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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eh. It was okay,” Bob deadpanned.

Tonight he told us a joke.

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

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

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

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

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

As My Parents Age

A whole week already since I’ve last written! I don’t know where my time goes sometimes.

Last Sunday afternoon, my parents hosted a family meeting. My dad had asked all of his kids to come talk with him and Mom about … Well, I thought we’d discuss living circumstances, for one thing. My parents’ four-level home is no longer suitable for either of them. They have great difficulty with all of the stairs and a single level situation would be much better. We didn’t resolve anything though. As always, we skated around the topic without actually making any progress toward really addressing this concern. However, I’ve long since resolved myself to the fact that they aren’t comfortable moving and it won’t happen until there’s no other choice. And at least my sister and I are nearby enough to come help when help is needed. Though I sure would prefer for them to be in a place where emergency help is close at hand.

StoleWe talked a little bit about their wishes for funeral arrangements. Some of this is documented, thankfully, although not formally. At least we have something. And my parents do seem willing to actually deal with these arrangements today. Dad, being a retired Catholic deacon, is concerned about which stole he’ll wear when he’s laid out in his casket. He said he isn’t really fond of any of his. At least we can find one he likes now, while he’s still here to express his opinion on it!

My dad wanted to talk about who wanted what. There are some old leather-bound books that were important to him. My dad played a part in the assembly of these books at one of his jobs long ago. As a young husband and father, he purchased and brought home a copy of each book he’d helped create. Coffee table books, I guess, is how I’d describe them. As kids, we took great pleasure in paging through them and admiring the colorful photos within. He sent a couple of books home with each of us that day. I got the Norman Rockwell book, which makes me happy. Norman Rockwell was a big part of our home decor while I was growing up and I have a nostalgic attachment to his work.

There was discussion about wedding rings and Christmas ornaments that have sentimental value. There are some old, old home movies and we talked about researching whether we can still get them transferred to DVD. Hopefully they’re not so deteriorated that they’re lost to us. Ultimately though, we agreed that while we could spend hours that day “divvying up” all of my parents’ stuff, it was more important for them to get a formal will in place. My sister has taken charge of finding the best options for that and hopefully we can check that need off the list soon. Besides, it just seemed a bit morbid to start laying claim to my parents’ things while they’re still here with us. And one sibling failed to show up for the meeting without explanation. So it was tough to make decisions that would have been best made while everyone was present and able to voice opinions.

I’m grateful that my sister and I finally got my parents to sit down with us and fill out health care directives. We did this the previous Tuesday evening. I’ve had the paperwork for a year, but haven’t been able to get my parents to agree to sit and complete it. Mom has had a few more bad days lately than usual. I think that prompted the agreement to finally tackle the paperwork. I’m relieved to have that under our belts.

The whole meeting left all of us feeling a bit out-of-sorts, I think. I’m struggling with mixed feelings. Part of me feels like I’m pushing my parents to think about and do things they’re not comfortable addressing. While my sister and I feel it’s important to deal with this stuff now, the other siblings don’t seem to feel good about discussing these things. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not being unfair. We’re only trying to take care of them as best we know how, and make sure we know their wishes while they’re still here to voice them. No one wants to think about the days when we’ll part ways with our loved ones. But the reality is, it can’t be avoided by simply refusing to think about it. I guess I’m more relieved than guilty. Once we get all of the difficult stuff formally documented, we can relax a little bit and enjoy the days we still have together.

On the bright side, I took my parents to the transplant clinic this week for my dad’s annual kidney health check. It was six years in July since the transplant operation and thanks to a daily buffet of medications, my dad appears to be doing very well. There was a slight increase in Dad’s creatinine level (which measures kidney function.) His doctor didn’t seem to feel it was cause for alarm, but said he would be scheduling an ultrasound for Dad in the coming weeks, just to be sure nothing’s going in the wrong direction.

This annual appointment is actually a series of appointments including blood tests, bone density tests, a meeting with a nurse, a pharmacist and the nephrologist. Dad also has to fill out an annual survey about how he’s doing and feeling since his kidney transplant. The thing is about eighteen pages long, and since Dad’s vision is poor, I was reading the questions to him and filling it out for him. (Really loved getting to ask him about his sexual function! Gah!) Dad, being my dad, couldn’t just answer any question. He wanted to elaborate on every single question, which really wasn’t necessary. (Thankfully he didn’t do this with the sexual function question!) We might have been there for two weeks before finishing the darn thing. So as he was called back for various tests, I told my mom that we’d just keep going on the survey and answer the questions for Dad to the best of our knowledge.

We laughed at questions such as, In the past four weeks, due to your current health, have you felt stubborn or obstinate? There were always six response options ranging from Very True to Not at all true. Mom and I laughed, joking that there should have been an All my life option on this one.

And Dad, who is known for his weird sense of humor, but not necessarily for being truly funny, actually made me laugh out loud. While sitting with the pharmacist and reviewing the long list of Dad’s medications and dosages, he was then asked if he drinks alcohol.

Occasionally, he said.

Did he use tobacco? No.

Marijuana? Can’t afford it, he quipped.

Dad! I exclaimed laughing! The young pharmacist took it in stride and laughed along with us. She said it might not be long before it’s legal here in Minnesota anyway, at least for medicinal purposes.

Might be kind of fun to add it to Dad’s daily regimen. Might really ease that stubborn and obstinate thing! :-) (Don’t worry… I say that with love!)

Seriously, though, there are big lessons in all of this. Mark and I have realized the importance of addressing our end-of-life wishes now, while it still feels like a distant concern. I want to keep as much of this burden off my own kids’ shoulders as humanly possible.

Happy Weekend

The weekend went by too fast, but I knew it would. It’s always like that when the kids are home. And we had a lot to squeeze into just a few days.

Since Connor had fraternity responsibilities and couldn’t come join us for the weekend, and since I still don’t have my new car, therefore Kacey still doesn’t have her “new” car, that left me to go pick her up from school on Thursday afternoon. I didn’t mind the hour and a half drive to and from, since I knew she would entertain me with stories while I drove us back home. I was laughing so hard I was crying over a story involving Kacey’s friend, Laura and free tampon samples at the gym!

While we drove, Kacey also shared her worries over finding employment for the summer. She had applications in at several businesses, but hadn’t yet heard from anyone. Then, as if on cue, her phone rang, and it just happened to be a job offer, the one she really wanted. She accepted and later told me she felt like a huge weight had been lifted. The next day, she heard from two others and had to explain she had accepted a position already. And when she’s not busy working her “real” job, there are two families wanting her nannying services anytime she might be available. When it rains, it pours!

I spent Friday getting the house in order and preparing as much food in advance of the weekend as possible. Brad and Heather arrived around midnight on Friday, but we were all exhausted after a long day and headed to bed not long afterwards. As we said our good nights, I told them all to plan on birthday breakfast in the morning. And before hitting the sack, I put the crock pot on.

Morning greeted us with the aroma of eggs, sausage, peppers and onions. My crock pot breakfast casserole was looking good!

Birthday breakfast 1

And Emjay’s Company French Toast did not disappoint either. This overnight French toast bake was a huge hit with the family and I will definitely make it again. Although I think my teeth actually ached a little when Jake poured maple syrup all over his carmely double portion! It certainly didn’t need any additional sugar. It was delicious as-is.

Birthday breakfast 2

We were all in a bit of a food coma after that big breakfast. The dogs soaked up all the attention they could while the kids let their stomachs settle.

Birthday weekend

Birthday weekend 2The rest of the day was spent doing whatever the kids wanted to do. Mark and Brad took Brad’s shotgun in for repair. We checked out tool boxes for Jake’s new truck at a few places. I took the girls shopping at a few of the favorite girly places. It was fun! On Saturday evening, Mark and I went to our Saturday league’s bowling banquet while the kids took the dogs along on a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Sunday morning there was a steady parade to and from the shower. My parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and we were all trying to make sure we were dressed, shaved, made up and had our hair just so in time for brunch at the Lake Elmo Inn. Luckily, some of us are early risers, and we managed to be ready in plenty of time.

The brunch was wonderful. My parents had reserved the sun room for their guests. The day was beautiful and there was plenty of sun and warmth as we enjoyed our time with each other as well with as aunts, uncles and a few cousins. It was so fun catching up with the extended family we don’t seem to see nearly often enough. There was a lot of happy chatter and many hugs were shared. My parents looked so happy to have all of their loved ones around them on such a special day.

So today it was back to the daily grind, for all of us. Too soon. I miss them all already and can’t wait until we can be together again.

I had this storyabout shopping for underwear with my dad

… and it seemed funny at the time. I have to admit that having to go shopping for underwear for my 73 year-old dad with my dad could only be faced with humor. But then I didn’t get around to writing about it. And then he went into the hospital and things were really scary. And then the underwear story didn’t seem so funny.

Dad was having serious trouble with his back again. He saw the doctor a week ago Tuesday and was told there was nothing more wrong beyond his existing conditions – arthritis and a degenerative disc. By Thursday, he was in such pain, he could barely move and couldn’t eat. He started running a fever and after calling the doctor, was told to go to the emergency room.

There were blood tests and chest x-rays and I don’t know what else. Dad was admitted to the hospital and continued to go downhill over the next few days. The fever came and went and his blood sugar was running too high. His medical team looked for Congestive Heart Failure and signs of kidney rejection, but found nothing to indicate either was happening. Dad couldn’t seem to fully form thoughts in his mind, much less convey them to us. His speech was very thick and painfully slow. He kept losing his train of thought and many things he talked about were completely off-the-wall. I thought maybe he was on a pain medication that was causing him to hallucinate, but the hospital informed us he wasn’t on any meds other than his usual diabetes, kidney and heart medications. He had a lidocaine patch for the back pain, but nothing that should cause hallucinations.

By Sunday, my mom was really worried. Dad was in bad shape. There was talk of transferring him to a transitional care facility if the fever subsided and possibly testing him for dementia. Dementia! I tried to see Dad on Sunday night but he couldn’t stay awake. He looked at me as if he couldn’t place me and would fall asleep mid-sentence. I talked to his nurse and asked questions and I couldn’t help feeling that she kept giving me this pitying, sympathetic look. My mom and I talked later on and she was worried that this might be the beginning of the end. I slept restlessly on Sunday night, dreaming that the dad I knew was gone for good and there was nothing I could do to get him back.

All this was going on while I was supposed to be getting ready for Mark’s and my first ever winter vacation. I kept thinking that I couldn’t even think about going to Florida with my dad in such bad shape and my mom needing so much support.

Then Monday morning came and suddenly Dad was back to normal. The fever was gone and he knew that the past few days had been strange. He told my mom he needed her help with sorting out what was real in his mind and what wasn’t. The hospital had never found anything conclusive in all of Dad’s tests, but we were relieved that he was back to normal.

Because of the extent of his back issues, Dad was still transferred to transitional care so he could receive physical therapy and return to a point where he could function again at home. I didn’t expect him to be happy about being there, but he handled it pretty well and seemed really motivated to do whatever it took to get back to normal and get back home. I left him last night feeling relieved that he was in a good place, with good caregivers and on his way to recovery.

This morning, Mom called me and said Dad was on his way back to the hospital. His fever was back and so was the confusion and thick speech. There were a few scary hours while we waited for the hospital to run tests. Dad was miserable, shivering with fever and dehydrated. As I sat at work, waiting for my brother or mom to call with any news, I wondered again how I could go on vacation with my parents in such a fragile state. My own head was spinning and I was ready to cry with the frustration of it all. It’s clear to me now that most of us will be lucky to leave this life quietly and with any amount of dignity.

And then unexpectedly, I got good news from Mom. Dad was diagnosed with a bladder infection. I think the reaction in my head, which I had the sense enough not to verbalize to my mom was, “Are you EFFING kidding me?” A bladder infection? That’s what caused all of this craziness? Apparently, it’s true. And at least now Dad can be treated properly and can really get back to recovering.

The underwear story occurred to me again today. Two Sundays ago, my mom needed a break and so I took my dad shopping for new underwear. He had clearly given his underwear a lot of thought. He wanted a specific brand and specific cut which just so happens to have been discontinued. But that didn’t stop Dad from wanting to scour the enormous selection of underwear. I have never studied men’s underwear so thoroughly in my life. And when we didn’t find what Dad was looking for, we had to ask a salesman about the specific style. He went in back to research our request and confirmed it had been discontinued, but may be available online. Before we could leave, we had to contemplate alternate brands. And open up a package of Fruit of the Looms and study a pair of tighty-whities right there in the middle of the store. I had to listen to Dad tell me how and where he likes the waistband to sit when he wears them. And I remember thinking how wrong it was that he put that picture in my head. We finally left the store without any underwear, but some packages of socks and white t-shirts with a chest pocket, because the pocket can be useful at times. Back at home, I showed Dad the wonders of Amazon and online shopping and his new underwear arrived by mail within a few days.

I’m not laughing at Dad. I’m laughing with him. I first thought the whole underwear business was kind of humiliating and ridiculous. But I’ve since decided that sometimes you just have to laugh at life and at yourself. Sometimes I just take things way too seriously. And now I’m really glad that Dad and I had that underwear shopping excursion. It was funny. And I would gladly do it all over again.