Tag Archive | caregiving

Everyday Promises

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Last year, something remarkable occurred:

I actually kept my New Year’s resolution.

Seriously.

… the whole year!

I don’t think I’ve ever achieved such a feat intentionally. Sure, I’ve renewed good intentions and yes, I’ve restarted some wavering beginnings… but an honest to goodness New Year’s commitment? Nope. This was a first.

It started simply as a New Year’s project with me and my fourth grade students discussing the tradition of making resolutions– nothing special really.  But every now and then these kinds of conversations can become magical moments.

…And Magic happened that day.

We talked of why promises are important, even those — and maybe especially those — to ourselves. We shared ideas of new beginnings and second chances, and discussed the value of making resolutions that were real and serious and worth keeping.

We touched on the usual New Year’s intentions of better health and mind and spirit. But most importantly, we talked of pledging ourselves to changes that would make a difference in the world around us, and in those people’s lives we touch everyday.

Bam! That’s when it hit me: I needed to hug Dad everyday.

It seemed, at first, like such a small, silly thing. Then, it stung with accusation: “Jane! People need hugs; they need touch everyday. You know that! You and Chris have each other… how could you have forgotten Dad for so long?” I was discouraged and dismayed all at once. Yet, from somewhere in the crossfire, I knew that this was a problem worth resolving. A promise worth keeping.

… At first hugging Dad was a little awkward. At first it felt contrived and stilted. And yes, at first, it did feel like a small and silly ritual designed to ease my guilty heart.

But this is what I can tell you now, one year later:

Everyday, as I reach to hug Dad and he reaches back from his sofa perch, I still see his eyes brighten and the twinkle return, and I see each yellow tooth flash in excited joy.

Everyday, I watch him sit taller and reach out further, and when he holds me I hear his gentle Eastern Colorado croon,”Ohhhh, I was just wonderin’ about you, Lady.” Pat, pat, pat. “Have a good day, didya?”

And everyday, with that simple squeeze, I always realize I am more blessed than he.

Yep.

Magic happens.

New. Every. Day.

But that’s the wonder of New, isn’t it? … whether or not that “Something New” begins as a promise on January 1st,  or on the next day, or on a lifetimes of Next Days after that.

Every new moment we’re given is opportunity for simple choices, secret challenges and sweet second chances to reflect, repent, revise, re-form, rebuild, restore, renew, revive, re-create and re-solve again. Everyday we can re-solve all the problems of our daily madness with simple resolutions of Love — resolutions that reach into lives beyond our own, and yet somehow rebound their miracles right back to us. Amazing.

So this year, I won’t be looking for any big, hyped-up, self-improving promises. Nope.

This year I’m going straight for those new and fresh ones … those “small and silly” ones. This year I’m going to practice starting fresh. I’m going to make daily promises that are real and serious and worth keeping.

This year I’m counting on seeing Magic happen everyday, in all the lives I touch along the way.

How ’bout you?

Here’s wishing you a new year, filled with new moments that are packed to the top with daily and exponentially amazing miracles.

Dad

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Kaleidoscope

This week I wrote report cards for my fourth grade class. I wandered through the piles of scored papers — the mounds of mental notes — and I put a grade on a child’s blossoming life. Sigh. It’s not easy, grading. It can sometimes feel too clinical, impersonal, even harsh. And then come the comments — the real grade. The words that need to give life, hope and encouragement but often have to entwine some truthful ‘ow-ies.’ Sigh.

And this year the principal is reading every. single. report card. So, now, in essence,  I’m the one being graded. Sigh.

…I’ve been sighing a lot this week.

So, today I woke up exhausted, still tumbling in the kaleidoscope of last week, mixed together with all the pieces of my life that often collide — things unfinished, not started, some forgotten. Some needing loving attention. Some I thought I discarded, yet are still maddeningly there, tumbling with all the rest.

And then I thought about this blog.

Already there are beginnings of blogs I have stashed away that someday will be dragged out, worked on, published. Already I feel a sense of commitment in this area even though I intellectually know that its just a small thing in the big scheme of things. Already there are apologies I want to make, and computer things I want to tweak, and an internal ‘deadline’ I want to keep. (Can you sense another sigh coming?)

But today, I’ve just decided,  I’m laying the sighing aside. I’m going on a rare date with my hubby. I’m leaving our “Alzy Land” in the hands of a sweet friend who has a heart for Dad, and Chris and I are going to laugh, and eat, and buy a Christmas tree — and enjoy, this day — this precious gift of time — this moment.

Today, I’m going to leave my life ungraded. Or better yet, I’m going to leave the grading to a God who took the test for me and thankfully passed with flying (resurrection) colors. (I’m not going to even revise or edit this blog post.) Sigh.

Now THAT is a good sigh.

Instructions Not Included

 

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I don’t know what I expected when you first arrived. A catatonic version of your old self? A distant stranger?

Would that sweet twinkle now be missing from your eyes?

After one long month of uncertainties, you and Chris were finally coming home. Chris: wearied, burdened, but calmly resolute. You: lost, confused, with the dreaded “A” word newly branded across your brain. Everything within me screamed from the depth of my gut: “Warning! Danger! Alzheimer’s Patient: Proceed at your own risk.”

… all I knew was fear.

Chris’ voice had sounded tired. Stressed. “We’re just arrived. We’ll be at the curb.” I had driven one hundred miles to take you home. Your new home. Your into-forever home. A new beginning for us all.

Would you even know what was happening? Would you even know who I was?

I could see you in the distance, as I waited in traffic to pull up to the curb. You steadied yourself against the post, staring at the ground just beyond your feet. Chris hovered nearby, furrowed brow; I could see his already weighted shoulders.

Oh sweet Jesus, can we do this?

Slowly traffic inched ahead.

Can we be who he needs us to be?
Stop. Go. Clutch out, clutch in. Wait. Breathe.

Is there a way not to lose ourselves when witnessing so much loss?
Closer now, inch by inch. The traffic so mercifully slow.

How can we still live, Lord, while his mind slowly dies?
How can we still love, Lord, while we watch all loveliness Fly. Away. Gone.
Jesus?… Can we really do this?


And through my own gridlocked brain, I sensed his answer:
Inch by inch, Jane.
Stop. Go. Wait, Jane.
Breathe, Jane.

Such simple words, but I felt their gentle Truth.

Drawing a slow, deep breath, I pulled up to the curb, and caught Chris’ eye.

And Jane?
Yes, Lord?
It’s really not a whole lot different than taking your first child home.

A smile smacked across my face.  I wasn’t expecting that. I chuckled.

I remembered taking Trevor home. I remember Chris and I wondering why he hadn’t come with instructions. And I smiled remembering, now, that first wonderful, daunting, holding-our-breath night

… a first night like this one.
Okay, Jesus, thanks. I needed that … but the first poopy diaper, I’m outta here.

Smile.

We were going to be just fine.

 

(Postscript, eight years later…)

And we were.

And he was.

And even in the grips of a horrific disease there still rained down a sweet, sweet mercy:

He would never know his journey back to infancy.

Back to the One who loved him first.

 

You’re free now, Dad. Fly away home.

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Carroll Lloyd Williams ~  July 20, 1926  – June 28, 2016

 

The Dance

My father-in-law died from Alzheimers this week. He died peacefully in the hands of a facility full of life and hope and angels dressed in flesh. And though, unmistakably, Alzheimer’s is a hideous and heart-wrenching disease. To those of you living out this life with your loved ones, my heart goes out to you. Yet, I am thankful that this disease is mercifully forgetful, for the one living in its tangled grip. And for the ones watching it play out, dare I say, in struggling past the initial shock and grief, there can sometimes be found – even just briefly – beauty in the ashes. I pray you have moments of beauty, albeit different and stark and always sad, but beauty nonetheless.

In the early years my husband and I cared for Dad at home, until we couldn’t anymore… This poem is the dance we danced. 

 

astaire (1)

We dance this dance
you and I
between magic
and tragedy
and the innocence of life
reduced to a Saturday picture show
whose cutting room floor we waltz gently upon
strewn with
images and scripts
and tangled nests of
stories…

those reel too real stories
that circle tirelessly
and feed endlessly
onto Silver Screens of nickel talkies
and kerosene-lit rooms
spliced with fiddle-played tunes
and a dad who hunts badgers on sunlit prairies
with his 10-year-old son
softshoeing closely beside

On this dance floor we dip
and in dipping we slide
into The Great War
of a 17-year-old sailor
fueled by honor
and duty
and a dream of life at sea                                                                                                                 haunted by Japanese boys with eyes too big and wanting

to forget

Swinging to a different song
we twirl through manhood
past marriage, and fatherhood, and too many years
sliced and forgotten
on Sundowner’s cutting room floor                                                                                                      buried
too far beyond reach to protect

so we glide and sachet and tap past all the madness

… and we gently circle back

 

to Saturday’s picture show and its nickel talkies
and this waltz                                                                                                                                       between magic
and tragedy
and the innocence
of a mind
brought back to simpler memories

 

of Life that keeps dancing on

astaire (1)                                                                                      Dance free now, Dad. Dance free.

The View from here

It was the beginning of my summer, June 14th, 2011 — the last day of teaching my 4th grade class, and the first day of the first summer to shed my empty-nested heart and embrace a new season of Life with my husband. I raced home with a school girl anticipation and excitement I hadn’t felt in quite a while. Bursting through the door, hoping to see matched enthusiasm, I was instead greeted by a look on Chris’ face that told me somehow, somewhere tragedy had struck. As it turned out, 1,237 miles away, my father-in-law (84) had been found wandering, lost, in a hospital parking lot — disheveled, disoriented, distraught…alone.

Hospital attendants were called. Dad didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know how he had gotten there. He didn’t know he had just admitted his wife of two years for a severe break to her arm. He didn’t even know she was his wife. It was quickly determined that the dementia he was exhibiting, (exasperated by trauma), would need indefinite 24/7 care. In gathering him back to the hospital (to get his wife’s consent to admit him until such care could be arranged), they discovered that her depth of dementia was worse than his … A new season of our lives had begun with a vengeance.

July 5th, 2011, one month and a lifetime later, my husband brought Dad home to live with us.

July 5th, 2011. We began caring for a man who is, sadly, a lengthening shadow of the man he once was.

On July 5th, 2011. We began redefining Life.

My husband Chris and I have been thrust into a world we knew nothing about: caretaking, Alzheimer’s, aging parents, unfamiliar isolation. We have walked this new life cautiously, carefully, and honestly? by the seat of our pants. I don’t know anything more about this insidious disease, or losing someone in plain view, than any one of you out there. What I do know I’ve googled and witnessed in only this ONE elderly man’s life. Plus, I am ‘just’ the daughter-in-law; I can’t speak from the perspective of watching a lifetime of memories being strangled to just a few by this insipid white plaque. I can only speak as one who has loved this man and known him for 30 years, longer than my own father. I can only share Life from my plain (Jane) view.

So, what do I hope for in this blog?

* I hope, from the perspective of this new, much smaller and different world, I will be able to adequately put into words some of the circus of emotions that so often get tangled in heartache, anger, laughter — and yes, even gratefulness.

* I hope that what I have to share through ‘in-the-moment’ poems, stories, questions, jumbled thoughts and prayers, might resonate somewhere in your lives, and we can share that understanding nod that says “I understand” … at least a little.

* I hope this can be one small corner where anyone who’s shared the heartache and hard work of caring for a loved one (young or old, sick or well) can find a refuge, or perhaps a community willing to help each other live Life. Really (still) live Life — even here in the trenches.