Category Archives: empathy

It’s that time of year …

not for celebrations and parties.  Not for get-togethers with good friends and people you may know.  Not shopping for bargains and gifts, not meeting up to have a good time and not for having a nice glass of wine with like-minded folks.

Well, actually, it is that time of year, but not for everyone.

For some, this time of year means eating a cold can of beans alone in an empty room without power because the electric bill wasn’t paid.  It wasn’t paid because the baby needed medication and there wasn’t enough money for medication and electricity.

For some, this time of year means standing on the street, in the cold, wearing street clothes and house slippers because there wasn’t enough money for rent and if there wasn’t enough money for rent, there certainly wasn’t enough money for a coat and shoes.

For some, this time of year brings memories that are bitter and hurtful; thoughts of years past that ran, one into the other, with no happiness or joy.

For some, this time of year means nothing.  It is simply the passing of time while watching the world go by, just like the year before and the year before that.

For some, this time of year means family, food, friends and fellowship.  It is these people who embrace the season and enjoy it as they always have, together with the people they love and are comfortable with.

But what about all the others?

Who, when they set down to their family table laden with food, surrounded by family, warm, cozy and perfect, think of those who have nothing, expect nothing and know nothing different from the emptiness they feel every year at this time?

I and many others call ourselves followers of Christ.  We say with our voices  how much we love and want to be like Jesus.

We sing praises, bless our food and continue on in the same traditions we have followed for years.  We praise Jesus and say we want to be like Him but prove time and again that we recite words we believe but don’t, deep down, mean and we fail the very Jesus we say we want to be like.

He wants us to share what we have; not just home, warmth, family, friends and food, but the very word that would bring others to love and honor Him.

Invite a stranger to Thanksgiving dinner.  Invite several strangers.

Let’s bring someone homeless to our home and make them, for one day, family.

Let’s show them that Jesus is real and that they are loved.

This time of year is our time, the Jesus follower’s time.  Our time to put our money where our mouth is.  To be hospitable, to offer shelter and food for those who are hungry and the ones the world calls outcasts.

It is our time to take in everyone, despite everything, and to show them Jesus.

If we, who claim to be the hands and feet of Jesus don’t show love to the oppressed, be certain that the evil one will.

He will entice and enchant them, then make them slaves to his depravity and hatred of all things good.

Don’t give the devil the satisfaction of beating us to the punch.  Let us be the Jesus we claim to want to follow and lead someone to Christ by being the hands and feet of the Savior.

Make no mistake –  Satan is working hard to win the souls of the lost and if we don’t work harder, he will win because he doesn’t give up if he doesn’t get a response on the first pass.

Be Jesus to the world and don’t give up just because you can find an excuse.  Having an excuse doesn’t excuse us, but overcoming excuses and finding a way to be Jesus to the world shows our true alliance.  We are with Jesus or not with Jesus.  It is as simple as that.

Everyone reading this post is welcome to Thanksgiving Dinner at my mom’s house.  You, for one day, will be our family, you will be warm and your bellies will be full.  Must love, or at least tolerate dogs, though, because our place is lousy with them!  🙂

Death is imminent …

it is something that every one of us will, at some time, face.

I am saddened this night because someone dear to my heart passed away.

I have tried to rationalize it and understand it, but death is death.

My heart is heavy for many reasons.

I know, because of my own loss, what his wife is feeling right now.

She is devastated and reeling from the blow that she is now alone.

I don’t completely understand what his daughters are going through because God has performed miracle after miracle upon my own father, but my imagination runs wild.

I have, on many occasions, although it tears me into pieces, told my  mother that if she and Daddy couldn’t go at the same time, I would want  him to go first because the thought of dealing with him without her is beyond my comprehension.

I don’t want to lose either of them, but I, we, live in the real world where people die and are buried and life either ceases with their death, or we move on.

Life is what it is, when it is, as it is.

Walking on the mountain tops or soaring above them is a wondrous thing, but in reality, we are often in the foxholes, valleys and dark places.

How we deal with these times defines us.

Do we encourage or enable?

Are we a rock or shifting sand?

These are the moments that Jesus calls us to, the times that He relies on us to uphold His people.

I am unworthy on every level imaginable, but I know, without doubt or reservation, what it feels like to lose a husband.

And I know what it feels like to be comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I am, according to what is “out there”, the minority, but I don ‘t care.

I know what I know, feel what I feel, experience what I experience, learn as I go, live as it comes and believe on the fantastic.

Life is a gamble and nobody, but nobody will leave this world alive.

The photo of my late husband included in this post was taken two weeks to the day after he was buried.

An image in my head could be discounted, but a photograph is, as the saying goes, worth a thousand words.

Beyond the Grave

Beyond the Grave

And then there was light …

beautiful, blinding, mind-boggling, life-altering light.

That is the nature of bi-polar disorder, or in the more politically correct lingo, manic-depressive disorder.

The verbiage doesn’t change the nature of it, it simply makes those who have no clue about what it is, entails or emulates, feel better about saying it out loud.

Sometimes there is darkness, but when the darkness lifts, there is light.

And light in the aftermath of darkness is profound.

I would love to be able to explain this phenomenon, but I can’t.

I couldn’t even begin to explain it.

You either understand it because you live it or because you know someone who suffers from it or you are completely clueless.

If you are clueless, then there is nothing I can offer that will make the light bulb flick on above your head.  You will never know the depths or the incredible  highs of a brain that is well beyond your understanding.

I’m sorry for you, but can’t help your indifference.

Cluelessness  (not a real word, I don’t think) isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without some understanding of what goes on in the mind of a bipolarist (also not a real word), there is no way anyone can possibly understand how incredibly wonderful the moments of clarity, without racing thoughts, without disorientation, without doubt and insecurities can be.

Without the chaos, the clarity doesn’t mean anything and if one never has clarity, then their accomplishments will be mediocre at best.

It is like walking into a green, summer field and seeing a triple rainbow arch over the green field that is covered by white daisies with yellow centers.

That is what the light is like.

A moment of pure bliss that allows dreamless sleep and pure and beautiful clarity.

It allows me to understand what I have been misinterpreting, to find the truth within the lies.

It really is impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t lost, at some point, control of their conscious thought and then when hollowed out, to crash and burn.

Crashing is not the best feeling in the world, but it is necessary.  It is like the control-alt-delete of the psyche and sometimes, it is at this point that people who pledge their friendship and loyalty jump ship.

How … well, convenient.

When I am depressed, well, I keep that to myself.  No reason to add fuel to the fire of the witch-hunters.

I am who I am and will be who I’ll be.

I don’t need validation from people who pretend to support me when they have no interest in who I am at the core, in the depths of my heart, in the center of my soul.

I am me.  I am not ashamed to be such although there are times when I am made to believe that I should be.

We bipolarists are not an anomaly.  We are a force to be reckoned with because not only do we have brains that see, feel and hear everything, we are able to function during these times of chaos.

That makes us talented and creative and imaginative;  and above all, it makes us survivors.

Those who take us for granted or think they can use us for their exclusive pleasure are the losers.

They didn’t get it.

They will never get it.

They lost the race when they rolled their eyes at our idiosyncrasies.

Our idiosyncrasies and oddities are what set us apart from everyone else and it is something to be cherished and embraced.

We are different, yes, and in being so, we are not cast in the same mold as the rest of humanity.

In my book, that makes us someone special and special is a pretty awesome thing to be.

I embrace it, even when I want to be rid of it, because it calls me to understand more than I should have to, endure greater disappointments than I should have to and to know more than I would have were my brain like everyone else’s.

It is at this point that I ask, who is normal?  Who can maneuver through a mindfield (not a mine field, a mind one) and end up standing, head held high, solutions in hand?

Kind of puts it in perspective.

I have been mocked by ones that I truly thought I could trust.

I have been shunned by ones who have know me for years.

I have been abandoned by ones that I would have bet my life I could rely on.

These things, these events, these setbacks have not broken me yet made me more determined to be who I am.

I am content with myself even when I am discontent with myself.

I am special and the people who are like me will understand completely and hopefully feel special, too.

I am misunderstood and  I am ok with that.

It means that I am a mystery and, let’s be honest here … how cool is that?

We are a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

That makes us cool in the “you wish you could see what my brain sees” kind of way.

Yes.  I am bipolar and I take each moment, each second, each event as it comes.

It is amazing what you can see when you take one moment at a time.

I love my life and though there are times when I forget who I am and can’t string words together to make coherent sentence, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Not  a single thing.

I. Am. Me … and I’m good with that.

only one of hundreds of my favorite things about West Side  Market in Cleveland, OH and bipolarist comfort food :)

only one of hundreds of my favorite things about West Side Market in Cleveland, OH and a favorite of this bipolarist’s comfort foods 🙂

When God gives one a heart of compassion …

it is understood that it will get broken.

There is no way around it.

I am still learning this.

I find that is is both  an honor and a privilege to watch the end of life come to pass.

It isn’t easy nor can it be considered pleasant, but it is a part of life that not everyone gets to see.

The living years is what most of us look for, find pleasure in and hope to be a part of.

But to be present when a spirit leaves this world is nothing short of amazing.

The last breath.

The last heartbeat.

The last moment.

I cannot help but cry for it is, in it’s way, very sad … and yet, when there was suffering, it is also a comfort.

I try, in my weak way, to console the ones left behind, but at that particular moment, there really are no words to say.

I can only be there, in the background, in the edges of the moment, to hold a hand or wrap my arm around those who need the contact.

I’m not, by nature, a hugger or toucher.

It doesn’t really come naturally to me as it does to true nurturers … and yet, I find myself being pulled into the emotion.

It is difficult, but I cannot turn them away.

Not in their moment of need.

Maybe I am weak. But if I can offer some bit of strength in their moment of weakness, then my strength has been made manifest.

I can do, for this moment, what I have learned through experience to do.  Not book experience, or clinical experience, but life experience.

I understand loss, especially unexpected loss that blindsides you and leaves you reeling from words left unsaid.

It is what it is and there are no do-overs.

It is enough to know that you loved someone while they lived in a way that they knew, unconditionally, that they were loved.

It is enough.

Move forward as you can, but whatever the cost, move forward.

To remain where you are, in grief and sorrow is the last thing in the world the one you lost would want.

Don”t be afraid to live.

If you aren’t afraid to live, then when your time comes, you won’t be afraid to die.

It is a circle.

Don’t break it.

James Taylor sang …

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain …” he saw sunny days that he thought would never end.

I feel that way sometimes.

Like the sun will last forever and the foreboding darkness of an impending storm will elude me and deprive me of the comfort that only such an awe-inspiring event of God-created nature can bring.

I found myself today in the company of a family who was waiting for their mother to die.

I have spent an hour or so with them every day for the past couple of weeks and have come to know them, to care about them, to love them.

I’ve seen photographs of their children and grandchildren, of weddings and birthday parties.

I’ve seen faces with smiles that don’t quite reach the eyes because there was worry there.

A sadness.

A knowing.

A sorrow for what was to come.

I didn’t want to go into that room today.  I wanted to be a coward and take the coward’s way out and simply say that they were unavailable.

It would have been a lie, though, even if only to myself.

One that would settle smoothly at the time and then plague me in the wee hours as I remembered the fear, sorrow and sense of hopelessness on the faces that I was trying so hard to comfort.

So I went into the room I didn’t want to go in, sat with people I had come to know and love and waited with them while their mother took her last breath.

It was humbling to be accepted into this place of sorrow and grief as though I was one of them.

I have sat with them, held their hands, cried with them, prayed with them and now, I mourn for them.

It was obvious, when I went to visit them today, that the time was limited.  While I didn’t want to bring negative connotations to an already tense situation, I advised them to call any other family members who should be there to come to be with them.

Maybe I overstepped my bounds.  No, there is no maybe about it, I did overstep them.  But in my nearly thirty years as a nurse, I haven’t always played by the rules.

Sometimes I play by the heart, which often breaks the rules.

But over the years, I have seen death enough to know what it looks like.

I couldn’t live with the knowledge that there were ones that I had met and bonded with before that weren’t there now when the moment they had been dreading, avoiding, rationalizing, but knew was impending, had come.

I felt like a traitor.  Like someone who had come only to say that this is it.

The last hoorah.

The final moments of a life well lived.

I stood in the corner while the family stood around the bed, each one with their hand on the one they loved so dearly, as she took her last breath and left this world.

Before she did, she opened her eyes, something she hadn’t done in days, and looked directly at each one present; saying goodbye, farewell, move on, don’t cry.

Silent tears ran down my face as I watched them watch her as her soul departed from her ravaged body.

I remembered thinking how I wish my Jim had someone with him when he died.  And then I remember how much of a loner he was.  Even with me, he was alone.  I wonder now if he was glad that he was alone when he died.  Glad that he didn’t have to see the fear and sorrow on a face that would wish him to go on when he couldn’t, or maybe simply didn’t want to.

I don’t mourn him anymore.  I think of him and of the life we shared, but I have let him go.  He is a dear and well-loved memory, but not an anchor to weigh me down.  That can bring good to no-one.  And I believe it would sadden him if he thought that his death had broken my spirit.

I slipped out of the room, unnoticed, by the family.  There was nothing else I do, nothing else I could offer; no words I could say to comfort them in that moment.

Trying to do so would be futile and would, I feared, break the trust that they had placed in me to understand them in their moment of weakness.

I had given them my heart, which was now breaking for each one of them.  My tears won’t help them anymore than their own will.

I hope for them, this night, peace in the knowledge that they not only loved, with such passion, their mother, sister, grandmother, wife … but that she knew, with every ounce of her being, that they did.

I like to think that knowing that you gave everything you had to someone you loved is enough to sustain them at their last moments.

I will cry myself to sleep tonight for a family I didn’t know just two weeks ago, a family now broken and irrevocably changed.

I will photograph the living and mourn the dead.  This is the life, while I may not have chosen willingly, was given to me to live.

If my heart shatters a bit in order to bring comfort to another, then it was pain well spent.

I will live it the best I am able, deal with it when I can, falter when I can’t and then remember, while trying to remind others, that even when it doesn’t seem so, life goes on.

There isn’t, really, any more anyone can do other than the best they can.

And then, you move on, for if you don’t move forward, there isn’t any hope and hope is, and will always be, one of the most wonderful things life has to offer.

Without hope, there isn’t anything left.  So hope.  Seek happiness in the face of sorrow.  Find beauty in the midst of sorrow and disaster and know, beyond all else that hope is a good thing … and no good thing, as long as there are people who remember what was, never really dies.

Love is the most powerful of emotions

Love is the most powerful of emotions

soulful eyes

soulful eyes

I’ve said it before …

and I’ll say it again.  I am much too soft-hearted to be a  nurse.  So many things that I come into contact with on a daily basis makes me want to weep and scream at the injustice of life.

I am supposed to simply speak to people and let them know that they are not just a patient, but it isn’t  that simple.  They are people to me.

They are my mother.

They are my father.

They are my daughter, nieces and sister.

They become part of my heart and being and I take them home with me.

I have cried many, many tears for those that I visit with.  I have held their hands, held their family’s hands and prayed with them.  I try to leave them where they are, but they won’t stay there.

They come home with me.  I think about them and hope that they will live until morning; hope that if they don’t, their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers will be able to cope with loss of their existence.

I want to be strong.  I will myself to be stoic and unattached, but that lasts as long as the mist under a strong morning sunrise.  I love these people.  I fall in love with their families and I feel the pain, sorrow and devastation of their loss on every front.

The older I get, the more squeamish, melancholic and dramatic I become.  I surely thought that I would be stronger and more able to control my emotions at this point, but the truth is that I am more susceptible to emotion and empathy than I ever thought possible.

Sometimes, things happen that are funny and yet, the humor battles sorrow for there is nothing beautiful or funny about someone who doesn’t know who they are or where they are or what they have accomplished in their lives.  The emptiness is devastating.  I find myself bringing people home with me in my thoughts and crying over their infirmities.

I never wanted to be a nurse.  I wanted to be a photographer.  I wonder sometimes if I don’t make a better nurse than a photographer.  And then I realize that I can be both.

One makes me a better of the other.

I photograph for the sheer pleasure of it and  yet, when photographs are forbidden, I see past what is present.  I am thankful, on many levels, for the blessings bestowed upon me.

I am a nurse.

I am a photographer.

I am myself.

I am content.

What more can anyone ask than to be content in the life they are living.

I am, above all things, thankful, for the joys, the trials, the triumphs and the the lessons.  Thankful for the things that hurt me and those that bring me joy.

One without the other is insubstantial; combined, they are powerful beyond the description of words.

I. Am. Blessed.

And I am thankful.  The images, whether in real time or captured on film are what life is about.  Life is images and images make up life.

Again I say, I. Am. Blessed.

Bodie Island Lighthouse (my OBX favorite)bodieislandlighthouse

Matt … a truly beautiful human … hatteras_lightning-59

.

A doe at Bodie Island hatteras_lightning-71

Beach Beauties … outerbanks_day1-327

Going to work tomorrow …

is a chore.

I wonder, sometimes, if I can be a nurse for next twenty years, until I can retire.  I have a  hard time envisioning it.  A hard time seeing myself there.

For twenty more years past the twenty-five that I’ve already given.

Seeing the harshness of humanity, the sickness, the sorrow, the depravity … the death.

It is difficult for me when all I dream of is traveling and taking photographs.

I want, first and foremost, to see my own country, and then Ireland and then all of Europe; Germany in the springtime.

I have dreams.

I have aspirations.

I am too soft-hearted to be a nurse … to see the suffering, to feel the suffering, to hold the suffering unto myself.

I bring it home with me.  I dream of it.  I cry for those who cry.

I sometimes think I don’t have the strength or the courage to do what I do and yet, I cannot turn my back on those who cry on my shoulder.

I feel overwhelmed, at times.  I feel inadequate at others.  I am only me, but still, I am called to be more than I feel I can be.

I pray with them.

I don’t know what else to do.

My life experiences, many of them troubled and harsh, give me an insight into the suffering that these people who lean on me need.

I hope I am enough.

I fear that I cannot measure up.

I want to encourage them and know, that somehow, through my own discouragement, I can help them.

I continue to pray that I can be a part of the answers they seek.

I see the fear, sorrow and uncertainty in their eyes.  I know their pain, I have been through the fire and I can relate.

But I’m not sure I can continue to face that every single day.

Not sure I have the strength to carry the burdens of those I seek to encourage.

No certain that I even want to.

And yet, I cannot abandon them for their tears touch me so deeply.  I succumb to their sorrows and find myself weeping in the wee hours of the morning for that which I cannot alter.

I have told myself many times that, in my heart I am photographer and while that is true, also,  in my heart, I am a nurse.

And I know now, that no matter where I go, or what I photograph, the love for humanity will always take precedence.

I will always, whether a recognized photographer or not, be a nurse.

It is the burden I bear.

And I bear it with confidence that I, in some small way, can bridge the chasm.

I want, whether through photography or nursing, to make a difference …

If I can’t, then I, on all sides, have failed.

I don’t want to be a failure.

A young praying mantis sits in the sun of early summer

A young praying mantis sits in the sun of early summer