There’s no handbook for this

I think I’ve already said this recently but I’ll say it again. The aging process can be ugly.

It’s been three weeks now since my dad fractured his hip. And it’s been heartbreaking to to see him struggle and suffer in the aftermath. His body just won’t cooperate and I fear that with each passing day, he’s losing a step toward any real recovery.

On Wednesday last week, he was discharged from the hospital after leaving transitional care to spend a few days being treated for extreme low blood pressure and dehydration. The same day of his hospital discharge, he was admitted to a new transitional care facility. After a rocky experience in the previous facility, this place gave all of us some peace of mind. The staff at this new place is very attentive and extremely knowledgable. The surroundings are bright, spacious and beautiful. We feel Dad is in much better hands than the first time around.

I went to spend time with Dad this past Wednesday evening, on his one-week anniversary in his new digs. He had just had a shower when I arrived and was settled in his room in his wheelchair. He’s barely been able to eat in the past week, consistently complaining that his stomach is uncomfortable and he “just can’t get anything down.”  I’d been bribing him the past few days with ice cream shakes laced with protein powder and had mild success in getting something in his stomach. This time, I brought him a ham and cheese omelet from home in the hopes I could get some more protein into him. He politely declined. I was disappointed. He wasn’t even interested in a chocolate shake.

As we sat, he talked with me about his day. He seemed tired but otherwise relatively normal, except for a cough that I hadn’t noticed the day before. When a nurse and nurse-in-training came in to give him his nighttime meds and insulin, he slipped into what I can only describe as an episode. He grew confused and his speech became slurred. He seemed to be hallucinating, reaching out for things that didn’t exist. I tried to ask him what was wrong but got only nonsense in reply. Then his head dropped and he began to snore.

I told the nurse that I was worried, but she stated that he was probably just worn out from his shower. Did I want them to get him into bed? I said I wasn’t sure. Something wasn’t right. But again, she said that he was probably just really worn out. My dad had to be awake in order for the nurses to assist him into his bed. I really began to panic when we were unable to wake him. I began by gently shaking Dad’s shoulders and saying, “Dad… Dad…” to no avail.

The nurse commented again that he was really tired, and I told her, “No! This is not my dad ‘worn out.’ Something is wrong.”

She told me she’d go get the charge nurse while I continued trying to wake my dad. No amount of shaking or yelling could wake him up. The charge nurse came and was much more sympathetic to my fears. She said only my dad’s family knew him best, and if I wasn’t comfortable letting him ride this out, I could make the call to send him to the hospital. I was panicked, but questioning whether I was overreacting, especially because the nursing staff didn’t seem all that worried. I called my brother, Jim and described the situation. He agreed that Dad should go to the hospital and said he was on his way to join me.

While I waited for the charge nurse to make arrangements for the paramedics, I continued to sit next to my dad, rub his back and try to wake him. He only continued to snore and at times his breathing seemed very shallow. This went on for a good twenty minutes. Jim arrived before the paramedics and Dad was just finally coming to. The confusion and slurred speech remained.

This was one of those times I was grateful one of my kids still lives at home. Not wanting my mom to try to drive in the dark (and the rain,) we called on Jake to go get Mom at her house and meet us at the emergency room where we all met my dad after his ambulance ride. It was a long night while tests were performed and we continually tried to help Dad understand where he was and why. In his confused state, it just wasn’t sinking in. I’m sure it didn’t help that he had already been in two different hospitals and two different care centers since his fall and surgery.

Dad was finally formally admitted to the hospital at 3:30 Thursday morning. Jim, Mom and I went home exhausted. After three hours of sleep, I got up and went to work. My PTO time is slowly dwindling and I’m rationing it in fear of needing it for something more dire than my lack of sleep. I’ve got to get my FMLA paperwork completed!

So it turns out that Dad has pneumonia. Upon hearing that, I felt assured that I’d made the right decision in sending him to the hospital. And there’s the possibility that he’s had a series of mini strokes. Over the past couple of days in the hospital, he’s improved some. The confusion has passed for the most part, but he still has no appetite and all of this is wreaking havoc with his blood sugar levels. He’s experienced extreme highs and extreme lows. I wonder how much more his body can take, and how he will ever be strong enough to walk on his own again.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle this. I long for life to be normal again, but I can see that the normal to which I’d like to return is a thing of the past.

I heard a quote last weekend that has returned to mind time and again this past week. Mark and I attended his employer’s Career Achievement banquet, in honor of Mark’s thirty-year work anniversary. As the CEO spoke to the hundreds of guests of honor, he talked about why their company has been so successful for so many decades. “Make change your best friend,” he said.

He was talking about success in business, but it seemed to me that this could apply to life in general as well. Over the past week, I’ve tried to figure out how to make this kind of change my best friend, but I just don’t know how to do it consistently. It feels as if we’re living on a roller coaster these past few weeks. My dad improves and we have hope. He suffers a setback and our hearts break for him.

Lately, I can’t be in enough places at once. I’m trying to hold steady at work while fielding phone calls from Mom and text messages from my siblings and aunts about Dad’s current state of health. Mom has handed over the reins in many ways. She’s tired and weak, and I worry about her ability to hold up amidst all of this.

Home feels like a place where I simply stop by on occasion.

At times, I’m preparing my heart for the worst, then feeling guilty for even imagining it.

There’s so much to think about. Regardless of which direction Dad’s recovery goes, it’s become clear to my siblings and me that my parents cannot continue to live independently. It’s been a mere couple of months since we moved them into their town house. Will we be packing it all up again soon? Probably.

One sibling holds himself at arms length when it come to my parents needing any kind of help from their kids. It’s always been this way. His distance has become even more pronounced as we’re trying to navigate through such dark tunnels lately. And while I’m trying to remain sympathetic to the fact that not everyone has the strength to rise to such occasions, and that I don’t have to understand to accept it, I can’t help but feel he’s selfishly abandoned all of us. I worry that there will be no healing between us after all is said and done. But most of the time I don’t even care anymore. There’s been a history of the rest of us trying to take the high road where he is concerned. Might be best to just let him go. I have bigger fish to fry.

We’ve had to consider the possibility that Dad could end up in a nursing home. And Mom’s not ready to live all alone on a permanent basis. I have room for her here and we’ve talked about it, Mark and I, and Mom and I. She would come with a dog and the situation wouldn’t be ideal, but she’d be safer surrounded by others on a regular basis. She could live on the main level and not ever really have to go up and down the stairs. I’d like to think it’s not that big of a deal, but deep down, I know it would be far from easy.

The whole thing makes me sick at times and I often find myself fighting off a deep darkness inside my head. I’ve written in recent months about an upward shift in my faith this past year and a half. I realize now why that happened. A time was coming when I would need it. Sometimes it’s the only thing carrying me forward, the belief that God is watching over us and that He doesn’t waste our pain. If I didn’t believe there was something phenomenally better ahead for my dad and for all of us, it would be just too easy to fall into despair.

Not that things have been completely morbid and depressing throughout this whole ordeal. We’ve managed to find humor where we can. While in the ER Wednesday night/Thursday morning, my Dad, in his fog, was trying to tell us something about knowing I was the only one coming to visit on Wednesday. My sister had told him she’d be traveling to Florida for work for a few days, and so he said he knew only to expect me. He said that I was the only one “brave” enough to come visit. We weren’t sure why he thought it took bravery for me to visit, but he went on to say that I must have been even more brave because it was bath night. We put two and two together when he sleepily mentioned that it wouldn’t have been a big thing for Mom to come on bath night “because her ‘sniffer’s not so good.'”

I guess Dad feels that patients in transitional care should be provided more frequent opportunities for bathing!

Last night while Mom, Jim and I sat with Dad in his hospital room, the conversation turned to Dad’s frustrations with needing assistance using the restroom. A detailed discussion followed concerning everyone’s comfort levels with using public restrooms, and in particular, depending on whether it involved number one or number two.

We all looked at each other and just burst out laughing. Who’d have thought that would ever have been a topic of conversation among all of us. But when one of us is dealing with a routine loss of dignity, I guess nothing is too far off limits as a conversation topic.

Everything is day-by-day now. Upon picking up Mom after work one evening last week, and while preparing dinner for the two of us before going to see Dad, I realized I had nothing new to talk about with her. The hours in my days are divided between work, assisting Mom at home, and spending time with Dad. The dynamic at home has shifted and I’m grateful for the times Mark picks up the slack with the domestic stuff. I often find myself wishing I could just know the end result. If I knew which direction this was all really heading, we could make some solid decisions about many things. But it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve gained an appreciation for others who have traveled this road before me, and their ability to stay sane. I know this is just another chapter of life that many of us will have to experience. It’s strengthened my bond with family, and made me realize at times that I’m stronger than I ever knew. I’ve found an amazing support system at work for which I am so grateful. People show their true colors at times like this, and I am happy to say that most people have bigger hearts than I could ever have imagined.

We’ll get through this, and we’ll be changed. But we’ll be okay.

Summer Wind Down

Well, summer was sailing along just fine and I was just perfectly happy with it. And then one day it happened. That little nudge that change is just around the corner.

I remember not all that many weeks ago, I would wake up to the songs of the wrens singing their little hearts out while they perched on the railings of our deck out back. I could sit outside under the canopy and just listen to their pretty little songs. If the windows were open, the melody would float in through the screens. Then the wren babies came along and all the wren parents did anymore was scold us for being in the vicinity. And shortly afterwards, the birds all moved out and all the singing and scolding was done.

There was mostly quiet from the backyard for several weeks. Then I woke up early one morning and heard the trill of … crickets? Maybe? I don’t remember hearing that hum during the early summer mornings. At night, yes. But not in the morning. I was intrigued, and listened happily to the chorus for a few days before I realized – it’s a sign. Of fall.

Then came two straight days of gray skies and rain. The temperatures dropped way down. For those couple of days, I traded sleeveless shirts for sleeves and sweaters. It was a shock, especially considering we’d just been in the nineties not too many days ago.

So yeah. It’s that time again. My kiddo has been gradually packing up her stuff. She’s made a few weekend trips to the house near school where she’ll be living this semester. I came home from work one day earlier this week and saw a couple of big plastic storage bins on her bed, packed with clothes.

“Stop packing,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I kind of have to go.”

2015-08-16She’s right. I mean, I’m going to miss having someone at home who likes to help me cook, who keeps us pretty well supplied with baked goods, and who’s generally willing to do the dreaded grocery shopping with me. Particularly, I’m going to miss having her here to help motivate me to go to the gym on the three mornings a week that my other gym buddy isn’t there. (Really. I found muscles this summer I didn’t know I had!) I just hope I can self-motivate to keep up this habit!

But, I mean … she does leave a lot of shoes in the entryway. And her room does get kind of messy now and then. And when I’m crabby, she has this habit of calling me out on it. Also, she takes a lot of selfies and sometimes I don’t realize she’s taking them on my phone. So,I guess it might be good to have a chance to miss her for a while.

Yeah. It’s time for her to go back to school. She leaves this weekend and she’s excited. Anyway, it’ll be good that she’ll actually graduate in a few months after all this time spent studying and learning.

Yep. I was getting kind of tired of her being around all the time anyway.

Four Heavenly Days

Four days away from it all. Four days to spend with all of my kids and hubby and dog and … “granddog” as the kids sometimes refer to Dacotah. Four days at the cabin with the lake just outside the door. Four days of perfect cabin weather, so hot and sticky that we couldn’t stand to stay inside for any length of time. We practically lived in our swimsuits and I spent glorious hours floating in the water.

I needed it. I hadn’t fully realized what a frenzy the past couple of months have been until I had a few days to just stop. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped worrying about my parents. They were under someone else’s watch for those few days. I stopped obsessing about all of the things that “need” to be done around the house, and about what’s happening or not happening at work. I just stopped. And relished it all.

The weather at the lake rarely seems to work in our favor. For the handful of summer days that we’re able to be there each year, luck usually hands over clouds, rain, or cool temperatures. Kacey jokes about the eternal rain cloud over McGregor, Minnesota where the cabin resides. For the past few days, though, we got our wish. We were blessed with exactly the kind of sun and heat we always hope for when at the lake. The fishing wasn’t great. Too hot, I suppose, but the guys managed to catch one walleye that was too big to keep and a good-sized sunfish that went back in the lake just as soon as it was caught.

It was Brad’s idea to have a family vacation. My outdoorsy son proposed a few days together at one of his most favorite places in the world – his grandparents’ cabin. We all requested time off from work for the same few days and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out. And it did – so perfectly. Brad drove over from North Dakota and met the rest of us at the cabin late Friday night. Dacotah and Lucy were overjoyed at seeing each other again, their tails wagging furiously, whipping our legs, the old furniture and everything else that got in their way. After getting settled, we all claimed a place to sleep in the old cabin. There was a friendly skirmish between Brad and Kacey for the daybed in the front room. It’s the newest and most comfortable bed in the old place, which isn’t saying much since it was second-hand when it belonged to Kacey during her toddler years and only became a cabin furnishing when she got a new bedroom set.

Ultimately, Brad won the battle and Kacey settled for the back bedroom. Jake, not being picky about where he sleeps, spent the first night on an ancient daybed in an open area off the kitchen, and subsequent nights on the couch in the front room in an attempt to sleep where there might be more airflow through the open windows. Mark and I slept in his parents’ bedroom. My father-in-law’s health kept him from his beloved cabin for the last two years before his passing last December, but his presence is still tangible there. I found it rather comforting to be in the room where his work boots are still arranged neatly alongside the dresser and his bottle of cologne still sits on top.

On Saturday we left the cabin for a few hours to attend Mark’s family reunion. A cousin hosted the event at his rural home not far from the lake. It was our first time attending since the family started reuniting a few years ago, and it was a good time! Mark’s extended family isn’t vast. His dad had only two brothers, and only one of them had kids – five of ’em. During the years we’ve been married, it’s only been the occasional wedding or funeral that brought us together with Mark’s cousins, so this was a chance to spend quality time with people we don’t see often enough. It was entertaining to see which kids go with which cousins … and amazing to see the family resemblance when we discovered two Jake-look-a-likes among the second cousins. We cooed over adorable little ones who have made grandparents out of the cousins in the past few years. And good-natured jealousies flared up when a darling little eighteen month-old girl inexplicably wanted to kiss me while the girl cousins, her aunties, protested that even they, the familiar faces could rarely coax a kiss from this little beauty. I’ve got a way with the little ones, apparently! :-)

Top Gun!

Top Gun!

Both uncles passed on long before I ever knew Mark, but Auntie Florence was at the reunion. She’s nearly ninety years old and her memory is fading. But we attended the same church as she for years and she always remembers us. I’m not sure she remembers my name, but she knows my face, and my heart swelled when she squeezed my cheeks between her hands and planted a kiss on my face.

Later, there was a trap-shooting contest among the men-folk and Jake’s smile was as big as I’ve ever seen it when he proved himself the champion! He was made to promise to return next year to defend his title.

Back at the lake in the afternoon, we wasted no time finding “floaties” in the garage and diving into the lake. The surface water was steamy, but a few feet below it was cool and inviting.

Over the next few days, we allowed ourselves to sleep, to play, to eat and relax. I ran laps up and down the long driveway in the early mornings, and then came back to the cabin to make a big breakfast – with BACON even – for everyone as they were waking up.

One of the things I really love about being at the cabin is cooking and sharing meals as a family. With nowhere else to rush off to, and no obligations hanging over our heads, cooking becomes fun again. And food just tastes so much better when we’re all together, eating, talking, laughing and happy. Also? This toaster. It makes the most perfect toast ever. You can’t get ’em like this anymore. Check out that cord!


Kacey and I spent Sunday in the water. We’d be in for a while, get waterlogged and come out. Soon the heat and humidity would become too much to bear and back into the water we’d go again. The guys spent Sunday morning cutting down a dead tree, and afterwards, joined us in the water. I’m sure it felt good after all that hard work.

Monday, we took one of the old boats out on the lake. (Everything is old at the cabin, which gives it such a nostalgic feeling, and also means that when something gets broken, it’s not a great loss. There’s something to be said for making do with just enough.) The kids hooked up a tube and took turns being dragged around our bay. When they’d had enough, we loaded the dogs into the boat with us and took a cruise around the bigger lake, admiring the other cabins and homes and contemplating what it would be like to have this property, that beach, or a mansion like any of the ones we saw.

Tuesday, our final morning arrived with a thunderstorm. We lost power for a little while and I guess it all just made it easier to accept that it was our last day and it was time to go back to reality. The power eventually came back on. The rain stopped, but a fully clouded sky promised that it wouldn’t be another picture-perfect lake day anyway. We tidied up the cabin for the next visitors and loaded up the trucks to go back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to Brad, but I reminded myself to remember what a gift the last few days had been. And if we didn’t have to all go back to work and normal life and everyday routines, none of this could have felt as special as it did anyway. It was heavenly!

Moved In

We got my parents moved into their new home this week on Wednesday. It was an all day affair and we got them pretty well settled in. All of my siblings pitched in, as did one sister-in-law and several of our own kids. We moved like hurricanes, getting boxes of essentials unpacked and making the most important living spaces livable. I worked without stopping for twelve hours. My mom, at one point asked if I didn’t want to sit for a while. I told her I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop the momentum.

The spare bedroom currently holds all of the unpacked boxes containing less necessary items such as photo albums and household decor. We’ll get to it eventually. For now, we’re happy that Mom and Dad have a functional kitchen, that their living room, bedroom and bathrooms are usable, and they have clear spaces to walk through.

After my sister-in-law helped me make up my parents’ king-size bed, she went off to work in the kitchen, and I moved on to putting things away in the master bathroom. When I was finished, I encountered my youngest brother, Craig, apparently testing out the quality of our bed-making skills. I guess we passed. He managed a good nap.

2015-07-15All in all, we had a good day. We were so busy, there wasn’t time for tensions between any of us. I would actually dare to say we had fun. My other brother, Jim even gave me a big hug and said he thought I was the best sister in the world, even if he did just tell our older sister the same thing. We all came together that day. We put our differences aside, and maybe each of us saw the others in a different and better light. Maybe it was the magnitude of it all. Yes, it was just a move from one home to another, but I think we all realized that this will be the last stop for independent living for my parents. Maybe that thought made us all realize that some of the petty stuff we tend to hang onto just isn’t worth it.

It’s strange to look out from my front yard to the next street over now. I see the home that was my parents’ for the past twenty-six years and have to remind myself it’s not their’s anymore. It’s not my right to just walk over and let myself in anymore. No more popping in, plunking down on the couch in the living room where my parents would most likely be sitting watching television, and shooting the breeze while playing with Little Bear, their dog. (I’m his favorite “sister,” my mom always says.) If I want to see my parents now, I have to get in the car and make a jaunt down the freeway.

Of course, they’re only about a ten minute drive or so, depending on traffic. And we’ll no longer have to worry about clearing snow from another driveway after a big snowfall or wonder whose turn it is to take care of any of the miscellaneous yard tasks. They’ll still need help with a lot of their household stuff, as they have for a few years now, but now those things will have to be somewhat planned out, rather than the drop-everything-come-now kind of requests. My parents now have an association to take care of snow removal and lawn care. There are no more stairs for them to struggle with climbing. Their new home is tucked into a quiet little community, on a quiet little street, where they’re surrounded by people their own age. And their new neighbors are great! At various times as we worked to move my parents’ belongings into the new place, the neighbors, Ilene across the street (with the cool Mustang convertible and personalized plates,) Tom, Gloria, and the woman whose name I forget, sat in lawn chairs in their driveways, watching the goings-on. They introduced themselves to all of us and welcomed my mom and dad with open arms.

This is good. And I’m glad that the move is finally over. Seems like all I’ve thought about and done for the past two months are things related to this move. My own house needs attention and will get it now. I’m looking forward to resuming life as we know it for the remainder of this summer!

July already. And busy. And happy. And gratitude.

There’s a little chalkboard in my kitchen. I originally bought it with the idea that it would be the place where we’d leave notes for each other; something to replace our habit of leaving sticky-notes on the kitchen door frame.

But… the sticky notes continue to be the method of communicating such things as, the dog’s been fed or If I’m not awake by 5, please get me up.

One day, not long after the kitchen became home to the chalkboard, I stumbled across an inspirational quote that I really wanted to remember. I wrote it on the chalkboard. And it remained until another quote struck my fancy and replaced it. Kacey joined the movement and periodically adds words of wisdom that she finds along her reading travels.

There’s almost always something on the chalkboard to remind me to have gratitude. Deep, down inside, gratefulness has not often been my focus. I’m focusing on it now, and sometimes it’s an effort. Passing by those dusty, white words each day, and stopping to think about them helps.

Hazy morning sun

Hazy morning sun

This time of year, it’s easier to have gratitude. My daughter is home for the summer and I’m just so thrilled to have her near me every day. Her bubbly attitude about life in general inspires me.

The longer hours of sunlight, warm weather, and the colorful, seasonal landscape give me frequent reasons to stop and feel appreciation. As summertime brings people outside, we often find ourselves spontaneously gathering with the neighbors. I sometimes forget how much good it does me to interact with others and just relax for a while.

The birds have moved out of the house on our deck. I thought I’d be thrilled, but was surprised to find myself feeling a little sad that they’d gone without saying goodbye. Shortly afterwards, I was checking out the growth in our vegetable garden down in the yard and realized as I heard their familiar song, that they were hanging out in the pine trees just outside the back fence. All is right in their world and I was relieved to know they are thriving.

Logan next door is growing up before our eyes. Having firsthand experience with the fact that kids grow up in the blink of an eye, I’m reminded what a privilege it is to be in Logan’s circle. Last night while putting away a few groceries after a visit to Sam’s Club, I heard his voice trailing behind Mark as he helped carry some things up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Here, Terri,” he said in that sweet, little boy voice, as he reached the upper level and handed me a package of lunch meat. While he still calls me “Tee” sometimes, that habit seems to be fading away.

“Thanks, Log,” I said. He proceeded to tell us about how he’d gone fishing earlier in the day. His arms and hands gestured wildly, and his story was sprinkled with lots of wells, as in “Well, I didn’t get any fish. They wouldn’t come out!”

He’s getting talkative, and his words are easier to understand. After the food was put away, he hauled me out to the driveway where we, of course, played chalk. Logan usually tells me what to draw, but now he’s creating more of the artwork himself. He was thrilled when I made one of his shapes into a fish. From this little boy who was previously very shy about expressing affection, I was rewarded with a full-frontal, tackle-hug! Then came a game of hide-and-seek, where Logan would tell me where to hide. He counted while I attempted to hide from his peeking eyes. He helped me water the pots of flowers, and then just before it was time for him to go home to bed, we played “bad guy.” Logan was the bad guy, and he said I was the fire truck. (?) I guess fire trucks chase bad guys until they capture the bad guy and pick him up, swinging him in a circle and make him giggle.

It’s been a busy summer, but mostly in a fun kind of way. We’ve been invited to several graduation parties this year, chances to gather with friends and family, and reasons for my oldest son to come home for a weekend visit. I love to see the way my grown-up kids now appreciate each other so much more than they did when they were younger. They have so much fun together, and truly seem to have become friends. Makes my heart just want to burst.

Last weekend, I tried something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Cheers Pablo. Have you heard of this? It’s a sort of painting class. You pick a session in which you’ll get to create a specific painting, show up, and everything you need is ready and waiting for you. And if you like, you can purchase drinks to sip on while you paint. Hence the cheers. My niece invited her mom, (my sister,) and Kacey and me to go. We each painted our own barn scene, following the instruction of a fun, young twenty-something girl who kept getting paint in her long dark hair! And while my first impression was that the result was rather elementary, I had so much fun painting it! The more I look at mine, the more I think I’ll hang it up somewhere in the house. And I totally want to do it again. Maybe in another class. Maybe on my own.

Today I’m enjoying a holiday from work. There’s a long weekend ahead in celebration of our country’s independence and nothing too spectacular in my next few days. The kids all have fun plans of their own and Mark has to work on the fourth. So I’ll do a few things around the house, spend a little time with extended family and just savor these summer days before Monday rolls back around again.


I slept in today and it felt SO good! All week long, I looked forward to this three-day weekend. Lucy and I were still up early enough to go for a good long neighborhood walk, and we got it in just in time to enjoy what looks to have been the sunshine’s limited presence for the day. We listened to birds singing along the way, and Lucy spent much time plowing her nose through white, puffy dandelion heads in the grasses along the walking path. No amount of sneezing could convince her to stop. She made me laugh and the whole trek gave me a chance to clear my head some.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I blame it on too much togetherness. This move my parents are making, from their house of twenty-six years to a single-level town house, is going to be the death of me. (Not really, but I frequently say so just because somehow it makes me feel better to voice a little self-pity.) I know everyone’s got some level of dysfunction in their family. It’s normal. It’s probably designed to make sure the kids don’t get so comfortable at home that they never move out of their parents’ house.

I dearly love my parents. They have done so many things well in their lives. They raised their kids to be responsible and productive people. We take good care of our own families and we’ve got strong work ethics. They made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we would have good lives. They raised us with love and taught us to have faith in God. They did something right enough that, in spite of the fact that we sometimes drive each other nuts, we still have a need to pull together and be a family. They did things in a way that, as a kid, often made me think, I’ll never do that to my kids. But I see now that they did things the way their generation believed to be best.

My parents are always so happy to see me when I stop by and Mom never fails to express her thanks for anything I do to help them out. Dad seems to expect things, but Mom is appreciative enough for both of them. I am grateful for that. But as often as I’ve spent time with my parents over the past month or so, I’m frequently reminded why I was so ready to become an adult and move out. My dad? He is NEVER wrong. Even when he is most certainly wrong. And he’ll go to great lengths to tell you why he’s not wrong and you are. It’s always been that way. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe my dad, is stubborn. Opinionated comes in a close second. And I think that stubborn quality in him has gained energy with age.

Growing up, if Dad decided we’d done something wrong, we kids knew we were in for one of his famously long and painful lectures. He’d sit in his chair at the head of the kitchen table while I stood at the far end of the kitchen, wishing I had the guts to just turn and walk out the back door. There were no excuses accepted for bad behavior. No amount of explanation would be considered, even if there was another side to the story Dad hadn’t considered (and likely wouldn’t). And everything he had to say was sure to be repeated at least three times. I was kind of a rebel back then. I’d often play with fire, my body language clearly shouting that I was listening only because I had to and I’d rather be anywhere but standing in front of him. I’d say, You said that already or I heard you the first two times. Dad did not appreciate my sass and I think it only prompted him to continue expressing his disappointment in me even longer. His delivery was heavy on a who-do-you-think-you are sort of sentiment. There was a lot of you’d-better-change-your-ways and very little help-me-understand-why. If you were on the receiving end of one of dad’s lectures, when you were finally free to depart his scrutiny, you felt about this big. (My thumb and forefinger are making a pinchy motion, in case you were wondering.)

I know my dad doesn’t mean to alienate others with his opinions. I just think he’s done things this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to do them any differently. It pains me to watch him instigate arguments with my mom. So often, they’re over silly, inconsequential things. I know he’s fighting for what he believes is right, but his words, to me, feel belittling, even when I’m only watching him engage with someone else. I rarely argue with my dad these days. I don’t have the energy. There’s no winning or compromise with him. And according to Mom, I’m not allowed to speak in defense of her either because it only makes Dad feel that his kids are choosing sides. And he thinks we only ever choose Mom’s side. I guess I usually do, because regardless of who I may think is right or wrong, it’s his tactics that don’t sit well with me. And ultimately, I just hate to be witness to so much unhappiness between my parents. At their age, I just want them to have peace and contentment. I know that quite possibly, my parents have just settled into a long-standing set of behaviors and this doesn’t make them nearly as uncomfortable as it does me. I’m the first to admit that I hate conflict. But it eats away at me that in their twilight years, they don’t seem as happy as I think they should be with one another.

It’s probably wrong on so many levels to put this in writing, but writing it is the best way I know how to purge the kind of weight this puts on my heart. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t 99.9% confident that anyone who cares won’t ever read this.

Anyway, I can easily walk away when I need to and stay away for as long as I need. These days, I can control whether or not I end up on the receiving end of one of Dad’s diatribes, so when he’s being unreasonably opinionated, I usually hide a little roll of my eyes and just keep my mouth shut. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can say nothing and choose not to accept his position. Although, a few weeks ago, I thought I made a big statement while walking out without saying goodbye while he was busy once again telling Mom how poorly she had met some need he had. I felt really bad for the rest of the day about the fact that I’d probably made both of them feel really bad. Turns out that no one actually noticed I’d made a big statement and walked out.

A part of me knows that Dad’s behavior is probably due to the fact that he feels less needed, and less respected due to his age and the health issues he’s endured over the years. His vision has diminished enough that he can no longer drive. He is forced to be dependent on others for so many things he’d rather do himself. Maybe he’s trying to find some way to feel less diminished. I know he doesn’t know how hurtful he sometimes makes his family feel when a healthy debate is never allowed. Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to speak up.

My sister was on the receiving end of Dad’s opposition recently. It was over a matter of fact, and the reality is, she was right and she had a point that he might have considered. And even though it was a helpful point that could have made a particular situation so much easier for him and Mom, he wouldn’t consider it because he simply didn’t believe it to be true. He is the father and we are still the children, even though we’re all in our forties and beyond. My dad still seems to think that he can treat his kids the same way he did when he was in charge of our upbringing. If he doesn’t agree with what you have to say, he will put you in your place. And my mom still seems to believe that as difficult as my dad can be at times, it’s best to just let him have his say and let it go.

It’s hard to watch sometimes. I wonder if my dad has been allowed to be right for so long that it’s now impossible to get him to understand that his behavior feels spiteful, arrogant and demeaning. I wonder if he feels good when all is said and done, and he gets to be right again, but someone else just feels like a turd.

Maybe I’m letting this eat away at me way too much. A voice in my head sometimes tells me to just let it go, that I should find a way to rise above it and feel less resentful, else I’ll suffer enormous regret when he’s no longer around. My dad is seventy-four years old and he finds a million ways to let me know he loves me. But he has no idea how bad it feels to watch him put a family member in their place when he’s feeling particularly obstinate.

All normal stuff, I know, in the grand scheme of things. And I remind myself frequently that the knee-jerk resentment I sometimes feel about dealing with my parents? I desperately never want my kids to feel those things about me. So while I know I need to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, and maybe find ways to gently steer my dad in a better direction, it’s hard. We’ve just never practiced healthy communication. It doesn’t come naturally. As much as I’ve learned over the years about how to do it better, it’s still such a challenge to put it into practice in the heat of the moment. But I also recognize that I can – and should – be learning from all of this. I sometimes see myself doing, saying or thinking in such a way that confirms the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I don’t have big plans this holiday weekend. Not going up north with the masses or anything. Mark is working all weekend, and other members of his family will fill the cabin at the lake to beyond capacity. I’ve got no desire to squeeze in among them. I’ve got a couple of fun outings planned, but for the most part, I’ll stick close to home where it’s going to be quiet and I can catch up on things. I may voluntarily go do some more packing at Mom and Dad’s, but I’m hoping the phone doesn’t ring, beckoning me to come when I may not be ready. I hope this weekend provides a breather and a chance to regroup. I was in such a good mental place just a few short weeks ago. I need to get back there.

Well, who’d-a-thought?

Last weekend found us hosting yet another family holiday at our house. A couple of years ago, I swore I would never do it again. I did do it again, but not without a lot of stress beforehand and resentment afterwards. And last weekend, we were doing it yet again. I decided not to get crazy about certain things this time around.

Our family gatherings are supposed to be a group effort. The host family always tends to incur the largest share of the expense, cooking the main course, and purchasing beverages and incidentals like condiments and such. Other family members are supposed to contribute side dishes or desserts. Since my parents have stopped being able to do it, my sister and I take turns hosting the family gatherings.

I’ve attempted to orchestrate a nice meal in years past, and this was often met with a lack of commitment from some other family members as to their food contributions, if any. Seems some people don’t take well to suggestions as to what they might contribute. There was that Christmas when one family member showed up with spouse, a bunch of kids, and a 12 pack of Pepsi. (I’m not still bitter! Really.)

This time, I chose to let go. I decided to cook what I was cooking, and if everyone else showed up with pickles, cheese and crackers, then so be it. At least we would all be together. Who knows how much longer we’ll have the luxury of all of us together. I also decided to use flattery when trying to determine who was bringing what. I told one brother that I remembered he made a mean pecan pie. And would he consider baking something for our Easter brunch? I asked the other brother if he was bringing his famous quiches again and he said he might, but if not, something equally tasty.

I’ve come to realize that all those times I allowed myself to stress out over whether others were cooperating with my plans for the family gathering, I was only punishing myself. No one else was tying themselves in knots over whether or not the meal would be well coordinated, or if everyone was contributing equally. Just me.

I decided not to get crazy this time over things like the carpet needing a good cleaning. (There are a few family members who don’t bother to remove their shoes anyway. And food was bound to get spilled.) I refused to worry about whether Mark had really dusted the family room to my satisfaction. Brad and Kacey were home for the holiday weekend and the whole family pitched in with cleaning, shopping and setting up our little house to somehow seat and serve twenty-one people.

I was so relaxed that I happily left the house to go bowling in our league on Saturday night. And I bowled the biggest game of my life!


Yeah, that was fun!

I woke up early on Easter morning to take care of the finishing touches. When family started showing up, I was blown away. The 12-pack of Pepsi brother brought two big pans of sweet rolls, two coffee cakes, two homemade pecan pies, and a homemade turtle cheesecake. And the quiche brother brought, instead of quiche, two huge, homemade breakfast pizzas. All this accompanied our traditional Easter egg bake, ham, polish sausage, specialty breads, hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit. We were not lacking for things to eat!

I’d also let myself off the hook with dishes. I’ve spent too much time on previous holidays, in the kitchen with my sister, washing the good china and silver while everyone else gets to kick back and visit with my parents. I bought party plates this year. Instead of washing china, we just threw ’em away. And no one cared.

Dad led a nice Easter prayer before we ate, and I was rather enjoying it, until I heard him add, “… and Lord, may we each reach out to another family member today. Someone maybe we don’t feel so close to or happy with…” I know my Dad had a good point, but … My siblings and I looked around at each other. We think we were getting scolded via the Easter prayer. It wasn’t necessary. We all played nice and Easter brunch was a great success.

I think the biggest reward, for me, came from the 12-pack of Pepsi brother, the one with whom I’ve experienced some incredible lows the past few years. It was early evening, and I was just settling down after being on the move all day long. I was exhausted and had curled up in my favorite living room chair and was channel surfing when I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message from the brother to both my sister and me.

2015-04-05bI was speechless. I think that’s all I ever wanted. To be thanked. If my brothers never host a family holiday, I don’t care. I would just like to feel a little bit appreciated when I do. And with this message, I did.