Why I’m Keeping My Day Job

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I dabble in art. Painting, that is, not purchasing. I’m a sporadic creator with a deep seated belief that I have no creative talent when it comes to the canvas although I’ve been told I do. I can conceptualise, but I am often lacking in the execution of a piece. Plus, I’m an impatient soul and I don’t think that always works with art. I do too much, I add too much paint, I scrape, repaint and dab, and then I give up, hide the canvas and slink off to the sofa to read a book. 

My friend, Jan French, who is a REAL artist, http://www.janfrench.com has done a lot to encourage me over the years. ‘Paintings are like relationships’, she says. ‘ When everything works together, you have a good painting. When you don’t, you get rid of the things you don’t want, and keep the ones you do. When you do something you like, figure out how you did it and do it again.’

She’s also the one who encouraged me to try watercolours. ‘Relaxing,’ she said.

The tension in my neck when I’m using them says otherwise for me.

I switched to acrylics a long time ago. They’re far more forgiving than watercolour.

I’ve done a few okay pieces with acrylic, but I’ve also sent more paintings to the dump because I can no longer paint over the canvases.

I like working with inks. I can put water on the paper and then let those drops of lush luxurious colours take whatever shambolic trip they wish to take. I manipulate the paper and what comes out, comes out. Perhaps this is a better way to honour my wayward self.

Today convinced me that I need to keep my day job in spite of the fact I’ve put a bid in on a drawing board and plan to turn the back room into a studio for my dabbling.

Normally, when I approach the paper or canvas, I have an idea in my mind. I usually fail at it, and then I just work with what emerges from the disaster.  Today, I went to the canvas thinking, ‘I’ll just show up and see what happens. I’ll see what my soul pours out’ 

It started out okay and shortly went to the dogs. I reworked the paint. Two hours later I had an image. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

BEANS!!!! A plate of pork and beans. On a lopsided plate at that. ‘Dear God,’ I wondered, ‘are you telling me I’m full of beans?’

It’s ironic really, considering our daughter works at Heinz-Watties and jokes about being a ‘beanologist.’ 

 

I finished the painting and hung it on the kitchen wall. It’s staying up there until I learn to love it, or I  figure out what did and didn’t work.

I’m now slinking off to the couch to read before I discover I’m full of grilled cheese.

 

The Dentist’s Office

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Disclaimer:  This is not a dental rant… or maybe it is.

It could just be a groan.

I’ve been familiar with dental chairs since I was six and my front baby teeth refused to give up the ghost and fall out the way they should. Apparently, (to my mother, if not me,) my permanent teeth were starting to grow in behind my baby teeth.  She became concerned, and off to the practitioner we went.

I went, free from preconceived notions or fears. Unlike my doctor who had to chase me around the room and hold me on the table to give me my immunizations, and my father, who promised me two silver dollars if I held still, I thought the dentist was my pain free friend. I remember sitting in the very big chair, and the dentist saying, ‘I just need to take some xrays.’

After throwing a heavy, lead lined jacket onto my body, and shoving cardboard wings into my mouth, he and my mother left the room. All I heard was a pinging noise. He returned to pull the saliva soaked invaders from my mouth and went into another room.

‘Long roots,’ he said, coming back a few minutes later. ‘She has long roots. That’s why the baby teeth haven’t fallen out. They’re loose but they need some help.’ 

I didn’t know if that was bad or good.

I looked at my mother who smiled benevolently at the good dentist.

‘I can get them out today if you like’, he said to her, his smile wide and amiable.

Even then,  I thought he was flirting.

My mother was a tall, slim, dark haired beauty, and she didn’t mind the attention of men.

In retrospect, those baby teeth symbolically represented a portion of my personality, the one called, ‘I’m not letting go. I’ll hang in there until I’m forced to make a decision.’

These days, I call it the ‘Rottweiler Effect,’ something my family and a few friends have witnessed with shock and awe.

Twenty minutes later, without anesthetic, my front two top and bottom teeth were in a plastic cup for me to take home for the tooth fairy.

My consolation prize?

A lollipop. How incongruous is that?

In my day, dentists actually gave out sugar filled suckers to their patients. I got to pick out my favorite colour. No doubt a ploy to bring in future business.

Since that visit, I have spent more hours than I care to count in dentists’ chairs. Fillings, cleanings, bridges, caps, abscesses, periodontal treatments, special toothbrushes,whitening,  inter-dental cleaners, you name it. I have done most of it, and in many different countries.

Today I went in for my six monthly hygienist treatment, and something was wrong with the gum around my back crown.

Let it be known I have had that bridge for 40 years, a testimony to the dental craftsmanship in my…well, let’s say earlier life, and I plan to die with that gold bridge in my mouth if at all possible.

The hygienist spoke to the periodontist who said, ‘call in the dentist, she’s his patient.’

I like my present dentist a lot. He is on the cutting edge of dental care, but I LOVED my former dentist who was not only a fellow traveler in third world health, but someone who became a friend and a professional provider. His wife, the hygienist, used to rip my gums out and pour water down my back while telling me all the family gossip.

My former dentist was willing to take chances with my teeth that more conservative dentists who had never practised third world dentistry would take. He and I were fearless.

As a result, I still have the bridges and the teeth I showed up in his chair with.

He called it ‘heroic measures.’ I’ve seen his heroic measures while working with him in Africa, and let me say now, he is the hero.

Anyhow, what started out as a routine hygiene appointment ended up with a consultation involving most of the staff.

It was decided I needed some gum surgery to see what the haps are in my lower back molar. I was advised of the possibilities, the cost, and given a free (not after I settled the bill) a set of inter dental flossing devices.

I was shown, on a pair of plastic gnashers, where the issue is.

I was x-rayed.

My dentist checked the strength of my teeth.

‘All good,’ he said.

‘Hmm,’ the hygienist said, ‘Something’s going on there.’

I have an appointment next week to surgically explore what’s going on at the tips of my ‘long roots.’

All this to say, I still plan to die with this 40 year old bridge in my mouth, so no one, and I mean no one will take it off me.

Angels on Duty

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Often, on my way home from work I take a side street that runs beside the cemetery. There are a lot of gravestones out there, but there’s one that’s really got me to thinking. It looks a lot like this one here:

weeping-angel-fs  The Too Tired To Move, Angel.

This poor creature has been on duty for so long, she’s wilted onto the top of the gravestone. Her knees won’t hold her up any longer, and she looks like she could use a good cup of coffee and a Danish.

After observing her plight, I decided to take a look at other angel gravestones and ponder what’s out there for the offering. Here are some I’ve found.

      4069554-angel-ornament-on-a-grave   The Pooping Cherub:  

I have to give this one a big thumbs down. I couldn’t imagine resting beneath a cherub who looks like its being potty trained. Plus, this infant hasn’t got the good sense to put on clothes, let alone go indoors to do its business. How effective would it be in a zombie attack?  Check out the wings. Aerodynamically unstable. Even by bumblebee standards. Angels are supposed to watch over you forever. Chances are this little one is going to wander off when it has finished its business and demand to watch a Wiggles video.

     Angel of grief  The I’ve Been At The Pub All Night Angel:

This darling looks as if she has just staggered home from a long night of Margarita bingeing and has mistaken the gravestone for a porcelain bowl. I can relate, but how seriously will the zombies take her if she’s crawling around on her hands and knees avowing, ‘I’m shertain thersh a grave here shomewhere.’ Guardianship of my grave would be up for grabs. Get her a vitamin b and some aspirin, please.

sleeping angel  The Stuff It, I’m Moving In With You, Angel:

I admire the audacity of this girl. She’s set up camp, gotten a good duvet and pillows, and she’s willing to join you for eternity. She’s unashamed about sleeping on the job. As long as she doesn’t snore or hog the covers, I could go along with this one.

defending angel The I’m A Bad Ass Angel:

Now this is getting closer to the kind of angel I would want guarding me for eternity. Someone strong, not a wimpy, metrosexual angel who would go out for some male hair care products in the middle of a battle over my grave, an angel that says, ‘I will take you out!’

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying! I want an angel that is about seven feet tall and who will wrestle demons and snakes, and not be afraid of being sweaty. (If angels sweat. I’ve never asked.)

So, when I put it all together in my head, and after my research, I have decided that I want an angel like The Rock hanging out around my grave:  

Just sayin’.

 Duane Johnson

My Girl

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When you are a mother you just expect that some things will happen to your child that will cause your hair to stand on end or will make you run around in circles screaming, ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’

You also believe that the day will come when you stop spazzing out over the freakish things that might be happening to the fruit of your womb.

As my mother-in-law said to my father-in-law when he pointed out a house to her that he thought she would love, ‘Wrong, Arnold!’

Today I got a call from my Precious telling me that the grommet that held her nose ring in place had dislodged and she thought it might be somewhere in the vicinity of her sinus cavity.

(Sorry, Dear, this one is too rich not to mine.)

It needs to be said that my daughter isn’t a child and hasn’t been for many years. In fact, she was describing herself as a ‘Crone’ not too long ago, although that is a descriptor I wouldn’t apply to her yet.

Back to the nose:

My mind went sideways: Grommet? Metal? Sinus cavity? Rust. CT Scan. Exit to brain.  Death.

I work in a Hospice. Everything leads to death.

While she told me her story I relived the moment when she shoved an uncooked black eyed pea up her nose.

I had to take her to the emergency room to have it removed.

‘Whatever you do, DON’T stick your finger up your nose,’ I said.  ‘Hold the other nostril and blow.’

‘I have’, she said. ‘Nothing came out. I think it’s around the bend.’

‘Oh, dear God,’ it’s worse than I thought.’

I flashed back to the time she was two and the ex and I took her to Sea world.

We were standing in front of the walrus pen when I heard some people next to me start murmuring. I looked down, and there was my child with her right arm in the walrus’ mouth all the way to the shoulder.

My heart nearly stopped beating.

The ex reached out to jerk back her arm.

‘Noooo! I screamed. ‘He’ll clamp down.’

I slowly inched her arm from the mammal’s mouth.

Walrus slobber dripped from the pink and purple satin sleeve.

She looked up at me beatifically, her blue eyes shining. ‘He kissed me,’ she said.

My hands shook as I mopped up walrus drool.

The next time Dear Daughter had an animal encounter was when our Shetland Sheepdog became territorial because the next door neighbour’s dog was sticking its head through the fence. Said child decided to pet it. A fight ensued. Daughter’s wrist was in between the beasts.

One dog bite, one trip to the doctor and another to the vet to fix the Shetland Sheepdog’s ear. 

My friend Linda, who was was keeping minks for her sister used to babysit for me.

‘Don’t be sticking your fingers in those mink cages,’ I warned Daughter when I dropped her at Linda’s. ‘They’ll bite.’

That night I picked her up. Her index finger wrapped in a big bandage. ‘She was poking her finger into the mink cage,’ Linda explained. ‘One bit her through the fingernail. I think she’ll be okay. I disinfected the wound.’

Thank God we were current on tetanus injections.

There have been other near misses, the time she nearly stabbed herself in the eye with the plant spike, the time she nearly wiped herself and her car out on a gravel road, the time she went ass over teakettle on a snowboard and her son had to ask her how many fingers he was holding up,thinking she had a concussion, when in fact, she couldn’t breathe. 

The biggest indignity  was when we lived in Piedras Blancas California.She was eight.

Every year, elephant seals beach themselves on the Central California Coast, lying together in an orgy of sand, bellowing, and sun. One year, a seal dragged itself onto the beachfront property that we owned. I was due to have surgery the next day, and the Girl was playing on the beach when our friend’s son convinced the Girl Child that the seal was dying and she should go pet it. A ton of elephant seal is fast as lightning when threatened. It whipped around and bit her on the ankle. She’s lucky she still has one.

A call to the Animal rangers, one elephant seal capture, one trip to the doctor, a prescription for antibiotics that made her vomit, and a stern lecture took place.

Today when she laughingly said, ‘I think the grommet is still up my nose,’ I had the urge to go get her, shine a flashlight up her nose, grab a pair of tweezers and pull.

Motherhood.

Start To The Day

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Recently, I’ve been thinking about the things that make up the start to my day.

At home, there’s the cats and the coffee, a quick Facebook peruse, and a hug and a prayer from the Beloved. After that I launch myself into my car and head off to the motorway.

On my drive I watch for the Peregrine Falcons who swoop low and light. I think of Kyle when I see them, always calling out a ‘Hello, Boy,’ when I do.

Further on, I pass a stand of trees lining each side of the road. In spring they’re pale green and the breeze blows fuzzy white bits off them, creating a faux snowstorm.

It’s autumn now, and the maples are blazing red, yellow and orange.Soon they will have naked branches, but that just gives me a better view of the early morning mountain ranges being struck by light.

In a few months, some of the paddocks on either side of the motorway will be home to newborn baby lambs. Some will remain home to a herd of llamas.

These sights make me happy. They feed my soul.

There’s a corner where I turn toward work, and where girls wearing checked school uniforms and sturdy shoes walk toward the realms of higher education. There’s one group of girls who always manage to reach the corner at the same time an older gentleman arrives there with his equally ancient Jack Russell. One of the girls LOVES that dog. She always stops and picks it up and kisses it and pets it. The old man is kind. He waits until the dog has been loved up, then the girl waves goodbye to the man and his dog, then catches up with her group who has gone ahead of her.

I smile as I flick on my blinker.

Most days I see Running man.

I hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks and I was concerned something may have happened to him, but yesterday I saw him again. He’s a Maori fella, steel gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, and he always wears the same thing. A grey baseball hat, blue shirt and black shorts with black tennis shoes and grey socks. No fancy running gear for him. He’s swarthy, sinewy, and he could be anywhere between 50 and 70. I can’t tell. When I pass him, I tip a silent hat to him, and think, ‘Hello, Running Man.’

I make my final turn toward work. Some days, especially in winter, I look through the low lying mist and I see  trainers leading their horses from the racecourse behind our buildings to another area. The horses are kitted out in jackets, silhouettes against the mist. There’s a quiet serenity in their parade.

Finally, I pull up just past the gates that allow the ambulances to bring in our patients. There’s a beautiful and majestic sweep about them, and I’m pleased that the first thing our patients see on coming through that entrance is lovely and welcoming. 

What are the things that make up your morning?

Old Soul

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I never met him.

He died when he was 22.

His mother told me about him, her only son who had lived his life with a rare form of leukemia.

She missed his presence and longed for the times they’d had. 

Their last year together had been intense and special.

She hoped.

He hoped.

The transplant team hoped.

Their hope was deferred.

In the Bible there’s a scripture that says, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ (Prov 13:12) 

Her heart is sick and broken.

She showed me pictures of him. He was beautiful. He looked like an old soul. His eyes were pools of chocolate eyed wisdom and suffering.

In his short life he took thousands of photos as though he knew he would need to leave a legacy to document his time on earth.

From the gaze of the boy with the shock of sticking up hair to the knowing eyes of the young man, there was life. There were photos of laughter and love and living. There was a You Tube video tribute from his cousin and some friends.

As I sat with his mother, I thought of the mother of another old soul. 

I knew I couldn’t make anything better, but I knew that I could be present as she told his story. I knew that I could let her say his name, allow the pouring out of the love she was looking to place. I knew I could provide the safe haven that said, ‘there is enough space here for your grief.’

I felt linked to him for reasons I can and can’t explain.

Such is the work that I do.

Spirituality

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One of the tenets of Hospice is that we will treat a patient holistically, which includes the physical, social, psychological and spiritual. The first three terms I’ve named are easy to identify.

What isn’t so easy is the spiritual.

When I refer to spiritual, I don’t mean religion.

I refer to the thing that gives meaning and  sustains a person. It’s easy when admitting a patient to ask, ‘what is your religion’ and tick a box. It’s a heck of a lot harder to decipher what it is that is closest to a person’s heart, what nourishes their soul, what connects and anchors them. And there are so many different things. 

Recently, I had an encounter with a patient that left me covered in goosebumps.

This patient had come in to us after a particularly painful hospital procedure, and we were managing his pain levels. He had developed a fear of swallowing and his spirit was being crushed with it all. We met for our am meeting to discuss patients.

‘How will we manage this,’ we asked. 

‘His pain levels have to be met first,’ I said. ‘If you slam your hand in the door, you can’t hear what the person next to you is saying, all you care about is stopping the pain.’

Our patient was Maori, so there were cultural issues to consider, and his Maori spirituality. I felt limited since I’m not Maori, and although I have an understanding of Maori things, I wasn’t certain I was the right person to contact him.

Our Kaitakawaaenga and I spoke.

‘What if I just go in and introduce myself to him, then later you come in and see what is needed,’ I asked, feeling inadequate. 

We had a plan. We would go tentatively to see what the man needed and wanted. 

An hour later I was walking down the hall, and he passed me. He reached out and ran his hand over my left arm, the arm that has the tattoo that represents my grandson, the one I got a year after his death.

‘That’s a beautiful tattoo,’ he said.

I noticed he had tats on both of his arms and hands.

‘Thanks’, I said. ‘I see you have tats too. Would you mind if I come and talk with you about them later?’

He nodded yes.

When I got into his room I found him gracious, full of presence, kind, strong.

He moved to the sofa and sat next to me.

‘Do you mind if I ask what your tattoos mean,’ he enquired.

I showed them to him, and explained the meaning of each one. He listened respectfully and said, ‘Your tattoos are a celebration of yourself, a story told, the anchor to things that mean something to you.’

I agreed, and asked if he would share the meaning of his tattoos with me.

He told me the story of his whakapapa in ink, and of the things that meant something to him.

He talked about his job which is really a vocation. I can’t say where he worked because it might identify him.

‘It’s a calling, not a job, isn’t it,’ I asked. ‘Is it sacred to you?’ 

He looked deeply into my eyes and said, ‘Just as your work is sacred to you.’

We sat side by side in silence for a while. He spoke.

‘I’d like to design a tattoo for you’, he said. ‘Something Maori. Something that tells of your journey. Would you mind?’

I was humbled. I said yes, knowing we were sharing a moment that was so special I couldn’t describe it.

I spoke to him. ‘I see that you have a Christian faith. If ever you would like prayer, I’d be more than happy to pray with you.’  He took my hand in his and said, ‘Shall we?’ 

We held hands and  prayed for each other.

Giving and receiving.

When I left his room I was shaking. Something spiritual had passed between the two of us, something bigger than us, something powerful. 

Later in the day, the Kaitakaawaenga came to me and said, ‘I spoke with him about his whanau  (family) and iwi (tribe), and after we were done, he asked if he could have something to eat.’

We were amazed at the mystery of it all.

This man’s spirit had been revived. He had been seen. He had been heard. The connections of his life had been witnessed and acknowledged. His faith had been recognised. 

Music is one of the things he finds life and meaning in. I invited him to join our ukelele group at work. He’s shown up regularly. He’s taught us songs. He’s written a song for our Hospice, a song that is pure spirit. As we were playing music together, I looked over at him and thought, ‘This is giving meaning to him and to us.’

Spirituality in action.

Yesterday, he handed me an envelope. In it was the design for my tattoo. He wrote some beautiful words for me. It’s something I’ll treasure forever. I will get the tattoo. I hope I can get it before he dies so he can see that he has impacted me and that his legacy lives on.

That’s spirituality.