Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

Goodbye, 2011. I will not miss you.

And please God, let 2012 be fresh woods and pastures new.

Peace Party

Mom wanted us to come over for a "peace party." She wanted to be sure "nothing comes between us." She wanted me to pick a night when all of us could come for dinner. I called Tuesday and asked her if tonight, Saturday, would be okay. Karis would be off work, plus we could celebrate New Year's Eve as well as Mom and Dad's anniversary. Mom was amazed I would plan so far in advance. And she had forgotten about her anniversary. Okay.

We went this afternoon at 4:00 so we could make a couple of gluten-free pizzas for our dinner. Mom was sleeping in Dad's red chair when we arrived. She had on a pair of sweats with an additional hoodie on top, was covered with an afghan, and had her rice bag for her hands. It was in the 70s today. Mom was happy to see us, even wanted to visit. When the pizzas began to bake, she went to the table and sat down. Food is still one of her greatest joys and I guess she just couldn't wait any longer! We had pizza and salad, and toasted the new year with sparkling apple juice.

Mom napped in the chair again while we cleaned up the kitchen. Oddly enough, she did not want the kids to take down Christmas decorations yet. Mom also showed no interest in her usual Saturday show, Huckabee. She wanted to write some checks, and then we headed home.

Peace party accomplished.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pep Talk

A friend, a former-first-grade-student friend, posted this passage on facebook today. Truth I really needed to remember.

If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back?
Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.
If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal?
Garden-variety sinners do that.
If you only give for what you hope to get out of it,
do you think that's charity?
The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

I tell you, love your enemies.
Help and give without expecting a return.
You'll never—I promise—regret it.
Live out this God-created identity
the way our Father lives toward us,
generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst.
Our Father is kind;
you be kind.

Luke 6:32-36, The Message

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Will you please join me in praying for a friend who is traveling right now to be at her mother's bedside as she leaves this world for the next? My friend has been caring for her mom following a cancer diagnosis, but had gone home to spend a few days with her family. Thank you.

Friday Update:

And she's gone. My friend made it, spent the last night with her mom, then just before dawn she flew away.

I remember years ago my sister telling me about the church to which they were ministering. She said, "You know how you have a time in your life when all your friends are getting married, then you have a time when all your friends are having kids? Well, these people are at a time in their life when all their friends are dying." Clearly, they were at a church filled with elderly people. I've only had a few of my friends die so far. But right now, it does seem that we are in a time in our lives where many of our friends' parents are passing.

My heart goes out to them.


I have a friend who says, "It's the kindnesses that undo me." I don't know if that is a universal truth, and it may well be, but it certainly is true for me. Last Monday, the day I got booted out of Mom's life, two things stand out to me, two kindnesses that wrapped themselves around my shocked and hurting heart.

As I was texting back and forth with Dave, after he got through all the basic questions like "What the heck?" (but he would never actually say what the anything, that was just poetic license on my part), he asked, "Do you want me to come get you?" That meant so much to me, that my man would come and get me. He has said to me before, "You don't always have to be the big girl," and I love knowing that he will take care of me.

Later on in the day, I was talking with Dave's mom about plans for Christmas Day, since my schedule had just opened up. Way up. After talking a bit, she said these lovely words: "Of course, we would love to have you all with us for Christmas." I teared up right then, and am now as I remember the comfort in those words. She wanted us, all of us, to be with her.

Typing these out, I realize how small they must sound. Maybe even insignificant. But to me, these two kindnesses were the antidote, the antivenin for a very heartsick day.

Where Are You Christmas?

So, Christmas came.

Mom did indeed attend the lovely Christmas Eve service at our church. She came in with her walker and sat in her usual spot. Her many fans were happy to see her. Then Mom had Karis stop by Mama Juanitas on the way home. She waited in the car while Karis picked up two orders of fajitas to go. Mom told Karis she wanted to celebrate!

After she filled her grandma's stocking, Karis came and spent the night at our house so she could be with us for Christmas morning. Funny how teenagers have to be woken up to open gifts! We had a delightful Christmas morning together. I just love these people. Then we were off to Dave's folks' for the rest of the day. Dave's family has always been warm and welcoming, so spending time with them is a treat. And Dave's mom loves Christmas. I think gift-giving is her love language, and she speaks it well. Thanks, Grammie, for lavishing your love on us!

My mom was also invited for the day, and chose to come at dinnertime. Karis zipped home to get her. Mom loved the meal, enjoyed the dessert, and even asked to hold our newest baby niece. Then she was done, and asked Karis to take her home.

We helped clean up a bit, then were ready to head home as well. In fact, after Mom left, I felt all my Christmas cheer ebbing away, replaced by a strange melancholy. I ended up in bed with a throbbing head shortly after we got home. I know Mom is very happy with the way things are now, and I will continue to honor her wishes by ignoring her, but I miss her. Mom is so frail and I know this will be her last Christmas.

I miss her already.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Phone Call

I had a phone call from Mom the other day. She said she didn't realize how abrupt she was being Monday morning until she saw my countenance as I loaded up my car. But then she didn't know what to do, so she didn't do anything. Mom said she hoped I could forgive her for being so cold. And that if I felt bad, then I should remember how she ate two helpings of dinner one night.

So that's that.

Mom has accepted my mother-in-law's invitation to Christmas dinner. She also left me a message saying she thinks she will come to the Christmas Eve service so she can hear our friend Noelle sing. If she goes through with these plans, it will be her first time out of the house in weeks. Sounds good.

For my part, I have been soaking in time with my family and getting ready for Christmas. Both are good for my soul.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We had some wild and crazy lightning last night and somewhere in the mix it seems our computer or monitor or both got spiked. It sure sounded like something blew up. Very exciting and all, but now my internet access is pretty much limited to the public library.

I haven't heard from my mom. I'm enjoying time with my husband and children. Dave's mom is going to invite Mom over to share Christmas dinner with all of us. We will go by to fill Mom's stocking on Christmas Eve. And I'll go visit her on Monday for my weekly check-in.

Several of my friends have urged me to take the reins, so to speak, and force myself on my mom. I'm sorry, but I'm just not strong enough for that. Unless the hospice nurse tells me and Mom that kind of action is necessary, I will continue to honor Mom's wishes. I know bad things could happen. Time once again to face the fact that my mom would really, truly, literally rather die than be forced to have me and my family around.

I don't know when I'll be back online, so please text or call if you need to get in touch with me.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I got fired today.

Not from Kohl's. They were kind enough to put me on leave.

Not from Brighter Vistas. They tell me repeatedly, "Family comes first."

Today, Mom asked me to go home.

I can't explain it. There are several theories floating around, but one guess is as good as another. Although it is not surprising in the big picture of who Mom is and how she rolls, it did catch me off guard since she has been so positive and thankful about me being there. Not to mention weak, tired, and needing help.

It is not a good time for me to leave. Karis has a dear friend in from out of town and will be spending every possible moment with her for the next three days. Even on normal days, Karis has a job and school and friends. She is in and out of the house. She is 18.

I asked Mom if I could stop by daily. No.
I asked if I could bring dinner. No.
I asked if I could move the kitty's dishes to the front porch so Mom wouldn't have to negotiate the back steps. No.

Mom said I could come once a week. I started packing.

Mom: Are you okay with all this?

Gwen: No! I'm not.

Mom: What do you think I should do?

Gwen: What you do is your decision. I think you need someone here most of the time. But I've thought that for a while. Remember Loren kept talking to you about that when he was here?

Mom: No, I don't remember that.

Gwen: Is there someone you want to talk this over with before you decide?

Mom: No one. I'm talking to you.

Gwen: I will go because you want me to go. But if you change your mind, I will come back. Just call me.

Mom: [crying] But I don't want to!

Gwen: You don't have to if you don't want to. It's up to you.

Back to packing and loading the car. When I came back into the kitchen, Mom was writing a check. She handed it to me. One hundred dollars. I tried to refuse it. Mom said, "It's not nearly enough. If I were to pay someone for all you did...", and I just lost it. I ripped the check up. Mom cried out as if in pain. I said with as much voice control as I could muster, "I will go if you tell me to go, but you cannot pay me for helping you!" Gah!

Meg had spent the night, so I went to wake her up. She gathered her things. I hugged and kissed Karis and Mom. We said goodbye and drove home. The crazy, unforeseen, unwanted end. For now.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Folding of the Hands to Rest

Mom is up a lot at night. A lot. When I first came and she was taking morphine, she was up every two hours like clockwork. As the nights started to meld together, I thought it might be a good idea to keep a record of when she gets up. Maybe I'm exaggerating or forgetting. You know, things from the night seem to fade from the memory and details get kind of fuzzy.

Last night I was mostly working in the kitchen after Mom went to bed around 9:00. So I don't know how many times she was up before I went to bed around 11:30. At least once, because when I walked by her room, I saw her sleeping in her rocker instead of her bed. After I went to bed, each time I heard her walker shushing down the hall, I checked my cell phone and recorded the time.

12:18 a.m.
1:23 a.m (I offered 1/2 a pill, as recommended by Nurse Christy. Mom accepted.)
3:00 a.m. (I offered the second 1/2 of the pill, as recommended by Christy. Mom declined.)
4:30 a.m.
5:58 a.m.
7:00 a.m.
8:15 a.m. (up for breakfast)

Mom is sipping a little port when she coughs. I heard her sip in the night. Loren recommended trying some whiskey, to help the cough and the sleep. I fixed Mom a hot toddy last night, which she likened to drinking furniture polish. Loren suggested just a swig straight from the bottle and Mom gave it a go right before bed. So you'd think she would sleep better.

This morning, I was praying about what to do with my record of the night. I didn't know whether to bring it up with Mom or talk it over with the hospice nurse or just let it go. Then, as she sat wearily in her kitchen chair, Mom declared, "I had a good night." As I was formulating a reply, Mom asked, "Did you hear me get up in the night?" I figured that was my opening, so I showed her the list. Mom said, "Well, that sounds about right for me. But I SLEPT!"

So I let it go at that. I don't know what to say when her perception is that she is sleeping well. That physically cannot be good sleep, right? In those short snatches? When I offered her the medication at 1:23, she at first declined, saying, "But I'm sleeping so well!" After I told her she had only slept for an hour since the last time she got up, she agreed to try the 1/2 pill. But then when she woke just an hour and a half later, she refused the second 1/2 of the pill.

I guess I will keep recording Mom's sleep habits for a few nights and then ask the hospice nurse for advice. I know their approach is to let the patient decide, so I don't know if there is any help to be had. Maybe this is just part of the whole deal.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

How to Deal with Telemarketers

Karis, Meg, and Ev were all over at Mom's today. While we were eating lunch, the house phone rang. Karis answered, and, after a few monosyllabic answers, hung up perfunctorily. She returned to the table.

Karis: They asked for Will.

Mom: Did you tell them he was dead?

Karis: No!

Mom: That's what I say. Then they start right in with "I'm so sorry...." That's when I hang up.

I can think of nothing to say to that.

Which I guess is pretty much the point.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mom Logic

I was sitting with Mom, watching her one and only, Sean Hannity (biting tongue, grinding teeth, and smiling). Some woman was sitting in for Sean.

Mom: I think this is a rerun.

Gwen: She just mentioned the governor endorsing Mitt Romney. When did that happen?

Mom: This morning.

Gwen: [puzzled] So if she's talking about things that happened this morning, I don't think it could be a rerun. What makes you think it's a rerun?

Mom: [obviously] Well, because I've seen it before.

Alrighty then.

Don't Say That! (part two)

This morning, Mom was especially slow getting dressed. When she finally came out to the kitchen, she sat in her chair at the counter to rest for a while before she could get her breakfast. She is wearing out. Mom admitted, "As I was dressing myself this morning, I thought, 'I could get used to Carissa. She puts on my socks AND my shoes for me.'" Pause. "She would make a good maid!"

"Carissa" is Cassandra, the CNA who comes twice a week to help Mom with personal care. Cassandra also took care of Dad, and both Mom and Dad loved her. She is quiet, gentle, dignified, helpful, respectful, and sweet. She also happens to be a different race from my family.

Gwen: Wow. Please don't say that to Cassandra!

Mom: You think that would be insulting?

Gwen: Yes. Please don't tell her that.

I really, really hope that my pleading will stick with Mom. And that she will comply. I know it doesn't make sense to her. And I know she doesn't take my word on anything.

But I really hope anyway.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


To All Who Are Complaining About Warm Temperatures in December (please don't pretend like you weren't):

Because the thermometer was well into the 70s today, my mom was able to sit out on the back porch, soak in the sunshine, and brush her beloved cat, Mittens.

You call it unseasonably warm. I call it perfect Christmas weather.


Mom told me last night that she had not been truthful with Nurse Christy. This comes as no surprise to me. Mom, like the rest of us, likes to appear strong, and, like the rest of us, she enjoys the accolades that her toughness and independence bring. She is indeed remarkable, and she likes to hear about it. Who wouldn't?

The specific incident Mom was referring to occurred Tuesday this week. Christy asked Mom if she was using the walker because she is having trouble with balance or just being cautious. Mom assured her she was just being overly cautious. Wednesday night, Mom confessed that she does feel very unsteady and must move slowly to keep her balance. She said she even cannot look away from her destination without getting dizzy.

I am sorry Mom is losing ability like this. I am so thankful she is willing to use her walker all the time! And grateful she is accepting help.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Proper Care and Feeding

While Nurse Christy was here yesterday, she weighed Mom. Mom has lost three pounds.

(Editing to correct: Karis tells me that actually Mom had lost four pounds last week. She gained one back this week. I'll bet having help and food brought in makes a difference.)

Can I just say this is not from lack of eating? So far today, Mom has eaten:

Egg, fried in bacon grease
Toast with butter
1/2 peppermint mocha from McD's
Whole grapefruit
Roasted tomato/garlic soup (1 cup)
Rotisserie chicken wings (2)
Cucumber slices with hummus

And it's not even 2:00 yet.

The prevailing theory is that the cancer is getting it all. I hate feeding the monster, but I'm so glad Mom still enjoys her food. May it ever be.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Something New

Today we tried something new. Karis asked me if I would go with her to pick out a birthday present for one of her nanny kids. So I did. Then I stopped by Panera to stock up on Cinnamon Crunch bagels and baguettes at Mom's request. While I was out, Mom warmed her lunch and listened to Rush. I was gone for about an hour.

This afternoon, I zipped out again to pick Ev up after school and basketball practice. We made a couple of stops, then headed back over to Mom's. Mom was happy to see us and ready for some dinner. I would guess that she likes a little time alone. Even though I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, I'm sure the constant company wears on my mom's antisocial soul.

Still, when I talked to her about leaving the second time, Mom asked that I leave the front door unlocked. Which makes me think she is a little fearful about being alone. As always, hard to say. I'm planning to stay closer to home tomorrow. I guess I'll just keep experimenting and see what works.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

You Just Never Know

Last night, Mom said to me as she went to bed, "I feel so frail, I'm glad you will stay home with me tomorrow and not go to church."

This morning, Mom has cooked her own bacon and egg, taken a shower, had me trim her toenails, and is now stripping her bed to wash the sheets.

We'll see which one wins, mind or matter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


My mom is typically non-celebratory, famously so at Christmastime. All of her Christmas decorations, including tree ornaments, fit in two medium-sized boxes. She has a book titled Coping with Christmas. In my early childhood, Mom created a bulletin board for the church's children's department that had a bowling pin dressed like Santa, and read, "Santa is a pinhead." I am not making this up.

So, it is really gratifying for Mom to be delighted with having her house decorated for Christmas. She has even been admiring the outdoor Christmas lights across the street. I got sucked in and commented how nice her roofline would look with Christmas lights. Mom put a quick stop to that line of thought.

Mom: I can't imagine Peycke ever doing that. He was never interested, and I'll be forever grateful.

Gwen: Grateful that you never had to have Christmas lights?

Mom: Right!

Ebenezar, is that you?

You just have to laugh.,


Cranky mama. And it's not me.

Mom: Oh! I have no patience at all! When you run out of patience, it's time to go!

Gwen: Go where?

Mom: You know where.

Gwen: Oh! You mean GO. Do I get to go when I run out of patience?

Mom: No.

Now being soothed by Huckabee. Thank goodness it's almost bedtime.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Public Service Announcement

This is important: Do not borrow Grandma's blistex.

I was in Ev's room and Grandma was in the bathroom. She was talking about how much she uses the blistex we gave her. You know, with the heat on and the dry air and all? As I came around the corner to the bathroom, I saw that she was applying the blistex to her chapped...


Harold Camping

He might have a little something in common with my mom. Harold Camping keeps predicting the world will end, and then it turns out it doesn't. Mom keeps thinking it's time for her to go, and then it turns out it's not.

Mom was sure her time was up Monday night. One of the calls she made that night was to me. Which was funny since I was in the living room. It reminded me of when my older girls were sharing a room upstairs. If one got sick or needed me, they would just text or call me. Downstairs. It makes me smile. Anyway, Mom called and the following conversation ensued.

Mom: Gwen, is there anything you would like to hear from me before I'm done?

Gwen: [walking into bedroom to talk without phones] What do you mean?

Mom: I mean, I feel like I'm going to die tonight. I'm not sure. He hasn't told me.

Then Mom told me a long story that ended up with what she considered to be a "betrayal" on her part. She had spoken to another family member about a past sin in my life.

Gwen: No, Mom, I don't feel betrayed.

Mom: I can see how you would, because I learned in my class at Calvary that forgiveness means never speaking of it again. [Wrong teaching, imho.]

Gwen: No, I don't feel betrayed. Mom, what I like to hear from you is that you love me.

Mom: I know and I don't do that. I don't verbalize. Karis is working on me.


Mom: I do love you. You taught me forgiveness and faith. And being married taught me the hypocrisy of blame. That's why God puts us in families, so He can love us and teach us, and love us and teach us, and love us and teach us.

But then Tuesday morning came, and it turned out Mom's time hadn't. Dave had the insight to ask her if she was disappointed. She said no.

Fast forward to the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Mom rang for me and asked me to get her a tiny bit of morphine. Her legs were cramping, and she was remembering how Dad's muscles had seized up during his final hours. Again, she thought it was her time. I asked if I could sit with her and she said no. I rubbed her legs and the cramping seemed to ease. By the time I had heated her rice bag, Mom had turned to her side and gone back to sleep. At that point, I thought maybe Harold had made another mistake. Sure enough, I got to enjoy another day with Mom today.

There's no way to call it. With Dad, I spent a few different nights on the couch instead of going home, because I was sure he would die that night. But he didn't. And the night he did actually cross to the other side, I went home, thinking, "Nah. Dad won't die tonight." I know someday, probably soon, Mom's time will come and I will have to say good-bye for now. I'm just glad her time hasn't arrived quite yet.

Go, Harold.

Personality Differences

Setting: Mom and I sitting at kitchen counter, eating Noelle's roasted tomato soup and Panera's baguette.

Gwen: [thinking how lonely the day has been with no visitors] No one called or came by today.

Mom: [brightly] Yea, isn't it great?

Desire vs. Energy

Mom continues to exude spunk. She wants to DO. Last night Mom told me she had a request. She asked if she could cook her own breakfast this morning. Um, yes? She wanted me to leave the day's dirty dishes for her to do up in the morning as well. Um, no. Even after a restless night, she was still determined this morning. Mom got up, dressed, went to the kitchen, cooked her egg and two pieces of bacon, and even accepted a cup of coffee and a glass of tomato juice.

Then she went back to bed for an hour long nap.

Now following up with a nap in the red chair.

Mom loves doing things for herself, and more power to her. I try to stay out of the way as much as possible. (In fact, Mom told me last night she likes my "quiet way." Score!) I hope she wants to cook her own breakfast every morning, because I know she feels so good doing it, so useful. But it is very clear how much energy it requires for her to add anything onto just the Activities of Daily Living. I know it is bewildering for such a tough, strong, scrappy woman to need a nap after her nap after cooking breakfast. She is used to running circles around us mere mortals, and now she is forced to accept help. It's getting harder to negotiate the ever-widening gap between what she wants to do and what she actually can do. Which could turn out to be the biggest task of all.

Too Much

Sometimes Mom reminds me so much of Dad. I don't know if it is the season of dying, or their lifetime together, or just a generational thing. Yesterday as Mom was finishing her breakfast, she fussed at me, "Gwen, you are to only cook me two pieces of bacon." I replied, "Oh! Okay. Would you like me to put that [third piece of bacon] in the fridge?" Mom exclaimed, with her mouth full, "No! I'm going to eat it."

Then later in the day, Mom declared that she wanted to cut down her personal aide visits to once per week. I asked, "Don't you want to shower?" ( I must admit to be a little alarmed at this declaration. Mom is wearing an adult diaper. Bathing only once per week would be hard on her skin and hard on the atmosphere.) "Yes, I want to shower." Pause. "She uses too many towels!" Oh my gosh.

How perfect that I had just read this bit from a book my friend edited. I love the perspective.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quote of the Day

Karis: Grandma, you could take a nap by the fire.

Mom: I'm just going to sit here and fill my pants.

Karis: (aghast) I'm too young for this!

Benjamin Button

I came to my mom's house expecting to care for a teenager: sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy, needing help, struggling for independence. I brought books to read, work clothes (planning to see students), library books to return, a package to mail at the p.o., and almost brought a project to work on.

When I arrived, I discovered a grade schooler. Mom was so happy to have me with her. She even told me she had peace, just knowing I was here. She was very tired and unsteady, even dizzy. Mom went to bed at 8:00, then got up every two hours throughout the night. She would go to the bathroom, we would sit on the couch in the den, then she would go back to bed.

Monday morning dawned and Mom stayed in bed until 9:30. She made it to the couch, wanted eggs and bacon for breakfast, but we were out. She settled for fresh-squeezed grapefruit and orange juice. Nurse Christy arrived, saw Mom's deteriorated condition, and ordered a hospital bed, oxygen, and personal care aide, all of which Mom agreed to. She also told Mom to stop taking morphine except when she had difficulty breathing. By the time Christy finished examining Mom, Mom's eyes were closing and she was nodding. She went back to bed and didn't get up again except to move across the hall to her hospital bed when it arrived. And that's when I realized I was caring for a baby.

Mom felt she had not had bowel function in a week (I am skeptical), so Christy was appropriately alarmed and proactive. Her measures were effective and the amazing, voluminous, uncontrollable results were evident all evening and into the night. Poor Mom. I can say with certainty that the changing is worse for her than it is for me. She is mortified and disgusted and helps me along during the clean-up process by saying things like, "I can't smell anything, but the stench must be awful." And, "I hope you don't vomit." And, "I pray that I die soon so you don't have to keep doing this."

As the excess waste was making its way out of Mom's body, I think the excess morphine was as well. She went on a bit of a phone rampage, calling up folks and telling them what was on her mind. At one point, when Mom asked me to dial up another number, I cautioned her that it was 10:24pm. "Are you sure you want to call at this hour?" Yes. So I dialed and left the room, but could still hear because Mom's hearing is so bad now that she has the receiver volume at maximum, plus she herself speaks loudly (to compensate?). Oy vey.

Mom wound down around 1am and slept through the night until 9:00 this morning. The personal aide came to shower her, which was wonderful. She is the same aide who took care of Dad, and Mom and Dad both loved her. Mom had brunch, then a nap, then hiked out to the couch. The timing was terrific. She was able to receive the small parade of visitors who came to pay homage, and brought things like dinner, lunch, supplies, and firewood.

Mom is back in bed for an afternoon nap now. Who knows what kind of Curious Case we'll find when she wakes up?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Murphy's Law

Back in October, my family gifted me with tickets to David Crowder Band. All closer shows were sold out, so our tickets were for the show in San Antonio. Later in October, for Dave's birthday, I cleverly put the concert tickets in his card, making DCB his birthday gift as well. Friday, the day of the concert, we all loaded up into the suburban and hit the road for San Antonio. It is about a four hour drive and we arrived just in time for the gates to open at 7:00. We enjoyed the really great show, then loaded back up and drove home. Yes, we are fools for a good road trip.

All in all, we were gone for about fourteen hours. A little over half of a twenty-four hour day.

In that time, my mom's breathing became so difficult that she began taking morphine. And she has been taking it every four hours ever since. She is using her walker in the house. She has not had a bowel movement since Friday. Mom did not come to church today. She was afraid of falling asleep in the service. Of course, lots of people fall asleep in church, but I think Mom was concerned about literally falling out. Instead, she stayed home, in bed, in her jammies. She didn't eat anything until Karis brought her a burger and fries from McDonald's, as requested.

And the kicker is, Mom has agreed that it is time for me to come. To stay. I'm writing this in the midst of packing my bags.

I know we have been planning on this day, even hoping that Mom would let me help her, but now that the day has come, we are all a little at loose ends. Sad, anxious, uncertain, just to name a few. When I say "we", I mean my husband and kids and myself. Mom is, of all things, very happy. If anyone with a deteriorating body can be perky, she is. I think her eyes are fixed on the goal, the prize. I don't think it will be long.

What are you waiting for?
The day is gone.
I said I'm waiting for dawn.
What are you aiming for
out here alone?
I said I'm aiming for home.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Newton's Law

In the week since Thanksgiving, I've been over to see Mom frequently. As usual, I've been through a variety of emotions as I interact with this person God chose as my mother.

Mom called the leftover green beans from Thanksgiving "darling", and I was delighted. Food is love.

Mom named Nate's dog as her favorite, repeatedly, to all, and I was disappointed. Must there always be a favorite?

Mom mentioned again and again her newfound desire to have the yard raked. And pecans from the County Extension 4-H office. Nate raked and I purchased, and we were glad to help.

Mom scooped the fall leaf confetti off the tablecloth and said, "This is how I rake." And we laughed.

Mom said she cooked a hamburger for lunch and couldn't eat it all. I was concerned. A burger, no bun, is not a very big meal, much less an unfinished one.

Mom told me my cousins want to come visit her, and I was surprised. Did she tell them that she sleeps much of the time, eats less and less, and has trouble breathing? Do they know they should come soon?

Mom lectured the children on how to care for their animals in her house when she is gone, and we were all stunned. We just sat in silence and listened. In moments like that, Mom reminds me so much of Dad as his time here wound down. Slinging out orders that don't necessarily make sense. Maybe a last-ditch effort at control.

Mom confided in me repeatedly that she thinks her nephew's girlfriend is restoring the family homestead to be a bed and breakfast, and I was baffled by her unsubstantiated conclusions and illogical thoughts.

Up and down, in and out, rise and fall. A week of the everyday.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks

I don't know how to write about Thanksgiving Day 2011 without using superlatives. It was an incredible family day. Mom was delighted with the food and the company. She napped when she needed to and didn't do any of the preparations. She put on her nice royal blue velour sweats. She loved looking at the dogs in the backyard. She was so into the festive spirit, that she had Ev set up her record player and Bose in the living room so she could play Christmas music. She even watched some football with Dave. My whole family enjoyed our day at Mom's house, and she enjoyed having us there. It was a day we will remember forever with fondness. It was more than I ever hoped for; it was everything Thanksgiving should be.

And I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


We spent a couple of hours over at Mom's house today. Nate worked outside, although Mom did not want the leaves swept from the drive or walk or back patio. She said, "I rather like the leaves." Ev and I worked inside, vacuuming, and setting the table for Thanksgiving. Karis clandestinely cleaned the bathroom.

Ev took this amazing photo.

Thanksgiving Surprise

I called Mom Monday night to check in with her, let her know I was alive, etc. She expresssed concern about our Thanksgiving plans, because she had just realized that Thanksgiving was on Thursday, not Friday. What a surprise! I'm pretty sure my mom is not one of those people who doesn't know that Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. I think it just shows how muddled her thinking is getting.

Tuesday, Ev, Meg and I did all our shopping for Tday. Karis had alerted me that Grandma needed to go to the grocery, but when I called, she was not up to the trip. We picked up a few things for her at HEB and took them by. When we arrived, after 6:00 p.m., Mom hadn't had dinner yet. She was waiting for us to bring her zucchini and yellow squash from the store and that was her dinner. I guess she did really need to grocery shop! Mom told Christy earlier in the day (we happened to drive by right as C pulled into the driveway, so we did a quick u-ee and dropped in) that the only meat she is hungry for anymore is bacon. Christy told her she could eat bacon three times a day if she wanted. Love her.

Mom also told Christy she has energy to cook her own food and wash her own laundry, but that is about it. And shower some mornings. She still does not want help. I told Christy how happy we were that Mom invited us for Thanksgiving, after talking it over with Christy. (Sorry to use her name twice in a sentence, but I didn't know any other way to make it clear.) Christy agreed that it was great Mom would have us over. Mom replied, "Well, who wouldn't?" Um, you?

Anyhoo, Nate, Ev and I are going over to Mom's today, Wednesday, to do some Tday prep. Ev will set the table with china, silver and crystal, Nate will sweep the walk and maybe blow the drive, and whatever else Mom wants. The rest of my time will be spent in the kitchen, like the rest of America. And I'm thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

All in the Interpretation

So, I'm sick again with some bug or crud or something. There's plenty going around and plenty of sick people who don't stay home when they're sick, so there is plenty to choose from. I'm actually kind of relieved I'm sick, because Saturday I was so lethargic and glum, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. Now I know, I was getting sick.

Unfortunately, I was sick on Sunday, so Mom noticed my absence. It worries her when I'm sick. This time, she has worked out a plan of action. I think all of my children told me at separate times, "Grandma says we need to get rid of the animals and then fumigate the house. She says the animals are making you sick." Some of the children made futile attempts to refute Mom's theory, but it's hard to reason when her mind is made up.

And so, I told the children I am just going to interpret Grandma's declaration to really mean, "I'm so sorry your mom is sick. I care about her and I hope she feels better soon." I'm sure that's what she meant to say, right?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Black Holes and Revelations

Mom is super tired again. She kept a log of her napping schedule, because she found it so remarkable. As she showed it to me, she commented that her fatigue is the price she paid for going to Ev's basketball game. I tried to point out that Ev's game had been Monday night, and Mom's weariness did not begin until Wednesday. My sister Ruth left Tuesday afternoon. My conclusion is that the visit from my siblings are life-giving to Mom; when they leave, she fades.

As Mom sat wearily in her kitchen chair Friday morning, dressed in full sweats and warming her hands with a rice bag, we talked about her family. My sister Gayle and sister-in-law Cathy have been cooking up some sort of family history book on the computer. Cathy asked me to look for history documents and Gayle asked me to look for photos. Mom recommended looking in a desk drawer, and there I found a history written by one of mom's cousins. It is just from this cousin's perspective and contains many typos and inaccuracies, so I asked Mom about her "long lost brother." The typed history said he left home after high school and was never heard from again. Mom clarified that Bill left home after the war because her other brother Jay told him there was no place for him on the family farm. When Aunt Helen, Mom's sister, finally located Bill many years later, he said he had never come home again, because he knew he would kill his brother if he saw him. Whoa! It's Jacob and Esau all over again.

Mom was the baby of her family, and I don't know how much she was aware of at the time these things were happening. Even if she was aware, she is adept at shutting out bad news. She said Aunt Helen told her about the interaction with their brother Bill, but neither of them told their brother Jay. She said when Jay somehow found out and angrily asked her, "Why didn't you tell me?", she thinks she didn't say anything in response. Hearing all these family dynamics does help me understand Mom's unabashed favoritism among children and grandchildren. Evidently, it was a way of life in her family of origin. Friday, she declared, "Jay was a spoiled brat, really." I have never heard her speak ill of a childhood family member, so that is a very strong statement.

There were other tidbits in the typed history, concerning the sordid details of Mom's grandmother and grandfather's arrival in the States and eventual marriage, but I'm not sure those are internet-appropriate. I would say that great-grandma Anna Barbara did not choose well, bless her heart. Oh my.

It is interesting that Mom is wanting to talk about her family history, the real story. Between that and the napping, she is reminding me of Dad more and more. As Dad neared the end of his life, I learned more about his time in the war than I had ever heard before. Maybe it will be the same with Mom and her family of origin. And then I'm sure there will be plenty of times like Saturday. When we arrived to visit her, she explained that she had just sat down to watch a thirty minute program. We dutifully headed out to the backyard to wait. After a while, she came outside for a few minutes, then declared she was going in for a nap. So we came home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What He Said

“I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more.”

― Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is the author of my all-time-favorite children's picture book. My all-time-favorite childhood friend posted this quote on facebook the other day. Pretty much sums it up for me. Thanks, Mollie. Thanks, Mr. Sendak.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

When Ruth was here, she told me one night Mom kept getting up out of bed to tell her which flowers she must plant in her vegetable garden. Ruth and her family have a large, beautiful, productive garden. Mom has always admired the garden, but all of a sudden found it concerning that there were no flowers.

Sure enough, one morning (was it the next morning?) as I sat at the table with Mom and Ruth, Mom began talking about Ruth's garden and its need of flowers. I asked Mom what flowers her mother planted in the vegetable garden. She said "Mama" liked hollyhock,


and sweetpeas.

She recalled a special vase that Aunt Helen had from childhood, with holes in the lid for the sweetpeas.

Mom also recalled how her grandmother, originally from Switzerland, always had larkspur

and petunias. She remembered their sweet smell.

I wrote the flower names down. I'm a gardener wannabe, and if I ever get out of the Piney Woods and into the sunshine, I would love to plant some heirloom flowers in honor of my mom, my grandma, and my great-grandma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Mom and Ruth had a wonderful week together. It was a really good visit for both. Mom has been so happy to spend time with her visiting children.

In church on Sunday, Dave had a time for people to share their burdens with the church body. A woman who has had cancer for 14 years stood and shared her concern for her daughter and for the souls of the children in our area. A missionary stood and told about his growing difficulty obtaining visas into foreign countries. A businessman stood and asked for prayer to overcome his resentment at his latest transfer. A man stood and asked for wisdom and guidance as a husband and father. After each person shared their burden, two people prayed out loud and lifted their needs to God.

And then Mom stood. She said, in a surprisingly strong voice, that she had asked for prayer for joy. (She was referring to her prayer request in the weekly church prayer sheet.) She said God had given her joy, first in a visit from her son Loren, then in a visit from her daughter Gayle, and now in a visit from her daughter Ruth. And then she sat down.

I am so happy God has given Mom joy! I am so thankful for my siblings who came to visit. But I must admit, my already-sore heart was squeezed a little more when I realized her joy did not also spring from me or my family. Ouch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thanksgiving Miracle!

Last week before Ruth arrived, I asked Mom if she had any thoughts about Thanksgiving. I felt with only two weeks before the day of feasting, it was time to broach the subject. I know for many families, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together, share a great meal, watch some football, and give thanks for all God has provided. Traditionally in our family, at least for the last couple of years, my mom has told us to go away. Sort of the anti-Thanksgiving.

So, I asked Mom if she had any thoughts about Thanksgiving. She replied after a short pause, "Yes. Don't buy any pumpkin because I have about three quarts put up in the freezer." I managed to counter with, "Okay. But I was thinking more about the day. Have you thought about how you would like to spend the day?" Mom was silent for a few seconds, then said, "Let me think about it."

The next day, Mom invited us to come over for Thanksgiving! She said she felt sure I would end up doing all the work and that she might just sit in the red chair, retiring to her room when she needs a real nap. (Way to sell it.) I was overjoyed! And, as we talked about which tablecoth to use, since Mom has given away her swiss embroidered one, and which dishes to use, since Mom has given away her china, she began to get excited too.

Mom explained that she had asked her hospice nurse Christy about how to proceed. Christy encouraged Mom to participate in the holidays as much as she is able. The next time I see her, I need to thank Nurse Christy for her part in the Thanksgiving Miracle of 2011.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall Gardening

Karis sent me this picture of her Aunt Ruth and Grandma planting pansies this afternoon.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Too Long

I called this evening to check in with Mom. I've been sick for a couple of days, so I have been out of touch. Mom answered the phone and said, "Gwen! Long time no talk!" Which was really nice, but kind of funny because I was over at the house on Saturday. Anyway, we chatted for a while. Mom told me she was doing a whole lot of nothing and she was glad to see she still has a couple of breakfast tacos from Karis in the freezer. I asked her about Nurse Christy's visit today and Mom told me she tried a little morphine to see if it would help with her breathing, and also to see if she had any adverse reaction to the drug. No reaction, but she wasn't sure if it eased her breathing any.

Mom is trying to finish reading her book, the latest by Joel Rosenburg, before Ruth comes tomorrow. And that is some happy news! My sister Ruth is coming tomorrow. I don't know how long she is staying, but I'm glad she's coming and so is Mom.

I asked Mom if she had any thoughts on Thanksgiving and she replied, "Yes. Don't buy any pumpkin because I have three quarts in the freezer." I told her I was thinking more of plans for the day and wondered if she had spoken to anyone about it. She muttered something about "If I'm still here," and I reminded her it was right around the corner. I asked if she felt like having company or if she would rather come over, and she said she would think about it.

Mom commented that it was hard to believe Thanksgiving was coming up and I told her Christmas was only seven weeks away! That's when Mom said, "Well, we've been talking too long. Goodbye." Which might seem rude in a conversation with anyone else, but that's just the way things are. I'm just happy she said goodbye! And who knows, maybe she had to run to the bathroom or something.

Then I walked into the kitchen and saw the time. 8:00pm. Yup, time for Hannity. Gotta go.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Loren Magic. It's a special spell that only my big brother can cast over my mom. When he is here, she is so happy! She is like a kid again, taking trips, starting projects, cooking good food, and more. Really, the change is remarkable. While Loren was here for a week, he and Mom:

*Drove out to look at the lake, then dropped in to visit some old friends.
*Came to Nate's football game in a neighboring town.
*Went to a nursery in the next town to get some "expensive dirt" for a flower bed.
*Drove hours away to Bastrop to look at the fire damage from this summer.
*Went to a Robert Earl Keen concert.
*Carved a pumpkin and passed out candy on Halloween.

Really! I am not making this up. The hospice nurse remarked to Mom Tuesday, "You are doing so much better than last week!" Uh, yeah. It's the Loren Magic.

I tried guilting Loren into staying longer, but apparently the Magic is guilt-proof. I told him Mom's life is so much better when he is here. I forwarded a text from Karis that said, "I wish he never had to leave." Nothing. Completely impervious, wouldn't you know it.

Loren left early Wednesday morning and took his Magic with him. Karis texted me mid-morning that her grandma said, "I've lost my motivation now that Loren is gone." I knew Mom would revert to her former condition and the downhill slide, but I didn't know she would state it so clearly. This morning, she cancelled her plans to go to ladies' bible study because she felt dizzy and didn't want to risk going out. Here we go. I miss the Magic.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday, Dad. I know you really wanted to see 90. I hope you got a big party today, complete with pineapple upside down cake. I made you one too, just like you always requested. I miss you.
Love you, Gwen

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grace Wins

Remember how I said I don't have to do this alone? My husband Dave wrote down his thoughts for me as I consider how to move forward with my mom. It's another one I keep reading over and over.

I believe this latest episode is hurtful for you. I am sorry that you are experiencing this much pain at the end when sweet melodies would be wonderful while holding hands with your Mom as she smiles. It might still come. I am sorry that she is not (has not ever been?) devoted to you at this point.

I believe that, currently, it is part of the whole independence thing. Your Mom has you to push against and that makes her feel alive. If she pushed and got nothing but air, she might fall down. You must be there to take the push. She would die more quickly if that happened. It is life-giving for her to push out in an absurd sort of way.

I also have thoughts on denial. I have always enjoyed the quote in your sidebar and I have always tried to understand the inborn hope that 'things will be different.' I don't think that is unrealistic. I don't even think it is necessarily denial. I think it is simply grace. You have sought to extend grace. Grace has a certain naivete to it. We know the history, but grace does not label. We see hopelessness for change, but grace sees the path of transformation. We have no control, but grace counter-intuitively invites us to that sort of release so that it can go to work.

"My grace is sufficient for you," says Jesus. It will fill you up like that fun foam fills every crack and crevice in a hole. Your heart has a big hole. Admit the weakness of your pain and allow the power of Jesus' grace to expand. He will bring healing to you. He will use you to continue to bring healing to your Mom.

I know it is your heart's desire to give and give and give. That is who you are. That is what you have lived with our family. I know that pain got the best of you Saturday/Sunday. I know that you can extend grace. Grace always wins. Go for it.

Thanks, Babe. You continue to be my rock.


As I was driving home with Meg and Ev this afternoon, it hit me. We had stopped to fill up the ever-thirsty suburban (which made so much sense when I was hauling four little people around, but now, not so much) and Ev began grousing about being denied a Sonic stop. Never mind that I had offered to buy her a drinky-winky at the gas station. Never mind that a coke is not a necessity of life. Ev's complaining made no sense at all and yet it bothered me. Really bothered me. Inordinately so.

And that's when I realized: I've lost my supersuit.

I used to have one. I used to be able to deflect criticism and guilt. I used to be impervious to the heat of other people's expectations and manipulations. I used to be bulletproof and disappointments would simply bounce off. But not any more. Now everything feels like a direct hit.

"This soup is missing something." Wham.
"Where's the bacon?" Ouch.
"Gwen should be the CEO of some company." Kerpow.
"Can we change plans?" Oof.
"I don't have clean football clothes." Kablam.
"We didn't save you a seat." Ack.

My brain tells me these are nothing, certainly not mortal wounds; but without my supersuit, each incident hits hard and leaves a mark. So how do I get it back? Where do you go to find a supersuit? I don't know, but I need to locate one fast.

Where is my supersuit?

Friday, October 28, 2011


My brother Loren arrived late Wednesday night. Mom is delighted to have her boy here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foiled Again

Karis sent me this photo of two friends visiting with Mom today. So how's that withdrawal from society coming along?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Whispered Words of Wisdom

Leslie is a friend I've known for years. Really, she's a hand-me-down friend from my big brother and we only see each other very occasionally around town. Just this summer, I had the privilege of sitting down and catching up a bit with Leslie. When I posted about my "Mom Hurt", Leslie sent me this message. I've read and reread her wise, insightful words and asked if I could share them here. She generously said yes.

Gwen....I don't mean to butt in, but just felt the need to try to help you with some perspective. I too get caught with hurt feelings doing my all to help my mother, but I also work with older people and they do talk to me and share their thoughts and feelings...some they never even share with their own family.

For any older person there is a lot of pride in independence and when that starts slipping there is fear and anger....especially for a person who is usually used to control. The challenge is giving help while leaving them with a sense of control. That sense of control comforts and secures them through the declining process. It's NOT you.even though she's ready to go, she is not comfortable with the process.

When she makes those comments, liken it to your young child who throws a fit of anger that ends with," I hate you!". Do you throw your hands up and give up on that child? of course not. You recognize it for what it is. Inability to properly express what they feel. We expect our mothers to be the mature ones..understanding that we are trying to help and pat us on the head for our efforts. It's just that we need to understand that we are sort of in a role reversal and we need to be the mature ones.

Overlook those things. Continue to be with her and take advantage of the time you have left with her. The last thing you want is to look back and wish you had done things differently. Love her where she is. ( it is also reported to me that the last thing these folks want is for their children to see them this way and to be a burden to them.) It's always the closest one that gets the brunt of it. Find your joy with her where you can, recognizing that the disease ( and meds) will cause changes that are not her.

With help (Loren and sister) coming, maybe you can just be daughter and sit on the patio with her and the cat in quiet togetherness and peace. I've rambled on with good intentions. I hope you find something in all of this that will help and encourage you. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help. It's a rough time. Find your joy.

Sincerely, Leslie

Thank you, Leslie.


Karis texted me this morning and I asked her if she had seen Grandma before she left for class.

Karis: Not when I left for school, but when I went between english and history (9:30), she was finishing breakfast and had showered.

We talked about grades and things, then this.

Karis: I don't think you should stop seeing Grandma. She doesn't like admitting she needs help and she doesn't like accepting it, but she really appreciates it and seeing you and the kids are big highlights to her.

We talked about Loren coming and then Ruth, and how Mom seems to be enjoying the change of people. I told her I thought this was a good time for me to take a break.

Karis: She [Mom] doesn't want you to stop being controlling. She just doesn't like that she needs it.

We talked more. Karis told me a Hitler joke (always appropriate). Then she asked me the sweetest question.

Karis: Does it waste too much gas to go home and check on Grandma between classes?

You know the deal where a kindness to your children is a kindness to you? It's the same with a kindness to your aging parent. And come to find out, it explodes exponentially when it is a kindness from your child to your aging parent.

Thank you, Karis. I love who you are.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Denial is when we think we can set aside old issues and build a new relationship with our parents. We tell ourselves that things will be different this time, that our parents have changed. What we're denying is our own feelings, perhaps anger or abandonment or betrayal. We're also denying the very real possibility that nothing has changed, that our parents will be just as they always were.

This quote from Eleanor Cade's book is permanently posted in my sidebar. I know it is truth. I know it is truth, and still I get sucked in to the hope of a different relationship with my mother. I don't know what my deal is. I really should know the sitch by now. Maybe I should read my own blog? Anyway.

As Gayle's time here with Mom drew to a close, Gayle started talking with Mom about letting me come to stay with her, or at least come in to fix her lunch. She reminded Mom of how much Mom enjoyed having her food prepared and served, and how she really hadn't been up to much activity. Mom protested that she had just "been lazy" while Gayle was visiting. As if to prove her point, on Saturday Mom scrubbed the kitchen floor. By hand.

Then after lunch, Mom insisted on washing dishes, something she hadn't done all week. By the time she sat in the red chair for a rest before dinner, Mom was really worked up. She kept telling Gayle, "Gwen is so controlling! She's just so controlling." Gayle said she kept coming back to it. "Gwen is so controlling!"

I'm sure that as an adult child caring for an aging parent, this shouldn't bother me. I know Mom is horrified at the thought of losing more independence. It is not new information that she wants to go out on her own terms. But it does bother me. A lot. Mom's words, as related to me by Gayle, really cut me to the quick. Why do a parent's words hold so much sway, even over their adult children? Are we forever looking for the blessing? I won't provide a link to the song that's playing in my head, because it would seem melodramatic. I'm heartsick.

Gayle left Sunday morning early. She is a road warrior in her Prius, driving straight through 13 hours to St. Louis. I saw Mom at church Sunday morning. I went over today to make some financial arrangements as requested. I did not linger and Mom did not invite me to stay. The hospice nurse will visit tomorrow and Loren will arrive late Wednesday night. He will stay for about a week and Ruth will come some time in November.

Me? I feel very, very done. I will help when Mom requests it, but I am done with checking, planning, anticipating, facilitating, coordinating. Done. I am now going to enjoy the blissful state of "Mom says she's fine."

Friday, October 21, 2011

After the Storm

Karis shared Mumford and Sons with me. I will be forever grateful.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won't rot, I won't rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won't rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That's why I hold,
That's why I hold with all I have.
That's why I hold.

I won't die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I'll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I'm scared of what's behind and what's before.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.


On Loving a Stray Cat

Guest Blogger Gayle writes:

Our mother has had a remarkable life. She grew up on a farm in the Kansas flint hills, lost her father at age 2, rode a horse to school, had the same teacher in a one room school house for 8 years, helped her mother keep the farm going through the depression years with 3 other siblings, cleaned the chicken coop, helped harvest wheat, went on road trips with her family out west, graduated from Kansas State University, taught school for 2 years, ran a restaurant one summer in Sharon Springs, KS, went to graduate school, married a WWII veteran and they had 5 children together, enjoyed reading out loud to her kids, always loved to cook and bake and make the healthiest food, embraced learning new things, new recipes, hospitable, reveling in hard work!

An independent woman, not a romantic, but a worker and doer. And now her life is ebbing away and she doesn't have the strength to do and achieve. She sits and watches and waits. And along came a little cat, small and stray. When all she can do is sit and be, here is love, just happy to sit nearby and exist with her. Cat food appears in the grocery cart, a dish is set out and the relationship is cemented. They watch for each other, enjoy each other's company, and sit together for hours. Mitten arches her back and rolls on the patio and her mistress thinks she is the most beautiful creature! Joy, love, contentment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


7:30 a.m. -- Dropped Meg off to babysit.
7:45 a.m. -- Arrived at school with Ev. Hot cocoa and pumpkin delight served by Miss Catherine in the vistatorium.
8:15 a.m. -- School started for Ev. I worked with two students and wrote lesson plans.
11:30 a.m. -- Picked Meg up from babysitting at ladies' bible study. Delivered dinner to dear friend.
12:00 p.m. -- Ate our lunch at Mom's. Mom reminded me so much of Dad's last days today. Visited with Gayle. Chadda came by.
1:40 p.m. -- Returned to school to work with last student of day.

But I didn't work with my last student of the day. Instead, I had a little breakdown. I just couldn't stop crying. I pulled into the church parking lot instead of driving up to the school. It was very much like episodes after Dad died, when the sorrow would just roll over me and I couldn't do anything but go with it. Dave came out to rescue me from the parking lot and sat with me in the darkened church library. I love that man. My boss covered for me with my student and had only words of kindness and compassion. Such a treasure.

But why? Why now? I really didn't see this coming. Dave thinks maybe since my sister Gayle is here and I'm relieved of responsiblity for a bit, now I'm more free to feel and grieve. Maybe so. Or maybe it's because the memory of Dad's passing is still so fresh, I know what I'm in for this time. I can see the thestrals now.

It reminds me of when Ev was four and needed surgery on her hands. She was born with syndactyly. The first hand was done the day after her fourth birthday. We were all pretty clueless. Dave and I just sort of floated through in a daze. I remember even asking the doctor after the surgery, "Will it hurt?" Duh. They sawed through her bone and grafted skin from her hip onto her hand. Yes, it's going to hurt. A lot.

When we went back two weeks later for the other hand, Dave and I had a very different experience. I felt like we were going to collapse into a heap as we rode down in the elevator after sending Ev off down the hall with her surgery team. We knew what was coming. But you know what saved us from a total breakdown that day? When the elevator doors opened, there stood a friend of ours, looking for us. He took us to where other friends and family had gathered to wait with us, to hold us up, to hold us together.

We are not in this alone. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but we are not alone. We get to hold Mom's hand as she says goodbye to this world. We get to hold each other together.

Tired and Fading

From Guest Blogger and Sister Extraordinaire, Gayle.

Today was slower. [Wednesday] Mom was pretty much worn out before 11 AM. She didn't even listen to her favorite radio program, because there was a guest host. That gave us more time for the activity of the day--mom made meat loaf and oven roasted potatoes while I read out loud to her from various chapters of the book she wants quoted at her funeral. She is trying to decide on which passages are to be used by Dave in his sermon. About one third of the book is underlined, so the task is harder than it might seem.

Sister Gwen with Nate and Ev came over bringing their own lunch of cabbage soup, while mom and I had meat loaf. The pleasant and lively conversation around the table was carried on by all but mom, who was in her "zoned out" mode. Her hearing is deteriorating, and it is a chore to keep listening, so she faded into the background. She did perk up a little and tell us that last night she wore her flannel pajamas and wooly socks from granddaughter Leah and stayed nice and warm. No night sweats last night, which we just learned are a sign of later stage cancer. Then mom said the quote of the day, "Did you know that withdrawing from people is a sign of approaching death?" It was all we could do to keep from rolling on the floor!

You have to understand that we come from a family of introverts, so withdrawing from people is as natural as let's say, breathing. Innate and instinctual, avoiding people just comes naturally around here!

But, it was a tough day, a day where she was aware that her body is nearing the end and the cancer is winning. Not pain, just a strangeness that she couldn't describe. A fog, even though she was clear minded. A weariness, a heaviness. She was remembering things she wished she had done differently, openly confessing her shortcomings. She was concerned about loved ones, concerned about difficult issues and even sad about the wild animals that had to be killed in Ohio. (OK, one to smile about is her worry that Gwen will hang pictures on the beautifully painted walls--such a nice paint job, you know). She is really ready to go, to be done with the little suffering she has been graciously afforded. She knows she has it easy compared to others, and she is very grateful--but just so tired...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Best Friends Forever

More from Guest Blogger. So thankful my sister Gayle is here.

Mom invited her friend Jan over, as I was an available chauffeur. Jan and mom were neighbors for years, and walking buddies that hoofed it around the greater expanses of the subdivision. Now frail and in the early stages of Alzheimer's, Jan was an eager guest, and the anorexic-looking mom folded the walker and helped her friend in and out of the car. Seated on the couch together, they watched a movie mom had read about in World magazine (I heard about it on NPR).

"Of Gods and Men" is the true story of Catholic monks in Algeria in the 1990's during the Muslim extremist uprising. Having ministered for years in a small village, the monks must decide whether to leave or stay. The story in film was riveting and the English subtitles were perfect for the situation! As mom said afterwards, it was a thoughtful and appropriate film for her in contemplating life and death.

The friends were so grateful to be together again, and they chatted like college classmates, discussing their recent readings of the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the similarities between the movie and his life. Alzheimer's and cancer seemed to be banished for an afternoon of delight between friends.

The Joy of Grocery Shopping

Guest Blogger: My big sister Gayle!

This is the oldest sister here, having arrived on the scene Saturday evening, just in time to enjoy a Sunday service with mom at church! The highlight during the Sunday School breakfast potluck was the culinary creation of Karis--sausage and egg burritos! Mom ate two of them and has requested more. After the service we scurried home for hamburgers with sliced tomatoes from the Missouri garden.

Food is still one of the highlights of mom's life! She has enough strength to cook a little bit. Dear friends brought some roasted tomato soup which mom loves and craves--she has very specific food desires, and has been told by Nurse Christy, to eat what she wants. So, in that spirit, we went to mom's favorite local grocery store on Monday. She pushed the cart while I loaded it with whatever suited her fancy. I did talk her into the fresh guacamole, after she had done a little more than just tasting the sample. Later in the day, a few grandchildren came and helped finish off the delicious treat!

Mom keeps reminiscing about how much she enjoyed being at her store--the familiar and the everyday activities that become precious when strength is fading...

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Conversation from Friday a week ago. Picture Mom in Dad's red chair, Meg on the couch, me in Mom's reading chair. Mom is telling us about her phone call from Loren.

Mom: It's funny to hear Loren talk about missing Zane.

Gwen: Why's that?

Mom: I guess that's the difference between having five children and having two children.

Gwen: What do you mean?

Mom: Or maybe it's just personality. I don't remember missing anybody.

Meg and I laughed! I told Meg later that I knew Grandma didn't miss us when we left home, but I was surprised she would just come right out and say it.

Wednesday's Child

Wednesday morning, after depositing everyone where they needed to go, I popped in to Mom's for a morning visit. She was up, but had not eaten, and did not want to eat. I offered to fry an egg, but she wasn't interested. She'd been woken early with diarrhea and nothing sounded good. It brought to mind Christy's words from the day before.

Happily, I had brought supplies to make Mom a pan of Baked Oatmeal. Mom went out to sit on the back patio with her adopted cat Mittens. I stirred up the ingredients (using some of Mom's uninteresting rolled oats) and put it in the oven to bake. Mom came inside to catnap in Dad's chair. As the cinnamon-y good smell began to waft through the house, Mom started to get interested. By the time the pan came out of the oven, she had brewed a pot of coffee and was ready to try a piece. And then another. Yea!

Then in the afternoon, I went to the doctor to get help for a raging sinus infection. Ugh. I tried really hard to just push through it, but it really knocked me out for a couple of days. Now on my fourth day of antibiotics, I'm feeling better. I hate being sick! And I forgot to tell Karis The Code. We do not tell Mom/Grandma when we are sick, because she makes up things and worries. Maybe because she is so tough herself that the only kind of sick she knows is dying? I don't know. Anyway, Karis didn't spill the beans until Friday, so I was able to call Mom Friday night and go see her this (Saturday) morning. All is well.

Tuesdays with Christy

I showed up at Mom's Tuesday morning after dropping Ev off at school. I was determined to be there when Christy, Mom's hospice nurse, came for her weekly visit with Mom. I didn't have students until 1:15, so I figured I had plenty of time. We waited. And waited. Mom sat outside. Mom sat inside. Mom napped in Dad's chair. Still no Christy. Finally, around 12:30, I called to make sure she was coming. Yes, she just had to drop off a ride-along before she came. I texted and cancelled with my students. I'm so glad I did.

Christy spent an especially long time with Mom. Her blood pressure was low. Her abdomen was tender. Mom confessed her lack of energy and motivation. "It's weird, because I am so used to doing. Now I just sit like a lump." Then brigher, "I did sweep the front walk!" Christy asked Mom about her appetite, and Mom confessed she was losing interest and eating smaller portions. (For lunch, I put about 1 cup of stirfry and rice in Mom's bowl. She thought it was too much and then was surprised she ate it all.)

I told Christy about Mom taking so long to eat her oatmeal. Christy turned to Mom and asked, "Why? Why is it taking you so long to eat your oatmeal? Does it take a long time to eat all your meals?" And Mom answered, "Well, I'm just not that into my oatmeal." That made me laugh! Christy encouraged her to make something else for breakfast. Then she turned to me and said, "Probably when your mom cannot stand at the stove to make an egg or a piece of toast, then it will be time for someone to be here with her." Okay. There's my marker.

I did suggest to Mom that maybe it was time for us to bring her meals. She protested. "Oh, no, no, no!" Of course, she loves when people bring her good food. She raved about my leftover birthday stirfry. And the leftover brisket. And she is fond of the asiago cheese demi loaf from Panera. But bring her food? No.

After Christy left, I thanked Mom for letting me stay all day. Mom went to have her afternoon nap and I went to pick up Ev.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Over the past week, I have seen a marked decline in my mom. She is slow. She is tired. She is sleeping more at night and throughout the day. She still eats, but the portions are small and it takes her a long time to get a meal down. She is getting more confused and forgetful.

Friday morning, I got to Mom's around 9:15. She had only been up about 15 minutes. I spoke to her briefly, but she was less than talkative, so I headed out to complete my window washing assignment. Mom came out to the back patio to eat her breakfast of oatmeal. In the time it took her to eat her little bowl of oats, I washed the three pieces of the storm window (three times each piece, each side), dried them, and reassembled the window. I went inside to wash up and Mom came inside to sit in Dad's red chair. She didn't read or watch t.v. She just rested.

Sunday morning, Karis brought Mom to church. I greeted her and asked how she was, and she said, "Slow." She had been up the night before. I asked if her pain was back and she said, "Well...discomfort." Yes, never the P word. Just "discomfort" that won't let you sleep.

I know Mom has had some ups and downs throughout the past year. It seems this time there is no up. Today she was much the same, eating slowly and then resting. She forgot it was my birthday until Karis told me "Happy Birthday" as she left for class. She told me again (for the third time? maybe more), "Say, Gwen! Don't order that hospital bed until you talk to me!" I laughed and said, "Mom! You keep telling me that! I won't order the hospital bed without talking to you." Mom said, surprised, "I do?"

Evidently, the hospital bed is weighing heavily on Mom's mind. She told me late last week that she has changed her mind about bed placement. She now wants the hospital bed to go in the living room, like Dad. Mom said she is always thankful that the master bedroom does not remind her of Dad's death, and she does not want the children to have to associate a bedroom with her death. It is very thoughtful, but Mom has never wanted to be out there. The room she had designated is to be Karis and Meg's room, which they could handle. Putting Mom out in the living room will be a hard request to honor. Maybe it will change again.

Mom is starting to say whacky things, lose words, and mix up words. After I washed the front bedroom window, Mom put a board up in it. Karis is using the desk in the front bedroom for her schoolwork and Mom wanted to give her some privacy. Mom told me, "I put the board up because Karis had sprayed the glass to keep people from seeing in." Mom explained that Karis had sprayed window cleaner on the glass and then left it on to obscure her from outside view. When I questioned her about it, she said, "Or maybe I dreamed it. I don't know."

As the hospice nurse was leaving last Tuesday, before the really marked decline began, I asked her how I would know when it is time to have someone with Mom all the time. She said, "You'll know." Well, I must be dense, because I don't know! I called Friday after seeing Mom so tired and slow. It was Mom's nurse's day off and the on-duty nurse was no help. She took a message to have Mom's nurse call me today. No call. I'm planning to be at Mom's tomorrow when the nurse comes for her weekly visit, so hopefully I can get some decision-making help.

My sister Gayle is driving down later this week. She will be able to cook and clean for Mom, and maybe get an idea of how much daily help is called for. I don't want to take over before Mom is ready, but I don't want to leave her alone too long. Karis' role is not caregiving, and we've agreed she is to call if her grandma needs help. It would be nice if we could transition as needed, rather than wait for a crisis.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Adventures in Window Washing

Mom has been fixated on the remaining two windows in her house that haven't been washed since storm windows were installed twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five. Years ago. My bil Mark washed the dining room and living room windows when he was here for his "vacation" earlier this year. Evidently, things have changed in storm window design in the last twenty-five years, and Mark found Mom's windows to be a little archaic. Hard to work with. There is surely an extra jewel in his heavenly crown for the effort he put into cleaning Mom's windows.

And, as I started to disassemble the first of the remaining windows on Tuesday, I wondered, "Did my bil cuss loud enough for Mom to hear?" Because that is one aggravating job. Worse than Christmas lights, I would say. The panes and screen were terribly dirty and took three washes, but they did begin to sparkle. Mom popped outside every so often to offer help (?) and to ask if I would be able to finish the window that day. No thanks and yes.

Then I began to reassemble the clean window. I could not get the top portion of the storm window to butt up against the frame. Mom came out and tried to help from the outside while I tried to finagle it into position from the inside. It is so like Mom to want to help, to do, to get-er-dun, but it was a dubious situation at best. Her strength of course is waning, but the funniest part was her hearing. Mom is really losing her hearing, so communicating through two panes of glass was not effective. At all. At one point, I just held onto the window, dropped my head, and laughed and laughed! Mom laughed too. I'm sure we were a picture.

When the storm window starting pulling out of its frame, I gave up and called the guy who installed the fool things, so many years ago. David has been a friend for years and years. He took the youth group waterskiing, snowskiing, and camping when his girls were in youth group and Dave was the youth pastor. His girls babysat our kids. And now his wife Shari is fighting the effects of a tumor in her brain. I really hate cancer. Anyway, it worked out perfectly for him to come over. A friend who had been visiting Mom had just left to take Shari shopping, so David had a few free moments. He came over, showed me how to put the window back together, and took apart the last remaining window for me.

I window washed a little bit more on Thursday, then finished the job on Friday. With my new-found assembly knowledge, I didn't even have to have my ninety year old mother help me put the window back together! Now, Mom is happy and I won't have to do that job for another twenty-five years. Or so.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

So Much Sorrow, So Little Time

It seems the sorrows are piling up, sorrow upon sorrow. Someone I love fiercely is entangled in besetting sin. Another is enmeshed in dysfunction. A little someone that has my heart just found out his world is being torn in two. The cares of this world are beating down our door. People all around are saying goodbye to loved ones. And my mom changed her prayer request in the church prayer sheet to read:
It is time for me to fold my tent. Pray that I will find joy on the road to freedom.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Course

Late last night, one of my friends lost her mom. My friend knew her mom was in poor health, in fact she had been in and out of the hospital last month. She knew her mom was released from the hospital on hospice. Not sent home to rehab and get better; sent home with palliative care. Still, it is heartwrenching to get the call that there are only days left. When my friend texted me that the hospice nurse had said her mom should go by Monday, I didn't get it. Go? Go where? Does she need to change locations? My friend had been confused by the message too, but the truth was her mom was failing. She and her family traveled yesterday, had a sweet time with her mom, and then she was gone. And, in the end, she went gently.

I am glad for my friend's mom to be free. I am so sad for my friend. I realize her mom was not young. She had lived a full life. I realize her mom was not healthy. Life at the end was physically and emotionally hard to live. I realize her mom was not perfect and theirs was not an ideal relationship. But she was her mom. And now she's gone. Death is so sad. We grieve the loss of life. We grieve the loss of relationship, both the one we had and the one we dreamed of. We grieve with our regrets and our disappointments; the words left unsaid, as well as the words we can never take back. We grieve. Not without hope, but we grieve.

I've never met my friend's mom, but I cried when I learned of her death. I feel like we are on the same course. It looks a little different for my mom, of course. No hospital stays, no drama, just the steady deterioration of an old, tired, sick body. It feels like the path is set and each day we walk a little farther along, taking steps in a direction no one wants to go. Today Mom told Karis she didn't want to get out of bed. Now, for me, that is an everyday occurance! Not for my mom. Especially not on Sunday when her favorite is teaching Sunday School and her son-in-law is preaching. I mentioned it to Mom, her reluctance to get up, and she said, "But I did!" I didn't say it, but I know the day is coming, maybe soon, when she won't have the strength to get up. I pray, like my friend for her mom, that in the end she will go gently.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fold the Tent

Yesterday, Mom really outdid herself. It must have been one of her "burst of energy" days. She was very excited and upbeat when I saw her in the morning, then she had Karis take her to the bank (I know it's just drive through, but last week she asked me to go for her), the post office (where she had Karis go in for her, but still!), and the grocery store. Mom called me early in the evening to let me know how excited she was about having Aunt Helen's daybed set up in Mom's front bedroom. (Dave and Meg went by to assemble it.) During the call, she told me she was going to Game Night up at church! Whew. I'm tired just thinking about it all.

And today Mom is tired. We went by after Nate's football game. Meg, her dog Reuben, and Nate stayed on the back porch while Ev and I went to HEB. While we were all out on the porch, Ev asked, "Is everything painted now?" We talked about Perry's work being nearly finished. He just needs to finish up on the fence. I asked Mom, "So what's next?" Mom answered,
"Next, it's time for Grandma to fold her tent."