Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Right to Fall

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from the head nurse on the wing of the nursing home where my mother lives in Jackson, Mississippi. She calls every time a significant change takes place, and sometimes just to let me know of a shift in procedures. This call was to tell me that the physical therapist had been working with mom again on her walking, in hopes that she wouldn’t have to be in a wheelchair all the time. (She’s been in a wheelchair since October of 2008, when she fell and broke her hip. Her Alzheimer’s prevented her from participating with physical therapy, so she hasn’t been able to walk on her own.) They were removing her “lap guard,” and trying her in a new chair, which not only fit her better and allowed her to navigate around the facility better, but it also did not have a lap guard. Instead, it had a seat belt, to “remind her” not to get up and try to walk alone. I was encouraged. For about 24 hours.

The next day they called to say it didn’t work. Mom quickly figured out how to undo the seatbelt, and would unhook it and try to walk on her own before anyone could prevent her from falling. So they had to put her back in a chair with a lap guard, because she can’t figure out how to get it off.

“Why don’t you just hook the seat belt behind her?” I asked, thinking she would be more comfortable in a smaller chair without the lap guard.

“Oh, we’re not allowed to restrain her in a way that she can’t get loose from,” the nurse told me. “She has a right to fall.”

A right to fall.

Okay, I understand that it takes away her freedom, her independence, her dignity, to be restrained, but I also understand that without some sort of restraint she will surely fall and break her hip again (or worse) and end up in the hospital. But somehow—legally, at least—being in a lap guard, which she could possibly figure out how to remove, isn’t actually being restrained.

When I visited Mom today, she didn’t mention the lap guard, as she sometimes does. Sometimes she points to it and says, “Is this yours?” or “What am I supposed to do with this?”

I always remind her it’s there to keep her from standing up and trying to walk by herself and falling and breaking her hip again. She doesn’t seem frustrated by it, thankfully. And they’ve ordered her a smaller, more comfortable wheelchair with a smaller lap guard, so she should at least be more comfortable.

So, I got to thinking about the legal phrase the nurse used: “She has a right to fall.” And I started wondering how and if it would be wrong to take that right from her, the same way we don’t let an infant or a small child have full “rights” because they would get hurt. In fact, there are laws about children being in car seats, so they don’t have a “right” to be unrestrained in a car. And adults don’t have that right either, in states that have seat belt laws.

So today I imagined myself, fifteen or twenty years from now, possibly in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. On the one hand, I would want my “freedom” for as long as possible, and depending on my mental state, being “trapped” in a wheel chair with a lap guard might seem awful to me. But I also hope that measures will be taken to prevent me from the pain of falling and breaking something and having to be hospitalized as a result.

I guess freedom comes with risk, and protection comes at a cost.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stretch That Seven Seconds

Seven Seconds. Evidently that’s how long the brain can focus on one thing before it wanders—how long a person can stay “in the moment.” At least that’s what Lee Woodruff said in her talk, “Role of the Caregiver,” during the 2010 VA Research Forum in Washington, DC, this past Thursday.

I was there with my husband, Dr. William Cushman, who received the John Blair Barnwell Award for outstanding achievement in clinical research and gave a talk on the “Compa

rative Effectiveness of Research and Hypertension.” The day (April 22) was too full for me to adequately capture in one blog post, so I’ll just hit on one or two “moments”. Of course I want to congratulate my husband! Here he is, flanked by the presenters, Dr. Robert Petzel, Under

Secretary For Health, and Dr. Joel Kupersmith, Chief Research and Development Office.

The keynote talks and panels covered everything from rehabilitation and Gulf War Research to neurological function, genomic research, ALS, diabetes, schizophren

ia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease. Presenters included physicians, veterans, and family members, and each one brought a different dynamic to the day. I wasn’t bored for a minute.

And now back to Lee Woodruff. She talked about the importance of learning to be in each moment, because your life can change, as her first book is titled, “In An Instant.” It was a New York Times Bestseller, co-written with her husband, ABC News Anchor, Bob Woodruff, who was injured while embedded with the military in Iraq in January of 2006. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him. In an Instant is the account of how the Woodruffs put their lives—their marriage and their family—back together again. Since then the Woodruffs have become involved in helping wounded service members and their families get the care they need.

Lee has written a second book, Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress. It’s a collection of short essays, a quick and light read that touches on things most of us can relate to. It was fun meeting Lee and getting her to sign my books after the research day awards and talks were done. I’m going to remember her encouragement to all of us to learn to “stretch that seven seconds” and be in the moment with the people we love, even if it means leaving dirty dishes in the sink.

As a side note, I loved being in DC, even with clouds and rain half the time we were there. We were able to carve out a few hours to walk the sidewalks in the Dupont Circle area, browse the shelves at Kramer Books on Wednesday, where we also enjoyed a terrific lunch at Afterwords Café and Grill. Thursday afternoon we walked back to the Dupont Circle area for pomegrante margaritas on the patio at Circa, people-watching and a little reading. (Okay, I did a little reading, and made a few notes for my novel-in-progress. My hubby did whatever he does with his Blackberry while I was reading and writing:-)

Thursday night we met our dear friends (and former Memphians) Drs. Joe and Gale Frances for dinner, and caught up on old times. Joe and Gale both worked at the VA in Memphis when they lived here, and Gale was a member at St. John Orthodox Church with us.

Gale and I also participated in two icon workshops together a few years back, including one that was held at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in DC. It’s been ten years since they left Memphis, and I had only seen Gale twice during those ten years, so we definitely tried to “stretch our seven seconds” together on Thursday night. I fell in love with the city on this visit, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing them again before long!

The Veteran Panel on Thursday was moderated by Nashville country music artist, Stephen Cochran. Stephen’s back was broken in six places by a bomb in Afghanistan (and was paralyzed from the waist down) when he was deployed as a Marine. He credits VA research and health care with getting him up and walking again. With his band, “The New Country Outlaws,” he created a DVD, “Turning Hope Into Reality,” which was shown during the meeting. Stephen also received an award during the event, for his work on behalf of veterans.

It was fun to meet the guys in the band during lunch following the ceremonies. I hope to get to Nashville to hear them some time. They’ll be performing at the CMA Fest in Nashville in June, in case anyone plans to go.

There were many more outstanding people, including Purple Heart recipient, Charles Eggleston (read his story here) and his wife, Pamela, who is now Director of Development for Blue Star Families. I had a great time visiting with Pamela during lunch.

I also met, briefly, the daughter of a Vet with Alzheimers (who spoke on caregiving) and several brilliant scientists who are doing the research to help better their lives and ours. I don’t have time to write about all of them, but I’m thankful that they were honored in our nation’s capitol, and I’m excited about the work they continue to do which will benefit all of us. They truly are turning hope into reality.

Here are a few "parting shots" from our two days in Washington.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recycled Nests: Finding the Divine in Imperfect Lives

This past weekend my husband and I were cleaning our patio and front porch for an outdoor party we were hosting. We finally took down the empty bird’s nest on top of the column by our front door. A lovely family of robins lived there in the spring of 2008, and I was hoping to extend my voyeur experience into the lives of baby birds again in 2009 and this spring. But the nest remained abandoned both springs, with only scraggly twigs and drippings of bird poop left as reminders of its former glory. I wondered if mother birds ever inhabit a “used” nest, so I Googled it and found that harmful bacteria often grow in these abandoned nests, so the removal was a good idea.

And then I read the new Writer’s Digest interview with one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, about her new novel, Imperfect Birds. She’s returning to fiction after years of writing creative nonfiction—especially memoir and essays, two of my favorite genres.

Anne says the title, Imperfect Birds, was inspired by a line from a Rumi poem:

“Each must enter the nest made by the other imperfect birds.”

Lamott continues:

“… it’s really about how these kind of scraggly, raggedy nests that are our lives are the sanctuary for other people to step into, and that if you want to see the divine, you really step into the most absolutely ordinary. When you’re absolutely at your most lost and dejected … where do you go? You go to the nests left by other imperfect birds, you find other people who’ve gone through it. You find the few people you can talk to.”

Earlier in the interview Lamott had said, “I think I have a little bit of a messiah complex in the sense that I really want to share useful information. I want to share stories that I think are valuable and medicinal.”

Her memoirs and essays are all that and more. They are art. They are the standard against which I hold my own creative nonfiction writing, which falls far short, but nevertheless I’m not going to lower the bar. To people who ask me why I write, my answer usually includes bits of both of Lamott’s reasons: I also have a messy but well-worn nest where I hope people can bring their brokenness and feel comforted by mine; and, like Lamott, I want to share “useful information.” That’s part of why I write a blog and publish personal essays and try to be transparent about so many aspects of my life. And I feel affirmed when people leave comments or email or FB message me and say things like, “that’s just how I feel and you expressed it so well,” or “it’s great to read someone who understands my struggle.”

I wasn’t really all that crazy about Lamott’s first two fiction books, but I’m anxious to read Imperfect Birds. I imagine her years of sharing “useful information” through her amazing memoirs and essays have only sharpened her story-telling skills. Fiction is hard to write, as she herself says in the interview. I’m in the process of beginning a fiction novel, and while the task is daunting, it’s also thrilling. My hope and prayer is that I can find the triumph Lamott speaks of in this interview:

“The triumph is to hold a finished novel in your hand that’s going to be published in four or five months and that it’s not awful. The triumph is that it’s not awful.”

Here’s to not-awful novels and messy, nurturing nests. And excellent publications like Writer’s Digest. (By the way, I accidently ripped part of Lamott’s face off the picture on the cover when I was removing the subscription renewal envelope, which was stuck on with some of the glue-gook. Wish they hadn’t put it on her face!)


Every now and then I look through the stacks of publications that arrive in our mailbox and consider which ones I don’t really need. It’s not just for budgetary reasons—it’s also that there’s only so much time for ladies’ magazines (the only one I take is Real Simple) and beautiful regional pubs (like Garden & Gun and Southern Living) and literary magazines (like The Oxford American) and journals (like Creative Nonfiction). And then there are the publications that are important to my craft as a writer, especially Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. Today is one of those days where I’m absolutely sure I’m going to renew my Writer’s Digest subscription. The last issue featured another of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Berg, on the cover. That’s 2 for 2. Can’t wait to see the next issue. And the next nest the birds build on my front porch.

Former blog posts I’ve written about Anne Lamott:

“Once You Know Where True Is”

“Scootch, Scootch, Bog, Or Grace, Eventually”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Secret Metaphors: The Importance of Accurate Translations

Last night the Orthodox Christian Translation Society had it’s launch event, “Sweet Treats for Many Tongues,” at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis. (I had a great time as a volunteer, hostessing the Mexican hot chocolate table.) The non-profit organization has been in the making for a number of years, and is the brain-child of four young women who serve as its board of directors: Erin Mashburn Moulton, Sally Elliott Boyle, Jodi Elliott and Amy Clithero Gill. Erin, Sally and Jodi are former members of St. John, now living in other states, and Amy currently lives in Memphis, and is a member at St. John. We are so blessed to be involved as a parish in helping launch this new ministry.

I say “ministry” because people everywhere are desperate for accurate translations. As Erin pointed out in her talk at St. John last night, one of many examples is the rampant alcoholism in Russia, which could possibly be served by the translation of Father Meletios Webber’s book, Steps of Transformation which melds Orthodox spirituality with the traditional 12 Steps of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. (Webber is an Orthodox priest with a doctorate in counseling.)

As I perused the book tables at the event last night—showcasing numerous books just waiting for translation into English and other languages—I noticed a book by one of my favorite authors, Olivier Clément, a French theologian and convert to Orthodoxy. I love his book, Roots of Christian Mysticism, and can see tremendous value in having his works translated and made available to people all over the world.

On the same table was a book by Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, whose book, The Meaning of Icons, has also been a great blessing to me.

I could go on and on. As a convert to the Orthodox Christian faith in the 1980s, I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to more translated works on the early Christian faith than I’ve had time to read in my lifetime, but I’ve only been Orthodox for just over twenty years. The next generation has caught up with and surpassed me and is hungry for more, as are people all over the world. Kudos to Erin, Sally, Jodi and Amy for initiating this important work. Please keep them in your prayers, and if you are so inclined, sign up for their newsletter (on their web site) and make a donation.

It was interesting to wake up this morning and read “Duet For Two Pens," Richard Howard’s book review of Edith Grossman’s new book, Why Translation Matters, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Howard’s closing paragraph says it well:

“In the end, Grossman warmly (after all) and gratefully rehearses the twofold answer to the question of her title: translation matters because it is an expression and an extension of our humanity, the secret metaphor of all literary communication; and because the creation of any literary translation is (or at least must be) an original writing, not a pathetic shadow or tracing of the inaccessible “original” but the creation, indeed, of a second — and as we have seen, a third and a ninth — but always a new work, in another language.”

I’m guilty of ignorance, laziness, and snobbery where language is concerned—I only speak (and read) English. And I’ve traveled to many countries where I’m sure I’ve come across as another entitled American, insisting that my hosts speak my language. My world would be pretty small without the dedicated work of quality translators, in both secular literature and spiritual writings. At 59 it’s unlikely that I’m going to learn another language. So you can bet I’ll be supporting the Orthodox Christian Translation Society’s important work. Won’t you join me?

How Can You Help? CLICK HERE for more information about how you can become a donor, sponsor a translation project, volunteer your time, or purchase a book. Or simply mail your tax-deductible check to:

Orthodox Christian Translation Society
1663 Tutwiler Ave.
Memphis TN 38107

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Emotions Outlast the Memories

What a blessing I received today from one of my Goddaughters, Katherine Thames, who lives in Gulfport, Mississippi. She’s a nursing student, and she was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday and heard this short program about how memories can impact the emotions of Alzheimer’s patients long after the event is over. Click here to listen---it’s only about 4 minutes long and well worth it.
Or you can read the article here.

Katherine sent me the link just as I was driving down to Jackson (Mississippi) to visit my mother (who is 82 and has Alzheimers) in the nursing home where she has lived for a year and a half. Justin Feinstein, a graduate student in neuropsychology at the University of Iowa, did a study to prove that events—happy or sad—affect Alzheimer’s patients long after they forget the actual event. They showed clips of sad, and then happy, movie scenes to patients, who responded with tears, sadness, or laughter at the time.

Later, even when the patients didn’t remember watching the movie scenes, they expressed sadness they couldn’t explain… or an upbeat mood swing, after they watched the happy scenes.

The encouraging thing about this is that family and friends of Alzheimer’s patients often dread visiting their loved ones because they don’t seem to remember the visit. It can be depressing, or feel meaningless. And while I know it isn’t meaningless to visit my mother, whether or not she remembers it, it really helps me to know that the things I do with her will cause her happiness long after she forgets the activity. I try to leave her reminders—like taping the picture we color or paint together on the dresser in her room—and I think that helps. Sometimes I send her a photo of us together, from our last visit, in a card the following week.

Today the physical therapist told me that she’s been working with Mom on “restorative therapy”—especially walking—for a couple of weeks now. Mom refused to cooperate with physical therapy a year ago after her hip replacement surgery, which is why she is stuck in a wheel chair all day long. But now, she’s up and walking (with help) for a few minutes every morning, six days a week. So, I’m sitting in the lobby with Mom this afternoon and I say, “Mom, I’m so glad to hear you’ve been walking some!”

“Really? I can’t remember that.” Blank expression on her face.

But then the therapist walks up and says, “Hi, Miss Effie. I see you daughter, Susan is here. I’ve been telling her about how good you’re doing with your walking now.”

Mom lights up when she sees the therapist and says, “I know you. But I don’t remember walking.”

So the therapist makes movements, showing what Mom looks like shuffing along, taking baby steps with a walker. Mom smiles and laughs gently. “If you say so.”

She doesn’t remember that she’s been walking every morning, but her overall sense of well-being seems better. I ask if her hip is hurting, or her legs, and she says no. So the movement is beneficial, physically, but I think the personal interaction she has with the physical therapist—a happy, upbeat woman—is what causes her long-term emotional boost.

After spending several hours with Mom today—eating cookies, coloring, painting (with paint pens), sitting outside on the patio looking at the plants, and visiting with various staff and residents, I was preparing to say goodbye. I reminded Mom of some of the things we had done together during those hours, and she had already forgotten about the cookies, asking when we were going to have them. Before listening to this story, I would have been frustrated, but now I’m hopeful that somehow she’s going to be on an emotional cookie-high for a while even though she doesn’t remember them.

I hope this study encourages more people to visit their loved ones with Alzheimers. Feinstein says it’s best to have short, frequent, “happy” visits. A friend from Mom’s church called last week and told me that several people, including her daughter, visit Mom regularly, which I didn’t know because Mom never remembers. But I’m hoping that even those short visits are leaving a happy emotional wake.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Writer-in-Waiting

Two weeks ago I got a “novel idea.” I was so excited to get started on a new book, and I was able to spend a few hours doing some pre-first-draft research. And then life happened.

In the past 13 days, my life has been filled with some big events, including (but not exclusively):

Holy Week (10 church services in six days)

Southern Wing and a Prayer Tour
stop at my house March 31 (that's me with authors and radio show hosts Shellie Tomlinson and River Jordan)

Pascha (2 church services and lots of cooking and other preparations)

Writing the memorial brochure for the funeral services (and all that goes with) for Esther Elliott Longa

Visit from my daughter, Beth, from graduate school (and initial discussions about her upcoming graduation, job, housing, and future wedding plans—Beth was engaged to Kevin Davis on March 20!)

Hosting cookout for 20 members of our wonderful choir (at St. John Orthodox Church)

Helping with wedding shower for Caitlyn Manning (our delightful personal chef and dear friend)

Lots of phone calls to/from our son, Jason, who had emergency surgery (in Denver) last week

Memorial Service for my husband’s colleague and friend, Grant Somes, Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine, who died in a canoeing accident on the Mississippi River

And now this new week begins and I’m in the process of planning an engagement party I’m co-hosting (at our house) this coming Sunday night (for 40 people) and helping with the Orthodox Christian Translation Society’s “Sweet Treats for Many Tongues” event at St. John Saturday night.

And I’m overdue for a visit to my mother in Jackson, Mississippi. Gotta take the vacuum cleaner in to be repaired. Need a haircut. Have two women’s meetings on Thursday.

All that to say that my life is full and I’m so thankful for the “good parts” that fill my days, but I’m sitting here wondering when I’m going to write. I’m also wondering how people who have day jobs that require them to be somewhere away from home from 9-5 ever get any of the rest of “life” done. It’s a mixed blessing, this “leisure” that I have. Okay, yes, it’s a blessing. Period. But it’s obviously going to require some structure on my part if I’m ever going to get a book written.

I’ve tried setting aside 3 mornings a week to write. Or two full days a week. I’ve tried going to coffee shops or to the library to get away from the house and all of its reminders of other things I need to do. I’m wishing I had an office away from the house, or even a “room of my own” (which I hope to have in my next house) that felt separate enough that I could hang a sign on the door and ignore the phone and doorbell and temptations to go put in a load of laundry or check the mail. But I’m thinking that this “structure” that I need is mostly in my head. Just as the discipline that I need to exercise regularly is in my head, since the elliptical machine is right upstairs and I haven’t been on it in two weeks, either.

Maybe I haven’t quite acquired the mindset that I AM A WRITER—that THIS IS MY JOB. Or maybe I’m not ready to embrace the loneliness that I know it entails. I’ve got my “loner side,” but I’m really a people person.

I’ve read lots of writers’ blogs and web sites where they talk about making time for writing. One writer I follow talks about writing for two hours every morning BEFORE HER CHILDREN WAKE UP. Now that’s discipline.

I guess it’s going to come down to what I really WANT to do. It seems that I always make time for the things I want to do most. Just as I was thinking about changing the name of my blog to “Writer in Waiting,” I remembered that Kim Michele Richardson already has a blog with that name (and a published book, I might add.)

So, it’s 3:30 p.m. and I’ve got 2 hours ‘til my “scheduled” time to get on the elliptical machine (while my husband is jogging). How many words could I write in two hours? Can I really focus on drafting a novel with the broken vacuum cleaner lurking by the back door? Would it help if I moved it to the trunk of my car? We’ll see . . . .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Esther Elliott Longa: Memory Eternal

It's Bright Week. Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

And yet the cares of life can so easily ensnare us. Near the end of Holy Week, all during Pascha weekend, and early in Bright Week, I allowed some of those cares to steal bits of my joy:

Let's start with Comcast. We "bundled" our phone, internet and cable television services a while back. No problem. Except that suddenly our phones started cutting out. So I called Comcast. Five times in 3 days. Spoke with 4 customer service reps and one superviser. In the process of "resetting" our phone line, one customer service rep disconnected our internet. Finally it came back on. And finally a real live body showed up, on Tuesday, to make repairs. He said that the Comcast person who bundled our system didn't completely disconnect us from our previous server, AT&T, and that was causing the problems. He "fixed it." Or so he said. It's cutting out again.

Smaller "cares" have included the air-conditioning and heating going out, the garage door getting stuck, and the vacuum cleaner breaking, all during Pascha weekend and Bright week.

But just as I was losing my grip on my Paschal Joy, I was brought back into focus by a legitimate care: the death of 29-year-old Esther Elliott Longa on Monday night. Esther had given birth to her first son, Elliott, on March 4, but had complications and was in ICU for almost five weeks before her death. She grew up with my own children here in midtown Memphis, and I've known her parents, Deacon Sidney and Mary Elliott, for 40 years. Her older sister, Sally Elliott Boyle, is a dear friend of mine. Suddenly "cares" came into perspective.

Last night at the Trisagion Prayers and visitation, the church was full to overflowing with family, friends, co-workers, and church members. Father John Troy gave a beautiful homily and the choir sang joyous Paschal music. It was a surreal mix of Bright Sorrow.

My daughter, Beth, drove home from graduate school in Knoxville for the funeral, and especially to see her friend, Rebecca, Esther's younger sister. (Beth was between Rebecca and Esther in school.) It was comforting to have her with me last night and this morning for the funeral.

As we went by the family to speak to each of them, I approached Esther's mother, Mary, and wept in her arms. The first thing she said to me was, "How is Jason doing? Rebecca (her youngest daughter) told me he was in the hospital. Is he okay?" She was burying her daughter and she was asking about my son, who was at that moment having his appendix removed in a hospital in Denver. She is one of the most unselfish, loving women I know. It was very humbling.

At the end of the service, after everyone else had gone up to give Esther a final "kiss of peace," her family also filed by her casket. The last to do this was her husband, Luis, holding their five-week-old son, Elliott. I was overwhelmed with emotion at that moment, realizing, as I had the day before when I held Elliott for the first time, that he would never know his birth mother. And so I wept for Baby Elliott. But I also gave thanks for his loving father, Luis.

I'm getting ready to go back to the church for the funeral at 10:30 a.m., so I'll close by sharing the text from the memorial brochures which will be given out at the funeral this morning. There are details about making donations to help Luis with all the medical expenses and with the baby. I just posted the same information in a note on Facebook.

We love you and miss you, Esther. May your memory be eternal!

Mary Esther Elliott Longa
November 29, 1980 – April 5, 2010

Esther Longa was born on November 29, 1980, in Memphis, Tennessee. The second daughter of Deacon Sidney and Mary Elliott, Esther brought light and joy to all around her with her feisty spirit and radiant smile. Along with her parents and sisters, she was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church in March of 1987, when she was six years old. Esther went to Snowden elementary and junior high school, and graduated from Central High School in 1999. At Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, she was active in Phi Mu sorority, participating in many community events, including Habitat for Humanity.

Following graduation from Millsaps College in 2003, Esther worked in banking (NBC, SunTrust) for five years before starting her own Spanish-English tutoring business in 2008. On September 10, 2006, she married Luis Enrique Longa at St. John. They enjoyed a happy married life together, buying a house in Bartlett and traveling to Luis’ native country, Peru, twice. Esther found out she was pregnant in July of 2009 and excitedly spent the next eight months preparing for the birth of her son. Due to complications, Esther gave birth one month early to Elliott Luis Longa, on March 4. Three days afterwards she developed pneumonia and, subsequently, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). On April 5, Esther died peacefully with all of her family (including her one-month-old son Elliott) and two priests there with her.

Esther leaves her son Elliott Luis Longa, her husband, Luis Enrique Longa, her parents, Deacon Sidney and Mary Elliott, and her two sisters, Sally Elliott Boyle and Rebecca Leigh Elliott.

From Esther’s day planner:

“There are only two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.”—Albert Einstein

The interment will be at Forest Hill Cemetery, 2440 Whitten Road, immediately following the funeral service. All are invited to a mercy meal in the parish hall after the interment.

The family would like to thank everyone for their love, support, and prayers. In lieu of flowers, donations to assist with medical expenses can be given to St. John Orthodox Church noting “Esther Longa” on your check.

Saint John Orthodox Church
1663 Tutwiler Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38107

April 8, 2010


Very Rev. Father John Troy Mashburn, Pastor
Deacon Tim Mashburn
Deacon Charles McKelroy
Saint John Orthodox Church

Very Rev. Father James Meadows
Saint Peter Orthodox Church, Madison, Mississippi


Jason Boyle
Dan Bradley
Fred Bradley
Michael Elliot
Robert Amann
Jose Vargas

Monday, April 5, 2010


A lot has happened since my Holy Friday post, including three services on Holy Friday (Royal Hours, The Taking Down from the Cross and Lamentations); Holy Saturday Liturgy with two baptisms and seven Chrismations; making lamb soup; Paschal midnight service; Pascha brunch with friends; Agape Vespers (Sunday afternoon) with egg hunt and picnic. It’s no wonder that when I got home from the picnic after 7:30 last night I crashed on the couch and woke up three hours later! Pascha weekend is always like a marathon, especially since it follows on the heels of Holy Week, which offers nine services!

It was a joy to have my daughter, Beth, home from grad school this weekend, and I dragged her down to the Mississippi River to enjoy sunset together on Saturday, four hours before the 11:30 p.m. service began at St. John. Three hours later, she was serving up lamb soup with me in the church kitchen at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. The fellowship hall was so crowded that we enjoyed staying in the kitchen where a steady flow of folks joined us for champagne toasts and lamb soup ‘til the wee hours. I think we got home around 4:45 a.m.

After a few hours of sleep we went to a Pascha brunch in the home of our dear friends (and the parents of our Goddaughter, Sophie) and relaxed by the pool in the sunshine for a couple of hours, until it was time for the weekend’s finale—Agape Vespers.

I have a confession to make. By 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon I was already “coming down” from my Paschal high, and I was trying to garner some enthusiasm for yet one more church service. Riding to the church in my friend’s convertible with the top down, while his 5- and 7-year-old daughters were belting out the chorus to Julio Iglesias’ “Mama Blue” in the back seat, I was enjoying the wind in my hair and the sunshine on my face and I looked at my friend, who was driving, and said, “Do we really have to go to church?” Of course I said it in jest, but once we arrived the 5-year-old asked me at least ten times, “is it almost over?” so that the egg hunt could start. So I tried to help her enter into the service, even though I was also ready for the egg hunt so we could go back outside. And then, during the final service of Holy Pascha, we got a little something extra.

After the Gospel readings in twelve different languages (by eleven parishioners and one priest) Father Nikolai (our Assistant Pastor) reminded us of the joy the Gospel readings had spoken of. His face was radiant, as it had been on Saturday morning when he spoke briefly after the baptisms and Chrismations, reminding us that the newly illumined were close to God’s heart, and so we should embrace them, and ask their prayers for our loved ones. As we began going forward to venerate the icons, the choir began singing this beautiful Easter song. I think it was in Spanish, but I’m not sure. It just lifted my spirits and reminded me that the joy of Pascha morning—of Christ’s resurrection—would carry me through the rest of the day, the week, the year.

The joy followed us downstairs and out the back door to the egg hunt.

And into the fellowship hall for Corky’s barbeque.

And out onto the front lawn for a picnic. Mothers with new babies arrived. And grandbabies. Friends and family together on the most gorgeous Easter Sunday I can remember.

We were entertained by our fellow parishioners, Ann Catherine and David on bagpipes.

And later David joined Nicholas, Bill and Nathan, dubbed the “Agape Pickers” for the day, who took us past sunset with their rousing tunes.

Sophie (my goddaughter) and Isabelle (her sister) joined me in a dance just before sunset.

And so the joy continues with “Bright Week.” Bright Monday always feels a little sleepy to me, and there is laundry to do and groceries to be shopped for and bills to pay and workout routine to recover, but the light of Christ, which illumined the Church all weekend, illumines our hearts as we go forward into “normal time.”

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!