Caregiving with Older Friends: ‘You teach me how to be when I grow up.’

We often find stepping stones in unexpected places.

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Discovering Unexpected Wisdom as a Pastor

By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

There are a few times in my life that a gift seems to fall straight from heaven onto my lap. Such is the case when I was hired to be “Pastor of Visitation” at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Binghamton, NY. I was living in Binghamton to be near my cousin after a heart-wrenching divorce at age 50. My career as a clinical psychologist and pastoral counselor was on hold. But I was an ordained clergyperson so was qualified to be “Pastor of Visitation.” I was known as “Reverend Lucille.”

My job description included visiting 30 seniors every month. This entailed listening to their stories, serving communion and singing and praying with them. Each of the seniors already was related to a deacon from our church. The deacons helped them with transportation, shopping and other household needs. But the underlying expectation for me was that I befriend them and help them to feel loved by God.

This was a big expectation and at first I was quite anxious about it. Could I in such brief contacts convey my care for them and God’s love for them?

But in each situation, the conversation flowed easily and naturally. And I soon began to love and to cherish each one of my seniors.

When I look back, I especially remember my first visit with Anette and Lila. Anette was 90 years old and was eager to tell me her life stories. Her deacon Nancy took me with her and paved the way for a wonderful visit. Anette’s parents were immigrants from Italy. She was born on the day after her parents arrived on the ship from Italy. Can you imagine that trip across the Atlantic for her parents who were about to have a baby at any time? Even now, I cannot imagine the anxiety they must have felt.

But all turned out well. Her parents immediately became part of the immigrant Italian community in Binghamton where many of their neighbors worked in a shoe factory. They received modest but steady income.

Anette married an Italian man and they had two children, a son and daughter. Both were adults when I met Anette. Her daughter lives in Florida and her son in Washington, DC. They call her every day. Her daughter has begged Anette to move to Florida with her but Anette cannot imagine living away from her beloved house and friends in Binghamton. Five years prior to meeting her, however, she briefly agreed to move to a retirement facility in Binghamton. She lasted only four weeks, insisting that her son take her back home.

Anette’s husband died twelve years before I met her, and she told me the story that when she received the call about his death, she went to her living room and screamed for hours. Hours. He had died from a heart attack while driving. Her children encouraged her to sell the house, but to her, that would be like “turning her back” on her beloved husband.

Anette spends her days knitting and crocheting. When I visited her for the first time in her home, she was crocheting yellow tulips and had five on display in a vase. They were lovely and were the size of a small tulip but with a short stem. I had never seen anything like this. They were beautiful. At a later time, Anette gave away 40 tulips to the seniors at a special luncheon at the church. She was as thrilled to give as they were thrilled to receive.

In my second visit, she proudly showed me a white lace blanket for a bed. I was stunned at its beauty and touched by her joy in giving it away.

I soon learned that the biggest challenge of seniors is that of finding purpose and meaning. Most seniors have retired from their professions and their children are adults. But Anette was clearly a senior who had found “purpose.” Her purpose involved giving away the beautiful articles she had made. I soon learned that the seniors who were most content were those who were sharing their talent or resources with others.

After visiting her for about half an hour, I asked if she would like to sing. She immediately smiled then joined me and the deacon in singing Amazing Grace. Tears flowed down her face as we sang that beloved hymn.

I then explained to Anette that since I was a clergyperson, I could share communion with her—if she wished. She immediately nodded her head and answered, “Yes, please.” As she took a small piece of bread and a sip of wine, she glowed. Ten minutes later, when I said good-bye to her, a tear was running down her face and I assured her I would be back in a month.

As I left, I also had some tears running down my face. These were tears of gratitude for in this first visit in which I learned that I could truly be a blessing to Anette. This gave me courage to meet with my next retiree in two days.

My second visit was with Lila at Willowpoint Nursing Home. Her deacon Danielle explained to me the she had had a stroke eight years earlier. She used to be a pianist and a music teacher but all of that had changed. She could no longer talk or walk.

Lila sits in her wheelchair most of the day but she is able to wheel around using her right hand. Her left arm is in a sling and her left hand is closed and unusable—another side effect of the stroke.

Lila’s husband was dead and they had no children. She would likely spend the rest of her life at Willowpoint Nursing Home. Willowpoint is the county nursing home—the place where Medicaid patients live; a place that sometimes smells of urine.

I was quite anxious before the visit. How could I relate to someone who cannot talk? Very soon I learned the answer. It involved singing.

Lila was watching a cooking TV show when deacon Katy and I arrived. Katy had told me that Lila used to be a great cook and that she watches cooking channels all day long.

After we greeted each other we all watched her TV for a few minutes. Then we turned the TV down and I told her that I have an all-time favorite recipe for cookies. I asked, “Would you like to hear it?” Smiling broadly, she nodded her head.

I explained that the recipe is from “The Mennonite Community Cookbook.” The Mennonites are similar to the Amish. Hearing this, Lila gestured “Wow.” She clearly knew about the Amish.

So I began. “This is a Christmas cookie recipe and it has the ingredients of an old-fashioned fruit cake. Lila nodded at hearing this so I listed the ingredients of these cookies: walnuts, dates, raisins, candied cherries, pineapple and citron. The cookies are spicy with nutmeg and cloves, vanilla and lemon extract. In all there are eighteen ingredients. I repeated: Eighteen ingredients!”

Lila was glowing as I listed those ingredients. She clearly understood and Katy seemed impressed. Lila made a high-five motion with a big smile on her face. She emitted a friendly grunt and I knew I had made a good connection with her. I had been fearful about how I could make a connection with someone who could not walk or talk. And I felt so grateful that this seemed to be occurring.

After about twenty minutes of Katy and me telling Lila more cooking secrets, I asked her if we might sing. She immediately nodded and I suggested that we sing Amazing Grace. Her whole face lit up.

Katy and I began to sing—and to our amazement, Lila joined in! She sang off key and she spoke only a few syllables, but she sang with such joy and confidence that she sounded like an angel.

Katy and I were almost swept off our feet. Katy told me she thought I was some kind of miracle worker. At that moment, I was inclined to agree.

Back at church, Katy spread the word about Lila’s singing. I quickly acquired the reputation of being almost magical in my ability to relate to the seniors. Singing with them—or to them—become my signature pastoral gift.

While I clearly ministered to Lila, it should also be apparent that she was ministering to me.

She showed me through her sweet spirit that she is happy and content. She clearly has accepted her life as it is. She is not depressed, and she is loved by her caregivers at her nursing home. I later said to the head pastor, “How can she not be depressed? She amazes me. I so admire her!”

Over time, I came to admire many of my retirees and I often said to them, “You teach me how to be when I grow up.”

I thoroughly enjoyed those years ministering to my beloved seniors as “Pastor of Visitation.” But after five years it became clear to me that I belonged in Chicago, where I had lived most of my adult life. And now, eight years later, I’m the one that falls into the “senior” category.
On those days that are gray or confusing, I return to the wisdom of Lila and other seniors from those Binghamton days. The wisdom is always the same. It involves accepting deeply my current situation. Is it the death of a friend or relative? Is it accepting that I no longer have that huge outdoor garden? Accepting that the five big windows in my apartment are plenty big enough for my plants—all forty of them!

Being a senior means for me that sometime in my future I will move into a retirement facility. I am so grateful because there is one such lovely place four blocks from where I live in Hyde Park. A dear friend is the organist for the worship services, which I sometimes attend. And just recently I have been helping to lead a sing-along for people suffering from dementia. I’m loving it. I feel so blessed that this now is part of my life. And it will likely be part of my future.

On those days that are gray or confusing, all I need to do is stop and remember Anette, Lila and 28 other precious seniors in Binghamton, New York. I bow my head in gratitude for the privilege of being “Pastor of Visitation” for those dear people for five years.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. She also is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day.

Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

‘Guide for Grief’ crosses boundaries to reach universal truths

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are honored to have the musician, educator and long-time advocate for cancer patients Elaine Greenberg join our writers by sharing her thoughts about the book Guide for Grief. The origins of this column by Elaine were some weeks ago during a conversation about grief, which is described in this earlier story in our magazine. As a result of that conversation, Elaine began reading some of our recommended books and has agreed to share her thoughts with us. Earlier, she reviewed Never Long Enough. Thank you, Elaine!

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By ELAINE GREENBERG
Contributing Columnist

Click on this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

“Everyone dies. Every family grieves. People are terrified of admitting that we are aging, let alone dying.” These words appear on the back of the Rev. Dr. Rodger Murchison’s book, Guide for Grief.

Reb Nachman of Breslov, the beloved Hasidic Rabbi, tells us (and I paraphrase here): “We are not afraid of dying; we are afraid of living.”

Two different thoughts–one from a Christian pastor and one from a rabbi who lived in Poland during the 1800s. Both speak of death and the fear that exits among most of us about the subject.

The book Guide for Grief is exactly that—a Guide to help us through our grief after the loss of a loved one. Dr. Murchison writes, “This guide’s perspective is Christian, but all families will benefit from these well-tested principles.” I am a Jewish Woman who can attest to that truth, because this book that has helped me dealing with the death of my beloved husband, Shelly, who I lost in 2021.

When Dr. Murchison writes about all the different aspects of grieving, he is answering so many questions we have all had:

  • What Happens When We Die?
  • How Do I Live Without My Loved One?
  • Are There Healthy and Unhealthy Ways to Grieve?
  • Why Did My Loved One Die?
  • How Long Will My Grief Hurt?

These are questions that millions of us who have dealt with grief have asked.

Dr. Murchison knows these questions because he has counseled many people who are grieving. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he is very helpful in the way he presents his theories. Each chapter ends with a comforting prayer. Many of them containing quotes from well-known psalms.

In Chapter 9 “What About Those Who Mourn Children and Children Mourning?” He writes beautifully written as he covers the difficult subject of death and dying as it affects children.

Several weeks ago my great-grandson, John, was visiting, and as he sat on the kitchen counter so we were eye to eye. He looked at me and said “Why are you so sad?”

Now John just turned 4, so when he asked me that question I realized if this little boy is asking me about looking sad, I need to do something about this. I don’t want him to think of me as his Bubbie (Grandma) with the sad face. I said to him “Would you like for me to smile?”

And he answered me with a beautiful smile: “Yes.”

Later, he asked me “Do you miss Zadie (Grandpa)?”

And I said, “Yes, do you miss him?”

He looked at me and said “Yes, and Zadie can’t hear me when I talk to him, but I can hear him right here”—and he held his hand over his heart. This little 4-year-old was teaching me about grieving and that I needed to smile more and that he was communicating with his beloved Zadie through his heart.

Out of the mouths of babes—

Finding comfort and hope in the pages of ‘Never Long Enough’

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are honored to have the musician, educator and long-time advocate for cancer patients Elaine Greenberg join our writers by sharing her thoughts about the book Never Long Enough. This column by Elaine began some weeks ago with a conversation about grief, which is described in this earlier story in our magazine. As a result of that conversation, Elaine began reading some of our recommended books and has agreed to share her thoughts with us. Thank you, Elaine!

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Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By ELAINE GREENBERG
Contributing Columnist

“It went too fast.”

Those were the words my husband spoke to me as he lay in bed during the last few months of his life.

Similar words form the title of this book by Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, illustrated by Michelle Sider. The words “there never is enough time” appear frequently throughout this book. Each thought is expressed in bold type along with an illustration crafted for that thought.

In the introduction, the rabbi has written these beautiful words:

Life is precious, irreplaceable and seems to go by far too quickly.
The loss of a loved one is painful, poignant and significant.
The relationships we form endure beyond the length of our days.
When we lose a dear one to death, it does not have to be the end of our connection with them.
They leave behind a treasure of cherished memories that no one can ever take away.

Each page explores those memories as well as our wishes and our hopes. The rabbi writes:

Wishing we had
Just one more day,
If only we could share one last word,
One last smile,
One last touch,
One more hug,
One final kiss,
Yet I will forever be thankful we had each other.
Those beautiful and cherished memories will be written on my heart forever.
For nothing and no one can ever take them away from me.

As I read those words from the rabbi, I was reminded of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, a play that features a Stage Manager who introduces us to both the living and some of the dead in his town.

One of the main characters, Emily, has died in childbirth at the age of 26. She wants to go back to earth just for one day and chooses her 12th birthday. As she enters, she sees her mother and father as they were on that special birthday and she sees herself at age 12.

Emily wants her mother to know she is there even though she is dead, so she says to her mother: “Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, 14 years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother. Mama, I married George Gibbs. Mama, just for a moment let’s look at one another.” But, of course, even though we see Emily there on stage begging—her mother can’t see her.

I have never forgotten that play and I think of it often when I realize we are going on with everyday life and not looking at one another, nor taking the time to enjoy each other.

I am thankful that Rabbi Krakoff’s book reminded me of that play and that scene—and that truth.

It is a beautifully written book and it will serve as a helpful guide to grief to anyone who reads it.

Caregiving Conference: Inspiration of ‘Now What?’ brings resource people together in midst of the pandemic

In my ministry, I’ve been focused on the needs of caregivers for years—especially helping caregivers find ways to care for themselves. This interest proved to be such a vital part of the lives of people around me that I was open to fresh ways to spread this message. Eventually, I talked with Front Edge Publishing Editor David Crumm about contributing to a nationwide effort to help empower individuals and their caregivers.

And this was even before we all were hit head on by the pandemic sweeping around our world!

As we publish this column in May 2022, the book is on sale via Amazon. So, it’s a great moment to order your own paperback copy.

The result was a timely book that helps individuals, caregivers, families, friends, congregations and community nonprofits—the entire social fabric of millions of Americans—grapple with the inevitable needs we all will face as we age. We decided to call this particular book—Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.

As we began our work, we had no idea how timely our book would be!

Now, the pandemic has stretched our social safety net into such a tattered state that I am writing this column about our regional work in the same week that headlines nationwide are mourning the horrifying milestone of 1 million Americans lost to COVID.

So, are you in need for some good news?

After I researched and wrote my chapter for this book, I began to consider using that book as a resource at a regional conference. The more I began to consider such a conference, the more I realized that many kinds of caregivers needed this information!

I mentioned this idea to David and he proposed the idea of adapting a special run of these paperbacks specifically for our area (McMinn County, Tennessee) with an additional section for local resources for both caregivers as well as medical, financial, and elder care planning.

Our church, with the help of the local ecumenical McMinn Ministries, funded the cost of the books so that we were able to give away copies not only to those who attended, but to several local businesses and partnerships who helped make our conference possible.

Initially, we were just going to do a short seminar on helping caregivers prepare for end-of-life discussions. However, as I began to talk to persons in our community, the topics expanded to preparing a will, understanding the legal twists and turns of caregiving, and an emphasis on the resources and support groups that exist for caregivers. What we ended up creating was an all-day event with five speakers and loads of donated resources and materials from all around the county.

Then, COVID revisited our area in the form of the Delta variant. So, plans were put on hold and our conference that was to have taken place in January of 2022 was moved to the (fortunately warmer) April 9th, 2022. Despite the delay, the event was well attended and it turned into a wonderful day for all involved.

The event covered a broad spectrum of topics and needs: from having a demonstration of what a caregiving support group looks like to the topic of how to recognize your own needs as one who gives care (you have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to care for others) as well as dealing with financial issues and concluding with my own presentation on preparing for a funeral and having the “difficult” conversations that kind of planning that entails,

The event was well received. As one attendee wrote, “The more informed I am the better.”

That was the goal. We have resources, we have contacts, and we have support. Sometimes, though, we don’t know where to begin. And, as another attendee wrote, “Education is power!”

It was a small start, to be sure. Yet it was a big step in working to relate to our community to meet a need. It is my hope that this program will develop into a regular, yearly conference. It is also my hope that our church will continue to host that it might be known that this church and its congregation cares for those who give care.

My sincere appreciation to all involved, and many thanks to David Crumm and the great team at Front Edge Publishing for not only having offered me the opportunity to work on such a great project as Now What?—but to also be willing to work with me to make the book even more specific to my community. It provides so much good information and was such a great addition to the materials we provided.

Let me encourage you to consider utilizing this book in your own setting! What a resource, and what a way to help have some of the more difficult conversations that are so easily avoided, but so very necessary.

Again, my thanks to everyone involved in this important work.

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Care to learn more?

Charles Ensminger is Pastor of Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Athens, Tennessee. He also is the author of Crafting the Sermon and Saturday Faith.

There’s a wealth of wisdom in the tradition of singing for our lives

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Author of Light Shines in the Darkness

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THIS SPRING, millions of Americans have bathed in waves of inspiration from the sight and sound of Ukrainian choirs singing for their nation’s life. From New York to Michigan to Idaho, Oregon and California, regional choirs have turned song into spiritual fuel—a movement that seems to have been sparked by the Saturday Night Live appearance of the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York in February. If you missed that moving appearance, I have a video clip below.

I hope that, as so many of us are talking about these uplifting waves of music—we remember the traditional wisdom all of us share: Our spirits soar when we sing. It’s a truth in nearly all of the world’s great religious traditions. There’s an entire chapter devoted to the importance of daily singing in Benjamin Pratt’s Guide for Caregivers.

I grew up in an environment where singing was always present. Singing was about sharing music and fellowship with others. We sang at church, at school and at home. In fact, every Sunday evening we gathered around the piano with our mother playing. She had a beautiful low voice and I loved hearing her. Fortunately for me, I also had a low voice and soon I was singing right beside her.

The music was all Christian and our favorite was How Great Thou Art, the 19th-century hymn that was popularized by George Beverly Shay, the renowned musician for Billy Graham.

The other early memory was that of my grandfather holding me and singing a song he composed just for me. It was “Sweet Little Susie girl,” since Susie was my nick-name. My Grandpa took me fishing, he bought me ice-cream then he held, rocked me and sang, “Sweet little Susie Girl” until I was fast asleep in his arms.

Since that time I have sung my Grandpa’s song to every child I have held and rocked—with my favorite being the song adapted for my son Soren, “Sweet little Soren Boy.” Just last year I held and sang to 6-year-old Daryn.

I even sing to my cat PJ: “Sweet little PJ cat.”

In high school, I loved singing. In addition to the choir, I sang in both a Girls Quartet and a Mixed Quartet. The best part of the mixed group was standing by my boyfriend who sang bass, the lowest voice, thus providing the foundation for the higher singers.

At church I sang in a “ladies” trio and loved it. This was in Ontario, Canada, where I grew up and lived until I went to college in Pennsylvania. Since then I have lived in the US, but am proudly still a Canadian citizen with a permanent resident status.

I grew up assuming everybody could sing and carry a tune but was utterly shocked when, at age 20, I heard my new boyfriend sing joyfully, loudly, but totally out of tune! Totally! It was our first worship service and I had a hunch that this was the man I would marry. I was right about that and in all our years of marriage, he never, never sang on tune. He was a brilliant man, but never sang on tune! I felt badly for him that he never had the formative experience of singing in small groups.

In my younger years, singing with others was so important. The connection through singing together ran very deep. There was a joy in harmonizing with others, of hearing their voices and inserting my own low voice in a way that drew us all together, making us one.

The hymns from my childhood are etched in my consciousness and they, as well as more recent hymns, magically come to me every day as I awaken. I feel so blessed and I believe that those early hymns were foundational to my spirituality. Each morning I write out the hymn I wake up with and I make a practice of singing it during the day. This practice helps me stay stable emotionally and grounded spiritually.

One recent hymn that I have awakened with is:

Precious Lord take my hand.
Lead me on. Help me Stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storms, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Precious Lord, lead me on.

I often think of these songs as responses to daily struggles, so I immediately asked myself: “What I am wrestling with that brings me this hymn?”

Soon I realized that it was about a relationship with a female relative that had grown tense recently. And I am grateful for the hymn because, when I saw her next, there was no tension at all!

Sometimes I compose short songs or chants. Often they emerge from my meditation. The one I sing most often is:

Let it come.
Let it go.
Let it come.
Let it flow.
All is well.

This chant arose from a time of meditation in the natural world. I was visiting my friend Frank in Pennsylvania. He invited us to experience an unusual form of meditation in which our group sat on lawn chairs in a shallow stream. Birds were singing and the water was gently flowing under our chairs and around our ankles. As I tried to settle down, I was quite agitated because I kept thinking about my beloved son who happened to be struggling with his vocation at that time. He had not found a job that was right for him and, as his mother, I was naturally anxious.

Then, as I focused on the stream in which we had positioned ourselves, I noticed the ripples in the water. They would come around my chair, then would gently flow on down in the stream. That’s when the opening words of the song that I shared above first came to me. They spoke deeply to me about my son. They challenged me to back off and let go of my agitation. They gently guided me to just let things go as they would. Just let them flow.

When I came out of the stream, I told my friend Frank about my experience and I quoted the words to him. He immediately added “All is well.” He was quoting a line from Julian of Norwich, a 12th century English mystic. Her famous words were:

All shall be well.
All shall be well.
All manner of things shall be well.

The next day I composed a tune to our chant. It was a simple tune but it added strength to the words. And for the next couple of days I found myself singing it, especially when I remembered that my son was going through a challenging time.

Frank and I have been singing it ever since. I find that this little chant can speak to people from all walks of life.

Most touching for me was the time I taught it to a group of people who were living with serious mental illness. I was one of the clergy leading them in a worship service once a week. I am open about the fact that, during my life, I have lived with mental illness. I know from experience—both professional and personal—that finding a mental balance involves “letting things go.” These dear people clearly understood “letting go.”

I then decided to add motions to the song to enhance the meaning of the words. For the words, “let it come, let it go” the motions were simply moving our arms back and forth. Before we knew it, we were gently swaying our bodies back and forth. Then in the last line, we opened our arms widely, singing. “All is well.”

Week after week I would join these dear people in worship and week after week, we would sway and sing, “Let it come, let it go. Let it come, let it flow. All is well.”

Currently I live in Chicago in the same apartment building where my friend Frank lives. He is a musician—an organist and pianist—so music is very much part of our lives. We have morning meditation together and currently are using the book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Each day’s passage includes a short hymn. We sing the hymn together. Recent hymns have been I will trust in the Lord and We are marching in the light Of God.

In these times of war, we must hold tightly to God. This is our anchor—marching in the light of God.

I feel deeply blessed that music was part of my life as a child and it clearly was the foundation that I have enjoyed ever since.

Music can be a pathway toward peace. It is a way of relating deeply with others and deeply with God. It often brings me through a dark tunnel. I am so grateful for it. So very grateful.

What songs do you recall from childhood?

What songs might you sing today?

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Care to see the Ukrainian choir singing on Saturday Night Live?

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. She also is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day.

Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

‘Act your age!’ may lead to healthy surprises

The Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago has many lovely places to stroll or roller blade. (This photo by Roman Boed is free to share with others via Wikimedia Commons.)

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Author of Light Shines in the Darkness

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“Act Your Age”
I’ve always been a daredevil when it comes to sports and at times it has cost me dearly.

It all started at about age 6. My brother Ron, age 14, was pitcher for the school team and he needed to practice at home. I gladly volunteered to be his catcher. We lived in Canada, just across the border from Buffalo, New York. Ron was one of those pitchers who did a full arm circle—and was he fast! Wow! So fast that each pitch nearly knocked me down. Furthermore, the glove I used was way too big for my six-year old hand. But I was brave and never missed one of those fireball pitches.

Come high-school, I joined the girls’ basketball team. I was not only fast but aggressive. I loved working my way to the enemy court and popping those balls right into their basket. However, my aggression took over at times, and I was fouled out. I hated sitting on the side lines—but eventually I was able to manage my aggression.

Fast forward 21 years, which brought me to age 37. My husband and I bought a cottage on Lake Webster in Indiana and a beautiful motor boat. We lived in Chicago and loved the lake life on the weekends. One of my dreams came true when I learned how to water ski. I had watched with envy those lucky people who not only water skied but who also did tricks. I was itching to do the same.

Water skiing came easy to me and I was soon jumping the waves and skiing in doubles with my step-son. All was well for three years, but, on October 1, I had an accident that left me with back problems for thirty-five years.

It happened like this. Our family competed with the Johnson family when it came to water-skiing. One of the competitions was about enduring the cold water in the early spring or late fall. Who could ski earliest in the spring? Who could ski latest in the fall?

On October 1 of 1982, it was 80 degrees outside and my husband said to me, “I’ll take you water-skiing and you’ll win the competition! You will be the latest in the season for waterskiing.”

Of course, I agreed. Didn’t even think of the dangers. But when I jumped in the water I was shocked—utterly shocked. The water was cold, it felt like ice-water. In all my days of water-skiing I had never been in such cold water. But I knew that I’d be okay once I got out of the water because it was 80 degrees. The boat sputtered, however, and did not lift me out of that freezing water. But—instead of dropping the line and sinking back into the water—which I would usually do—I held on to the rope and somehow, I twisted my back. And that is why I have had back pain for 38 years.

At age 50 my marriage ended, which included selling the lake house, our boats and those glorious water-skis. No more water-skiing! That felt bad—very bad for a while. What felt worse was the fact that I felt totally abandoned by my husband. He, a seminary professor had fallen in love with a student and soon married her. It sent me into a deep depression.

But, one way I managed my depression was getting involved in sports. And this time it was roller-blading in Chicago along beautiful Lake Michigan. Roller blading came easy to me since it was just a variation of ice-skating, which had been a family winter sport years ago in Canada. Back then I even played hockey on the creek behind our house. Family hockey, however, was not fast or aggressive, so I was not in danger of hurting myself.

When roller-roller blading along Lake Michigan I met lovely people. In fact, I met one couple who was looking for a caregiver for their two-year old son, Jason. I offered to care for him and he was adorable. Looking back, I realize that he was like a grandchild to me. I read to him. I kicked the ball with him. I even talked him into eating broccoli!

I was so delighted with my life that, for a while, I ignored the fact that I had back pain. But it did not go away. It seemed to get worse so I eventually had back surgery for a perturbing disk. Recovery for this took a full month. My beloved sisters from Canada came to nurture me, each for two weeks, which was quite a sacrifice on their part. That surgery helped somewhat but it would be another 20 years until my back pain was totally alleviated.

When my sisters left, I fell into a deep, deep depression. I was in therapy, I took psychiatric medication and I had two one-month hospitalizations. Yet, the depression hung on. So I travelled to Gould Farm in Connecticut. Working on the farm was very therapeutic but I got myself into big trouble when skating on the lovely pond. It turned out that the fellow skaters were young men who wanted to play hockey. I grew up playing hockey in Canada so I joined in without a thought. I was so proud of myself—racing after the puck and often out-skating the young men.

But then I fell. I fell hard on my head. Very hard! I was sent to the hospital and it was determined that I had a concussion. When I returned to the farm, I made a pledge to myself: that I would hereafter “act my age.” That I would not follow those urges to compete dangerously.

Seven years ago I temporarily forgot my pledge to “act my age.” I was about to move back to Chicago and live near beautiful Lake Michigan with its trails all along Lake Michigan. I could again roller-blade along the lake. I had lost my roller blades in a flood so when I saw a huge sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods, I jumped. I bought everything—skates, helmet, knee pads, wrist pads. I was in heaven and went to the nearby trails to try them out. They were perfect.

But then I got thinking. It was almost 20 years since my roller-blading days. I remembered my vow to myself “to act my age.” That vow would not go away. I called my friend Frank and asked him what he thought about my rollerblading along the lake without a partner. He was quiet and did not really respond. I knew him well enough to realize that he was not in favor of me going out along the lake in roller blades. He himself did not roller blade. The next day I returned all my equipment to Dick’s.

Eventually, I joined LA Fitness and enrolled in “water aerobics.” Water aerobics is easier on the body than regular exercises because the water itself takes some of the strain. After about a month, my back stopped hurting. I couldn’t believe it. My back had been hurting for over thirty years. I had sought all kinds’ treatment for it: physical, acupuncture, medication, surgery but none of it brought relief.

I started chatting with others in water aerobics. Their story was the same as mine: chronic back problem for years, multiple attempts to remedy it. The only thing that has worked is water aerobics.

Water aerobics is rigorous although not dangerous. It is a real work-out. It is fun, especially as you get to know others. Plus, after the class some of us hit the hot tub. That warm water spraying from the spouts feels heavenly. You come home feeling tired but a short nap solves that.

It enables me, finally, to act my age.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. She also is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day.

Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

Congregations nationwide are welcoming prayers and music for the people of Ukraine

Leaders of an interfaith prayer service for the people of Ukraine in Augusta, Georgia

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EDITOR’s NOTE: Over the past week, the home office of our online magazine has received notes about dozens of Ukraine-themed programs at congregations across the U.S. Some congregations have welcomed Ukrainian-American choirs to sing during a worship service, or at a special community-wide event. Other communities have organized larger interfaith efforts. We asked Rodger Murchison, a pastor and the author of our book Guide for Grief, to write about a service that he helped to organize in Augusta, Georgia. Here is his story …

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The Augusta, Georgia, Community Prays for Ukraine

By RODGER MURCHISON
Author of Guide for Grief

The situation in Ukraine is horrific and tragic. What can we do to help? People of faith can pray. The city of Augusta, Georgia, organized a Community Prayer Service. We invited Christians of all denominations as well as our Jewish and Muslim neighbors to participate.

To promote this Service of Prayer for Ukraine, we reached out to our local CBS, ABC and NBC television affiliates. They all agreed to co-sponsor this service and they also aired brief interviews with several area organizers. Our local talk-radio station welcomed two clergy to participate in a live interview about the service.

The Service of Prayer for Ukraine was held on Sunday March 13, 2022. The sanctuary of First Baptist Church was the venue and between 350 and 400 were in attendance.

How did we organize this service?

We began with a “Congregational Hymn of Peace” set to the music of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia.

Then, interspersed in the program we featured a duet, titled Shalom—as well as an anthem from Antioch Missionary Baptist church.

Here’s how we presented our prayers:

  • A Prayer for the People of Ukraine by the Rev. Will Dyer
  • A Prayer for Political Leaders by U.S. Rep. Rick W. Allen
  • A Prayer for the Faith Community of Ukraine by Rabbi David Sirull
  • A Prayer for Peace by Father Mark Ross
  • A Prayer for the Students of Ukraine by Dawson Booth, a student at Augusta University
  • A Prayer for the Children of Ukraine by Imam Jawad Rasul
  • A Prayer for the People of Russia by the Rev. Sonia Sullivan-Clifton
  • A Litany for Ukraine led by the Rev. Rodger Murchison
  • A Prayer for the Military by Col. Jeff Voyles, Senior Chaplain at Ft. Gordon
  • A Prayer for Forgiveness by the Rev. Kenneth Martin
  • We also set aside time for Congregational Silent Prayer
  • Benediction

In addition to praying, we also can send help to the millions of refugees. At our Prayer Service an offering of more than $5,000 was raised for relief work in the region.

I also have received requests for a copy of the simple litany we used in the service. Here it is in a PDF format.