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?


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.


What is functional medicine?

How can I find a functional medicine doctor?