Monday, August 30, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The past couple of weeks have been an interesting study in human nature.

*I have a friend from church who has checked on me numerous times, offered sympathy and encouragement, served my extended family, even offered to take my children shopping for funeral attire, and failing that, just bought the clothes.

*I have another friend from church who failed to mention my father's death at all. When, after I asked and heard about her week, she asked about mine. I told her it had been a little rough and asked if she had heard my dad passed away. All she said was, "Yeah, I did hear that."

*Two of Karis' teachers have been praying for our family and comforting Karis. Ev's class and teacher have been very supportive, allowing late work and dismissing some assignments. The school headmaster and admissions director bent over backward to dovetail their new family breakfast with Dad's service at the church and our family lunch.

*A different (but beloved) teacher of Karis' observed that I didn't sound convincing when I told someone I was doing all right (Thursday after Dad passed). I agreed but said I didn't think I was supposed to be real great since my Dad died Monday. She said, "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that." Then the following week, she required Karis to turn in an assignment Tuesday, the day of Dad's services.

*Some precious friends have offered all sorts of tangible help, comforting hugs and words and food, safe and happy places for our children, even true and real advice about grieving.

*My FIAR (internet) friends have covered us with prayers, encouragement and concern.

*Very few of Dave's friends and associates have offered him any support or sympathy. One even expressed surprise that he was tired or sad on the Friday after Dad's services.

*My brother and his wife sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses. It still makes me cry.

*Last Sunday, I stopped to buy a local paper for myself, each of my siblings, and my mom, so we could each have a copy of the obituary. The girl at the counter cheerily said, "You must know somebody in the paper today!" After I explained why I was buying so many, she kindly said those magic words, "I'm so sorry for your loss."

Why is it a stranger who works in a gas station can offer simple words of comfort and respect? And people I expect to care, do not? I realize it is hard to know what to say, but seriously. Mental Note: Make sure my children know to say: "I'm so sorry to hear about your (insert specific loss here)."


Today while I was over helping Mom with mail and thank you notes, she had a call from hospice and made an appointment. For herself. She thinks it might be time to switch from home health to hospice.

I know hospice will take good care of Mom. I know it is wise to not wait until she is nearly incapacitated, like we did with Dad. I know it makes sense within the framework of time the oncologist gave.

It just feels too soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

My mom has a wonderful trait, which I am happy to say I have inherited. When Mom is tired, she can walk into her room, lie down, and go right to sleep. No racing thoughts, no worrying in the dark, no tossing and turning. Her head hits the pillow and, boom, she's out. She sleeps like a rock and wakes up refreshed, whether from her afternoon nap or from a night's rest.

Which makes it all the more wonderful that the last two nights of Dad's life here on earth, God woke Mom up. Saturday night and Sunday night, Mom spent a few hours sitting up with Dad. She talked with him and held his hand. I don't know what all they talked about, but Bill did hear Mom Sunday night say: "I love you, (last name). I'll be with you soon."

[I should explain that Mom's term of endearment for Dad was their last name. She explained it to Dave this way: "He has such an interesting last name, I don't feel like I need to think of a nickname."]

What Comes Out

You know the quote, "Character is who you are when no one is looking". I think in his last few months, weeks and days, we got to see who Dad was when no one was looking. His mind wandered enough that the usual social constraints were gone. We all saw what comes out when no one is minding the door. Even his "visions" were telling.

Some things were funny, like Dad wanting shampoo in the middle of the night, or wanting to move appliances to another town. Some were sweet like Dad looking out the window and seeing little pigs loose in the yard. Some things were aggravating, like Dad's obsession with "working" in his study, needing to balance that checkbook. But even through the aggravation, we could see his desire to provide for his family. One night when Bill was on duty, he heard Dad talking and went to check on him. Dad was praying in his sleep, thanking God for the spouses of his children giving their time for Dad's care. When Paul was here, Dad became convinced he had lost his Bible study book. He even made Paul hunt through the cushions for it. The weekend before he died, Dad spent a couple of hours in his wheelchair at the door, waiting for his group to arrive. He named some men he had been in Bible studies with in the past, and felt sure they were coming for a meeting.

I'm sorry that Dad's mind failed along with his body. But I'm so thankful that what came out when his mind was unfiltered was good and fine and hopeful.

(This is the last photo I took of Dad. It is from my tiny cell phone and I know it is blurry. It is Dad waiting by the door for his Bible study group to arrive.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Turning the Corner

Thursday afternoon, we were all looking at each other concernedly and Bill and Cathy were considering staying another extra day. Mom didn't seem to want them to leave. We talked amongst ourselves about having dinners with Mom and having the girls take turns spending the night.

Who were we kidding??? Clearly we had forgotten who we were dealing with!

Mom let Bill and Cathy know on Friday morning that they should not hang around on her account. She did not want us coming over for dinner. She would not entertain the idea of the girls spending the night. She did accept an invitation from a friend to attend the church's monthly Fellowship Dinner, which consists of her old cronies playing Mexican Train Dominoes and eating.

Today as I was thinking I had waited an acceptable time before calling, Mom called me about a document that came in the mail. I asked her how she was doing and she replied: "I've discovered I enjoy being alone."

Very Socratic, dontcha think? Now begins the tentative dance of staying distant enough to give Mom space, but remaining close enough to keep her from being isolated.

Friday, August 27, 2010


My brother-in-law Mark (sister Gayle's husband) wanted to do the eulogy at my Dad's memorial service. He was able to do the whole thing without getting choked up at all (that I remember). Today he e-mailed the transcript. I am posting it here as Mark sent it. Exceptions: I took out last names and our current location. I added a couple of editorial thoughts in [ ]. And I corrected the spelling of my child's name. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Bill ______ was born November 2, 1921 in Willard, Kansas. Willard was located about 15 miles west of Topeka. Bill's father was a railroad man, a signal maintainer on the Rock Island Railroad. Bill's family moved to Topeka when he was only 2 years old. His father was very strict about not going into debt, so they did not have a car. They rode around Topeka on the trolleys. Finally, in 1929, his dad bought their first car, and paid cash for it. It was a Ford. [Funny because my dad remained a Ford man all his life.] This allowed the children to visit their mother's siblings in central Kansas.

Some of Dad's fondest memories of childhood were travels by train. Since his father worked for the railroad, they always got tickets at a reduced price. Dad had two favorite cars on the train, the dining car and the Pullman. The dining car used heavy china with beautiful silverware, and served full meals. The Pullman was a luxurious car used for sleeping. There were upper
and lower berths. Dad and his brother used to sleep in the upper births. But his favorite place to sleep was the lower berth, where you could watch the sun rise as you woke up in the morning.

Dad lived in the time before there were shots for polio and other childhood diseases. If anyone in town got sick, a poster was put on your house, announcing a quarantine. As a kid, they didn't have games from the store, they played made-up games in the yard. They played hide and go seek, stick baseball, and other simple games. They stretched a net between two trees for
a tennis court. Later, he did buy a crystal set, so that he could listen to the radio, and a phonograph with a megaphone sticking out, just like on the RCA logo, so that the family could listen to records.

At the age of 10, Dad moved to Alta Vista, KS. This was 1932, in the heart of the depression. Thankfully, his father had very high seniority in the railroad, and his job was secure all the way through the depression. It was a good move. Because of his father's views on going into debt, the family didn't buy a house, but rented one for $10 a month. At that time, his father
was paid $80 or $90 a month. Later, in the 1940's, his father broke down and did take out a loan on a house. They had chickens, two cows, milk, cream, and a big garden spot. Dad made money mowing people's lawns and delivering newspapers.

In 1934, Bill's brother Frank became very ill with pneumonia in the middle of a blizzard. The doctor in Alta Vista suggested a flax seed poultice, but Bill's mother didn't trust that doctor. She thought is should be a mustard poultice. They called the doctor in the next town, who said that he would be happy to come out, but he had no way of getting there because of the snow. Bill's dad said that if he could stand the cold, he could ride down to Topeka on a little railroad motor car and pick him up at the station. This was a car with a little engine, that one man could lift on and off the track. First, he had to wait for a train going west to clear the tracks. Then, after he picked up the doctor, they had to wait for a train headed east, and brought the doctor home. Frank survived his illness with the mustard poultice, by the way, while another boy in town with a flax seed poultice died.

Dad went on his first date at the age of 14, right after he got his driver's license. [He got his license by writing a letter stating he was fourteen and wanted his license. So they sent him one.] He called up a girl and asked her if she would like to go with him to a movie. He said the parents in town always appreciated him, because he treated his dates with a lot of respect. Dad was very interested in sports in High School. By his senior year, he lettered in all three sports: football, basketball and baseball. He also received a letter in academics, played trombone in the band, and made all "A's" in his senior year.

Dad says that "salvation was the most important decision he made in his life." As a child, his family attended a Presbyterian Church in Topeka, and a Methodist Church in Alta Vista. Dad wasn't sure if he received Christ as a child, or whether it happened in 1952 after he and Ann were married. But, as he says, "The important thing is that he knows he received Christ."

In 1939, Dad graduated from High School, and went away to Kansas State University. He applied for advanced ROTC training, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. After Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Camp Edwards at Cape Cod Bay, where he trained people in anti-aircraft fire. He also trained soldiers who were taken to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, and later trained
soldiers to use a new weapon at that time, called the bazooka. The climax of his army career was taking a boat to Leyte Island in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. While the boat was in the water, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered. Dad was thankful that they did not have to mount an invasion on Japan, which
would have cost the lives of many more people.

Before he left for the service, Dad got to know Ann Poole when they both attended K-State. They first met at a fraternity dance. During that time, Dad would go and visit Ann at her house on the farm, near Manhattan, and sit on the sofa all afternoon, but apparently was not a big talker. Ann's sister, Helen said, "Sis, stay away from Peycke, because he's just too quiet." Between his Jr. And Sr. year in college, Dad went away to serve in the Army for 4 years. When he came back from the war, he went to K-State to finish his degree in mechanical engineering. He was still interested in Ann Poole, who at that time was teaching and running a restaurant during the Summer months called the Yucca Inn. During this time, they one day met each other walking to church on a Sunday morning. Mom says that when they saw each other, something clicked inside. So on the fourth time of asking her to marry him, Mom finally agreed. Dad and Mom were married on January 1, 1948. They were supposed to be married on December 31, but they got married a day late because of a blizzard in Manhattan, Kansas.

After marriage, Dad worked for several companies in the oil rig business. He worked first for Jensen Brothers Manufacturing in Coffeeville, KS, and then for another company in Baxter Springs, KS. The owner at this company wanted to give Dad a raise, without actually raising his salary. He told him to pad his expense account by an extra $100 a month. Dad never liked that type of dishonesty, and immediately started looking for another job.

He ended up being hired by Unit Rig and Equipment Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During his 31 years at Unit Rig, he worked as a design engineer, and secured several patents. He was promoted to the Plant Superintendent in Tulsa, and at one time had around 1500 people working under him. When Unit Rig decided to expand into East Texas, Dad was put in charge of the
operation as the general manager of all their plants here. The Kimco plant here in _______ made mining trucks, which held up to 200 tons of ore. Their trucks were the first to use electric drive, and the Kimco division developed a fine reputation. Later, Dad was placed on the China team, and ended his career with Kimco as the manager of a one of their new companies, called Harrisburg Manufacturing.

After retiring at the age of 62, Dad and Mom wrote letters to 16 mission agencies, offering to travel anywhere in the world to do mission work as a self-supported couple. Calvary Bible College snatched them up. Dad became the Business Manager at Calvary, and Mom worked in the kitchen at Calvary. They moved into a little condo in Belton, MO, and stayed for five years,
until 1988. This was a very special time for Gayle and me, because it was the only time as our children were growing up that we lived close to grandparents.

Dad was always very interested in church work, and was usually placed on the elder or deacon board at all the churches they attended. Dad and Mom both had the gift of giving, and were able to generously support all the churches they attended, as well as missionaries that needed support.

After returning to _______, Mom and Dad became active in Child Evangelism Fellowship, and was invited on to the state board for East Texas. In his later years, Dad also enjoyed a ministry of caregiving. He and a couple other men would meet with Dave once a week, find out about prayer requests and people who needed a visit, and would follow up on caring for the flock. He became an expert at writing people notes of encouragement.

For his family, one of the most important jobs he fulfilled each year was reserving the cabins at Lake Tenkiller, for the annual _______fest. This was the time each year when all of his children and grandchildren would gather for boating, skiing, swimming, and just enjoying one another. Along with all the good food, we also remember the family devotions we had every night after dinner, and the sweet times of fellowship we enjoyed playing games and just talking with one another.

There are many things we could say about Bill ________.
$ Daniel noted that he was a leader. He was a leader in his family, at church, and in the workplace. He was a spiritual leader in all areas.
$ William talks about the scholarship he provided at Calvary Bible College, to pay for the college education of both William and David. William remember when Grandpa was the business manager, and the mercy he had on students who couldn't always pay for their education at the beginning of each term. William also remembers Grandpa sitting in his red chair, reading his Bible. For that reason, it was extra special that Grandpa was able to read the scriptures at William's wedding.
$ Jonathan remembers that Grandma and Grandpa paid for many of the grandchildren to attend Summit Ministries, and that he met his wife, Cassi, there.
$ David remembers the birthday cards that Grandpa would send every year, and that they always had a Bible verse and a personally note of encouragement.
$ Cathy and Carrie remember that they always felt included as daughters in law-he always made them feel a part of the family.
$ Bill remembers that Dad had a plan for reading through the NT, and that the scriptures were always a very important part of his life.
$ John remembers his Grandpa as a man who was powerful in his prayer life. John says that his prayers really helped the next generation as they were growing up.

Toward the end of his life, the family pulled together to help Dad attain his wish, which was to die in his home. Special thanks need to be given to Gwen, who took on the lion's share of the load for caring for her parents, as the daughter who lived closest to her parents. Gwen, Dave, Karis, Meg, Nate and Ev, we can't thank you enough for all you did. We also are thankful for Bill and Loren, who were able to provide nursing care for Dad toward the end of his life. Also, Paul was able to come toward the end of the Summer and take care of his grandpa.

In the end, as Bill describes is, he raised his hands to heaven and released his Spirit to God. Dad, we know that you are now enjoying the mansion in heaven that Jesus promised to prepare for you while he was here on earth. We will miss you, but plan on joining you soon, through the blessed mercies of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I first posted this, I made an attempt at light-heartedness. I just wasn't feeling it. Woke up this morning thinking about it. So I changed it.

Multi-tasker Extraordinaire

Dave is my understanding husband, a devoted son-in-law, and is also Mom and Dad's pastor. (These are more of Paul's pics.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye

I keep having to say "goodbye" to people I'd really rather stay. Most of the out-of-town relatives left directly after the Tuesday services. My brother Loren and his family left this morning. I missed them as soon as they pulled away from the curb, maybe even sooner. My brother Bill and his wife will leave tomorrow or maybe Saturday.

Mom will be so alone. Even she has confided in Bill that "It's going to be lonely." This is a huge admission of need from the woman who wouldn't let us come share Thanksgiving with her last year!

This leave-taking is hard. I visited Dad's grave today and told him I missed him and that even though I told him before it was okay to go, I really didn't want him to. Death sucks.

Painfully Beautiful

My dear nephew Paul was here the week before Dad passed away. He cared for Dad so gently and respectfully. Paul brought his violin and played for hours for Mom and Dad. He also brought his camera and took these beautiful pictures. They make me cry.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Family members are arriving. Arrangements for provisions and lodging are made. The viewing/visitation is tonight. Graveside tomorrow morning, memorial service following.

I have the same feeling I get when a hurricane is in the gulf, but without the fun factor. All the dread, none of the excitement. I'm going to take a nap.

PostScript: I didn't get the nap. It was like a hurricane. And I was like a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy. It was beautiful and terrible and I'm not ready to write about it yet. Surely I will be, someday.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Mom confessed yesterday morning that she has a rash on her abdomen. Nurse Brenda had looked at it (I don't know when, yesterday before I got there?) and advised Mom to see a doctor. Brenda thought it might be shingles and evidently the sooner you diagnose and medicate, the better off you are with shingles. Mom hemmed and hawed and made a feeble attempt to talk with the doctor's nurse. I thought about how wretched the weekend and next week would be with a full-blown case of the shingles and called the doctor's office. Bill took Mom to her appointment yesterday at 3:15.

Later in the afternoon, I texted Bill to see what the doctor said. I really wasn't ready for the news. Bill said Mom said (Bill didn't go in with her) the doctor said this rash is likely due to either a clot or heart-related. He gave her a topical cream for comfort. I've been hoping that Mom's heart would fail before the colon cancer blocks her intestine. But I guess I was hoping it would happen in a few months.

I know I'm extrapolating. I know I need to talk to the doctor to find out what was actually said. It is just sort of a kick in the gut. A not-so-distant rumbling of thunder, reminding us the next storm is on the horizon.

Postscript: Spoke with doctor. Rash not connected with heart or clot. Not shingles. Just some rash.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sweet Conversations

This past weekend before he died, I got to spend a couple of days and one night caring for Dad. God in His kindness allowed Mom and Dad and I to have some really sweet time together. Dad was clearly growing weaker, so much that Mom even noticed and commented on Friday.

Mom: I think Dad is getting weaker.

Gwen: I think it is getting time to let Dad go.

Mom: Oh, yes.

Mom also asked me Friday night about hiring someone to help with Dad. I was able to tell her what I had learned. We talked about different ideas for caring for Dad all last weekend. The really funny thing is that once again Mom was insisting she could care for Dad on her own! The woman is fierce.

Saturday morning, Dad did not want to get out of the hospital bed. I kept asking, but he wasn't up to moving.

Dad: I don't know why I should sleep so much.

Gwen: Well, Dad, it is taking all your energy just for activities of daily living. Your body is wearing out and I really think soon you will go to Jesus. Then you'll be running through the fields in heaven and you won't get tired at all.

Dad: That sounds good. I'll be chasing my beautiful bride.

Gwen: (laughing) Not yet! But soon.

Then after a little morning nap, Dad wanted to go to the study and get some work done. Sadly, he didn't have enough leg strength to even get lift off from the edge of the bed. I pulled hard, but only succeeded in pulling Dad forward, not up.

Dad: What we need is two or three strong guys to help us. Didn't we have some boys staying here?

Gwen: I'm sorry, Dad. I wish I could pick you up and take you wherever you want to go.

Dad: No, because I want to go to heaven. And you can't go yet.

Gwen: I'll see you there someday.

Oh my. I have tears streaming down my face as I remember those tender moments. For an extremely non-communicative family, these were amazingly meaningful interactions. Gifts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


William James __________, Jr.
November 2, 1921 - August 16, 2010

William (Bill) James _________, Jr., age 88, of ___________, TX, went home to be with his Lord and Savior on Monday, August 16, 2010.

Beloved husband for 62 years of Anna A. (maiden name) __________; loving father of Bill (Cathy), Gayle (Mark), Ruth (Richard), Loren (Carrie), Gwen (David); grandfather of William IV (Kay), David, Joel (Alecia), Daniel, John, Jonathan (Cassi), Caleb (Ruth), Lydia, Paul, Anna, Rebekah, Matthew, Elizabeth, Luke, Esther, Zane, Leah, Karis, Meg, Nate, Evangeline; great-grandfather of Andrew, Caris, Gabriel, Sabbath, Evangeline, Lacey, Nate, Emrys.

Bill _________ was born November 2, 1921, in Willard, Kansas, to the late William and Estella ___________. He was the brother of the late Frank _________ and Margaret __________. He was raised in Topeka and Alta Vista, KS. He served as a lieutenant in the Army from 1942-1946, teaching at Army camps in the States, and serving in the Philippines. He received a degree from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in 1947. Bill was the plant manager of Unit Rig and Equipmnet Co. in Tulsa, OK, and of Kimco in _________, TX. After retiring in 1984, he served for 5 years as the business administrator for Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, MO. He then served on the board of directors for many years. He was a long-time member of _________ Bible Church, where he had served on the elder board and missions committee.

Viewing and visitation Monday, August 23 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at __________ Funeral Home. Private family graveside service with military honors on Tuesday, August 24, 8:30 a.m. Public memorial service on Tuesday, August 24, 10:30 a.m. at ________ Bible Church.

My sister Gayle wrote this so beautifully for Dad. (I left out last name and current place. This is the internet after all.) It is wonderful, Gayle. No mean feat to summarize 88 years in a few short paragraphs, but you captured it, as Mom knew you would. The obituary will run in our local Sunday paper.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Shortly before 9:00 this morning, my dad passed from this life. Although we knew his passing was inevitable, it is so sad. Death is so sad. Incredible that one moment his soul is there, in his struggling body, and the next it is gone, flying away to Jesus. We are comforted with the assurance that Dad is no longer suffering or infirm, or hampered with any of the frailties and faults that weigh us down. He is whole and healthy in every way, living large in the presence of his Savior, Jesus. We will see him again. But in the meantime, we miss him. ("Yes we do," Ev says.)


Last night I sat down to write, but there were so many details swirling in my head from the weekend, I just couldn't sort them out into words, sentences and paragraphs. Now they seem unimportant anyway. It's 5:00 a.m. I'm heading over to the folks'. Bill thinks Dad just has a few hours before he flies away to Jesus. Praying for God's mercy and grace.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hospital Bed

Dad did not get up at all once he got to his red chair yesterday morning. Not to eat. Not to toilet. Not to the study. He couldn't even make it to his bedroom. For the first time ever, Dad slept in the hospital bed last night. I haven't heard yet how the night went. And I don't assume for a minute that he won't get up this morning and walk laps in the driveway. If there's anything I know for sure, it is that I don't know anything for sure about Dad's health.

I'm headed over this morning to stay until Bill arrives tomorrow night.

Clarification: I realized that I have left out some pertinent info. Yesterday morning when Mom's home health nurse was in to check on Mom, she looked at Dad's arm and diagnosed it cellulitis. She said Dad needed antibiotics or it would go into his blood. Of course this scared Mom. She called me and had me call hospice. A hospice nurse came out and by noon antibiotics and pain pills were delivered to the doorstep. So Dad is on antibiotics.

Mom won't give him pain pills because he doesn't complain. That's a whole other topic.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Facts and Figures

I talked with the social worker from hospice again today. Here is what she found out for us:

*One agency in town has CNAs that can handle Dad's needs. Cost: $15-$17 per hour.

*Two skilled nursing facilities in town that she deemed recommendable. Cost: $2K-$3K per month for a double room. In hell.

*The monthly income amount below which VA will help with costs. Dad is about $100 per month over the cap.

Good information. I appreciate her help. It looks bleak.


Dad was dashed against the rocks again yesterday. Yesterday morning, Paul texted that Gpa was doing well physically and mentally. He did mention that Dad's left arm was red. By the time I got there in the afternoon, Dad's arm was very red and hot and the pooling fluid looked dark. Mom agreed that I could call hospice (it hadn't occurred to her). Dad was sleeping so soundly that he barely roused when Mom and Meg ground grain in the next room. When he did rouse up, his speech was completely unintelligible. I offered him a drink, thinking his mouth might be dry. He was unable to hold the glass to his mouth.

Nurse Christy arrived. She checked Dad over and surmised that he had a blood clot in his left arm and had had a mild stroke. His heart rate and blood pressure were good, but his oxygen level was in the 80's. She suggested we elevate his arm, but reallly the only other protocol would be blood thinner, which he already takes the big daddy of, plavix. Christy told us this might be the beginning of the end. I made plans to spend the night. Dad continued to sleep, so I left with Meg to shuffle people around and make sure my house had food. I got word that Dad was laboring to breathe and twitching, so I cut things short and got back to the folks'.

And Dad was fine. He drank some juice and some Ensure. He spoke clearly enough to understand and he made some sense. He stayed awake some. Poor Mom was exhausted. Dave and Karis had arrived by this time. Karis left to pick up Meg and I ended up going home with Dave. I haven't heard yet how the night went. I think Loren said it best, "The man must be made of iron."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad Cop

That would be me.

It has become clear that Mom is, well, babying my nephew Paul. It seems she is trying to protect him from the realities of taking care of Dad. I spoke to her and Paul on Sunday, trying to be gentle and understated, but reminding that is why he is here. I had to be the bad cop again yesterday and speak more directly. I suggested to Paul in front of Mom that he might need to ask his Grandma to go into another room and pray for him, while he did the task at hand for Grandpa. Then I privately reiterated to my quiet, mild-mannered nephew that he needs to stand up to Grandma and do what needs doing.

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. Paul is so kind to volunteer selflessly for this duty. Grandma is valiantly struggling with role reversals and new responsibilities. Grandpa is putting all his effort into the activities of daily living. Loren keeps calling me the boss. I don't like being the boss.

And I hate being the bad cop.

Book Review II

While we were on vacation, a dear friend and mentor (may I call you a mentor, dear Jane?) e-mailed me with a book recommendation. (Remember, my idea of a good vacation is to sit in bed and read a book.) The Hawk and the Dove is a trilogy by Penelope Wilcox, telling the story of Benedictine monks in the 1300s. My friend told me she enjoyed all three books of the trilogy, but that the last, The Long Fall, made her think of my journey with my parents.

TLF deals with the decline and death of a beloved character, a father figure. Although set in a monastery, the experiences related parallel our own. One passage that really stuck with me is from a scene where, after another setback, a friend is asking if his loved one will live. The reply:

"...You can't say. How many times must a ship be dashed against the rocks before it finally tears apart? Each time is one step nearer the last time. Each battering brings further disintegration. All we can say for sure is that right up to the end, before anything else, this broken, helpless, suffering being is a living soul, a house of God's spirit, needy of tenderness, worthy of respect. I don't know..."

I love the metaphor of a ship for my dad. I picture the huge ocean ships we saw on Pier 21 in Galveston. I can see each setback, each loss of strength, each episode of mental wandering as casting off another mooring as Dad prepares to set sail.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What If, What If, What If

Tonight I am tumbling this issue over in my mind: What if Mom and Dad go on like this? How can we take care of them long term? Paul will stay this week. Bill will return this weekend and stay through August. Loren will return in September. But then what?

Dad needs care.
Mom can't do it all.
Mom will probably need care too.
They want to stay in their home.
But they don't want to hire help.
Bill starts consulting work in September, after a summer of "retirement".
Loren has family and a ski season job.

So what do we do?

Park an rv in the folks' driveway?
Buy a house big enough for my family and the folks?
Hire help? (Would need day and night)
Put Dad in facility?

None of these would be palatable to Mom and Dad. But something will have to give. So the tumbling continues.

Just When You Think It's Safe

Today at church, I glibly told someone that we no longer had to worry about Dad getting up on his own and wandering around unattended. I mean, really, that is sort of the upside of Dad needing assistance to get out of his chair, right? You know what's coming here, don't you?

When Mom left for church this morning, she asked Dad to remind Paul to turn on the oven at 11:00. Dad fulfilled Mom's request, but left out a step. Instead of reminding Paul, Dad just got up and turned the oven on by himself. The stinker! There is just no figuring that man.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Perchance to Dream

I've been thinking about Dad's hallucinations and wondering if they have meaning. Remember my boss' insight into Dad's mental wanderings in the hospital? I was thinking that I should tell her some of his "visions" and see what she has to say.

Then, this morning when I walked in, Dad was looking something up in the dictionary. Sort of. Well, he was holding the dictionary in his lap. After a while, I asked what he was looking up.

Dad: I don't really know. (Pause) Oh, I'm looking for the word that means 'to emasculate'. I think it starts with an 'a'. What word is that?

Gwen: Uh, I don't know.

Dad: It has to do with a dream I had last night. I haven't told anyone about it. I guess I'll look up 'emasculate'.

Dad flipped through a few pages and the conversation went elsewhere.

Here are the terms listed under emasculate in my thesarus:

remove the sting from,
pull the teeth out of;

informal water down.

It also recommended looking up castrate, which rendered the following terms:


Hmmm. Wonder how Dad's feeling?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Never a Dull Moment

I went over to the folks' today after work to stay while Bill went to the airport to pick up our nephew Paul. Paul is returning from a summer ministry in San Diego and offered to stay a week to care for his Grandma and Grandpa. Dinner was pretty usual. We all enjoyed a bowl of Mom's delicious chicken gumbo. Mom and I sat with Dad while he finished up. Dad noticed that someone's little pigs were out in the yard (garden variety hallucination). Dad fell asleep in his wheelchair at the table. Standard fare.

Mom went to the kitchen to gather the evening medicines. Nurse Brenda had instructed Mom to start taking her blood pressure before she takes her medicine. Mom called me into the kitchen to tell me her bp was too high. Not panic-high, but right at the cut-off point of too high. She called Brenda, but I don't know what was said. Mom felt dizzy and accepted help walking into the living room. She parked herself in a chair and stayed there the rest of the night. She even let me serve Paul and Bill, and let Bill and me clean up in the kitchen. Mom took her blood pressure a couple more times and it came down a bit.

Another contributing factor here is that Mom's left calf has been swollen and red this week. We don't know why.

I'm going over in the morning to see how Mom is and to talk with Bill about plans. The plan had been for Paul to tend to Grandma and Grandpa for a week and for Bill to head home. Now, I'm not sure. Praying for wisdom and grace for all.

Saturday Postscript -- Mom seems better this morning. Diastolic still high, but systolic very reasonable. She did let me shop at Sam's for her. Bill is planning to leave after lunch. Karis and I will go over in the afternoon/evening.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Your Dad Might Be Hallucinating If..

after dinner, while sitting in his favorite chair, he looks across the room out the front door and says:

"There's the yodeling gas distributor."

Oh my gosh! I'm not making this up. That's my all-time favorite one so far.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Today I had a revealing interchange with Mom. Bill wanted to run to Target for a cd player, so I was at the folks' with Mom and Dad. Dad had finished his now-customary two hour lunch and was ready to move to his red chair.

I don't know if this chair phenomenon is universal to my generation or just singular to my family of origin. For as long as I can remember, our living room furniture has included a recliner. This was Dad's chair. No one sat in it except Dad. If some overconfident child did brashly dare, they would hop right up when Dad entered the room and quickly ask, "Do you want your chair?"

Dad's first chair (that I knew of...there certainly could have been chairs that preceded me) was a swampy green naugahyde recliner. When I went off to college in the eighties, Mom redecorated and had Dad's chair re-upholstered. It was the eighties, remember, so the color scheme was forest green and mauve. Whoever was helping Mom with color and fabric selection chose a deep, dusty rose for Dad's chair. As if that wasn't enough of a challenge to Dad's masculinity, the upholsterer somehow reversed the fabric so that Dad's chair was delivered in bright pink glory. Oh my.

At some point in more recent history, Mom purchased new furniture. (!) Dad's chair is now a lovely clawfooted, deep burgundy, leather recliner, which also sports a custom-made inflatable cushion for even more long-term comfort. I think the red chair is Dad's favorite place in all the world. His very own happy place.

Anyhoo, Dad's fluids pool a lot in his legs and feet while he's sitting at the table and this makes getting from table to red chair pretty challenging sometimes. I wheeled Dad over and he wanted his walker to help him move to his chair. Dad needed a pretty hefty pull to get upright and then his feet just didn't move. We ended up doing the precarious pivot, which involves me holding up my 200 pound dad by a therapy belt through sheer physics, while sort of pirouetting him 90* and dropping him into his chair. It is very exciting and the ways it could go wrong are legion.

Mom was sitting in her reading chair, watching the whole operation. After Dad was settled with his neck roll in position and his feet propped up on two cushions, my 89yo, 110 pound mom eruditely commented:

"After watching the pull that took, I don't think I could do that."

I think Mom still wants nothing more than to be at home alone with her man. It is ludicrous, but I really think she keeps hoping an independent life will be possible for them again. Or maybe her observation was just her self-talk, reminding herself that she really does need our help, annoying as it may be to have people around constantly. I dunno. It's hard to figure.

Postscript: I took my sister's advice and asked Mom what she was thinking. She said she has given up on independent living. She is just waiting to to see who goes first.

Catching Up

Last week, Loren's family drove down from the top of the United States. The cousins spent the afternoons, evenings and nights with us, then visited Grandma and Grandpa in the mornings. So fun to have them! Our kids have such a great time together. Loren's wife stayed at the folks' house and was a big help to Mom. When we stopped by Sunday night, Mom marveled, "This is the first time I've been in the kitchen in a week!"

While my family was in Galveston for the weekend, my brother Bill arrived at the folks', and Loren and family took off for home. This is a bittersweet time for me. Although Dad's decline is sad, the time with extended family is sweet and meaningful. Thank you Carrie, Zane and Leah for brightening our week. Thanks for sharing your lives and your husband/dad with Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you Loren and Bill for your incredible service of love to our parents. You all are amazing.

Dad continues to ride the rollercoaster. His strength, balance, and lucidity come and go. He is getting more "grumpy" according to Bill. "Mean" according to me. Often about things imagined, or at least unseen by anyone other than Dad. Bill astutely observes that this gives Mom practice with forgiveness. I'll say. Meg and I were talking today about how this long, hard process of dying is not just for Grandpa. Who knows what all God is shaping in the rest of us as we walk through The Valley with him?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Happy Place

Dave persevered and took us to my Happy Place for the last weekend of his vacation.

I really, really love Galveston. We had a wonderful time away. We played on the beach, ate out, walked the Strand, drove out to see where we stayed on the beach three years ago (still being renovated two years after Ike), toured an offshore oil rig, took a Duck tour, and even saw friends. I read Isaac's Storm. It was the perfect quick getaway. Thank you, Dave, for knowing what I need, even when I can't see it.