Grief sneaks up on you

Grief. I haven’t experienced it this closely before. I mean, I’ve been sad when people have passed and I’ve lost some relatives I’ve loved, but never like this. I thought I understood it pretty well and was prepared.

But grief at losing my mom is different. It just creeps up behind me and dumps over my head like I’m a pro football coach that just won a championship … except there are no laughs and no trophy coming next.

There have been maybe three things in my life that I know my mom was pretty darn proud of.

She always loved introducing me and saying, “he’s a minister.” She grew up in a generation where that was a title of respect and honor. She grew up in a generation where “minister” was a respected community position right up there with doctor and lawyer. She’d scold me for wearing jeans, having a pierced ear and tattoo and she’d let me know how I wasn’t measuring up to her minister standard, but she was always happy that my faith was alive and active.

Secondly, she thought my dad game was strong. She liked the way I made time for my family, played with my kids and took time to explain things to them. She always had advice on how my husband game could improve, but my dad game was solid in Mom’s estimation.

Lastly, creativity. Mom liked it when I would take the time to create. She loved it when I would write poetry and short stories. She loved it when I would make photographs and share them with her. Anything that I created was valued by Mom.

That’s where the grief bucket got dumped over my head this morning at about 4:00 AM.  I had been awake since 3:30 staring up at the ceiling, dimly lit by our charging electronics, when I decided to go through yesterday’s photos on my phone and post my favorites to social media.

Chloe Cat

A smooch from Great Aunt Gail.

“Mom is going to love these pictures of Chloe,” I thought. “I’ll print some for this week’s visit …” Oh … wait … she’s gone.

I shook off the initial wave and went through some more pictures. “Maybe I’ll frame a print of this peony for Mom …”  came the next thought. No, Mom would have loved it but, no.

And then the tears. The grief bucket washed over me in full force and I had to get out of bed to try to shake it off. The tears followed me to the Keurig and even turned up a notch when I grabbed a Raspberry Chocolate K-cup. Mom loved it when I brought her some of my froo-froo coffee flavors. She scolded me when she discovered how much they cost me but, still, she loved it when I’d make her a cup.

A grief bucket nearly took me out yesterday while I was delivering my message at church. Somehow, I managed to suppress it and push mindlessly on so that only my friend John noticed. Mid-sentence, talking about all being part of the body of Christ, I thought of Mom and how this minister stuff was one of the things she most loved about the man I am now. I held it together until I got home and cried with my wife in the driveway and then again with my sister in the kitchen.

I want to know how long these surprise attacks are going to continue. I don’t like them. I prefer control.

I’m thinking, at least for awhile, I may be printing more photos than normal. One as a gift for the hospice house, several for walls at the South Paris Veterans Home, and then … I don’t know where else … all with “Mom would have liked this one” as my motivation.

Mom's Wall

Mom painted this on her bedroom wall.

Mom passed her creative eye on to me. She bought me my first camera when I was just 11 years old. She paid to get my film developed and would sit and comment about how good this picture was and how she liked the composition of that picture.

Even as she got into her eighties, and even after she lost the sight in one of her eyes, I knew I could bring my up photo books and artwork and she would love looking at them and would ask me questions. She loved that almost as much as when I would swing through Haven’s Candies and pick up a fresh box of Needhams chocolates.

I’m going to miss my Mom. I’m going to miss her a lot.

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It’s a good day. My Mom is with Jesus.

ScottLinscottPhoto--7387.jpgIt’s a good day.

My 85 year old mother passed quietly last night, comfortable, at a beautiful hospice facility with people she loved by her side. It was the answer to the prayer she has been praying for several years, that God would call her home.

I remember one of her most recent stays in a rehabilitation facility. We covered her walls with family photos to show her how much reason she had to stay and recover. I remember playing videos of grandchildren telling her to hang on and work to get better because we wanted her with us. She’d force a smile,, thank us and say, “but I just want to go.”

The call came last Saturday night. “They found mom unresponsive.” I think I’ve had that call or text three times in the last three years or so. The calls came here and there mixed in with what had become normal messages of falls, confusion, sickness and seizures. The calls had become expected; broken bones, UTI’s, shoulders out of joint. sprains. I took this call with what had become my normal “here we go again” mindset and we headed north to be with her.

The doctor said she had a massive stroke and would go at any moment. Honestly, I didn’t believe him. I knew the drill. I was determined to protect my emotions from this roller coaster ride that I’ve come to hate. Surely, she’d be spending the next month or two at yet another rehabilitation facility fighting with her physical therapists and refusing to do the work.

My emotions bounced from tears to disbelief. With no life-saving measures, I knew this time was different but somewhere within, I still expected to have her wake up again. I had 5 days of sitting in her room watching efforts to make her comfortable. I had five days of “it will be any time now.” Gradually the thoughts that she would prove them all wrong and wake up again faded and were replaced with the reality of saying goodbye.

But yesterday, it was clear that Mom was going. I sat in the nearby chapel, not able to bear being in the room with her, and I wrote her obituary and planned her memorial service. I tried my best to focus on her new life ahead instead of my life without her. I did my best to be happy for her and push down my feelings of being sad for me.

My sisters wanted to be with her when she passed but I could not bear the thought of that. Everyone told me it was okay. I wanted my last memory to be when I sat and read the 23rd Psalm with her, hoping she could hear me but also hoping she was already gone. I wanted my last time with her to be a happy memory of joking and asking her if she remembered dad asking, “who’s this ‘Shirley’ character and why is she following you” every time we recited the last verse together when we memorized the Psalm for church homework: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

I kissed her on the forehead, told her I loved her and once again told her that she was free to go. I told her that on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and Wednesday but on Thursday I couldn’t watch anymore and spent very little time with her beyond a quick kiss and one last, “I love you.” I played a video of my son Josh singing “House of God Forever” and decided that would be my final time with Mom. Today, I am glad I did.

This morning I feel sad and heavy and on the edge of tears. And this morning I feel happy that Mom’s battle is finished and she is raising her arms high in praise, walking with no cane and breathing deeply without that horrendous cough that has plagued her.  I feel joy knowing that no, she is not an angel and did not just graduate to getting her wings, because heaven and life with Jesus is way better than a “It’s a Wonderful Life” tale. I feel joy that she is complete and with God, not worried at all about us. She has no more worries and no more pain.

I’m sure my sisters and I will cry and laugh and cry some more today. I pray my daddy’s disease will buffer him from the devastation I know he would experience had he not had Alzheimer’s. I pray her grandchildren will be able to focus on the good and grieve healthy grief.

It’s a good day. It’s a good day because of our Hope and the fact that the resurrection of Jesus redeemed this whole messy, up and down thing we call “life.”

VIDEO:

Josh singing “House of God”

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This is getting old. Immunosuppression sucks

Back in 2011, I said this blog would reflect my transplant journey and would be honest. I like to try to keep things positive but …

I am sick again. No, not liver stuff. It’s just regular stuff. I’ve been sick so often this winter that it has me fatigued.

Yeah, I’m discouraged. I think I may be bordering on outright depression. I get windows of 4 or 5 days and then “whack!” sick again.

I caught Influenza A. I guess the good side is that I never was hospitalized. But, it wrecked me for about two weeks.

I got a almost 10 days of health and got to go to Israel for the trip of a lifetime. That was awesome. But, I travelled home in a metal tube where everyone around me was coughing and hacking. Robin and I knew the odds were not in my favor.

By the weekend I was in Urgent Care diagnosed with Influenza B, double ear infection and sinus infection.

We just had an awesome weekend with our Guatemala team. I led a bunch of training sessions Friday and Saturday and came home with a pounding headache and what felt like food poisoning.

I was up all night, in and out of the bathroom. It was no better this morning when I headed to church to deliver the next message in my series. God gave me the adrenaline I needed but I came home, climbed into bed shivering with the mattress heater on 8/10.

It feels like flu but aren’t we out of flu options? Can’t I just be done with flu? I read that HIV patients and transplant recipients can get the flu multiple times. Seriously??? That better be wrong.

I’m glad to be alive but I am tired of having to suppress my immune system. I’m so tired of being sick.

Maybe this is the last time? Maybe Spring and fresh air is coming. Lord, I hope so!

In addition to the discouragement and fatigue, I find myself becoming fearful of being with people. I want to visit my dad in the Veterans’ Home but I don’t want to get sick. I want to stop by and see my mom but then she goes into a coughing fit when we talk on the phone.

I even find myself avoiding my grandchildren. Yes, much of that has been my attempt to not share my particular illness of the day but, sometimes, I just don’t want to catch something else.

I’m excited to go to church but I dread it too. I know that Monday, my day off, will usually be spent sick after being with 100 or so of my faith family sharing more than worship.

I thought maybe we should move someplace better for me. Then, I pulled up the influenza map and discovered that America is pretty much all covered in poopy, brown. So, I’d be sick wherever we were. Worldwide, Australia and Buenos Aires look good

Widespread, inescapable grossness.

Before transplant we were told that I would need to spend the rest of my life of drugs to suppress my immune system after transplant. I don’t think I had any idea how much crud was floating around that healthy immune systems reject.

So, here I am, just being honest, whining a bit and telling you the level of my discouragement discouragement. No, I can’t take your immune system booster. A boosted immune system will recognize that my liver is not my own and will attack it. Yeah, flu, tissues, vaporizers and Immodium are exhausting but life with no liver is impossible.

What’s the solution? I sanitize everything and have a bottle of super-duper germ killer in every jacket pocket. I wipe down doorknobs and spray everything at church with Lysol. I’ve even taken to wearing a mask more often.

I don’t know. Nothing seems to help.

Man, I’m so tired of this … here on the couch since 4:30 AM with my stomach complaining and my head in a fog.

I just wish there was an escape!

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Be the yellow.

“Be the yellow.” I captured this scene on a side street of a Jerusalem market. Why? Because of the yellow.

The shop doors and gates were all drab and gray. Dim, florescent lights cast their odd haze on the scratches, the rust, the metal overhang above.

And there, in that shaded alleyway, was this yellow, vibrant panel above the entrance of 133.

It made me think, “choose to be the yellow.” That’s my mindset in the midst of dreary days, the scratches and scuffs of conflict and the drab, darkness of cynicism and hopelessness.

In the year before my transplant I experienced some times of pretty severe depression. I felt like a drain on the people around me. At times I felt like they would be better off without me. Thankfully, there were people in my life who brought the yellow and would not let me give up.

Look for the yellow no matter how drab your surroundings. Look for the vibrant patches. Don’t allow yourself to see only the gray. Find the yellow.

And, if you any strength at all, choose to be different. Be the bright spot. Choose life. Choose joy. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. Be the yellow.

Romans 12:1-2

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On top of a mountain?

Last week I climbed a mountain and ended up at about 58 feet above sea level. I was in the Dead Sea region of Israel which is the lowest spot on earth.

Do you know the first thing that came into my mind when I reached to top of Mount Masada? “I just hiked up this mountain in Israel and six years ago I needed a mobility chair to get around.”

The flat top of Masada was once an elaborate, luxurious fortress built by Herod the Great. Then, after his time, it became the last holdout for around 1000 Jewish zealots rebelling against Roman taxation.

The history was fascinating and the archeological digs in progress were giving us clear pictures of life 2000 years ago.

Standing there knowing I was likely standing in the same place David stood at different times, calling it a fortress and refuge, made Psalms more real.

In this spot where David reflected on God’s provision and rescue, all I could think of was how He has been the fortress and refuge in my life. My liver disease battle was intense but my fortress was strong.

I couldn’t believe I was actually standing on top of Masada. I couldn’t believe I was actually in Israel. It was another reminder of the miracle of my transplant journey.

Every day is indeed a bonus day.

Life is good. My biggest challenge is that I am growing so tired of catching every cold and virus going around. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, but, it’s better than being dead!

I’m a people person so the standard “avoid crowds” advice we immunosuppressed folks get just doesn’t work for me. Without people, I get lonely and depressed. People energize me. Going to church fuels my faith and renews my purpose. Withdrawing from people isn’t why I got a transplant!

So, sniffles, coughs and Sudafed are my winter reality. Hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes are my pals.

If you’re discouraged waiting for transplant or your recovery is going more slowly than you want, please keep pushing on. Life can be good again. I’m doing things I never imagined possible. Last week I rode a camel in the Negev Desert of Israel with new Bedouin friends!

Every day is a bonus day.

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We have so much

We have so much. We’re rich by world standards but, by American standards, we’re middle class. That boggles my mind.

My little girl, Damaris, has a family income of $187 a month. My little girl Tanya’s family lives on just a little bit more.

Last December, I spent a day playing with children in a Yalu neighborhood. Half of the children there do not own a single pair of shoes. Walking down a dusty, dirt street with a shoeless child smiling at you and holding your hand, changes you. It just does.

Third-world poverty is crushing. I’ve rebuilt homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I’ve worked with families in the Appalachian region of Tennessee and I’ve served in inner city programs in Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. Poverty is alive and well here in America too, but it is nothing at all like third-world poverty.

I’m compelled to help in any way I can here at home too, so I volunteer for food distribution programs, donate socks for cold feet, buy Toys for Tots, sell Christmas trees and serve meals. But, it’s different here and I’m thankful that it is.

I have so very much. Opening my refrigerator this morning and seeing it overflowing gives me pause. There are two, fresh-baked pies nearby on the counter and a carrot cake on the island. We can’t possibly eat it all.

A few days ago I sent each of my Guatemala girls $25 and designated it “for family needs.” My friends at our school will probably buy each family a bag of corn for tortillas, cooking oil, flour, pasta, cereals and a variety of other staples. I know their moms will thank God. They know it’s from Him first and me as someone he has invited to join in His mission.

I’m thankful for my life-changing events. I’m thankful that my transplant experience taught me that nothing is more important than relationships and that stuff is just stuff. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to serve in third-world poverty to have my eyes opened to how most of our planet lives.

I’m thankful that my faith is so much more than a weekly pew-sitting, performance-watching, pep talk. I’m thankful that it compels me to live differently and rewards me more than I can even explain.

Today, I will rough-house with my precious grandbabies and zerbert their bellies while they laugh hilariously. I’ll watch Shara and Kristen be incredible moms and I’ll take note of Josh and Jake loving their wives and kids. I’ll goose my amazing wife of 33 years while she leans over to baste the turkey and she’ll scold me and swat me. I’ll miss my restaurant son and his wife but be thankful for their love for one another.

And, at some point, my eyes will fill with tears of thanksgiving remembering this is all a gift that almost didn’t happen. In March of 2012 I came within days of being released to hospice care. But that didn’t happen and I am so very, very thankful.

“God must have plans for you,” more than a few people told me. I have no doubt that is true.

New friends & new neighbors, an awesome church family unafraid to get involved, new family members, new experiences and a new sense of purpose were part of God’s plans. My personality profile shifted from the “field marshall” ENTJ to “the campaigner” ENSP after transplant. I shifted from product to process: from results to relationship. I’m thankful for that change.

And now this is more me: “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.’ Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

I want to invest myself in this mission of following Christ beyond empty religion and ritual. I want to invest myself in loving God and loving others. I want to remember to be thankful, no matter what.

No matter where I’ve been, third-world poverty or crushing crisis, natural disasters or beautiful beaches, plenty or little, I’ve met true Jesus lovers who are genuinely happy no matter what. I’ve met people who can truly say, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Neh 8:10) It’s not about stuff at all.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1

I’m thankful for you. No, really … I mean it.

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CLEAN WATER: I’m still setting goals, big goals.

It’s been almost 5 and a half years since my liver transplant. When I look at my packed calendar and all we are doing today, I can’t believe how very blessed I have been. My life today is certainly full. January will bring the birth of our fourth grandchild: granddaughter number two!

_LIN1396

Tanya

Damaris

Damaris

Robin and I will also travel to Israel in January for the experience of a lifetime. And then, in April we will spend a week in Guatemala once again working with children trapped in crushing poverty. We now sponsor two little girls, Tanya (10) and Damaris (5), through AMG Guatemala and will be able to see each of them again.

This will be my third trip to Guatemala . It feels so good to be alive and able to invest my life into activities that are improving the lives of others. Between my church family, my community stuff and my relationships in Guatemala, my heart is even more full than my calendar. I am so very thankful for the gift of life I’ve been given!

When I went to Guatemala in December of 2016, I set a goal to raise enough money for 100 “Bundles of Love” at $20 each. Together, we provided the funds for 123 bundles! It was such a blessing to then be part of a team delivering the gifts to AMG centers and see the children receiving them.

Guate water filter goal announcement with buckets
What is my goal for this Christmas giving?
I am setting my sites on raising $3500 to for EcoFiltro units which will providing clean drinking water for 100 families. My personal commitment is to provide 10 of them and then I want to connect with others who want to join me. Each filtration unit will provide clean drinking water for a family for 2 years.

What do you say? Will you help me meet this crazy goal?

If you would like your contribution to be TAX DEDUCTIBLE, you can give through our church online at www.easytithe.com/fbcwestbrook by selecting the CLEAN WATER category

To contribute by Paypal, visit: www.paypal.me/Slinscott/35

I know, $3500 is a crazy big goal but I figure, if I can somehow enlist the help of friends, former students, faith friends, Rotary International friends and neighbors, we can improve the lives and health of hundreds of children in a hundred families for the next 2 years. It’s less than 5 cents a day.

Will you help? Sponsor filtration units as a family, a small group, a school group, Rotary Club, Scout troop?

Thanks so much for considering it. I believe we can do it! I can’t wait to show you pictures of the distribution when we return to Guatemala in April.

Scott Linscott

 

 

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