21 March 2015

Reflections From the Sick Bed - I Remember Mama...

This has been a lousy week. Dr. Dewey Bridger warned me that I was cooking a batch of bronchitis but I was so sure I knew better and disregarded his good advice and, while I did get his prescriptions filled, I brought them home and left them unopened for four days. I was sure it was just a rising pollen count and seasonal allergies and I'd just save that antibiotic and super cough syrup for a future date when I was REALLY sick. I saw Dr. B on Thursday, 12 March. By Monday night 16 March, I discovered I was REALLY sick. I can just imagine him shaking his head and rolling his eyes - he's taken care of me for fifteen years and I'm sure he'd not find this surprising at all. I really wish I'd listened to him and these past four days, I've paid for it. Lesson learned? Probably not. 

I've spent most of this week pushing fluids, heating up canned soup and engaging in saline nasal rinses, gargles and lots of Vicks Vaporub - it's been a carnival ride. I didn't have time to come down with this mess because my daughter, son in law and twin granddaughters were scheduled to visit this week and I had carpets to steam, dust to chase, linens to wash and order to restore in high anticipation. When my fever set in Monday Night, I collapsed in bed, but it was a really clean bed and the upstairs of my home has never looked more put together. I decided to spend Tuesday resting since most of the work was taken care of and I was sure I'd be fit as a fiddle by their anticipated arrival on Friday. 

I woke up Wednesday and felt like I'd been knocked down by a wrecking ball (sans Miley Cyrus) but I had a hair appointment and sick or not, I had to have my mop modified so I would at least be able to see - my bangs had grown halfway down my face. I looked more like an Old English Sheepdog. 

On the way to the salon my daughter called to say their flight had been canceled and that she would text me when she knew more about the change in their schedule. Chilling, coughing and shivering through my haircut, I received a text that requested I call her after I was finished; plans had been changed - they could get a flight the next day but it would be routed through Boston, rather than the direct flight they had booked. A connecting flight through a city expecting yet another snowstorm with five month old twins. Ummmmmm, not an inviting prospect. My daughter and her husband decided to put the trip off until Easter week and while I was deeply disappointed at having to wait a few more days to see them, my body begged and pleaded with me to FINALLY get in bed. I finally gave in. My biggest fear was that I would convey my illness to the kids and due to some debris on a runway at JFK airport, I was given a reprieve to recover and I was so grateful because I want to be well and on top of my game when the kids arrive. 

Armed with a 750 ml water bottle, a huge glass of iced tea, a steaming mug of lemon/ginger tea, my cache of antibiotics and bottle of cough syrup, I wearily trudged up the stairs and took to my bed. Except for running downstairs to refill my liquids, make coffee for my parents and see that their meals were prepped (and a quick trip to Smithfields and CVS), I haven't really left my room. For me, that's pretty much unheard of because I can't stand being still but this bronchitis has (literally) sucked the air right out of me. 

I haven't been completely alone, thanks to the faithful loving companionship and concern of Sailor and Cleo. They haven't left my side or my bed. I'm grateful to both of them - once again my "rescue dogs" are rescuing me. 

I've managed to take care of the essentials in terms of taking care of my parents - they haven't missed any doses of meds, pots of coffee or meals, even though they've been eating takeout this past week - it's the best I could do. The funny thing is that each time my Mom has seen me, she says the same thing, "Are you catching a cold? You don't look well.". And for the 78th time I've reported that yes, I went to the doctor last week and I have bronchitis. She remembers this for maybe two minutes. Thursday Night I was summoned downstairs three different times because my Mom had told my Dad she hadn't seen me all day. She had seen me as I delivered meals, meds and checked on her when I'd run downstairs to replenish my fluids or heat up a can of soup, and when I'd walk into her room I'd remind her and then she'd laugh and say, "Oh yes, you, yes, I've seen you...", leaving me to wonder who in the heck she expected to see.

I Remember Mama. Really, I do. I mean, I know she's still here with me physically, but so much of her is already gone. 

I must confess, it's not fun being sick alone. My mother ruined me a long time ago. When I was growing up my mother turned illness into an occasion of care and nurturing and attention that made room service at the Ritz look lackluster and shabby. She'd prepare trays filled with homemade soup or her famous chicken and dumplings and she was always bringing in pots of hot tea. Mom would plump pillows, arrange blankets and run warm baths and to be honest, it was a lot of fun to be sick around Maxine Sturgill Cook. She was so amazing, creative and tireless. In fact, she was so good at it that in elementary school I would often fake illness and request an audience with the nurse so that my Mom would be summoned to come pick me up and lavish me with all of her great attention and treats. She eventually caught onto my scam, but I freely admit that I was never too sad to catch a cold or sore throat. Even if it meant a visit to the doctor, it was worth a little poking and prodding it if it meant I'd get my Mom's five star treatment. 

All of those memories flooded back to me this week and oh my goodness how they made me smile and brought no small measure of tears to my eyes. My Mom was great at a lot of things, but she excelled at spoiling both my Dad and me. 

"Are you catching a cold?" my Mom asked me so many times this week. Yeah Mom, I feel like crap. I need some of your hot soup, your perfect cups of tea, your hot oatmeal, your fried chicken, your mashed potatoes and hot rolls and could you arrange my bed like you used to and fluff the pillows as only you know how and if it's not too much trouble, could I have some ice cream and don't you think you should set up the vaporizer? God, I miss you Mom. I miss you so much it hurts but thank you for all those years you took such great care of me. While age has taken away your ability to do all those things you used to manage with such warmth and love, it can't tarnish my memories and how lucky am I to have those?

What I wouldn't do for another plate of your chicken and dumplings.

I love you, Mom.

17 March 2015

Excuse Me, You Did What??????

I didn't mean to drag the suspense out, but I've been fighting a little bout with bronchitis and I've had a ton of work to do so today I landed in bed and I can reveal "the rest of the story" from my Dad's Friday Night's escapades.

Last Friday was a pretty full day with babysitting, running to the store for prescriptions and cooking a family dinner and by the end of it, I was ready to collapse in bed, which I did around 9:30 (early for me). I don't know if it was the infection cooking or just general exhaustion but I laid down and within minutes I was sound asleep. 

Around midnight, my Dad burst into my room with the full knowledge that he had no business climbing the stairs. Had that been the only offense, I would have not come undone. Oh, but there was more - Friday evening it began raining fairly hard so it wasn't a night for anyone...much less a 90 year old man who can't walk well...to take a stroll around the pool to the corner of the backyard BEHIND the shed where I had mentioned Sailor had escaped a few days previous. Ah, well, not to mention the ground was covered in slippery leaves, mud and perhaps there may have been a few snakes hiding about and oh yes, he was in his house slippers. He was sure Sailor had once again "escaped" and he was going to look for him.  Sailor? He was inside the living room apparently watching the man walking unsteadily with a cane who was looking for him, having better sense than to be traipsing around BEHIND the shed. OMG.


It took a few seconds for my brain to snap to and comprehend what he was telling me and he was so amused to imagine that Sailor had "outfoxed" him. Me? I wasn't amused at all. Let me count the ways I wasn't amused.

Had he fallen into the pool or behind the shed, had I found him missing by the time I woke up, I would have had no idea where to begin looking and most probably behind the building would have been my last guess.

If he hadn't returned and my Mom had the rare temerity to have eventually realize he was "missing", there is no way she could have climbed the stairs to report that Dad was AWOL. I was asleep and there's no way I could have heard her. 

Say I had finally found him, had he fallen, there's no doubt it would have resulted in a broken limb or two and I would have had one of the "elder twins" in the hospital and one of them here at home, unable to go anywhere (my mother can barely climb into a chair, much less a car). There are two of them and there is one of me. Can you imagine how that would have all worked out?

Now yes, you're probably thinking, I could "hire" someone to attend one of them when I was with the other but let me let you in on a secret. My savings is dwindling and before this whole thing finishes there's no doubt I will be forced to put my home on the market, depending on how long things go on. I pinch pretty much every single penny twice. Yes, my dad has a pension and while it's certainly respectable, taking care of two parents full-time is expensive. Ah yes, I'll just quickly rejoin the work force (something I would LOVE to do), but do you have any idea how much it would cost to have a full-time caregiver in this house? Ummmm, yeah, pretty expensive.

When I factored in all the risks he took with this stunt I was horrified. As I was calculating the potential disaster we averted (by the Grace of God), I heard him regaling my Mom with his exploits - "and it was pouring the rain and I kept looking and don't you know that little dog was inside the whole time???". He thought it a fabulous tale. I didn't share his view. As for Mom, well, she strings maybe two minutes of thoughts together on a good day and I heard her laughing as he was telling his tale. I could only shake my head.

I didn't pick that moment to discuss with him all of the reasons he shouldn't have gone outside on a wet, rainy night to look for a dog that wasn't missing. I couldn't. I knew my admonitions would come out harsh, unkind and I also knew that no matter what I said, I would have as much chance of making a brick wall understand as I would my Dad. 

I'm still appalled by it all. I'll find myself trying to consider how I could discuss his actions in a such a way he would understand the danger and then I realize it's completely hopeless and the only thing to come out of such an attempt would be for my throat to hurt more than it does right now from having to shout each word something like eight times until he would be able to hear me. 

I've worked overtime the past few days trying to shake off what happened - hoping to busy myself to the point I don't have to think about it, which is probably why I feel like crap right now. I'm taking today off, inasmuch as I can take any day off. I mean, there's still meds to dispense, coffee to make, meals to prep and moments where I have to practice parental redirection to avoid more mishaps but otherwise, I'm laying low. I'm exhausted but it's equal measures emotional and physical. 

My friend Cheryl often refers to what I do as "herding cats". She's been here and she "gets it". Let me tell you, there are moments when herding cats would be a far easier proposition than ensuring the safety and care of "elder twins". 

So there you have it - and that's the rest of the story. 

Oh, one other aside. I spent the past couple of days steaming the carpets upstairs in preparation for my daughter, son in law and twin granddaughters much anticipated visit later this week. On three separate occasions my mother has dispatched my Dad to deliver the message that they will "go to a hotel, because I'm having company and she's sure I'll need their room.". I kid you not. Each time I stop what I'm doing and go into their room and explain that it's Katie and her family who are coming and that we have ample room without displacing anyone. I did this twice yesterday and once the day before and she processes the information for maybe two minutes and then poof, it's gone. 

I'm just so tired.

08 March 2015

"Don't Cry Because it's Over...

This past week, we lost a dear sweet family friend. Perl Tipper passed away Wednesday, 4 March. She was probably the last of my parents friends from the old days when they all worked together in Kopperston, West Virginia. Perl was a best friend to both my mother and father and they all worked together in the "company store". They knew her before she met the man she would marry and go onto raise six kids; one of those kids lives right here in Wilmington, North Carolina and is also a good friend - Christy Register. Perl came down several times a year to visit Christy and her family and we always looked forward to it because it meant Perl would visit us, too.

How to describe Perl - well, she was simply one of the most spry, engaging and witty women I've ever met in my life. My own history of "knowing" Perl is brief compared to my parents relationship with her, but oh how much better my life is for meeting her and tapping into her sparkling personality. 

She was tiny, extremely creative and talented and behaved much younger than her 92 years. I loved her hugs. Our last visit with her was this past June and I made a bit of a party out of it, fetching Smithfields chicken and lots of coffee and iced tea.  I sat on the patio after serving these three crazy "kids" and smiled as I listened to the reminiscing, the sharing of memories and the genuine laughter that wafted through the house. It was always a special time when Perl was in the house and I loved how these three good friends had renewed their connections through the 70 plus years they had known and loved each other.

When Perl visited us this past June, she asked me several times for a photograph and I didn't really understand why. In fact, when I didn't produce it, she had her daughter Christy text me to please send her a photo. I sent a snapshot that was taken at my daughter and son in law's rehearsal dinner in NYC. I didn't think much more about it. A few days later when Perl came over to join my parents for dinner, she presented me with a portrait she had painted - I was stunned. I had no inkling that this was why she wanted the photo. It turns out that as she was spending a couple of weeks visiting Christy, she wasn't one to sit idly by doing nothing - so she painted me! I can't tell you how precious this portrait is to me - how much I cherish it. 

I served my parents coffee this "morning" and by morning I mean 12:30 PM - since the time moved forward an hour overnight I knew they'd be extra late waking up. The sunshine was warm and I took my mother's hand and lead her out to the patio table where I had her coffee waiting. The sky was crystal blue and the trees look as if they are budding right before our eyes. Mom smiled in the warm sunshine and then looked at me and said, "Did you know my friend Perl? She died...". Over the course of the hour that we sat outside in the sunshine, my mother said this to me at least fifteen times. "Yes Mom, I know. We're going to miss her aren't we?". 
"She was my best friend. I knew her before she was married. We used to have so much fun working together."
I patted her hand and I tried to imagine what a huge loss this was to my parents because, quite frankly, she was one of the last of their old friends still alive. It must be deeply painful.

Last night as I was getting ready to make a speedy run for Food Lion, I overheard my Mom and Dad chatting in their room. "Barbe, what are we going to do about Christmas this year? I want to go home."
After repeating her question enough times that he actually heard it, he said, "Well, honey, I'll let you know in December - that's ten months away."
"I want to go home."

There was nothing I could pop in and say. I just listened. My mother's thoughts are scattered and she's not got a firm grasp of seasons or time, but it broke my heart. Right now I'm glad her attention span is brief and her thoughts are fleeting. It would be too sad to imagine otherwise. Everything she knew and all of the things she could do are long gone. Sometimes I wonder how they can possibly deal with it on those rare occasions of clarity. 

Perl visited us a week before Christmas 2013 and again, I served dinner for these three close friends. As I was getting ready to lay out the food I noticed they were all holding hands and my Dad was about to say grace, but what I noticed even more was that they continued to hold hands for several minutes after the prayer. 
Holding hands seems to be the very best way to get through these later years. In fact, when the Star News did a story on adult children taking care of aging parents in January 2014, this photo was on the front page of the Sunday Newspaper that day. It's so emblematic of their relationship.
My parents have always been warm, demonstrative people who never shied away from hugs and they've turned hand-holding into a natural part of their daily routine. I do the best that I can to make sure they are well fed, meds are dispensed as prescribed and I get their television back on several times a day because my mother LOVES to push buttons on the remote which frequently results in a blank screen. However, the most potent and essential secret to growing old, from my "up close and personal" vantage point, seems to be hand holding several times a day. There are so many lessons I learn, but this simple act of reaching out and holding onto each other is the most powerful mood elevator imaginable. Advil eases the arthritic pain, Lisinopril keeps the blood pressure stable and a small 50 mg dose of Zoloft may do something to stabilize the mood, but from where I stand, holding hands is powerful, preciously addictive and induces peace. The side effects of this act are quite amazing. I can't recommend it enough.

"Do you know my friend Perl Tipper?"
"Yes Mom, and we're all going to miss her so very much."

Godspeed Perl - thank you for sharing your life, your infectious laugh and your talent with us. We will always smile as we remember you with love and great affection. We will "cry because it's over, but we're all certainly smiling because YOU happened.

01 March 2015

The Green Mile...

"And I think about all of us, walking our own 'Green Mile'...Sometimes, the 'Green Mile' seems so long..."

To my closest confidants, I sometimes admit to feeling extreme anxiety when I first wake up each morning. I'm afraid of what I'll find. My parents are 90 and 91 and dependent on me for almost everything.

When I was a little girl, I used to live in a state of extreme fear because my Mom and Dad were a good ten years older than my classmates parents. My Mom had me at the age of 35 which, isn't anything close to rare, but certainly qualified them as older than the average age of most of the other parents I knew. I would lie in bed at night, scared that my Mom and Dad would die much sooner than most of those other parents of my classmates and this was a particular fear after 1973, following the sudden, unexpected death of my 23 year old sister, Becky. Her death was followed less than two years later by my 83 year old grandmother who had lived with our family from the time I was in first grade. As far as I could tell, my family members were dropping like flies and my response to this was extreme fear and multiple panic attacks. I lived a very fearful existence, just waiting for someone else near and dear to me to suddenly disappear from my life.

Obviously, this didn't happen - my parents have, in fact, outlived many of my former classmates parents.

I no longer lie in bed and fear the inevitable in the same way I did when I was 10 or 12 or 14 years old, but I know how my own movie ends. Death is non-negotiable for all of us.

When I hear the first stirrings of my Mom's walker in the morning or the clop of my Dad's cane, I'm instantly relieved and then in the very next seconds I gear up for another episode of "Groundhog Day", because frankly, this is exactly what my life is like right now. Every day I answer the same questions about 40 times (no exaggeration) and sometimes I must identify myself. The weather becomes a particularly hot topic because in the span of an hour at the breakfast table, my Mom will ask me, even with the weather on the kitchen television being broadcast in real time, "what's the weather going to be today?". Sometimes I direct her attention to the television set which she'll watch eagerly for maybe 2 minutes and then, as soon as a commercial comes on, she asks me again, and again, and again "what's the weather going to be today? Is it going to snow?".

Cloudy, cold days are the worst. Not only does the pain my Mom experiences in her joints increase as the temperature slides down, but her whole affect is much less amiable and cheery.

Today is the first day of March. I heard my mother remark earlier today that it's "looking like fall". There is no real grasp of time and space for her. I'm not sure if that's true for my Dad because his almost total deafness and inability to carry on a conversation unbroken by "what did you say?" makes small talk an impossibility. I hate speaking in a loud voice and while I made a good go of it the first year and a half, I must confess I no longer do. It becomes very hard. That doesn't stop my Mom - from anywhere in this house one can hear her repeating the same question or comment up to 10 - 15 times, directed at my Dad. Most of the time whatever it is she's saying gets lost in the yelling and given her own abbreviated attention span, more often than not she forgets what her original point was when she began.

Schedules become essential and one tangles with them at a risk. If I serve dinner an hour or so early - say at 4 rather than 5:30 PM,  I'll often hear the click-clack of my mother's walker heading to the kitchen, asking me what we're having for dinner tonight? When I remind her that she ate just a short time earlier, she regards me with a quasi suspicious and embarrassed look. Not quite believing me and embarrassed that I might be right.

Last night I was watching "A River Runs Through It" after I served my parents dinner. About an hour after they had finished, I heard my mother tell (yell) for my Dad to be sure and check the doors. As I was sitting in the living room which is situated right next to their room, I heard my Dad's footsteps and waited for him to "peek" into the living room. I told him all the doors were locked and everything was safe. He gave me a nod and then proceeded to walk to the side door, the door leading to the garage and the sliding glass door in the dining room. I guess he didn't believe me - this is his routine. I smiled to myself and continued watching the movie.

A few minutes later, my Dad appeared again in the living room - "Your mother said she heard some people talking in here and wanted me to check.".

"Dad, it's the television - I'm watching a movie. No one else is here."

He nodded and headed back to their room with the message.

Not fifteen minutes later, my Dad reappeared in the doorway of the living room. "Your Mom keeps saying someone else is in here."

I pretty much gave up watching the movie by this point. I walked with him back to their room and told my mother personally that there is no one in the house but the three of us, as it is most days and nights. I told her I had been watching a movie.

Not ten minutes later, their bedroom door opened yet again - it was at this time I believe I looked over toward Cleo and said, "I'm going to stab my eye with a fork!!".

"Did you lock the doors?"

"Yes Dad - everything is locked up tight."

"Just checking. Your Mom wanted me to make sure," so again he makes the rounds until I seriously find myself unable to sit still and I walk up to him, gently put my hand in his and tell him he's done this already tonight. The house is locked up. No one else is the house. It's time for bed.

Meanwhile, I go outside and make about fifteen revolutions around the pool and I do this for two reasons. To shake off the irritation and the rote quality of this and every evening for the past couple of years, and to drive up the steps on my Fitbit. I accomplish both goals in about twenty minutes.

Every single day is both the same and different. The routine is the same but cognition and mental status seem to degrade just a little more. It's sort of like watching paint dry, but it makes me very sad. The intangible loss, the deficits, will break your heart.

I drink a lot of hot tea in the evenings. I build a fire in the wood stove almost every single night and I have an alarm set on my iPhone set for 7:45 PM so that I can listen to the BBC 4 Shipping Forecast. I pull up the maps on my computer and follow along as I listen to the forecast for the gales that are expected at Trafalgar and Biscay, and then I close my eyes and imagine myself bobbing in the small teak cabin aboard a sailboat, holding a mug of hot, steaming tea, tethered to some marina off the Isle of Man, wondering if I'll be able to cast off my lines and head back out to sea. No matter what I'm doing, I listen to that forecast and I visualize that scene. It's a mental image that gets me through another evening after another day of heavy repetition.

26 February 2015


 T R A N S I T I O N (S)

I thought about starting a new blog about my adventures in caring for my 90 year old father and 91 year old Mom, but it didn't seem necessary. I have neglected my blog for a long time because I've been up to my eyeballs in taking care of "the twins", as I affectionately refer to them, but my posts on Facebook seem to be getting longer and so I feel it's time to get back to my blog.

In the beginning, this blog was about a 40 something year old woman who found sobriety on 11 January 2004, and learning how to live as a responsible, productive citizen. In the time since my blog began, my son and daughter have grown up, married wonderful spouses and made me a grandma in 2014 - adding 3 new beautiful grandbabies to our family - my son and daughter in law brought their beautiful little girl, Evelyn Sophia, into the world on 8 September 2014 and my daughter and son in law chimed in with identical twin daughters in late October. What blessings!!

In September 2012, it became necessary for me to stop working OUTSIDE my home and tend to my parents. Memories were failing and medications were screwed up and mother suddenly gave up cooking. One day, she just didn't do it anymore. My Dad is a great man, but he's useless in the kitchen, possessing no knowledge of how coffeemakers work, how bread becomes toast or how to scramble an egg.

Me? For most of my adult life I had about as much interest in cooking as I did underwater basket weaving. The kitchen was a place I breezed through to grab iced tea, a snack and frankly I took most of my meals out. In September 2012, I became chief cook and bottle washer - because it finally occurred to me that while Smithfields and Pizza Hut are convenient and tasty options, they aren't sustainable in the long-term. 

So my self-taught culinary education began. At first, it was a clumsy, messy and sometimes inedible affair but as with most things, applying time and tenacity and step by step instructions online, I learned how to cook. I must say I've given a pretty good account of myself and as of this writing, no one has incurred any gastrointestinal issues as a result of my culinary offerings (touch wood). In fact, there are some days I find great pleasure in creating dishes and I have learned to look upon this, and so many other things I've been conscripted to take on, as challenges in the "I dare you to try - let's see what you've got" kind of self motivation. 

I've learned a lot of lessons, gained new skills, been made humble and stumbled a few times - but the good news is that I've grown and stretched in more ways than I can count. I'm grateful, but it's not all sunshine and daisies. There are days when I'm sure I'm in my last moments of sanity. There are nights I hit the bed and I'm positive I won't be able to summon the physical and emotional strength to get back up again. Some days I feel as if my head will explode if I hear my dad retell the same stories he's been repeating for the past few years. When upcoming doctor's appointments arrive and I'm tasked with getting both of my parents to Wilmington Health for a visit with Dr. Babiss, I feel as if I'm herding cats - my Mom with her bulky walker and my Dad with his lack of coordination and failure to recognize the building we've visited so many times - asking me if he's ever met "that lady doctor" before. When it's time to dispense my parents' daily meds, my Dad always ALWAYS asks if he's ever taken that pill before and is it for him? He's only been taking that pill for about 20 years and yes, it's for him. We have that same conversation every single day. Every. Single. Day. Not a day goes by that my Dad doesn't see a speck of dust or a leaf on the floor that he doesn't bend over, pipe fully lit in his mouth, and dump hot ashes on whatever it is he's trying to pick up which isn't nearly as noticeable as the trail of sometimes red hot sparks that drop out of his pipe. I remind him daily, please don't bend over with your pipe in your mouth to which he instantly asks me "how come? I won't spill anything!". Ummmm, yeah you do and it's dangerous.

Watching the mental and physical deterioration of my parents is one of the most painful experiences I've ever been exposed to. It's so heart wrenching at times that it almost physically makes my heart feel as if it's breaking. My parents have been blessed - it wasn't until their late 80's that mental deficits began piling up but when those glitches began happening, they have accelerated so that as I write this in late February 2015, there are days that my Mom doesn't really know who I am. She knows my name is "Susan", but I'm not "her" Susan. She doesn't connect the dots. My Dad will look at his great granddaughter and when I ask him who she is and what her relationship is to him, he'll think for a couple of minutes and exclaim, "She's my grand niece!". This from a man who has devoted most of his retired life to genealogy research and has over 15,000 names on his Family Tree Maker. 

But there are those golden moments, and they never fail to catch me by surprise. I will hear my Dad loudly and lovingly exclaim to my Mom, bending close to her face as she sits in her recliner in their room, "I love you, I love you, I love you!!!!" or, "did you know you're prettier today than the day I asked you to marry me?". There are those moments when my Dad comes over to me and gives me a tender hug and says, "Your Mom and I sure do appreciate how you take care of these two old people...". Some mornings I'll walk in the kitchen to get their breakfast started and he will be ever so gently holding the chair for her and easing her into a sitting position with the greatest care imaginable. Some evenings I'll walk by their room and overhear my Dad patiently answer my Mom as she asks him, "When are we going home? How long have we been here? Do my parents know we're living together here? Can we go to West Virginia and see my brothers?". My Dad tenderly tries to bring her into the present, as much as his own memory has a grasp on it, and with kindness tries to give her comfort.

This is an emotional gig I find myself in the middle of and tears come with the territory, but I keep them private and out of view. As a 55 year old adult, I understand perfectly what is happening to my parents from a clinical standpoint, but as the only living offspring of these two, I dearly miss my parents a little more every single day. It sucks to see your two most amazing role models, a pair of the finest people you could ever hope to meet, who have guided you and been incredible examples of integrity and love, falter, fail to recognize you, grapple with the simplest of tasks like opening an e-mail, working a simple jigsaw puzzle or turning off a faucet rather than just walking away and leaving it running. 

This is what I want to use my blog for now. As difficult as so much of this is, and for as much as I sometimes imagine myself far removed from this situation, I know there will come a time when I will want to remember so many of the little things. I want to remind myself that we all did the very best that we could.

I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination - there are a lot of us baby boomers out there engaged in the same role of caregiver. My situation may be a little unique in that I have no living siblings and I am a full-time caregiver to both parents. I'm outnumbered and on most days, I honestly surprise myself that I've managed another day of keeping it all together, but there are moments I feel desperately tired and I just want a few hours where I'm not in charge of anyone or anything. 

I do have full-time aides who are furry and go by the name of Cleo and Sailor - two rescue dogs that rescue me on a daily basis. They interject "life" into my daily grind. They demand that I go outside and throw a tennis ball and almost every day they insist that I take them on an errand, even if it's nothing more exciting than a trip to CVS or Smithfields or the grocery store. When they see me grab my Doc Martens, coat and car keys, they are front and center and, because I fear my parents may accidentally open an outside door leaving the dogs to take the opportunity to run like the wind, I feel safer taking them along with me on most every outing I make. They are wonderful companions and they also have proven themselves as fantastic therapy dogs to my parents. Their antics, affection and interaction never fail to add laughter and joy to my parents' lives. I couldn't get through my days without Cleo and Sailor. I will forever be in their debt.

While it's true I have no siblings, I do have an amazing posse of the most generous and steadfast friends one could ever hope to meet. My dear sweet Sharon leads the pack - this woman truly makes my life so much easier and is a constant reminder that I am not alone. Sharon was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Wilmington in August 2000. I knew absolutely no one but it didn't take me long to find her. She watched in horror during the early years of our friendship and pulled me out of many of dicey situation, courtesy of my serious relationship with red wine and when it was finally time for me to confront my drinking and admit that I had become powerless, she truly held my hand and helped me believe that I was stronger than I felt. In the years since I popped that cork back in the bottle, as I've grown and regained so much that my drinking took away, she has celebrated my victories and made me believe in myself. For those reasons alone, she's been one of the most pivotal humans in my life but as I've made my way through this journey of caregiving, she's been not only a staunch source of support, but she's done a great deal of the heavy lifting right there with me. In every way except blood, she IS my sister, along with our buddy Anne, and these two women keep me laughing, cry along with me when it's needed and their support gives me courage; when you're taking care of "eldertwins", you need all the courage and stamina you can get your hands on. These women, along with other angels in my life, deliver in spades. I can honestly say that while the mission of caregiving can be a lonely business, I have seldom, if ever, felt truly alone. My friends make that impossible for me and I'm so dearly grateful for each of them. 

Reaching out doesn't come naturally to most of us. However, it does become necessary. I want to be someone who learns to lend Grace as my own friends have so often and generously given Grace to me. Friends both local and far flung have showered me with so much kindness, packages of spirit lifters, cards, teas, sea glass, sailboat pillows, mugs with sayings that make me smile and feel loved, books that share advice for this passage, notes and cards that whisper comfort and joy. I'm so humbled by these gifts. I'm incredibly blessed by these angels who literally light my path and "walk me home". I can't even express how much this love means to me - a gentle envelope or box of strength that, regardless of what it contains, says, "Yes, you can keep going. You'll be fine.". There are so many wonderful people in this world and when you're in the trenches, you notice them as never before. 

I don't know how much I'll be updating this site, but I want to try and keep it current. If you're in the middle of parental caregiving - feel free to reach out to me. If you're not, feel free to reach out to me anyway. I'll do my best to reach back to you.

05 August 2010

Tending Gardens...

It's been awhile. I almost forgot how to blog. A lot has happened since my last post - I believe in that one I had just announced the happy news that my daughter had become engaged way, way back in March 2009. Eons ago. As I write this, her wedding is just a hair over two months away.

When last we met, my son was preparing for his wedding in June. Justin and Stephanie have now been married one year and two months. They had a beautiful ceremony on Wrightsville Beach and a lovely, quiet reception in our backyard.

A lot has taken place in the past seventeen months. It's been a wonderful period of time. We've all grown in our individual ways and I'm not going to even attempt to pack it all into a synopsis, rather, I think I'll just write the first things that come to my mind because trying to recount history sounds more like an assignment and I've decided that writing should be more fun than that.

So here we are in early August 2010. It's hot here in the South and I love this time of year, though June and July are absolutely more favored months because there's more of summer to be spent. By August, we start hearing about fall and those silly "back to school" advertisements run ad nauseum. I used to dread that time of year. I never looked forward to relinquishing my summers. I gave them up kicking and screaming. I still feel like that. I'm not one of those people who can whole-heartedly enjoy Fall because of the looming winter that follows it. Summer fits me so much better.

This summer in particular, I have thrown myself into gardening. Flowers and vegetables have captured my attention. I have spent more time this summer with my hands in the dirt than ever before in my previous 50 years of life. I find myself entranced, mystified how you can pop a small seed into dirt and wind up with something as miraculous as a cucumber, tomato, cone-flower or daisy. It's incredible to me. I know it's been going on since forever, but for some reason I am new to this garden party and I just can't believe how crazy cool it is. Sometimes I walk out in the back yard and I just look around at an area that I seeded maybe six weeks or two months ago and I am thunderstruck to discover there are plants, blossoms, edible veggies where there once was a few weeds and black dirt. It's just nothing short of a miracle to me. I mean that with all sincerity.

Every evening after dinner, I grab a cup of coffee and Cassie and we do a walk about - making a wide circle through the back lawn...always stopping first at the "black eyed Susan" triangle which flanks the west end of the pool, bedazzled in yellow petals and dark chocolate centers, growing almost as if in a perfect sphere with some purple wave petunias garnishing the edges. Cassie seems as wide-eyed as me as we peruse the petals.

Then we amble over to the "true garden" behind the proper fence and through the morning-gloried gable. Inside there, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mint and yes, big, beautiful canteloupes sit among the weeds and atop the soil. WOW. I can't help but whip out my Android and snap some shots of the bounty. I remember when those things were tiny seeds scattered in soil and they didn't show much promise at all or elude in any way to what they were destined to become. Who knew? Well, God of course. But I sure didn't. Even though I knew that planting can sometimes result in a harvest, I just didn't think it could happen to me. Not to any ground I clumsily tilled and dug around in. I considered myself to the far left of amateurish status and in a way I still do...viewing myself much greener than whatever tint my thumb might be, but there's the evidence and gosh darn it, stuff's growing all over the place in ways I can barely fathom. And I got to be the lucky girl who stuck the seeds in and had fun getting my hands dirty. Now, I'm starting to eat cucumbers and tomatoes that have emerged from that plat. Seriously - I stare at it all and I am incredulous. Baby, I'm amazed!

It's both a source of pride and a lesson in humility, all at the very same time because in reality, hands and elbow grease are merely tools...like rakes and shovels and sprinkler systems. Gardening has both empowered me and reminded me of my place, all at the same time. I didn't create the miracle of life at all, but I sure got lucky enough to get my hands in it!

How did it take me 50 years to figure this out? I don't know, and I don't really even care; I'm just glad I arrived at all.

It touches every single sense I have - I get to feel the dirt with my hands, smell the flowers and fresh produce, see the results with my eyes, listen to the crunch as I bite down on a ripe cucumber and taste the finished product. All of that from a seed. Is that mind-boggling or what?

It is addictive. Some evenings I have no intention of getting dirty and I may innocently reach down to pull just one weed or pluck a spent flower, and then before I know it, I'm on my knees regardless of what I'm wearing, and I am pulling dollar weeds and crab grass to beat the band and then I just give up and if I start out with a lot of concerns or worries, they wind up with the pulled weeds and my mind magically clears. There's nothing more to it - it just happens and no pharmaceutical company can compound or design a drug that can impart anything close to the feeling of clearing a patch of flowers or veggies of weeds and it's calming effect on one's mind...on one's soul. Side effects? You may have to use a nail brush and gritty soap to remove a little debris. No prescription required.

It's just plain good for you. It's so good for me that I have now decided that when this crop is finished, I am going to plant a fall garden - and in making that decision, I have ordered seed catalogs, a garden book from The Farmer's Almanac and a lot of googling of "best plants for fall planting in Zone 8". I've decided that just because summer will be shutting down, my garden doesn't have to and I'm not about to give up the great effects this summer of tending the garden has bestowed upon me. No way. I've got plans to plow it up and set new seeds and be dazzled all over again.

And that is what I'm up to these dog days of summer. I get up, I go to work, I get excited around 4:00 and I look forward to coming home, eating a bite and getting into my old shorts and t-shirts and playing in the dirt. If the rain precludes my plans, I just assume that God has decided that my crops need an extra drink and I need a rest...its become one of my healthiest obsessions. It bespeaks calm and it seems to spill over into many other areas in my life and I am grateful for that. A garden seems to produce more than beauty and nutrition...it's feeding me in other ways and satisfying hungers I didn't even know that I had.

Green is good. God is great!