Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Laughter in the Midst of Stress

Here is another vignette from my 2003 book of vignettes that I posed on Mahlou Musings today and thought might be interesting to readers of Clan of Mahlou since it provides some insights into the days when the kids were small -- and life was far more stressful than it is now. Now I know that survival is possible, but there were times back then when, sandwiched between the pleasant times, the fun, and the games, there was such inordinate stress -- especially the two times that Noelle experienced clinical death and the five times that Doah did -- when I felt pretty much like the image looks!

Raising two multiple-handicapped children certainly had its moments of stress. At times, it has been very natural to wish for a traditional family and "normal" (if one can define "normal") children. That was not to be, of course. Dealing with problem situations humorously has been the easiest way to ease the stress.

Whenever I would have trouble finding the humor in a situation, I would think of the experience of my friend, Susan (not her real name), and her consultation with a very wise psychiatrist. Remember his words always brought forth laughter -- for both of us.

Susan was in an even worse situation than I was. At one point, her daughter had been diagnosed with childhood diabetes -- a false alarm -- and her son had a very real, very rare, and very life-threatening immune system deficiency (previously colloquially referred to as "bubble baby" syndrome) that required daily doctor visits for years. Yet, she continued to work, and together with her husband, they managed all their problems.

Then, her husband developed cancer. The local Pittsburgh doctors could not help. They gave her husband six months to live. Susan decided to take him to an oncologist in Philadelphia. Taking their children with them, they locked up their home and left, not knowing when they would return. The oncologist in Philadelphia was quite talented, and after several weeks of treatment, it appeared that Susan's husband might have a shot at a somewhat longer life than previously predicted. Although months of cancer treatment would still be needed, further treatment could be carried out at home in Pittsburgh.

With some relief but also with some continuing concerns, Susan, her husband, and children returned home. There they found that someone had broken into their house, and nearly everything they owned was gone. When and how it had happened, no one seemed to know.

Considering this the final straw, Susan did some research to determine who was considered the best psychologist in the area. She made an urgent appointment with him.

The next day she found herself in the psychiatrist's office, explaining her situation. With no deliberation, he looked at her and said, "I don't know how to help you, and I'm not going to charge you. If I were in your shoes, I would go out and have myself a well earned nervous breakdown."

Whether or not his words were meant to be a joke does not matter. She took them that way and had a very long laugh. Whenever life's complications seemed overwhelming, she thought about that well earned nervous breakdown to which she had a right, would decide not to exercise her right at the moment, and the stress would sneak away.

She shared this experience with me. When the stress of raising several "special" children threatened to overwhelm, I, too, would think about the well earned nervous breakdown which I had the right to choose or not choose, and I each time I chose the laughter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shane, Lemony, and Ocean Animals

Years ago, when Shane and Lemony were dating and then in the early years of their marriage, until Lemony became pregnant with Nathaniel, the two of them worked on a team of swimmers in Monterey, attached to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Sausalito Mammal Center, who rescued sick and beach sea mammals. Those that could be saved locally were delivered to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Typically, these were the smaller animals who were lightly wounded or simply sick, such as sea otters. The more seriously ill mammals were taken all the way to Sausalito, a drive of nearly three hours.

From the time he received his license at age 16, Shane was the driver of choice for the trips to Sausalito even though technically he should have been 21 before being given this responsibility. Nearly always, he would stop in Salts at our house, which was near the beginning of the trek up Route 101 to San Francisco. I would always make him a meal, and while he was eating, I would be be treated to an up close and personal meeting with the rescued animal in the back of the transport truck. I have met at touching distance (although I knew better than to touch) walruses, sea lions, seals, and a host of other interesting animals that one never sees at such close range. After delivering his special charge, Shane would nearly always follow up on the animal's progress until it was released back into the open sea.

Unfortunately, Lemony was not allowed to do sea rescue while pregnant. She did go back to it for a short while when Nathaniel grew a little older, but after the birth of Nikolina, for whom there are no qualified babysitters, the days of animal rescue were in the past. From that point on, Shane and Lemony spent a few days a month nearly every month at the Aquarium with Nathaniel and Nikolina, who love the animals. They are all members of the Aquarium and can come and go whenever they wish.

That is about to come to an end, however. Shane has just been transferred (by request for financial reasons) to Sacramento. Lemony, kids, and Shane will be here only one more month. Talking to Lemony today, she related a list of the many things that must be accomplished before they can leave town (things like packing, weeding out possessions, getting medical and school records -- and visiting the Aquarium). I sensed that the Aquarium is going to be near the top of the list of things that they will miss.

I hope that they will find an inland way of helping God's other critters. There is certainly a different world of animals awaiting young Nathaniel and Nikolina in our amazing world that differs so immensely from place to place. Right now, they are feeling a sense of loss; perhaps soon they will feel a sense of gain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking a Broader Perspective

Another shared post -- this one from Mahlou Musings where, among other things, I post excerpts from a book of vignettes that I published in 2003. Since the post included both Noelle and Shura, whose stories are part of the life of the clan of Mahlou, I thought it made some sense to double-post in this case.

Far too often, we consider the impact of the moment only. How things affect us right now tends to be more important than how they fit into the bigger scheme of things. In fact, when one is irritated, angry, disappointed, or threatened, it is very difficult to see the larger picture. Yet, that is precisely when it is most important to keep things in perspective.

My younger daughter, Noelle, copes with spina bifida, a neurological defect that, among other things, has left her with full paralysis below the waist. However, she has nearly always kept matters in perspective. Taking a broad perspective has allowed her to lead a fairly normal life -- attend local schools, go to college, work part-time, play (including roller-skating), and the like. In fact, her ability to take a broader view of things has at times quite surprised the medical profession.

A few years ago, she was sitting in a wheelchair, not paying much attention to her feet. First, she was not used to a wheelchair, having used long-leg braces for ambulation up until that time, and second, she does not feel her feet. As a result, when she accidentally caught her small toe in the spokes of the chair's wheel, she did not notice and ended up tearing the toe nearly off. Amputation was the only resolution of the problem.

Clearly, the doctor who amputated felt sorry for Noelle and wanted to help her through her feelings of loss. However, Noelle had no feelings of loss.

"Are you missing your toe?" asked the doctor. What she meant to ask was whether Noelle was feeling bad that the toe had to be amputated.

Noelle, already looking at the situation from the broader perspective, took the doctor's words literally. "Yep," she replied. "It's all gone."

Somewhat taken aback, the doctor clarified. "No, I meant, do you miss having a toe there?"

To that Noelle replied, "I have never felt that toe. How can I miss something I never knew I had?"

I learned the lesson of acting within a broad perspective even more dramatically from Dr. John Blanco, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia Hospital (referred to in some of my writings, those that are pseudonymized, as Virginia State Hospital). At the time, I was the American guardian for Shura Ivanovich, who illustrated my vignettes book. I had brought him to the United States from Siberia, where he was not being adequately treated for spina bifida. Like my daughter's, his legs were also paralyzed but not as extensively. He was able to ambulate with crutches alone. However, as a result of inadequate care, both of his legs had become gangrenous, and the flesh on his feet had been eaten away.

Bringing Shura to the United States took nearly a year. The American Embassy in Moscow required incredible amounts of paperwork -- notes from the doctors in Siberia and notes and faxes from American doctors. Even then, the visa was denied, and I went to Moscow personally to intercede. Some of the embassy personnel were former students of mine, and they vouched for my sincerity and honesty to the consular officers. Finally, we had the visa, but Shura's condition had worsened. He was in the hospital. It took another couple of months before he was stable enough to move, during which time the gangrene worsened.

Once in the United States, Shura's first need was orthopedic care, which Dr. Blanco donated. What was needed was unfortunately very clear: a double amputation. The gangrene by then had taken over both legs, requiring amputation at the knee for one leg and amputation at the calf for the other. Shura took it in stride and readily gave permission. I, however, was devastated. I had to know the impact of the delay in getting the visa on the need for amputation.

"Could you have saved Shura's legs if we had brought him here a year earlier?" I asked. I thought I knew the answer. However, Dr. Blanco understood what was behind the question and gave me both an honest answer and a broader perspective.

"Perhaps I could have saved one of the legs," he replied. "The other leg was probably in poor shape even a year ago although I might have been able to save more of it. The important thing, however, is not whether getting him here earlier would have saved his legs. Rather, getting him here now saved his life."

A leg or a life -- that is a rather vivid way to describe what a broader perspective means.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Morning Meditation #89: Pride of Your Children

I don't believe I have ever posted a Monday Morning Meditation on this blog site before, reserving them for my 100th Lamb blog. However, I could not resist since the verse that came up this week was about children, grandchildren, and family relationships. So, I decided to share -- after I was able to get onto the Internet, that is, making it a Monday "afternoon" meditation. I flew all night from West Coast to East Coast and managed to check into a hotel early, but somehow the Internet has been uncooperative most of the morning. All is well that ends well, as that great poet once said, so now I can provide you with what I posted on 100th Lamb.

During this week, I continued to read further in the book of Proverbs. I continue to enjoy the reading very much, and I continue to find much worthy of attention. I did not get very far, though -- just into the next chapter -- before I found something that really touched the core of my being as a parent. Take a look and see what you think about this verse (17:6):
Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.
Reading:Proverbs 17:6.

Meditation: Let me start with grandkids. Anyone who has grandchildren knows just how special they are. The relationship is different from the relationship with one's own children but equally bonding. I remember a friend telling me when my daughter-in-law was pregnant with our first grandchild that she loved being a grandparent because you were not 100% responsible for the grandkids; you can send them home when you are worn out. I found out something different, though. I love being a grandparent because it is heartwarming watching my son, Shane (the only producer of grandchildren for us to date), be a good parent!

Now, for the second part of that verse, about parents being the pride of their children. It was interesting to see that side of things emerge over time as the children grew older. When they were younger, they always tried to protect me -- I think that had a lot to do with my ineptness in areas in which they were competent. Come to think of it, they still do it! (I must be really inept!) But the pride part came along a little later. Maybe because once you become a growingly older adult, you understand better what it is your parents did for you and in life in general and what they had to go through to make that all happen successfully.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to thank God for my children and grandchildren, repenting for all the mistakes (scads) I made with them over the year and expressing gratitude for coming out of each mistake wiser and without scars. I will praise God for designing a creation that keeps renewing itself. I will ask God to watch over my children, helping them be good parents and successful (or at least, happy) adults, and my grandchildren, keeping them safe. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bear Witness to the Light

One of the blogs on my blogroll has disappeared. Well, disappeared may be the wrong word. The blog is still there, but no posts have been posted in nearly two months. Fr. John Sullivan, Springfield, Massachusetts, posted regularly on his blog, Bear Witness to the Light. He was a kindly priest as I found out in his responses to my occasional comments. After a full month of seeing nothing posted, I became concerned. It did not seem that someone who had posted regularly for seven years would close down a blog without a word. One would expect to at least a final, good-bye post, but Fr. John's last blog was simply a routine post in keeping with his other posts. Something seemed wrong. No matter how I added two and two, I was not getting close to four.

So, I did a little research. After all, in a former life (uh, career), I was a pretty good academic. Therefore, I know how to research. So, off I went in search of one missing priest. And I found him, well, sort of. It turns out that Fr. John was injured by the tornado that flattened Springfield in June. He suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and required surgery. He will be in a rehabilitation facility for a while.

In addition, St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence, where Fr. John was living, was damaged by the tornado. In fact, a good part of it was reduced to rubble. So, even when Fr. John is released to another residence, there is a likelihood that he will not have a computer for a while. (Of course, this is quite secondary to his health.)

I also tracked down an address where cards can be sent:

Fr. John Sullivan
St Michaels Cathedral Rectory
86 Wendover Rd
Springfield, MA 01118

So, if you happen to also be a reader of Fr. John's blog, you might want to send a card to him! I am going to try to send this information to all his followers -- if I can track down there email addresses. I ask you to pass along the information to any of his blog followers you might know.

Whether or not you know Fr. John, have interacted with him in the blogosphere or not, I would ask you to pray for him. I am sure he can use our prayers!

posted on all Mahlou blogs

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