Monday, April 4, 2016

A Chat With Myrna Rosa ~ Poetry and Caregiving

We have a very special conversation to share with you, today, my poet friends. Our fellow poet, Myrna Rosa, who blogs at My Daily Spirit, is someone whose compassion and humble heart show up in her poems all the time. I became aware of her remarkable story in our interview in 2012, when she revealed she had been a caregiver of her mother and her mother-in-law for six years, caring for them both in her own home. Myrna lovingly called them 'The Ladies'. Here they are, in all of their beauty.


The Ladies


It occurred to me, as many of our fellow poets are caregiving now, have done so or will do so, that it might be good to talk about where poetry - where our writing and self-expression - fits, when our lives are full of the demands of caring for others. I knew just who to ask to have this chat, and happily, she said yes. 

Myrna Rosa



Sherry: Myrna, as we begin this conversation, please tell us about The Ladies.

Myrna: For six years I was caregiver for my mother and mother-in-law, whom we always affectionately called “The Ladies.”  I wish I could claim that I did this gracefully, with good, giving intentions, but no.  I did this because I felt I had no choice but to obey cultural and traditional mandates.  I was an only daughter, my husband an only son and, typically, the woman does the caregiving.  This stems from my latin, Puerto Rican background, but is also prevalent in mainstream customs.  So, my caregiving years began with much resistance on my part as well as the Ladies’, who had fought to stay in their respective homes as long as possible, enjoying their independence.

Sherry: I can understand that all three of you ladies might have had some misgivings about the journey you were all embarking on.

Myrna: Now, I look back on those years with gratitude because I know The Ladies gave me my highest education.  I learned so much about my life and my spiritual journey.    I remember how uncomfortable I felt when people complimented me on the quality of care I gave.  I know it was good, but no one saw my inner process of confronting and resolving feelings of resentment, self-pity, resignation and anger.  I was forced to face the darkest aspects of myself.

One of the major lessons from those years is that we must accept our mixed emotions.  While I had negative feelings about being a caregiver, I loved The Ladies dearly. 

Sherry: That love comes through loud and clear in your writing, my friend.

Myrna: My mother-in-law had always been close to me.  She said I was the daughter she never had.   She told me that a year after my husband was born,  she lost a baby – a girl whom she was going to name Myrna. 
  
For many complicated reasons, my mother did not raise me.   We were always in contact but it was during these caregiving years that I was able to know the beautiful, gentle and loving person she had become. There was a deep connection that tied us.  Our love was so strong.

Sherry: It is so good you had that time to forge that soul connection. A great blessing.

Myrna: I’d like to mention that though I refer to myself as being the principal caregiver, my husband did all he could to contribute to the caregiving.  I retired early to stay home with The Ladies.  My husband worked outside the home and helped on evenings and weekends.  Once he retired, he helped even more.  To be fair, the ladies preferred that I take care of their personal daily needs.  However, my husband often cooked and spent time with them, gave them their medications etc.  He was an equal part of that circle of love that existed through us.

I wrote the following poem after the ladies left my home.


THE BEGINNING

I've thought so much of certain years
when all judged my "admirable behavior" as kind.
Only I knew what went on inside. My heart,
pierced by thorny vines, bled
a festering resentment of dark red.
I burned with wishes for a different life.

Those times have passed, all does.
But in my mind sentiments of former days
were repeatedly reviewed.
Beneath the shade of selfish shame
I asked myself, "How could I've performed the role of nice
while being hypocritically trapped,
unable to release the truth of how I really felt? "

Now what to do?
No way to make amends.
How? for who can undo time?

I've wondered
how I can pay back a debt
bitterly accrued attempting to fulfill expectations
like a convict paying for crime.

Can kindness unwillingly performed have merit?
or does it only count when it flows naturally,
effortlessly like it does from those
with forthright motives,
who simply share it?

The other day, I sipped my coffee, thinking
of nothing. Suddenly, from the depths of blue sky
"Forgive yourself," popped in my mind.
These familiar words that I've often given as advice,
suddenly came alive in me, as if they were pronounced
in the universe for the first time.

I smiled. At that moment,
the process began.


Sherry: Myrna, every caregiver will resonate completely with these words. I love the message that arrived from blue sky.

Would you tell us about the time when it was necessary to place The Ladies?

Myrna: The years of caregiving took their toll on me, my health, my whole life.  My husband became concerned because we too were aging and losing the energy it took to care for them properly.  We live outside the city limits and home-care was too difficult to arrange.   He left the choice to me.  The decision to place The Ladies in a nursing home was the hardest I’ve ever made.  The day they left was the hardest I’ve ever lived.  I cried more then, than when they passed away.  Grief and guilt dominated those days but I knew I had made the right decision.  At least, I had to convince myself of that. 

Sherry: I know how hard it is for giving people to make such decisions. We feel guilty, even though there is really no other choice. Continuing until we collapse would only mean one more person needing care. 

Myrna: Overall, I was and am impressed with the care they received at the nursing home.  Most of the staff was caring, competent and helped me feel more at ease about placing The Ladies in that facility.   My mother accepted and adjusted well and happily to the transition.  But mother-in-law resisted and resented the move until about two years before her death. 

My mother passed away a year after she went to the nursing home.   Besides Alzheimer’s, she had glaucoma.  Gradually she lost her eyesight.  Though I repeatedly explained her condition, she would forget she had gone blind.  This caused her anguish and frustration.  If it weren’t so sad, I’d say it was comical the way she accused me of not paying the light bill. 

Sherry: Thank heavens for humor at such times, even if it is dark humor. (There is a pun there, I think.)

Myrna: Concurrently, mother-in-law, who suffered from dementia, developed an antipathy, almost hatred, towards my mother.   They had been best friends for years, shared a room, religions, loved the same food and watched the same TV shows.  But eventually we had to separate them because mother-in-law became more vocal about her dislike of my mother and my mother had special needs better addressed in a different unit of the home.  My mother lost her memory, her sight and her dearest friend.   I think she could not tolerate these severe losses and somehow chose to leave. 

I wrote the following poem while I sat with her as she was dying.


SING ME A LULLABY

I hear your gurgles and I wonder if you're dying today.
Then, startled you awaken and call my name, as if
I'm your source of everything. I reassure that all's well
for now and you resume your lung's sick cacophony
whose ugliness makes me yearn for a lullaby.

But you never knew how to sing to me. And now
any song's inaudible behind the noise of disease.
It chomps so loud, munching tired cellular embroidery
in your head, erasing everything - except you
the one I never knew.

The disease deceived, thinks its noise a winner.
I shrug helplessly, knowing it has won a lot.
But due to its pernicious intensity, eliminating
all static from your mind,
it has revealed your soul, translucent.
And I know it is I, have won bigger.

I hear you clearly because you don't remember
how to hide. Your truth - beautiful,
innocent, sincere and kind flows.
And though your song is too soft now,
I can listen to the melody
within your silence.

Sherry: Oh, Myrna, how beautiful this is - that death "revealed your soul, translucent" and "you don't remember how to hide." Taking that journey with her restored her to you so completely. How very moving this poem is. 

Myrna: Mother-in-law died several months ago.  She remained in the nursing home three years after my mother died.   Initially she was unhappy at the nursing home, refused to engage in any activities, make any friends, or even leave her room.  She had been depressive most of her life, which made it hard to deal with her negativity.   At least twice, she became so ill that we thought death was imminent.  But she bounced back. 

Miraculously, as her dementia increased, she seemed to forget that she was unhappy.  Gradually, she became a lady with delusions and fantasies, but cheerful and content.  She roamed the halls of the nursing home telling people about her life as a seamstress and that she was waiting for a bus to take her home. 

Everyone knew the cute, sweet lady from New York.  My husband and I were amazed at the number of residents and staff at the nursing home who sincerely grieved her because they had sincerely loved her. 

The next poem, I wrote for mother-in-law.  It reflects my thoughts as I witnessed her rational mind disappear.


LIFE GOES ON

Her mind forgot linear time.
Sometimes she's young,
working in NY's garment district,
enslaved by its demands,
"I must go. Gotta get to work." she says
holding her purse, packed
with a nightgown and the TV remote control.

Other times she says she's 103. Old,
tired but proud that life endured for so long.
Most times, she's simply not sure
of words, people or where she fits
living in flashes of past and future,
the present - a dream.

But there seems to be a knowing that goes beyond
the mind, recognizing life,
relations and things better left behind.
I see this in her tenderness
when she looks deeply in my eyes,
I feel it in the things she mentions
and those she (purposely?) declines.

Makes me wonder about life.
Does it cling until it's worn
invisible garments torn to shreds
exposing its naked essence
as if to say, "Yes, this is me undressed."

Makes me wonder about death,
patiently waiting for her,
watching her work out
whatever needs
to unravel within.

She lingers in the center of her universe,
I linger in mine.
Neither one of us understands.


Sherry: Old age can be hard and sad - so many losses. But there is, within it all, that radiance, as the soul makes its passage. It was shining in her eyes as she looked at you soul to soul. So beautiful, Myrna. Your poems always hit me right in the heart.

Myrna: It’s hard for me to believe The Ladies are gone.  I became so dependent on their presence in my life that I still feel them with me.  I am grateful for what they taught me, for loving me, for helping me grow through the challenges we faced.   I am grieving them and my afternoons seem long now that I no longer have to go to the nursing home.  So often, I didn’t want to go.  Now I wish I still had to.

NOW WHAT?

It's hard to describe these past weeks
with no obligatory rides
to the nursing home in the country
past all those old houses,
cotton and chile farms, horses, the cutest donkey.
No need to fix a thermos of coffee,
or buy a donut.
No silly guessing game to play
as the train goes by:
how long would I be stopped
in its tracks?

No longer must I listen
to her ramblings as she deciphered
faint memories real
while convinced of wild fantasies.
No longer need I witness
blatant mix of living while dying.

Now my afternoons are free.
Now there's nothing
for me to do.
I'm stopped in my tracks.


Sherry:  Yes, I can imagine those long afternoons. (I am thinking: write! but first one needs to rest and heal, a little.) How did you make time for writing during those busy years? How important was it to you, to have that outlet for your emotions?

Myrna: I started my blog while The Ladies lived with me.  I think it was my major way of keeping in touch with the world.   When I started writing poetry, it was an outlet for me as well as a way to help me understand, and even discover myself.  One of the benefits of writing poetry is that it helps me know myself better by clarifying my thoughts and feelings.  
 
As I review my past years of writing, I realize I wrote plenty about The Ladies but also responded to writing prompts, which made me think of other things.  It was a healthy, balanced distraction.

I wrote mostly in the mornings between breakfast and lunch.  I do better with structure and I had to keep a tight schedule. Time is such a mysterious thing to me.  I’m not exactly sure how I managed to write almost daily.  I think time lets us squeeze in the things that matter to us.

Sherry: I imagine it was a lifeline. I know it is for me. What advice would you give other caregivers?

Myrna: It is hard to focus on oneself when taking care of someone.  I had time constraints and often I was so tired by the end of the day, I preferred to tune myself out with the hypnosis of TV.  But that wasn’t helping. 

My advice to caregivers is to think in terms of little moments.   Refrain from all or nothing thinking.  Initially, I made myself unhappy because I couldn’t go out for an entire afternoon, or take an hour for meditation or for walking.  Eventually, I adjusted.  If I had fifteen minutes to meditate, that was good.  If I could go out for a short walk, it was better than nothing.  I relished the few minutes I could watch the sunset, the stolen moments with my husband, playing with the dogs for a short while. 

One thing I learned is that it’s kind to let others help.   I recommend caregivers accept what is given by friends and relatives.  This makes them feel good, helpful. I have friends who were eager to do something useful for me and The Ladies.  One friend was glad to stay with them while my husband and I went to a movie, another loved making them pretty by cutting their hair.  Most friends were so nice to visit me, listen to me, show me empathy. 

We each have to find what fits our circumstance, but the important thing is to not lose oneself.  Every caregiver is as important as the person they serve. 

Sherry: Truer words were never spoken, my friend. But it is hard for us to remember that, when we're in the trenches. Smiles. 

So how about today? Are your beautiful grandkids thriving?


Myrna: I became a grandmother while The Ladies lived with me.  It was rewarding to see their joy and excitement at becoming great-grandmothers.  My grandson still remembers them.  Sadly, my granddaughter never met my mother but did meet my mother-in-law. 

My husband and I - proud grandparents

I think I’m a good grandmother like The Ladies were.   I marvel at seeing how the kids are growing and thriving.  How could they not with all the love and attention they get from their parents and grandparents.  We see them as often as possible.  To me and my husband, they’re like vitamins that make us thrive too.



Sherry: They are beautiful, Myrna. And how are your wonderful doggy pals, Leroy and Daisy?

Myrna: They continue to be loving and lovable companions.  Leroy is actually maturing – not chewing on everything he sees.  He’s more selective now.  Daisy gave us a scare recently when she drank some laundry detergent.  (Ugh.  I feel so negligent.)  But luckily it was non-toxic, so she’s ok. 

She’s getting pretty old but still loves to play with toys and can still go in and out of the doggy door as she pleases.  The other day, as I sipped my morning coffee, something was odd about what I was seeing.  It’s not uncommon for Daisy to lie in her little bed with a toy in her mouth.  But something was wrong with that picture.  I glanced at her several times before realizing she doesn’t have a black and white toy with a tail and little stiff claws.  What she had in her mouth was a dead rat!!!  I’m sure you heard me scream.   My husband certainly did.   I’ll let you finish this story with your imagination.  


Daisy with one of her favorite real toys


Sherry: I am cackling! I remember a night in my old trailer when a huge rat ran down the hall towards my bedroom, Pup in hot pursuit. He dispatched it swiftly. But you could have heard MY scream.

Are you still working on the memoir?  
     
Myrna: I seem to write less now than when The Ladies were with me.  I go out more, visit grandkids more and take occasional vacations.  Still, this doesn’t explain why I’ve not finished a personal memoir I wrote several years ago.  I’m embarrassed to admit that procrastination is at the top of my list of character flaws and this creates a lot of unfinished business.

When my mother died, I decided the memoir needed to be her story – much more interesting than mine.  Now I need to change it, add more and edit more.  Every once in a while I dust it off and start rewriting but it’s been a slow process.  I hope to finish it this year.  Perhaps I’m being unrealistic, but I think if I’m determined, I’ll succeed.   

Sherry: It sounds very interesting, a memoir that is your mother's story as well as yours. It may be, when the time is right, that writing it will help you process your grief. Thankfully, we have this outlet for our emotions. 

Myrna: I write just for myself sometimes as a means of self-exploration.  But I also post introspective poems, like the following which I wrote recently.  It doesn’t directly address my grief, but that’s what I’m experiencing now.


Myrna's Mountain


MORNINGS

My mornings are so different now
from times when the alarm announced
another crazy day. Each minute
already filled with appointments,
obligations, confirmations
validating my living.

Today, I awoke to the hungry but loving stare
of my two dogs, the smell of strong coffee,
a glance at my monumental mountains,
uniquely caressed by sun's colorful rays.
I had no agenda except to love
my slow, quiet morning.

I thought about my life
with no need for validation.
What I feel is inspiration to live my afternoon
marking a blank page of eternity
with the bleeding colors of my ink
creating actions, words, sketches
as temporary ornaments of infinity.

What luxurious mornings I live
now that time, space, circumstance
allow such contemplation.


Sherry: I absolutely love "What I feel is inspiration to live my afternoon...."  That is inspiring.  Are you still sketching?

Myrna: My goal is to illustrate a little adult/children’s book I wrote.  I’m promising myself, and now you, that I’ll finish it this year too, even if the drawings are not very good.  I try to practice daily.  I call it my play time.  I can be a harsh self-critic, but I think I’m being honest when I say I’m not making too much progress.  I wish I had an innate talent, but I don’t.  I’m a slow learner determined to persevere.  I do enjoy it and that makes it worthwhile for me.


A sketch of my dogs


Sherry: I love this sketch! It looks very fine to me. I admire the determination to persevere. More, one cannot ask of an artist. Is there anything you'd like to add, Myrna?

Myrna: I’d like to thank those in the blogosphere who were so understanding and encouraging during my time with The Ladies.  Whenever I wrote about them, I received so many comments expressing tender and heartfelt thoughts.  This helped me get through those difficult days.  I am eternally grateful.

I know that many who are reading this are now or will someday care for someone – a spouse, a relative, a pet, a stranger.  I am sure they will give loving kindness and compassion to their loved ones, but I hope they remember how important it is to give it also to themselves.

Sherry: Very wise words, my friend. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Myrna: Poets United is like a home.  It is comfortable, friendly, and enriching.  I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this creative community. 

I’d like to thank you, Sherry, for the work you do and the hours you spend to help us get to know each other.  Your questions reveal not just your talent, but how much you care for people and what a kind spirit you have.  

Sherry: Well, thank you, my friend. I so admire your own kind spirit and compassionate heart. Thank you so much for sharing with us the story of the beautiful Ladies! And now, I would like to close with your life-affirming poem, "Another Life", simply because it reveals your beautiful heart so perfectly, and will send us all away feeling very good about being human beings. Thank you, Myrna. Just for being you.



If ever I return
after this life ends
may I be human again
May I have another chance
to laugh, to play
with animals, with flowers
relish all the hours
each and every sacred day
in an ordinary way.

If ever I return
may I dwell fully
in my spirit, my flesh
that I may love you again,
May I See you
in the human
that I am.

If ever I return
after this life is over
may I be the artful author
of the master poem
that defines me,
giving me honor
to be
divinely human
again.

  ***   ***


Sherry: Myrna, my friend, I think perhaps this might just be your defining poem! And it is a beauty.

Wasn't this wonderful, kids? Sigh. People are truly wonderful, each one with such a unique story. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


19 comments:

  1. Such a wonderful interview Sherry! Myrna has such a beautiful voice in the blogosphere....her beautiful and caring heart always comes through in her poetry.

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  2. Thank you for this very special interview, Sherry. Myrna, you are a wonderful person and poet. Thank you for sharing your story and advice. I like your sketch too!

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  3. What a wonderful article, Sherry! Where do I start, Myrna? It is so hard being a caretaker, and I can only imagine how hard it was to be caretaker for the two "Ladies" at times, even though I am sure it often brought much joy and meaning to your life. The poems that you shared were so poignant.... "Sing me a Lullaby" blew me away. And I definitely understand "Now What?" So hard to fill one's days after such losses.....I think many have been there. I am sure you are a good grandmother, and I love the photo of Daisy with the prized toy. Glad you are still sketching too. Always enjoy your poetry, Myrna, because you write about real life. Your poem is understandable, not elusive & obscure. I always feel as if you have shared your reality with us in your poetry!

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  4. Thank you so much for this interview.
    So many familiar emotions.
    I did a lot for my mother, but didn't do it with good grace. For which I still feel guilty.

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  5. Beautifully written Sherry, thanks ~

    Myrna is one of those poets whose sincerity and honest words rings loud and clear ~ I haven't been a caregiver but hopefully when I am older, I will be as gracious as you are ~ Thanks for the inspiring poems ~

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  6. I agree Sherry...the last poem is priceless. Myrna my mom and her sister are being cared for by my siblings and myself, and we call them, The Ladies too! We do our part the best we can...it is hard for the ladies and for us sometimes....and I absolutely love these poems...they reach into my soul. I wrap my loving heart around you my dear Myrna...you are a special person and your words are equally special...thank you! And thank you Sherry!

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  7. Thank you all for the kind comments. And, of course, thanks to Sherry, who thought this chat was a good idea. I appreciate the opportunity to share what I can.

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  8. As always, it was my pleasure, my friends, but especially so this time, given my love for The Ladies. Myrna, you are a very special person, honest, humble, giving and compassionate. I am a very big fan.

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  9. There is so much to admire in this interview. I've enjoyed Myrna's poetry for a while now, and it was wonderful to get to know her a bit better. I sketch a little myself, and though I, too, do not think that I have an innate talent for it, I find it very soothing, loosing myself in those shadows and cross hatchings. Along with poetry, it is a splendid, restorative "go-to" place that one can retreat to in moments of calm. Another wonderful interview, Sherry!

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  10. Myrna is a Darling. No doubt about that. And we know that through her poems, and in my case, her sincere comments which came at a time in my life when I really needed some reinforcement and comforting words.The downside is, my shortcomings are highlighted when it comes to Myrna's amazing generosity and self sacrifice, none of which I could ever hope to match even slightly.

    I hope this book of yours, Myrna, in the pipe line will be published and is a success. Apart from your poems your sketches are delightful.Please include me in your prayers as your connection with the Almighty will carry far more weight than mine LOL

    Kind Regards
    Rall



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  11. Myrna and Sherry....I am so emotionally moved by this interview. Wow. This statement by Myrna about the caretaking responsibilities: "I was forced to face the darkest aspects of myself"---incredible vulnerability and authenticity in that. And that sketch of your dogs? You are an amazing artist! It's so good :-) Thank you for sharing so genuinely of yourself with us. You asked, in your last poem, for the honor of being divinely human again if given the chance....through the glimpse you've given us here into your life and your personality, you have shown us so beautifully the amazing mixture of both the humanity and the divinity in your spirit as you already are now. Lovely, Myrna. Thank you!!

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  12. There is so much to learn from you Myrna...these beautifully strong and honest words are soul stirring just as your poems are...and kudos to you dear Sherry....

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  13. What a wonderful interview! Many thanks, Sherry and Myrna. The poems are full of truth and love, and I think the sketch shows considerable ability. Only wish I could draw like that!

    I was my husband's carer for several years before his death. I know how arduous and traumatic it can be – and how loving and rewarding as well.

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  14. Wonderful person, poet and interview - so very good to hear your story here Myrna - I think all our stories stem from the people who have been our lives - we can only be in relation to others in some way perhaps - even over the lifeline of the Internet! I think it is refreshingly honest to ear you describe the difficulties of caring and of being cared for. We are designed to be loved and nurtured but there are certain tasks that do not come 'naturally' for either person. It is certainly not bad to feel they should..it seems like being open to this and working through the process gave something to you and The Ladies - but then I suspect your spirit will always find light xo

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  15. Myrna - I have always enjoyed your poems as you write with a loving heart. I think it would be very difficult to take care of the ladies and still find time for yourself. Poetry is a great outlet. It helps us understand and feel.

    Thank you both for a wonderful interview.

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  16. A lovely post. Many thanks to Sherry and Myrna for sharing this intimate portrait of the poet whose poems I really like!

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  17. Just meandered to this site this morning and ended up avidly reading this interview. Isn't it odd that the word "caretaker" sounds as if the individual is taking care "away" from someone when in reality they are giving it?
    These are honest words here -- and reveal the inside feelings of folks. The poetry speaks miles. Thank you both.

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  18. I moved into tears with your first poem, and then moved with you from:
    "Makes me wonder about life.
    Does it cling until it's worn
    invisible garments torn to shreds
    exposing its naked essence
    as if to say, 'Yes, this is me undressed.'"
    To:
    "I thought about my life
    with no need for validation.
    What I feel is inspiration to live my afternoon
    marking a blank page of eternity
    with the bleeding colors of my ink
    creating actions, words, sketches
    as temporary ornaments of infinity."

    O, ladies, this is the best conversation ever! Thank you. Myrna, for living to the depths and pausing to write about it. Thank you, Sherry, for seeing a whole person through the poems and getting each of us to talk about it.

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  19. Myrna, I believe certain people and their stories arrive in your life at particular times for a reason. I am a pilgrim meeting you on that path. Your story and poetry resonate with me as I care for my mother in the final days of her life. Lullaby and What Now had me weeping. Thank you for expressing those truths - you give me light to carry forward on this journey. And thank you Sherry, for lovingly nudging me to this conversation. You, as always, bring us all enlightening and moving stories and poetry that enrich our lives.

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