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

We often find stepping stones in unexpected places.


Discovering Unexpected Wisdom as a Pastor

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.




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:





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


Author of Light Shines in the Darkness


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?


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



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.)


Author of Light Shines in the Darkness


“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.




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:





When disaster strikes, our resilience is rebuilt with helping hands

When disaster strikes, we reach out to restore life

Contributing Columnist

Eleven years ago, my beautiful house flooded. I lived in Binghamton, New York at the time and had just moved into my house one year before. It was just a block from the Susquehanna River and when my daughter-in-law visited, she insisted, absolutely insisted that I buy flood insurance. She is from Baton Rouge and is was well acquainted with floods. I acquiesced mainly to get her off my back. Furthermore, the insurance was only $300.

On the day of the flood I was at my church helping with the free dinner that we provided every Wednesday. Feeding 100 needy people was a heart-breaking experience on one hand but on the other was so fulfilling to see these dear folks leave happy.

During my whole life, I have paused before a meal to say grace. But it now felt somewhat shallow and artificial because never in my life have I been hungry because I could not afford a meal. My few times of hunger have totally been self-imposed.

It was at that community dinner where I met Brittany, a 13-year-old girl with her hair flowing down her face. We became friends and had many shopping sprees at Walmart. I was so grateful that I was able to provide her with clothes, toiletries and gifts for her family. She later joined the church and when her son was born, he was baptized there. She was such a gift to me: a young woman to guide through tough times.

My pastor was at the community meal the night of the flood and he, knowing where I lived, insisted that I leave immediately to avoid the streets that were already flooding. It was not until I had to drive through a foot of water that I realized the flood was truly serious and that my house was in danger.

Like thousands of people all along the river both in New York in Pennsylvania, the message by the police on my phone was that I had to leave immediately, take medicines and pets and go to the college gym. I later learned that there were hundreds of people lined up on cots at the gym and the pets had to stay in the car.

Fortunately, I called my friend Anita before I left and she insisted that I come to her house. For three days we were glued to her TV trying to spot my house. We could not see it but, in four days, we were allowed into the house. At first, I scheduled a flood-response company to come the next day and pump out my basement. The cost would be $1,000 dollars. But, before they arrived, my neighbor, Jim, came with a pump that his church had just purchased to pump out basements for free. I just bowed my head in gratitude.

I later realized how this was just the beginning of people surrounding me with love and concrete ways to help. Friends and relatives poured in to help clean up from the flood and restore my home.

My basement at the time had two feet of sewer water. Laundry and books were floating. Hammock and art supplies were floating. At that moment, I did not care about losing furniture, books or carpets: They could all be replaced. But, I feared that my thirteen photo albums were destroyed and could not ever, ever be replaced. In tears, I asked Jim to look for them. He had only a flashlight and could find just ten. I begged him to continue the search. I simply could not bear the idea of losing any of the albums. He kept looking and finally found all thirteen!

I then carried the sewer-soaked albums to my back deck.  I started to take the muddy photographs out of the albums, wipe them with a paper towel and set them on the deck to dry. It was a sunny day and I believed they could be spared. It was at that moment that my pastor, Steve, came by and declared that the photos should all be taken to the church, and that people there would wipe them off and dry them.

What a relief! Perhaps, perhaps my precious photos would be saved!

For two weeks I was mired in the clean-up of my house.Friends poured in to help. They knew I could never face the devastation on my own. Everything on my first floor had to either be thrown out or saved in some way. Sofas, of course, could not be saved but tables and chairs could be if thoroughly washed with bleach water. We wore masks to protect our lungs, but masks only helped somewhat. I, like many others, developed a cough that clearly stemmed from the foul air and sewer water.

For a week, I essentially forgot about the photos and focused on giving reports to the insurance company. I thanked my daughter-in-law profusely for insisting that I get flood insurance. Because of it, I actually received more money than I spent on rebuilding my house. My brother and his wife from Canada were central in this.

I learned later that my friends at my church had worked several evenings to save my photographs.  They took each one out of the plastic. They carefully wiped each photograph with a paper towel and set it on tables to dry. This took several evenings. Then one of my friends bought new photo albums and they placed all of the pictures in those albums.

At the coffee hour, that third Sunday after the flood, they presented me with the albums. I cried, they cried. I went home and slowly looked through all of those photos. Some I had forgotten.

As I was writing my memoir, Light Shines in the Darkness, pouring over my photos—photos of my entire life—helped me heal in a profound way. It helped me let go of some of the pain of divorce and showed me that my life as a single person is deeply enriching and fulfilling.

And now, eleven years later, I have just poured over those pictures once again. Pictures of my son, just five years old in his kindergarten graduation.Pictures of him playing chess in high school not just with his fellow students but with elderly Jewish men. That enabled him to take first place in the Illinois high school championship. Watching him in the town parade on a beautiful float—that is the stuff of “motherly pride.” Pictures of my precious outside garden and then my inside garden with its 91 plants.  Pictures of my nieces gathered in my living room—sharing the pain of sexual abuse by an older relative. Praying together, finding the strength to overcome that darkness in our lives.

Pictures of my two beloved friends, Alyce and Frank. All those Christmases together with Frank at the piano and the rest of us singing Joy to the World at the top of our lungs. The pets, PJ my cat who always manages to find a lap, and dear Pablo, Frank’s dog who had sugar diabetes (like Frank) and is now in dog heaven.

Tears flow as I see those pictures that, just eleven years ago, were floating in sewer water.  

Thanks to the many friends who worked so tirelessly to help me preserve those memories.


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:




Trying to survive COVID however we can with pumpkin pie, prayer and all

Millions of Americans are trying to make their way through COVID however we can manage—and, in Lucille Sider’s case, that involved a lot of pumpkin pie. While that idea may make us smile—it certainly gave Lucille a much-needed smile—the truth is that COVID is a deadly predator. Resiliency in the face of COVID takes many forms and does not always guarantee we will survive. (This image shared courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)



Twelve days ago, I told my friend Barbara, “I am so blessed. I know no one who has had COVID—and certainly no one who has died from it.”

Then, 11 days ago, I learned that Brittany, a 27-year-old friend had died from pneumonia and COVID. And David, age 75, had died from COVID in an absolutely heartbreaking story. Refusing to be vaccinated, David and his wife Rita also avoided medical care. Their children who lived far away begged Rita to get him to an emergency room. They called an emergency van to take him—but Rita refused to let him go. David died that night.

I was reeling. I knew David from long ago and I am very close to his daughter, age 50.

Ten days ago: I learned that I had COVID. I was scheduled for minor surgery and the COVID test was simply the ordinary precaution in such situations.

I was hit with extreme fatigue, sore throat and other symptoms—and panicked. More than the symptoms, I panicked because I am an extrovert who needs lots of contact with other people to maintain my wellbeing.

For three days, however, I slept most of the time—except for the time I spent virtually with my friend Frank, who I have written about in earlier columns. We share morning meditation, which continued to be grounding for me. We read scripture and other sacred readings. We pray for our loved ones and for the world. Giving our worries to God frees us to carry on the work we are called to do.

I told my Facebook friends that I had COVID and they surrounded me with love. They called. They wrote to me. I heard from people I hardly knew. I felt so blessed. So grateful.

Then, I made two pumpkin pies and not just any pumpkin pies. Mennonite pumpkin pies. The pie I grew up with. The Mennonite recipe is lighter compared with the typical, fairly dense pumpkin pies that are so common across the country. My recipe also has a distinctive blend of those spices we all love: ginger, cinnamon and cloves—just enough to truly taste them but not too much to overshadow the pumpkin.

As always, I bought whipped cream for the top of the pie, the kind that comes in the can. I loaded each piece of pie with at least a cup of whipped cream. It was heavenly!

For two and a half days I ate pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know Frank loves this pie and considered giving him a few pieces—but I must admit: I really wanted it all for myself. I justified my decision by speculating that my pie could possibly pass along COVID germs. I later confessed my greed to Frank and promised to make pumpkin pie for him when I am well.

Finally, I regained just enough strength to care for my plants, which I also have written about in earlier columns. And, yes, the giant coleus did survive. My plants bring me such deep joy. When I walk into my living room garden each morning, I am greeted with a multi-colored garden of all different stripes and colors—red, orange, yellow, green, brown and pink. They are beautiful, they are easy to care for and they grow so quickly. If given a good amount of water, fertilizer and sunshine, they just take off and grow right before your eyes!

But COVID is a relentless predator. Frank did get COVID, too—truly terrifying news. Frank has diabetes and recently recovered from brain cancer.

The good news was that Frank had a very light case. He had mainly fatigue so he slept most of the time. We were too tired to cook, so had lots of carry-ins.

On the last day of my isolation I remembered a prayer we had recently read. It gave me hope in those moments that I feared death for myself and for others:

“Lord, you have conquered death.
You have gone down to the depths of Shoel and risen again to life.
Help us to remember as we suffer with you that we will rise with you to a life that never ends.
From Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.




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. Now, she 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:






Lucille Sider Shares a Creative Coleus Christmas with her Community


Contributing Columnist

My Christmas Coleus is a centerpiece of Christmas harmony, bursting with red and green.

It’s actually six plants all growing together in a big pot and has become a Christmas Coleus that truly represents my community.

Here’s how this unusual Christmas story unfolded: In the spring of this year, 2021, I drove by St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois and was stunned—truly stunned—by the deep red coleus garden. The garden was almost a half-block long and 6 feet wide. I had never, ever seen a coleus garden so big and so utterly beautiful.

I was smitten!

A week later I took my friend Barbara to that amazing garden. She has a beautiful outside garden and is always on the look-out for new flowers. She was immediately mesmerized. I then carefully instructed her to snip off some coleus slips. Slips are a single strand of the plant. When placed in water for a few weeks, they grow roots. Then all you need is a little pot, a little soil, a little water—and BINGO—you have your own, beloved coleus plant!

A week or two later, I visited my friend Daryce and we sat on her deck, listening to the birds and delighting in the plants. I immediately learned that she, too, loves coleuses and had quite a variety. In fact, she gave me a large plant, over a foot in height. It was more like a small tree with a trunk than a typical coleus plant. The leaves were a vibrant green with dark red stripes. Absolutely gorgeous!

I could not wait to get home, snip some of those long branches, place them in water and watch the tiny roots grow. Before I knew it, I had eighteen coleus plants, nine red ones and nine green ones with glorious red stripes.

When Barbara dropped by I gave her some of the green plants with the striped leaves. She planted three of these and three of the red coleuses in a big pot. That is the origin of The Christmas Coleus.

By mid-September the coleus was almost three feet wide and three feet tall. Of course I posed with it for pictures and immediately became the “The Coleus Queen” on Facebook. In retrospect, Barbara should have posed with me because the beautiful coleus is as much from her TLC as mine.

My friend Barbara with her coleus-packed wagon.

In early October Barbara and I knew we needed to move the plant inside to avoid an early frost. Barbara had just purchased a new wagon—a blue canvas beauty! Four feet long, two feet wide and one foot high. Perfect for transporting our coleus!

On moving day, we carefully lifted the coleus into the wagon and started walking four blocks from her house to mine.

Part of the plant drooped over the side of the wagon, which was truly precarious.

We had lots of questions and stares as people walked around the wagon for it took up two-thirds of the sidewalk. No one had ever seen a coleus this big!!

Finally, I was thrilled to have the coleus in my apartment where I could experiment with how to care for it in the winter months. We placed it in front of the window in my bedroom.

As soon as Barbara left, I found my “sunshine lamp,” which I knew I needed to provide sufficient light for the coleus. This lamp is rectangular, about one foot high, two feet wide. It produces rays that are like the rays of the sun. I have used it when struggling with seasonal depression in the winter months. It helps me get through those long, dark days and I was sure it could help the precious coleus as well.

I was right about that!

Providing light for the coleus has been a long-running experiment. There is no standard guideline. Perhaps this is more intuitive than any other aspect of caring for the coleus. And of course, the amount of light from the sun is always changing as winter approaches. Thus the time with the sunshine lamp is getting longer.

It soon became clear to me that the dark red coleuses needed much more light than the green ones with the red stripes. In fact, the red ones look somewhat faded and have developed some light green lines along the circumference of the leaves. Thus, I carefully rotate the plant so those faded red leaves get maximum light. It has helped considerably.

As we are nearing Christmas, I have established a routine that is clearly working for it has grown over a foot higher and a foot wider than when I brought it to my apartment. Some of the leaves from the red coleus have exploded in size and thus are 7 inches long and 5 inches wide.

Amazing! Beautiful!

Of course I love to show the coleus to friends and neighbors. They always congratulate me for my “green thumb.”

I insist that the secret of growing plants is more about “the pointer finger” than the “green thumb.” Let me explain. About every four days, I reach my hand into the top of the pot touching the soil with my “pointer” finger. If my finger is dry, I water the plant. If it is moist, I wait a day or two. About once a week, I fertilize the coleus using the standard Miracle-Gro fertilizer for indoor or outdoor plants.

At one point, I observed that the branches of the coleus were very brittle and could break easily. I struggled with how to protect them. Finally I bought wooden stakes about five feet high and carefully pushed them deep into the ground. Next, I took green string and tied the brittle branches to the stakes. This has worked very well and so far. as not one branch has broken off.

Then, I had an idea for a Christmas decoration.

I draped red and green tinsel from stake to stake. Later, I added another stake into the middle and placed a Christmas star on top of it. Perfect!

Now, I awaken each day to the beauty of the Christmas Coleus. Seeing bright rays of the sun gently bathing the plant brings a deep peace. Off in the distance is Lake Michigan with its ever-changing colors. Will the water be turquoise, baby blue, dark blue or gray? Such joy!

I get up, make my coffee and sit in the rocking chair just four feet from the coleus. It is the best meditation spot I have ever had! There was so much joy in gathering the red coleus slips with Barbara, receiving the green plant from Daryce, which has exploded into many beautiful plants, and now we have this glorious Christmas beauty.

Sometimes Barbara comes and we delight in the coleus. We remember that first day when we picked red coleus slips from the garden at St Francis Hospital. Some of our friends say we “stole” those slips but we insist that the hospital would have gladly given them to us. After all, it is a hospital of Saint Francis, the who preached to the birds and danced with the animals! And now my statue of St Francis stands close to the coleus, blessing it and sending it love.

Barbara and I chuckle about the four-block trip from her house to mine when we transported the coleus in her beautiful blue wagon. How we apologized to neighbors for taking up most of the width of the sidewalk. We just shake our heads as we remember their amazement at our little procession.

But most of all, Barbara and I cherish the beauty of creation.

We remember the story of creation in the Bible.

We wondering if that “fig” leaf that Adam used to cover himself was perhaps the original coleus!

A Christmas Coleus!


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. Now, she 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:





Do you have an animal friend in your life? They can help you make even more friends!

Contributing Columnist

Do you have an animal friend in your life?

If you don’t, I’ll tell you one of the most rewarding experiences pet lovers discover when they bring a cat or dog into their lives: They start to make new friends in their neighborhood. Of course, dog walking instantly makes us more visible, but even cats have a way of making new connections across a community.

Here’s how my cat PJ wound up making those connections.

This happened two months after my home in Binghamton, New York, was devastated by a flood, sending both of us—me and PJ—fleeing from our house on that dreadful evening. My friend Anita had insisted we come to live in her building where she knew there was an empty apartment below hers.

Anita had a real phobia about cats, so I was extremely grateful that she welcomed PJ. PJ seemed to be adjusting just fine—until that Thursday afternoon when I came home from work.  He was not at the door to greet me as he always was.  I became a bit anxious so quickly entered the apartment hoping to find him asleep on the sofa, his favorite place when he was home alone.

He was not on the sofa so I checked closets.

He was not there so I checked behind all of my furniture.

After fifteen minutes of searching, I called Diane, a deacon from Northminster Presbyterian Church where I worked as Pastor of Visitation. I had thirty seniors I visited monthly and Diane had accompanied me in visits that were complicated.  Such was the case with several seniors with Alzheimers.  Diane was a cat lover and had a sign in her yard, “Cats Welcome Here.”  She had visited me and PJ and PJ took an immediate liking to her.

When I called with the news that PJ was missing, she was there in ten minutes to help me search.  After scouring my apartment she said, “We have to make signs and post them in the neighborhood.  We sat together and designed a sign that said:  “Lost Cat:  PJ.  A small beige cat.  Call Lucille (and my phone number).  Reward.”

We rushed to the neighborhood printer to make 30 signs.  Then we set out in the neighborhood to post the signs wherever we could find an appropriate spot.  We also gave signs to people we met on the street.

After two hours on the street, Diane left and I started calling people.  I called my pastor at the Methodist Church and he immediately put PJ on the prayer list.  Diane put him on the Presbyterian prayer list.  I called my relatives in Canada and my son and his wife, Soren and Amanda, who lived in Washington, DC.  They had given me PJ as a house warming gift one year ago.

PJ’s real name was Panama Jack, the Third.  Both his father and grandfather were named Panama Jack.  The breed was Tomkinese which is both Siamese and Burmese.  While he looked Siamese, his personality was gentle and loving like Burmese.

The next day Soren told me that he and Amanda cried the night before, crying for me and PJ.  Soren also bought a service that put a message about PJ on 250 telephones in my neighborhood.  That night my cousin, Twila, from Pennsylvania called me and said, “If PJ does not come back, I will give you Lucky, a wonderful cat that just appeared in their yard about six months ago.”  While I did not want to think about PJ not coming back, her call and her offer were soothing.

The next evening Twila came to help me search for the cat.  We went all around the neighborhood, asking everyone if they had seen PJ.  We looked in garages—which was not really wise in retrospect, but no one seemed to object.

On Thursday morning, however, Anita received a call from the neighbors next door and they said that a small beige cat was at their door and they took him to the basement.  Anita and I hurried over with the cat carrier and there he was.  He immediately came to me and we carried him home.  He was not interested in food and water; he just wanted to be held.  I lay on my sofa and he crawled on top of me and put his paw on my cheek.  He had never done this before.  I knew he was telling me he was happy to see me.

After a while I started calling friends and family telling them that he was home.  Some of them cried for joy with me.  I called the churches who had him on their prayer list and they rejoiced with me.  On Sunday I went to church and at announcement time I reported that PJ was found.  They clapped and clapped.

As I was driving home from church, tears of joy fell on my face.  Joy because I would see PJ.  And  joy for all the love given to me from all of these friends, family and churches.



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. Now, she 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: