Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Grief And The Could-Haves And Should-Haves

My dad passed away at 2:26 AM, Wednesday, April 12th. I received the phone call telling me this at 3am. His passing was not a surprise; my sister and I lingered at his hospital until late into the night expecting that he would go at any minute. We didn’t want him to be alone. Eventually exhaustion won out and we left him in the care of the wonderful night shift nurse who set up her little computer station right outside his door.

To be honest, that’s the way it’s been with my dad and his illness. I have felt like I missed the mark by just a little bit in almost every way. He slipped into Alzheimer’s disease before any of us really noticed. Dad was always a very independent man who took care of his own things. He came down to visit from Kansas a couple of times a year, then once a year, then his visits stopped altogether. We all assumed it was because his eyesight was getting bad and he didn’t want to drive anymore. That’s what he told us. In reality I think Alzheimer’s was already starting to do its insidious, destructive work in his brain.

We still talked on the phone regularly and he seemed okay. My family went and visited him in KS a couple of times. It was difficult because his house was very small so we could not stay there and hotels were expensive. We didn’t go as much as we should have.

We all started to notice he was asking the same questions over and over on the phone. We began to worry. Then the phone calls started; from his brother who lives near-by, worried he was no longer leaving the house, from my brother worried he was not acting right, and then finally the car accident where he ran a stop sign and hit someone. We knew it was time. In fact, we’d waited too long.

My sister, mom, and myself went up to take him to the VA doctor, and to try and see a lawyer and find out how to get the ball rolling to get him some help. It was such a strange trip because it was not quite what we expected. Things actually seemed okay. The house was clean, my dad looked good, he didn’t seem too confused that day, at least not to the degree I’d expected. We must have hit on a good week. We got some of the appointments done and had a fairly nice time with my dad. It was an odd day to be sure.

We didn’t get everything accomplished that day that we needed to so Dave and I went back up a couple of weeks later. This is a trip I will never forget. Dave and I showed up that morning after getting up at 4am to make the 6 hour drive. We told Dad we were coming to help him get some paperwork done. Our goal that day was to get my name on his bank account and legal documents, to see an Elder Care lawyer (our first trip to the lawyer had not gone well), and to take him to a doctor’s appointment at the VA.

When Dave and I came in the door he was sharply dressed, just like he always had been. He was a Marine after-all. His dress pants were nicely creased. His collar shirt was properly tucked in and his pants were belted with the same quality leather belt that matched his favorite loafers. However, his clothes were stained and had clearly not been washed in some time, he had not shaved or bathed in a while either. I was looking right into the face of Alzheimer’s and it was like a punch to the gut. It was so very clear my dad needed help and where had I been? I didn’t go visit him enough. I could have gone more.

Thus began the new normal with my dad. With the help of a very good Elder Care Lawyer here in DFW we managed to get all of his affairs in order and get him moved to DFW and into a Memory Care unit. He was in three different facilities while he was here. The first was a wonderful place that I wish we could have left him but he ran out of money for it. We knew that would be the case eventually as it is with all long-term care patients. While he was there I would go visit him pretty regularly. Friday they had ice cream and dad really liked that so my girls and I, or sometimes just myself would go there and sit with him and eat ice cream. I tried to make my way there at random intervals and times. I didn’t go visit him there enough. I could have gone more.

In his second home I visited him even less. It was over an hour away from my house. We moved him to a facility up nearer my mom and sister. It promised to be a good place and when we moved him in, it seemed to be. It seemed like a happy place with lots of activities and kind people. My mom had a little more time on her hands then and my sister was nearby and they were able to spend more time with him there. While he was in this place he got an infection, which is common in the elderly, and lost a many abilities. He lost most of his language, going down to about 5 or 10 phrases. He lost his ability to walk, and I don’t think he recognized any of his family after that infection. Unfortunately, his level of care also declined in the year he was there. I’m not sure what happened. I suspect a change in management because I noticed the amount of people there, staff and residents, began to dwindle. Eventually it became clear he was not getting proper care so we began the search for a better place. I did not go visit him there enough. I could have gone more.

We moved him to a place near me and I am happy to report that his care there was excellent. I got to know the people there by name and they knew mime. I brought them treats and said thank you repeatedly for all the work they were doing for my dad. They were on top of his health and called me every time there was even the slightest problem. He was happy there. My mom worked hard to get him a specially made wheelchair and it was very fancy. He received it shortly after he arrived in this new facility and the workers there called it his Bentley. He was ‘Donald, the man in the Bentley’. That made me happy. They never left dad in his room but got him up every day and put him in his Bentley and put him out in the main area where all the action was. He seemed to like to be a part of the action. The Activities Coordinator always took him in the room when they were doing the various activities that she’d planned even though he could not participate. It was good for him to be near the action. I’m grateful for the loving care they gave him there.

Because this place was so near me and on a main street I passed several times a week I was able to see him more. I had a set time, Thursday mornings, when I would go visit him. I would take him to a quiet corner or outside if the weather was nice, or sometimes if I were a bit later I’d sit and eat lunch with him and a couple of other residents. At first we’d talk, or rather I’d talk at him. He never really responded but he seemed to like to the company. Eventually I started reading to him. It felt awkward for me to always say the same things to him, or to talk and talk with no input from him, so I began reading him The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I never read these as a child (I KNOW!) so I thought it would be nice to do with dad. He seemed to enjoy me reading to him. He would calm down and not fidget. He would still his hands and seemed to just listen to me read. I did voices and everything. Sometimes I’d get odd looks from passers-by until they got close enough to see I was reading, but I didn’t much care. Dad seemed to like it. Even though I was able to see dad much more at this place it still did not feel like enough. I could have gone more.

I was on the way to teach my classes when I got the call from the nursing home saying he was being taken via ambulance to the ER for breathing problems. Turns out, his nurse noticed he was aspirating and had begun coughing. She did not even call the doctor as is policy, but instead called 911 to come get him right away, then called the doctor. I called my administrator and asked her to cover for me at school, that I wasn’t coming that day…15 minutes before I was due to teach. I’m so thankful for understanding friends who covered for me for two weeks so I could be there for my dad!

When I got to the ER there were a lot of people in the room and a lot going on. I’ll spare you all the medical details, but to say he was altered would be an understatement. I had been to see him on Monday and it was Thursday and he was so different. It happened so fast. He was mostly unresponsive, he was only responding to pain stimuli, (grabbing at them when they gave him IVs etc).

Once they got him stable they got him up to a room. I stayed very late that first night then ran home to sleep for a few hours when the nurse said he was stable and it’d be okay to do that. I got back up there on Friday early so I would be sure not to miss his doctor. Friday was The Day Of Tests. Poor dad. So many tests; sonograms, EKGs, CTs, blood tests, Swallow tests, and on and on it went. On Friday night when Dave and I were there his heart did some odd things and it initiated a Rapid Response. Kind of like what you see on TV. Suddenly the nurse came in and turned on the lights and said their monitors out at the desk were indicating his heart was struggling and they needed to respond. I reminded her that he had a DNR and she said they were aware. They would not re-start it if it stopped.

Dave and I sat back and watched as the room quickly filled with about 10 to 12 people and they hooked him up to an EKG machine and pushed various medications to get his heart back into a proper rhythm. Eventually they got it back but the whole experience left me feeling uncomfortable. Why did we just do all that? Was there even any hope of him getting better? Knowing what I know now and knowing my dad and what he would want, I wish I’d stopped them. He didn’t need to go through that.

Saturday all the test results started to trickle in and none of it was good. He had several health issues going on in addition to the aspiration pneumonia that brought him to the hospital and none of them were really treatable. He’d been on several very heavy antibiotics to fight the pneumonia and instead of helping he became septic. Even if we could somehow manage to make those antibiotics work on the sepsis and pneumonia, he had some newly discovered issues that were unfixable. He was not a candidate for surgery. After talking to the family we decided to discontinue treatment and put him on hospice. That was one of the hardest, right decisions I’ve ever made.

By Saturday night we had him off of all the medicines they were giving him. They were now focusing on helping him to stay comfortable.  The hospice people told us that he would likely go quickly, probably Sunday. Dad was never one to do as he was told so he managed to hang around for 3 more days. During those three days all the family came up to say their good-byes. My mom and sister and I spent a lot of time just talking and laughing around his bed. Maybe he lingered because he enjoyed our conversation. 

Eventually, on Tuesday night it became clear it would be imminent. His heart beat was very, very slow and erratic. My sister and I lingered late that night. We didn’t want him to be alone. It was a more subdued evening. Not as much laughing and joking. We were so very tired, and we both knew in our spirits that this would be our last hours with dad. When we finally decided to go home and rest, we said our goodbyes. They were simple, not drawn out. Every time we’d left his hospital room we knew it could be the last, but something was different about this time and I think we both felt it. He passed that night at 2:26 am. I wish I would have stayed. I wish I would have been there when he passed to hold his hand and say comforting words to him, but my timing was off, as it feels like it has been during this entire process.

Losing a loved one seems chock full of could-haves and should-haves. I think those feelings are part of grief itself. I could have had my dad move in with me, quit all my other responsibilities, and never left his side and I can almost guarantee you I would still be wading my way through the could-haves and should-haves. I am grateful for the last year I had with him. I am grateful he was close and I was able to not only have my scheduled time, but also pop in for 5 or 10 minute visits here and there throughout the week. I am going to focus on that, what I did do and what I did have and try to learn from it and let go of the could-haves and the should-haves.

I’ll miss you dad. I am so glad you are at peace and your mind and body are once again whole.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelations 21:4 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

These Kids Today...

I was out shopping at Payless today looking for some plain white flats for Spring. (Y'all, they do not exist! I mean, they do if you want to pay upwards of $60 for them, but I just wanted some cheep ones for one season for church. I'm not going to run a marathon in them or anything. Sheesh!)

Luckily for you, the lack of affordable white flats is not the subject I want to talk about today. I want to talk about kids these days.

I was chatting with the lady who was helping me with my purchases today and she was saying that she is so disappointed in the kids today. She can't find good help. She said that they rarely want to work and if they do they want the good hours right off the bat, no weekends please and thank you. She said when they do show up they're lazy and don't know how to work hard.

This made me sad because this has not been my experience, and I told her so. I told her that I have 4 kids, 18 and up and they are awesome! And their friends are awesome! I mean, yeah, sometimes I watch the news and worry that we're doomed if this is the group that will be running the country next. Then I remind myself that these kids and young adults I see throwing things through windows in protest of whatever is the next sexy perceived injustice are the small minority. I think they just have the loudest voice. That's not unique to this upcoming group of kids; every generation has their miscreants.

The teens that I see are hard workers. They are relational. They are looking out for each other. They forgive wrongs. Let me digress here for a minute; I've seen this younger generation of girls work through things in a healthy way, maintaining friendships, that I don't think some grown women could do! I'm amazed at the grace they have for each other.

This group of kids gives me hope for our future. I know several who are actively, selflessly, serving in the military, and many who are serving in missions. They're definitely a more globally minded generation. You don't have to tell them to eat their vegetables because there are kids starving in Africa. They know it! (though that knowledge is not always enough to incite them to eat those veggies) Many of them are actively doing something about it.

When I was done waxing on about how awesome my kids and their friends are, the lady at Payless said, "Please send some of those kids my way. THAT'S who I'm looking for!" I think that's the cry from many employers out there.

This millennial generation does things differently, that's for sure, but different does not equal bad. I have a lot of confidence in the ones I know. They're going to do great things.

And if you're looking for a summer job, Payless is hiring.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Challenge

While we were camping over Spring Break my niece Kaarin mentioned that she'd recently read Wuthering Heights.

I mentioned that I had not read that one intentionally because I hate sad books. Yuck. Life is sad enough. Why read or watch sad things for entertainment? If you want to be sad all you have to do is watch the news. 

She said that it was not that sad. She said that while it was not a 'happily-ever-after' book it did end well. 

I asked her if she'd read Jane Eyre which is my very favorite book. I love it even more than Jane Austen books. She said she had not, which gave me an idea:


I told Kaarin that if she'd read Jane Eyre, I'd read Wuthering Heights. (Frankly, I think Kaarin got the better end of the deal.) I opened the challenge to the rest of the family and have a few more takers. 

Because everyone is super busy with end of school year stuff and finals coming up etc, the challenge was to have it read before school starts back up in the Fall. That gives all the college kids the summer to get it done. 

The reward, other than the edification you get simply from reading great literature, is a meal at Whataburger for whoever finishes the book in time. 

I better get to reading... 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Head, It Spins...

I'm entering a strange new phase of life. The baby of the family is graduating high school this May which means my homeschooling days are coming to a swift end. To be honest, they've already ended. She's been taking only college classes this year through the Duel Credit system and has already completed everything for me. She is still working through some Algebra but she has a tutor for that. (Thank the Good Lord Above for her tutor!).

 Senior Pictures by Haleigh at 121 Photography

I am still doing the details of homeshooling. There is the end of the year performances with our homeschooling co op, the year end Gala (prom) and of course, Graduation. I still have some work to do as a homeschooling mom this Spring then I close up shop for good. 

Senior Pictures by Haleigh at 121 Photography

You'd think I would have all this free time on my hands. I remember wondering what I was going to do with myself this school year, concerned that I'd be bored and lonely. HA! Yeah, that has not been the case at all. 

Senior Pictures by Haleigh at 121 Photography

Turns out, having Young Adults, especially when some of them still live in your house, can be quite time consuming. 

Senior Pictures by Haleigh at 121 Photography

We started the school year with a wedding. My oldest got married to the lovely Haleigh in October. It was a beautiful wedding. I was exhausted when it was over and I didn't really even do anything! The venue was so beautiful and of course the Bride and Groom were radiant. 

This is just the immediate family on the groom's side. Haleigh's immediate family is even bigger! 

In November I hosted the entire family (Dave's side) for Thanksgiving. That was a LOT of work but worth it. It was an awesome day. 

I kept thinking, after Thanksgiving I'll have some downtime. Yeah, instead of that, we got a giant tree for Christmas, put it up in the corner of our living room and before we could even get it decorated the hot water heater in the bedroom part of our house leaked and ruined the carpet in all three bedrooms and the hallway. We had to take every possession in three bedrooms, four closets, and a hallway and put them all in the livingroom so we could tear up ALL the carpet, replace all the carpet, then put all the things back that did not get ruined by the water. While it only took me about 2 minuted to type that out, trust me when I say it took significantly longer to live it. 

We manage to get everything put away and the tree decorated the weekend before Christmas. Holy Cow! 

We then celebrated a wonderful Christmas with my side of the family on Christmas Eve at my dad's memory care facility and then my place in the evening, Christmas Day at my sister-in-law's, and Boxing Day at Nana and Oppa's place. It was three full days of festivities. 

I loved every minute of it, but was so ready to just rest. However, the day after Boxing Day I got the cold from the dark-side. I coughed and coughed and coughed. It took about two weeks to recover from that lovely cold, and of course I passed it to the whole family. 

During the time we were all coughing like we were dying of consumption, we had a cold snap here in TX and the pipe over our game room burst and leaked all over! Luckily we were home when it happened and heard it and were able to turn off the water to the house before the ceiling collapsed, but thus began another round of furniture in the wrong place, attic contents all over the garage, insurance claims, and a revolving door of fix it guys coming in and out of my house. 

And if that were not enough, I had an abdominal surgery scheduled for Jan 16, right in the middle of dealing with this mess. (You don't really want the details on this one, I promise, but let's just say no one wants to be coughing after they've had this type of abdominal surgery!)

This surgery came with a 4 to 8 week recovery depending on the invasiveness of the procedure. I took about 6 weeks. That as all I could take because exactly 6 weeks after my surgery my second son asked his girlfriend to marry him!  

We had a party at my house for about 80 to 100 people. Pretty sure I've never hosted that many people in my home ever before. 

That was a wonderful and amazing night. 

 I really won the lottery as far as daughters/daughters-in-laws! I love these girls so much! 

Needless to say, It took a few days to recover from that party. That set me back in my recovery a bit, but not too badly. Which is good because then it was Spring Break and the annual family camping trip to prep for, enjoy, and then clean up after. 

That brings us to today. Here we are in mid March and it's time to plan for the year end production/Gala/Graduation/Graduation Party. Then it's summer and this school year is over.

My head is spinning. This is not at all how I expected this school year to go. I thought I'd have some time to do a few things that I'd been putting off until I had more time. I thought this would be the year I had some of that elusive, 'more time', but it remains elusive. 

So, summer trips will come and go and then guess what we're doing again in October? You guessed it, a WEDDING!! I hope this isn't like that 'If You Give A Mouse A Cookie' book because I'm counting on next school year being a little calmer than the last!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why I Will Show Up Today

 Today I am going to spend some time reading to my elderly father. I am going to go grocery shopping for my family. I am going to do laundry, wipe the dogs feet before I let them in, and pick up and put away random stuff. I’m going to set up the new printer and throw the old one away. I am going to ask my children how their day was when they get home and celebrate their victories with them and commiserate with their frustrations. I’m going to cook my family dinner (but not do the dishes. I’m not crazy. I make the kids do that.)

When my husband gets home I am going to welcome him with a smile and a kiss and thank him for working so hard every day so I can serve our family from home.

I am doing all these things today, just like I do these kinds of things every day, because that is the job I have chosen. This is the job I am blessed to have. It is my joy and pleasure and I would not have it any other way.

I am showing up today because that is what I have always taught my children to do. We show up. Is there a job that needs to be done? Then do it. Don’t look around for someone else to step up. Do it and do it well.

What kind of example would I be if I sat down today? On National Women’s Day? If, to show how much I am worth, I suddenly stopped doing my work?

I am so proud to be a woman. I love being a woman. I love being a mom, a nurturer, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, but here is the real truth. I do not do this work solely because I love my family (though I do) or because I enjoy keeping a house (though I do). I also don’t think my life as a woman needs to look anything like yours. God has this work for me and I love it. God may have different work for you. You do that work.

I will not stop my work today to prove the point that I am so great and my work is so important, because ultimately I don’t work for man, I work for God; the God who sent his son to die for my sins. Talk about unappreciated. Can any woman on earth complain they’re so unappreciated that they came here perfect and got up on a cross, took up the sins of man and paid for them with their blood, so that the world could be right with God?

I am only one person. I am only one small person. I do not have a grand stage or a loud platform. I’m just a woman who has chosen to be a wife and a mom and a house keeper and a teacher and a follower of Jesus and I try to do my work to the best of my ability, though I often fall short. I will probably not affect many people’s lives, but I do pray that those lives I do touch I affect deeply. 

As Mother Teresa, one of my favorite women and such an example for all people whether you’re a woman or not, said...

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

That is why I will show up today and every day I have breath.