Not a Bad Year

Mark and I squeezed in a bit of Christmas shopping last night ahead of our nightly visit to his dad in hospice. As we drove, I was feeling a bit reluctant. We had been to see Bob the night before and his breathing sounded so labored. He’d startled from his sleep a couple of times, waking with a fearful look on his face and grasping at the air before settling back against his pillows again. A nurse had come in the room to observe and listen, and her concern was evident. I was downright scared, having a hard time staying put in the room, afraid I was going to watch my father-in-law die in front of me and not knowing if I was strong enough to deal with it. When I mentioned this to Mark last night, saying I wasn’t sure I could go back, he insisted his dad was only snoring. But I know that to some degree, Mark (understandably) only sees and believes what he wants to where his dad is concerned these days.

Mark looked over from the driver’s seat as we headed to the hospice facility. He asked if I was going to be okay, and I said yes. I said I’d just walk out to the hospice’s great room if I didn’t think I could handle watching and hearing Bob struggle for breath again.

We were almost there, driving under the lights lining the dark highway, the bright lights of oncoming cars shining in our eyes. We were quiet for a moment and a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. We’ve both been doing some heavy thinking lately.

“It’s been a bad year,” I said to Mark, thinking not only of his dying father, but about my parents and their struggles with age and health. I was also thinking about our kids. Both Brad and Kacey experienced broken hearts this year, as each saw the end of a long-term relationship.

I’m grateful that Kacey appears to be moving on so remarkably well, but worries about Brad have been heavy on my mind, even though almost six months have passed since he broke the news to us. He didn’t suffer a mere break-up. His engagement ended. They’d been living together for several years and shared a dog. And when she moved out of the apartment, she left a lot behind. Their joint lease didn’t end until the end of last month, but she had yet to come claim her belongings and still had a key to the apartment. She would be graduating from her program this month and most likely moving to wherever it is she finds a job.

Brad expected her to come clean out her belongings by the end of the year. When I asked what he wanted for Christmas, he told me, “Tupperware. Pots and pans. Kitchen utensils.” He joked that we might buy him furniture. He was certain that he would soon be left without the necessities of daily living, because so much of what fills the apartment was hers. My biggest fear was that she would take the dog. Although Brad had made it clear he didn’t intend to give up the dog, she was just as insistent she would not either. Custody of Dacotah has been a big question all these months. Dacotah has been Brad’s constant companion and comfort as he’s begun to rebuild his life. I’ve worried endlessly that he would suffer even more heartbreak if he lost her too.

Mark and I have each tried to talk to Brad a few times in an attempt to help him protect himself as best as possible, not only with Dacotah, but in the division of their “stuff.” But he didn’t want to talk about it with us. His time with his family, he said, was a time to forget about all the hurt and pain. He’s an adult, and we knew it wasn’t really our business if he didn’t want to talk with us. Still, I wanted to protect my “boy” and make sure he could keep his dog. I could help him regain new belongings, but I knew I could never replace Dacotah if he lost her.

This week finally saw the day we’d all been so worried about, and all I can say is I am grateful to his ex. Brad called Mark yesterday and told him it was done. She took only her bare necessities and left the rest for Brad. She left her key on the counter and sent him a message saying everything else was his. Most importantly, she left Dacotah. I know she loved that dog every bit as much as Brad does, so I know it wasn’t easy in the least for her to walk away one last time. As much hurt as has come from this break-up, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to her for that last act of generosity.

All of those thoughts went through my head in the span of a few seconds as Mark and I made the short trip to see Bob. And I corrected myself out loud to Mark. “It hasn’t been a bad year. It’s just been a challenging year.”

“It’s been a good year,” he agreed. “With a lot of challenges.” He was right. If I count all of the blessings of the year, they would far outnumber the bad things.

A lot has been proven to us this year, to me especially. I’ve experienced a transformation of self within the last six months that brought with it an explosion of faith, hope and belief like I’ve never known before. This came almost out of nowhere, and I’m not entirely sure why it happened when it did and to the extreme degree that it did.

Actually, I do know why. I’ve been looking for it for years and my eyes and heart are finally open. It doesn’t matter why or how. All of those years of struggling to find what it is I really believe – even whether I believe – are behind me. And now I know. I had to get past the idea that I had to believe and practice faith only in the way and in the places I’d been brought up to believe were the only options. And once I’d cleared that tremendous hurdle, it was all so clear.

Almost overnight, my sense of skepticism disappeared. The lack of self-confidence that I’ve carried around all of my life to some degree has almost melted away. The tightness of constant worry I’ve always felt in my chest? Gone. (Most days!) We’ve had some pretty tough experiences this year, but I feel like we’ve climbed to the top of a mountain. I no longer hope that my family is strong enough to handle adversity. I know it. My sense of doubt is quickly disintegrating. My ability to believe in other people comes so much more easily. Amazing how different people look when you believe in them instead of doubting them. I’m astounded too at how easy it now is to know that if I want something in my life, I only need to believe it’s possible. And I’m impressed every day, how often like-minded people cross my path.

Before we walked into Bob’s room last night, I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t be afraid. And when we walked in, his breathing still sounded very labored. But he was sleeping, and somehow seemed more calm than the night before. We didn’t stay too long before we left to take Mark’s mom home and head back home ourselves. It’s always hard walking out of Bob’s room. I never know if he’ll be there for us to visit another day. He’s going to leave us soon, but I know he’s going to a better place. I know it! Bob told Mark the other day that he’d visited with his best friend Howie. Howie passed on a couple of years ago and I now know he’s let Bob know that he’ll be there to greet Bob and walk with him when Bob is ready to let go of this world. This whole experience is helping me to know that people in our lives will come and go, and we’ll be just fine.

Meanwhile, I am ever so much more grateful for the simple good things in life.

 

A Good Day

Bob has been slowly quieting. I remember sort of wondering a week or so ago, why he was even in hospice. His mind was clear and he was talkative. I mean, yes, there was the cancer and tumor, but he seemed to be handling it. I wondered why he couldn’t at least be in his own home and getting some in-home care. He just seemed pretty good, all things considered. And then just as suddenly as I wondered that, Mark called me at work one day to say that he’d taken a turn for the worse. And every day since, it seems like he slips a little bit more.

I didn’t see Bob yesterday. Mark visited in the early part of the day before he was supposed to go to work for the afternoon and evening. He thought he might take the night off, but Bob’s nurses encouraged him to go ahead and go to work. They didn’t feel Bob would be leaving us last night. Since Mark was going to work, he encouraged me to go to bowling with the girls.

After bowling, Mark called me from work. His siblings had been in touch and said things were looking bad. One sister was going to spend the night and we expected to get a call overnight. We didn’t sleep well, but morning came and Bob was still with us.

I went to work today. I’d been called in for a short mid-morning meeting with my boss and was feeling pretty good afterwards when I got a call from Mark. “My dad took a turn for the badder,” I heard him say. I thought he was distraught. His grammar was worse than usual.

“Oh, nooooo,” I replied.

“No, Ter. My dad took a turn for the better!

“Ohhhh,” I said, relieved. Although Mark and I both knew that this turn for the better was yet another sign that the end continues to draw near. Still, it was great to hear that Bob was sitting up, eating, talking and clear-headed. When I came home, Mark and Kacey were bursting with news from their earlier visit.

Mark was impressed with the stories Bob remembered from years back. All morning long he recounted events and remembered names of friends and loved ones from the past. Kacey laughed at how when Mark’s mom and sister asked Bob “what?” one too many times, he motioned to them, saying, “You. And You. You ask ‘what’ too much. I’m done with you.” Then, pointing at Kacey, he said, “She can stay.”

I wanted to see Bob tonight while he was doing so well. After dinner, Mark, Kacey and I drove over to see him. Just as they’d told me, Bob was sitting up, sipping on water, and talking, although he seemed to be losing steam. While we’d thought he’d been watching the hockey game, he told Mark to “look at that boat.” Mark turned to the television screen where the hockey game was still going on.

“Yeah, that’s a great boat,” he told Bob.

“You boys should take a closer look,” Bob suggested.

“You want us boys to check out that boat?”

“Yeah.”

“Should we buy it if the price is right?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we use your money, Dad?”

“Nah!”

Twice Bob asked why that little guy was always pouting. Steve, Mark’s youngest brother, who is around my age (and six feet tall,) is apparently “the little guy.” Mary Jane said that Steve never pouted when he actually was little. Being seven years younger than his next oldest sibling, he was always considered so cute! He was spoiled by his siblings. She said he never had a chance to pout, but Bob insisted he was always pouting.

I’m not even sure what it is that triggered it, but I felt tears welling up, and as hard as I kept trying to swallow them back, I couldn’t stop them from coming. The room was full enough with people that I thought I’d go unnoticed, but one of Mark’s sisters caught on, came over and wrapped me in a half-hug. That only made it worse so I excused myself, hurrying down the hall, trying not to outright bawl and sounding like I was hiccuping as I kept trying to fight it back.

I didn’t even know I had that much emotion, to be honest. I found myself in the hospice living room and thankfully found a box of tissues. And when I’d mopped up my face, I turned to find another of Mark’s sisters, Robin wrapping me up in a hug, and Sharon,the sister from before standing back looking on with sympathy. I apologized. The last thing they needed as they were holding it together so well was for me to lose it for no real reason. Robin assured me there was no need to apologize.

“I’m honored you feel this way about my dad,” she said.

Of course I feel this way about their dad. He’s my husband’s father, my kids’ grandpa. He shared his beloved cabin with us and taught the kids to love the outdoors. He always had a tough exterior, but there was no doubt he loved his family.

Robin reminded me that while Bob’s reality right now may be very different from the one we can see, he’s not suffering in severe pain, and he knows he’s loved. His entire family surrounds him every moment they possibly can. And what the hell, she said. You’ve gotta find the humor in the fact that sometimes he tries to eat his tissue box and needs to be reminded there are better things to eat. He’s visiting with people we can’t see and seems to be enjoying it. He tried to tell Robin about the little girl he talked with. Robin didn’t know who she was, but I believe she’s one of Bob’s loved ones, already passed on, who will come to get him when it’s time to go.

When I’d regained my composure, we returned to the room. Mark was sitting in a chair next to Bob’s bed and pulled me close. “Hey Dad,” look who’s here,” he said to Bob, as if I hadn’t already been there. “It’s Terri.”

“Ohhhh, Terri!” Bob said in a voice that made me feel very loved. “How are ya?”

“I’m good,” I said, still feeling a little tightness in my throat. “How are you?”

“Good, good,” he said.

“You look good,” I told him.

“Well, thanks,” he said before his eyes drifted off and focused again on something I couldn’t see.

We sat for a while with the rest of the family. A few conversations went on. Bob seemed to be conversing too, but with whom, I don’t know. I could see his mouth forming words, but there was no sound. And his eyes were focused elsewhere. When more of the family came to visit, we decided to head home and make room for the others. Mark said, “I love you,” to his dad. I squeezed Bob’s hand and said, “I’ll see you soon, Bob.” He looked at us and seemed to acknowledge what we were saying. It’s all we could ask. And if it was the last really good day we have with Bob, then I’ll be glad for it.

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The kids are all home this weekend. Kacey, because she’s done at school for the semester and is home for the long holiday break. (Yay!) Brad came home, honestly, because he wanted to make sure he saw his Grandpa while he still had the chance. And Jake has stuck around more than usual for the very same reason.

After Thanksgiving, we didn’t expect Brad home again before Christmas. But my father-in-law’s health took a distinct downward turn over the past few days. He was better yesterday than he was Thursday and Friday, but clearly he is growing weary. His face lit up when our boys walked into the room with us. (We’d decided Kacey should stay home. She came back from school with a nasty head-cold and we didn’t want to expose Bob or anyone else to her illness.) Bob looked at Brad in surprise and asked, “What are you doing home?”

“Just felt like coming for a visit,” Brad told him, because really, there’s no tactful way to say, “I’m here because I’m afraid I don’t have many more chances to see you.”

While we were there, Bob was quieter than he’s been. He sipped on water and a half cup of coffee. Mark asked him if he wanted us to bring him some more of the meat loaf he’d enjoyed so much last week. Bob held up a finger as if to say, “Hold that thought.” Finally he said, “Not yet.”

We spent an hour or so with other family members, circled around Bob’s bed, talking with each other while he reclined, seemingly distracted. He’d answer when asked a question, sometimes without words, simply signaling with his hands. Otherwise he stared out the window into the woods outside his room. At one point he told us he saw a boat go by. We all turned to look out the window into the trees, as if we’d actually see a boat out there. Bob’s kids have learned to just go with it. Everyone just nodded. Someone said, “Oh, yeah. How ’bout that!”

It’s obvious reality is beginning to blur in his mind, but he usually catches himself.

Mark’s mom is Mary Jane. Bob has always simply called her Jane. He’s the only one who ever calls her by this nickname. As the minutes ticked by yesterday morning, he said to her, “Well, Jane? You ready?”

“For what?” she asked him.

“To go,” he replied.

“Where do you want to go?” she gently questioned him.

“Home.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” she asked.

“Yep,” he said, remembering.

We left the hospice facility as Bob was drifting off, each of us squeezing his hand and promising to see him later in the day. From there we went to get our boys fitted for new suits. I was impressed with how good they each looked all cleaned up and was struck with the irony of why we were shopping for suits. It’ll take a while for alterations before we can pick them up. I worry we should have done this sooner, but upon learning of our situation, the salesman assured us that if we need to put a rush on things, he can make it happen. All we have to do is call.

Mark and I did go back to visit in the afternoon and spent time with another of his siblings and a niece, as well as some family friends. Bob’s favorite nurse, Bruce stopped in. Bruce has been such a friend to Bob. And he bears a resemblance to Mark’s brother, Jim. I understood then why Bruce is Bob’s favorite.

Bruce had earlier explained to the family that Bob’s downward turn is just part of the natural progression of things. There are no ups and downs anymore. Just gradual steps down. But we felt comfortable enough that Bob was stable for the time being. We had earlier thought we’d skip our bowling night this weekend, but with Mary Jane’s encouragement, decided to go after all.

We’re all more aware these days of the importance of spending time together when we can. And so last night found all three kids with Mark and me at the bowling alley. Jake bowled with us, as a sub for our absent partner, Jim. Brad and Kacey served as our cheering section. They didn’t do a great job of cheering us on, and instead, scrolled through the photos on my phone, deleting some they felt I no longer needed. Brad replaced my scenic background photo with one of himself. And I, having recently realized how few pictures I’ve taken the past couple of years, decided it didn’t matter how we were dressed, that we were in a bowling alley, or how our hair looked.

We laughed at these afterwards and decided we didn’t care that there were beer bottles in the frame, a deep-fried green bean, or that Jake was being silly. We like silly Jake. He should come around more often. And as we watch the life of our father and grandfather slowly come to a close, we’re so much more aware of how important it is to hold onto each other every chance we get.

Hospice

When I left for the gym this morning, I noticed the air wasn’t quite as cold as it’s been lately. I made the short drive from home to the gym in a haze of fog, and when I stepped out of my car to go inside, I noticed it was a sort of frozen fog. I could feel the tiny little crystals hitting my face as I walked from the parking lot to the door. It wasn’t until I’d returned home, cleaned up for work and left the house again that I noticed the trees. I wish I’d been able to take a picture, but you’ll have to take my word for it. They were beautiful – all frosted in white. Every tree lining the roads along my drive to work was a work of art. It took me a minute to remember to appreciate such a beautiful scene.

This Christmas season has been a bit somber considering my father-in-law, Bob is now passing his days in a hospice facility. Mark visits at all hours of the day, depending on what his work schedule allows. He and his siblings tag-team with the responsibility of driving his mom to and from each day. I’ve spent many nights visiting after work as well.

Bob continues to look much more himself than he did while he was in the hospital. While in the hospital, he received some radiation treatments in the hopes this would shrink his tumor and provide him some relief from the pain. The radiation put him through the ringer, and once his doctors made the decision to stop – it wasn’t having the intended effect anyway – his mind and spirit improved drastically. It’s good to see the old Bob back again, but the fact remains, he is still dying.

The hospice facility is a beautiful place. Bob has a big picture window with a view of a wooded area and a few deer passing by now and then. His room has plenty of comfortable seating and most evenings will find at least a few of his sons and daughters and in-laws hanging out. The family has put up a couple of little Christmas trees and the room is as festive as possible, considering it’s not home.

And Bob seems to have this dying thing figured out and is making the most of it. Early in his stay, he learned that he could have a strawberry shake pretty much anytime he asked. When I’m visiting, I usually see him put in a respectable effort on his dinner, but then, he wants that shake! And he finishes it. Every time.

Yesterday, he was told that the kitchen had run out of ice cream. That didn’t sit well with Bob. While Mark’s mom was home taking a short break from visiting, her phone rang. It was Bob, calling to request that she bring ice cream when she came back. Now there’s some significance to the fact that Bob called home for ice cream. Apparently he hasn’t picked up or used a phone in a pretty long time. Mark’s mom couldn’t get over the fact that her husband, who now does little more than lay in bed and watch television actually picked up the phone and dialed home. I guess ice cream is a pretty compelling reason to use the telephone!

Mark and I stopped at the store to get the ice cream, then picked up his mom. When we arrived at the hospice facility, Mark handed the bag with the ice cream to a nurse who greeted us at the door. She laughed and said, “Someone’s going to be very happy! I’ll go get his shake made.”

Mark, his mom and I then walked down the hall to Bob’s room, and just before entering, we could hear another member of the staff tell him, “Your ice cream just arrived!”

Wow! They are really on top of things there. They are taking great care of him. His strawberry shake was delivered in minutes.

Bob’s maintained his sense of humor too. He finished his shake last night pretty quickly. He always does. The shake is clearly his favorite part of the day. Last night Mark asked him, “How was your shake?”

“Eh. It was okay,” Bob deadpanned.

Tonight he told us a joke.

A man went to visit his sick friend in the hospital. After they’d visited a while, the man said to his sick friend, “Hey, I’m sorry. I just ate all of your peanuts.”

“That’s okay,” said the sick friend. “I just finished sucking all the chocolate off of them.”

Like I said, it’s kind of hard to believe he’s actually dying sometimes. But then he’ll ask to have the bed reclined to provide some small relief from the pain from his tumor and we’ll remember. Or he’ll sleep overnight for twelve hours, and we’ll remember. Or he’ll ask for more pain meds forty minutes after the last dose and we’re reminded.

Oddly enough, the chance to spend so much time with Mark’s parents and family has been a real blessing. And the fact that I’m saying that is monumental because none of us goes out of our way to spend much time together otherwise. And it’s making me notice and appreciate the little things within my own little family so much more than I normally would. Strange, isn’t it? How such a sad situation can bring good things?

So if I’m not caught up in the Christmas hype, if I’m not that worried about how little shopping I’ve done or the fact that there won’t be any Christmas cards this year… well, you’ll understand.

Onward Ho!

I’ve been sort of lamenting the fact that Thanksgiving week has passed us by already. Normally, by this time of year, I’ve got my mind all over Christmas. But having had most of last week off to prepare for the family Thanksgiving, and then reveling in some well-earned down-time afterwards, my focus just didn’t stray that far ahead.

Not to mention, it was a rare long weekend during which all three of my kids were at home. I love how cozy everything feels when they’re all under the same roof. Meals and conversations are so much more lively than usual. And my grown kids are such better friends than they ever were in their younger days. We watched movies together (or more accurately, we fell asleep in front of movies.) We played with the dogs and laughed at their antics. Lucy just loves when Dacotah comes to visit and they’re pretty much attached at the hip the whole time.

Someone suggested on Friday that we put up the Christmas tree, but no one was motivated enough to go haul all of the Christmas boxes out of storage until Saturday. I’m not sure why, but it feels like Christmas is barreling at us too quickly this year, and had the kids not been so enthusiastic, I probably would have procrastinated with the decorating altogether. But since, as I mentioned, all three kids were home, and since that won’t happen again until Christmas is already here, the tree went up and so did all of the decorations around the house. The kids each have a huge box of their own ornaments, received as gifts throughout the years. Our fully decorated tree has so many memories attached to it! And truth be told, once we got started, I got in the spirit. It does feel pretty festive around here now.

Logan came barreling into our front yard on Friday, all bundled up in his snow gear and calling at the top of his lungs for me to come see the inflatable penguins and Santa Claus his dad had put up in their yard. We all gladly slipped on our boots and jackets to go out and accommodate our little friend’s request. He ended up playing coy with Kacey and getting her to chase him around in the snow. He’s such a cutie!

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Kacey took some time to go celebrate milestone birthdays with friends on Friday and Saturday night. Mark and I had our bowling league on Saturday, and both Brad and Jake came to watch us for a while. Brad’s  buddy, Joe met up with him at the bowling alley and they hung out while we bowled. They’ve been pals since they were six years old, but don’t see each other much anymore now that Brad lives a few hours away. It was great to see them “yucking it up” again just like in the old days.

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Mark’s dad was moved to a hospice facility this weekend. He had some really bad days last week in the hospital as different treatments and medications were tried in order to provide him some relief from his pain. It was so hard to see him in such bad shape, and I honestly wondered if he’d continue to be with us from one day to the next. His doctor finally put a stop to the things that clearly weren’t helping at all. The hospice facility is a beautiful place and now that he’s no longer subjected to drastic treatments, he seems more clear-headed, more like his normal self. It was almost harder for me to see him looking so “good” and still know that he’s dying. But it was good for the kids to see him that way before everyone left again after the weekend.

So I guess it was more than just a reluctance to go back to work that had me wishing I could slow down time and stop the coming days from arriving. But it’s just not possible.

Anyway, reality was calling – and I know myself too well. Too many more aimless days at home and away from routine would have me going a little stir crazy. And there’s something to be said for the rhythm and productivity of the office. Even as I was wishing for more of the kind of time I’d had all weekend, I knew it would be good for me to get back to work. And it was. Work is the place where I can test the limits of my brain and feel like I’ve really got something to contribute. How lucky am I?

Besides, if I didn’t have to get up before the sun, I’d have missed this today.

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Thanksgiving was just perfect!

Everything came together so nicely and I really could not have asked for a better day. I’m so happy!

First, I managed to pull the meal together so that everything was done and hot at the same time without the kitchen falling into disaster. In the past, I’ve struggled with trying to get the turkey carved, the potatoes mashed and the gravy made all at the same time. And then what to do with the mess of pots and pans afterwards? Our house is not that big, and even though the kitchen remodel a few years ago gave us a little more space, coordinating a large meal is still a major challenge. Not to mention the fact that everyone, whether assisting with the cooking or not, just seems to want to hang out in the kitchen!

But I planned better this time. I cleared off the countertops and temporarily stashed things like the toaster and fruit basket, my kitchen radio and coffee maker. This was to make space for serving food buffet style. I researched “make ahead” recipes and had the potatoes and extra stuffing done early and kept them warm in crock pots. I roasted the turkey and stuffing in the electric roaster out in the garage so I didn’t have that monstrosity taking up space on the countertop. Three casseroles of vegetables finished up in the oven just as the turkey was carved and gravy made, and I could wash and put away most of the big pots and pans before dinner was even served.

But more important than the food was the time spent with family. Over the past few years, one or more of my kids have divided their holiday time between us and the families of their significant others. The past year was a little rough on a couple of their love lives, but that meant that we got to have all three of our kids with us this holiday.

And we really enjoyed our extended family this time around. Everyone seemed relaxed and at ease, and the conversation was fun and filled with laughter. The term forb was born (meaning to stab someone with a fork.) Yes, a forbing actually occurred, all in good spirit. This is the kind of fun my family is capable of having and I love it when we do!

I was too busy keeping up with the serving and dishwashing, (and the eating,) to take any photos of the feast or the family enjoying it. That’s okay. I’ll be happy with the good memories in lieu of photos.

The day after was appropriately lazy … if you can call it that. I tackled a project I’ve been meaning to do forever. Years ago my sister gave me a blank recipe book, meant for writing and saving favorite recipes. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never written anything in it before, even though some of my go-to recipes look like this!

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And now I’m happy to say that most of my favorite recipes are nicely documented in the lovely book from my sister! Better late than never, eh?

While I was productively writing recipes, Mark and Kacey hit a Black Friday sale. He found a good deal on a pressure washer. She scored some fun speakers.

The day included a good amount of lounging around and dog-spoiling.

We enjoyed eating leftovers all day long, and then later, an evening of cards and fun at the neighbors’ house. All in all, it’s been an amazing holiday weekend so far. And I am beyond thankful.

In spite of what I’ve said before …

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year for (most of) the whole fam damily. Even though in the past years, I believe I’ve said more than once that I would never again. Ever. Because …

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But in my own defense, I think I’ve added a disclaimer to my no-more-family-gatherings rants, that as adamant as I wasI probably shouldn’t take my insistence too seriously. Good thing because here I am, doin’ it again! I’ve been off work since Tuesday, cleaning house, running errands, cooking and baking ahead anything that could be done prior to the big day. It’s actually been really nice to have a break from the office and spend time around the house, leisurely preparing.

And seriously? I am glad to be doing this. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year, about how I relate to others, and how I allow myself to be impacted in ways both good and bad. My siblings and I have grown up to be different people with lives that have gone in different directions. We’ve each made choices that are right for ourselves and it’s not for us to judge each other. (I know this, but I also have to remember that not everyone is so aware yet.) We’re at varying levels of contentment in our lives and sometimes our differences bubble to the surface, sometimes in really ugly ways. We’ll probably continue to unintentionally hurt each other at times. As for me, I’m finally beginning to understand the importance of forgiveness. I’ve heard it a million times and never really grasped the concept before. It’s not about avoiding getting hurt. It’s about letting go and preventing that hurt from poisoning me from the inside out. I used to think that letting go meant I was weak. Now I know that it’s just the opposite.

There’s also something much bigger contributing to my change of heart this year. I think I have a fairly good sense of brevity of life, but never has it been more apparent than now. Mark’s dad is in the hospital. His health took a downward turn over the past few years, but worsened significantly two weeks ago. He won’t be joining his family for Thanksgiving today. In fact, it seems unlikely he’ll ever go home again. We are all so sad and it’s been extremely sobering to watch his daily decline. It’s been an eye-opener, to say the least, about what is really important.

When I said never again would I host or participate in an all-family gathering, I thought I would feel good about it. But I never would. It’s not so black and white. If I walk away in an attempt to never be hurt again, I won’t be just making a clean break. I can’t just take my hurt feelings and go on my merry way. My absence would actually cast a shadow, not because I think I’m so important that I should be missed that much, but because the reason for my absence would be obvious. And not only would I have allowed myself to be hurt, but I would have spread those dark feelings around to everyone else.

And so hopefully, with this realization, comes a better ability to have reasonable expectations, and to speak up calmly when it’s justified instead of adding fuel to the fire. I will strive to be level-headed, to walk away when possible, to be more understanding, and to refuse let the bitterness of another seep inside of me and stew. Better yet, I will work harder to promote good will instead of just expecting a melee to ensue at every gathering.

Of course, it helps that the one I butt heads with the most has other plans today. :-) Mark asked me yesterday, “What would you do if he called at the last minute and said he was coming after all?” I thought for a minute and said, “I’d welcome him.” And I meant it. I don’t really want to be forever at odds with my own brother. Heck, he probably doesn’t even realize that we’re at odds!

So today I am thankful for my crazy and appropriately dysfunctional family. I am thankful we have each other and will be happy to welcome them into my home which I’ve just spent days and hours cleaning and which will probably look like a bomb went off not long after everyone arrives, gets settled and the feast begins. This house is small and no matter what I do, we’ll feel like it’s bursting at the seams once we’re all here. And I am especially thankful for my sister, who makes me laugh and keeps me sane and who is is helping to cook a good portion of today’s meal. Not to mention, her willingness to arrive early to help me pull this thing off, if not in a Martha Stewart manner, at least in a way that might please Larry the Cable Guy. (I didn’t buy any wine. No one drinks it. It’s a redneck Thanksgiving with plenty of soda and beer!)

And besides, these people make for good stories! ;-)

Seriously, though. I have it good. And I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!