoid, hepatitis, yellow fever, and other gruesome shots. While I never liked them, I learned to tolerate the experience.

But I still feel that jab of fear. I have a coping strategy. I sit in the chair, my arm bared and waiting, and I pretend I’m a grown-up, even as that frightened inner child shakes. My face doesn’t let anything but indifference show. Afterwards I inevitably say to myself, “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Maybe that makes me mature, not childish. I’m committed to getting that annual flu shot, and now the latest Covid vaccine, no matter what. So, stop crying, inner child.

(An aside: When I looked for vaccination images on the Internet, most of the offerings were cheerful--people sitting in the chair, needle in arm, smiling smugly. Even children. Even babies. I remember bringing my babies in for their shots. They may have been smiling beforehand, but that was quickly followed by a look of pure shock, and then the wails.)

Currently I have six red spots on my face. No one has said anything about them to me, so maybe they aren’t conspicuous. But in the mirror, I look like I have some infectious childhood disease.

Last week on a routine checkup, my dermatologist told me I had six pre-cancerous spots on my face. She followed this information by saying, “But it’s nothing to worry about.” Right. She then took out her slender silver gun, aimed it at my face, pulled the trigger, and froze each spot. Each shot stung for a brief moment.

Looking back, I realize that I experienced no fear. And I’ll do it again next year if necessary. I have no qualms although this procedure stings more than a flu shot or the dreaded drawing of blood.

I wonder why. Maybe it’s because I have no frozen-face childhood memories. Maybe it’s because anything that reduces the possibility of cancer is worth the pain involved. I don’t know why I’m so calm about this. I’m just standing back and observing these things about myself.

It’s intriguing how some childhood fears linger, even into old age. We change, of course, and hopefully find ways of facing these fears. Something that helps me do this is humor. I look at myself and chuckle. I write silly blogs. And I show up at the doctor’s office no matter what I’m feeling.

You can laugh at me, too.

Or, better yet, laugh at yourself.

                            Examples of Happy Campers:

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

What? Say that again!

I just completed a milestone in the aging saga. I got hearing aids.

And I’m surprised. For some reason I didn’t think this would happen to me. In fact, I was proud of the fact that I didn’t need them. But I was beginning to notice how often I was saying, “What?” And not just to Hal, who is soft-spoken anyway. But in any conversation of more than three people. In meetings where people did not want to use a mic. Especially in the dinning room. It was getting embarrassing.

The whole problem crept up on me gradually. I finally had to admit I needed help. And now here I am. One of them.

“What?” is a word we hear a lot around here. It gets funny. In fact there are a lot of deaf-old-people jokes out there in the world.

Two friends:
#1: Maybe you should think about getting a hearing test.
#2: Why would I want a hairy chest?

What do you call an old man who has his hearing aids turned off?
Anything you want.

Sorry. Those are truly moan-worthy.

I guess there’s a lot to laugh about. Except when it happens to you and then it’s not so funny anymore. Hal began to lose his hearing years ago and his attempts to adapt to hearing aids haven’t worked. He has skin allergies that make the aids painful. It’s hard to participate in conversations, other than one-on-one. Lectures, sermons, announcements, even with a mic, are blurred. We only watch movies with subtitles.

It especially bothers him as a musician. Hal plays the French horn in the community band. In practices he can’t hear the conductor’s directions and has to depend on the person sitting next to him. Fortunately, that person is kind and understanding. And of course, as the hearing loss progresses—well, you can guess what that does to a musician.

It’s not only hard on the person. It’s hard on the other people in his or her life. I’m sympathetic and usually kind, but there are times I just get downright irritated. Hal gets tired of asking me to repeat and I get irritated at having to do it. And that’s not fair to him. I end up feeling guilty. If we’re both tired, we often just give in and don’t talk at all. (Fortunately, that never lasts long.)

From conversations with others, I know that we’re not alone in facing these challenges. One in every three adults between the ages of 61 and 70 has hearing loss. Above 85, the number rises to 80% (American Academy of Family Physicians). In addition, studies show a relationship between hearing loss and depression. Deafness or partial deafness are also said to play a role in dementia. Hearing aids help reduce the risks of these conditions.

So, here I am. It’s not been a week yet and I’m still adapting. I’ve still very aware that these things are in my ears. Fortunately the models these days are discrete and so far no one can tell I’m wearing them (except when I can’t keep it back and say, “Guess what?........”). I’m still a bit uneasy. I’m not sure I’m putting them in correctly or if they’re far enough into the ear. Am I cleaning them well enough? My follow-up visit is in two weeks. My list of questions is growing.

I have no doubt that I’m hearing better. Sitting around the table in Sunday school, I could hear the people across from me without cupping my ear and leaning forward. I can hear my soft-spoken husband (even if he can’t hear me).

And I can hear a lot more than that. I never realized what a noisy world we live in. Just in our apartment, everything is loud—the clock on the wall, paper crinkling, the door closing, our loud-mouthed refrigerator that hums the same tune over and over. The sound the toothbrush makes scrapping my teeth.

And me! I can hear myself talking; it’s like being in an echo chamber, and it doesn’t sound like me. Or what I thought I sounded like. A little tinnier. In fact, everything seems tinny, like people are speaking through tin cans connected by wires. I’m told this will moderate in time, that I’ll learn how to adjust the sounds and volume. I hope so.

Overall, I’m pleased. I know I’ll grow used to my hearing aids, begin to forget they’re in there, and just hear people talking, birds singing in the distance, the creek bubbling over rocks, and all that other good stuff. 

I’ll probably still get angry at jokes about old people saying “What?” all the time. Compassion is called for and understanding. 

But you can smile. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

For as long as I live--I will sing

Memory plays strange tricks on us as we age. Not only are the edges of the past blurred, our priorities get mixed. Take music, for example. Songs. What songs do we remember from the past? What has slipped away?

I remember the silly songs from childhood—Old MacDonald and his farm, the alphabet song, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” of course, and the irritating “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” It helps memory that we taught these songs to our kids (except for the beer song).

But I also remember some totally inane rock-n-roll songs from early adolescence. I can sing all the verses of “Splish, Splash, I was takin’ a bath,” “Wake up, little Susy, wake up,” “The Purple-People Eater,” and of course the incomparable Elvis—“Jailhouse Rock” and “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog, yapping all the time.” These songs often come back to me at inappropriate times, like when I’m taking a prayer walk or sitting in church. What does that say about me?

I wrote in a December blog about this past Christmas season when Hal played his harmonica, joining two ukulele players, preforming in the memory care unit of our retirement community. When the trio broke into “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the residents began tapping their feet, grinning, and singing along, memory loss and all.

This community recognizes the value of music to the elderly and offers all kinds of opportunities. A music committee oversees activities such as a mixed choir that gave a marvelous Christmas concert and is already planning for Easter. Music plays an important part of the on-campus worship services—chiefly Sunday morning worship and Wednesday evening prayer meetings. Informal hymn sing-alongs and piano concerts regularly take place in the lobby. From time to time, guest musicians give special presentations. There’s lots of music going on around here.

Hal and I have our tickets for the Portland Symphony concert next door in the university auditorium. Every year this famous orchestra gives a concert in Newberg, offering 35 tickets to our retirement community (first-come-first-served). I made sure to get ours early. This year it will be a pops concert featuring the music of Gershwin. Can’t wait!

Our wider local community also offers opportunities. Hal plays his French horn in the Cheleham Valley Community Band. Its membership includes all ages, from high school on up to the elderly. Its intergenerational nature makes it more fun. Hal struggles with wondering whether or not it’s time to give it up. He says he’s not as good as he used to be when younger; plus the once a week night rehearsals and the need to practice every night (a goal not always met) challenge his stamina. I’m telling him, “Not yet, please.” That time will come soon enough.

Unlike Hal, I don’t have the musical gene. My voice range is one octave that squeaks at the top. As far as instruments go, consistently keeping the right rhythm is more than I can manage. And yet I love the idea of playing an instrument. I’ve strummed the guitar since high school days, never reaching any level of proficiency. But I’m not giving up. Last year I purchased a Great Courses series called, “How To Play the Guitar.” It promises that if I persist through all 24 lessons, I will “master” all that is taught in one college semester.

Sounds good. I’m finding it a lot of fun and especially feel good about finally learning how to read music. But this will take more than a semester. I’m slowly working my way through the DVD and Hal tells me I’m sounding better. But a sneak-peak at the advanced lessons gives me grave doubt. I might stop while I’m still having fun. At any rate, it’s stimulating my aging brain, or so the experts tell me.

It’s without doubt that music ministers to the elderly in ways we can’t always understand. Hal and I used to visit my dear friend Harriet before she died at 104-years-old. She loved it when Hal brought his harmonica and played old hymns. Some times she sang along. When it came time for us to leave, she would always say, “No! Play more songs!” Usually we stayed a while longer.

Hal’s parents spent their last months of life in a care home. Both were suffering from dementia. Conversation was difficult as both memory and logical thought processes had decayed. Yet when we sang together, all the words of the old hymns were there, accessible, and they sang with joy. All the verses.

Hal’s mom had been an accomplished pianist; most of her skill had left her, but she could still play simple tunes in the key of C. But when Hal sat with her at the old piano in the care home, he would play his harmonica and she would follow along on the keyboard, her fingers remembering more than she thought she knew. A big smile would light up her face.

On the last few days before her death, family members would gather around the bed, talking in low voices, praying, and singing. Mom remained unconscious. On the day before her death, while we were singing, I happened to look at her feet, and they were moving back and forth, keeping perfect time to the music. She was responding on a deep inner level.

I love it when the psalmist proclaims: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm104:33). That sounds like a healthy intention—mentally, emotionally, even physically. Music makes a different. It’s a life-giving component of the aging process.

I intend to go on singing, maybe accompanying myself on the guitar, for as long as I am able. I may even enter into heaven singing.

It probably won’t be “Jailhouse Rock.”



[For those of you who responded to last week’s blog about the branches falling on my daughter’s house, here’s an update. While the damage is extensive, the structure is sound and insurance will cover the repairs. These will be extensive—replacing the roof and several walls, as well as the deck. They are staying with friends now, divided among three households, looking far a temporary rental where they can be together. The story continues, but the family’s spirits are good.]

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Always a mom

 Life seems to be a series of stages, one after another, characterized by changing relationships. One pattern, the one I’m most familiar with, starts out with a single baby in intimate dependence on its mother, a gradual growth out of dependency, followed by blessed independence (!), and then marriage (an interdependence at best), motherhood (reversed dependence), up through the empty nest and a new freedom as persons in our own right. Then we end up again dependent on others for the slow journey to the end of life.

Only that’s a little too neat and orderly. My own life seems more mixed and messy, without a clear transition from one stage to the next.

Take motherhood, for example. Now that my kids are grown and with grown children of their own (and soon to be grandparents, amazingly enough), my raising/nurturing/disciplining tasks should be long over. And, indeed, they are, thank God. But it doesn’t always feel that way. While no one calls me “Mommy” any more (again, thank God), I still sometimes feel a keen sense of responsibility and a need to protect. I still have a compulsion to stand between my daughter or son and any real or imagined monster that would threaten them. I want to exchange my safety for their peril. My health for their illness.

I sometimes still wake up in the night with a nightmare of some threat to their well-being. I find it harder to pray with faith when one of them faces danger than I do to pray with faith for peace in Ukraine. And that’s ridiculous!

Today, in mid-January, the houses, trees and hills outside my window are covered in white. The first snow of the season always amazes me with its beauty. But beauty isn’t the first word people use to describe the snow this year. It’s slippery and dangerous outside. And more so in the mountains where my daughter and her family live.

On Saturday it wasn’t snow; it was freezing rain that fell all day and stuck to the trees surrounding their house on the McKenzie River Road. Electricity went off in the morning and a downed tree blocked their long driveway up the hill. That night as the temperature dipped and the winds blew, Kristin, her husband Jon, and their son Peter huddled all night in the living room, listening to the sound of tree branches cracking and falling.

By morning, branches had broken through the ceilings in a bathroom, the hall, and their dining room. The front porch and back deck were damaged and the yard a tangle of fallen trees and branches. The largest tree on their property, a giant Douglas fir, had completely toppled.

They were blocked in most of Sunday by the downed tree. Some friends met them at the bottom of their driveway and took them home for showers and a hot meal. Jon and Kristin elected to go back to their house to spend last night, partly for the sake of their animals (two large dogs, three cats, and a tortoise), and partly to take care of their house and keep the water system working. Hal and I were awake, off and on, all night praying and worrying (which did a lot of good, I’m sure).

This morning they informed us they had made it through the night with no adventures. Even the cats came out of hiding and slept on top of Kristin. Today it’s still a world of ice outside and extremely cold, although sunny. Electricity is still off. The danger has not passed. Quite a few trees around the property could still fall, and tomorrow the forecast predicts more freezing rain.

The tree company just informed them that the cost of removing the trees that have already fallen on their roof and property comes to $13,000. They were planning on staying another night but Kristin just texted, “We are really needing to consider getting out of here as we were told by the tree company that it may get worse. It’s just so complicated with the animals. Jon may be realizing the trailer, boat, water system, and house just may not be worth keeping.”

Even if nothing else happens to the house, it will take several months at least to repair the damage. They’ll have to work out the details with their insurance company and find a place to rent in the meantime.

So why am I going into all this detail? It’s because it feels like it’s happening to me. If it’s happening to one of my kids, it’s happening to me. I don’t know if every “old” mother feels like this, but I suspect many of you do. I don’t even know if I should feel like this. Maybe it’s a sign that I haven’t matured enough to pass on to the next life stage. But I need to recognize that this is where I am so that I can face it.

Once a mother, always a mother, I guess. At least in the sense of deep empathy and a sharing in bearing the emotional burden. Maybe that’s not so bad.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day, with its own dangers, blessings, and answers to prayer.

(I’ll let you know how this story plays out in a future installation.)