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?