My Mother in Pieces

dementia in pieces of my mother

Overgrown Toenails

Oh no! My mother’s toenails, clipped just this morning, are now strewn across my kitchen floor. Pieces of my mother I’d meant to throw away. 

I’ve just spent time with her in the Memory Care facility. After my one-hour drive there, I had arrived in fear of what condition she’d be in. 

Last time I visited, only a week ago, I’d found her propped in a wheelchair in front of the communal television. Three other residents stared at a daytime drama, but my mom’s eyes were shut tight, her chin hovered above her chest, her neck swayed like a tree branch strained from the weight of her matted head. I’d moved close and whispered her name, “Sandy…Mom?” 

She’d stirred and surfaced slowly. That day, it had taken her more than an hour to emerge from the land of catatonia. For months now, she has not stepped outside the realms of dementia. 

Broken Mind

But this morning when I went through the double doors and saw my mom upright in the wheelchair at a table, I said to myself, “Thank God, today is different.”

She sits in the dining area among 4 equally silent, semi-comatose adults, some younger than her 82 years, others a bit older. I don’t know if they have Alzheimers or vascular dementia like my mom. It all looks the same to me.

“Hi, Mom,” I catch her eye from where she stares at something across the room. Her eyebrows lift and her head rotates slowly my way.  

“Oh, hi,” she says, “what are you doing here?” She seems to recognize me, her middle kid of three, all of us now in our fifties. All of us awed and alarmed at the swift changes in our mother this past year.

“I came to see you.” I touch her arm and ask if I can hug her. 

“Sure,” she says and leans in with a weak sideways squeeze.

Karen, the nursing assistant I recognize from my last visit, is handing out lunch plates. She places some mystery meat and peas in front of my mother then snaps a bib onto her neck. “Your mom got up late today, 10 o’clock.”

“Who got weighed today, what?” Mom is a bit hard of hearing and her mind scrambles the words that actually do register. 

“She said you got up late today,” I keep my tone light, a smile on my face as I smooth the bib on her chest.

Mom says nothing, plays with her fork but doesn’t lift it.

Karen continues, “She had a shower and I washed her hair but she didn’t like it much.”

I touch my mom‘s head and sift her damp gray-brown hair with my fingers. 

Heavy Head

“Play with my hair” she used to beg when a headache was heavy on her. “I’ll give you a nickel for every minute you do.”

The money was rarely tempting to 10-year-old me. Mom didn’t complain when I half-heartedly massaged her scalp. She was  satisfied by the least amount of attention she got from her busy kids. But I loved my mother so much that, even then, I had the sense to feel guilty for giving her less than 5 minutes of my time. The kind of guilt that fades fast but resurfaces in times and places like this. 

Mom looks down at her plate, makes no moves to eat. I lift the fork to her lips and she takes a bite.

Sitting across from my mother at the dining table is Janet. She’s 70 at most. Plump and smiling, I’ve seen her in the halls with a baby doll in her arms. Here at the table, no doll in sight, she’s smiling and glancing at Mom and me.

She says, “Divorced or dead, I seen him on this end but he’s not swift.” Then she chuckles, catching my eye, like we’ve shared a joke. I laugh with her for 2 seconds then quickly lift some peas to my mother’s lips.

I guess Janet, like my mother, retains some of her mannerisms even as she loses her mind. Her contagious laugh and my mother’s lifted eyebrow as she pats my cheek in pretend scolding, are old patterns their bodies hold. Though their words contain the right tones, most have lost their meaning.

Familiar Limbs

After feeding Mom a few more bites, I look around for an appropriate place to clip her toenails. No one wants to see other people’s overgrown and outdated body parts flying around the room. I wheel her to the sitting area. 

An old man named Jack is pacing back-and-forth in front of the emergency exit, his long limbs jerking in agitation. Karen asks him where he’s going. He says he’s going home. Karen tells him his daughter has his car and she’s probably running a few errands. 

“Is she coming back to get me?” 

“I think so.“ Karen lies like a pro and guides him to a chair on the other side of the living room. A fake fire flickers on the TV screen, replacing the fake aquarium from last week. Jack sits and stares at the floor, a confused look on his face.

Seeing no waste basket, I spread my jacket across my lap and cradle Mom’s size 5 foot. I peel her sock and note that her heel still bears the bruise-like bedsore formed when she lay sick from Covid nearly a month ago. I haven’t seen the bedsore on her backside in weeks and the staff says it’s not getting worse. Or better.

I try to direct the clipped nails to the jacket in my lap. When some go pinging across the room, I notice no one notices. Handling her familiar limbs, I note these crooked toes are not much different from when I was a kid, from when she was a young woman.  

Tired Feet

“Rub my feet or just squeeze,” she’d often plead from the couch as the sun was going down. I almost as often said, “No, Mom,” because my summer day was still going strong even if hers was a worn nub from her thankless job. Gilligan’s Island blared on the tv and if I did squeeze, it was distractedly. 

I rub and squeeze her feet tenderly now, sharing with her these memories of mine. She nods with an absent mind. I forgive myself for my childish selfishness, just as I would forgive my kids. Just as I know my mother forgives me.

This morning, her swollen left foot and ankle showcase those gnarly toes she’s complained about for as long as I’ve known her. Today, they sprout like the grotesque legs of a bloated tick, attached but somehow not part of the overall organism. Her ankle’s been this thick since my sister, my brother, and I made the decision last year to get help with our mother’s decline. Professionals in facilities provided an outside view of our ingrown worry about what was happening to our mother’s mind. In this past half a year, her body changed, too. New meds, institutional food. The hallucinations finally dissipated but her body holds on to the swelling. 

Stiff Legs

When I straighten her leg to get a better grip for filing her toenails, she winces, though her eyes are now closed. Is she dozing or zoning? Her dementia and her weeks in bed have weakened her. And tightened the back of her legs. Too many hours in the fetal position. I hadn’t seen it. Quarantined from it. From her. 

During my last visit, her twice-a-week physical therapist said Mom still wasn’t walking. In fact, she could barely stand.

“She should be doing more stretching.” She demonstrated how to stretch her legs back into shape. I hoped the staff was watching. I could not be there every day to rehabilitate her legs. Was this above their pay grade?

This morning, Mom seems satisfied with the wheelchair. But the staff would benefit if she could bear some of the weight of her showering, her toileting, her shuffling to and from the dining area.

My mother is mostly cooperative with those paid to care for her.

“We love Sandy, she’s always joking around,” her caretakers insist. They say she sometimes refuses to do what they ask. Who would blame her? Strangers are putting her in the shower and on the toilet, pulling down and up her adult diapers every two hours. Getting her in and out of her bed.

Today, the toenails are up to me.

Invisible Tears

When I finish clipping and smoothing those old toes, I wrap the scraps and dust in my jacket. Tucking it into my bag, I admonish myself to remember to shake it out in the trash when I get home.

“I’m going to go now, Mom, I love you. ”

“Okay, I love you too, Chris. Thanks for coming.”

Nothing in her tone to indicate emotion but she lifts the tissue in her hands and dabs at a fake tear. I can’t tell if it’s a cover up of some un-shown sadness or one of her many ways of being funny.

When I kiss the top of her head, a trickle of grief begins to fizz in my nose, thicken in my throat.

I buckle up in the parking lot and start the car. Anguish cascades through my heart and crashes in the deepest parts of me. By the time I drive the many miles home, I’ve let the waterfall wash through and forgotten all about those pieces of my mother gathered up in my jacket.

At home, I lift it unthinkingly from the bag and it spills its contents onto my floor. Oh no! She has come home with me in those jettisoned remnants of a body now broken. Always there, my mother, and now I marvel and weep to sweep her up like any other piece of dust. 

 

 

UPDATE:

My mother passed away on June 2nd, 2022 after dementia took its toll on her body and mind. Though, to me, it felt like a slow-motion nightmare, the time between her dementia diagnosis and her death was less than a year.

I had the painful privilege of being with her almost daily in her final weeks in a skilled nursing facility. She ended up there due to a bedsore she developed in her Memory Care facility. While under a covid quarantine there, she was so badly cared for, the bedsore became a deep wound that needed skilled intervention and attention. Those two weeks in bed and in isolation had left her body weaker and her dementia worse. Despite the skilled nursing wound care, she never regained her ability to walk or her ability to heal.

So there she was in the end, my dear mother, in that hospital bed, her limbs rigid, her mind lost to most of her memories.

The spring flowers waved at me each day as I passed them when entering the housing I knew would be her last. As I rode the elevator to her room, my mind and heart left the clear skies of spring and entered the murky world of a hospital corridor.

Each day I arrived in her room trying to be ready for whatever I would find. Some days, Mom seemed to recognize me and lifted her lips in a slight smile. Other times, she stared past me, and refused to eat or drink.

I endeavored to alleviate the suffering we were sharing in that sunny room with a view of which she wasn’t aware.

Each hour we spent together, I smoothed her frown and combed her hair. I cleaned her eyes and urged her to sip water, maybe playing her some music. Whether plying her with her favorite ice cream or soothing her with her favorite Out of the Grey song, I did my best to say good-bye to my mom many times along that long road of suffering.

Days before she passed in her sleep, I told her the story of her life and mentioned her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren by name. I let her know that each of us loved her, were safe and happy, and that she was safe and could be happy, too,

“Be free, Mom, free from worry about the people you love. You’re free to finally just be.”

A Parent’s Blessing: “Travel Well”

Dente family photo from 2009

Seasons End

parenting is a job that does not have to end
the Dente kids in 2009: Julian, Carina, Chloe
The seasons of parenting are gone like the summer. A sense of peace hovers in my memories of those decades. My husband, Scott, and I get a little teary-eyed when we talk about the days of raising our three children. Now that they’re adults, nostalgia for their childhoods sometimes seeps into our hearts. They all live near enough to keep us close but, after the long haul, parenting sometimes feels like a rip-off:
  1. The kids take your planned obsolescence and run with it—showing off how strong and solid they can be without you.
  2. You finally get older and wiser but you’ve already passed on some bad habits and ideas from your younger, dumber days.
  3. Those grown-ups that used to be kids have become great thinkers and conversationalists. But now you have to schedule those precious chats.
  4. The family dog becomes the spoiled kid, getting more treats and leeway than her 2-legged siblings did.

Hope Remains

parenting is an ongoing occupation
Christine with daughters Chloe and Carina
Hope for our kids’ future sweeps in like a fresh breeze. Scott and I smile when we talk about the beauty our three are adding to the world. Like Julian’s love for his wife and son and the music they make together. Like Carina’s love for her husband and daughter and her courage in the roughest of places. Like Chloe’s love for her family and friends and her passion for bettering the world.
Parenting delivers a lot of pay-offs:
  1. You can rest your case and let them take up and examine the stuff you tried to teach them.
  2. You get to let their significant others care for them and carry some of your worry.
  3. You can recognize and receive the wisdom your adult kids have to offer.
  4. You can enjoy the turkey because all they expect from you is the gravy.

Life Moves On

parenting is an ongoing occupation
Scott with son Julian
Scott wrote the song, “Travel Well,” for our most recent Out of the Grey project, A Little Light Left.
He spent a lot of time honing in on what he wanted to say, playing those guitar chords over and over until he landed on the language he was seeking, the perfect way to send our kids off.
But parenting is never perfect. We can fill our kids’ suitcases with light or heavy loads. Or a little of both.

We never wanted to weigh our kids down with excess baggage but we certainly did. We talked a lot about discernment and thinking critically about our culture, but a little less analysis may have led to lighter hearts. Also, in our attempts to keep them safe in the chaotic world of touring and travel, we added worry and anxiety too often to the mix.

Travel Well

parenting is an ongoing occupation

The good news is we’re still on the journey with our kids as adults. Although arrivals are few, it’s never too late to be a better parent. Send-off’s are important whenever someone heads out:

  1. You can seek forgiveness for unnecessary burdens you bestowed.
  2. You can call to connect and keep the conversation going.
  3. You can keep your ears and hearts–like the door–always open.
  4. You can be honest and say, “I don’t always understand your Instagram but I’ll keep following you anyway.”
We talk with our three on the phone regularly. The home they grew up in is still their place to land from time to time.
Yes, the seasons of raising kids end. But the blessings don’t have to. As parents, we can always be improving the lives of our adult kids and their kids after them as we wish them peace, hope, and love. Because, at the end of the day:

A Letter From My Future Self

a message in a bottle from my future self

Dear Me,

Your life is NOW.

I know you try to be in it, to stay present, to be here as it is happening.

But I admonish you to try even harder. Not with sheer willpower, but with surrender.

Surrender as hard as you can. Surrender to life as it is. And trust. Trust in the good despite your experience.

As Jordan Peterson says,

Resentment and simmering anger, no matter how justified, are rough tools. You may use them to build a future but they will carve out an ugly hut for you to lie down in.

You, my dear, will not build that ugly hut. Instead, you drop your rough tools, open your chest and shoulders, throw your arms back. Lift your chin and declare yourself alive, hopeful, and the kind of person who lives in joy.

How? All I can tell you is that you get there. Here. And it’s worth it.       silhouette of a woman with lifted chin, arms and chest wide, head thrown back: a letter from my future self

Believe,

Me

 

Sample Chapter from The Woman in the Willow

the woman in the willow

Chapter 11: God on the Lawn

The crepe myrtle looked dead. Catherine twisted the tip of a branch. She broke off the brittle twig and concealed it in her palm—unable to bring herself to look for green inside.

She had neglected the slender tree this year, forgetting to feed and water it, tucked away as it was between the gate and a wall. Two years ago she planted the sapling at the side of the house, the end of her walkway. Last year new growth showed up in late spring and waited until summer to grace her walk with vivacious pink buds. Later still the buds burst into tiny magenta bouquets. They displayed such glory then: waving like hands in a congregation of praise, the gratitude of a tree coming back to life.

Not that Catherine had ever been part of such a congregation. Any praise-gatherings she attended were proper conservative church services, sedate and civil. Hands in the air would disrupt the peace. She kept hers resting on her lap where they couldn’t pressure the undemonstrative into guilt for their stillness or prompt agnostics to make a mockery with their pretense. Plus it just wasn’t natural. Didn’t matter anyway. She could not remember the last time she went to church.

Catherine preferred to worship in her backyard garden beneath a stately oak.

A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.

This was her kind of church: let the birds and trees extend unselfconscious gratitude to the one who made them.

Lift her hands with the branches? Sometimes. But she rarely sang with the birds in their joy of being alive. No, not on days when old age rendered her cursing and complaining to her maker, the one who allowed her life to unravel as it had. God could have made matters easier, better. Instead, he let confusion and loneliness become the bookends of her seven decades. Adventures in anguish and grief filled the space between.

Gee, thanks for the invitation to your pity party, Old Woman.

Miss Catherine, only God knows how you’ve suffered.

A chill dampened her Sunday morning. Catherine tilted her face to the sky, hugging her heavy coat close and soaking up the sun’s spare heat. Percy deserted her to poke around on the far side of the house. A faint wind changed direction, sending church bells shimmering her way. They rippled through her layers of rough coverings, stirring her like a tremor in the earth. She warmed to the subtle shift that words couldn’t touch. Her hands tingled with a quicker pulse. Arms at her side, she strolled to her favorite bench and sat down.

Growing up in the South, the girl Catherine had absorbed a detached and vague kinship with God, untaught and uncertain about his direct relation to her. Mother had no communication with God except her curses in his name. She taught her daughter no specific religious position save that Religion was the disease driving people to keep people like Mother and her at arm’s length.

Catherine was a mongrel born of a mongrel when it came to pedigrees of faith. She learned that Mother’s lineage contained a great-great somebody who was a solid Christian pastor or preacher. But the trickle-down effect diluted any honest faith she may have inherited. Mother’s family were like ghosts, haunting the spoken and unspoken oaths that hovered on her mother’s lips and throughout young Catherine’s life. By default, she was an outcast like her mother. Close relatives disowned them both. The rare Christmas gifts or guilty checks in the mail were godsends or windfalls, depending on how you looked at it.

Mother despised her family either way. Father’s family wanted nothing to do with Mother or her child. Maybe they didn’t realize Catherine existed. She wasn’t sure. Mother wouldn’t say. Regardless, the familial ties disintegrated in their disuse, leaving the mother and girl virtual orphans.

Catherine’s school friends intrigued her with their descriptions of church attendance and Sunday school lessons. Their mysterious God club stirred her curiosity. They invited her along once or twice, but Mother would not allow it. And so Catherine’s creator defaulted to absent father. She regarded him wistfully or accusingly, depending on the day. On occasion, he resembled a kindly grandfather she hoped to meet one day.

Once, after a friend described her prayers to the Lord, young Catherine decided to give it a try. For weeks as an eight-year-old, she spoke to him every night. Eyes on the bedroom ceiling, hands folded under her chin, she’d tell the Almighty what she needed and ask what he would do.

“Dear God, will you help me with my math like you helped my friend Annie with her spelling test?”

“Dear God, can you make me stop growing so the boys don’t tease me all the time?”

“Dear God, are you really out there?”

She waited. Her stomach rumbled. A muffled television boomed through the wall. The scary neighbor lady shouted two doors down. God’s voice remained muted, his message muddled and mysterious. Without obvious answers to her simple prayers, the girl put her search on hold. She held on to the image of a God-out-there-somewhere, hoping he’d show up later in life.

Now, in her old age, in her new haven, Catherine began to look and listen for him again. This time, she expected no audible voice. She didn’t look for him in every favorable turn of circumstances. Didn’t search for divinity in the people who pressed pamphlets into her palm. Couldn’t imagine that people in the pews had a relational advantage. Nor did she think she heard the Spirit when it was just the ladies’ rancor filling her head. She wished for no special deliveries, no secret notes behind the bookcase, no personal messages between the lines in a storybook.

She invited him instead to the secluded places of her mind, the empty spaces between breaths. Moments when the ladies were silent and Mother didn’t intrude, rare as those moments were. Catherine met with God on the lawn. She searched for his face in her flowers, strained to hear his voice in the trees, and even sought him in the flow of her days.

Her faith was primitive, a crude altar to the awesome God of creation, revealed in more than his glorious plants and animals. No, she did not think every butterfly and bird deserved her worship. But both her cultivated garden and her untamed surroundings spoke of a Magnificence and Power deserving her reverence.

Her heart held the tales of God’s love and redemption in a tentative embrace, resonating with the story of a sacrifice that set people free. With hope she imagined his touch of healing and forgiveness. With certainty she wrapped her head around the ideas of mercy and grace. The best ideas the world had going. She just didn’t know how to sift and shuffle them through her old gray head to the blood-red flow of life in real time.

Catherine did know that her best days were bare feet on the lawn. The voices of chickadees and nuthatches tuned to the creek’s musical chortling spoke volumes to her soul. When the wild wooded paths whispered of hidden dangers and the front door opened to chaos and decay, her world behind the wooden walls, beneath the arching sky, brushed up against her like the mingled breath of a mother and infant. The Spirit of God might be an invisible wind streaming along the surface of the creek, rising to fill her nostrils with fragrances from a distant land. Or it breathed in the tangible love of her dog. Perhaps it glowed in every graceful glory in between.

A gray squirrel scrambled along an oak’s high branch. Catherine stretched her neck to follow its scrabbling ascent. Effortless and fearless, it left the limits of its dwindling branch and leaped across space in graceful suspense. For less than a second, the common rodent transformed into a spectacular singularity. It landed on a solid limb and clambered down the other side of the tree.

Percy returned and leaned his body against her heavy leather boots. Catherine curled her toes inside thick socks to buffer the chill. She tucked one hand into a deep pocket. Her other clasped the crepe myrtle twig, concealing death or restoration. She would let it take its time to tell.

Closeness to God was more an idea than a feeling, more a longing than a fulfillment. But someday, if she believed what people said, she hoped to follow on his heels along the hidden paths that stretched beyond her homemade heaven.

Mother’s Day: A Song for Mom

christine and her mother, Sandy on mothers day

You Were There

Verse 1
I can see you
Running beside my bicycle
Holding me up as I try balancing by myself
I can see you
Making the meals and making ends meet
Soup on the stove, snow days at home
Love in my lunch box wrapped around a treat
   And through all my days of playing outside
   The door was open wide
Chorus
You were there
You always made a place for me
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there
Verse 2
I can see you
Driving me everywhere I needed to go
Steady and safe, never afraid
Knew I was always gonna get back home
And I can see you
When it was time for going my own way
You let me leave and let come back
Never a question of where I would stay
    For a place to land and time to be
    I could always turn the key
Chorus
You were there
You always made a place for me
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there
Verse 3
I can see you
Standing beside my bed at night
Saying “give it a rest, just close your eyes
Wait ’til the morning, it’ll be all right”
    When I couldn’t see beyond that door
    I always knew for sure
Chorus
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
You were there
You always made a place for me
Bridge
And if ever you look back
     and wonder where the days have gone
     Oh if ever you forget all of the good that you have done
     Just remember that you haven’t missed a thing
You were there
You were there
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there

I wrote this song for my mother. She will turn 80 this year. I wanted to remember her and remind her of the ways in which she showed up for me.mother's day song

My picture of Mom from childhood is one of constancy. I had no fear of her not being home at the end of the school bus ride or a long day playing outside.

She was always there. Even when she had to go back to work after divorcing my dad. A tough choice that she made for her 3 kids. When we were young, Mom drove us everywhere we wanted and needed to go. Whether on a one-day trip to the beach or a quick visit to the mall, she drove with steadiness and safety. I never had a doubt that we would get to where we were going.

mother's day
My mom, Sandy, holding her 13th great-grandchild

Eventually, I went to college far from home. Even then, she drove me to and from many times. And HOME was always there. A place for me in the summer months and on holiday breaks. I never questioned whether or not I was welcome. Mom offered a bed to sleep in and food to eat. Coffee to drink and a place to think.

Mom, I honor and thank you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if you had not been there, where you always were.

 

Babies on the Bus: Trust in Life Unfolding

Trust in life unfolding

Volunteer Babysitters

“Hey, Out of the Grey, here’s your babysitter for the day,” said Ron, the road manager. The teenage boy stood at the door of our tour bus and reached to shake our hands. Gulp. My husband and I exchanged a quick glance then invited him into our home on the road.  Up the steps came another test of my trust in the unfolding nature of life.

Scott and I were touring with Steven Curtis Chapman as his opening act. Our 8-month-old baby was along for the ride. Therefore, the road manager had arranged volunteer nannies at each venue so we could do a quick soundcheck, graze through catering, and play our 20-minute set.

In each town, generous people donated their time to care for our baby. They came in many shapes and ages. We often scored a wonderful middle-aged woman partial to babies and unimpressed with performers.

Occasionally, Scott and I punted the sitter for the day. Like the woman we met in the green room at an arena show. Our would-be nanny was a tough-looking lady, part of the local load-in crew. Waving her cigarette, she reached for baby Julian and told us how good she was with kids. Probably she was. We just weren’t good with smoke in our precious baby’s lungs.

“Um, we’re sorry to say we don’t need you today. But thank you for offering to help.”

Eager Teenager

However, the eager teenage boy was a toss-up. Could he take care of a baby? And why would he want to? The road manager brought him to the bus because Julian was asleep in his portable crib. We were due on stage for a soundcheck. I hesitated.

“If the baby wakes up, bring him right into the venue,” I said.trust in life unfolding

Concern crossed the boy’s face. “He might wake up?”

Ron clomped up the bus steps from the street. “Scott and Christine, they’re waiting for you. C’mon or you’ll lose your soundcheck. Doors open in 15.”

Ugh, we had to go.

Scott said to the young man, “He’ll probably keep sleeping. Christine will be back soon. Just check on him once or twice. Oh, and thanks.”

Scott and I traded worried looks as we hurried through the stage door. Singing a quick verse of a song while Scott played guitar, I got a good balance of sound in my monitor. Then I rushed back to the bus to discover the young caregiver sitting in the front lounge, tossing a cassette tape in his hands. He jumped up when he saw me, relieved. Julian had stayed asleep.

After thanking him, I said we wouldn’t need him for the rest of the evening. He held out the cassette.

“Do you think I could meet Steven Curtis Chapman and get him to sign this for me?”

I laughed. “Yes. Let me pick up the baby and you can follow us inside to find Steven.”

Trust in Life Unfolding

trust in life unfoldingThe song, “Unfolding,” comes to mind when I remember these scenarios. We wrote it in the throes of performing our music and raising our children. It became part of our third Out of the Grey record, Diamond Days.

How many times did I worry about my baby boy in the tumult of travel? And then our two baby girls who followed to journey with us? How many miles did I sit and stare out the window of a rolling vehicle that carried my family down another highway, wondering how this touring-artist thing would turn out? I never knew what was around the bend, waiting at the next performance, the next tour when this one ended.

However, my 2020 hindsight tells me that trusting the changing nature of life was the only way to go. The unfolding was inevitable. Better to surrender to the flow.

But I didn’t trust the unfolding much. The erratic character of road life made me anxious. I longed for predictable patterns and solvable puzzles. Also, I needed my kids to be safe and have the best situation for their growth. My desire to impact the lives of others, to be engaged in the great adventure, added to my angst. The tour bus window, wide as it was, only framed a small stretch of sky. Sometimes, I couldn’t see beyond mere survival.

The years rolled on. Scott and I eventually hired nannies who rode the buses with us when they weren’t helping at home while we worked on another record. These dear ladies also became dear friends. Eventually, the added miles and experiences subtracted from my stress. I kept my eyes and my mind open. Companions in cramped buses and audiences in wide venues showed me I was playing a good part, in my children’s lives and in the lives of others. My clenched fist unfolded a bit.

The Changing Nature of Life

In the upheaval of touring, my questions to God were always: How does each soul fit into the big picture? Can You really care for me, my family, and each stranger we meet along the way? From the middle of my tiny story, I scanned the horizon for the grander scheme.

Now that I’m off the road, I volunteer as a babysitter for my grandson. Watching my grown son and his wife work on their version of the unfolding story, I know they know how the future gets done. They try to live the moments one by one. May they trust their small choices and acts of love that add up to compose the bigger picture.

As a fifty-something, my energy for engaging the wider world is flagging. But I continue to ask the big questions: Can I still have an impact, make a splash in my little pond? Believing it is possible, I write. I write to the young adults puzzling it out as I did almost three decades ago. I write for the older folks, too, who wonder at their purpose and position in Creation.

My hope and prayer are that we may all enjoy life now, trust in its unfolding nature, its steady, relentless stream. We cannot see our impact in our small stretches of imagination, but we always have a part in the grandeur of the grander scheme unfolding.

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trust in life unfolding

 

Change–Going The Distance

I don’t like change very much. I cried every time I tried to finish the song,“The Distance.” It’s a song about my son growing up and out of the house. It took me 5 years, really, to put the final lines together and then let it go, move on. Planted on my padded piano bench, my hands gently pressing into the chords, I would sing the first few words in the verse:

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was, so much has changed since I met you.

My heart would immediately connect with the image in my head: my young teenage son and me driving together on the Natchez Trace, a winding, scenic roadway close to our home. Although it stretches from Nashville, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a short section that connects a friend’s house to ours.

the Natchez Trace bridge in Nashville Tennessee

Way back then, Julian and I were crossing the lovely Natchez Trace Bridge which spans a yawning valley. The sky was sunset orange. In the glow to my right, I saw that my son was a young man in transformation. Soon, he would be in the driver’s seat and I would be the passenger. Not long after that, he wouldn’t need me at his side at all. The road before us began to stretch out in ways that my heart didn’t want to face.

Julian had already changed so much in the fourteen years I’d known him. But I knew there was more change to come. For that reason, whenever I sat at my piano determined to finish the song, the words got stuck in my throat.

Transatlanticism

In the awkward silences of Julian’s early teenage years, music was our connection. What kept us talking was our love of the melody and lyrics. A great song can really go the distance, keep its impact despite the flow of time all around it.

In the car, we’d sing along with our favorite songs, working out the harmonies and talking about the lyrics. One particular song by the group, Death Cab For Cutie, was a puzzle to both of us. What did “Transatlanticism” mean? What deeper message was hidden in the song’s images?

Part of its attractiveness was its mystery, the blank spaces left for us to fill. Somehow, it was a bridge in the growing gap between mother and son. It helped me to forge ahead with finishing, “The Distance.”

Change:young Julian DenteWe can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

Love and Letting Go

As my son became a man, I finally finished and recorded my song about change and going the distance. Julian writes and records his own music now. He drives his own roads and goes places far from where we first traveled together. His songs keep me and the whole family talking. We all love the chord changes he chooses and sometimes we embarrass him with our enthusiasm.

Thankfully, I can say that I’m glad he has grown up and gone on without me. It’s good when sons—and songs—grow up and move on. He certainly comes back to visit and keeps me up to date on his latest favorite songs. The music he’s making is all his own yet has hints of his beginnings, links that connect him to home.

change: going the distance

Yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know, soon I’ll slow you down

The time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

Whether in small increments or large sweeps, change is a guarantee. How I traverse it is key.

Julian has a lovely wife and a son of his own now. I am learning to live with the distance that makes for a great relationship; mothers and sons are complicated! I am still listening closely to every lyric he writes and wondering what the song’s about. But I don’t have to figure it all out anymore or even assign meaning to every little bump in the road.

Trying to enjoy this ride we call life, I can see the mystery as attractive rather than scary. Find the beauty, deal with the impermanence, and go the distance with change. I’ll finish one song so I can move on to write the next one, connecting the changes in a chain of love and letting go.

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

Read more about this and other songs in my book, Lifelines and the article, “Animal House!”

Listen to “The Distance” song and 9 others in A Little Light Left.

Thanks for listening and for going the distance with me.

Full lyric for “The Distance”

change: going the distance

Order The Woman in the Willow and get the free audiobook!

the woman in the willow novel by christine dente

Order The Woman in the Willow and get the free audiobook!

My husband, Scott, recorded and produced me reading my book, The Woman in the Willow.

I decided to give it away to anyone who orders via my website.

Just order the book then email me at christineotg@gmail.com

ASAP, you’ll get the audiobook read by me in your inbox!

the woman in the willow
Reading and recording my book in the studio

What’s the Story About?

Here’s the back cover description of the novel:

the woman in the willow, a novel by christine dente

Get your copy of  The Woman in the Willow here!

Freedom in Fiction

Why did I write this book?

Old Age is creeping up on me. She will, God-willing, knock on my door in a few years. Beyond my desire to live a simple and contemplative life, is the wonder of what I will become. Already, I sense my tendency to stiffen and settle, to give way to a negative outlook. Instead, I’d rather keep stretching, stay flexible, and learn to go with the flow of life.

Will my body and spirit succumb to the stifling effects of gravity and pain? Or will I find the strength to keep growing and bending with the wind? I don’t want my heart to close but to stay open like a willow tree, sharing grace and beauty in the place God plants me. I pray my trajectory of 56 years has not taken me too far afield of the accepting, compassionate old woman I wish to become.

With The Woman in the Willow, I was free to try on my character, to create a drama exploring her choices. I wrote my novel, in part, to search for the sage in me, the woman who ages with grace and wisdom. My fiction asks,

Can an old woman flower and flow, despite her heart’s instinct to tighten and close?

Journey with me to discover the answer: My book launched into the world on September 1st, 2020!

If you order the paperback or ebook, I’ll send you a FREE audiobook  ( :

Don’t forget to email me after you do at christineotg@gmail.com

Read more about the story behind the story here: “What Would You Be, If Free to be Anything You Wanted?”

What’s The Story About?

the woman in the willow by christine dente

The Woman in the Willow: A Powerful Tale of Hope and Redemption

(From the Ingram Spark Book Description)

Christine Dente delivers a moving story about a woman struggling to forget her traumatic past by hiding away in her backyard haven. The Woman in the Willow offers an exquisite invitation to engage in life’s flowering and flow despite the heart’s instinct to tighten and close. 

Catherine Hathaway has no intention of letting another child into her life.

Retired schoolteacher Miss Hathaway longs to be left alone inside her beautiful backyard garden. Just because the new family next door includes a precocious but lonely five-year-old named Tazzy, doesn’t mean the 70-year-old woman must open her haven or her heart to the neglected girl. Catherine is having enough trouble, losing her balance and her vision, without the disruptions of the unsettling memories that the child provokes.

Catherine’s 8-foot fence keeps her precious dog Percy safe in the yard but can’t keep Tazzy out. The spirited child finds a way through the unlocked gate, drawn by sweet Percy and the enchantments of the backyard garden. When she appears with suspicious red marks on her arm and other signs of abuse, Catherine spies on the family, convinced that the single mother is abusive like her own mother was.

The mysterious willow tree hovers throughout Catherine’s story. A refuge from her past, it is now the crown jewel of her garden. Waving from the creek’s edge behind Catherine’s home, the enchanting tree has a life and story of its own.

the woman in the willow by christine dente

Memories of the sister she lost and the mother who left her sweep Catherine toward her destiny with the willow, the river, and the child she must find to save her life.

Can this disenchanted old woman rise from the flood of grief and loss?

Will she find the spirit of God moving among the ferns and birds of her haven?

What part will the willow play in transforming Catherine from the woman she is into the one she wants to become?

Journey with Catherine in her search for growth and flowering in old age.

Read The Woman in the Willow

Running Out Of Time: Escape the Hurry and Worry

worry a woman running

I am running out of time,

I’m running out of time

Running from the hurry,

turning worry into wine

In my mind

Out of time

I know ‘if only’ is what was

and ‘what if’ is in doubt

So I think I’ll find myself

a lovely here and now

So sublime

Out of time

I am always running out of time. Trying to get away from hurry and worry.

Hurry is the currency of productivity. I race to accomplish as much as I can in a day. However, the older I get, the less I like the chase. Lately, I’d rather say no to appointments and opportunities and shout yes to wide margins that make room for rest and reflection.

Why is it so hard to not be busy?

Worry has always been a part of my life. It operates on the battlefield of past mistakes and future hazards; a skirmish between if only and what if. My mind tries to battle it out. You’ll find my heart there in the middle, wounded in the cross-fire.

Why do I engage in the struggle?

Imagine the miracle of suspending the flood of bullets, as Neo does in the Matrix. When slow motion is an option, I’m all over it! Outside of time, I drink in this sublime sip of wine.

A Lovely Here and Nowenchanted forest mossy path

When I’m not careful, Time sweeps me up on her wide lap and tells me gruesome stories of the past.  As I try to escape her grip, she squeezes my wrist and whispers the worst is yet to come.

I have occasionally escaped into the enchanted forest of Timelessness where I rest my head on the mossy feet of wise old trees. They speak the language of long, slow exhalations. They tell the stories of feathers and feet that whisper by when stillness lingers. I believe in this moment.

Is it too good to be true?

My Place Apart

Actually, my enchanted spot is the plastic Adirondack chair on my mossy lawn. A full array of cushions for my comfort, feet bare to the earth, I breathe long and deep.

I listen for the small voices of birds and bugs that tell me to be mindfully present. I toss my to-do‘s to the wind and let the weather dictate my schedule.

Wasn’t it a lucky wind that swept my list away

Wasn’t it a happy rain that changed my plans today

Made me stay, out of time

In my mind, out of time

I like lists and schedules. They keep me sane. They capture part of the swirling cloud of “musts” and “shoulds,” keeping it in a safe place lest I lose my mind. Yet, lists and schedules tend to paralyze me, leaving no wiggle room for the muses to come and play.

Being Productive

When writing this song, I sat at my piano and experimented with a kind of cyclical melody. I wanted it to feel like a soap bubble blooming from a child’s wand into the calm. Barely a breeze as it lifts and tilts and floats up and out of sight. A quiet meditation, an open-mouthed gape.

I asked my son, Julian, to produce this and the other new songs I had written. He said yes! so I sent him my rough demos. They were recordings of me plodding through the chords on my piano while singing into my smartphone. Not very inspiring.

It’s a tricky business for a producer to dig out and polish the gems his artist assures him are there. Julian found mine and some extras of his own. He helped create a project I am proud to call ours. (He also dealt well with Mom-as-Artist and Mom-as-Mom.)

Visit my YouTube channel to see some of our fun exchanges.    Christine Dente and Julian Dente in the recording studio

It’s About Time

Julian has been making music since he was a few years old. Growing up in studios and on the road, he didn’t have much choice. Jules, as we call him, has developed his talent by playing in lots of bands and also writing and recording his own music. He graced my songs with his years of musical experience and the innate sensibilities that words cannot capture. Only his artistry does.

Notice the very cool rhythms and counter-melodies he wove into the music. He played and programmed everything on the recordings, too. You’ll also hear his voice in some of the backing vocals.

In Running Out of Time, Julian took the time to create the wide musical spaces of breathless suspense. Makes me want to go and live in the moment for a while.


Read more stories about our recording process here: New Music & the recording process

Read more about the new songs here: Closer to Free and See Through Me

Buy the digital 5- song EP Closer To Free here or on Amazon or listen to it on Spotify!