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Monday, May 21, 2012

Life Lessons from a Dog Named Mercy

I love this item I found recently on the Facebook page of the Mission of Mercy Animal Photography Project, which works to improve the odds of shelter animals being adopted by providing high-quality photographs of them. Mercy was the founder's first rescued great Pyrenees dog.

The 14 Things I Learned from Mercy

1. Never be afraid to show your love, anytime or anyplace
2. Never give up, EVER.
3. Anger, jealousy, stress and hatred have no place in a happy life.
4. Accumulate experiences, not stuff. Experiences last longer and are always happy.
5. Never judge any creature or person by their appearance. You will miss finding a lot of great friends and friendships.
6. If you just do it, you will never regret it. Take a chance once in a while.
7. It is said that dogs live in the now. Zen teaches that we should also live in the now. Both are right.
8. Make time, not excuses.
9. Digital images are free, but they are also priceless.
10. An affliction is only one if you let it.
11. There is no downside to smiling or laughing. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
12. Speed is not all that it’s cut out to be.
13. Unconditional love is as easy to give as it is to receive.
14. Going potty outside is OK!!!!!

This dog must have been pretty smart to have realized these life lessons. I hope I am smart enough to put them into action (well, maybe not the last one). Thanks, Mercy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Learning to Love

A couple of years ago, my daughter, who was adopted from Russia when she was 11 years old, made a comment about her "real mother." That comment hurt me a great deal, although I know that was not her intent.

In her mind, her "real" mother was the woman who gave birth to her. I am her adoptive mother. However, I consider myself to be her real mother, as it is I, not her alcoholic, abusive birth mother, who has raised and guided her. I am the mother who is always there for her, through good times and bad.

As with many mothers and teenage daughters, our relationship can be contentious at times. Because of her traumatic childhood and attachment issues, she doesn't always make the best decisions about friends or actions. I have been to hell and back more than once because of things she has done. But through it all, my love for her has remained strong. Her love for me, however, has been in question.

Because she has attachment issues resulting from her life of turmoil and trauma, including time in a couple of orphanages, she was unable to trust that I am her mother forever, that I will never abandon her and that she is worthy of a mother's love. In her mind, if she didn't let me (or anyone) get close to her, she could protect herself from being hurt.

After years of 'testing' me to see whether I would, as so many adults in her past had, abandon her, and after years of therapy and self-reflection, she finally seemed to be learning how to give, and receive, love. I was warned by more than one therapist, however, that she will probably never care about me as much as I care about her. I had to accept this reality; this is how she is. It isn't her fault. As a result of her trauma, her brain is wired differently than that of a non-traumatized person.

Over the past few years, she has seemed to show more concern for me, but I always questioned in my heart how sincere she was. She did, after all, have to learn to be a daughter, how to accept love and what it means to be part of a family. She also seemed to find it much easier to tell friends that she 'loves' them than to tell me.

One Mother's Day a few years ago, she said she would cook dinner for me. But when it was time to start cooking, she was "too tired," so I cooked the meal. There was barely any acknowledgment that it was Mother's Day. So on Mother's Day 2012, I was pleasantly surprised to see my daughter's post on my Facebook page (grammar errors notwithstanding):

Your a mom that doesn't care about cards, flowers, or any other stuff. Your the mom that deserves and needs to hear more often that you are the greatest mom I could ever have. And that I want to thank you for all of your support and help through these years. I am sorry that I don't thank you enough but I just want to let you know that I appreciate and love you more than anyone could through the good and the bad. I love you. 

It seems that she has at last learned about giving and
receiving love. Despite my request that she not buy me anything, she proudly presented me with a new turquoise wallet. Turquoise is my favorite color, and I needed a new wallet, so it was obvious that she put considerable thought into this gift. She also took me to lunch at my favorite barbeque place.

It is sad that she has had to learn about love and that it was a foreign concept to her. But I am so grateful that she has at last learned about love -- what it means to give love and to accept it. She certainly deserves a life full of love and happiness.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I recently read a little book called When God Winks, by SQuire Rushnell (yes, his first name really is spelled like that). I found it to be interesting, but I wasn't overly impressed by the book.

Not long after that, my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. That's when I started to recognize all the godwinks that were happening in my life. I think the fact that I read this book when I did was in itself a godwink.

The author defines godwink as "1. An event or experience, often identified as coincidence, so astonishing that it could only have come from God. 2. Answered prayer." My siblings and I experienced a series of events that could have come only from God. There were simply too many for them to be coincidences.

After three weeks in the hospital and a terminal diagnosis, my father wanted to spend his remaining time at home, but he needed a live-in caregiver to assist him. A nurse at the hospital gave us a two-page list of caregiver agencies. My sister decided to call two or three to get an idea of the services offered, and the cost. My father was very concerned about the cost, so we wanted to assure him that we were getting a good agency at a reasonable price.

My sister picked agencies at random to call. One of them she called because its name is the same as the name of the street on which our grandmother had lived. That was definitely a godwink.

We all liked the agency representative who came to talk with us at the hospital. We liked the agency's philosophy, and the fact that it charged considerably less than the other agencies for the same service. The agency representative -- the daughter of the founder -- said she had a caregiver in mind, and we set up a time to meet him.

Godwink number three happened right after he came into the room. This young man knew my father! He had cared for another man in the same assisted living facility where my father lived. When he and my father met in the hospital, it was like two old friends getting together. My father broke into a big grin when he saw his caregiver-to-be.

We had spoken with a local hospice and plans were in place to provide medical and pain management services to my father, in addition to the live-in care to be provided by the caregiver. But on the day he had hoped to go home, my father's condition worsened, and we decided that he should go temporarily to the hospice's in-patient facility to get his pain under control, assuming there was a vacancy. We didn't know whether there was a place for him or not. The hospice has only 16 beds, but the nurse who came to arrange my father's release and transfer from the hospital said there was a room available. So there was the fourth godwink.

By this point we were all amazed at the godwinks that were taking place as my brother, sister and I continued to make decisions on behalf of my father. We were surprised that things were falling into place so easily at this very difficult time.

Godwink number five happened after my father entered hospice. The chaplain dropped by to visit and asked my sister what kind of music my father liked. "Bluegrass" was the answer, to which the chaplain replied that he just happened to have a CD of bluegrass music in his car. He brought the CD into my father's room, and Dad enjoyed his favorite music for the rest of his time in hospice.

Another godwink, in our minds, was the amazing hospice facility and staff. After having to remind hospital aides to bathe my father or wash his hair or brush his teeth, and to argue with a nurse about giving him more pain medicine, it truly was a miracle to have him in a place where every single person, from the janitor to the physicians, was kind and compassionate. This compassion extended not just to my father, but to his entire family. And the facility itself was beautiful, serene and full of love.

But there was one more godwink to come. At the time, it didn't seem like anything special. A year ago, my father had gone with Honor Flight Chicago on a day-long trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial. His escort that day was the then-commanding officer of Naval Station Great Lakes. The captain had never escorted anyone on an Honor Flight before, and he was transferred to another posting soon after, so it is doubtful that he has served as an Honor Flight escort since then. He wore his 'dress whites' that day, and he and my father, a Navy veteran, had a great time seeing the various monuments and memorials in Washington. When my sister e-mailed the captain about my father's passing, he responded in less than an hour that he would "expend every effort" to attend the funeral had he not been at sea on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I had never heard of godwinks before a Facebook friend mention this little book. I guess that was the very first godwink in this most recent series of events. Once I told my siblings about godwinks, they, too, began to see that they do indeed exist and that a higher power was orchestrating these seeming coincidences.