Mirror Mirror: Help me see how I want to be #dignity Part 1 of 3

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“I don’t believe dignity is something you’re born with…” 

           Miriam Webster defines dignity as, “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect”.  Dignity is described as a noun, not a verb; therefore, it’s not an action one takes, but a presence of being and, by description, not something you can possess by simple existence.  I’m not sure dignity is something I was keenly aware of until a very mature age of my life and, my recollection is becoming aware of the genuine ability to have dignity by observation.

There has been one common thread amongst the people in my life who I have observed and believed to possess dignity.  Dignity, being a noun and not a verb, dignity does not require work to maintain, but persons possessing it have more of an inner spirit that drives them to respond to the world and those around them in a particular way.  There is an ease in decisions of consciousness, decisiveness, convictions, and those dignified individuals whom I have known of during my life seem to face situations of existence that would terrify most, with a calmness of soul, and a serenity and an acceptance of fate as the universe would have without questioning the Almighty with “Why?” as some people would.

This is my reflection of three such wonderful souls.

“When I realized what genuine dignity looked like, I thought Wow…”

            My first real glimpse of utter dignity that I recall was the last few weeks of my mother’s life.  She was 80 years old, had survived stage I lung cancer ten years earlier, as well as a multitude of other geriatric health issues, only to then find herself with a late diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.  The rather radical surgery removing a portion of Mom’s left lung saving her life ten years prior required a long hard recovery.  At that time, Mom said she would never undergo such treatment again, and especially when she felt perfectly fine before they cut her open.  It is my belief now, that her conviction some ten years earlier, was the reason why we found ourselves with this late diagnosis.  In other words, my mother was sick for along time and simply ignored the warnings until she became hospital bound, and a diagnosis was made much too late.  She didn’t wish to be diagnosed and feel obligated to undergo treatment she didn’t want to have.

To say cancer defined my Mom would not be telling the whole story.  The truth is my Mom was a lifelong survivor of many trials some would consider a reason to give up.  She was the youngest of three children in a family with an alcoholic father and mother with epilepsy when there was little treatment available.  Mom grew up with tremendous responsibility in a chaotic house with a mother she felt hated her.  Mom loved her father a lot, but he was apparently a mess and died young, and Mom eventually brought my grandmother to live with our family until she passed.   Not having much of an example, Mom married an alcoholic, and while they did their best with three children, history repeated, and Mom was left with most of the responsibility for our family.

Through all of her trials and tribulations, Mom was a strong woman, who was determined to appear like she had it all together, even when the world was crumbling around her.  I can only speak for myself when I say that her cavalier attitude was often off putting to me when I wanted her to crawl in the pot of pity with me when I was feeling bad about what life wasn’t giving me.  For Mom, it was all about appearances.  Don’t show the world your weaknesses, and they won’t be able to pick on them.  She never complained about being sick, even going to work with a turtleneck on to hide the fact that she had caught the mumps from me!  Mom carried this will and grace to her grave.  I really wish I had learned to appreciate it more while she was still alive.

Fast forward to numerous admissions with complicated illnesses.  Even then Mom went to the hospital by ambulance.  She never wanted to go to the doctors or a hospital.  As my brothers and I surrounded her to comfort her during delivery of the news of her liver cancer, Mom looked at all of us wide-eyed and calm.  We looked at Mom, waiting for the moment she would break down.  There were no tears.  Mom had been told there was no treatment that she could tolerate at that point.  She had anywhere from weeks to months to live.  We’re all tearing up, and patting her and asking if she’s ok.  The silence in her glare was puzzling.  Then she calmly looked around at all of us, and God is my witness said, “Well did you think I was going to live for ever!  For God’s sake, I’m 80 f*****g years old!”  Needless to say, we all just sat there frozen in place, not knowing whether to laugh or cry for her.  I mean she was right.  Mom was 80 years old, she led a decent life, she had happy times and sad times, she was loved and adored by many, and the fact was, she was sick as hell.

A decision was made to move Mom to hospice care, as she was ready to stop all life sustaining medications.  She starting refusing food almost right away and within days she slipped into a peaceful coma, drifting out of our lives on the tenth day.  Mom was in a beautiful room, surrounded by cards, notes and flowers from all the people who loved her.  This was her choice, her terms, she was ready to go and, she even refused morphine for comfort claiming she had no pain.  I remember sitting in Mom’s room the day before she left us, and thinking that I only hope if I had to make the choice she did, that I could leave the world so peacefully.  My mother was many things good in her life and, yes, a few bad things too; however, I can say without hesitation, she had dignity and I am so blessed that I got to live in the presence of it, grow from it, and admire it.

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MIrror Mirror: Lost in Translation

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Lost in Translation.  It’s not an original thought, but it’s a familiar one to those of us with the creative mind.  Since Thanksgiving, I haven’t found the time to write in my blog, not so much because I didn’t have the burning urge of creativity, but mostly because I find myself lost in a life spent trying to patiently find my way out of the path I choose, into the life in my mind spent creating beautiful works of art, be it on paper, marketing or doing philanthropy work.  Somehow I have always managed to pull my creative side into everything that I do, enough so that I find happiness in life. But there has always been that feeling of a goal line way off in the distance, kind of like being on the biggest loser life segment your entire life!!  Except instead of needing to loose 200 pounds, I need to walk 200 miles barefoot on 110-degree asphalt.  Ok, so now I’m exaggerating just a little, because well, I always was a bit of a drama queen!

Like a lot of people, at times I have wanted to make a million excuses why life has dealt me a bad hand.  But the truth is, almost every time life handed me some sort of tragedy, there was also something good put in my path as well.  If you read back to my blog about choices, you know I found out much too late in life that how our life turns out is all about those choices, and it’s only after careful examination that we sometimes figure these things out.  First point in check, when I was a little girl, my Dad was very ill and couldn’t work much after I was eight or nine years old, so our family didn’t have a lot of money.  My Mom worked two and three jobs to keep the house afloat, and went from being stay at home, crazy ass PTA Mom, to nearly absent Mom.  Sounds sad, right?  God knows I’ve leaned on that excuse in my life, but I hope you will keep reading to see the valuable lesson I’ve learned.

At first it was weird having my Dad home instead of my Mom, but, my Dad had worked very hard to go to college, and he valued education and the arts, and he made sure that we did homework, learning activities, and all of us had to take up an instrument at school.   In addition, over the summers he would make us learn a word from the dictionary every single day and come and tell him the word and the definition, and use it in a sentence.  He would take us to the library to get books, and would make us a read a book each week, and then give a verbal book report to him.  If he wasn’t satisfied that we had actually read the book, he would make us read it again the next week, and report again.  It was Dad who continually told us how important it was to go to college and get an education.  I loved my Mom, but to the day I graduated from college the first time, I know she was proud, but I don’t recall her ever caring if I went one way or the other.  In fact, when I told her I got accepted to the University of Tennessee (my dream school), she said, “Well good for you, how are you going to pay for that!”

In addition to education, Dad truly cared about us being outside and learning about nature.  Prior to getting sick, my Dad had a job that put him on the road constantly, and he was gone all the time.  Once he was home, we would get in the car and take long drives out in the country, walk along creeks, go fishing and skip rocks on Elkhorn creek.  By the time I was probably ten, I knew how to shoot a gun proficiently, and I knew to leave it the hell alone at home.  Even though we couldn’t afford instruments, Dad knew a man in our neighborhood who ran a community band who would give us instruments and teach us, even before band started in school, and by fourth grade I had a saxophone, learning to play.  My Dad was completely responsible for my brief moment sitting at second chair my sophomore year of high school!!  He made me practice every day, at whatever I did.  Can you see where this story is going?  My life could have been so different if my Dad never got sick.  He made good money.  We never would have been poor, but he also never would have been home.  My Mother, God love her, was more worried about my hair being perfect, and that I sat with legs crossed, than she ever was about what I did with my life.  Sadly, I’m not sure that ever changed about Mom.

So you can see how this situation was having a positive impact on my life, although there were things about it that didn’t seem perfect at the time.  Then at the ripe old age of 14, my Dad passed away.  No it wasn’t sudden, it was coming for years and we knew it.  I was a batgirl for the freshman baseball team and came home to find out they took him in an ambulance.  I spent the next month or so sitting with him at the hospital as much as they would let me.  I missed most of that month of school.  You see my mother had to keep working, she always had to work, and I didn’t want him to be alone.  It wasn’t the first time I had sat by his side in the hospital.  I had done it one summer in Nashville, and another time at the same hospital in Lexington.  But this was the last time, and we all knew it.  I will indentify this time as when I became lost in translation, as 14 is a pretty young age to lose your moral support system.

After Dad passed, there just seemed to be no point to try hard in school anymore.  No one really seemed to care.  Mom seemed relieved of the burden, and still was never home.  Luckily for my brothers, one was already off in college, and the other practically was.  But for me, I was just starting high school, so it would be a rough road to go getting through high school without Dad cheering me on.  But somehow I managed the shark-infested waters alone!  My grades were not fantastic, certainly not what they could have been with more effort, but they were good enough to get accepted into a few colleges.  My Dad would be proud!  This is where the tragedy takes the positive spin again.  Remember I wanted to go to UT, but my mother certainly was not going to financially help with that?  I found out that I could get a full paid tuition scholarship in state through my Dad’s veteran benefits if I stayed in Kentucky.  Hello EKU!!

The fact of the matter is, that my Dad was a life long alcoholic who died of liver disease.  He had a choice at one point early in his life to save himself, and he just didn’t.  He had no way to know at that point in his late 20’s, when doctors told him to quit drinking, or else, that when he died at the age of 47, his death would offer his children full paid college tuition.  My Dad was a man who valued education and the arts, and you know what?  He raised three children who all went to college, and all appreciate the same things!