Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Newer: Shades of Gray

For those of you who stumbled upon this blog in the hopes of finding a sequel to the bestselling novel Shades of Grey sorry.  That's not what purpose of this blog, but stay awhile.  You are most welcome.

This morning as I gazed out the window with my morning coffee in hand I began to review where I was 10 years ago versus the present tense.  Fortunately, the comparison held few regrets.  Of course, I dearly miss my husband.  The career much missed taught me many lessons.  The people I worked with beyond a shadow of a doubt were the best in the business.  My analysis continued to take a strange turn.  It wasn't about what happened around me, but rather what happened within me.

Did I seek some sort of startling outcome?  Did I discover a turn in the road that would have changed my life's course?  I have to admit early on in my work life black and white suited me just find.  I was the quintisential rules girl.  By the book or else.  I held onto facts, figures (which is hard to do since I'm so math-challenged) and other folks' rules so tightly that I'm lucky I didn't break in two.  Yet, I wouldn't describe myself as rigid or I just didn't want to see myself as rigid?  Did I suck the joy out of my own life by neglecting to look at it?  Maybe.

Today, without any shadow of a doubt, I'm in the gray (or grey).  The events of the last ten years have shaken me to my roots.  I'm lucky I didn't snap.  Really snap.  My decor would have called "Early Goodyear" for the rubber-covered walls.  My life now centers on the spirit within.  That feeling that a Great Source loves me and I, in turn, love that Source back.  I live in a fluid world, but not one where those changes occur on the outside.  My life is no longer a spectator sport.  It's an active being trying to figure things out armed with hope and belief, which are subject to change.

Going forward some shades of gray are going to be darker, but if I keep my face toward the lighter shades with the faith and the strength I believe I inherited from my mother and father, my roots will seek deeper soil and my limbs stretch toward the light that contains more love than the world can fathom.

Maybe in this life as a care giver, I'm learning to be a care receiver.  Hmmm.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Universe Responds: It's Batty

After my recent post, I decided that today marked my day of rest.  The house looks a wreck, but in order to take care of all that requires my attention, especially Mom's needs as she transitions to widowhood, I need self-care.

I find myself out of focus, yet living in the moment.  Strange sensations since I've always regarded myself as a person of determination.  Drifting as if in a dream doesn't suit me too well, but lately it happens more than I care to admit.

My aimlessness leads me to one place - my front door.  Don't know why.  Do I feel trapped?  Hm mm.  Am I waiting for something?  Someone? 

This morning's scene outside my front door became very familiar as I realized the car parked in front of my house belonged to another friend.  We spoke for a short while.  He expressed his condolences to Mom and me.  I finally asked why he idled in front of my house.  He said he had been dispatched by a mutual friend to help my next door neighbor who reported bats in her attic (as opposed to those in  my cerebral belfry).  I laughed.  He looked puzzled as I grinned.

It was at that time that "Great Deluge of July 2012" became the topic.  The flooding discussed, my frustration vented.  He knows about chimney caps.  He knows about bats.  The fix?  Easy.

With gratitude to the Universe for listening and showing me again we are all One in good times and in bad, through sanity and battiness.


Of Chimneys and Tears

This morning brought overcast skies and a case of the "drearies."  Mom's had breakfast, I've had a cuppa, and time to read the posts I've missed over these past few weeks.  One in particular brought me to tears as it illustrated where I am now in my life with all its sadness, tears, and challenges.

Jon Katz over at Bedlam Farm had the courage to put out to the universe what he felt in this post Feeling Blue/.  His thoughts reflect what I've been dealing with lately:  life after Dad's passing, Mom's health, my financial health, life after Mom and Dad, etc., etc.

Last night, we had a storm.  Thunder.  Lightning.  Rain.  Rain.  Rain.  I sensed that someone had opened a dam resulting in a huge force of water upon us.  I had been doing laundry and went to the  basement only to discover we had a mini-flood on our hands.  I checked the water heater.  Good.  I checked the furnace.  Also good.  The water came from the middle of basement.  Nothing leaked around the windows.  Again, good.  Where did this come from?

I called the water heater and furnace insurance folks.  No one home.  (Someone remind me again why I'm paying for service that doesn't happen?)   I called the gas company who casually told me to call a plumber.    I ran back down to the basement for mop-up detail.  It was at that very moment I became angry.  Really angry. 

Mom's answer to this dilemma?  Call a man.  In her generation, the "damsel-in-distress" worked, not so in this era.  Maybe I suffer from pride because my brain usually works for me and I can figure things out on my own.  My feelings overwhelmed me.  I can't take this, all this stuff, everything raining down upon me and I haven't even buried my father.  I'm not a 21st Century Job from the Bible who sits there in quiet strength ignoring everyone who advises him in the name of faith.  (Although, I have to admit the part about the "boils" would have weakened me.)

My fury continued (something I'm not used to feeling).  I returned to the basement for further clean-up.  As I spread the towels, I heard it.  The "ping, ping, ping" coming from the chimney into the furnace, which I had turned off.  Could it be possible?   My next action involved calling my dearest friend's husband to check my hypothesis. Did I just do the damsel-in-distress thing?  He concurred with my theory.  I ran back up the stairs and out into the deluge to look up at our chimney only to discover no chimney cap.  Nadda.  It stood tall against the elements as it has in years past - open and vulnerable.

As of Midnight my tears, anger, and the water in the basement had dried.  The same weather that had channelled the rain through the chimney now carried a drying breeze.  It's as though nothing had happened.

In the past few days, I've made list upon lists of things I need to do before the season turns.  Lists concerning my father's funeral service and lists of ideas to write and share.  Capping a chimney doesn't appear on any of these reminders, but in a strange way, attempting to put a cap on what life presents should have been Job 1.  My situation resembles the chimney.  Open to life and everything that falls into it.  This life needs something to shield Mom and me from these life occurances.  This life cap won't stop that "stuff" completely, but deflect as much as possible.

Next week, after the funeral, the chimney gets a cap.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dad's Angel (Final Hours)

I've spent the past 24 hours trying to get things sorted.  Important things.  Feelings.  Details.  List making.  Everyday things.  Dressing.  Eating.  Things that I do automatically without a second thought.  I'm wearing the cloak of grief (again) and those tasks that I take for granted have become difficult to achieve.  I'm in a surreal place right now.  Sort of like walking between two worlds:  life and death.

The events leading up to my current state of mind vividly replay.  Images that flood me with a mixture of feelings that take me away from what I intend to do vs. what I hope to achieve.

On Tuesday evening, Mom and I sat with Dad as we have done every night.  He had developed a high fever.  I attempt to cool him with compresses.  My mother asks me why his body has morphed into a furnace.  I have no answer .  Nothing works to relieve the fever.  It's as though his internal thermostat has broken.  I continue to apply the compresses and moisten his mouth, but it's a losing battle.

At 9:30 PM, Dad's breathing pattern has changed from one of measured respirations to labored, unequal inhalations and exhalations.  I speak to the Hospice nurse who tells me this happens when the end is near.  Strangely, I did not panic, although it seemed to be a viable option.  I call upon everything within me to be present for Mom and Dad.  After a short while the labored breathing quiets a bit.  Crisis averted?

Midnight arrives and I encourage my mother to go to bed.  She's been staying up far too long.  She agrees and says goodnight to Dad.  She's weary, worried, and scared.  I assure her I'll stay up with Dad.

At 1 AM, I look over at Dad while at the same time I feel a funny sensation in my chest.  Not painful.  A feeling of warmth.  It's as though my heart has swollen with love.  A comforting feeling that I can't explain.  I sit by his bed continuing to cool and comfort him.  His labored breathing has returned only this time it has slowed and I count the seconds between each breath.  The engine that is his body slows.  At last he takes one final breath.   It's over.  He has passed before my very eyes.  I notice the time on the clock.  It's 1:11 AM.  I wake my mother and gently break the news.  She leaves her bedroom to say goodbye to her husband of 64 years.

Throughout my life and in the days leading up to his death when asked, "What would you like to pray for?" his answer never waivered.  Dad prayed for peace. He yearned for it.  Craved it.   That's all he ever wanted.  Never prayed for one material thing.  Only peace.  Peace in the world.  Peace in his home..  Peace for those he loved.

As the funeral personnel gently lifted him on the stretcher, I noticed his face.  He had arrived.  He had reached that place of peace.  One might describe his look as angelic.  His angel had found him and taken him home. 

My emotions ebb and flow.  The inner child within me cries out, "I want my Dad!"  That little girl who sat on her father's lap as he read to her needs comfort, love, reassurance.  The adult daughter, the mature daughter, knows Mom needs my presence.  She requires comfort.  She needs love.  The caregiver in me needs to step up, despite my feelings of profound sadness.

Later in the day, my best friend and her daughter, Katie,  visit.  Katie won a garden statue during a fundraiser she and I worked on recently - an angel.  A blessed angel.  A visible reminder of the unseen things that take place on this earth.  A reminder of what's truly important.

Rest in your heavenly peace, Dad.  I love you.  Thank you for being my father.

Dad's Angel

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Signs of the Divine

Mom and I are keeping watch as my father enters his final hours on Earth.  The turn he took late last week has resulted in a nose dive.  His pain continued unresolved until Hospice changed his medicine medical delivery system yesterday.  Now his face has a look of comfort and rest.  His body has lost the rigidity the other medications could not conquer. 

Nursing personnel have visited daily.  A change made here and there to maximize care.  Yet, it feels like there's nothing to do but wait.  There are things to say, but strangely, I believe he knows everything we think and feel about him.  Love.  No-strings-attached love, but nothing like a little reinforcement.

This past week as I sat with Dad, I felt something -  a shadow, a presence.  I shook it off saying to myself, "I must be more tired than I thought."  On the following days, as the Aide worked on Dad's personnel care other "occurances" happened.  On Monday as we turned him he said, "I'm not going to take this **** much longer.  On Wednesday, I heard him say, "But, I don't want to go."  I attributed the latter remark to some delusion, but  I'm not certain.  All along, I've felt forces at work that I couldn't see or hear.  Yet, feeling comfortable that something, Someone, bigger than me had come to our aid.

What Dad's final hour may look like remains to be seen.  His life has affected mine this past four years in ways I could never have imagined.  Yet, I am fixated on each moment.  Listening to each breath, feeling his forehead, insuring his mouth is moist, and insuring my mother has her private time with her husband.  I'm a product of a marriage, not an active participant in their private love story.  There are things to be said to each other.  Things that my husband and I said to each other that no one else should be involved. 

One of the aides told me that I'd know when the end was at hand.  He said I'd feel a presence.  That I would know someone else had arrived to be with us.  I like that.  As an only child, the future does not hold that siblings are on the way.  Nor are distant relatives.  I welcome a heavenly visitor.

As many television programs promise "reality" scenarios each week, I wonder if folks studied end of life issues or walked with someone to the end, if they would buy in to this genre or if people would be interested.  For me to understand death forces me to live life large, not from an aspect of materialism, but from one of love.

The poor little kitchen lays trashed.  I'd make a meal for Mom to enjoy, only to return to Dad's care.  I don't have time for pots, pans and dishes. My only hope if we do receive a divine presence, neatness doesn't count and that angels and saints realize just what a great guy they've called.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Scenes from the Garden (Distracting Myself @ 4 AM)

Bumble Bees scaling Mt. Anise Hyssop
Wildflowers by the birdbath.
These flowers just look so happy to me.

Whoa!  Startled by what it sees.

A bee hides to the left of center.

Turning the Corner

It's 2:30 AM on Friday, the 13th.  The superstition behind the date doesn't mean that much to me; however, the significance of Thursday, the 12th, weighs on me

Dad took a turn.  A bad turn.  He couldn't breathe.  I gave him the medication as directed,  which usually does the job.  I wait.  Dad doesn't relax.  The coughing continues with abandon.  He moans.  I try to determine the source of his pain.  What compromises his breathing?  He will not respond.  I can't panic.  I cannot morph into his little girl who cries for help.  I am his help.

The Hospice nurse returns my call.  I report what little Dad has shared with me concerning his discomfort.  Recent vital signs are recited in a cool professional tone.  I hold it together.  The nurse tells me I'm doing the right things.  Keep up the med every two hours. 

One hour later, I'm back on the phone with a different Hospice nurse.  Dad's still in distress.  I swallow my panic in order to focus on bringing him some comfort. She's a straight shooter and shares some comfort measures.  She says, he's "turned the corner", a euphemism for "buckle up, things are going downhill." 

I read somewhere that some faith traditions recommend leaving a window open in order for the soul to take flight when its ready.  I walk to the window, open it, and reflect on the loneliness of the night. 

I need to circulate some caffeine in my body in order to be of any help to Dad.

Mom's asleep.  Oblivious to what's going on with her husband.  A blessing in disguise.

I shuffle over to the coffee brewer and pour a cuppa Joe.  This vigil isn't about me, but my eyes are heavy with fatigue.  I don't dare close them because I don't want to know what's around that corner.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life(lines) and Lace

If anyone reviewed this care giver's life, they might come to the conclusion that she experiences a measure of isolation.  Now, according to the experts, isolation is a care giving "no, no".  Isolation breeds resentment, fatigue, and a whole host of other unhealthy things.  I agree with the experts.  Feeling as if I'm on a precipice has not served me well, but it has not been a lasting condition.

As you may or may not be aware, I love the art of knitting.  Well, I have to own up and say I love some aspects of knitting.  There are various forms that I have avoided like the plague, for example, entrelac (a textured knitting technique involving diamonds), stranded knitting (knitting with many colors), and lace (well, that's the fabric with the holes in it).  Over the years, I overcame the stranded phobia and had small forays into lace making, but nothing serious.

In caring for my parents small blocks of time allow me to do other things:  clean the house, read, write, and knit.  Last month, I decided that I had avoided this lace thing long enough.  Christmas would be here before I knew it, so I'd better get on it.  A visit to Ravelry (a knitter's haven and information central) led me to a group aptly called "Beginner's Lace".  After joining, the group I discovered they did something called a shawl knit-along and discovered a technique I thought beyond me - a lifeline.

Knitters use lifelines as a line of fibre defense.  A piece of waste yarn inserted between the needles and the live stitches secures the project from mishaps, such as a dropped stitch or a major unravel.  Truth be told, I felt I didn't need to use a lifeline.  Who?  Me?  Are you kidding?  Such mental
hubris led to the failure of my first project.  I lost stitches, gained them, discovered huge chasms open below the needles, aka "a hot mess." 

The second shawl project cruised along with a better outcome.  I have to attribute its success to those lifelines.  Oh, sure I dropped a stitch or two, but the lifeline caught them.  I noticed an error after I finished the project and, luckily, a lifeline rested just under the faux pas.  I frogged (knitting term for undoing) the knitting and am currently reknitting.  Yay, lifelines.

It's funny how knitting and care giving go hand-in-hand in my life.  As with the members of the lace group, as in life I rely on lifelines in the form of nurses, nurses aides, doctors, pharmacists, friends, and the volunteers to answer questions, offer guidance, and help keep me sane as we strive to make comfort the fabric of the day.  We do miss stitches here and there in the form of communication or try to go too fast, that's when I unravel.  If my lifeline are in place calling up past training and wellness guidelines, those lifelines keeps me from becoming an abandoned hot mess...

And for that I am very grateful.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Today's not my favorite day.  In fact, if I could skip today, it would be all well and good.

My friend passed last week after a 16-year battle with cancer.  He fought with every fibre of his being.  Procedures, surgeries, or medications couldn't overcome this dreaded disease, but watching the battle between this man and this illness brought to light a valuable recipe - life is one part faith, one part attitude.

Al, in spite of all the internal conflict going on inside his body, chose to live each day with a smile on his face, spoke gently, and never forgot how to laugh.  In fact, a few years ago he suffered a back injury and during my visit he began to laugh.  I asked him what he found so amusing and he replied, "I'm in pain and I don't know why, but I just laugh at it."  Maybe Norman Cousins was right when he proposed laughter as a way to a healthier lifestyle.

As I write this I realize that in remembering his life, I've been gifted by how he enriched my life.  Al loved iconography and taught me to appreciate those beautiful symbols.  He educated me on matters of faith and social justice.  Our friendship opened me up to the world in a broader context.  He cross-stitched. What he produced could be displayed in any museum.  There have been many more gifts that are now part of my journey.  Permanent reminders of his life on earth that are now embedded in my heart.

So, as much as I dread going to his wake this afternoon, I think that the visit has a different, yet still emotional meaning for me.  I'll go to say prayers over his coffin and to discuss with gratitude the many gifts his life meant to others.  I know there will be tears.  Tears of sadness and tears of celebration for his life on earth and that in the hereafter.

His pain is no longer.  His life well lived.

Thank you, Al.



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thunder and Lightning

As parts of the country suffer through the heat without power my thoughts go to those who need it most-the elderly and disabled.  We, who are in pretty good shape, are uncomfortable and dismayed by this week's power outages, by food loss, by sleepless, sweltering nights, but at least our health helps get us through the night.

Thunder storms have always attracted me.  I loved seeing the dark clouds roll in, counting the time between thunder and lightning, watching those bolts of electricity shoot from the sky. The majesty and power hidden within those clouds kept me spellbound.  This summer has presented a different sort of challenge.  The storms seem to go on longer, the thunder louder, the lightning more intense and, based on the fallen branches, angrier.

Now as a caregiver, my blood pressure goes up a few notches as the clouds begin to march over the neighborhood.  A loss of power requires action on my part.  My Dad lies on a air mattress.  One that continually circulates air to help prevent bed sores and other skin problems common to a bed bound patient.  Should we lose power, I must turn him and insert something called a "waffle mattress" under him.  The waffle mattress must be manually inflated using a hand pump.  All this needs to occur before the other mattress deflates, which would indeed leave Dad resting on a hard slab.

Additionally, there's the matter of oxygen.  Dad uses a powered oxygen compressor.  Should nature knock our lights out, Dad must be switched to an oxygen cylinder or tank for the duration of the outage.  Not too big a task, but not one I look forward to actually doing.

During the duration of the outage, matters of hydration are high priority for Mom and Dad.  They become annoyed when I'm touting fluids on a good day.  Now "the daughter" roams the halls with a pitcher full of water or lemonade coaxing them to drink more.  In their  minds, drinking more results in increased bathroom time and swimming through the "Hazy Hot and Humids." just doesn't cut it.  The heat slows them down, way down.  Lack of fluid causes confusion. 

It's during these extreme conditions, I worry about those who don't have anyone to care for them.  Who are they?  Can a neighbor assist?  Are they locked up in a 100 degree apartment too worn out from the heat to get a glass of water?  Where is their help?   Could I be their help?  Could you be their help?

All it takes to know may be a small measure of awareness.  Does an elderly or disabled person live in your neighborhood?  Have you seen them since the power outage?  Did you notice an air conditioner sticking out of their window?  Is it on?  Do folks come and go from their home? 

I realize it can be hard to just knock on someone's door with a pitcher of lemonade or water in your hands, but if you're a born extrovert, it couldn't hurt.  If you don't dare knock on a stranger's door, then by all means call your local fire department or elderly affairs board to discuss next steps.  The point being do something. Who knows?  You just might save a life and it doesn't get more powerful than that.