The greenhouse and garden, Eagle River, AK PHALL PHOTO 2014
Almost SIX weeks, and you know what I’m talking about. But I don’t want to make a big deal about it. Well, okay, I do want to make a big deal about it. Just give me a paragraph or three and then I’ll shut up about it. At least for today. More than anything, I feel that giving up cigarettes (and the caffeine addiction) has given me more freedom. The biggest freedom, is the freedom to go after a healthier life style.
No matter how many times that I have attempted to quit in the past, I always remained a slave to cigarettes. Even if I went as long as eight months without one single drag off one single cigarette, I was still chained to the addiction. I thought about the lack of them, more than I thought about anything else. Secretly (and probably outwardly) the drama was intense. It went on almost every waking moment that I didn’t smoke. “Should I? Could I? I can’t. I won’t! Damn, I’m weak. Man, I’m strong. I can’t go one more minute. If I can make it one more hour, I can go to sleep.” The internal drama was intense, as I’m sure the external was. Poor family.
This time no one suffered; not me and not my parents. That’s how I knew that the addiction was broken. For awhile, I waited for the other shoe to drop. As hours, days and then weeks passed (6 of them!), I kept waiting for that slam/slap on the shoulder and a rousting voice saying, “Fooled ya! You are about to have the worst withdrawals in the history of cigarette/caffeine withdrawals!” It never came. One of my reasons for diet and exercise, was to head off any shoe-dropping slam/slap on the shoulder. If it came, I’d be ready with a healthy routine and a new excitement for living without the chains of addiction. So far, so good.
It may very well be an illusion, or even a delusion, but I honestly think that I’m out of the woods, and that the damn shoe could never be thrown THIS far out! (Knock on wood, or whatever superstition will keep that big bad shoe away.)
On the home front. Mom goes to her first Physical Therapy session today. She has been moving less and I’m hoping that they will pick up the slack and get her into a good routine to further her recovery from the hip replacement. Dad is still fighting a painful-sounding cough. Hopefully, this last batch of meds will help him.
The best thing about the Olympics these past few weeks, has been watching mom and dad enjoy them together. Whether, mom was laying with her feet in dad’s lap, or sitting up and holding hands with him, I had the best seat in the house. They cheered and gasped in awe together at the inspiring wins, losses and injuries, while I just smiled at the two of them.
The low carb diet is going well. Really. Today will be day 5 of my crazy idea of joining a gym…wait, that was mom’s crazy idea. I’m a little sore, but it has been fun. I kind of earned another free pass by story-telling. Yep, the membership woman loved the story of Kevin and I, so much, that she promised more free passes for my future visits. Cool.
I just stepped out and took some shots of the light pastel pink and blue sunrise. It is a balmy 14 degrees this morn. I’ll share a few photos from yesterday, then I have to get ready for my next yoga class. Yikes.
Funny, I started writing this about the transition I will soon be dealing with; from living alone in Maggie (my cave at the beach) to living with my folks for the past 2 months in Alaska, to making a new life with Kevin in the foothills of the mountains. Somehow, I never got to that…maybe next time.
From the front porch, Eagle River, AK PHALL PHOTO 2014
Alaska weather, mom’s new hip, photographic opportunities, smoking status and maybe a little romance.
The weather here has been weird. Almost all (not by Georgia standards) of the snow is gone, but we still get some nights of frost that don’t thaw until late in the day. While most of the rest of the country is suffering severe cold and snow, we have a temporary reprieve.
Out the kitchen window: a grove of beautiful birch trees, with a few fir and cottonwood tossed into the mix; recently snow-laden limbs, now free of their heavy white burden. Out the window that is above the kitchen table, is dad’s Quonset hut; once shrouded in a thick layer of snow and icicles, but now down to the rust-colored metal. Out the living room window: the front yard and the busy road to/from Eagle River; the regular work of the big colorful road plows is done for now. Everyone is guessing when and if winter cold and snow will come back.
Every single day, no matter the weather, I revel in the way that the changing light of morning, mid-day and evening touch the sheen of the birch tree bark. I have seen those trees almost neon white, and with more subtle shades of pink, purple, red and blue, depending on the tint of moment.
The longer I’m here, the more I notice that I move from window to window in this small house, no matter the original purpose of entering a room. I look out the window as I enter, and then again before I leave. I’m looking for that light. I’m watching for a moose, a bear or a flutter of wings that announce a flock of Wax Wings or Northern Grosbeaks.
Maybe I’ll spot that stealthy fox that I used to see around midnight, when I sat freezing and smoking on the deck. Often, what I see makes me rush to throw on something warm, and maybe some boots, grab a camera and head out to take a shot, or two, or twenty of the light hitting the trees. That light. That moment. Sometimes even, that second.
The health status. It seems very much as if mom, dad, and I are trading our minor illnesses back and forth. Cold and/or flu symptoms are flying around and landing on one of us, until it morphs and moves on to the next. Our sleep patterns are crazy. Despite all of that, we’ve had days where I play DJ and we listen to the old music that we all love, and days when we laugh a lot. Yep, we also have some grump days and cry days; missing our Michaela or bruised feelings.
Meanwhile, mom’s new hip is doing all those healing things that make each day one level of challenge or the next. The pain meds are not being used much at all, no matter the challenge level. Home health nurses are no longer coming to the house. Eventually, mom’s doc will allow her to do outpatient PT, but for now he wants her to take it easy. We’re hoping that the blood thinner medicine will end soon and that mom won’t have to go in for the weekly blood draw. The walker is her pal and she has a hard time remembering that it will be many months before she is allowed to bend over and pick something up.
SMOKING– Nope, not me. 20 days. I’m awesome:>)
THE ROMANCE– oops, no time to report on this right now. All is just peachy though!
You are all going to think that the cold has gotten to me.
Since I first started packing to go to Alaska, in the middle of flippin’ winter, and leave my stormy beach life in Washington State, many things have…shifted within me. I came here to take care of my mom (and dad, somewhat) while she recovers from hip replacement. I may stay longer to help my younger brother if the docs decide to repair his back. This is where I need to be for now, but it feels different somehow.
As most of you know, I’ve been carrying on some kind of long distance…something? with my brother-in-law’s brother, who I knew when I was 15, and have spent exactly 1 day with since then. We’ve been making plans for a few summer activities when I get back from Alaska. The main thing is that we’re having fun getting to know each other and we smile and laugh a lot. So that’s a big shift for this solitary gypsy/cave woman who has been in the depths of grieving for almost 5 years. Okay, a gigantic shift.
Reuniting with my long lost girlfriend, Leslee, caused a profound shift in my thinking. Her recent brush with death was tough to hear, but her renewed energy for life had a seriously positive impact on me. You know how sometimes 7 people can say the same thing, or give the same advice, but you don’t really take it in until you hear it from the 8th person? I think that’s what happened with Leslee. I think that she offered similar grief advice that I’ve heard or read from others, but she was just the right person, who said just the right words, at just the right time and they clicked into place in my pea-brain.
Other shifts: Day 14 in Alaska, Day 8 since mom came home from hospital, Day 5 since I QUIT SMOKING AFTER 35 YEARS, Day 4 since I QUIT COFFEE AFTER 24 YEARS, Day 3 since I stopped eating evil things to make up for smokes and coffee:>)
So, there’s some pretty big shifts (I deleted all the perfect cuss words that fit so well into this sentence). Mom and Kevin are the only ones that I told. They have been my mini, but mighty, cheer leading squad (great visual). Mom told dad tonight, but he was pretty quiet about it.
I’m as shocked as you are. I don’t know, I just wanted to keep it close for a few days. It wasn’t something I planned at all; no big X for quit day on the calendar. No pills or patches or magic potions. I was just about to open my last pack, when I decided I’d quit. I smoked that pack over a couple days, then I quit. The next day I quit coffee. I’ve had no headaches or…any other withdrawal symptoms
Yes, my dad’s frequent lectures, mom’s heartfelt pleading and having to sit out in the freaking cold to smoke may have all contributed to my decision. However, my visit with Leslee, my cousins and my grandchildren also contributed. As did my word (and plans) for 2014: HOPE.
If this is going to be a year filled with hope, then I could have hope for health and happiness and maybe even hope for a partner to share it all with. I did write that. Am I sure? Hell no, just minutes ago I thought I was going to be alone the rest of my life. Really. And that was okay then—a minute ago. Maybe not now. Oh, well, stranger things have happened:>)
Patti, who has no more secrets (damn!)
P.S. My writing is not on hold, but has also shifted in another direction. As I watch several of my writer-friends publishing, or getting very close to publishing, I can only look on and cheer and wonder if I’ll ever get back on track. I will. I know I will…
“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” ― Rumi
It’s funny, but I think that you like the truth better than any tale I could weave, and I can weave some fanciful ones. But, surely it is the real heart and real emotion that we need the most…
Whether it’s, “Oh, my gosh, I never knew!”
or, “That’s just how I feel too!”
The best and worse of me, resounds in you. P.H. 2013
I just wrote that for you:>)
Traveling home is very different, on many levels, to each of us. It also changes with the reasons that we go home. Since 2007, there has been a different reason each time that I traveled home. My late husband, Paul, came up with the money for a ticket, and then insisted that I go that first time. The visit was initially to see my dad, who had a health scare, but then, also to make up with a family that I had distanced myself from for too many years. That was good. And hard. And it lightened my heart to have my reading, gardening, rolling- with- laughter mom back in my life.
Another visit to the north was a casual one, almost a vacation. Fishing in Homer with #1, a sister who took me everywhere when I was little, says I was HER baby! A long-time friend of hers verified the news. I made up with a sister that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in at least eight years, and made headway with another. I helped dad with his yard sales and listened raptly to tales from his childhood in Kentucky. I loved the way his faded southern accent peeked in and out of his reminiscing. Of course, mom and I reveled in working the garden together, and I, in watching her dance in front of the green house in her jammies, to the loud music coming from within. Joy.
In 2012, my visit was filled with pain and heart-ripping sorrow. My direct sorrow was laced with regret. The sister I had reunited with just eight months earlier, the sister who had been sending care packages of craft ideas and love ever since, the sister I’d been sharing texts and long-missed phone calls with, was gone. The gratefulness that we DID connect, didn’t come until much later. My secondary sorrow was the torture of witnessing how the loss hit my parents; the death of one of their seven, a crushing blow.
Then, too, the twin to my lost sister, their birthday is tomorrow, lost her literal other half. There are just no words for the pain I felt she must be suffering. Still suffers. Another sister was a close business and personal buddy with our lost one. Another sister was out of the country. The brothers stood by, strong shoulders for our tears. My heart tore in painful strips of crumpled, tear-stained ribbon. I tried to capture and identify my pain and soothe it, but the ribbons flew in all directions; my parents, our twin, each sibling, even dear friends who fed and flowered us so well. A tattered ribbon of pain from my husband’s death flew in, and tangled with the rest.
Our (now) single twin flew home, soon after the beautiful memorial, into the loving and healing arms of her husband and son in Arizona. When I flew back to my beach a few weeks later, the ribbons of pain flew behind the jet and tangled between my feet as I disembarked. They knotted in my hair as I walked the beach, searching for my lost loved ones. A little over a month later, a phone call; my mother is in the hospital, and so, I packed my ribbons of pain for another flight to Alaska.
The ribbons of pain were no longer filling every space in my parents home. But as I cared for mom, cooked, cleaned and organized, the ribbons fell from every drawer, cupboard and closet; still there, but moved aside to make room for daily living. The ribbons filled pillows that we rested our heads on each night. We used them to wipe away the tears that flowed, unbidden, from our eyes. I was there for over 4 months, which allowed special time with the four siblings who live near.
Eight months after the return to my Washington beach, I lost my 3 year-old grandson and the fresh ribbons of pain, added to the others, almost smothered me. My mother’s sister died October 1st, adding still another tangle of ribbons. I feel them right now. Those ribbons of pain make it hard to open Maggie’s door; my little RV cave is packed with them. I am safe, as long as I keep them away from my nose and mouth. I’ve accidentally swallowed a few and they almost choked me.
Mom is having hip surgery January 3rd, and a brother is having a potpourri of surgeries in the next few months. I fly out on the 2nd and spend the day in Juneau, the capital city that I have never been to. I look forward to walking up to the huge Mendenhall Glacier, that presents its blueish glory, just a few miles from the airport. There are other wonders close by that I hope to explore. Are you excited to see the photos? I am too! If you have a friend in Juneau who can give me a quick tour between 2 and 6 that day, please let me know.
I’ll be back to my beach in mid-May and I’ve promised to visit Mrs. M soon after. She’s doing well, by the way, and is doing outpatient PT now. I also have a long list of family and friends to visit on my return. Those ribbons that I’ve been writing about? They have been keeping me inside the sorrow of those lost loved ones, and not allowing me room to be with the loved ones who are alive. I know that. I’ve decided to drop them out the airplane on my way back from Alaska:>)
“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
― Charles Dickens
Here’s a beach sunset from a few days ago. Enjoy, please:>)
“Your body is away from me But there is a window open, from my heart to yours. From this window, like the moon, I keep sending news secretly.” Rumi
When I read this quote on my friend, Elaine’s site, it reminded me of a letter to Paul that I posted back in June. Paul died August 9, 2009 after a year-long battle for his life; first leukemia, then a stem cell transplant, then his body attacked itself with Graft vs Host Disease of the Gut. I was his 24/7 advocate/caregiver in the 3 hospitals, the 4 temp housing units in Seattle and for his final 2 weeks in our bed at home.In our short 4+ years of working, living, loving and building dreams together, we considered ourselves married. Just 7 weeks before his death, I climbed into Paul’s hospital bed at the U of W Hospital, and we made it legal and official. Since his death, I have “sent news secretly” to Paul through my journal. After the death of my little grandson, I didn’t write in my journal very often. The letter below is my catch-up letter, as I resumed my healing writing habits. I’ve recently updated it to include another lost loved one.
Look Paul, the reality is that I have no idea what you do or do not know about what’s been going on around here, and maybe just for me, I need to catch you up. For all I know you could simply be ashes buried deep; away forever, from this well-lit world that I walk in. For all I know you are “up there” bitchin’ about the fancy food and wondering when Earl’s gonna be on. So, that’s the place I’m going to imagine you while I write this little note. I mean, how can I think of you as just gone? Just buried ashes? At the same time, you know I haven’t let the bliss of religion take me over; we’ll just settle for “up there.”
In the place I keep you in my mind, you have all the sweet company of lost pets, your parents, and your former wife, Janet. We talked about it before you left, and I know where the balance of your love lies; Janet was the love before ours, I was the love of your present and future (huh! Some future!). You guys can hang out until I get there and then we’ll all be friends. Janet and I will probably ditch you and go antiquing anyway.
I’m sure my sis, Michaela, has found you by now. She’s the one cracking up, putting on fancy parties and trying to take care of everybody else. Our family friend Tommy is probably with her, and you two are going to get along great—you both have that little sparkle in your eyes that I never did figure out. It does my heart good to think of the three of you having fun together, and you pulling them into your own family circle up there. You’ll probably sit around watching Johnny Carson with my grandma and ogling pretty women during the commercials with my Uncle Eddie. My Aunt Norma has joined you, her parents and her brother, Uncle Eddie, by now. She’ll be telling bawdy jokes that you guys will eat up. She’ll be fighting my sis, Michaela, for snuggling time with Tiven, then the two of them will exchange manicures and recipes. Don’t miss Aunt Norma’s chicken enchiladas or Michaela’s layered chocolate pudding, whip cream and cake dessert!
There’s a precious little 3-year-old blond boy up there too now. He’s Jon’s son, Tiven, born just a few months after you left. That birth was an amazing event, and one of the only things that could get me out of the house. You’ll probably find him snuggled up with my sis, since she’s always been an awesome mommy. He needs one. And Tiven actually knows you, his papa, from all the pictures he’s seen and from all the stories we tell about you. You were so good with Nola and Cora, and I know you’ll just love our Tiven as much.
We could use some help down here, with keeping an eye on and caring for Tiven’s brother, Hunter. If you folks in the know up there could visit him and surround him with your love, I’d appreciate it.
Anyway, honey, I miss you more than you can imagine, and I hope you are dealing with this better than I am. I’m trying and I’m finally back to writing, so don’t nag about that. Just like we talked about, my hope is that our memoir will help others travel that rocky road of love, illness and death with better ease than we did. Well, I better get back to it.
You always loved holidays and had a way of getting me to love them too, so Merry Christmas, my sweet man.
Love you always and forever, Your Patti
Oh, and I know it’s you, sending Tiven to wake me with his little kisses. Send more.
Totally unrelated to this post. I saw this young bald eagle on the beach this afternoon. The 2 adults that were with him exited, stage left. PHALL PHOTO 2013
Have you ever wanted to change your phone number? I had that sudden urge just tonight…but it was too late, because I had already answered the damn thing. Too late. She was off and running before I even got the second half of “hello” properly spoken. “I’ve got the most wonderful thing for you to do for the wholefamily for Christmas!” Dead silence on my end. Who in their right mind would reply to that statement, especially even from their own mother? Not me. I struggled not to hang up and sever our ties completely.
“Don’t you want to know what it is?” Then, before I even had a chance to not answer the statement or the question, she was back at it. “I know everyone one would LOVE to have the health history of our family, and you can do it, Patti!” She released a few syrupy sweet lines, adding a mound of butter, to really set the hook. As if. I’ve had over 50 years to learn how to deal with these tactics.
If only…For the next hour, I held my cell phone in one hand and a pen in the other, as we charted 5 generations of our family tree, including physical and mental health issues for each person. RELATIVE ALERT: This information will NOT be in my next post! Or even the next one. This is private family information that is only for family. Seriously, don’t freak out.
Besides, it’s all mom’s fault. While I am a family history researcher, this topic can be a little iffy (note the alert above). Mom and I went back and forth about what should be included and what, if anything, should be denied excluded. We have lost at least one person, from all but one generation, mainly to heart problems or cancer; this is important stuff.
As a matter of fact this information can tuck neatly into the health file that I hope you started working on during my Postcard series. Remember that? No? I will have a hard copy of it available soon, but here’s a link to the last one, which has links to the whole series http://wp.me/p3i5jo-8N.
So, uh um uh, mom was right (I might as well tattoo that on my forehead now), this will be a great gift for the family. I send out a yearly name, address, phone number list most years anyway, so I can just add this to it.
There, my Christmas shopping is done, before it even started. I like that in a holiday!
Mom and I agreed to add all known physical and mental health issues for those who have died (not in the mood for a tactful euphemism). For living relatives, we will leave the mental health issues for individuals to fill out on their own and share with whom they chose.
I decided not to change my phone number, at least until next time.
*please note, motherly quotes directly from daughter’s faulty memory.
“To start, make a list of relatives to contact. See if there are any existing family trees, charts, or baby books. Important questions to ask your blood relatives include the following.
What is your age or date of birth?
Do you have any chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure?
Have you had any other serious illnesses, such as cancer or stroke? (If you know of a specific disease or illnesses in your family, ask about them, too.)
How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
Have you or your partner had any problems with pregnancies or childbirth?
Other questions to ask are:
What countries did our family come from? (Knowing this can help because some genetic diseases occur more often in certain population groups. Also, different diets and living environments can influence the risks of developing certain diseases.)
Has anyone in the family had birth defects, learning problems, or developmental disabilities, such as Down’s syndrome?
What illnesses did our late parents or grandparents have? How old were they when they died? What caused their deaths?”
Do you think you will work on this? How important do you think it is, that we share this information with our family members?
I just think, if I have to do it, you should too:>) I’ll tell mom!
Crap, the alarm didn’t go off. Okay, maybe it did, but I just set it two hours ago, so maybe we both slept through it. So, here I am on this cot next to Paul’s hospital bed, hair going every direction, eyes still stuck together and my brain on sludge mode. Without the elixir of life (coffee), and with a full bladder, I have to wake myself up enough to answer specific questions and protect Paul from cruel and unusual poking and prodding.
In a teaching hospital, this happens 5 days a week. Waking up to strangers in your room, and not screaming, “Get out!,” is an acquired skill. You can tell who the doctor is, because he or she is usually a snappy dresser, and freshly showered. The students either look intimidated by the doc and exhausted, or they look attentively up into the doc’s face, have brown noses and try for the matching snappy look, with a semi-pressed lab coat.
Either way, it is game on. Once in awhile I can get them to check back later, but usually they are in a hurry and won’t can’t change their routine. It is amazing how different their behavior is when I’m just waking, and still in bed, compared to when I’m dressed and alert when they arrive. I know they are not the enemy (at least I do on my good days), but I still have to make sure the facts they are using to decide Paul’s meds and treatment, are based on what he and I know to be the reality.
Paul is groggy, but always humble and accommodating. He knows I’m listening, making notes and generally on top of it. This is the best gift I can give Paul, who is on his 6th or 7th plan B treatment to try and stop the aggressive attack of Graft vs Host disease. The gift is allowing him to not have to remember medications, side affects and his vital statistics. If there is an issue to be discussed, he can lay and listen, while I rattle the cages to correct or get more information about his treatment.
I grab a hair clip, my notebook and pen and another day begins.
Frosty garden colors and the end of the primrose. PHALL PHOTO 2013
It’s almost midnight and I’m happy to report that I made it through another dreaded Friday the 13th. Personally, I think it is a lucky day. Turns out, I had neither dread nor luck today…but isn’t that lucky?
It has been nice to be home this week, but Mrs. M. has called and I will be returning to Oregon tomorrow. One last, late afternoon visit to my beach, and I collected some sand to make her a beach scene in a glass dome. She loves the beach too, so I will take her one of her own. (Beach therapy in glassware)
The driftwood bull carving was still there and I told him how much you all enjoyed him:>) Here are a few other beauties and oddities that I gathered with my camera today.
What? Don’t ask me… PHALL PHOTO 2013
PHALL PHOTO 2013
Results of stormy weather. Some incredible finds. This is my therapy and I see stories here too! PHALL PHOTO 2013
PHALL PHOTO 2013
Beach art. Another view, still odd. PHALL PHOTO 2013
I could actually smell winter at the beach today. I didn’t last long outside, but found some pretty beach glass, a Westport moonstone (round, smooth, clear rock), a heart-shaped stone and a piece of petrified wood. No agates, but still, some goodies to make Mrs. M.’s mini-beach!
Have a great week and I will be back online as soon as I can.
Friday was busy and full of smiles and hugs from Sara & Jon and the little grands. I am so glad that it worked out that I could watch the my gr’daughters get their awards before I headed to Oregon.
It was a beautiful fall drive from Washington to Oregon, and my truck remembered how to get back to the nursing home just fine. I spent some time with Mrs. M at the nursing home, and then I followed her gr’daughter over to Mrs. M’s duplex. It is a 2 bedroom in a little community near Gresham. After the gr’daughter left, I unpacked and did a little freshening up around the place, then went to explore the area in my truck.
Yes, I did get lost once, but it was worth it. I now have a better idea of where I am and where most of the places that we may need to go are. Mrs. M doesn’t drive, and I know that it’s hard for me to get to know a place if I am a passenger. I bought a map:>)
I made it back over to the nursing home the next morning with no wrong turns. Mrs. M was ready to go, after fond farewells with her roommate and the staff. It was obvious that she was well-liked there. I packed her up, and when her gr’daughter got there, we left. By Saturday afternoon, Mrs. M and I were as settled in as two strangers could be. She seems to take well to changes and is amiable about the big and little things. Ahhh, that makes things easy for both of us.
White Picket Red Berry Gate Wood Village, OR PHALL PHOTO 2013
Sunday & Monday
Mrs. M and I had an exciting day and evening yesterday. The nursing home sent a nurse to look over the meds and check her vitals. We should also have visits from physical therapists in the next few days. We were sitting here filling out some papers after the nurse left, and we heard a loud boom; the electricity went out. With Mrs. M’s directions, I found the flash lights and batteries, but didn’t have the right batteries for the radio. We still don’t know what happened, but we were in the dark for only an hour or so.
Once the power came back on, I turned the thermostat up to get us warm. I smelled something burning and got up and looked around. It was coming from the wall heater, so I turned it back off. Then 3 smoke alarms started screaming out. I turned those off and Mrs. M called the landlord; he got here pretty quickly. It turns out that dust build-up inside the heater caught fire. As he was testing the heater in my bedroom, it started smoking too and set the alarms off again.
Please vacuum out your heaters for winter use. Might as well check your flash lights and emergency radio for batteries while you are at it.
PHALL PHOTO 2013
That was our crazy Sunday. Yesterday I took a long walk around the neighborhood. I had my camera and found some of the season’s last flowers and some other great colors and textures to take photos of. We had a big plan to go get groceries, but at the last minute, Mrs. M’s back pain flared. She called the gr’daughter to come over while I ran our errands. Yep, got the batteries. It was nice to be back in Oregon, where an attendant pumps your gas. Everything else feels pretty much the same as Washington.
My little grandson, Tiven has been gone almost 6 months, and November 3rd would have been his 4th birthday. I have been fighting tears for several days, but yesterday I was able to get away and let them come as they wanted to. I miss my little guy every single day. That’s all for now.
Autumn Rose for Tiven. 3 Nov 2009-26 Apr 2013 PHALL PHOTO 2013
Let me know how things are going with you. Still getting our routine down here, so I haven’t got back to editing the memoir postcards. Not online much either.
An executive caregiver position came open many years later. (No phone call this time.) By then, my children were out on their own and I had divorced their step father. I was 4 years into the best relationship that I could ever have imagined. And then, my partner in life and business, was diagnosed with leukemia. I became Paul’s 24/7 caregiver. The hats I wore covered all aspects of our lives during the year of his illness, treatment, stem cell transplant, our hospital wedding and his final battle with graft vs host disease. We were fortunate to have a strong group of supporters in our family and friends. We all learned so many lessons during this time, that Paul and I began to plan a book about it. My 3-part memoir series of love, illness and loss is a work-in-progress.
I readily admit that nepotism was involved in my next caregiver position. The patient was my mother. My family (2 parents in their 70’s, and 6 siblings in their 40’s and 50’s) were still reeling from the loss of my sister in February 2012. Two months later, my mother had an accident that left her with two broken arms, 2 black eyes and a variety of pain, from head to toe. Yep, I got the call. I was back on an airplane heading north. It had only been five weeks since I returned home from Alaska after my sister’s death,
When I arrived back in Alaska, my brother picked me up and took me straight to the hospital. I stayed in my mother’s hospital room that night, and we took her home the next day. Mom was unable to care for herself at all. I became her right-hand and left-hand person, and slept beside her at night. I would like to break off and tell you what an amazingly strong woman my mother is, but I will leave for another day.
Two of my siblings live nearby and they circled the wagons to provide support and relief. I stayed in Alaska 4 months and wore many hats while I lived with my parents. My most rewarding role was that of adult daughter to my parents, but the second best was that of caregiver to my mother. I was also able to spend some special time with 2 of my sisters and their families, as well as both of my brothers. I flew home to Washington in August, on the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death.
A holiday bonus. The patriarch (I call him “dad”) sent Ms. Daisy (mom) and I on the vacation of a lifetime in late November 2012. I joined my Alaska family for Thanksgiving, then mom and I toured the Hawaiian Islands for weeks. We spent Christmas and New Year’s with my Arizona sister (it was her twin who we lost earlier that year) and her family. Mom flew home from Washington in January, after visiting her sister and the rest of our Washington family. [3 months later my grandson died and mom flew back to Washington to mourn with, and nurture our family here]
To make a long story short (hahaha), I received another call. It was the call from my sister that I wrote about in the first paragraph of Part 1 of this post. I’m still not perfect, but I guess I will keep on practicing this caregiver role, until I get it right. I am looking forward to this new adventure of giving care to Mrs. M. in Oregon.
I’ve taken some time this week to ponder the meaning of these calls-to-action that keep arriving in my life. They seem to be bridges to the next part of my journey, rather than minor side trips. So, now I have to wonder where this next bridge will lead me…
You can be sure that when I get the call that Mrs. M is being released, my laptop, printer and works-in-progress will be traveling with me, so please hang out for more.
How will you answer the call? Has a caregiver call been a bridge in your life? We would love to hear your thoughts and experience (in the comment section).
Holding You Up A bronze statue on hotel grounds in Kauai, Hawaii PHALL PHOTO 2012
by Patti Hall
They Say That Practice Makes Perfect
Technically, I wasn’t looking for practice or perfection when I answered my sister’s phone call from Alaska a few days ago. Just last week I was deep into my grieving cave-woman mode. Tuesday, I traveled about 350 miles (round trip) to a convalescent facility in Oregon. I met with the care team of my sister’s mother-in-law, Mrs. M. Yesterday I started cleaning, packing and planning for an extended stay at the home of Mrs. M. in Portland, as her caregiver.
Caregiver: Is This A Calling And/Or A Bridge?
My caregiver internship began within the parameters of my first parenting role when I was 28 years old. That’s what parents do, they give care. Care-giving starts when you wake up in the morning, extends throughout the day, and continues into the night. It is wiping snotty noses, changing diapers, feeding, clothing and loving those in your care. Care-giving is sleepily welcoming a tearful dreamer under your covers, and into your arms, in the middle of the night.
To further my caregiver qualifications, I answered the phone and agreed to join a caregiver group in California. A troupe of his sisters and nieces, gathered at the home of my maternal uncle, when he was in the last stages of his battle against cancer. We came from 3 states; sometimes one at a time, sometimes overlapping, but one of us was always at his side. Despite my uncle’s sad prognosis, he basked in the songs of this Florence Nightingale choir. The songs were expressed in our laughter and love. We nurtured, laughed, cried, reminisced and took care of his physical needs. It was the first time that I truly considered how fragile life is.
A few years later, an interim caregiver position came available via an out-of-state call from my children’s father, aka my former husband. His mother was in her 80’s, living alone and had recently been widowed. She was not doing well emotionally, although, she was physically fine. I packed my bag, drove 100 miles north and left my own family to fend for themselves (again). K and I had known each other for many years and we had remained friends.
K was in deep grief and needed help with the mounds of paperwork and legal procedures that come after a death. While her son handled his job and household transfers from Utah to Washington, I helped K negotiate the details at hand. The signs of dementia came on fast and I consulted her son over the phone. I took K to her doctor and explained our concerns. She was poked and prodded and tested.
I received a promotion. Along with K’s paperwork, legal matters and emotional distress (grief), I had to keep her physically safe. From herself. Household hazards suddenly loomed everywhere. She was a fragile child one moment and an angry woman in the next moment. By the time her son came, K and I were exhausted and traumatized by trying to navigate the chaos brought on by the changes taking place within her brain. I returned home and wished that I could have done more.
Stay tuned, Part 2 will be posted soon…more caregiver experiences and I ponder whether this role is a calling or bridge to the next step in my life.
Have you answered the call? We’d love to hear your story in the comment section.
From my country drive a few weeks agohere. Tan Furry Steerette (not official species name). Maybe it’s the teats, maybe that soulful look, but I love her. Cannot have steerette where I live. I’m so glad that she has that awesome rack (horns not teats) to keep those bad boys away…when necessary:>) I was very sad when we had to leave these new friends behind. I wish they had internet.
New Features & Reflections of Memoir
I have not received enough reader photos here and here to keep that feature going, so I am working on 2 new features that I hope will be more popular and useful. One is for caregivers and the other is for writers. Both of my new features are written as “Postcards” since that seems to be in keeping with my “Souvenirs from My Heart” memoir series. I intend on carrying that theme through all my writing, as it is such a big part of my former and current life.
I wanted to get the memoir postcard series herepublished this month, but this has been a rough month for me. As you might imagine, my emotions are pretty raw, and time spent on the memoir has been ripping off old scabs. I hope that the caregiver and writer postcard series will give me a short break and allow me step back and breathe for a short time. Both of those series are meant to help others, and that helps me get out of my own emotional way.
Reflections of August
Tomorrow, the 27th, is the anniversary date that Paul and I celebrated our new life together. He would always tease me about my bold, “Why don’t you call me sometime” gesture at the pig roast in 2005 where we were re-acquainted. The 28th was the day of his memorial. What a day. I raged in my journal about how that day was supposed to offer some “closure,” but all it did for me was make my grief worse, because it made Paul’s death so real and so final.
I will certainly be glad when August is over! With Paul’s deathday, birthday, our anniversary and his memorial in the same month, it is always hard. Leaving our home and gardens for the last time, this past week, added more to my heaping pile of emotions.
The bright sidecould be, that it is all over in one month of the year. I (with lots of help) am building a new “secret garden” that Paul would love, from what I salvaged from our old garden. This year I also have my wordpress family to add to my supporting and loving circle of family and friends in “real” life. Thank you all.
Heaps of Goodness
Please continue to send all sorts of goodness to my WP friends, Ionia, Belinda and Marilyn, and my real world f/f’s who face serious health issues. For those in my circle facing emotional issues, maybe try what helps me most; give true and loving support to others:>)
I just got word that I did not win the last contest. A BIG thank you for those who took the time to read and vote on my story, “Love, Laughter and Loss” I did not win, but had the most, by 20!, facebook likes:>) Here is how the stories were judged. (I think I only had one person write to the judges.) http://midlifecollage.com/winner-circle/
Again, thank you!
Grani & the little grands taking a break after jumping on the trampoline with a sprinkler under it. My clothes are soaked! A hard day–Tiven’s service, and we all needed the comfort of our crazy family. Cora, Cameron, Nola
Do you have friends or family in a medical (or other) crisis? Who doesn’t, huh? How are you handling that? In my small circle we have dealt with some big ones over the last 4 years. I never did get my cape or badge or certificate, but I still feel I have enough real life experience and research to back my insights about these heart-breaking situations.
The biggest impact on giving comfort can be in what you do or don’t say. Skip the ubiquitous cliches and resist sharing your own similar, (but actually, completely different) experience. No one is in a hurry, so take your time and give some thought to each word that comes out of your well-intentioned loving mouth. Make it about them, (the victim or the caregiver) not you. “This must be so hard for you.” “I’m so sorry.” “I wish you weren’t going through this.” Like that, you get the idea; short, sympathetic and focused on them. And, no %^&* cliches! None.
The second biggest impact on offering comfort is not to make an ambiguous offer to help. Again, think first, before you even come into contact. Instead of asking your crisis-foggy-brained friend or family member what you can do for them, ask yourself what you would need. If you were in the same situation, what would you need? Then make a list of practical, helpful things that you are certain you can commit to.
List maybe 5-8 things. Like, “I have Tuesdays off, I can make a meal for your family and do some laundry for you.” “I can come over this weekend and mow the lawn.” Or clean the house, help you make a calendar of things to do, run errands on a specific day, or any day, if you are available. Do they have a patient care page set up online to keep family and friends in the loop without a lot of phone calls? Whatever will be the most helpful for their situation. Write your final five to eight offers and hand it to the caregiver or the patient. Make sure that all your contact info is included, even if they are your best friend, and you talked on the phone every day before the crisis. Foggy brains.
If you are not up to a big time or energy commitment, but would like to do something, offer to read to them. Or to sit with them for 1/2 an hour while their caregiver takes a break. Can you stop by and get their mail for them? Bring them a treat? How about be their secretary for an hour? Maybe a mini spa treatment; braid hair, rub feet, paint nails…you know them, what would they love?
Careful consideration of these two things can have the biggest impact on the care and comfort that you can offer a friend or family member during a crisis. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on the topic, and the same two issues come up over and over again. We tend to say the wrong thing or we don’t offer specific, practical help. If nothing else, find 100 ways to say that you are sorry, and skip offering to help until you know what to offer.
I hope this helps you and yours, I wish none of us needed to know or use this information.
Feel free to add your suggestions, questions or comments. What did I miss?
Patti & Paul going to his 40th high school reunion. PHALL PHOTO 2006
Here is a completely related photo and the 10th and final installment of the serialized version of a section of my memoir,Souvenirs from My heart; The Patient Patient Advocate. This final post includes stays at three hospitals.
In the last post, Paul is taken by ambulance, to the first of three hospitals.
July 21, 2008 continued Paul’s patient-personality was already set; he was passive, unassuming, humble, and concerned for everyone else but himself. Therefore, this impasse between his loved ones and his nurse was pretty hard on him. Earlier that evening, he quietly asked me not to leave him alone at the hospital that night. Yet, he hated to break the hospital rules and upset the nurse. He wanted his daughter to go home and get some sleep.
We finally compromised with the nurse and settled down in the family waiting room, taking turns sneaking down the hall to be with Paul. Paul’s daughter asked the nurse for a couple pillows or blankets, but we got a lecture about more broken rules instead. She grudgingly brought some in…over an hour later.
When I sent for the Paul’s hospital, dental and doctor records a month or so later, I learned that she was the head nurse and that she wrote that I was upsetting the patient! This was ironic, because his daughter was forceful, loud and threatening to change hospitals that night. I was quietly in shock over the day’s events and upset for Paul being alone when he had asked me to be there with him.
At some point during the early morning hours, after Paul drifted off to sleep, I drove to our home and packed up provisions for Paul and me. I fed our dog and two cats (after explaining to them what was happening), grabbed business and personal phone numbers, tried to think of special things Paul may want, and finally locked the doors and drove away. It would be almost a month before Paul and I walked through that door again together. Even that would be just a quick, unauthorized visit, before moving up to the third hospital in Seattle.
July 22, 2008 The next morning, Paul’s oncologist allowed me to drive Paul to a second hospital, about 25 miles north, where he was admitted at noon. The oncologist, which Paul had seen for almost a year, certainly changed his tune; he went from being casually friendly at his office, to being brash, tight-lipped and unfriendly at the hospital.
Paul immediately had a bone marrow biopsy (aspiration) and a double Groshong port placed in his chest. When the results of the bone marrow biopsy came back, we were told he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia with 95% blasts (basically, 95% of his blood was mutating cancer cells). The nurses began what they called the “standard 3 and 7 chemotherapy” and we were relieved that Paul had few side effects from it. He was fatigued, a little dizzy at times, but was still walking to the bathroom and standing for short periods of time.
If you have any kind of similar medical crisis, Paul and I strongly recommend a port. If no one offers, ask for one. It is a minor procedure that saves, not only many repeated pokes, but you can sleep through medicine, fluid, and other intravenous changes. This is not medical advice, just our personal opinion. Research it for yourself and ask your doctor.
By this time, I have a notebook and pen nearby at all times. I question everything. Paul’s daughter and I write notes about questions to ask, answers, medicine, procedures, and we begin a long to-do list. I asked a family friend to start a patient care page, so I could keep family and friends in the loop. We asked his oldest daughter to put “temporarily closed” signs over all the large signs that lead to the RV business.
I made short trips home to gather documents and other paperwork that I needed for business and personal accounts to be dealt with. Every night I slept in a chair by Paul’s side. His daughter stayed a couple nights, but eventually had to get back to her family. His other two daughters stopped by for visits a few times. A few friends came for short visits.
I borrowed my cousin’s lap top and began studying for my unofficial PhD in leukemia. Less than a year later, I had a conversation with the lead doctor in Paul’s team about the recent peer-reviewed research article that he published. I took my job of advocate and caregiver very seriously.
August 07, 2008 After another bone marrow biopsy, we were told that the chemo treatment was unsuccessful (still 60-84% blasts, depending on who you ask, and which report you read).Paul’s oncologist sent us to a Seattle hospital on 08/08/08, my son’s 19th birthday. This is when we sneaked home for a few precious hours. Paul has 364 days to live.
Our home was surrounded by hundreds of acres of forests. We lived on a dead end street. Before cancer, we spent many evenings in the hot tub, which sat in the back yard. We listened to owls, coyotes and counted the shooting stars. Seattle stuns us; the noise, the population, the cement/glass/blacktop that surrounds us, and the speed at which daily life moves.
Paul joined a clinical trial at the Seattle hospital. After 5 more days of chemo, he was still doing well. The day 14 bone marrow aspiration showed only 0.09% blasts, and day 28 showed none.
August 15, 2008 After living in hospitals for weeks on end, Paul and I moved to an apartment in Seattle. We had to stay near the hospital, while he waited for a stem cell transplant and the next round of chemotherapy to keep the leukemia away.
I believe that patience is the character attribute that will do you the most good in this kind of situation. Be patient with others, but also be patient with your self. Wait it out. The anger, frustration, fears and helpless feelings will pass if you are patient. However, be actively patient. Knowledge is power and you will gain some power by knowing what is next, what the options are, and what exactly is the disease that has put you in this place at this time. That is why the first book I am publishing is actually the second in the series. It is the most helpful one for people walking this journey. Souvenirs from My Heart; The Patient Patient Advocate is from Paul and I to you.
The serial is over, but the good news is that I am publishing it as an ebook! I hope to have it out on Paul’s birthday, the 20th THIS MONTH! One can dream…
***This is the LAST POSTCARD and I apologize again for the length; blame my sis (again)—she’s so impatient!
***An article I wrote about the beginning love affair with my blue-eyed man has been selected to be in a PAYING contest later this month! Get your voting fingers ready again. I JUST FOUND OUT THAT IT WILL BE PUBLISHED ON THE 19th!!!
***My youngest sis (the impatient one) suggested we make the reading photos, like the ones (here), a regular feature on this site. THE READING PLACE will be ready Monday! We have a selection of pictures and quotes from some unusual, cozy and crazy reading places, along with the reading habits of THE WRITE PLACE community members. That’s you, peeps:>)
Send your photo and quote to my email below. Email photos and quotes to me at: 1writeplacewordpress at gmail dot com Thanks for hanging in there, and your comments are especially appreciated.
Here is a completely unrelated photo and the 9thinstallment of the serialized version of a section of my memoir,Souvenirs from My heart; The Patient Patient Advocate. Paul has a 10 hour ordeal; the clinic, the ambulance and the first hospital.
In the last post, Paul just had another “episode.”
The nurse and I got Paul to the exam table and gently laid him down. I asked her to find some blankets for his body-vibrating chills. Both doctors and two nurses soon filled the tiny room. One nurse tried to get an I.V. line going in Paul’s arm.
The ambulance attendants showed up quickly and tried to get into the room; one grabbed the IV bag from a nurse and asked her step out of the room. The other nurse passed the I.V. things to an EMT and squeezed out of the doorway, while the second EMT directed the action from the threshold. The doctors and a nurse hovered in the background.
I held Paul’s hand and lightly caressed his face from my discreet position between the exam table and the wall. I answered rapid-fire questions from nurses, doctors and EMT’s. No one had been able to get a line in for an IV. Everyone in the tiny room was behaving confused and just on the brink of panic, and all of them (except one doctor) had already unsuccessfully attempted to get an IV placed. They couldn’t get his blood pressure reading either. They tossed ideas and suggestions back and forth around the room.
One of the EMT’s made the decision to try and get Paul to the ambulance. It was another uncoordinated scramble to get Paul from the exam table, onto the ambulance gurney, through the doorway, down the hall, through the waiting room, and out of the clinic doorway. There was little room to maneuver anything.
Stay quiet and out of the way if you want to be there for your loved one. Answer questions as succinctly as you can, then slink back into the woodwork; otherwise, you are out of there! There was one EMT and one nurse who wanted me out of the room. I could see it when their eyes fell on me as they assessed the situation. Then their eyes fell on the doctors, who had obviously allowed me to stay. I was allowed to stay.
Once inside the ambulance, but still in the clinic parking lot, it took the EMT’s almost 15 minutes to get an IV going. Everyone was visibly shaken. The foreheads of the EMT’s were shiny with sweat. There were fine lines of blood splattered in several directions. I just wanted them to get Paul to the hospital! Paul was still dazed, but he was responsive enough to humbly try to cooperate. (Paul was captain of our rural fire department at the time; a 29 year veteran, but these city EMT’s didn’t know him. They didn’t know that this was the love of my life either.)
At one point an EMT was so frustrated trying to get the needle placed, that he gruffly told Paul that he “just needed to hold still!” Paul weakly replied that he would try. I was shocked and told the EMT that Paul obviously wasn’t in control of the wracking chills that were making his body shake so hard. The EMT’s glare sent me to family-of-patient hell. I glared back through my teary eyes.
The second attendant made a final and successful attempt to get the I.V. going and they prepared Paul for transport. I went across the lot and brought my truck next to the ambulance, so I could stay close behind when they were ready to go.
When they eventually got Paul stabilized in the hospital ER, I went outside to sneak a cigarette and to call my family and Paul’s daughters. In between, I was reassuring Paul, making sure he was comfortable, and trying to get answers from the few medical personnel on duty. His middle daughter showed up just as we were taking Paul upstairs to his room.
Paul was finally admitted and in his room at the small hospital by midnight; we had left home for the clinic 10 hours earlier. This was the first time Paul had ever been a patient in a hospital. He’d just been through a harrowing experience. He had the hell scared out of him when he was told that he had an un-diagnosed, but life-threatening illness. He was exhausted.
I truly value the nursing profession, but the nurse on duty that night seemed heartless and cruel. Paul’s daughter and I tried to convince her to allow us to stay with him. We understood that visiting hours were over, but would she please consider that Paul had never been a patient in a hospital before, and had just been told he may die soon? Would she want to be left alone under those circumstances, we pleaded?
All medical personnel have a fatal flaw that you might as well hear about from me: they are human, damn it. That means that they get to have bad days. It’s just that their bad days are usually hidden by practiced professionalism. Sometimes the death, dying, sick, bleeding, messy, whiny, long hours, supervisor’s an a**hole and family life frustrations crack the facade. Sometimes their career path is so worn, that they forget to get off it when they realize that they are on the wrong path. Take a deep breath, use humor and kindness, and if that doesn’t work call in someone from the next rung up.
***The LAST POSTCARD is next, and then I hope to have some good news to tell you about them. I apologize for the length of this one; blame my sis—she’s so impatient! I am posting the last postcard tomorrow, the day four years ago, that I lost my Paul.
***An article I wrote about the beginning love affair with my blue-eyed man has been selected to be in a PAYING contest later this month! Get your voting fingers ready again.
***My youngest sis (the impatient one) suggested we make the reading photos, like the ones (here), a regular feature on this site. THE READING PLACE will be ready Monday! We have a selection of pictures and quotes from some unusual, cozy and crazy reading places, along with the reading habits of THE WRITE PLACE community members. That’s you, peeps:>) Send your photo and quote to my email below.
Email photos and quotes to me at: 1writeplacewordpress at gmail dot com
Thanks for hanging in there, and your comments are especially appreciated.