Monday, September 15, 2008


Last week, I left California for the third time since April 21 to attend the celebration of a niece’s marriage in Palm Beach. (The wedding itself was a secret elopement to Positano, Italy...great idea, girls!) It was a joyful time, especially since it is rare for all of my husband’s siblings to be together. We were also celebrating the fact that both of his parents are cancer-free now. There were four generations out on the dance floor together...laughing, sweating, acting crazy. The groom’s nieces were tiny little tippy-toed ballerinas that indefatiguably pirouetted and flitted through the crowd throughout the evening. As I held hands with one of them for the Last Dance, I had a flashback of doing the same with Katherine years ago.

Growing up, my kids would dance in any public arena at the slightest provocation. Juke box in a diner? They’re there. Mariachi’s at a Mexican restaurant? There. Chicken Dance at an Oktoberfest? There. Boardwalk-on-the-beach-band on the fourth of July? Not just there, but grabbing the mike from the lead singer. (Okay, that part just applies to one child.) My girls didn’t care what anyone thought, they just danced exuberantly, joyfully...whatever, whenever the occasion.

Brooks and I were somber on the flight back out to California. Katherine would have loved a family celebration like that. She would have chosen some peripheral relative-of-a-relative and entered into an in-depth conversation about his or her life, making the guest feel at home and valued. She would have made sure that each member of the groom’s family knew each member of the bride’s family. She would have allowed James to be passed around by all the relatives like a chunky little hot potato. And she would have danced. She would have danced with her grandfather, her father, her uncles, her husband. Jay might have bent her backwards over the dance floor, borrowing moves from their own wedding dance.

When Brooks and I arrived at Casa Colina, Katherine and Jay just happened to be coming out of the TLC. (Transitional Living Center.) Brooks was already out of the car, but I was gathering up all my stuff. Jay wheeled her over closer to the car. I glanced up. I felt as if someone had socked me in the stomach.

You forget.

And then it hits you with fresh horror.

The edges of temporary denial start peeling back like cellophane, exposing naked, harsh reality. Tachycardia seizes me, shaking me until I can barely breathe. Inside, I start screaming, “Oh my God, no, no, no.....that’s not my Katherine...this isn’t really happening...make it go away...make her get up out of that chair and talk to me...fix her face this some kind of a joke? Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me, help us....”

I pretend to search for something on the floorboard until I can get it together.

As I start walking over to her, Katherine’s shoulders begin to shake with silent sobs. I pull her head to my chest and hold her. “It’s been a horrible week,” she manages to get out. I realize that she’s been brave until a child who gets hurt at nursery school, gets over it, but then loses it again when her mama comes to pick her up. Or when a bereaved person cries afresh with each new comforter. “I know,” I say...for surely every week must be horrible now, no matter what the particulars are.

As I drove the rental car to the rental house, I shifted my mindset back to the New Reality and said the Serenity Prayer. Things were starting to feel familiar again by the time the pedestrian entourage arrived with the wheelchair. We got Katherine settled on the couch and she began to fill in some details of the previous week. “Miss A” does indeed have it in for her. She has become more verbally abusive towards Katherine, and sometimes has physically violent explosions of anger. She appears to think that Katherine’s Christian name is actually “Bitch,” and refers to her in no other way. Staff members believe it’s likely that Miss A’s brain injury has caused her to confuse Katherine with someone from her past. Miss A’s relationship with Jay is even more complicated. She has volunteered to have his baby, and fondly refers to him as “A**hole.” After Jay tucks Katherine in at the TLC, he tries to sneak past the other patients’ rooms as quietly as he can. Almost every night, just as he makes it almost to the exit, he hears a slow, guttural “Goodnight, A**hole...”echo creepily down the dark hall. It may be gallows humor, but for some reason we find this hysterically funny. Jay is just so not an A**hole.

The challenges Katherine faces with fellow brain-injured patients are nothing, however, compared to the agonies of coming to terms with the major deficits she has suffered. Day after laborious day she climbs up Mt. Everest with a backpack full of rocks on her back, only to discover that she’s progressed an inch at most. Some days seem like a rockslide. She is tired and thirsty. She feels as if she is starving to death every waking moment. I pray such suffering will not be wasted. Although her attitude is amazingly positive most of the time, every now and then I’ll catch her slumped in her chair, staring into space. She looks like a broken little rag doll.

When I was a little girl, I had a Madame Alexander doll named Kelly that was a “play doctor” doll. She came with crutches, casts, bandages, syringes...even tiny paste-on measles and mumps! I grew up making rounds at the hospital with my father, so I loved exercising my healing powers over this perpetually sick or injured girl. But one day, something inside her popped. Whatever held her head and limbs securely fastened to her torso malfunctioned. I was furious that I couldn’t fix her. Although my mother promised that we would take her to the Doll Hospital in Atlanta, other priorities prevailed. To this day, she lies, dismembered, in her original box in the closet of my childhood room.

How many times I dreamed of marching her into that (probably mythical) Doll Hospital and demanding that they fix her! How many times a day I feel like forcing entry at Heaven’s Gates, marching up to the throne, handing Katherine back to the One who made her, and demanding that He heal her!

Then I calm down and try to remember the Promises. She will be restored...she will have a future and a hope...she will have a ministry...her life is not over yet...

...even though everything “Seen” seems to argue against these Unseen hopes and dreams.

And we wait.

Which is something I don’t do well. It’s ironic that those of us who are “Time-Challenged” are the least patient people on earth. Those who make others wait hate waiting more than anything. But patience is an old-fashioned virtue for most of us in this Quick Fix Society. We’re ticked if we have to wait two minutes in a check-out line or at a stoplight. We want to get it done! Solve the problem! Fix it NOW! It is so hard to learn to do nothing and wait upon the Lord.

I heard a great sermon once on God’s Timing. The speaker, who knew this from painful personal experience, said, “We’ve all heard that when God closes one door, He opens another...but IT’S HELL IN THE HALLWAY.”

That’s where we are right now. Out in the hallway looking at a lot of closed doors...hoping one will open soon. Trying to trust that one will. In God’s timing, not ours.

It may be a while until Katherine is back out on the dance floor. But I believe that she will be someday, somehow. In the meantime, I am researching Waiting. Maybe I’ll share what I learn with of these days. But you may have to wait.

Thank you for your patience. Please pray some for me, too.


“...For the Lord is a faithful God.
Blessed are those who wait on Him.”
Isaiah 30:18b (NLT)

“But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”
Romans 8:25 (NLT)

Tender Mercies

(This was started shortly after Katherine left UCLA for Pomona.)

I wrote earlier of the need to come up with something far better than “thank you” to express the heart-wrenching gratitude I feel. I never came up with anything. Then, this morning, after reading the previous blog’s comments, the phrase “Mille mercis” popped into my head.

With no internet access in the apartment, I can’t just click onto Webster’s or LaRousse’s to investigate etymologies. (And there’s no time to run down to Starbucks.) But it is interesting that the French word for ‘thank you’ so closely mirrors ours for ‘mercy.’ I think I remember from my college French that “remercier” is the French infinitive for “to thank.” To give back mercy?

“Mille mercis” give back a thousand mercies?

Is that like forgiving 70x7? Code for infinity?

That’s what it will take in this case. I plead Heaven to pour out an infinite number of mercies on all of you who have poured yourselves out for us. The phrase “a drink offering” comes to mind. When we have been dying of thirst, you have offered a cup overflowing.

So before we can completely turn our attention to Casa Colina and the adventures there, I feel that I must first look back and reflect on the past four months with humility and awe at the generosity of spirit (and everything else) with which we’ve been blessed.

Mille mercis a:

...all the saints of The City of The Angels, represented by the body of Bel Air Presbyterian Church...

...all those who kept faithful vigil in the lobby at UCLA for several long months...crying, praying, laughing, and just being with us...

...all of you who have prayed across the miles...

...the many “Baby Whisperers” who cuddled and loved James to sleep while his mommy fought for her life...

...the selfless friends who took him into their home and cared for him as if he were their own...

...the hundreds who brought the food, THE FOOD!!!, the banquets of nurturing food, that descended like manna on us day after long day...

...those who gave us the many lavish gifts of love: from beautiful flowers to soothing music, inspiring books, journals, funny DVD's, meaningful jewelry, pictures, crosses, scripture cards, cozy blankets, lovely handmade things, stuffed animals, sachets, ‘self-pampering’ treats of lotions and such, fruit baskets, wine, and goodies galore...

...the stellarly talented friends who’ve used the gifts God has given them to create inspired music in Katherine’s honor and for the blessing of many...

...the friend who came across country to deliver an inspiring DVD with messages of love and support...

...the Flower Picture Lady and the Purple Hippo Lady...

...the old friend who sent old pictures to remind me that time heals many things... “LA daughters” who treated me with a hair appointment at Beverly Hills’ finest for Mother’s Day...

...those who selflessly ferried family members back and forth to the airport, in spite of the gas prices...

...the errand runners who supplied us with everything we needed, and then some more...usually at their own expense...

...those compassionate ladies who arranged for me to have massages when I could barely walk...

...everyone who took the time to share loving words of encouragement through calls, texts, letters, cards, emails, and comments on the blog and caringbridge...

...those who fought the LA traffic and the UCLA parking nightmare to come for visits...

...those who flew across country to be at our side in the hours of need...

...the amazingly faithful friends who helped us “Katherine-sit” when we couldn’t leave her in the room alone, “sleeping” on the torture chair/bed...

...those who spent hours and hours organizing schedules and communicating for us...

...the teachers who sent beautiful pictures from children to brighten the drab walls...

...those who exhibited the gift of hospitality to family members...especially to the one who shared his beautiful Bel-Air home as a peaceful refuge from the storm...

...members of the medical community who have shared advice...

...the churches who sent beautiful prayer shawls and/or continue to keep Katherine on their intercessory prayer lists...

...friends who’ve come to take us out to dinner for a hospital break...

...AVM and stroke survivors who have shared their personal stories and faithfully continue to cheer Katherine on...

...friends in Athens who’ve taken my mother to lunch and kept her from being lonely...

...and those who’ve taken care of my husband in my absence with delicious dinners, invitations, and calls of support...

...all the anonymous new friends who pray for someone they’ve never even met... incredible buddies (YaYas) of 50+ years who’ve seen me at my absolute worst and love me anyway...who hug me and rub me and put me to bed... wonderful, patient friends who email or call with no expectation of response...

...and especially to my faithful little friend who contacts me (or a daughter) practically every day, helping me feel ‘almost normal’ by sending news from home along with her love and prayers...

...And finally, to Dr. Nestor Gonzalez and the incredible staff at UCLA Medical Center. How do you thank someone for saving your child’s life? To Dr. Gonzalez and the countless other doctors, nurses, care partners, PTs, OTs, and STs...may God bless you all with thousands upon thousands of mercies for the tender mercy you have shown to Katherine and our family. You are tireless, selfless, compassionate, and caring. We will never forget the many loving faces and the gentle hands that were instruments of God’s healing. Words are completely inadequate...but I hope you can read my heart, if not my mind.

My mother has always said, “If I don’t ask “Why me?” in the good times, why should I in the bad?” I agree with the underlying philosophy of that. But in this case, I do ask “Why?” There’s some terrible tragedy every millisecond down here on the fallen planet. The cumulative affect can be desensitizing for many of’s easy to shutdown and numb-out from the burden of overwhelming sadness in the world. It’s difficult enough to deal with the issues we face in our own families, much less anyone else’s. So the question I have in this case is: “Why us? Why have so many people sustained such interest and compassionate involvement in our family’s crisis? Why have people cared so much?” It is stunning, shocking...humbling, convicting. I grieve over lost opportunities to serve others as I have been served in this situation. I resolve not to miss another, knowing in advance that I probably will.

As I write these words, I recognize a little of that payback (or pay-it-forward) mentality. I wonder why it’s so hard simply to receive. If you give me a Christmas present, I need to give you one back. Particularly in the South, we feel the compulsion to pay back casserole for casserole. Maybe it makes us feel empowered in some way not to owe anything to anyone...American independence and all that. But it can’t be done here. I can never repay the thousand kindnesses we’ve experienced. Sometimes the only thing you can do is receive. Gratefully, helplessly...receive.

I’m finishing this several weeks after I started it. In the meantime, I’ve had access to the Information Highway, and found that the word “mercy” is from the Medieval Latin “merced-, merces," from Latin, “price paid, wages.” It points me back to the ultimate mercy. I’ve been bought with a price that is impossible to repay. There is nothing I can do but unclench my tight fists and receive...


I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh every morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore I will hope in Him!”
Lamentions 3:20-24 (NLT)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Postscript on Drowning

The day after publishing “Drowning,’ the passage below “just happened” to be my daily reading. I probably haven’t read the story in decades.

I’m not sure why I employ so much water imagery...a Freudian most likely would explain it using a lot of primeval birth symbolism. From earliest memory, I have loved water of all sources...creek, pond, river, lake, ocean. Growing up, I lived in a swimming pool during hot Georgia summers. Swimming has always made me feel free. I especially love it in ocean and lake...maybe the little thrill of fear of what lies beneath the surface makes it even more delicious. But sometimes things we love can turn on us; the good becomes dangerous. I think that’s why it is so important to be careful what we love. Swimming can become drowning in a swift second. A ripple rapidly turns into torrent.

A few years ago, I made up a short children’s fable which used the various manifestations of H2O as metaphor for the Trinity. The Father was crystalline ice, the Spirit appeared as steam, but the Son was water...beautiful, quenching, living water. (Sometimes simplistic explanations help me with metaphysical mysteries.) It is interesting that The Book begins and ends with water, and the theme streams its way through all the books in between. It is first mentioned in the second verse, Gen. 1:2: “...and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” It appears in the last chapter, Rev. 22: “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God.....Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life...”

Obviously, great significance is attached to the element of water. It may save us or destroy us...cleanse us or kill us. It is the vehicle of both baptism and The Flood. But God has dominion over all the waters from first to last, and uses them for his purposes.

I hope I will remember that the next time I’m drowning.


In the context of these musings, here's the celestial response to the last blog:

Jonah 2

Jonah's Prayer

1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.

2 He said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

3 You hurled* me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.

4 I said, 'I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.'

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

(* We could spend hours debating God’s perfect will vs. God’s permissive will. Did God cause Katherine’s brain rupture, or did he allow it in the sense of natural laws operating in an imperfect world to which sickness and death are intrinsic? I choose to believe that it is the latter, and that He permits nothing to occur to his children which He cannot use for their ultimate good and for His greater purposes.)


...So here’s a little prayer from the belly of the whale, if anyone happens to be there now:

Father, forgive me from trying to run away from you, like Jonah. Protect me from myself. Forgive me for clinging to things...false life-preservers...that cause me to forfeit the grace you long to lavish on me. Remind me to thank and praise you for all things, in all things...even here in the belly of a whale. I thank you that I cannot save myself, so that I may more fully appreciate the great gift of your rescue. Thank you for stooping low enough to reach your hand down into the slimy pit of depression and self-pity and pull me out, setting me upon a Rock. I thank you that you always listen and answer...even in the midst of my rebellion. Enable me to make the sacrifice of a contrite heart to you, for you desire that much more than outward gestures of gratitude.

Command those things which imprison me in the depths to set me free. All creation trembles at the sound of your voice.

Help me to keep my promises to you, for even that I cannot do.

But your faithfulness endures forever.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


The nature of this experience precludes consistency. Because of that, I have about 20 unfinished blogs floating around my laptop. I had a rhythm going when we were staying at the hotel and walking back and forth to the hospital several times a day. But now there is little rhyme or reason to my schedule. With constant interruptions and vacillating plans and schedules, it is easy to start a story and then forget about it or lose momentum and interest. Plus, the internet situation makes it much more logistically challenging now.

Some of the unfinished stories need to be told, however. There is one which I have been putting off because I don’t think I can do it justice. (Or maybe it’s because it is too intensely spiritual, and I am afraid.) It is startling how quickly very vivid experiences start to fade into haze now...sensory overload, I suppose. But it was confirmed to me recently that I need to try to conjure up the memory fragments of that time.

In the meantime, I will share this one:

Last week, rather than borrowing a car and fighting vicious traffic, I spent several days in Pomona staying at Jay’s house. It was an exhausting, emotional, intense time for Katherine. More new patients have been admitted, and some are extremely volatile and combative. There are only a few female patients whose personalities have not been altered by their brain injuries, so that makes for some interesting interactions. There is a lot of yelling, crying, and even throwing. During one patient’s outburst, Katherine was so scared that she covered her head with her hands and tried to duck under her desk...even though the throwing was several rooms away. Katherine believes that one new patient in particular has it in for her, although it is my observation that it is just a problem with impulse control. Maybe this girl’s pre-frontal cortex was affected. (I’m just starting to study brain is a fascinating topic.) Anyway, Grace and I witnessed one encounter when we sat in on Kat’s “Cognitive Dev.” class. The patients got to play a card game with each other. It was “Miss A’s” turn to play, but she was busily describing to one of the aides (in graphic detail) what she was planning to do with a certain young gentleman. Katherine called her name to tell her it was her turn. “Miss A” slowly turned around and pierced Katherine with a laser look. Then she turned it upon Grace and then on me to make sure we were watching. She sent it back to Katherine and in a slow, deep voice she hissed out her response: “Bitch.”

Katherine was born living Phil. 1:8: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”(NLT) Ugly words are like poison to her spirit.

Later that afternoon, we wheeled her back to the house. She was pensive in spite of our efforts to entertain. When I asked her if anything was wrong, she said, “Mom, I feel like I’m drowning. I’m drowning, but no one can help me.”

I guess it’s obvious from previous entries that I know something about drowning, but I’ve never heard Katherine use the analogy before. (Remember, she’s the one who floats.) I comforted her as best I could. Of course, she immediately wiped away her tears and told me that she’s okay, not to worry.

Shortly after this, we grabbed a movie out of the stack and put it in for a little distraction. When Jay came back and saw what we’d picked, he paused it for a moment to give us some
background information. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is the true story of a Frenchman, the chief editor of Elle magazine, who suffered a massive stroke at the age of 44. The result was that he lived the rest of his life with “Locked-In Syndrome,” a condition of almost complete paralysis. Although his intellect was completely untouched, he was never again able to move anything other than one eyelid. He wrote the memoir on which the movie is based by blinking as a nurse went through the alphabet a letter at a time. One word could take 5 minutes. After Jay had finished describing the movie to us, I asked Katherine if she wouldn’t rather watch a comedy that day. No, she wanted to see the stroke movie.

An image stood out: The man dreams he is at the bottom of the ocean, trapped inside one of those old metal diving suits used before oxygen tanks. Like the Man In the Iron Mask, the walls of his prison touch his very flesh. Weighed down and drowning, he is utterly alone. The silence screams. No one comes to help.

As I was scrolling through the unfinished blogs this morning, I ran across notes I’d made the morning after a strange dream I had the first month after Katherine's surgery. In the dream, a little blonde girl was running and skipping over large slate stones scattered in a pond. Suddenly, she slipped and fell backwards, hitting her head on a hard stone. She sank into the water and down to the murky bottom. In slow motion, I put my face into the slimy water and tried to find her, but I couldn’t see. Long panicky minutes ticked by. Finally, I spotted her and dove down, grabbed her, and started back towards the surface. But the water was so dark that I became disoriented and couldn’t tell which way was up. Just as I ran out of air, we burst through the cloudy green ceiling. I dragged the little girl, who now seemed much smaller-almost a baby- over to a bank. She was limp and lifeless. I began beating her on the back, but nothing happened. Then someone came up and took her from me. I lay on the ground, defeated and devastated. But when I looked up, I saw the little girl moving and smiling in the Someone’s arms.


“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.”
Is. 43: 1b-2a (NLT)

(Now that I’ve thought about it, I believe I will count that dream as a Memorial Stone.)