Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Legacy Project

Aug. 29, 2009

I had a great surprise yesterday morning. It was the kind like when you put on a pair of jeans and find $20 – but better.

Several years ago my mom gave me a pair of silver hoop earrings for Christmas. I loved them. They were unique. They went with everything. They were the perfect size – not too big or too small. They looked good with a black dress or jeans and a T-shirt. All jewelry should be so versatile.

But obviously, above all, the earrings were special because they were a representation of my mother’s love for me. She had picked them out, wrapped them like only she wrapped a gift and blessed me with them. Blessings like these won’t ever be under the tree again.

A few months after Mom died, I began to think more clearly and I realized I hadn’t worn the earrings in a while. When I went to find them, they weren’t where they should be. So I looked in my travel jewelry case and in the drawer in the bathroom where I put jewelry that I’m too lazy to put back in my jewelry box. The earrings were no where to be found. After a few weeks, I disappointedly chalked the jewelry up to a tangible representation of my loss.

Losing the earrings also helped remind myself of my pathetic organizational skills. I could hear my friend, Michelle, (who has the gift of being extremely organized) telling me, “Everything should have its place. That way when you want it, you know exactly where it will be and there will be no time spent searching for it.” This made me laugh out loud at myself and to ease my guilt, I decided that if Mom wanted me to be organized, she would have passed that gift along to me.

Fast forward to Friday morning. Most mornings, I get an idea of what jewelry I think I want to wear when I’m standing in the bathroom putting on my makeup and doing my hair. Not today. I’m going to Chillicothe – not always my favorite destination – and I am dreading the drive a bit. There’s something about the drive that makes me vulnerable. Through the last nine months, if I am going to break down in tears while I’m driving, it has mostly been on this stretch of road. My mind was distracted, wondering what the drive would bring today.

So without any ideas, I went to my jewelry box and pulled open the earring drawer. I yanked a little harder than I intended to, and the drawer nearly fell out. With all three rows of earrings full exposed, I realized there’s a full row of earrings that I had not been wearing and overlooking. And yes, right there in the right back corner were the earrings. My heart jumped. I smiled. Mom was going to Chillicothe with me today and she wanted me to know it!

I left the house early and was anxious to get through town to the quiet of North Highway 63. There is something comforting about the road and the familiar landscape that I drive so frequently. And on this particular morning, there was something undeniably drawing me to that familiarity and peace and the quiet the road offered me.

Now for those of you who know me well, I know you are surprised that I – the one with a seemingly endless supply of words – ached for quiet. But there are times when God calls me to the place where only He can fill my heart and meet my needs. Where I can hear him and he can hear me.

As I drove, I reflected on the earrings and how losing them and then finding them proved to be a blessing. On a tired Friday, made weary by the kids both starting new schools, God knew I needed the reassurance that he would never forsake me. Today, I needed those earrings. I needed a tangible reminder that my mom’s love lives with me everyday, not just on special days when I find a gift she’s left behind for me.

Oddly, this experience gave me another reassurance that God is calling me to help others leave gifts behind. I’m not suggesting that every child left behind after a parent’s death needs a pair of earrings. What God is stirring in my heart is something much bigger. So big, that I am scared to even write about it.

It’s an idea that I am now calling the Legacy Project (I named it, isn’t that exciting!) Honestly, I can’t take credit for the idea. It started with someone (Ms. Judi) passing my blog along to someone (Mary) in the health care industry who provides end-of-life care to patients and their families. Together, these two caring ladies did a little brainstorming and asked to meet with me. And there we were, sitting around Ms. Judi’s pool, sipping wine and discussing how my passion for writing, a new awareness of the grief process, and the needs of those in palliative care could be combined to accomplish something good – something really, really good.

I was emotionally overwhelmed after the meeting. The idea of using something so painful in combination with my God-given talents to help others seemed like the perfect opportunity for my mom’s legacy of love to live on. Our idea was simple yet fuzzy; help patients leave their own legacy through writing.

I mentioned the idea to Dr. Mark Vellek and Dr. Denise Swanson. Mark was mom’s oncologist; Denise, the grief counselor who helped me get through to today. They work at Missouri Cancer Associates. They loved the idea and were very excited. So excited that they passed the idea along to some of their patients who might be open to the idea. And then my phone began to ring and just like that, I had the opportunity to put this idea to work.

Since that early summer day, I’ve met with Mary again, as well as with Dr. Clay Anderson, from Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. With their encouragement and support, I believe this idea of narrative therapy has potential far beyond me. I’m excited that this project can be bigger than me. And I’m scared to death that it will be.

Despite my fears, I am moving forward. I’ve met with one patient a few times and can’t wait to tell you more about him. He’s amazing. Together we are exploring how we can use the written word to leave his legacy. Our goal is that the process be therapeutic for us and the product be therapeutic for whom he leaves it behind.

Whatever writing the process produces, I’m convinced that for whoever reads it, it will be a gift like me finding my earrings – only better.