You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of Compassion

You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of CompassionMagnolia Regional Hospice in my hometown of Corinth, Mississippi, asked me to create a piece representing our community to be part of a traveling exhibit honoring the hospice experience. The exhibit will travel for fifteen months throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. The handprints belong to the staff of Magnolia Hospice. The fragments are broken mirror pieces.
Following is the essay I sent along with it, as it begins its journey today:

You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of Compassion
Acrylic/Mixed Media on canvas
Jaylene Whitehurst

I am not at the end of my life, not yet. When that time comes, if I have illness or am wearing out (as compared to an accident), I want the kind of compassionate support that hospice offers, to ease me and sustain those who love me, as I make my transition back to the Light from which I came.
The hands of Magnolia Regional Health Center Hospice employees form a crucible of support where the patient can face transition with support, many hands blending to shape one unit of compassion, a vessel, in which palliative care eases suffering and lifts the patient tenderly toward transition.
The bits of mirror reflect that the experiences of dying, death, and caregiving are unique to each person. As light bounces off the mirrors, constantly shifting as we move around the painting, our experiences shift as we move through the processes of caring for the dying and as we face our own mortality.
The mirror fragments are symbolic of a transition to a state where we are no longer broken, but where we are freed from pain and illness.
It doesn’t matter to me whether you see the winged shapes as angels, birds, or something else. It matters to me that you bring your life’s experience to this image and allow it to be what it is to you. Trust your own vision.
My perspective will not be yours and yours will not be mine. Yet, there is a common longing to see Light at the end and to know that our lives have mattered.
The supportive crucible of Hospice holds the patient, the family, and the staff itself in its embrace, where all lives matter.

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THE Dollhouse

dollhouse

Atop the bookcase in my blue room sit two metal dollhouses, circa 1950s. They are sentinels over the gathering space of my studio/office, high enough above the mix of chairs and throw pillows that they call no attention to themselves. I suspect some visitors hardly notice them.

The one on the left is the dollhouse I thought I found; the one on the right is the one I did.

When I was young, older than a toddler but not yet school-aged, our next door neighbors were Gladys and Elbert Jobe and their two daughters, girls edging into their teen years. The family doted on me. Martha, Alice, and their parents were a constant presence, keeping an eye on the tot I was, especially when my mother was ordered to strict bed rest while she was pregnant with my younger brother. The almost adolescent Martha was my playmate. I adored her.

My best guess is that I was about two and a half the Christmas that they gave it to me: THE dollhouse.

All I have to do for the memories of my dollhouse to surface is close my eyes and be still. In the quiet, I am there, back in our old living room. The chill of the uninsulated linoleum floor rolls under me, stretched out, stomach down before the open backside of the dollhouse. The chill penetrates my cotton camisole and red corduroy shirt with a shiver, while an insistent hiss from the gas heater is background noise. Warmth and chill coexist as I arrange and rearrange the tiny furnishings and determine the movements of a plastic family that I can control.

Bright lithograph colors on thin sheets of metal, all right angles and structured together with deftly folded tabs, it was sturdy. And that’s a good thing, because it was magic; and a sturdy kind of magic was needed by the child that I was, playing my way through the changes my family was experiencing.

Between the years when I was three and five, my mother buried a brother and her grandmother, both deaths shocking, with the abrupt cruelty of accidents. There was loss on my father’s side of the family too, not so cruel, but change producing, nonetheless.
The adults around me were juggling, emotionally and physically. This wasn’t an era when the impact of death on children was supper table conversation. We were fed, clothed, kept warm, and taken to church.

And we played. My imaginary friend, Mattie, and I held power in the magic realm of the dollhouse.

Somewhere along the years, I suppose my mother gave my dollhouse to another little girl, though I can’t say when that happened. Thinking I’d outgrown it, probably by second or third grade, I imagine her passing it along to a friend’s daughter, maybe a three year old who fit perfectly in front of its tiny rooms.

I hardly let myself miss it.

Until I started tapping this keyboard, pecking around for words that have taken me down a forgotten path, I wasn’t aware that my dollhouse mattered so greatly to me. Nevertheless, I’ve grown curious, fifty-five years after the fact, why the memory of it sent me out, years ago, to find its vintage twin.

One of my earliest forays into the world of eBay was the mission to find a replica of my dollhouse. I saved my search, kept up with new postings, and compared them against the image in my mind. Nope, not that one. Maybe this one…. but no. Oh, this one looks like it. Yep, that’s it!

I didn’t have a clear memory of the facade, since most of my time was spent at eye level with the interior, and I was sure that the one I’d bought was the exact same style as mine, red roof and all. There was no doubt I’d found it.

There was no doubt, that is, until ten years later when I found IT.

A red-roofed image, unexpectedly familiar, caught my eye and a gulp of recognition stuck in my throat. Displayed in a local shop window, I recognized the printed stone design on the exterior of a fifties era dollhouse. The tiny stones were amazingly similar in color to the faux stonework I’d painted during my mural painting years.

At gut level, I knew that I was looking at the origins of my own pink-green-blue-gray rocks. This was imagery that had become hard-wired into me. I cannot paint stone without those tones mixed in. I don’t even want to.

Here in front of me was evidence of how my childhood attempts to make sense of an uncontrollable world had become instinctive, part of who I am at the core. The comfort of my dollhouse with its dependable design, the setting where I could direct the action, the impact in my later life of what I was doing as a three-four-five year old, had been hidden away beneath events that I saw as more significant than my being Mistress of the Dollhouse.
It was all hidden until I began to write this essay about neighbors and loss and finding a dollhouse. Tapping away at the keyboard, gently rapping at the door to poignant and dusty places that want to see the light of day, it began to come together: I still love colored stone and arranging houses and scene setting and red roofs.

I found my old neighbors, still living in my heart.

And I still believe in the power of play.

Now, excuse me, while I dust off my dollhouses.

She rests.

beyond the deep blue velvet curtain
of making breakfast
folding towels
sweeping garage
checking homework
unloading dishwasher
paying bills
scrubbing earsgrace extended
hangs a gossamer sheer
a fine and fragile barely there veil
thin as a breath
every night she pulls it aside
crawls through to her life beyond
and
she rests.

Jaylene Whitehurst
Thursday, April 04, 2013

Thoughts on Ripples and Chance

It’s been a while. Okay, it’s been a long while since I’ve blogged. Seems I hardly got started before I was missing-in-action. Maybe you’ve had those seasons of Life yourself?

Here’s the clincher: I’m not sure where I’ve been.

I’m wondering if I was MIA or ME (Me Exploring) or if it even matters. Still, a vague something about the months-long process seems significant. I’m continuing to process what the “something” is.

There’s been action: major house repairs/remodeling with one change birthing another, health concerns in the family, storm damage, death in the family and the changes that grief brings. I’m going to call that messy mix LIFE, in all caps.

Still, when I step back, the action is less significant than the internal exploration that followed the intensity of change, especially the uninvited change. I’ve been hurled into the melee that I think of as relationship realignment. It’s what happens when what slams one person ripples throughout the system.

Ripples. That fits if I allow the ripples to fluctuate into waves and the occasional tsunami. It’s the need to create meaning within my Life changes that’s had me riding the ripples into the coves and inlets of roles I’ve played with before but not dived into.

A poetry group I’ve been a part of for a couple of years now has a larger place in my Life. Hearing the perspectives of others, as we explore the human experience together, has given me welcome connections and new community.

With these folks, I’m creating meaning for these moments. For NOW.

Here’s a recent poem:

journal

By chance

She came across the journal,

College-ruled and bound in black and white.

Hardly used, it ended,

Bluntly with unexpected words:

 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have called,

But if I hadn’t

I’d have never heard

The tone of his blindness

Morph into fatal words.

I tasted the bitterness of his anger,

But I did not swallow.”

 

By chance,

Today

As she was set on forcing the blind to see

She came across the journal again,

Not at all by chance.

~~~~jaylene

Thoughts on Presence and Pushy People

Thoughts on Presence and pushy people: Those with Presence don’t have to push against others, which, by the way, takes energy that could be used elsewhere.

They aren’t in conflict or confrontation constantly with others. They influence what happens around them simply by who they are. They are beacons of Life/Light who connect rather than confront, who invite rather than challenge, who use the energy of righteous indignation with mindful dignity rather than blind rage.

They can stand alone, if they must, because they are never truly alone.

They are rare beings. They are treasures.

The Unheard Story: The HeartStory

Good Morning, Fellow Travellers,

You know that saying about being kinder than necessary because everybody is fighting some kind of battle? It sets me to remembering too that everybody has a STORY, the story of his or her Life that contains experiences I don’t have a clue about. Everybody has a HeartStory.

To have the privilege of hearing a bit of another person’s story is holy to me. It’s a trust. Yes, it’s part of my profession, but it’s more: it’s something we can offer each other anytime. “Tell me about when___? What was it like when____?  Who was there when____?”

I’ve been married thirty-eight years to the same man. You can probably imagine how well I think I know this fellow. Thirty-eight years and just the other day he shared an event from his childhood that, for whatever reasons, I didn’t know about.

It was such a stunning, intense event that I had to question myself: How could I have not known that? Had it been mentioned, maybe as a matter-of-fact, and I was so caught up in my own drama that I completely missed it? If he hadn’t mentioned it, was there something about our relationship that he didn’t entrust the story to me til now? Was it something he assumed I knew because he did?

Or maybe it just came up exactly when it needed to come up…..nothing more complex that perfect timing!

However it came to be part of not just his story but now part of our family story, I am grateful that I now hold it with him.

And I realized one more time how little I know and how ignorant I am to think I know….

Today I will listen to someone I think I know well.

And I’ll hear an unheard bit of the story.

And we’ll be changed by it.

 

Travel lightly,

Jaylene

 

A MESS with purpose

Doing what I can where I am this morning, whilst in the midst of repairing and reworking both home and office/studio. It’s a MESS. Yes, Fellow Travellers, a capital letter MESS! Both spaces….so what can I do to lessen the MESS?

The shelves in my office I can clean up and straighten. Tidy desk, cull papers. That’s about it for the moment. Everything else I either need help to do or it’s in process and tidying up would only slow the process. I cannot herd this mess into a neat and tidy corral and pen it up. This is the “Oh #*%#! I have to live with this MESS a while” phase of change. 😉

The workmen would kindly invite me to exit my own house if I go in there and start sweeping under their ladders…lol…and well they should because they know what they are doing (yes, they actually do!) and I’d only stick a broomstick in the process and, in trying to help, I would do a lovely job of “not helping.”

Before it can be anything else, it has to be exactly what it is. A MESS.

There is no clean sweep.

That’s pretty much how all change is. Whether it’s repairing and re-working a physical house or a Heart-house, it’s messy. Start a house project and there’s no telling what we”ll run into. Step into Heartwork and questions show up that cannot be corralled. Often we need help to move deeper into the re-working. Try to detour or speed up the work and it really won’t save time. We’ll have to circle around and still eventually address the problems. No clean sweep.

It takes as much time as it takes.

So I am doing what I can in this moment. And reminding myself to breathe, breathe, breathe.

There is such a thing as A MESS with purpose.