Wednesday, December 26, 2012

O Holy Night

I had a good visit with Mom last Sunday. She was in the Special Care Unit dining room when I arrived, sitting in a wheelchair. When I asked, the nurse said Mom has had trouble standing for the last few days so they're using the pulley system again to move her in and out of bed (she needed the same thing last year after her hospital stay). It looks like a hammock that gets hooked to a bedside crane (for lack of a better word); lifts her from bed to wheelchair, and from wheelchair to bed without the struggle of finding her balance. I was sad to hear she isn't standing on her own, but she didn't seem phased by it.

The nurse told me Mom had been bathed earlier in the day. She said that Dad visited but he walked in the bedroom (she lowered her voice), "just as we were pulling off her pants!" Mom laughed hysterically. I said, "Good thing it was Daddy!" That nurse is so funny. She always includes Mom as co-conspirator in her jokes.

I rolled Mom's chair into the visiting room (the one with the birds) and we sang Christmas carols for an hour. So lovely.

While I was flipping through the hymnal looking for our next song, Mom started humming God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen all by herself (a very upbeat rendition).

It was surreal to be singing about peace on earth, silent nights, and joy to the world. But sitting next to Mom in a nursing home didn't make the lyrics seem less true. Singing those words with her linked this Christmas to every other Christmas we've celebrated as a family. At the very least, the songs comforted me. "Tidings of comfort and joy" didn't spring to my mind on their own.

I asked Mom what she pictured when she sang (the look on her face was so pensive as she hummed). I couldn't understand her answer. I told her I pictured Grandpa at the piano, Sunday School Christmas programs as a little person, choir rehearsals, singing with the cousins accompanied by mandolins, and carolers at the front door.

I said a prayer with her before I left. It's easier to pray when she's in the room. She wasn't emotional, just seemed her happy self. I am SO THANKFUL. I needed that more than she did.

My friend Cami asked recently, "How can you make the holidays truly consecrated, held apart from the average workaday business to acknowledge how sacred life is?"

For me, it was singing Christmas carols with Mom.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter to My Twelve Year Old Self

Dear Age 12 Emily,

I'm writing to tell you a few strategies for handling the things that upset you. "Stress" is a hard thing to explain and isn't usually something kids are taught how to handle. But you are already familiar with feeling overwhelmed, fluttery in your stomach, nervous, and worried. I want to help you deal with those feelings.

Anxiety is a little like a mosquito bite. The more attention you give it, the more bothersome it becomes. Mom tells you to slap a bug bite (let it sting) and then leave it alone. Don't scratch it. With anxiety, it’s the same thing: give it your best shot, then leave it be.

Instead of a slap, the way to change your focus is to do something to distract yourself. It could be something active or something restful. Anything that takes your mind off whatever it is that's making you feel crazy. Take a bath. Give yourself a pedicure. Read a good story. Do some arts and crafts. Play with a pet (Droopy always likes attention). Do a chore. Write a letter. Practice piano. Bake something. Take a walk. Say a short prayer. Ask a brother or sister to play a game with you (they’d love it, even if you feel kind of annoyed. You’ll be glad later).

When you pull eyelashes or hair, you get tunnel vision. What you need is the opposite, something that makes you look up, notice the horizon, see what the sun or the moon or the clouds are doing. Watch for shooting stars.

That super-focused state when you're fiddling with hair is kind of like bellows on the wood stove fire. You’d think oxygen would extinguish flame (like blowing out a candle) but it actually feeds it. In fact, a fire with NO air goes out. Stop feeding your anxiety by giving it so much TLC.

If I was with you today, I’d French-braid your hair. I’d scratch your back. I'd give you a bear hug. I’d ask for your help making a collage from magazine pages. We could try fancy new cursive signatures (you’ll need to get really good at the letter U). I’d whisper to you that life is less about good behavior and more about enjoying yourself: fewer polite smiles and more belly laughs. Less silent observing and more Broadway show tunes, with choreography.

You already hear it a lot, but maybe coming from me it will mean something: stop worrying about what people might think of you. The reality is that everybody makes snap judgments and everyone also changes their minds. You can’t control what other people think. You can only do your best to say and do things that make you proud, happy, and confident. Don’t be afraid of growing up with a lot of regrets. So far, the only regret is all the time spent worrying about this kind of thing.
I love you. Your life is full of great things and you are ready to appreciate them ALL.


Age 31 Emily

This letter was prompted by a recent conversation with my counselor, addressing my current anxiety and compulsive behavior. Expressing compassion for the young version of me who invented coping mechanisms has been powerful.