When Garden Art Comes Home

Garden Art Comes Home, Part 1

By AMG Julie

Little did I know when Bethany wrote her colorful article on Garden Art in the June issue of Across the Fence (publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, Indiana, of which I am Editor) that I would soon receive an unexpected gift of my own!

About 5 years ago I decided to send a letter to the owner of my childhood home.  There was a unique piece of garden art in the backyard placed there over a dozen years ago by my now deceased Mom.  Is it still there?  If it is and you find that you no longer want it, would you kindly let me know?  I didn’t hear anything and never drove by the house during that time to see if it was still there, visible from the street.  Life went on until I got a surprise phone call on Friday, June 5, 2020.

I found your letter in the back of a bathroom cabinet when I was remodeling a few months ago.  I have the metal piece sitting outside against the house in the backyard if you want it.  I figured it would be meaningful to someone.  Give me a call if you do . . . 

I was in shock!  Holy cow!  Mark J had removed the garden gate from the garden “hill”  on the side of the house, concrete and all, and had it neatly secured with pavers against the red bricks of the old house.  I talked to my husband (always up for a driving adventure), thought about it overnight.  And then I got really excited!  I called Mark on Saturday and said YES!  We’ll come get it!

My childhood home is in Warren, Michigan.  I had moved away in 1983 after college to the Chicagoland area then again north of Fort Wayne in 2007.  Favorite plants made the journey here as well.  But I never would have expected that this prized possession of the original garden master in my life would come home too.  I called my brother right away and had some fun reminiscing about our garden projects with our mother over the years.  I sent him photos of the garden gate on Saturday when Mark forwarded them to me.  Plans were coming together to drive up to Michigan on Sunday to pick up our new found treasure and have a quick visit with my brother and his family as well. 

The visit never happened.  Or at least not yet.  Twenty-six minutes before Mike would have received the photos that I sent by text, he went into a medical crisis that would end his life.  He never saw the photos.  We did not drive to Michigan that weekend.  I never saw my brother alive again . . .

The meaningfulness of this experience and simple piece of garden art is now greater than ever before.  Mike made his gateway to heaven the very day after our Mom’s garden gate came back into our lives.  When this time of mourning has passed, my beloved and I will make our way to Michigan for a Memorial Service and retrieval of a memorable artifact from my personal heritage.  It’s a little thing in the scheme of life yet I’ll bet that I’m not the only one out there with meaningful touch points in his or her garden beds that reflect your own stories as well.

I’d love to hear them.  JJ

Freedom from Rain

Rainy weather working its foggy magic on a landscape is beautiful. A rainy day encourages introspection. Or at the very least a nap. I love the rain in all of its spirited and benign forms. But we have had rain day after day without much respite. This is rain of a different sort. Too much rain foments rot both above and below ground. Too much rain spoils blooms. Too much rain dampens the spirit. We have had all of the aforementioned. 

Deborah Silver

Is it the rain or the cold that gets to my weary bones far beyond the havoc it reigns in the garden landscape?

Perhaps the dry-out late in July that parches the land through the Fall is even worse, when my soul aches for a simple cup of relief?

How will I look back on this season of my own life where moments of respite, nourished from the right care gives way to occasional relapse and now tragedy?

Alas my dear brother, survived with me but not with our youngest, Rob, lies in a coma amidst the sterile hum of machines you could never repair

In your appliance servicing days let alone fix your own broken spirit from never quite fitting into the affections of our Dad but perhaps too much by our Mom?

What is Mike’s world like right now: can he hear the buzz, taste the plastic tube down his throat, smell the air now sanitized and finally free of cigarette smoke?

I ache for you as I did for Rob. You two never did get the advantages I had as the oldest nor fight long enough for better despite our childhood traumas.

Or perhaps that first year of my life cinched it when there was more love to give in both bloodlines . . . oh how I wish I could go back and carve more out for you!

The Lord grieves for us three as now you are now in the juxtaposition from time to eternity. It’s just not how He meant it to be you know.

I will love you forever Mike. Godspeed if this is the end. Go to your Maker and live at last, totally freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

A rain garden rises from the soil and rocks, bringing beauty and purification. Consider this a sign in the natural world of His creation that imitates the glory of a life surrendered to Christ.

An Involuntary Adventure into a Type of Retirement

Cara Brown, BMR (OT), MSc* recently studied the role of occupational therapy practitioners in enhancing the quality of life for people in work-cessation transitions.  She was particularly interested in folks like me who made this transition when not of traditional retirement age.  Although I am still not convinced that my working days are over, I felt compelled to introduce my own involuntary adventure into a “type” of retirement.  My letter follows:

Thank you for your recent article in AJOT on Expanding the Occupational Therapy Role to Support Transitions from Work to Retirement for People with Progressive Health Conditions.**  I found it useful and respectful of persons facing both situations in life.  There may be another category to consider:  those with sudden loss of work roles who enter into “retirement.”

I am an Occupational Therapist who worked over 30 years before entering into this latter category within one night:  October 11, 2011!  I continued to work part time for a short time then decreased my hours to a few home health visits per week.  When it became clear that the onset of a serious illness made it a struggle to focus on the needs of my patients and direct the care of our Occupational Therapy Assistants, I had to stop working altogether.  My last day of paid employment was February 2, 2012.  I spent the next 2 years being my own OT by researching my condition and seeking various medical and alternative health interventions.  Energy conservation and work simplification were my way of life.  Returning to work was always my intention.

It is now 7 years since the onset of a biotoxin illness and numerous other medical conditions that continue to restrict my ability to function.  It took me those first 2 years to realize that the daily convulsive episodes and other illness factors were not going away any time soon; just the orthopedic injuries and deconditioning made it difficult to care for my activities of daily living.  Several times per week I needed to be carried to the bathroom, assisted with bathing after the worst of those episodes.  I developed, by the grace of God, dozens of new coping strategies (e.g. making my breakfast the night before and putting it bedside in a lunch bag in case I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning).  Still, I missed working.  I started making jewelry in the middle of the night and selling them online to keep my brain stimulated and some adaptive role involvement going since I was up all night long anyways.  It was the only way to avoid more seizure attacks.  My life was upside down in many ways for sure.

It took me weeks not days to eventually sell my jewelry business and start to develop a professional website akin to my occupational therapy practice in home health.  I designed a bathroom safety product and began to develop the concept while networking within every aspect of this new venture hoping it would be a transitional activity  back into practice.  In doing so, I could monitor my activity level, continue to challenge my brain, learn new computer and marketing skills, and get excited that what I had learned when off of work was not “wasted.”  After about a year in this new direction, I had to stop.  Things got even worse before they got better.  The convulsive episodes progressed, aggressive treatment took its toll, and just caring for my basic needs was all I could do.  My spirit was crushed.  That was 2016.  By the end of the year I was hospitalized with shingles.  The stress was unbelievable and my body was breaking down further.  I changed the focus of Two Step Solutions several times; my personal blog (www.justjuliewrites.com) tells the medical and emotional story.  Gee, I did learn how to blog and design simple websites (and helped 2 others with theirs)!

But my personal financial resources in addition to my physical and emotional resources (of which you mention in your article) were gone.  The isolation was staggering even with a plethora of online support groups and a Prayer Group I started with two other largely home-bound gals.  Eventually some specialized care funded, in part by a Go Fund Me campaign and an unexpected tax refund, improved my condition enough to start some volunteer work this past year.  I hoped that the volunteer work could progress to part time employment whether within or outside the field of occupational therapy but later in the Fall my health started to slide again and new medical conditions emerged that required my energies, my attention such as it remained!  I needed to keep things low key despite any “goals” I continued to set every morning, 7 years later.

The underlying message to sharing my story with you is to express the extreme difficulty I had as an Occupational Therapist to go through all of this who not only loved her profession but loved OCCUPATION.  Every day when I got out of bed since college, I set goals.  This continued through my time of disability.  The items on the list got fewer as time went on and the complications, unpredictability of complex illness continued.  I never stopped trying to find solutions for either the medical conditions or functional limitations posed by them.  If I needed to wear a charcoal mask in public to be able to shop at the grocery store then so be it.  If I needed to sit in my vehicle to rest or in the cafe of a store pretending everything was o.k., I did so.  I never felt ashamed to be online instead of in-person meeting people; genuine friendships came from meeting fellow bloggers with whom I have now met or “Skyped.”  

Dear Cara, I hope that you will keep seeking to understand the role of occupation in the lives of person with not only progressive but sudden, serious medical conditions or traumatic accidents.  Perhaps the cancer literature has studies to further your investigation as many cancer survivors do return to productive lives.  And note as you go along that there are tens of thousands of folks like me out there just hoping for the opportunity to do the same; we just don’t know if that will be our outcome . . . yet!  In the meantime, I am not giving up.  If I did not have my faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, I would have done so by now.  Not even my drive for meaningful occupation can come close to keeping me going as knowing my future is secure in eternity because of my faith (regardless of the simplicity, setbacks, and sometimes messiness of my daily life). I submit to you that those facing progressive and sudden loss of primary occupations will require assurance from the Creator God to ultimately succeed in this involuntary type of retirement. 

Godspeed lady in life and in your work,

Julie (MS, OTR/L)

Advanced Master Gardener

Editor and Asst Editor of 2 Publications

*Instructor and PhD Candidate, Department of Occupational Therapy, College of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

**American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2018, Vol 72/No 6, p 347010

Connected in Grief

Why is it that tragic news of a dear loved one has so many layers as we take it all in?

First there is the shocking disbelief that something so horrific could even happen.  But it did and it does.  The impact is not yet realized on this one for sure.

My beloved and I prayed several times as the news unfolded across the evening:  the details coming forth slowly, leaving more questions than answers tonight.

Then a little later when simply lying with my beloved for refreshment triggered my own symptoms of ongoing illness, the tears started to flow alas but not for me this time.

The words of bad news, of new loss and the crisis of loved ones unfolding hath opened  up old wounds from my own times like these in the past, when I had to travel quickly into a very painful unknown.

I cried some more.  Oh how I miss my little brother so!  I talked to him in the hospital when he was yet drunk and in the DTs of alcohol withdrawal.  Little did I know that he would become unconscious and pass away within 2 days thereafter of alcohol toxicity, multiple organ system failure.

Quickly my late Mother made travel arrangements for my brother and I, with me still shell-shocked from my former husband’s departure and death of my grandmother within 24 hours of each other, just 5 months earlier.  Travelling for another funeral out of state and into a lifestyle much different from my own was a culture shock on one level, a new loss to grieve, and a return to the drama of my childhood as well.  Oh how I wish I could have re-written it all!

My brother’s Memorial Service was bizarre:  held in the bar of a bowling alley with his people, his friends albeit fitting yet inappropriate just the same.  I wrote about it three years ago when I thought about the star that now holds the ashes of his once tender heart.  Many details are painful to recall here and to do so would be disrespectful to the memory of my now deceased Mother who was grieving in her own unusual manner at the loss of her son.  It was a painful experience for all of us to endure back then.  Some more sorrow got released tonight as it all came back to me again.

Robert, Rob, Lech, Colorado, Palmer Lake, deceased, brother
My little brother Rob. Love you and miss you Robbie!

My Intended Beloved had memories of his own to share this evening from the death of his sister, his late brother-in-law, and a distant relative too.  We don’t know how the current tragedy will fare as the night draws on into daylight for one weary family holding on, their loved one slipping further and further away from them.  Please join me in praying for each precious one.  The Lord knows who they are and what they need.  I don’t know either but one thing that I do know is this:  we do suddenly become connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ, even all in humanity when we tap into the suffering that goes on in life.  I do pray the Lord’s supernatural intervention in the situation at hand.  Only He can go beyond the layers which we now feel, we now see.

And in this we can all rest, Gentle Reader.  For the shortest verse of our Bible reminds us of His humanity too, His sharing and caring in our times of grief.  For Jesus wept too.  JJ

Jesus wept, John, 11:35, grief, Christian, suffering, crying out to the Lord, shortest verse

No Place to Go

Steve pic of A Lori stuff 7.27.18

This morning as I watched my gracious husband take pictures of the items a family member had claimed were stolen, I realized I had no other place to go.

Who would understand the betrayal after having suffered a severe health setback trying to care?

Who would understand that every level of commitment virtually every day this entire year would end with them throwing my heart against a brick wall?

Who would know the many levels of loss that continue as I seek treatment to get my body back to baseline again?

Who would understand that grieving this failure, this dead end would rekindle the sorrow from heartaches in the not-so-distant past as well?

How does that come to any kind of closure when your heart is crying, your thoughts are heavy, your body is aching, your world is smaller, and there are piles of things to do around you?

There is only one place to go:  to the One Who grieves for my pain, Who grieved tears of living blood for the sorrows of us all:  more than I will ever know.

My Savior, Jesus Christ, faced ridicule, betrayal, torture, and unjust punishment that cost Him His life so that I may be free one day of lesser losses that come with this life.

Just gotta lie at the foot of His cross for as long as it takes until the burdens are lighter, so that I may go on even better somehow.

My joy is tiny today.  My Jesus is bigger than life itself.

Jesus, take the wheel.

JJ