Archive for May, 2011

O ye of little faith

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Thats something VG would often say. He’d say it after successfully getting over a curb, or into or out of a car. Sometimes he’d say it after a favorite stock made a strong weekly run. “o ye of little faith.”

I first met VG at his apartment at “the compound” as he called it, a nice independent living center in a small town in South Texas. The one who holds my heart and I had knocked on his door from the garden in early winter. As we stood in the canadian air that morning, i noticed that the usual landscaping we architects provide, and its always the first thing cut in budget challenges, was different. The meager planpts were more vigorous, more lush around this door, a sunflower stood almost 6 feet tall in a flowerpot! Beside the door, a well-used rocker, statue of St. Frances (my patron saint) and a turtle statue distinguished this apartment from the rest.

I came to learn that VG was very much like the stories i’d read about St. Francis, a friend to doves (thats how the sunflower appeared in the pot, bird breakfast that went uneaten, then was nurtured to grow where its not supposed to be able to…”o ye….”.) VG would look after life around him, the doves, the mouse that made its way into his house, the tree frog desperate for water in the drought and when a person would move to get rid of these critters, I’m told VG would say “he’s not hurtin anybody.”

I’m not sure how St. Francis became a saint, some kind of miracle as i recall, and when i heard that back in Hobbs, NM, VG had trained turtles to scratch at his door for food i thought, i believed that he was a pretty special man. When he was in the hospital, on hospice care the first time, i’m told that the one who holds my heart was awakened by a persistent scratching on his door, and opened it to see generations of turtles, and a lizard, outside the door. If a person didn’t have faith, they might think this herd of turtles was just there for breakfast but now i think they wanted to know how VG was doing…”o ye of little faith.”

The one who holds my heart and her son will be laying VG to rest this morning next to his beloved Beverly, whom he spoke to often in his last days. I dearly wish i could stand behind them both this morning, sharing the tears that fall as i type this because i have faith the turtles would be peering out from the bushes with tears in their eyes too. Don’t believe it? O ye of little faith.

Look after the little ones in your life and around you today, VG and St. Francis will smile upon you. Believe it.

48 days

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

I spent a day back in March sitting in MD Anderson down in Houston. I was with the one who holds my heart waiting for the doctors to interpret VG’s PET scan. I never saw it but she told me how it was filled with the bright spots from liver to spine that revealed the tumors.

I sat and drew, listened as people walked by, watching their strength, hearing their resolve “we’ll get through this” “you’ll beat this thing” “next year we’ll be in Florida” and I believe many of them do, through the strength and support of family, friends and faith.

I was alone in the waiting area, windows overlooking the medical center were behind me and people would walk up with a son, a daughter, a spouse point out of the window and say “thats where your daddy will be” or “your room will be right on the top floor there”

The same people would walk one way down the hall, escorting a loved one with an iv stand. They’d be strong and chatty and optimistic. Pulling luggage filled with test results and medical images. A few would walk back alone, you could see the exhaustion in their bodies, each step a labor, privately fearful, privately worried, carrying the weight of care on their shoulders and backs. Small sniffles fighting back total collapse, these are the caregivers.

The medical system can do wonders, its true, but this hospital doesn’t produce quick cures, it helps in the fight but only the families fight the fight.

And sometimes they can’t win.

No matter what is tried, how much energy and blood they donate, sometimes cancer wins.

The cruel thing about that is, its not a quick win. It takes time.

I think this is the hardest part. The family care network pushes so hard, stretches so far, risks jobs, health, well-being during the treatment stage that its hard to keep going after those words from the doctors. Yet they do. In the 48 days since that afternoon, VG’s family found more energy, more time, more compassion, maybe more love.

These days VG seems happy when I see him on weekends. He asks about his OU team, lights up when the stock market makes a jump, still wonders about drilling oil wells on family lands, and dreams about those big pieces of wood from Trinidad that he’s stored. He’s got ideas and he talks them over with friends and family who are on this side of the veil and those on the other side too.

Giving care, knowing the win won’t keep your loved one with you, its the hardest thing in life I think. Helping them hold on to just a tiny bit more dignity, respecting their words, standing up for their rights, knowing that the loss is near, i think its the greatest gift we can give to the ones we love.

You may know someone who has been pushed to the front line of caregiving. If you do, take some time and look after them. Listen to them, cry with them, stand behind them. It’s their loss, not ours, our time will come, but know that what you give, you’ll get back.

Look after each other today. Be gentle with those around you, you can’t tell who’s giving care, but they need you right now.