“The River Day”

The River Day – December 4, 2015

She had always loved the river but at the same time it scared her. As a child she had often gone from the Illinois to the Iowa side with her parents when they went shopping. The old bridge with the grate floor showed the flowing water below, rushing and churning. She could not look down at the water, because the large lump in the pit of her stomach would grow and grow with each wave that white capped within her line of vision. Sometimes she would close her eyes and slip to the floor of the back seat of her father’s car and kneeling she would pray to safely cross the bridge.

There were days when the bridge was open to let a large barge loaded with who knew what through the lock and dam that was approaching 50 years old. Sometimes they were the first car to be stopped by the gate going down. That meant they only had a wire fence about 2 feet tall between their car and driving off the bridge, and plunging into the churning water below.

The river held fascination for her and fear.

Once she remembers that there was flooding. She does not remember why her family just “had to” go to Keokuk but go they did. At that point there was an old covered bridge that lead to the big bridge which spanned the Mississippi. The entire area was flooded. Her father drove slowly and carefully through the flooded road. As she looked out the back seat car window the water lapped up against the floor boards of the car, against the bottom of the door. Had she chosen to open the door at that time, the water would have poured into the backseat. The trip down the narrow levee road seemed to last forever in her child’s mind. In actuality it was probably no more than 10 minute but for a 5-year-old, that was a life time.

And now here she is, a life time later. 62 years later and she stands next to the majestic river. Things have changed. There is a new bridge. It is no longer necessary to access the bridge via the old covered bridge and the gravel levee road.

And the river is not so deep. Lack of maintenance and dredging has allow it to fill in almost half way across in places.
And the lily pads, planted as decoration have overtaken a lot of the edge of the river. When she looks out into the expanse now she can see driftwood stuck in the slit and mud. Although still expansive, it is not so scary anymore – 60 years makes a lot of difference in one’s perspective.

Today she went to the river. It is a place where she gains strength and peace. The serenity of nature and the sun and waves bring peace to her grieving soul. She looked out across the river and could see the variations in the colors of the water. She could tell where it was deep or shallow; and where the current still ran hard and strong. The white birds lined up on some of the dead logs stuck in the shallow parts. Occasionally, they would flutter their wings but mostly, they just sat letting the fading autumn warmth soak into their bird bodies.

The trees are bare at this point, fall is finishing and winter approaches her river. As she watches the variation and waves she hears the voice of the Lord her God speak to her heart. ”Variations, child, are my plan. It is not to be smooth and waveless all the time. I bring the wind and the waves that you might once again understand that it is within your power to speak to the wind and the storms of your life with the words of the Lord your God.”

“Speak my child, let the words of your mouth and say ‘peace be still” to the storm that you fear will overtake your heart.

Speak to that which scares you. Speak in My name, my daughter, and all will be well.

Do not say that you believe for I know you do, but often you fail to practice what is taught in my word. Follow faithfully.

Look to the waves and the colors, and the wind, and know that you know that I AM the one who is in control, you but must call upon me.

Oh my, daughter how I love you. You just must remember that the child is no longer present, it is the woman to whom I speak. The one to whom I have given wisdom and experience and faith. The one who has survived the lion’s den and the fiery furnace and come out not even smelling of smoke. Why, at this stage do you doubt?

Go to the river, my child. Go to the river of life and dip your toe. Lie quietly along its bank and let the Tree of life spread it leaves over you. For it is in my life, that you will have life fully given unto you.

My pearl, I love you, do not doubt and just keep on. Seek me, go the river, child. Seek me. I shall be found, just as I was when you knelt in the back seat of your earthly father’s car. Kneel now before your Heavenly Father and you shall be held and be unafraid.

Selah, my pearl, you shall safely cross the bridge.”

 
 
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“The Glimpse Gift”

                                    “The Glimpse Gift”

                                    by Maggie Honnold

Still kneeling at his bedside, I reach behind my head and removed Carl’s hand from the back of my neck. It is still warm. Briefly I caress my own cheek with the lifeless fingertips, wetting them with my tears. Still holding his hand slowly I rise from my knees. My knees are stiff and they speak to me, reprimanding me for the last few hours of abuse. I lean down and kiss him on the forehead as I gently, take his arm and I fold it across his chest, laying his hand on his breast alongside the other hand already in a folded position.  I don’t want to stop touching him but it is time. Very slowly, as I have done so often for others at a time like this, I pull the tear-dampened sheet up over his face. Sitting down on the hard, white, plastic chair at his bedside and sighing deeply I think, “once more my life has just changed forever.”

I had been at his bedside for the last hours. Watching and waiting. Helping the nurses at times, lost in thought and prayer at others. Rarely dozing, constantly watching, should he waken or need me.  I am so very weary and yet, still pushing forward because there is no choice. These are my final hours of wifely service to my precious husband and I had vowed to perform them well.

I reflect on the last hour.

The palpable presence of God was so strong in this room. After the trauma and stress of the past years I was once again reminded that I had not been abandoned in this the final act of caring and responsibility and I was given a marvelous and unbelievable gift by my Heavenly Father – The One who had watched over me and held me, and strengthened me during the difficult times. Our third cord in the three-strand rope that held us together.

Over the years in my nursing career, I had been privileged to be present at the deaths of many patients. In addition, I had been at the bedside of my much loved Nana, and both of my parents. Now, I had just completed my ultimate task, holding vigil as my cherished husband made his way to Heaven. Taking a deep, slightly shaky breath I wrapped my arms around my own body and let my tears flow once more. 

Alone for the moment, I knew it would not be long before the confusion would come barreling in as nurses and funeral personnel came to begin their part in this death drama, I wanted these last minutes to be just us. I reflected on the comments of a nursing school friend, Sheila, who when her mother passed away commented about the reality of death being there, in the hospital bed before the funeral director worked his magic trying to make someone dead look alive. Looking at Carl’s very still body the thought ran through my mind that “it’s different this time.”  There would be no need for the human hands of the funeral directors expertise, God had already preformed a restoration miracle before my very eyes.

I thought back over the last 60 minutes…

It was coming down to the final hour. I knew in my experienced nurse’s gut that death was close. His breathing was becoming more and more shallow, he did not open his eyes, and when I would take his hand, there was no longer answering movement. He was peaceful. A man of faith and one who now was being held by both his cherished wife and His Heavenly Father.

I watched it happen, beginning with his forehead. The creases of age and illness slowly smoothing away. Hum, I thought. His large ears, which he could wiggle at will to the delight of the grandchildren, began to change shape. The lobes becoming delicate and beautifully formed. His cheeks bones taking on a regal appearance of strength as his skin became luminescent.  85 years fell away minute-by-minute. His hands, though flaccid, looked strong and firm with handsomely shaped, square nails – they were no longer the fail and thin hands I had become used to holding. I was unable to remove my eyes from him as death approached and I watched God work.

Thinking it was my imagination I did take my eyes from his face long enough to look at my daughter who sat on the other side of the bed, quietly sharing the good-bye vigil.

“Are you seeing this?” I asked.

I didn’t elaborate on the question as I waited to hear her response.

“Yes, I thought I was imagining it, do you see it too?” came Monica’s answer.

I began to think about the New Testament Scripture that teaches us about our glorified bodies and how there will be no sickness and no pain and no fear in Heaven and I knew. I knew that I knew at this most painful of life junctures God was showing me how my beloved would look as soon as he completed this passage. I thanked Him, my Heavenly Father, The One to whom I owed my very life. I took refuge in the knowledge that my beloved husband’s suffering was completed and his happiness was soon to be fulfilled. He would dance in his new body and rejoice with those who had gone before; and I was totally assured that God would continue to care for me, as faithfully as always. This was His gift to me when I felt most alone and sad – a glimpse beyond the veil as He welcomed my husband into the gift of eternal life – not death.

Carl has his new clothing. Yes and Amen.

Rising I walk to the door and before leaving the room I glance once more over my shoulder. “See you soon, my love, for a cord of 3 stands in not easily broken.”

 

The End but only for a while.

                

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“The Plan”

Maggie’s Journal – October 23, 2014

THE PLAN

 “Let your heart sweet heart be your compass when you’re lost…for when it’s all said and done you can walk instead of run because no matter what, you’ll never be alone”                          (Lyrics from the song Compass by Lady Antebellum)

For the first time in her life she does not have a plan. What is that all about? From the time she was 17 years old and getting married, pregnant with her first baby, a high school dropout – she has had a plan.  Have a family, finish high school, get her husband through college, go to nursing school, finish her degrees, work her way up the ladder at work, and maintain a family and a marriage. Work on the things God wants, embrace the challenges life has handed her. JUST DO IT – and she did, she got on with it. Years passed, and goals were made and accomplished. She cared for her parents when they aged and died, she cared for her second husband as his illness progressively stole their life. She rebuilt after the devastating fire that destroyed her material life, and she prayed and she accomplished. And now – here she sits – retired with no goals for the very first time in 50 years.

“Now what, God,” she asks The One who has become her best friend and confident.  Depression has become a constant companion again and she is searching for how she is supposed to spend her retirement years. She needs a plan.  She is desperate to find a plan. Panic comes to visit sometimes late at night, along with his twin brother Insomnia. And then there is Dismal Self-Talk, boy, does she dislike him.  

Today as she tries to take a little nap, her mind spins asking over and over, “What Lord,” – that prayer that become sort of a mantra. The nap is escaping her today, so she turns the country music station on the TV and she listens, trying to stop the incessant questions and tears. She begins again, telling The One all of her concerns – like He doesn’t already know, right?  She listens for His voice; it is just silent – EXCEPT…wait, what were those words? “Let your heart, sweet heart be your compass and you can walk instead of run?”

Walk? She could just walk, Lord? But she has run for so many years that she is not sure how to stop and just walk. Ask her heart, Lord? The heart you personally have stitched together again with the beautiful cloisonné pattern outlining and binding all of the broken parts in the refined gold of your crucible.

Walk?  “Don’t give up because it is dark,” the song says. “Because when it’s all said and done you can walk instead of run, for you will never be alone…”

Walk? Well, ok then…hum. Follow her heart? She can try to do that Lord. In a way she has already have begun by moving back home, and rekindling old friendships, and making new ones. She has a new church family, a related family, volunteer activities, and music, and of course, the Bassets. Ah, and was just reminded that she won’t ever be alone, will she Lord?  Thank you for reminding her heart that as she walks into the vintage years without a real plan, she won’t need to run.

Now, could you just guide my heart to YOUR plan? I would really like to sever associations with Insomnia, Panic and Dismal Self-talk as I walk into the future with You, Lord and not alone.

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“Carl’s Visit”

 

 “Carl’s Visit”

April 9, 2014 

Today his spirit man stands in the doorway of the new house she purchased shortly before his death – he reflects on her, his love for her and their life as he helplessly watches her grieve.

She had moved back to her home town to find comfort in old friends and extended family because they both knew that she was losing him and as always, she was planning and putting that plan in place. It was a plan that would care for them both – a plan that would help her to not be so very alone when he was gone – a plan for a future without him. He’d known the watching of his illness was breaking her heart and he could not help her. He had once been her strong and determined and gentle lover and supporter – but eventually he could only look at her with vague eyes and shaky hands but he knew, and she knew.   He knew, although he no longer articulated his understanding.  Alzheimer’s, the very word brought anger to his mind and heart. He would sputter and talk what sounded like nonsense to others but in his own mind he knew very clearly what he was saying. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her he still loved her and he always would. He wanted to plant kisses on her neck and tease her and grab her into his arms and dance her around the bedroom, like in the old days.

But, not yet…

He watched her, sitting at the computer with tears streaming down her cheeks. He and His Lord had both counted her tears. There were so many, how could one woman cry so much he wondered.  In his spirit he was telling her that he still loved her, that even though he could longer call her name and express his love to her in the ways of the past, he was still her beloved, inside he was the man she had fallen so deeply in love with all those years ago. He wanted to tell her that she would be OK. That he knew that she was strong and God would care for her now as always, and that life would go on without him, and that in all things to come he would still love her through it – even though his physical presence was gone – his love would live with her almost as palpable as the wind and the cold and the warmth of the sun – he would be there too. 

But, not yet…

He wanted her to know that now, in this place of joy and love and healing it was OK. That he was OK. That he was healed and someday, when her days were finished he would be there to joyously greet her and he would show her those things of heaven that are only imagination to those yet to follow. He would tell her of his love and how grace had made it possible to live through the worst of life and that trust is really all it takes to go forward. He would take her once more in his arms and she would be in her beautiful red gown with her youthful black hair cascading down her back and they would dance. He would show her – someday. 

But, not yet…

For now he stands in the doorway and watches her. His love pouring out and his heart holding her close, someday she will know.

But, not yet…

She rises then, wipes her tears, straightens her shoulders, and begins her day…

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The Dream

The Dream Gift

By Maggie Honnold

The first time he saw it, he knew. Here was the perfect gift. Something she had wanted all of her life and never had, but now he would be the one to provide her heart’s desire. Oh, she would be so surprised. First, that he could still gift her even now, and second, because the coloring and character was none of which she had ever been seen before in a living creature. The whiteness of the coat with only a few of the Appaloosa spots on the rump was outstanding. But it was the whiskers and the mane that drew him to this magnificent creature. Glowing in the sun of Heaven they looked translucent, giving off a soft, pink glow. He had yet to know how she would translate to the dream world below but He could not imagine that she would not be beautiful there also.

He caught up the sparkling reins and began to gently rub the velvety muzzle. The horse whinnied softly as she came under the spell of his touch. He always had a way with horses. His Midnight had been a beautiful horse but this gift, the white coat with the glowing pink whiskers, oh she would love it so. He knew she would not need a saddle. Just reigns and the flowing thick mane on which to grab should she feel herself sliding. He chuckled to himself of the stories she had told in the past about falling off her cousin’s pony as a kid.

He made a clicking noise with his tongue and pulled gently on the reins in his hand, off they went…

~

It had been a restless night for her. She was constantly shifting positions and dreaming the oddest things that kept waking her. Looking at the clock once more, she rearranged herself around her faithful basset bed partner and dozed.

It was the world between wake and sleep when she first understood that he was with her. She felt a soft touch on her arm and as she turned she could smell his gift. She loved the scent of horses – every single part. She breathed deeply and looked at the white face before her. The pink whiskers stood out in the sun, glowing and beckoning for her touch. She reached for the soft muzzle and received a soft whiney and nudge for her effort. As she ran her fingers across the whiskers and nose, her right hand reached into the soft pink mane.

“Can I get on?” she asked the man standing at her side holding the reins.

He nodded, “she is a gift for you. Take her and ride, stable her with the other horses but ride her every day for she will wither without your attention and love.”

She mounted and gripped the shoulders under her with her knees. She loved dreams – her knees didn’t hurt. She chuckled to herself. Using her bare heels to communicate, “let’s go” and felt the sure response of her wonderful gift as they began to trot down the dusty dirt road.

It wasn’t long before they were galloping across fields, and over fallen logs. As a kid she would have fallen off with the jump but now all was different. Turning for home, she looked for him but he was gone.

Heading to the paddock area (she never had a paddock but this was a dream), she dismounted, removed the halter and turned her out into the field that was more green and vibrant than she had ever seen. Her new gift began to leisurely nibble.

Walking back to the house her mind turned to what it means to be loved for a lifetime, understanding that even now, her dreams can communicate longings that cannot be reached in her conscious mind.

Suddenly she knew it was over. The whine that wakened her was her basset, ThelmaLou, wanting to go outside. Morning light was showing through the blinds, and the birds sang loudly through her open bedroom window. As she sat on the edge of the bed she thought of the white horse with the pink whiskers and the man who brought her the special dream gift.

“Yes, my love,” she thought. “I will nurture the dream that I hold in my heart. I will feed it every day and exercise the gift. And even though you are no longer present to cheer me on, I know you watch and clap and hold me close, that I may fulfill all my days and my dreams.”

“Let’s ride.”

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“The Doxology” from the Journal of Maggie Honnold

“The Doxology” February 1, 2013

The ringing of the phone struck fear in my heart nobody calls at 1:30 in the morning unless something is wrong. I looked at the number, recognizing the nursing home private number. My heart, already beating fast from being awakened out of a deep sleep, beat even harder and faster. I knew that I knew something was wrong.

Carl’s nurse told me that he was “very agitated” and “had been violent with the staff” and “could I come?”

I dressed quickly and in the dark, cold, winter night, all alone, I headed to the nursing home to see what I could do to help my husband, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon arrival, I found his room empty and the hallway quiet. I began a search for staff or Carl or something that would clue me into what was happening. Voices were coming from another hallway, so I headed in the direction of the voices. There he was sitting in a chair at the nurse’s station with his legs crossed; wearing his pajama bottoms and his Army Third Division military hat, arguing with the nurse and unable to understand where he was or what was going on. I sat in the chair next to him and he began to tell me everything that was wrong. How he did not know where he was or what they wanted and that they were trying to make him do things he did not want to do, none of which was he able to articulate in an understandable manner.

“Carl?” I said in a gentle, non-threatening voice. “Do you know who I am?” I asked.
“Well, no, not really” was the answer of my precious husband of 30 years.

I have been a nurse for 45+ years and I have often used touch to communicate when words fail, so I reached for his hand, hoping that he would let me touch him and he did. I pulled on his hand a little and said “let’s go back to your room.” He continued to ramble incoherent sentences to me but tightly holding my hand, we made our way back to his bedroom.

There was no verbal way to reach him. I could not say “it is the middle of the night and you need to go to bed.” Alzheimer’s has no reasoning or understanding. I could not say to him “this is where you are supposed to be, you sleep here every night.” For Alzheimer’s has robbed him of the ability to remember last night, or even earlier in the evening. I could not say “don’t be afraid, it will be ok.” For Alzheimer’s replaces cognitive understanding with fear, and anger and frustration and it is NOT ok.

So here is what I did.

“Carl, come on, let’s go to bed” I told him in a matter-of-fact voice. “It is way past time for us to be asleep. Here, let me help you and I will be right here beside you.”

I took his hands, sat him on the edge of the bed, raised his feet (shoes and all) and boosted his butt over to the wall. Then I got into bed with him (shoes and all) and took his hand in my hand, put his head on my shoulder and held on to him as if his life depended on it, for right then, it did. The feel of my body next to his struck a chord deep inside, he could not say who I was but I felt familiar. He relaxed and within just a few short minutes was sound asleep.

He slept soundly for a couple of hours but around 4 a.m. he began to stir. I stayed very still, hoping he would go back to sleep. And then I heard it, his soft, slightly off key voice as he began to sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow….praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen”

I joined him and together we laid there in the faint light from the hallway, in that cramped twin bed, with our shoes on and we praised God. We sang (which was something that we used to do together in bed over the years), we praised our God and we held on to one another and we got through the dark night of the soul, one more time.

I don’t know how much Carl understood about what happened that night but I do, for once more I was given comfort by The Comforter, the One who was sent so that I might know that I am not alone. And I was reminded again that we are never truly alone when we have someone who loves us, who will take our hand and put our head on their shoulder and just hold on to us, shoes and all; and knowing that, this day I will once more praise God from whom all blessings flow for I am not alone and in his Alzheimer’s -ridden world, neither is Carl.

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