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Honoring Our Veterans; My Great Aunt Mercy

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There are many veterans in the long line of our Halls, from my brothers and father, all the way back to my 3rd great grandfather in the American Revolution. My late husband and his father were Vietnam veterans, and my mother’s side of the family did their part during war times also.

I’ve decided to feature the only female veteran in our Hall line that I am aware of. She was an unpublished writer and had the grand name of Mercedes, but we just called her Aunt Mercy. She was my great aunt, my father’s aunt. Her father served, and was crippled by a bullet wound, in the Spanish-American War at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

While touring the U.S. with my two children in 2001, we spent some time with Aunt Mercy. Our little r.v. was being repaired, so we left most of our belongings with Aunt Mercy and rented a car for the east coast part of our trip. She had one request: she wanted us to go to the Women In Military Service For America Memorial in Washington, D.C. and look up her name.

The east coast trip was memorable for many reasons, but one of the most moving things that took place was typing “Mercedes Hall” into the computer at the women’s memorial, and then looking up to see her beautiful photo and service record (above) on a massive wall. Sara, Jon and I just stood and looked in awe.

007We got two color copies of the image on the wall and took one back to Aunt Mercy. I also have a book (see image), The Giving of Self; The History of St. Joseph Infirmary School of Nursing, which features a photo of my aunt’s 1939 graduating class. The image is blurry, so I did not include it here.

Aunt Mercy was a proud woman, yet she practically giggled when we told her about our visit to the memorial, and then brought out our souvenirs. She recounted more tales about her Navy Nurse adventures and we spent hours going over family photos and stories. She kept telling friends and family, “They went and saw me in Washington, D.C.!”

I’m especially glad that we included Aunt Mercy on our itinerary, because she passed away less than a year later, 10 days before her 86th birthday; she was the last of 11 Hall siblings.

I hope you enjoyed this Veterans Day post. It was good to revisit Aunt Mercy’s pride and happiness about her service for America.

Peace,

Patti


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Someone Needs You. How Will You Answer The Call? Part 2

Bridge Along The Journey PHALL PHOTO 2013

Bridge Along The Journey
PHALL PHOTO 2013

Metaphor musings. Bridge as opportunity, to next bridge as opportunity, to next bridge as opportunity, to next bridge as opportunity…into the horizon…

Continued from Someone Needs You. How Will You Answer The Call? Part 1

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).

Here are these Helpful Links again:

http://www.caregivers.com/caregiving/ All things caregiver.

http://alzjourney.com/helpful-resources/ An incredibly helpful list of resources for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and caregivers.

Peace,

Patti


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Someone Needs You. How Will You Answer The Call? Part 1

Holding You Up A bronze statue on hotel grounds in Kauai, Hawaii PHALL PHOTO 2012

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.

Helpful Links:

http://www.caregivers.com/caregiving/ All things caregiver.

http://alzjourney.com/helpful-resources/ An incredibly helpful list of resources about dementia, Alzheimer’s, and caregivers.

Peace,

Patti


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Naked Without Them

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Naked Without Them; Gold & Silver Memories

My wedding ring set has such a bad track record.  You’d think that I would want to drop it down the sink or bury it in a drawer. Never. Like most of us, that set of rings has had its ups and downs, through no fault of its own.

Before their life with me, the rings had a life on the finger of a young bride, full of high hopes for a happy future, with the man of her dreams. That dream died quickly and lives were shattered. The rings sat in a box, in the very back of a drawer, forever. Who knows how long it really was, as rings have no sense of time.

My friends, the preacher and his wife, gained possession of the rings through their family ties. They finally found a way to aim the rings on a path towards a happier future; much happier than living in a drawer full of undies and unopened packages of socks.

Admittedly, the groom (whose bride would wear the rings) was being treated for leukemia, but surely he would live to rejoice in his recovery with his new bride? The rings could have a new life too. The betrothed were living in the hospital and did not have the freedom to go shopping for wedding rings. So when the preacher and his wife drove across the mountains to perform and witness the hospital wedding, they brought the set of rings to offer as a gift to the couple. The rings would be redeemed and the newlyweds would live happily ever after. The gift was gratefully accepted.

The groom’s wedding band was chosen from the offerings of the preacher couple and the bride’s aunt. He simply chose the one that fit the best. The wedding is another story altogether, and you are welcome to read one version of it here. Most of you know that the story didn’t end so well. The groom left this world and his bride less than 2 months after the ceremony. Once more, the rings were marked by tragedy.

That was 4 years ago and I wear Paul’s wedding band on my thumb now. I just recently moved my wedding set to the ring finger of my right hand. I read somewhere that this was the custom for widows in…? I can’t remember what country that was. My wedding ring finger is still much thinner where the rings once sat, and I’m sure that time will be successful in healing the finger, if not my heart. Either way, the rings and I are happy for the company along the way.

The other piece of jewelry that I cherish is the heart locket that you see in the picture. It was already special to me, but now I only take it off to shower (so I actually am naked without it). Sealed inside is some resin mixed with my forever-3-year-old grandson’s ashes. We lost him in April and I can still hear his voice and see those bright blue eyes,

I had more to say, but I lost my steam somewhere up there in that last paragraph. I can say how grateful I am that I have these special things, and I truly would feel naked without my gold and silver memories. Some people don’t want such constant contact with objects that hold sad memories. That’s odd to me. When I adjust the rings or the clasp on the locket chain, I may shed a tear (or a bucket of them), but then I usually end the tearful session with a smile for all the happy memories.

Do you have something special that you feel naked without? Maybe something romantic or funny or magic to cheer us up? Well, then please share it with your friends here :>)

Peace Out,

Patti


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Dedicated to My Aunt, Her Children and You!

On October 1st, while I was being amazed at the offerings of the sky, my Aunt Norma was on a final journey to her loving husband who passed away eight years ago. As a hole in the stormy clouds above the ocean opened up, it sent rays of light from above, and chills ran up and down my body. This is usually my reaction when I get to witness this natural phenomena, but it felt stronger that day.

Hole in sky. October 1st. PHALL PHOTO 2013

Hole in sky. Westport, WA, October 1st.
PHALL PHOTO 2013

Yesterday I visited my other aunt and talked to my mom in Alaska; they had both lost a sister the day before. For my mother, that is a daughter, a close family friend, a great grand child and a sister, that she has lost in less than 2 years. I got to hug two cousins yesterday and renew our cousin-love vows. I stopped by to give my uncle a hug and to renew our vow of family love. I have recently been rebuilding friendships with the children of the aunt who just died, and I am trying to support them through this hard time.

A double rainbow, double the hope. Oct 2nd. PHALL PHOTO

A double rainbow, double the hope. Oct 2nd. Centralia, WA
PHALL PHOTO

All of this has me thinking about the nature of loss. How very different the loss of one person can be to each of us; how the news hits us and how it settles around us. Our experiences with loss, and our relationship and history with the lost one, make such a difference. Some want to laugh, some need to cry, others want to reminisce, while some just want to ignore the pain. It is very hard to know which way a grieving person is leaning on that particular day, or hour or, even, that minute. I am doing the best that I can for each. The biggest thing I think I can do, is to be a good listener and let them lead me to the place they are, emotionally. I offer gentle sympathy. After a lot of listening, I can usually offer something that I think will help. Sometimes it is just a hug, or hanging out for awhile. Sometimes it is an action I can take. Either way, I try and be gentle. And yes, this loss is my loss also, so I’ll need to be gentle with me too.

Fall Rainbows. Oct 2nd, Centralia, WA PHALL PHOTOS 2013

Fall Rainbows. Oct 2nd, Centralia, WA
PHALL PHOTOS 2013

I also spent time with my daughter’s family yesterday. As usual, I drug them all out to see Nature’s glory in the sky. Pretty soon, Nola (6) and Cora (7), were dragging me down the sidewalk and around the corner to get better views of the incredible fading rainbow-setting sun-lit sky.

Sunset on window-wall of Centralia College. Oct 2nd. PHALL PHOTO 2013

Sunset reflection on window-wall of Centralia College. Oct 2nd.
PHALL PHOTO 2013

 

They ran up the concrete steps of a vacant 1930’s church, and still, stood on their tippy-toes to get a better view…then, around another corner, and they careened, arms out, down a wavy concrete ramp.

Nola & Cora, Oct 2nd, Centralia, WA. PHALL PHOTO 2013

Nola & Cora, Oct 2nd, Centralia, WA.
PHALL PHOTO 2013

This loss, like others, seems to bring us together, even as we regret not having spent more time, laughter and rainbows with the one we lost. Let’s just try harder with the ones we have left. I think my aunt would be happy with that vow.

Sunset of a happy-sad day. PHALL PHOTO 2013

Sunset of a happy-sad day.
PHALL PHOTO 2013


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Midlife Collage Contest Essay, “Love, Laughter and Loss”

sunset, moon, coastguard

Sunset Moon & Coastguard Tower, Westport, WA
PHALL PHOTO 2013

As usual, the photo is unrelated to the text :>) I hope that the Coasties love this one. More photos of mine at phallphotos.wordpress.com 

One of my stories is in the  Midlife Collage contest this week (Monday through Sunday). It’s called “Love, Laughter and Loss” and is up against four other short stories. It only runs until this Sunday.

http://midlifecollage.com

This contest pays $50., but it asks more of the reader/voters;

  1. Facebook “likes” count a lot in the final judging. So, please click the Facebook link at the bottom of my story—it looks like a thumbs up.
  2. Please leave one of your thoughtful comments at the end of the story. Comments count for judging, only if they are more than a quick, “Great story!” What emotions, memories, thoughts came up when you read it? What did you think about the quality of writing? Was it descriptive enough? Logical beginning, middle & end?
  3. Please go to “Closing Arguments” (at the top of each page, in the header) and convince the judges which story should win this week and why. I usually copy and paste my comment from the story I want to win, then make it stronger for the judges.
  4. For you to “qualify” to give the judges your opinion in the “Closing Arguments” you have to click a box that says that you have read at least 3 of the stories.

Thank you for taking the time to do this for me.

Patti


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Runaway Writer Found on Beach, Heart Broken, but Alive!

For those of you who were not able to make it to the contest, here’s 2nd place winner, “My Gutsy Story,” for those of you who are sick of reading about this: sorry, one last time and I will put it to bed:>)

Runaway Writer Found on Beach, Heart Broken, but Alive!

One of the best moves I’ve ever made was to run away from home when I was almost fifty-one years-old. Once I made the move, my life changed. I did meet a small new circle of friends, but the biggest change was in my writing life.

It had been over 10 years since I was actively writing online. Back then I was writing for online magazines, a weekly column on the now defunct “She’s Got” network, and I ran a site for young writers. I wrote children’s stories, poetry, and a novel, while plotting my moves to publish them all. Then life took another swing at me and my writing life was back to just me and my journal, which satisfied me for a time.

In 2008 a personal tragedy brought writing back into my life; I wrote online updates to friends and family about my husband’s fight with leukemia. I wrote from Paul’s hospital bedside and from the desk at our temporary housing near the hospital and clinic. I wrote about our thoughts and feelings, about the latest medicines, and their cruel side effects. I tried to keep positive and I tried to make our weird humor an ingredient of my updates. Amazingly to me, I kept getting comments on my updates like, “I hope you’re saving this for a book,” and “This is going in the book isn’t it,” and “You have to write a book to help others through what you and Paul have been through.”

Patti Hall and Paul

Patti Hall and Paul

Almost a year from the day he was diagnosed, Paul passed away at home in our bed. Even stunned by his death though, I missed writing those updates, and the connections that they brought. A few weeks later I began an email journal of my painful progress through nightmare estate issues and my stunted grief process. My email journal went out (and still does) to our same circle from the leukemia updates, with pictures, poetry, and reader comments. My audience continues to laugh, cry and cheer for me.

It was six months after Paul’s death that I ran away from home. Our home was home no more; it was a torn shell that had once been the comfortable shelter of our love. Home was now held hostage in a gripping tug-of-war between lawyers and heirs. All I could focus on during those first six months was Paul and my driving need to be near the ocean; a need that pulled me like the moon tugs at the tides. Some of our most fun and soothing times had been spent walking sandy shores.

During those six months before I ran away, I thought of other times that I had found sanctuary on the beach. As a young divorced mother, I had often bundled up my nursing son and my toddler-daughter and made excursions to a friend’s beach cottage, or to the sands of Ocean Shores Washington. I recalled treasured memories of Huntington Beach California, with my beautiful red-headed sister and our young families.

As beach memories crowded my thoughts, automatic pilot (that self-protective part of me) managed the details of the next episode of my life. Without that autopilot, I could never have abandoned our home; that sacred place of “us.” Autopilot shielded me from sinking into fear and served up a pair of wings for my flight to the beach.

Maggie’s as safe as the closet that our dog, Jake, snuggled into during fireworks or storms (and she’s not much bigger than that closet!). Maggie is a travel trailer who beats her chest with happiness when salty winds batter her metal skin. She sings along with the chimes I hang, and apologizes unceasingly when her plumbing proves imperfect. Maggie is home, and only a short walk to the beach.

Once settled into my new life, the addiction began. I dug out old work. I produced new work. I started writing under my maiden name, which I had not used since 1977. The solitary writer’s life I led now had little resemblance to any of the former lives I’d led the past 36 years, so a new (old) name made perfect sense to me.

I polished a children’s book written for my children when they were young, and then I wrote a 4000-word story based on my granddaughters. I pulled out a series of poem-stories that I wrote years ago; I had drawn little booklet covers and attached the poem-stories to whimsical creatures that my girlfriend made for sale.

I spent hours researching and educating myself on writing and publishing in this new modern world. I joined a local writer’s class in the arts center and an online memoir class. I began attending a local writing group at my library. There, I presented a new story I was writing based on the superhero flights of fancy of one of my grandsons, but written for all three of them.

More research. I followed a course online on building a writer’s platform. I made my website to blog my future readers. I joined Twitter and Facebook. I passed the initiation and became a member of several online writing groups. I was writing new material every day and blogging most of it. The feedback was encouraging, more than encouraging, as several professional and/or published writers were insisting I publish my work. I was on a roll.

I’m still on that roll. I’ve had two other very close deaths recently that almost stopped me in my tracks again. The grief is overwhelming, but what I can do is write. I can write of the cold dark hours and long, never-ending days of my grief. I can even write and photograph the joyful minutes that I allow myself to see and feel the miracles of nature; the raging waves reaching for the shore, the dancing birds on the sand who rejoice in flight, the moss-covered shack I capture being swallowed by vegetation. I’m at my beach and I’m writing a memoir. I’m alive and I’m hopeful.