Friday, February 24, 2017

Patron Saint of Purse Makers, St. Brieuc of Brittany


It is standing room only again at the Saturday 4pm mass led by the charismatic Father Lincoln at Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert.  In spite of the crowded seating, I noted that many women brought their handbags to mass.  There are 4 large purses taking up seating space in the row of seats in front of me.  I am simultaneously obsessing over the people forced to stand and the huge purses that couldn't be locked in the car parked in a church parking lot guarded by security for one hour.

After communion, I kneel, give thanks and pray my usual prayers. I pray for determination in keeping an open heart for those I try to love unconditionally, including myself. I pray for the strength to be supportive and kind to those who cross my path daily no matter how busy I am. I pray for help to be selfless in my grace while serving others even in the smallest ways.  I pray to forgive and to be forgiven.  The Divine certainly knows this to be quite a challenge given my personality but I'm hopeful my prayers will be answered over time.  As I kneel, I am sucked into the gaping maw of an open purse on the seat in front of me.  It appears to have a voracious appetite given it's size.  I tried to focus on prayer, love and centering my soul but I  found I couldn't look away.  It presented an excellent opportunity to see what was so important they couldn't free up a another seat.

Looking into the voracious maw of a designer handbag
Just like my mother, Kleenex seems to be the primary ingredient, even in an expensive designer bag. Next is a cell phone, water bottle, lip gloss, Tylenol and  wallet, a variety of coupons, paper, envelopes and pens, followed by a general mess that looks akin to an unmade bed.  Even my ADD brain knew not one of those items was necessary to attend mass. What is this addiction to our purses and why are we so insecure without them?  There must be a saint or two that can help out.  

As my mother aged and became more forgetful, she frequently became concerned with where her purse was....believe me when I say we spent many hours looking for it.  With caregivers in the house, she was convinced it was necessary to hide it even though by then it didn't hold anything of much value.  We prayed to St. Anthony so many times for help  I thought we wore him out.  "St. Anthony! St. Anthony! Please come 'round.  Something's been lost and cannot be found."   He answered our prayers more times than I can count.

St. Breiuc Patron Saint of Purse Makers
After some research, I found the Patron Saint of Purse Makers, St. Brieuc....educated where else?....France? Oui! Mistakenly, I thought Givenchy, Louis Vuitton or Yves Saint Laurent might be the Patron Saints of Purse Makers from what I saw leaning over the pew at Sacred Heart.  St. Brieuc was born in Wales around 420 AD, moved to France and is known as one of the seven founding saints of Brittany.  An official medallion found in Seine shows him to have a purse in hand, slaying a dragon. Most often he is shown holding a staff with a column of fire above him which was said to appear when he was ordained. It's an interesting and somewhat unsettling combination. 

So between purse-maker, St. Breiuc and purse-finder, St. Anthony, I can only hope that those of us who can't be separated from our purses for an hour long mass may find solace in praying to at least one of these two saints.  I'm certain either would be delighted to intervene on our behalf, bringing us enough security and peace to leave a purse at home, downsize or lock it in the car, instead of giving it a seat in the pew at a standing room only mass.  Think of it this way...the saints can help us lighten our burden and feel confident enough to take only what is really necessary to attend mass, our souls. Plus, I'm sure there are many who will give thanks when they are offered a chance to sit down. Mercie! Oui? 

            

 

  



     

         

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Patron Saint of Communication. Pray to St. Gabriel for Help in Caring for Those with Dementia


Somewhere in the deepest crevices of my brain I have stored the love I still feel for my late mother. I put it somewhere near my enchantment with tulips and close to my infatuation with creativity, in the special place where my heart still dances. While I am not a brain scientist I do know I have one and like my car, I've learned more about it the longer I use it. Once in a while you hear the sound of a different engine.  You look to see a Maserati humming past. Sometimes my brain runs like the Maserati and other times it runs like a clunker in need of a tune up. I like the Maserati best.

There is the executive function part of my brain where I have stored the memories of the challenges taking care of my mother presented.  This is the part of my brain that deals with lists and procedures, figuring out how best to care for her, the area where it seemed black or white, right or wrong, healthy or sick, either/or.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple when the one you care for is gradually losing their mind. Blending the bittersweet love I felt for her with the intellectual process of providing her with care was hard on both of us.

St. Gabriel, Delivering a Message from Heaven
The Archangel, St. Gabriel is the Patron Saint of Communication and has a long history of delivering important messages from heaven to earth. I like to think of him as a sort of Press Secretary for the Divine. Unlike most saints, St. Gabriel was never a human being living on earth but instead he was an angel in heaven who was declared a saint for helping people on earth.  His most preferred method of communicating was through dreams so as not to frighten the recipient. He is known to intercede on behalf of those who pray for his help to communicate with others and is known to assist anyone who's work involves communication like postal workers, journalists and telecommunications workers, diplomats, ambassadors and clergy, to name a few.  I figure he has become extremely busy in modern times given the internet, email, cell phones and texting.

On occasion, mother would want to go home to her parents, even though she was already home and her parents had passed away years before. Stopping her with logic only made her want to leave more, focusing her anger on the one keeping her from "going home".  Questioning her was confusing and added to her insecurity. Lengthy explanations created bad feelings, not solutions. It seemed all I did was make her more agitated and angry. Everything I knew about communication skills was worthless.

At night I would lie in bed, ruminating over and over in my brain how to keep my mother safe and happy since the two seemed mutually exclusive. I was confused by how my best intentions only served to make her feel more frightened and anxious, the opposite of what I wanted. I prayed I could find a way to communicate with her that made her feel comfortable. It was St. Gabriel who showed me the way.  It occurred to me that I used words with limited feelings and she used feelings with limited words. I realized it wasn't her inability to make sense of my words.  It was my inability to communicate in a way that made sense to her feelings.

As a teacher I knew that you had to reach every student at their individual point of readiness in order to have success. There were no disadvantaged students, only those who were "differently advantaged". Once I saw my mother as "differently advantaged" St. Gabriel gave me the answer.  If the scrapbook of her mind had pages torn out I couldn't fix that but I could work with it.  There were particular events that simply didn't exist anymore for her. I had to accept where she was, not remind her of where I thought she should be.  
  
I knew the concepts my mother still understood and it occurred to me I could use those to help her make order out of chaos.  She always valued eating meals together so telling her we would do something after dinner could often delay her concerns. If she wanted to call her mother, I would say her mother was using the bathroom and would call when she was done. Using the bathroom was another concept my mother understood. If she was looking for my father, dead 25 years, I would explain he was feeding the cattle.  She knew how important it was to feed them because for many years they had owned a cattle ranch together. 
St. Gabriel, Patron Saint of Communication

Delaying and distracting her worked better than trying to get her to accept my reality. "I'll take you home after we eat lunch" even though we were already home  "We have to wait until the bus comes at 2:00, then we will go" even though there was no bus line where she lived now.  "Your mother and father are still at work.  We'll go when they are home" though her parents had been dead for 30+ years.  If she ask to call her parents, I found reminding her they were dead would cause her to react as if she was hearing it for the first time because for her she was.  It could cause hours of crying. It was a nightmare for us both. My truth was no longer the best choice because her brain simply couldn't hold onto that truth.  Instead it caused agonizing emotional pain and I couldn't bear to be the cause of it.

It's like this...our memories are a long sequence of events that run in chronological order and they give us a reference for making sense out of the present.  In my mother's case she had blank areas in her brain that had once held memories. It seemed I was always the one to remind her of what she had forgotten.  Once I stopped forcing my reality on her, our happiness quotient immediately improved and our collective anxiety disappeared.

I thank St. Gabriel for showing me a way to communicate with my mother that made her feel safe and happy.  I thank St. Gabriel for making our lives easier and less painful as my mother declined.  It is believed that St. Gabriel will blow the sacred trumpet at the Last Judgment and it is then that I will be judged for how I cared for my mother. I look forward to it.