Relationships..as they were

Yesterday, we helped take over furniture and nick-nacks for my mother-in-law’s new residence – one room in a wait-to-die assisted living home.  There are some wonderful things there for her.  She can play cards to her content, complete puzzles, have her hair and nails done, visit the doctor, have her food prepared (to her satisfaction – really), have her room cleaned and her clothes laundered.  As delightful as it may sound to many of you to be taken care of in that complete manner, it nauseates me.  I looked at the elderly humans, as they stared out from their steadily weakening bodies from their wheel chairs, and wondered (once again), “what’s the point?”  I have several friends who have chosen to plan their demise.  I know several who think that this kind of complete care would be phenomenal.

On the ride over, I sat in the passenger’s side seat of the maintenance man.  The other two cars were completely full.  He told me that the deaths at the assisted living home tend to come in 3’s.  He told me that there was one man who died within 3 months of his wife – who was a terrible person and treated him abominably.  What not live longer without her aggravation?  His opinion – he was a masochist who couldn’t live without the misery.  He told me of the “Bitch Of ________” (I cannot say the name of the facility).  She lives to make people miserable.  He doesn’t allow that – calls her out on it, and she treats him better than she does the others. He believes that these people want to be treated normally – not like the old people they have become.  Ask them for help, let them assist you – treat them as the once functioning people they once were.  They like it.  Of course they do.

What has any of this to do with me?  Nothing, except ow I want to go out.  Now we tend to house our elderly in homes away from families.  When I grew up, we tolerated the elderly and their eccentricities in our homes.  My great grandmother got passed around among her 11 (was it 12?) children.  Once someone was worn out with her requests, she moved on to another grown child.  I regret to say I have no idea where she was living when she died.  My sister in law can’t care for my mother-in-law – she has a full-time job and my mother-in-law now needs 24 hour care.  She has far and away made the right choice.

After we set up her room (which turned out very nice due to my sister-in-law’s care and shopping), we tried to leave but the doors were locked.  An assistant told me that an alarm went off if you went out a door after 7:00 PM.  We looked around for help but could find no one.  Finally, we pushed the door open, and made our way out to the sound of the alarm.  I looked back (rather anxiously – were they going to come get us?), but no one came.  Then I wondered whether, if the inmates escaped, would anyone notice?  No idea.  I won’t be back there too many times.  The sad old faces sadden me even more.  

This facility does (I’m sure) all they can to create a life for these people who are at the end of theirs.  They provide activities, take them places in their wheel chair accessible vans.  They do much more than the patients’ families can offer at this point in their lives – we all live busy lives. Still, it seems so pointless.  Isn’t life about living?  When did it become about how long we can live?  When did it become about how many medications we can take to extend our generally (at this point) pointless lives?  

Many want their family members to live as long as possible.  But for who’s benefit?  So you can show up at Christmas to make yourself feel good?  So you can send a card to that mother/grandmother/aunt/grandfather/uncle to let them know they haven’t been completely forgotten?

My father died at the age of 46.  I certainly would have chosen to have him live much longer.  But not to the point that he didn’t know where he was, who he was, what day it was, or (worse) who I was.  There must be some quality to the quantity.  At least that is my though process and my choice.  I do not have the right to choose for you.  But think about it when you want to plan for your own end of life phenomena.  What do you want?  Make certain your family members know.

In the meantime, I will on occasion visit my mother-in-law.  More often, I won’t because I don’t live anywhere close to her.  I hope she’s happy there, and that the previous alone hours will now be filled with new friends and new activities. I think she’ll be happy.  It’s simply not what I want.

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Life Changes Daily

Recently, we have had family members impacted with health issues.  My mother-in-law is dealing with progressive dementia.  Some days she’s her normal, dry-witted funny self.  Some days she’s burdened with hearing voices that don’t exist.  She believes they are real so for her, they are.  For us, it is worrisome, but often humorous.  We have to see it as being funny or we’d go nuts.

My aunt had a stroke several weeks ago.  She had been dealing with other health problems since January.  Once the MRI was performed, the doctors discovered this was her second stroke.  She is slowly healing.  I spent yesterday afternoon with her and my uncle.  I was delighted and humbled to find him such a compassionate patient nurse.  I was equally pleased to discover that she is slowly healing.  Their son-in-law was there to help them with their plumbing.  A neighbor couple stopped by to wish her well and offer phone numbers in the event that she needed anything.  Other friends called offering to bring dinner.  Her sister phoned to check on her.  We took a brief ride into the close-by small town for a birthday party for the 7 year old son of their neighbor.  The mother and grandmother came out from the party to hug my aunt and wish her well – offering a pizza and phone numbers in case she needed anything.  We then rode by the home of good friends who offered the same as the above to my aunt and uncle. 

In each case, the seen or the calling told my aunt they loved her and would be there for anything she needed.  My aunt is a proud independent woman, not used to needing help from anyone.  She has been the rock and the one who offers help.  She assisted her own mother with her health problems.  In the last two years, she was the nurse, hair and make-up stylist to her oldest daughter who had broken her back in a car accident.  She arrived every morning at her daughter’s house to get her up, bathe her, and get her ready for the day.  Food in tow, she was the epitome of the stalwart mother.  Now, she must accept the gracious nursing care of that same daughter, who has quit her job to stay with her mother. 

I had forgotten the tender loving care of country neighbors who are there, come hell or high water.  I was reminded of just how easy it is to lose your ability to be in charge of yourself.  I was equally humbled by those who so willingly gave of themselves.

Next to my aunt stood a basket filled with get well cards.  My aunt would definitely prefer not to be the recipient of any of this.  She would prefer to be the one giving the care, not receiving.  That is true of many of us.  Part of the graciousness of life is that we learn to accept what others offer and take it willingly, with love and appreciation.

I greatly enjoyed my hours with both of them, listening to my uncle’s stories about people I had known, and taking a picture of an ancestral home.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in their presence.  I wish her godspeed on her journey to good health, and love to my nieces and uncle who are taking such tender care of her.  It was a good day for me to be there.  Family and friends are so important.

Janie & Blanche: or How to Rise Above Your Origins and Not Kill Your Mother in the Process

My new book – the title is above.  The summary:  Janie is a small-town southern girl who deeply wants more out of life than working for a man who lives to humiliate his employees. Her mama prefers that Janie stay cooped up in the small southern town and appreciate everything Blanche (mama) ever did for her. Janie must choose between her uneducated mama and beautiful (but dumb)friend, Mercy, or Janie’s pursuit of an education. Blanche and Mercy exist in a mind-numbing sameness day after day. Choosing to stay with the ones she loves or leave them behind as she seeks more for herself is precarious and lonely. 

The location:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/210266.  I hope you enjoy – please leave comments.

 

Build Your Support Base

Life can give you a lot of lemons.  Lemon crops tend to harvest themselves sometimes in one season.  I think we refer to this often as Murphy’s Law.  When the lemons come, and the proverbial lemonade does not follow, life becomes a little more bearable if you have a strong support system – people around you who will pick you up, dust off your hurt feelings, and urge you to keep going.  This personalized system can be an organization, your family, your spiritual home, your friends – when tough times arrive, your base needs to be in place.  You will survive it stronger and with more compassion if you have taken the earlier steps to make sure you have that system and there are people on which you can rely.

I am blessed with much when it comes to people who step up and support me.  This support exists because I have taken the role of being a non-judgmental friend, family member, wife, sister, daughter, and participant.  I have two sisters who step up for me and offer me ideas, suggestions, and compassionate perspective any time I ask.  I have spent a lot of time and effort (good effort) on being there for my older sister.  I have not done as good a job with the younger, a situation I am working on changing. I have two brothers who can say the kindest things to me.   I have three close friends who have been part of my life for many years, and we have taken turns being there for each other when life distresses with parents and children have almost torn us apart.  I have a new group of girlfriends I intentionally created to have an even stronger net and to be part of their net.  I have become involved with my fellowship in order to be a giver to those who need immediate care including a hot meal and a few words of comfort.  I have a spouse who listens and supports, an experienced and kind therapist who offers me objective advice when I feel that those who love me might not be so objective.  I have a minister/friend who loves us all through thick and thin, and understands that his flock does the best that they can in almost all circumstances.

“To those who are given much, much is expected.”  I think that one is often credited to Rose Kennedy.  I have been given much, and I do my daily best to return it in kind.  This does take conscious effort on my part.  Not everyone has the time or the resources to complete this kind of action.  Not everyone wants to.  I do this not out of altruism – I do wish it was.  I do it because I need the love and support from those in my circle of influence who have been through so much themselves, and who are willing to get my back when I feel that the troubles of my life are pulling me under.

I offer this blog to you because you, too, can create such a support system.  It begins with one person at a time.  One written card at a time.  One phone call at a time.  One shared meal at a time.  Build your community to be there to offer you love and compassion when you most need it.  Do it intentionally.  Live your life intentionally.  Love your friends and family intentionally.  The return on investment will make it so worthwhile.

Here, Turkeyturkeyturkey

My god.  Thanksgiving is shortly here.  I blinked somewhere.  Mindfulness, practice mindfulness.  Be fully alive in the day and the moment.  Do that, and Thanksgiving will creep up on you like a persistent salesperson.  Always lingering in the background, waving a slight hand, smiling inappropriately.

Okay, that was my attempt at literary writing.  I actually like Thanksgiving.  I used to say love.  I wonder when that changed. I think it may have been when I realized Christmas was on the heels of Thanksgiving.  Not my favorite holiday, although I fear I have become Grinch year round.  I don’t decorate much anymore for any of the holidays – mostly because the more you put out, the more you have to pick up after the fact.  My god, I have become a Grinch.  I will have to work on that.

Thanksgiving became the traditional meal at our home years ago.  I confess I am the one who did the marketing.  One year we actually went out for dinner, but when I looked in the fridge, and found no leftovers, I knew that could not continue.  

I told everyone within my personal circle that they could do whatever they want for Christmas, but Thanksgiving was mine.  So now it is.  And now, I’m not sure that I continue to want the efforts that come along with it.  I do enjoy the company, and the camaraderie, but the work.  The expense.  I don’t know how to do Thanksgiving cheaply, and not sure I would if I did know.  So much of what I do as an adult is to counter what was done for me as a child.  Our Thanksgiving celebration was never much more than a regular Sunday meal, and it always felt lonely immediately after the meal, so I suppose it is quite normal that I have created a group to be here for that day.

The day itself counteracts the loneliness I felt as a child.  Surround myself with my children, their significant others, their single friends, and any additional friends that would like to spend the day with us; my sis-in-law and her man of the season, a nephew, sometimes a sister and crew.  It truly is a wonderful day.  Wow, I’ve written myself back into loving Thanksgiving.

I do require that every person who comes must prepare a dish on their own.  That allows for the dish that means Thanksgiving to that person to have it with them.  There is always at least one.  We provide a special and specific stuffing, so if you require dressing, bring it.  If you need a sweet potato dish that only your grandmother ever made, bring it.  My spouse stuffs the turkey with a pre-cooked stuffing (loosely packed inside the turkey) and almost everyone who has attended our dinners in the last 12-15 years wants this recipe if they aren’t at our house for the celebration.  That is a great compliment to our home, and we delight in sharing the recipe (even if we leave one ingredient out purposely. Ahem.)

I hope that your Thanksgiving will bring you great pleasure.  It is the gathering without the pressure of gifts.  It is a day to remember with deep thanks all that you have, all the love in your life, the friends and family who surround you, and to remember those who aren’t so fortunate.

And, just because, below is a version of the recipe for the stuffing.  I hope you will enjoy it – and take a bite in celebration of joining us in this small way.  Happy Thanksgiving!  I think I love it again.

Stuffing (if you leave the eggs out, you can stuff the turkey with the below recipe)

Sage, Sausage and Apple Dressing

Recipe courtesy Food Network Kitchens

Prep Time: 20 min – 30 min
Cook Time : 1 hr 0 min (for stuffing in a pan, OR however long it takes your turkey to cook if you stuff it)
Level: Easy
Serves:  8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 16-ounce bag stuffing cubes
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan and topping
  • 1 pound fresh sage sausage, casing removed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cooking apples, such as Gravenstein, Rome, or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 to 2 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted (See Note)
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Put the stuffing cubes in a large bowl and set aside. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it loses most of its pink color, but not so much that it’s dry, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and pan drippings to the stuffing cubes. Melt the remaining butter in the pan. Add the onion, apple, celery, and salt. Cook until the vegetables get soft, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and parsley and bring to a boil.

Pour the vegetable mixture over the stuffing cubes and toss until evenly moistened. Mix in the walnuts and eggs. Loosely pack the dressing in the prepared pan and cook uncovered until the top forms acrust, about 40 minutes. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of turkey pan drippings or melted butter over the top. Cook until the top is crisp and golden, about 20 minutes more. Set immediately or warm.

Tips: Put the dressing in the oven during the last hour of cooking the turkey

Note: To toast nuts, spread them out on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F oven until golden, about 7 minutes.