The Bravery of Surrender: On the Death of my Beloved Father

There is a common misconception that safety lies in control, and that the more powerful you are, the more you can control. But one thing my Dad’s recent death from cancer taught me is the bravery of surrender.

Let me back up a little to his last month or so of life. None of us realized quite how sick he was, although we had our suspicions. All of us, his family and friends, wanted to somehow rescue him, stop the disease, and make him get better again. After all, he had already recovered from the brink of death twice in the last five or six years.

But Dad, in his quiet, firm way, never making any drama or fuss, already knew. He spent this last year, this year of horrid covid isolation, preparing his apartment for me: purging papers, decluttering, labelling, sorting, highlighting his Marie Kondo books and covering his walls with mindmaps and plans for his home, putting everything in its place so it would be easier for me to deal with when he passed.

He kept telling me enthusiastically how many old papers he had sorted and gotten rid of, and still I didn’t realize. Perhaps it was too difficult for him to tell his only daughter the words “I’m dying” out loud.

When we went to the oncologist, and heard that his PSA’s were skyrocketing, I think he had confirmation that his fight was coming to an end, and he could now let go. He spoke to me of the peace of surrendering, but I stubbornly encouraged him to keep trying. His reaction was not despair, although I know now that the news hurt him deeply, but was his acceptance of a bigger plan, in which he no longer had to grip the wheel so tightly.

Page from my Dad’s journal

At first, when the pain intensified and his body no longer wanted food, he wanted to hide away by himself. He told me he felt like a grumpy bear who kept getting woken up while trying to hibernate.

Sketch from my Dad’s journal

But when I begged him, weeping over the phone, if I could not come and do something to make him feel better, not offering food or solutions, but merely comfort, he admitted he would perhaps like to be sung to.

So the next day, with the promise of a song and a gentle massage, he let me come and see him, lying in bed with his cozy toque and scarf, and very little able to move.

The next few days were a painful dance of trying to soothe, while also encouraging him to try to keep eating…pulling out all my best mom tricks, giving little sips of juice, convincing him to let me feed him minuscule bites of kiwi on a tiny grapefruit spoon.

“It’s your baby bird diet,” I joked, while blinking back tears.

After three days of this, I was able to speak to his oncologist over the phone and ask him the hard question:

“What is my role doctor, to try to save him, or simply to soothe him in his parting?”

His clear answer was given gently and honestly: “To soothe. Within a month, he will be with the angels.”

I was devastated—but also freed. No longer did I have to fight, but to surrender, and to walk my Dad as gently as I could to the gates of Heaven.

And Dad, you let me walk you there. You didn’t hide your weakness from me, nor your pain.

A few weeks before you had been hard on yourself, feeling like a terrible disciple, because you’d fall asleep every time you tried to meditate, even now, as you were trying to prepare your spirit for the next world.

Having a gentle, loving father like you has helped me understand the tenderness of God, so I said to you: “But Dad, don’t feel bad. God knows your heart, and he knows all you’re going through. He knows you want to spend time with him. Just tell him so before you settle in to pray, and it won’t matter if you fall asleep. Just imagine you’d come over to read to your granddaughter, and she, being only two, fell asleep on your lap. Would you be mad at her?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, it’s the same with our father God. He loves you and is so happy when you seek to be close to him, even when you’re asleep.”

Not long after, you found the courage to not only be a little child before God, but before me. You let me soothe your aches and gently stroke your head until you fell asleep. Thank you, Dad, for this honour.

Thank you, Dad, for surrendering to getting more help, when things became too much for me alone, playing nurse when all I know how to do is be a mom. The bravest thing you did was give up the comfort and control of your own home to enter hospice care, so that I would not have to worry that you’d be alone, in pain and unable to get a sip of water at 2 am.

You surrendered and let yourself be carried to the hospice by the friendly ambulance guys, and after six more days, in an atmosphere of peace and prayer, you let yourself be carried to Heaven.

Since you let me accompany you to the steps of Heaven, I know you’re still so close to me while I’m on earth. Together we struggled, we surrendered, and in the end, everything was perfect.

Courage to Grow

Little Chestnut: I will not put out roots and shoots. It might not be safe. I’ll remain locked in wood–pure polished potential.

God: Will you not open yourself up and grow into a tree?

Little Chestnut: How can I become a huge towering tree? How do I know there will always be enough sunshine and rain? I am far too little to grow so big. It’s too scary to try. I prefer to keep the doors closed.

God: Little Chestnut, you are filled with treasure. I have made you for growth. I will provide the sun and the rain. But you must reach out with your shoots and roots to receive them. To sun and rain you must add risk. You must add the courage to try—to hope—to believe that it will take someone bigger than yourself to help you grow, but that together we can!

Little Chestnut: But it is painful to open myself up…to split open and expose myself to your gaze.

God: One thing I can promise–to always look on you with love. Will you allow yourself to be loved unconditionally? This is the beginning of growth.

Little Chestnut: So, fully aware of my weakness, I am supposed to hope for greatness?

God: Change is founded on hope. I have great hopes for you…for everyone! Will you take risk of cracking your polished exterior for the chance to grow into a great tree, one who will make the world a more beautiful place? Or will you slowly fade into the dirt, become wrinkled and rotten, and never look outside yourself for nourishment? I am offering you everything you need…but it is up to you to reach out and receive.

Little Chestnut, do you have the courage to trust?

Christmas and the fragile gift of life

It’s easy at Christmas to feel as though you should write something joyful and sparkly…like a glimmering Christmas ball…round, perfect and whole. We yearn for such happiness, particularly at Christmas, when it seems possible to snatch down a little piece of a Heaven and bask in its glow in our very homes…but for how many is this image a real reflection of Christmas?

For many people, their Christmas balls have been cracked, chipped, or even shattered. Somehow the imperfections of this life, of our particular family or health situations, stand out more strongly when we compare them with the cosy images on Christmas cards. The innocence of a child, face glowing with anticipation of the ‘perfect’ happiness to be found in the toy shop window trimmed with sparkling snow, has been robbed from many of us as life’s tougher trials have set in.

For myself and many friends, one of these trials is the suffering of seeing aging parents struggling with their health. The ones who have meant our stability and safety in the world are now often clinging to life as to a very fragile gift, one we can’t guarantee won’t break. As we grow, we realize just how many things are out of our control. Like how major surgery will go for a beloved parent on Christmas Eve. And -thank goodness!-it went well, which was the best Christmas present by far this year.

In this age of instant gratification and micromanaging, Christmas is a powerful reminder that the things that matter most–life, love, family and friends–are beyond our control–in fact are complete and utter gifts. Ones we should give thanks for every day. Ones we should never take for granted. Life is vulnerable and precious, and it is made sweeter by those who are willing to experience it with us, suffering and all.

One of them is a baby, one who chose to leave the perfect safely and joy of Heaven to lay down on straw with us, to experience cold, hunger, loneliness and fear with us. The “I am Who am” became the “I am Who am with you.” Emmanuel. God with us, every step of the way.

Comforted by this divine tenderness, let’s stir up our hearts to look forward to the new year with trust and joy, because despite all our struggles, we are always loved, and never really alone. These are my thoughts as I anticipate meeting my new baby daughter next week, 3 weeks early because my pregnancy liver condition means that sooner is safer. Little one, you are a precious, fragile gift, and I can’t wait to hold you with great joy!

Merry Christmas, everyone, and peace be with you and yours in 2018.

Why good values alone aren’t good enough in parenting

My husband and I went to a really great parenting talk last week by educator Andrew Mullins from Australia… I liked it a lot, and not just because of his charming accent, which made everything sound so friendly and hopeful! It was very positive and practical, and focussed on 15 specific parenting tips or goals to consider in helping prepare your child for adult life.

One of the things that struck me was that he emphasized the need to help your children build specific good habits, or virtues, that put together would give them strength of character and the ability to live well as adults. Rather than focussing on trying to make them happy now, he encouraged parents to look ahead and help kids acquire the skills they will need to live as happy adults…things like honesty, courage, perseverance, generosity and a spirit of service.

These virtues aren’t aquired simply by parents having good values themselves, although of course that’s important, too. But values without specific expectations to live up to them are like good intentions…nice but not necessarily effective. “I meant to finish the dishes…but I got distracted…” So it’s important to let your kids know what you expect and to follow up and make sure it happens. Inspecting their work makes sure it gets done and also gives kids a chance to feel proud when they’ve done it well and impressed you. It can be a lot of work to get kids to do chores, but feeling useful actually makes them happier in the long run.

Habits, Mullins explained, are formed by repeated actions, so if you want your kids to acquire them, you need to help them practice those good actions (like making their beds, completing a task, helping others) over and over. It’s also good to explain to them why these things are important, so they can make their actions their own, and form their minds. So the key combination is a solid explanation and many opportunities to repeat the good action. Whether or not they like this action, for example helping with the dishes, doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that they get used to it, so that later, when they grow up, getting them done will be automatic.

Good parenting, explained Mullins, requires a balance between being affectionate (very important) and being sufficiently demanding. Usually we can lean more towards one or another, but a balance is important here. We want to help our kids grow and strive for greatness with a lot of affection and support, knowing how to help them do their best…without being either harsh or overly indulgent.

Mullins, who I believe did his thesis in neural development and virtue acquisition, described how mirror neurons in young children help them learn by copying or mirroring what they see. He joked that to see our kids worst defects, we had only to look in the mirror! But this goes for their virtues as well. Kids will copy what they see, therefor it’s of utmost importance that we strive to live well ourselves, and to do it with a smile!

I really encourage you to check out his book, which has many more helpful tips, written in short, straightforward chapters for busy parents! My husband and I have been reading this book a little at a time together, and then taking a few notes about a concrete way we could apply this advice in our family life. We even had a family meeting to talk about it and make a plan together.

Parenting for Character: Equipping your Child for Life

Perhaps some of you were also there at the talk…what did you find the most helpful? Or what is the best parenting advice you’ve been given…whether there or elsewhere?

Born of Hope

Sweet mother

pray for me

in this time

when more than ever

I need hope.

You know what it is 

to lose a child

without letting your hope be whipped away

by winds of despair.

You know what it is

to love again

to love still

to be courageous enough

to be vulnerable.

We are all

in a way

your rainbow babies.

Born of the sorrow of your heart

on losing Jesus.

Born of the intense burst of love

that broke out of your heart

that day at the foot of the cross

  

when beauty shone through your tears

like sunbeams pouring from a steely sky

making rainbows flicker

in the maternal tenderness

of your eyes.

Help me hope again!

Help me trust again!

May I be a courageous mother like you

brave enough to believe

I will soon hold my little boy

breathing this time

Alive!

in my arms. 

“Mirror, Mirror” and The Lonely Quest For Beauty

In my last post I ranted about a fairy tale movie I disliked, “Into the Woods,” so now I’ll tell you about one I enjoyed a lot. “You’ll like it so much, Mummy,” said my oldest who had watched it before with Daddy, “It was, like, made for you!” The movie is called Mirror, Mirror and stars Julia Roberts as Snow White’s wicked step-mother. But rather than being just another evil old lady movie, Mirror, Mirror takes quite an interesting and humourus look at the problem of beauty. 

 

The story is told from the perspective of the step-mother, an aging queen who is trying to hang on to the beauty of her youth with all her might. Her most intimate and honest relationship is with her magic mirror; it is the only one permitted to see her vulnerability and insecurity. Time is taking its toll and threatening to snatch away her claim to being “the fairest of them all.” As she has always used her beauty as a source of power, this loss has not only personal but political ramifications, and makes her fearful of losing her crown. 

  
When a handsome (but this time not sleezy like the one in Into the Woods) young prince arrives at the castle, she sees in him an opportunity to solve her financial problems and gain security. The pre-ball ‘beauty treatments’ she undergoes are a painfully funny commentary on woman’s willingness to suffer for her appearance. She uses a a bird-dropping face mask, bee stings on her lips as an instant volumizer, and a horrific harness-like undergarment to squeeze her into her old dress size, to name a few. 

 Yet despite her physical appeal, the queen lacks warmth; she is always determined to feel superior to those she is with, even the prince whose affections she is trying to gain. While she dresses as a magnificent peacock for the costume ball, the outfit she chooses him is that of a rabbit, with silly huge ears sticking out of his hat. It is very clear who is in charge. 

  
 All her efforts at impressing him are trumped by the simple elegance of Snow White, who arrives dressed as a swan, and captivates the prince. The most charming part about her though, rather than her appearance, is how little she thinks of herself. Her defining traits are to be found in her care for others, from the palace servants to the people of her late father’s kingdom. She shines in relationship, rather than in isolation. Integrity and finding the courage to fight for the good are what make this girl attractive. Her Audrey Hepburn-like beauty is something that simply fits with the goodness that exudes from within. 
   
She proves herself a lot more capable than even she expected she was, and finds, with the amusing help of her friends the dwarves, the strength to fight to reclaim the throne of her father from the abusive queen who is taxing the people to death to support her lavish lifestyle. While the young Snow White’s life expands as she gains in her sense of purpose and in serving others, the older queen’s life, built on manipulation and control, collapses inwards as her isolating self-admiration becomes insufficient to ensure her own happiness.   

I highly recommend this movie, for being both humourus and thoughtfully done, and touching on interesting themes of youth, age, beauty, generosity and selfishness. The themes of using beauty as a source of power, and basing one’s self-worth on externals, are certainly important issues facing women in our society today, and worth discussing with our daughters and friends. 

Finally, Mirror, Mirror also ends with an unexpected Bollywood style song and dance number by Snow and the dwarves which is sure to make you laugh! 😄 I sure did!

Summer Evening Sunshine

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Wow, it’s been a year since I registered with WordPress, and my blogging journey began. To celebrate this, I’m going to publish the first post I composed on my blog, which never made it out of the draft box until today.

Blogging has been so good for me, because it’s helped me to write so much more regularly, and to feel more confident. Writing is now easier and more fun, especially because of being connected to a great community of fellow readers and writers online. Thank you all for each word of encouragement.

I actually feel comfortable calling myself a writer now, which is new, and have even had a few short articles published in a paper. Hurrah! 🙂 It seems the more I write, the more opportunities to write come, and I’m very happy and grateful for this. Here’s a little snippet with my name in print!

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I encourage anyone who has some crazy artistic idea they are afraid to try to give it a shot, because amazing things are possible. You’d never imagine what you’re capable of and what great opportunities may come unless you try.

So here’s that first post my then trembling fingers never hit publish on. All the best to my fellow writers, and cheers to all of my wonderful readers! I’m so glad you’re sharing this adventure with me!

Summer Evening Sunshine

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After a long day of meals and snacks and diapers and messes, stories and games and breaking up squabbles, it is the most beautiful thing to sit in the evening summer sunlight in the garden, surrounded by bees and flowers, just drinking it all in.

My big girls are jumping on the trampoline–getting along for the moment–and the baby is sleeping. One toddler is snuggling on my lap and the other is wandering about naked, eating raspberries like a chubby, curly haired garden gnome.

Moments like this, worries of the world seem far away and irrelevant, having faded in the mellow warmth and simplicity of the summer evening.

Pausing from the endless seeming cycle of distracted multitasking, I am finally quiet enough to be aware of this divine beauty that has escaped me until now, and in this moment, feel connected to eternity.