Sunday, December 30, 2012

Not Forgotten Flowers

Being a Kansas girl forever and always in her heart, Mom loved sunflowers. These are two beautiful arrangements that were sent from family and friends for her service. I know this post is oddly out of place, but I've had it sitting unfinished in drafts for quite a while and didn't want to forget the happiness-in-a-vase that was sent our way.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust



Saturday, December 29, 2012

Welcome, Christmas

Years ago, my sister wisely told me that life sort of moves in group stages. There is a time period where all your friends are getting married. There is a period where all your friends are having babies. There is a time where all your friends are sending kids to college. And so on. Actually, at the time, she and her husband were at an older urban church in Chicago, and she was explaining to me that most of their parishoners were at the time where all their friends were dying. And now it seems I find myself in the time period where all my friends' parents are dying.

Of course, that is a generalization, and not necessarily true across the board. Some of my friends' parents passed away years ago, shocking us into the awareness of our own parents' mortality. Some of my friends posted Christmas pictures of their kids with their parents this year, looking hale and hearty. But many of us are missing our folks this year. In early December, I attended a funeral for a dear old friend's mom. It was a lovely service, and included a reading of this poem:

I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below
With tiny lights like heaven's stars reflecting on the snow.

The sight is so spectacular please wipe away that tear
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear
But the sounds of music can't compare with the Christmas choir up here.

I have no words to tell you of the joy their voices bring
For it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me, I see the pain inside your heart
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

I can't tell you of the splendor or the peace here in this place
Can you just imagine Christmas with our Savior face to face?

I'll ask him to lift your spirit as I tell you of your love
So, then pray for one another as you lift your eyes above.

Please let your hearts be joyful and let your spirit sing
For I am spending Christmas in heaven and I'm walking with the King.

The words of the poem were very meaningful to me, and allowed me to really, truly look forward to Christmas with excitement like I haven't had in years. But probably not the way you think.

My parents were never especially celebratory. They were not big on gift-giving. No one would ever accuse Bill and Ann of being festive. Mom and Dad were strong, salt-of-the-earth folks; they just were never very merry and bright. Perhaps this book that my sister and I found when going through Mom's things explains it best:

Following Mom's tradition, we set out Great Aunt Ora's hand-painted nativity, dutifully placing the wise men afar, so as to remain biblically accurate. But when Ev and Nate hung our old school colorful Christmas lights this year, it was the first time this house has ever worn Christmas lights. And when Dave drilled holes for cuphooks under the mantel, it was the first time a row of stockings had a home there. We moved Mom's little tree with its single strand of white lights to the dining room bay window, in order to make room for our big tree, covered with a mosaic of ornaments and colored lights. We plugged in our little illuminated snowman, holding his sign, "Welcome, Christmas."

And welcome Christmas we did. It was a joyful time all month long with family and friends. It was filled with generosity and surprises, big and small. It was wrapped in the truth that God is with us.
God is with us.

For me, Christmas this year was free from the confusion of how to celebrate with my parents. No more wondering if they push us away because they truly want to be alone, or if they think they are freeing us up. No more trying to get things just right, not too much and not too little. No more guessing. No more wishing.

Because this year, I know Mom and Dad had the best Christmas ever. They celebrated like crazy, decorated over-the-top, hosted parties with tons of food, gave brightly-wrapped gifts to everyone, laughed and sang, and filled each other's stockings on Christmas Eve. Why?
Because they are with God.
Of course they are merry and bright this year.
They are with God.
How could they be anything less?

Hello

We still have Mom and Dad's land line here at their house. Not all of us have cell phones, so we feel that we still need to keep it. The phone doesn't ring very often anymore, except for some reason my husband likes to call us on the home phone. I'm not sure why.

The day before Christmas, the phone rang. I knew it wasn't Dave, because he was watching the Cowboys game in the living room with Nate. A sweet little voice asked if I was Ann. I explained who I was, and the caller asked how my mom was doing. I replied that Mom was doing very well, because she had gone on to heaven this summer. Then I repeated myself at her request. The sweet caller was a longtime friend of my parents. Her husband had been the best man at Mom and Dad's wedding that snowy New Year's Day so many years ago.

She told me that she didn't really stay in touch with my mom regularly, but just wanted to check on her and wish her a Merry Christmas. How dear is that? She stayed on the phone for quite a while, telling me about her children and grandchildren; where she lives now; how she met my dad and then my mom; a bit about life back in the day. She asked where Mom and Dad were buried, and was disappointed that I hadn't run the obituary in the local Kansas paper like Mom had for Dad. (I tried, but contacted the wrong paper and never heard back.)

At various times, I had to explain the yelling in the background (heartbreaking Cowboys!), and I mentioned K-State doing so well in football this year. She agreed, and added they were now doing well in basketball. Such an interesting person. Such a sweet call. I'm glad we kept the land line.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'm Baaaaack!

A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I was finished with this blog. He wondered if he should delete the icon from his desktop. For some time, I did feel like Not Going Gently was done. I felt I had nothing left to say. But lately, I've had some swirling thoughts asking to be written. So, Big John, if I'm still up there, don't delete just yet please.

One of the things rattling around in my brain is my health journey these last few months. I had the delightful opportunity to lunch with a dear friend recently, and she asked me about it. Really asked me, wanting details and dates. And I could not remember clearly. I'm pretty sure I gave her inaccurate information, so here for the record is the timeline:

September 6 -- Tightness and pain starting in left shoulder and spreading through chest and back; shortness of breath; went to see doctor; diagnosis of pleurisy. Home with steroids.

September 11 -- Symptoms return, more extreme; doctor sends to emergency clinic; diagnosis of pleural effusion. Home with antibiotics.

September 18 -- Symptoms return, not as severe; doctor prescribes more antibiotics, sets up appt. with pulmonologist.

September 24 -- Pulmonologist says please come see me any time something is wrong with your lungs. (This is not that time.)

October 2 -- Still fatigued; further bloodwork with doctor which reveals nothing except low Vitamin D levels.

October 25 -- Appointment with functional medicine doctor. She recommends low dose of thyroid, gluten-free diet, treatment for yeast overgrowth, megadose daily of Vitamin D. Sends me home with test kit for hormones/adrenals.

Within days of starting thyroid medication, I felt SO MUCH BETTER. Unbelievably better. Like magic.

So much better that Dave and I were able to go on a getaway to Montana that we had planned months before, but were beginning to wonder if I could make it. We had a delightful time together with friends who moved to MT, rested a lot, remembered that we liked each other, and made it through a travel adventure to get home the day before Thanksgiving. We spent Thanksgiving at home instead of with extended family because Nate came down with the flu the day before we returned.

And then the following Monday, I returned to work with my students at Brighter Vistas. Three weeks later was finals at school (which we fondly refer to as "Hell Week") and then, wham, it was Christmas. Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I received word from the functional medicine doctor that I did indeed need adrenal support, so I added DHEA to my daily cocktail of supplements. I have continued to feel really really good. (With the exception of yesterday afternoon and today--holiday exhaustion? virus? allergies? Who knows.) I even wake up thinking purposefully and positively about my day, instead of trying to imagine just dragging myself out.

My takeaway from this whole health experience? I wish I had known. I wish I had gone to see Dr. Caldwell at the beginning of full-time caregiving just as a preventative measure. I wish I had not waited until I had inexplicable health issues that stopped me in my tracks and robbed me of six weeks. Caregiving, loss, and grief are hard, hard work. They drain our emotions, our souls, AND our bodies. We can only soldier on for so long without support.

So here's my Public Service Announcement: Get thee to a functional medicine doctor. Have your levels tested, see where you need to get support, and make changes. Taking care of yourself is not optional; it's a necessity. Really.

Postscript:

What is functional medicine?

How can I find a functional medicine doctor?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So, It Turns Out

I'm more like my mother than I thought.

I don't like being weak.
I don't like being dependent.
I don't like having other people do my work.
I much prefer being the helper to being the helped.

Although I'm stronger after my bouts of pleurisy last month, I still struggle with fatigue. every. day. I haven't made it to church or work in weeks. I missed a weekend at the beach with my fine arts group from high school. I went to Nate's game last week, but that was a mistake. This past Sunday, Karis came and got me so I could say goodbye to our worship pastor and his wife and family after church, and I came home tired, sweaty, and pale. What is wrong with me? I need a nap after going somewhere for an hour?

My brain is tired too. It is hard to put words together. Conversation is wearing, and writing does not appeal. I don't know if the stress and strain of the past few years, and especially the last six months with Mom, have just weakened me to a breaking point, or if there is some medical answer. My doctor referred me to a pulmonologist, who declared my lungs to be just fine. So, back to my doctor, and now waiting on some more bloodwork. And I have an appointment with our functional medicine doctor coming up this month.

I'm taking Vitamin D. Magnesium. Probiotic. Multivitamin. Emergen-C. Vitamin B12. Basically, anything anyone mentions that might help. I'm eating super healthy with lots of meat and veggies, homemade broth, some fruit, and not much sugar. I really don't know what else to do.

I was surprised recently to realize it has only been three and a half months since Mom passed away. I kept counting the months over and over on my fingers to make sure. It seems like an eternity ago. So much has happened, but still I feel oddly inert, like I'm not making headway with life. I guess being sidelined for a month will do that.

Postscript: I called today and learned that my bloodwork results are on the doctor's desk, so I'm hoping to get some news tomorrow. Maybe some answers or at least some direction. This whole invalid situation is wearing a little thin.

Postpostscript: All bloodwork normal. Will see functional medicine doctor at end of month. Everybody else is out of ideas.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Big Red Chair

Before she died, Mom declared that Dad's big red chair should stay with the house. It is a nice chair, and I'm sure other relatives would have liked it, but Mom was adamant. I'm not especially fond of the chair and don't usually sit in it, but okay. Other people in my family do enjoy having a nice recliner and it is probably the nicest piece of furniture we've ever owned.

Still, every time I happen to sit down in it, I think, "I really don't like this chair." It tips into recline so easily that you can't really just sit unless you perch on the very edge. It smells mildewy. It reminds me of my parents' decline. But now I find I need to officially apologize to the red chair for every ugly thing I've ever said or thought about it, and apologize to Mom for not being as grateful as I should have been for her gift of the red chair. Because over the last week, the red chair and I have come to a new understanding.

Last week I got short of breath and my chest hurt. I went to my doctor, found out my heart and lungs were okay, and came home with a diagnosis of pleurisy and some steroids to reduce the inflammation. My chest hurt too much to lie down in bed, so I slept in the red chair for the day and half of the night. The pain went away, but my energy never returned and I spent even more time in the red chair.

This week the pain returned, even worse, so that I couldn't wait for my doctor's appointment. Dave took me into the emergency clinic, where we found again that my heart was okay, but there was pleural effusion, fluid in between the lining of the lungs and the chest cavity. Ew. And ouch. After a bag of IV fluids, Dave took me home with more antibiotics and a bottle of vicodin.

Back to the red chair, where I have spent the past three days and nights. I still can't sleep in bed for any length of time, and the smallest exertion sends me back to the chair. Dave and the kids have once again stepped in to pick up the slack. Friends and family have brought meals. A small group from church brought food and circled around to read scripture and pray over me. All as I sit in the red chair. The kids observed, "You're like Grandma and Grandpa!" Oh boy. Pretty much, but I don't think we need to call hospice just yet.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Word #4

[The last of Dave's sermon at Mom's service.]

Embrace God’s GRACE and Hang ON!

Mom experienced God’s grace. Her father died when she was two. She was raised by a mother who loved her and raised her with great attributes. She was able to travel, learned to work, graduated from college and held important jobs on her own. That’s a lot of grace, Depression era!

Mom exhibited grace through her wonderful smile and could exhibit a gentle grace that was charming to others. One time over lunch, we were at Saltgrass. We were sharing a meal which was NOT my idea; it was the idea of the Depression-era baby in our group. We split a steak equally. However, she got six asparagus stalks and I got three. My favorite vegetable!

Ann showed her charming grace by asking the waiter for the recipe for the Shiner Bock bread. The waiter kind of put her off and ignored her. The manager came by and she asked him. He crawfished a bit and said that they could not give out the recipe. She asked if he could give her the ingredients. He said, “Sure.” He came back with his handwritten list of ingredients. She began to ask questions about how they mixed what and when. Within five minutes she had the exact amounts of each ingredient and how they treated it. She drew him out. Gwen used to refer to it as “Mama Mojo.”

Mom continually experienced God’s grace. She recognized how much God had forgiven her by His grace. Ann recognized how God had carried her marriage along despite some of her gaffs and goofs. She wrote this in a note,

“After 62 years of marriage, I love to reflect on God’s pursuit of His own and that no human love will satisfy the soul. He keeps us seeking Him. He would not have invited us to seek Him if it wasn't the desire of his heart. His grace has blessed me beyond measure.” She closed it with the “Jesus’ Prayer”: “Be merciful unto me, a sinner.”

Ann recognized God’s all-sufficient grace at work in her life. God says that His power is perfected in our weakness, that His grace is sufficient.

As Ann’s body began to fail in the final weeks, she experienced God’s grace through an image He gave her of her home-going. I read the following from the blog which Gwen journaled along the way…

I do think it is significant though that in Mom's last weeks here, she thought a lot about the eagle scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King. As she got closer to the end, she couldn't remember details like Tolkien's name or the name of the book/movie. I overheard her trying to tell an old friend who had stopped by with homegrown tomatoes and love. She couldn't come up with the words she wanted so Mom said, "You know, it's written by that mathematician and the story is a myth, but it goes along with the Bible." [Isaiah 40:31 with eagles soaring which I read earlier.]

She explained to me that she was thinking of after Frodo and Samwise had disposed of the ring, and had run outside on Mt. Doom, and the mountain was erupting into rivers of lava, leaving the hobbits exhausted and stranded on an island of rock. Then the eagles came and carried them to safety, just like they had rescued Gandalf before.



Of course, Mom was dreaming of the end of her own hard journey, when she too would soar like eagles. And God is faithful and kept His promises to Mom. She did finally fly away. But this passage reminds me that God is faithful to me too. He doesn't lose track of me. He doesn't come and go. He lasts. He gives fresh strength. Thank God.

Grace Wins! Ann received her freedom from this world on Saturday night, June 30.

By God’s grace, Ann entered into the presence of our Lord. The apostle Paul wrote, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

How is it possible that human beings, who are estranged from God, can be present with the Lord Jesus upon death? 

The Bible says that we are born estranged from God because of sin. We are a rebellious lot. Like Ann said, “Egos die hard.” Most of us resemble that remark. The reward for being stiff-necked is independence from God now and for all eternity. 
God desires differently for us. He loves people. Jesus died a sacrificial death on the cross so that all who believe in Him might live. He died in your place for your sin. He offers life—abundant now and eternally in His presence—to all who commit their lives to Him.

I challenge you to accept God’s offer of life today. Receive Jesus into your life. Acknowledge your inadequacy and need of a Savior. Invite Jesus into your life. You can do this in the silence of your heart. He will forgive your sins and enter your life to lead you.

I challenge you to receive God’s wisdom in your relationships. Be teachable! Own your sin. Keep your vows with humility. Embrace God’s grace and hang on! He will work. May you go in His peace.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Word #3

[More of Dave's sermon from Mom's service.]

Keep your vows with humility.

Tim Keller says, “Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.”
What is love? 
Love is a sacrificial commitment to the good of another.

Our culture taints love with a consumer approach. We date. We put on our best face. We marry. We declare a love that will absolutely last unless one of us changes. That’s consumer love. Consumer love says, “I will love you until you gain weight, lose your job, get sick or lose your hair. At that point, I will find someone more suitable to my likes and dislikes. Or I will be bitter and make your life a living hell.”

However, wedding vows find greatest resonance in the concept of the biblical covenant. The Covenant love of a wedding vow is a mutually binding promise of future love. We need that kind of security. Both parties say, “I love you come what may.”

Covenant love is driven by the deep, inner quality of faithfulness. God’s great desire for marriages is that they are not necessarily happy or successful, but faithful. Faithful to a sacrificial commitment for the good of the other come what may. When that happens it is not us keeping the vow, but the vow keeping us.

Why is faithfulness in vows so important? Inherent to being human are these conditions:
If we are loved but not known, we find it superficial. You think I’m great because of my clothing, looks, job or money? That is shallow!
However, our greatest fear is to be known and not loved. That hurts. Reason we wear so many masks and hide behind ego and pride.
BUT: To be fully known and truly loved is the BEST. It is a lot like being loved by God. Such a love gives all of us hope—whether single or married. That is why God requires faithfulness in our relationships.

Ann realized the beauty of a covenant love. She recognized the need for humility. She readily admitted that “Egos die hard.”

Mike Mason says, “A vow is, per se, a confession of inadequacy and an automatic calling upon the only adequacy there is, which is the mercy and power of God. To keep a vow, therefore, means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one’s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing go change and to grow accordingly” (p. 106).
It takes humility to change and grow accordingly. It takes an openness to the changes in our spouse and to God changing us.

Ann says: Keep your vows with humility. God will make you adequate with grace, mercy and strength. In these ways, it is the vow that then keeps us.

[One more to follow...]

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Word #2

[From Dave's message at Mom's service.]

Ann's second word of wisdom is: “Own your Sin. Repent.”

There is no greater way to grease the bearings of a relationship than to take responsibility for your own mistakes, foolishness, meanness and sin.

Ann spent a great deal of time ruminating, meditating and thinking about God’s truth. She measured it out to see how it fit her life. She would try it on. She would obey. She also knew how short the gap was between obedience to God’s way and asserting her way.

I would say that Mom struggled with God—in a good way. Some people fight God. And lose. Ann struggled with God. She was fond of saying, “Ego dies hard.” She also wanted to ruminate on something until she had it figured out. Here is how God taught her in regard to her marriage. Butterflies struggle or they do not live. Ann was the same way in her transformation.

One day at Pie in the Sky over lunch, we were talking about our reading in the One Year Bible. Mom read through the Bible over the course of a year these last couple of years. She said, “I don’t think it is fair that Moses could not enter the Promised Land. Why didn’t God let him?” I replied that Moses had disobeyed God and that was God’s decision. Moses would lead the people. Moses would see the Promised Land and then he would die and be buried.

I told her that Moses did what Adam did in the Garden. He participated in the hypocrisy of blame. Adam sinned. When God asked, “Why?” Adam pointed to Eve and said, “The woman that YOU gave me, caused me to sin.” Double blame. In our reading that day, Moses (Dt 3) blamed the Israelites for causing him to be angry and disobey God. He did not own his own sin.

Those principles from Scriptures stayed with Ann. She often talked about it. She was saying, “If you sin, own it. Repent. Accept God’s grace. Grow through it.” 

I believe it influenced her thought. When reading John Eldridge’s, “Waking of the Dead” in fall of 2010, she noticed a poem by one of her favorite authors, George MacDonald. This became her life poem from his “Diary of an Old Soul.” This poem is like a morning prayer in which the speaker seeks God’s grace to sustain her through the day without giving in to temptation. MacDonald wrote:

With every morn my life afresh must break
The crust of self, gathered about me fresh;
That thy wind-spirit may rush in and shake
The darkness out of me, and rend the mesh
The spider-devils spin out of the flesh —
Eager to net the soul before it wake,
That it may slumberous lie, and listen to the snake.
~ George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

Ann felt like too many marriages exist on the absurdity of blame. She saw in her own life how she blamed her own poor attitude or behavior on Bill when, in reality, she was at fault. How could Bill make things right for her perceived injustices blamed on him? He could not. That is the absurdity of blame.

I think it is incredible how Ann continued to grow and learn and recognize God’s truth for her life from Scripture. Her second Whispered Word to us is: “Own your sin. Repent!”

[...more to follow.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Word #1

[From Dave's sermon at Mom's service.]

Word of Wisdom #1: Be teachable: learn from Jesus.

Teachable means “apt to learn” according to Webster’s dictionary. That was Mom.
Mom loved to read
Mom loved to study God’s Word: LBS: meaty questions, not fluff; year ago, finish BSF!
Mom loved to listen to teaching of God’s Word, several sermons a week
Mom stayed current on the issues relevant to our culture and our country
Mom was teachable. In my perception, I count it as her greatest virtue. I met her when she was 66. I’ve seen a great deal of spiritual growth in her in the years since then. In fact, by listening to her, I would say that she has experienced greater spiritual transformation into the character of Jesus Christ in the last 20 years than her first 70 years. That gives all of us inspiration and hope for our later years!

Let me share with you what Mom considered her greatest lesson. It will provide better understanding to why she favored a message on marriage.

In 2002, Mom fell and broke her leg—her femur—up near her hip. I walked into the hospital and read five verses from Isaiah chapter 40 to her. They are verses of great comfort and promise. They are also a bit humorous to someone who just broke her leg/hip (we didn’t know). They refer to Jacob. Jacob was one who wrestled with God. God touched him on the hip and gave him a limp. Here it is:

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, "God has lost track of me. He doesn't care what happens to me"? Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening? God doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. 

For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.

 Isaiah 40:28-31, The Message

We prayed that Mom would get strength back and run and walk again. After all, she was 81!

Mom was incredulous that I would read that passage. She thought God had told me to read it. She considered herself a slow learner and figured He wanted to drive it home. While I always prayed over what passage to read with Mom or any patient, I could not admit to hearing God’s voice. Just wanted to tweak her a bit. Here is what happened in her words…

Love your neighbor; your husband is your neighbor.

Ann loved her neighbors down the street and across the world. But home was a struggle. They’re family, not neighbors! She figured she could get around that one. Until God got her attention.

Loving her husband was an issue occasionally for Ann. Her authenticity in this issue was amazing. She assumed that she was every bit the wife she needed to be. She figured that she was living like Jesus wanted her to live within her marriage. She was not always happy, but she was still married. Jesus worked on her attitude. Ann recounted for me how she was connecting the dots in God’s slow, patient work on her as “Jacob.”

Almost two decades before, she had taken a class on “Forgiveness” at Calvary Bible College that caused her to think about some of her attitudes in life, but especially toward her husband. In 1992, she heard a message talking about nurturing your spouse, discipling one another to Jesus as iron sharpens iron. According to Ann, this was one more step. Then she heard a good friend of mine named Mike give a Sunday evening message on forgiveness and marriage. She was connecting the dots, but not making a great deal of change until God gave her a limp.

Ann’s attitudes toward Peycke began to change. She began to find freedom in loving her husband as God designed. She gained even greater insight to God’s work when she read in The Mystery of Marriage this statement by Mike Mason:

“For most people, in fact, marriage is the single most wholehearted step we will take toward fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”

Ann’s first whispered word of wisdom today is,
“Be Teachable. Learn from Jesus.”

[...more to follow.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pastor and Commander

P. Dave, Pastor Daddy, P. Daddy, Bruhtha Dave, David.

It doesn't matter what you call him; he's the bomb, and he's mine. My mom loved my husband. LOVED him. Seriously. And Dave loved her too. After Dad died, Dave would take Mom out for lunch. They would eat good food and talk about life. Sometimes they would talk about Mom's desires concerning her memorial service. And Mom gave Dave a hard assignment: She wanted her service to be about marriage. Really? A funeral service about marriage? Yup. She even had Dave purchase copies of her newly-found favorite book on marriage to be given out at her service. Really? Party favors? Parting gifts? Yup. No standard discourse on Psalm 23 for my mom.

Dave wanted to honor Mom's wishes, and he wanted to honor Mom's life. I think he did both with his beautifully crafted words. I think they are an interesting combination of comforting and challenging. Here's the first part:


Anna’s Message

We have heard delightful stories of Anna’s life. Each one of you could add to these stories with your own. We have heard from those who loved Ann most deeply—her family. And she loved you. She gave focused attention to expressing her love to you over the last 18 months. She expressed her love to each child. She expressed her love to each grandchild. You were loved by Anna Adaline.

We have also heard the comforting words of Scripture, promises from God to His people of faith. Joel [my nephew] read to us of God’s love from Romans 8:37-39. David [my nephew] read to us from John 14:6. We cling to God’s promises because they generate hope. They bolster our confident expectation of what God is doing and will do. We serve a living God who keeps His word. We have hope because we can take Him at His Word.

We need hope. When you look at Ann’s family, you see mature and maturing individuals. You see people dependent on their Lord. You see people who love and respect one another. And you see human beings. Humans who will grieve in the coming days, weeks and months.

It seems as if the dark cloud of grief has been around since the medical profession pronounced its death sentence over two years ago. Urgency of six months gave way to wondering. Wondering gave way to more playing. Playing gave way to watching. Eventually, Anne’s body prepared to go home to Jesus. We are dumbfounded as to what to do next. What will life be like without Mom? Dad left two years ago. Now, Mom is gone.

God has given us the grief process to help us when attachments of the heart are dissolved. Mom won’t be here for us to share our thoughts and pictures and stories of children and grandchildren. We are new to this process. So there will be confusion, shock, guilt over things we’ve said; guilt over things we’ve left unsaid; anger at Mom, anger at God, anger at cancer, maybe even anger at each other. These things are normal. Emotions come and go as memories ebb and flow. We will have each other. More importantly, we will have our Lord. You do not walk alone as you deal with “Goodbye.” Jesus reminds us that He walks with us, never leaves us and offers us rest if we will trust Him with the burden. As Joel read, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

So we come to the message. If you have been to Celebrations I have led, you know that I typically personalize a passage to the individual’s life whom we are honoring. Today is a bit different.

I start off today by saying, “I hope that as you listen today, you will evaluate your own marriage or your own relationships.” Now that’s quite different for a Memorial Service! But I am serious! I am serious because Anna Peycke was serious! She requested a message on marriage based on Proverbs 27:17. She was so serious that she bought her favorite book on marriage (The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason) to give to you for coming today. We hope that we have enough to give one per family. When you leave today, you are invited to take one book per family, not family member, for as long as they last.

I mentioned Proverbs 27:17. Solomon wrote these words in that particular proverb…
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Here in Texas, we are familiar with Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book,” subtitled, “Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf” (published when he was 88). He was noted as the greatest instructor regarding the mental side of the game of golf.

Today, Ann is going to be our iron to sharpen us with her Whispered Words of Wisdom. Wisdom is TRUTH APPLIED, not factual knowledge, not information, but skillful living. For the follower of Jesus, it is skilled godly living. Ann offers to us four comments today based on my conversations with her. I will call them, “Anna’s Whispered Words of Wisdom.”


[...more to follow.]

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mom's Service

After the not-quite-graveside, we went directly to the church, where more friends served us breakfast. People began to arrive for Mom's service. And I'm afraid at this point what followed is mostly a blur except for a few crystalline moments.

One of those moments is my friend Mollie. Mollie and I have been friends since junior high. She is one of those rare friends whose heart remains connected even when separated by time and distance. She now lives a few hours away and has a couple of all-consuming jobs, but Mollie came for Mom's service. She came for me. I think that is what made her presence so comforting to me that day. I looked over partway through Mom's service and saw Mollie sitting by herself, parallel to me in the next section of seats. As soon as I could, I scuttled over to grab her hand and bring her back to sit with me. (One of the great things about having a pastor for a husband is that I can entrust the service to him, knowing he will do a beautiful job. One of the suck-y things about entrusting the service to my husband is not having him sit with me during my mom's memorial. Just in case it seemed weird for me to gather people up to sit with me. It still might be weird, but there you have it.)

And I pretty much kept Mollie glued to my side for the rest of the time until she had to go home. Our church hosted an amazing potluck lunch for everyone after the service. Mollie stayed and sat with me and visited. Looking back, I probably did not greet everyone I should have. I certainly was not mindful of fulfilling the role of pastor's wife or good daughter. Maybe I was too exclusive or reclusive or something. I truly was thankful for all the friends and family who came to pay respects to my mom. But Mollie was definitely my comfort person, and I can't imagine I'd have made it as well without her.

Another clear moment in my memory is my Nate. Oh, my heart. My tender-hearted, big 15yo boy wanted to read his essay about his grandma. At her service. Out loud. He revised with his educational therapist, Ms. Catherine, and practiced. We bought a suit and shirt and ties at Goodwill. (We bought shoes too, but he opted to wear his Vans.) His only fear: breaking down and not being able to finish. So that morning, Nate sat on the podium, then stood and began to read. And cry.

I'm sorry to say Nate has inherited my inability to multitask while crying. For us, if it is time to cry, all other activity must cease. He could not pull it back together enough to form words, so his dad, my dear David, stood and put his arm around his boy and read the rest of Nate's essay about his grandma. Then Nate sat back down in his chair on the podium and pretty much cried for the rest of the service. I wanted to go and hug him and take his hand to come sit with me, but I didn't know how much he would appreciate that gesture from his mother. I asked him later, days or weeks later, how he felt about the whole experience. His only regret was that he had not been able to finish the reading. My boy. Love him.



Graveside

The day before Mom's memorial service, the relatives arrived. It rained. (Also, the day before Mom's service, the cultured marble guys came to install the new shower. Which is significant only because they used a product that smelled to me like bondo and filled the whole house with a pungent chemical smell. Which handily concealed the mildew smell from the other shower leaking. )

We met up at church and were served a delicious, comforting dinner by dear friends. So lovely to have friends who are willing to be the hands and feet of Christ. It was good to be together, and having the dinner at church also allowed the musicians to practice, and for Dave to give a run-through of the service. More friends had offered lodging for my extended family, so everyone had a place to stay. (Again, the Body serving us with love.) It rained.

The morning of Mom's service, there was an optional viewing for family at the funeral home. (Optional because Mom had not wanted a viewing, but some family members did.) We had hoped to follow that with a graveside service for family, but it was still raining. Not raining like in the movies where everybody stands around with their black umbrellas, but big rain that made the world sodden and muddy and impossible to navigate. So we improvised and did the little graveside service in the funeral home chapel.

It was fine, but somehow unsatisfactory and unsettling to me. I meant to leave my Mom at her new place next to Dad; instead we had to drive away through the pouring rain and leave her there in the funeral home. I don't know why, but thinking about it still makes me teary.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Brand New Day

The comedy of errors that is our life continues.

On the bright side, I was for the first time thankful that our carpets are still not tacked down and cleaned. But the reason I'm thankful is that the front bath continues to leak into the adjacent hall closet, so it's convenient to be able to just pull the carpet back up and set up the fans.

The dishwasher started making strange popping and growling noises, so we discontinued use and are waiting on a repairman.

Saturday while I was helping with a women's mentoring program, Nate was helping friends load up to move, and Meg was helping with some sort of movie shoot involving downs syndrome children, Dave texted me to ask who our electric company was in town. Evidently, some workers cutting down a tree in a neighboring back yard miscalculated and accidentally yanked out all our power lines to the house. Live wires in the back yard, anyone? Thankfully, no dogs or people were harmed. Power was patched up and will be fixed more permanently this week.

And just last night, Meg observed that water was dripping from the ceiling of the same afflicted closet.

Oh, and the washer ate Karis' dress.

And Ev said goodbye to her best friend today.

That's all I can remember right off hand.

A friend sent me a link to this music video, which captures things well, I think. (Thanks, Maria!)

Marker Mixup

Thursday evening, Dave and I met at the cemetery to visit Dad. I brought him a red rose.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mom's marker had arrived and been placed next to Dad's.

Do you see it?

I was not so pleasantly surprised to find that Mom's marker does not match Dad's.
Does. Not. Match.

I did not ask for much with the marker, only that it be the same style as Dad's. I think that I am sufficiently calm now and will call Monday to have the situation rectified. But at the time, all I could think was:
"Will nothing ever be right in the world again?"

I'm not sure.





Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two Years Gone

Thinking of you today, Dad.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Remembering

As we prepared for Mom's memorial service in the weeks following her death, we asked our extended family to share memories of Mom/Grandma. And of course, friends and acquaintances shared their memories of Mom as well. It was really good for me to hear stories about my mom. Hearing from others who knew and loved her at different points in her life reminded me of who she really was, reminded me that Ann Peycke was not defined by the last miserable months of her life. She was so much more.

Sister Gayle wrote: She never stopped learning and trying new things. I brought mom a cook book written by a friend. It had a rye bread recipe that mom tried and proclaimed as the rye recipe she had been searching for all of her life! She was so excited to have her rye bread perfected!

Brother-in-law Rich wrote: Bill and Ann's investment in Ruth, me and our children has been an example of love, patience, courage, and generosity that revealed the depth of their understanding of servanthood and blessing which we will always draw on and treasure. Everything from Dad's showing me how to install a garage door opener (and doing nearly the whole job before I got back from work) and how to recover from spectacular water skiing face-plants to Mom's long nights helping calm a colicky baby, and her savory shrimp gumbo greeting every trip we made to Conroe. This was grace, pure and simple. Did we experience joy in their presence? Did we ever.

Martha wrote: I feel very blessed to have been her friend.

(I will have to add more to this later, because I cannot put my hands on my notes.)

As friends and family shared their thoughts and memories, and as I was reminded of who Mom really was, I started my own list of things I remembered and admired about my mom.

*Mom had mad camping skills. She made primitive camping look easy.
*Mom had an enduring delight in nature.
*Mom never quit growing and learning.
*Mom was a reader, always a reader.
*Mom loved new music and embraced praise songs in church. She said it was practice for heaven.
*Mom made real food.
*Mom took on Feingold to make real food my family could eat.
*Mom enjoyed travel.
*Mom had mad sewing and upholstery skills.
*Mom faithfully read aloud to her children.

She was an amazing lady.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer of Sorrows

"I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love,
for you have seen my troubles,
and you care about the anguish of my soul."
Psalm 31:7

It feels like the Summer of Sorrows. Families are moving far away and the goodbyes are hard on all of us. Nate observed the other day that he is the only one who has not had a close friend move. Mercy. Friends' loved ones fall ill; some die. The lake house is still. not. ready. Close, but d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g on. Our furniture does not look right in my parents' bedroom. Not right. The carpets are still not tacked down and cleaned, so the visual chaos continues. I took the rest of Mom's clothes to Angelic Resale and I couldn't part with her shoes. It was just too sad. So her black SAS lace-ups sit under the little wooden rocker by the front window.

I've heard that caregivers feel sort of lost after their loved one dies and the caregiving role is over. I don't feel so much lost as drowned. I feel like we are hit with wave after wave of distress, and I'm just rolling around underneath the surface. Garage flood. Crash. Leaky bathrooms. Crash. Strep. Crash. Car breakdown. Crash. Friends move. Crash. I am cranky. I am distracted. Karis wonders if I'm depressed. Who knows?

And around the crashing surf and my flailing, life goes on. I'm helping with a women's mentoring program. Nate has started fall football. Meg is finishing up her third summer course, a beast of a class. Karis visited a friend in Montana, is having a week off work, then will be back on her nanny job. Ev has asked to homeschool again after three years in private school. I start back to work next week, with educational therapy and tutoring. I don't know if I will need to pursue a side job like Kohls or not. Dave is preaching and carrying more than his load at church.

I can't say that I'm glad and rejoicing like the psalmist. But it is a comfort to know God sees my troubles and He cares about the anguish of my soul. And I have hope that the glad and rejoicing will come. Surely they will come.

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This morning in my One Year Bible reading, God gave me this:

Take courage as you fulfill your duties,
and may the Lord be with those who do what is right.
2 Chronicles 19:11

I thanked Him for giving me strength to forge ahead with each new day, doing what needs doing.

And then God gave me this:
Which I wasn't very happy about and I haven't thanked Him yet.

Did I mention that when we discovered the back bathroom shower leaked and the long and torturous repairs began, the six of us began showering in the front bathroom? And we then discovered the front shower leaked as well? Again, it was the smell of mildew in the hallway, in the closet, by the front door. So as soon as we could, we all moved back to the master bathroom and had the front bathroom looked into.

Today, I had Nate empty the hall closet (no small feat),
and pulled up the dismayingly wet carpet and pad. The closet contents will go to storage asap, and I still need to unload the shelves by the front door to check for water there. (Drover is helping by smelling everything.)

This is not fun. I don't like these duties.

The good news is that so far the only thing ruined by water damage is a box of unread, disposable books. Everything else in contact with the carpet was in plastic. Hey, I can thank God for that!





Redo

It's not your grandma's purple.
But it's just right for Karis and Meg.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gayle

One of the beautiful and unique ways my sister Gayle cared for Mom in her last days, poorly captured in a fuzzy phone camera pic.

Mom had told Gayle, "I am glad you are here to help Gwen when I die." (Told her each of her last visits, I think, but this time it took.) Thank you, sister, for taking care of Mom, playing beautiful music, and helping me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

After the Deluge

So, this is what was facing me after the flood.
You can see how the water pushed everything over.

Yes, that's the third seat of the suburban. Gah!


Now after a week of sweat and muck and mosquitoes, the garage is cleaned out from the floor to two feet up. I am sorry to say we lost some things we would rather have kept. But a lot of what we found was years and years of my parents' junk and trash. There was plenty of in-between stuff that I hauled to the curb to find new homes. And some fine new yard art.

One of my favorite finds, safely preserved in the boat, is a quintessential Dad item. Mom and Dad's house number has always been poorly marked. They would never pay to have someone spray paint their number on the curb. The house numbers they do have are right by the front door and cannot be seen from anywhere but the front porch. When someone tries to find the house, especially at night, we just have to walk outside and flag them down. So when I found this,
I knew I had found Dad's solution to the house number deficiency. Lesser men might have gone to the hardware store and purchased numbers to attach to their home, but not Dad. In his neat script, he wrote his house numbers on a file folder which he then attached to a frame he constructed from scrap lumber. Problem solved, Dad-style. And now it is a lovely addition to our growing collection of yard art.

There is mucho mucho mas to be done in the garage, namely everything from two feet on up, but I am leaving it for another time (maybe a cooler time?) and moving on to other things that need tending to. One of my biggest disappointments in the cleanup was that we could not get the boat to budge. I was really looking forward to seeing my childhood boat everytime I looked out the kitchen window. Oh well. I can always visit it in the garage.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Resting Place

Meg and I stopped by to see Mom's new place yesterday. It was beautifully done, with thick full sod and what was left of her lovely flowers. Mom would be pleased.

And someone had cleaned up Dad's marker and laid some of Mom's flowers there. So nice. We added a sunflower.

It is sweet for them to be side by side here. And I am happy knowing they are together again forever, loving each other perfectly.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Insert Clever Title Here

Yesterday was good and hard and sweet and sad and dear. I will have much more to say about it, I'm sure.

Last night was scary. It rained six inches and the creek rose, but it all happened so quietly we almost missed it. I'm convinced God woke me at 4:00, just in time for us to rescue two dogs and two cars from rushing debris-filled brown water. Today is a mucky, soaked mess with many aggravations and lots of unknowns, but I'm so thankful for the happy, living doggies. The alternative is just too heartbreaking to consider for long.

That's all I have brain cells for right now. Thank you all for love and prayers and care.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let's All Take a Deep Breath

The obituary ran in the paper today, instead of yesterday like I had requested.

Let it go.

Someone cut off the top of Mom's head in the picture.

Let it go.

Some of the wording in the obituary was changed, and not by me.

Let it go.

Paragraph breaks were deleted.

Let it go.

Workmen are here putting the shower together. They'll be here for "I don't know, four or five hours."

Let it go.

Reading from the one year Bible today:

But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down.

Application:

This ship is sinking, but we'll be okay.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Anyone?

Here it comes. That point where either my brain shuts down or my head explodes.

Today I ran errands. Tomorrow we clean house and wait for the incoming relatives. And Wednesday we bury my mother.

I don't like this part. Could someone else do this part, please?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Neighbors

Tonight my sister asked if I had told a sweet neighbor about Mom's passing.
And the answer is no.
I haven't contacted any of the neighbors.
I don't know why, but I just don't want to.
Really don't want to.
But I've got it to do, so I will.
Tomorrow.
I will.

Dangit.

Wings Like Eagles

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, "God has lost track of me. He doesn't care what happens to me"? Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening?

God doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.

For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.

Isaiah 40:28-31, The Message

Really, I could leave this post with no other comment, because God's Word is just that powerful. It speaks for itself and needs no explanation from me.

I do think it is significant though that in Mom's last weeks here, she thought a lot about the eagle scene from The Return of the King. As she got closer to the end, she couldn't remember details like Tolkien's name or the name of the book/movie. I overheard her trying to tell an old friend who had stopped by with homegrown tomatoes and love. She couldn't come up with the words she wanted so Mom said, "You know, it's written by that mathematician and the story is a myth, but it goes along with the Bible." She explained to me that she was thinking of after Frodo and Samwise had disposed of the ring, and had run outside on Mt. Doom, and the mountain was erupting into rivers of lava, leaving the hobbits exhausted and stranded on an island of rock. Then the eagles came and carried them to safety, just like they had rescued Gandalf before.

Of course, Mom was dreaming of the end of her own hard journey, when she too would soar like eagles. And God is faithful and kept His promises to Mom. She did finally fly away. But this passage reminds me that God is faithful to me too. He doesn't lose track of me. He doesn't come and go. He lasts. He gives fresh strength. Thank God.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Obituary

Anna Adaline [maiden name, last name]
January 14, 1921-June 30, 2012

Anna (Ann) Adaline [maiden name, last name], age 91, of Conroe, TX, went home to be with her Lord and Savior on Saturday, June 30, 2012.

Beloved wife for 62 years of William J. [last name]; loving mother of Bill (Cathy), Gayle (Mark), Ruth (Richard), Loren (Carrie), Gwen (David); grandmother of William IV (Kay), David, Joel (Alecia), Daniel, John, Jonathan (Cassi), Caleb (Ruth), Lydia, Paul, Anna, Rebekah, Matthew, Elizabeth, Luke, Esther, Zane, Leah, Karis, Meg, Nate, Evangeline; great-grandmother of Andrew, Caris, Tobia, Gabriel, Sabbath, Evangeline, Johanna, Lacey, Nate, Emrys.

Ann was born January 14, 1921 in Geary County, Kansas, to the late John and Minna [maiden name, last name]. She was the youngest sibling of the late Helen [maiden name, last name], Bill [last name], and John [last name]. She was raised on the family ranch near Manhattan, Kansas. She attended Kansas State University, where she was a Purple Pepster, and received a degree in Home Economics in 1943. Ann taught school for two years, then opened and ran her own diner, The Yucca Inn, for a summer. She returned to Kansas State for graduate studies in dietetics. She married Bill [last name] when he returned from serving in World War II, and then stayed home to raise their five children. Bill and Ann first lived in Coffeyville, KS where Ann taught school. The family lived in Tulsa, OK, and then Conroe, TX since 1974. She was a long-time member of Conroe Bible Church, where she served in many capacities, from teaching 2- and 3-year-olds to cooking for the homeless. Ann was an expert baker, an excellent cook, an avid reader, a proficient gardener, a talented seamstress, an unflagging patriot, a lifelong student, a lover of God and nature.

Private family viewing at 8:00 a.m. and private family graveside service at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 11.
Public memorial service at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 11 at Conroe Bible Church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Conroe Bible Church.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What's Not to Love?

Ev was pulling games from the hall closet to put in her grandma's room in case any extended family members would like them. It's a little confusing with our stuff mixed in with my mom's stuff, and I thought consolidating might help. And that's when Ev cut loose with what might be the quote of the week:

"I think we should take the clothes off the dominoes before we put them in Grandma's room."

Aaahahahaha! What?

So she pulled out seven dominoes that have clothes and hair taped on. Oh my gosh. I love this kid.




How Are You Doing?

That's the question of the hour.

And the answer is: Okay.

I'm kind of in a fog. I keep thinking of things I forgot about. I'm still predominantly happy for my mom to be in heaven; it certainly outweighs any sadness at this point. I understand the sorrow will come and I'm waiting for the shoe to drop, but right now I'm not even weepy. I feel borne up by the prayers and love of others. Friends and family are feeding us, checking on us, helping us with all the family arrangements surrounding Mom's service. I find care and concern on all sides. I've been sleeping well except for last night.

(In an interesting side note, Dave has poison ivy, my stomach is giving me fits, Nate has a sore back, and Ev has a summer cold. Gah!)

And of course I'm busy. I'm trying to consolidate Mom's things into her room so family can look through when they come. The stupid shower remodel is happening and it revealed a lot of structural damage which means more work. I went with Karis to get her tattoo in honor of her beloved grandma. I found a dress for Wednesday. Dave and I met with the funeral home. Wrote an obituary. Looked at casket sprays. Went to the church's 4th of July celebration. Made a punch list for the lake house. Had lunch with Dave. Watched movies with the fam. Laundry, cleaning, shuffling.

Once again, I'm glad for the breathing space between death and burial. It is good to be with my family. It is good to hear what my mom meant to so many different people. I have time to gather my wits and make some plans. And family members have time to make arrangements in order to gather next week.

So really, I'm okay.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Services

We have landed on Wednesday, July 11th for Mom's services. We'll have just family early in the morning for a private viewing and graveside. Then at 10:30 we'll have a public service at the church, with lunch afterwards.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Free

Minutes after I decided on the right version of Jackson Browne, posted, and closed Karis' laptop, Mom's breathing began to slow significantly. As I sat holding her hand, I counted the seconds between breaths. And then I kept counting. There wasn't another breath. At about 9:50p on Saturday, June 30, 2012, our mama flew away to Jesus. Incredible how quickly she went after such a long hard struggle. The fight is over and she is finally free.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

For a Dancer

As Mom spends another day in her room, with us, but fighting her final battle alone, this song keeps running through my head. I love this beautiful live version with David Lindley on the violin. Please ignore the "facts" on the screen; I know at least some of them are incorrect.

For a Dancer
Jackson Browne



Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down
I don't remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you'd always be around
Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you're nowhere to be found

I don't know what happens when people die
Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It's like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can't sing
I can't help listening
And I can't help feeling stupid standing 'round
Crying as they ease you down
'cause I know that you'd rather we were dancing
Dancing our sorrow away
No matter what fate chooses to play
(there's nothing you can do about it anyway)

Just do the steps that you've been shown
By everyone you've ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another's steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you'll do alone

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know

Caged

Mama has her eyes open this morning, but shows no signs of seeing or hearing us. Her breathing comes in heaves, stops for twenty seconds or so, then heaves again. Gayle and I managed a diaper change earlier and tried to prop Mom in a comfortable position. Is there a comfortable position at this point? Mom won't take ice or even open her mouth for a swab. Her lips are pressed in a thin line and her chin quivers. I'm sorry to say she does not seem peaceful or restful. So like Mama to struggle to the end.

Afternoon Update: Mom opened her lips enough to give her more meds and that seems to have helped. She is resting easier now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What to Expect

Mom has been on hospice for one and a half years. She has a well-worn pamphlet that I call her Hospice Bible. It is called "Final Days...Sacred Moments: A Guide for Families Facing Terminal Illness." Mom has read and reread her Hospice Bible. She carried it in her orange bag. She underlined and circled. She waited eagerly for symptoms to arise, willing them to arise, announcing each one (real and imagined) with satisfaction.

Because Mom was so well-versed, I don't think I had read the Hospice Bible until this week. As she began her precipitous decline, I turned to the page that promised to give me a "Summary of What You Can Expect."

One to two months prior to death:
*Decreased appetite and food intake.
*Increase in hours spent sleeping.
*Withdrawal from activities and people previously enjoyed.


That describes where Mom has been for a while. Toddler sized meals, awake 4-6 hours out of 24, not listening to Rush or watching Hannity regularly. But then soon after Gayle arrived, Mom changed. When I finally picked up the Hospice Bible, it was clear Mom had moved into the next category.

One to two weeks prior to death:
*Disorientation, including agitation, restlessness, confusion.
*Changes in heart rate and breathing patterns.
*Decreased blood pressure.
*Changes in skin color and temperature.
*Not eating, reduced fluid intake.
*Further increase in sleep time but may be arousable.
*Congestion or noisy breathing.


Yesterday Mom had each one of those symptoms, every last one. And we thought, okay, one to two weeks. Then today she changed again.

Two days to hours prior to death:
*Increase in intensity of symptoms listed above.
*Surge of energy or "rally."
*Irregular breathing, sometimes with significant pausing, called apnea.
*Restlessness.
*Non-responsiveness.
*Mottling may become more apparent.
*Pulse is weak and difficult to find.


Today Mom was only awake twice, about 45 minutes each time. During her first time awake, Dave and I and all four kids were able to speak to her and make eye contact. During her second time awake, Gayle played her flute for Mom. She barely responded to us, mostly staring. We think she had her "rally" yesterday afternoon. Her breathing is shallow and her heart flutters like a little bird.

Cassandra came today and washed and changed Mom. She advised us that it would now take two people to change and move Mom. After a short trip out to the ReStore with Dave this morning, I've stayed home. I just feel like I should be here.

I can't imagine Mom making it through the night. How long can her partially functioning heart flutter on? How long can her metastacized lungs draw breath? How long can her wasted body hold life? She is super tough, but it looks like the fight is almost over, the race almost run. Please, Jesus, let her fly away to You.





Diary of an Old Soul

Gayle has been busy cleaning out drawers in Mom's desk, and came across this copied in Mom's hand on index cards clothespinned together.


With every morn my life afresh must break
The crust of self, gathered about me fresh;
That thy wind-spirit may rush in and shake
The darkness out of me, and rend the mesh
The spider-devils spin out of the flesh —
Eager to net the soul before it wake,
That it may slumberous lie, and listen to the snake.


George MacDonald is one of Mom's favorite authors. Diary of an Old Soul is a book of daily devotional thoughts, written as poetry. This quote is from October 10 (my birthday!). The little poem is familiar to me and at first I thought I had included it in a blog post before, but I don't see it here. Maybe Mom had written it to me in one of her attempts to explain her unmotherly behavior. I don't know, but it is good stuff.

Life is Messy, So is Death

[Guest blog from my sister Gayle]

Not only in the physical aspects, but also in the emotional and spiritual. A battle to the end.

Monday evening was a sacred hour of tender, soul-baring confession. Regret and remembrances of past events and days that come before one's mind at the end. Truly and sincerely confessed without reservation or excuse. A cleansing of the heart. I was the humble listener beside the bed of repentance, and felt a blessed awe at the purity of the moment.

Then the next day dawned, and the fight was on. When I recounted to dear hospice Nurse Christy what my mother said/did, the awful details of which will remain undisclosed, she was truly disturbed. She even spoke of it to her husband, and said to me the next day, "It seems like Satan is trying to take hold of her." Her words, not mine.

In these last few days, anger, fear, and self-pity have had dominion. Of course, in weakness and pain, how understandable it is to give in. Excuses flow easily, defensive thoughts express themselves, abusive moments have their logical reasoning...

Wrestling with God, with family, with self.

The bell that Mama rings when she wants something was going off every 5 to 10 minutes for a few hours. The fight. Goodness was not winning, not even in the running. Vitriol, ramblings, rantings, dictation. More ice, a little more from the comfort kit, and finally rest.

Today, little response and no strength. Prayers over the tortured soul and body. May the battle soon be over.

Renovation Tip

So, it turns out that it is hard to focus on home renovation when your Mom is declining and probably in her final days. Who knew? (My good friend says, "Your Papa." Yes.) I've lost track of how many dumb things I've said and done, how many things I've misplaced, how many times I've gone to the store only to leave without the items on my list. Extra grace needed all around. Thank God my main job is to just paint. It is such simple work that I've even been able to talk to God and other people while painting. And no, we are not "all done," so don't even ask! I'll tell you when we're done. But we are making progress. The kids and Dave have worked like beasts every day, and friends have helped too.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Gayle is faithfully tending to Mom. Mom is still in bed. Still not eating. In pain, but won't admit it. Angry and scared and so very unhappy with this whole scenario. We are trying to keep her comfortable. Poor Mama. This is not the way she wanted things to go. None of us want this misery for her. We pray for mercy. We pray for grace.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bedridden

[Guest blog from my sister Gayle]

I sat in the wheelchair today. Wheels locked, going nowhere. Beside Mom's bed.

24 hours have passed, and the first day she has been wondering about for over two years has come and gone. Mom is bedridden. But not really aware that it is happening. Not eating, but not caring; impatiently straining for ice like a baby bird. Trying to spoon it herself, sometimes letting me help, but really wanting to do it herself...angry that she can't. Her world, her control is finally slipping away. Like a little child that doesn't understand why we can't make it better, she opens her eyes and is fretful and can't find the words to demand what she wants.

Cassandra, the beloved bath giver, is able to reason with her, and speaks frankly about accepting comfort medication. She puts down a sheet so we sisters can pull Mom up in the bed. In one day she has lost the strength to even straighten her legs in the bed. (Yesterday she resisted help getting from bed to wheelchair). Moving her fragile body is difficult; she weighs under 100 lbs, but is so sensitive to touch.

Her feet ache. It is hard to move her left leg. Mom whispers, "It is because that is the leg I broke, and the rod is too heavy inside." Who knows?

The "comfort cream" comes by pharmacy courier, she holds out her wrists willingly, unknowingly. She rebelliously receives the dropper of morphine (called it heroin the other day!) and tries to be mad at me, but falls asleep as soon as she drinks a few sips of water. Drugs--she never trusted or used them. Now they are needed, but still not trusted. It is so hard to not be able to work, clean, do; just lie in bed and be still. Just be.

Poor Mama! Soon she will understand and be released from her prison of misery and pain. Soon she will love and be loved perfectly. Soon her joy will be constant and unending.

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest!

Home Made Wipes Recipe!

[Guest Blog from my sister Gayle]

A little idea that has done great wonders for mom's tender, fragile skin has been this wonderful recipe that sister Gwen researched and experimented with. Sometimes hourly changes, requiring lots of cleaning up, had mom's skin on the verge of break down--nearing the point of no return. Using this recipe made a big difference, and I believe has protected and preserved her from painful sores, infection, and discomfort.

Start with lots of little cotton squares/rectangles, cut from an old T shirt, fold to fit into available small plastic tub, like deli meat comes in. Pile to top of container.

Heat to boiling, 4 cups of water. Pour into mixing bowl with 1/4 cup of each: glycerin, aloe vera, aquaphor wash. Whisk until blended and cooled a little. Pour into container with folded wipes. (Let cool before putting lid on).

As wipes are used, throw in bucket with water and a little vinegar. To wash, put in washer and spin out water. Wash on hot with non-chlorine bleach and detergent.

(A nice little chore while mama is napping!)

Routine

[Guest blog from my sister Gayle]

Listen for the bell, for whispered requests. Hot coffee. Crushed ice. Water.

Raise hospital bed up. Changing, reaching, lowering the bed. Empty trash, bedpan. Wash hands.

Every two hours apply anti-nausea cream.

Egg over easy and toast. Fork and napkin.

Cassandra comes for the shower. (Sit and don't listen for requests while she is taking care of mom).

Gentle, gentle, soft touches everywhere, except brush hair with force and vigor!

Wheel the chair to picture window. Arrange bell and water. Cover legs with blanket. Feed the kitty so mom can see if she chooses to look up.

Tiny sips of warm broth with spoon, crush meds in food whenever possible!

Go through mail and request to be taken off of mailing lists.

Time for another change. Laundry. Fend off obsession of the day. Redirect conversation.

Fill oxygen water container with distilled water.

A few bites of "Killer Bee" frozen yogurt (Chiller Bee). Time for nap.

Repeat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Changes, Finally

[Guest blog from my sister Gayle]

I have been to Texas this year in January for the 91st birthday, March (during spring break), and the first week of May. Even though since March Mom has needed full-time care, she had found enjoyment in things like her meals, birds at the bird-feeder, her kitty, flowers, her morning face wash, etc.

Things have changed. Mom is barely eating, barely talking, and sleeping. Breathing is more difficult and she prefers to stay in bed most of the day and night. Even though it is not hard to lift her into her wheelchair, she doesn't really enjoy looking out the window anymore. She sits with her head down. She doesn't listen to the radio.

Miserable.
She seems
miserable,
nauseated,
weak--

finally, the cancer has taken over.

Respite/Work Week

My sister Gayle arrived Saturday night after the long drive from St. Louis. She came bearing sourdough starter and homeground rice flour to make my family gluten-free pancakes. She brought cucumbers from her garden, canning jars, cider vinegar, dill weed and grape leaves to make her famous pickles. But most importantly she brought the gift of time.

Time for my family to relax together. Time for us to see a movie at the theater. Time for us to go to church and go out to eat afterwards. Maybe even time to go to the beach. And time to work like crazy on the lake house. I'm hoping that this is the week (really) that we get the lake house ready to go on the market.

Dave has taken the week off from work. The kids are all pitching in. Some old and dear friends came out yesterday afternoon to work alongside us, sharing the load physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think we have Gayle until Saturday. I'm asking God for a supernaturally productive week, beyond what I can imagine. Gotta go get to work!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ruh Roh

Somebody got their phone taken away yesterday.

Mom got some sort of bee in her bonnet yesterday and started making phone calls. Odd and unpleasant phone calls. She had more to make, but I took her phone to plug into the charger. That phone is going to need to charge for a lo-o-ong time. Plus I think probably Nate and Ev will need to take it when they go places, right? Right.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Morning

Mom rang for me once more in the night and then this morning shortly after 8:00. I had turned off my alarm and drifted back to sleep, so I stumbled bleary-eyed from my bed directly to her room.

Gwen: Hello, Mama.

Mom: Gwen!

Gwen: [laughs] Yes! Who were you expecting?

Mom: I got you out of bed!

Gwen: Yes, that's where I am in the mornings.

Mom: Is the coffee ready yet?

Ah, yes. She's back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Slumber

Mom went down for a nap at 2:00 this afternoon. It is 9:30 and she is still asleep. Still breathing. Maybe she will get her wish and fly away in her sleep tonight. God only knows.

11:00pm--Ma woke up to use the bedpan. Didn't want to eat or get up, but breathing easier. She spoke with the children and me, and Dave prayed with her.

Downhill, Actual and Wishful

Mama is not doing well today.

She had a weird night. One of Mom's goals is to waken me as little as possible, which is of course a lovely goal and I'm not complaining. I know that she is awake much more than the few times she calls me, because I hear her set her glass down after taking a sip of water and I hear her check her clock and I hear her adjust her bed. This morning when she rang for me in the wee hours, I went in to find her feet uncovered and her pillow missing. She seemed unaware and just wanted to use the bedpan. When I asked what happened to her pillow, she asked if I would find it for her. At first I couldn't see it because it was stuck down under the bedframe and I had to tug it out. While I was searching for Mom's pillow, I found the clock centrally located under the bed as well. Just weird.

Today, as I was asking Mom about it, she decided she must have had some "struggle" in the night. As she lined it out, saying she had adjusted the bed and lost her pillow and it must have been related to her breathing, I told her I thought that would be a great time to ring for me so I could help. But she said she wasn't aware at the time. I don't know if Mom is remembering, or if she is just supposing. So hard to say.

This morning, after she declined a change and had her coffee and breakfast, Mom was sitting at the front window and I was sitting at the dining room table maybe 15 feet away. Mom called out in her whispery voice, "Frozen Coffee!" I walked over and said, "Are you asking for your frapp from the freezer?" Mom said, "Take. My. Frozen. Coffee. Out." I asked Mom if she was having trouble breathing and she said, "I might be." Then Mom said, "I'm thinking about the drops." Morphine. Mom willingly took morphine today, twice so far, to help with her breathing. So you know it's bad.

But she's still eating, small portions but regular meals. All bodily functions still operating regularly as well. Probably half the time, Mom needs assistance to transfer from wheelchair to bed, and most of the time we lift the head of the bed to help her sit up to move to the wheelchair. Out of 24 hours, she still spends 4-6 hours awake and sitting up. I know Mom is eager for the end, and I know it is coming, but it's not here yet. And she's not happy about that!

As I was raising the head of the bed to facilitate Mom getting up after her morning nap, she made some small sound of distress. I stopped the bed.

Gwen: What is it?

Mom: Oh...well...

Gwen: Will you tell me what's bothering you?

Mom: [Gets self out of bed and into wheelchair without assistance. In silence. I rub phenergan on her wrists as previously requested.] It's my general condition. And I remember what Dr. L______ said. Do you remember?

Gwen: [Gathers Mom's things into her little bag. Thinks to self, "Yeah. He said the edema in your legs would never get better. Boom."] What's that?

Mom: He said I would go fast at the end. And I'm going downhill fast.

Gwen: [brushing Mom's hair] What do you mean?

Mom: Oh, my breathing and my weakness.

Gwen: You just got out of bed and into the wheelchair under your own steam.

Mom: I'm glad you don't talk much.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Obsessions

It started like this.

Gwen: Mom, I need to call a plumber. Meg discovered that the off and on foul smell from the bedroom closet is a leak coming from the master bath.

Mom: I knew about that leak. I guess I should have mentioned it.

And grew and grew.

Gwen: [at 3:00 a.m. diaper change] Here's your bedpan, Ma.

Mom: Gwen, I've been thinking about that bathroom.

Gwen: Um, could we talk about this in the daytime?

Into this.

Mom: Did Dad ever tell you his thoughts about that toilet?

Gwen: No, I don't think we ever talked about the toilet.

Mom: Huh.

Gwen: Did Dad tell you what he thought about the toilet?

Mom: Yes, it took two flushes.

Gwen: Oh. That's because it's new. All the new toilets have low flow.

Mom: Well, maybe we should replace it. It leaks out around the bottom.

Gwen: The plumber lifted it up and put a new wax ring on, then he sealed all around it. I don't think we need a new toilet.

Mom: Did you have him check the lavatory spigot? Because it doesn't work right and it leaks under the cabinet.


Have I mentioned before that Mom gets stuck on things? She rolls something around and around in her mind until it is literally all she thinks about. Sometimes it is a spiritual concern, sometimes something physical. It can be from long ago or from the present. Often it is a person, relative or otherwise. And sometimes it is a project.

My philosophy is "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Usually Mom's philosophy is "If it's broke, just use it anyway. New things are expensive." (Witness the previous knowledge of nasty plumbing problems, but inactivity and even withholding of information.) But somehow we have moved from the shower repair (which will alleviate the leaky closet) to one new toilet, two new sink fixtures, and a new shower. I have held fast on refusing new floor tile and replacing the five year old toilet.

If you have been the object of one of Mom's obsessions before, you know how oddly relentless she is until she feels her work is done, often with less than pleasant results. You should all be happy to know her mind is currently occupied with the bathrooms and with me. You are safe for now.

You're welcome.


Friday, June 15, 2012

And Then

Mom rang for her coffee at 9:00 this morning. She did her normal morning routine and ate an egg over easy and half a piece of Panera bread toast. Now she's sitting in front of the window, reading her one year Bible.

My dear friend said it perfectly:

Roll on rollercoaster. Roll on.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Perspective

Emily Dickinson and I have something in common. She also lived in her family home and took care of her invalid mother. And she also talked about death a lot.

There are a few minor differences between us still, for instance, the famed and beloved poetry, the agoraphobia, the whole white dress thing, and oh yes, the fact that Emily Dickinson tended to her invalid mother for thirty years. THIRTY YEARS.

So, I shall stop my sniveling and just quietly back away, leaving you with this lovely line ED wrote in a letter following her mother's death:

"The dear Mother that could not walk, has flown. It never occurred to us that she had not Limbs, she had Wings—-and she soared from us unexpectedly as a summoned Bird—-" Emily Dickinson

(Just to avoid any confusion, also unlike Emily Dickinson, at the time of this writing my mother is still living. I just thought the quote was lovely.)

Watershed

Maybe. I'm not sure. I just have a feeling about today.

It started out like a normal day, except Mom slept a little late til 8:15. She climbed out of bed and into her wheelchair without assistance. She wanted her egg and toast for breakfast and she drank her coffee. She wanted a cup of ice. Cassandra/Carissa/Keturah/Acturah came early and massaged Mom's feet and legs while she sat by the window. Then Mom wanted to go back to bed at 9:30. She asked for some phenergan cream for nausea.

And she asked for her nausea medicine every two hours for the rest of the day. When she rang for me at 11:00, she said, "I've just taken the shortest nap I've ever had!" Um, nope. She was very wobbly getting out of bed and never fully straightened up, just sort of hunched over to the wheelchair. Mom wanted phenergan cream and lunch. What a combo! But she just took a couple of small bites from her turkey, cheese and tomato on wheat. (And then asked for it to be kept in a baggie. Of course.) By 12:30 she was ready to nap again.

Woke at 1:15, nausea meds, back to sleep.
Up at 3:00.
Back to bed at 4:30.
Woke for nausea meds and thought she should get up since she had been in bed since 3:00. Um, nope.

And so on and so forth. All day, Mom's preferred methods of communication with me were head nods/shakes, mysterious index finger signals, or single words. Something like this, following a diaper change and bedpan usage:

Gwen: Mom, what would you like to do now? Do you want to sleep some more or would you like to get up?

Mom: [wiggles index finger twice]

Gwen: Does that mean you want to stay in bed?

Mom: Up.

Or like this, when I parked Mom at the window:

Gwen: Can I get you anything?

Mom: [stares off into distance while slowly turning head side to side]

Gwen: Are you thinking, or does that mean "No thank you."

Mom: [whispers] No thank you.

Or like this, while helping Mom to bed for a nap:

Gwen: Would you like your rice bag?

Mom: [whispers] No.

Gwen: Would you like your oxygen?

Mom: [reaches for cannula]

Gwen: Is your throat dry? Would you like a drink?

Mom: [whispers] No.

Gwen: Why are you whispering?

Mom: [whispers] I'm tired.

And she is so very tired. I set her toothbrushing things before her at her request and she just sat and looked at them for a while. She is having trouble holding onto time and date. I think I will print out a time sheet and jot things down for her so she can keep track of what has happened in the day.

But that's the thing. I really have the feeling that she might be going Home tonight. I told the kids so they would be sure to tuck their Grandma in and give her their love. And of course, I told them I could be wrong. I certainly didn't call it with Dad. Who knows?

At the least, I do think it is a turning point for Mom, a steeper incline on the downhill slide. And maybe this is her night to fly away. I know she would be so glad to go.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Seriously, God?

***WARNING: Skip this entry if you are squeamish in the least. Or if you have a problem with ranting at God. ***

I mean, seriously?

It's not enough that I change my mother's diapers and empty her bedpan?

It's not enough that the city only collects trash once a week and after seven days of diaper changes every two hours plus life with seven people plus temps in the nineties our trash is overflowing and filled with maggots so I get to boil them and bleach them and scrub down the trash can?

Did we really have to add maggots all over the kitchen floor to the list of horrors?

Seriously???



Saturday, June 9, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

(Nothing like a little Aerosmith soundtrack in your head to start the day off right.)

My dear sister in law Cathy has flown back to KC. She came last Wednesday intending to stay for a week, then extended her visit through yesterday. (Pity? Fear? Grace?) I am so grateful. During Cathy's time here with Mom, I was able to:

*Haul boxes to storage and Mom's house
*Have dinner with my besty from high school
*Get sick and spend an early night plus all the next day in bed
*Go to church
*Take Dave to the airport for his two weeks of studies in California
*Have dinner out with Ev
*Move most of the lake house furniture to storage (thank you Perry and football boys and Pickerings and Smith boys oh and Bret for the trailer)
*Paint the trim in the upstairs of the lake house
*Pack up master bedroom and bathroom
*Run errands and tote children

As I've come to expect, I was disappointed with myself about the lake house. In my mind, I think I should be able to work around the clock and get the place ready to sell. The reality however is that working at the lake house is so emotionally draining, I can't take an all-day session. It is better now that most of the moving is done and we are down to cleaning and painting. We are hoping to knock it out when Gayle comes at the end of June.

Mama is losing ground. She is sleeping more and more, spending only about 5 hours awake out of every 24. It is harder and harder for her to get out of bed and she doesn't like assistance. Nurse Christy surmises it won't be long before she doesn't get out of bed at all. Mom's appetite comes and goes. Yesterday after Cathy left, Mom didn't eat anything at all for the rest of the day. She did have breakfast this morning, an egg and a half piece of toast. She drinks her half cup of coffee, and crunches on some ice throughout the day. Not much to go on.

Mom's emotional state ebbs and flows as well. She was very thankful for Cathy's care. She has said kind words here and there to others, especially Cassandra/Carissa/Keturah and Nurse Christy. But she is still Mom and is weary and gets annoyed with people for being human. She still gets "stuck" on things which are beyond her control and worries them around in her mind and refuses to pray. And we all know how ugly that can be. Cathy and I discussed telling Mom that Nate needs her phone just so she would no longer have means to share her mind with others.

Mom is of course still longing for this struggle to be over. I don't know why she must linger while others are taken who want to stay. She feels she is close to death, but truthfully she's felt close for a long time. It could be wishful thinking on her part, or it could be that she has always been so strong and cannot imagine living in such a weakened state. Honestly, I don't think Mom will go anytime soon unless her heart gives out. She's still eating and drinking enough to sustain; all systems still function; she still reads and occasionally watches her programs. The Big Evil takes up about 1/3 of her abdomen, but Mom still maintains it causes her no pain. (Just don't touch it or she winces.)

So on we go into the unknown. Onward and upward, and try as we might, not gently.