Monday, March 31, 2014

The Year of Living Dangerously

In this week's episode in the saga of the LaJoy family and The Year of Living Dangerously, tonight's program features Angela LaJoy as she finds herself lying helplessly in a bed in the local ER as she battles for coherence and fights terrible abdominal pain.  Is it a glorified stomach ache?  Or is it something more sinister?  Stay tuned!

Yes folks, after an optimistically cheerful Facebook post that started out, "It's a Happy Monday!", later this morning I found myself wheeling our daughter into the local Emergency Room after she collapsed while we were volunteering at the Food Bank.  There was no hint of trouble, not more than a single moment's notice as she crossed the room to come speak to me, told me quickly, "Mom, I don't feel so good, my stomach hurts...", then proceeded to turn ashen as her legs buckled beneath her.  Fortunately, I was able to grab her and keep her head from crashing into the concrete floor.  Of course, it created quite a ruckus, which I was not paying any attention to as I was trying to remain calm in the face of what was clearly a true medical emergency.  Others around me were not quite so capable of reigning in their concern, and proceeded to push their way in offering unsolicited advice as they got in my face, raised their voices, and panicked, shouting out odd directives that proved they had little experience with first aid.

Knowing I needed to get as much information as I could from Angela while she was still sightly alert and able to clue me in, I calmly and quietly asked her to be as specific as she could about what she was feeling and where it hurt. She was able to answer vaguely, but it was enough to know we needed to immediately get her to the ER.  Angela is absolutely no Drama Mama, and has always been the last to complain about pain or to try and evoke sympathy from others.  This was serious. Our dear Miss Mary was present and was a huge help in making certain that our helpful but misguided co-workers were kept at a distance (She, the Peaceful Princess almost decked one of them!), and quickly rushed to get her little Prius and let me borrow it, and we thought to exchange keys so she would have a large enough vehicle to haul around the rest of our crew.

We struggled to get Angela into the car, as she was wobbly and almost unconscious.  Our hospital was literally 3 minutes away, so no need to wait for an ambulance, I just rushed her over there, where we were ushered in without a stint in the waiting room.

Once she was in a room, there were the questions one gets when you have a medical emergency with a 15 year old adopted daughter.  Who am I to her?  (Let's ignore the fact she had called me mom no less than 3 times in front of the Admissions person)  What is her family medical history?  Was she sexually active and did I know for certain she wasn't pregnant?  Did her biological mom have a history of ovarian or uterine issues?  (Did I not just tell you we had no history?  Let's make this even more insensitive because you are not paying attention.)

Three hours, two ultrasounds, one IV and four doses of fentanyl later, it was determined that the diagnosis was a ruptured ovarian cyst.  We were sent home with instructions, and our sweetie is resting peacefully tonight after a day of incredible pain.

Both Dominick and I heaved a huge sigh of relief over a couple of things. Of course, we were thrilled it wasn't something requiring surgery, as a ruptured appendix was on the short list of possibilities.  Another, perhaps more controversial point was we were so happy that with the recent changes in health care, the kids qualified for a state plan that meant we didn't have a $10,000 deductible staring us in the face, meaning we would be paying for literally the next few years for today's visit.  I was so grateful that I could simply rush my daughter to the ER as she needed with no concern in my mind over how this was event was going to effect us financially for years to come.  I didn't hesitate, as we have done in the past over other more minor medical issues, to go see a doctor.

I know people hate Obamacare.  I also know we were one of those family's for whom the cost of health insurance was slowly squeezing the life out of us, and our solvency was in question, as was our health.  We were delaying much needed medical care simply because our premiums were so high, we had to decide between continuing to carry catastrophic coverage with a $10,000 deductible, or actually pay for the health care we needed...but we sure couldn't do both.  It was a nightmare to go through the process, truly more frustrating than adoption paperwork, but we finally have a little breathing room and can now get some things taken care of that we put off so we could pay for "health care" we could never receive.

For example, the kids all went to the dentist last week, and  we actually had cleanings for them.  Dental care alone for kids that come from backgrounds like our kids come from can be overwhelming.  For example, Joshie has yet another tooth rotting from the inside out, an unusual anomaly that he already suffered painfully through once before.  Poor nutrition changes things.  Angela has already had three root canals, and we discovered one was not fully successful, so we now have a tough choice to make as the two teeth that surround this molar also have cavities.   Do we try to save it, knowing odds are low it can be saved long term, or do we pull it so the fillings on the other two can be done very well and be more likely to be saved long term?  Olesya had a gum infection, and another cavity.  Kenny, surprisingly, is in good shape for the very first time but orthodontia is another story, as the two rounds of braces for two years and the beautiful straight teeth he had after this last round find his teeth now totally awry.  All his teeth have shifted back into the wrong place, and it looks like we never had braces in his mouth, much to our utter dismay.  We learn more next week.

I think if we added it up, we have paid out of pocket no less than $15,000+ in dental care for our kids, no joke.  We are easily at $10,000 just for Kenny's braces alone.  I know other adoptive families have faced similar expenses...ones none of us ever anticipated to the degree we have found.  Poor or non-existent early dental care combined with malnutrition beyond what many might understand leads to mouths full of decaying teeth with weak enamel.  The dentist last week told me Josh was doing a terrific job brushing, so I shouldn't get upset with him about this tooth.  However, he said we are lucky we are catching it now, as he expects when he does the work tomorrow, the tooth will crumble while he is working on it.  He couldn't see a single bad spot on it upon visual inspection, but the xray clearly shows the entire tooth is rotten inside.  We are hoping we can save it, but we won't know for sure until tomorrow.

So tonight, I am writing with gratitude.  Sure, I have been feeling a little like I have been run over by a Mack truck these past several weeks, with three hospital episodes for the family, being gone with my mom, and trying to get back to some routine here until I travel back out to be with her as she transitions hopefully back to her home.  But there is so much to be thankful for, in spite of it all.  I could be at Angela's bedside post-surgery this evening, instead she is tucked away in bed with Vicodin as her friend.  Dominick's facial cellulitis several weeks ago could have meant his wide smile was literally eaten away by bacteria.  Mom, though recovering slowly, is making gradual progress back toward independence when the outcome could have been far worse. Teeth will be fixed somehow, eyes (at least one set) have glasses on them, and food is in the cupboard.

We are together, and we are managing with the help of beloved friends who come alongside us each and every time...even though I worry about Friendship Fatigue at this point.  It seems we are in the midst of some weird Vortex of Adversity that isn't allowing us to catch our breath or, more importantly, offer assistance and encouragement to others in the way we are receiving it in such abundance.  We never seem to be able to offer to others as much as we have been given, but it is important to us that we try to do what we can.  We can't even stop the roller coaster long enough to jump off right now, let alone sit alongside others we care about as they have their share of a ride.

So, tomorrow we start the week all over again, but I am definitely NOT posting "It's a Happy Tuesday!"...I feel at this point it is better not to tempt Fate!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Flinging Word Grenades

There is a mini-brouhaha brewing online that some of you might be aware of, and other (Perhaps wiser! Haha!) folks have no idea about.  Gwyneth Paltrow, the star who named her children Apple and Moses and is in the midst of a "conscious uncoupling" with her husband, Christ Martin of Coldplay, made what appears to be quite a controversial blog post on her web site this week.  Let me share with you what she wrote:

"I think it's different when you have an office job, because it's routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening," she continued. "When you're shooting a movie, they're like, 'We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,' and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set."

Seems them are fightin' words.  Other bloggers are on the attack, blasting her for her insensitivity to the plight of "real" working moms everywhere.  Comments range from pointing out how easy it is when you have plenty of money to hire nannies, to rage over her ability to dictate her work schedule, keeping it to one film a year so she can be more present to for her children.

I have to admit, upon first read, my most immediate inner thought was, "Wow, how naive she is!!  This is not going to go unnoticed.", and indeed, it hasn't.

Upon further reflection though, I see how this is just another round in the "Mommy Wars" that we American women seem determined to keep participating in, with Gwyneth just as equal an adversary as everyone who is blasting her via the internet.  

When are we going to lay down our arms and start supporting one another instead of judging one another???

As I was reading the venomous attacks which so many thought Gwyneth deserved for her ignorant comments,  I couldn't help but think just how little those same bloggers knew about Gwyneth's life...the exact fact they were throwing  so callously at her.  

How many of us have tried to parent long distance of from a set working 14 hours or more a day?  How many of us have tried to coordinate schedules for an entire staff of people whose livelihoods depend upon our success in a field which is crowded with ever younger, ever cooler, up and coming hot bodied stars when we are in our 40's?  I don't know about you, but I have never tried to memorize a script while trying to carpool, I have never had to worry (obviously) about my body to the degree that a film actress does knowing I am inevitably aging and MUST stave off the effects no matter what or my career is finished.  I have never had to deal with the cut-throat world of Hollywood, the casting couch, the financing of projects, and the ongoing fear of crippling my children in ways only a wealthy lifestyle can do.

For everyone who condemned Gwyneth for her lack of understanding of a "regular" mom's daily life, how many truly understand HER daily life as a mom?

Very few, would be my guess.

We moms in America love to attack one another.   I know what it feels like, and I bet many of you moms of this generation do as well.  Perhaps more than any other generation, we are judged for our parenting decisions to a degree that is deeply wounding, and leaves many of us feeling perpetually inadequate and questioning our parenting decisions.  In case you hadn't yet figured it out, this hinders us from being our Best Mommy Selves.

I am not oblivious to the fact that almost every single thing I have done as a Mom has been questioned by others, sometimes not so silently.  Never mind the fact that no one else on earth is parenting in our exact set of circumstances so can't possibly be able to understand our family completely in order to make those judgments.  Here are just a few of the things we have been judged for over the years:

1)  Where we adopted from
2)  Who we adopted
3)  What race of child we adopted
4)  What age of child we adopted
5)  Cloth diapers versus disposable
6)  Co-Sleeping with our children
7)  Letting my 11 year old walk around with a blankie
8)  Too many outside activities
9)  Too few outside activities
10)  Not sending our kids to preschool
11)  Letting our kids have the occasional soda
12)  Pizza
13)  "Forcing" our kids to work
14)  Homeschooling
15)  Public schooling
16)  Not getting immediate dental care or eye care when we can't afford it
17)  Not letting my 6 year old son spend the night at someone's home when it felt unsafe to me
18)  Trick or treating as Christians, rather than going to a Harvest Festival
19)  Not being academically "rigorous"enough
20)  Not enough gifts at Christmas
21)  No cell phones (How could you???)
22)  Not getting our kids obtain their driving permits yet
23)  Letting my 14 year old son play superheroes
24)  Accepting contributions from our kids to help purchase "extras" we all want but can't provide
25)  Saying "please" to our kids when asking them to do something

And it goes on and on and on.  At least in our case there was no questioning us about the Breast Feeding versus Bottle Fed debate!!

I also know I skew older in my parenting style, and my "peers" are not my own age or a few years younger, but are really more those that are in their 60's these days.  Being a little older mom does that to you, and it makes me lean in that direction...right or wrong.  I am trying hard, and so are you, we are just coming at it from different life experiences and ages.

I don't walk in your shoes, and you certainly don't walk in mine.  Funny, how quick we are in the age of the internet to speak out in ways we never would in person about how someone else decides to parent.  We are mean spirited, we are less willing to put ourselves in other's shoes before hitting our keyboards to spew venom

Gwyneth, I may find your comments a little lacking in understanding, but I have no doubt your life is a lot different than my own and that I am seriously clueless about the sorts of challenges you deal with each day.  I'll refrain from judging you, and I'll ask you nicely to consider that maybe your lack of experience walking in some of our shoes means you might want to try not to compare, either.  That being said, I sure don't think you meant anyone any harm with what you wrote.  You just wrote from your own experience...as we all do.

I refuse to be baited into being a soldier in the Mommy Wars.  There is an entire army already participating, they don't need one more soldier flinging harmful Word Grenades.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One Thing For Sure

Home.

Land of unending dirty socks, a dog that pees when joyful, and a five high beanbag stack.

I know it's not everyone's idea of heaven, but it sure is mine.

And yes, I know I am insane :-)

It feels so good to be back home after two weeks, but it is also hard to be so far away and be unable to get information when you need it.  I received a call this afternoon from the skilled nursing facility that Mom is not feeling well and has developed a fever and a cough bad enough to cause them to want to do XRays.  I spent all afternoon waiting to hear back from them, only to get a call at 8:00 pm that it was clear and there is no pneumonia as suspected.  I tried several times to call her room, but there was no answer.

Long distance oversight of care is not easy.

Dominick is leaving tomorrow for California, a trip he had planned long before Mom's fall, so it is good to know he will be there advocating for her care in person, and that we will get firsthand information.  However, it means we have barely reconnected before parting ways again.  It is sort of like tag team.

When I arrived home Saturday, I was whisked away to a fundraiser I was supposed to plan for the kids for camp.  Needless to say, I did nothing to prepare for it and had even forgotten about it until a few days prior, as my mind was on more pressing things.  Arriving in a bit of a zombie-like state, I was overwhelmed by all that had been done to support the kids, and a large sum was raised to help defray the costs of their summer camp.

Our little church cares in a Big Way, and there was so much help offered while I was gone which made life much easier for Dominick.  Surrogate Taxi Drivers, Substitute Teachers, and Special Meal Providers rallied around our family so that I could focus on mom and not worry every moment about what was not happening at home, or how difficult a time Dominick was having.  There were also sweet emails of support sent to me throughout my time in California, all of which was so humbling and reminded me of the blessings of living in community with others.  The little things add up to big things when one is already stressed, and the care we received was a true gift.  Sometimes I wonder if our family would ever make it without our church family, and I recognize the truth that our kids may bear our last name, but they are honestly everyone's kids.  

I am gradually getting back to normal, though fighting a cold I came down with while traveling home.  There are a lot of emotions that accompany the kind of life or death event we experienced, and I have a lot of contemplation ahead of me as I sort some things out.

I also need a lot of sleep, which is not coming all that easily at the moment.

And at odd little moments, I find myself wondering what is going on with the Outdoor Patio Club.  Funny how you can enter a world and assimilate in just a few days, despite it being somewhat foreign.

We are OK, Mom is gradually healing, and the future is unknown for any of us.  One thing I know for sure though...God is with us, always.  That is enough.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tomorrow

It is Friday night, the eve before I leave California to head back to Colorado.  Two weeks ago today we received The Call and I was here by 2:00 pm the next day, which was as quickly as someone who lives in a rural area almost a thousand miles away could get here.

During that time, I have been able to be 100% fully present for my mom, not an easy task when leaving behind 5 homeschooled kiddos and a hubby.  During that two weeks I have missed four choir and chorus practices, a couple of church meetings, teaching and grading homework for five kids for 6 different subjects, two colds, three cases of stomach flu, one gum infection and cavity, one orthodontist appointment, three food bank volunteer shifts, four TaeKwonDo practices, two track practices, two graphic arts classes, driving six or eight different shifts for work for the kids, income tax preparation, one new puppy dog shower (as in like a baby shower, for a friend), the arrival of friend's new puppy and visit to our house, one toilet leak under the house, a dryer tear apart and vent clean out, 42 meal preparations and clean ups, 20-22 loads of laundry, and preparation for a camp fundraising dinner that was supposed to be mostly my responsibility.

I will be forever grateful to those who helped me be able to drop everything and run, with little looking back.  Friends who hauled kids, helped with meals, spent time with them, and prayed.  A hubby who is God's greatest gift to me and a better wife than I am.  Kids who merrily pitch in, keep a good and flexible attitude, and are the light of my life.  Without Team LaJoy and extended members, this nightmare would have been far more stressful, and I am humbled by the support and love showered on us.

This has been hard, and even harder on mom.  Tonight I left her after tucking her in bed, and I was struck by the vulnerability of any senior citizen who finds themselves unable to take care of themselves, either temporarily or forever.  It is incredibly hard to let go of what was, and face the unknown of what may or may not ever again be. The heartfelt desire to return home to old routines and the familiar is tempered by a fear of being alone and something happening again.  Virtually every single or widowed adult I have met has spoken of that same fear here.

Mom is on the road to recovery, but has several milestones yet to pass. She is making great progress and is settling into the routines of daily life in the skilled nursing facility, but being there is hard on the soul.  That was brought home for me tonight in a profound way as I was bid goodbye by the members of the Outdoor Patio Club.  Oddly, there was this camaraderie that developed in a very short period of time as the long days passed, and I will miss these folks. As I was getting ready to leave, I stopped by Don's door to bid him adieu, and he reached for me to give me a hug, and kissed me on the cheek.  We spoke for a few minutes, and he was having a tough night as he admitted with tears in his eyes, "Sometimes I wonder if I am going to end up dying in this place."  Long months of recovery after multiple back surgeries have left him weary and resigned.  Though the plan is for him to eventually go home, that is not a certainty.  His wife visits almost daily, but it is of little comfort when he just wants his own bed in his own home.  Knowing his wife simply can not meet his care needs at home, he quietly accepts his fate.

Tomorrow will be hard, and the guilt of leaving mom in a place where a strong advocate is needed to ensure her progress and ongoing healing is weighing heavily this night.  Women always feel the need to cut ourselves into parts, like an auto in a salvage yard to be parted out to repair things in several directions.  There are never enough parts of us, it is an age old story, but one I am suddenly thrust into in a new way.

It feels awful, and nothing will change that.

I'll do the best I can, and that's all I can do...just like millions of other women.  It'll never feel right though.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Aging Isn't for Sissies

The days are beautiful here in Califronia, warm, and filled with a lot of sitting and staring out at the road that runs past the rehab center.  This is a place for both long term and short term care, and there is a lot to learn about dementia and Alzhiemer's patients simply by observing their interactions with others.  Though no one wants to spend any amount of time in a place such as this, I have thus far been impressed with the caretakers and their efficiency and kindness toward those residing here.  Sadly, I can also clearly see the need for every patient to have an advocate standing beside them, making certain they are getting everything they need.

Mom is struggling with depression being here, and with the boredom inherent in such places.  Institutions are no place fear people, young or old.  I understand the necessity of having them, but when one sees what it does to a person first hand, it is easy to see it ought to be a last resort, not a first choice.

As of this moment, we have no idea really how long mom will need to be a patient here.  She needs to regain strength and is physically not able to be very stable while walking.  A new problem has crept up with swelling in her feet and ankles that makes rehab painful.  She still finds it hard to focus or concentrate on anything requiring cognitive skills, but can have very normal conversations with people with some lapses in memory, which she now recognizes as such.  However, for only 11 days out, she is doing far better than expected and is antsy to get home.

In the home front, the stomach flu is going through the family, just what Dominick didn't need to deal with (he had it yesterday).  Matthew told me the house was "girl clean" because the girls helped clean it  over the weekend, and the boys all did a little yardwork while Dominick was at work.  School work is getting done, though they have run out of much of what I left them, and it is at times like this when homeschooling becomes complicated...the kids are not just put on the bus and needing care only when they get home, but it sounds as if they are managing well enough for now.

I have received some of the sweetest emails, particularly from Kenny and Angela, which have boosted my spirits considerably.  Angela took the time to write an extraordinary communication with me, one of such heartfelt emotions that it made me cry.  The love and compassion expressed was from the soul of a fifty year old, not a fifteen year old.  I sure do live with some amazing people.  I have often said that I enjoy our days together, and that our kids would be the type of people I would select as friends if they were not related to us.  Their goodness runs deep, and being their mom is a great privilege.

Spending time out front, where several of the more aware patients gather daily to escape the madness inside, you can see the power of community even in a place like this.  There is often great compassion expressed for those who remain inside, unable to comprehend much as they wander aimlessly through the halls.  You can also liken it, for those here short term, to a sort of prison mentality that sets in.  After the first few days, an acceptance of their lot emerges, and there is a sharing of institutional knowledge to help the "newbies" become acclimated to their new surroundings.

"How do you get your laundry done here?"

"Can you get something different for lunch other than what is on the set menu?"

"That one CNA is NOT very nice, and she really hurt my feelings last night." as everyone nods their head in understanding and agreement, then goes on to share their own war stories about encounters with her.

One man, Don, has been here 17 months and does not know if he will ultimately get well enough to go home after repeated back surgeries.  His wife has no way of caring for him by herself, so she visits often.  There is Jackie, the once slim, blond haired former self-proclaimed bombshell who regales everyone with days of drunken madness spent on Mexican beaches, but who after two strokes struggles to find the words to describe everyday objects, and stops sentences mid-stream, totally lost.  Pat is another of the Outdoor Patio Club, and she sat in stunned silence yesterday, trying to hold back the tears as she shared how she had just learned that her only living son had cleared out her mobile home without her permission, giving all her possessions to Goodwill in an attempt to force her to remain here permanently in long term care.

Everyone is resigned to their fate here, however long it might be, and there are no "release dates" known.  Long, endless days are filled with little more than an hour or two of rehab, then trying to find ways to entertain themselves when reading may not be a n activity bruised and battered brains can enter into yet, when remaining inside your room means hearing the moans of one or both of your roommates who depressingly remain bedbound despite having the physical capacity to get up and move.  Each evening the halls are lined with drooping grey heads in wheelchairs...just sitting and staring at nothing.  There is no real conversation to be heard, only mutterings that make no sense to anyone other than the mutterer, and one by one they are wheeled off to bed where they are tucked in like little children, and one has the urge to read them a bed time story or play a lullaby to ease them off into another night of blissful escapist slumber.

The little things can bring a moment of joy.  One day, I brought Pat a couple of tacos from Taco Bell, something she had mentioned craving, and at the same time brought an icy cold chocolate milkshake to Jackie.  The delight of both was a treat just for me.  I sit there on the front patio, hour after hour, keeping mom company in her misery, chatting with the caretakers and others who while away their time there, too.  Two nights ago, as I was leaving for the night, O passed by Don's room...his large frame sitting in the wheelchair in his room where the TV was blaring with some inane show he detests but his roommate adores, and I stepped in to tease him a moment and bid him a good night. He reached up for me, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and whispered good night.  The next day as we sat side by side with the Outdoor Patio Club, everyone was talking about the latest shenanigans of one of the singing caretakers here, and Don leaned over and quietly said, "I enjoyed seeing you last night.  No one ever wishes anyone a good night here, and nights are the hardest."

I leave on Saturday, and will struggle with a lot of emotions as I do so.  Having your parent in a place like this and leaving them behind is an awful feeling.  Knowing that, for the moment, there are no other realistic alternatives encourages temporary acceptance.  Dominick had an already pre-planned quick trip out and will follow next Wednesday for a couple of days, and from there we don't know what we will do.  Mom will hopefully regain the strength she needs to live again on her own, as she wishes, returning to her little mobile home which is her beloved cocoon.  I'll try to find a way to come out when she is released to help her get re-settled and, with any luck, convince her to accept some adaptations to make her life safer so she can continue to live as independently as possible.

I have recognized a couple of truths from all of this.  1)  Aging is for the courageous, and I believe it takes a lifetime of experiences to help one through the process.  No twenty something could withstand the terrible pressures and trials of growing old.  2)  Being lower middle class or lower on the socio-economic scale, as the majority of Americans are, means you have few choices.  That is true for all stages of life...choices come with wealth, even in your 70's. The older you are and the poorer you are, the quicker and less gracefully you age...a lifetime of wear and tear on bodies means they break down more quickly.  A lifetime of lower earnings means you take what you can get in terms of care, and complaining will do no good.

I know what category Dominick and I fall into, and it is breathtakingly scary.  I also know I am not a courageous person.  Our old age looms on the horizon, and it won't be "golden years", I fear.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Never Alone

I am sitting here, knowing I ought to blog, and uncertain what to write.  This past week has been one of the most emotional, difficult times I've ever experienced, and yet. I am still standing.

I have been brought to my knees over and over again throughout my life.  What adult hasn't?  We all have "stuff", we all experience grief, sorrow, and very real pain in this life.  Some seem to glide through with a little less, some have an extra dose.  Some deal at the surface level, while others can't help but see and feel all the nuances which causes a kind of awareness that can have one keening with sensory overload in such situations as we are going through right now.

However, God is present everywhere, and glimpses have been seen not just through the greater miracle that mom made it through this awful experience, but the Spirit has carried through this entire situation in ways many might not have eyes to see.  One can dwell on the horror of an event such as this (and believe me, I am intentionally diverting my mind away from what happened and trying to just deal with the aftermath the best I can.  To do otherwise would destroy me.), or one can see Light and Goodness, which is what I am working very hard to do this night.

1)  Emails of love, daily news, and believe it or not...photos of new puppies and dissected eyeballs call my mind and heart back home, to a place of peace and warmth.  It has helped to hear the mundane news of the day, to see my friends life from afar as good things happen to them, and to see the kid's experiences shared as other spend time with them, then share the simple things.

2)  "Rehab" for mom is a place which is 1/2 nursing home, 1/2 short term skilled nursing care.  Over and over again I see God's hand being placed on an elderly shoulder as a caretaker says, "OK sweetheart, let's get you into bed and cover you up for the night." or as tonight with my own mom, "You are NOT bothering us when you ask to be helped to the restroom in the middle of the night, it is our job to serve you and you need to just ask and we are right here to help you.  If someone doesn't want to do that, then they need to go get another job.  We really care about you."

3)  Four oldsters in wheelchairs, sitting out front soaking in the perfect weather and fragrant scent of star jasmine and lantana.  They might be talking about incontinence, dreary long and dreadful days, and painful physical therapy, but all stop and wear wide grins when an off duty caretaker comes to work toting along her 3 year old daughter.  All stop to admire the hummingbird hovering overhead.  All stop to savor this beautiful day that God is offering, despite their current circumstances.

4)  One man, here 17 months with repeated back surgery and recovery, shares the secret..."You just have to surrender yourself to it,  there is no alternative, and letting go makes it easier."

5)  An email...or two...or three...that say things like "I miss you and love you with every inch of my body, Mom", or " I know that you are facing a wall right now and that you are working very hard to take care of  Alice, but I too know that you have a loving family ready to support through every step of the way. I MISS OUR DAILY HUGS."

6) A long distance phone call in which you are reassured that, "There is nothing more important I could be doing than talking with you right now...nothing.", and then feeling safe enough to sigh and cry with someone who totally gets you.

7)  Watching healing occur right before your eyes, slow, and gradual, but resurrection of any sort is breathtaking.

8)   Witnessing care and concern from others whose immediate circumstances are as bad or worse than someone else's.  Bet you didn't think Jesus could come cloaked in stained sweat clothes or tattered robes and nightgowns, sometimes speaking in jibberish as he walks down the halls of a nursing home.

9)  The words of your own mom offering a comforting glimpse of the hereafter as she explains, "Well, if that is what death is like, then it isn't much to be scared of.  In fact, it was kind of nice."

10)  The childlike quality that inhabits many of these older folks, whose independence has been taken from them by either physical or mental infirmity.  God is in there, if you just look.

It is scary, all of it.  We all want to turn our heads the other direction,. to unsee the halls lined with slumped over gray heads.  But look...stop and really look...yes, even in this place God is present, in full force.

The emotions of this week have been downright awful.  I am lonely in a unique way, the kind that comes from being the sole person in the position of making decisions in a situation like this.  I am lonely because I miss my family deeply.  Heck, I am lonely because I miss Sunny, the ever peeing, ever licking dog. I am lonely because this is all so hard and there is no one else to share it with.

But I am not alone, never truly alone...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Living In Between

Almost a week has passed since we received the phone all about my mom.  I have wanted to blog, but simply haven't been able to. Wearier than I have been in years, I have returned to my mother in law's house each night and gone staight to bed.

I hopped the earliest plane I could catch and touched down at LAX around noon on Saturday, then drove straight to the hospital about an hour north, in Camarillo where I was raised.  The news upon arrival was not good...basically, none of the MD's had expectations that my mom would survive.  The cardiologist was the first one to speak with me, and gave a laundry list of medical issues including kidney failure, heart issues, and brain dysfunction.

Though Mom recognized me, was clearly suffering from cognitive deficits, and mercifully, she doesn't recall the event at all.  No one knows for certain how long she was on the floor of her mobile home, perhaps as long as four days, as my email from her Monday was the last anyone heard from her or saw her.

Steadily, day by day, she has improved.  Yesterday she was released to go to a short term rehab facility where she will remain for about a month, hopefully, and regain physical strength and the ability to perform those all essential "Activities of Daily Living", which at the moment she is unable to do.  Her doctor said it could be 2-3 months before her brain function settles into whatever new permanent state it will remain in, which might mean a full recovery, or with some limitations.  As of this writing, she is able to carry on full conversations with some misfires, and memory continues to be a challenge, more short term than long term.  In some ways, it is like Grandma Alice and Kenny share a similar brain at the moment, though I'd probably give the edge to Kenny right now.

As our concern exists for Kenny's future ability to live on his own, so does our concern about mom.  In her current state, it would be impossible, yet there is a lot of encouragement for ongoing gains to be made and hourly her condition seems to be improving, much to the surprise of almost everyone around her who has seen this happen in others.  I have no doubt that the prayers of others made a difference for her.

She is very scared of me leaving, and the facility she was placed in yesterday is one of only two here, and though clean and with nice enough staff, it is filled with very aged patients, many of whom are suffering with dementia and Alzheimer's, further confusion my moms tenuous grasp on reality.  It is frightening, and she continued to forcefully state she is only here for a month.  There are several others there for short term rehabilitation, but has the feel of a long term nursing home, which it also actually is on one side of the building, and her short term memory loss hinders her from being fully certain at all times that this will be temporary.

For those of us who started our families later due to circumstances beyond our control, this Sandwich Generation place is an awful one to be in.  Caring for an aging parent who resides far from you, while still parenting a younger family leaves you squashed, smashed, and slammed between those you love.  Having no other family to carry the load means a burden that is even heavier...no one to bounce ideas off of, no one to play "Good Cop Bad Cop" when delivering bad news and soften the blows to someone whose independence is being instantly ripped from them, and no one to pick up the slack where it is left, and no one to just sit and cry with who shares your full history...all the memories are carried only by the person who is currently incapacitated.

On the home side of things, there are no words to thank those who have stepped in to help Dominick and the kids.  We may be the family that God made, but our friends are the family that God has provided, and my gratitude is profound and deep.  Everything has been softened by their love, their outreach through as-yet unanswered emails of care and support.  It means everything...

I still have no idea yet when I might return home, though my stay here can not be indefinite.  The emotional tug of war is awful, and the move yesterday to the new facility did nothing to assuage the assault of guilt and concern.  It is more a nursing home than a rehab, with a small wing for short term rehab, but halls lined with glazed eyed elderly for whom awareness of the world has long since left.  For someone standing on the precipice of grabbing firmly on to reality versus sliding gently over the side into living inside their head forevermore, this is not the ideal placement.  However, it was the best option for what will hopefully be a temporary situation, but it leaves me very worried that physical needs might be adequately met, but mental and certainly emotional ones will be completely overlooked.

What do I do?  I just don't know.  Breathe in, hold it, let it out.  For today.

Somehow even that very act seems very hard to do right now.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Call

I suppose everyone has received their own version of "The Call" at one time or another.  It might come in the middle of the night, waking you from a deep and peaceful slumber, rocking your world with the harsh jangling of the phone that jars you into instant alert status...then the news on the other end that shocks and startles. Some seem to avoid "The Call" far longer than others, being luckier in life and staving off the inevitable facing of mortality.  I am always surprised to speak to someone and find they are my age, or close to it, and have yet to find themselves with receiver in hand, speechless and shaky.  It would seem that by close to age 50, this would be the sort of experience that most everyone would have had, at least once.  Fate is kinder to some, it seems.

I have received "The Call" several times.  At 15 years old, I can still remember sitting in the dark near my mom, both of us just having spent several hours at the hospital as my Dad had open heart surgery, when the news came via the phone that my grandpa had passed away that very same day.  It was one of those post-midnight moments, heavy hearts burdened with concern already, now drawn further into the darkness of despair.

Ten years later, it was my husband who made "The Call" to me, having heard from my brother that my Dad had just passed.  I was alone at the time, as Dominick was working nights in Los Angeles, over an hour away.  It was, of course, another middle of the night ring that awakened me.  To this day I will never forget the chill I couldn't seem to shake as I sat on the end of my bed, realizing I wasn't ready for this, and knowing I had no choice in the matter.  At twenty-five years old, I still felt very much like Daddy's Little Girl, despite having been married six years already.  "What do I do know?", I asked myself, not quite understanding what I ought to be doing at that very moment.  I don't think I have ever felt more vulnerable.

There were other, far happier versions of "The Call", but they always seem to happen in the bright light of day, as if God were smiling as the good news of an impending adoption travel date were delivered.  So excited I could barely get the words out, knowing I must be somehow forgetting to ask the important questions but being completely unable to think of anything other than the face of our newest addition, these calls were joyful and dance inducing.  They somehow took the sting out of earlier, more heartbreaking versions.

Another Call was early morning, urging me to come quickly to my brother's bedside, warning I must hurry.  Following an hour and a half drive, I stood by his bedside as machines were clearly keeping him alive, but not for long, and the decision had to be made to let him slip away as I watched and held his swollen hand.

Tonight, or should I now say last night, for it is 4:30 am now, "The Call" happened again.  Coming in at a more reasonable 8:30 pm, this time, it was a horrifying story with an as-yet-unknown ending.  My mom was found on the floor of her mobile home, having fallen days prior and unable to get up without assistance, there she lay for who knows how long.  So grateful to Dominick's niece for thinking to run over and check on her after my mother-in-law was unable to get her to answer the phone.  Mom is alive, but in very bad shape at the moment.  After being taken to the ER, she was moved to the ICU late last night, and the doctor spoke at length about her condition, telling us the next 24 hour are crucial.  Critical questions were asked about end of life directives, should that information be needed, and I found myself fumbling for answers, the unexpectedness catching me off guard and feeling heavy tongued along with heavy hearted.

I have tried to sleep tonight, and managed to catch a couple of hours in between trying to bat away the horrible images that came to mind of my mom and the awful predicament she found herself in.

Alone.

Unable to move.

Hour, after hour.

The panic she must have felt.

My mind flits around those emotions, and draws back in shame as I try to force myself to experience it through the power of imagination, as if my joining her even this way in her excruciatingly terrible time there on the floor is a form of much deserved penitence.  Why should I be spared that creeping terror she must have felt...and I have the luxury of only tippy toeing up to it and peering at it rather than fully living in to it.

I simply can not imagine how awful this was.

Travel arrangements have been made for me, a task harder than some might imagine unless they live in rural Colorado, five hours from the nearest larger airport.  Should I hop in the car immediately and drive the fourteen hour trek?  How long will it be before I can manage to find a flight out...and from where?  When all you can think of is "How fast can I be by her side?", and when you live where most seats out of the area at smaller airports are sold months in advance for ski season, this isn't as easy a task as you'd wish for at a time like this.  Finally, Dominick was able to book me a seat on a budget airline leaving Montrose today at 11:00, putting me at the hospital in Camarillo hopefully by 2:00 pm, where I can hold mom's hand, and remind her she is not alone.

She is not lucid right now, but the lack of another Call lets me know she at least made it through the night.  With bloodshot eyes I stare at this screen, engaging in the one form of "therapy" that has gotten me through many other challenging and traumatic times.  When I can't sleep, I write.  My mind wanders as I wonder just how many blog posts over the past 6 years have been written because I couldn't sleep and needed to purge my soul of something breaking me into little pieces.  Again, I feel I am not ready for this.  If she makes it, she is likely to be a very different person coming out of this experience.  There will have to be changes for her, and I have no idea yet what that might look like, or even how best to help her.  These situations are that much harder without other family members to help make decisions or offer suggestions, but for quite awhile now, it has been just she and I, no other living relatives are there to commiserate with, or to offer comfort.

There never really has been.

It has always felt very, very lonely.  How I yearned to face those "Calls" with another sibling who could be there...either my sibling, or one of mom's.  Instead, we try to wrap our heads around it all, leaning often on Dominick during these sad, awful times.  That man has been there through thick and thin for my family, and how I desperately wish he could be there physically with me as I walk into the hospital room tomorrow.  I know, without a doubt, that God brought us together so young because there was much ahead for me, and I could never have done it completely alone.

Josh is asleep on the couch, Dominick left him behind this morning despite his being ready to go in at 4:00 am to work with him.  We both know he will be struggling with this and my sudden departure.  He admitted last night that he was feeling nervous and anxious, and I will need to take great care to be in touch with him while I am gone.  It is harder on him not having a return date for me, which at this point I can't offer.  I just don't know.  We gathered round the table last night to discuss what this week might look like, what accommodations the kids would have to make, etc.  They all said I shouldn't worry about it, that they knew what to do and would be fine.  We created a short school game plan of things they could work on self-directed.  They reassured me, they encouraged me...they all offered to pitch in the help with my expenses, which we declined but which touched me deeply.  What an amazing group of young people we live with.

I told Dominick I am very fearful that we are entering a Time of Great Suffering.  I have felt it coming on for a couple of months now, and I am desperately hoping I am wrong.  In many ways, it feels as if we have been living a somewhat charmed life the past 13 years or so, as if God has smiled on us again and again...so often undeservedly.  I can't tell you how many times I have pinched myself, as if to prove our life is "really real".  It has been hard, of course, with much to work through and a lot of sacrifice, but it has been rich and rewarding, with relatively little sorrow or anxiety in the mix.

Or maybe time does its magic and it just feels that way.

Regardless, we are definitely feeling precarious right now, many heavy concerns weighing on us.  Kenny's hard earned progress appears to be slipping in some areas, which is disconcerting, to say the least.  Work is still a very big looming question mark for Dominick in the coming months, which is downright terrifying when I let it bubble to the surface.  There are practical, every day matters to deal with such as renters who didn't pay for three months and are finally out...having left quite a mess, our house needs a new roof which is costly, and school books still need to be purchased, groceries still need to be bought, and Josh needs to stop growing taller so I don't have to keep buying him new pants!!  Nothing extraordinary on that list, but it weighs you down when you have emergencies keep arising as we seem to have the past couple of months, then you're trying to tamp down the panic over how best to help your aging parents when you struggle to meet every day needs, and when what they need is presence and you are so far away.  We are trying to plan ahead, to be pro-active and prayerful.  However, there is this sense of foreboding that is hanging over me, which I keep trying to shake but will not stop hovering.  Are we entering a time of far deeper challenge?  How can we meet the needs of so many who rely on us?  Will we fail those we love?

At moments like this one, it feels like we just can't do anymore, can't handle anymore.

For today, though, I will tackle but one thing...I will be there for my mom.  Everything else will be put aside, all other concerns pale by comparison at this moment.  I worry I can't be who I need to be for her in her greatest hours of need, I worry I won't know what to do or where to turn to find the help she might need...and accept.

And I will do my best to push aside all thoughts of her previous days, so I can focus on what is right before me.  There is work to be done, there is presence to offer.

I can do my penance later.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Sweet Gifts

We had a couple of very special wonderful surprises today....extreme acts of kindness that were little moments of the divine presence right here.

This afternoon we got a call about a MacBook that someone wanted to share with us...pre-loaded with the kinds of software that Angela would need for more graphic arts work.  Did we want it?  Oh my, YES!!!  I didn't realize it until Angela was talking as she looked over the laptop, but for her Graphic Arts class we had downloaded a 30 day trial version of the software to use because there was no way we could afford the complete version as well as the cost of the class, so her teacher suggested we handle it that way.  Guess what?  Tomorrow that 30 day trial period ends, and Angela would have to give up working with the software until someday we might be able to afford to purchase it. It was literally as if God was watching and saying, "Hmmm...that girl is going somewhere with this, I better take care of that whole software issue."  The generosity of others who have given so much to our family time and time again continues to blow me away, to humble me, and to cause my prayers of gratitude to be ever-more lengthy.

There was additional excitement as a long awaited package arrived with treats brought all the way from Kazakhstan.  Victoria with J127 Ranch in Taraz, Kazakhstan offered to bring home a few things for the kids, so they created a little list of much beloved snacks and candies they missed.  For weeks I have been asked, "Do you know when our box might come?", and tonight, it finally arrived!  There was so much laughter and grinning going on as the packing tape was sliced open, and little bags revealed all the long ago tastes of home.  Beautifully wrapped candies, odd and unusual flavors of crunchy treats, Halvah and chocolate, along with a few other little items like stickers and a VERY cool statue!  This was the highlight of the month!


Aaaannnticipa-a-tion...


Kenny looks hungry.  Kenny always looks hungry!


This is a statue of the famous golden warrior.  Josh is saying at this moment,
 "I'd like to thank the Academy..."


Yes.  You read that correctly.  Red caviar wheat croutons, alongside bacon flavored ones. 
 Both were a huge hit.


So much delight!  Funny, the science book that came in this afternoon didn't garner quite this much attention.

There is so much kindness in the world.  We often fail to see it, to share it, to celebrate it.  I don't know why we fail to do so.  Are we really more fascinated with evil versus good?  If one watches our evening news or reads online, you'd think the world is a dark, dark place.  The light is everywhere, if only you look for it and recognize it!  I get tired of the contention, the intentional focus on how we humans hurt one another.  I am so worn out from partisan politics, demonizing anyone who believes differently than someone else, and the name of Hitler being invoked over and over again to insult someone.  Trust me, no one being called another Hitler right now is really another Hitler.  He was so heinous no one could hold a candle to him.  Well, Putin might eventually prove that to be wrong, and Kim Jong Un is certainly no patsy, but let's face it, there are very few for whom that sort of hyperbolic rhetoric is well suited.

Some days it is harder than others to find the Holy.  Some days it feels as if it would be easier to join the ranks of those who mistake snarkiness for true wit.  Some days it is very difficult to dredge up another go at a world that seems dead set on being unkind, cold, mean spirited, and disconnected.  It is on those very days though that we must try the hardest...we must work diligently to model kind speech, acceptance of those with ideas different from our own, and ways of being in relationship with one another that are as healthy as possible...that banish darkness and allow light to shine. Sometimes it is really hard work. It is worth it, though.






Good Ol' American Interdependence!

Good old Thomas Merton, he certainly "gets it", doesn't he? The theme of interdependence is one that is being regularly ...