Tag Archives: loss

Joanne Costantino: Everyday Love and Tenderness

“Let all you do be done in love.” I Corinthians 16:14

connie and frank wedding

As I sat with my Mother-in-law in the Cardiac Cath lab for a ‘versioning,’ waiting for her turn to be prepped for the procedure, I felt my cell phone vibrate. It was my father-in –law. I answered assuming he was just checking on his wife of 60 years.

“Joanne, this is Pops. I’m lost. I don’t know how to get back home.”

`I said to Mom, “I’ll be right back,” and exited to the hallway.

He could clearly identify where he was. I tried to talk him through getting his bearings, but the more we discussed, the more confused he became. I had left an already anxious woman alone while she waited her turn to have electricity zapped to her heart to regulate rhythm. So after instructing him to stay put I called my husband Mike and put him to the task of getting his Dad safely home.

Mom asked what Pops wanted and I somewhat lied, saying I didn’t have the answer he was looking for and had told Mike to call him. But it was obvious she suspected there was more to the phone call.

Once we were through with the medical procedures and well rested at home, we asked if there were other episodes where Dad got ‘lost.’ Mom acknowledged there had been a few, but that lately it seemed to be happening more frequently.

That was over three years ago. After medical testing and evaluations the suspicions were confirmed. Dad has moderate dementia.

mom&pop 2015

My own grandmother slowly deteriorated with dementia. I remember that her ‘episodes’ affected my mother mostly through hurt feelings. But it was my father who truly suffered the heartbreak of seeing his own Mom become a stranger. She often relived years he could not know, those first twenty years of her life in rural Ireland, sometimes speaking in Gaelic as if we should understand what she was saying.

That is where we are with Pops.

Physically, at 84 years of age, he’s still pretty much a bear of a man who did manual labor most of his life. Mentally, his mind has betrayed what he and his wife had counted on as the “Golden Years.” He has always been loving but ornery. Lately he’s been ornery more often than not.

If you were to ask Mom how things are going, she will shrug her tiny shoulders and say, “Hangin’ in there. Doin’ the best I can.” And that would be the extent of the conversation.

She won’t tell you about his midnight jaunts when he leaves the house to go to one of his ‘side jobs.’ He often worked two and three jobs at a time while Mom took care of their five children.

She won’t detail for you how he claims someone, somehow was in their house and stole a very specific amount of money from his wallet, when in reality he simply hid it and forgot where. She also won’t tell you that the huge hole in the ceiling is because he tried to fix something and eventually decided the fix wasn’t needed after all. She won’t tell you how sad she is to see him do these strange and uncharacteristic things.

This is not her Frank.

We have tried to convince Mom and Dad to consider alternative living arrangements, considering their safety and well-being. But Dad won’t budge. I understand. He knows his own home and in that, there is his personal sense of security.

When I’m with him and realize he’s ‘gone off’ into another time and place, talking about what he did and who he was with and the conversation that happened as if it were present time, I just ‘go with it,’ hanging on to every word he shares. For me, he’s giving me a glimpse in to his past, like a family history lesson.

My siblings-in-law have a different perspective than I do with this inevitable progression of dementia. I understand that, too. They are missing their Daddy, the bear of man who hugged you and then kissed both of your cheeks, with a “Mmmmm. Love ya!”

They are missing the everyday things that defined their Daddy. They miss his velvet voice singing Italian lullabies and Frank Sinatra love songs, him strumming his ukulele while sipping his homemade red wine in the kitchen. They miss the pet names he had for them, like, Rags or Moose or Murph. Because he doesn’t remember.

Most of my understanding is with Mom.

My sainted mother-in-law is torn between preserving her husband’s dignity and the emotional exhaustion of his episodes, which sometimes relive a time she’d rather not. This is not the same man who pursued her in their dating days . . .  and yet he is, during tiny moments here and there.

Maybe those moments sustain her to make every day as ordinary as possible for both of them. She does this with extraordinary strength and grace, love and tenderness. She is his wife and she loves him.

As I watch her care for him, I hear a whisper that love is bigger than shared memories. That even when we forget who we are or lose our way, we are yet loved and valued. That even when, piece by piece, we are losing who we have been, we are still precious to the ones who love us. And to the One who loved us before we knew who we were and loves us through and beyond the day we might forget altogether.

mike and Joanne prom
Joanne and one of her five grandchildren, Mikey

Joanne Costantino is a Philly girl and “cafeteria Catholic” laywoman living in the wild suburbs of South Jersey, where she still pines for city life. She graduated from college in 2008, two weeks shy of the birth of her 4th grandchild and now there are five grands. The “accidental matriarch” of a life she didn’t sign up for, Joanne chronicles that life at www.weneedmoresundaydinners.blogspot.com. We do indeed need more Sunday dinners.

 

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Thankful, Tired, and Traumatized

As I write this, a storm front has swept across the valley where my parents live and my father is dying in the hospital bed hospice moved into their bedroom. Daddy has dealt with significant health issues for some time, but hearing two weeks and one day ago that his aortic valve wasn’t closing properly and it was just a matter of time was absolutely traumatic for my two sisters, my mother, and me.

We are losing our father.

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Newborn Alicia, daughter #3, and Dad James

It wasn’t until I left home for college and got out into the world that I really realized that not everybody had a dad like mine, a dad who was deeply invested in their lives, an ever-ready source of help and wisdom, and prayed for them all the time. If I needed to talk, he made time to listen.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not claiming he is perfect. Dad can be short tempered when he is stressed out or over-tired (I inherited that!). Sometimes he might be a bit colloquial. He is definitely a true creature of habit, leading to one of his many nicknames, “Rut-man” (in this area, I pretty much married my father).

But Dad was always there for us. He attended ballet recitals, piano recitals, endless chorus/choir concerts from elementary school to college and beyond, dinner theater fundraisers, variety shows, and even softball games when my sister played in the church adult softball league (we were not big sports girls). He and mom traveled to Northern Virginia years ago to hear one of my first sermons.

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Alicia, Ellen, and Laurel ready for football

Dad taught us to hit and field the softball and throw a tight football spiral (mine’s a little rusty but I can still sometimes impress my three boys). He took us camping and taught me how to trout fish in a freezing-cold Georgia mountain stream, even buying me my own pair of fishing waders when I was about ten years old. Like the great dad he is, he baited the hooks and took the fish off the line for me. I got to do the fun parts, like casting the line and eating Vienna Sausages  (pronounced “Vi-eenie Ween-ies”) straight out of the can.

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Dad, the outdoorsman

Dad welcomed in our friends and boyfriends, getting to know them and giving them his full attention as we all enjoyed Mom’s loving, home-cooked meals. Looking back, I realize that some of these friends needed to “borrow” my dad for a bit, receiving for awhile what I received daily: his loving hospitality, interest in others, and deep appreciation of life rooted in his faith. He and Mom made sure our friends could make themselves at home in our home.

Dad and Mom offered this same loving welcome to the men who became our husbands. In my Daddy, my husband received a second father, someone who listened to him, valued him deeply, and made him laugh with endless stories (many of which have wound up in our sermons or writing) and silliness. Our husbands are losing a father.

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Thanksgiving 2014

Dad’s hope for his grandchildren was that they would feel just as at home in my parents’ home as they did in their own–just as he had at his grandparents’ homes. And they have. Three girls and three boys, ranging from age four to sixteen, all feel as relaxed, safe, and loved here as they do at their own homes. Our children are losing their Grandad (also known as Dega, pronounced “Dee-Gah”).

 

As a pastor and chaplain, I have walked this valley with many, many others. I have sung with them, prayed with them, cried with them, and read with them the scriptures that bring us hope and comfort in darkest days. I know that the valley of the shadow of death is holy, hard ground.

But now I am here in this unfamiliar territory, trying to imagine my life without this man in it. And I find that I cannot face that. I cannot even begin to fathom that.

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L-R: Glenda, James, Laurel, Alicia, Ellen

So I face just this day, just this hour. The hospice people say “soon.”

My sisters and my mother and I try to help him as best as we untrained folk can do. We adjust him in the bed, kiss and pat him, try to get him to take his meds, which has become much harder as he grows weaker and less responsive.

We laugh and sing and remember. We cry in little bursts. It seems too scary to start to really let the tears flow. My mother, who has loved this man for 52 years and been his wife for 50, explained, “I’m afraid if I really start crying, I will cry forever.”

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James and Glenda Davis, circa 1977

The daughter I am knows just what she means. The pastor I am thinks it’s just fine if we cry as long as we need to. But I can’t yet. It’s too scary.

Through the years, I have heard almost every platitude there is and every bully-cheerleader (as my colleague calls them) nonsense that denies grief its true power. I do not need to be reminded that God is good and knows best; I do not want to hear that everything happens for a reason.

My faith is strong, vibrant, and growing here in the land of lament Psalms, where I cry–when I can–the tears of an exile. We are strangers in a strange land and cannot pretend differently.

If someone can’t be with our grief, that’s fine. Don’t be. But don’t try to minimize this loss for me. I am traumatized.

God has given me an amazing father, a Daddy in the truest sense of the word. We are losing him, hour by hour.

We are thankful for every good memory and every blessing in this valley, for every prayer offered for us, for every meal we’ve savored, for every moment shared together.

We are tired in body and spirit from these weeks of grief and goodbye with miles to go before we sleep, to borrow from Dad’s favorite poet, Robert Frost.

And we are traumatized by what is happening, make no mistake. All three are true at the same time: thankful, tired, and traumatized.

Our God is holding all of it, and all of us, close. 

Rev. Alicia Davis Porterfield is a daughter, mother, wife, and minister. She midwives this blog and is currently serving as interim pastor for FBC Carolina Beach, NC, a fabulous part of the family of God.