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.

Highs and Lows … and Highs

Well … we never did get my Dad moved to another care facility. He had a really great day on Saturday. Ate well. His spirits were good. Smiled and talked all day. And then early Sunday morning, his blood pressure tanked. One of the nurses at the transitional facility called mom to let her know Dad was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

When Mom, my sister and I caught up with Dad in the emergency room, he looked like death on a cracker. His face was ashen. He couldn’t keep his eyes open and he was so cold, they had him wrapped up in blankets from head to toe. His speech was thick and he could barely form words. I was pretty scared. The doctor mentioned concerns that there could be a clot in his lungs which may have caused the drop in blood pressure. Because of his kidney transplant, he couldn’t have the more reliable cat scan (because it uses a contrast dye) to confirm or deny the presence of a clot. So he received something called a VQ scan and we were relieved to learn it showed a low probability of a clot.

By evening, after IV fluids and some food, Dad had perked up some. Instead of his “usual” hospital, Dad had been brought to one that specializes in cardiac care. That was a good place for him to be. He doesn’t have a strong heart. The nurses and doctors were taking great care of Dad, as well as doing a tremendous job of keeping us informed and answering questions. He seemed to be in good hands and we were more confident than we’d been all the past week in leaving him for the night.

One of my brothers had agreed to bring Mom back to the hospital to be with Dad on Monday. I went to work and waited for updates, ready to leave again if I had to. But the news was all good. Dad was improving; So much so that my sister insisted I go to my first night of bowling and take a night off from Dad duty. She would go sit with Dad that evening. I was slightly hesitant, but decided to take her up on the offer.

I’m glad I went bowling. It was the first day since Dad’s fall eleven days earlier that I hadn’t spent some portion of my day hanging out with him. I felt a little bit guilty, but as the evening wore on, I knew I’d done the right thing. The ache that had settled in my chest over the past week began to ease. The dark haze over my thoughts cleared as well. It felt good to be doing something normal again.

This whole experience has been such a challenge. It has stretched my emotions to the limits. There have been heartbreaks and joys. There has been anger and deep sadness. And yet we’ve found opportunities to laugh. Most miraculously, because I felt such a need to stay by Dad’s side whenever possible – to help fend off his loneliness while he couldn’t be at home, or to ease his fears, or advocate for him when he wasn’t able – he and I have found a new and better place in our relationship.

If anyone were to look at my siblings and me when we were growing up, I would have been the last kid anyone would have expected to be by my parents’ side at a time like this. I was the difficult one, the black sheep. I was always bucking the family system, and mouthing off to my parents. That part of me faded and I mellowed when I became an adult, but my dad and I haven’t exactly been what anyone would consider close.

During the days when my dad was most vulnerable, I stayed by his side. I found myself being more open and honest with him than I’d ever dared to be. He allowed me to speak up for him when he was in that medicinal fog, when it was hard for him to translate his own thoughts into words, when his caregivers lacked the time or patience to wait for him to form a response. He’s a very proud man. He doesn’t like anyone speaking on his behalf. But he let me. When he would get discouraged and defeated by all of his pain and weakness, I would remind him that the only one who could get him back on his feet and home again was him. And he let me tell him so. There was a time or two during all of this when Mom would grow frustrated with his frustration. She’d say to me, “Go talk to Dad for me, would you?”

And he’d let me.

When I’ve hugged Dad goodbye these past few days, he’s held onto me longer and tighter than usual. He has so emphatically told me, “Thank you. I love you. I love you so much.”

My dad and I have found a really good place with each other. Neither of us is always easy to live with. But we’ve found our peace with each other. I love that.

2015-09-15Mark and I went to see Dad at the hospital tonight. I’m not kidding – He looked and sounded like a million bucks. We stayed to watch him take a little walk on his healing hip and I nearly cried. Just a few days ago, he could barely move his lower half without extreme pain and loads of assistance. Now he was walking – with the help of a walker – but he was doing it.

In another day or so, Dad will probably be released from the hospital and sent to transitional care again. He told the hospital social worker that he wants to go to the “new and better” place that my sister and I checked out on Saturday. He told me he won’t go back to the last place. I told him that I hope he gets a room at the good place. And I reminded him that no matter how great the place, he might still run into situations where his caregivers aren’t as attentive or compassionate as others. He knows. He’s ready. We’ve kind of figured out how this all works and we have more realistic expectations this time around. Most importantly, Dad’s ready this time.

Worst Fears

It’s never good when the phone rings before 7:00 am.

This past Thursday morning, I had been to the gym and was getting ready to go to an early dentist appointment before work when our home phone rang. It was my mom, sounding breathless, asking if I could come over.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart sinking.

“Dad fell. I think he broke his hip. The paramedics are here now.”

As soon as I was able, I was out the door and on my way to my parents’ single-level town home, which they’d purchased and moved into earlier this summer in the hopes of preventing just such an accident. They’ve lived there for a grand total of seven weeks now. I guess it doesn’t matter how many or few levels are in your home. When you’re dizzy, you’re going to fall.

Mom and I spent the next fifteen hours of the day at the hospital, by Dad’s side. X-rays confirmed the hip was fractured. I tried not to panic at the news. I knew the biggest concern was whether or not my dad could survive hip surgery. Even some standard medical procedures are risky for my dad, and certain surgeries are simply out of the question. I found myself fighting tears and working hard to control myself. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, who seemed not to be grasping the magnitude of the situation. Dad’s been diabetic for sixty-seven years. He’s had a kidney transplant. He’s got an implanted defibrillator and normal heart function that is significantly less than a normal, healthy person. I envisioned the worst.

As the hours wore on, Dad had an echocardiogram done, and another set of X-rays. He had to lay flat on his back, which was painful in itself. He’s got a bad back. And each time he tried to adjust his body to relieve the discomfort in his back, he caused himself excruciating pain in his hip.

Mom called their priest and he came to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He also provided my dad the Apostolic Pardon. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but the name itself gave me an idea of what was happening. The priest understood that Dad’s situation was bad. I continued to fight my tears throughout the priest’s stay.

Sometime after noon, Dad was moved from the ER to his own room. I provided regular phone and text updates to my siblings and Dad’s oldest sister as each nurse, doctor and specialist came to visit and discuss concerns. It became a waiting game. His cardiologist needed to weigh in on Dad’s ability to handle the surgery. It seemed like hours before the cardiologist finally came to talk with us. He explained to Dad that the hip surgery would be extremely risky given Dad’s poor heart function. He said Dad needed to make the decision as to whether to have surgery, or not. Surgery meant relieving the pain as soon as possible, but included the very real chance of suffering heart failure in the process. Bypassing surgery meant letting the fracture heal on its own – with Dad on bed rest for about three months – and then lots of physical therapy.

The cardiologist gently told Dad that the decision was his, but electing not to have the surgery meant a strong likelihood of developing blood clots and/or pneumonia. “If you don’t have the surgery,” he told Dad, “you will die.”

I could see the compassion in his eyes as he waited for Dad to make his decision. And he elaborated that although the surgery was very risky, his gut told him that Dad’s heart would tolerate it. Yet he reminded us that he could offer no guarantees. What choice did Dad have? He agreed to the surgery.

As evening wore on, we were still waiting to hear if the surgery could be done yet that night. Dad hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, and he hadn’t taken any of the bunches of pills he takes each day to make sure his transplanted kidney remains in good health. Poor Dad was stuck flat on his back, with nothing in his stomach and only allowed small sips of water. If the surgery could be done that night, he needed to have an empty stomach.

Finally, around 10:00 pm, we received word that the surgeon was still in the midst of another surgery, and Dad’s couldn’t be done that evening. And because he would be scheduled for first thing Friday morning, he still couldn’t have anything to eat and could only have small sips of water. Thankfully, they kept him pretty mellow with steady doses of pain medication.

Fifteen hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, I was finally dropping Mom off at home and heading back to my own house.

I was back at the hospital at 6:00 am Friday morning. Besides Mom and me, my three siblings, a niece, an uncle and two aunts (Dad’s sisters) were there to see him off into surgery. Dad was scared. He asked us all to pray with him and the hospital chaplain came into to lead us in prayer.

All in all, the surgery went relatively quickly. A volunteer provided us regular updates and it seems that Dad did well throughout his surgery. We got to see him once he was out of recovery and back in his room. All things considered, he looked and sounded really good! Of course, he was numb from the waist down.

Now comes the long road ahead. We’ve yet to meet with the appropriate parties who will let us know what to expect for Dad’s recovery. We only know that he’ll need to spend some time in a rehab facility. I’m guessing they’ll tell us that Dad will need to spend several weeks, at minimum, and I’m worried it could be a couple of months. I’m guessing Dad has no idea of the length of time his recovery could take, and once he finds out how long it could take, he may feel very defeated.

Dad has already decided that he won’t go to the transitional care facility that’s near their home. He spent a few days there once after another hospital stay and for reasons I’m not sure of, decided he didn’t like it. He has it in mind to go to another place that’s an additional twenty minute or so drive. It may be a nicer place, (or not. None of us has been there and really knows for sure.) But the additional distance will put a strain on Mom. She’s very fragile as it is, and her health won’t tolerate daily drives of that distance. If Dad would go to the closer place, my sister could spend her lunch break each day with Dad. Not possible if he goes to the place he thinks he wants to go.

My biggest fear is that Dad won’t be able to recover to a point of going back home to independent living. Mom’s health is so poor that she was barely managing to help care for him on one of his “good” days. If my dad can’t get back to a state of health like he was in before, I’m afraid they won’t be able to stay in their town house. Mom has wondered out loud to me about getting some temporary or occasional in-home health care. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m not convinced that would be nearly enough assistance for what lies ahead for my parents.

Mom was so worn out yesterday that she couldn’t even go visit Dad at the hospital. I stopped over to make an early dinner and eat with her, take the dog outside to do his business, and start a load of laundry. Then I headed to the hospital to spend a few hours last evening with Dad. He was sitting up in a chair when I arrived, which is promising. The hospital staff is already helping him move from bed to chair and back again. Soon he’ll have to start taking real steps. I’m praying he’ll stay persistent. Dad is not a strong man anymore on the best of days.

As I spent time with Dad last night, I noticed his speech was even slower than usual. He struggled to remember names or the specific words he was looking for. He would start a thought, then seemingly forget about it completely and begin talking about something else entirely.

At one point, he said he thought he was dreaming or hallucinating at various times throughout the day. As I was sitting across from him, he said he saw a young person next to me, holding a red and green ticket. I was the only one there, and at least Dad was lucid enough to recognize on his own that it wasn’t reality.

When his nurse and aide moved Dad back to bed, I took the opportunity to mention Dad’s confused demeanor and hallucinations. They assured me that it was likely just an effect of the pain meds. My fears weren’t completely relieved. Dad’s been on pain meds for days and I haven’t seen him in such a state, but I convinced myself to chalk it up to a combination of pain meds and being tired. He’d had several visitors throughout the afternoon and early evening, and my visit took him right into bed time. Still, I’m going back this morning and hope to see that his mind is refreshed after a night of sleep.

It’s Dad’s 75th birthday today.

I was feeling really sorry for all of us after last night’s visit with Dad. My sister and I already feel as if we’re juggling our own lives with the needs of our parents. But with the dawn of a new day, I was reminded that how I choose to view these circumstances is completely up to me. Rather than see all of this as yet another hurdle in my parents’ aging process, I need to face this as a challenge to be overcome. I just need to remember to stay positive. I can’t afford to let this suck me under.

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!

Junk Drawer Mementos

2015-05-26Even though I keep saying I won’t take one more thing home with me, I keep coming home with things. Useless things. Things for which I have no plans.

As we sift through all of my parents’ belongings, they decide what will go to the new town house, which items will be donated and which things can be thrown away.

Mom and Dad were debating over the old Hamilton Beach kitchen mixer. They didn’t think they needed it anymore. They each looked to me. Before they could even ask, I informed them that I have no space for it, nor any need. I have a nice Kitchen-Aide myself. But I couldn’t bear to see Mom’s mixer go. I kind of whined when they mentioned donating it. Mom has had it as long as I can remember. We used to watch with excitement as she mixed up the batter for our birthday cakes. In the end, she agreed to hang on to it!

We sorted through a junk drawer and threw away about half the contents. There were two brand new boxes of pencils. No one had any idea why these were ever needed or were kept around so long. The drawing pencils? Might have been for me in high school when I took a drawing class. That was freshman year, though, and I seem to remember a different style of pencil. I can’t imagine my parents hung onto something like this since my high school days. Then again, I can.

The other box contained all yellow paper pencils. Again, no one had a clue as to why. For some reason, I was fascinated with the packaging of these. The box seemed old-fashioned. And I seem to have thing for old-fashioned lately. Mom said to throw both boxes away. I felt compelled to rescue them. I don’t know why. They don’t even have any memories attached to them and I’m now the proud owner of two boxes of pencils I’m unlikely to use.

Maybe they’ll get along well with the growing collection of old kitchen utensils I’m also unlikely to use.

Reasons to Smile

I stumbled across a bargain last Sunday while out shopping – a winter jacket, marked half off the original price, and another fifty dollars off if I text-messaged the word coats to a designated number. I’ve been keeping my eye open for a new jacket since last year and couldn’t pass this up. It was a really warm one, and simple in style and color. Perfect for me. When I brought it to the register along with a couple of other items, the cashier who rung up my purchases offered some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. She didn’t greet me or respond when I attempted to be friendly. She scowled as she worked, and when finished, silently handed over my receipt without even looking at me. Clearly, this was a woman unhappy in her work. If I hadn’t been so eager to purchase my things at such bargain prices, I might have just walked out without buying any of it.

On Tuesday, I stopped by my parents’ place to drop off a meal to put in their fridge for another day, and to get a shopping list from my mom so I could pick up a few of their necessities. Mom complimented my new jacket and mentioned she really could use a new one. I told her what a bargain it had been and offered to take her to the store where I’d bought it so she could pick out one for herself. She said she really wasn’t feeling up to leaving the house, much less walking around a department store, but asked if I would just go pick one out for her.

Knowing that winter clothing starts disappearing quickly from the store racks this time of year, I decided to go straight there in the hopes of still finding something for Mom. I was lucky to find one jacket still available in her size, but I didn’t see the sign that was there on Sunday for the text-message discount. When I went to pay, I thought I’d just ask if the offer was still available. The cashier very kindly apologized and said it was not, but let me see what other offers might be available.

I was pleasantly surprised at her attempt to go the extra mile, especially after my experience on Sunday. This very friendly woman asked if I wanted to open up a store credit card that would earn me something like forty-five percent off my purchase. I politely declined, not wanting to take a hit on my credit score for a one-time discount.  That’s okay, I said. I’m still going to buy this. The price was still a good deal and within the amount Mom was willing to spend.

Well, let me just check something else, the cashier offered. Here, she exclaimed, pulling a clipped coupon from her register. Here’s a coupon for twenty-five percent off. She was holding it up to show me. Do you want to use this? We both knew darn well that hadn’t come in with that coupon, but she was offering it to me, simply because I had asked about another discount.

Um, sure! I said. I was a bit astounded at how hard she was working for me, especially knowing I was willing to pay the higher price. I thanked her, explaining that I was purchasing the jacket as a favor to my mom and that Mom would be thrilled and grateful for the lower price.

She smiled and proceeded to ring up the jacket. Thank you so much for doing this! I said to her.

You’re so very welcome, she offered back with a huge smile. Have a good night!

I like that store, and my experience with the crabby cashier on Sunday wasn’t typical, nor likely to keep me from shopping there again. But my experience with the much friendlier employee that Tuesday evening sure made me feel great, and I found myself letting go of any frustration I still felt when I thought back to my prior visit. I regretted not taking note of her name so I could let the company know how well she represented them.

I left with a big smile on my face and then headed off to go buy the things on my parents’ necessities list. As I wandered through another store’s aisles, finding each item, I looked down at the cart I was pushing and had to roll my eyes slightly at the things my seventy-four year-old parents consider necessities.


Between what shopping my parents manage on their own, and the errands my sister and I do for them, I know they don’t stand a chance of the candy dish running dry before one of us ends up at the store again. They absolutely didn’t need this much at one time. But they love to keep a variety of treats on hand so that every one of their kids and grandkids can find something they enjoy when visiting. Besides, I know they buy the kind in the yellow bag especially because it’s my favorite.

The rest of the week had its ups and downs. I had both work-related challenges and successes. While immersed in a project one early afternoon, I heard my phone vibrate with a new text message. I picked it up to take a look and following is what ensued.

Mark Text

I was totally surprised and wondering what he really wanted, but it seems he just wanted to connect with me. That is absolutely not typical of Mark and me. I know he loves me. He knows I love him. But we never just randomly stop to send messages like this one. This past week, he had been working second shift, so he was sleeping when I’d leave for work in the mornings and gone when I’d come home. By the time he’d get back home, I’d be sleeping. Guess he just decided to let me know he missed spending time together.

The weather early this week was warm, but gloomy. We had fog one day and gray skies several days in a row. Late in the week, the temperatures dropped and I was able to put my new jacket to good use. The cold weather brought a slight break in the clouds, just enough to  provide some relief from that dreary feeling. It’s funny how different the same sky can look depending on where you see it. Here was the view just a few blocks from home while I waited at a red light.


And only a half hour later, as seen from the office parking lot.



As easy as it is to be connected with so many people these days, through text messaging and social media, I’m hyper-aware that many others are struggling daily with real difficulties in their lives. Some just seem to face one tragedy after the next. By the day, I see messages asking us to pray for successful job interviews, for healing of physical ailments, or to keep loved ones from the grip of death. We may sometimes be guilty of being too connected, but this same connectedness often gives me the opportunity to be grateful for all that I have and each new day I’m graced with. It reminds me to smile whenever the chance comes along, no matter how brilliant or trivial the opportunity seems.

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.