Love and ashes

(I started this post early in the morning and was pulled away from it many times for dad’s care. It is now late evening on Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday, but I wanted to finish it, to share my heart with yours. May we know the blessings and gifts in both love and ashes.)

*****

I stare down into the cup of yogurt, stirring it. Never have I been more in the present moment, noticing its creamy texture, the bits of peaches that glop through it.

Outside, a winter wind whips around the corners of the house and I follow dad’s gaze to the window, then back to me.

He opens his mouth, like a small bird, his eyes wide. I scoop up a small portion of the yogurt and spoon it into his mouth. My heart breaks as he takes it, slowly swallows it.

This has become the “new normal” in dad’s ongoing care, five years into his stroke. He has been stripped of everything — his ability to dress or toilet himself, to walk without a walker or wheelchair — but he could always feed himself. Until now.

During his hospitalization last week for a heart condition, he almost choked to death. Throat muscles and swallowing after a stroke are often compromised. And even though we had always cut dad’s food into small pieces and monitored him, he had been aspirating food and liquid into his lungs. We didn’t know.

Now, his food must be pureed and he must be spoon fed, all liquids and all foods. And so, we face another challenge in this caregiving journey.

*****

It is Lent in the Christian tradition, and today many receive ashes on their foreheads, reminding the world of the fragility of life. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It is a time of stripping away all that keeps us from focusing on our true goal and essence — a relationship to our Divine creator, however we name that Source of Love — and remembering we are here for a short time.

Lent is a time to have a change of heart away from those things, whatever they may be, that block an authentic relationship with the Divine. It is a time of “metanoia.”

The word, metanoia, comes from two Greek words: Meta, meaning above; and Nous, meaning mind. Metanoia invites us to move above our normal instincts, into a bigger mind, into a mind which rises above self-interest and the ego.

You might say, then, that metanoia is about “letting go” — and if anything in life invites us to let go, it’s suffering. No, we don’t ask for suffering. We’d rather it go away. But the truth is, it’s part of the human experience and how we choose to respond to it, matters.

Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr writes: “I define suffering very simply as ‘whenever you are not in control.’ Suffering is the most effective way whereby humans learn to trust, allow, and give up control to Another Source. I wish there were a different answer, but Jesus reveals on the cross both the path and the price of full transformation into the divine.”

*****

Today is also Valentine’s Day, a day of expressing and reflecting love. I find it fitting that both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day come together this day. Pure, authentic love is born of a burning away of the ego, many times the result of suffering.

Author Sue Monk Kidd writes: “I don’t hold to the idea that God causes suffering and crisis. I just know that those things come along and God uses them. We think life should be a nice, clean ascending line. But inevitably something wanders onto the scene and creates havoc with the nice way we’ve arranged life to fall into place.”

That re-arrangement of our life will be unique to each of us. But, when we are stretched, when we are nailed to our own personal crosses, we can be born into deeper levels of compassion and love — if we allow it.

Now, I scoop up one last glob of yogurt for dad. I spoon it in his mouth and he swallows, slowly, mindfully. I am mindful, too, that this time, although tedious, is a precious gift.

Dad is silent. Since the stroke, he is often quiet or has difficulty finding words. This time, he surprises me. He takes my hand and kisses it three times. My heart breaks and I want to drown in tears.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Love and ashes

  1. So beautiful Marielena, as your blogs always are.
    And as always they resonate, taking me back to my time of caring for Liz, at times feeling so stretched, too stretched, exhausted, but always grateful to be able to share with her my love … now in her need of me….remembering the years when love was shared in health as we lived our lives together.
    You are a dear friend, a beautiful friend….and thank you. ♡

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    • And as you are a dear and beautiful friend, Karen. The time of caregiving is one that stretches us beyond measure and at the same time brings amazing gratitude and blessings. So blessed to know you, amazing friend. ❤

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  2. “Dad is silent. Since the stroke, he is often quiet or has difficulty finding words. This time, he surprises me. He takes my hand and kisses it three times. My heart breaks and I want to drown in tears.

    “Thank you,” he whispers” ……Beautiful, Marielena, just BEAUTIFUL !!!
    A love like that must go on, the strength of which lives in his strong spirit, not now in his now weak body.Nurture, cherish every moment of this beautiful bonding there are so many hidden lessons and guidance he is offering you in that moment, in that tender kiss. You both are so blessed to have each other, him a loving daughter, you an adoring father who has taught you what life is all about, each day of his life not by preaching but by living fully in each moment, he spends with you. You sharing this with us makes it even more meaningful, so much to learn from that one kind gesture . Thank you, for sharing ❤ Praying for his health and well being & wrapping you with hugs, dear one ❤ Stay strong!

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  3. I’m also the primary caregiver for a loved one facing the end of her life journey and would like to follow your blog. Sadly, I don’t know how to do this as there is no obvious “Follow this blog” button (a WordPress widget) that I’m able to find. Perhaps you can help me connect with you.

    Thanks. Your intimate sharing is sincerely appreciated.

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    • A heartfelt thanks for reading my blog. It’s always a privilege to connect with other caregivers. The “follow this blog” button which was lost is now found (and thanks for alerting me to this). I don’t always write about caregiving but it is much a part of my life journey right now. My hope is the words I write let us know we are not alone.

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