Monday, January 28, 2019

Difficult Conversations

I had surgery this past Thursday.  Three surgeries were planned and an additional surgeon showed up unannounced to perform an additional procedure for which I am very thankful.  A dream team of doctor's came together to figure out what the best course of action was for me and prayerfully provide long term relief. 

Surgery went well and recovery is a challenge, but I knew that it would be. When this much surgery takes place,  it takes an excessive amount of time for the body to heal.  I am instructed to do nothing for two weeks. Bed to couch and back again.  I may or may not have washed a counter without reaching and may have folded a few towels.  I was so exhausted from that, I couldn't do anything else. I rest a lot, nap a lot, and dream about the next time I can rest again. It is hard for me to slow down and do nothing. But this time is welcomed.  Because when I do start feeling better,  when my body starts really healing,  I will no longer struggle with daily pain.  I will not longer tell my kids we can't leave the house because I don't feel well.  I will no longer have to decline invitations from friends because I do not know how I will feel.  I will be able to resume activities that I love and jump back into life and actually have fun every day.  

Leading up to surgery, there were a number of things that I needed to do. I scheduled a Pre Op Physical.  I called both surgeons and asked my list of questions.  I called the insurance company with CPT codes to make sure that my three surgeries were covered by the company. I had to pack a bag for an extended hospital stay. I had to inform teachers of my surgery and make sure that rides and meals and after school care was coordinated.  I had my husband arrange so that my amazing mom in law came the night before to spend the night and make sure that the kids got off to school okay in the morning and then to come back again after school to get them off the bus and give them dinner.  I had to fill out paperwork and make sure I had my daily meds packed.  

One of the forms requested was my Living Will.  I have completed a Living Will because of past surgeries. Not every 43 year old has a need for one. But it gives me peace of mind knowing that mine is in place.  My Living Will states that if I am ill, not able to speak for myself, what I would and what I wouldn't want done.  It states that if something happens and I will not recover from it and will not survive, to make me comfortable but do not use any extraordinary measures to prolong my life.  I have seen too many children holding on way too much by prolonging the life of a parent in hopes that they will improve against medical recommendations. 

Times like this, when facing serious surgery where complications are even expected, difficult conversations had to take place.  On Wednesday night after the kids went to bed, we prayed. We prayed for a long time. We also talked briefly about the hard stuff.  I said I knew he didn't want to talk about it, but I reminded him that he is my overall Health Proxy. He has been given the right to speak on my behalf. I reminded him that my major goal is to be kept comfortable.  I also reminded him of the risks of these surgeries I was facing.  We reviewed the paperwork together again, just so we both knew all of the information that they contained.  I told Josh that if something were to happen to me during surgery, and I would not make it, that I would want him to make sure that every organ that could be used would be donated to someone that needed it. That all my blood, any tissue, even my horrible eyes, everything should be donated.  He knows how I feel about organ donation.  He understands that something good can always come from something horrible. 

I want the little girl who has sat in the hospital waiting for a new heart to play outside with her puppy.

I want the burn victim to have skin their arms to no longer feel the need to cover themselves when they go out into public.

I want the child who needs a new liver to dance with joy when the phone call comes that one has become available. 

I want the mother who has prayed for her child to see, to have eyes that will see green and blue and yellow and pink and purple and red all for the first time. 

I want those that would go without or those that would lose their own life to know that there is hope. That strangers care. That there is a way. 

Reflecting back, nothing went wrong during my surgery. Everything went quite well, even better than planned and relief is in sight. But one thing remains, when faced with the choice of what I would do if surgery becomes a reality again in the future, the same conversation would take place.  I will still tell Josh that I want him to help where he can.  To do everything that can be done. To preserve nothing.

I will not need this body. It will be cremated or placed in the ground.  The Bible says, I am promised a New Body.  A body where there is no pain.  And that sounds like an amazing promise to me. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Connie is a Hugger

There is a very kind cashier at the Dollar Store in Richfield.  She is so welcoming and always asks if I found everything I was looking for.  I joke with her that I was never really looking for all the crap I am buying, but...we snicker longer than necessary.  She says she struggles the same way at Target.  It is like we are sisters or something. Oh the struggle is real.

Last Tuesday afternoon,  there was quite the line, and I was in a hurry. Usually I am not.  She hollers over to me, "Kelli! Come on down! I am ready for you!" She knows my name.  I mean, I know her as Connie, but I didn't think she would ever remember my name.  She waits on so many customers each day.  After one of our first meetings when I was sure to go to her lane,  I introduced myself and saw her name on her name tag and told her it was nice to meet her and I enjoyed talking to her.

I noticed her hands were very rough and one knuckle was bleeding. I told her on her break to go and buy one of Dove extra moisturizing lotions and that her hands would feel so much better. She told me the gluten free protein bars that were new at the end of her register were very good. But that I should buy the carrot and black bean not the carrot and corn bar.  She was right. It was really good.

Connie asked what the rest of my day looked liked today as she was ringing up my items.  I told her I was done with work, heading to the grocery store and heading home. I was planning on cooking a ham and making a salad and then bringing my son to youth group.  She laughed and told me I was ambitious. I realized too that I wasn't going to accomplish everything that I wanted to.  I asked Connie the same.  She paused for a minute and said that when she was done with work, she would stop at her mom's apartment, make her some food and do some light housekeeping before going home to her family.  Connie told me that she is her mother's primary care giver.  And her mom really isn't able to take to care of herself anymore.  She stops in every morning to get her up and moving and fed, showered and changed and then she makes sure she is comfortably seated in her lounger with at least three books, her water bottle, snacks, a phone and the remote.  She said she always puts a plate in fridge for her mom so she has a nice easy meal to eat in her absence.

When Connie explained what her days look like, she didn't once complain. She wasn't telling me so that I would give her accolades or feel bad for her situation. She was sharing with me all about her daily life, because it is her current reality. She felt comfortable enough to reveal herself.  I asked if her mother was ill. She said her mom had a few ailments, but that she had never been the same since her dad died.  She said the last two years had been really hard on her mom and she felt she had witnessed her mother age a lifetime right before her eyes.  Once vibrant and always ready for an adventure, now needed help bathing and and putting her socks on. She then told me her mom is only 60.

I was taken aback. The lines thinned out behind me and no one else was waiting to check out as they had all gone to other check out lanes. Connie and I then spoke about the physical and mental affects of sudden onset grief.  She said she feels like she has earned a college degree in care giving and felt like it wasn't a degree she ever wanted.  I was silent for a bit when Connie told me this.  What a revelation.  Knowledge and experience not wanted. A degree not sought after.

I shared with Connie, that my mom had passed away almost 6 years ago and lived in an assisted living facility as her physical needs were too great.  That she passed away within 2 1/2 months of being diagnosed with a stage four rare liver cancer. I told her that I hadn't been her caregiver. But I did learn a few important lessons.  I learned to ask questions and ask even more questions. I learned to get second opinions and google and get feedback from friends and family. But most importantly, I learned to listen to my mom.  About what she was thinking and feeling. About her dreams and desires and also about her fears. I learned to listen to what she wanted and didn't want when her time came.  I also learned that promising my mom that I would honor her wishes brought her peace and comfort. These lessons were learned at a very challenging time. But these were lessons that I needed to learn. And it was my mother who was the best teacher.

Connie and I both teared up a bit.  She handed me my receipts and my three small bags.  I thanked her for sharing with me.  "Connie.  I see you.  Know this time spent loving and serving your mom is time well spent.  It is hard and challenging and sometimes so exhausting. But this is also time you will never regret."  She smiled walked around from her register and hugged me.  I let her be the one to let go first.

I love interactions like this.  The meeting of two hearts who have something in common.  And that hug.  I might need to go back for another one next very soon.  :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Grace, Understanding and Kindness

I had a challenging experience this morning at church. This is the second Sunday in the new large auditorium. The size enables the entire church body to worship together during one service at 9:30 a.m. We sit usually in the same location and let Zach pick wherever he is most comfortable. It changes from church to church or at different activities but it is usually middle, main floor, near the back. He likes to sit in the second chair, I am always on his right and Josh is always on his left.

The service started and about five minutes in, a couple in their fifties came and sat in front of us. I didn't recognize them, hadn't seen them before, but that is nothing new as it is only the second week of combining both services. The topic today was on Biblical Sexuality. We are working our way through a great study called Messy. Because, let's just face it, we all are messy. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. Zach loves Pastor Troy Dobbs. He loves his slight Southern accent, his hand gestures and his intonation. He loves his word choices and sometimes when he is funny. Zach normally doesn't like it when people laugh. Especially if it is loud and often. He struggles with what he views as the intensity of emotion. So, Zach will often let out an awkward laugh to match that of those around him, even if he doesn't understand what everyone is talking about. Today was a tough one. There was laughter, uncomfortable laughter, and Zach kept latching on to the harsh consonant of the S in the word Sex. He repeated the word over and over. I reminded him he needed to be quiet and not to talk during the service multiple times. If Zach is agitated, (laughter) his need for conversation and reassurance is frequent. I finally got him settled and into a groove, and then sermon notes started. Zach loves to complete his sermon notes. He struggles to do it in the time when all the words are still on the screen. So I often end up signing the letters to him so he can complete his notes. Today, he struggled to focus on my hands signing so I had to sign directly into his hand to keep his attention and enable him to complete his notes.

I saw the woman in front of me taking notes the entire time. She then bumped her husband and pushed her notebook closer to him so that he could read what she had written. Her beautiful script where she had been taking copious notes had turned into an angry, large, block print. The first sentence began to describe the boy sitting behind them who was "extremely distracting." I gulped, and leaned closer to read the rest. She went on to write, "HE SHOULDN'T BE IN CHURCH IF HE IS GOING TO BE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE. REMIND ME TO NEVER SIT BY THEM AGAIN!"

My mom heart broke a bit. He shouldn't be in church? Wait, she wanted a reminder not to sit by my amazing son ever again? I started to fume and caught myself. -Hold every thought captive.- I did what every mom of a special needs kid would do. I let it hurt for only a minute and then I moved on. I did spend a minute preparing a response just in case she addressed me after the service. But I knew she wouldn't. And she did not. However, when she stood and turned to exit, I made sure I greeted her with a warm smile.

What would I have said if she complained or did verbally confront me? First, I would never apologize, but would say something like this:

Hi. My name is Kelli. This is my son Zach. He is almost 16 and has Autism. We are so happy how engaged Zach remains in the Sunday morning service. Many kids and teens often check out. Zach enjoys completing his sermon notes, but needs a little extra help. At times, some of his behaviors can be a bit distracting. We are fully aware of that. Zach wasn't able to enter a sanctuary for a worship service until he was 10 years old. We are so blessed to now be able to worship together as a family on Sunday mornings. It was pleasure meeting you.

No ill will. No snarkiness. No apology. I am not ashamed of Zach or the amazing young man he has become. He is loud and loving and caring and funny and silly and engaged in a Sunday morning worship service. Those are things I can't apologize for. But I can educate. I can explain. I can let people know that there are special needs present. I can let people know that there is genuine joy in my son's physical presence during a worship service, because 6 short years ago, that wouldn't have even occurred. I can also enable her to understand that I quite possibly had seen what she had written, and given her an explanation when one isn't ever really needed.

What happened to grace and understanding? What happened to kindness? I know that sometimes people don't possess grace and understanding or kindness. And they never will. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't extend it to others. I feel that we are called to extend these things to others even when we know it will never be offered to us in return. And even though it was particularly challenging today, I had to make the choice to do just that.

Zach will continue being loud. He will continue needing lots of hand holds, tight embraces, boisterous signing into his hand and assurance that he is okay even in the presence of people laughing and babies crying. But he will also continue giving his people the best Sunday morning hugs and high fives they have ever received. He will make sure that the little kids he adores get plenty of hand shakes and knuckles and compliments on their new clothing and shoes. Zach will make babies feel like they are the highlight of his day. He will love his church body they way they love him. Accepting Zach for who he is and all that it entails. And Zach will be eternally grateful. So will his parents.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Last Picture I Will Take

The Last Picture I Will Take
By: Kelli J Gavin

I stand here looking out over the blinding white snow, the white clouds, the white peaks.  Some say it is beautiful.  I think the stark landscape and the silence is deafening.  

I never wanted to be a landscape photographer. I had lofty dreams of becoming a criminal prosecution lawyer.  I lasted two years into college and realized I couldn't do it.  Too much paper work, not enough court room exposure. Not what I thought it would be. Who am I kidding?  I was horrible at it.  I hated the work, I hated being told what to do and that I was always doing it wrong.  I was told I had an attitude problem and that I would never amount to anything.  I no longer desired to be a criminal prosecution lawyer, but I never really told anyone what happened.  I never admitted to a personal failure.  I told my family and close friends that it wasn't what I thought it would be and it didn't work out.  A few skeptical eyes lingered on me for longer than necessary.  Everyone kept telling me that I would figure it out.  That I would find something to do with my life. 

If I was honest with myself, I didn't really want to do anything else.  I didn't possess talent of any kind.  I didn't want to work when I really reflect back on that time.  I enjoyed taking pictures, but only as a hobby.  One of my pictures caught the eye of an author friend of mine who asked for permission to use it on the cover of her book. I said yes of course, for a small fee and for a photo credit on the inside book jacket cover. Apparently, my friend is an amazing author. Her book sold over 500,000 copies in the first 3 months.  I said yes that she could use the picture because it was an easy $500.  The offers came rolling in. Some for portraits, some for landscapes. I guess I had a bit of talent.  I loved lighting, natural sunlight and discovered the natural beauty that is all around us.  The commission contracts were fantastic and I was able to quit my part time job within the first three months. 

A wilderness and adventure magazine contacted me after they saw my pictures of Central Park. I enjoyed taking pictures of nature in settings you wouldn't suspect.  The film turned out great.  It appeared as if I was deep in the forest, when I was dealing with angry joggers and bikers who were competing for space at my heals on the walkway. I signed a two year contract with the magazine.  Not only did it enable me to travel and to research and request some of my own destinations, everything was paid for.  I traveled about three weeks out of every month.  And occasionally came home so that my friends knew that I was still in the land of the living. 

I have now been taking pictures for 12 years and turn down additional business daily.  I am 34 years old, have more money than I will ever need and have traveled the entire globe.  I am lonely, wish for someone to keep me company and have always wanted children.  How did a job that most dream of turn into a distraction from real life? Apparently, women don't enjoy dating men who travel constantly.  I dated casually each time I head home to New York,  but my lack of communication while traveling, never encouraged women to stay around for very long.  I find myself contemplating what bachelorhood for life would look like.  It doesn't look very exhilarating to me. It looks like more lonely nights and an eternal empty bed. 

This is my last assignment.  Quite possibly the last picture I will take. I am not filled with regret or even any emotion over this fact.  I was never meant to be a photographer in first place.  You do what brings you a little happiness and hopefully make some money along the way.  So long white snow. So long white clouds. Goodbye silence.  New York is calling my name. Home is calling to me.  The desire for a life well lived is shouting at me now.  

I Was There To Hold His Hand

     Our dad is dying. He is in his final days. My sister Angela is doing an amazing job caring for him in her home. She is overseeing care,...