pure unadulterated joy: crossing

This will be the last in a series about my mother. February 20th, 2012 will be the one-year anniversary of her passing.

The source of her constant pain that forced her into a nursing home? My fear of recurrent cancerous tumors was WAY off. She had multiple fractures in her spine. Maybe caused by taking steroids for years for her COPD, who knows?

I recall her last trip away from the nursing home. She was to go to the local hospital for an MRI of her spine. I could no longer transport Joy because her pain was intense and she couldn’t make it from the wheelchair into my car. Arrangements were made for the nursing home van to take her to the hospital and I would meet her there. I waited in the large lobby as sunlight streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The van approached the door and the driver got out, went to the back and slowly lowered the silhouetted figure in a wheelchair to the ground. He wheeled her into the bustling lobby as I met them. Mom was severely hunched in her chair and she donned a pained smile when she saw me. In her hands was a large manila folder containing the doctor’s orders for the procedure she would undergo today. Her name was written in large print on the outside of the folder. The thing I noticed most about the folder were the 3-inch tall letters, written in bold black on a fluorescent green sticker DO NOT RESUSCITATE! 

Mom….you look like a school kid holding your report card.

Joy glanced down at the folder and replied, Yeah, and it looks like I failed!

The inscription inside the Big Book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous Joy gave to me in 1980

We tried to control her pain. Joy was on a cocktail of meds to regulate her failing systems; any change was a high-wire act performed without a net. The pain patch didn’t help much.

Two other developments lowered my spirits to their nadir:  Joy kept having bouts of pneumonia requiring treatment with strong antibiotics. One morning she pulled me close to her face as she lay propped on her bed. In desperation she revealed,

Kath, I can’t see!

I squeezed her hand.

I know Mom…..I’m so sorry.

I sat with her as we both absorbed the cruelty of Joy being deaf and now blind. Freakin’ macular degeneration…they say if you live long enough, you’re gonna get it.

I won’t go into details of her last days. Made the decision to call hospice, as she had given me her medical power of attorney. She trusted me to make the right decision and I did the best I could. Maybe we could have gotten her through this episode, but I didn’t see the point. It was time to let go and let Joy move on.

A letter I cherish, written to me after a girl’s trip to Dallas. We saw an art exhibit ‘El Greco of Toledo’.

One of her last lucid moments was talking to the hospice nurse. He got close to her face and told her he was from hospice and they were going to take good care of her. She was resigned, but she was definitely not HAPPY to see hospice and she told him as much. The nurse thought she was hilarious and full of spirit. Said he loved her spunk.

Thankfully, Joy wasn’t in hospice care for long….only 2 days. Not sure what I expected from a dying person. Maybe I thought there would be lots of hand-holding and Joy would slip quietly into the night. That turned out to not be her dying ‘style’. Joy fought tooth-and-nail for every last precious breath and moment on this earth. I really didn’t expect this, but her dying was like her living:  she’d overcome many setbacks and she wasn’t going west without a good fight! She didn’t need or want any hand-holding or hair-stroking…..the battle was hers to wage. I was simply an onlooker. Good thing we hadn’t left anything unsaid.

What did I learn from Joy? Here are some things I keep in my heart.

1. It’s never too late to start over.
2. Never….ever….stop learning.
3. Don’t judge a person on their possessions or lack thereof. It’s a gift to be comfortable around all sorts of people.
4. My children are extraordinary.

One of my last little notes, written in Joy’s increasingly shaky handwriting.

5. The Texan is a Saint, and I am never to bad-mouth him.
6. Surviving awful experiences can make one stronger.
7. Always trust your Higher Power…this is the path to true serenity.

Thank you, dear reader for sharing my remembrances of my mother. I wanted to write some truths of her life to help myself and hopefully shine a light on the difficulty of alcoholism and addictions in general. Seems no one is untouched these days. Redemption is always out there. Joy found it through God and Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I spent many-a-day in Al-Anon trying to find answers for myself.

This has been a difficult, but ultimately triumphant series, I hope.

Please check back, as I will be posting some lighter, more humorous blog posts. Oh…and lots of pictures of a certain grandson and an adventurous wiener dog! Did I mention I caught Roxy-Doxy Tebowing after a spectacular tennis ball catch the other day? Oh….lawd-eee, that dog!

Redemptive love to all.

pure unadulterated joy: dancing with skeletons

Everyone has skeletons in his closet, but not everyone has taught them to dance….my pastor, Burt Palmer in church last Sunday.

Joy’s big moving day dawned cold and clear. The Texan, the Sprouts, the in-laws and anyone else we could throw a lasso over helped us with the move to the nursing home. Mom remained stoic even though the move was complicated for her. While the nurse reviewed Joy’s condition and talked with me about her medications, the others dutifully brought in her precious belongings and beloved family photos. Faded photos of her parents, brothers and sisters, and lots of shots of the grandchildren were hung close to her bed.
A favorite photo of Joy’s mother and her twin sister
Joy’s hearing had deteriorated to basically ‘non-existent’ in recent days. Her hearing loss was profound, but she took pride in being able to read lips when a speaker was standing in front of her. Now, macular degeneration was robbing her of the ability to read lips. I was her lifeline to the world. I brought some wide-tipped, black magic markers and a note tablet to the home and asked the nurses to write a note and hold it in front of her to aid communication. She was different, but not demented.

If any one’s family tree had been stunted and wrecked by the disease of alcoholism…it was surely Joy’s. I experienced firsthand how the sinister disease had touched the lives of her brothers and sisters…even how it had wreaked havoc on their families. Many novels are waiting to be written filled with the unusual exploits of my family. Think Angela’s Ashes (by Frank McCourt) times 10. Once in a great while, I’d ask Mom about her childhood and she would clue me in.

She once told me of how abusive her father became when he drank. By all accounts he was a brilliant, perfectly civil man, but drinking brought out his dark side. Joy said she and her brothers and sisters hid in a bathroom when they heard their daddy hit the front door drunk. They lived in an upscale neighborhood of Oklahoma City called Nichols Hills. Seems Joy’s father did pretty well for himself during the Depression years. They often took in relatives and helped feed the neighbors and others struggling at the time. Mom recalled her dad coming home one evening and all the kids scrambled to the bathroom to avoid the destructive fallout. They could hear shouting, their mother crying and objects flying around the house. The episode must have gone on for some time and the children fell asleep in the locked bathroom. Joy’s memory was of getting up the next day and getting ready for school. As she walked from the house to the sidewalk, she saw the lovely curtains gently blowing out all the broken windows. Bits of destroyed furniture were scattered on the lawn. She said she cried as she went to school that day thinking of her beautiful, destroyed home. The incident was never spoken of again.

Another favorite Joy-story involved her preparing a speech for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union meeting. She was about 12 and she was entered in a speech contest for the WCTU to decry the dangers of drinking alcohol.

Early WCTU poster

Young Joy set her keen mind on writing and memorizing her speech. One afternoon, her father and a neighbor-friend asked Joy to recite her speech for them. She recited her speech on the front porch as her dad and the neighbor drank liberally from an open fifth of bourbon. She recalled walking over the passed out neighbor as she went back inside the house. The competition occurred a few days later in front of a large audience inside a packed church. Joy remembered hearing some of the youth delivering passionate speeches and scathing remarks about the evil of drink. Readying for her turn, she rehearsed the lines in her head. She stiffly strode to the podium. Silence. Throat-clearing. Nothing came to her. She looked at the packed house. She looked at her family beaming at her in expectation. Still nothing. Young Joy stood alone for an uncomfortable while trying to collect her thoughts and gather up the opening words to her finely prepared speech. Still nothing. She left the podium….unable to recall a single word.

It was getting late at the nursing home. The busy-ness of the first day was almost complete. The sweet nurse asked us if we would like to eat with the residents in the dining room.
Joy in her room meeting a sweet, sweet baby. This visit raised her spirits.
Might as well jump in with both feet, Kath. Let’s give it a try. Will you eat with me?

I wheeled Mom to the dining room where we sat at a nicely decorated table. Joy furtively looked at the other residents. One impeccably coiffed lady was dangerously close to falling headfirst into her mashed potatoes. Another man constantly chattered to himself and struggled to find his mouth with his fork. There were helpful aides feeding some of the residents. Everyone wore a large bib….some of them made of big pieces of molded plastic to catch the run-off. Joy and I weakly smiled at each other and tried not to notice how different this dining room and it’s residents were from her previous residence.

We ate quickly and hightailed it out of there to finish up some chores in her room. The Florence Nightingale-of-a-nurse who tirelessly helped us all day approached Joy in the hall.

How did you enjoy your dinner and the dining room? she chirped.

It’s not baaad……if you don’t mind eating in a morgue! was Joy’s acid reply.

Right then and there, Joy became one of Florence Nightingale’s favorite residents. Me?….my heart was racing and I promised myself I’d call the cardiologist in the morning.

pure unadulterated joy: 2

(The second in a series about my mother)

The emergency room doctors and nurses were kind and concerned in dealing with Joy’s eight day-no poop issue. Some scans were conducted looking for intestinal blockages. When those came back negative, we were sent home but Mom continued to complain of intense back pain. She was having great difficulty walking around her small apartment.

It’s the tumor! Where is the freakin’ hiding tumor?

I was the Nancy Drew of tumors after Mom’s last lung cancer surgery. Isn’t lung cancer one of the most metastasizing cancers? Doesn’t it show up in your brain or your bones…or somewhere? Her beloved brother had died of cancer some years earlier.

The cause of her reoccurring bladder infections? A tumor. Frequent lung and breathing difficulties? More tumors. The cause of her recent back pain? A giant tumor in her spine. How many people do you know who’ve survived lung cancer surgery and who have NOT had a recurrence somewhere else? That’s a highly exclusive club, for sure.

Mainly I was convinced I would again come face to face with another cancerous tumor, because….you see (cringe)…..Joy still smoked. Yes, I know it shattered every retirement home rule. She was gonna light the place up like the 4th of July, smoking while she was on oxygen 24/7! Her smoking felt like death by a thousand cuts to me.

Mom, is grandma smoking? Her apartment smells like cigarettes!

On our weekly Walmart forays, she bought air freshener by the case. I upchuck at the cloying fragrance of lavender clinging over menthol Kool smoke. When did she smoke? How was she not discovered by the retirement home police? Did she think I was an idiot? (you don’t have to answer that one!)

One day the Sprout visited her grandma with me, and she remarked the bathroom smelled smoky. I donned my sleuth hat and entered the bathroom. I opened her shower and the intense odor assaulted me like a smoky bandit. Dammit! She’s smoking in the shower with the shower vent on! I was too upset to do any yelling or pleading that day. I returned the next day and talked with her…too loudly, like always.

Mom…they’re gonna throw you out of the home! Then, where will you go? You can’t live with me….you’ll be a homeless, old deaf woman on oxygen meandering the streets looking for a handout! Please don’t do this…I’ll get you chewing tobacco, more nicorette….anything.

Never knew for sure how she obtained the cigs. She couldn’t drive, so I suspect she bribed a more able-bodied oldster to secure them for her. Maybe some sinister resident who took the bus to the supermarket every Wednesday? Perhaps she bartered with Dulcolax or Poligrip…who the hell knew?

Don’t remember having another conversation on this topic, however I do recall searching her apartment while she was at bridge group. (Sick, I realize. Don’t judge.) Found the pack of cancer sticks concealed in a box stashed in the way back of her desk drawer. I took them out. Don’t know if she smoked ever again, but her large purchases of Glade morphed into grand purchases of Nicorette gum.

For now, Joy was in pain and couldn’t care for herself. Me? Nancy Drew was preparing for battle with the phantom tumor.

christmas props

Some of you will remember MY BLOG POST about the Christmas Party at Mom’s retirement home last Christmas. It was my 3rd or 4th year to help lead the festivities for the residents. They are nice to ask and I’m normally happy to do it, but when the invitation came to please do it again this year…I was hesitant.

I didn’t wanna.

How could I go back out there where Mom lived and where we spent so much time?

How could I be a cheery Christmas elf when the very act of being in the retirement home would fill me with sadness?

That’s it….I’d say I couldn’t do it! They would understand my grief. I didn’t want to face the way being there would make me feel. Nope. Nada. No thank you.

But then I heard her voice…..dammit….“Kath….some of those people don’t have anybody. Nobody. It would mean the world to them for you to come lead the party” 

Really, Mom….speaking to me beyond the grave? What’s up with that? O—K, I’ll do it. Now, be quiet!

I stewed. I delayed. I hemmed and hawed. I tried to come to a certain peace about being out there and how all of this was gonna work.

Then….I came up with the perfect solution. The shiniest, most perfectest, most baby Jesus-y Christmas prop EV-ER!! I’m totally, absolutely without shame!

You guessed it precious Chicken Wing reader……Baby G!!

People in retirement/nursing homes rarely get to see a baby.

One of my favorite residents. She’s always beautiful, happy and slightly ornery. Love her!

They NEVER get to see a cute baby wearing reindeer antlers!

The Christmas party for the residents today was a slam dunk. They loved seeing baby G.

Santa made a special appearance

Of course, I closed the party with retirement home bichon FREE-SAY extraordinaire….the fabulous waving Sophie. She wished everyone a Merry Christmas with her furiously waving paws.

Sophie and Santa in 2010

I’d say it went pretty well. It’s a milestone, for sure. Many of the residents spoke to me of their love for my mother, of her fabulous bridge playing and of her black humor. At times, I teared up….but it was OK, cuz usually the friend telling me the story was teary as well. I needed to hear the stories….needed to give and receive lots of hugs.

Overflowing gratitude to the Sprout for going to all the trouble of dressing up a newborn, a bichon and a golden doodle in Christmas outfits for their moment in the sun at the ‘home’ Christmas party. You are an outstanding daughter. Hopefully, you will not hear my voice beyond the grave. Love you, Sprout.

The Texan and I have not lost the necessary skill of eating while a baby sleeps on one shoulder. The Texan said G’s pajamas might contain a stray pinto bean

The Texan says he hopes Baby G doesn’t catch a bad case of the gout from being at the home today.

Hope your Christmas is filled with joy!

Shameless Christmas prop love to all.

tough guy

Sunday found me at Mom’s nursing home visiting with the residents. My sidekick today was the amazing, famous waving bichon freee-say Sophie.

She’s the BEST nursing home dog…she’ll do anything for a treat. Can we say time to diet??  Wave, speak, play dead, shake, sit up….you name it and Soph will do it.  Sometimes she waves out of the kindness of her little white heart, but mostly she waves her paws off for foodical tidbits. The dog loves the nursing home!

enjoying warmer temperatures at the lake last summer

The residents have different reactions to the famous waving bichon.  One nice lady (whose head is always perilously close to dropping into her mashed potatoes) manages to lift her heavy head and smile. Sophie waves. Another resident (who is barely verbal) speaks and wants to pet her. Sophie waves. Another resident gives her a very hearty ‘HEL-LO’ Sophie waves.

I met a new friend…a resident named ‘D’.  D spoke slowly and articulately of his two poodles he dearly loved. Sophie waved. Said his children had to do something with them when he went into the hospital last June. He never had the heart to ask what they did with his two beloved pets and his children never volunteered the information. Sophie waved. I told D he looked too young and healthy to be at the nursing home. He proudly related he was 80 and he had had 15 strokes. (15!!)  He asked if I would visit room 17 whenever I came around with the dogs.

Of course, I will. You must be a some kinda tough guy, D, to have survived 15 strokes!

No, I’m not a tough guy….I have a big God.

Sophie waved. I waved. If you can’t find me in Mom’s room, look for me in Room 17.

The spirit of Room 17 love to all.

more sun, less stress

I still find the Solar Oven highly entertaining; like a 3rd grade nerd proud of a science project.  Some would say it’s weird…perhaps bordering on the obsessive.  Me…obsessive?…..naaaaaah!  You can see the Solar Ovens here:
***the Sun Oven folks do not know I exist nor that I have made an idol of their oven***

This week is one I’m ready to put in the record books.  Don’t mean to complain, mind you.  Especially in the light of all the innocents who were wounded and killed in Tucson.  Those families have had one helluva week-mine is but a gnat bite in comparison.

Moved my mom into an extended care (nursing) facility this week.  (Hi Mom!)  She reads this blog, so I won’t badmouth the old witch bat too badly.  She would admit the move was stressful.  We (God bless the Texan, his bro, and our niece and nephew) moved her into this very lovely facility.  The staff is nice and trying really hard to please her.  She’s been complaining of back pain…INTENSE back pain.  The pain has been ongoing for three weeks and it puts a huge hitch in her get-along.  This condition is a big reason for her move.  She finally saw the doctor today and he thinks she has a compression fracture in her back.  Ouch and ouch.  We’ll get through it together….like we always do…OK, Mom??  Keep hangin’ in.

Before I went to the nursing home, I placed some pork ribs in the Sun Oven.  Just put a dry rub on them and placed them in this glass dish.  Didn’t put any moisture in the dish-just the ribs.

Doesn’t this dish remind you of your Grandmother?  It does me..love ya, Lucy!

The ribs safely placed in the space ship solar pod.

Returned from the facility and checked on the ribs.  The heavenly odor was wafting around my backyard.  One of these days, I’m gonna find a pack of wild dogs devouring the Sun Oven and it’s contents-but, not today.

While admiring the juicy ribs, the highly interactive wiener dog dropped a prized rock at my feet she had dug up just for me.

Don’t know why there’s a yellow parking stripe on my back driveway, but there it is.  Odd.

Charmed, I sat down and we partook in some rock-retrieving, rock-digging, rock-rolling (with the nose), and general rock whup-ass.

Please do NOT tell her dentist she is playing with rocks!

   Count these moments among my ‘stop and smell the roses’ time.

This is not meant to be a Doxy anus shot.  You are to notice the flying leaves and how intently she is pouncing on the rock…..ears flapping!

Notice the dusty snout?  She rolls the rock with her pointy nose.

Sorry about the crappy focus.  Sometimes the grass is very BAD and must be punished simply for being near her beloved rock.  She tears it out by the roots and flings it side to side.  It must be taught a lesson and stay away from her precious boulder!

These activities are my natural beta-blockers.  How can one have a heavy heart while interacting with a silly, stupidly-serious sausage dog?  It simply isn’t possible.

Oh, and you must see how the ribs turned out.  We’d already eaten a few of them when I snapped this picture.

These would have been perfect with some sauerkraut, if you ask me.  The Texan thinks sauerkraut is nasty, so we didn’t have it.  Made a fresh salad and Pioneer Woman’s Dilly Bread (http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/01/jans-dilly-bread/) as the side dishes.  Mmmmm….food….another highly effective beta-blocker.
Press forth into the glorious weekend, bloggy friends.  Have fun.
Juicy, pork rib love to all.