Stories and thoughts about family and life

The Dream

As I was waking, I was desperately trying to hold onto the quickly fading dream.   It had seemed so real, although my logical mind was arguing with me as I was dreaming that what I was seeing was not possible.  As I woke up and thought about the date, I realized why my subconcious mind chose to share with me what it did.

The dream was that my mom was really sick (which she had been the past couple of years of her life), and went into the hospital.  She quickly ended up in ICU, and we argued frequently about her care.  She was resistant to believing what anyone was telling her, and was trying to make light of the whole thing.  That was very similar to my experience two years before she passed away, when she was in the hospital, and subsequently in rehab in Little Rock following a near-death situation.

Throughout my dream she was still confined to the hospital, but was herself as I remember her 30-40 years ago.  She was even wearing outfits I remember her in when I was a kid.  She was cleaning, and organizing things and taking care of things as if she wasn’t sick at all.  I kept arguing with her that she needed to take it easy in the hospital and continue to get well, and the hospitalization was obviously doing her good as she had more energy and was acting like her old self.

When I was a child, The Waltons was one of our family’s favorite shows.  In my dream, I had been enlisted to help John Boy get his paper operation up and running, and he had a huge warehouse with large printing presses and needed help getting them delivered because of a group of wildfires in the area.  I know.  Makes no sense, except that I was torn about leaving the hospital and ensuring Mom’s care continued and she continued to get better.  As I discussed it with her and told her I would be back as soon as I could, she told me that she was fine and I needed to remember that, no matter what happened.  Even if she wasn’t going to be with me anymore, I needed to know that she was fine and accomplishing my task was the thing I needed to focus on.  It would all be okay, no matter what.

I went on to help John Boy deliver his papers, along with a guy in an old GMC pickup similar to one we had growing up, and we met a wall of forest fire and grouped up with a bunch of neighbors trying to battle it.  We stood there, side by side, and ready for the fire to advance, and found ourselves with the realization that the fire wasn’t moving at all.  It was simply raging in place.  We discussed what a bizarre situation that was and I recalled Mom’s words about her being fine and everything being fine. I knew it in my heart then:  she was gone.

I don’t remember anything else about the dream, except the realization that it was a dream, and that today marks one year since that fateful call from Daddy telling me she couldn’t breathe and he didn’t know what to do beyond calling 911.  As I drove to Ft. Smith that night and we talked back and forth with him about how they had to go to Waldron instead of Ft. Smith first, I warned my younger sister that this was indicative of what bad shape she was in.  I didn’t want to scare her, but I had a terrible feeling that this was going to be the end.  My sisters and I had talked a couple of times about how badly her health had been going that year, and that she would likely not see Christmas.  I had made that remark a mere 10 days or so earlier—I had never imagined it was going to happen that fast.

Daddy has appeared to me several times in my dreams since his death in November. The first couple were very short and a little disconcerting, but I grew to appreciate these brief appearances, and it kept me connected to him.  Other than the week after her death, I have not seen Mom in a dream at all.  I’ve wondered why that was, and resolved that to my closer relationship with Daddy.

As I was waking, Mom’s words echoed in my mind. “I’m okay.  I’ll be okay.  You need to focus on your task and know it will all be okay.”  I’m smart enough to know that the subconscious mind helps you deal with things sometimes through imagery you’ll understand to work out problems, etc.,    I think that, coinciding with the anniversary of Mom’s last day, probably really made a big deal out of some challenges I’m facing.  Regardless the reason, I’m grateful for the images of a much younger, healthier Mom.  I’m grateful for the memories of someone who was busy and full of life, and willing to work hard.  I’m especially grateful for the message, and for the encouragement.

By the way, in case you’re interested, dreaming of fire means that either you have unchecked, uncontrolled anger you need to get in line, or that you’re facing a reformation in your life which can only be achieved through some difficult changes. In Chinese lore, dreaming about fire either symbolizes passion, desire and wealth or frustration, worry, and anger.

It’s going to be a sad couple of days. I know that. I’m grateful that my brain saw fit to help me begin that acknowledgement with something more positive and encouraging. I’m grateful for all the years I had my mom, and my dad, and the encouragement they gave me when I left a very good job to pursue my business and build a dream. I have so much for which to be grateful.

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Mother ‘s Day and the cell phone

It started with a lost cell phone.  And that started with a misbehaving attitude and a cell phone “time out” coupled with the fact that I’ve apparently completely lost my mind in the past year.

Brennan got into some trouble a few months ago and we took his phone away.  He lost it a couple of weeks, earned it back, had it a couple of weeks and lost it again.  Louis and I have changed the hiding place in the house a couple of times, knowing that the kid was onto us.  Well, we’ve apparently done a great job hiding it this time, because we can’t find it.

Nothing makes you realize how much crap you’ve accumulated over your nearly 27 years of marriage like looking for a lost item the size of a cell phone.  Couple that with the amount of things I’ve integrated into my life from my parents and I think I’ll be better off just buying the kid a replacement (or upgrading mine and giving him that one).  At any rate, I’ve been on quite the walk down memory lane today, which I suppose is appropriate, since it’s Mother’s Day weekend.

I found a variety of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards we’ve kept over the years.  I found the first tooth for one of the boys, and the little necklace the school sent home with the tooth enclosed in a neat little case.  I found all of the Boy Scout Merit badges Louis had earned, and his Arrow of Light sash.  I found a package of napkins from our wedding which read “This day I will marry my Friend, the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, Love” and our names and date: August 31, 1991.  I found one of Gomez’s (our first dog) leashes.  I found my mom’s reading glasses and her watch, which no longer works, but I can’t make myself get rid of it.

Louis’ mother had a cedar chest.  She actually had a couple of them, and I was blessed that his sister took one and made sure we took one.  Louis isn’t sentimental like I am, so he wasn’t really interested, but Kathy has always made sure to include me as her sister, and knew I would make use of the chest and then pass it on to one of the boys.  It’s been in our garage the past couple of years, waiting on me to purge and rearrange enough to make room for it.  It’s now stored safely in the bottom of Luke’s closet, and today I’ve been gathering little treasures to put in it:  sweaters my mom knitted both the boys when they were toddlers, Daddy’s leather gloves, my old Billy Joel concert t-shirts which have LONG since been too small, some cloth napkins Helen loved.  This old cedar chest has seen better days, with its deep scratches on the top from the years it spent in Helen’s closet, but it’s finding its purpose again:  protecting all those precious memories.

We lost Louis’ mom almost two years ago.  I lost my own mom almost 11 months ago, and Daddy a mere four months later and a few days.  I was telling my sister one day that I couldn’t quite articulate how I lost I felt and she said it quite succinctly:  we’re orphans.    I was so blessed to become a Mom myself 17 years ago, and again 15 years ago.  It’s crazy how the time has passed, and yet, how many years of those memories I have stored and touch from time to time.  I still have a ton of artwork from both of them, and outfits family members had given them, and a million things I hope they’ll treasure (or at least, their wives will) some day when they have their own kids.

Some of these years have been long, and I thought they’d never be over (I wondered for a while if Brennan would EVER sleep through the night, for example), and some of them have gone by in the blink of an eye.  Louis and I tell them stories about when they and their cousins were little, and all the sayings we’ve gotten from one or the other of them.  We reminisce with them about funny things they’ve done and I hope they truly know on some small scale how much they’ve enriched my life.   It’s weird to be at this place in my life, with my parents both gone, and my kids on the college doorstep, and realizing that I’m seriously entering a new phase, like it or not.  I’m so thankful for all the trips we’ve taken and the time we’ve spent together and the effort we’ve put into all of those things, and going through these memories this afternoon reminds me how blessed I am to be a mother, to have experienced the things my mom likely experienced with me, and to appreciate my relationship with her on another level.  I never really “got” why she freaked out when I joined the Army at 17, but believe me, I completely get it now.   You go through so much only wanting the best for your kids, and trying to let them lead their lives but trying to guide them so they don’t get hurt (physically or emotionally).

My kids laugh every year when I tell them it’s Mother’s Day and all I want it a nice meal at home and my house to be cleaned from top to bottom.  Well, they laugh after they roll their eyes, anyway.  But it’s seriously true.  I remember a couple of years ago my dad had a test in Ft. Smith and I had driven up with my younger sister and picked he and Mom up.  My older sister met us there.  We waited forever for the test, and we spent the whole time cracking each other up in the waiting room.  Us three girls throwing comments at each other and picking at Daddy, who kept nodding off.  Mom kept shushing us, but she secretly loved it.  At lunch, and on the way home, she talked and talked about how great it was to have her three girls together and see our family the way it used to be:  us all sitting around and teasing each other, and laughing.   I can’t even remember what we talked about, but she sure was happy watching all of us.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.  If you are a mom, I hope you are surrounded by love and happiness.  If you’ve lost your mom, I feel your pain and I hope you have wonderful memories to comfort you.   And no, I still haven’t found the cell phone.  Maybe I’ll get a new phone for Mother’s Day.  🙂


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Each weekend I work a little bit on my parents’ things.  I’ve been trying to take it in small bites and not overwhelm my family (or myself).  We’ve had my dining room piled with things that I just couldn’t face since we finished cleaning out the house in December.

Some of the things just needed to be cleaned and for me to find a home.  Others consisted of piles of papers or photos—things I needed to take time and read and sort.   Today I’m proud to say that we got through most of the remaining items, and even got the garage cleaned up in the process.  As I looked through all my dad’s papers,  I was so proud to see the number of times Daddy was recognized for extraordinary performance, safe driving, or meritorious service.

I found pictures of Mom and Daddy holding both the boys as babies, and I recall how much Mom was able to come and help me when they were babies.  She loved being here with them, and as the boys got older, we took them to the farm each year on spring break.  They had a ball fishing and riding 4-wheelers with Daddy, or riding bikes around the road in front of the house, just like I used to do.  I’m so glad they got that time with them, and that Mom and Daddy were able to travel with us as much as they were.  The boys still talk fondly of their trip to Europe and seeing all the places Mom and Daddy had lived or visited.  We were so fortunate to have all of that.

My sweet husband was kind enough to hang several things for me which had been in their house, and I surveyed all the accomplishments as we finished this afternoon:  the crystal lamp which used to sit in the living room above the television in their house and now has a new shade and a comfy spot on my end table.  The kitchen island which now holds Mom’s waffle iron, Daddy’s copper skillet cooking set, and all of Mom’s bowl sets I received.  The clock softly chimes at the bottom of the stairs as I write this, and every time it chimes I feel a hint of home.    I have two more big tasks to tackle and everything from their lives will be handled.  I hope they would be pleased with how we’ve taken care of everything and how it’s all turned out.

So, life goes on.  Work is busy and we have new opportunities I wasn’t anticipating.  The boys get bigger every day, and they’re turning into amazing young men.   I’ve been doing work in Ancestry to date back my family’s origins, and that has brought our family together as we marvel at the things we’ve found.

The person who now lives in their house posted a photo the other day of new baby animals on her farm and in the back of one of the photos I caught a glimpse of the fireplace and the dining chairs. It made me so happy to know that “home” isn’t empty.  It has someone there to keep loving it, and it won’t have to see a Christmas or an Independence Day or Thanksgiving without people in it.

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The Voicemails

On Thanksgiving afternoon, as we were preparing to leave Fayetteville, Brennan mentioned to his uncle that he had something of Mom’s.  When we got into the truck and headed toward Ft. Smith, I asked Brennan what he was talking about, and he mentioned that he had a recording done about three years ago with my mom.  She was living in Europe during WWII, and he was apparently doing a class project and decided that a recorded interview would be helpful.  He had held onto that recording, and he sent it to me.

While we were driving to the cemetery to place some flowers for my parents Thanksgiving night, I listened to the recording.  There was Brennan’s sweet voice, asking my mom questions about the war, and my mom, recalling the details and working to answer each of his questions.  It was a precious gift for me, and started me wishing I had something like that of Daddy’s.  I can still hear his voice in my head, but I dread the day that will fade away.

I was close to both my parents, but especially close to Daddy.  I’m very much like him–same temperament, same features, same mannerisms, and I was a tomboy who very much enjoyed my days on the farm with Daddy.  It didn’t matter if I was driving the tractor, repairing a water line, or working with livestock, I was perfectly at home and he and I had some very interesting days today.  I miss my mom, but the loss of my dad has hit me especially hard.  I don’t know if it’s the realization that they’re both gone, and the place I was raised is about to be gone too, or if it’s the difference in my relationship with him (or a little of all of it), but I’m struggling a lot right now with the whole thing.

As I was sitting in carpool line the other day, I was cleaning out a couple of voice mails, and scrolled down my voicemail list to see if there were any I hadn’t handled.  I spotted one that said “Daddy.”  I tentatively pushed the play button, and tears flooded my face as I heard his voice once again “This is Daddy.  Call me when you take a notion.”  I generally talked to my parents once or twice a week, but after Mom passed I started calling Daddy every couple of days.  After a month or so of that, he began to reciprocate, and I always felt badly when I was in the middle of something and couldn’t get to him immediately.  Now I realize that I’ve been graced with the same gift from Daddy, and I have him recorded.

As I thought about what to do with this recording to ensure I wouldn’t lose it, I realized that I likely had more in my deleted items folder.  I delete my voicemails, but I’m not always great about cleaning out the deleted folder.  I generally am irritated with myself, as this takes up a lot of space on my phone.  This day, however, I was so grateful.  I had voicemails dating back nearly a year, and a couple from my mom as well.  Happy messages, “we’re home” messages, silly messages (my Dad was famous for that), and sad messages.  The night we lost my mom he called me to tell me he was in trouble and to ask me to come home.  I didn’t catch the call when he originally made it, and the voicemail was gut wrenching as I could hear the tears in voice as he told me there was trouble and said he needed me home.

Lots of the voice mails are things about him driving to Little Rock, letting me know he’s leaving, or telling me he was headed to breakfast.  He doesn’t always say that in the message, but I know by the time he called or the way he sounded what was going on.   Breakfast was always my special time with Daddy.  Whenever we would travel together, or they were in Little Rock, it was understood he and I were going to breakfast.  That would be time for the two of us to catch up, and I loved the stories he would tell.  I’m going to miss that time a lot.

All told, I found about 15 voicemail messages.  And now I can hear him any time I want.

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Thanksgiving Adventures

Thursday was my first Thanksgiving without both my parents.  It’s been nothing short of an exceptional year and a lot of drama I wasn’t anticipating.    My mom had been ill for a while, so while her death was sudden I was much better prepared for it than my losing Daddy.   Still, I wouldn’t have told you that the holidays were going to be so terrible.  We were repeating last year’s holiday and traveling to my sister’s house.  I made the Pistachio salad my mom used to make and Mina had pecan pie in Mom’s pecan pie plate (literally shaped like a pecan pie with a pecan on top).  It was a wonderful day and we felt a lot of love.

We had decided to go to the farm that evening and on our way down the hill (traveling from Fayetteville down the mountain, for those who aren’t from around here), I started to cry.  The weight of it hit me for a few minutes and I gathered myself back together and thought that would be the worst of it.  I was kind or proud that I was holding it together–my poor kids have seen more tears lately than I’d like to admit.   As we drew closer and closer to Ft. Smith, I told my husband I’d like to go see Mom and Daddy.

I joke all the time that I need a camera crew to follow me around.  This holiday was no exception.  I could, quite seriously, have a very successful comedy show with nothing more than my ordinary life and the antics surrounding it.   We discussed whether the cemetery was even open on Thanksgiving.  Louis checked the National Cemetery website–it’s unclear.  I have him text a friend of mine who has relatives buried there.  She’s pretty certain it’s open, but we’re not 100% sure.  Louis continues to check various sources and discovers that the cemetery is supposed to be open “until dusk.”  Well, the sun was going to set at 5:06.   At this time it was 4:30, and we were coming into the edge of Ft. Smith.

We make a flying trip down Rogers Avenue to the cemetery and find the gates are, indeed, open.  We try to find the nearest Harp’s or Wal-Mart and have to drive pretty much right back to the interstate to find an open place with flowers.  I run into Wal-Mart, find a lovely little simple bouquet of flowers, and proceed to checkout.  I rush back out into our waiting SUV and we drive like maniacs back to the cemetery.  We’re so thankful as it’s 5:03 and the gates are still open.  We just have to make it inside, and we can finish our mission.  Red light.  The longest red light I’ve seen in a while.    The light finally changes and we zoom down the last two blocks and sail into the gate of the cemetery.  Whew!

Lucas had looked up the location of the grave site when we had been there the previous week (I hadn’t been since Mom’s funeral).  He was able to direct us around the cemetery to the appropriate section, and we all climb out of the vehicle and head toward the small marker indicating where the headstone will be placed in another week or two.   Tears already start to flow as I approach the fresh dirt, and I can hardly breathe anymore as I hand the flowers to Brennan and ask him to place them for me.  Lucas takes a picture and offers me his shoulder.  I buried my head and cried for several minutes, so thankful that I have my husband and my children.  So thankful that the cemetery was open.  So thankful that we could find flowers and that the last red light wasn’t any longer.

After what felt like forever, the sun began to set and I finally regained my composure.  It was getting colder, and I told my family it was time to go.  Louis offered to drive and we walked back and loaded up.  As we headed for the exit, Louis and I both erupted into laughter as we discovered that the cemetery has a side exit (which was the closest to where we were parked), and. . . there is no gate!  We remarked how funny my parents would have found this whole thing–us rushing around town like lunatics and then discovering that we could have taken all night and it wouldn’t have mattered because the side gate is always “open.”

So, Thanksgiving 2017 is now past us.  I’m sad, and I missed my parents much more than I would have thought.  We didn’t always spend the holidays together, so I thought this would just feel like one of those years.  Instead I missed them both, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called that phone number and caught myself just before it rings.  That’s probably the loneliest feeling I’ve experienced yet in my life.

I’m thankful for another year of my life and my beautiful family.  I’m thankful that neither of my parents suffered much in their last days, and I’m so exceptionally thankful that we were all home just a few days before Daddy died.  I honestly believe that he knew the end of coming and he was holding on to see us all again.  I’m thankful that I had such a beautiful farm to call home and that I was able to live the life I did and learn the lessons I did growing up.  They were sometimes hard or painful, and sometimes I couldn’t see the lesson in the moment, but I’m still thankful for all the things I’ve learned or gained from those experiences.  Most of all, though, I’m thankful for my sisters and my wonderful husband and children, who have let me lean on them and shared in the grief.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that our little “adventure” gave you a little chuckle.  Like Daddy always used to say, “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”

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Jennings Mountain

I’ve shed a lot of tears this week.  They come and go in waves now—from hysterical, crazy crying, to sobbing for a few minutes to tearing up but getting it all under control.   I never know when it’s going to hit or what’s going to set me off.  I know that’s to be expected, but it’s still a lot to work through each time.  This morning, for example, I lost it momentarily during breakfast.  Breakfast was the meal my dad and I shared together the most often–it was always our time to talk and muse over the happenings in the world.   It hits like a ton of bricks every time I hit one of those things which won’t ever happen again.

When Daddy called me Tuesday night, he was hurting, and we agreed I was going to make an appointment to finally see about having his knees repaired.  That was the last time I talked to him, and I had no idea it would really be the last time.  He apparently had a heart attack in the middle of the night and that was it.  No more two or three times a week phone calls.  No more escorting him to VA for his appointments, no more anything.  No more breakfasts.  No more “I love you girl” as we would hang up the phone.

My dad and I were very close.  Growing up, I was the typical tomboy and he and I did practically everything together.  I’ve learned so much from that man I can’t even put into words.  I would not be denied those lessons, either.  I’m sure I drove the man nuts–I had to know how everything worked.  I could swing a hammer, run electrical, handle plumbing.  I drove the tractor before I could drive a truck.   I learned so much about logic and critical thinking skills from having to stand there and solve problems.   He trusted me with a lot, and at a much younger age than I would have trusted either of my children.  I’ve learned to respect that so much more as I have become an adult with my own family.  He argued on my behalf so I could enlist–he knew how badly I wanted it and my mother was solidly against the idea.  I had to have their permission because I went delayed entry and enlisted at 17.  He always had my back.

When the first responder called me to tell me he was gone, I couldn’t even speak.  I could only cry out.  God bless my husband, who came and took over for me, called my sisters, listened to me screaming in his ear that I had to go to the farm NOW.  He obligingly loaded me up, took me to tell my boys, and then drove me to the farm, two and a half hours away.

That night was really a blur.  By the time we got to the farm, the coroner had already been there, and things were in motion.  All three of us girls and our spouses were there, and we made a preliminary plan.  We ate dinner and went our separate ways.  By late Thursday the funeral plans were made and there really wasn’t anything much more for me to do until the funeral on Monday.  It hit me suddenly Friday morning.  I needed to go to the farm.  I needed to go and spend the night, and be in that familiar place, and hear those familiar sounds, and feel something that connected me to him—something to fill this hole in my heart.

I finished what I absolutely had to do at the office, threw a couple of things in a bag, and headed for the farm.  I had dinner with my best friend, who helped me relax and keep things in perspective, and then I settled in for my night alone at the farm.  My husband was concerned about me going by myself.  I was not afraid, or even concerned.  My parents bought that house six months before I was born.  I am as comfortable there as I am my own home, and as I settled in for the evening, I found myself doing weird little things to make it feel “normal.”  I turned on the kitchen light over the sink.  I turned on the TV in the dining room (where Daddy usually sat), so the house didn’t feel so quiet.  I realized I hadn’t packed a sleep shirt.

I tiptoed into Daddy’s room and opened his t-shirt drawer, deciding that he wouldn’t mind me wearing one of his t-shirts.    I settled down for the evening in my sister’s bed, with the TV on low, and listened to the familiar sounds of the country–the dogs barking, the frogs and crickets, the house settling, and finally drifted off to sleep.   It’s funny to me how I worry in a hotel room about waking up and not knowing where I am and walking into a wall or something, but in that old house, it’s just like riding a bike.

When morning came, I turned on the news and started straightening things up a bit–grouping things together and trying to make it a little easier when we start really cleaning things out in a couple of weeks.  My sister drove down from Fayetteville and brought me breakfast, which was truly a welcome sight.  As we sat and visited and I inhaled my sausage roll from Rick’s Bakery, we discussed driving around the old place.

We hopped in Daddy’s truck and spent the next two hours driving around the outer fence lines of the property, and talking about hauling firewood or pulpwood over the years, feeding cows here or there, which ponds we had fished in as kids, building this fence or that loading chute, and trying to reach the old bluffs we used to visit frequently as kids (let me tell you, someone should have been there getting us on video climbing back and forth through the barbed wire fence!).

We drove through the old hog farm, and I stopped on the road, looking down into one of the buildings, remembering just as it was yesterday helping Daddy assemble the equipment and prepare to receive our first animals.  We discovered a pond we both had forgotten had ever been dug, and discussed all the buildings on the old place which used to stand (or parts were standing) and are all now gone.  It was the most beautiful way to spend the morning–revisiting the land Mom and especially Daddy loved so much, and laughing about what an interesting childhood we had.  We recalled a winter where every vehicle on the place was stuck.  Another winter (I was about 5, we think), when we couldn’t get up and down our road and Mina and I would drive the tractor down to the bottom of the mountain to catch the school bus.  Daddy would meet us in the afternoon, put us in the pickup, and use the tractor to tow the pickup up the mountain again.

We had a lot of hard times (especially winters) there, but I also remember evenings on the front porch with Daddy, watching a storm roll across the valley, that sweet smell of rain on the air.  I remember walking in from hauling hay, and Mom was getting chicken ready to fry.  I remember cold afternoons after hauling wood, when I’d take off my boots and stick my feet in the edge of the fireplace to warm them.  I remember Daddy and me lying in the living room floor and watching Pink Panther movies on TV (Mom couldn’t stand Peter Sellers, but Daddy and I thought he was hilarious).  I remember hating to load the woodbox, but being so grateful it was there when it was time to put more wood on the fire or in the stove.  I remember a small stove which used to be in the kitchen, and Daddy would get it going in the morning so we could dress in front of it and stay warm.   I remember pull-starting the tractors in the winter sometimes and how I gave Daddy the ride of his life one year the roads were solid ice: me driving the truck and him trying to start the tractor.  I remember always having fresh vegetables in the garden, and all the things Mom would put up like beans, carrots, peas.  I remember how Daddy would always make us snow ice cream, and we thought he was an absolute genius.

We’ve had a lot of loss in one year.  It’s difficult coming to grips with all of that, but memories like those help keep it all in perspective.  Daddy always told us girls that he had no intention of leaving that mountain.  He would say “I’m not coming down until I’m dead or the whole damn thing crumbles down around me.”  One of his friends reminded me the day Daddy died that not many people in life get to lay out how they want things to end, but Daddy got his story ending exactly the way he wanted it.  We had a wonderful weekend last Saturday.  Daddy got to hang out with a bunch of excited boy scouts, and we had a fish fry that night with a ton of Daddy’s friends.  He laughed, and had a wonderful time.  And he died on the mountain he loved so much.  I’m glad he got the ending he wanted, and I will forever treasure my memories of Jennings Mountain.



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Cleaning the closet

Saturday was a bittersweet day.  It’s always good to get to see Daddy, and we were having our Boy Scout troop up to the farm for a campout weekend, but we were also finally cleaning out Mom’s stuff.  She passed away at the end of June, but I couldn’t bring myself to think too much about all of that.  My sisters and I agreed that this would be a good time to do it, and we all met up at Daddy’s Saturday morning.

We started going through her closet, and making decisions about keeping, donating, or tossing.  As we handled each outfit, we talked about how this blouse had come from Belgium or that sweater was one I had given her, or pants my sister had bought her.  So many of the outfits I could still see her in.  I could picture her as plainly as I look at my screen now:  walking in from when she worked at Ft. Chaffee, or attending some function.  We found the outfit she wore to my sister’s wedding just a few years ago, complete with the silk flower corsage still attached to the lapel.  We found several tops we knew she never would have worn (and were likely gifts), including one identified by one of my sisters as something she probably brought her back from a trip to Mexico.  We talked about how she had accumulated clothes over the years, and how many had significance for us.

My parents bought the house about six months before I was born.  My older sister was 9 when I was born, and she recalls the remodeling of the house, and the addition of the other two bedrooms, and bathroom.  That house has seen so many birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmas days; so many snowy cold days with no water, warm afternoons by the fireplace, hot afternoons working in the garden or coming in for dinner after hauling hay.   We went through Mom’s closet and talked about the various clothes she had coming from Europe, working at Ft. Chaffee, working on the farm, and then retired life, and today I find myself reflecting on the years time crosses and the events which come and go without much thought.   When we finished the clothes and shoes, we approached the suitcases in the top of the closet, some of which Mina recognized for their trip from Belgium to Booneville–I can’t even imagine having made such a life-altering trip at her age.

We took a break after Mom’s closet, all three of us emotionally worn and a bed full of piles of clothes for various destinations, with trash bags full of donations and hangers all over the floor.  When we resumed our work, we tackled the back bedroom, where Mom stored her sewing and knitting items, as well as things they didn’t access often (such as the Christmas tree).  We cleaned out boxes they had held on to, went through things we had stored there as we were cleaning up other parts of the house, and found lost things of our own as we went.  It got to be kind of funny about what we might uncover next.  Joan found the telephone she had in high school, and the old cassette player she had in elementary school.    Mina found a stack of old cards, and gave me birthday cards the kids had made one year.  It was so sweet to see their little writing, and their pictures, drawn with explanations of “me” and “cake” above them.

The things in their bedroom were the hardest for me.   Both my sisters had already made a pass through the room and cleaned out several things while I was running errands that morning, so a good bit of it was already done.   Still, there were several pieces of jewelry, scarves, handkerchiefs, and paperwork to go through.  Mina presented something my 14 year old has termed as “genius”, and suggested that I take a set of pearls and handkerchiefs for my boys to give their brides on their wedding day.    I sat there, holding one of the sets of pearls and running my fingers over the small pieces and the clasp, imagining the picture she was painting:  me sitting with one of my sons, handing them a package of items which belonged to his grandmother, and knowing how much it would please her to know how touched he would be.   Or even more, if I could give those pearls to my future daughter-in-law myself, placing them on her neck and telling her about the day I sat in my mom’s bedroom with my two sisters, having this conversation.  Pearls are even more significant to me, as it’s one of my birthstones.  How interesting an idea that would tie so many aspects of our family together.

We divided the items, picking the things which suited our personalities, or that we had a special connection to Mom.   I remembered buying a ring that had “Pepi” (what my mom was called) engraved on it on a trip a number of years ago.  I was surprised to find a second ring also engraved with the same.  I asked for both rings, so my boys could each have one, and we have agreed to put those on chains for them.  They both were quite fond of my mom, and I thought that was a great way for them to have some of her jewelry they could appreciate.

I was really fine going through all the things, until we reached the box of special papers, which included my original birth certificate from the hospital where I was born.  I can’t even explain exactly why THAT was the thing that did it for me, but I couldn’t hold it back anymore.  I went and sat in the bathroom, turned the vent on, and had a good cry.

We weren’t able to get to everything, and we were amused at the number of places she stashed jewelry, lipstick, nail polish, etc.  We found several baskets with earrings or watches in them, and each new basket was a new collection of stories or memories.   I laugh thinking about what we’ll find next.

Our Boy Scouts were so sweet and considerate of the three of us, carrying boxes, moving things, and helping hauling and loading boxes and bags for us.  We were able to take care of things for Daddy and clean and organize things for him a little bit.   We had a wonderful dinner surrounded by friends and family and cooked by my brother-in-law with a little help from my husband.  I’m so thankful we had so much love and support on such a difficult day.

As I sat down today with my boys and went through the items and relayed the stories and thoughts around each item,  I was impressed at how thoughtful they were with each piece.  I was afraid they wouldn’t want the rings I had requested for them, but they were both flattered and immediately asked for chains to wear them.  When I showed them the handkerchiefs and the pearls, they both sat and thought for a moment and I told them they didn’t have to do it, but they both responded that they thought it was such a cool idea and Brennan proclaimed my sister a genius for such a thoughtful plan.

I’m not sure I would have claimed any of the pearls otherwise–I have two sets of my own which are very special to me.   I’ve also not thought much about my boys ever getting married until today.   I was surprised that my mother had kept some of the things she had, as she’s not been especially sentimental over the years, but I was very grateful to have these things I could share with my boys.

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One Month Later

It’s been a month.  You can put any inflection on that you’d like.  A month has passed, and boy has it been a doozy.

Mom passed at 6:10 on June 29.  I think that’s etched into my brain.  Two days later Daddy was so sick he ended up spending the better part of a week in the hospital (nothing life-threatening, and he’s much better).  I can’t decide if that was a welcome distraction or more overwhelming activity than my poor brain was prepared to handle.  At any rate, a month has passed, and now I sit to finish the tasks I’ve put off far too long: thank you cards, and cleaning up things.

As I go through the soft green bag the funeral home provided us, I’m flooded with all those emotions again.  I re-read the obituary, which was so thoughtfully written by my brother-in-law, Les.  I read the cards and the book the funeral home put together with  the signatures of all those people who hugged me that day–many were a blur at the moment.  I sat and reflected on the people I know I saw, but who never signed the book.  I know they were there, and all those hugs meant so much that day.  I appreciate that the funeral home, so well-versed in this process, had the forethought to capture things in the book for me: the flowers on the casket, the geneaology of her family, etc.,  I know this is their business, but it’s comforting to know that no detail was forgotten, and how they appreciate what you’ll need/want to know later.

My mom and I weren’t as close as I would have liked.    I thought a lot about that as I prepared something to say that day.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to speak–I had actually thrown away what I had prepared, but decided en route to Ft. Smith that I really would regret if I didn’t at least try.  I talked about Mom coming from Belgium, and how that must have been quite the adjustment for her when she found herself on a farm in Booneville, AR.  I told a story about when the FHA person came to review the items on the farm and asked Mom about the “bush hog” and she confidently replied that Daddy had slaughtered it a few months before.    As I wrote the words to speak that day, I thought a lot about how I had always thought of myself as Daddy’s girl, but that I had to acknowledge that I have some of my best traits from my mother, which I suspect is why we didn’t always see eye to eye.  I had gained my tenacity, my willingness to fight for what I think is right, and my strong will from her.   I was able to deliver my words with relatively strong composure, only “losing it” a time or two.

I think regardless of the relationship you have with someone, you have a hole when they’re gone.  I feel for Daddy, and his missing her after 48 years together.  I tread rather lightly when I speak of her, not sure if I’m saying the right thing or not.  We’re able to share fun stories about her and laugh about things, but I see that faraway look in his eye.  My pain is nothing compared to his, I know.  I know each day will get better, and at least she didn’t have to suffer long-term, and all of those comforting things you’re supposed to think when someone is gone.

I have been truly blessed by people who have reached out to me in the past month with wonderful texts, e-mails, cards, letters, flowers, and other gifts.  Thank you all for helping me get through this time in my life.  I never imagined I would be losing a parent in my 40s.  Mom wasn’t in great health, and I knew her time with us was preciously short, but it still hits you in ways you can’t comprehend at that moment, and your parents are such fixtures in your life that it’s hard to think about not having them.   Thank you all for loving me and sharing in my grief.


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I’m not a caretaker


The trips to the nursing home usually have some degree of interesting activity along with them.  Seldom is it simply a drop off of supplies or a check-in.  It might start out that way, but it seldom ends with simply that.  With each passing year I realize how woefully ill-equipped I am for caretaking of my elders.

My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.  This makes conversations around and involving her take on a new level of complexity.  She upsets easily and she fixates on details which are hard to overcome.  Add to that a roommate in her room who is bedridden and demonstrating her needs as we try to visit and you’ve got the makings for quite an eventful visit.

My father-in-law accompanied my husband and me to my mother-in-law’s room.  They no longer room together, and we have to change floors to find my mother-in-law has just finished lunch.  My father-in-law unceremoniously removes her from the dining facility and wheels her back to her room.  She looks at my husband and me as she passes by and says hello.  When dealing with someone with such an advanced disease, you want to believe that it’s recognition in her eyes, but it’s honestly just politeness.  She never knows me anymore, and she seldom recognizes my husband (which breaks my heart for him).

We follow them into her room and he helps her transfer from the wheelchair to the chair. She had been mumbling something to Louis just before us entering the room.  As she was moving into the chair, she said it again “I’m going to have to find some place to live.  I can’t stay here.”  My sweet husband, unlike me, has the patience of Job in situations like this.  He is amazing with our Boy Scouts and can talk them through things long after I would have had to leave the room and catch my breath.  He has been enormously patient with his parents and their questions, needs, and demands.  He and his sister are a united front on their cause and it’s a site to behold, especially after so many stories I’ve heard about other siblings.

He thoughtfully considers his response and says “you are living here.  You need to be here to get the help you need.”  Now, I should mention as well that my mother-in-law cannot hear and no longer has a functioning hearing aid.  She’s destroyed each one she has because she can’t remember having them in her ear and ends up pulling them out, stepping on and crushing them.   She cannot hear much at all, which I’m sure adds to the almost sickeningly comical tones our conversations must take on.  He has to repeat this sentence a couple of times, as does my father-in-law.  She continues to persist, “I can live with you,” motioning toward Louis, “or I can live with my sister and her husband but I can’t stay here, and I can’t live with him” as she gestures toward my father-in-law.   Again they try to reason with her.  We can see she’s getting upset, which is a key that it’s time to change the subject.  I pull up my phone and show her a picture from Brennan’s most recent 7th grade basketball game.  “Oh, my he’s grown!” she exclaims.  My husband and I beam that she seems to recognize him.  “Is he enjoying college?”

My husband tries to gently, although very loudly, explain that Brennan is in high school, and has a way to go before college.  She remarks about the cost of college and how we’ll pay for that and then she’s moved on to something else.  “I need to go to the bathroom,” she says.  I decide this is an excellent job for me: “I’ll go get the nurse.”  I run out to the nurses station and bring back her nurse.  My husband and I decide we should step into the hall to be polite and give her some privacy.

As we stand in the hall, one of the residents comes walking down the hall, with a big smile on her face.  “You’ve lost your hall pass, huh?” I chuckled, thinking that was pretty clever.  We’re in the hall, and we’re not moving.  Hall pass–yeah, that’s pretty funny.  Like how we used to have hall passes in school.  “Yes,” I remark.  “I don’t know what on Earth we did with them!”   I laugh at my wit, and she responds “I’ve lost mine too.  The nurses won’t give me another.”  I search her face for a second to determine if this is a continuation of the joke.  Sadly, it is not.  Now I feel like a heel for laughing.

Thankfully, the restroom break is over and we can return to the room.  My mother-in-law never missed a beat, asking about various financials, and remarking that she needs a place to live, but now that she won’t live with him (gesturing toward Louis).  “Where are my credit cards?”  she inquires.  “I used to have credit cards in my wallet.  Where is my wallet?”  I announce that I have her wallet, but that there are no credit cards left.  My father-in-law tries to explain that we had to close all their accounts and destroy their cards when they came to the nursing home.  She’s not having that.  She keeps asking and he finally makes a ripping gesture to demonstrate the cards have been destroyed.

She escalates the conversation and announces that she should have social security money (which she does), but she knows she doesn’t.  She knows that my father-in-law is getting his money and her money too.  Louis tries to explain.  She’s not hearing it.  She wants someone to take her to the social security office and fix this.  She reiterates, pointing a finger at my father-in-law, that she knows he’s getting her social security AND his, and then proclaims “you’re a BAD BOY.”

It’s almost like when your toddler has done something which really shouldn’t be funny, but at the same time is almost adorable and sweet and innocent.   I was watching my husband’s reaction, unsure what to do.   My mother-in-law now changed the subject a bit and said that she knew she had HIM (pointing at Louis) to blame for not being able to leave, and not being able to ride the elevator, and not having anything.  He was staring at my father-in-law, who finally shrugged, and tried to change the subject again.   I was grateful in that moment that she didn’t recognize me.  There’s no telling what thing I would have done to her.

Meanwhile, in the next bed is her new roommate, who is bedridden.  She is having quite the conversation with herself, although we can’t quite make out what she says until she yells across the room “I need help.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  I jump up and announce that I’ll get the nurse (remember the part where I don’t need to take care of people?), and I march out to the nurses station.  The nurse says she’ll be right in, but that the patient has a Foley, so she doesn’t need to get up.  I decide I can handle this, and I tell the nurse (who is right in the middle of something) that I’ve got this.

I go back into room, feeling confident that I’m going to solve this lady’s issue, even if I can’t make my mother-in-law feel any better or be any more settled.  I walk over to the bed and say to the lady that she has a catheter and she can just go.  She doesn’t have to actually get up and go to the bathroom.  I’m about to turn and walk away, exceptionally proud that I’ve handled this, when she holds up two bony fingers and says “but. . .”  Oh, no!  I am NOT the one to deal with this!   Nothing beyond number 1 for me!

Another trip to the nurses station and an announcement to the nurse that she’s going to have to come and handle this.  I’m not equipped for this kind of assistance.  She and her coworker half-giggled at me as she thanked me for trying.

There’s no telling what those people see day in and day out.  I tell her nurse every time we’re there that I have such a great appreciation for them.  Being a nurse is hard enough, but having a patient who can’t remember what you told them two minutes ago has to be ridiculously difficult.  I know it is for the family.  Her nurse keeps telling me that it’s no big deal, and that she’s called to do this.  She says that it’s okay for us to be unsure what to do, and not know how to respond.  I’m glad to hear this every time she says it, because I seriously don’t know what to say or do most of the time.

We try to simply find a little humor in each visit.  I think that’s the only thing that gets us through sometimes.  Like my Daddy says “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”  So I’ll choose to laugh, until it’s time to cry.


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Nursing Home Know-How

I’ve toyed very seriously with the idea of writing a couple of books. One of those is for people dealing with elderly parents at varying stages, and I keep telling myself that when I feel like I have “enough” knowledge I’m going to get right on that. The problem is that there is never “enough.” You think you know how things are going to go, and you think you’ve gotten into some type of rhythm, but that only lasts about two weeks before a whole new situation has put you right back into the confusion chair.
Some of the things that happen with my in-laws have become humorous. Honestly, they have to be, or we’d all go insane. My husband and I share with his sister and her family the daily goings-on of my in-laws and we all just have to shake our heads and smile. Some of the things are really funny, and some are so terribly sad that you just can’t find humor or that the things you do find humor in seem morbid to someone on the outside.
Just like enduring a bad relationship and finally realizing why the divorce rate is so high, you find yourself in uncharted waters here, and you endure the best way you can. The really sad times come when you have to treat your parents like children, denying them things you dearly would love to give them because it’s not “good for them.” We’ve had one than one conversation about just throwing caution to the wind and letting them really enjoy their remaining time here, but that is quickly reversed by the seriousness of the $1,000 pharmacy bill because of additional insulin, or the $250 bill each month for pull-ups, or the reality that I can’t get Medicaid approved for them quickly enough, and struggle constantly to try to get that in place to assure they will have care going forward. The see-saw is getting really old. Plus, it’s hard to reason with an 80 year old woman who doesn’t realize where she is half the time about why she can’t just have ice cream any time she wants it, or taking the administrative rights away from a 75 year old’s computer because he can’t comprehend what he’s clicking on well enough to stop downloading viruses. I don’t appreciate this juxtaposition of give and take that it seems we’re always evaluating.
It makes me sad on levels I can barely comprehend, let along articulate. My mother-in-law and I have certainly had our spells where we’ve not gotten along over the years, but I still recognize her as part of my family and as my husband and I were married so young, I view both of his parents as my parents as well (as does he). We’re blessed to still have all four of them at this point in our lives, and that our children have been able to know all of their grandparents (as I didn’t). My father-in-law and I have always been relatively close, and I’ve enjoyed his company. They both do things which drive me crazy, but I’m sure I do things that make them crazy too.
The moments of exceptional frustration intertwine with the blah humdrum of routine which intertwines even further with sadness or the occasional comedic episode. The comedy is becoming less and less, as the frustration is more and more. The routine gets lost in the middle somewhere, and the sadness takes a passenger seat to the frustration. The emotional roller coaster one is on when caring for elderly parents is nothing short of terrifying and long. Your own life gets lost in theirs, and you feel like you’re not allowed to feel your own emotions anymore for stopping to deal with theirs.
I’m ashamed to say that I awoke in the middle of the night a few nights ago, thinking about a trip we have planned to Disney in December with our kids (we try to go every couple of years) and thinking that I should be prepared for the fact that one of them might die just before we leave, or even while we were gone. I need to have a plan for all of that. I say ashamed not because I think we shouldn’t get to go to Disney with our kids, but that I feel a bit of resentment at the time we’ve lost with our children in the past five years. I can’t even count the Sunday afternoons they have entertained themselves on the couch watching television while my husband and I did ‘bills and pills’ where he would shower his dad or help with his mom and I would handle the finances. We had realized even then that we had to count out their meds, because they would over or under medicate if left to their own devices. We sat in a teary-eyed conversation one night, promising them we would keep them in their house as long as possible, and we kept our promise, but I don’t know if it was more beneficial or hurtful.
I’ve pretty much stopped going to visit them in the nursing home. My mother-in-law usually doesn’t know who I am, and it’s upsetting to the kids to go. We take them when they are interested, and we don’t push it when they’re not. They’ve sat quietly in the room and tried to engage in conversations, only to find that neither one of my in-laws have much of an attention span anymore. My mother-in-law doesn’t know who we are half the time, and it seems to upset her when I’m there. She’s always tolerated me in my relationship with her son, and I sense some of that anxiety comes through when she’s confronted with me. Maybe I’m just projecting. Maybe it’s me who is uncomfortable. Maybe I’m imagining the whole thing. My father-in-law will only visit in short spurts now as well. I wonder if that’s a subconscious decision on his part to let us “off the hook” now that they’re in the nursing home. I wonder if we’re just another random occurrence throughout their day. He fixates on things that would never have bothered him before, and he’s taken to calling me 10 times over the same thing when he decides he needs something. Louis is the one who actually goes by and interacts. He has to anyway–he’s the only one to whom his mother responds positively, and his dad only has requests of things he wants brought to him. This is more annoying than anything for Louis, I think. There is not much general “how are you” conversation. They ask the same three or four questions, don’t really comment on the answers, and then issue their list of requests. These trips aren’t much fun for Louis, I’d wager.
I can imagine how demeaning this life is for them. I went out of my way to make it as comfortable and “home-like” for them as possible, rearranging the room and creating a small living area where they could sit side by side in their chairs and watch television. Still, they never leave the room anymore, save the occasional walk to the courtyard. They have their meals delivered to their room, and they sit there hour after hour, day after day, week after week. They have a few regular visitors, and they seem pleased with that, although one of the visitors told me recently that Helen seems to not recognize anyone anymore–she acts as if the visitor is a stranger who just wandered in from the hall. This is exceptionally difficult for Louis, too. The last time he had to take them to an appointment, his mother kept calling him by his father’s name, and kept insisting that it was time to go “home.” We agonized for a long time over moving them from their house to their apartment. We even had entertained the idea of selling both houses and getting something with an inlaws quarters. A good friend of mine advised me against it, and I’m grateful she did. I don’t think we’re physically, not to mention emotionally, equipped for the things we’re seeing now. Helen is essentially dead weight, and needs to be lifted in and out of bed or the chair. She simply sits on the side of her mattress, much as a toddler would, waiting for you to dress or undress her, but not even offering to lift her arm or leg anymore. I can’t imagine what must be occurring in her mind, and we’ve seen the occasional manipulation she used to create now give way to complete and total confusion and loss. She literally has no idea where she is or what’s going on most of the time. She gets very excited when we bring her a treat, and very upset when she asks for one and is denied. Other than that, she doesn’t engage much.
My father-in-law called me this morning as I was running some errands. He told me that she’s started asking for her mother, and she becomes very upset when he tries to explain. I don’t know why, but this really has sent a chill through me today. She’s engaged in similar behavior before, but she’s usually not quite this adamant. I’m hopeful that when my husband gets home from his campout and can go see her, he can help calm her down; but honestly something about this feels different than the previous times. I have a strange sense of foreboding. And I feel the fear my father-in-law feels–the fear he projected in his voice when he called me. I debated going to see them myself this morning, but I’m trying to decide if I will cause more harm than good, and I certainly don’t want to make the situation worse. It really is something to watch how soothing it is for her to have Louis close-by.
I remember when my dad put his mother in a nursing home in town, as well as a neighbor of ours going into the nursing home. Both were good experiences. They enjoyed it, and made friends. They had people to look after them and ensure they had a good meal. They could socialize when they wanted and rest when they wanted. I think that’s the idyllic picture, and I wish very much they could have had that experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear it’s going to work out that way. My sister-in-law had pointed out one night that they’ve become quite co-dependent, and they each need to have the other one close-by, but it’s also meant that they don’t try to engage anyone else. I often wonder what we might have changed if we had it to do over again.
I’ve had several conversations with my husband about whether we would have pushed for assisted living right out of the gate when we moved them out of their homes. If we had done that, would they still be able to live there? What if we had left them in the house? Maybe we should have just hired a private duty nurse? The realities always come back, though. There wasn’t enough money to do any of that. We probably waited too long to move them out as it was. Paul nearly died last October and November, which is what brought into sharp focus how bad Helen’s condition really was. We had no idea the amount of covering for her he had been doing. My husband assures me that this all means they’re in the right place, and they probably should have been there sooner. This was confirmed when we found his mom’s medical records from over a year ago that said she already needed nursing home care. Why didnt’ he tell us? I’m sure he was afraid we would separate them. We’ve been concerned for quite some time that she was weighing too heavily on him and bringing him down too.
I have to admire Louis’ sister, who can take a much more clinical, hands-off approach. She understands the physiology of it all, and she can appreciate that this is a simple process of deterioration. While it’s sad, it just is how it is and we have to deal the best way we can. Leave it to me to second-guess and wonder whether I’ve done everything appropriately.
So, back to the book idea. You can appreciate why I feel like I don’t have the knowledge-base to be a subject matter expert, huh? I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’d like to say that you handle a situation and you know better how to handle the next one, but I think in the case of elderly care, that’s very difficult. No two cases seem to be alike.

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