Making Fwowers

My son and I planted about 20 lily bulbs the first summer we lived here in Iowa. The little guy was almost 2 years old when we saw the boxed bulbs at Sam’s Club and on a whim, I bought a few of them. We took our treasure trove home, and began to bury it. As I dug the holes, my boy was much more interested in making sure each bulb had a kiss and hug than joining me in the dirt with the little navy blue trowel that was just his size.

“We’re making fwowers!” he would exclaim every time I buried another bulb in the dusty summer soil.

He had no idea how long the wait would be for the reward of “our” hard work.  The first year we were eager as we waited for what would only be a few inches of plant growth to surface. There would be no blossoms to admire, but my boy didn’t appear to care. He praised the urchin like beginnings of green and burgundy foliage that peeked through the ground and looked for them when ever we were in the yard.

Fwowers, Mommy!” he would say with excitement and wonder as he pointed out the little plants with pride.  With grin on his face and a drool and dirt line on his tee shirt, he toddled about the grass from bulb to bulb discovering new growth in the fwower beds.

After 2 years of anticipation, our reward came when the bulbs finally burst forth with stunning blossoms in July. I think my son was more fascinated with his Stargazers and Casablancas than the fireworks display!

I love seeing the lilies grow each year. They get taller, thicker stocks and heartier, larger blossoms.  In some ways it’s like my almost-first-grader son who despite loosing his front teeth, can now say flowers perfectly, is beginning to read, and can now ride a two wheel bike. The flower stems have reached a higher height than the little guy this year, but I know it’s only temporary. The little guy is growing up.

Every year the flowers eventually fade, but the vibrant memories never will.

Rylon's Flowers

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Memories of a Very Important Snow Day

January 10, 1980

He arrived to the birthday party that afternoon in a huge truck that was the color of light brown sugar.  A formidable opponent it was, for the 9 inches of snow that had blanketed Vancouver that day, as it was very tall, sitting on huge tires and had a sturdy black roll bar on the back.  Hopping out of his truck he looked just like an old west cowboy coming off of his horse.  I noticed the way my mom looked at him like he was something special and I wondered what it was about this rugged stranger that appealed to her.  He greeted her with a smile and discrete kiss.  I couldn’t help but stare.  Mom invited him into the house and took his winter coat and cowboy hat.

I stood half-heartedly hiding in the hallway of our little ranch rental home as my mom hung his coat.  “Hi,” I said to the man who stood next to my mom.  My natural curiosity never allowed shyness to win out and this was no exception.  “What’s your name?”

His voice was gentle and kind, and he seemed to be a little nervous as he answered me, “I’m Vance.”

I drew in an excited breath upon learning his name.  “My name is Vicki and it starts with a “V” too!”  I exclaimed!

“That’s what I hear,” he replied with a friendly smile “Nice to meet you, Vicki.”

As I played with my cousins at the birthday party, I kept an inquisitive eye on the man whose name started with a “V” and who so clearly had the interest of my mom.  He had a thick dark head of hair and he wore a long but groomed moustache and beard, both noticeably streaked throughout with gray.  His eyes were dark and warm and behind all the facial hair he had an easy going smile.  He wore an earthen brown suede vest that had a sheep sheer lining, a plaid western cut shirt with pearly buttons, jeans, and well-worn cowboy boots.  His clothes, his truck, his mild and humble manner, everything about him were mysterious to me, and all throughout the party I kept careful track of the attention he gave my mom.

To Be Continued…

Mom With Her Cowboy, Vance.

Emotional Illiterate

I have been remembering a moment in the past a lot lately.  I know why.  It is because even 13 years later, I am still searching for the conclusion to the story.  It used to be that I was hopeful for a happy ending, but these days I am not, and I wonder if I will ever be able to just let him go.

It was the week of my 26th birthday and he had come to town.  Not to visit me, so much as to visit his father and that hurt a little bit.  We had taken a drive in a car he had borrowed from my aunt and he was doing his usual “memory lane” type of tour, driving by his old haunts, past the berry fields he worked in as a teen, the Catholic church where his family once attended, the newly renovated home where his family lived years before.  He seemed to be lost in the activity; I was just along for the ride.

Our visits were not very regular or frequent.  We hardly even spoke on the phone anymore and I was hoping for a change with all of that.  So much water under the bridge…  I had been in counseling for the previous few months attempting to sort it all out, with him, with my husband, with my future.  Ignoring the past and ignoring the pain was not an option anymore.   I was desperate to move on and trying to collect the courage to do it.

The sound of the rain and the windshield wipers filled the uncomfortable silence in the car as he drove the winding back roads of rural Clark County.  I stared out the window, watching the evergreen trees flash by, trying to gather my thoughts and summon my nerve. You can do this.  You are a grown woman with two babies of your own.  He has no power over you.  It’s not like it can get any worse. The intensity of the rain was unrelenting, it seemed as if even God was nudging me on.

“Dad,” I began.  I stared hard out the front windshield of the car and began again.

“Dad, I need to tell you something.  I know it’s been a long time coming and I need to make peace with it, with you.”  I continued to fix my gaze on the soaked pavement of the winding country road.  “I know for a long time I’ve held onto a lot of hurt over you not being around for my childhood.  I haven’t been fair.  I’ve taken my anger out on you by not letting you be a part of my life.  I was hurt really bad by you, and I’m sorry I’ve been so distant with you.”

Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I continued on, “I wanted you to be my dad and pay attention to me.  It hurt when you didn’t call or you paid more attention to Dan than me.  It hurt when you said on the night when I graduated that we would start anew and then we didn’t…” I bowed my head and sobbed out all of the pain of the previous 19 years.  “I know you haven’t asked for it but I forgive you.”

The car slowed to a stop at the side of the road.  I looked through the raindrops on the window to see a little house on the side of the road and I felt the arm of my father come around the front of my shoulder.  My insides leapt for joy as I felt the brush of his arm coming around me.  A still calm came over me, and it felt like everything around me slowed down.  I wanted to savor every second of this moment.  A moment I had yearned for over so many years.  Maybe he too, would apologize for his part in all of this pain.  Since my childhood I had dreamed of this moment and it had finally arrived, complete with a compassionate hug!

And then he spoke, and I quickly realized that I was mistaken, as he pointed to the little house on the side of the road and said in an unemotional tone, “I think I had a girlfriend who lived in that house right there.”

I wish that I could say I pulled myself together and quickly realized that I was dealing with someone who was incapable of giving me what I need, that I was able to easily move on from that day, but I cannot.  I continued to languish in those feelings of inadequacy and abandonment for longer that I would like to admit.  Eventually I have come to realize that I am worth more than he has shown me and I have come to understand that I need to let my father go, but sometimes my thoughts turn to him and I wonder if there is any hope that he will ever be anything more than that man in the car on that old country road or if he will always be an emotional illiterate.

The Best Part of My Birthday

I added another year to my age this week!  I don’t mind birthdays.  They are a sign of life and a marker that reminds me that the good Lord has blessed me with another years worth of days.  I also like the way my little family celebrates birthdays.  I thought I’d share with you about my favorite part.

The written words…

Somewhere along the line we decided that everyone gets to choose, for the birthday honoree, their own individual card.  This is the selection for me from my dream man and the kids for this year.  I especially love how each of my children take such care to write in the cards to add their own personal touch.  They even write messages on the envelopes!

This one is from my little guy…

I melt when I see the little pre school handwritings of my little ones.  You know, when you’re in the middle of those years when they are little and need you so much for every little thing… “Can you tie my shoes?”  “I want a snaaaaack!”  “There’s thunder, can I sleep in your room?”  and no trip to Target ever goes with out the inevitable question, “Can we visit the Toys Section?”  Wow, those years are challenging!  Not enough sleep, not enough time for yourself, everything you wear has the fingerings of slobbery graham crackers before you ever leave the house, and you’ve seen your precious little boy use your skirt as a napkin!   It feels like a time in your life when it will never be over and they will never grow up.  It feels like you will never again see the words, “Dry Clean Only” in the tag of a sweater and consider it a viable wardrobe choice.  It feels like you will never again be able to have an adult conversation with your husband where you don’t end up squaking, “What!?” like a jungle bird, at your sweet little blue eyed girl who has just interrupted for the 342 bajillionth time!  It feels like you will never be able to walk through a parking lot without experiencing the feeling of your arm being nearly ripped from the socket as your wiggly boy hop, skips, and jumps along, all while you grip his gooey little hand.  And every day you wonder, “Will the Family Room rug always be covered by all these toys?”

An then one day, they give you a give you a card, and the preschool writing has been replaced.  That little blue eyed interrupter has done it again! Interrupted the fantasy you have in your mind that she’s a little girl and she will never grow up and she will never not be your little baby girl.

Oh, she’ll tell you she’s your ‘Baby girl,” but that’s just to be cute and endearing.  She know’s all your soft spots.  And you melt.

And then she tells you how ‘prodigous’ you are …  And you can’t help but smile because she’s so stinkin’ cute.  And she’s becoming so stunningly beautiful that you know if you dare leave the table, the busy-boy at the restaurant is going to try and get her number…

And your other little blue eyed girl tells you she is finally beginning to understand who you are…

And that someday she wants to be the best mom in the world, too…  And you can’t help but see how wise she’s becoming.  She’s actually noticing all the effort you’ve put into raising her and she appreciates it!  And you can see that the next 4 years are going to go by so fast… and your little chrysalis is, very soon, going to open up.  And you imagine the amazing butterfly she will be.   What amazing butterflies that they all will be!

And you melt.

The written words are the best part.

And in case you were wondering, yes, my husband gave me one too.  He really is the man of my dreams!

She’ll Wear Blue

Entering the auditorium for freshman orientation, the screen at the front of the room reads, “Welcome Class of 2014!”   The year is a little piece of trivia that I had stuffed away in the back of my mind years ago when I finally decided what year she was going to start Kindergarten and haven’t thought a lot of it since.  My first born has an autumn birthday so it was up for debate, but in the end I decided to keep her home for a bonus year and it has proven to be an excellent decision.  Making that decision seems like a lifetime ago and yesterday all at the same time.  How is that possible?  I feel the knot of emotion tighten in my throat and steady myself.  I don’t want to be ‘that mom’ and it would be so easy to ‘get all emotional’ right now.

As we find our seats in the auditorium of the high school, I have that surreal feeling like I am living someone else’s life, because this one, I am certain, could not be mine, given my daughter is still, after all, just a little girl.  Isn’t she?  Yeah, I know…  not really.

Truthfully, over the years I have not given a lot of thought about the day she will graduate from high school.  She has always been fairly ‘easy’.  Nothing has ever really thrown me for a loop with her.  It’s just been an assumption that some day these high school days too would come.  Now, as I listen to the guidance counselor begin his ‘This is how much high school has changed since you were in it you old parents’ spiel, those thoughts of the next four years, those mysterious school years that, like ‘Kindergarten’, are given special names and not just a number, have my heart beating just a little bit faster!  Not because I don’t think she is prepared or capable, on the contrary, I’m proud to say she is a far better student than I was in every way!  No, it is because this man giving his shtick keeps talking about how fast it will go.

I find myself thinking back to when I graduated from high school.  One of my favorite photos of that night is of my father and me.  We are standing together in the stadium, he in his navy blue sport coat and tie, a proud smile and misty eyes, and me, wearing my emerald green graduation robe and mortar board hat, my entire face beaming and in my hands a bag of confetti.  The moment seems like yesterday and then I am pulled back to reality.  The guidance counselor scrolls through his Power Point presentation and the photo in my mind transforms.  This time the picture is still of me, but now I’m the one grinning with pride and misty eyed, and the beaming graduate is now my lovely girl… and thanks to the image on the screen a new piece to the unknown puzzle comes in to view.  She’ll wear blue.

Class of 1990, my how time flies!

Saying Goodbye

As I made my way past the crowded waiting room, I hoped that I was first to catch the door when the privacy curtain receded.  I had enlisted my husband in my plan.  He would guard the door while I was inside, so that I could steal time alone with her.  Getting time alone with everybody’s favorite patient was challenging, there were always people visiting!  As much as I was thankful for their tangible support, I was growing weary of their constant presence.  I wanted some of those precious and few moments for myself and I didn’t want to have to shoo someone away so that I could get it.

Precious and few.  Those words rang in my head with the urgency of the obnoxious beep a 4 am alarm clock, all too early, and imploring my immediate attention, even in my disoriented state.  There was no way of knowing how long we had with her, but we all must have sensed the critical timing because the visitors were always there.  They came to her bedside in steady stream, like the flow unconscious thought, one blending seamlessly into the next.  Unaware of when they arrived, where they would be on their way to, how long they planned to stay, many with the stunned blank faces of grief.   Friends from church and from her neighborhood, friends who shared her hobbies, friends from work, friends who were like family and friends who were also family.  On the way home from work, after church, before heading to the store, just because they were in the neighborhood… each one stopping for “just a minute.”

I understood why they came.  They were drawn to her light.  They were drawn to her strength and peace.  They were drawn to her hopeful anticipation of heaven.

So many visitors came to see her while she was sick that she was rarely alone.  I was happy that so many people were expressing their love and support of her and the rest of our family, but I would be lying if said I loved having them around all the time.  The truth is, I needed some time alone with her, some time to say our goodbyes, because when all of this was over, all of the visitors would go home to their mother, daughter, son, husband or wife and I would not.  Even though I had my own family, as a daughter, I would be going it alone.  As the clock marched on at merciless pace, I grew anxious. These were my precious and few.

The door opened and as I stepped into her room my husband assumed his post on the other side.  I drew a deep breath.  My mind was full of questions that I had come to attempt to answer.  How do I tell my mother I love her in a way that will satisfy my soul when she is gone?  How do I thank her “from the bottom of my heart?”  How do I say goodbye?

Inside her room it was finally quiet, nothing to distract us, nothing to intrude.

“Hi Mama,” I said, “Hope you don’t mind, I’m stealin’ some alone time.”  She smiled at me with tired eyes, and looking so small and fragile in her hospital bed, as she raised it to a sitting position.  It somehow seemed inappropriate when she spoke with such care for me.

“Sure, honey.  How are you getting along with all of this?” she asked.  “Are you doing all right?  Randy? The kids?  I know this has got to be such a hard time for you…”  Her voice softened with emotion.

With a plan, I pulled a chair away from the side of the bed.

I asked, “Mama, do you think you’d be able to sit up for a little bit, or if you need to you can lie down?”

“I’m fine sitting just like this,” she replied.  “What are we doin’?”

As she patiently waited for my reply, I took the pink basin from her bedside table and walked to the sink in silence.  Standing at the sink, I filled the little pink basin with warm water and I looked at her reflection in the mirror as she lay in the bed behind me.  The woman in the bed, though battle damaged with IV’s, catheters, and bags, was still my beautiful mother.  Her head on the pillow, still capped with wonderfully thick short brown hair, her eyes still blue as sapphires.  A smile was wide on her face and brimming with hope, and I wondered how she sustained it.  Even in her weary body, she sat with poise, straight, with the same beautiful broad shoulders of a swimmer and her hands folded in her lap.   A plush pale blue robe draped over her shoulders and one delicately shaped ankle and stockinged foot extended from under the crisp hospital bed sheet providing her famous “vent” to keep her from getting “bed hot.”  A trait I have also inherited.  With my now full basin of water and a towel, I rejoined her sitting next to her on the bed.  The spicy sweet fragrance that came from her, the mother of my childhood, was the smell of her perfume Youth Dew.  All the essential elements of “her” were still there.

“Vicki,” she said, “are you going to wash my feet?”  How did she know?  It seemed the only fitting way to express the love and gratitude I felt for her presence in my life.

“Yes, if that’s all right with you.” I said in a near whisper, and she bowed her head to say yes.  She moved both of her feet from under the sheet and I slid off her socks.

On my knees before her I began.   The litany of praise for her as my mother, mentor and friend poured from my heart and out my mouth.

The litany of thankfulness for the sacrifices she made to be a stay at home mom instead of putting a career first, to go without a something for her self so that I could have anything from braces to a prom dress.  For all the times she would have liked to spend a week away with my Dad and instead sent me on a school or youth group trip.  I thanked her for sending me to college and seeing to it that I lived in the dorms even though I could have lived at home.  The water and the cloth were now a channel of respect and admiration.

The litany of humility and gratitude for her forgiveness even when I was too stubborn to ask for it, for the times I didn’t respect her as my mother or even as someone who had traveled the road before me, when I was insensitive and selfish.  Even for the time that an 18 year old me I told her I wasn’t going to waste my life staying home with my kids like she did, the cleansing and warm restorative water carried the pain between us away and was replaced with a river of peace.

The litany of praise for the wonderful example she was to me as a mother and grandmother, the beautiful example of what a good marriage can be like, the way she strove to live with Christ as her example.  All gifts that cannot be given without intention and vision, and I wanted her to know, with my basin beside me, that I was aware of that.  I wanted her to know that I admired her authentic faith and her extravagant love.  With my water I wanted to honor her and I knew she understood.

It was a gift to be able to, in my own way, get to say goodbye to her in that sacred moment  that day, even though she was still with us for more than a month.   Watching Cancer scavenge the life out of her physical body was excruciating, but more bearable knowing that nothing between us was left undone.  When the night came for us to sing to her heaven’s lullaby, as she stepped to the other side, I knew that there was nothing left incomplete, nothing that had not been washed clean.

Damn-it-Danny

It’s Retro Week on Facebook this week, so time for me to scan a few baby pictures for the cause.  For those of you who haven’t caved to the masses and are not on Facebook, here’s a little explanation.  On my profile page, I have a small thumbnail photo, usually of yours truly, and mostly recent.  For Retro Week the unofficial mandate asked Facebookers to post a profile picture from the old days.  I had a cute one posted of my husband and I from our earliest days as a couple (and can you believe that picture is almost 20 years old !?),  but everyone had seen that one, so for the fun of joining in the Retro Week hula-hoop-la,  I found myself this morning with photo album in lap, sitting in front of the scanner.

I have very few photos of myself from before 1980.  All of the photos that encompass my first 7 years line just 35 magnetic photo album pages.  I know… Another project!  Hey, started scanning it today!   But anyway… Maybe today with the 5 year anniversary looming just 2 days away, I should have skipped looking and scanning which eventually led to crying.

It’s not that I look back at those years as particularly painful.  Truthfully, I don’t really remember most of them.  It’s not that I resent the life after those days either.  For the most part I had a very happy childhood, surrounded by so many people who loved and cared for me.  I had siblings, friends, family vacations, Easter Egg hunts and over flowing Christmas Stockings.  My memories are that it was as happy if not happier than the life depicted in those 35 pages.  Each picture that flashed up on my computer screen brought back some kind of memory, some from way back and some much newer.

An innocent picture of my brother and I standing in front of Medical Lake in Spokane, WA reminded me of a particularly funny story.  My little brother, whom I called Danny in the old days, was an exuberant and rascally kind of boy.  He had tons of energy, was very curious and never really could leave well enough alone.   I often thought his round blond head was cartoonish.  He reminded me of Dennis the Menace and his antics certainly lived up to that stereotype!

Vicki and Danny, circa 1977

Our family owned a small Chrysler sailboat and most of our family time in those days was spent sailing on the lakes around Spokane.  I loved that little pale yellow boat.  At 6 years old I was becoming quite a little sailor and could navigate all 15 feet of it through calm water with little help from my father.  I was learning the proper sailing terminology and I could see my father straighten with pride when I referred to the tiller and dagger board or called out, “Jib!”   He was thrilled when the boat would heel to one side and I wasn’t afraid, but instead peals of laughter poured out of me.  Looking at that picture I also remembered how annoyed my father would get with my younger brother Danny.  I don’t really remember any specific incident that Danny did, just that he was always into everything!

I remember one particular day my brother and I sat in the boat as my dad was cranking the boat back onto the trailer at the boat launch.   It was a warm sunny day, and we were leaving early.  Another boater, a woman, was standing waist deep in the water next to us as her boat was easing into the lake.  She was young and beautiful.  To me, with her Farrah Fawcett hair and orange macramé bikini top, she looked like she belonged in the movies.  Maybe it was my stare that prompted her to turn and talk to us.

“Well aren’t you cute!” she said as she turned toward our boat.  She looked at me with the smile of a Charlie’s Angel and asked, “What’s your name, honey?”

“Vicki,” I said as I studied every move she made.  She may as well have been life size Malibu Suntan Barbie and I wanted to be just like her.

“Vicki,” my name rolled over her Lip Smacker-glossed lips as she repeated it and somehow it sounded prettier.  She turned to my brother, who had become slightly bashful and said, “And how ‘bout you, what’s your name?”

This was my brother’s spirited reply: “It’s Damn-it-Danny!”

Laughter sparkled from her like it had just bubbled out of a can of TAB, and with that she turned back to her boat.

Damn-it-Danny…

Lately that nic-name he earned so many years ago seems so fitting.  He just can’t seem to come to terms with the relationship I now have with our father.  He means well, I think.  He and our father appear to have a thriving relationship, while the one I had drown years ago.  He sees that as my fault.  He protects him.  He blames me.  He can’t leave it alone.   He won’t leave it alone.

Damn-it-Danny, leave it alone.

Herding Cats!

It’s Christmas time, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the mall.  This year has been especially fun because I have enjoyed the company of my 2 teenage daughters.  They even got up and came with me on Black Friday.  I thought for sure I’d scare them off with a 4 am departure time, but they were up for it and even seemed excited by the prospect of being out shopping at a time any sane person would be home sleeping in bed!  It was a lot of fun and they brought a new energy to the ghastly early morning hour.  I loved having them along!  As we shopped, and I was continually looking for which way this one went or where that one took off to, it occurred to me that shopping with teenage girls is a bit like herding cats!  I may have an idea of where I’d like to go, but they’ve got a mind of their own!  There’s just no containing them!  Have you ever seen a cat chase a flashlight on a dark wall?  That’s pretty much what watching my teenage girls shop a Hollister store looks like.  Have you ever watched a cat pounce on a kitty toy, or follow a dangling string?  Oh yes, just like them in the accessory aisle of Charlotte Russe, or the Tee Shirt tables at Aeropostale!  Like cats they can squeeze past any obstacle, like for instance, their shopping bag laden mother.  They have extremely keen eyes, and can be very finicky, “I don’t know why, I just like this one better…” and have highly selective hearing, “Yes, dear, but that one is twice the price!”  And where new shoes are concerned?  They always seem to land on their feet!  Yep, I tell you it’s just like herding cats!

I’m Living!

I had this surreal dream once while my mom was dying.  In the dream she was healthy, and pink in the cheeks. The yellow tones of jaundice were nowhere to be found on her face and she was dressed in her everyday clothes, not pajamas.  She was sitting at her kitchen table with one of her brothers, her sister, and one of her sons and they were doing something she absolutely loved to do at family get-togethers:  they were playing a board game.  She was happily laughing, her loud chuckle filling the room, and they were all acting as if there wasn’t a care in the world.  All the while, as they played their game, every wall in the house was engulfed in flames.  Chaos had erupted all around them, stray flames were licking at her feet, but she played on.  As she noticed the flames, she would stamp them out and continue laughing and playing.  With her back to the walls and the others across the table, it felt like the walls were closing in around her, and yet she still chose to play that silly board game.  The dream really spoke to me, and from then on I resolved to be a much more active participant in her living than her dying.

To live while you are dying must feel something like the scene in my dream.  There are only moments left, only so many more times you can extinguish those insistent flames, before the fire will win out.  In my dream my mom was intent on living despite knowing she was unable to defeat the death that had come for her.  It was time for me to help her make that happen.  For weeks she had been talking about her desire to live past Christmas, the problem was, none of us were quite sure how to accomplish the ‘living’ part.  We had gone so quickly from ‘no cancer’ to ‘dying of cancer,’ that we completely skipped the ‘living with cancer’ chapter of the story, and it was clear that if there was going to be anything to write in that chapter, the time was now.   We needed to get on with the living part.

My sister, sister-in-law, mom’s best friend Joy, and I arrived to my parent’s house with a plan involving some of mom’s favorite things:  her grandchildren and Christmas shopping!  In her prime, mom practically elevated Christmas shopping to an Olympic level!  She was an avid Black Friday shopper and would go to the ends of the earth for that perfect something she knew her loved one wanted.  When I was in high school I asked for a pair of navy blue penny loafers for Christmas and she delivered, driving some 60 miles to get the only pair left in my size in the region of Nordstrom stores!  She loved to spoil us on Christmas morning, and she was good at it!  Sometimes she even knew what we wanted or needed before we did.

Mom was pretty excited about the shopping excursion.  Her only request was that we not tire her out, so we set a time limit of 3 hours.  My dad was much less excited.  He reminded me of when I was a new mother, preparing to leave my newborn baby with a babysitter for the first time.  He hovered over her and recited every detail of her care, “Did you pack all of her medications?  Do you have The Notebook?  Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.  Don’t tire her out, she gets tired real easy.”  He checked and double-checked that all of her necessities had been loaded before he gently and reluctantly placed her in the front seat of my van.  With a firm, “3 hours,” he shut the door.  We were on our way to do what living grandmas do; we were on our way to Christmas shop for the grandkids!

At the shopping mall, I carefully I loaded my precious cargo into the wheel chair, all the while my dad’s voice echoing in my ear, “Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.”  It was no small feat, talking him in to this scheme and I wanted it to come off flawlessly.  The only damage done on this day was going to be to dad’s credit card, so with her safely installed in the wheel chair we were off on our Christmas shopping spree.

She was very thoughtful about what she bought each of her 9 grandchildren.  She decided on clothing for each of them, wanting to buy nothing to sentimental.   Gifts of clothing were a grandma specialty of hers, and with glee she had flooded her grandchildren’s closets over the years.  With a smile spread wide on her face she directed each of her ‘elves’ to help her reach the clothing racks.  This time she wanted to choose things that she could see them wear right away.   Cautiously, I wove the wheelchair through the maze of hanging clothes.  It was a bittersweet moment for both of us.  We were finally enjoying something we had loved doing for years and yet trying not to think about how this would be the last year we would Christmas shop together.

After mom finished making her selections, she and I headed to the parking lot while the rest of the group waited in the long checkout line.  We were approaching the 3-hour time limit, and I was determined to follow my dad’s instructions to a ‘T’.  The others would rendezvous with us at the van once the purchases were made.

Outside the air was misty and cold, but neither of us seemed to care as I maneuvered the wheelchair to the outer parking spaces.  The pavement was a little slick and I could feel the wheelchair pick up speed on the gentle slope of the parking lot.   Evidently mom could feel it too, because I heard her say under her breath, “Faster!”  It took me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly, but then she left me with no question, “Faster!” she commanded in a louder voice.  It reminded me of being a backseat driver as a child!

“Mom, No!  I can’t…” she wouldn’t hear of it, “Faster!” mom insisted, and with excitement my feet picked up the pace.  Soon I was running through the dark and misty parking lot and we were both giggling like children absconding with the forbidden!  The more she commanded, the quicker my steps, the gentle slope almost carrying her away, and then she began again, “Let go!” she urged.

“No,” I said trying to keep the little wheelchair under my control.  “If something happens to you,” I panted as I slowed down, “Dad will be so mad!”

“Faster!” she prodded me, and I picked up the pace!

“Let GO!” she begged.  “Mom, this is dangerous…” I said, my voice trailing off.  “I don’t want…” sensing where I was headed, she cut me off.  “What the worst that can happen?” she appealed, “It could kill me?  I’ll take my chances!”  Excitedly she pleaded, “Let go!

And so I did it.  I gave in to her relentless requests and I let go.   As the rented wheelchair wobbled on the pavement, she arose her tired hands in the air, and with pure delight she exclaimed, “I’M LIVING!”

Ode To Joy

“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read this quote the other day a smile broadened across my face and my across my heart.  The first person I thought about was my mom’s best friend, Joy.  She and my mom met back when they were both the moms of busy young families.  They spent a lot of time shuttling kids to the same school games and church youth group events, and shared a camaraderie when their husbands both worked a similar rotating shift schedule that left them with out their spouses on so many evenings.  Riding the waves of life, they supported each other through the highs and lows of marriage and raising a family.  As their children went off to college, married, and had families of their own, the twosome became closer than ever.  It was that type of family friendship where the wives were friends and soon the husbands were friends, the daughters were friends and the sons were friends.   Their family are the kind of family friends that when you say something like, “Remember the ‘Great Clam Chowder Disaster of 1986’?” everyone laughs and the story telling begins.

During the time that my mom was sick there was a steady stream of visitors that came to her bedside.  Family from near and far, friends old and new, people from church and work, old neighbors and new neighbors, there was almost never a time that there wasn’t a visitor.  She had so many visitors at the hospital that the nurses soon made sure she got the “big” room, complete with sofa and picture window.  It was a comfort to know that so many people were supporting her and supporting the ones she loved.  Many, many of those treasured family and friends ministered to her by sitting at her bedside, preparing meals for her husband, and babysitting her grandchildren so her own children could take some precious and few moments alone with her.  My mom had amazing friends and family who showed their love for her by stepping up to help when we needed them most.  It was a deep comfort to know we were all so cared for.  I am humbled by the love shown to our family when we needed it so much.  It was ministry at its most beautiful.

Before mom’s diagnosis I had no idea how draining caring for a patient could be.   At a time when I was being pushed past any preconceived ideas of my own emotional limits, I was also feeling inadequate about caring for her in a very practical way.   Early on it became evident it would take a monumental effort to remember all the many details of her care!   With every hospital stay there seemed to be another name to add to the ever-expanding list of care providers.  There was an endless revolving list of her current medications and another list nearly as long of ones she had reactions to.  It seemed redundant to maintain a list of the specific procedures and tests she had undergone at the hospital where she was a patient, but often times nurses and doctors were not aware of recent changes from one shift to another and important pieces of information would get left out.   I began compiling a notebook that functioned as a running document of her care.  I felt like it was the one thing I could do.  Organization was a skill my mom prided herself in and it felt like a way I could help her maintain her dignity at a time that her dignity was being stripped away.  It was nice to see the flash of pride appear on her face when the paramedic came to the house or the nurse at the hospital was admitting her and we would present them with precise notes about her condition.  “The Notebook” as we referred to it, was a love letter of sorts to this meticulously organized woman began by me, her not so organized daughter.

Physically, she was becoming increasingly fragile, and her stamina was very low even when she was having a “good” day.  Her diminished physical capacity made it absolutely necessary to help her with everything from the mundane to the most private tasks.  Soon her house was fitted with an arsenal of equipment for helping her do everything from walking to bathing.   New devices appeared in the kitchen for feeding her and in the bathroom for caring for her Jejunostomy.  All of these changes were happening rapidly and with every new piece of gear it felt like a stronghold lost.  A walker, a shower chair, an IV pole, a bag for her waste… every few days a new introduction and each introduction meant another casualty of capability.  The home makeover was another step in the march toward the inevitable, but with each step we were blessed with the unwavering presence of Joy.

I do not recall anyone ever asking Joy to be so involved in caring for my mother.  I don’t think it was even necessary.  She was just being Joy, my mom’s best friend.  Joy knew the details of The Notebook as well as, if not better, than the rest of us. No one had to point out the subtleties of the placement of a pain patch or tell her which pillow configuration mom preferred on that particular day.   As each new change came and each new apparatus appeared in the house, Joy learned to master it.  If there were a need for a meal to be delivered, or an appointment to be accompanied, or a craving to be satisfied, Joy would find a way to satisfy the need.  Joy was my mom’s hospital advocate on countless nights, while I took the evening to take care of my young family and get some much-needed sleep.  When there was a new turn for the worse, Joy would lovingly sit me down and tell me about it.  Together we took the painful step forward.  Joy was my partner in the awkward three-legged-race called ‘loss’.   Without her constancy and love, the suffering of our entire family would have been so much greater.

Her presence in the midst of my personal grief is a gift for which I can never adequately express my gratitude, and that is where the real beauty in what Joy did is.   All those late nights spent next to my mom’s bed so that my dad could take a shift at work.   All the nights the phone rang after midnight, followed by a hurried rush to the hospital when Joy still had to be at work in the morning.  All the times she was the one in the bathroom helping to change the Jejunostomy bag because I could not bring myself to do it.   All the times she met me in the hallway of the hospital to be the one to break the bad news so my mom or dad would not have to.  She wasn’t there for her moment of recognition.  She was there for love.

So again I think about the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
 and my thoughts turn to Joy, and I offer up a prayer of thanks.

Love you Joy!  Happy Thanksgiving!  Have a blessed day!

Love, Vicki