Struggling to Forgive

Here’s a prayer I wrote some time ago for the book Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments (compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding, copyright @ 2012 by Upper Room Books).

Jesus, you gave us some commandments

that are really tough to obey.

I’m struggling with the one about not offering a gift at the altar

if you remember that a brother or sister has something against you.

You said we should first be reconciled to our brother or sister,

and then come and offer our gift.*

Lord, I’ve been angry with _________ for a long time.

I’m still not sure I’ve totally forgiven.

How do we reconcile? It’s been so long.

What can I do?

Maybe this is just the way things are … and may remain.

God, please forgive me

for the times I’ve failed to forgive others.

Have mercy on me for not even recognizing when I’ve wronged someone.

And please help me to continue to love, even from afar,

until healing comes to both of us. Amen.

*See Matthew 5:23-24.

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It Is What It Is

I was originally going to title this post “Why Is It So Hard to Accept Our Parents’ Aging?” but the thought that drove me to blog today came from another issue, brought up by a conversation with a friend.

I just discovered that my friend’s husband has Parkinson’s-related dementia. Boy, does that ever bring back memories. Memories of my mom and her Parkinson’s disease. She was diagnosed in 1985 and took early retirement from her vocation as a teacher, which she had dearly loved. Two of my aunts staged an intervention over Christmas break and convinced her that she needed to retire before it became obvious to her students’ parents that she was deteriorating mentally. I think her 7th-grade students already knew something was up, because she would get in the middle of demonstrating how to work a math problem and be unable to go any further.

Yesterday I was multitasking, taking a walk as I skimmed a chapter from a book on coping with transition and loss in aging. I mused on the following passage:

“Why is it so hard for us to accept our parents’ aging? The grief for me is wrapped in the knowledge that I no longer have parents, except in name. I have become Mother’s parent. I have her power of attorney. I write her checks, reconcile her bank statements, and make decisions concerning her finances. …

“At my father’s death Mother expected others to do for her what Daddy always did. Some of this was cultural. Southern women of my mother’s age learned to be helpless and let others do for them. It was unthinkable for my mother to open a door, carry her own packages, or put on her coat without help. This was the way it was when she grew up, and the way it was in her marriage. My father enabled this behavior. He felt big and strong, and she felt cared for and protected. My parents were a set. They belonged together. Clinically we would say they were enmeshed. My father was a pessimist, my mother an optimist. I have often wondered if they were this way at the time of their marriage, or if his pessimism created her optimism, or the reverse.”*

Reading this, I thought of my friend and how she is dealing with her spouse’s dementia. That has got to be a huge challenge, even harder than caring for a parent with dementia. My heart goes out to her and her husband.

And this leads me to think of my 90-year-old dad and the many adjustments he has been forced to make over the years, caring for not only my mom but his second wife, whom he married 3 years after my mom’s death. Now he is at the point where he needs someone to assist him, though he is still sharp-minded and fiercely independent.

I have no answers, only questions and ponderings. One thought has stuck with me about dementia: When you have a family member with dementia, it’s like losing that person twice. First you lose the person you knew, and you grieve over that. Then when death comes, you grieve again. I’m still working through my grief over losing my mom when she was still relatively young (69) and I was a young mother. It’s not an easy situation, though time has softened some of the pain.

*The above passage is from page 30 of And Not One Bird Stopped Singing: Coping with Transition and Loss in Aging by Doris Moreland Jones. Copyright © 1997 by Doris Moreland Jones. All rights reserved. This book was published by Upper Room Books and is now out of print but available through amazon.com: http://amzn.to/XTMbmA

My Life in Piano Lessons

Up front, a confession: I totally ripped off this title from an article in The New Yorker. Just started reading the article this morning and haven’t had time to finish it, but it centered around a black composition notebook (like high school & college students use) that the writer kept from his piano teacher. He went back years later and read the comments his teacher had left him in the book.

I enjoyed reading about his piano teacher’s creativity in not using the usual system of adhesive stars that many piano teachers use to grade their students’ performance of a piece. My piano teacher, Mrs. Conway, was a slave to gold, red, and silver stars. I had some gold stars on a few of my piano pieces, but it seems that she gave them grudgingly. For some pieces that she worked with me on for a long time, she finally got disgusted and just made a X on the page to show that we were done with that piece. (We both rejoiced.)

When I think back on my piano teachers, I am grateful for their unique personalities. My mother loved Mrs. Conway because she knew Mrs. Conway would instill some badly needed discipline in me. Oh, how I hated music theory lessons that she held at her house (they didn’t last because most of them were miserable experiences for everyone). Oh, how I despised practicing my scales. And oh, how I fought Mrs. Conway when she complained about hearing my nails click on the piano. She urged me to curve my fingers (something that my first college professor spent months trying to cure me of because I held too much tension in my fingers) and trim my nails. One Christmas she gave me a guitar-shaped pair of nail clippers. After that, I didn’t mind trimming my nails so much.

There was enough of an obedient child in me that I did practice, and eventually, probably after about 3 years of lessons, I started ENJOYING practicing. I think that was due to my mother’s smart move, however…she asked me whether I would rather wash the dishes or practice piano. You can guess which one I chose. (I would have done almost anything at that point to avoid washing dishes by hand. Ironically, today, it is soothing to me to wash dishes.)

Bless Mrs. Conway’s heart for putting up with me all those years (3rd grade thru my senior year of high school). I do wish she’d known how to gently remind me to practice instead of constantly saying, “An hour a day. An hour a day.” Oh, and she hated when I wanted to play sports (not that I was at all athletic, but I tried). She worried that I’d break or “stove up” my fingers. I never injured my fingers in sports. Uneven sidewalks, though, were another matter. One time in 7th grade, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk in my haste to get to French class, and I broke four fingers. As luck would have it, that happened right around the time of piano recital, band concert, and final exams. Mrs. Conway was just disgusted that year. Too bad!

This is all I have time to write today and probably all you want to read, anyway. I had two excellent piano teachers in college: Paul Ridgway and Dr. Louis Ball. More about them later.