Life Choices


It never ceases to amaze me how often a friend says “How do you know Jane?” Insert any name you like. The response for me usually is through thirty-three years working at the same place, a lifetime of volunteering with Girl Scouts and a hospice group, or along my writing journey.

It’s fun to make the reconnection and it reminds me of how small our world really is. No matter where I’ve met them, they have a common link, they are good-hearted, respectful, caring friends who have made a difference in my life.

A few days ago, that very thing happened to me. It sparked one thought and then another. Before I knew it, the following poem came to life. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to share it with those people that have woven love into your life

A Tapestry of Hope

Threads of life connect us all.

Multi-colored ribbons of endless textiles

Tribal motifs, gentle cottons, sturdy burlaps, luxurious silks

Each strand has purpose, each purpose has worth

Some with frayed ends, others miraculously unspoiled

Common and uncommon, grounded by perspective

Woven with tenderness, this rainbow enchantment

Spreads a superlative quilt of warmth and refuge

Over mountains and oceans, religions and politics

Strengthened in crisis, prominent amid disasters

Immune to pandemics, persistent and loyal

These threads of life called LOVE

by Diane M How

Who are the people in your world?

Do you share the same morals and values?

How has it affected the life you are living today?

The Threads That Bind Part Two


The Threads That Bind – Part Two

I rewrote a post a few days ago and forgot to change the title. If you haven’t read The Threads That Bind – Part One, you might want to visit that post first. This is a continuation of my journey.

My belief that a common thread connects us all was reinforced during my second life-story recording.

My manager led the way into the patient’s home. After brief introductions, I explained why I was there and handed the man a few papers. “These are questions, prompts of sort, to help you get started, if you decide you want to make an audio tape for your family.”

He drew his brows tight and twisted his mouth, pushing the papers aside. “I’m not doing the recording.”

The response did not surprise me. Few people feel they have a story to tell. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let the visit go to waste. While my role with the hospice group was primarily to record stories, I wanted to make a difference. “How about if I come by for a visit every week, just to talk?”

The man studied my face for a moment. “What would we talk about?”

I smiled. “Anything you’d like. Sports? Movies? Do you play cards or checkers?”

He thought about it and finally agreed. As promised, I returned with no agenda other than to brighten his day. I brought along fresh blueberry muffins, something he’d mentioned on our first visit. I chuckled when he suggested I could bring chocolate on my next visit.

On the fourth visit, he surprised me. He handed me the papers I’d left on my first visit. I glanced at them and noticed a one-word answer after each question.

A half smile pushed his slender cheek up before he spoke. “I’m ready.”

And so began the journey. As he talked, he became more comfortable with the process. When he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends, I was intrigued. The recollections were the same as told by Tom. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years. Unfortunately, Tom had passed, but his wife was delighted to be reconnected to someone who shared her past experiences.

The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. I met many people, some whose stories I recorded, others who I listened to as a friend.

And then it happened. On the initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor cross-stitching on fabric.

The woman made introductions, extending her hand toward the child. “This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”

I smiled and greeted her. “Nice to meet you. What beautiful work you do.”

The woman directed me to an older, robust woman who was busy rearranging a large stack of assorted papers and clippings. “This is my mother.”

I extended my hand, “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you today?”

“Fine.” Her voice was as firm as her handshake.

My curiosity urged me to ask, “Looks like you have some important papers there.”

“When can we get started?”

The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready.” I sat down next to her. “I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best audio we can. Would that be alright?”

A pained expression covered the woman’s face. “What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing, tears brimming. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

A tingle ricocheted through my body. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”

The words seemed to lift her frown. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”

“I’d be happy to help. I’m excited and can’t wait to get started.”

She pushed the pile of papers in my direction. “Take these with you and read them, if you have time?”

“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”

“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”

I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.

On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”

A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.

The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.

How has volunteering blessed you?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Power of Touch


Some time ago, a friend and fellow author, Amanda Bretz (https://amandabretz.wordpress.com), described a tender moment between herself and her father. No words were uttered. A simple squeeze of the hand spoke as loud as a pastor from the pulpit. The power of touch amazes and encourages me, especially when words are not enough.

As a writer, I draw upon an infinite source of words to fill the pages of a book, yet there are times when words are not enough to convey the intensity of the moment. A gentle kiss, a stroke of a hand on one’s cheek, a strong embrace conveys emotions unreached by mere speech.

Perhaps that was why I wrote the following poem some years ago as my mother suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although she could not verbalize her thoughts, we spent many hours just holding hands and sharing gentle squeezes, along with heartfelt smiles. I think if she could have expressed her thoughts, she would have said these words.

      Timeless Treasure

The memories of yesterday
Will become distorted over time
The written word will lose its strength
A verse will lose its rhyme

The laughs we shared will pass by me
My words will make no sense
Such simple things we once enjoyed
Will now seem rather dense

Old photographs will fade away
Your face may lose its name
You’ll think I’ve traveled far away
But my heart will know you came

No need for words, no bouquets bright
No trinkets made of gold
No promise for a miracle
Just your hand for me to hold

Your love’s the only treasure
It will endure through all the pain
Just speak to me in silence
You’ll be my sunshine in all the rain

Have you been struggling to find the right words? Could the answer be in the power of touch?

Tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.

The Threads That Bind


quilt

The Threads That Bind

Much like the intricate quilt given to me by an aunt, I believe that we are all connected by a nearly transparent thread of life. If I take the time to look, listen, and ask questions, the delicate tapestry of my world is revealed. I also believe that when I follow my heart, I end up exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I’m reposting a fresh version of a story from a couple of years ago that reinforces those beliefs.

As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.

As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death associated to Alzheimer’s made me question my ability to perform the service and keep my emotions under control. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.

The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.

“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”

“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”

“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”

“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”

The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.

“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to do it for her. I thought you should know before we get there.”

The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.

My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.

“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”

“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.

“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.

“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”

“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”

“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Dorothy’s daughter. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”

My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.

“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”

I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had crossed briefly, probably at a funeral, but at a time when I was too young to remember. The emotional journey over the next hour was emotionally rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.

Although the story doesn’t end there, in fact it is just the beginning of my journey, I’ve learned my readers are busy folks and prefer quick reads. I’ll share more in my next post.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you.

When have you made an unexpected connection with someone?

Do you follow your heart or are you more likely to try and control where you are headed?