Faith is important to me., Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

July 11


Two Friends, Two DaughtersGail and I shared high school teachers, high school friends, and over thirty years of experiences. We both started our married lives in 1975. Babies arrived in each of our families in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982. As our similar troops of four little ones grew, our families met often. While the children played, the four parents enjoyed some much-needed adult time. We discussed our busy lives and the challenges that came with parenting four young children. We shared laughter, exchanged stories, parenting tips, and partied with mutual friends. But, in 2011, a calendar date became the most important thing that we shared.

July 11, 2011. Sleep had eluded me in the early morning hours, despite my efforts to turn off my brain and rest. I tried my usual trick – I turned on the television, the DVD player, and popped in a movie I’d watched so many times I knew it by heart. Most nights this routine lulled me back to sleep. But that night, my method of insomnia management didn’t work. So, I went to my desk, turned on my computer, and decided to reminisce about another sleepless July 11, thirty-one years earlier.

As the memories tumbled from my brain to my computer screen, I smiled. That morning, I couldn’t sleep during in the early hours, either. Overdue with my third child, I counted the minutes between contractions. I remembered the painless labor, and the quick delivery less than thirty minutes after our arrival at the hospital that gave us our only daughter, Amber.

But, I also thought about the many challenges we (Amber, her dad and I) faced together. In 2004, Amber, stricken with the brain disorder, schizophrenia, moved home with us at the age of twenty-four. Together, Roy, Amber, and I battled against the nasty symptoms schizophrenia imposed on her. After four years, with the help of doctors, therapists, medication, plus Amber’s desire to recover, she resumed an independent lifestyle. I felt so proud of her and her determination to regain her health despite those difficult years when the symptoms had tried to beat her down.

Usually, I did my best to dwell on the positive changes and not the heartache that came with her illness, but sometimes it crept in just the same.

On July 11, 2011, I concentrated on the good memories. As I wrote that morning, I recalled the joy of her birth, and how bright her future looked now that she lived in recovery. Once I felt satisfied with my piece, I settled on the couch in the living room for a quick nap. Success. When I woke, I felt refreshed and ready to take on my day.

After my coffee, devotions, breakfast, and a shower, I walked to the addition of my house where I operated my home embroidery business. I planned to call Amber during her lunch break and sing Happy Birthday to her. My employee arrived around nine o’clock and together we worked on a stack of embroidery orders. We chatted as we worked. Around ten o’clock, the phone rang. I snatched the phone from the wall cradle.

“Good morning. This is Virginia. How may I help you today?”

“Virginia. This is Gloria, Gail’s sister.”

“Oh, hey, Gloria! How’ya doin?” I said excitedly to hear from her and ready to take an order.

“Not good. I’ve got bad news this morning.” She paused. I heard her heavy breaths. “Amanda took her life last night. Gail called me a few minutes ago. Andy found her this morning when he got up to leave for work.”

I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I don’t know if I gasped out loud, but the joy I had earlier evaporated as I inhaled the horrible news,

Amanda, the daughter of my good friend, Gail. Amanda, the same age as Amber. Amanda, my daughter’s playmate from years ago when our two families met for picnics and parties. Amanda, beautiful Amanda, with her ringlets of walnut brown hair, her crystal blue eyes, and a wide smile with perfect teeth was gone. Beneath her striking exterior lurked an unseen invader. A demon that we couldn’t see; one that doctors couldn’t find with a simple blood test, but it picked away at her ability to cope. Hidden from the visible eye lurked the gnarled fingers of mental illness. It had snaked its way through her personality until most of the Amanda we knew had disappeared. Amanda wanted to fit in, to be a good mom and a trusted employee, but her brain disorder gnawed at her strength. Now, a husband, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a sister, two brothers, and more broken hearts than I could count mourned her exit from this world.

Amanda died after a long battle with mental illness, not just another suicide statistic, but the daughter of a good friend. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I imagine I said a hollow remark like, “I’m so sorry,” or “Let me know what I can do.”

I hung up the phone and attempted to work. I planned to go to Gail and her husband, Nick after I finished work for the day. But, I had put an unrealistic expectation on myself to think that I could concentrate on my job. I felt numb, and shaken, and devastated, and worried about Gail. Only a few hours earlier I had written about my daughter’s birth and rejoiced in her success while at the same time, my friend dealt with the horror of her daughter’s death.

Something that I had feared for my child had slammed into their world without mercy.  I thought about the days when I lived in fear. I lived in a state of constant worry that Amber would take her life – that she would lose the battle against schizophrenia. I knew the high possibility. I knew that 50% of those stricken take their life. As she made small strides toward recovery, I worried even more. I had read this time was the most crucial. It was when the illness subsided, that people felt strongly enough to attempt suicide. I remembered the pain I had in my gut, along with the continual fretful feelings as I scrutinized her every move.

I thought about Amanda and Gail. Guilt set in. Why? Why did my child live and thrive while her child left this world because she couldn’t find the help she desperately wanted and needed? I tried to put myself in Gail’s shoes. I imagined my reaction if it had been Amber instead of Amanda. My stomach churned as the feelings assaulted me over and over. “It could’ve been you. It could’ve been Amber.”

I couldn’t handle my worry and dread for Gail any longer. I sent my employee home, shut off my machines, locked my shop door, flipped the sign to CLOSED, and rushed to the side of Gail and Nick.

The pain in my chest that had been there all day exploded when Gail fell into my arms as I walked into their home. She sobbed as if she’d never stop, and I unleashed my pent-up emotions and joined her. Our anguish mingled through our tears. I wanted my arms to absorb some of her pain. I knew they couldn’t, so I just held her as we cried.

I listened as she shared feelings that no parent should have to face. I knew I had similar thoughts at times in my life, too. They seemed to come with a diagnosis of mental illness.

“You’re not alone with those feelings,” I assured her. The tears that followed didn’t wash away her grief, or my feelings of guilt as we wept together.

Why did my child dwell in recovery, while her child lost her battle? Why did we, two ordinary women get one-way tickets into the world of mental illness? We didn’t want those passports into the heartache. Our daughters didn’t want those badges of pain, so why?

Questions with no answers pounded in my mind and threatened to overtake my resolve to support my life-long friend. I pushed them aside as I chose to concentrate on the grief before me. For the next several hours, I listened and allowed Gail’s memories of Amanda, both painful and beautiful, to flow and seep into an untouchable corner in my heart. I knew that nothing out of my mouth could ease her agony. So, I listened, held her hand, wrapped my arms around her when sorrow, remorse, anger, and the torment of Amanda’s death by suicide sliced at her. As I listened, I picked up the bitter morsels of raw desolation that scattered around Gail.

And then I returned home. I had to allow her private time to grieve in a way that worked for her. I tried to keep in touch after the services for Amanda, but she wanted time to mourn alone. So, I stepped back. It slashed at my contentment to watch from a distance as she withdrew from activities such as weddings, anniversaries, and other joyous occasions. I’m guessing the pain paralyzed her, so I just made sure she knew I cared. I left the door open and kept her in my heart and prayers. I sent her notes on the anniversary date of Amanda’s death, and Christmas cards to try and leave the doorway of comfort ajar for her. But, that doorway didn’t open wide enough for me to come in for a long time.

One summer morning, after several years of almost zero communication, I called her and invited her to meet me. “I plan to take my granddaughters to the aquatic center after lunch. Would you like to join me, bring your grandchildren, and we can catch up?”

My heart leaped when she said, “Yes,” and a few hours later we sat, sipped cool drinks, as we watched as Amanda’s son and my granddaughters splashed in the water. We talked non-stop. Time had allowed her grief to form a scab, but she told me that she kept it guarded – she kept hidden it from most of the world. People that she thought she could trust didn’t understand. They pointed the finger of blame: “You should’ve…” “Why didn’t you…?” “It happened because…” Terrible words that did nothing to alleviate her pain. It only exposed her wound and broke it open again and again. Before long, Gail refused to talk about Amanda.

That afternoon, friend to friend, we compared our scars as we talked about our faith, our trust in God and that one day we will both understand. We shared our hope that Amanda is with our Savior who saw her agony and gathered her to himself. We held hands as we basked in our love for our daughters. We remembered the date we’ll forever share – July 11 – the date when I celebrate the birth of my daughter while she mourns the death of hers. We parted with a hug of support and a promise to meet again. My spirits swelled with gratitude for our friendship and for the chance to talk about Amanda with Gail.

I still don’t understand the why, nor do I expect I will this side of heaven. I healed a little more that afternoon. I know I can’t bring back those who lose their battle with mental illness, but I can walk beside their survivors as they navigate their path of desolation. I can try to fulfill a promise I made myself years ago – to react as the Bible verse Romans 12:15 states.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

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My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Roses, Thorns, and Fragrances


Roses – most of us love roses. I have a beautiful rose in my kitchen – a lovely gift from a friend. When this rose is in the glass bowl, I can admire it, inhale the soothing fragrance, and feel grateful that someone grew it for my enjoyment. If I had to pick one out of the rose garden that I wish I had, but in reality resides only in my imagination, I’d probably get poked by the thorns.

I feel like I’ve been poked by thorns as I travel through life. At times, the thorns disappear completely and the beautiful flower is all I see. Other times, the thorns stick in me and it’s hard to see the petals through the tears.

It’s when I bleed from those pokes that I learn the most. If I’d been given a choice about having a child with a mental illness, I would have run in the other direction. And in the midst of the chaos when symptoms manifested and until the doctors found the correct treatment, I think I bled – a lot. My heart shattered into bits as I watched her suffering. In my determination to help her, I learned about the brain. I read everything I could get my hands on to figure out what caused this to happen to her.

As I learned, I changed. I understood that
1. this was not her choice.
2. She was as confused as I was with the changes going on in her.
3. She wanted a return to good health for herself as much as I wanted it for her.
4. She needed support to achieve her goals of recovery.

As I traveled the journey with her to recovery, I learned that I needed to still myself so I could inhale the fragrance – the beautiful bouquet that stayed the same whether I saw the beauty of the flower or felt the prick of the thorn.

I found the balm for my wounded spirit in my prayer life. It took on new meaning as I focused my gaze on my creator. I gained the strength that I needed to face the next step ahead, or to recover when we took two steps back. As she made improvements the scent of hope settled deep within me.

Today, thirteen years later, she lives in the garden of recovery. This doesn’t mean that the thorns stay away. Sometimes they prick us again. For there is no cure – not yet. But a good life, a full life, a life filled with joy is our reality. Somedays are harder than others. When she has a bad day, like everyone does, I ache with her. During those times I try to discover the perfumed scent that lingers from the good days because I know those days await her. Her bad days are just that – bad days. Short-lived and overcome. She inspires me with her determination.

Fragrances of hope that I’ve discovered:

1. I know that she makes a difference in the lives of those around her through the life she lives.
2. I’ve heard from many readers that reading our story gave them an understanding of schizophrenia that they didn’t have before.
3. I found out the support system around me that I didn’t realize that I’ve always had.
4. Humor helps me relax. I can still laugh, even when it hurts.
5. Focus on why I think God created me. This helps bring clarity to my journey through life.

These are just a few things that I’ve discovered since her illness and Broken Brain, Fortified released. They remind me that amidst the thorns, beauty will always exist. It’s up to me to stop
and
Smell.The.Roses.

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mother’s Day 2018


_I'm glad that I'm her mom!Tomorrow is Mother’s day. I’ve celebrated this day for the past forty-two years. My first-born arrived the day after Mother’s Day that year, but I wore flowers that morning to church in anticipation of the upcoming event. That year, hubby had finished planting corn on Mother’s Day afternoon. As we visited his mom that evening, I announced that I planned to have the baby that night before he had a chance to start planting beans on Monday. I hadn’t started labor, I just made a flippant remark. Little did I know that labor would begin in a few hours – ten days before my due date. I held our newborn son the following afternoon after twenty-four hours of intense preparation.

Over the next six years, two more brothers and a sister joined in our yearly celebration of Mother’s Day.  I am quite biased, but I think all four of them are amazing people. I’m proud of each of them for their compassion and caring attitudes for others and the goals they’ve each worked hard to achieve in their adult lives.

Last year, I wrote about my feelings about my journey with my daughter as she battles mental health issues. I still say, “Happy Mother’s Day to me! I am so grateful for my four children.”

I felt honored when The Mighty chose to post it for Mother’s Day.

 

 

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Mother’s Day 2018


_I'm glad that I'm her mom!Tomorrow is Mother’s day. I’ve celebrated this day for the past forty-two years. My first-born arrived the day after Mother’s Day that year, but I wore flowers that morning to church in anticipation of the upcoming event. That year, hubby had finished planting corn on Mother’s Day afternoon. As we visited his mom that evening, I announced that I planned to have the baby that night before he had a chance to start planting beans on Monday. I hadn’t started labor, I just made a flippant remark. Little did I know that labor would begin in a few hours – ten days before my due date. I held our newborn son the following afternoon after twenty-four hours of intense preparation.

Over the next six years, two more brothers and a sister joined in our yearly celebration of Mother’s Day.  I am quite biased, but I think all four of them are amazing people. I’m proud of each of them for their compassion and caring attitudes for others and the goals they’ve each worked hard to achieve in their adult lives.

Last year, I wrote about my feelings about my journey with my daughter as she battles mental health issues. I still say, “Happy Mother’s Day to me! I am so grateful for my four children.”

I felt honored when The Mighty chose to post it for Mother’s Day.

 

 

Virginia Pillars, Virginia's Reviews

Book Review: Before We Were Yours


Before We Were Yours_ A Novel - Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours

by Lisa Wingate

I wish I could give this book a plus after the five stars. This is the third book that I’ve read by Lisa Wingate. It’s by far my favorite one. The story pulled me in from page one. I couldn’t stop listening to it (via my audible account.) I loved listening to the two points of view that she used – past and present. Even though my heart broke throughout the story, I finished the story filled with hope in the courage and resiliency of the human spirit.  Rill had a tenacity and strength that illustrated to me the love of family. A wonderful story based on a true atrocity in our nation’s history. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a well-written novel that blends modern-day experience with historical fiction.  Brilliant writing. I love the fact that she told a wonderful, compelling story without bad language or scenes that would make my grandmother blush. I plan to read more books by Lisa Wingate.

Faith is important to me., Virginia Pillars

Sole business or soul business?


Today is Holy Thursday. The day I dwell on the Last Supper. The day Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Feet. I get why it was important for that time in history but in today’s world?

I don’t like people to touch my feet. I never have. For years I didn’t wear sandals or flip-flops in public. I had ugly feet, or so I thought. The bunions on both sides of both feet had convinced me to keep them hidden. Since I shuddered if someone touched my feet,  I couldn’t stand to touch the feet of anyone else, either.

Four years ago this all changed, as well as my attitude. You might say, I defeated those troublesome feelings when I took over the personal care of my mom.  In her late eighties then, she needed assistance for her shower. I lived close and it made sense for me to offer to do that for her. After all, how many times had she bathed me when I was an infant? So, I gave it a go. We set up a schedule – Monday and Thursday mornings.

Honestly, at first, it made me ridiculously uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me to help her in and out of the walk-in-shower, to help her towel off, to rub lotion on her back, arms, legs, etc. But her feet – I cringed each time I rubbed the lotion into her calloused, dry, feet – complete with bunions. But, I reminded myself of the many times she had to do things she found unpleasant as a mother of eleven children on a farm. And so I powered through with all the pleasantness I could muster.

The first Holy Thursday I massaged the lotion into her feet, I dwelled on the significance of the day. I had planned to attend Mass that night as our parish remembered The Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The scripture passage came to life for me, especially:  I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do.    John 13:15

I placed myself in the role of my mom’s servant that day as I dwelt on this passage. Something so personal – a time when she is the most exposed and vulnerable. It had to humble her to admit she couldn’t do this on her own anymore. How would I feel if this happened to me?  A motto of Saint Mother Teresa’s came to mind: Do small things with great love.  I began to view it as a privilege – to take part in the most intimate part of her life.

As I rubbed lotion into her tired, worn feet, I came to the realization that this foot wash/lotion routine helped my “soul” as I softened her soles. The awkwardness disappeared as I found joy in the routine of her foot massage.

It’s Thursday – time to go see Mom. She needs a shower and a foot massage.

One final thought – How can I go into the world as a servant? How can you?

Happy Holy Thursday.

 

Gotta Eat, Virginia Pillars

Not your usual pie


This past week, many people celebrated March 14  (3.14) as National Pi day. I’m not a math nerd, but I like a reason to celebrate, and so, Pi Day fits the bill.

In the past, I’ve made pies: pumpkin (hubby’s favorite,) blueberry (our granddaughter who happens to stay with us most years on this day loves this kind,) and apple (my favorite.)

Last Wednesday, Pi Day, I went to the cupboard, but the cupboard was bare. No pumpkin on hand – what was I thinking? I can’t make pies without making at least one pumpkin. Then, I remembered a silly poem:

Roses are red, violets are blue. Poetry is hard. Bacon.

I had bacon in the refrigerator. So, no dessert for us that day. Instead, we enjoyed…

Bacon Cheeseburger Pie – serves 4 – 6 people (at our house – it’s 4)

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound frozen southern style hash browns or 1 1/4 pounds fresh potatoes, shredded (I use fresh)
  • 1/8 teaspoon  black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 pound ground beef (I use ground round)
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder or 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (I use whole wheat)
  • 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4-6 sliced bacon, fried, drained, and broken into pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degree. Melt butter in large skillet. Add olive oil and potatoes. Cook until the bottom is browned and the potatoes cooked. Cook til second side is browned. Remove from heat. Stir in salt, oregano, 1/8 tsp pepper, and 1/3 c. shredded cheese. Cool about 3 minutes. Add beaten egg. Press into greased pie plate and bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

While this bakes, prepare filling. If using chopped onion, add 1 T. olive oil and saute onion until soft. Add ground beef and brown. If using onion powder, brown ground beef and then add onion powder. Drain and return to skillet. Mix flour with water; add to meat with tomato sauce, seasoned salt, and dash of pepper to taste. Cook and stir until thickened. When potato shell is browned, remove from oven. Fill hot potato shell with meat mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted – about 3 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with bacon pieces. Let sit 3 minutes before cutting into wedges.

I’ve adapted this recipe over the years. Feel free to adapt it to your taste. Enjoy!

Virginia