Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When Learning Difficulties Lead to Beauty

Bobby with his granddaughter, Kadence
 My brother died soon after my father.  I missed my father’s memorial service and in my grief shared a bit about him in this blog.  I was there with my brother, Bobby, when he died on the 12th of September, but once again I ask that you please bear with me as I share a bit of who Bobby was.

My dear brother was a gentle, sweet-natured man.  He was an artist*, a loving husband, father, son, and brother.  He had deep faith although he had little to do with institutional religion. He lived his life and ran his little jewelry shop honestly and ethically.
As a boy he was unruly, unpredictable and a nightmare for teachers.  He went to elementary school in an area and a time when learning disabilities were not acknowledged due to ignorance in the educational community and due to his teachers**, most of whom just wanted to do their class and go home.  He had some horrible teachers.  His second grade teacher physically and verbally abused him.

At the age of 21 years after leaving high school and training to be a jeweler, Bobby learned he was dyslexic.  What a relief it was for him to learn he was not stupid as many of his teachers and classmates thought and instilled in him!

Having a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity) and remembering Bobby’s childhood, I am convinced that along with the dyslexia he also had ADHD.  He had a hard time focusing unless whatever he was doing was something he loved then he hyper-focused…like his jewelry. 
As a teen living with learning disabilities and low self-esteem, Bobby started drinking, smoking, and using drugs.  The alcohol and his drugs of choice lead me to think that like many teens with ADHD, Bobby chose to self-medicate.

Eight years ago, Bobby went through rehab and was sober until he died…but he was never successful at battling cigarettes.  He died from cancer that started in his mouth.

Bobby in his shop
Bobby’s learning problems led to beauty.  Many dyslexics have great capacity of creativity and he did.  The pieces he made were exquisite. Many people with ADHD are impulsive, sometimes they don’t make the wisest decisions but sometimes they are the most generous and the kindest.  Bobby was that…sweet and kind.

In the Nicaraguan public schools, knowledge of and accommodations for learning disabilities are almost on the same level as they were when Bobby was a child.   Teachers likely do not understand.  If by miracle the teacher is able to identify a learning disability, they certainly don’t have the resources or the time to accommodate these special children.  All of this leads to children suffering like Bobby did.

Bobby with his family.
Pat, our clinic counselor, helps some of these children in Nueva Vida.  Learning disabilities, if identified, are left to the therapists.  Pat works with our doctors to get them medications if appropriate.  She does therapy with them.  She helps to rebuild their self-esteem.  She also helps them and their parents learn coping mechanisms, but the need is great.

Bobby & his son visiting a volcano in Nicaragua.
Children with learning disabilities are difficult in class and often at home, but they are also a gift to society.  They are frequently the artists, the impulsive givers, and the ones who can think outside the box.  Bobby was that and so much more and I miss him.
*For those of who have visited the CDCA in Nicaragua the lions sitting out front of the house have all their legs because when Bobby visited us, he sculpted one missing leg.

**Bobby’s daughter, Gloria, became a high school teacher and has won two years in a row the best teacher award.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Laughter is a Survival Tool

In the last two months being away from Nicaragua and living through some tough times, I have learned a great deal.  One is the need for laughter, not the smiling-through-the-pain-and-sorrow…no, true laughter.

I have a pet peeve that has come from working with the poor and hosting volunteers from the U.S.  The peeve is when occasionally the volunteers comment, “These people are poor, but they are so happy.”  Many will follow that comment with “It must be their simple life and the fact that they are not as stressed as the over-booked lives we live.”

These comments show an utter lack of understanding of stress.  After working with the poor for over 30 years, I can only just begin to understand how stressful the lives of the poor are as they struggle day-in and day-out to survive.  Their stress is magnified by dangers that threaten their very existence.

Also I know volunteers often can’t see in the short time here the deeper feelings that surround them…they often miss the pain of parents when they come to the clinic with sick children because, from the outside, the poor do “appear” happy because there is frequently lots of laughter.  

I quickly learned after being in the hospital, there is just so much “yucky” feeling one can stand and not go insane.  Mike, my wonderful partner, has always been able to make me laugh…and so can all the children.  It is a gift they inherited from their father.  Though I had to hold my belly to keep from hurting, laughter released the needed endorphins in me.

Three weeks after leaving the hospital, my father died and I could not travel to go home.  Nora, a good friend and long-time volunteer, flew from North Carolina to be with me.  I would cry and she and Mike gave me hugs, but they also made sure to make me laugh. 

Less than two weeks after Daddy died, we learned that my brother, Bobby, was diagnosed with cancer that has invaded his whole body.

Tiff, who we are staying with the most, comes home from work, puts on the news and then follows it with comedies.  We often will sit around and tell stories of many years ago that makes me laugh and laugh.  Coury and Cassie come comes to check on me and more laughter ensues. People call and I laugh.  

Am I happy?  I often look happy.  BUT I’m often still sore and tired from surgery.  I grieve deeply for my father.  I worry about the CDCA and Community with us being away for so long.  And my heart is utterly breaking for my brother.

I’ve known that laughter has gotten us as far working with the poor in the States and in Nicaragua, but now laughter seems even more critical.  I know that if I did not have people around me to make me laugh, to laugh with me and – in truth – oftentimes at me, I would curl up and stop.  

The poor cannot stop, so they find humor in the sadness, in the hurt, in the dark, dark places.  Laughter is a survival tool.  Laughter has the power to open light in the soul.  It is also a gift, a grand glorious gift to be spread the world over.  -Kathleen

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Knew Y'all Had My Back

Having to go into the hospital -- unplanned, in a country where we no longer live, during a time when we were only going to be gone from Nicaragua for just a week -- I have learned the value…the immense value of support.
W/Cassie and Coury in role as Che...we saw the last show!

I am convinced that my healing has been greatly influenced by the support I have received here.  When I went into the hospital, we were in Sacramento to see our son, Coury, on stage.  Cassie, Coury’s girlfriend and our long-time friend through volunteering in Nicaragua, was working the ER as a resident.  Our son Daniel was with us as I was admitted in ER.  Later that night, Coury and our daughter Jessica joined the Murdock/Woodard circus in the ER with Mama.

Throughout the hospital lucha (struggle), Cassie helped me and Mike understand what all the doctors were saying, what the tests showed, and how serious it was.  Coury, Jessica, and our son Tiff kept Mike company and sane during my days in the ICU while I was mostly oblivious to my environment – thank you, morphine!  

Jessica informed “the world” of my trials and progress so that friends and family would know what was happening with me, which meant Mike did not have to field as many calls. It also meant that many, many people sent well wishes via email and prayed for us.

There were times I thought I was going to die and I knew that Daniel was going home to Nicaragua and would be support for Joseph, the youngest of the family and who had not come to California.  I knew the kids would support each other and Mike.  I knew that the community at home would carry on and support each other and that we had good people in Nicaragua that would help.  I knew this for certain.

Jane with me recovering
After the ICU but still in the hospital, Coury and Jane, another long time friend and volunteer from Nicaragua, would drop in to relieve Mike and support me. 

Jane modeled for me what to do if someone goes into the hospital…how to be an advocate with nurses and doctors, how to get a patient up and walking…she even got me out into the sun.  She brought gifts, magazines and chicken noodle soup…the first food I ate. She read to me and she and Mike made me laugh.  She took days off work to help us in the hospital and later with doctors’ appointments.

Tiff and his housemates took Mike and me into their home for months.  Between Tiff and Coury we have always had a place to stay (Dena, Cassie’s sister, still lends us her bedroom every time we come to their house in Sacramento!), a car to go to and from appointments, food to eat, and all we need.

Blue Zones is a book being talked about here in the States now.  "Blue zones" are areas where people live a vital 10 years longer than the rest of us in the world.  Food, exercise, and reducing stress are all aspects of the communities in the Blue Zones.  But two elements that the book stresses are friendship and knowing that someone has your back
Coury with me outside!

If we had not had all the support from family and friends here and in Nicaragua, I would have been anxious, fretful, stressed out, and felt lost.  Knowing people had Mike’s and my back eased tremendous stress for both of us and let the healing occur unencumbered.

Living as a family… true community…as brothers and sisters…is a good idea…a really good idea.  Not only might we live longer, but we all might live more peacefully.  Let’s do it.