Old Pictures, New Pictures, Glimpses of Our Lives

In our foyer, above the front door, there’s a decorative collage frame full of photos. Surrounding the photo frames are words like live, laugh, love and family. And until just now, it held a couple of photos that were long overdue for replacing, considering events of last year and people who have stepped out of our lives. While those people might always have a little spot in my heart, they no longer hold a place our family’s photo frame about love and family.

Luckily, this particular piece of decor is so familiar to those of us who live here that we rarely notice it or give the photos much thought any longer. Occasionally, I’ll glance above the door and really see those pictures. I wonder if the fact that they haven’t been replaced means that deep down, I’m having trouble letting go. A little wave of sadness sweeps over me sometimes when I look at them and I ask myself what I’m waiting for. And every once in a while, someone will ask if I’m planning to swap out two particular pictures anytime soon. I guess it’s just one of those things that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. Changing them requires just enough effort that the task keeps falling to the wayside.

Brad came home for a visit this weekend. On Friday night, he casually mentioned that he’d taken a girl out for drinks recently… and that he planned to ask her out again. While my heart did cartwheels of happiness  at the realization that he’s picked himself up and is most surely moving on from a broken relationship, I tried to act casual and not ask too many questions. But the conversation reminded me once again that there were pictures that didn’t belong on our walls.

Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes. While Mark and Brad were off running a couple of errands yesterday, I opened my laptop and browsed through picture folders, picking out the ones I wanted to frame. I uploaded them to the Target photo website and received confirmation before my boys were even back home again that my prints were ready for pick-up at my local store around the corner.

I had taken the opportunity to find and print recent pictures, ones that will remind my kids of happier moments than the photos that were being replaced. There were some of Brad from recent fishing trips, looking like a champ holding trophy-worthy catches.

And there was a great picture of Kacey with her cousin and my mom. I don’t have enough recent pictures of my mom looking as happy as she does in the picture from this past Christmas. And the smile on my daughter’s face tells me that she is just fine, right here at this place in her life today. A particular door closed for her last year too, but her face shows the certainty that her life’s road holds good things ahead.

002And as long as I was printing pictures to display around the house, I took the chance to print a few oldies too. After my father-in-law’s funeral in December, one of Mark’s siblings scanned all of the photos that had been collected and displayed at his wake. A CD of the scans was burned for each sibling to keep. What an amazing gift! I’d never seen most of these pictures because, as I’d long ago learned, most of my in-laws’ old family photos were on slides. There were never any on display around their home. I’d never seen the slides, so the photos that surfaced when Bob passed provided a window to a past to which I’d never before been privy. The story of Bob’s life came alive through the pictures displayed in memory of him. And I was fascinated to learn another side of this man, one that I’d never known before.

Mark’s parents’ wedding photo, showing a young, beautiful, hopeful couple is now displayed alongside those of my own parents and grandparents in our living room. And there are some military photos of my father-in-law from when he served in France during the Korean War. One was a formal portrait of Bob in full uniform. Another was more casual, but so handsome. Bob didn’t trust the internet, but I think he would forgive me for displaying just one old photo of him here. Everyone who saw this picture at the wake agreed he looked rather “Hollywood” in it. I can’t resist sharing.

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And then there was that one snapshot of Brad and his grandpa, taken when Brad was just a baby. I’m not sure who took the picture or contributed it to the collection for the wake. I don’t recall it being in any of my photo albums. It’s one of those poorly framed shots with a messy background, the kind that until just recently, I may have dismissed and tossed in a storage box, deeming it unworthy of framing. But when Brad saw it, he decided he had to have a copy of it. My father-in-law wasn’t much for posing and smiling in photos. Many of the pictures we found were taken spontaneously, where someone was lucky to catch a glimpse of Bob laughing or smiling. This particular picture caught him in a rare moment of playfulness with my son, with Mark driving the riding mower, and Bob riding with Brad in the trailer behind it. It’s one of those moments we probably thought little of at the time, but now seems so precious. I printed it for Brad and picked up a frame so he could display it in his own home.

scan0081 with BradI’m relieved and happy to have finally refreshed the photos in the house. The sad memories will be tucked away.  They’ve been replaced with happier visions of the past and present, showing where we come from, and what’s really important. And the common thread, we’ll be reminded, is love.

Prize Winning Fisherman

I don’t care how old he gets, Brad will always be my “boy.” And my boy loves the outdoors. He has since he was old enough to don a life vest and hold a fishing pole. The minute he was old enough to dress in camouflage and tag along with his dad and uncles on their fall hunting trips, he was there. As soon as he reached the age when he could take a gun safety course so he could become a real hunter, he was in class.

The weather doesn’t matter to him. There’s very little that can keep him home when a hunting or fishing trip is on the horizon. So this time of year, Brad can be found out on the frozen lakes, with a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice.

This past weekend, he entered an ice fishing tournament with a bunch of his college buddies. He called home early Saturday afternoon and said, Hey, Mom. Can you and Dad spot me the sales tax on a brand new pick-up truck?

Whaaaaaa…..? I asked, confused.

I won a truck in the fishing tournament, he explained.

You DID? I squealed.

Nah, but I am in third place at the moment, he admitted. I’ll probably win something.

It strikes me as ironic that there are tournaments like this, that offer prizes for doing the very thing my boy would do in a heartbeat, without any incentive. He just loves to fish. When all was said and done, he ended up in fifth place. He didn’t win a pick-up truck, and just missed out on a one week vacation at an up-north lake resort. But he won a very nice auger, which is now for sale. As any serious ice fisherman would, he already has one!
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Life of Leisure

A couple of months ago at work, my small department met to discuss the division of premium PTO days. We can’t all be gone at the same time and there’s a standard minimum number of employees who must be on staff at any given time. And most everyone wanted to be off the day after Christmas.

I didn’t have strong feelings about taking that day off, so along with two others,  I agreed to work. But because there were so few people in the office that day, it hardly seemed like we had to work anyway. We had some fun and relaxed conversations while completing what few tasks could be done considering the lack of resources. And our reward for working that day was that we got to take the day after New Year’s Day off! So I am currently enjoying a lovely five-day weekend.

The downtime has been nice, particularly considering how frenzied the past few weeks have been not only with the holidays but with the added emotions that accompanied the passing of Mark’s dad. These days off have been a good mix of productivity and leisure, and time to regroup. First, a good cleaning of the house was in order. The combination of having everyone at home for the holidays, including an extra dog, gift boxes and packaging tossed aside in the wake of gift opening, dishes that tended not to make it into the dishwasher, unattended laundry and dog fur … oh the dog fur … resulted in the place looking (typically as it does at this point after the holidays) as if a bomb had gone off. I was just dying to get the vacuum out and restore order again. And I am not ashamed to say that it felt amazing to do it!

After the house was returned to a respectable state, we celebrated New Year’s Eve minimally. Actually, the kids lived it up, but Mark and I had a quiet evening with friends, some pizza and snacks and a game of cards. Our friends left and we were in bed long before midnight.  And come morning, I can’t say I was missing the headache that surely would have accompanied a much crazier celebration. After saying as much to my mom on the phone New Year’s Day, she laughed and said, “You’re old.”

Yep. And somehow I’m okay with that.

Kacey and I did some shopping. She had gift cards burning a hole in her pocket and we scored some serious after-Christmas clothing bargains and a light-up reindeer for Mark to add to his front-yard holiday collection next December.

Christmas decorations came down inside and outside of the house. My pre-lit Christmas tree was no longer lit in its lower third anyway and it was driving me nuts. Mark seems to think he can fix this, but I’m not holding out hope that he’ll actually do it before it’s time to put the tree up again next year. I’m thinking I’ll probably just extract the existing light strings and wrap some others around the tree the old-fashioned way next year.

I wrote twenty-ish thank-you cards to friends and family who had given donations in memory of Mark’s dad’s passing. We only had responsibility for the friends and family most directly associated with Mark and me. And Mark was very gracious about my managing this task. He clearly felt it was his responsibility, it being his dad who passed on. But we both agreed his “chicken scratch” wouldn’t make for nice thank you notes. Besides, he does a lot for my mom and dad in the line of manual labor around their house and yard. The least I could do is write a few thank you notes.

Yesterday morning, I baked up some cornbread we were given as a Christmas gift, and we ate it for breakfast with honey that was a part of the same gift.

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It was yummy, but it occurred to me that it’s probably a good thing I’ll soon be back to work, routine, and healthier eating habits. A few too many cookies, crackers, cheeses and candies have been consumed over the past couple of weeks and even though I’ve managed to maintain a regular exercise routine, my body feels the effects of all the sugar. The time away from work is nice, but I’d turn into a total slug without the routine of my usual days.

Does anyone else find themselves in the midst of the Christmas season, wishing it would last just a little longer, wishing we could stay wrapped in the coziness of family and home for just a few more days? But then realizing if that actually happened, the whole thing would probably lose its lustre? I’ve got the rest of this weekend ahead of me and plan to enjoy it to the fullest, but I’m actually looking forward to getting back to into a rhythm again. It’s the routine of everyday life that drives me, that gives me the chance to miss my kids and grand-dog, celebrations and time with extended family. It’s the pattern of daily life that makes the out-of-the-ordinary moments so special.

Life in 2014

Tonight, the year 2014 comes to a close. And like so many others, today finds me looking back, contemplating the events of the past twelve months. I wouldn’t choose to do it all over again, that’s for certain. But I’m grateful for the lessons I learned and the opportunities I’ve had to grow.

On Christmas night, after spending the day with Mark’s family at his brother’s house, half of my family drove home in one vehicle, (Mark had arrived late after working his shift,) while I rode in another with Brad. We were talking about the day, how it had gone on in spite of the recent passing of his grandfather, my father-in-law, Bob. We agreed that Christmas didn’t feel quite right and things were definitely quieter than usual among my husband’s very large family. There had been some tears, but also some great memories shared.

Brad commented that it had been a tough year. I agreed. Neither one of us needed to say any more. I know we were both thinking not only about death, but of relationships that had come to an end. Several loved ones had gone from our lives this past year, some by choice, one because his time here had come to an end. I told Brad that as difficult as some of our experiences had been, I knew they’d made each of us stronger in our own way. I said that he might not believe it today, but somewhere down the road, he will look at his life and think how great it is. And he’ll look back on his darker days and realize that were it not for them, he couldn’t fully appreciate the good in his life.

This week, we laid my father-in-law to rest. His wake on Sunday night was well-attended. We barely sat, stopped talking or hugging visitors for the entire four-hour visitation. The number of people coming to pay their respects was a testament to what a well-loved guy he was. The funeral on Monday was beautiful, with each of Bob’s sixteen grandchildren taking part in the mass as pallbearers, readers, musicians, altar servers and gift bearers. As the mass came to a close, the priest commented as to how impressive it was to see a family so involved in the funeral celebration. Not everyone is so fortunate to be so celebrated.

After mass, there was a funeral luncheon and then we drove in the funeral procession to the cemetery. Everyone later commented on the sign that we figured Bob had sent to us – a bald eagle swooped down from the sky and flew over the line of cars. Bob was a lover of the outdoors and nature. The eagle was surely his way of getting our attention and making us see the miracles in the experiences of the past few weeks as we watched his slow departure from this world. It was a sunny day, but the air was frigid. Upon our arrival at the cemetery, we huddled together at the gravesite, first watching the military funeral honors, and then hearing the final prayers as Bob was laid to rest. There was no shortage of tears.

Later, we all gathered at my father and mother-in-law’s home. We opened sympathy cards, collected money and wrote bank deposits for all the money given in memoriam. We divided responsibilities for the writing of thank you cards, and then together, we ate leftovers from the funeral luncheon. Ties were loosened and shoes were kicked off. A card game went on at the kitchen table while the great-grandchildren pulled toys out of the closet in the den. Three-year old Mitch pulled me by the hand to come race Matchbox cars with him. I willingly agreed. He stopped just before releasing his car at the top of the curving, roller coaster-like track that one of the older kids had pieced together. Mitch clutched his car against his chest for a moment and turned to me saying, “I love you Auntie Terri!”

My heart swelled as I realized just how lucky I am, to be where I am in this world, to be part of a family I don’t often enough stop to appreciate. “I love you too, Buddy,” I said. “You’re my best friend,” he added. (I’ve got to hang around little ones more often! They’re so good for the ego!)

Later, as I sat in the crowded family room amongst so much of the family, I looked upon the Christmas tree that had gone uncelebrated this year. I looked around at all of us, milling around the house, talking, laughing, playing, arguing … and it felt for a moment like so many Christmases that had gone by. Except I quickly remembered it wasn’t Christmas we were celebrating, and one very important person was now missing. I thought back just a few short years ago, when we all gathered, every year in this house to celebrate Christmas Day. I remembered how often I had wished for less chaos, more quiet, and maybe the chance to just stay home instead of rushing, dressing up and playing nice, making food for a feast and feeling exhausted by day’s end. And I realized I had sometimes wished away the very thing I was now missing so much.

There was much hugging that evening. There were still some heated words – due in part to exhaustion and grief, I’m sure and if I’m honest, because that is just sometimes the personality of this family. Even death won’t put a stop to it. But I have a feeling that strong emotions and personalities won’t freak me out so much anymore. I had a heart-to-heart with my younger brother-in-law, whom I’d been feeling at odds with for a while. And it resulted in understanding and forgiveness (and more hugging.) And before my little family went home for the day, I hugged every one of my in-laws. As I said goodbye, I told each one of them that I loved them. Yep, even the sister-in-law I’m not always so sure even likes me. And there were tears in her eyes as she hugged me right back. And believe me, that is not something I would ever have done before. It would have felt beyond weird. But that day, the words just came out of my mouth without a care and the hugs just happened before I could really think about them. Because if I learned one thing from my father-in-law’s passing from this world, it’s that people aren’t perfect and never will be. We’re going to hurt each other time and again, and we’ll find time too, to be happy with each other. And the time to let people know that they are important to me is now, while we’re still here.

The events of this year have opened my eyes to the fact that life and people aren’t perfect. They never will be. It’s how we were designed. And that’s okay. I haven’t taken many photos at family gatherings in recent years. I realized this while sorting through my collection, looking for pictures of my father-in-law for his wake and finding few from recent years. At some point, I decided that too many of my photos just look chaotic, out of focus, destined never to be displayed in a photo frame for anyone to see. Or maybe I’ve been out of sync with some family member and refused to take photos out of spite, not wanting to remember those hurt feelings. This year made me realize that the chaos and feelings both good and bad, are what it’s all about. Everything seems to soften with time anyway, and like I told Brad, the dark moments tend to make the good ones that much sweeter. Those posed, perfect photos aren’t what’s real anyway. Between Kacey and me, we managed to snap a few photos this Christmas. They’re far from perfect, but somehow, they’re perfect.

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I’m grateful for all that has transpired in 2014, and I’m looking forward to whatever 2015 holds for me.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Christmas is upon us. And we’ll be missing my father-in-law as we celebrate this year.

On Sunday, the entire family was called to hospice to say goodbye to Bob. He was struggling and earlier had communicated to one of his daughters that he didn’t think he could take much more. Mark and I joined the rest of the family in Bob’s room as we quietly gathered around his bed. His daughters were circled around him, holding his hands and praying with him. His breaths were coming too far apart. There were so many tears as  we all watched and waited. The minutes and hours ticked by as we alternately took turns coming and going from the room. There were too many of us to all be there at the same time.

At one point, I went out to the great room to sit and exchange comfort with other family members. Mark’s mom was there too, when one of the nurses came out to talk. She told us that Bob had stabilized and it seemed obvious he wasn’t going anywhere that day. She suggested that if anyone wanted or needed to go home, they should do so without guilt. She recommended that when anyone of us did leave, when we said goodbye to Bob, we might tell him that if he wanted to go while we were away, it would be okay. She said sometimes a dying person just needs to know that it’s okay to go.

Most of the family went home with plans to come back at various times so that someone would be with Bob around the clock. Mark and I stayed a while longer, along with his mom and youngest brother. Kacey brought us some dinner and after eating, the five of us sat in the room, watching Bob rest. Eventually, Mark suggested that I go home with Kacey while he stayed with his mom and brother. I had things that desperately needed doing at home, and so I agreed. Before leaving, I leaned over Bob and took his hand. He looked up at me as I said, “Bob, Kacey and I are going to go now. We love you.” He moved his hand in acknowledgement.

I’m so glad I told Bob I loved him. I always got along just fine with him, but he and I weren’t affectionate in the way where we would express love for each other. I never had any doubt that he loved me too. But it was never said, only assumed.

On Monday afternoon, Bob passed away.

I had just returned to my desk after lunch when Mark called me at work to tell me Bob was gone. He was sad but calm. We made plans to meet at home and go to the hospice together to meet his family. Mark’s mom, two of his sisters and his older brother had been with Bob when he passed. He had not been alert or responsive all day. They had been sitting in the room with him, just watching him slowly breathe, when they realized the last breath had come and gone. Bob left quietly, without a struggle or obvious pain. I am so grateful for that. Mark was so afraid that his dad’s passing would be traumatic. Instead, it was very peaceful.

The hospice staff was wonderful. Such compassionate people they are! In addition to the tears shed for Bob, I think there were some as a result of having to say goodbye to the people who so lovingly took care of Bob.

After everyone had come and said their last goodbyes, we were all gathered in various clusters in and outside of Bob’s room as Mark’s sisters packed up his personal things. In the hallway just outside the room, there are windows overlooking the trees surrounding the hospice property. Mark pointed out a cluster of deer on the edge of the trees, looking toward us, flicking their tails and bobbing their heads now and then. More than one of us surmised that Bob had sent the deer as a way of telling us he was just fine. He always loved the outdoors, and in his later years, continued to buy deer hunting licenses, but never loaded his gun when he went out into the woods. There’s a corn crib in his front yard at home, just for the deer.

Sunny, another member of the staff told us that the deer always come when it’s someone’s time. They seem to know, and are always there at the time of a patient’s passing.

I continue to be in awe at the miracles that occurred during these last few weeks as Bob made his way out of this world. He seemed to come back from the brink of death several times. Family divisions were healed. And I came to believe in life after death in a way I never have before.

On Sunday, as Bob was struggling so terribly, I was sitting in his room with the others. We had agreed not to talk. It seemed to be what Bob wanted. So I prayed. I prayed that he wouldn’t hurt and I prayed that he wouldn’t be afraid. And I was thinking about his best friend, Howie and how he had come to Bob a few days earlier. I was imagining him being there to walk along with Bob as he left this world. I wondered who else might be there to meet him and it occurred to me that if I could choose someone to welcome Bob to Heaven, it would be my Grandma T. Just a random thought. My Grandma T loved everybody, and everybody loved her. If I could send someone to help make Bob’s journey easier, it would be her.

On Monday, as we waited in the great room at hospice for the mortuary staff to take Bob’s body away, a volunteer came in to play piano. She played a song or two before I realized she was playing How Great Thou Art. Most people know that song. Many of us love it. It was my Grandma T’s absolute favorite and she used to play it on her piano. I think she was speaking to me through that song, saying, “I got your message, honey girl, and I came to welcome Bob, just like you asked.”

As many have recently reminded me, those of us left behind will be sad for a while for our own loss, but where Bob is now, it’s a huge celebration. And I truly believe it.

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.