Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Next Day

By Belinda

The next day in Mum's story of 2003/04...

Rob and I had visited Mum at the hospital the day before--my first time with her since her stroke. This had been so different from all of our previous reunions. She expressed resignation and acceptance and I saw sadness in her eyes and on her face. 

Before going to see her again we went shopping for a new pillow, duvet, and sheets for Mum's bed, and then we headed for the hospital.

We found her asleep again, as she had been the day before when we arrived, but this time she was sitting up in a chair, and she woke as soon as I touched her arm. Her eyes were sunken and tired, and she said that she hadn't slept at all that night.

Even so, I was struck by how beautiful her dear face was; those beautiful eyes; looking more like her own mothers' with every passing year; and her lovely complexion, and her abundant silver gray hair, simply combed back. 

I grieved for what she and we had lost, but was so grateful for what and who we still had. I prayed that God would show me how to make her life the best it could be, with the help of Rob and Paul too.

The next day was a Sunday, and I walked through the village to Alvechurch Baptist Church, finding the small church flourishingly full with about 70 people and only a few empty pews.

After the service I stayed for a cup of coffee in the church hall, where several people were anxious for news of Mum, especially Trudy Cluderay (who you can read more about HERE), her dear friend who lived at number 30 Snake Lane. Trudy, at 89, amazed me. She was bright, energetic, and in the midst of having her house renovated.

Later, after church, Rob dropped me off at the hospital early, so that I could spend as much time as possible, visiting with Mum, and he and John, his son, would join us later.

Rob suggested that I take her glasses again; she kept sending them home with him, having no interest in wearing them. This time, she said, "Yes, I'll wear them," and was happy to keep them on when we left.

On the way to her room, I bought both of us a Cadbury's Flake, as I hadn't had breakfast or lunch yet that day.

At first Mum let it lie there on on her tray. Then I encouraged her to have a bite. She proceeded to eat the whole thing!

We enjoyed a hot drink together when the coffee wagon came around--she had hot chocolate and I had coffee.

I read the Daily Light to Mum and told her all about the morning, and passed on the loving messages from her many friends, and from one of her sisters, Tante Adrie, who had called the night before. We had a wonderful time of just "being" together. 

We began to talk about how, once she was home, there was no reason she could not still go to her Sycamore club for seniors on Mondays; the hair dresser; the coffee morning, and church. I told her that she had a lot of living yet to do, and I could see Mum "seeing" that too.

Later that evening, Mum's dear friend from Holland, Tante Mies, called. She had been beside herself, sleepless with concern for Mum and said that she prayed for her morning and night.

All in all, the troops were rallying for Mum. And I could tell, she was on her way back to "life."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Voting Almost Over in the Canadian Blog Awards


December 1st Voting is DONE! Only 4 days left to vote in the Canadian Blog Awards Canadian Blog Awards 2012


If you enjoy reading here, PLEASE click the link above to vote for this blog under the Best Religion Philosophy category.

And  please consider voting for faithful reader, fellow writer and blogger, Dave Hingsburger's blog, Rolling Around in My Head in the categories of Best Personal Blog and Best Health Blog,

You can only vote once, but do not have to be Canadian to vote.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Best Before

By Belinda

I grew up post-war Britain and rationing did not end until 4 years after I was born. I absorbed a sense of food's value, learned not to waste it and also love to cook. 

This combination of factors is my excuse for the fact that we have two fridges in our home--both usually packed to the gills with left overs from dinners I have cooked for family or friends. 

Since  I work full time, cleaning out both fridges usually only happens at crisis point, when food items begin to ambush unsuspecting people when the door is opened.

At this busy time of the year, fridge cleaning slides more than usual, but rose to the top of my To Do list on a recent Saturday morning when I could stand the food commando raids no longer.

This was just after I told a friend that there was some applesauce in the fridge that would go with the pork we were having for lunch and she asked, "Belinda did you want to serve this?" when she opened it. 

Let's just say, it must have passed its "best before" date long ago in the distant past. By the time she opened the jar it had the look of a science experiment gone horrifically wrong.

So as I emptied my fridge on the day of the massive clean out, I paid special attention to the bottled salad dressings and other sauces in jars, with "best before" dates. I have been shocked before to find that the "best before" date was years ago. How time flies in a fridge!

And this brings me to my point. What exactly does "best before" mean?

I mean it is so open to interpretation for someone like me who tends to push the boundaries of almost everything.

Just because something was "best" before a certain day, does not mean that it is inedible the next day, surely?

And therein lies my dilemma. What is a thrifty soul, who likes to use everything up to do?

My brother Rob is the exact opposite and throws food away with abandon at the slightest hint of being "off." He has helped me, but not enough, obviously.

So I am proposing that the Powers that Be in the food regulation world, get serious. People like me don't need the euphemistic suggestion of "best before." 

We need the dire warning of "ABSOLUTELY NOT TO BE EATEN AFTER," dates--perhaps with the addition of a skull and crossbones. 

Come on, how about it?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

There

By Belinda

I arrived in England for a four week stay, late on a cold January evening in 2004. After a 25 hour long journey, due to closed airports in England, when I finally got to Mum's empty house in Alvechurch, I slept deeply and woke up the next morning feeling well rested and refreshed.

Rob had to go to work, and I spent the day quietly, waiting impatiently for him to come home so that we could go to the hospital together. It felt like I had waited so long through the months since October and her stroke, and I just couldn't wait any longer to see her.

Night falls early in the winter in England and we arrived at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch in the dark.

A sense of deja vu flowed over me. A year ago to the month, I had made many visits to this very hospital as Dad lay dying of pneumonia. The beeping of life support machinery; the very hallways I had walked at that time; and the smell of the place, all were part of my memories of "then."

I had already asked Rob if Mum would be wondering where I was. She knew that I was coming and I imagined her impatience to see me, and that she must be thinking, "Where is Belinda?"  I thought of previous times of meeting over the years. How we had anticipated the moment at the airport, or the opening of the front door--that first glimpse of the beloved face. It felt so different this time.

Rob said that she didn't have the same awareness of time as she had before. But I walked on speedy winged feet once at the hospital. At last I was here. At last I was going to see her!

When we arrived at Mum's room, it was quiet. We approached her bed and found her lying on her back with her eyes closed, apparently asleep.

I didn't want to wake her, so I said to to Rob that I would just read the "patients notes" while we waited. But at the sound of my voice, Mum's eyes opened, and as we looked into each other's eyes, a new chapter in our relationship began; different, with new things to learn; but as precious to both of us as it ever was.

Rob and I spent an hour with Mum that first evening. Oh, it was hard to leave. I saw such deep sadness in Mum's eyes.

She said with utter resignation, "I just have to accept it," and those words cut deep into my heart because Mum was not one to accept anything unacceptable. I knew what place those words came from and the grief she felt for loss of independence; lost ability to express her thoughts, to speak easily and fluently; and her enjoyment of reading , watching TV or eating.

I showed her some photos I had brought. She enjoyed looking at them, and listening as I read the messages on the card my writers group had sent. She always went with me to our meetings when she was in Canada, and, like every one else, they all loved her. 

But that was enough for Mum, I could tell that we had exhausted her mental energy. Another envelope with photos in it she said she would look at tomorrow. 

Mum wanted so much to come home. She didn't like being in the hospital. There was hope that she could possibly come home the following week.

I tried to encourage her not to give up--that she could still walk and talk quite well, and she acknowledged that; but Mum seemed for the first time, to have lost her joy in life--her hope. I hoped that I could help bring that back.

I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether it was the plane journey home that had caused the blood clot in her leg that likely led to the stroke. I would never know. The doctor who treated her said that he doubted it, because it happened a week after coming home, but I wasn't sure.

I saw all that Mum had lost and wondered if it would have happened anyway. If it wouldn't have, and she knew the price she would have had to pay for coming to Canada, would she say that it was worth it?

I looked at the photos of her four weeks with us, the many, many, happy moments we all had together; her grandchildren and great grandchildren, all so happy to to have Omie there. I remembered her joy in giving the children the four plush dogs she brought with her, and her excitement at the bargain they were in the village chemist's shop. I thought of the games of Scrabble; our Thanksgiving dinner; the fall drive to buy apples and how she had sat with me and peeled so many of them for pies--and our wonderful time in British Columbia.

She had said to Paul, with so much love and passion, "I'd go to the ends of the earth for my Belinda," and I remembered the blaze of love on her face as she sat in the pew listening to our worship team practicing her favourite hymn, "I the Lord of Sea and Sky."

I believed that all of that was meant to be; I couldn't imagine that it wasn't, and I knew that it was wrong to think that her stroke was some terrible price she had to pay for all of that, but I couldn't help it. We had taken a gamble, wanting to believe the doctor who said it was safe for her to travel even though she had been having problems with her leg. "Should we have?" It was a question I would never stop asking myself...

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Bridge from There to Here

By Belinda

And so it came to pass that a year that contained more than its fair share of losses ended, and new year began: 2004. 

On the 28th day of January, I boarded a plane for England, hardly able to believe that at last I would be seeing Mum.

I couldn't get a direct flight to Birmingham so I flew via Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. When the flight landed in France however, we were told that there were no flights leaving for England; a snowfall had caused chaos on the roads and the airports were closed. Passengers were given meal coupons for an airport lounge. There was nothing to do but wait.

If I have a book to read and journal to write in I will be content for hours and so the eleven hours until England pulled itself together and cleared away the snow felt like a kind of comfortable limbo.

I wasn't in a hurry, I realized, now that I was on my way. Maybe I was a little scared. I had said goodbye to Mum when she boarded the plane for England in October, but so much had happened since then. Through Rob's detailed updates, I had traveled the journey with them, but it would not be fully real to me until I saw her myself. My time at the airport in Paris felt like a bridge between two parts of Mum's life.

It was 9.30 pm on the 29th, when my plane landed in Birmingham and Rob and my nephew John were waiting there for me.

We drove through the dark night, from Birmingham to Alvechurch: 42 Snake Lane. They stayed and had a couple of cups of tea, and after making sure I was settled in, they left for their own homes.

I was all alone in the house, apart from Sam, the cat. All was silent, except for the ticking of the clock, and the soft shhhhhh of the gas fire.

Mum was all around me, but she wasn't there. It felt so strange to be separated by only five or so miles, and yet she was there in hospital and I was here in her home. It felt as though we should be having a final cup of tea together before turning in for the night.

I opened Mum's Daily Light and the bookmark was at October 20th, the day Mum had the stroke. She would have read it the night before and it was waiting for her to open again; something she would never do.

Her writing pad was neatly placed beside it, probably where she left it when she finished the letter she had mailed to me moments before the stroke happened.

The house felt so strangely silent, and yet so full of Mum. Only 16 months earlier I was there with both Mum and Dad. I spotted the red and gold biscuit tin that was always beside his seat. I opened it and it was still filled with the Tuc crackers that he enjoyed sharing with me. 

I thanked God that he had brought us since then, through something I could never imagine happening: Dad's death, and Mum's declining health. I thanked him for the healing time of forgiveness I experienced with Dad before I left in 2002, and that God allowed me to see him again before he died--and that he knew I was there.

I thanked God again for the four wonderful weeks with Mum in September when we had traveled to the wedding in British Columbia, and for the fact that all of Mum's great grandchildren had recent memories of her.

And now I was here for another four weeks. I had no idea what God had in store but my prayer was that I would be all to Mum that she needed. I wanted to comfort, bless and love her completely.

Paul would be joining me on February 14, for the last ten days.

But for now I needed to sleep...

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Blue Christmas

By Belinda

Late on the night of Mum's sudden return to the hospital, Rob called me with good news. He had arrived half expecting her to be still waiting to be seen, just as I had worried, but instead he found her settled into bed, wearing a warm, pink and yellow nightie, with a cream blanket tucked up around her. She was comfortable, and said that she felt "at home," and was laughing and happy. Such a relief.

Mum spent a week in the hospital and then was brought home again on December 10th to the house on Snake Lane. Rob found this time that she was not quite herself, and seemed depressed.

Feeling so very far away, our lives went on, caught up with the gathering intensity of Christmas activities. The evening of December 10th, Paul and I went to the community carol service at our church.

I burst into tears in the middle of, Oh Holy Night. The thought of Mum and Rob struggling along in Alvechurch and of Mum in the cold empty house, and sad; was just too much of a contrast with the joyful singing, and the warmth, light and abundance all around me--I could hardly bear it.

If only Mum would consent to her bed being moved downstairs, Rob and I would not have worried quite so much, but she was so fiercely independent and determined. I talked to her with much prayer backing me, hoping that if she wouldn't listen to Rob, then perhaps my position as elder child in the hierarchy of family, would count. She did agree, and we thanked God.

Less than a week later though, Mum was back in hospital for the third time since the stroke after falling twice more. This time at least it was downstairs, where it was warmer. But she was in a bad way, with a stomach bug, caused, apparently, by an antibiotic that had lowered her resistance.

I checked flights to England and asked Rob to tell Mum that I was planning on flying there at the end of January, but, if it would encourage her, I would come sooner; she only had to say.

Dear Mum said, "No; January; because by then my speech will be so much better."

I booked a flight for January 28th; just a few weeks away. I knew that Mum would be different to when I last saw her and said goodbye, on October 13. Our new reality would not truly sink in until I saw her for myself. Was it really just two months ago that we had shared four weeks of intense intimacy and "memory making?" It seemed so much longer.

To be continued...

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Sound of Sirens

By Belinda

A brief pause in the story of our own past harrowing family journey...

One fact not often mentioned about Baby Boomers; my generation; is that we grew up with the shock waves of a war we never knew.

I've written about some of those shock waves at various times here, but I've never mentioned the sound of sirens and the effect they had on Mum. A factory siren sounding the end of a work day, would take her back in a second to the terror of the bombing of Rotterdam. While her street survived, her city was all but demolished on May 14th 1940 during the German invasion of Holland. Second hand, we grew up knowing the terror of war.

Today, listening to updates on the news of the bombing in Gaza and the rockets firing into Israel, I was thinking of a friend in Tel Aviv, a woman I came to know through my friend Dave's blog, and whom I tried to meet up with last year in Israel. We didn't manage to connect face to face due to timing, but we connect occasionally still through her blog still.

I went to her blog, Beneath the Wings, to make sure she was okay, and one of her posts pointed me to another Israeli's blog, and a post that is worth reading, When 10 Minutes Feels Like Ten Years.

What I love about the blogosphere is being able to read a fellow human being's experience of the events unfolding in the world. The analysis on the nightly news and the slick spin of political leaders doesn't grab my heart as do the words of a person at a keyboard just like mine, tapping out their heart in a blog post somewhere across the world.

To those friends in Israel--and fellow human beings in Gaza--know that our prayers are with you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Journey Through the Valley

By Belinda

 Just as our household was stirring awake on a cold winter morning, the phone rang downstairs. It was 7.00 a.m. on Tuesday the 2nd of December, 2003, 8 days after Mum had come back home from hospital.

I heard Rob's voice on the other end of the phone line; he usually called at night to give updates on Mum--I knew this couldn't be good news. He told me that Mum was on her way to hospital in an ambulance.

As he recounted the circumstances, they broke my heart. 

The house that Mum and Dad had shared in Snake Lane for their last years together after moving from Bear Hill, was old and very basic. I would guess that it had been built at least 80 years earlier. 

When I visited them in the month of October for the years they were there, I would sleep under layers of blankets because it was so cold. If it was -3 outside, it was not much warmer inside, and I remember once, writing on a postcard to family back in Canada that I felt as though I was sleeping out on the side of a hill. 

The windows were draughty and the only heat upstairs was a wall electric fire in the bathroom, which we would use sparingly to avoid freezing during our ablutions! Downstairs there were two gas fires, the only other source of heat. Like the one upstairs, they were used sparingly.

Rob had been stopping by to check on Mum each morning as he rode his motorbike to work at the Rover Motor Company. When he had arrived that morning, he found that Mum had fallen at around 2.00 a.m. as she had tried to reach her commode. She had managed to take off her soaked clothes as she lay there on the floor, but she was unable to get up. She had lain there, shivering, for 5 hours by the time Rob found her.

Mum's Life Line lay near her but she had been either too confused or in too much pain to press the button that would have summoned help.

Immediately Rob set about getting Mum warm and calling for help. The doctor who arrived and examined her didn't like the sound of her lungs, so he facilitated her admission to hospital. Rob said that there were warnings of a flu epidemic to come in England and the doctor didn't want to take any chances.

I imagined Mum, suddenly so vulnerable and helpless, and I prayed with all my heart that she would not be one of those elderly people you read about, on a stretcher in a hallway, seemingly forgotten and alone, waiting for treatment. I prayed that God would be with her and that she would soon be settled into a warm bed, with all her needs cared for, and room mates that were not disruptive.

I had never imagined that Mum would have to suffer so much in her old age. She had lived a life of suffering, one way and another, and I had hoped that she would end her days with the comfort, friendship and happy times that she was so deserving of.

How helpless and far away I felt. Our home in Canada was brightly lit and decorated for Christmas. Our children and grandchildren were close by. This all felt like such a contrast to the struggle that Rob and Mum were engaged in.

Writing about that time, 9 years ago now, I see that God gave us the strength for each day as it came. It was good that we took one day at a time and didn't look too far ahead. 

To be continued...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Road to Recovery

By Belinda

Almost four weeks post-stroke, when my nephew Tim visited Mum in the hospital, she greeted him by saying, "Hello darling."  Tim said to his dad, Rob, afterwards, that it was the first thing that Omie had really said to him since she had been ill.

Two simple words suddenly meant so much. They were reported across continents, recorded in my journal, and had the import of the words of the most famous celebrity. 

I could think of no better choice for the blessing of Mum's first "darling" than Tim. Mum meant so much to Rob's two sons, Tim and John. She was loved by everyone, but to them she had been a constant source of stability, love and security over some difficult years.

Exactly four weeks after her stroke, Mum went for a short "home visit" to the empty house on Snake Lane. An occupational therapist went along to make an assessment of the accommodations necessary for her return.

She was able to turn on the gas stove, but had difficulty with the gas fire; and the couch, her favourite place to sit, needed to be raised by three inches, so that it would be easier to sit down and stand up.

Rob needed to mount a key safe on the outside of the house, by the front door, as an agency staff would be coming by to help her get up in the morning and go to bed at night.

After so many weeks in the hospital, this was all very exhausting for Mum, but we knew that being in her own home again would mean so much to her, and Sam the cat, would be very happy to have her home.

On one of Rob's visits to Mum, after work, she told him that he must be needing to make his lunch and have something to eat--and said that he needed to go home.

And then she expressed concern for the lady across from her in the hospital, whom she said, had been sitting in a chair for too long. 

These things, that seem so small, meant so much, as they were signs that "our Mum" was returning more and more.

Five weeks after that devastating October day, Mum came home. I had not spoken to her in those weeks away. I was nervous of speaking to her, worried that I would not be able to understand her, or that she would not connect with me over the phone. I called when I knew that Rob would be there.

What a relief it was to hear her voice and hear "her." I could tell that it wasn't easy, in fact speaking was a huge effort. She passed the phone back to Rob after a few sentences, but we had connected.

Throughout her first week home I kept in touch with Rob every night. He was so wonderful, overcoming personal weaknesses and caring for Mum with such tenderness and kindness. 

Mum's progress was slow, but there was progress! She enjoyed meals and watching TV, and she loved being back with Sam, her faithful friend of so many years.

Some risks felt scary. Mum had moved back into her upstairs bedroom and would not hear of anything else. The thought of her climbing or descending the steep flight of stairs was worrying, even with the two hand rails to grip. 

We were on a journey through uncharted territory, learning to live with our fears, learning to be recipients of care and learning to lean on one another in ways we hadn't done before.

We would be leaning closer still in the weeks ahead.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So Much Can Happen in a Year

By Belinda

We all know on some level in our heads that life as we know it can change in an instant, but we act as though we ourselves, and those we love are invincible--and we choose to believe it. 

We don't really believe that our parents will ever grow old, or become vulnerable--or dependent. They were the ones who were so big and strong in our eyes as children and they were supposed to look after us.

I remember the shock when I first noticed my parents aging and realized that they whom I had needed, needed me. 

And now, as relentlessly as the increasingly chill winds of oncoming winter gradually stripped bare the trees of their golden leafed glory, what only happened to other people was happening to us.

One October evening in 2003, just after Mum's stroke, I was playing Beatles music in my kitchen while cooking a stir fry, and the music reminded me vividly of our last years together as a family in the 1960's. I found myself mourning the loss of both of my parents. It was a process I had to go through, even for Mum, who was still alive. We had hope, but we didn't know how much of Mum would "come back." I felt a tremendous sense of loss.

Just a year ago, when I had gone to England in October, to spend three weeks with Mum and Dad in their house on Snake Lane in Alvechurch, I had worked through so much, emotionally and spiritually. I let go of my judgement of Dad, and was able to accept him as he was, and just love him.

I left them living as they had for years together, not knowing that the next time I saw Dad, just over two months later, he would be in hospital and dying.

And now the house on Snake Lane stood lonely and empty except for Sam the cat. 

One thing I realized at that time was although the person you knew before seemed to be gone, you just loved the person who they were right now. It was a relief to let go of what was, and might never be again, but be grateful, and love Mum, with all of my heart, exactly as she was now.

Rob and I spoke by telephone almost every night after his visits to Mum. It was tiring for him, after a day at work to spend time every day at the hospital, but he did, faithfully, reporting back to me every evening, how Mum was.

I began to make plans at the beginning of November to go to England. I told Rob I would be there on November 10th and come for two weeks; it was the most that I thought I could manage away from home and work. 

Rob slowly and carefully asked if I could stretch it to three weeks. I knew that he thought Mum was dying, even though there were occasional flashes of hope and people were telling us encouraging stories.

I planned to talk more to Rob about it and knew that God would guide me surely.

The next time I talked to Rob, he had told Mum that I was planning to come to England. He told me that without any prompting she had said, "No." Then she said, "Not yet." Although she couldn't explain why, I guessed that she wanted to try to be better than she was before I came.

I decided to put my plans to leave for England on hold temporarily, and wait until I could be of the most use and support to Mum and Rob.

Meanwhile Mum was moved from the hospital in Redditch, to another hospital in Bromsgrove, for rehabilitation. She was happy and laughing and said that she had been thinking a lot about her cat. That was such a good sign and we clung on to such things!

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Only a Week Later

By Belinda

Mum had flown home on October 13, Thanksgiving Monday, 2003.

One week later I was just about to leave for a work special staff event, ( a "Time of Refreshing,") when the phone rang.

My brother Rob's deep voice traveled through thousands of miles of telephone wire  with news I tried hard to comprehend. He told me that he was with Mum, waiting for an ambulance. She had had a stroke!

While I had been going about my early morning preparations for the day, far away, on the other side of the ocean, she had collapsed outside the Alvechurch village post office. She had gone there to pick up her pension and mail a letter to me; the last letter she would ever write. 

She had developed a troubling hot spot on her leg after arriving back in England on Tuesday morning and the doctor who had seen her on Friday had urged her to avoid moving more than necessary until Monday,  when a district nurse who knew her well, would come in and check it. But Mum being always a creature of habit and routine, her determination had taken her to the post office. 

Determination got Mum home afterwards too, as she refused the ambulance that someone wanted to call. She didn't want to go to hospital, so someone drove her home, made her a cup of tea; called Rob who was at work and sat with her until he came home.

When Rob got home, he called the doctor, and it was the doctor who persuaded Mum to go to the hospital, and called the ambulance for which they were now waiting. 

Inwardly I died at being so far away. I knew how every minute counts in getting treatment for a stroke. The wheels were moving painstakingly slowly.

Mum's right side was affected--her face had drooped and she was weaker on that side. 

By evening that day, when I spoke to Rob again, he said that she had regained some speech and was stringing some words together. She was eating some soft food.

She didn't remember her beloved companion of many years, her cat Sam and could not remember her grandson Tim's name. I was so thankful though, to hear that she did remember "Belinda in Canada."

There were other things that I was thankful for. I had the treasured memories of our four weeks together. I was grateful that so much of  "our Mum" was still there, and that there was hope for some recovery.

I was grateful that Paul immediately gave his blessing to my going to England, as soon as Rob told me when it would be most helpful for me to be there.

And I was grateful for the mysterious incident in the hospital in Langley, British Columbia. I realized now that my presence there had not just been for the woman I overheard telling the nurse her father was having a stroke and for her father, for whom I interceded in prayer, but it had been for me.

That experience had told me that God is intimately present in our lives, caring, and "working all things together for good."

I needed to know that because ahead there still remained much heartache and tears.

To be continued...

Monday, November 12, 2012

2003 With Mum Continued

By Belinda

Eight days after Mum's arrival in Canada in September 2003, we were back in Ontario from our trip to BC, for the rest of her vacation with us. We had a few days together before Uncle John also flew in from England for a vacation with us, on the last day of September.

The beginning of October found our house full of people. A bushel of apples that I had bought in nearby Collingwood filled the house with a delicious fragrance and awaited peeling and slicing for pies. 

The whirlwind trip to BC had been wonderful, and I had loved every minute, but I was tired. There was little time for solitude, as essential to me as breathing almost, and the demands of work and caring for additional people on top of my normally busy life was catching up with me. 

I found myself praying for patience, balance and focus, trying to slow down enough to see the precious gifts God gave me in people. I was gripped with a fear that I might miss something because I was always so busy.

One day I was impatient with Mum as she tried to reattach the coffee filter to the coffee pot. I demonstrated how "easy" it was to do it, in a graceless, insensitive way. I don't know if she noticed; she didn't act as though she did, but later on, I asked God's forgiveness for my impatience and unkindness, and thought of how precious it was to have my 76 year old mum with me. I knew that if I lived long enough, there would come a time when my fingers too, would fumble with the things I found easy now.

On Monday, October 13th, Thanksgiving Day, almost 4 weeks after she had arrived, it was time for Mum to go home. The weeks had flown by. I was so grateful for every minute.

I looked back on the time together with no regrets. I wrote in my journal on the evening she left:
There is nothing undone that I wished we could do, no kindness or blessing forgotten. Thank you Lord for the gift of her presence. Thank you for the precious times as family. Everything has been such a blessing and my heart is filled with gratitude. Father, I commit her journey to You. Please watch over every moment of it.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembering

By Belinda

This blog is so often a place of remembrance. Today we remember those who gave so much for so many who think of it so little. The cost was great. 

Let us also remember to honour those who return alive but wounded physically and emotionally from military action today. Many have to fight to have their wounds and compromised health recognized.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The "Viktor and I" Film Premiere

By Belinda

Last week I wrote that I had marked my calendar with events   Holocaust Education Week

In the end I attended one event, last Saturday evening: the premiere presentation of the film, Viktor and I (scroll down for trailer) at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto. 

Alexander Vesely, the grandson of Viktor Frankl, and the filmmaker, was at the premiere in person! 

I read Viktor Frankl's inspiring book, Man's Search for Meaning; Frankl's profound memoir of surviving Auschwitz and finding meaning in suffering; many years ago, at the suggestion of my friend, Dave Hingsburger. The book is inspiring and a life shaper and Viktor Frankl was a unique man. So I set out with Paul for this event with great anticipation.

Never having been in a synagogue before, except the ruins of ancient ones in the Holy Land, I saw the evening as a cultural adventure as well as one of remembrance and education. 

As we followed the crowds of people entering the synagogue, purses and camera bags were searched as a security measure. Unfortunately a sign indicated that photography or the use of electronic devices was banned. I would have loved to record the visit visually.

The huge synagogue must seat well over a thousand in the sanctuary, which was filled with rows and rows of plush beige, movie theatre style seats. On both sides were floor to ceiling stained glass windows which must be stunning with the daylight shining in.

High on the wall at the front, beneath a red crown, were two side by side wooden tablets with Hebrew writing. A golden lion on hind legs, stood on either side of the tablets holding them up. A menorah, stood on either side as well, and also a Canadian flag on one side of the front, and an Israeli flag on the other side. 

As the evening began, the audience was asked to stand for the national anthems, led by Beth Sholom's cantor, Eric Moses. The Canadian anthem was sung first, then Hatikvah the deeply moving Israeli anthem a minor key, and I caught my breath at the beauty of Moses's voice, especially as it soared at the end of the anthem to heights the rest of us could only dream of (scroll to the end of this post for a You Tube video of a little girl singing the anthem.)

At the start of this evening to honour the memory of Frankl, a quote about memory that I loved, by Oscar Wilde, was shared:
Memory is the diary that we carry around with us

One of the people remembering Frankl said that he spoke a prophetic message to humanity, "Why would you do that?" He said, "Here in the camps there is no 'why.'" 

Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich, introducing the evening, said that despite everything that was taken from Frankl, something beautiful came forth, and he remembered that his first words upon falling on his knees in a field of flowers upon his release from Auschwitz, were, "From the depths I called out to God and God answered me."

Jay Levinson, Frankl's special assistant, who could be described as a loving disciple, was also present.

Frankl, who died 15 years ago, observed that everywhere people have the means to live, but not meaning to live for. How much more so do we see this today. Even among the Christian faith community in which I live, it is so easy to get caught up in materialism and forget the essential elements of life that are the key, relationship with God, through Christ, and relationship with others.

A quote of Frank's that I loved, "You cannot purchase happiness. Happiness happens!" Happiness, he said, is a side effect of living according to a far deeper meaning than material "things." 

He also was a deep believer in calling out of people more than they believed they were capable of. He said, "Presuppose and then you will elicit it." This is such an important principle; one that I heard expressed by Ben Zander, conductor, musician, and author of the best selling book, The Art of Possibility, in which he describes giving his students an "A" at the beginning of their school year, and then asking them to create a plan for achieving the "A."  People and children, truly often do live up to our expectations or lack of expectations, of them.

The other key theme of Frankl's that struck me that evening, was his response to guilt. He would not tolerate "survivor's guilt" or guilt by association, and he took a lot of criticism for this. In fact, in the film, one of the interviewees described how he reached out to a fellow psychotherapist who had been a member of the Nazi party during the war, and who after the war was unable to get work. Frankl encouraged and helped him get employment. He said, "I knew that he was not a Nazi in his heart." Now, perhaps the man was a Nazi in his heart, but I cannot imagine him being so after this act of grace on Frankl's part.

An amazing evening. Such a rich experience and opportunity.
Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it. Viktor E. Frankl 
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/viktor_e_frankl.html#gQuj1EmmrJiA8oWi.99 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Checking In!

By Belinda

I have been missing in action--away at a work conference, but have lots to write about when I have a moment or two to catch my breath!

I just wanted to check in and say that I am alive and well and looking forward to reconnecting. Meanwhile this is a photo taken at beautiful Geneva Park YMCA where the conference was held, on Lake Couchiching. 


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Remembering Rainerchen

Introduction by Belinda

Last week I wrote about Holocaust Education Week Coming Up and about the Grand Opening Ceremony of The Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden.

We are in Holocaust Education Week now, and I have permission to share this story, written by a woman of German descent, whose family was swept up in the tragedy that overtook Europe in that dark time.

The story was shared in a speech made at the grand opening, by Fran Kieselstein, the Chair of the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Education Committee. It had been sent to her by the woman who wrote it. I asked her for a copy and permission to share it and you will understand why when you read it. 


Remembering Rainerchen

I knew I had a brother who had died at the age of three. There were a few photos of him in the family album, a blond child sitting on my mother's knee. His name had been "Rainer," but on the rare occasions when she spoke of him, my mother always referred to him by the loving diminutive of "Rainerchen"--"small Rainer." My father never talked about him.

During my childhood, my mother was a lively, busy woman. She had to be. For much of the time (until I was almost eleven) we lived in rural Saskatchewan. Our first house had neither electricity nor running water, the second had electricity but still no running water, except what could be pumped up from the cistern under the kitchen floor. 

My mother took care of the children, cooked meals, baked bread, washed and hung clothes out to dry, tended a large vegetable garden and sewed most of our clothes. 

Usually she was in good spirits, although she would get irritable when she was overtired. But sometimes in the middle of an ordinary busy day, something would happen. It was as if a switch in her being had been clicked. Her face would become charged with emotion, her voice took on an edge and pitch that was quite different than her everyday speech. And her words would flow out in a short, intense outburst.

It was from one of these emotional outpourings that I first learned more than the bare fact that Rainerchen had lived and died. Some incidents cut deep memories. I know I was eight or nine at the time because this memory is clearly fixed in the kitchen of the house we lived in then. Mama is lighting the morning fire, taking wood from the full woodbox. I am peeling a mandarin, which means it must have been December. 

Mama begins to talk with that intense edge to her voice: "The time I went to get Rainerchen's body from the hospital, they told me to go to the back and pointed out a little building, and when I went in there, the corpses were stacked like logs."

When she was in her early seventies, encouraged by her children, she wrote a thirty page memoir. She wrote in German. Although she had lived in Canada since the age of 36, and was fluent in English, when it came to writing, German was the language in which she felt competent. Although the words in the passages that follow are mine, the family information is taken from my mother's memoir, with the historical context taken from standard historical secondary sources.

During her third pregnancy, my mother developed jaundice. She was hospitalized and a miscarriage was avoided. Later the birth was difficult. Once the birth was over, it seemed that all was well and mother and child were discharged from hospital in the usual way. The child's birth certificate stated that he was born on February 9th, 1940, in Danzig, and, using the deceitful Nazi terminology, that his ancestry was "pure Aryan." He looked the part. He had blond curls, blue eyes, fair skin, and "the face of an angel."

At six weeks, when my mother was changing him, he had a small seizure. It passed. But at the nine month medical check-up, when the doctor held out a pencil, little Rainerchen did not reach for it. My mother was told he was developing too slowly. All this was recorded in his medical file, according to the best medical practice. What had nothing to do with medical practice was the the Nazi state now took great interest in the physical fitness of its citizens.

The Nazi eugenics program had begun in October, 1939. All individuals who were deemed "unworthy of life" were to be "eliminated." The Nazi leadership felt that the general German public was not yet sufficiently "hardened" to be told openly of the program, although the massive death toll at state hospitals could not be entirely hidden. No public discussion of the program was allowed. The men and women who carried out the killings, from the SS officers who did the planning, to the ordinary doctors, nurses, and orderlies, were told that the killings were necessary because the unfit used up crucial resources like food and clothing that were needed in wartime for the fighting and productive members of German society and further that it was necessary to eliminate "inferior stock" which might carry birth defects that could contaminate the "blood of the Aryan master race."

In 1943, my parents received several notices to bring their son to a state hospital for treatment. They ignored the notices. So while my father was at work, my sister at school, my mother went to the market and Rainerchen at home with the mother's help girl, the authorities came to the apartment and took the child "for treatment." 

My father had contacts among those in Danzig who would speak critically of the Nazis to those they trusted. His contacts told him that if the child was from a poor workers' family the child would be put to death within a few days, but that since his family was well established, some show of treatment would be made. (I doubt if my father passed this information on to my mother until much later."

My mother was allowed to visit her little boy in the hospital a few times. On one occasion she found that his hands were deeply wrinkled, as if he had been immersed in water for a very long time. She always wondered if he had been the subject of an experiment.

A few weeks later, my parents received a telegram that their son Rainer Maria, born on February 9th, 1940, had died of "pneumonia." They had three days to pick up the body if they wished.

Deaths from "pneumonia" were extremely common at German hospitals at that time.
____________________________________________________

Post Script: Typing out this story, the impact I felt when I first heard it hit me again. I wish I could say that we have learned the lessons of history and that each human life has equal value now. That just isn't true...I pray that little Rainerchen's story serves as a grim warning of what can happen when the value of any is counted as less.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Canadian Blog Awards Round 2 Begins!

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to check out the
Canadian Blog Awards and place a vote! To my excitement, Dave, friend and encouraging writer friend, who writes a blog I never miss reading daily,  Rolling Around In My Head, made it into round two in two categories: Best Personal Blog and Best Health Blog. Your vote counts--please vote again for this excellent blog, which challenges me, makes me laugh, makes me sigh and sometimes cry.

Also, Whatever He Says made it to Round Two too, in the Best Religious Blog Category. Here is where you can't go wrong however you choose to cast your vote. The competing blog is excellent and is in my sidebar in fact, as a blog I read. I can't tell you how to vote but I hope you do!

Thank you for joining in the fun. You get one vote in each category and the voting ends on December 1st!

Awesome God

By Belinda

By Wednesday, September 24th, 2003, Mum and I were airborne and headed back from British Columbia to Ontario. 

Our five days with our friends had flown by. And I could hardly believe that it was just nine days since I had picked up Mum from her journey from England at Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto.We were flying back with many happy memories of being immersed in the large crowd of family and friends of the de Jong family. After the wedding there was time to visit, laugh and enjoy one another's company to the full. It had all been perfectly wonderful. 

Before leaving the little cabin where we had been the guests of Ank and Cors de Lint, Ank asked me to write in the guest book that she kept there. It held a record of the many people who had been guests there. Each one had written a personal message about their stay; some short, some long. Writing something in her book was all Ank asked of anyone staying there. 

I wrote about Mum's fall when we arrived; the story of the man having the stroke in the hospital parking lot, and my sense that we were meant to be there to pray for him.

When Ank read the story, her eyes filled with tears. She told me that it touched her deeply and held a message of God's grace and care for her personally as well as for the man having the stroke. And all who would read that page afterwards would see a testimony of God's faithfulness; that he is with us when we go through difficult times.

At the airport I noticed a tall blond woman whose distinct hairstyle reminded me uncannily of someone I knew. When she turned around I could hardly believe it. It was my friend, a woman I had met at a writers conference a couple of years before, where she had gone to learn how to get her book about her dramatic wartime experiences as a small child in the Ukraine, published. Afterwards she had attended our writers group until recent months when she had other things to deal with and was planning a move. We hadn't heard from her recently and now, here she was, waiting for the same plane that we were waiting for.

I called her name and she was as surprised as I was to be meeting her at Vancouver Airport. From the moment I introduced her to Mum, she doted on her. I felt like a positively negligent daughter as she took over looking after her. She lavished her with loving attention for the whole trip back to Ontario. 

It turned out that she had sold her home in Ontario and bought a house in Victoria on Vancouver Island, where she had just started attending a church opposite her new home. This last fact made me smile with quiet joy as she had, from the time I met her, been a spiritual person but not a Christian. She had felt at home with our group of Christian writers because we were spiritual too, and we never made her feel anything but warmly welcome. But her beliefs were New Age. Now, as she went back to finish final arrangements for her move, God had allowed our paths to cross and for me to know that she was finding her way to him.

As if God wanted to bring the point home fully, the movie on the plane journey back was the Jim Carrey comedy, Bruce Almighty, a story about a man who is temporarily given God's power to show him how difficult it is to run the world. 

I was amazed yet again at the mystery of God's ways as I and my jet set Mum crossed the skies.