Hello from Kraków and my little apartment,
It is about 1:30 a.m. and while I was originally in bed before 9:00, I have awakened and decided to write something if I going to lay here awake. It has been almost 24 hours since I got Nate’s initial text telling me that Lydia’s unbelievably strong battle to hold on to her life had finally ended. Over the previous 24 hours I had told people here she might wait him out also. She went 12 days without eating and I think she probably drank less than 10 ounces of water during that time. In that time either Nate, Carissa, a staff member of COH or I was with her. The smiles she gave and the hugs or pats on the head she doled out as those of us who watched her (probably not a single person could see her and not have tears at some point) was, and is, quite phenomenal. As I sat in her room (she is the only person to have occupied that room up until now) at the end of the hall, she seemed to let each person somehow see that incredible heart she possessed. She seemed, while never completely losing her ability to illustrate what she wanted or did not want, to try to genuinely show each and every person that she was grateful for the care they were providing.
I should note something about that care and all the wonderful people who have offered their care to Lydia during the last 3 1/2 years. First, they are not paid nearly enough for the extreme circumstances and difficult positions they endure each day. There are some incredible caregivers who try to help these men and women maintain their dignity as their minds disappear and their lives regress into the abyss of nothingness. When Lydia was first at COH, those individuals who were already where she would eventually be, petrified her. The actions of people, those who were once hard working and blessed with extraordinary intelligence, is unpredictable and often outlandish. They can be both physically and verbally abusive and that takes an emotional toll on the caregiver. Yet, I have observed first-hand care that was second to none from some of these employees. Yes, they are employed, but they are so much more than an employee of this company that has dozens of these facilities. There are individuals who are angels in human- form. As Lydia was blessed by their care and compassion, I too have received the precious gift of their love and concern. I would try when I was back to get them something from Caribou (the Midwest Starbucks for those unfamiliar) or I would fix dinner for everyone as a small token of my appreciation for all they did. While I do not want to point out any particular people, I did note during my recent visit that the present staff was probably the best overall staff I experienced during the entire time I had been coming to COH. I also know that such a staff is only possible when they are phenomenal people to begin with and the particular building management supports them in their care. I am grateful to those who are there full-time also. The atmosphere of genuine decency and expected respect for both the residents and family was so apparent. The corporate office in Minnesota is richly blessed to have the administrator, nurse, and activities person they do in Menomonie. In my opinion, they probably do not realize how fortunate they are. The individual acts of care and kindness you have given to Lydia and me will never be forgotten.
It has been a day of relief on one hand and tears on the other. I understand this dichotomous response and am willing to just let it happen. I do struggle with the fact that I handed off the physical presence of being in Room 23 to Nathan and I am grateful to him for choosing to come back even when I said it was probably okay to let her go because I think it is what she wanted. I do believe she held out much longer than anyone believed either humanly or medically possible because she did not want me ( or perhaps anyone) to be there. I am grateful that Carissa came in on a New Year’s Day and spent three hours on her day off with her. Lydia came to love Carissa and it was evident in the way Lydia looked at her and by the way Lydia’s entire affect changed when Carissa would come near. What I know for sure in my heart is that Lydia came to trust the people at COH and for that to happen, it took amazing individuals doing miraculous things. More importantly, you can be sure those who provide that outstanding care do it because they are outstanding in their own right because none of them are, nor could they be, paid enough. That being said, they should certainly be compensated much better than they are. I have learned much about elder care and, in particular, care for the memory impaired.
It is now Saturday morning and I did hear from Nate on some things and he did seem to get the immediate things that needed to be managed yesterday done. It is interesting to me that his need to be in Menomonie in the future and my need will now be quite different. He will have significant issues to manage there and I will not. Theresa and he will have substantive interest in Park Circle now and I will not. That is not to say that I will not go back, but I will no longer have a place to stay and in the next weeks I will have to probably go back and clean out my things from the Upper Sanctum and collect all the books and things that have been there since I left Menomonie. I know that what will happen in the next weeks is a process, but Lydia was amazing and she had it all figured out. I am fortunate to still have some amazing friends and former colleagues there, so there are ways that Menomonie will always have a sense of place for me or feel like home. However, the main reason that I have gone back in the past 5 1/2 years is now a guardian angel for me and someone who has profoundly changed my life.
I cannot get the image and the experience out of my head of the moment that last night when I told her I loved her and she had become my mother, the parent I no longer had and she simply whispered, “I know.” As I moved down the hall from her room, I cried and trembled as I tried to walk away from this person. I remember Lexie and Brianna both tearing up and hugging me as I got to the common room. I think as I reflect on my own year of attempting to be a parent, for better or worse, perhaps most of what I know of parenting actually came from Lydia. I am not sure I realized that until just now. That might be something to ponder in another post. As I type this, again the sun is out and shining brightly into my windows, though if it is like that past couple days, it is fleeting. I guess that is apropos at this point. The fleeting nature of our experiences and what they offer to our lives is something to be considered. I have known for a long time that Lydia would come to this day and I would have to figure out how to manage it. It is life and I do not mean that in either a cliché or an uncaring way. Life is profound; it is a gift, but one that often burdens us or one we might too often take for granted. In the past days as people have reached out, I am once again shown how blessed I am. Those who took the time to send their words through text, FB, Whatsapp, or even phone calls have done so much to support me. I am grateful for those who have taken time to connect in whatever small way they have (they are not small).
It is now the evening of the 3rd and I am back in my little abode. I enjoy this little studio apartment and I appreciate the solitude. Today I was actually on my own as Robert dropped me off at the Wieliczka Kopalni Soli (The Wieliczka Salt Mine) to tour it. This mine is gargantuan (and that is an understatement). It has 9 levels, but we only saw three. It no longer mines salt, but still produces 150,000 tons through desalination. The tour was almost three hours long (if you want to see pictures and follow me on Facebook, I have posted some there). The picture at the top of this post is of Pope John Paul II and is carved entirely from salt. It was created in 1999. The mine has been in operation for hundreds of years and during WWII the Nazis actually moved a factory into the mine. Some of the salt pockets that have been mined are almost a hundred meters deep and the length and the width of the some of the rooms are astounding. There is a huge chapel (there are actually 20 of them throughout the mine’s rooms and tunnels) and three men carved some of the most amazing Biblical scenes into the walls. The floors, the ceilings, the walls, everything is made of salt. It is not really describable through words. Over a half million people visit it a year, and there is no doubt in my mind why. I think it ranks up with the Seven Wonders of the World. This is my fourth time to Europe and I have seen beautiful and stunning things, but I think the last two days are right at the top of the list for beauty and awe.
As noted, I am back in my room and I want to work on my syllabi for a moment and some other reading, but I cannot stop thinking about Lydia and coming to grips with the reality that she is no long present in my life in a physical form. I understand death, both from losing family members and as a former pastor, but this passing has hit me probably like the loss of my grandmother did. While I am keeping busy, there were three times today that my eyes welled up in tears and I did not even realize I was thinking about, or emoting because of, her. Last night when I tried to read to Robert and Katarzyna what I had written about her, I began to cry. Again, what I realize is I have lost yet another parent. Perhaps it is because she is, was, and will be, the best mother I have had. If you have read my blog during the past year (again see Wondering What She Really Thinks) you know that I have struggled with those maternal relationships. What I know about Lydia is that she could really get to me in a number of ways and produce a myriad of emotions, but when it was all pushed down to the basics, I think I loved her more than anyone, with the exception of my grandmother. I think I might have even loved her more than my adopted father, and that is saying something pretty profound. Is it because I am older and I understand the frailty of life more poignantly? Is it because she so affected my life in the last 10 years? Is it because we realized what we both gave and received from the other? I think it is some of all of these things. While my biological mother is still alive, I have no desire to reach out to her and that is for a number of reasons. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but I think other experiences have taught me that I do not need to make everyone happy, and there are some I do not need in my life. In fact, it has been a hard lesson, but what I am realizing is there is no promise from anyone that he or she will remain in your life. While I do not mean this to be selfish in anyway, it has become abundantly clear to me that believing in the one’s self might be the only guarantee we have, and not even that is sure because sometimes we can be pretty flaky, even to ourselves.
What I know as I am going to call it a night in Poland (tomorrow is my last complete day here), I have lost yet another special and incredible person. While she owed me nothing, she has offered and given me much. While she was could be aloof, she was as down to earth as anyone I have ever met. While she might have appeared to many as hard or unapproachable, she welcomed me and loved me as few ever have. While she had no children, sie wurde die Mutter, die ich nicht hatte, und ich werde geehrt und demütigt, um einfach und liebevoll zu ihr zu sagen: ‘Lydia, ich liebe dich und du bist immer meine Mutter sein.’
As always, thanks for reading. When I post again, I will probably be back in the states.