keenchick

Stories and thoughts about family and life

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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Daddy

I fired up my trusty GMC and headed west before dawn on Friday morning. I had slept Thursday night, but not too well. I was worried about Daddy, and felt a sense of urgency to get to him quickly. I stopped at the gas station and grabbed a coke, a protein bar, and some BC powder: the breakfast of champions on a day like today.
I received the call from my sister Thursday afternoon saying Daddy was sick and looked terrible. She felt like he needed to get in with someone immediately. I had seen him just a few days earlier on July 4th, just after a fall in the garden, and he had been sore and tired, but seemed okay. He complained about a knot on his shoulder/back which was tender, but assured me that it would “run its course” and he had been through this before. No big deal. Had he really deteriorated so much in a week? I called Mom and Daddy to try to gauge how he was doing. He complained that the knot was hurting even worse, but when I insisted again that they go to the doctor, he assured me again it would eventually run its course.
I know exactly where I get my stubbornness from. I’m totally Daddy’s girl. I guess that’s why I get nominated to talk to him about difficult things, too. We see eye to eye on most things, and we share our passion for what we believe is right. As I continued to talk to Daddy about going to the doctor, I hear my mom start yelling, and then my dad yelling at my mom. It sounded to me like they were yelling at the cat. I waited for the dust to settle before I spoke again and asked what was going on. Mom explained that Daddy had tried to get up to get some ice, and fell into the counter. Then she told me he had fallen again two nights earlier, forcing her to call 9-1-1 to get help getting him up again. I pleaded with Daddy to please let me come and get him and drive him to the doctor. In his frustration from this latest fall, he agreed. I asked about the knot on his shoulder, and he tells me it’s hurting more and more each passing day. I’m concerned that this has become infected, and that this infection is weakening him. Perhaps that’s causing the falling. He tells me he’s not dizzy and his ears aren’t ringing.
We quickly made a plan. I would drive to their home southwest of Booneville (two and a half hours from me), and drive them to their doctor in Ft. Smith (and hour from their house). I would leave around 6:30 or 7 a.m. so we would arrive only an hour or so after the clinic opened. Since I couldn’t sleep, I ended up leaving at 5:45 a.m.
As I was driving, I coordinated with my two sisters what was going on. We made a couple of contingency plans in case Daddy couldn’t (or didn’t want to) be seen by his regular doctor. I connected to itunes on my phone and as the music filled the cabin of my Yukon XL, I thought about what the day would likely lead to. Having recently put my husband’s parents in a nursing home, the reality of aging parents is all too real. In my eyes, though, my Daddy is one of the strongest people I know. It’s hard to imagine him falling and not being able to get up. About an hour out, I call the house and talk to my parents. They had to call 9-1-1 again during the night and get help when Daddy fell in the dining room. I feel an increased sense of urgency, as that makes four falls in seven days.
When I arrived at their house a few minutes after 9 a.m., Mom announced that their PCP’s office can’t get them in that day and suggests that they go to an alternate clinic to see a Physician Assistant (PA). I’m sure the PA is more than qualified, but Daddy’s shoulder is now hurting so much that I’m not interested in having him see anyone but an MD. I tell them about our two backup plans: either we go to Fayetteville through a hospital where we have a connection or we go to Little Rock to the VA. Daddy gives it some consideration for several minutes, and settles on Little Rock. We throw some things in a bag and Mom and I help him get dressed and we hit the road. By 10:10 we’re heading back to Little Rock.
The afternoon was consumed with activity at the ER as they evaluated Daddy, determined they needed to lance the knot on his back and run some tests to ensure the falling isn’t related to any cardiac or potential stroke activity. All the tests were negative, and his brain scan was normal. They loaded Daddy up on morphine and proceeded to numb the area and lance the cyst on his back. I won’t bore you with all the details, but he has now had that cyst removed and cleaned and endured a follow-up visit at the VA ER. It’s hard to believe that something that simple would really have gotten him so sick, but it certainly appears that’s what it was. After a follow-up visit Saturday morning where they cleaned and repacked his wound, they cleared him to go home with daily maintenance. It will likely be a couple of weeks before he feels really well again, but at least he’s on the mend.
Not exactly how I planned on spending my Friday, but I’m glad I’m in a position where I could make the decision to go without having to wait on permission from someone else.
It was sobering sitting with my dad at Cracker Barrel Friday night (he was starving when they finished with him). I was so grateful to see him hungry that I told him we’d go wherever he wanted to go. We tuckered him out on this little adventure, though, and we ended up sitting in rockers outside the restaurant. As he tried to gather his strength so I could take him to my sister’s house to relax for the night, I sat and watched him. This strong man I had shadowed my whole life now sitting weak and frustrated in a rocker. He apologized that I had taken a day off work and done all that driving for him as he should be able to take care of himself. It’s horrible to see these people you’ve idolized your whole life now struggling.
At least, for today, he’s on the mend and we can hopefully conquer this situation. I know that time is coming sooner rather than later where we’ll have more problems, but for today I’m going to try not to think too much about that.

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Snickers versus Milky Way

My mother keeps reminding me that I’m going to be old someday, and I won’t be in control of my faculties anymore. I pray that I never reach that point, or that I’m at least nice to my children and my grandchildren when it happens.
My mother-in-law and father-in-law have been in a nursing home since November. It’s been a roller coaster of negative behavior, health scares, and just general torture watching this process. I personally have struggled with whether we have made the correct decisions, while my husband and his sister do battle over every issue which arises. It could be as simple as getting the laundry schedule worked out or as complicated as figuring out why my mother-in-law has fallen out of bed twice in as many weeks.
Sometimes the answers are sad. Sometimes a little comical. We remind ourselves to keep our sense of humor as much as possible, but even that sometimes doesn’t help the struggle much. It seems we argue a lot with the parents about food. They want more of it in their room. They take a dislike to whatever is being served, and want to have their own to prepare. The problem with that is that if there are too many options in their room, they simply won’t eat what’s provided to them by the nursing home. Not only is that not good for their diets, it’s a strain on the pocketbook as we are constantly bringing more and more food. They also can’t ration it out, so either Louis is up there several times a week, or we’re listening to them complain because they’re out of food (or a combination of the two).
Anyway, today’s story starts following a “we need groceries” phone call received just before Easter. Louis patiently takes the list and heads for the grocery story. His dad had asked him while he was there to please pick up a Milky Way for Helen. Louis politely declines citing their diet and the things we know they’ve been eating lately. They’ve managed to convince a couple of their visitors that they don’t get to ever have any treats, so these visitors are constantly bringing candy and cookies to them. Because of that, we’ve had to try to cut those things out in other areas. It’s akin to telling your 4 year old he can’t have a cookie before dinner. If you let him have it, he won’t eat his dinner and so on.
Easter Sunday we take them both out for lunch at Olive Garden. On the way back to the nursing home we stop by Kroger and pick up cookies for the nurses who care for them, and the cafeteria staff who prepare their meals (you know, the ones they don’t want to eat!). I drop Louis off at the door at Kroger and he goes into the make our purchase. As soon as Louis gets inside, his dad asks me to call him and ask him to pick up a package of miniature Milky Way candy bars. I explain that Louis likely isn’t going to do that, given all the sweets that are at the nursing home already. He agrees and lets it go.
A few days later Louis is gathering up groceries to take up to them, and as he’s checking out at Kroger, he spots the tray of Milky Way bars near the register. He reflects on how many times we’ve said “no” recently, grabs one and tosses it into the cart. He is pretty pleased at knowing he will have made her happy and done something nice.
As he enters the nursing home, he locates the candy bar so that it’s handy when he walks into the room. As soon as he arrives, he presents her proudly with this Milky Way for which she has waited so long. She looks at him and snaps “I like Snickers!”
And so it goes when you are trying to please an elderly person sometimes.
As I’m relaying this story to one of my dear friends earlier, she muses that Snickers are full of nuts. It occurs to me that this is rather symbolic of this entire situation. Nutty, bumpy, not nearly as easy to navigate as a Milky Way with its creamy, gooey center.
Maybe the universe is sending us a message. . .

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Vacation with the parents

You all see me post generally about my in-laws when I refer to parents, but today’s story is about my parents. We took them to Europe last summer, and it was epic. We took a 12 day cruise, spent a few days in Barcelona (where my mother was born), saw parts of Italy and France and Portugal, and then spent two days in London and three more days in and around Brussels, Belgium. It was the trip of the lifetime, and it was awesome to hear their stories and see the places that meant something to them when they first met. Louis and I talk often about that trip, and how it teleported them back in time, and we were blessed to be along for the ride. We were even more blessed that the boys got to see that side of them, and got to experience so many things with their grandparents. I doubt they’ll ever forget that trip.

One of the days we were in Brussels, my dad had wanted to drive us to Mons. This is where he was stationed and where he and Mom lived before coming back stateside. He had talked me into renting a van and had decided he was driving us to Mons for the day. We were excited to see Waterloo was on the way, and we made a quick side-trip there (because you just CAN’T pass up Waterloo). My dad had never seen it either, despite driving the route from Mons to Belgium regularly. It wasn’t much, really–just a gigantic hill in the middle of a field with a lion on top. It was neat to see, but it was 275 steps straight up (and then down again) and we all stared off in the distance in amazement at field after field of crops. I don’t know what I thought I was going to see, but it was not that. We had a little hiccup with the directions in and a road detour as well, which yielded us a visit with a very displeased set of cops who were speaking French so fast it would make your head spin. Mom was interpreting from the back seat as Daddy and I looked at each other periodically, completely bewildered. After finally getting our directions straight and getting on the correct road, we climbed our 275 steps and examined the lion, and then continued our trip to Mons.

My dad was a little disappointed when we first got to Mons. It didn’t look like he had remembered (of course, that’s been over 40 years now), and he was a little perplexed that he couldn’t figure out quite where we should go. It was remarkable, though, when he his a street he recognized. He knew exactly where to go then, and drove us to the street near the train station where he and Mom lived. He remembered every place they used to eat and where they shopped from there. He was filling us in as we drove down the streets. We were discussing how it was getting onto lunch time and we should probably think about where to eat. And then it happened. He spotted a little restaurant around the corner and he suddenly teleported back in time 40 years. He sounded like a young boy as he talked fast and looked for a parking place. He expertly maneuvered the van into a parking spot across the street and announced as he pointed “THERE’s where we’re going to eat.” Louis and I both were chuckling at this, because Daddy doesn’t usually decide–he just goes with the flow. He’ll be happy almost anywhere, and he’ll eat almost anything. To see him so visibly excited over something the rest of us hadn’t even spotted yet was really funny to watch.

What he had spotted where these little sausages he used to eat. He marched right up to the counter and ordered, and then sat down outside with us with great pride when they presented him his plate. I had been avoiding the meat in Europe–none of it tasted quite right to me, but when he gave me a bite of sausage, I had to go get one. It was SO good! He was explaining that this is what he used to eat a lot when he first moved to the area, and that’s what he had spotted when we were driving along. To see such excitement in him was marvelous. It made me reaffirm my promise to myself that I’m going to do my best to make sure they get to experience everything they want. I don’t want to watch them slip like we have my in-laws, and I think that trip was a good way for them to see that they could still travel. We slowed our pace a bit for them, and tried to situate our trips so there wasn’t much walking, but otherwise they did great. I think it showed them that we didn’t mind traveling with them (they were afraid we’d never want to do it again), and it showed us that with a few minor tweaks we could pull off a great trip that suited everyone.

Spring break is in about a month. We were invited by a couple of our friends to go to Gatlinburg, TN, which is one of our favorite places to visit. There’s something there for everyone. We’ve tried a couple of times to get Mom and Daddy to go with us, but they’ve always declined (probably because they thought we wouldn’t want to travel with them or they would hold us up). Plus, Daddy likes to stay in a place for a day or two and then see a new place. With me booking a condo, we were going to be in one place for several days. When I asked my mom, it was obvious she wanted to go, but she wasn’t sure Daddy would go for it. She was going to ask him when he got home and then they would call me back. I was headed to an appointment, and told her I’d be home that night or the next day. We were in a one bedroom condo, but we had figured out how we could share it with them if they wanted to go.

By the time I got out of my appointment, my dad was already calling me back. They had talked to another couple they like to travel with, and Daddy asked me to find a condo for the four of them. He sounded so excited when I called to get his credit card number to book it. We were able to get them in just down the street from us. I’ve been working on our plans and how we’ll drive over and what we’ll do while we’re there. I can’t wait to take them on another trip. The couple they’re bringing has never been to that part of the country, either, so it will be neat to show everyone this area that we love so much. I love doing things with them that bring energy back for them and help them enjoy life. I really love that they can enjoy these experiences with their grandchildren, and that Luke and Brennan get to have so much fun with their grandparents. I hope to get to travel with my grandchildren like that one day.

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