Friday, January 21, 2011

Bug's Big Day.

I took Ladybug to the groomer today. Mostly to have her nails clipped because she won't sit still for me to do it and I'm always afraid I'll hurt her. And since she was going I figured she might as well get a bath, too.

This was her first trip to a groomer.

Now she smells like almonds and she doesn't have Pterodactyl Toes anymore.

Lookit. Isn't she sweet? I think she's saying "thank you mama for takin' me to the shampoo lady I had so much fun can we go again someday and can I have a treat please?"

It must have been pretty exciting because we haven't been home for long and she's already sacked out on her fluffy bed. Hard work being so cute, I guess.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why I let the dog sleep on our bed. Sometimes.

One of the struggles of the life we lead is having to figure out how to do just about everything long-distance.

Parenting. Budgeting. Encouraging each other. Consulting on vehicle and home repairs. Keeping each other posted on things of note. Saying goodnight.

Comforting each other. (This is where the dog comes in.)

It's been difficult to not have Steve here to hug me when I really need it lately. I know he's been concerned about me and how I am holding up as my grandmother's failing health has all but consumed my days. I keep telling him I'm OK. At least as OK as a person can be when they're losing a loved one.

Oh, I have my moments. Late one night when I couldn't sleep I had my own little sobfest. My heart hurts a little every time I walk through the kitchen and see grandma's extra set of eyeglasses sitting on the counter. I pause when I rifle through my purse for lunch money for the kids and one of the items I set aside is grandma's coin purse - the coin purse she would so lovingly pull a $20 bill from to pay for lunch on the days I took her out.

I took her to have her hair done and we went out to lunch just two weeks ago. Now she's not really eating at all.

Two weeks ago I would hold her hand to keep her steady while she walked from point A to point B. Now we hold her hand while she lies in bed and fades in and out of lucidity.

It was so recently that I hung a picture of grandma on the door of her room so everyone would know this is where you could find Leona. Now she hangs in the balance and all we can do is tell her we love her and that it's OK to leave this room, this world, this life.

Sad? Yeah. Of course it is. But there are so many blessings in this, and I am thankful. One of those blessings is that Steve is doing what he is doing so I can be here at home. I have had the opportunity to care for my grandma and visit her often and spend the most amazing weeks with her, all because Steve's job provides well enough for us that I can be a homemaker.

Steve has given me the gift of time, and I love him for it.

Yes, it stinks that I can't just come home and ask him to hold me while I process all these emotions. But we do what we can. Writing here - writing anywhere - is therapeutic for me. And last night Steve and I had a great conversation via on-line chat (because for whatever reason sometimes that's just easier than talking on the phone) and he helped me sort through some of my feelings and let me vent my frustrations. And he made me laugh. And cry. Both of which I really needed.

We do what we can, and we enjoy the times we are together. When we're not together we figure out ways to make our marriage and life in general work for us. It involves a lot of prayer, a lot of communication with each other, a lot of give and take, and many supportive friends and family members.

There are times when I'm absolutely fine and I sail through the days, and there are times when I feel like my boots got stuck in the mud and I just can't take it anymore.

Either way, good days or bad days, The Pipe Life or some other kind of life, I can't imagine navigating through it with anyone else. For the blessing of such a wonderful partner, I am eternally grateful.

And yes, for the goofy hound dog who always turns three circles before she can lie down, the one who twitches and whines in her sleep while she dreams of treeing raccoons, the one who will sniff at my hair and then sneeze in my ear ... for the comfort of having some warm, breathing being curled up next to me, I am thankful.

I think Steve will forgive me for occasionally allowing Ladybug to sleep on the bed with me. I promise I don't let her use his pillow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A weight lifted.

 With my mom and my aunt - my grandma's two remaining children - back here in Michigan I feel such a sense of relief. Not so much for myself, really, but for all of them. I am glad they came back when they did so they will have some time with grandma before her health declines beyond the point of her being able to communicate, and I'm glad grandma feels the love of her children around her as she makes the journey from this world to eternity.

Yesterday when I told grandma they would be coming to visit her she got a little upset that everyone made the trip home from Florida for her. I assured her it was their choice and besides, my parents missed all their grandbabies. She fussed at me like only a grandma can. "When did you call?" she asked me. I told her I had called them sometime over the weekend.

"You lie," she said.

That woman can see right through me.

It made me laugh, and I confessed I had called my mom on Friday.

It wasn't until later that it hit me. The sadness. There are only so many people in a person's life that one can have that kind of relationship with. Isn't it our grandmothers who we can count on for something way beyond unconditional love? Our grandmas who become our best friends because they look past our faults and our screw-ups and accept us no matter what? If we're lucky, our grandmas become our soft place to land. Grandma's house is a haven that fills our childhood memories with the smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies and freshly brewed coffee. Or in my case, windmill cookies, oatmeal, fried egg sandwiches and Tang.

I asked grandma if she was mad at me for asking her children to come home. She took my face in her shaky hands and told me she couldn't be mad at me.

See? We learn at a young age there are certain things grandma will let us get away with. Thirty-four years old and I still know there isn't a thing in this world I could do that would make her stop loving me. I don't take that for granted for one second.

When my mom and aunt arrived, grandma's face lit up and she lifted her arms to hug them both. She told my mom I had taken great care of her. "She loves you like we do," mom said.

What a great legacy, to have been loved by your children and grandchildren - and GREAT grandchildren - so much that they would move mountains for you. To have lived a life and set an example of love and faithfulness to your spouse and the rest of your family and friends. My grandma is not a social butterfly; she does not have a lot of friends but she has a few very good friends. Her life's focus has been her family, and this has become more and more apparent to me as I have spent so much time with her these past couple months.

At Steve's grandfather's funeral several years ago the pastor had a few words for the younger children to help them cope with grandpa's death. She said (in my terribly paraphrased words) they could think of Grandpa Marion like a dandelion when it gets all white and fluffy. If you pick that dandelion and hold it up into the breeze, those fluffy seeds will take flight and disperse - just like how Grandpa Marion spread joy and love in this world.

Grandpa Marion died in the fall, but my children remembered what the pastor said and in the spring I'll be danged if they didn't pick every stinkin' fluffy dandelion and blow those seeds all over the place. So every spring since then, Grandpa Marion's legacy leaves a bright yellow blanket of dandelions in our front yard. I grumble every time I push the mower over those tangled stems, but I also imagine Grandpa Marion looking down at us and smiling, and somehow I manage to see some beauty in those blasted weeds.

I think he would appreciate the humor there.

What a wonderful legacy Steve and I and our children have received from all our grandparents: Seeing beauty in the everyday. Loving unconditionally. Creating a family. Teaching compassion. Spreading joy.

And laughter. We mustn't forget the laughter.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Clean Slate Sunday: 1.16.11 edition

Wow. Halfway through January already. Where has the time gone?

I didn't realize until today how much I have been missing my Clean Slate Sunday routine of sitting down in peace and quiet, taking stock of the past week and planning for the days ahead. So here I am. And hopefully it will become routine for me again 'cause it's a great way to gather my thoughts and sort of ... ground myself.

This past week was pretty rough. I spent a lot of time focused on caring for my grandma and not a lot of time doing much of anything for myself. Or my children. I didn't do laundry, didn't tidy up around the house, barely took time to help the kids with their homework, and never got all the household shopping done. I didn't eat well and when I slept I had bizarre dreams.

I've tried to catch up on a few things around the house this weekend, and it was nice that Steve was home last night so we had some time to relax together. We skipped church this morning in favor of sleeping in and focusing on family time. He's gone back to work now and I'm trying to plan for my week so things run as smoothly as possible.

One thing will help immensely, and that is that I have reinforcements on the way. By Friday last week it appeared grandma's health was going downhill fast and she doesn't have much fight left in her, so I called my folks and suggested now would be a good time to come home. Mom and dad, aunt and uncle are on the road as I write. It was not a phone call I wanted to make, but after talking with grandma's Hospice nurse and with her caretakers at the AFC home I really feel like it was the right thing to do. Grandma is already taking some pretty heavy duty narcotics to ease her pain, so I have a feeling it won't be long before meaningful conversation with her will be impossible.

Here at home I want to continue working on my to-do list this week. It's not so much a "dust and vacuum and do the dishes" sort of list, but rather longer-term things I've been meaning to get to. Like gathering paperwork to refinance our house. Updating my phone/address book (does anybody use those anymore?). Organizing a household notebook with schedules and important phone numbers and emergency information. If I could knock out ONE of those things this week along with all the usual household madness I'll be happy, and maybe I would set my goals a little higher next week.

I can at least say that in the midst of the recent craziness there have been many blessings. One of them is that my children have taken it all in stride. I have enjoyed spending time with them more than usual in recent days, and I have been reminded of how close they are to being young adults themselves. With maturity comes acceptance and understanding and I've seen those qualities in both of them lately.

Tomorrow is a new day, the start of a fresh week. I feel good having a plan. Another clean slate. I will do my best to make it a good one. I hope you have a good week, too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A little inspiration.

I didn't sleep much last night. Perhaps a little too much caffeine too late in the day. Maybe some adrenaline still pumping through my veins as I remembered pieces of conversations I've had over the past few days and thought of things still needing to be done - things my heart tells me are urgent even while my head tells me there's no sense fretting over them at 2 a.m.

Grandma is settling back in at the AFC home and the ball is rolling to have Hospice take over her medications and make her comfortable. Grandma and I shared this sentiment yesterday: Thank God for Hospice. What an amazing blessing this team of people is.

It touched my heart to hear the voices of other residents of the home welcome her back and tell her how much they had missed her.

I have just one errand to run for grandma today, and after I stop in to say hello and give her a kiss I'm gonna' come back home and catch up on things here. And probably sleep. I tried to go back to bed for a while after the kids left for school this morning but after the phone rang for the third time I gave up.

As I head out the door I'm thinking of a couple Bible verses that have always been particularly inspirational for me.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And this one, the words of Jesus:
Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

And because music is often a comfort to me and yet another source of inspiration, I'll share this song from Casting Crowns:

I hope something here blesses someone else today, too.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A defining moment.

I don't mind hospitals. Probably because I've never had a really traumatic or terrible experience in one. But there is one thing for sure: you can expect only so much privacy and only so much modesty in a hospital emergency room.

I spent all day yesterday in the ER with my grandma - she was the patient - and it was very enlightening. Or ... educational? Maybe "memorable" is the word I'm looking for.

Yes, definitely memorable. As in, I will never forget the events of the day and how they impacted our family.

I've been visiting granny and taking her to doctor appointments and picking up prescriptions and communicating with her caregivers while my parents and my aunt and uncle are in Florida for the winter. I wrote a little about that here and here.

While this has been hectic at times, I am happy to do it. She is my only remaining grandparent and I feel blessed to have her close to me and to have a great relationship with her.

Yesterday's visit to the ER was not all that unexpected, as grandma has been having some pretty serious pain in her back and ribcage and the prescription pain killers were helping her less and less. We had been waiting to hear from her doctor's office about scheduling a procedure to drain some fluid off grandma's lung; we believed that fluid was causing the pain. When she asked me to take her to the ER I figured it would at least put her on the fast track to getting the procedure done.

Boy, was I wrong.

While we waited for results of all kinds of tests to come back I couldn't help but overhear the maladies of the patient on the other side of the curtain. It was a (probably) middle-aged woman who had brought her mother in. The mother had been diagnosed with cancer two days after the daughter's husband lost his battle with cancer.

Can you imagine? The love of your life dies of cancer, mom comes to comfort you and within days she is diagnosed with cancer. It's a cruel world.

Cancer. The ugly "c" word.

It made me think of all the people I've known - too many - who have struggled with this disease. Some won, some didn't make it. It's never pretty and never easy.

I thought to myself, "At least grandma doesn't have cancer. Thank God she doesn't have cancer."

The hours ticked by. Nurses came and went. I finished reading a magazine. Grandma snoozed when she could get comfortable enough. I played games on my cell phone. Two IV doses of the strongest narcotics they had didn't touch grandma's pain. Calls were made. Vitals taken repeatedly. I sent Steve a text. CT scan done. I called my mom. Grandma told the nurse on a scale of 1-10 her pain was a 10. I kept wondering why they couldn't find something to get her some relief.

And then grandma's family doctor appeared.

The three of us - granny, doc and me - talked about the morning's events and everything granny's been through in the past few months leading up to this week. The doctor reminded her of how previous tests showed a mass on one of her lungs, and when further testing revealed the mass was most likely not cancerous the doctor still felt there was something a little off. At the time grandma declined further testing because she was not interested in any more surgeries or poking or prodding or cutting.

Doc said these latest tests from the ER indicate the mass has grown a bit and she's pretty sure that's what is causing grandma's pain.

Grandma asked the question.

"Do you think it's cancer?"

The doctor's answer: "I do."

This is one of those defining moments. I thought I had somewhat prepared myself.

It still felt like someone punched me in the gut.

There was time to take a breath, and then the conversation immediately turned to grandma's options for treatment. She is not interested in biopsies or chemotherapy or any of that; she just wants the pain to go away. We talked about hospice care and the doctor directed one of the nurses to make a phone call.

I had to call my mom and tell her.

The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls and consults and doing my best to comfort grandma and address her wishes and - finally - another dose of medication that numbed the pain enough to let her sleep. She was moved to a room and admitted for the night. I left after the doctor came in to check on her in the evening and I was glad for the quiet 30-minute drive home.


Cancer without treatment, no less. We're probably talking months left with her. Maybe a year. Nobody has a crystal ball, of course, but I think it's only human to wonder about a time line.

No bones about it, cancer sucks. Interestingly, I don't think grandma gives a flip. She's tired. She's been saying for a while that she's ready to go. She said yesterday she just doesn't want things to drag on and on with her body in the shape it's in. I believe her. I pray that with help from hospice she can at least enjoy the time she has left, free of pain.

After a good night of sleep I'm eager to see her today. I plan to take her back to the adult foster care home when she is discharged from the hospital this afternoon, and we will meet with a hospice nurse there to get grandma signed up.

As I've talked with family members I tell them I am taking my cues from grandma; she's OK and handling things with dignity and grace, so I will, too. That's all I can promise for today. Tomorrow and the days after? We'll deal with them one at a time.

Monday, January 10, 2011


OK, well it's really Monday, but the sun is shining today and it was shining yesterday and the day before. And I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see the sun shine.

I don't know what's up with me lately but my ambitions don't get much further than being added to my list of things to do before I crap out on 'em. I try to hit the ground running in the mornings (ok, running might be a bit of an exaggeration) but often I end up getting off to a good start and then I'm ready for a nap by lunchtime.

What the heck?

Maybe I'm still trying to shake the vacation hangover. We did lots of chillaxin over Christmas break and it was so nice. Lots of good food, lots of long naps, just hanging out and enjoying having some family time. Then as it all wound down I was geeked about getting back into a routine and getting organized and planning projects for spring and getting caught up on things I need to finish ... but the past few days I feel like I've been dragging my butt through a foot of mud.

I really hope I'm not fighting off another round of illness. Actually, if I'm fighting something off I hope I'm successful.

I tend to be pretty hard on myself when I look around and see that I've accomplished a whole lot of nothing during the day. I tell myself I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be a homemaker, the least I could do is use my time wisely.

But today? Today I am going to listen to my body. The sun is streaming through the windows onto the couch and I hear it calling my name.

The list will still be here tomorrow.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Today is Steve's birthday. As we were chatting last night it occurred to me I have been with him - literally, in his presence - for each of his birthdays since he turned 18. I mentioned it to him and he couldn't remember a time before this year that I hadn't been there to help him celebrate on his big day either.

So it's a little bittersweet. I'm sorry I can't be there to crack a beer open with him when he finishes work for the day. But it's not my day, so I'm not gonna' whine (anymore). I'll just share this interesting family factoid: Steve and his brother share the same birthday.

Five years apart.

Steve is the younger (and taller) one.

Can you imagine? Happy 5th birthday, honey! Here's a baby brother for you!

It seems to have worked out fine for these two. They have no other siblings and they are the best of friends.

This birthday makes for an interesting milestone. Steve is now 36 and I'm 34 and that means we've been a couple for half our entire lives. Funny, huh? 'Cause now we spend most of our daily lives apart. Go figure.

As the years go by it keeps getting better, though.

Happy birthday, baby. Cheers!