Visit with a dying man

The first thing that hits you when you walk in the door to Greg’s house is cigarette smoke. Old, stale cigarette smoke.  Justin sits on the couch smoking a cigarette when we walk in. He mutters a quick hello and disappears off to his room. Justin must be in his mid-twenties by now. He is Greg’s stepson; or ex-stepson. He doesn’t work or go to school. God only knows what he does with his time, but if you’re one to stereotype, you could make some pretty good guesses just by his appearance. Greg is long since divorced from Justin’s mom, but Justin now lives with Greg. Don’t let that fact lead you to believe that Justin’s mom was the lesser parent, because she wasn’t.

Greg is my uncle; my dad’s youngest brother. And he’s dying of Pancreatic Cancer. He lives about three miles from my house. I’ve never been to his place before last night. Sad, isn’t it? That’s just sort of how it has worked out. He’s been to my house a couple of times, most recently for the kids’ graduation parties, but there’s never really been occasion for me to go to his house. There was that one time last summer. He had a family party, but we couldn’t go. I can’t remember why. We must have been out of town. One of Kacey’s softball tournaments, I bet. Anyway, it’s not like I haven’t seen him at all. We just usually tend to connect at someone else’s house, like my parents’.

My sister is the better niece. She’s closer to Greg than I ever was. She, being his oldest and first niece held a special place in his heart. Always has. She has made it a point to visit him regularly, bringing him meals many times. I’ve admired her for having the guts to go visit. Life and unfair circumstances have made it so that he’s now nearly deaf. He suffered a stroke a few years ago  and is now pretty much wheelchair bound and partially paralyzed. The paralysis is most prominent on the left side of his face. It’s quite sunken. It’s an effort for him to speak clearly. He’s difficult to understand and it’s hard for him to get what is being said to him. But my sister rises above it. She knows that what is more important is being there for him, and not the fact that attempting to communicate and seeing him in this condition is hard to bear.

I only went because she texted me yesterday morning to say she was going to see him and to ask if I wanted to go with. She has asked me a time or two before but there’s always been some excuse. This time I didn’t look for excuses. I said I’d go. I don’t imagine he’ll be with us much longer.

We stopped at Dairy Queen to buy Greg a chocolate malt first. When we went in the house, he was happy to see us. Standing in the early evening sunlight just inside his door, I guess he didn’t realize who I was. When I came closer, the surprise and happiness showed on his face. I know he didn’t expect to see ME. I immediately felt bad that I hadn’t been there sooner.

He sat in his electric wheelchair in the middle of the living room. The Twins game was on the t.v. He turned off the sound after Justin left the room. I noticed the closed-captioning was on. The t.v. is a nice one. It’s huge, a flat screen. He said he bought it late last year, hoping to finally see the Vikings play in a Super Bowl. He wanted to see his Vikings play in the Super Bowl and he wanted to see it on a good t.v. But that didn’t happen.

I looked around the house, at the furniture and the things on the walls. I recognized many pieces of decor from the house, years back, where he used to live with Justin’s mom. It was my grandparent’s house before he bought it. So much of what surrounded him came from that house years ago. Funny how some things don’t change much over the years.

We sat and we attempted to talk. Thankfully, my sister carried the bulk of the conversation. He knows so much about her, her life and family. Because she visits him often. He had to ask me what my kids were doing these days and when I tried to explain about college and high school, he attempted to understand me. The vague nod he gave told me he couldn’t understand and had given up.

I admired my sister’s strength as she held this whole, sad little social gathering together. Clearly she is stronger than I am. The two of them talked while I listened and looked around the living room. The smell of cigarette smoke was constant and grew worse when Greg lit up a fresh one. I watched my uncle as he conversed, remembering a tall, cocky, confident man. Now he’s weak, unnaturally thin, lonely. A visit from a couple of nieces was probably the highlight of his day. The thought that he might have only months to live, maybe less, was constantly on my mind. She made him laugh a couple of times. It was good and heartbreaking at the same time to see that half smile on his face.

He talked about the deer he sometimes sees out his front window. There’s a pond a few hundred feet away. He really wanted us to see those deer, but it wasn’t to be. He talked with pride about his daughter from his first marriage; a daughter he hasn’t seen often enough over the years. He talked about his friend who takes him to the grocery store and how sometimes when he just needs a few things, he just rides the wheelchair the few blocks to the local grocery store. I try to imagine the difficulty he experiences picking up a few things from the store shelves, paying the bill, speaking with the cashier. I worry about him wheeling around on the streets with traffic. Clearly, he hasn’t let this disease completely defeat him.

I’ve never wanted so badly to leave some place while at the same time wanting so badly to stay as long as possible. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve remained distant from him simply because of my own fear and discomfort with the situation. We finally left after dark. I hugged him before I left. He didn’t ask when we’d be back. I made no promises to return. But I hope I do get the chance.

Life is Good – April 16, 2010

In the Life is Good department this week, I bring you…

Fun Night at Bowling

Hosted by the Ball Busters!

We had a great time on Fun Night. During the first game, we played “Bowlo”, which is Bingo for Bowling.  We played Low-Score-Bumper-Bowling, which is just what it sounds like. We put the bumpers up and whoever got the lowest score won. You should have seen these women trying to strategize! And finally, we played No-Tap, which is where the scoring is set up so that if you knock down nine pins with one ball, it gets marked as a strike. There were cash prizes for each game, but more importantly there was lots of fun and laughter. I can’t tell you how many women came up to our team to thank us for making it such a fun end to the season.

Sam - Willing her ball to go where she wants it to go

Did you notice anything in particular in the above picture?

Maybe this will work better?

Fun? Yes, this is definitely fun!

Suzie gives Sam's method a try

Alyssa can talk on the phone and bowl at the same time!

The "Who's Up?" team

The Sleepers and The Wild Things... My friend, Big Boobed Mary is in this shot. Can you find her?

The "Cannon Tree Farm" team, and our waitress, Lisa in the middle. I love Lisa. She brings me a cold beer before I can even ask!

The "Fort Road Florist" team

The "Mattie's Lanes" team. They took first place. We'll get 'em next year!

The Ball Busters! (Minus Sheila and Gina who were out of town.)

My Peeps!

Conversations with Jake

I keep my cell phone on my desk at work every day, turn off the ringer, and set it to vibrate. If my family needs to talk to me, I have them call or text my cell phone. If I’m in a position to respond, I will. If not, they can leave me a message.

This afternoon, my cell phone buzzed. I could see it was Jake, and I wasn’t overly busy, so I answered.

Jake: Hey, Mom!

Me: Hey, Bud. What’s up?

Jake: Where’s Dad?

Me: At work, why?

Jake: What time did he leave?

Me: I don’t know. Probably two o’clock.

Jake: Well he wasn’t home when I woke up at ten fifteen either.

Me: Oh, that’s right. He switched his shift today. He would have left home at ten.

Jake: Oh. Okay.

Me: Why? What do you need?

Jake: Nothing. I was just wondering. Hey, there was something else I wanted to ask you too.

Me: What’s that?

Jake: Who sings Come on Eileen?

Me: Ummm… (humming)… Hmmm hmm hmm hm. Hm hm hm hm hmm hmmm. Hmmm hmm hm hm…. DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS! Riders? No. Runners. Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Jake: How do you spell Dexy’s?

Me: D – E – X… just look it up. That’s what Google is for.

Jake: Okay. Hey. Who sings Aeroplane?

Me: Aeroplane? I don’t know. How does it go?

Jake: I don’t know.

Me: Can you sing a little bit of it?

Jake: No.

Me: Hum it?

Jake: No.

Me: Then look it up. That’s what Google is for.

Jake: Okay. I think it might be The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I’m not sure.

Me: Just search it on iTunes. You’ll figure it out.

Jake: Okay. See ya later.

Me: K, bye.

And then I returned to my fascinating and gratifying world of work. I was diligently creating a user guide for our website. Approximately a half hour later, my cell phone rang again. It was Jake.

Me: What’s up now, Jake?

Jake: I’m smelling gas by the stove. Not a lot. Just a little. (Ongoing problem. We’re working on this. Steve the G.E. appliance expert said he smelled no gas, but I swear, it’s there. I’m calling someone on this to come check it out.)

Me: I know. I keep smelling it too. I’ll have Dad look at it again tonight.

Jake: Okay. There was something else too.

Me: What’s that?

Jake: The kitty wants to say hi to you. Hold on.

Cat: MEOW

Me: Which cat was that?

Jake: It was Holly. She wanted to say hi.

Me: Okay. Thanks. And as much as I appreciate it, I really can’t be spending my time at work, on my cell phone, talking to cats. Even if her days are numbered.

Jake: Okay. See you when you get home.

Me: K, bye.

Hey, he’s nineteen. If he’s actually willing to talk to me, I’ll take it. I won’t dictate the topic of the conversations. But I do draw the line at talking to the cat.

Pins, Peeps and Prom Dresses

What a great weekend it was! The weather was beautiful and warm. I enjoyed a Saturday at home for a change while Mark took Kacey to her volleyball tournament for the day. While they were gone, I caught up on all the things that seem to be getting away from me lately.

I went out for an early morning run in the bright sunshine. It felt great except for this crazy cramp-like pain that has developed in the arch of my right foot. This better not be because of the new shoes I just bought, because they were somewhat expensive! I ended up limping home, but it felt a little better after a shower and taking it easy for a bit. It still hurts though. I might have to take it easy for a couple more days.

Once I’d cleaned up, I went to the grocery store and restocked our food supplies. Then I made good use of my new kitchen by baking some cookies and putting together a cashew-chicken-pasta salad for the pot-luck we were having at bowling Saturday night.

I kept an eye on my poor, sick kitty and made sure she got all the drinks she wanted.

Later on, it was time to go bowling. It was the last night of our couples league for the season. Scores weren’t tracked. Instead we enjoyed FUN NIGHT! And did we have fun! Everyone was relaxed and did a lot of goofing around. We got to choose the team against whom we wanted to bowl. We bowled against our good friends Paul and Megan, and their partners, Annie and Rich. Annie always has some kind of gimmick she brings along to bowling. Usually her gimmicks are in the form of some sort of nasty snack that no one can bring themselves to put in their mouth, like the time she brought shrimp chips!

This time, instead of a snack, Annie brought proof of her creative talents. Inspired by our local newspaper’s annual Easter contest, in which contestants create dioramas out of Peeps Easter candy, Annie decided to create a bowling themed Peeps creation. Annie was accused of having too much time on her hands, and her husband was all too willing to let me take the diorama home after Fun Night for use at my women’s league Fun Night on Monday! Check it out:

After bowling, a bunch of us went into the bar to watch people singing karaoke. One of the guys got the bright idea to have all of us sing, and soon there were twelve of us sharing two microphones singing The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes. We were like a really bad, (and really old) version of The Brady Bunch.

Sunday arrived, sunny and beautiful. It was such a perfect and warm spring day. Kacey and I had plans to do some shopping…for a PROM dress! Yes, my baby is suddenly old enough to have a boyfriend and old enough to go to prom! We found a beautiful dress at the first place we shopped. She was hesitant to decide on the dress so quickly, but I asked her if she loved it, why bother looking elsewhere? She agreed and we made the purchase.

I’m so excited for her that she gets to go to prom and that she has found someone she likes enough to want to go with him. But part of me feels a nervousness that I never experienced with my boys. The boys grew up into big, strong, young men and I watched them become mature, responsible and capable. And it’s not that I don’t see those same things in Kacey. It’s just that I worry about her vulnerability more so than I did with the boys. And I’m not the only one. When Brad found out that his little sister has a prom date, he wanted to know, “Who is this kid, and has he filled out an application yet? (Old family joke. All potential boyfriends must complete an application/interview with Dad and brothers for consideration as to whether or not they are acceptable company for the daughter/sister.)

I don’t know why I worry so much more about Kacey. Maybe it’s because she and I are so close. Maybe it’s because she’s a girl and she’s my baby. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. I just have to try not to let it overshadow the happy feelings she’s experiencing right now. I am proud of her and I believe in her. That is what she needs to see when I look at her, not a ton of worry.

So…Monday night is Fun Night for my women’s bowling league and do we have some fun planned! I’m very excited and I hope to take pictures, so look for a bowling post later this week!

Life is Good – April 9, 2010

It was a tough week here. The news of Holly’s tumor kind of overshadowed everything else.

Things seemed so dire on Monday when we were given the diagnosis, and again on Wednesday when she was so sick, but she seemed to be okay by Thursday. I spent most of the day at home keeping an eye on her, and she seemed better. She ate some of her dry food and kept it down . I also bought her some canned cat food. (Iams Proactive Health brand food. Now there’s irony if I ever saw it.) I was  hoping that the canned food would sit better with her stomach and it did. I gave her a small amount to begin with and she woofed it down. Poor thing was hungry!

And yes, I know the poor cat is on the tail end of her ninth life, but I seriously think she’s taking advantage of me and my obvious sorrow over her impending passing. See, every single time I use the bathroom now, and I do mean every-single-ever-lovin’-time…whether it be to actually… you know… use the bathroom, or simply to grab a tissue or just wash my hands…suddenly there she is trying to look all forlorn and pitiful and weak.

And then she starts in on me. “MEOW! MEOW! Poor me! Pick me up, puh-leeze! You know I simply can’t make the leap up there to your lovely sink and I want to drink out of that faucet thingy where the water comes out all fresh and clean and has no hairs of other cats in it. And also, be sure not to turn it on too much. Just a trickle please. Thank you. That is lovely. You know I just can’t possibly drink out of that big, blue bowl full of water into which Tigger has been sticking his tongue. Eeeew. Cough! Cough!

Okay, so cats don’t actually cough, but the rest is very true, I’m pretty sure. And I’m totally letting her get away with it because I plan to spoil her rotten for the rest of her days, even if she might actually be milking it just a little bit.

So, while Holly and I hung out on my day off, I was also waiting for the appliance repair guy to come and tell me what was so wrong with my brand spanking new oven that it refused to heat up. Steve showed up in a timely fashion and went to work figuring out what the problem might be. First he checked to make sure the gas was on. (Duh!) And then he started taking pieces off of and out of the oven. He stuck tools inside and checked his little computer and such. I proceeded to fold laundry at the kitchen table, trying not to look like I was scrutinizing him too much as he worked down on the floor with his head in my oven. He seemed a nice enough guy. He didn’t try to steal my pot-holders or Tupperware from the cupboard near where he was working, so that was good. I’m telling you, you can trust those G.E. Appliance Experts!

Steve talked on and on, sometimes to himself and sometimes to me. And wouldn’t you know it, he pulled his head out of the oven and turned to look at me just as I pulled a pair of my string bikinis out of the basket of laundry I was folding. I stuffed them back in the basket and tried to look all like “Underwear? What underwear? No, we don’t have any underwear in our laundry, Heaven forbid! No underwear here! Those hot pink things? Yeah, those were socks. Totally socks.”

Steve was kind enough to pretend not to notice my hot pink underwear.

So, as Steve the G.E. Appliance Expert informed me, the problem was simply something called a glow bar. I pretended to know just what a glow bar was, because, quite frankly, I didn’t care as long as it got fixed or replaced. Steve said that glow bars are delicate parts and  it is quite common for them to be damaged during shipping. He replaced mine and then showed me it was working, all like “behold the flames!” I did my best job of looking impressed, all like, “Wow, look at that. Fire. I can cook now. Yay.”

I thanked him, and off he went to rescue yet another appliance. All in a day’s work for Super G.E. Appliance Expert Steve, I am quite sure.

And also, I’m sure you are asking yourself what these pictures have to do with anything I’ve written here so far. Well, if you would just be patient, I will tell you that the tulips are getting ready to bloom in the little garden underneath the crab-apple tree. I actually tried to get rid of all the tulips a few years ago, but some of the bulbs were all stealth-like and escaped their demise.  I don’t necessarily dislike tulips, but they are only pretty for like a week before they croak, and then you have to leave all the stems there until they sort of dry up and you can pull them off the bulbs. But now I’m just too lazy to remove the rest of them, so there you go. Pictures of spring in my front yard!

And also, Kacey has a volleyball tournament this weekend, and I think I am actually going to stay home! Because I have been a super-supportive volleyball mom and attended every single tournament so far. And this weekend, Mark is available to go with her, and it is a very local tournament, so I’m thinking I’ll just stay home and have a non-chaotic weekend for a change. But I haven’t told Mark yet that I’m bailing out and he gets to go solo this time, so Shhhhhhhh, okay?

Have a great weekend!

Watching and Waiting

When I returned home from work yesterday, Jake informed me that Holly had been sick at least three times during the day. (Sick = throwing up icky stuff.) I went to find her and she was dry heaving and looking miserable. I let her be until the sick feeling seemed to pass and then picked her up. As I did, she squealed a little bit, as if she might have been in pain.

Jake then told me, “Dad said she probably won’t make it a week.”

The combination of that statement and what I had just witnessed caused me to have a little melt down. I was sure the vet’s assumption that she had another month or so was way off base.

Later, I gave Holly some bits of chicken and she ate it willingly. I don’t think she’s been eating her dry food. She threw up all of the chicken not long afterwards.

I woke up at 3:00 this morning, and had a little trouble going back to sleep because I kept thinking that somewhere in my house, my little Holly had passed on. But I was afraid to go look for her. I finally did go back to sleep and  got up just before 6:00.  After using the bathroom, I hesitantly opened the door, afraid I wouldn’t find her waiting there for me. Normally, when she hears the water running, she comes to the door and then jumps up on the vanity to get her drink, but I didn’t expect to see her there this morning. Much to my relief, she was. As soon as I opened the door, she started meowing over and over. I think she’s too weak already to even attempt the jump, so I lifted her up and turned on the trickle of water for her and she drank to her heart’s content.

Afterwards, she huddled up into the bread loaf position on the vanity and stayed there, sleeping, nose down, while I cleaned up for the day. When I was done, I carried her to the love-seat where I had spread out my favorite fleece blanket, which she just loves. She’s been sleeping there ever since.

She seems a little better today, but I’m seriously doubting she’ll make it another month. As soon as it’s clear she’s in pain, I’ll do the humane thing.

The hardest part of this is just knowing she’s dying and being reminded every time I look at her, yet not knowing when it’s going to happen. We’ll know when it’s time, I know. And I do remember that after we had Shelby-dog put down, it became immensely easier knowing she was no longer in pain.

The kids seem a little less scared about the prospect of losing another pet. It was extremely hard on them when we lost Shelby, but I think now they’ve learned that time goes on, and pets come and go. And since Dacotah entered his life, Brad has learned that it’s possible to fall in love with another pet again. (Talking on the phone with him today, he said she’s in heat for the first time. She’s wearing doggie diapers and hates it, so she sort of waddles when she walks and “it’s SO cute!” I think HE’S so cute.)

So, these are difficult, but valuable life lessons for all of us, I guess.

Sometimes I feel a little silly, thinking, “My gosh, she’s just a cat, and one that I never even intended on having. She just sort of fell into our lives.” But she’s been a part of this life for 15 years. She’s been a source of love, entertainment, amusement and frustration over those years. She grew up right alongside my own children. And they love her immensely. She has a very distinct and permanent place in all of our hearts. It’s sad to know that very soon, I won’t feel the soft, silky feel of her fur on my face and the sound of her purring when she cuddles on me.

Holly in her younger days

Okay… I’m going to try to stop with the bummer posts from here on out…

I’m hanging around the house waiting for the stove repair guy to show up today. It sucks that a brand new oven doesn’t work on the first try. (And since we were remodeling, it wasn’t installed upon delivery – our choice – so that’s why it didn’t get tested when we first got it.) Hopefully it’s no big deal and I’ll be able to cook in it soon!