Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Comfort of Presence

December 9, 2012

Dear Friends,

This is Lori writing for Gay once again. I have the great privilege of writing at least a portion of this post as I’m comfortably seated in Gay’s room in her temporary residence at a skilled nursing facility. She is here to recuperate, gain strength, and receive physical and occupational therapy. I have been astonished at how well she has done since my arrival on Thursday.

Having worked in facilities of this kind back in another part of my life, I am in agreement with Gay that she is receiving excellent care from the kind and qualified staff.  At this point, we expect that she will remain for around two weeks. I will cover this post for her until she feels able to write once again. (Notice I said, “cover”, NO ONE can fill her shoes!)

I’ve been thinking about the idea of what it means to be fully present with someone since I was here in Denver the last time. I’m not at all clear about what I’m seeing. I’m thinking aloud with y’all. (Yes, I am a Texan.) I watched something so powerful that I was changed. It was so intimate that I felt intrusive, as though even writing of it now mars the moment. Perhaps I’ll get locked in a loony bin; but, I know it in a physical sense as well. My body knows what it’s like to simply be present by watching two sisters and a cat.

If you read Gay’s blog regularly you are familiar with her beloved cat, Miss Annie. You may not know that Miss Annie was Gay’s sister’s cat first. Miss Annie came to live in Denver when Beth moved into a long term health care facility. As an act of love, Gay adopted Miss Annie. Gay had never owned a cat and had some trepidation as to whether she could properly care for her sister’s cat-child. Gay understood cognitively it was important that her sister fully trust that Annie was receiving excellent care. Gay’s effort in the beginning was based in a deep abiding love for her only sister. She, with great wisdom, shared daily Miss Annie stories with Beth. Beth, often disoriented, coupled with knowing she was living in a strange and foreign land, would often gain clarity when Gay talked about Miss Annie. Even without clarity, it always brought joy to Beth hearing about her cat.  What began as devotion and commitment to a sister grew into a new source of love and companionship for Gay as well.

Only God.

I’m not exactly sure when Gay and Beth began Skyping each evening. By the time I arrived that Fall weekend, they had established their routine. Their daily Skyping appointment is a technological marvel that allows the distance between Kansas and Colorado almost negligible. Rather than simply telling stories about the cat, Miss Annie has become a part of the nightly conversations. At the established time, Miss Annie, lured by treats and a brush, sits in front of the computer camera and Beth gets to see her kitty cat.  Correction, their cat.

The evening I was there, Beth’s brain and her words were not synchronizing. Gay knew this early into their time together. Instead of asking Beth some series of frustrating questions, she commented only on what Beth asked or said. Most of the ten-fifteen minute call was spent in silence--Beth watching and loving her cat and her sister. Beth watching the cat eat bribery treats. Beth watching as her cat was brushed. I watched her affect of confusion and concern replaced with peace and contentment. When Miss Annie abruptly decided to end her portion of the Skype call, as all cat royalty are entitled, it was then that I experienced an even more visceral moment of presence.

I expected that the conversation would end. Pleasantries would be exchanged, plans made for tomorrow. Good night. That is not at all what happened. Instead, Beth looked directly as Gay’s image on her screen in Kansas and said, “Sister.” I immediately knew this was Beth’s preferred name for Gay. I watched Gay in two images, her profile in front of me and her image on the computer screen in a tiny corner box. Beth’s image was full screen. Both smiling, the same lovely closed lipped smile, I saw their eyes awash in brimming tears. Neither spoke--the eye contact constant.

It was a sacred moment. They cherished one another without words.

I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted. I know it was longer than I, if it had been me, could have held such an intimate space without words.

This language of the heart spoken was more powerful than words could have expressed. Words were not necessary. It was certainly more than my clumsy words can articulate. Hollywood would cue music to emphasize the beauty. Yet, I knew this moment was the music.

Miss Annie, as do other animals, helps us understand the power of wordless presence. Mary Rose O’Reilly writes in The Barn at the End of the World, “I grew up at the intersection of narrative and silence.” I believe with all my heart that God gave us animals and flowers and mountains and acorns to help us know something of His love. No words to comprehend. Yet volumes of His tender loving care for each of us to know and experience.

She writes also, “With animals, it’s safe, and pertinent, to have no edges.” Call me crazy, once again; but, Miss Annie laid the groundwork that day for boundless love, intimacy, and comfort. The curious part is that she can never, ever comprehend any of these concepts or words. She simply is.

My purpose in coming to Denver was wrapped up in one package, sort of. I came to make sure that Gay was not alone in her temporary home while Laura is out of town. I also came to love and care for Miss Annie. By loving Miss Annie, I love Gay as well.

I saw a cat wandering the care center the first day. I spoke with an administrator and was delighted Gay is in a place that understands the comfort of presence. Vaccinated pets are allowed to visit during the day. Gay wasn’t so sure it was a good idea to bring Miss Annie when I told her about my plans. I trusted my instinct and forged ahead.  In this case, pictures speak more powerfully. 

As Gay would say, “Thinking with you about the power of presence and how we make meaning in that intersection between dialogue and silence. See you next week.”

PS. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, especially wishes of love and comfort for Gay. She needs our continued love, prayers, and support. She is a gift and a treasure.  ~lori

P.P.S.  Gay is not particularly pleased with her hair in these shots. I am reassuring her that anyone who is concerned about her hair does not read her blog....maybe that person, should, though. ; )

Miss Annie and I ran into Santa and Mrs. Claus on our way out today! She is like many toddlers and chose not to sit in Santa's lap!


  1. Well, I tried this once but don't know if it went through. So this may be a repeat. I just wanted you to know, Gay, that I am so glad that you are healing, and have with you your good friend, a competent staff, and Miss Annie. Such love and skill should help you heal quickly. Know that you are missed! If there is anything that I can do, please, please let me know.

    Love to you, Debbie
    PS: I had to go back to look at your hair!!!

  2. Thank you Gay for letting us "share" parts of your journey! May you continue to heal and gain strength. As a former OTR (I haven't practiced for 20 years), please don't let your therapist work you too hard :) Warmly, Dawn Howard

  3. Gay,
    Beth and you are in my prayers. Wishing you a speedy recovery and hope that you will be able to be in person with Beth soon. You have wonderful friends to care for you and Miss Annie. In case you have forgotten I am the long lost cousin that found you a few years ago.
    In our thoughts for a speedy recovery.
    Bev Doty Krutz

  4. Gay,
    Kelcey and I are thinking of you and praying for you this Christmas season. We are sad that we will not be able to see you (and Miss Annie) this year since we are with my family in California. I hope you recover quickly. I am glad I remembered your blog and am saving it on my reading list. God Bless,

    Alec Ellis and Kelcey (Price)

  5. Gay,
    Barbara and I are so delighted to see you and Miss Annie together! I'm grateful that you are so well taken care of and it's so comforting to see you doing well. Love from Jim & Barbara

  6. Gay,
    Just a quick PS to let you know that Barbara is settled into her assignment in Botswana, has a connection to the internet, and was able to read your blog and find out how well you're progressing. Love and Prayers! Jim